Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Les Video Games de Ma Vie

Are video games little more than a massive time-suck or can they impact our lives in meaningful ways? Betty and several eminent contributors to this site have been playing video games together (this involves button-mashing, yes, but also Power Pad foot-and-toe work and Wii Remote swatting and flailing) since the the late last-century! So she's got a hunch (and a hope) that there's something valuable lurking inside all those pixalated Italian plumbers, their orange-headed Princesses, and their pet dinosaurs.

Here are the ten video games of Betty's life. She is beginning to see video games like she sees coffee - as something you can always look forward to, something that stimulates and facilitates important social time, even if rumors that it stunts growth or whatever will forever circulate. In Betty's particular case, the question of their poignant meaning or detrimental effect is up to you, she thinks!

In semi-chronological order:

1. Super Mario Brothers (a.k.a. "Super Mario Brothers One") [for Nintendo] - I'm not sure what was "Super" about them at this point and I'm not sure why they were called the "Mario brothers" (What did Luigi make of that? Is this why he's so underweight?), but Betty remembers seeing some "big kids" (they were probably 13) playing this at some party she was at with her parents somewhere (Colombia?). The details are lost to history, but it was at night, it was hot, it was hazy, and it was like falling in love.

Yes, Betty could have happily watched Mario jump from treetop to treetop and smash bricks with his head (or is it with his hat?) for hours, so when somebody put that controller in her palm and showed her the new meanings of A & B, she swooned. It was all she could think about for days.

Super Mario Brothers One is also the only video game (besides "Mike Tyson's Punch Out!") that Betty has ever "beaten". But with the the Super Mario Brothers games, unlike just about every other game, beating them was never the point. You'd much rather have it go all over again, take it back to the start, delighting you, with the same scenes and the same mushrooms and the same Koopa Troopas, forever. I think this is what many people did right after they beat it.

2. Super Track and Field [for Nintendo] - Betty and Nancy D. and Koko the Clown and Little Hun and Magwich the Gruff Australian and Ana used to sock themselves away to play this game for hours on a TV the size of a Game Boy in Betty's house in Maine. Nancy tells Betty that one time Betty faked "sports injury" and "amnesia" during one of the more challenging tournaments, but Betty doesn't remember this, probably due to the injury with amnesia.

3. Ken Griffey Junior Baseball a.k.a. "Ken Griffey Junior presents Major League Baseball" [for Super Nintendo] - A major watershed in video game history: the players chewed gum and blew little pink bubbles from it. A perfect detail that cemented our loyalty to "Griffey".

Also new in Griffey: all the teams had recognizable players with recognizable bodies (hey, Cecil Fielder! hey Harold Baines with the muscular butt!) and fake names. Griffey was the only real player with a real name, so playing Griffey for hours (and "seasons!" This was the first game Betty knew of with 162 game seasons!) at the Asen home gave rise to the popular rallying cry "We're Mariners!"-- even among a bunch of Yankee sluts.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog [for Sega Game Gear] - When Betty's sweet parents gave her a Game Gear for Christmas, they included the game "The Chessmaster". Sega included "Sonic the Hedgehog". Which one do you think she played until it broke?

Betty thinks that Sonic looked kind of like the Firefox logo. And as an animalist, she enjoyed being represented in her pursuit of electronic glory by a hedgehog who made his special "curl up in a ball" abilities work for him. An important moment in the history of Darwinism.

5. Super Mario Kart [for Super Nintendo] - This is where Nintendo went post-modern. You could play as Bowser, or Koopa, or Donkey Kong, and that was just as reasonable as being Mario or Luigi. The Princess had been empowered and no mere victim since Super Mario Brothers 2, but still everyone always wanted to accelerate along the Rainbow Road on their way to a Mushroom Cup with her. Was it a little sexist that she was grouped with Yoshi - Mario's pet/work-dino - in this game? It's difficult to read politics into any of these games. They completely disarm that side of my brain. But I think, nah.

6. Rock Band [for Xbox 360] - WHOA! As we have already noted, this game is so freaking awesome. I don't really know what to say about it beyond that. It's all pretty obvious. You feel like you're flying when you play it. It makes you hear rock music a little differently.

7. Guitar Hero II [for Xbox 360] - The cartoonish cousin of Rock Band, and the only education in 70s and 80s glam metal you'll ever need.

8. Wii Sports [for Nintendo Wii, which B&B just purchased and played for the first time]- I believe a review I read when this came out summed it up best: "More fun than a bucket of ferrets". When you hit the tennis ball, when you release the bowling ball, you feel the weight.

9. Wii Fit [for Nintendo Wii] - The smartest most accessible video game ever made? Also super fun and leaves you sweating and wanting to do MORE YOGA. Wii Fit earns big bonus points from Betty for the moral support factor that is built-in with your hunky yet non-threatening "trainer".

10. Betty can't think of a tenth game. These Nervy Nine pretty much capture the meaning and influence of video games on her life. Maybe that Asteroid-hitting-bricks game for Game Boy. Maybe just the Game Boy as an object and a comfort and a red-buttoned companion. And who ever thought to make it that grey color? That was odd and memorable.

Betty believes that all of these games contributed to her personal development and opened her imagination. If she ever needs a disincentive for video games because she needs to focus on the non-imaginative to survive, she will throw on a couple episodes of the Super Mario Brothers live-action TV show.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

parallel worlds paralyze me 1

I reserved my last Saturday in Tokyo to carry out the Visiting of some contemporary art shows. In truth, this was more out of lazyness than principled stance, as tracking shows down has always been a bit of a hassle, and Tokyo's dedicated Contemporary Art Museum is a bit off the radar. On this occasion the selection was mostly orthodox-- yes, yes, yes, the usual suspects...

What was most interesting of the excercise was the discovery (it'd been a while...) that a number of the major galleries, have moved into the three top consecutive stories of an industrial storage building by the Fukagawa river, pretty much in Chelsea fashion. This is, the ones that have international -ie NY- resonance, such as Shugo Arts and Taka Ishii . On the one hand, it was great to see a better suited space opened up, creating more possibilities for display. On the other hand, it is disturbing to confirm that the continuating hegemony of the estheticizing (ie, surplus value-creating) white-cube, which now has morphed into an Absolute Mall of Art, requiring zero foot-work on behalf of the new-new (and not-so-new-new) super-super rich and those of us that facilitate their shopping.

I saw mostly vapid, over-priced paintings by Kawakubo Tohru at the Tomio Koyama Gallery (an early supporter of that Murakami of LV fame, among other biggies of the so-called neopop fad). Koyama is one of the oldest gallerists, having survived unharmed both the economic bubble, it's demise and the arrival of the new-new super-super rich. I presume that these paintings will sell well among such crowd-- mostly well executed, heavily impastoed large-scale acrylics composed of pure-color parallel lines depicting messy interiors (a po-mo return to the atelier d'artiste theme?), Chirico-like landscapes and a series of face-less individuals in school uniforms.

I had a better impression of the two other painting shows at the Mall. At Taka Ishii, Dusseldorf-based Kyoko Murase showed her beautiful, airy acrylics of mystical forests, where a mysterious female figure dances among the delicately colored, almost translucent tree-trunks. At Shugo Arts, I saw the end of Swedish-born, NY resident Ylva Ogland's show. This artist presented three, very very grey works concerned with the notion of the "good death." The first picture was an installation of about twenty monochrome paintings of the same size, depicting a mirror, with the caption "She who shows the way." On top of each painting was placed an 18 ounce crystal. The composition was exactly the same for each painting, with a swift and almost washed-out brush-work, bringing attention to the surface of the mirror where she deftly worked with its irregularities, spots, dirt... This was a clever take on the problem of the vanitas painting tradition and its concern with time and ephemerality. The second work, "She sleeps" was a series of four paintings, of different size, first, a naturalistic portrait of a woman; second, an old woman during her wake; and third, an infelicitous symmetrical pairing of a porcelain Madonna with child figurine and a lily, and a Guanyin figurine with its lotus-flower and a budding rose. While the artist's brushwork is extraordinary, and the first piece was by all means breath-taking, I couldn't help but feel that the second piece undermined the power of the first with its maudlin overtones and mildly kitschy affectation. In any case, this was by far the brainiest piece in a day of disappointments (to be explained soon in my next post).

To sum up, not much new, other than the setting, which I'm afraid confirms that Japan's gallery "scene" is just as hegemonized and terminal as Europe and the US. And why should it be any different? They are in it for the money, right? It was good to see that... things haven't changed that much, despite all that vanity of vanities...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

College buddy in the New Yorker on

I have to take a moment to brag about the first instance of a fellow editor of the College Hill Independent from the 2003-04 golden era being published in the New Yorker. Charles Bethea, who I remember for his goofily smart article about the highest point in Rhode Island, Jerimoth Hill, now brings his goofy intelligence to a Talk of the Town piece on the guy (un)lucky enough to sign up for the gmail account in 2004.

Congratulations, Charles!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fun Times at Election High

Betty and Bimbo have enjoyed watching Barack Obama be Our President all week while John McCain passive-aggressively complains and continues a generally dunderheaded campaign from his couch (if not from a couch in Kansas). We hear rumors from Europe that the Republicans may ask McCain to step down if things keep going this way. It wouldn't be a half bad idea! Then again, when Betty lived in Chile she read in a magazine that Chelsea Clinton's boyfriend at Stanford dumped her for Ken Starr's daughter, so we take all foreign rumors about American political figures with a truckload of salt.

B&B thought Obama did a great job in Jerusalem. The message he wrote in the book at the Holocaust Memorial was beautiful. "Boilerplate beautiful" is a genre Obama dominates, and I mean no disrespect or snark at all when I say that. A public figure who can repeat and reframe old truths in ways that really capture our attention and make us reconsider them is someone to be treasured; I think also of Hillary Clinton's description of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq at the end of one of the debates, and of course Obama's speech on race.

But watching the images of Obama in Berlin today, Betty (at least) felt both elation and concern. It was of course very exciting - palpable emotion and joy, even through the non-HD television set. The images were nothing less than monumental. Almost throwback. Betty felt nostalgia for a time she never lived through.

The problem that struck Betty, as she watched breathless reporters snap pictures of German teenagers climbing all over each other to snap pictures of Obama, is that we are pinning all our hopes on this guy because he presents a real alternative to the last eight mind-boggling years of George W. Bush (Yes.) and because we like the way it feels to get excited (Yes.) about a totally exceptional individual (Yes.). Who doesn't?!

But the truth is that Obama has already become Presidential in ways both good and bad, and only the good ways have been unexpected, which is why they inspire so much joy in nearly everyone who comes across him. As for the bad ways, Betty now realizes that we can all be disappointed in Obama for letting us down and being manipulative and craven and saying the safe things, or we can do the work ourselves that will gather the people power and the momentum and votes to pressure him when he IS Our President, and push him leftward. I really think the latter is the only choice we have. I am done complaining about Obama's rightward drift. I am ready to take up the slack.

Now to figure out what that entails.

We'd love to hear other peoples' impressions of Obama's Tour.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fascinating New Way to Spy

The internet offers many ways to anonymously track the activities of friends and family, rivals and foes. I've just a found a fascinating new one. This web site is a database of Federal Election Committee records of all campaign contributions over $200 made to political candidates since 1980. You can search the name of anyone you know or are curious about, see a listing of all their contributions, and get the scoop on their shifting alliances (assuming they are a relatively well-heeled contributor). Someone being cagey about their vote? Check the money trail.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Star Ledger

Betty and Bimbo got walloped by "The Dark Knight" in Queens last night after taking in some of the most unique and tasty Thai food in the United States! As we recover from both happy shake-ups to our systems, we feel compelled to say just one thing for the record.

Heath Ledger did NOT go crazy by getting "too into the role of the Joker" as Jack Nicholson and others have implied or just stated with a grave and attention-grabbing pomposity.

Don't get us wrong: Ledger is fully awesome in the movie! He's working at full strength, kicking his gifts into high gear, performing at a fever pitch and letting his character bask in the near-nihilistic fun of action movies, synthesizing his talents with the script to give us a gasp-making performance that is the definition of entertainment.

You want him to be on the screen all the time, moving and jittering his limbs and swooping in like an overgrown imp and smacking his drooly lips and intoning the script's best lines in a voice that makes him sound like a demented Al Franken. His greasy green-tinted post-pool curly hair and smeared make-up is the creation of a genius (costume designer, please step up!) and his long coat and tight suit look like they've never been washed or taken off, and hide tightly-wound wounds and smelly chaos. And you gotta see him in a Nurse Betty get-up! He's a live wire, and totally scary and attractive at all times.

This is just to say that all of this thoughtful detail that makes a character who is an atmosphere unto himself is part of a great movie performance - Ledger balancing and deploying many new and old tools to drive us - the audience! -crazy. He is wildly successful, which is a testament to his imagination, his skill, and his sanity.

Like, duh.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Betty back on the Internet?

A few recent telltale signs (receiving a forwarded PETA action email from her, and seeing a green dot next to her name on gchat) indicated to me that Betty might have ended her separation from the world wide web a bit early.

What gives? Does this mean that it's true -- we now need broadband like we need air to breathe and water to drink?

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Yorker Cover: I will not cancel my sub

This cover does not bother me.

What bothers me is that a Fox News commentator called a bump of the Obama's fists a "terrorist fist jab." What bothers me is the persistence of the rumors that Obama is a muslim -- but what bothers me even more is that there would be something wrong if he were a muslim.

What bothers me is that Congressman Keith Ellison, inducted last year as the first ever Muslim member of Congress (and an African-American) provoked nasty responses from fellow congresspersons simply because he wished to place his hand on the Koran while being sworn in. Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia wrote in a letter to his constituents about Ellison:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.
Guess what, folks? We have a racist society where it's bad to be black, sometimes even worse to be muslim, and sometimes worst of all to be an immigrant. The Blitt cover doesn't, to me, promote any of these things -- it just holds a mirror up of that society for us to see. Of course we don't like it. But it's much easier to get pissed at the New Yorker than it is to do the hard work on the ground of undoing and fighting hatred among our coworkers, neighbors, relatives and friends.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I love it so much that I don't want to mention it...

But I can't help myself. I am officially a die-hard fan of Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg. When it first appeared on the well-traversed corner of 9th and Berry, I expected it would fill the beckoning void of a poser velvet-rope scene I thought Williamsburg was more than ready for. But months later, I am still shocked when I am not only granted entry, but seated at the best table in the house during prime time (11 pm - 2 am). I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about this place that thrills me. It's not the music (which is barely audible); and the crowd, while nothing to sneeze at, doesn't look or feel much different than the population of the Bedford L subway platform on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The cocktails are way overpriced and the wine list is only par. Sure, the space is beautiful- almost breathtaking - but that's usually the first thing you notice about a place when it doesn't have anything else to offer.

So what is it? The more I think about it, the more I think it must come down to the professionalism of the staff. The owners certainly know Williamsburg well - two are vets of Union Pool and the third hails from The Broadway Diner on the Southside: Both spots have catered with enormous success to the hipster (r)evolution. But there is something about Hotel Delmano that echoes of a far different place and time - and it's not just in the design. For starters, while the doorman will scrutinize your demeanor and ID with calculated precision, once he grants you entry, the hosts welcome you as if it were their own home (assuming it's 1925 and you're a guest of an unexpected guest). The bartenders, who are all men, are handsome but not off-puttingly so, and will coach you through your choice of libation like it's your last cocktail before Prohibition. They have all earned their wings elsewhere, at much more self-important places (like Milk and Honey) and while he might be a bass player in a band still waiting for a record deal, he's more interested in telling you the story behind one of their signature drinks, (like the Commandant's Cocktail), which are all served in champagne bowls circa Casablanca, than he is in trying to get you to one of his gigs. This is the only place I have ever been to that has offered a taste of a cocktail before committing you to a purchase. (This is done by dipping a clean stirring straw into a drink he's already made for someone else). When I left there tonight, I had already been won over many times over, but on my way out, one of the hosts put his hands on my and my companion's shoulders and whispered very discreetly in each of our ears: "Be careful". This was in response to a havoc-maker dancing in the street, shouting profanities having to do with the long-ago death of former neighbor Oznot's Dish. But as long as he wasn't hurting anyone, no one made a move to stop him.

In New York City, the ideas of being nice and being desired are far too often considered mutually exclusive. Hotel Delmano desires to turn this backwards construct deservedly on its head. Three cheers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages."

This is just to say that Betty's self-imposed technology lock-out (lockdown, blockade, technology eaten by loch ness monster) begins this Saturday. So email, post, poke, comment, twit, blog her (even if you hardly even know her) before that. She can hardly upload all her music files to fast enough as the big day draws ever nearer to her laptop and then dumps a big pile of books and scores on top of it.

But let's not make too much of all this Internet-dumpage, lest the Net become taboo "object", because then Betty will just want to go on it all the time! Even more than she wants it all the time now.

This blog is your hands, able friends.

In other news, Betty recently learned that David Sedaris, Umberto Eco, and famous Stanford Computer Science professor Donald Knuth, author of The Art of Computer Programming, also shun the "electronic lady".

Friday, July 04, 2008