Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The HIV and the Ex-Pat

Tis a happy day for future American citizens. I think only Andrew Sullivan can really express what the lifting of the HIV travel ban means, so I'll let his eloquence speak rather than my mangled English:

I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's one of the happiest days of my whole life. For two and a half decades, I have longed to be a citizen of the country I love and have made my home. I now can. There is no greater feeling.

Shock/horror Time

Tiff Over Espresso Protocol Spills Into Blogosphere - Joe Heim @ Washington Post

Lo, though it might offend those brave defenders of free and fair use, I have to say that Murky Coffee owner Nicholas Cho is right and patron Jeff Simmermon is wrong. Purchasing something and then using it in a way not approved by the maker of the item does not give you the right to complain about the maker. So Simmermon orders a triple espresso over ice at a gourmet coffeeshop. Denied by the barista, Simmermon orders a triple espresso and a cup of ice (ooo, clever!). Barista further chides Simmermon after ringing up the order, thus pissing off Simmermon. Angry, lengthy blogging by Simmermon commences and suddenly Simmermon, Cho and barista are looking for the stage exits. Blogowar has started and brother blogger fights sister blogger over who was right--the coffeeshop or the customer.
Here's a good rule of thumb when walking into a gourmet store: expect a gourmet attitude. Snobbery isn't just an attitude but a way of life for gourmet owners. Here's another good rule of thumb for bloggers who use the free wifi at a coffeeshop: don't piss off the wait staff. Either that or don't go back to that coffeeshop. People seem to forget that living in a service-oriented economy doesn't equate to living in a world of servants. Murky Coffee isn't Starbucks and that should have been obvious to Simmermon. So said barista doesn't have to act like a Starbuck barista. And the policies of Murky don't have to match those of a generic coffeeshop. Having a free-enterprise economy means people can open stores and conduct business with a good deal of latitude. If their way of business doesn't bring in the business then they'll have to close. Oh look! The sun is rising in the morning! Amazing, isn't it?
Murky's is still open so I think it's safe to assume that Cho has something good going on. He also apparently doesn't believe that the customer is always right; it's pretty much an axiom amongst the self-employed. The customer may know what they want but either the place they have gone is unable to do it or it isn't possible. Here's a good jewelry store example: bezel set this 3ct marquis cut emerald. In platinum? Yes. In silver? No. Why? Because it's easy enough to do in platinum but in 9 out of 10 tries you'd shatter that emerald trying to set it in silver. Far from being condescending to the customer, such a jeweler would actually save the customer from making a big mistake. Also, it's a mistake that would in all likelihood cost the jeweler. Doing good business means doing right by the customer. If what the customer asks for is something that would ultimately upset the customer (despite it being what was asked for) then that isn't good business. Cho has a particular style of making espresso. Putting that espresso over ice ruins the taste. So, store policy is to not serve espresso over ice. Wow! When I put my hand on this hot stove, my hand gets burned.
A triple espresso over ice isn't that big of a deal really. Simmermon believes this and doesn't have a problem with it. But Simmermon walked into a coffeeshop that doesn't sling just any old espresso. And barista tells him so. I see little conflict here. A bar that doesn't have your preferred beer isn't a bad bar. And a coffeeshop that caters to a particular taste naturally would try to consistently maintain that taste. Thus is the wiles of free markets that run from the giant generics to the finicky niches. Don't bitch about a niche place not having the mile-wide but inch-deep selection. Likewise, don't throw a fit when the megamarket doesn't have just the right product you're looking for.

Troubles from a Jeweler's Bench

Light blogging this morning. I want to get to work quickly and tackle a platinum wedding band I'm making. It's going well, but I'm disappointed I wasn't able to have it ready on the earliest date I said was possible. It's going to look fabulous.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Troubles from a Jeweler's Bench

I was supposed to go to the store yesterday, even though it was my day off. I was supposed to get that 18k white gold wire prepped for those earrings, and finish off another pair of 14k white gold earrings. And I was supposed to get started on manufacturing that platinum ring. I was supposed to, but the gods like their little jokes.
At least today we won't have our bull in the workshop as he's staying home again. It's always much more peaceful when he does. I can play a little Charlie Bird and Miles and perhaps some disco-punk in the afternoon to keep things chugging along. So much work to do in so little time. Plus, the boss and I need to get our act together on doing the GIA courses and get our certificates.
I plan on disappointing three customers today and ordering materials we can't really afford right now, but we need them anyway. Too much problem-solving and not enough fixing. And so it goes.

The Aura of Anonymity

Reknown Graffiti Artist Unmasked: Banksy Identified - Trendhunter

I'm actually sad that Banksy's been unmasked. It's not that he's nothing like what we expected, which is what we expected. Rather, it takes a bit of aura away from the mystery of his art. Now the interviews will roll out, he'll appear on TV's across the world and every alternative blog out there will try to get a piece on him. Banksy always seemed careful not to over-expose himself. And now that's gone.

When and How

Bad Frame - Matt Yglesias

I think part of the problem with a withdrawal timetable for Iraq is the U.S. has never had to deal with a problem like this. The only other point in recent U.S. history where the question of withdrawal was a serious one was with the Vietnam War and even then it wasn't so much of a question of we withdraw, it was a necessity because we were losing the war. Moreover, Iraq is a different beast. Sen. Obama hasn't said that as soon as he takes office the clock on those sixteen months of his starts running. He's said that he wants the withdraw done in sixteen months. A nuanced distinction, yes, but an important one. It gives Sen. Obama time and proper access to information that will decide when the sixteen month clock starts.
I'm not going to debate the merits of a timetable since I already support it and the U.S. military simply cannot sustain itself any longer in Iraq. But I will say that reducing our numbers in Iraq will force the Iraqis to get their act together, both socially and politically, or face dissolution and civil war. It will also free up resources so the military can move against other threats. I doubt Sen. McCain sees it this way, hence my support for Sen. Obama.

Things One Should Not Imagine

Oh god, it's too early in the morning for this. It's all Zoectica Ebb's fault really. She's the one that suggested the idea of her and Arianna Huffington in a nude spread. It made me think for a brief moment what a male version of this would look like and then Yglesias popped into my head. Oh the hate's gettin' spread around today for that image. I think I'll punch an old lady in the neck to cheer me up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Opinions of 10,000 People

First it was this post over at The Dredge Report. It's a fair-handed account of the problem of cyclists versus cars versus pedestrians. This led me to a post over at Manifest Density that tacts a bit against cars in favor of cyclists. The trail goes on from there to a post by Andrew Beaujon over at the Washington City Paper that points to a site listing photos of cars violating cyclist lanes in D.C. Beaujon returns to a more olive-branch approach by calling on cyclists not to complain only about cars but about other cyclists violating traffic laws. He links to another posting by Matt Yglesias, who moves back toward a pro-cyclist position. The link-path stops there along with the addition of two separate posts by Megan McArdle who takes a no-prisoners approach to the cyclist/pedestrian versus car war.
The first thing I notice about all of these posts are that they focus on Washington D.C. primarily while making the obligatory nods to cities like Portland, Boston, NYC and San Francisco. The second and more important thing I notice is that it appears as if few of these bloggers have lived in a city where a car is the primary means of transportation. With the known exception of Adrock over at the Dredge Report, it's as if driving a car were a foreign concept to this menagere of bloggers. In their eyes, the car is the problem while the pedestrian/cyclist is less at fault based almost entirely on the idea that the cyclist/pedestrian has more to lose (their life, say) than a driver in a car if an accident occurs.
I can agree with that position. It's entirely sensible. And drivers should have a greater appreciation of patience and awareness as they drive. Now here comes the 'but'. I live in Dallas. We once had street cars and such up until the 1960s when the city council made the huge error of favoring buses over rail and cutting rail service. As a close friend of mine can attest, taking the bus is not a viable option for many since it usually add another hour to one's commute, if you make the right bus. Only now has the city moved back to favoring light rails as a mean of reducing congestion. Still, building a functioning rail network in an urban space not designed for rails is long and difficult work. The planning and financing alone is enough to table almost any rail proposal.
That all said, the denser areas of Dallas have slowly realized the advantages of walking and biking. Unfortunately urban Dallasites have yet to learn cyclist traffic laws. Plus, there's a glaring example in the middle of the wealther part of the city that puts most of these pro-cyclist arguments in a rather sticky position. The city intentionally built a walking/cycling trail called they Katy Trail as a way of greening the city. Sadly, there are a few places where this trail crosses streets with deadly deadly cars on them. My experience with the trail commonly comes at a heavily trafficked street called Knox. I don't mind the trail cross streets, even major ones. But I will feel no sympathy at all for the pedestrian or cyclist who comes flying across the hood of my car, not even if they die as a result of their injuries.
Let me explain, if you will. About a hundred feet to the west of the trail is a T-intersection where Knox ends. Coming from the east toward this intersection is a single-side speed bump. In addition, the trail itself is raise above the street level; acting as a speed bump in its own right. A lot of traffic comes through this point, particularly at rush hour when I usually drive through. So, to make it clear, there's not much room for a car to reach more than 20mph and even then you have to slow down for the trail's speed bump.
So, here's the problem and the reason why I lack sympathy for pedestrians or cyclists who get injured or killed at this intersection of trail and street. On both the north and south point of the trail there is a stop sign. No sign exists in the direction the street moves in. I have nearly clipped three cyclists, a mother with a baby carrage and two walkers crossing this intersection. Why have these near-accidents almost occured? Because every person I've seen on the trail crossing that intersection has ignored the stop sign. This blithe ignorance of a stop sign when cars, SUVs and heavier vehicles cross this part of the trail is just plain stupidity. It's not as if these vehicles are screaming through the intersection; they can't by both design and circumstance. And yet the walkers and cyclists continue to glide right through.
I'm not against an urban area becoming more favorable to pedestrians and cyclists. In point of fact, I'm all for it since it reduces congestion while making people healthier. I'd love to see a white-bicycle program in the center of Dallas. That said, I shrug my shoulders at an instance where cars are clearly given the right of way and are consistantly stopped by people violating a traffic law. It's the same as if a pedestrian stepped out from inbetween parked cars into a street and has their brainless ass thrown forty feet in another direction by the driver who never even had the chance to hit the brakes. Actually, it's less like this since the pedestrian/cyclist can see the cars coming well before the drivers can. And ignorance of a law is no defense against violating it. Thusly, not only will I yell at the person or cyclist who either hits me or I hit them, I'll make them pay for the damages to my car. Everything the city can do to protect the pedestrians and cyclists on that trail from colliding with a car has been done. It's only by virtue of a driver's fear of hitting a person do the pedestrians and cyclists continue to cross this intersection injury-free. If and when someone does have their law-breaking ass landed on the hood of an SUV then perhaps the pedestrians and cyclists will start paying attention and taking some personal responsibility for how they cross that intersection.
All of the following rant isn't my full position on how cars, pedestrians and cyclists can get along. Rather, it's a useful example of how the supposed ignorant drivers actually do pay attention to those on foot or bike while just the opposite occurs with the cyclists and pedestrians. Moreover, it's a consistant and continuing problem. Yes, the city will need to make changes to city streets to further protect pedestrians and cyclists, but not in this case. And this all comes back to the first thing I noticed about the liteny of bloggers complaining about ignorant drivers. You already live in cities incredibly favorable to cyclists and pedestrians. Try the shit you do in D.C. in Dallas and you're liable to end up pulling bits of chrome grille out of your body.
So I have a question I'd like to pose to those who live in cities with decent public transport, cycling paths and lenient pedestrian laws: what would you have a car-centric city like Dallas do to make itself friendlier to those who would rather walk or bike than drive?

Supermodern Music

Review: Ratatat "LP3" - Nate Patrin @ Pitchfork

I'm not reviewing Ratatat's new album so much as I'm taking an element of Patrin's review and fleshing it out. Patrin spends much of his time discussing the acontextual nature of Ratatat's sound. It's an interesting point to make about contemporary music. Describing the sound as lacking content, Patrin argues that Ratatat could "sound like anything but no one discernable identity" and then immediately states "Ratatat's music is only really as empty as you make it." The argument is strange in the sense that it claims the listener/producer/marketer has as much a role in defining the sound as the band does. What I think Patrin is arguing is that Ratatat has hit on supermodern music.
The very idea of applying the framework of supermodernity to music hadn't occured to me before. Yet it works. Supermodernity is in it's nascent stages of definition. The term derives from contemporary architeture that creates space to move through rather that spaces to live in. It's archtecture ripped free of context which paradoxically allows for anyone to assign a meaning to it. Placing music in the realm of the supermodern thus means the sound of Ratatat is contextless making it applicable in a multitude of situations. It's not so much 'furniture music' as the early 20th century pianist Erik Satie strove for and found it's place in IDM electronica. Rather, it's music that can produce a meaning, but one that exist only in relation to other forms of information.
I love the idea and Ratatat's music is interesting to me in its own right. There is the potential for supermodern music that isn't even interesting. Even so, that contemporary music has reached a point where one can reasonably call it supermodern is extraordinary. It entails a whole new genre that can encompass nearly any style of music while remaining context-free. What's more, I doubt many people will realize it at first; even the music critics might miss it if the music comes in a radically different form. Yet Ratatat has done it. From the few tracks I've listened to the music stands on its own without falling into the trap of 'wallpaper music'. I think it's worth a listening, if not a purchase.