Saturday, February 25, 2006

Boids in the Hood

I made dinner tonight for some friends. We were very merry, and the time went quickly. No pictures though. So here are some of my more ambitious pictures from last weekend in Prospect Park. (There's also a 6-second video I took of the birds swimming around in circles.)

On the water.

Taking off and swarming (yes, they reminded me of insects).

In flight (look for the little dark flecks).

In flight (look for the little white flecks).

One of my co-counsel on a billion-dollar case is fond of the expression "As night follows day...." By this, he means that the result we seek is inevitable from the facts and the case law. It ain't, which is why the client has hired multiple law firms to appeal a series of unfavorable decisions up and up to the high court.

However, I will creatively follow his lead here and turn from day-time pictures to night-time pictures. I'll start with yet another picture where my ambition somewhat exceeded my skill and equipment.
ESB & full moon, in November 2005:

In keeping with the night-time theme (and the bird theme, although in the figurative sense of night-owls), here is a more successful (and very recent) picture of Times Square at night. The "EXIT" sign just happened to flash up while I was taking the picture (it changed a few moments afterward), but is just perfect on a number of levels.

Good night!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Curious George (2006)

I finally saw the movie "Curious George". It was such a pleasure, a real feast for the eyes, ears and heart. I haven't laughed so hard - and so delightedly - in a while. (Cf. Previous post on monkeys at the zoo, if you prefer the non-fictional variety.)

Partly it was the music. Jack Johnson's song "Upside Down" was particularly groovy and sweet.

Partly it was the characters -- especially little George, whose thoughts cannot be expressed in words, but only in action and gurgling noises (and the soundtrack). He is so lovable -- simultaneously innocent and mischievous, resourceful and helpless. Yet always good in the deepest sense of the word (even when he is being bad).

And then there was also something about the animation itself -- simple block colors in simple outlines, for the most part ... with soft, lovely shapes and shading in the lush background.

I felt such nostalgia for a world that was never mine.


As a sneak preview (you are going to go see the movie, right? and perhaps buy the soundtrack?), this picture shows how the illusion of motion is created. This is one of the opening scenes, before George finds a name and a friend.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Presidents' Day Weekend

On a Sunday, I like to grab some coffee around noon. With Spiderman. You can see he is crawling down for the occasion. Luckily I do not have to pay for his coffee -- that would be one huge mug.

Bearing in mind that trick of perspective, you may be able to appreciate this walkway in the Imaginarium in Prospect Park which I stumbled across today. No, it is not an optical illusion - it really is hard to walk where the path gets narrow.

On the other side of the park, Narnia suddenly popped into my mind....

In keeping with the warm weather post-blizzard, waterfowl were out in full force today in Prospect Park.

The birds are not paying any attention to the "DANGER: THIN ICE" sign. They have no one to blame but themselves if they fall in.

Another mysterious building in Prospect Park.

A child and his dog. (The child is ostensibly reading a book, though he seems to be paaying more attention to the dog.)
You will be pleased to see that Brooklyn has its own triangle building.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Matters of the Heart

I. Biology
[Hummingbirds] have racecar hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut.... Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death....

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It's as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in it, head high, bending only to step through the valves.
* * *
No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.
--Brian Doyle, "Joyas Voladoras", in The Best American Essays 2005

II. Character

Today I saw Brokeback Mountain. It was a bit slow, but the scenery was nice. In fact, I'd say the Canadian Rockies put in a star turn playing the role of Wyoming.

I had a difficult time deciding which character was more despicable, Jack or Ennis:
  • Jack seems honest, to some degree, because he keeps talking about leaving his sham/loveless marriage and openly setting up a home with Ennis. That seeming courage and truth is only in words, though; at the time of his death 20 years later, he is still married. Let's face it, Jack is really sleazy - although married to one woman, and supposedly in love with one man, he carries on liaisons with other men (including at least one prostitute) and other women.
  • Ennis seems a bit less sleazy; he at least seems to be with only one woman at a time, and he cheats on her with only one man. But his cowardice is such that he can't make a true commitment to anyone or anything: not his daughters, not Jack, not his own nature. And certainly not his wife (who inexplicably waits 5 years to divorce Ennis after seeing him and Jack kissing madly before driving off to be together unobserved).
In fact, it's not so clear to me why all the other characters like Ennis so much. Maybe he is so taciturn and closed-off (like a wall) that they can all project whatever they like onto him.

III. Convention

In a column published in the Washington Post on Feb. 15 (p. C10), Miss Manners responds to a Gentle Reader who has asked for "a polite way" to let someone know he has caught her fancy, "without putting the gentleman into a potentially embarrassing position, and possibly ruining a close and wonderful friendship should he not harbor like feelings."

Miss Manners replies that "subtle means are required" to preserve "the deniability you need to keep from forfeiting the friendship (or y
our dignity)" --
To progress, you need to send a few ambiguous signals. Whether he responds in kind will give you your answer, while still allowing you deniability should he not do so.

For example, you stare at him too long and soulfully, and then look away as if you had hardly known what you were doing. You sit too close to him, and then idly get up and sit somewhere else. You brush up against him as if you had not noticed that you did.

Oh, stop pretending to be shocked at Miss Manners' knowing such things. Before the world turned as crude as it is now, flirting was a common and innocent practice.
--Judith Martin

IV. The Ickenham System

In a number of novels, P.G. Wodehouse advocates a different approach to courtship than Miss Manners. His technique is more tailored for the masculine energy.
"With me behind him, the most diffident wooer can get the proudest beauty to sign on the dotted line. ... The Ickenham System ... might seem a little abrupt. ... Just giving you the bare outlines, you stride up to the subject, clasp her to your bosom and shower kisses on her upturned face. You don't have to say much -- just 'My mate!' of something of that sort, and, of course, in grabbing by the wrist, don't behave as if you were handling a delicate piece of china. Grip firmly and waggle her about a bit. It seldom fails, and I usually recommend it...."
Lord Ickenham, in Cocktail Time ch. 9 (P.G. Wodehouse).

Although the technique is attributed to the dapper and debonair Lord Ickenham in some stories, it is elsewhere attributed to a young man's inner "cave man" instincts (at war, naturally with his saintly, self-sacrificing "Better Self"):
"Mashed potatoes!" said the Stone Age Ancestor coarsely. "The 'ole thing 'ere, young fellow, is you just take this girl and grab her and 'old 'er in your arms, as the saying is, and never mind how many bright, good-looking young men she's engaged to. 'Strewth! When I was in me prime you wouldn't have found me 'esitating. You do as I say, me lad, and you won't regret it. Just you spring smartly to attention and grab 'er with both 'ands in a soldierly manner."
--Money for Nothing ch. 15.

Perhaps the technique works. In September 1914, P.G. Wodehouse married Ethel Newton, "a widow whom he had met in New York eight weeks earlier." They were married for 60 years (i.e., until his death).

Friday, February 17, 2006

First Caviar Store & Restaurant In Harlem?

This week's Time Out New York features an interview with the man they dubbed New York's "Sturgeon General" David Mills, who "just opened a 1,300 square-foot caviar store and restaurant ... despite a recent ban on the importation of wild caviar."

Mr. Mills told the magazine why he thought there was a big market for caviar in Harlem:
I started doing [caviar] tastings in midtown and found that many people that attended were from Harlem. They've been holding private tastings in brownstones and apartments for years. They call them 'salons,' and they'll try different [high-end] wines, cheeses and things of that nature....
TONY 2/16-22/06, p. 33. Apparently, the salons filled a desire for luxury foods that was unmet by the local marketplace. (Not to mention that it is also really fun to get people together for a common purpose not necessarily shared by the rank and file.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2006)

Valentine's Day is a holiday I honor more in the breach, than the observance. This year, for instance, I attended a performance of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - the musical.

My expectations for V-Day are probably a bit on the low side, but I think it's safe to say that in general, you do better with impractical gifts on Valentine's day. They don't have to be expensive. Pick a handful of dandelions on the way, or present me with - I don't know - maybe a nice leaf or stone you collected on a hiking trip.

In honor of the day, though, I'll share with you some words that have always rung true to me about love and romance.

The Wisdom of Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem is one of my all-time favorite authors. I like his life story as well - he was born in Lvov, Poland in 1921, trained as a doctor, but worked as a mechanic and was in the Resistance during WWII. (I read somewhere that he used to "fix" Nazi vehicles when they were brought in for repairs so they looked like they were fixed but were in fact guaranteed to break down again. I like to think that is true.)

He wrote a book called The Cyberiad, in which the heroes -- who are both friends and rivals, always trying to outdo each other -- embark on a series of adventures, seeking fame and fortune. In one story, one friend designs a machine that will create poetry. When (after some initial troubles) it becoms clear that the machine is in fact functional, his rival tries to show him up by setting the machine an impossible task: to create a "love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit!"

The machine succeeds, brilliantly. Here are two excerpts:

On loss:
Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus, and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

On longing and passion:
I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a-squared cosine(2 phi)!

The Wisdom of Shakespeare

And, of course, there is always Sonnet 116 (which I memorized for a friend's wedding in 2000 by studying it on my daily subway commute ... and have never forgotten):
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

'Nuff said.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

FOCUS Ski Trip (aka It's Cold in Them Thar Hills)

Continuing my grand tradition of traveling to drought-plagued ski resorts, I joined FOCUS for a ski trip to snow-free Killington, VT while a blizzard hammered New York City.

We had a good time anyway, as shown by these blurry action shots:

Saturday was sunny and warm (in the 40s), but we really had to bundle up on Sunday while we received a few millimeters of new snow.

I felt like the chill went deep into my bones and never left. I was beat after less than 4 hours of skiing on Sunday.

Luckily there were some rocking chairs at Cracker Barrel for folks to rest after a strenuous weekend.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Subway Humor

This seemed pretty funny when I thought of it at 1 a.m. on the subway (OK, it might have been earlier, but it sure felt like 1 a.m.). But the humor might be a bit, er, obscure at best:
Rock band with a secret for a never-dying career? Rowling Stone.
That led me to think of another answer (Bowling Bawl) which might be described as what happens when you can't make it in the fast lane.

Then I started really reaching (is Counting Crowes Feet really what a rock band does as it ages?), but I won't inflict that on you.

Oh wait, I already did. Sorry.

For the first 10 months of 2005, my apartment was basically a construction site. (The actual work took maybe 2 weeks, but that's another story.) When it was finally finished, I found myself really reluctant to invite my friends over. Odd, because I used to love having people over - I was proud of my place. Now it is, objectively speaking, "nicer". My new kitchen is in colors and styles I chose - very attractive, both warm and practical. But it is much more sophisticated and grown-up; it is no longer the kind of "down-home" place that is consistent with my self-image.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the "fist", or unintentional distinctive pattern, found in radio operators' signals and in relationships. The "fist" may be analogized to an underlying genetic code, but I imagine it almost as fractals - a pattern that recursively permeates one's life.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Hunting & Fishing Club

So, this week I was strong-armed into a business development trip that involved 8 hours of travel time and 5 hours of dining. (To give you a sense of the scale of the operation, six attorneys undertook this same journey to meet with nine clients.) The dining experience was interesting, to say the least.

We were at the "Hunting and Fishing Club," which turns out to be a small, recently opened restaurant on an obscure street of the Old City. It is, I understand, a very expensive place. Luckily I wasn't paying ("Um, bread and water please? And don't hold back on the water!").

Theoretically, this spot was once the site of a hunting and fishing club, although there are no signs of such a rustic past - no trout or boar's head, traps or lines, bedeck the starkly black walls. Instead, the decorations are modern abstract works (i.e., you or I could have painted and framed them ourselves for a fraction of the price the restaurant paid). During the pre-dinner cocktails, I noticed a twittering sound coming over the speakers. It was a little difficult to hear over conversation, but I believe it was bird calls - a much more subtle means of invoking the rugged outdoors.

Once we sat down to eat -- I was at the "kids' table" (meaning the under-40 crowd) -- I saw what I took for a menu. I was pleased to see there were several items that I would enjoy out of the 10 or so items listed. But they never asked us to order. Instead they just started bringing us food and wine.

Turns out it is a tasting menu, so we had 10 courses, each with a different type of wine. I couldn't keep up with the wine; probably I sent half of it back untasted.
The food was excellent (except dessert), but I had to endure three courses of fish and seafood dishes. I do not eat fish or seafood if I can possibly avoid it - I don't enjoy the taste, smell or texture. I'm not complaining, though, because it builds character to overcome one's natural revulsion and swallow an oyster with caviar. And the meat dishes which followed were amazing.

Check out the braised pork risotto, which was especially good. (Except that the picture has been infused with a warm, golden glow, it accurately reflects the scene.)