Sunday, December 28, 2008

(12.28.08) Recommends:

Airport Confessions.

(Or, People Who Grabbed Our Attention This Year, Written While Flying To Denver).

The other day while on the way to the airport, we blogged about the events of 2K8 that grabbed our attention. Today we thought we'd pass the time on the first leg of our flight back blogging about the people (in the news) who came to dominate our attention this year. We're doing this on the fly, literally -- rim shot! -- so we'll miss some people. And naturally there will be some overlap from our list from earlier in the week. But here goes (and in no particular order).

1. The People Behind the Planet Money Podcast. Planet Money is a blog/podcast put out by NPR ( It is only a few months old, but consistantly put out what we thought was the best reporting of the financial meltdown in both its weekday podcast and in particular it's two, hour-long episodes produced in conjunction with This American Life. One of the things we find annoying about a lot of traditional journalism is the amount of assumed knowledge contained in a typical story. What we love about Planet Money is that takes on big economic issues and unpacks them in a manner that is digestable for a non-economist listener, but without dumbing down the content. The show doesn't assume you know what a CDO is. In fact, the reporters admit they're not really sure what certain things are (in fact, they often get the experts to admit that they aren't always sure what's going on -- simple enough definition of a bubble or a dubious scheme, we'd say). So they go hunt down the story and present it link by link. Clearly and systematically explaining each link and linkage. For our money, Adam Davidson is the star of the show.

2. Paul Krugman. We were first exposed to Krugman -- and hence to his enormous impact on the field -- as econ undergrads back in the late 90s-early 00s, before he started his stint as a NYTimes columnist. We mention this time frame because today some people view him as purely a political or partisan voice. While we've agreed with almost all of his critiques of the Bush Administration, particularly over the past three plus years (during which he increasingly took off the gloves, and was often alone in the wilderness as one of the lone, legitimate, mainstream voices doing so), we were never really convinced it took a first-rate, world-class -- indeed, 2008 Nobel Prize winner -- Economist to point out the failings of the Bush Administration. But as the financial crisis began unfolding in front of us this year, suddenly all the pieces that Krugman has been presenting over the years fell into place. During his time at the Times you arguably could have been forgiven for thinking he was just another member of the liberal elite ego machine, but in 2008 you simply couldn't say you were serious about understanding what was going on in the world financial markets without reading Krugman's column (and perhaps re-reading some of those 2004-06 wilderness era columns) and blog, and listening to him lecture.

3. Barack Obama. It's a funny paradox. The pace of Obama's meteoric rise has been perhaps unprecedented. But the length of the campaign was also perhaps unprecedented. Which made it easy to occassionally lose site of how inspiring we found Obama. After he gave The Speech in 2004 we -- along with most of our family and friends -- instictively knew he would win the 2008 election -- he hit a nerve that was so raw, so exposed, so waiting, yearning to be hit. 2008 was the year that instinct became reality. It'll be a year that history books will both, to paraphrase Lincoln, significantly note and long remember. And it's because of Obama.

4. David Plouffe. We both detested yet were inspired by Plouffe's incessant emails. Detested because the role of money in politics gives us the heebie-jeebies. But inspired because every time he asked he received so much goddam money. There is a fine line between money corrupting and people who normally don't care pitching in because they finally give a damn. Plouffe made us feel it was the latter that was happening. Plus, those "homemade strategy videos" he would sent out were pretty sweet, right?

5. Nate Silver. If you seriously followed this election, between September and November 04 you spent more hours at work checking than working. The week after the election, you checked it like a man who loses his leg in war reports being able to feel his amputated leg. We're only now getting over it. We all know these three things to be true.

6. Shepard Fairey. 2008 was the year he went from being known as the guy who created an image that was widely influential in certain cultural circles, to creating the defining imagine of an historic election. There's no need to attempt to overstate Fairey's role in getting Obama elected, but there's no question that his iconic-imaging of Obama will go hand-in-hand with history's recounting of the election.

7. The Pirates. First we thought the stories were just kind of funny and odd and seemed out of place. Then we thought the Pirates were making a brave, populist stance against foreign overfishing. Then we feared that the world economy was certainly going to collapse and we were headed to a life based on the movie Water World. We still have a few more days in '08 to come up with a new story line. But the fact is we were glued to pirate stories this year.

Plane is landing. Perhaps more later.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

(12.24.08) Recommends:

Taxicab Confessions.

Stories That Grabbed Our Attention This Year, Written While in the Cab to LAX.

01. The election. This probably tops most people's list. From primaries to caucuses to FiveThirtyEight to that awful Sarah Palin person to the election of BH Obama, it was literally a year-long ride.

02. The near collapse of the world economy. Who thought we'd read with such interest stories about the TED spread and the commercial paper market. Every day tried to top the previous day in over-the-topness of bad news.

03. Pirates. A mixture of childlike fasination, admiration of the perhaps dubious populist stance of the pirates, and a fear that due to point 2, pirate economies would become more prevalant, we couldn't read enought about this.

04. Nebraska Anti-Abandonment Law. So NE passed a law meant to encourage parents who couldn't carry the burden of a baby, to turn newborns in rather than abandon them. Problem is, no age restriction was written into the law and something like 50 children, many as old as 17, were immediately given up. Law was amended in an emergency session.

05. Suicide of David Foster Wallace. If anybody could have put stories 1-4 into context of modern culture, it would have been Dave Wallace. When he checked out early, we feared mass confusion had finally carried the day. We all carry on, but with heavy hearts.

06. Myspace verdict. It's always hard to talk about the import of case law until years later when it's impact can be fully analyzed. But this case makes it a federal crime to violate a private company's terms of use. The back story makes this result easy to handle for casual observers, but it's theoretically taking us into murky waters.

Well, that's all the time we have. We're being lectured on taxicab credit card use by the driver and can no longer concentrate. What is up with the cash entitlement complex of cab drivers? I know it's marginally inconvenient for you, but it's marginally inconvenient for me to pay for the price of the ride. So it evens out, okay?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

(12.23.08) Recommends:

Scenes From Little Armenia.

So the other day we were out walking around, exploring Little Armenia, which is a little neighborhood nestled roughly between Hollywood and Thai Town and which, incidentally (and somewhat inexplicably), has a pretty decent $20 all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant which has all of these elaborate restrictions on the all-you-can-eat meal, including an ominous, though we're guessing never enforced, threat written on the menu that you are being timed, and if you eat for too long you will be asked to leave. The place specializes in spicy sushi rolls, complete with a "if you can eat a certain amount of such and such spicy roll, we'll put your picture up on a wall." Again, all somewhat inexplicable.

Anyway. As we were saying. We were exploring the neighborhood and came across the following sign:

And the sign seemed pretty perfect. Here we were, in this pretty hard to explain neighborhood, during a time when the country and, in fact, literally the entire world, has been gripped by an almost palatable sense of weariness and nervousness and relentless bad news. And then we saw this sign and realized that though the people walking along the street might have differet lots in life, might be at different points in life, might be aiming for different goals in life, there are certain things that are common to us all. It's a useful thing to keep in the back of our minds, as we go about our day to day lives.

Update: More from Curtis Kulig here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

(12.18.08) Recommends:

Introducing: The Red Line Diaries.

So, there's no question that we've become bored with this blog over the last several months. We've spent much more time engaging in short Twitter bursts, and playing around with other mobile blogging platforms. (In fact we're -- err, I'm -- typing this waiting on the metro platform on the way home from work, so please excuse the lack of links). To this end, we're developing a new blog -- working name The Red Line Diaries -- that we hope to debut, and link to in this space, very soon.

Ooop. Here comes our train. Talk soon.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

(12.03.08) Recommends:

Scenes from Crazy Hook.

Anybody who's been following our Twitter feed knows that we've been pretty obsessed with all these Pirate stories from the last few months. So, in the spirit of staying abreast of current events, we recently hit up our favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles, for a night out at Crazy Hook, Koreatown's very own dot, dot, dot pirate bar/restaurant.

One of the things we love about Koreatown is that its bar owners and restuaranteurs are not shy at taking on novelty themes (pirate bars, robot bars, etc) and not being too cool to actually really run with the themes. For intstance, take the Redwood Bar and Grill, which is located downtown and which we mentioned yesterday. It is billed as a pirate bar, but other than maybe a pirate flag and the bar having lots of dark wood and thus giving off a vaguely nautical feel, it's a "pirate bar" mostly because "hipsters" say it is.

Yeah, Crazyhook has pirate flags:

And, yeah, the interior is dark, wooden, and generally feels like you're on a boat.

And it has a pirate greeter who bares a striking resemblance to Grateful Dead guiatarist Bob Weir (in the foreground, and skeptical friends in the background):

It also has, of course, the obligatory one armed/one hooked pirate who would like to take his picture with you:

But lest you get too complacant around the pirates, know that they usually kidnap and string up at least one female patron nightly:

(note: this fact is more or less made up) There are pretty much dangerous pirates lurking in every dark corner of the place:

Of course, in addition to really taking the themes seriously, the other thing that Korean establishments use that, for reasons unbeknownst to us, their US counterparts have not gotten smart to, is the Booze Botton:

The genuis of the Booze Button is that the servers leave patrons alone to enjoy the company of their companions until the moment the group hits the button, then, seemingly out of nowhere, a server arrives leaving your group with exactly what you want when you want it (namely, centimeters and centimeters of yummy beer)

After a few centimeters of beer and the Crazy Hook sign starts showing up in all sorts of funky colors:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

(12.02.08) Recommends:

Signs You'd Probably Rather Not See.

So we recently visited Santa Monica with a friend. We were on a seafood eating excursion. Our destination was to be Enterprise Fish Co. It should be noted that there was a general reluctance on our part to visit this place because it contains some sketchy info on its website. If you don't click through the link, just know that it advertises a portion of the restaurant that offers "bottle service." Question Mark. Bottle service? At a seafood restaurant? Really? How can that possibly be necessary/justified/non-completely-obnoxious?

We were skeptical.

We were in the mood for oysters.

We gave it a try.

Here's a look at the place from the outside:

Now. We happen to love seafood. But we know a lot of otherwise reasonable people who do not. Some of these people don't like it because they don't like the "fishy smell." We can understand that, we just happen to be fine with the smell. The smell of raw sewage and/or possibly feces, on the otherhand? That's pretty much been universally discredited as an acceptable culinary aroma by now. It's unclear, however, whether Enterpirse Fish Co. ever received the memo, because when we went to open the doors, we saw this:

Yes, shut down because of a "sewage" violation. Yikes. Here's a copy of the code for those interested.

Bottle service was strike one. We're afraid sewage violations are strike two and three. Sigh.

(12.02.08) Recommends:

The Hackensaw Boys.

It's been a rainy/misty/foggy start to the holiday season here in Los Angeles. And, for some reason, rainy/misty/foggy holidays makes us want to listen to bluegrass and drink beer with friends in a setting that features lots of wood, or fake wood paneling if wood is too expensive (and what with the economic crisis we're in, this is probable). We're completely serious about this. We're not sure why we feel this way, but we do. Sort of like how listening to the Strokes' album Room on Fire makes us think of driving around Kansas City with a gentle snow falling.

Well, as an aside, now that we think about it, we actually understand that Strokes connection. We were in the year between graduating college and moving on to our next adventure. We lived in a part of town that was ostensibly hip and as a result our car was broken into three times. The first two times, during the fall, just the windows were smashed but nothing was taken. We actually took this somewhat as an insult because we had hundreds of CDs strewn about the car and not a single one was taken. We figured the thief thought we had bad taste in music and were deeply offended. The third time was during the early winter, and apparently wanting to preserve energy during the cold season, the thief got tricky/steathy. We entered the car. Started it and headed to work. Silence. This seemed weird so we looked down at the car stereo. Only to see that the car stereo had been stolen. Again, all of the CDs we had were entact, but we happened to have the aforementioned Strokes album in the CD player so that one was lost. And in the interim, rather than just going to buy a new car CD player and a new Strokes CD, we would drive around with our laptop open, playing the CD through our laptop speakers (we happened to have, cough cough, downloaded the album prior to purchasing it). Because the part of town we lived in was more ostensibly hip than actually hip (we mean seriously, if this was an actual hip part of town the thief would have left us a goddam thank you note for allowing him/her to behold such an impressive CD collection; at the least s/he would have taken them all to look cool around friends. Not that we haven't gotten over the snub or anything), there were many nights were we'd have nothing interesting to do. So we'd drive a long loop around the city, listening to the Strokes Room on Fire as a light snow fell. The end.

Anyway. Moving on. Here are some pictures of a show that the Hackensaw Boys recently put on at the Redwood Bar & Grill, a random pirate-themed bar downtown. Pirate bar, of course it is. The Hackensaw Boys are a rowdy countrypunkbluegrass band and they put on a very entertaining live act.

We also recorded some sound. We like this first song because it's about The End Times Coming. And with transformative American authors commiting suicide, and worldwide financial meltdowns, and major/historic elections, and stories of pirates hijacking ships appearing with near daily regularity in the NY Times, and bad-action-movie-plot style attacks in India, all occuring within months of each other, it kinda sorta seems like this song might be on to something.

We like this next song because the band announces they're from Virgina, and if you listen closely, you can hear people in the crowd saying, in a nod to the McCain/Palin campaign and a nod to the memory of George Allen, "Welcome to America" and "the realVirgina?"

Finally, this last clip we like because, well, because the singer insists on making "Pirate noises" as the band looks for its missing fiddle player, and because the banjo player -- we've got a rather large soft spot on the banjo -- seems to get a little bored waiting and breaks into some killer banjo soloing. Yes, we went there: we just said killer banjo soloing.

Now, if you've gotten this far you may be saying to yourself: Man, it's kinda strange that you're into bluegrass music played in a manic style. Or: Man, it's kinda strange that there's a pirate-themed bar so far away from the craggy coastline of Somalia (Note: we think it's some sort of rule of AP Style that the NYTimes cannot draft an article about pirates without mentioning said pirates' proxmity off the "craggy coastline of Somalia," craggy being a word I've seen used in print perhaps never prior to Pirategate '08).

However. We submit that the strangest thing to come of all of this is that when we took the subway home -- from Union Station to the Hollywood/Vine station -- we noticed the top of the inside of Union Station is covered with hanging -- strategically or otherwise -- male manequin/blow up dolls -- or, omg, is it possible that they're Real Dolls; oh yikes, please say no. We're not kidding around:

Monday, December 01, 2008

(12.01.08) Recommends:

WSO Update.

Holy moly it's been, like, years since we've updated here. So much has been going on in the world since September that the blog felt a little uncalled for. Plus, we've been cheating on Blogger and spending much of our online time spouting nonsense on Twitter and Tumblr. But now we've gotten over ourselves, and figured we could start sharing here again. It's the holiday seasons. Recommendations are needed. So last time we updated it was about the WSO show at the Hotel Cafe. Below are some of the sites and sounds we captured. (Note: we are on the verge of converting a bunch of .mpg files to .mp3 files, so the days of you having to click on a video that has little or no visible video and only sound are almost over. Recommended: patience.)

Some sites:

Some sounds:

Ten Dead Dogs