Homo homini rodentius est

Fire Drill

We’re all gamblers in various ways — betting against the house when it comes to smoking, or overeating or, in my case, delaying purchase of renter’s insurance while being positively petrified of a fire breaking out in my building. Well, after years of sitting bolt upright in bed every time a fire truck turns onto my street, last night it finally happened. They stopped out front and a phalanx of firemen came barreling into my building, boot buckles clinking and oxygen tanks clanking and shouting at the top of their lungs that they had to get into an apartment 3 floors above mine. Strangely enough, after years of expecting utter self-dissolution at the prospect of imminent immolation, I reacted perfectly calmly. I got up, got dressed, collected my financial documents and placed them in a backpack along with the external hard drive from my computer that holds about 100,000 files pretty much containing the digital representation of my life for the past 15 years. Then I looked around my apartment and thought of what else could not afford to be lost. Almost without having to think I settled on 3 items: a stack of hand-written journals that I’ve kept since I was 18, a small porcelain doll that my mother treasured as a child in Ireland and one of the few things she was able to pass along to me at her death and a white clay pipe of my grandfather’s that had been passed on to her. That’s all.

The fire turned out to be a minor event, quickly extinguished by the firemen who clomped out of the building about 20 minutes after they showed up. When it was over and I was unpacking the backpack I was a bit amazed that the most valuable items that had emerged from decades of living were a few artifacts of identity — physical traces of myself and those who came before me. Talismans. What had been mere sentimental mementos minutes earlier were revealed, in the moment of crisis, to be absolutely essential. I wouldn’t have guessed it.

Short Bites

When Good Toys Go Bad
I’m watching to see how much follow up occurs to the [tainted toys] debacle. Since the story left the front pages of the major newspapers there have been a few articles scattered about that are mostly reactions to Mattel’s predictable PR damage control. And, of course the inevitable camera hogging [congressional hearing]. More importantly, the EU market commissars are starting to [make noise] about regulations. As we know from the Microsoft rulings, Belgium doesn’t tremble before business interests and this might actually lead to a change in business practices among the greedy toy companies.

The Good Seed
Nicholas Wade, the New York Times science writer who has [genetic fundamentalism] tattooed onto his brain, has another article about evolutionary factors underlying social phenomena — in this case “morality” — that, despite the absurd title, [Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?], is really a review of psychosocial research on ethical values and has little to do with genetic determinism.

A Star is Born
According to [Variety], the fey wunderkind from the Deep South, [Chris Crocker], has signed a deal for his own reality TV show. According to producer Rasha Drachkovitch, “It’s going to pretty much be the ‘Chris Crocker experience’. We consider him a rebel character that people will find interesting. He’s going to be a TV star.” The usual haters are up in arms about this latest travesty of our media-besotted culture. Not me. For once, this promises to be a reality TV show worth collecting. I can’t wait.

Mark Allen and Lypsinka’s Lovechild

And now for something completely different…

The blogs are alive today with reaction to a very femmy boy getting hysterical on YouTube over post-VMA Britney criticism — I won’t link to it because it’s easy enough to find. This was my first introduction to the web phenomenon of “Chris Crocker”, a solitary gay kid being raised by Pentecostal grandparents in the Deep South who posts the most amazingly over-the-top videos imaginable. As [The Stranger] reports, he’s gathered a huge following of fans — and enemies — but, most importantly, he’s been noticed by media machers. That’s his ticket out. Way out. And a lifeline out of otherwise certain loneliness. Hooray for him.

After the jump, Chris provides his so-very-unique prescription for treating depression…

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Madeleine, the tesseract, and me

Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007)

Life is so strange. Just after I published that post about the [50th anniversary of On the Road] last week, I was standing in the kitchen making a cup of coffee and thinking about Jack Kerouac’s sadly foreshortened life and comparing him to a long-lived and prolific writer like Madeleine L’Engle — a writer I’ve loved and admired most of my life — and I wondered if she was still alive and hoped that she was. Then, on Friday, came the announcement in the papers that she had died the day before at the age of 88.

Like many, I became a fan after reading the classic A Wrinkle in Time as a child. The book had a profound effect on me. L’Engle’s deft amalgamation of science fiction, mysticism and (I would learn years later) Christian symbolism awakened an intense fascination with cosmology and science in general and a near obsession with the nature of time that lasts to this day. Her death struck personally because I had the pleasure of meeting her when I was a sophomore at Columbia. In what could only be called extraordinary serendipity, I learned that she was the writer-in-residence and librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine right across the street from campus. On a winter day not long after learning this, I stood before her and her goddaughter in her office and solemnly intoned (with the drama that only a college sophomore can muster), “Miss L’Engle, I am here on a Christmas mission that only you can help me complete.”

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Beauty and the Beast

Self-ordained digital media gurus like Scott Karp of [Publishing 2.0] and [Matthew Ingram] have built a cottage industry proclaiming the coming death of analog media. So blinkered are they by their all-or-nothing worldview they fail to see how some old line media brands are leveraging their strengths into the new media landscape. The best recent example is [ShopVogue.tv], a pretty brilliant brand extension that Condé Nast has cooked up for Vogue. In hindsight of course it looks like a no-brainer — create a portal that allows current (and soon to be) Vogue readers to go behind the glossy pages of the classic fashion magazine and get additional content, including behind-the-scenes video of glam fashion shoots, as well as the ability to purchase the products featured in large-format glorious color in the magazine. Brand extension and a new revenue stream to boot — the definition of synergy.

But hindsight is overrated — the moral here is that it may take awhile for established businesses to respond to the potential of a new channel but, over time, those with the content and the capital will carry the day. That advertisers are hot for the idea is evidenced by the record-breaking number of ad pages Vogue sold for the September issue: 727! The enormous issue weighs in at 4 pounds. That’s old media heft that new media prognosticators ignore at peril to their fragile reputations.

Condé Nast isn’t alone in coming up with digital strategies — Hearst, jumping early on the mobile media bandwagon, is in the process of [rolling out nine mobile sites] to complement some of their most popular magazine brands. This is a strategy that many magazines could adopt — adding an interactive component that allows readers to engage the magazine they are reading with one hand while they turn the pages with the other. What do you know, looks like the reports of the death of analog media were a bit premature.

And while we’re on the subject of beauty, I had to comment on the death of Leona Helmsley and something remarkable that happened yesterday. It isn’t often that one looks to the venerable Washington Post to get a Gawkerish dose of snarky vitriol, but that’s exactly what they served up to mark the death of “The Queen of Mean”. The surprisingly hilarious piece by Larry McShane, entitled [Leona’s Final Property Has a Great View], refers to her final resting place at the lyrically named Sleepy Hollow in upstate New York. Referring to Leona (nee Lena Rosenthol) as “a hardhearted harpy with a hair-trigger temper”, McShane shows that she played to type right to the end — getting into trouble with local officials when she had the family crypt moved from its former home in the Bronx after “the tomb with a view” had that view occluded by a public mortuary (gasp!). Still trading up in real estate right to the bitter end. Say what you like about the old bitch, but that’s integrity.

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