Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"Masturbating and Doomed Little Outlaws"

From "Who Will Run the Frog Hospital" by Lorrie Moore:

Sometimes with Daniel I argue about the sixties. He is nine years older than I am, and knows that time better than I, or differently.

"There's a real age difference between us," he says.

"Age-schmage," I reply.

"Unfortunately, there's also a real schamge difference. We made the sixties," he says, speaking in a generational "we" that excludes me. "We made the counterculture. You were twelve years old."

"But we inherited it," I say, "and as children we made ourselves around it, with it. We hung our own incipience on politics. The counterculture got on the ground floor with us, as children; it was the wood we were built with. We used to watch you guys, the eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds, on LSD at the public beach, or playing Duck, Duck, Goose in Horsehearts Park with your beads and long-flowing Indian smocks. But then we got to be that age, and we went to the park, or to the lake, and there wasn't a Duck or a Goose or a hit of acid anywhere. There was only Ford pardoning Nixon."

"Christ," snorts Daniel.

"But once upon a time it had been all we knew," I say. "Rebellion, revolution, and all those songs that went with them. We ice-skated to 'Eve of Destruction.' 'The western world, it is exploding,' and we'd do these little spins and turns."

Or something like that. I say something like that.

"But it was still ours," he says. "It came from inside of us, not you."

"Yes, you made it, but as a result it ws a thing outside of you. You could walk away from it. And you did. We couldn't, you see. It was in us. And when it was no longer out there in the world itself, it left us stranded, confused, betrayed, masturbating and doomed little outlaws."

"Masturbating and doomed little outlaws?"


"What are you talking about? You can't use the sixties like this. You can't use the sixties to explain yourself to yourself."

Of course that's what I want. I think of the lies and theft that cultivate the provincial heart. I had been beyond questioning authority. I'd felt unseen by it. But now, looking back, I want to fudge and say it was the time, not the place. "But which is more powerful, what you make or what you inherit? Which is more permanent?" I ask. "I realize that we're talking ridiculous generalities here, but let's face it, a discussion is always more fun that way."

"It's a sign," he says, "of a person looking for excuses. A hoodlum seeking politics."

"Perhaps a hoodlum is already politics."

"You're no hoodlum."

"That's true," I say, sighing. And in this lie I feel close to him, so grateful to him, so full of pity.

It goes like that. Our talk goes something like that.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Holla Back NYC

A blog that gives New Yorkers a chance to holla back at street harassers--and submit pics of same.

Hey, those "Holla Shame" guys sound like my old hecklers!

The worst hecklers...and harassers...are the ones who say things really low so that only you can hear them. Then when you turn around and take their heads off, you look like a loony toon. And they know it. (Well, they've gotta have some kind of marketable skill, being totally bereft of character or charm.)

My husband hates guys like that. He thinks they're bad representatives of men.

I had an ex who actually said, "But those guys are only paying you a compliment." And he thought I was being some kind of Women's Libber.

I'm not talking about guys who appreciate the way a woman looks, or pay her a compliment. The hostile kind of creeps I'm talking about, like the guy described here:

someone actually walking up and grabbing them- one of those a-businessman type, at 8:30 in the morning, on a busy 23rd and Lex.

...they're like thieves stealing sex. They're trying to "get away" with something. It's like you've got a couple of handbags hanging off your chest, and they're purse-snatchers.

And the fact that I'd had to explain this to the ex, who responded by belching and giggling and eating library paste, kinda explains how he became an ex. Really quickly.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

When Black Friday Comes

Yesterday I did something I usually avoid: I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Most New Yorkers want to avoid crowds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, but like going to Times Square on New Year's Eve or going to a holiday parade, it's something everybody does...once.

My objective wasn't gift-buying. I usually give everyone a gift card to their favorite retailer and a few personal tokens I've accumulated during the course of the year. Yesterday, I was looking for semi-festive holiday wear for myself. In particular, I was looking for the two must-have fashion items that will supposedly rescue me from total geekhood this season: A velvet blazer and a black beaded necklace.

I chose the newly-renovated Queens Center Mall rather than going to my usual stores spread out over different blocks and neighborhoods in The City, since the temperature was in the 20's with a wind chill factor of dermabrasion.

The morning's newscasts had been reporting on the crowds that had shown up at the stores since five that morning: frozen, overcaffeinated popsicle people rioting and trampling each other for bargains. My husband watched me bundle up with trepidation, as though I were a scuba diver being lowered into a shark tank. I offered him the chance to come with me, but for some reason, he declined.

The Queens Center Mall is about a twenty minute subway ride from midtown. When I worked there as a teenager, it was recently opened and consisted of two department stores and a Sunglass Hut. Now, it's a glittering octopus sprawling over four levels and several blocks. The first stop I headed for was the restroom, followed by the food court, where I enjoyed a Subway sandwich surrounded by giant posters advertising the Mall with moody black and white photographs of models proclaiming, "I AM the expression of choice."

I decided to search systematically, floor by floor, from one end to the other. Three hours and a Cinnabon later I left the Mall, empty-handed. In between, I had tried on fourteen blazers, none of which fit properly. The first go-round, I'd focused on black velvet. The second go-round, dark brown velvet was acceptable, and the third time was "Any decent-looking, festive jacket."

At J.C. Penney's, I had seen a display of a mannequin in gold brocade wearing brushed gold plastic beads around its neck, kind of a fifties movie star look. The display of jackets were hanging about ten feet off the floor.

I went over to a nearby cashier and asked her, "Excuse me, how do you get those jackets down to try one on?"

She smiled. "With a stick."

"You're kidding, right?" No, she wasn't. She turned around and handed me an five-foot metal pole with a hook on the end. And I took it. The first five jackets I brought down were the wrong size, but I was getting good at it. I felt like a contestant on a game show, but I also had the feeling that the store was violating some kind of safety regulation somewhere in asking their customers to whack at their merchandise like a pinata. When I finally landed a jacket in my size and tried it on, I looked less like a fifties movie star and more like an organ grinder's monkey, so I passed.

The Mall wasn't a totally bad choice, since I had the opportunity to check out most of the major chain stores in one place. And, like my exploration of Woodbury Common, I did learn a few shopping lessons:
So all-in-all, Black Friday is overhyped, overrated and over-demonized. The real pathological behavior happens when it's five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, and you've spent the past month looking all over the universe for something that your parent/spouse/child saw once in a fevered dream and described badly, and all the stores have left is a shoehorn, and your parent/spouse/child will say that if you were a real, good, normal child/spouse/parent and you had a real job and you made enough money and cared about anybody besides yourself, you would have found it.

And this is why I give gift certificates.

P.S. I went down Queens Boulevard to Target, where the Woman's clothing department has those "Isaac Mizrahi for Target" clothes. They were inexpensive and surprisingly well-made. They didn't fit, either.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ooooh! Listen to the Colors!

I stumbled across this Internet radio station the other night, "Technicolor Web of Sound: 60's Psychedelic Internet Radio." Okay, I didn't actually stumble across it; truth be told, it showed up in iTunes under 60's and 70's Pop. I think iTunes has been keeping tabs on the kind of stuff I've been browsing and downloading from their Music Store and luring me accordingly.

This is the kind of station where, if you're a certain (old) age or an aficionado of late 60's-early 70's pop and rock, you go, "Oh my God, I can't believe they're playing this!" Where Moog-ed out Monkees co-exist with King Crimson, plus an assortment of one-hit and no-hit wonders. The kind of stuff that heads toward Oldies Station and Classic Rock but then takes an unexpected, delightful twist.

Like, they'll play Tommy James and the Shondells, but instead of playing "Crimson and Clover," they'll play "I Am A Tangerine" from the "Crimson and Clover" album. It's like being plunged into a parallel universe that's somehow nostalgically familiar yet amazingly new.

Hubby says it's like the "Underground" radio, before became "FM" or Album Oriented Rock. "It was more free-form then." Instead of a medium to get you to pay for an album when most of the time you wanted one song.

It also reminds me of being 13 and going into a dimly-lit head shop/jeans emporium, like this Manhattan one described by The Preppy Handbook author Lisa Birnbach in an old New York Magazine essay:

My favorite was called A Different Drummer, on the west side of Lexington, somewhere between 58th and 62nd Streets. It was dark. Peter Max designed its paper bags. It smelled of patchouli and sex . . . whatever that was.

The Zombies' "Time of the Season" was always playing on its sound system when we walked in wearing our uniform skirts rolled up to mid-thigh and knee socks. A guy would look you up and down and, practically grazing your buttocks, say, "You're 27" -- and hand you a small stack of Landlubber bell-bottoms. Oh my God! Then you'd go into the dressing room with a door that barely covered you and try on these new, skintight, flare-legged pants. And we'd have to wear them out with our uniform shirts!

There were places like this in Queens, too--Instant Pants on Austin Street in Forest Hills or Hot Ash on 63rd Drive in Rego Park--and we'd also go to the above-mentioned Different Drummer in the City. The Queens Boulevard bus deposited us on Second Avenue and 60th Street, with us all coltish and blinking and trying to look nonchalant about being in The City. And looking nonchalant about changing our pants in said dressing room with a door that barely covered your torso. "Hey, it's the human body." "We're all one body."

We imagined ourselves as cool, worldly hippie chicks, but if anyone had looked at us a little too long, we would have run like hell: Beads, bells and medallions clinking and clanging all the way home. Where we would have giggled, bragged ("He was looking at me!") and listened to groups with names like this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Link Wray is Dead

The "Father of the Power Chord" is gone. (Link thru Reason's "Hit and Run")

Peace Ribbon

My friend Melhi's combined two symbols to make a very catchy and very timely graphic.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Forking Around

Jim and I spent the weekend going through stuff around the house in preparation for what I'd like to call "The Use What You've Got Holiday Extravaganza." Under consideration were boxes of household goods and utensils we've acquired over the years from elderly relatives who've passed on. It's a mixed bag, or in this case, a mixed box.

One item under contention was a box of silver-plated flatware that kept getting moved from place to place and had languished at the bottom of a cabinet in the kitchen, taking up culinary real estate until some magical time in the future when we'd have a big place and "do the holidays" at our house. We finally opened the box to examine the silverware and deemed it to be not what we would have chosen in terms of design or how it balances and feels in your hand. Too "Bronx renaissance" and overly ornate for us.

But there was a serving fork in there that didn't go with the set. It was pewter, from a manufacturer in Norway, and looked like something you'd get at the Museum of Modern Art's gift shop: clean, straight lines and a good heft. Yet, it probably cost Aunt Whoever or Cousin So-And-So about five bucks back in 1962 or thereabouts.

In fact, it looked like something we would get for ourselves, so into the silverware drawer it went. We brought the rest of the stuff to Housing Works Thrift Shop. Instead of putting the box in with the bags of clothes and books, a volunteer carried it tenderly to the back office, as if it were an infant being brought to a loving adopting couple.

I kept opening the silverware drawer last night to look at the fork. I felt like, instead of losing a box of silverware, we'd gained a fork. And instead of an idea of a big place, we're spending Thanksgiving in our small one, with the things and people that make us happy, and with me serving with the new old fork.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Feeling Retro

Doing some pre-holiday cleaning up this weekend and I'm starting with some of my old bookmarks. I found one I'd forgotten about completely: Feeling Retro.

Their home page welcomes you with "If you were born around 1960 (give or take a few years) you might actually like this site." Basically, it's a bunch of links and "Share A Memory" pages for people who grew up in the '60s and '70s, or what was known for about five minutes as "Generation Jones."

I shared a memory about a toy called Kenner's Give-A-Show Projector. This was a large flashlight with a slot in it, and you would pass this little strip of slides with captions on them through the slot and project a movie on the wall, ideally from about four feet away. (Yes, kids, this is how we amused ourselves in the days before VCR's and computers.)

The little disclaimer when you submit a memory said that all memories are subject to an approval process before being posted to the site, presumably to avoid a page of spam and "you suck." But in case my memory isn't approved, here it is for posterity:
My sister and I got a Give-A-Show Projector for Christmas 1963. There were a few packets of strips, too. One packet was those Dick Tracy cartoons that were on every afternoon at the time, which would probably not run anywhere now because the ethnic stereotypes were outrageous: Joe Jitsu, Go-Go Gomez, etc.

It took about five minutes of playing with the projector the regular way before we got bored silly and began pointing it at each other. There was this one panel where Joe Jitsu is holding a magnifying glass up to his eye and looking through it so that his eye filled the whole panel. That one was our favorite: We'd scream "Aaagghhh! The Big Eye!" and shine the projector at each other's faces. It's amazing we didn't burn each other's retinas out.

Then if a grown-up came in to see what we were screaming about, we'd shine it at them, too.

If they accept that one, I'll share my other memories of playthings past: Melting crayons on top of the radiator in the frying pan of my Roy Rogers/Dale Evans "Home on the Range" cook set (just try scraping them off) and taking bets with my sister on what our pull-the-string talking dolls would say next.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Meezing in Place

Last night was the cooking class I'd signed up for at the New School. Like the one I'd taken last March, it was in the kitchen and dining room of The Inn on 23rd. This one was "Mise en Place," which is pronounced meeze on plaaahhhhhhhhhh and means "the carefully-timed, advance preparation of almost every ingredient needed for the dishes on the menu."

I'm a sucker for those articles in women's magazines that tell you how to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon making enough chicken legs for an army and then freezing them in batches to feed your family for the rest of the Winter. The problem with those meal plans, besides being overambitious, is that the meals themselves tend to be very "white bread." I'm a third-generation New Yorker; to me, garlic is a food group.

This was no problem in last night's class. Instructor Lynn Kutner, who filled in at the last minute for Michael Krondl, mapped out a flavorful menu that included a sauteed chicken dish, stuffed mushrooms and little intensely chocolate cakes. In fact, we started preparing the dessert first so that the cakes wouldn't be redolent of garlic, wine and shallots. The way all of these things had to do with mise en place is that you could stop anywhere along the preparation process and put the ingredients away to continue later, or the next day.

The Inn's kitchen is spacious and well-equipped, but it filled up quickly. There were ten students: Nine women and, that rara avis of recreational cooking classes, A Guy. Plus four teaching assistants who magically whisked away used frying pans, utensils and detritus. We sat and stood around a counter where each participant had about a foot and a half of workspace--my recipe handout kept falling on the floor or becoming seasoned, and an assistant put it on the buffet, where it was kept high and dry for me until the end of the meal.

We were divided into groups of twos, sharing mixing bowls and ingredients, which were passed around the table so quickly that I felt like Lucy and Ethel working in the candy factory. My partner was apparently some sort of ringer; she chopped and mixed with the assurance of Julia Child's child. Later, I found out that she and her friend who had accompanied her had been to several New School cooking classes.

Which isn't a bad idea, because if I took a class more than once every six months, perhaps I wouldn't be self-conscious making a meal in front of other humans. For instance, nobody except my husband had witnessed my skills with a chef's knife, and his reaction has been to flee the kitchen in terror and take both cats with him. But if my fellow participants were any indication, while none of us were Jacques Pepin, none of us were serial killers, either.

Also, when I'm at home I cook in sweats and t's, in happy oblivion about the pigsty I'm making of myself and the soon-to-be-hosed-down kitchen. But with not much personal elbow room, I felt like my mess would infringe on the space of the other students. Fortunately, nobody was paying much attention to me. They were more interested in following Lynn's instructions and in kibitzing and flirting with The Guy. I think I might get similar attention if I signed up for an Auto Repair class, except a) we don't have a car and b) in Manhattan, the other students would be nine women and a guy.

Despite awkwardness and spitting frying pans--apparently, you have to lower chicken pieces into hot oil very slowly--we made a delicious meal. I learned that an accumulation of olive oil, sunflower oil and vegetable shortening keeps your hands moisturized in cold, dry weather. I learned to bake fish in parchment. And the chicken recipe called for coating the meat in a tempura-style batter, which I thought I would hate. When it comes to animal flesh, I'm strictly a grilled girl. But it turned out surprisingly non-greasy and non-doughy, and meltingly tender.

For next term, the "Meals in 30 Minutes" class seems a bit more relevant to the way I actually live. While the course description for the "Mise" class had said, "how to organize and complete advance preparations several days ahead, saving only the final assembly and cooking for the meal itself," most of the things we actually prepared were highly perishable. Fresh fish, for example, should be used the same day. So I felt I was cheated out of "make-ahead" knowledge, and this is what I really need more of in order to make the most out of my time, which is in short supply on weekdays and not much more plentiful on weekends. The take-out counter at the Gourmet Garage is a great place, but less dependency on it can only be a good thing for my weight and my wallet, both.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Las Vegas

PBS is running a two-part documentary on Las Vegas this week. The timeline jumps back and forth between the history of Vegas and the present. We watched Part One last night, and historic-timeline-wise, it ended with the immediate post-Rat Pack era. The coming attractions for tonight's episode showed how Vegas fell out of favor during the late Sixties-early Seventies.

The first Vegas I can remember as a little child was the post-Atomic, Frank-Dean-Sammy making Ocean's 11 Vegas. I had never been there, but we all knew what it was: It looked like Miami, you went there to gamble, and it had singers and comics and ladies who took their clothes off. Things that would normally be considered "bad" to do were somehow okay in Vegas, because it was some kind of make-believe place where adults pretended things.

By the time I was a teenager, "Vegas" stood for everything that was wrong with the Establishment. Nobody who was as honest as an Earth shoe went to Vegas, and no bands featured on FM radio played there. Now, of course, there are plenty of oldies shows in Vegas featuring those same bands, or whichever ones have enough surviving members and brain cells.

Today's revived Vegas has elephantiasis. The emphasis is on extravaganzas. But the fundamentals are still there: The gambling, the entertainment, and judging from the latest commercial where two young lovelies are introducing themselves to a series of men as various cartoon and sitcom characters, there are still plenty of things grown-ups can pretend.

According to Marc Cooper, whose blog I read on a regular basis, Las Vegas is the most honest place in America. Cooper wrote a book by that name, and is one of the commenters on the documentary. "Las Vegas is a place where the currency."

The Vegas that interests me most is the one presented in the documentary by the hotel housekeeper, the cocktail waitress turned realtor, and the showgirl who moved from New York, where she was barely surviving as a dancer. This is a working woman's Vegas, where jobs are plentiful, you can make a decent living and get a good house, and even raise a family. These are the locals who are living in the real Las Vegas, a place where you can make the American Dream come true.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Post-Marathon Party

Our friends Nora Maynard and Chester Jankowski had their Post-Marathon Party this past Saturday night. We always enjoy seeing them, and I also like their apartment. My apartment would like to be their apartment, because:

1. Their apartment is in this Midtown townhouse that was renovated from a commercial to residential space about a decade ago, so it has those big old rooms with thick, solid walls but with a really nice modern, open kitchen;

2. It's about the size of two of our apartment laid end to end, and so has both Northern and Southern exposures--a rarity for any non-weathy Manhattanite.

Also, one of their cats is our cats' cousin, or father, or something. Some kind of landsman.

So once a year, they invite some good friends, who bring some good friends, to get together over wine and cheese and fruit. This year, music was provided by iTunes. Chester's been ripping his CD collection and is actually using the software the way it was intended--as a repository of one's digital music files, from which one can make and unmake various mixes. This sounds like a big "Du'h!" to everyone except, well, me. Like I said, I tend to use my iPod and iTunes as a glorified mix tape. Chester's "Post-Marathon Party" mix also utilized the shuffle setting on iTunes, and a genuine variety of genres, so that Charlie Parker co-existed with Richard Hell and the Voidoids. My iTunes playlists tend to have names like "The Summer of 1972" and are burned onto a disc for posterity.

The usual suspects were there. Our friends Linda and Mark sported new specs. My sister-in-law Gilda was there with her boyfriend Bill. Gilda has a new hairstyle that makes her look like Marc Bolan.

Bill's daughter Bernadette, who teaches school, was telling us that the news about kids getting better test scores meant the kids were getting better at taking tests, but still had a lot of gaps in their deeper comprehension of a lot of subjects--most notably, social studies. I thought this opinion was evident in some of those "person on the street" interviews Jay Leno does where people can't name a Supreme Court justice or find Wyoming on a map, but Jim's opinion was that if the kids are doing better on tests, they must be acquiring some knowledge. And so the teachers, Bernadette included, were getting through to them somehow.

We met Jennifer from Australia, who has just moved to New York to take a new job in the auction business. She was doing well there, sort of a "big frog in a little pond," and here in New York she's one of many from respective small ponds. This has been "meeting people from Australia" week for me, since three of the management trainees at work are guest trainees from Australia. They've been so overwhelmed by the choice of pubs and by sweet young things who find their accents charming, that by the time they get back to Sydney and Melbourne they're going to need about a year of sleep before they can actually manage anything.

So it was good seeing everyone--who I'll refer to for now as "and the rest" because I have to get back to work-- and several people were impressed that Jim used to know Lemmy from Motorhead (he was in a band with someone Jim knew back in the '70s.) So no matter how crappy your day gets, you can always reflect on stuff like, "I knew Lemmy from Motorhead."

And I may utilize iTunes the way nature and Jobs intended, and stop thinking so linear. Although if you were running a marathon, you'd probably have to think linear or you'd end up someplace goofy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Picture This...Or Not

They're putting up the big tree in Rockefeller Center, and the little trees on the plaza in front of the building where I work.

This is one of those times I wish I carried around a little digital camera, so that I could do a little photojournalism "as it happens" on my blog. I've been shopping for one, and a subcompact digital with resolution that's good enough for the Web can be had for less than $150.

So it's not the price that's getting in my way. Knowing me as well as I have for lo this half-century, I know that if I do carry a subcompact digital camera ready to whip out and photoblog at a moment's notice, I will say stuff like:

"It's too cold out and I don't want to take off my gloves to get out the camera and work it;"

"Bad people who steal will know that I have a good camera and will pick my pocket;"

"The FBI will think I'm from Al Qaida casing the joint for an attack;"

"What if I take a picture of that house with the interesting roof and whoever lives in the house sues me?"

"What if I use up all the memory in the camera and then I see something really interesting before I can dump the pics onto my computer?"

Therefore, what I will end up taking will be 365 pictures of the cats sleeping, which will look like 365 other pictures of the cats sleeping. Which will be useful if I want to play with iMovie and have a movie entirely comprised of pictures of the cats sleeping.

Of course, one could take all of these things into consideration and take the risk anyway: of cold hands, running from the law, running from assailants and running out of memory. So myself and my Margaret Bourke-White fantasies may be paying a visit to Staples, Best Buy or J&R this weekend.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Peoples' Donuts

The large, multi-national corporation for which I work has instituted two-week orientation classes for new associates this year, with a real training manager and everything. Time and space permitting, existing staffers can audit the classes.

When I started with the company three and a half years ago it was settling down from a bigtime merger and things were chaotic. My training had been basically to shadow a co-worker who was supposed to go on maternity leave a couple of weeks later. She gave birth unexpectedly one night and left me to face a trial by fire, which I was afraid would turn into a Trial By Fired.

I survived and learned, but you know how it is when you get stuck in a rut at the job. If somebody were to ask me a question about an area outside my expertise, I'd be like the immigrant in the joke about "Apple pie and coffee."*

So I signed up for a few classes, the first one being yesterday afternoon after lunch. I slipped into the conference room, where about a dozen young management trainees sat like deer in auto headlights, waiting for their chance to be transformed into alpha elks. In the back of the room was a dessert tray from lunch, with some leftover donuts.

Should I take one? I deliberated. Are they just New Associate's Donuts, or could auditors take one? Would taking one mark me as "look at that pig, walking in and stuffing her face with donuts"?

I sat on the side and cast surreptitious glances at the donuts while the speaker was speaking. And then the trainer's assistant came in with a cart and took the donuts to the pantry, where they would become Everybody's Donuts, and would be gone by the time I got out of the class.

Oh well. I need to drop a few anyway.

*The joke:

There's this immigrant to the US who wants to go to a diner for breakfast and he doesn't know how to speak English. A friend tells him, "just say apple pie and coffee."

So every morning for a week he goes to the diner, "Apple pie and coffee." "Apple pie and coffee." "Apple pie and coffee."

After about a week of this, the immigrant wants to order something new. So his friend says, "Ask for eggs."

The next day, the immigrant goes to the diner, and asks the waitress for eggs.

The waitress says, "Scrambled or fried?"

[Pause pause pause]

"Apple pie and coffee."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

"Drop That Mix Disc and Come Out With Your Hands Up!"

From's Molly Wood:

On Monday, October 31, alert users discovered that Sony BMG is using copy-protected CDs to surreptitiously install its digital rights management technology onto PCs. You don't have to be ripping the CD, either--just playing it from your CD-ROM drive triggers the installation.

So what does this installation do?

"This product limits your ability to make multiple digital copies of its content, and you will not be able to play this disc or make copies onto devices not listed as compatible. Content/copy protected CDs should allow limited burning, as well as ripping into secure Windows Media Audio formats for playback with most compatible media players and portable devices. In rare cases, these CDs may not be compatible with computer CD-ROM players, DVD players, game consoles, or car CD stereos, and often are not transferable to other formats like MP3."

So not only does it install itself onto my computer without my knowledge or permission, but I also can't rip the disc to play on my iPod. But why would Sony do such a thing?

some have suggested that the reasoning behind it is part of Sony's ongoing war over digital music supremacy with the decidedly more supreme Apple. Here's how Engadget summarizes a recent article from Variety: "The new copy protection scheme--which makes it difficult to rip CDs and listen to them with an iPod--is designed to put pressure on Apple to open the iPod to other music services, rather than making it dependent on the iTunes Music Store for downloads." I wonder if I'm safe because I have a Mac?

And I wonder how many CD's I'm interested in buying or have bought in the recent past are from Sony?

At any rate, iTunes tracks are only 128 kpbs and lack presence when played with tracks I've ripped from my CD's at a higher bit rate. So being able to use a music store that rips stuff at a higher bit rate would be desirable. But this is not the way to go about it, if this was indeed Sony's purpose.

You know who's not even going to notice? The mass-production piracy operations, that's who. You know it, and I know it. So why are you engaged in this nickel-and-dime, small-time thrust-and-parry with me and my friends? Trust me, you're not going to make back the money by dropping viruses onto my PC, because my almighty dollar and I are going elsewhere--and you're probably not going to like where I end up.

And according to Wired, what Sony did may be illegal:

Sony may even have committed a crime under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which can carry fines and prison terms for anyone who "knowingly causes the transmission of a program ... and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage, without authorization, to a protected computer." Corrupting Windows so it misreports the contents of a hard drive sounds a lot like "damage," and the click-wrap license agreement on the Sony disk amounts to pretty thin "authorization" -- disclosing only that "this CD will automatically install a small proprietary software program ... intended to protect the audio files embodied on the CD."

Ha ha. I'm not a criminal; they are!

Just the same, I'd better hurry up and rip all my CD's into MP3's and then back them up on a DVD, before Sony or some other company corrupts my computer, or I overdose on initials.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Good Luck!

Good luck to everyone running in the New York City Marathon tomorrow, especially our friends Nora Maynard and Chester Jankowski.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Shoulda Known Better, And Althouse Shoulda Too

Ann Althouse posted some pics on her blog on Wednesday of an anti-war demonstration in Madison, Wisconsin, where she teaches law. No comment other than "Anti-War Rally Today in Madison."

In the "Comments," the first comment came from a poster named Mary who said something that had crossed my mind, too:

I just hope your commenters don't tear into these young protestors too much.

And she continued:

Just curious: do you post these Madison photos, like the woman with the nightstick calling for riots, to make the city of Madison look bad? It seems like the commenters always think the PC "liberals" here in Madison are responsible for everything, but it should be noted that we have a large contigent of conservative young men here who enjoy the drinking and police baiting as much as the PC "liberals".

Tear into the protestors many commentors did, and a few comments later, Ann replied:

As for today's photos: how could they be more neutral? I was walking from my office to State Street to get some lunch, saw something happening on the Mall, and tried to get some good photos, which I posted with the most minimal possible commentary. What you see is mainly what you project -- your own hopes and fears.

Horse hockey!

Althouse is a smart woman, and she's gotta know that any regular reader of her blog would take into consideration some of her wry and oft-accurate barbs at the knee-jerk leftyism on the Madison campus and infer that people will draw similar conclusions from the new pictures. Putting the responsibility for this perception totally on the eye of the beholder is a cop-out, and very uncharacteristic of this particular blogger.

By the same token, given that I'm a regular reader of political blogs in general, for me to click on the link that said "94 Comments" and then bemoan the pirhana feeding frenzy that I knew I would find there between belligerent conservatives and smug liberals is disingenuous of me. You don't walk into a bordello and then criticize the place for not being a Howard Johnson's.

Oh, and to the guy who wrote:

BTW, please post photos of leftist demonstrations against Iran's genocidal plea for Israel to be "wiped off the map." What's that you say? There aren't any? Hmmm.

Go sit on a tack. Putting anyone with a question or criticism into the same moral league with every loony in a turban who wants to blow up the civilized world is a trick from the Rove playbook that I've found particularly odious. And judging from the president's latest approval ratings, such tricks are beginning to result in less and less magic for this administration.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Use What You Have" Month

I have declared November to be "Use What You Have" Month.

Basically, this means that instead of going out to buy new stuff, Use What You Have.

This does not extend to food, although if you have, say, a can of water chestnuts that's been in the cupboard for a year, you should either eat them or donate them to a needy family so that they can enjoy water chestnuts for the holiday season.

It does extend to just about everything else: Clothes, CD's, books, magazines, household items, and the stuff belonging to that broad category called Health & Beauty Aids.

In fact, it could also be called, Use What You Have.

Case in Point: Seven years ago, I scoured the Odd Job Lots and eBay for several bottles of a discontinued Charlie fragrance called "Oriental," which I've loved ever since 1990 when I bought a bottle in a Duane Reade store. And for seven years, these fake jade bottles have sat on a shelf in the bedroom, doled out as preciously as platinum. Why? Because once I use them, they will be gone! The world's precious resources of Charlie Oriental will be depleted!

So what? Then I can use up the other dozen bottles of cologne I've bought in the past decade. They'll be discontinued by then, too.

It could also be called, "Have What You Use."

Case in Point: Last holiday season, some friends brought over a bottle of wine. My husband and I never drink with dinner at home. We're not teetotallers or reformed drunks; we just like having clear heads to argue with the TV all evening.

Also, due to the extremely small size of our apartment, we never do any serious entertaining, tending to have gatherings of four or five at a time or else moving the soiree to a nearby restaurant.

Consequently, our entire glassware collection consists of three cracked thermal plastic tumblers, four wine glasses I got as a gift twenty years ago and never use, and some Dixie Cups.

So when our friends gave us the wine, we said, "Oh, thanks!" and then proceeded to perform an act worthy of the Flying Wallendas as we clambered up to the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet, hefted old broken appliances over our heads, retrieved the glasses and passed them down to the sink, where we scrubbed them of years of grime and crud. Why didn't we just use the Dixie Cups? They had some great songs in the mid-Sixties. And we could get a set of these neat new Stemless Wine Glasses, which look much classier than thermal tumblers for everyday, non-wine beverages.

Use your Metrocard instead of taking a cab. Use your library card instead of buying a DVD. Or better yet, watch all those DVD's you've bought in the past year that are just sitting there with the books you haven't read yet and the CD's you've never played. Get rid of the Foghat album you bought for "Slow Ride" and the Emerson, Lake and Palmer LP you bought for "Lucky Man" and get those tracks on something like this ... or download 'em. Marvel at how the record industry got us to buy four-album sets to get one song while making 45's uncool.

Take out your old clothes and your old ideas and see which need to be repaired, given away or discarded. Personally, there isn't one occasion in my life that couldn't be met by a black pantsuit with something sparkly.

Often when you're giving away an item, you're giving away a whole idea of your life that went with the item. But in the years since you got it, or actually used it, your real life may have become more interesting than the one you've imagined. Or if it isn't, you can make it that way without really big shoulder pads.

Use what you have, have what you use, and appreciate what you have.

And then in December, go get more stuff.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Trick Or Treat"

My favorite part of Halloween in the Village is when the neighborhood kids go trick or treating in the little stores. The stores have designated "Trick or Treat" hours between when the two public schools, 3 and 41, dismiss the kids after the school's Halloween parties and before the big Parade begins.

The kids are usually accompanied by a parent or two, and often preschool siblings, who, overbalancing in their costumes and props, toddle into your kneecaps and have to be herded back to their guardians.

I walked down Bleeker behind a gaggle of ten year old girls who chanted "Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat."

Then one girl, apparently the ringleader, continued, "If you don't, I don't care..." and her cohorts looked from her to each other, confused. There's a second verse?

She pulled them aside for a consultation as they continued marching.

"Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. If you don't, I don't care, I'll pull down your underwear!" They strode across Seventh, getting louder and more confident with each repetition. Then into a CD store, where their voices trailed off in the middle of the "feet" line as a dispassionate clerk ladled Milky Way miniatures into their outstretched bags.

Full darkness descended by six as tourists poured in, and the blocks where I buy my groceries and do my laundry became landmarks and attractions. "Oh, there's where we ate after the Parade last year." "This is where we'll meet if we get lost." A hairy-knuckled Alice in Wonderland leaned against the outside of the pizzeria, smoking a cigarette. The kids went home, and it was playtime for the adults.

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