[the palaverist]

Friday, March 30, 2007

[sing along with buffy]

Gothamist strikes again, this time picking up on the Buffy Sing-A-Long each month at IFC, at which Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans get together and sing along with the musical episode, Once More, With Feeling.

I am definitely in the Buffy fan camp, but I am currently working my way through the series and haven't yet seen the musical episode, which is two seasons ahead of me, so no spoilers please. Indeed, our most recent episode, Hush, is kind of the musical episode's opposite: super-creepy floating dudes known as The Gentlemen steal everyone's voices. This is one of the scariest episodes in the series, capturing the flavor of an actual nightmare.

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When I first came to New York City in 1993, it was a very lonely place for me. That bitterly cold winter, I didn't know where to go or how to meet anyone to go with me. I would take the train down from my Columbia dorm to what I thought was the cool part of town, getting off the 1/9 at Christopher Street and wandering back and forth along Bleecker in search of a local music scene, my feet freezing in my inadequate jungle-warfare combat boots. I felt dwarfed — dwarfed in my father's oversized wool Canadian-navy greatcoat, dwarfed in this huge, thrumming city that promised so much but seemed to keep its promise at a distance, always receding.

Against the crushing anonymity and isolation, I remember discovering and then treasuring the mystery of COST/REVS. These graffiti stickers were everywhere pasted to the backs of street signs and WALK/DON'T WALK signs (back when they still had words instead of today's pointillist icons). At first it was just those two words, stacked up on each other in block capitals:


Then they started getting blasphemous: COST SAVES, GOD saves COST, COST IS RELIGION. And then there was the phone number, which it took me months to bother writing down and calling. When I did, I got a rambling, incoherent voice message whose content has long since escaped my memory, which in those days was anyway frequently impaired and clogged with details about Apuleius and archivolts.

What I found so amazing about these stickers was the spectacular human effort that had gone into putting them up. They were everywhere, all across town, on sign after sign: thousands of them. And this was no vast collective effort, like putting up the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the dedicated work of one or two individuals, who for no obvious reason felt like altering the environment in which we all lived. It was human and passionate and sort of sad in its uselessness, but beautiful in its dedication and persistence.

For me, those tags are a marker of a particular time. Finding pictures of them online is surprisingly hard, but that was the moment just before Internet ubiquity, and the Internet is weirdly bad at archiving the time just before camera-phones. It was the era of Giuliani's battles with East Village squatters, of Newt Gingrich, of a world without Kurt or Jerry. A couple of years later, I would be on Sven's rooftop on the Lower East Side, watching the Fourth of July fireworks exploding over the Lenin statue on Red Square and talking about how New York City was the seat of empire. But that was in the future. REVS/COST helped me get through those confusing, lonely first years in the big city.

Today Gothamist posted a YouTube video of REVS at work on more recent projects. My favorite quote: "I'm into the individual spirit, anybody who does things in a solo way, like Ted Kaczynski, Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ." REVS's identity is still unknown, but at least now you can read about him in Wikipedia.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

[language troubles]

As many of you know, when I first started working at the Korean Mission to the UN, there was another speechwriter her, whom I'll call C. C had started just a couple of weeks before me, and he was not particularly happy here. With his master's degree in international affairs, he wanted to be doing something more concrete and more noble. Eventually he had a mental breakdown and stopped coming to work, leading over many months to his firing and replacement by Allen, an altogether more stable guy.

Sometime during his tenure, there was a bit of an office switch: I moved from a shared space with Young to C's old office, and C moved upstairs to a similar office on the 10th floor. I don't think the increased isolation did him much good.

Anyway, today I found a very old Post-It note wedged between the radiator and the wall. In a man's handwriting, it says:
Work to use more:
  • Moreover

  • Commend, concur, is evidenced, emphasize, we note with concern, nevertheless

  • We are of the view

  • In this regard
Knowing how frustrated C was by the formal, repetitive nature of our job, I find this note incredibly sad. Poor guy.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

[the truth]

Nations and individuals do not grow weaker by confronting the truth. They grow weaker by avoiding it and coming to believe their own evasions.
So concludes Jacob Weisberg in a Slate article on The Four Unspeakable Truths about Iraq. It's a good article about the politics of the Iraq war, and it's good advice generally — advice I'm trying to take in my own life.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

[a year of korean]

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my current self-guided Korean language study program.

On March 6, 2006, I began Lesson 1 of Integrated Korean: Beginning Level 1. Since then, apart from the occasional hiatus between textbooks or while vacationing, I have been studying steadily. My goal is to work my way through all 10 semesters, to High Advanced Level 2, plus the associated readers and Chinese-character study guide, within five years.

At the end of my first 12 months, I am already well into Lesson 3 of Intermediate 1, which is pretty much where I should be. And I am certainly far more proficient with this fascinating, ornery language than I was at the beginning. But this is a long journey, and there is still far more of it ahead of me than behind.

Of course, I wouldn't have made nearly so much progress without the diligent, thoughtful efforts of my teacher, Yi Young-ae, who has had the patience to answer my many questions, sit through my halting efforts at my verbal exercises and correct lesson after lesson full of fumbled Korean spelling (청수하다, 텐니스, 각도기) and grammar.

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[why my grandparents are the coolest]

So I got a package today at work — a battered-looking manila bundle, excessively taped — from my grandfather, Stan Winston. It contained precisely the following, in precisely the following order:
  • A copy of Áegis Living, the newsletter from his retirement home (slightly creepy motto: "People live here"), with the "Recent Activities" article highlighted, reading as follows: "We had a well-attended Halloween Party with the Spiral Mystics band playing oldies but goodies. Many of the staff and residents were in costumes. New resident [and the Palaverist's grandmother] Shirley Winston and her husband Stanley accompanied the band with percussion instruments. Stanley has also started a percussion class on Saturday afternoons, which has become very popular."

  • Four photos from the abovementioned Halloween event, including one of my grandmother looking ancient and one of my grandfather and an attractive young black woman in standing side by side and drumming intently on a pair of mounted bongos.

  • The Zenith of Desire: Contemporary Lesbian Poems About Sex, edited by Gerry Gomez Pearlberg, including such poems as "Shave," "Changing the Oil" and "Why Is There No Dyke Bathhouse?"

  • The first issue of GNAOUA, which according to Wikipedia was "a magazine devoted to exorcism introducing the work of Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, Harold Norse and other members of the Interzone," published by Ira Cohen in Tangier, Morocco. The inaugural issue includes several works by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg.

  • An issue of Cyril Connolly's magazine Horizon from February 1949, consisting entirely of The Oasis by Mary McCarthy, described on Amazon.com as "a wickedly satiric roman a clef about a group of urban American intellectuals who try unsuccessfully to establish a rural utopian colony just as the Cold War is setting in and fear of the atomic bomb is reaching panic proportions."

  • Elizabeth McNeill's Nine and A Half Weeks, apparently a first-edition hardcover from 1978.

  • Male/Female Language, by Mary Ritchie Key, a cross-cultural exploration of differences between male and female uses of language; also apparently a first edition, this one put out by Scarecrow Press in 1975.

  • Paul Auster's 2006 novel The Brooklyn Follies.
At least I come by it honestly.

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Monday, March 05, 2007


Okay, this involves full frontal nudity, which is not something I usually post here, but it was just way too funny not to post. Here you go.


[how black is obama?]

I'm still not sure, but in his answer to that question in Selma, Alabama, he demonstrates just how impressive he can be in winning people over by showing how fates and destinies and political ideals that seem separate or even opposed are actually intertwined.


Thursday, March 01, 2007


Look at the picture to the left. This image appears at the top of the Internal Revenue Service's page for individual taxpayers, and I find it completely baffling. It's apparently some kind of fiendishly happy interracial picnic, but what's especially creepy is that these people appear to have been ripped from reality and forced to hover over fake grass and a fake sky that look like they were designed to be Windows 98 backgrounds.

What this has to do with individual tax-paying is unclear, except perhaps to imply that all happiness is, in the eyes of the IRS, artificial, inscrutable and untrustworthy.

I bring this up because it looks like I'm about to have a much more intimate relationship with the IRS — as if I were their token black friend, feeling uncomfortable at the creepy space picnic.

It turns out that a lot of citizens and green-card holders who work for foreign governments in the US haven't been filing their taxes, or have been filing them incorrectly, and suddenly the IRS has decided to fuck with all of us. For some of my colleagues who have simply never filed, this will be a major financial disaster; for those who filed but did it incorrectly, it will merely hurt a lot. (I will not go into detail about myself; I am seeing a lawyer this afternoon.)

What really pisses me off about all of this is that the IRS clearly has the ability to communicate with all the foreign missions in the US — everyone seems to have gotten the news about this extension of the settlement initiative deadline — but chose to wait until this point to bother. They could've made some effort to inform mission staff, as we were hired and registered with the State Department, of what our rather unusual tax obligations are (according to these materials, we're supposed to list our pay as wages but also pay the self-employment tax). They could've made some effort to publicize the settlement initiative when they came up with it. They could've designed the settlement initiative such that it would only impose the change moving forward. But no, the IRS stalks like a mugger, and I feel like I've been mugged by my own government.

I'm conflicted about that. I believe in taxes for services, and I think Jenny and I make enough that we should be taxed pretty substantially. On the other hand, I loathe the complexity of our tax system and the arbitrary neglect and nastiness with which it's enforced, I hate the big tax cuts for the wealthy in recent years, and I don't at all like what the government is spending the money on these days. (When our guys kidnap Iranian diplomats in Erbil and hold them hostage without any legal process, it's my taxes that help pay the salaries of the kidnappers. Does that make me guilty of financing terrorism? I wonder if there's any criminal liability there.) Still, this is helping me to understand how terrifying, financially damaging run-ins with regulatory agencies managed to turn many Americans against liberal big-government programs.

Once this is all settled, I will almost certainly have less money. Will the Korean government help us out? I sincerely doubt it, given their own budget troubles. Do I make a lot less money than I thought I did? Yeah, pretty much. Does it suck? Some, but we'll get by. (To put it in perspective, a friend of ours recently got walloped by a $140,000 medical bill, with no one but himself to pay it. Which leads me to our desperate need for health care reform, but that's another rant.)

There's also a certain martyr's masochistic pleasure in knowing that I too have been personally screwed by the Bush adminitration — not just obliquely, by having my nation's reputation destroyed, its treasure wasted, its morals compromised, its infrastructure neglected, and so forth, but directly, like Katrina victims and National Guardsmen (only less so). It's like Bush wants to make sure he's crapped on absolutely everybody's lawn before he leaves office. Lucky for him, he can check mine off the list.

And I don't even have a lawn. Thanks to Team Dubya, it'll be a few more years until I can afford one.

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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
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December 2007
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