Friday, June 26, 2009

Wire Service

We recently watched Man on Wire, and we both enjoyed it. During the movie, I couldn't help but think how such a feat would be nearly impossible to pull off today, even if the twin towers were still standing. Some would argue that though security and litigation, we've effectively banished from our lives the kind of wonder and beauty that people like Philipe Petit provide. I think there is some truth to this view, but I think it overly romanticizes the past and shortchanges the artists of today. All memorable art is subversive in some way, and there's never been, nor will there ever be, a shortage of beliefs and assumptions that someone will feel the need to challenge though artistic expression.

The film itself is quite beautiful, thanks to a wealth of archival photographs and video. If you're afraid of heights, you will definitely feel a bit uncomfortable watching this movie, even though most of the images of the wire walk are stills. While a wire walk between the two (at the time) tallest buildings in the world seems insane, there is a certain logic to it. You're unlikely to survive a fall from anything much taller than a two story building. Since no one would really care if you walked across a wire strung between the 8th floors of the twin towers, you might as well go all the way to the top. In either scenario, you'll be just as dead if you fall, but if you survive at the top, you'll become a legend.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009


We went to check out a small exhibit chronicling the early history of Chinese restaurants in Providence at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum. The three restaurants profiled were all long gone before I arrived in Rhode Island, so I don't have any memories of dining at them, or any other old time Chinese-American restaurants for that matter. Still, it was an interesting exhibit. My favorite part was an old newspaper ad from one of the three restaurants (Mee Hong, I believe). There wasn't a date on the clipping but it appeared to be from the 1960s. The ad was targeting local college students and listed each of the local schools along with a selling point for the students at that institution. I don't remember each of the selling points verbatim, but they boiled down to the following:
  • Brown: Authenticity
  • RISD: Decor
  • URI: Value
  • PC: Alcohol
  • Bryant: American-Style Food
  • RIC: Highchairs
40+ years later, the ad probably still resonates pretty well with its intended audiences.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

People Who Eat People (Are the Luckiest People in the World)

I just finished reading Max Brooks' World War Z. It's not the kind of book that I would usually read, but I decided to give it a shot on the recommendation of my brother-in-law-in-law. It's an easy read, but it didn't do a lot for me. It's set in the not-too-distant future and chronicles the zombie war though interviews with the people who survived it.

The zombie myth is so pervasive and well-understood in modern culture that this book doesn't really need to spend much time explaining what zombies are and how they work, though I found the way that Brooks delicately examined nearly every tactical aspect of what a war against the undead would look like one of the most compelling parts of the story. I did a little research of my own after reading the book, and I was surprised to learn how modern the zombie myth is. While it's origins are somewhat unclear, it's likely derived from Haitian Vodou and was introduced into popular culture almost single-handedly by the films of George Romero.

In film and literature, zombies are generally used stand-ins for the fears that are gnawing at society at the time. I'm not sure what, if anything, the zombies are supposed to represent in this book. The war on terror is an obvious choice. I think Brooks leaves the story loose enough to allow the reader to provide his own stand-in.

Brooks applies the same precision to the geopolitical aspects of World War Z that he does to the technical aspects of zombie combat, and that's where the book really falls short. I found the politics of the story far too predictable. The nations that fared best in the war were, for the most part, fortress societies. Nations with authoritarian streaks used the war to consolidate their power. Without going into too much detail, the chapters dealing with wartime Japan were so stereotyped that it almost read like a pamphlet written by far-right Japanese nationalists as a cautionary call to arms. Brooks definitely did his homework, but there's a real lack of imagination in the geopolitical parts of the story.

I generally avoid stories built around dialogue because it's really hard to write compelling dialogue. World War Z is far from the worst book I've ever read in this department, but the dialogue isn't great. Since it's written in interview form, there really isn't any time to do much character development.

I hear that the book is being made into a movie. I think it could be pretty good as a film, especially if they can whittle the story down to a few compelling characters.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Whole Wheat

I received a beer of the month club subscription for Christmas last year. So far, my two favorite selections have been wheat beers, which has come as something of a surprise since they usually aren't my thing. The first one I tried was Woody's Wheat from the Sand Creed Brewing Company in Wisconsin. It's got a lot of flavor, though it's not overpowering, and has a crisper taste than most wheat beers. The second was an orange infused wheat beer from Four+ Brewing in Utah called Rype. I was initially skeptical of an orange flavored beer, but I really shouldn't have worried, as the flavor was very subtle and I'm a fan of a number of fruit flavored ales.