Monday, March 27, 2006

Ghosts of Cape Mey

In need of human contact, I decided to go down to "the island" on Sunday morning and join a $20 walking/brunch tour of Historic Cape May. It was slightly drizzly and there were only six of us interested in being there. I surveyed my companions: a grandmother/mother/daughter group in from Maryland and a lovey-dovey couple in matching Nascar jackets. Intellectual stimulation seemed far off.

Mary Lou, our tour guide, was erstwhile and she knew her architecture. She and her husband had retired here from Philly, and were so in love with the place they want to give back. We set out to Hughes Street to take a look at the first houses on the tour. And the modern day world of automobiles and cellphones began to melt away as my mind wandered back to 1620 when Captain Mey of Holland discovered this peninsula...and then to 1820 when Captain Hughes built the house we're looking at. Ghosts of Victorians in carriages streamed by from the steamship landing to their hotels that were later burned down in a November conflagration that took out a third of the town. U-boats hovered at the mouth of the Delaware Bay during World War II and the canal that marks a shortcut from the ocean to the bay was cut to provide a safe haven for the merchant ships headed to the refineries at Philadelphia. The doldrums of the 50s and 60s set in and nobody wanted to come here so the historic nature of the town was preserved from rampant redevelopment.

Then fast-forward to the 80s and 90s and 00s. Suddenly Cape May is hot. Houses cost a million dollars. People paint their Victorian gingerbread in a thousand lurid hues, colors that would make those old Victorians blush. Mary Lou was unabahshed about her disdain for the over-the-top colors people are using today: "Less than twenty years ago, most of the houses in Cape May were painted white."


Saturday, March 25, 2006

No Child Left Creative

St. Andrew's School, Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1960. After a week of dreary, repetitive study of math, English, social studies and science, the clasroom suddenly became an engaging place for me. Every Friday afternoon was devoted to Art. Out came the scissors, paste, crayons, paints, and construction paper. I no longer had to hide the little drawings I'd been secretly doodling in my notebook during English or geography. As rigid and unimaginative as the lesson plans might have been (usually, to recrerate a drawing the teacher put up in the front of the room), I still sailed out of the doors of that school on Friday afternooon with a jolt of creativity that made my segue into the weekend a delight.

Now, the mo-fos who've taken control of everything else have made sure their impact is felt in the most important sphere of all, education. Bowing to the yoke of Bu$hco's "No Child Left Behind" folderol, school districts are abandoning those pesky subjects like art and music in favor of doubling up on math and reading instruction. It's just one more example of how what really should happen gets twisted into some kind of bumfuck alternate reality where the elite of the world congratulate themselves that they're doing something meaningful for the po' folk by getting them on the right track. In reality, those po' folk being screwed.

You know, if we're going to work ourselves out of the mess(es) we currently find ourselves in (oh, you know, those pesky issues like war, poverty, environmental meltdown, social disintegration—that sort of thing) the one bright shining star offering hope to humanity is e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n. We're going to have to devise creative solutions for problems now facing us. We need to teach more creativity, not less.

I don't know if you've noticed: the same idiots who've mired our asses down in Iraq, the ones who couldn't figure out people in New Orleans were in danger, have also been in charge of education "reform." You see how well they've succeeded in their other endeavors. How do you like what they've done to your child's school with their punitive one-size-fits-all kind of thinking?

Is it possible our masters don't really want creative people in their world? There might be too much independent thinking as an outcome. Too many might walk away from the mindless consumer treadmill we're on and go throw some pots. A society comprised of math whizzes can do important things for us like devise new ways to cook the books for Enron or arrange no-bid contracts for Halliburton.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Better in bed

Catching my daily fix over at Daily Kos, I found this interesting link: 10 Reasons Why Liberal Men are Better in Bed. I always suspected this was the case. The author argues it's because we have conscience, a sense of perspective, a sense of humor, efficiency, largesse, and good nightstand reading. In addition, we are not afraid to shed tears, and we're "so intellectually sexy everything is foreplay." Most of all, it seems size matters: "Size. It is absolutely, positively, 100 percent true that Republicans are bigger dicks who trigger the gag reflex."


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Take me to New Ephemera, please

Cruising through design websites looking for the next big publishing idea I came across a reference on Design Observer to an imaginary destination created by Amanda Spielman, a 29-year-old graduate design student at MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts. She had created a brochure as part of a design assignment for an island city she calls, "New Ephemera," located just east of the Sea of Enumeration. The city overlooks the Bay of Water, with the Untold Islands just offshore.

Cradled in the Pleasing Mountains, New Ephemera's main industries are winemaking and bookbinding. It also boasts the world's largest flea market, a Vegetation Museum, "Pools of Certitude," and a place you can go to soak away cares, the Subterranean Honey Baths. The brochure encourages you to "find peace in the gardens, satisfaction in the gourmet selection of wine, cheese, breads and seafood, and intellectual stimulation in the renowned multilingual libraries and extensive museum collections." It also suggests you soak up the sun on the nearby beaches, or go biking in the Outer Bivouacs to breathe in all the abundant fresh air.

When the brochure made it out into the world with its designer's phone number listed, more than a dozen people called to ask for more information, what flights go there, and hotel availability. Foolish hearts; they didn't know enough about the world to ascertain that there could be no such perfect place. Still, it's nice to dream about one.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Goodbye to winter—and daddy

Here's a picture of Higbee Beach on the Delaware Bay. It's just a short drive from our cottage in Villas. I'm seeing out the final days of winter here alone. The kitchen's almost complete, but the sink and dishwasher aren't hooked up so I have to wash dishes in the bathroom lavatory. That keeps me from wanting to make elaborate meals, so I'm buying lots of frozen dinners. Last night it was a tasty frozen deep-dish pizza; tonight I'm having shepherd's pie, which seems like a reasonable choice, especially when paired with a nice glass of red wine. In this short culinary experiment I've come to prefer Stouffers (their lasagne is killer) but they don't make shepherd's pie I guess.

As always, my time down here in Cape May County amazes me by how New Jersey/not New Jersey the place is. In fact, it's below the Mason-Dixon line, I'm told. There are fields and farms and woods interspersed with housing tracts and strip malls. Every so often on the two-lane highways that wind through the peninsula you'll come across a proud old Jersey farmhouse, often converted into a bed and breakfast, antique shop or an attorney's office. These houses attest to the fact that people have been down on this spit of land for a long time, and that even then life was good.

I drove down to Cape May for a bottle of wine at the chi-chi liquor store there. The selection at the liquor store here in Villas really, really bites; I've never seen stranger choices. Of course, you'd expect that: Cape May is more upscale and houses start at about a million dollars. Villas is where people have vinyl picket fences and nautical-motif landscaping with dock pilings, plastic seashells and miniature lighthouses in their front yards. Folks actually live in Villas; they summer in Cape May.

In the old seaside town the last winter winds blew in off the ocean. I was struck by the emptiness, all the dark Victorian houses lumbering over the narrow sidestreets waiting for the summer when they'll be reopened. The sidewalks will be full of people coming to and from the beach. Then all the restaurants and souvenir shops will be open and bustling, and you can get a decent capuccino again.

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, and I'm ready as I've ever been. It's also the day my dad died more than 20 years ago, so it carries a bittersweet feeling for me. He passed like the winter, inevitably and quietly.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Ambient interestingness

Mikal is back in Philly, and glad of it. The things I took for granted while I lived here I now miss. Like the funky mix of architecture and people and culture the place has, the food, and just the whole damned vibe.

I haven’t posted for awhile because I spent the last week on the road. Four of the most heady days of my life found me again at SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin. If there was any doubt the internet is back with a vengeance, it was dispelled by the wall-to-wall crowd estimated at two or three times last year’s attendance. The topics explored in panels and impromptu meetings in the hallways and at parties were mostly new from those just 12 months ago. Words I hadn't heard before were dropped casually by the digerati, concepts like the knowsphere (the collective knowledge of those of us who are not dead), interestingness or the social Web. I’m still processing them in my head, and I had an "aha moment" when I realized the internet is mutating exponentially in ways we can only glimpse at this point in time.

After SXSW I flew back to Indianapolis and then drove East over the next two days so I can oversee the work needed to get our fixer-upper shore cottage ready for this summer. It’s down to minor things now, but there are still a thousand details to take care of.

The weather’s beautiful here, I’m back online and will be posting more regularly for awhile. If you'd like a copy of the photo accompanying this post, it's the free image of the week at


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Do they also block mikalinphilly?

By way of comes a story about how censors control soldiers' use of military computers in Iraq by denying access to particular websites:

* Wonkette – “Forbidden, this page ( is categorized as: Forum/Bulletin Boards, Politics/Opinion.”
* Bill O’Reilly ( – OK
* Air America ( – “Forbidden, this page ( is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion.”
* Rush Limbaugh ( – OK
* ABC News “The Note” – OK
* Website of the Al Franken Show ( – “Forbidden, this page ( is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion.”
* G. Gordon Liddy Show ( – OK
* Don & Mike Show ( – “Forbidden, this page ( is categorized as: Profanity, Entertainment/Recreation/Hobbies.”

Excuse me, aren't our soldiers fighting for freedom? To me that means things like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. I guess it doesn't mean that to the craven cabal that's taken over our government.

Perhaps this censorship explains why a recent Zogby poll showed that 85 percent of troops serving in Iraq believe that a major reason for their mission is to “retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks.”


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Today's dose of paranoia

I guess I should've been more disturbed when Britain's government approved national ID cards last month. I'm sure the anti-freedom brigade tapping our phones and running (ruining) our government can't wait to institute such a plan for the sheep who comprise our populace.

I predict there will be little uproar when the plan is instituted. Right-wingers will write letters to papers like The Indianapolis Star bashing them commie groups like the ACLU when they make a last-ditch attempt to challenge the government in court. Maybe the question will go all the way to the Supreme Court. Now that's reassuring.

We'll all get cards with little RFID chips that will let the government know our whereabouts at any moment. Get stopped by the cops without your card? You may be in big trouble. All our purchases will be laid bare for the world to see: “Boxers or briefs?” will no longer be in question.

After a few years, most people will forget there was a time when we were free to roam without carrying our ID cards. It will become commonplace to put RFID chips in babies’ necks right after they're born, and people will think that's simply more convenient and less aesthetically intrusive than tatooed barcodes.

This is stuff I used to read about in Sci-Fi novels and think implausible. I thought people would stand up and fight a government that tried to impose such a system. How wrong I was.

Paula Scher, one of my favorite designers created the image above in 1992. Jessica Helfand writes about this disturbing idea in an article called, Give Me Privacy or Give Me an ID Card at Design Observer, one of my favorite web publications.

A reminder, from Benjamin Franklin: “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”