Friday, December 31, 2004

Penny Rides and Merry New Year!

Let’s not forget, from 8 pm until 6 am tonight and tomorrow morning, all rides on the CTA are a penny.

Have a happy new year. We’re with you. We’re surrounded by children. My sister is here. I have a cold, but fuck it, I’m gonna drink anyway! We’re pleased to know you. I have a resolution but I’m not telling. Have you been outside today? It smells like April- that moist smell of earth. Why must winter tease us so? We’re hopeful. We’re sad. We want to capture this time, put it away somewhere, pull it out later and marvel.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

It’s the $

Check out this article from today’s Post- it’s one of the first I’ve read to actually give a credible and comprehensive summary of this year’s presidential election and the tactics used by each side. Key quote:

In a $2.2 billion election, two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry in unrelentingly negative terms, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling Bush to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision.

“I had so many admirations: there was so much to admire.”

A decade now, back in the early 90’s, disenchanted with the various dull syllabi representative of my undergraduate degree and intuiting that there were far more exciting things to learn about if I simply stepped away from the cramped quarters of prescribed curriculum and took a look, I dropped out of college and quietly lit out for the territories. What I may have lacked in discipline (there was a gleefully haphazard quality to my intellectual pursuits during this time) I more than made up for in curiosity and appetite. If anything, my time away from school was a kind of self-inflicted therapy- a way to recharge my batteries and remind myself that learning was, in and of itself, noble and luxuriant with a sense of fun and play. Learning made life necessary.

Having the space to pursue whatever impulse or whimsy my curiosity mandated led me to many teachers. One of my favorites was Susan Sontag. Sontag died yesterday at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. My copy of Against Interpretation and Other Essays (which includes the immortal Notes on “Camp” and is, as Sontag warily admitted, one of the quintessential texts of the Sixties) is never far from reach and just this Christmas my sister-in-law gave me On Photography. Which is to say that Sontag has long held a very cherished place in my own, albeit far lesser, intellectual development and that, if only out of greed, I had hoped she would be around a while longer.

Back in those heady cloistered days of the early 90’s I first read many of Sontag’s earliest essays, written in the early Sixties when she was living in New York. Reflecting on these formative essays in 1996, Sontag wrote, “I was filled with evangelical zeal.” Having the opportunity to wallow in Sontag’s insights, to delight in their urgency and sense of possibility- to experience that sublime moment when her words and the ideas they gave flight to suddenly soared upwards and bumped against something consummate of my own fervency and interests gave me perhaps all the reason I needed whenever I questioned my decision to pause my undergraduate career.

And it wasn’t just Sontag’s intelligence and the succinct eloquence with which she espoused her ideas- it was the incredible, humbling range of her erudition that was stunning. She was a true renaissance mind- interested in everything and fearlessly advocating her positions in essays that I still am unable to read without being sidetracked by the sheer avalanche of new ideas they generate. In fact, reading a Sontag essay is one of the best cures for aesthetic/intellectual laziness I can think of. To read her is to be reunited to the architecture of our ideas and how we might be more alive to their cultivation.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Baby It's Cold Outside
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
According to the Tribune weather page it's -2 outside. That's cold, folks- damn cold! Coldest, we're told, since 1983. But we're keeping it warm today. Hope you are as well. Happy Holidays and all that good stuff. We're thinking about each and every one of you!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Jammin’ On The One!

My friends, Joe, Pieter and I have begun a MP3 blog, Akwaaba Sound System, officially launched only yesterday when Joe posted a couple fantastic tracks from Francis Bebey’s 1984 album, Akwaaba. I’m hoping to post something on Saturday while Pieter, on the other hand, is presently on the cusp of fatherhood- so it might be a bit.

Thousands of MP3 blogs have appeared on these here so-called internets over the last year- usually hosted by music enthusiasts who post various songs from their collections accompanied by prefatory blurbs. It’s the dorm room equivalent of playing a friend some tracks off your favorite albums, only now all the limitations of your collection’s relationship to time and space have gone and radically been altered- you can just go and post the track on-line and anybody with decent internet access and some speakers can check it out.

More later...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Some Fries With Your Bypass?

From yesterday's Washington Post:

"I can't tell you how many patients found this repulsive," said cardiology chairman Eric Topol. "How can the Cleveland Clinic, which prides itself on promoting health, have the audacity to have a McDonald's in the main lobby?"

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Halo Effect

I probably stopped eating regularly at McDonalds somewhere back in 1998. Before then I ate way too much of it even though I knew I shouldn’t. At the beginning of 1999 my friend Juana and I decided to go cold turkey and not eat at McDonalds (which was, of course, conveniently located, as it still is, just a few blocks from where we were working) for 6 months. And we didn’t. Come June, we made our way over, ordered lunch, consumed, and thought, “Boy, that kinda sucked!”

If that wasn’t enough, Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation went a long way toward presenting me with a bounty of reasons I had formally been nagged and troubled by but hadn’t yet gathered into a cogent thesis with enough power to wallop me over the head in such a way as to make me appreciate, beyond a doubt, that eating at McDonalds was not only bad for my health- but that it was also part of a fast-food industry that perpetuates and sustains numerous unfortunates- particularly its treatment of workers all along the chain and its predatory youth marketing. That Ronald McDonald is one insidious evil clown mother-fucker and Schlosser’s book does a swell job telling us why.

Still, because of its global reach and iconic status, I’ll always be interested in what McDonald’s is up to. I knew they had been struggling over the last few years, especially in 2002 when they chalked up their first quarterly loss since 1954. According to a recent Economist article, however, McDonald’s has come roaring back, with sales up 13% for the first half of this year and net profits up 38% compared to this time last year.

How are they doing it? Well, first off they’re making things even more efficient. According to the article:

Every McDonald’s has a “travel path” along which a member of staff must walk- sometimes every 30 minutes- to ensure that all is well. The company is now testing small hand-held devices, which can be used like electronic clipboards by those making the rounds. Failures to check, say, the temperature inside a refrigerator (the devices are fitted with a probe) or to scan a location barcode (they have a scanner too) when checking the play area, will be recorded. If too many incomplete checks build up, the device can automatically alert the local manager by ringing his mobile phone.

At which point, I presume, the local manager will call his staff and threaten to boil all of them in a vat of McNugget cooking oil.

What’s really interesting (or depressing) is the other explanation for the big turnaround. Wary of the victories scored against Big Tobacco and the recent onslaught of obesity lawsuits McDonald’s has introduced healthier menu items. So are those hefty profit margins being driven by salads? Not quite.

McDonald’s officials insist their salads are priced to be profitable, arguing that if they were not its franchisees would not want to sell them. But then, by some measures, supermarket loss-leaders are also profitable because they bring in customers who buy other products. Nevertheless, salads are sending a message to millions of customers: that it is now acceptable to eat at McDonald’s again because the menu is “healthier”- even though the vast majority still order a burger and fries.

“There is no question that we make more money from selling hamburgers and cheeseburgers,” says Matthew Paull, McDonald’s chief financial officer. Sales growth is, he says, being driven by the “halo effect” of healthier food appearing on the menu.

Weird, huh? By being in the vicinity of salads and other lighter options, the McDonald’s customer fuelling their recent growth feels more at ease eating a Big Mac. It’s as though the very presence of salads and healthier foods creates new equivalencies- that somehow eating a Big Mac is analogous to eating some iceberg with tomatoes.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Then and Now

Then and Now
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
An artist in Cape Cod, right? At least I think so. My mom had her (or him?) do portraits of all us kids back in the 70's and they've been hanging in the house ever since. But this Thanksgiving I couldn't help but notice that my sister's portrait seems to be the only one to have survived my mom's recent and ambitious fit of redecorating!

In any case, one of the things we've all found peculiar about these particular renderings is how the artist gave each of us little elongated O's for mouths. We all look slightly spooked.

Here Robin does her best imitation
The Lifting of Negatives

Hello. We’ve been feeling way too apathetic this past week. I’m not usually prone to heavy fits of depression but for the better part of this past week a blue funk had me coiled deep into its groove. And the worst thing about it is how nebulous it makes me feel, as though all my best laid plans were carted off in the middle of the night to some remote, unobtainable location. I awake in the morning, not quite a husk of my former self, but definitely lacking in the essentials that allow anybody to approach the day with the curiosity necessary to enable adventure, delight, satisfaction and all the other requisite ingredients that add up to what you might call, after a luxurious sip of red wine, a good day.

The word for this is blah. Blah. It’s low-grade neurosis. It’s psychodrama. It’s personality deflating or personae with a limp. And it happens and what I probably dislike most about it is that I don’t feel much like playing while it’s running its moronic course. No catching fireflies or building of forts and definitely, most definitely no after dinner puppet shows! Nope, none of that. Just moping and big thick clouds of sullen resting between the eyes. Blah.

There are solutions for a case of the blahs and they don’t include pharmaceuticals but they do include alcohol. Not immediate cure-all’s or anything- just a bunch of moments when the clouds lifted and levity was introduced. Little things, too. Eggs with bacon, for instance. Putting the blinds up. Eating a Nutrageous. Climbing 9 flights of stairs. Sharing a beer with Cathy. Hearing Baba O’Riley played live and loud. Those decorative snowmen lining Broadway (just north of Bryn Mawr) especially, all sordidly brackish from accumulated holidays spent hanging on the light polls- I especially like these- how they’re anything but white- how they resist the purity associated with the holidays- how their original snow-whiteness has gone and mutated into something vaguely sleazy from the splash of gingerbread slush and car exhaust. Maybe I saw something emblematic in them- their state and mine. Sweet context. Laughter nevertheless.

Presently there is a thaw and a lifting of negatives. I’m hoping this current sticks around.