Head Stop

I live a life blessedly free of headaches, by and large. The down side of this is that when they do come a-knocking, I’m a real baby about them. Well, there went Saturday, whoosh, down the hurty drain. Not like I had anything to DO yesterday, or anything.

Off to see the ‘rents for an Upper West Side brunch with Happy Birthday Bro’ Ethan and his VSOJ, who recently became a fiancée, and little nephew Eli, who apparently has been moved to speech since I saw him last. When last we talked, his preferred mode of communication was humming, and we had a long conversation that way. Shoes, ships, sealing wax, all the big issues. Mmmm, mmm, mmm-mmm, mmmm.

Posted in General Musings |

Words, Actions, What a Puzzler

It’s Lizzie Grubman‘s birthday, so we’re supposed to be nice to her. But sometimes you just can’t. You’ll remember public relations girl Lizzie, daughter of arguably the most powerful lawyer in the music business, as the hit-and-run driver of an SUV that ran into a knot of Long Island bar patrons on July 7, 2001. The Daily News brings us juice if not justice today from her deposition testimony in a civil suit:

“I was screaming, saying, ‘I need to go back and take responsibility for my actions,’ and I was held down and not allowed to move,” she testified.

and elsewhere:

Plaintiff’s Attorney Roger Kunkis: What was the sum and substance of your conversation?

Grubman: ‘What are you doing? Let me go back. I need to take responsibility for my actions.’ He pinned me down with his hands.

Under oath, that was. I feel a poem coming on.

Lizzie in her Dad’s Mercedes
Sent the rabble down to Hades.
When she saw what she had done,
She had her story nicely spun.

Posted in General Musings |

Disturbing: The Peace

We all make mistakes. Just the other day I thought I had a few extra singles in my wallet to put in the traveling tip bucket for Curtis Eller after his splendid banjo-ranting set at Cafe 111 on Court Street. Actually I did, but not as many as I thought. I often have this effect on money. So, you know, oops.

But when you’re the City of New York and you misplace 20% of your haul of “quality of life” summonses, someone’s being cagy.

Today The New York Times (free site registration required) reports that in the last fiscal year, New York City cops gave out 532,817 quality of life summonses for noise, graffiti, disorderly conduct, sitting on milk crates ($50 fine), being pregnant in the subway ($50 fine), and the like. NewYorkish has a terrific spot quiz on some of the ludicrous fines and tickets issued during the Bloomberg administration’s mean-spirited ticket blitz last year. Check it out for a dose of head-shaking hilarity.

But the New User-Friendly Nice-Guy Mayor Mike – he’s nice, really he is, he promises – denies that there ever was a ticket-happy open season on citizens, despite claims by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association police union that the everyone-deserves-a-ticket streak was Department policy from on high. City Hall said last fall that this was all in the eye of the beholder, and that fewer summons had been issued in 2002-2003 than in years prior. Fair enough. The only problem is that they lied.

A bunch of completely unrelated paperSo, you know, oops. They missed counting a few summonses. Administrative error, due to switching over to computer reporting: some precincts still report on paper, so more than 100,000 summons entries went astray. In fact, last year was the biggest ticketing year for quality-of-life complaints since 1999.

For those of you watching at home, try this. Picture a ream of paper. That’s 500 sheets. Now imagine two of them stacked up. That’s 1,000 sheets of paper. You could miss that, right? Now double the image: 4 reams of paper, for 2,000 sheets. Double again, for 8 reams = 4,000 sheets. Now it’s getting a little hard to lift. Another double gives us 16 reams and 8,000 sheets of paper, which would warm even a blogger’s heart if the Net were suddenly to go to Pencil Tech for its newest fad. Go again, now, and the 32 reams are starting to get in the way. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t fill these 16,000 sheets of paper in a large-print edition, with the Dune books tossed in for good measure.

So double again, for 64 snug reams and 32,000 sheets. Even Stephen King is happy now. Again for a monster pile of 128 reams of crisp stacked paper and 64,000 sheets of Georgia-Pacific’s finest, and we’re in Kinko’s territory. Now add this to the Stephen King pile of 32,000 sheets for a total of 96,000. If each summons produces only one sheet of paper for reporting and indexing purposes – and how likely is that? – our Big Stack is now somewhat smaller than the “administrative error” pile that the Mayor missed.

That’s about the size of it.

Posted in General Musings |

Woodwork Creaks…

Fragment of an alien black helicopter… and out come the freaks. That was true when Was (Not Was) said it in 1981, and it’s true now. If there’s a difference, it’s that the wonders of technology let the loonies move so fast these days.

PZ over at Pharyngula points us today to a spot-the-loony site dedicated to alien debris on Mars and to some sort of unarticulated conspiracy theory that NASA and the government Don’t Want You To Know The Truth. It’s a hoot, and I’m impressed by how fast the “You wack, you just wack” contingent has moved in to claim the ground as its own. I mean, the “machine part” pictured here just screams alien civilization to me. You too?

It’s not almanacs we need to worry about, people, it’s PhotoShop.

Pharyngula is a midwest blog pretty much devoted to the fine points of evolution and defense against the “God made us all and you scientists are the spawn of Hell” people (they still have those in the midwest) (we probably have them here too, but we don’t pay attention to them). It’s densely-drawn and when it gets too technical for me I just look at the pretty pictures. The map of a fruit fly is one of my favorites.

Posted in General Musings |

Red Rover, Red Rover

Red Desert? NASA JPL PhotoI guess what we take from the new voluble Mars rover is this: when the Spirit is troubled, Opportunity is on the rise.

Opportunity landed on Mars with less fanfare than Spirit had on its bouncedown – little siblings the world over will know all about this. There are plenty of raw images at the NASA Mars Mission Control site, but I’ll wait for Monday’s workaday broadband connection to explore them. Wonders abound around us.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, this Little Ice Age we call “winter” is bringing us a lovely 14° midday, with a net of 4° after wind chill. So whatever it is, if it involves going out there, the answer is “No.” Try again tomorrow. Better yet, ask me in April, maybe I will have changed my mind.

Mars nights? As low as 157° below zero, Fahrenheit. And Netflix doesn’t go there.

Posted in General Musings |

Hi! My Name Is: Pepper

Starbucks on 17th Street, just west of Union Square. A couple barges out, gasping in the capering cold.

The Sucky Date

He, trying hard: No really, tell me again.
She, up to here with it all: Fine, OK. I’ve never called 777-FILM before. All right?

(Lights down, play ends)

At AZ Lounge, where we’re about to be kicked out for lounging, there’s a Friday meeting of New York Bloggers. The only bloggers I’ve ever met are people I knew before I knew they were bloggers, so it sounds like fun. How much detached irony can you fit into a room? How much playful self-deprecation can a body stand before wanting to Dean-scream into the night? Do bloggers converse, or will it be an evening of monologue textured with link-like trackback introductory breaks (“… anyway, that’s what I think. This is Paul, who put the evening together, and he thinks: …”)? Most important of all, will there be any cute girls?

We did the Blogger Bash - it caught on in a flashI’m freezing even in leather pants, and since I instinctively distrust coatracks I’m making a wintry pile in a dark back corner of the lounge: coat, furry Necktopus scarf, bunny hat, pack, fleece. Jess from Blind Cavefish is meeting me here tonight for the first time, and apart from Googled pictures she’ll be looking for the Dr. Evil t-shirt. Pierre is talking to Caren Lissner and looking unhappy about his Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the beer equivalent of vanilla in this modern age of many flavors. (Oops – turns out it was Sierra Nevada Porter, not Pale Ale. “A step better,” notes Pierre.)

I don’t see anyone who looks much like Jess. Jen from Gothamist and eponymous Rachelle are in our corner being interviewed by some guy who is taking way too many pictures of them on a digital camera that is smaller than a digital camera has any business being – if I had a camera like that, I would lose it in under two days. There are name tags. I like laminates – it’s a music-business thing – but I’ve never been happy about name tags. “LINUS,” I write grimly, “Pepper of the Earth.”

Up at the bar two girls are peering at us in the lounge, wondering what’s going on and if we’re likely to buy them drinks. I explain about the blogger thing. Susan doesn’t have a computer, and Cheyenne is disinterested. “Oh,” she says, “it’s an Internet thing.” I explain that we are actually an international secret society of arcane kingmakers disguised as bloggers. Susan tells me that even she isn’t that naive. (Damn.) We discuss how Susan is New York Broke, which means she can’t pay her bills but somehow still manages to drink $12 drinks on nights like tonight, ha ha. Her glass is inescapably empty and it’s suddenly very large. I picture $12 sitting in it, as my own $10 vodka tonic arrives. If I’m not mistaken, it’s pulsing. “Fill me,” it says. “Fill me.” I decide that Susan and Cheyenne are looking for more trouble than I feel like being, and go looking for Jess.

That's my friend Jeremy Karpatkin in this staged photoJake is very enthusiastic and he probably shouldn’t be saying most of what he’s saying to me. But that’s OK, who am I going to tell? Except you … nah, that would be wrong. Jake’s “totally into” New York. He’s from New York. I am also from New York, which is why I regard it as inevitable, but I don’t know that I could rightly say I’m “totally into” it. We both went to Stuyvesant High School, though I beat him through it by a fair few years. Are we really talking about Stuyvesant at a blogger party? Yes, we are. I’m recounting being an unnamed part of the lawsuit against principal Gaspar Fabbricante and the Board of Ed back in the day, and he’s telling me his memories of the Stuyvesant VOICE, a mostly-underground magazine of which I was editor back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Still no Jess, and about this point we’re told that we’re no longer welcome at ten-clams-a-drink-and-no-beer-worth-drinking AZ Lounge. To be fair, it is against bar drinkiquette to show up en masse without letting them know you’re coming in, but you know something? If you run a bar, you learn to roll with it. It’s Ice Night outside (again) and the party is reforming at Siberia in midtown, but after a quick consult Pierre and I figure if we’re going to go anywhere it might as well be someplace with good good beer. So off to Spuyten Duyvil it is.

As it turned out, Jess got turned back into the frigid night by the friendly (not) AZ people at the door, so we are still e-friends and Real Life strangers. And I fell in love at least three times at Spuyten Duyvil, at least twice with the girl with the whale-tail thong thing going on.

Posted in About Last Night |

Touch Me in the Morning Edition

Ethan Lipton - A New LowOnce in a while you get what you want (and if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need) – almost. The tiny gap between there and nearly-there is a tricky one. It’s a trompe l’oeil chasm. You see it coming and figure you’ll just step over it when it comes – it’s just a hairline crack, right? – and then when you get there and look down you realize a fellow could fall in there, and the bottom looks deep deep down. Whoops!

So it’s about goodness this morning, I admit it, cracks and chasms and all. National Public Radio just did a solid feature on our guy Ethan Lipton, whose debut CD, A New Low, is about to come out. You regular Peppers have read about Ethan Lipton here before, and will read about him here again, no doubt. His tender songs are big-brotherly, in that they are confident and wise and when you’re not looking they smack you on the back on the head. It’s fantastic stuff, and the Live EP we’re putting out really captures the essence of one wonderful early-summer show at Low in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

The Weekend Edition Saturday story spot – you can listen to Ethan Lipton on NPR on the Weekend Edition web site – is a nice one, done by Ethan’s friend Mallory. I love her voice, confidential and clever, frank and full of promise. It’s the voice of, well, of the kind of girl you’d hope to meet at an Ethan Lipton show. And Ethan sounds great in his brief interviews, poised and present and interesting. There are several songs featured, playing in both background and foreground, and they’re good choices (we’ve got better mixes on the record, but we’re supposed to – we’re the label, after all).

The Weekend Edition, featuring Ethan Lipton!But the smack-my-forehead bit is this: the record isn’t done! It’ll be done in about two weeks. So now we have all these curious intrigued folks nosing up to Ethan’s site and winging in on Google searches – http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=ethan+lipton is what those look like on our end – and all we can do is shrug and say, “Yep, any day now, just drops off your email address and we’ll gets right back to yer.”

Truly, it’s always something. An NPR feature is an incredible opportunity for a young artist, the kind of love you just can’t buy. And Ethan’s the perfect performer for the program, quirky and endearing, calm and catchy, thoughtful and uncompromising. Essentially and deeply Ethan Lipton, accept no substitutes.

This is where I make a theatrical, cat-got-the-meow shrug, smiling all the while. Ethan’s stuff has been strutted in front of an audience that is going to love him. The record’s not quite ready yet, but soon, soon. And I’m complaining?

Of course I am. I’m a New Yorker. It’s my birthright. But I’m only complaining a little … and the light bulb in the bathroom just blew out, too.

Posted in General Musings |

John Barley-Corn

As every homebrewer the world over knows, beer is the foundation of the civilization that arose in the Middle-East toward the end of the neolithic period. The demand for large, steady supplies of grain for a purpose that could not be denied led to domestication and farming of several local wild grasses, this in turn causing the sedentarization of nomadic populations, with the well known results: accountants and tax collectors.

Now come the news from Current Anthropology, 44:675-703 (2003) (as reported in the February issue of Natural History), that the same phenomenon may well have occurred in Central America as well: some 7000 years ago, local populations were cultivating Zea mexicana, or teosinte, the ancestor of Zea mais, a.k.a. corn or maize. The only problem is that teosinte produces only a few, hard, essentially inedible kernels, nothing that would justify the invention of agriculture.

However, teosinte –like maize– is a grass, and therefore a relative of Saccharum officinarum, the sugar cane, and like it, its stalks contain a large amount of sugary juice that would easily ferment in contact with the ubiquitous wild yeasts that zero in on any available source of sugar.

So there we have it, beer in Mesopotamia, tropical drinks in the Yucatan. But where did the little umbrellas come from?

Posted in General Musings |

Macro vs. Mike Rowe

I don’t need new reasons to roll my eyes about Microsoft – I’m a thinking kind of guy, so the regular Microsoft reasons are reasons enough. (And if you think they’re bad now, just wait until they start buying into the music biz, which is as likely as 4 out of 5 fish choosing water over air.) So this domain-name mixup is just another bun in a bakery of rolls. Dumb rolls. You know when the Cameron Diaz Charlie’s Angel makes muffins that are so hard they embed in walls when thrown? Like that.

In case you were, I don’t know, paying attention to the Iowa caucus or something instead of following the tragic funny news like a body should, here’s the brief. A 17-year-old Vancouver kid name of Michael Rowe decides to strut his web design stuff on the Net. He registers his website at www.MikeRoweSoft.com, which as far as I’m concerned makes him one of the hopes for the future of western civilization. It takes the Bill Gates Army about three months to find him and send lawyers kicking his way. If the kid weren’t smart enough to go public, he’d be just another splat in Microsoft’s long history of stomps.

So, yes, we hate Bill Gates (but not as much as this guy hates Bill Gates). That’s not news, everyone hates Bill Gates. What makes my day is the name of the Canadian law firm representing Microsoft in this brainless thump of a mission – the partnership of Smart & Biggar is doing the dirty on the case. You can’t make this stuff up – you just can’t. “We can rebuild him. We can make him better, stronger, faster … I’m sorry, Mr. Biggar is on another line. Can you hold?”

It’s as good as Engulf & Devour, the big media corporation in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976). Their motto was something like “Our Bathrooms are Bigger than Most People’s Homes.”

On Gothamist, where I first read about this Mike Rowe business, commenter Trooth opines, “Let’s face it, his only real crime is being Canadian.” Like that’s not enough? Nah, kidding, we love Canadians. Speaking of Canada, our newest Home Office Records project, Ethan Lipton‘s debut recording, is up at a western Canada plant as I type, trying to clear graphics pre-flight and get into the production queue. Why oh why is there always a missing font, no matter what you do?

Our designer, the illustrious Heather, was on the phone with their art department today, squaring away fonts and bleeds and motifs and other technical sundries. She reports back to Ethan, with a twinkle no doubt, that “there’s nothing like the sound of Winnipeg in the morning.” Sounds like … Microsoft?

Posted in General Musings |

Hey Bulldog

Apple before iPodOver at Dawn Patrol, the talk lately has been about Scripture, Rapture, and Enlightenment, so Monday it was a welcome respite (for us Peppery heathens) to find Ms. Dawn describing the nuts and bolts of her job as a copy editor at a major New York newspaper.

Dawn mentions in her post that the first run of a daily paper is the “bulldog” edition, a bit of journo shop-talk slang she wonders about in passing. This – whoosh – is where I come in. (Among her other pursuits at the paper, Dawn is one of the clever smiths who mint sly headlines and keep the mornings lubricated for the newsy masses. I should probably call this entry “Heaven Scent” in deference, but “Hey Bulldog” is one of my favorite invisible Beatles tunes, and some kinds of happiness are measured out in words. As a music writer and rock historian, Dawn knows the peculiar pull of the obscure soft-spot song.)

I fancy myself more of a spaniel with aspirations to setterhood, but as a confirmed Taurus – well, all right, bulldog it is. I hardly ever dribble, though.

So with a bowl of Starbucks’ finest cooling on the desk and my chewy-mouse polished up and buffed to a shiny shimmer, I set off for the source of the river Google, deep in the foothills of the headlands. And this is where I ended up:

Dear Dawn:

Well, at last something I can get my secular teeth into.

The “bulldog edition” is, as you know, the early edition of the paper, which gnaws first at the day’s news. The origin of this term of art is not certain – this is common in journalism, where wit was traditionally excessive and the wags didn’t keep much in the way of internal records. There are three-ish current candidates for the origin of the term.

The leading theory attributes “bulldog edition” to an unsourced 1905 quote by William Randolph Hearst, who is said to have ordered his editors at the New York American to write headlines that would bite the public “like a bulldog.” This is plausible in part because of the second possibility, which suggests that the term loosely arose in the 1890′s, again in New York, when the New York World and other morning papers were in bitter if good-natured competition for morning-traffic newsvendors and the early departures of the a.m. trains; the overnight press staff was said to fight “like bulldogs” to make the mail-train deadlines, after which the more calm and settled day staff would come in. And would correct the errors, of course, for the peaceable “Late City” edition, which was called that because it was only published in the City, the mail trains having left long before. (The bulldog fighting can also apply here to tiffs for the better vendors and locations, if you like.)

I’m less convinced by suggestions that newsboys fought for stacks of this early first edition “like bulldogs,” or that typos were referred to as “bulls” and that the first edition was full of them (this is more likely a reversed derivation, to my thinking). Others have theorized that the first edition was the ugliest in terms of typos, inking, and layout, all of which would be corrected during the course of the day, and that this early edition was “bulldog ugly.” It seems to me that journos would have found a far more creative term for this, even if it was just intended for the office. My money is on some conflation of the first two origins.

One Internet source says that the term first appeared in print in 1926. The OED online would be the proper place to check, but I’m afraid I don’t have a subscription ($295 or so for jes’ folks, and I wish I did have one: but if I did, I’d never get any work done again. Ever).

One of the famous bulldogs – what a sea change telecommunications has brought to newspapers! – is the early edition of the Chicago Tribune from November 3, 1948, which blared: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Ooops.

You can talk to me. Do the Dog, not the Donkey. Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night. C-30, C-60, C-90, Go! Me and you and that Boo pet-fella, there. Bow wow. Woof woof.

Posted in General Musings |