My special lady
and I are packing up and moving into a new apartment this weekend. As I prepare for our five-mile journey to Uptown, I thought I’d relate what I loathe and love about the process:The Worst
1) Lifting heavy objects.
2) Asking people to help you lift those heavy objects. “It’s a big step in a relationship
. The biggest. It's like going all the way.”
3) Giving your apartment a deep clean hours before you vacate the premises forever. You know, so the strangers who picked up your lease will feel comfortable when they arrive.
4) Feeling anxiety about the new apartment’s water pressure. If I ever buy property (Ha!), you bet your ass I’m going to try out every shower personally before I sign that mortgage.
5) The sinking feeling that you’ve made a terrible mistake.The Best
1) Hiring Chicago’s Starving Artist
Movers. These hipsters are cheap, friendly, and entertaining. It’s like watching Deerhunter lug around your valuables.
2) Drinking beer and listening to loud music during the day without any reservations.
3) Reducing clutter in your life, be it old shirts destined for the thrift store or old books destined for half.com.
4) Choosing new spots to hang your favorite prints
5) Realizing that no matter how annoying your move gets, it will never be as hellacious as in New York City
Once a friendly Comcast technician swings by our new place next week, I’ll be back on the grind.
Talking about the weather may be boring and unfulfilling
, but this month, Mother Nature has given us no other choice. The recent spate of heat and humidity -- prompted in part by flooding
this spring -- broke temperature records
in all 50 states, and July could be
one of the five hottest months in this country’s recorded history.* Air conditioning units the nation over have been working in overdrive, providing comfort to the masses and in extreme cases
, saving lives.
Few inventions altered post-war life more profoundly
than Willis Carrier’s breezy contraption. Initially designed to prevent magazine pages in a printing plant from wrinkling in the heat, Rebecca Rosen correctly notes
that the air conditioner’s ability to outwit the weather “reshaped our infrastructure, our entertainment, and our habits.” Without A/C, the popular conception of the “American Dream” would not include a suburban house bordered by a picket fence. You wouldn’t be reading this blog, which is dependent on heat-sensitive computer networks. And society generally would be less productive and more miserable.
That comfort, unfortunately, comes with a weighty cost. In 2006, 8 percent of the world’s total electricity supply
went towards powering American air conditioners. We’re addicted to these energy drains. And while improvements in technology have increased the efficiency of central air, reducing demand is tricky. The hotter it gets, the more likely a household is to crank up its dial, which requires the burning of more hydrocarbons, which heats the world further. It’s a classic positive feedback loop
Now that Asian consumers have disposable income to spend on home appliances, that loop will certainly widen further. The Prospect
offered some context in a 2006 piece
on home cooling history:And what of the emerging economies in the east—particularly the “surging middle classes” of Asia and the far east, whose potential numbers dwarf the air-conditioner users of the US? In China, the pattern set in 1950s America is already repeating itself. Exactly the same social issues of status, worker productivity and domestic comfort apply. The Chinese have worked hard for the trappings of western affluence. Just as in the US half a century ago, the environment counts for little in the face of such aspiration. There are already more than 100m residential air-conditioners in China, triple the number of five years ago. Sales are slower this year than last, but are still expected to reach a staggering 27m units. According to figures published in the People’s Daily, air-conditioning already accounts for 15 per cent of national power consumption annually. In summer, that figure jumps to as much as 40 per cent.
A/C units are actually more popular than the Prospect
predicted; the China Electronic Chamber of Commerce (CECC) reported that 35 million units
were sold in the People’s Republic last year alone, and the machines now consume 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.** It’s true that Chinese families keep temperatures warmer
than their American counterparts and the Communist government is taking steps to extract
dirty chlorofluorocarbons from refrigerant coolants and ban the sale
of energy-wasting air conditioners. Yet the potential savings of those reforms (the latter one is only expected to conserve 3.3 billion kilowatt hours each year) are dwarfed by the country’s expanding energy needs.
Unless scientists make some major technological breakthrough in the next decade, entrepreneurial developers would be wise to start building dogtrot houses
across the Chinese countryside. They're practical and charming!
*The hottest was July 1936
, for those keeping track. The mercury at Midway Airport hit 100 degrees on 12 consecutive days!
**A typical 500 megawatt coal power plant produces
3.5 billion kWh per year.
I’m just getting back into the swing of things this morning after a few days in the Wolverine State, and I have to run a few errands later this afternoon, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the passing of Amy Winehouse, news that really bummed me out this weekend. My old boss
passes along this moving eulogy/essay
by Russell Brand, Oliver Wang posted a few of his favorite cuts here
, and this little 2008 piece
by Sasha Frere-Jones does a nice job describing and contextualizing her appeal. Adele, as catchy as a few of her less boring tracks are, can’t hold a candle to these pipes:
Happy half-birthday to my blog!
When I set this site up six months ago, as a way to flex some editorial muscles that I didn't have the time or energy to develop while working at my last day job, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After a few minor technical glitches early on, I can report that it’s been a really fun and edifying experience. And though my traffic numbers aren’t breaking any records, I’m thrilled some of you all have stopped by to read these scattershot posts. It's much appreciated.
To celebrate, I thought I’d highlight a few entries I particularly enjoyed writing. And as a gift to me, tell someone you know about this humble site. (They can subscribe to the RSS feed here
or follow me on Twitter here
.) Without further ado …Spiritual Quakery
: On the revival of Anatoly Kashpirovsky, Russia’s most famous psychic healer.Did Walgreens' Milkshakes Bring the Boys to the Yard?
: My first post in a four-part series on Prohibition.As I Walk Through the Valley Where I Harvest my Grain
: In this day and age, even the Amish aren’t safe from financial shenanigans. Ptooey! Ten Points for Gaston!
: A London pol tried to implement an anti-spitting ordinance. I thought it was a silly idea.The Sleepwalking Defense
: A strange murder case in Ontario proves that not all criminals have "neural equality."
Simply put, “Friday Night Lights” is the best network television drama of the past decade.* If you haven’t visited Dillon, Texas over the show’s (mostly excellent) five-season run, which sadly concluded Friday night, you’re in for a real treat.**
I won’t use this space to wax poetic about FNL’s various virtues; since its debut in 2006, television critics far more skilled than I have consistently praised the show’s creative team for the deft touch it displayed in depicting the “benefits and burdens
” of community and what Heather Havrilesky called
the “harsh continual sorting of winner from loser in American life.” But I will highlight one of my favorite features of FNL, one that gelled tonally with the intimate camera work and the emotionally honest writing and acting: its theme song.
It’s a common misconception that the opening sequence -- a lilting, operatic guitar riff (embedded above)-- was written by Explosions in the Sky
, the Texas-based indie outfit who scored the FNL movie and whose work subsequently appeared in the television series. In fact, it’s the handicraft of W.G. Snuffy Walden
, television’s pre-eminent composer. Walden is a Texas guitarist who relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1970s after dropping out of college and playing in a short-lived blues band. Once out west, he achieved moderate success, touring with Donna Summer and Chaka Khan and even receiving a credit on Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life
. But his career took a strange and fruitful turn in the mid-1980s, when a talent scout searching for musicians for the little screen caught a monthly set he played at a Santa Monica nightclub.
“When they asked me about scoring for film and television, I wasn't sure what it entailed," Snuffy later wrote
, "but I could see the handwriting on the wall for touring, and it wasn't pretty. I kept envisioning Holiday Inn at age 60." Like his contemporaries who set up standing gigs in Branson
, Walden’s desire for stability proved advantageous. From a short 2001 profile in the Dallas Morning News
:He met with the producers of “thirtysomething” and "talked them out of some footage" for the series, which hadn't yet premiered. "Then I just sat and played to what they gave me until something started to happen. The process is basically still the same now. In bands, I was the guy who played the color and brought atmosphere to the songs. That's kind of what I do here. A lot of the time you're talking about pretty ethereal stuff. I kind of have to go away and play my guitar until something works." [...]He's been scoring ever since, mostly for acclaimed series that enhanced his reputation whether they lived long and prospered (Roseanne, The Wonder Years, Sisters) or fought the good fight (My So-Called Life, I'll Fly Away, Cupid, Sports Night). It's enabled Mr. Walden to supplant prodigious Mike Post (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I.) as the Tiger Woods of TV music.
Walden won an Emmy for the stirring title theme he penned for “The West Wing,” and he continues to take an optimistic approach to his unorthodox craft, one that songwriters (not named Michael Giacchino
) might dismiss as hackish. "I finally realized I wasn't going to be Eric Clapton or a rock star," he told the Morning News
. "So this is really and truly a gift that most people aren't offered in their lives.”
for more on Walden's creative process. And next time you flip on FNL, tip your cowboy hat to Snuffy. Without his musical chops, who knows if the Taylors would have survived for as long as they did.
*Nice try, “Lost.” You too, “The West Wing.” The only other contender would be “Freaks and Geeks,” but it’s tough to compare the two teen shows. And since the Apatow/Feig project started its run in 1999, I won’t.
**The first four seasons are currently available on Netflix Streaming.
Locals call the sprawling slab of desert cities east of Los Angeles the Inland Empire
, but the land mass is not as sovereign as some Republicans would like it to be. Fed up with paralysis* in the statehouse and the apparent coddling of undocumented workers,** some conservatives are floating a proposal
that would allow a dozen counties in the eastern and southern portion of the state (excluding, of course, heavily-Democratic Los Angeles County) to secede from California. The lead proponent of the push, Republican county supervisor Jeff Stone, says his office has been “inundated” with calls and letters of support, and he’s planning an upcoming conference to broach the subject with fellow municipal leaders formally.
Stone’s acolytes will have to perform some serious legwork if they want to see their dream realized; unilateral secession is unconstitutional according to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a region can only break away lawfully with the consent
of the existing state legislature and U.S. Congress. Still, Stone is tapping into a strain of thought that’s particularly fervent in parts of the nation’s largest state; the Times
notes that dissidents have attempted to carve up California roughly 200 times since the state was formed 161 years ago.
The most dramatic push for secession took place in the early 1940s along the dusty roads that connected the hay farms and cattle ranches of northern California and Southern Oregon. Led by local mayor Clark Gable -- a Philadelphia native with cash and a plan to turn his new resource-rich town of Port Orford, Oregon into a seaport for copper exportation -- several counties banded together to lobby their governments in Sacramento and Salem for more cash to pave local roadways, most of which were impassable in bad weather. When lawmakers declined the request, Gable and his cohorts raised the stakes, declaring themselves members of the new State of Jefferson
. San Francisco Chronicle
reporter Stanton Delaplane, who won a Pulitzer for his dispatches on the subject, described
the motley crew as “'rough-shirted miners with pistols buckled on their belts.” And they weren’t hesitant to draw those weapons, according to this account in Via
, a magazine published
by Triple A:Perhaps hoping to get a good new road or two, Gable announced in October 1941 that Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath counties in Oregon might merge with California's Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc counties to form a new state. "It was more publicity stunt than serious secession movement at that point," says Jim Rock, historian and Jefferson expert. "After all, under the U.S. Constitution, they had to get the approval of Congress as well as the legislatures of both states." [...]On November 27, 1941, a group of young men, brandishing deer rifles for dramatic effect, began stopping traffic on U.S. 99 south of Yreka. They handed motorists a Proclamation of Independence stating that Jefferson was "in patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon" and the state would "secede each Thursday until further notice."
Before they could capitalize fully on any momentum they had built, Jeffersonians suffered two major blows in quick succession: the ringleader Gable died of a heart attack on December 2 and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor five days later, sucking the wind out of their anti-American rhetoric.*** On December 9, “Governor” John Childs (who served just five days) declared that “all our efforts will be directed toward assisting our States and Federal Governments in the defence of our country,” a mission that was incompatible with their revolutionary activities. The rebellion subsequently dissolved.
To this day, though, natives still believe sincerely the words of Childs, who in his “inaguration” speech called Jefferson “a natural division geographically, topographically, and emotionally.” That regional identity is reflected every day on the local NPR affiliate, Jefferson Public Radio
*I don’t have much sympathy for the argument, for what it’s worth. In California, the gridlock is self-imposed
** Illegal immigration from Mexico has slowed to a trickle, as this must-read Times piece
***They did develop some witty slogans, like “If Our Roads You Would Travel, Bring Your Own Gravel” as well as the title of this post.
African Elephants are smart, sensitive
souls. Their brain is just as complex as a human’s cerebrum, and members of these close-knit tribes routinely exhibit behaviors associated with grief, compassion, and even post-traumatic stress disorder
. Their level of sentience, combined with their hulking majesty, is what makes the species’ rapid decline so heartbreaking.
In Vanity Fair
this month, Alex Shoumatoff wrote a startling investigation
about illegal elephant poaching on the African plains. According to credible claims from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, 36,500 elephants (or about 6 percent of the remaining population) are being slaughtered each year by ivory-seeking hunters. Demand for the tusks is being driven by the bao fa hu (or “suddenly wealthy”) in China, a group of middle-aged men who Shoutmatoff says “have just made it into the middle class and are eager to flaunt their ability to make expensive discretionary purchases.” Ivory carvings, an ancient marker of wealth in the East, suit their particular fancy.
The epidemic is a terrifying replay of the great elephanticide of the 1980s, in which Africa’s elephant population was halved (from 1.3 million to its current level) thanks to booming interest in ivory from Japanese consumers. Almost 80 percent of that nation’s imported dentine material was used to manufacture high-class hankos
, or the personalized stamps that for centuries have certified (in lieu of personal hand signatures) virtually all Japanese legal documents, from marriage certificates to mortgages. It didn’t take much advertising acumen for businessmen to convince
the general public that a hanko made from the material of a revered animal
will elicit good economic fortune; during the later part of the decade, before the 1989 ban on international ivory sales was enacted, some lavish spenders paid as much
as $20,000 for 24-karat gold and ivory seals. And that trend has crossed over the East China Sea. “There are plenty of perfectly good substitutes, like ox bone or wood,” writes Shoumatoff, “but ivory hanko have cachet. It’s like owning a Mont Blanc pen.”
Ironically, another illicit behavior -- financial fraud -- could help dissuade some Asians from maintaining their complicity in the ivory trading game. The San Francisco Chronicle explained
in 2001:Hanko technology hasn't changed a great deal since its origin in ancient Mesopotamia and China. It's still essentially a version of the hieroglyphics once carved in stone. But the tools available to thieves have changed. Scanners, computer graphics and cutting-edge printing technology make duplicating imprints easier than ever."Forgery cases have increased a great deal over the past 10 years," said Susumu Kobayashi, president of the Kobayashi Document Analysis Institute, who does work for the police. "Japan should really replace the hanko system."
Even though Chinese police officials won’t provide statistics regarding the volume of hanko crimes, some companies have started manufacturing
fraud-proof stamps with bells and whistles that ivory pieces cannot replicate. Hopefully, the products will appeal to newly-rich citizens who have a lot to lose if their personal seal is swiped.Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ralph Combs.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be traveling to Long Island (via Brooklyn) with some fellow Wolverines to attend a college roommate’s
wedding. After six enjoyable ceremonies in five states (and two countries) last summer, I’ve been craving an opportunity to suit up and wild out over a friend’s nuptials since Labor Day. And this particular reception, with its black tie requirement and country club setting, promises to be a classy affair. I couldn’t be more excited.
The privilege of reveling in the joyous marital festivities without having to foot the bill is one this penny-pincher doesn’t take lightly. Although couples have limited their outlays marginally since the economy tanked, mostly by cutting down on the number of invitations offered, the median cost of a wedding is still $16,453
, or four-months pay for the median U.S. household. The average cost is almost twice that figure, which means those soon-to-be-spouses near the top of the income ladder aren’t sparing any expense at all. Rebecca Mead, who literally wrote the book
on the so-called “marriage-industrial complex,” once joked
that “weddings have only got bigger and grander, as if the extravagance of the ceremony might keep at bay the hobgoblin of divorce statistics.”
Lalit Tanwar and Yogita Jaunapuriais, a newly-arranged Indian couple, upped the ante dramatically earlier this year. The progeny of influential (and insanely wealthy) politicians, Tanwar and Jaunapurials threw what some are calling the most expensive wedding
in history in March, a week-long bacchanal attended by an estimated 18,000 of their closest, um, friends. More strange, hilarious details
from the Wall Street Journal
:The bride’s family gave the groom a Bell 429 helicopter, which can sell for more than $4 million. More than 100 different kinds of food were served, including Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes. It also featured a Domino’s pizza stand. The huge wedding tent took a month to build and featured Roman pillars, Venetian props and Chinese furnishings. The site was created on a sugarcane field outside Delhi.Actor Neha Dhupia performed while Gurdas Maan rocked the audience with Punjabi pop.
The groom’s father, a member of the ruling Congress Party, had the chutzpah to call the wedding “simple,” a comment that’s roiling
his political enemies. If the family was actually interested in showing fiscal constraint, they could have employed some of these helpful tips
, most of which focus on ditching the most extraneous accoutrements. (I’ve seen a few parties set their own wedding playlist
on an iPod, to amazing reviews.)
On that note, I need to go pack my dancing shoes. See y’all next week!
Though the sample size is small, it’s safe to say most temple and church basements I’ve visited over the years lack grandeur. For every gleaming piece of religious iconography, there’s a ceiling covered in peeling tiles, a stack of frayed hymnals, and a curtainless stage that’s sat unused for decades. Need rickety folding chairs? Churches across America have you covered.
The underbelly of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Hindu Temple, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, looks much different than the holy basements to which I’m accustomed. Last week, temple officials announced
that a seven-member excavation team, dispatched by the Indian Supreme Court, found centuries-old vaults filled with gold coins, sacks of diamonds, and solid-gold idols hidden below the temple’s main floor. The trove, originally stowed away by the royal family of Travancore
(which still runs the temple) and valued at an astonishing $22 billion, is believed
to be the richest ever discovered on the sub-continent. The Indian Times calls it
the “mother of all treasure hunts.”
Temples in this part of the world often benefited
from the largess of pious businessmen and the former royals they enriched. According to the director of the Kerala Council for Historic Research, “traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad for buying spices and other commodities, used to make handsome offerings
to the deity for not only his blessings but also to please the then rulers.” Temple building is a habit wealthy Indians have never really broken, either. To the consternation
of hyper-rich American philanthropists like Bill Gates, new billionaires in South Asia are still more likely to donate their disposable income to religious institutions than evidenced-based aid programs, if they give to charity at all
Because the sum of the Kerala treasure is so large, editorial boards have started asking
whether or not the money could be put to public use. Kerala itself scores well on human development indices like life expectancy and literacy, but one-quarter
of all Indians still live on less than $1.25 per day. The Supreme Court will make the final determination, and Kerala’s Chief Minister is convinced that the goodies will remain in the temple’s control. If they do, the Travancore clan better put the windfall to good use. A Bollywood production on the temple’s now-empty basement stage, perhaps? Just an idea ...