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A slideshow of the opening of the new Frost Art Museum at FIU. Hard to judge the size from the photos, but looks impressive enough. “The only free art museum in South Florida.”



Chuck Klosterman: Chinese Democracy - a review of a review

klosterman reviews chinese democracy So, I thought that Rex Sorgatz was the only person in the world who cared about Chinese Democracy, but it turns out I was wrong. His college roommate, Chuck Klosterman, also cares a lot, and wrote a 1,900 word review for the Onion’s AV Club.

Now, the opening pages of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is some of my favorite neither-fiction-nor-nonfiction writing ever, and I’m generally all too happy to follow Klosterman on whatever flights of rhetorical fancy he chooses to explore. (It’s also tough to escape the fact that my writing style largely consists of biting him to whatever limited extent I’m able.) But I’ve read the Guns N Roses review twice now, and I’m just not sure I’m buying it.

I understand Klosterman’s position — I’m just about the same age as Rex and he, and so I understand that he’s got a lot of yarn to spin around Guns N Roses (just by way of example, check out a fake review of Chinese Democracy he wrote for Spin in 2006). This being (please God) the last time anybody will have any interest in reading about what’s left of GNR, he’s got the one chance to let it loose.

Klosterman’s gift is the ability to momentarily make the trivial seem monumentally important, and he goes all in here:

Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? . . . This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can’t psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.

I’m with him there, but it goes off the rails right away in just the very next paragraph:

Three of the songs are astonishing. Four or five others are very good. The vocals are brilliantly recorded, and the guitar playing is (generally) more interesting than the guitar playing on the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl Rose made some curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project, but that works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience. So: Chinese Democracy is good. Under any halfway normal circumstance, I would give it an A.

Am I the only one who zipped happily through that paragraph and didn’t at all see where it was headed? An A?! Since when does a competent rock album with three great songs get a fucking A? Here mainstream rock has been dishing up stagnant pop-punk since Kurt Cobain’s suicide (i.e. just about 20 years), with interesting music coming mainly from eccentric Brooklynites who get minimal play outside of pitchfork, and we’re seriously handing out good reviews to 46-year-old has-beens who manage to come up with 3 good songs and a pop-metal album that isn’t completely embarrassing?

Next, we’re then treated to a boilerplate “last real album” argument in which we are to believe that rock fans around the world will take Chinese Democracy as seriously as Klosterman does, and that it’s good enough to be remembered as the end of the era before all music was downloaded track by track. Which is completely goofy, since even the albums alleged fans are streaming it on MySpace and downloading it off the Pirate Bay.

Continuing as though he were working off an Important Album Review Template, Klosterman next gives us the lyrical analysis paragraph, which is actually the highlight of the review. “The weirdest (yet more predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself.” Do tell. But we run into trouble again when the discussion turns to “the music.” If the warning bells haven’t begun ringing yet, what about when the praise for an album begins with “It doesn’t sound dated or faux-industrial.” And if you cherish, even in a small way, the Guns and Roses of yore, you’ll cringe at where this is going: “But it’s actually better that Slash is not on this album. What’s cool about Chinese Democracy is that it truly does sound like a new enterprise, and I can’t imagine that being the case if Slash were dictating the sonic feel of every riff.”

I don’t know who that works for, but as I vaguely recall it, GnR gradually tanked artistically as Rose’s influence over the group’s direction grew and Slash’s waned. Buckethead may be an interesting guitarist, but I suspect he’s playing Philip Seymour Hoffman to to Axl’s Robin Williams in Patch Adams here.

But don’t get me wrong — reading this review is still way more fun then entertaining the prospect of listening to the actual album. Towards the end, Klosterman goes off on one of his two-tangents-a-minute romps, speculating at great length about why Axl Rose chose to sing one particular line in one particular song in the particular way he did, along the way winding his way through an Extreme comparison, a James Bond reference, and the entirely probably speculation that there are 400 hours of vocal takes of this one particular song on tape somewhere. “Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, ‘What was Axl doing here?’ but ‘What did Axl think he was doing here?’” Maybe so, but how compelling is either question, really? And is it going to make this album worth listening to?

Klosterman concludes with a sincere and heartfelt deceleration that this is, in his honest opinion, a Good Album. He sounds like he means it, but I actually sort of hope he doesn’t. I hope he just figures that making a big deal out of Chinese Democracy makes sense for him, and making a big deal out of it being good is more plausible then making a big deal out of it being predictably lame. He seems oblivious to the fact that much of the anticipation that existed at one point for Chinese Democracy has fizzled out years ago, and that CD is little more then the present day Two Against Nature — very few people care today, and nobody will care or remember 6 months from today.

In the end, Spin Magazine’s actual review of CD, brief and mildly dismissive, seems like a much more measured response. And if you want some primo Klosterman, go read his piece on R Kelley’s Trapped in the Closet, or better yet Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs.

Posted: Tuesday November 25, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [5]


The psychology of getting conned. “THOMAS [The Human Oxytocin Mediated Attachment System] is a powerful brain circuit that releases the neurochemical oxytocin when we are trusted and induces a desire to reciprocate the trust we have been shown—even with strangers.” (via)



Weekendly clickables IV

Posted: Saturday November 22, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [5]


100 blogs that will make you smarter. No Kottke!



“Hours after Salon revealed evidence that two Americans were killed by a U.S. tank, not enemy fire, military officials destroyed papers on the men.”



Camera buying guide 2008

I get asked “what camera should I get?” all the time. And it’s worse around the holidays. First the answer in a nutshell. If you’re rich and want the best, but don’t want to fiddle doing years of research, and trial and error, get a Nikon D700. If you’re on a serious budget but still want a serious camera, get a Nikon D40. If you’re really on a shoestring budget, get a Canon A590. Before we delve into some details, three points to keep in mind:

  1. Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic/Leica, and even Sony make some interesting, and sometimes very good, products. But Canon and Nikon stuff has fewer weird quirks and ugly surprises, and more options for expansion.
  2. Megapixels don’t matter anymore. The difference between 6 and 12 is actually sort of small, and for the kind of prints you’ll be making any camera you can buy today has enough resolution. The exception is for artists*.
  3. Three things you need to pay attention to if you’re a novice using your new camera: ISO, Flash (just leave it OFF most of the time), and exposure compensation.

Pocket cameras

Canon SD880 IS

The current shining star of small, inexpensive cameras is the Canon SD880 IS, currently selling for around $250 (it’s brand new — the price will come down over the next few months). All the Canon compacts are great, but this one, an update of my beloved SD870, has a wide-angle lens and a big display. If you want even cheaper, Canon makes a zillion ever-shifting models in the SD and A series, of which the current cheapest is the aforementioned A590, which currently sells for around $115. The picture quality is the same; the difference is that the A series is bigger, doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries, and is missing some of the extra bells and whistles. (This strikes me as a great camera for kids.) For some reason, Nikon compact cameras haven’t been worth very much for the last few years.

Cheap SLRs

Nikon D40

The larger sensor on SLRs allows them to take pictures that are much much better then any compact, especially in low light. They also don’t have any shutter lag, and are more fun to use. If you enjoy taking pictures, you probably want one of these. Good news is that the Nikon D40 has been around for awhile, and you can find them for just over $400 sometimes, which is sort of amazing considering SLRs average around a thousand bucks. The downside is that there’ll probably be a new version of this camera soon with a bunch of spiffy new features, and more megapixels. On the other hand, it’ll cost hundreds of dollars more, and trust me, those features are silly. Canon has a line of inexpensive SLRs, too, and they’re worth looking at. For most people, though, the Nikon will be easier to use. (The one big issue with Nikon SLRs is lens compatibility. If you think you might want to start collecting and switching lenses, the D40 will cause you grief.)

The Camera-for-Life

Canon d5 Mark II

Just in the last six months, two interesting cameras have come out that are interesting because they arguably have “everything you’ll ever need” in a digital camera: the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mark II. These cameras have three things that make them exceptional: (1) full frame sensors, meaning that old lenses are compatible, and work the same way they did on film cameras, (2) Big and high-resolution displays, and (3) lots of megapixels. They’re made out of solid metal, take fantastic photos in very low light, and are a pleasure to use and hold. They’re also big, heavy, and very expensive. Do what you will, but I’m saving up for the new 5D (it’s actually not even out yet).


The bad news is that every single model that exists has something kind of important going against it. The good news is that digital cameras have been around long enough that they’ve been refined to the point where they’re all pretty great. Let your instincts guide you, and you’re probably not going to make a bad choice. (One funny thing about the three pictures above: not to scale! The first camera is actually smaller then it looks in the photo, the middle one is about right, and the 5Dii is much much bigger. Seriously, if someone tries to take it, you can use it to clock them upside the head.)

One last note, about movie modes: the compact cameras all have a movie mode, and most SLRs do not. The two exceptions are the Canon 5D Mark II, and the not-yet-mentioned Nikon D90.

Update: Ken Rockwell’s rave review of the Canon SD880.

* If you’re most people, you’ll be looking at your pictures on the screen and ordering 5×7” or 8×10” prints, for which 6 to 12 megapixels is great. You can actually order nice 13×19” prints from these cameras, too — I’ve used to make 11×14” prints from 3 megapixel images, and they looked fine. Of course if you’re an artist, you want to be able to print big, and in this case a digital camera is not going to be much more then a toy for you. You need a medium or large format film camera.

Posted: Thursday November 20, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [10]


Massive archive of Life photographs dating back to the 1860s, hosted online by Google. Awesome. [via]



Blame the journalism

Paul Farhi argues that it’s not the journalists’ fault [via] that newspapers are dying. But of course this is a bit of a straw man argument. Nobody reasonable is saying that it’s journalists fault alone. Blame goes to the newspaper industry as a whole, and mostly to leadership, for not playing square with the internet.

Classified ads were such a central part of your industry? What did you do to try to update them for the internet? Do you have maps? RSS feeds? Easy search? Easy online ad buying and the ability to post photos easily? Did you have them in 2002 when the writing was on the wall?

Advertising revenue is down? Viewers spending less time on your site then they did with your print edition? Are you ad sales reps pushing online with your advertisers, and making the transition easy? More importantly, are you opening up your archives to readers and search engines? Are you bringing us innovations that build on your expertise in extracting information from bureaucracy?

The answer to these questions is still often “no.”

And the reporters get some of the blame, too. I know a reporter I know travels not just with her notepad, but with two cameras. She reports, she shoots. How prevalent is this? Exceedingly, shockingly rare. Why didn’t reporters pick up digital cameras when they became cheap and practical about five years ago and bring them when they reported? Why didn’t they push their online editors to explore alternative ways to present news and information then “take the information, write a news story”?

Too, why are guys like Ryan Sholin, who are out there with great ideas trying to help you survive and thrive on the internet, struggling just to get your attention?

I guess I’m one of the folks who’s criticized the newspapers along the way. I think a little less self-righteousness and a little more curiosity and willingness to try something new would have served journalists pretty well over the last decade. It may even not be too late.

Posted: Wednesday November 19, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


These roasted brussels sprouts sound most delicious.



Miami aerial

Miami, Brickell

I tagged along with a friend who was apartment hunting in Midtown, Edgewater, and Brickell this weekend, and I’ve got photos. You’ll see some weird effects of the building boom here, including construction cranes of projects still underway.

Like an abject rookie, I left my camera with all the crappy camera settings from a previous shoot. These photos were saved somewhat in Photoshop, but they have an odd quality, like snapshots from the ’80s found in a shoebox. Which may be appropriate in a way. I’ve got a song for you to listen to while looking at these (opens in a new window) at my Tumblr, if you like yours with a little multimedia.

Posted: Monday November 17, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [6]


Weekendly clickables III

Posted: Saturday November 15, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


The NY Times’ best 1,000 movies ever made. Only goes through 2002, and lists alphabetically not chronologically, but still a good reference.



Underground sewer system in Japan

The Long Now Foundation’s blog collects collections of underground spaces, both man made and natural. (They’re planning on putting their 10,000 year clock underground.)



“It’s not actually all that difficult to raise a few hundred thousand dollars, rent out an office and a phone line, call yourself the Institute for the Study of Policies I Think Are Awesome, and start blasting out press releases.” — How To Become An Expert (via Tomorrow Museum)



What the hell are we going to do about the idiot auto industry?

General Moters ev1

The American auto industry deserves to die so richly it makes me sputter. It’s pretty well exemplified by Bob Lutz, G.M.’s vice chairman, who’s been infamously quoted as saying, “…global warming is a total crock of shit. … Hybrids like the Prius make no economic sense.” It’s been just like with the housing bubble and the Iraq war, where a chorus of reasonable voices called out for the obvious correct action for years. Except that with the auto industry, we’ve been telling them for decades. Please build us better cars. Please not with the upsized SUVs. Oh, and, who killed the electric car again?

Thomas Friedman was watching TV in September:

They were interviewing Bob Nardelli, the C.E.O. of Chrysler, and he was explaining why the auto industry, at that time, needed $25 billion in loan guarantees. It wasn’t a bailout, he said. It was a way to enable the car companies to retool for innovation. I could not help but shout back at the TV screen: “We have to subsidize Detroit so that it will innovate? What business were you people in other than innovation?” If we give you another $25 billion, will you also do accounting?

So, yeah, this is sure as hell an industry that does not deserve to be encouraged. Steve says let ‘em die. But Friedman is more cautious. He quotes the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Ingrassia, who wrote:

In return for any direct government aid, the board and the management [of GM, and any other U.S. automaker accepting a bailout] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp GM with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible.

That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others, and downsizing the company. After all that, the company can float new shares, with taxpayers getting some of the benefits.

But you see where this starts to lead. Back to Friedman:

I would add other conditions: Any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol.

Of course others have plenty of more drastic ideas, and those strict minimum-mileage requirements we’ve been talking about for years are just the tip of the iceberg. But you see it’s not as easy as “fix it and then make them run it better.” You can solve problems with banking with more regulation, because “innovation” in the banking industry is generally considered the source of trouble. In the auto industry, innovation is the way out, and you cannot use legislation to force innovation. Just doesn’t work. Might work for a few months or a year, but eventually you’ll be forcing the wrong kind of innovation, and digging yourself a deeper bailout hole for next time. Friedman even acknowledges this — sort of — by jokingly suggesting putting Steve Jobs in charge of GM for a year.

No my friends. The American auto industry has had ample opportunity to fix itself. Instead it has chosen to cruise on easy Lincoln Navigator profits (“take a Ford Expedition, add some sound insulation, raise the price by $10,000, and hold your breath”) and a powerful Michigan legislative delegation. It fought safety standards, it fought milage standards, and it churned out the same crap, clad in differently styled plastic, for decades. The legion of workers it employs are the only plausible argument for saving it, but ultimately you’d be doing them no favors. Bailing out an industry and then regulating it to “improve” really is straight Socialism. And even if Republicans are right that this is the time to throw everything they’ve ever stood for out the window, the problem remains that Socialism does not work. Good money after bad. Delaying the inevitable.

Sorry, but I’m with Steve on this one. These companies have been bailed out before. They’ve been warned. They had plenty of opportunity to fix their shit when they were flying high on those 100% SUV profits. And they staunchly refused. They need to survive on their own or die this time.

Posted: Thursday November 13, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [6]



Which is the best of these three web pages?

Answer in the comments?

Posted: Wednesday November 12, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


Tina Fey talks to Terry Gross about playing Sarah Palin, 30 Rock, and her husband.



Abandoned formats

The Lost formats archive. Sort of more interesting for the design then the content. It’s cool they included Sony Memory Stick, though.



Venice Architecture Biennale

To build something is to make a building. But architecture is everything that is about buildings. It’s the way we think about buildings, the way we talk about buildings, the way buildings are drawn and composed and designed. And that means that buildings are the most complete way in which architecture appears. But it also means that it’s very difficult to find architecture in buildings. Buildings are the tombs of architecture, the architecture is hiding in the walls, the floors, and the ceilings. We need architecture, because architecture can make us at home in the modern world, a world that is changing more and more quickly, and which more places look the same all the time.

— Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum and curator of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale; watch the video at Monocle

Posted: Monday November 10, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Excercise? Then you of course know the importance of stretching. But guess what?: Everything you know about stretching is wrong.



David Byrne on tour. Miami date: December 13, Jackie Gleason.



Things of which you may not know pt. 1

Posted: Saturday November 8, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Mind blowing: the campaign of Barack Obama increased African-American voter turnout across the country. In California this contributed to the success of Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban. This, in turn, has led to pockets of ugly racism among Prop-8 demonstrates (and a side serving of anti-white hate in reaction).


CHANGE.GOV The Barack Obama Twitter account appears to have packed it in, and I think that’s as it should be. The campaign is over, and it would be a mistake to link Obama’s campaign marketing efforts too much with his presidency. Adam Lisagor wondered if Obama would continue to use his logo, and it would appear that he will not.

This, on the other hand, is more like it:, a brand new site designed by Obama’s people as only they could, and bringing a completely fresh approach to how the government uses the internet to interact with the people. It’s a little light right now, but it has lots of potential. I would like to see the “share your story/share your vision” features turn into something more like an internet forum, where the stories can be shared and discussed.

And I’d like at least a little of that radical transparency brought in: What newspaper articles and editorials did Obama find provoking today? Who’s he meeting with today? What’s being talked about inside the White House today?

I don’t think we’re ready for, “fire the publicist / go off message / let all your employees blab and blog,” in the White House, but we would benefit from whatever baby steps Obama can take in that direction, and seems like just such a step.

Posted: Friday November 7, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


Newsweek has been following the Obama campaign and getting inside dirt, on the condition that it wouldn’t be published until after the election, and so here it is: How He Did It.



An oddly captivating gallery of Michelle Obama’s outfits. Also, the Mrs O blog.



Obama election liveblogging

Oh, fuck it, let’s just see what’s going on…

9:26pm: I’ve been telling everyone today that if Florida goes to McCain I’m going to be PISSED, and right now Obama has a lead here, so that’s all good. We have the Google election tracker, but unfortunately it’s running a little behind some of the network projections, which are currently 175 vs 76 (Obama/McCain, 270 needed, duh).

9:30pm: Ohio’s been called for Obama. Keep in mind: 270 needed to win, 350 is the “historical sweep” we’re looking for, 338 is what Karl Rove predicted.

9:43pm: I don’t think Chuck Todd has slept for about six weeks. Dude must have some really nice prescription uppers. HuffPo has a nice live tally map, as does NYTimes, breaking it down by county(!). NBC says 200/90 right now.

9:56pm: I have been just informed by my TV that “this election is not just about race, it’s about a vision for the country.” So, it’s pretty obvious why broadcast network pundits get paid the big bucks. Since a landslide for Obama seems a given right now, and Obama taking Florida appears a very reasonable proposition, I’ve shifted my giddy optimism to “Obama Wins Texas?” Despite being the biggest GOP Stronghold, Texas is actually sorta kinda close, what with all them hispanics, many of whom have apparently gotten uppity and have been voting Obama. And in election booze news, I’ve now switched from beer to vodka!!

10:06pm: 207/129. Whoa, Bob Dole’s wive was a senator? Also, according to Twitter, Pot has been legalized! In depressing news, 38% of Floridians as of now have come out in support of gay rights. You people are brainless fucking self-righteous assholes. The next time Bryan Williams tells me to remember the difference between “too close to call” and “too early to call” I’m going to hop a redeye to Washington and clock him. NOBODY CARES WILLIAMS. Ann Curry’s CG rotunda is kinda cool, though.

12:13am: 338/139. Victory speech. “This victory is not the change we seek — it is only the beginning.” Obama delivers the speech from a plain podium, the election/marketing “Change We Need” sign gone, with any luck forever (and with more luck, along with the “yes we can” chant). (McCain carries Texas by 55%.)

7:11am: Watching the crappy Stewart/Colbert special. Meh. Numbers as of now, 349/147, with 42 still uncounted. Pissing in your open-minded cereal: anti-gay measures appear to have passed in California and Florida. YOU ELECTED THE RIGHT GUY BUT YOUR COUNTRY IS STILL BACKWARDS.

Posted: Tuesday November 4, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


DrawMoween 2008


Saturday Started DrawMoween, a thirty-day challenge to make one drawing a day for thirty days. I’m in, and I’m going to be uploading my pictures here all month (newest drawings will show up first). We’ll see how it goes (and yes, I do know that I can’t draw).

Posted: Sunday November 2, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


Lawrence Lessig on gay marriage. I love the way this guy puts an argument together, but this is rather depressing, because I think the people who want to make gay marriage illegal are almost the same group as those who are least susceptible to rational human logic. Here in Florida we have Amendment 2 — please vote “no.”



Every Block launches in Miami