December 2003 Archives

2003: Best-Of!

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I'm proud to present (well, after that little scandal with the nominating committee -- turns out that one of the members was had been an Enron board member and was trying to sneak some posts by Ken Goldstein past the committee in an attempt to generate paper profits for an shadowy and obscure off-shore blog operating out of the Cayman Islands) pf.org's Top Ten Best posts of 2003:

10b. Nomen, Prenomen: my 2003 NFL Draft All-Name team.
10a. She Said She Said: The Official pf.org Guide to what the other sex is really saying.
10. 72nd St. & Broadway, about 4 p.m.: Apparently everyone's favorite snow picture.
9. Warren, Warren Buffett, King of the Wild Stock Market: I still owe Scott Chaffin lunch. All he's gots to do is make it to New York City...
8. Groucho: Probably the best Noted Relationship Expert column of 2003. At least it's the longest.
7. Hand, Cookie Jar, Caught: I was in the Daily News because of this piece (after it had first been picked up by Gawker).
6. Nicknames: Baron von Funkenstein. Inspired by Rob Sterling.
5. Upon Silence: Friends don't let friends blog drunk, but sometimes it works out. Spell-check helps.
4. You Asked For It, You Got It: Paul goes on a date.
3. Frankenstein UPDATE III from mike.whybark.com: Live blogging from the heart of the NYC city blackout, graciously hosted by Mike Whybark.
2. Life is Like A Moody Black & White French Film Where Everyone's Smoking and Alain Delon is Always Waiting In An Abandoned Sidewalk Cafe For Someone Mysterious (or: Head, Wall, [verb]): In there for the title alone.

And the runaway winner at the coveted number one position is, well, who else?

1. I've Seen London, I've Seen France: My single most popular post ever (and the writing's pretty good, too), though I don't think that my visitors are checking out the Proust-meets-Joyce prose...

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I was gonna call it the "18th Annual Kaycee Nicole Memorial Big Apple Blogger Bash" but I couldn't fit all that into the logo. So I didn't.

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Venue (and website) TBA.

Update: Venue is AZ, 21 W. 17th St.; the website can be found at http://www.panix.com/~paulf/babb2004/.

It Was The Day Before Christmas

Christmas Eve dawned all dark and dreary (well, at least it did on the upper west side); pefect weather for me to clean up the disaster area known as my apartment.

Hm. Also perfect weather for going back to bed. I'll get back to you on this one.

Once More Into The Breach, Dear Friends

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Once more into the Times dear friends, once more.

OK, so it's been everywhere and back, but Sauron: Offer and Acceptance, analyzing the contract ramifications of a scene from The Lord of the Rings (the book—this bit wasn't in the movie) is freakin' brilliant. And the comments are even better...

Happy Hanukkah

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The mighty K-Dawg points out the most overlooked holiday of the winter season: Jewsmas. Check it out -- it's even safe for the goyim.

Il Nuovo Ufficio

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Well, I don't have a phone, permament desk, or computer yet at the new office—until such time as I acquire such things, the best way to get in touch with me during the day is email.

Who's Next?

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From the Blogger Knowledge Base: How To Get A Book Deal With Your Blog. They leave out Julie Powell, though perhaps that's because she was using Radio...

Update: OK, as eagle-eyed reader and official cousin of pf.org Nick Tang points out, they actually included Julie. My bad. Perhaps I should actually read things before I post them.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that if you're still looking for gifts, the pf.org internet emporium has everything you would ever need for a last-minute gift!

(and if you're in New York City on Sunday, you can probably pick up some neat stuff at this fair/bazaar/marketplace thing...)

That is all.

Calling All Buckaroos

I Don't Think That There'd Be Much Profit

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The past several nights I have woken in the middle of the night to find my t-shirt uncomfortably bunched up under my armpits, as if my unconscious was secretly starring in "Beached Whales Gone Wild!"

Holy Shit!

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I just spent an hour standing next to Amanda Hesser.

It would have been even more impressive if I'd known that it was the legendary Ms. Hesser I was standing next too...

Why There Was No Entry This Morning

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Upon request from a correspondant:

A Basic Introduction to Opera

Opera—the fusion of words and music—really started with Monteverdi in the 1600s. It was revolutionary and very quickly became the latest thing in early 17th-century Italy. Unfortunately, to the modern ear, it's pretty boring stuff, not just musically, but also because it's full of people standing around singing about either what they're feeling, what they're about to do, what they've just done, or some combination of the above. All the plot and character development happens during the recitative, or the bits where they're not singing.

Modern opera really started with Mozart: he was the first composer to really get away from the old model of having plot only happen during the non-singing bits: his use of music to develop character and advance the plot was unprecedented. It also helped that he was the greatest composer who ever lived. Mozart wrote five truly great operas that are still in the repertory today: The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutti, and The Magic Flute. The first and the last are a subset of opera called singspiel, or Song-Story; it was Vienna's 18th-century equivalent to modern musical theater. Unlike traditional opera, singspiel was in German (not Italian) and featured spoken, rather than sung, dialogue. The middle three—Figaro, Giovanni, and Cosi—are more traditional Italian operas, with dialogue that's sung in recitative and performed in Italian. The librettos for those three were written by Lorenzo da Ponte, an intellectual, poet, man-about-town, raconteur, renegade priest, and all-around degenerate who had a habit of leaving town right before his creditors caught up to him (in a side note, da Ponte eventually ended up in New York City, teaching at Columbia University; aside from leaving his library to the university, da Ponte also founded the first opera house in New York City). Figaro and Giovanni are regularly mentioned as the greatest operas ever written; I give the nod to Figaro because it holds together slightly better plot-wise, though the music in Giovanni is probably slightly better (there's a scene in Giovanni, towards the end of the first act, where there are three on-stage orchestras, each playing a different tune, with the main orchestra in the pit playing a forth). All three of the da Ponte operas are essentially sex comedies, though of very different sorts; Cosi fan tutti has perhaps the most ambiguous endings of any romantic comedy ever written.

After Mozart, the next really important opera composer was Rossini, who's single biggest hit was The Barber of Seville (it's the one with the "Figaro, Figaro, Fiiii-Gaaaa-Rooo" aria). Rossini's greatest innovations were 1) he could write music extremely quickly and was extremely lazy (one story has him in bed, writing an aria; he drops the paper he's writing on and rather than rouse himself to pick it up, he simply wrote a new aria) 2) he plagiarized himself without remorse (the overture to Barber, which is a very famous piece of music, is actually the overture to a completely different opera; the tenor aria in Barber shows up in La Cenorentola as a soprano aria; a duodectet (for twelve voices) in one opera shows up as a sextet in another...), and 3) he further advanced the Mozartian ideals of advancing character and plot via the music.

Rossini also laid the groundwork for the golden age of bel canto (or beautiful song), which we're going to skip because it's a bit boring (Donizetti and Bellini are the names to know) and it mostly sets the stage for Verdi and his contemporaries (namely a guy named Wagner).

By the 1840s, bel canto was the accepted format for opera -- it was codified to the point where every aria started with a slow bit (called the cantabile) and finished with a fast bit (called the cabaletta). It also emphasized the beauty of the vocal line above all else (which is why it's called bel canto). Verdi started firmly in the bel canto tradition, but then he went ahead and supersized everything. Bigger voices, bigger operas, bigger orchestras (and bigger singers to go along with it all). His most famous operas—Il Trovatore, Aida, La Traviata, Otello, Don Carlos—are casts-of-thousands, elephants-on-the-stage spectacles (and, at least in the case of Trovatore and Don Carlos, head-scratchingly confusing plots). Plus they feature entirely stupendous music and singing. Musically, Verdi increasingly integrated the orchestra into the music (particularly in his later operas) and he started to toy with musical themes for characters, a heretical idea, primarily because it had been invented by a German: Richard Wagner.

Wagner was many things: a boor, a womanizer, an anti-semite, and a genius. Unfortunately, he knew it, too. Drawing on a tradition of German opera which I've mostly ignored here, he had a grand idea: to unite theater and music and dance into one seamless piece of Art. He introduced many technical innovations into the art form: through-composed operas (instead of stopping between arias and ensembles for dialogue, the music flows seamlessly throughout the opera); the idea of musical themes for characters (his famous leit -motifs, which he later extended to emotions and even later to abstract ideas); and he wrote the first truly atonal piece of music. The flip side is that he never wrote a note he didn't like (the first act of Parsifal clocks in well over 90 minutes), and generally thought himself God's gift to the world. While interesting for the ideas he put into practice, his operas are, however, difficult and not really a good place for the operatic neophyte to start.

Puccini, who emerged at the end of the 19th century as the next Verdi, took a lot of Wagner's ideas and re-packaged them in somewhat more audience-friendly format. Instead of writing Grand Opera about Grand People and Grand Ideas, he wrote about ordinary people (mostly) who did ordinary things (mostly, if murder, suicide, and death from TB count as ordinary) and sung about them. Both Tosca and Madama Butterfly are mostly through-composed and feature leit -motifs of a sort, for example. And while he had a taste for cheap melodrama (murder! attempted rape! wife abandonment! loose women! the French!) his skills as a composer elevated that cheap melodrama to the status of great art.

After Puccini died, the last great opera composer left standing was Richard Strauss. Strauss was something of a throwback -- unlike Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, and Rossini, who were all opera specialists, Strauss wrote just about everything. He wrote symphonies, tone poems, chamber music, et cetera, and he happened to be a prolific and accomplished opera composer. Most of his operas were written in conjunction with the poet Hugo von Hoffmansthal. His early operas—Salome, Elektra—were very 'modern', atonal, and deliberately difficult (which makes a certain amount of sense given the subject matter). As he matured, however, he mellowed a bit and developed a neo-Romantic style that he did his greatest work in—Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau un Schatten, Arabella. Rosenkavalier, which started life as a rambunctious comedy about an unrefined baron, underwent a rather startling metamorphosis in the writing and ended up a sophisticated and some would say profound meditation on the nature of love (and that unrefined baron, while still in the piece, was demoted from protagonist to bit player). As the opera changed, it also evolved into a 20th-century companion piece to Mozart's Figaro.

I completely ignored French opera, but that's another topic for another day...

A few notes about seeing opera:

  1. Be prepared. Unlike a movie or a novel, seeing an opera without knowing what it's about and who the main characters are is a bad idea. that's largely because it's gonna be sung in a different language, and even though supertitles enormously help moment-to-moment comprehension of what's going on, it helps to know what's going on with the statue in Don Giovanni, for example. I'm not saying that you have to memorize every note and know the libretto word-for-word; but having a familiarity with what's supposed to happen and what the famous tunes are (for all great operas are littered with famous tunes) helps a lot.
  2. They're supposed to be funny. Not in the unintentional the leading-lady-is-the-size of a Volkswagen funny, but funny in the yes-that's-a-joke-in-the-libretto way. Note: Wagner is not known for his sense of humor, and Verdi was pretty stingy with them too. On the other hand, The Marriage of Figaro is an out-and-out comedy.
  3. There is no three.

For a beginner, I would start with the following shows to see (not an exhaustive list, by any stretch of the imagination):

Missiletoe? Cameltoe?

Secrets

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Ya know, if you're feeling in the Christmas/Hanukkah spirit (or if you want to feel in the Hanukkah/Christmas spirit) why don't you drop by some of your favorite blogger's wishlists (not mine*, as you guys have been far too kind and generous) and make their holidays a little bit brighter?

It's pretty easy to do, and most bloggers have fairly inexpensive gifts on their list (well, except for that Segway), and it would be, I think, a nice way of saying thank you to some of your favorite writers (I'm not saying that you should send something to everyone on your blogroll; just, you know, pick a few—if you're having trouble picking, try some blogs from my blogroll).

*unless you want to get me a Segway

You Talkin' 'Bout Me?

Yes, But How Would You Do It in CSS?

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If Filmmakers Were Web Designers: Dear Mr. Antonioni...

Beatrix? As In Beatrix Potter?

NoApologies has what looks like the first installment of a regular feature coming up: Dear Mistress Beatrix...

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On Truth In Advertising

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eyes_open.jpgReading personal ads is all too often an exercise in homogeneity: everyone likes to take long walks on the beach, everyone likes foreign film, everyone likes the same obscure indie bands (which kinda raises the question of how obscure and indie can they be if everyone likes them). So sometimes it's refreshing to see an ad where the author throws caution to the wind and lays How It's Gonna Be right out on the line: "i'm a flake that can't be trusted, that won't always return your call or be pleased to see you."

Of course, one wonders if her picture is just as candid and was not (unlike some that I know) taken during the last millennium...

Nekked As The Day I Was Born

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Who knew? The Naked Chef has a blog.

When The Moon Hits Your Eye

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How can you not love a a blog about pizza?

In college, I theorized that pizza was the perfect food because it contains all four food groups.

In other food-blog-related news, Julie Powell is hanging up her blogging apron. Good on her. Now if only I could get a publisher interesting in this blog. Perhaps I should say "fuck" more often.

For Your Desktop

I Get Spam from Molly Bloom

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And Now For Something Completely Different

And now for a little potty humor: A Poopie Predicament.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to play the lead, to rule those weathered planks (for I have nearly forgotten); instead, I find myself Rosencrantz (or Guildenstern), Basilio, the Fool, Wilmer Cook, Tom Hagen, Spoletta—lurking by the wings, obscured by curtains, only appearing when called on and then slipping back into the dark murk of insignificance.

Oh, to stand on those weathered boards, to stay and command that silv'ry light; to the prince, the count, the old king, the detective, the don, the painter. But instead, I take my bows early and then retire to the side to smatterings of applause; the roar of the crowd is reserved for those more central, more vital, more significant. I play my parts as best I can, but the roles grow weary and feel as if they could be played by another with no consequence.

Perhaps I am merely a player who has but an hour to strut and fret upon this stage, but this poor player wants more lines. A lot more.

Get Thee To Brokentype!

Alex over at Brokentype has an absolutely amazing article up about Charles Cushman, an amateur photographer who wandered around the United States taking pictures.

Seriously, go read this piece.

So It Was A Bit Delayed

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This is what my birthday looked like:

endofthenight.jpg

Well, at least at the end of the night...

It Must Be Me

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I wasn't even trying this time, but I once again ran across the personal ad of someone I know this weekend.

What makes it worse is that it was one of the featured ads for the Spring Street personals (otherwise known as the Nerve/Salon/Gawker/Gothamist/Fark etc. series), which means that it'll keep popping up again and again over the next few weeks on different websites as the "Personal of the Day" (I can't be the only one to notice that the same people keep popping up again and again and again as the "Personal of the Day", can I)...

On the flip side, I finally found out how old she is.

I made some Safari-specific adjustments to the stylesheet this weekend—if you're using OS X and Safari (especially Panther and Safari 1.1), you should hit cmd-R to reload the stylesheet and see the changes.

All Alone In The Moonlight

Proust had his madeline; my brother has... Mrs. Field's Cookies?

Miami EFF-ELLE-AYE

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Apparently everybody in Manhattan is in Miami (or at least was this weekend). Except me.

I Seem To Have Been...

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It appears to be the case that I have been nominated for Best Flappy Bird.

Do the right thing.

Well, He's Not Tan, but I'm Sure He's Rested and Ready

Michael Jackson For President! (via that irrepresable scamp, Rick Bruner)

Black Holes Keep Falling On My Head, da-da-dadadah

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Mini black holes!

Are they anything like mini-donuts?

72nd St. & Broadway, about 4 p.m.

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72ndbroadwayundersnow.jpg

My God. It's Full of Snow.

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Holy shit. It really is snowing hard.

Update: Careful observation (looking out the window) suggests that it's coming down sideways.

Businessman

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I am, apparently, the proprietor of a chain of pubs in Scotland.

Who knew?

Slackers

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Boy, you guys are really slacking off in the Great Comment Challenge of 2003.

It's almost like no-one wants the Fabulous Prize Pak of Fabulous Things From The Land of Fabulosity.

Since you never know when you might get sucked into a dimensional vortex and end up in Imperial Rome, you should study up on your Latin by visiting Handy Latin Phrases, featuring:

  • Ita erat quando hic adveni. (It was that way when I got here.)
  • Lex clavatoris designati rescindenda est. (The designated hitter rule has got to go.)
  • Romani quidem artem amatoriam invenerunt. (You know, the Romans invented the art of love.)
  • Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari? (How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?)

and many many more.

Heartbreaker

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In news sure to crush the hearts of horny, voyeuristic geeks all over the world, JenniCam is closing up shop.

Update: Slashdot has picked up on the story.

Another One?

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Well, there's another set of weblog awards being organized, though it does rather seem as if the current nominees are rather very warblog-oriented. Plus, the categories are kinda biased: there's a "best female blog" category but no corresponding "best male" category (not to mention "best other" for our transgendered friends); not to mention the "best foreign blog", which strikes me as odd and somewhat non-specific, since every blog is a foreign blog—it just depends on what country you're looking at it from.

I'm just wondering how you can have a 'media blog' category without Gawker, Romensko, or The Kicker...

(stolen from via Anil)

Two Questions

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  1. Who stole our nice, seasonal, crisp fall weather and replaced it with this icy, freezing, winter shit? I need to write a memo...
  2. Snow?

MCDL

MCDL is how you say 1,450 in Latin. Only 50 more to go.

Brined

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Too much turkey is a good thing, mostly.

So, how 'bout those Giants?

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