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A guide to set your compass…

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

President Obama’s recent victory on health care got me thinking about the election days, and the talent he demonstrated therein.  While mulling over some old youtube clips I stumbled over this snippet of a Colin Powell ‘Meet the Press’ sitting, where it was billed that he would publicly endorse the Senator from Illinois.  He did do so, but what stuck with me was the beautiful, eloquent preamble he gave to his endorsement.  I remember seeing this clip when it happened, and I distinctly remember thinking how refreshing it was.  Here was a major political figure being completely candid on national television.  When does that ever happen? Gen. Powell is a patriot of the highest order, and – in my opinion – couldn’t be more dead on in his assertions.

The good stuff begins at 4:30.

Enjoy…

Categories: About Me, Religion Tags: , ,

Meet me on Fayette

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Similarities?  Maybe more than we’d like to admit…

Half Smoke

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Every great city needs its signature eatery.  This should be a place that takes all comers, including the tourists – on whose to-do lists it firmly rests.  It should be greasy, cheap, and preferably have a link to the city’s history.  In short, this restaurant should be a physical summation of what the city is all about.  New York has Gray’s Papaya, Philly has Frank’s Cheesesteaks, and Washington D.C. has Ben’s Chilli Bowl.  That it took me 24 years to be amongst its peeling walls is truly embarrassing.

Ben’s is significant on many fronts – it served as a safe-haven during the ’68 riots, it was the first D.C. establishment visited by a freshly-minted President Obama – but mostly so for what it represents.  Nobody has profited from Ben’s sizable reputation in a way that’s out of step with its essence.  Thus, you won’t find an outpost amongst the polished pillars of the downtown/mall area.  You won’t see Ben’s Chilli Bowl t-shirts being hawked at regional highway rest stops.  It’s not marketing ploy.  It’s just a restaurant where people go to get half smokes (half beef/half sausage link in a bun, most likely smothered in homemade chili and onions) and take in the ambience of the city that birthed it.  Furthermore, Ben’s remains a black establishment.  Sure, we’re all welcome there, but while its quickly-gentrifying U-st neighborhood becomes devoid of color, Ben’s stands proudly as a reminder of what once was.  For better or worse, Ben’s has not seeped beyond the seams of what it is at its core: a humble, neighborhood greasy spoon that has lined the stomachs of Washingtonians, poor and rich alike, free of vanity or pretense for the better part of two generations.

Like most cities, D.C. is beginning to disappear under a thick sludge of classless, race-less, corporate cafeterias – whose only defining characteristic may be as basic as the gaudy, cartoonish sign that rests above the entrance.  Joints like Ben’s are in the fight of their lives.  And as buyouts from Coke and McDonalds become more and more appealing in these trying times, original taste-makers are becoming fewer and far between.  Indeed, my generation stands at the cusp of what could become the great suburbanization of independent gastronomic destinations.  But like all generations at the outset of a potential massacre, we are all now in a position to fight.

Remember, the Chipotle on Beacon Hill is no different than the Chipotle next to Wrigley Field.  We must not forget that a dollar spent at the independent haunt, is a dollar donated to the overall identity of that city.  We may not be able to bring down the giants of corporate America, but we most certainly can keep our mom and pop’s around to remind them of how it’s done.

Categories: Travel Tags: ,

Mastodon/Converge @ the Patriot Center 10/31/09

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

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Heavy metal and Halloween are kindred.  This was apparent to me before, but experiencing one during the other is one of those beautiful cosmic matches – like chocolate and peanut butter, or whiskey and cold weather.

Rewind three months.  I’m sitting in my snug apartment in Ulsan, South Korea, trolling the internet for good concerts to see upon my return stateside, and I notice that Mastodon – absolutely one of my favorite acts of any genre – is playing a Halloween show at George Mason University’s gym.  Score!

And so now there I am, hauling back Budweiser in the parking lot, freaking out that I’m about to see one of the most talented outfits in music today.  While toiling under the watchful eye of my parents is no vacation compared to my Korean freedom, moments like those make all that compromised liberty wholly worth it.  They are the beautiful excesses of youth that I feel just have to be experienced on home turf.  Revelry beneath the orange glow of the parking lights.

The show itself was a smashing success on so many fronts.  We all arrived in perfect time, and with the perfect amount of substance under our belts.  After all, this is not a Phish show, so the arsenal has to be adjusted to a certain extent.  The first surprise of the night was in surveying the venue.  Not too long after arriving, it occurred to me that I had actually returned to the location of my very first concert – Kid Rock.  The joint is not drastically different than any other college basketball gym, but of course it just seemed so much more cavernous when I was in 8th grade.  It was pleasant to realize this.  One of the few affirmations of aging that’s not totally depressing.

Converge, a Salem, Mass punk-math-metal outfit, played before the headliner, and ended up being the big shock of the night for me.  These guys are masterful – gifted musicians and confident showmen all of them.  There most obvious negative are the vocals, which absolutely nobody could decipher beyond primal grunt-howls.  But, surprisingly, that didn’t matter to me at all.  In fact, I found myself challenging every view I had developed about metal while watching Converge.  One of the things you forget when you go long stretches without live metal, is that some of these bands – the real pros and boundary-pushers – are made of absolutely top-notch musicians.  Converge are most definitely one of these bands.  That they can create fierce, blitzkrieg tunes that still have you humming a melody afterwards is significant.  Look, I’m listening to one guy singing and playing piano as I write this.  I’m far from a metal-head.  But I’m telling you that this band, with all their passion and professionalism, won me over in a big way.

I came that night to see Mastodon, but I won’t lie, as I was waiting for their set to start, I kept feeling as if they might be, well, kind of a downer after their opener.  Converge are a band that have it glued at 11 for the whole set, whereas Mastodon’s sound is one that relies on a degree of aural diversity.  However, what they did do to all of us was bizarre and beautiful.  Mastodon came out and immediately entranced the entire audience.  Where Converge had us all busting outward, Mastodon had brought us all deeply inward.  I swear, as far as heavy shows go, I defy you to find one more cerebral than the one this band puts on.  Parts of me felt like the whole set was one long opus, and that each song played out a scene in some grotesque, medieval epic poem.  I’m sure the fact that at least 4 of the songs stretched over 12 minutes played a part in that.  And by the way, for those of you who haven’t heard them, Mastodon are not a jam band, nor are they strictly proggy.  They are, simply put, the best band in their genre, and thus they push the boundaries.  It has been two days since the show, and ironically I can’t stop comparing Mastodon’s performance to that of a Sigur Ros show I saw 4 years ago.  I know; the two ostensibly couldn’t be more different.  But what they do have in common is this: both left me with a sense that I had just seen something alien, or unhuman.  How often does that happen?!

Now let’s get on to the real stars of the night: the fans!  I don’t know if it was because of Halloween, but I’ve never been to a show with more outrageous fans.  This is not to say that people were there to get in the mosh pit, get rowdy, and obnoxiously deprive others of a good listening experience.  Actually, it was quite the opposite.  Everyone at that show was passionate, open, generally thrilled to be in a stadium filled with people like them. Now, what does that mean?  Am I using stereotypes here?  Well, yes.  A lot of the people at this show occupy a world I’ve just never been a part of.  I stopped going to Hot Topic in 9th grade, I’ve never been a Magic Card fan, and I like the sun.  Some of these folks definitely jacked up their schtick because it was 10/31, but for a lot of these folks, I’m not so sure their nail polish, leather, and spikes would not have been on at a show any other night.  I kept thinking one thing throughout the night: where are these people in daily life?  It’s like they all exist in some underground layer, and only come out for rawk! shows.  I guess I’ll have to keep a more observing eye when I’m out and about, because I’ll say again, they really made the show what it was.  If you can’t already tell, I’m one of these people who gets very emotional about my music – whatever it may be.  Though our tastes are probably different in some respects, I felt connected to the fans that night in a way I hadn’t for a long time.  There was no irony, no snobbery, and absolutely no bullshit.  It was all about the experience, and expressing yourself therein.  That, to me, was enormously comforting.

Did I mention the lead singer of Mastodon has a nasty face tat?
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Categories: Music Tags: , , ,

Hail Hail

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

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There are few things more American than the live NFL experience.  In fact, I’m pretty sure any non-American would either vomit or spontaneously combust when brought into this volatile mix of bravado and excess.  Well, actually, let’s take a step back.

In truth, live football games are not REALLY the American experience.  They are indicative of a certain, albeit large, portion of the American people, and it just so happens to be that this portion is what we’re known for all over the world.  Obnoxiousness? Check.  Portliness? Check. Let’s cut to the chase: excess of all kinds? Check!  If your average Frenchman makes 10 casual assumptions about Americans, and has never been here, I would be willing to bet that dropping him in the middle of an NFL tailgate would confirm at least 6 of those.

But that’s why we love it, right?  Football brings us together in our shared sense of American-ness.  Most of us, from our perch on the living room couch, can tune in on Sunday and feel as if we’re participating in some grand tradition.

Last Monday I had my first NFL tailgating experience.  I was in it, on the front lines, so to speak.  And if the NFL is analogous to war, and the game is the battle, then the tailgate must be some sort of bizarre, liquored, march – replete with meat and pent up aggression.

Actually, what struck me most about the tailgate, was how it so totally completed football’s gladiator mystique.  When in a tailgate, you are amongst this feverish horde – a veritable sea of humanity.  In this horde are people from all walks of life, but all focused on one thing.  Some are betting, some are drunk, some are eyeing the guy in the eagles jersey who just put his beer on the hood of their car – whatever their stance, they are in this horde, and they are gathered in the shadow of the coliseum.  When you’re in this shadow, you’re not in real life.  Kickoff looms, and the revelry dies down as it approaches.  The horde swells towards the stadium, and everyone is still the same person they were upon arrival, only they have escaped, and will continue to do so at the expense of someone else’s bloodshed.

I’ve never been to a gladiator match, but I have to imagine the scene played somewhat like this.  I can’t really be sure of how the actual events played out, or whether they did so in congruence with the NFL experience.  But I am sure of one thing that is true of both spectacles.  When the match ends, the people of the horde, that had been so blissfully lost in the carnage, will wake up.  They will realize that they are no longer allowed in the shadow of the coliseum, as it is not a place where one exists in the hours when things must get done.  So they will return to their shops, though still thinking about the next match, and dreaming of being in the shadow once more.

Categories: Sports Tags: ,

Howard Stern – Artie’s Ash Wednesday Story

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the great discoveries I’ve had since being home is that I can illegally download entire Howard Stern Sirius broadcasts, and commercial-free no less.  Say what you want about the man, I’ve always been a Stern fan.  There’s no doubt  he’s not for everyone.  That’s established.  I can see why you think he’s sexist, I can see why you think he’s insensitive, I can see why you wouldn’t think naked pornstar trivia is worth your time.  But that’s not why I listen.  I’m hooked on Stern because I, like the rest of his fans, know that we’re listening to smart, caring person, who loves his family, loves his co-workers, and has revolutionized his medium.  To be clear; the innocent, New York-y, Jew-y banter between Howard, Artie, Robin, Fred, and Baba Boowie is where it’s at with Stern.  When they are all locked into a good story, there’s simply not more entertaining talk radio around.  It’s like being a fly on the wall during a conversation of 4 of the most hysterical people you know.  The clip above, where Artie describes meeting his bookie at a McDonald’s on Ash Wednesday, is one of my favorites.  I hope that you can see that a Stern free of anal beads and sex jokes is, actually, the better Stern, and the reason he’s come as far as he has.  Oh, and for the record, I’ve listened to a lot of Stern, and I’ve absolutely never heard him laugh as hard as he does here.

1:25 is when it really gets good.

Ok girls!!!!

October 17, 2009 Leave a comment

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I’ve always been amazed by teenage/20-something girls ability coordinate a complicated pose on the spot.  It’s almost as if high schools offer some class in picture-arranging that was miraculously kept a secret.  I could not tell you how many times I’ve seen groups of girls – sometimes as large as two dozen – pop into prime picture taking position within two minutes.  Not only is the mere feat outrageous, but it also begs the question of why you would need such a picture taken in that moment.  There are really not many occasions that call for a group photo.  Holidays, graduations, team victories, reunions, family events; these are clearly situations that mandate such an arrangement.  Why girls feel the need to create these photo ops at every house party is completely beyond me.  There’s nothing to see.  After how many completely identical photos will all you American girls be content?  It astounds, and quite frankly, bothers me.

Like Ugg boots, this troubling trend is just one of those things that irks me because it seems so totally superfluous.  Girls, when you’re perusing the facebook to relive all the good times, can you even tell the difference between one posed photo and the next?  None of these parties are discernably or exotically varied, so can you take a gander and say to yourelf, “Oh yea, that was Steve’s party!”  No way.  In reality, you say “Wait, was this Steve’s or Mark’s?  No no no no no, this had to have been when Tom brought us all to Sig Ep.  Right?”  So if all the poses are the same, and all the parties are the same, why even bother?

Can any of you envision men (or dudes, I should say) getting into this kind of thing?  The mental picture is like ippecac for the brain.  It’s so totally ridiculous that it needs to expelled immediately.  So let’s say, for a second, that group poses are a hot party trick for young guys: how do you decide who bends over, literally, to fill up the front row?  Let’s talk about that bending over for a second, because it’s really the aspect of the pose that I find most fascinating.  Seriously, how do girls decide who takes the front row?  And when did all teenage girls perfect the art of the hands on the knees squat?  That squat, by the way, has to be the most feminine position any human could position themselves in.

Anyway, I’ve ranted enough, and it’s been really good for me.  As you can tell, the learned poses freak me out in a big way.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,