30 August 2005

VladNews: More satire and fewer teeth than The Onion.

So I came across this today in the new issue of Vladivostok News. The Vlad News (as we call it) is eastern Russia's only English-language newspaper. It comes out once a week, and features articles from a city so desolate, so poor, so absolutely miserable, that I can't believe it is a real place. Closed to westerners until 1991, Vladivostok is now trying to become a major international city. It is closer to Hong Kong than Moscow, closer to Tokyo than Kiev, but similar only to Schenectady in its appalling decrepitude. Come for the rotting submarines. Stay for the drunken 10-year old orphans. Die at the hands of a mob-boss. All in Vladivostok.

Here's an article that enforces the stereotype that Russians are drunken animals. Luckily, its the Russian's who are enforcing it.

Enjoy!

29 August 2005

The Hall of Fame Needs More Players! Send These Guys!

Well, a guy who goes by the name of Pat (and sometimes for the sake of a good practical joke, "Rob") and I decided to sit down and produce a list of 40 guys who absolutely without a doubt will be entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Pat's lifetime unless the last ten continue to repeat the same mediocre season they're having this year or run into Dwight Gooden's dealer in the passageways under Shea Stadium. We forced ourselves to choose forty, because some guy at Sport's Illustrated did, and our list of 48 probables took 3 full hours to reach the limit we'd set at the beginning of the evening. When the dust settled, we quickly ranked them in order of most to least likely. Then we remembered Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel, so we went to get some falafel sandwiches on Avenue A, and it helped us to completely forget either of those two shortstops ever existed.

So here it is: forty ACTIVE players who we believe have the best chances of being inducted. Check this blog in 40 years to see if we were right. And if you're wondering where Larry Walker is (career .312 hitter) well, Pat thought it would be funny to sneak Richard Pryor onto the list, and spell it wrong at that.

1. Clemens
2. Bonds
3. Maddux
4. Piazza
5. Johnson
6. Palmeiro
7. Sosa
8. Martinez
9. Biggio
10. Griffey
11. Jeter
12. Rodriguez, A
13. Glavine
14. Rodriguez, I
15. Thomas
16. Rivera
17. Smoltz
18. Ramirez
19. Kent
20. Ichiro
21. Sheffield
22. Bagwell
23. Pujols
24. Guerrero
25. Schilling
26. Hoffman
27. Damon
28. Jones, C
29. Helton
30. Jones, A
31. Rolen
32. Pierre
33. Hudson
34. Beltre
35. Matsui
36. Santana
37. Prior
38. Cabrera, M
39. Wright, D
40. Texeira

27 August 2005

10 Drives: Honorable Mention

...of course there were nominees. Here's a list of drives that just lost out, but were definitely in consideration. Some: suffered from a resemblance to other drives I've taken, were too long ago to recall, or didn't get a lot of words or pictures out of me. To complete the list, I have to mention a bias or two. I've always enjoyed the Blue Ridge and I-85, but I've never wholly loved the Appalachian Mountains, at least as much as others.

The nominees:
-US Highway 191 Crescent Junction to Bluff, UT (this should have been on there, now that I think of it)
-Connecticut Route 15, The Merritt Parkway, Rye, NY to Trumbull, CT
-US Route 340, Harper's Ferry to Charles Town, WV
-Vermont Route 30, Rupert to Manchester, VT
-The Nabesna Road, Slana to Nabesna, AK
-I-85, Oxford, NC to Petersburg, VA
-US Route 160, Pagosa Springs to Durango, CO
-Clendon Brook Road, Queensbury NY
-Boulevard, Hudson Falls, NY
-The Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoake to Pennington Gap, VA
-The Jackie Robinson Parkway, Brooklyn, NY
-Pont Victoria, Montreal, QC
-Hatcher Pass, Palmer to Willow, AK

25 August 2005

10 Drives: #1 The Alaska Highway


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Provincial Route 97, “The Alaska Highway,” Fort St. John, BC to Beaver Creek, YT:

Not all of the Alaska Highway is in Alaska, and I'd say this 1100-mile stretch through the southern Yukon Territory and northern British Columbia is definitely the best of it. It would drive you insane if the road didn't attempt to throw you off it at every turn, and the landscape didn't astound at these very same turns.

But wait! As a preamble to the Alaska Highway, there is the uniquely treacherous Provincial Route 29, running from Chetwynd to Fort St. John, BC. If you’re killed on any of the drives I recommend, odds are 5 to 4 it’s on this one. The little route saves you some time off of BC Route 97 as it head due north passed Dawson Creek (the official start of the Alaska Highway and practically in Alberta). Additionally, it lets you start moving somewhat in the direction of Alaska, which if you are going from Seattle (east of Alaska) you haven’t been. Avoiding moose, caribou, and elk becomes your only concern. The road is freshly paved and I never saw another car on it heading north; the way home I saw maybe 5. BE ADVISED (not kidding here): Near Fort St. John, the road dips drastically on a sharp turn on a steep hillside, and your passenger side drops three feet while the driver side remains level. It’s a violent tilt that lasts barely a second, but I hit it going 90 and thought that I’d driven off the cliff. Also, BE ADVISED: I passed a section of the road where moose were just lined up on the side of the road, my headlights only high enough to see torsoes. And I drove by some recently killed deer.


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Joining back up with Route 97 at Fort Saint John, you pass the majestic Muncho Lake Provincial Park, where the water is crystal blue and the desire to drive into it is unheeded by guard-rails or any sort of safety precautions. A shimmeringly decadent way to be killed in an automobile. The rest of the drive winds through the thickest pine forests I’ve ever seen; animals are strangely sparse (because Route 29 and the rest of 97 south of here is like driving through a zoo). The twists and turns of the road recall car commercials that ran the tagline: “Do not attempt. Professional driver on closed road.” The lack of law enforcement and traffic make for the perfect driving experience. 95 MPH is not impossible, though its best to have your eyes fixed to the road. No blinking. Photo ops such as the ones below mostly occurred with my car parked in the middle of the highway.


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I don't mean to scare anyone attempting the drive. I read several articles claiming this stretch would take 4 days (you can do it a day and a half), and I read things about how through much of Canada the road is in poor shape. The Canadian part of the Alaska Highway is by far the easiest to drive. That doesn't mean the Alaska side is not well maintained, they just have harsher winters to contend with. Broken gravel (which tends to spin and/or flip over cars) is relatively sparse in these parts, where in Alaska its a constant hassle.


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Near the Alaskan border you get the only roadside views of the dense, enormous, mostly impenetrable, and humbling Kluane (Kloo-Ah-Nee) National Park. This is the Canadian side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (the nation's largest park, and something you'll hear more about from me in future posts). Together they form the first UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 1978. The last views of the Yukon are here, where the mountain ranges shoot up to heights not seen in the lower-48 or the rest of Canada. This is a remarkable drive that puts every road I have ever driven to shame. I'll be defending cars as a carless New Yorker for the rest of my days because of this road.

10 Drives: #2 PCH

California Route 1, The Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica to Santa Cruz, CA

At the intersection of Wilshire and Ocean Ave in Santa Monica is the historic end of Route 66. Beginning in Chicago and winding (sometimes invisibly, consumed by larger routes) to the Pacific Coast. this is an extraordinary place to take on the Pacific Coast Highway and start up through Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterrey onto the birthplace of American surfing, Santa Cruz. California's Route 1 does something few roads do on the Atlantic coast: it follows the water meticulously, keeping the ocean in view for more miles than any other. Passing mountains, cliffs, tropical groves, farms, and valleys, there is no single road that passes more places I'd love to live. If your car breaks down on this road, consider it a blessing. It goes all the way up the coast and into Canada - and I drove the portion that extends to Vancouver recently - but cannot say anything about it in California after Santa Cruz. Still, by motorcycle or convertible, the love affair with America's highways owes its entire reputation to this road. There won't be another one like it built in the continental US ever again.

24 August 2005

10 Drives: #3 BIA Route 41


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Bureau of Indian Affairs Route 41, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD:

Rand McNally has it listed as Route 40, and it is for a while, but then it changes to 41 when you get onto the Pine Ridge Reservation. The road to Pine Ridge is straight and lonesome (no tourists, no trucks), taking you from the lush Black Hills into the Badlands. Immediately, you are reminded that of all land that prospective farmers would turn down, this would be it. Nothing grows here. Just as you drive out of the reservations (onto my list's #4), the soil becomes fertile and the landscape plush. I mean, what could be more generous than saying, "Sorry we took your land, we saved you the Badlands. Woah, hold on there!" As an added insult to the Sioux tribes, we carved the Badlands National Park out of the Pine Ridge Reservation and claimed it back. So with this in mind, the drive becomes a three act tragedy.


Badlands.jpg


Act One: The Land. Countless scenes of barren desolation.
Act Two: The River. You pass the miserable and ironic “White River,” the only natural source of water around, which is as wide as your left arm.
Act Three: The City. Pine Ridge, site of an ignoble shootout between FBI agents and Sioux leaders in 1973. Now there's a Pizza Hut (manager's a white guy) and a gas station. That's all.


BIA41b.jpg


Route 41 takes along the butte where Crazy Horse is supposedly buried, and ends just 14 miles from the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, as sad as any landscape on earth. The main reason why we have any roads at all in this country is because we were able to destroy one way of life to perpetuate ours. Regardless of how you feel about this, the gas station in Pine Ridge (which sells 85 Octane as regular, 87 as Plus) is one of the finest places for any citizen to pause and reflect on our "American" way of life.

23 August 2005

10 Drives: #4 US Route 20 through Nebraska


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US Route 20 Gordon to O’Neil, NE:

That’s right, Nebraska. If perchance you've wondered why a convertible is anything more than an unnecessary extravagance, please drive this road. For those of you who like your land flat: your yellow brick road. I swear at times the corn, at five feet tall, obscures the horizon. But most of the land is unfarmed and unruly, a breathe of air from the mega-farms and ranches you pass along Interstate 80 (130 miles south). This road is rarely traveled and cuts through some very small, depressing towns, running east-west from Wyoming to Iowa. I picked it up just south of South Dakota (after driving #5 and what will be #3). The scenery is lovely: lazy plains, lonesome cows, and ancient grain silos. Its like drifting through relics of a different era; some of these silos were built with materials that will stand as long as any buildings anywhere else in the country.

Silos.jpg


If you catch the sunset over the perfectly flat horizon, within half an hour you will see a sky speckled with distant stars and prominent, glowing constellations in every direction. WIth a convertible, you'd see a planetarium-like view of the heavens. I went 26 minutes without a car in either direction. But if solitude, silence, and space aren't enough, you’ll drive from Mountain to Central Time Zone at the half-way point, in the middle of the state, in the middle of nowhere, for reasons I’d like to explain but cannot.

22 August 2005

10 Drives #5: Needles Highway


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Needles Highway, Custer State Park, SD:

Near Mount Rushmore, somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota there lived a young man named Rocky Racooooonnn-ah... Though this road is only about 25-30 miles (making it the shortest road in my survey), it holds considerable sway over the imagination. The Black Hills of South Dakota aren't black, not even close, but they are densely foreboding in a way that the surrounding countryside (eastern: WY, MT, SD) just plain isn't. For some reason this part of South Dakota has a landscape of its own, and the only way to see it is to take the Needles Highway. It could prove to be an equally rewarding bike ride, though I didn't have the luxury. Plus, I’m not sure how accustomed the Dakota drivers are to seeing bikes.

When I drove Needles the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was in full swing and the road was unpleasantly choked with traffic. The Wilderness Loop of Custer Park branches off of it, and the ride (probably closer to 45 miles with that added) is one of the best places to see towering dark rocks standing tall in the sky. Your imagination is capable of treating it as our Easter Island. What I find most remarkable about this spot of the world is that these rock formations that have gone on to inspire the faces for actual American presidents. Who knew the man we see on the $5 bill, Abraham Lincoln, was based on a carving done by glaciers or aliens during the last ice age?

21 August 2005

10 Drives: #6 The McCarthy Road


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The McCarthy Road, Chitina to McCarthy, AK:

Who is ready for a single-lane, 60-mile crushed stone and dirt road to the middle of nowhere? What was once the CR&NW Railroad (locals referred to it as the “Can’t Run and Never Will) is now a shitty little road that no-one seems to maintain. It washboards, it goes underwater, it crosses over rickety wooden bridges and includes a few brutal turns that make it difficult to swerve around the drivers who’ve stopped to change tires. You either make it safely or blow through two spares, there’s no middle ground. The way in has a hell of an ascent, and the possibility of maintaining 30 mph (cutting the drive to 2 solid hours) is wishful thinking. Still, when you get to the end of the road and still have to walk 3/4 of a mile to town, you know you're in one hell of a remote spot on the globe. Talking about the quite rambunctious town of McCarthy (population....18?) detracts from the driving experience, so I'll save that for another time. The scenery is incredible, but the nausea one feels every time you hit a pothole (there are 3.6 million potholes on this road, I think) doesn't make it fit for the fainthearted. Worst road in Alaska? Quite possibly. The abandoned mines, glaciers, endless hiking, and wonderful weather (oh... and the bar) help to ease your mind about the much easier ride back down.

20 August 2005

10 Drives: #7 State Route 72

South Carolina Route 72, Clinton to Calhoun Falls, SC

If you were going from southeastern North Carolina to Athens, GA this appears on a "more generous than reality" road atlas to be the fastest route. It's not, but it is a splendid ride in rural South Carolina and a fun little trek through some very small towns. You'll see your little roadside shitholes, but make sure to stop and chat with the locals. I stopped for gas in Greenwood and asked the lady behind the register if the gas station was ever air conditioned. This is what I remember her telling me.

"I'm pregnant. My boyfriend pierced my bellybutton but it ain't come out right so we gonna do it again when the bruises heal. He's better at tattoos."

Since this was a few years ago, I'm fairly sure there's a little child running around with dents in its brain. The road passes through beautiful Abbeville, SC, which calls itself "The Cradle and Grave of the Confederacy," and sports a violent crimes per 1000 people rate four times that of Manhattan. The median income in most of the towns you'll pass hovers around half the national average. What really makes the drive of course are the unending miles of golden hills and sunshine. The southern pace of life isn't sold at any rest stop. All you gotta do is find a dilapidated, soot spewing pickup truck to slog behind for a few hundred miles.

10 Drives: #8 The Taconic

The Taconic State Parkway, White Plains to Chatham, NY.

Maybe this one deserves mention only because it is NOT Interstate 87. The Taconic is a bad-ass two lane bobsled track relatively free of State Troopers. It begins in metropolitan White Plains, and hits some strange intersections and traffic lights before slipping into the wildernesses of Dutchess and Putnam counties. Even in traffic it’s a blast, weaving in and out through the trees, with no rest areas, fast-food, or semis in sight (trucks not allowed on parkways). Its probably what 87 was like 20 years ago. The pace is fast and the Catskill scenery blissful. Although not as speedy a commute to Albany as the interstate, I’ll take the extra 30 minutes. The Taconic proves that even when prospects are bleak, there's always another path to take.

19 August 2005

10 Drives: #9 I-90?


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Interstate 90 through Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana:

I started with I-90 on the Pacific Coast near Seattle, and could have driven it all the way to Chicago and proclaimed, "I've driven every inch of this fucking road." But I bailed on it in Billings, MT. What I didn't realize is that it's actually a wonderful road on the west coast, a sort of Poor Man’s Alaska Highway. It’s windy, mountainous, and remote (just like the real one) but it has two lanes, guardrails, and exit-ramps. And it goes through real towns. It's not dangerous, just exciting. Not an interstate, but close. One of the oddest things I’ve seen is the raging forest fires that line the road once you enter Montana. They just burn and burn, clogging the air with smoke and the night sky with sinister slashes of red going up the mountainsides. This is an easy, relaxing, and beautiful drive.

18 August 2005

10 Drives: #10 The Denali Highway


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I'm not going to say this is definitive or anything, but I'd like to put up a list of ten drives I feel have been rewarding experiences. Driving can often be overwhelming and self-defeating (especially in cities). Some roads deserve celebration. Here's a list of ten.

Alaska Route 8, “The Denali Highway,” at Cantwell, AK:

This 135-mile gravel road cuts through the Denali State Park, which lies directly to the east of Denali National Park. Unlike the NP, there are no mandatory fees, bus tours, tourists, or scheduled hikes. There are no rangers, ranger stations, and only two small roadhouses that break up the scenery for the full 135 miles. What you get from this road is a trip above the treeline, free of bush and brush, where hiking and fishing are as easy as pulling over the car. No trails are necessary. The route passes hundreds of small lakes. Bicycling is also a great option. If you are hurt in this area or you burst a tire, it could be a while before any help arrives. As in days. So be cautious but also know that you have practically the whole place to yourself. The weather in this part of Alaska is very agreeable, and the visibility is so great that you can see several rainstorms in the vicinity and track their movement across the horizon. "Rain comin' yonder, Huckleberry!" you might say, and no one but the ferocious mosquitos will judge your crazy mountain jibber-jabber.

16 August 2005

Alaska #2: SO! You Want to Drive an RV to Alaska?

Here are some helpful hints on making your trip to Alaska in a 50 foot, $300,000 motor home that’s towing a Lincoln Town Car with some bikes on the racks and a couple of dogs, a little easier to take.

1. You suck. Seriously. If you thought your trip from Florida to Alaska was going to be life-changing and certainly something precious you could tell your kids about, I have terrible news for you: You suck.

2. Your car is fucking huge. Yeah, that’s right, I can’t see around you at all. Your vehicle is taller than the trees. And since your “friend” you meet at every fricking gas station is following you, I feel like I’m forced to pass what would amount to, seriously, 9 cars.

3. Truckers hate you. That’s right, they despise the fact that you’re allowed to avoid weigh stations, tow cars and (yes, I saw you) OTHER RVS! without anything more than a regular driver’s license. Truckers can’t pass you either, and they hate your worthless guts.

4. You can’t go very fast. I mean you can go faster than a skateboarder but probably slower than a horse.

5. You will save money by buying a car and a house when you get to Alaska. Seriously, by the time you fill your 100-gallon tanks and squeeze out your 10 miles to the gallon because you’ve got a lounge and a kitchen and who knows what else in there, air-conditioning for 1000 square feet and satellite tv and shit, you’ve just begun. Because now you have to pay camping rates ($25 a night), parking rates (the AK Marine Highway doesn’t want you on their boats), shuttle rates and tour bus rates (you’re too big for most park roads), plus you’ll end up eating and staying in hotels anyway. Seriously, buy a house, a boat, a car, an ATV, and an adopted child when you get to Alaska. You’ll be way, way ahead.

If you’re thinking of embarking on a noble quest to conquer Alaska by road in a “Recreational Vehicle,” please do so in the largest vehicle you can find. And please, pull over on the shoulder that doesn’t exist and walk your two dogs every two hours. I’ll just go around.

15 August 2005

Alaska #1: Statistician's Alley


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I recently took a 12-day trip to Alaska, renting a car in Seattle and driving through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. I visited the Eastern interior (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park), the Western Interior (Denali Parks), and the Kenai Peninsula. The trip was of course a rushed affair, but it gave me a great introduction to the Alaska I will explore on future vacations. After leaving Alaska, I visited my friend Kyle in Seattle for three days, stayed in an apartment in Vancouver for 7 days, then trekked down to Montana and South Dakota, a stop in Chicago, then a brief affair with Upstate New York. I returned to the GP, Brooklyn late last night to find my apartment swimming in the weekend's rainfall. As I dont feel too motivated to clean up right this very moment, here are some Alaskan facts and figures, as well as some logistics on this truly exhausting promenade through the mighty American landscape.

-Rental Car: 2005 Toyota Corolla
-Number of unlimited miles driven in rental car: 5,841.
-Total amount spent on 12-day rental, with insurance: $424.00
-Total amount spent on gas, to and from Seattle plus Alaska (5,841 miles): $538.00
-Amount spent in Canada (3,940 miles): $404.00
-Amount spent in US (1,901 miles): $134.00
-Average price paid for a gallon of gas in Alaska: $2.27
-Lowest price paid: $2.17
-Average price paid for a gallon of gas in British Columbia: $3.50
-Highest price paid for a gallon of gas: $4.03 Fort Nelson, BC (last gas for 120 miles toward the NT and 80 miles to the Yukon)
-Number of pine trees seen on drive: 70 billion
-Number of police vehicles seen in Canada: 0
-Number of police vehicles seen in Alaska: 5. They were all parked at a diner in Glenallen, AK, eating lunch. None of them were on duty so I can’t say that it counts. It’s the only diner between Anchorage and Tok (320 miles apart) so I really don’t blame them, but I never saw them again.
-Percentage of Canada’s Population Living in the Yukon Territory: 0.12%
-Number of Residents in the YT, 2001 Census: 28,674
-Nearest Proximity to the Northwest Territories: 88 miles. At Fort Nelson, BC you have a choice: Yukon or NT. I seriously debated traveling the 300 miles of gravel road to the bottom edge of Great Slave Lake, then continuing on pavement another 400 from there up to Yellowknife. But since no one in the world I know has ever been to the NTs and no one I know would really give a shit if I went there or Cleveland, I decided to head on toward Alaska. It has always been a dream of mine to go there, if only to see what could possibly be worthing living up there for.
-Average speed maintained on Alaska Highway: 59 mph. Difficult to say this is reliable, because with the numerous stops for gas, animal crossings, gravel roads, gravel patches, and construction sites, the maintainable speed is much lower than the possible speed.
-Attempted average speed: 95mph. I reached speeds of 110 but it was 95 that I tried to keep consistent. As the speed limit was 90-100 kmph, 147 is probably a hell of a ticket.
-Number of Miles Driven Without Being Passed: 5,632. Just after Spence’s Bridge in central British Columbia, a driver passed me on a brutal series of turns. He was a 60-year old motorcyclist who was capable of cornering at 75mph, a little sharper than I could manage. I passed him a few miles later (on the flats) but my title proclaiming “Fastest Driver in British Columbia” was squelched 200 miles from the border. Still, the titles “Fastest Driver in the Yukon,” and “Fastest Driver in Alaska” are absolutely mine.
-Longest stretch without seeing another vehicle in either direction: 1 hr, 29 minutes. On Provincial Route 29 (Northern BC) I was the only car on the road. The moose however far outnumbered me.
-Animals seen on Alaska Highway (as in, physically on the road): buffalo, caribou, black bear, elk, moose, silver fox, shrew, horse.
-Drive from Washington State Border to Slana, AK: 34 hours. On the way home I tried to beat this record but made it in exactly the same time.
-Longest stretch without leaving the car: 51 hours. After staying in Alaska an extra half-day longer than I should have, I found myself in quite a bind. So my 34 hour drive home was spent without the luxury of sleeping in a tent (no time for assembly) or any real overnight breaks. I do not recommend this.
-Superlatives Seen:
World's Largest Icefield - The Harding Ice Field
North America's Highest Peak: Mt. McKinley, 20, 300 ft
World's Highest Vertical Rise: McKinley again, 18,000 ft
North America's Largest National Park: Wrangell-St. Elias NP (twice the size of MA, 6 Yellowstones)
World's Smallest Town: Nabesna, AK Population 1 (He wasn't home)
World's Richest Copper Mine: Kennecott Mine, Kennicott, AK (Miners can't spell)

-Total miles traveled on the road from July 19-August 14: 9,468

14 August 2005

Coolest License Plate Seen


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It’s fucking bear-shaped. A giant cookie.

This one could also compete with the Yukon for the claim of World’s Rarest Automobile License Plate. With only 36,000 residents (and even fewer cars), this one proved to be a tough find. I only saw one. Never saw a Nunavut plate (territory to the east of NT, population 27,000) but I think they use the same one.

And the old Yukon one, for good measure:

yt79-t.JPG >

13 August 2005

I'll Have A Nunavut Margherita.

As we hear that everything is bigger in Texas, I decided to compare, in total area in square miles, some northern places to Texas, using a measurement I like to call “The Texan.” A Texan is 261,000 square miles.

The Yukon Territory is 7/10ths of a Texan
Alberta is 1 Texan
British Columbia is 1 and 2/5ths Texans
The Northwest Territories is 1 and a half Texans
Alaska is 2 and a half Texans
Nunavut is 3 Texans.

And Jaron, in case you were wondering (I certainly was):
The average male penis is .000000000445 Texans.

07 August 2005

A Rare Outburst of Guttural Blasphemy – Proceed at your own risk.

I try desperately not to comment on the excerpts I publish here from time to time. When I come across something in my readings and share it, I feel the act of typing out the excerpt is comment enough. But I have to go against that belief, if only once (I hope), to recommend to all of you The Selected Writings of Walter Benjamin and especially, his Arcades Project. These works have been translated within the last five years and most of his works are being issued in paperback for the first time this year and next. I cannot for the life of me remember when I have read something that has so consistently astounded me. He writes in brief and inconsistent bursts of genius. He never wrote fiction but allows the reader a nearly perfect narrative tone, a critical eye into practically every single topic, an ear for the music of human thought and an unparalleled perception of our civilization’s future. When one applies his writings on the rudimentary technological advances of the first half of the 20th century to the rapid ones of today, it is as if he has spoken from our vantage with only the language of his. Today I continued through the pages-500 of his Selected Writings Vol. 2, and came across a fragment he wrote on Mickey Mouse. I couldn’t fucking believe he would tackle the subject of Mickey Mouse, but he does so with his usual unpredictability. I typed it out below. Not a representational piece in the least, but if the guy can write about the state’s control of pornography, radio’s destruction of the ‘audience,’ prostitution as the root of advertising, fashion’s disgust with the past, and a cartoon character’s vision of human degeneracy, then damned if I can do any more than keep reading.

His “The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility” is taught in History, English, Literary Criticism, Art History, Film Criticism, and Design classes; each time it is taught in a different field it warrants an individual interpretation. The literary critic and the historian look at this work in completely different ways.

YOU SHOULD BE READING WALTER BENJAMIN.

I feel awful. Forgive me. But I am not fucking around.

“Mickey Mouse,” Fragment by Walter Benjamin, 1931.

from a conversation with Gustav Gluck and Kurt Weill

Property relations in Mickey Mouse cartoons: here we see for the first time that it is possible to have one’s own arm, even one’s own body, stolen.
The route taken by Mickey Mouse is more like that of a file in an office than it is like that of a marathon runner.
In these films, mankind makes preparations to survive civilization.
Mickey Mouse proves that a creature can still survive even when it has thrown off all resemblance to a human being. He disrupts the entire hierarchy of creatures that is supposed to culminate in mankind.
These films disavow experience more radically than ever before. In such a world, it is not worthwhile to have experience.
Similarity to folk tales. Not since fairy tales have the most important and most vital events been evoked more unsymbolically and more unatmospherically. All Mickey Mouse films are founded on the motif of leaving home in order to learn what fear is.
So the explanation for the huge popularity of these films is not mechanization, their form; nor is it a misunderstanding. It is simply the fact that the public recognizes its own life in them.

03 August 2005

Seattle Journal, Day Two: Tylenol Meets Its Match

Seattle gave me a headache, but it may have only been the fault of their coffee shops. And I guess that’s really my fault for drinking so much coffee at them. Luckily, two wheels made all the difference.

I took Kyle’s cherry-red 24-speed Cannondale road bike out for most of my only full day in Seattle, riding a good thirty miles through the streets of its pinwheel-esque downtown and sensible west side. I had an absolute blast weaving in and out of traffic, charging up hills and crisscrossing the Puget Sound.

I dropped off the rental car an hour late on Saturday morning, handing off the keys to the lowliest employee on the totem pole. “Six thousand miles?”

“Yeah, I don’t get to drive much.”

The first ten miles “sans voiture” I did without a helmet (helmet law in Seattle, regardless of age). But I also didn’t know how to shift, having never seen Shimano SORA shifting before. After going back to Kyle’s for a helmet (and visiting the Shimano website and downloading the specs – I was fucking baffled), I was back under the blue sky for the afternoon.

If Seattle’s driveability relies on you being an inconsiderate asshole, it’s bikeability is just plain fun, and requires only that you are in shape. I will say this: Seattle’s pedestrians tend to frown on even the slightest obnoxious behaviors. Riding without a helmet for 45 minutes seemed to piss a lot of people off. I got some queer stares. I kept saying to myself, “Everyone else sure does have a helmet. Something’s up.” All recreational fun in Seattle is a tad on the antiseptic side. I kept thinking about all the times I’d see guys with dirt bikes speeding through red lights on 125th Street. These people need to litter more.

A lot of Seattle’s older neighborhoods feel like museums. And not the gallery portion of the museum, but the lobby and the gift shop. Their Pioneer Square boasts a charming arrangement of cobblestone streets buttressed by archway-jawed, bricked-over storefronts. It reminded me of the Meatpacking District just north of Greenwich Village, but with none of the desolation or the actual meatpacking. More like latte-packing. The cobblestones seemed too perfectly arranged.

And a classic feature of west coast cities that try too hard to appear close-knit and “urban”: red brick warehouses all lined up, with parking garages on the backsides. Like, “You live in the city, but you can still drive the hell out of it.”

Now I have to say this: being only fourteen days removed from New York, and staying in Alaska during the interim, makes objectivity nearly impossible. Vancouver (where I’m sitting now) has a better chance because it gets a fresh comparison with Seattle.

Perhaps I need to consider that wherever you vacation, the returning traveler must always pass through Cincinatti. To “cleanse the palette,” if you will. A couple of days in Cincinatti will make one simultaneously yearn for where he’s been and clamor for where he is to return. I’d say two days in Cincinatti, minimum. No Cannondales. Because a bike that nice makes you miss the hell out of Seattle.

My apologies to Kyle, of course, for putting that sucker in the shop. Lord knows what I did to it, but the thing is wheezing like a 2-pack-a-day granny on a porch swing.

Send me the invoice my boy, it was worth it.

02 August 2005

Seattle Journal, Day One: Any Middle Fingers Here?

When I arrived in Seattle, it was rush hour on Friday. No one moving in or out. I got lost and turned around all screwy in downtown. I was getting pretty damned frustrated trying to wing it toward my friend Kyle’s place, and the no map or address thing wasn’t helping. Still, I stubbornly pressed on. “I drove to fuckin’ Alaska, I can do this shit.”

Well, I did, but it took a little creativity. I mean prickishness.

At a four-way stop on the corner of Pike and Pine (they throw fish here! woah!), I rolled through without yielding to the other patient drivers. Fuck em. “Please disregard my Washington plates, I drive like an asshole.”

The spirit of Seattle, whether driving, being “recreational,” or socializing, is peculiar. Seattle citizens should be world renowned for their aloofness and their mild and quaint suspicions. No one’s truly a suspect in Seattle. Everyone recycles. But still, one asshole can spoil the scenery.

That asshole was me. Now its Friday at 6 and, no joke, I’ve been in the car since 2pm. 2pm Wednesday. Having seen more cars in 1 minute in Seattle as I have in the previous two days combined, I start to get a little ticked off at this thing called “traffic.” And I haven’t showered since maybe Tuesday. These people are keeping me from smelling like Cucumber-Melon and Pantene-y goodness. So fuck em.

I start weaving in and out of lanes, running red lights, tailgating, blaring music and making all sorts of strange turns from all the wrong lanes. And because no one else decided on this strategy, I found Seattle to be one of the world’s most driveable cities. I suppose one guy without manners at a dinner party can have all the fun. But two can’t. In New York everyone’s an asshole driver. Seattle seems fresh out.

And much in the spirit of Seattle, not a single middle finger pointed my way. A lot of head-shaking, a lot of confusion in those arched eyebrows, but not one Italian salute.

Thanks for going easy on me Seattle. I’ll take on your pointless one-way inaccessibilities and your endlessly forking avenues that lead nowhere any day of the week. I’ll rent the car. You provide the Skoal and the Yankees hat.

01 August 2005

Eiffel Ninety-Four Summer "Beach" Reading

I'll make it a habit of posting my seasonal reading lists. It's fairly conservative for the summer, as I won't get through as many pages as I'd like. But I blame the inhospitable Alaskan beaches for that.

1. Magazines: Harper’s, The New Yorker, Commentary, The Week, The Iowa Review, Chelsea, and Poetry.

2. Books: Selected Writings Vol 2, Part 2, Selected Writings Vol. 3, Selected Writings Vol. 4, all by Walter Benjamin. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Collapse by Jared Diamond, Nebesna Gold by Kirk Stanley, and Coming Into the Country by John McPhee.

3. Subtitles: Autumn Sonata, Red Beard, Throne of Blood, Amores Perros, Blind Chance, No End, Solo Mia, The Battle of Algiers.

Recommendations are extremely welcomed.