April 2008


The Indian Express reports that the Indian Railways will pilot voice and data connectivity in trains between Ahmedabad and Mumbai; liveblogging about the difficulty of managing one’s bodily functions on a squat toilet with a malfunctioning lock soon to follow.

Two cool projects: a pixellated gush of water from an old downspout and a plastic-bag Loch Ness Monster constructed over a subway vent so it “comes alive” every time a train rushes by underground.

The first, Gawker reports, was NYU student Kelly Goeller’s assignment for Intro to Sculpture. The other, which I found via Wooster Collective, is a piece by Joshua Allen Harris (who also did the plastic-bag polar bear) best understood by watching a YouTube clip:

These are the things that make me love NY….

“Sal’s Boots,” 1982, Barbara G. Mensch, via NYT slideshow, “New York’s Seaports.”

There’s (what sounds like) a cool photo exhibit down at South Street Seaport — Barbara G. Mensch’s images of the Fulton Fish Market, taken from 1979-1983. (Mensch’s work was also featured in South Street, a book put out by the Columbia University Press.)

My fascination with the Seaport, despite its disgustingly Abercrombie-fied current incarnation, stems from my being enamored with Joseph Mitchell, the New Yorker writer whose The Bottom of the Harbor is truly a gem of narrative nonfiction. Read Mitchell’s short stories, then go to the exhibit. And then, umm, get drunk on a dram of grog and see if you can dig some clams in Raritan Bay?

I kid, but it isn’t funny: women in India face significant challenges, and too often, it seems, issues like gender parity fall by the wayside as the country focuses on its spectacular economic growth, etc.

It’s probably just lip service, but it is heartening to hear the country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, thrusting the issue into the public eye. In a speech Monday, Singh said, “We are an ancient civilisation and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women built into our societal structures. … Our record in female literacy is far from satisfactory as the last Census recorded only 54% female literacy in the country. The last Census again showed a declining child sex ratio. This is a national shame and we must face this challenge squarely here and now. It indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation of the problem.”

For a good primer on the social status of women in India, I’d suggest the Bridge “India Gender Profile” (PDF). The Wikipedia page on women in India, though of debatable quality, also surfaces a number of issues and provides a bit of historical context.

None so tasty as my yum cha, but tasty nonetheless — if you’re in NYC, keep track of your favorite brewskis with Beer Menus. Looks like the most promising venue near my office (in Midtown East) is CB Six, with 16 varieties on tap and 106 different bottles. Cheers!

Really loved “Outdoor ‘Living Rooms’ Bring Touches of Cheer to Central Los Angeles” in Saturday’s Times.  I suspect that the story’s not so simple as they’ve presented it, but I’m all for easy, cost-effective solutions that make residents proud of the space they’re in.

(Image from the Tuol Sleng museum in Phnom Penh.)

And have lots to recommend from it, including Sichan Siv’sLast Breakfast in Cambodia,” a meditation on the future of the country only now beginning to recover from the implosion of the ’70s. An excerpt:

Cambodia today is not unlike the Cambodia of my youth — there is deep poverty and enormous wealth, side-by-side. There is unrest beneath the surface, the unrest that helped to make the horrors of the last century possible. And so, as I walk from one memory-filled place to another, I pray for a new year in which Cambodia’s leaders will find a way to bring about peace and stability.

Just stocked up at the library; also digging into Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth for my book group. But read an intriguing review in the Times, and so my list grows to include Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi.

The reviewer, Kathryn Harrison, writes:

One of the consistently fascinating and disturbing aspects of [the book] is Lisa Appignanesi’s assiduous tracking of the modishness of what might be mistaken for a sui generis discipline. Of course, as anyone who has visited a psychiatric hospital — or ridden the subway — can attest, crazy is what we call people who refuse to conform to accepted norms of behavior. And the definition of nonconformity must change in step with styles of conforming. …

As Appignanesi observes, “Patients could well find themselves the victims of a doctor’s prejudice about what kind of behavior constituted sanity: this could all too easily work against women who didn’t conform to the time’s norms of sexual behavior or living habits.” That diagnoses conceived by male doctors would be subject to men’s changeable views of women — romantic, patronizing, idealistic, misogynistic: the choices are limited only by the imagination — comes as no surprise; it’s the meticulous and exhaustive account of these theories offered in “Mad, Bad and Sad” that is sobering.

After Time Out New York deemed the Skylight Diner the best Manhattan diner of the year, S and I bravely ventured to the borough of the gods for a bite. But we needn’t have suffered the E train — especially not as we have the Shalimar Diner so close at hand in Rego Park.

Reviews on Chowhound are a bit mixed, but for the appetizers alone — a bowl of chickpeas well-spiced and mixed with vinegar and chopped onions, alongside two types of pickles, matched with poppy-dotted challah and melba toast — I’d give it a thumbs up. I have no clue about the proprietors’ origins (Uzbeki, as per Regz’s norms?), but it was average to enticing grub that pushed the boundaries of traditional diner offerings. I had a nice rigatoni with sundried tomatoes and broccoli, while S had a good half dozen varieties of meat on a sizzling platter, very old school. Our waitress was a kick — sassy, middle-aged, pony-tailed, and adamantly opposed to the sugar-free pies the diner was offering — and the place was jammed, so it seems they’re doing something right.

(Picture is from Morton Fox on Flickr.)

(Image: Painted advertisement for Jadugar Anand magic show in Kottayam, Kerala, in mid-2005.)

In Kerala, a small state in the south of India perhaps best known for being the first region in which a communist government was democratically elected, a storm is brewing. But not over political machinations: no, the latest kerfuffle has erupted over an actor’s plan to put on a “fire escape act.” Three hundred magicians from the state have signed a petition urging Mohanlal to reconsider performing the stunt, in which he would be “chained and lowered upside-down in a metal box using a crane into a big haystack, which would be set afire.”

According to the Indian Express, “The magicians who held a press conference [in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala] on Monday said the actor is just not trained enough to perform this act, and alleged that his trainer, Muthukad, was himself burnt when he had tried the act in Bahrain sometime back.”

Love me, love my home state: a T-shirt homage to the greatness of Oregon (via this).

Bonus props to Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, a band I like (in addition to its name-checking of everyone’s favorite former president of Russia) because they have a song called “Oregon Girl.” In my deluded little T-centric world, I like to think that my old non-Oregon boyfriends think of me fondly when they hear it, a small tear perhaps escaping as they reminisce.

Highly recommended: “Working Life (High and Low),” by Steven Greenhouse, adapted from Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, which weighs the challenges workers face across the country. This article excoriates Fed Ex’s ill treatment of a woman who was fired when she requested a leave of absence to battle cancer for the third time; it lauds Patagonia and employers like it that offer employees flex time and attractive health-care and other benefits.

Unintentionally laughable: “Bear Stearns’s New Hires Become Job Seekers,” by Louise Story. Poor unemployed MBAs; use that $50,000 signing bonus, which you get to keep though you won’t actually perform any work, to keep you warm. An excerpt:

They polished résumés; they sweated interviews; they landed dream jobs. But now a small group of college and business school students are discovering that their careers at Bear Stearns ended before they began. JPMorgan Chase, which bought the beleaguered investment bank last month, rescinded many of their job offers.

Yashoda Khandkar, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is among 250 Bear hires who now find themselves unemployed in one of the worst financial job markets in years.

“The worst part about the entire situation is that it’s a really hard market for us to look for other jobs,” Ms. Khandkar said. “We probably can’t get as good of jobs as we would have had.”

Ivy Leaguers like Ms. Khandkar have more options than most, of course. And for now few of them have mortgages, unlike millions of Americans who are struggling just to pay the bills.

But instead of starting new jobs at Bear, these students are now hunting for work along with a growing number of bankers and brokers.

God, imagine if they actually had to suffer injustices like … oh, not having money to put food on the table, or needing to apply the welfare … or going to a state school!

(“Cozy Donkey,” Swati Kurana, 2007, via NY Arts.)

From NY Arts profile of Swati Kurana:

I see myself as very loose, disorganized, and cluttered with my artistic process. I’m a collector, so I have too much stuff, too much music, too many tear sheets, too many journals, too many plastic flowers, too many hard drives with too many images and movie files. But I keep it all, because I hold onto a piece of text, a source image, or song that I want to incorporate in a piece. It often gets shelved for a while, until another text or image or song comes up that complements the first one, and then I ferociously work to complete it.

Although I respect artists with a singular vision, artists that paint from life or doggedly pursue a discrete theme expressed in a wash of watercolors, variations on one idea, I’m much more an eclectic; I always love reading about other artists working across media, jumping from branch to branch as the wind blows through the trees …

Really interesting report, “Eviction Slip,” at Guernica Mag site. The author, Mark Dowie, touches on the human cost of conservation, explaining how adivasis are being displaced to preserve forest or other land for wildlife. A brief excerpt:

In early 2005, a national debate erupted in India over the future of its national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Media reports of a “tiger crisis” led to the creation of several “Project Tiger” sanctuaries around the country. As one might expect, the sides taken on the status and protection of tigers were, on the one hand, wildlife conservationists intent upon saving a truly magnificent species from extinction, and on the other, anthropologists and tribal activists intent upon preserving the cultures of tribal people, 325,000 of whom still live inside the core and buffer zones of tiger reserves. …

Gujjars [a traditional grazing community] and tigers have coexisted in Sariska [a wildlife reserve] for thousands of years. The decline in tiger population is a consequence of development—large dams, iron mines and the shifting appetites of distant elites—not the lifeways of forest dwellers whose habitats have likewise been threatened by the same phenomena. “Why then punish one victim to save the other?” asks Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.

In almost every respect, the relocation of Gujjars was badly planned and executed, and evictees were compensated at unbearably low rates. Those relocated inside the forest still had access to firewood, water and livestock fodder. But for years they faced an uncertain future about the permanence of their new residence. Some evictees have returned to their original villages in search of better soil and water, forsaking schools, clinics and other amenities built in relocation communities. The outcome, in a word, has been chaos. However, relocation has continued despite the real threat of pushing another traditional community into utter destitution, while accomplishing next to nothing for endemic wildlife.

… or I assume so. Actually, I have no basis on which to judge this, as I don’t eat beef or, um, any animal products, but $3 a pound is bananas-cheap. Housing Works’ new concept, reminiscent of so many Goodwill warehouses (represent, Milwaukie scrapper’s bins!) of yore, opened today at 261 W. 36th St. in Midtown. Racked has an opening-day report; it’s open Thursday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Suppose I’ll have to check it out this weekend … anyone find anything nonsucky there?

(Image: Informal close-up photo of Blanche Stuart Scott circa 1960; Scott was a pioneer aviatrix of the 1910s and was the only woman taught to fly by Glenn Curtiss. She was also the first U.S. woman to fly solo. Photographer unknown; released on Flickr by the Smithsonian Institution.)

The Smithsonian just released 6,288 images that appear to be in the public domain; they’re now available on Flickr. And they’re pretty damn cool — there are images grouped in categories ranging from Muybridge cyanotypes to uniforms, mining to structures, and a whole lot more.

Gosh, these Internets: There’s really something to ’em. In addition to the dizzying array of historoporn, a letter from public.resource.org outlines three goals related to making the images available:

  1. The unwieldy archive of low-resolution images on the Smithsonian site makes it hard for people to ascertain the public domain status of the vast majority of these images. By placing the database on sites such as Flickr and in convenient-to-examine PDF and tarball formats, we hope that the Internet commnunity is able to form a better judgement.
  2. Some images are clearly in the public domain and of immense public importance. For these images, our nonprofit organization is attempting to systematically purchase these images and place them on the net for use without restriction.
  3. We would like to see the Smithsonian adopt a policy for on-line distribution that is much more closely aligned to their mission, focusing on vastly increasing the store of public domain materials available on the Internet.

Here here!

Resist! … by knitting? Indeed: Yarnbombing, it’s totally hip. Or something. And if you’ve got a great idea for “handcrafted textile street art” (see example above), you could even get published. Woot. Knitta Please has lots of great ideas to get you started.

Incidentally, I find these sorts of cultural interventions much more interesting than the increasingly obnoxious national conversation on feminism vis-a-vis Hillary. Am I dragging down the cause because I prefer the power of reimagining an activity traditionally associated with female isolation in the domestic sphere to campaigning for a candidate merely because we share the same type of genitals? Is my resistance too passive, and thus, in the most pejorative sense of the term, too feminine?

Little-known fact: surly old T was a varsity cheerleader for a number of years in high school. Her caboose was loose, and her team was boom dynamite, and even when a rival high school burned the words “white trash” in 20-foot letters on her alma mater’s football field, she kept high kicking.

But even she is skeptical of the Washington Redskins’ stunt to cobble together a cheer squad for a new cricket side in India, as reported by Tunku Varadarajan in today’s Times op-ed section. And though I find the idea objectionable, I do like Varadarajan’s take on things:

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women’s groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India’s relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

(Above: Picture I took of a Coney Island storefront.)

Cool new book out — Paul Lacy catalogs entrances and handpainted signs around New York in Brooklyn Storefronts. Read about it on the Times’ City Room blog, which noted, “In the foreword to the book, Mr. Lacy admits that his visual record of Brooklyn’s storefronts might seem “a bit odd,” and indeed, some store owners would pop outside to ask why he was taking snapshots. Mr. Lacy writes:

“Granted, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but a small, independently owned store is singular and so is a handpainted sign. When you see one, you have to wonder whether there will be something inside not found in the other stores, let alone the chains and franchises. Very often there is: a lovingly made dish made from a family recipe, a display of photographs or posters, a funny story, catchy tunes from another land: there are so many surprises.””

Supercool — and a real testament to the creativity and ingenuity of everyday people. What with the corporatization of public space, gems like those Lacy captured are already few and far between; thankfully, this old-fashioned art hasn’t disappeared completely.

“fucking in mouth pregnancy chance”

I think those words suffice.

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