do you, don’t you want me to love you?

This holiday season, warm your families and hearts with a hearty media blow.


Quantum of Solace
: As a follow-up to Casino Royale, exceptional; as a Bond film in its own right, merely rather good. More arty than any Bond film in recent memory – the intercutting between chase scenes and exotic locales gets a little dizzying. And I may not be the smartest man I know, but I should not have had as much trouble following the plot as I had. That said, the transition from laughable villains and plots to realistic threats refreshes me. Worth seeing in theaters.

The 33 Strategies of War: From the author of The 48 Laws of Power comes, well, another book in the same vein. Where The 48 Laws taught broad lessons through specific anecdotes, The 33 Strategies starts from a more abstract point. Very few of the book’s readers need help in conducting massive invasions; for us, war is a metaphor for control over scarce resources, rather than an actual practice. The 48 Laws are more practical; The 33 Strategies, more inspirational. Expect plenty of entertaining anecdotes about Lyndon Johnson and Salvador Dali.

High Noon: It’s certainly very good, and I understand why it’s a classic of the genre. But if I compare it to Rio Bravo – the film that John Wayne and Howard Hawks supposedly made as a rebuttal to High Noon’s anti-HUAC message – I have to give the Wayne film the prize. High Noon suffers from some shaky editing in the fight scenes and a distinctly dull music score. Those are minor foibles: the real-time tension and the use of outlaw Ben Miller as a MacGuffin are ahead of their time.

Now The Hell Will Start: Herman Perry lies about his age to enlist in the Armed Services after Germany invades France. Service anywhere overseas would be hard for a young black man like him – the Army continued to resist racial integration, out of the (plausible) concern that whites would not tolerate serving with blacks. But Perry drew a uniquely grueling lot – clearing 270 miles of malarial Burmese jungle to build a road to China.

Sent to the Ledo Stockade once for insubordination, he shot his commanding officer rather than be sent back. What followed was the greatest Allied manhunt of World War II. Perry fled into the jungle, living with the headhunting Naga tribes and scavenging supplies from GI convoys. His former comrades told tall tales of his prowess, calling him the Jungle King. He evaded several ambushes, appearing to dodge bullets as if by magic. All of it’s true.

The Monster of Florence: I made the mistake of starting this before bed – the true story of Italy’s most notorious serial killer, a lunatic who shot and maimed seven necking couples in the hills of Florence between 1968 and 1985. The Italian police stumble over themselves in tracking him, imprisoning one suspect after another only to let them go when the killer strikes again. Innocent civilians are captured and lauded by press-hungry officials, railroaded through trials with bribed witnesses and complicit judges. The notes and trophies that il Mostro sends to the press are the stuff of nightmares.

The story turns from Gothic to Kafkaesque at the halfway point, when author Douglas Preston moves to Florence and learns the story of the Monster from journalist Mario Spezi. Their investigation turns up forgotten clues, invalidates the official story and leads them to a face to face interview with a man very likely to be the killer. This also draws the ire of the officials who built their reputation on convicting the original scapegoat, who bring the full force of Italy’s corrupt judicial system to bear on the writers.

The Monster remains uncaught.

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you don’t know how lucky you are, boy

Economics, particularly the Austrians, give us the notion of time preference – the amount by which a human prefers to get a certain good now rather than in the future. You have to pay someone a premium if you want them to wait for their payday. This is because the future, and our ability to enjoy it, is uncertain. Economists such as Irving Fisher and George Reisman say this is how interest rates arise.

What this means for the non-nerds in the audience: you can put a high price on convenience and people will still pay.

Is it worth an extra $30 a month to check e-mail in transit, rather than checking it before you leave one place and after you arrive at another place? Ask anyone who owns an iPhone. Take it back a step further – imagine living without a cell phone. Imagine living without the Internet – having to wait as long as an hour to find out the headlines, or having to pick up the phone and talk to a human to find out if your flight was on time. You can put almost any price on convenience and people will pay.

And not only will people pay for convenience, but they’ll stop thinking of it as convenience. It becomes necessity. That’s because – taking it back to econ talk above – time is the ultimate resource. Saving money and effort are fun if you’re thrifty; saving time is addictive.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Happy Thanksgiving.

this ain’t back in the day, but you don’t hear me though

I can think of few better ways to spend an autumn Sunday morning than rolling through the tony Brattle neighborhoods of Cambridge with my man Hawver, blasting Ready to Die in the Toyota’s sturdy speakers. Especially if you’re on your way to watch some football.

Fraley and Melissa welcomed us into their home, grilling up blue cheese burgers and serving us beer. We sat down to watch one of the most brutal games of football I’ve ever seen – players dropping left and right, sloppy turnovers, helmetless brawls, etc. The Patriots dragged one out of the Dolphins but they took their time doing it.

During commercials we jumped around to catch snippets of other games, like the Ravens/Eagles throwdown. JB yelled highlights at us, like Ed Reed’s 108-yard touchdown return. “Is that a record?” Fraley asked. “Yes,” I told him. “It breaks the previous record, held by … Ed Reed.”

# # #

Catching a flight to Baltimore this evening to visit the family. Wish me luck.

and they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar

I missed the first stop of the jiu-jitsu pub crawl on Saturday night, but caught up with them at Clarke’s, a corner pub behind Faneuil Hall. One of the other instructors had ordered several plates of appetizers; against my better judgment, I snagged a mozzarella stick while ordering a Miller Lite. “Two seventy-five,” the bartender asked.

I caught up with Megan K., one of the recent crop of new instructors, talking about the work/life balance. Folks who keep up with jiu-jitsu for four or more years – which includes every certified instructor at the Theodorou Academy, such as Megan and myself – probably already have the work/life balance figured out pretty well. You don’t stick with something that will wake you up sore more mornings than not unless you know when to shut your computer off. I hope I sounded equally profound after a couple of beers.

We trucked on to Red Sky, across the plaza and next to the Hard Rock. We tried to talk our way into squatting at some reserved tables until the assigned party showed up, but the server wasn’t having it. So we clumped in the dim lounge like fingerprints under an IR lamp. Rita ordered a pizza for the group to share, and I ordered a Budweiser. “Four twenty-five,” the bartender said.

I talked to Cyril for a bit, learning that not only did he work in the same industry I do, but that we shared an alma mater. We talked about BC’s bowl prospects and upcoming opponents, sharing a few anecdotes about games gone by. Apparently, BC used to park about 30% more cars on Shea Field than they do currently. Cyril told me why they don’t anymore; I’ll share the anecdote next time I see you.

The party left Red Sky early to hit up Bell In Hand, making it in 10 minutes before the cover charge. They offer a free “Molson Coat Check” downstairs (did they give the bar the idea? or does Molson pick up the tab? I didn’t think coat checks had a lot of overhead). I decided to keep my coat anyway, since we loitered near the frequently open front door. Nick, owner of the school and head instructor, showed up just as I ordered a Budweiser. “That’ll be six fifty,” I was told.

Upstairs, a DJ spun Top 40 hits and college town favorites. Texas Tech got the paint sanded off them by Oklahoma, 65-21, while we drank and waited for the music to cycle up. Rita’s fuzzy short-brimmed hat got passed around; everyone got a chance to try it on. I looked all right in it, but it was Phil – whose 16-year-old son is also in the advanced class – who should really be rocking the Kangol.

My memory for faces is excellent; names, atrocious. I recall images vividly, whether I read them during a slow fever or lived them on a rainy weekend, but I always skip the details. In the corner of the Bell in Hand I spotted a girl with her collared boyfriend – blonde, cornflower eyes, striking. I knew instantly that I’d seen her somewhere before and that I had no idea where, or when, or how. Audience at ImprovBoston? Across a crowded pub in Cambridge? BC game? Twenty-four hours later I remembered: a work event over the summer with one of our sister media companies.

I devote about sixty percent of this weblog to anecdotes which would only interest people who know me, and not even all of them. I do this because I measure my life by the details I recall and those details keep getting away from me. Already I’ve lived nearly six months in this apartment. I’ve worked nine months at this job. Gorefest is almost a month in the past; the Waste Land Comedy Hour, nearly a year. If I didn’t document these things I wouldn’t believe they happened.

All I really want is to appear in more photos.

sephiroth!

The lights went down on the Wang Theater and up on the crowded stage. A conductor with a shock of white hair and a black jacket with large silver buttons took the podium and tapped the orchestra to life. A screen behind the orchestra lit up, displaying the parallel lines of Pong. The orchestra led us through a medley of video game themes over the first twenty years of gaming history – Pong, Donkey Kong, Elevator Action, Burger Time, etc – while those same classics played nostalgically across the screen: the opening act of Video Games Live‘s debut in Boston.

Then some asshole in red shoes showed up.

I can not overstate how much of a douchebag Tommy Tallarico is. I humored him patiently for the first five minutes he showed up, until I realized that he intended to spend another five minutes talking up himself and his show. His ham-handed attempts to win over the crowd annoyed me further. “Some people think video games are just for kids,” the forty-year old mocked, summoning a mighty “BOO” from the crowd in a way that Ric Flair would wince at. “Some people think video games cause violent behavior.”

(“Some people live in houses filled with strawmen,” I murmured)

Video Games Live is a gem. Its music appeals on several primal levels – from the nostalgia of childhood classics being played beautifully to the epic awe of today’s million-dollar soundtracks. VGL uses entirely local musicians – the City Arts Orchestra on stage and the Brookline High Choir for vocals. They covered a broad sampling of games, from the Mario and Zelda series to releases as recent as the new World of Warcraft expansion. I’m glad Melissa made sure we went, and I’m glad Serpico, RJ and Katie H were there with me.

I just need to stress how much Tommy Tallarico sucked. He served no purpose other than to leech energy out of the show. That might have actually been his role – stretching a 70 minute show to 2 hours with a lot of talk. I don’t know why, though. They have more material than they played. I only hope that, as the show becomes more monetized, corporate pressure fills the time with more music and less of that jackass.

(Seriously – playing your game’s score with a professional orchestra while cut scenes flash in the background? It’s a commercial people pay to see. Win-win!)

I won’t spoil all the show’s little surprises, but I have to pass this one along: the winner of a Guitar Hero battle in the lobby before the show got called on stage in the second act. Tallarico handed him a Guitar Hero controller. “If you get over 200,000 points in ‘Sweet Emotion’ on Hard …” he began. The kid shook his head, motioning upward with his thumb. “Expert?” Tallarico asked. The audience roared.*

I’ve been quieter at close football games than I was watching that guy blow through Guitar Hero. The live orchestra backing him made it an epic spectacle. Plus, the tension of competing against the game transformed the song from a rock staple to a pitched battle. Imagine if Joe Perry broke every finger on his left hand, then going to see Aerosmith’s first live concert after they’d healed – will he pull it off? will he be as good as we hoped? That, plus lasers.

After VGL, Katie H. gave me a ride to Central Square. I headed toward ImprovBoston, only to find Dana already walking down the block. “You heading to Phoenix Landing?” he asked. “Robert just texted me; he said the place is packed.”

We found ourselves jogging to get there, one of those unspoken decisions born of enthusiasm. You live a buttoned-down life during the week, so when the opportunity comes to shake it out and perform in front of friends and strangers, you don’t want to waste a second in transit. And that’s what we do when we dance. We threaded our way through the crowd to the foot of the stage. Dana immediately leaped onto the benches that surround the dance floor and began attracting attention. That’s what he does.

After a while I joined him.

____________
* This led to that classic exercise in futility, Changing The Settings In Guitar Hero. Anyone who’s played GH or Rock band knows how frustrating it gets when you’ve almost started the song but want to change one thing – the number of players, the difficulty, etc. Now imagine doing that on a stage in front of two thousand people. “You have to back all the way out!”, I yelled from the back of the balcony. “Main menu! Main menu!”

no words; no talk; we’ll go dreaming

Taking the T home on Wednesday, a small posse of youths crowded onto an already packed train at Porter. “May I have your attention, everybody!” one of them declared. “Just keep your eyes on the black guy dancing!” One of his friends set a boom box down near the benches; the others cleared the aisle of pedestrians. I don’t know how you get ten feet of running room on a Red Line train at rush hour, but they managed.

Then, these kids unleashed some acrobatic breaking in a frighteningly confined space. They cartwheeled and somersaulted, their Adidas whipping within inches of passengers’ faces. They flipped in mid-air, using the standing rails as handlebars. They dropped to the floor, spinning and hand-standing like … I dunno, like tops with strong forearms.

“Thank you!” they said at Davis, as I got off. “If you’d like to show your appreciation, you can leave your money with us.”

I hadn’t seen anyone panhandle on the T since a sketchy incident on the way to Logan two and a quarter years ago, and never with such coordinated effort. I thought that sort of thing only flew in Manhattan. New Yorkers – how do displays like that usually fare? Do you ignore them coolly? Do tourists and a few sympathetic rubes chip in? I’m curious.

# # #

If you want a good cardio workout, forget running. Forget swimming. Grapple a man who has one hundred pounds on you and uses them better. Transitioning from mount to half mount to half guard to guard and back again will wring you out in five minutes or less. The only edge I had on the guy I
practiced with last night was that I knew two things he hadn’t seen. Possibly three.

# # #

Last night, I found the nightlife experience I’ve spent eight years searching for: Make It New at Middlesex on Mass Ave. Seriously, it’s everything I want in a club scene: house music; low or no cover; people I like a lot but don’t see every day; cheap beer; no yah-dudes or girls in shimmery towels and platform heels; and plenty of unexpected spectacle to fragment my attention.

Like the circle of dudes breakin’ in the corner. Just out of nowhere! A circle of people bobbed and weaved around a gap of floor, moving a little but not going crazy. Then one of them would step into the gap and walk the perimeter of the circle from the inside – getting everyone’s attention? defining the space? catching up with the rhythm? Probably some combination of the three. This guy or girl (breaking is an equal opportunity art form) would then pop, contort, shake and twist in some amazing, unpredictable and entertaining fashion.

# # #

Boston’s a city that will get on the floor and roll when the time is right, is the theme of this entry.

I know how hard you try; I see it in your eyes

I saw this on my man Eric‘s site yesterday. Then the Queen of Awkward forwarded it to me as well and asked that I talk about it. So I will.

But what is it? It’s a selection of profile quotes from The Atlasphere, the world’s largest dating site devoted primarily to Ayn Rand fans:

dpvabc, Edmonton, Canada
My name is Daniel. I consider myself to be a born-again egoist and I have dedicated the rest of my life to self-improvement. People see me as a socially inept loner because I tend to avoid superficial conversation but actually I love talking to people who like to think (the problem being I don’t know very many).

mxjohnxm, Greenville, South Carolina
“One can’t love man without hating most of the creatures who pretend to bear his name.”

Zak, Long Island, New York
I am rational, integrated, and efficacious. So far, I’ve never met a person who lives up to the standard I hold for myself (except online).

I take my relationships seriously. I am simply not attracted to many of the women in this world. I do not “hook-up” with girls. I only kiss those who deserve, and so far I have only encountered one who did. I would love to find someone I can learn something from; someone who challenges me to think; someone I can feel like I’ve won, rather than lowered myself to.

lostpainting, Hagerstown, Maryland
Please note: If you’re overweight, I won’t date you. If you believe in God, I won’t date you. If you vote for Democrats, I won’t date you.

(I love that final one; you wonder if lostpainting considers being overweight the same kind of moral failing as believing in God or voting Democrat. Svelte atheist Republicans have been advancing the torch of Reason through these Dark Ages; no one else)

Anyhow, my thoughts:

  • As far as needy statements buffed to a sheen of confidence go, they’re no worse than anything you’d find on Craigslist. Seriously. And some of the ones I didn’t copy over are downright touching (“want to meet a serious woman who both challenges me intellectually and inspires me to noble things by her beauty”), if not likely to get anywhere. So, Rand fans are human too.
  • I’ve dated all over the ideological spectrum, and I can think of only one relationship that lasted longer than 4 weeks where we shared a knowledge and familiarity with Rand’s writing and philosophy. Some of my more successful relationships came with ideological opposites. Hell, sometimes we don’t even talk politics at all. It’s a bit of a downer. I think that a shared political philosophy helps to strengthen a relationship, but sucks when selecting for a relationship. Dating sites tend to put photos higher on the page than manifestos, in case you hadn’t noticed.
  • If the Atlasphere hasn’t changed much from when it first debuted – ’03, was it? ’04? – then the male:female ratio still hovers over 20:1. Guys, I hate to sound crude, but now’s not the time to be picky.

Anyhow, best of luck to everyone on the Atlasphere. May you all find your Kira / Dominique / Dagny / Rand-substitute someday.