It’s papaya Wednesday!

Silence is no fun. It can be calm, peaceful, sometimes beautiful. But it is not fun. So I’m going to try and have some fun here, today and more frequently going forward.

These days, I measure the passage of time by my daughter. The last time I blogged Sarah was barely a suggestion of what she is becoming. She was three months into the world, newly aware and curious but mostly inert. Over the weeks, she started to roll over, she found her hands and knees, she started to sit up on her own. Today, at nine months, she scoots. Scooting is a March thing. She’s mastered a military crawl. Once in a while, she can concentrate her efforts for just long enough to pull herself off the ground onto her two feet, where she balances unsteadily (and dances, if we’re playing music).

When I put aside the blog, Sarah’s diet was all liquid. Today, she is sprouting teeth, and chewing food. Every few days, she tries something she’s never eaten before. Today, it was papaya. She tasted it, grinned, mushed it between her gums, let the juices run down her chin and onto her bib.

I may go out of my way to prepare and try new combinations of familiar ingredients, but I’m not sure I remember the last time I ate something wholly new to me. My daughter leads an exciting life, full of adventure. Her milestones come in waves, too many to chronicle without lapsing into self-mockery. (“Tuesday, March 13: Sarah picked a piece of lint off the carpet and studied it. Wednesday, March 14: Sarah studied the doorknob and tried to open her door.”)

Outside, there is much going on. The season is shifting into spring. The entire country is on the verge of a year of political nonsense; silly season in New York City extends a year afterwards. But silliness is everywhere: for instance, members of a cooperative supermarket in Brooklyn debated this week whether to have a vote to support Palestinian self-determination by enacting a boycott of Israeli paprika. But all the world’s problems don’t amount to a hill of chickpeas at the end of the day when I come home and see what’s new.

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Five things about September 2011

I am preparing for my first full week as primary daytime caregiver for Sarah while her mother returns to work. So how am I preparing for a day chasing the whims of my infant daughter? I put her down to slumber, successful on the fourth try, and sunk into a chair to soak my eyeballs in television, watching the Eagles on Sunday night football through its last excruciating moments. Sarah and her mother are asleep. I will join them shortly. Still, Sarah will be up soon, hungry and desperate for relief.

In the meantime, five things I won’t tell my daughter about her third full month at the center of our world:

  1. “So, remember the Congressman who pulled down his diaper and took a picture he posted on Twitter? (You’re never going on Twitter, by the way.) They had an election to replace him. Usually, there’s an election to see who runs in the real election. But not this time, because it was a special election. The head Democrat picked the worst Democrat he could find… and the Republicans picked a guy who used to run a trashy talk show where crazy people yelled at each other. Naturally, the Republican won, because he had the perfect experience for Congress.”
  1. “Every four years, they have an election for President, too.  A bunch of Republicans who wanted to be President had a debate in California, and there was a lot of clapping and cheering for the Governor of Texas because he’s killed lots of people. It seems kind of creepy and weird, I know. But this is the state where they elected a governor who killed more people in movies than anyone else. (You’re not ever moving to California. Or Texas.)”
  1. “There is a big parade every year in our neighborhood where we live in Brooklyn. Lots of people come, and this year some people got shot. It was very scary. So what did we do about it? Because it’s a national problem, the mayor went to a press conference and told Congress they needed to pass a law restricting people from buying guns so the street where we live can be safer. And that’s why we’ve had to stay inside for the last four years.”
  1. “The city started a program where you could pay to pick up a bicycle on a streetcorner, and you could drop it off somewhere else for another person to use. And all of a sudden, it was like we were living in Portland, Oregon… if only for a moment.”
  1. “A Yankees pitcher broke a record for finishing more games than any other pitcher–more than 600. So, finish your dinner.”
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Stolen moments and Twitter doubles

Damn it… I’ve been really neglectful of this space. Turns out that my infant child– whose life in weeks is still in the single digits–is able to command my complete attention whenever she is within earshot. Yes, it is a visceral, addicting thrill to make faces at her and coax a smile in my direction. It is an awful pain when she cries and I cannot tell why. And it is a dispiriting, hopeless frustration when I am ready to fall asleep and she will not.

Inbetween all of this—and my day job—I’ve found little time to continue this project the way I had intended. If there is any chance to take the blog off of life support, I need to force myself to be enterprising about stealing moments to write, in snack-sized bits.

But where to begin? There is little I can say about the life of my neighborhood, because my life is here, inside my family if not inside my apartment. There are things I notice—a new wine shop for wine geeks on Franklin Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Lincoln Place, nestled among the bodegas, the hair salon, and the Caribbean juice bar on the west side of the block. Across the street, Bob and Betty’s (the grocery formerly known as Fisher’s) seems to be thriving, even if it feels wrong and out of place. It’s a glass-walled cathedral to upward mobility, with organic cereal, fresh produce, and craft beer. The proprietors run a curious Twitter feed (@bobandbettys) that mixes information about the store specials with amusingly caustic observations about its aspiring clientele. For instance:

a scary looking #hipster just took one look at the beer section today and started doing cart wheels down the isles!!??? #hipsters #vintage

One other Twitter note from this extended hurricane weekend… one of the most enjoyable parts of the Mayor’s numerous Irene press conferences—or any presser—are the updates he offers in Spanish. The deck is stacked against this mayor, really. Any white guy cursed with an unshakeable Massachusetts accent is going to sound ridiculous speaking any language but Boston English. It was actually surprising that someone hadn’t stepped up on Twitter to parody the Mayor’s Spanish sooner. So enter @ElBloombito, which appeared as the outreach ramped up on Saturday, and thanks to a Sunday plug on the Huffington Post quickly reached upwards of 12,000 followers. An example:

Los some of the trains y most of el busses resumiento servico slowly tomorrow. Get las commuteradors to trabajo muy late.

Dumb white guy Spanglish. Obvious, but the Mayor’s Spanglish doppelganger stayed active throughout the weekend, providing Spanglish speakers with all the latest information about the hurricane and the city’s efforts to protect its citizens from the weather.

After the storm passed, there was a remarkable moment on Monday, as the Mayor’s official feed engaged @ElBloombito, asking Are you listening? as it linked to a YouTube video of the Mayor answering a press conference question about his fake translator:

Me escuchas, @ElBloombito?

I am not one to judge the man’s Spanish, but I do give him (and the folks around him) credit for having a good sense of humor. It’s not often that elected officials are quite secure enough to tweak the folks who are tweaking them. (Of course, it’s helped that the mayor seems to have had a good week.) The city actually has a pretty lengthy social media policy, but the norms for effective engagement on Twitter are really still emerging. In February in Chicago, candidate Rahm Emanuel went on the radio to offer a charity bounty for the identity of his Twitter double @MayorEmanuel. Bloomberg—now mayor for almost 10 years—used the official Twitter presence of his office to gently tweak his. From now to then, it feels like some line has been crossed, in a strange and interesting way. If parody can interact with reality, and vice versa… that might actually make paying attention to government a little more interesting. Which is not a bad thing, considering how few New Yorkers take the time to vote in local elections… which is a subject for another night…

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Five things about June 2011

It has been a very long time since I’ve added words to this space.  I’ve been neglectful of my time and craft. Truth be told, I realize the Internet may not be clamoring for yet another blog post pondering the challenges awaiting me in fatherhood. But aside from my hours at work—and the others I pass anesthetized before the television—there has been little else on my mind. Between the necessary preparation, childbirth and infant care education, reading, nesting, exercising when I can, cooking, cleaning up after myself, and collapsing on the couch… there is precious little time left for blogging. But here I am on a Friday night, Mrs. E three days past her due date… with nothing left to do but write. Funny, that.

So, with all that said… here are five things I will not be telling my daughter about the month she was born:

  1. “The biggest news story that month was about a politician who got in trouble for sending pictures of his private parts to pretty girls on Twitter. And his name was Weiner. No, I’m not making that up. But he lied about it and said it wasn’t him. And then he tried to have a press conference to tell the truth, but the guy who accused him in the first place showed up and made a big stink. And then his wife went to Asia. And then she came back, and he went to a senior center and resigned. The moral: you should never follow politicians on Twitter or Facebook. Read a newspaper. I’m sure they still print news on paper somewhere.”  [The latest: Fake Twitter identities used to get information on Weiner–NY Times]
  2. “A team of basketball players from Dallas, led by a large German man named Dirk, won the national championship, because a player for the Miami team named Lebron pooped the bed. Not literally. That’s what you say when everyone expects you to do something great, and instead you do something gross and disappointing, and the grown-ups need to try and clean it up.”
  3. “Lots of very important decisions about New York City are actually made in Albany, which is three hours away. The politicians in Albany got together and did something very brave—they said it was bad to take money from people in secret, because they might be making decisions to help the people who gave them the secret money, and no one would know about it. Think of it this way: if you had one friend who gave you a cookie, and another who didn’t, who would you like better? Wouldn’t you want to do something nice for your friend who gave you the cookie? So if you were a politician in Albany, you could still have the cookie, you would just have to disclose to the state ethics commission that you got the cookie. Yeah, I know, that’s still not too bad of a deal.”
  4. Alec Baldwin joined Twitter. And he thought about running for mayor. Of New York City. Yes, people still vote for mayor.”
  5. “Spiderman finally opened on Broadway, for real. And nobody fell from the sky.”
Posted in babytime, elections, where i live | Leave a comment

Playlist for my unborn daughter, Part 2: the list

In Sunday’s post, I introduced my weekend project—my baby daughter’s formative playlist. Tonight, after spending a few days futzing around with iTunes and WordPress to get the music files lined up, it’s time to unveil the list. If you’ve shared your thoughts, thanks. There will probably be another iteration of this before long.

It will be pretty clear once this gets going what my musical biases are; there are some areas in which this list will be woefully lacking. It’s light on classic rock, the music of my twenties (which may have something to do with that). And it seems as if I’d rather pretend that the last three decades of music never actually happened. If you can help me fill a few of these holes, much obliged.

So, without further ado…

Miles Davis: So What, All Blues (both from Kind of Blue, 1959)

These songs are perfection to me.  Kind of Blue is the epitome of American classical music.  Miles Davis made sweeter tones than anyone who ever blew breath into a trumpet. When I discovered the album, I immediately set myself to the task of memorizing Miles’ solo from “So What,” and played it over and over again (badly) instead of practicing our assigned pieces for my school jazz ensemble. I can still hum the whole thing, for what it’s worth. If the Internet exploded, erasing all recorded music in existence, and some additional set of ridiculous circumstances transpired to grant me the power to choose one album that would survive for the next generation, it would be this one. So… this was an easy choice. I hope my daughter never gets mixed up with a guy like Miles Davis… but I want her to know that beautiful sound.


John Coltrane: Acknowledgement (A Love Supreme, 1964)

We get Coltrane as a sidekick on the first two songs; his power and fury filtered through Miles Davis’ unflappable cool makes for a great mixture. Coltrane as a bandleader is different, the supporting players built to support and showcase that big, emotional sound coming out of his horn. A Love Supreme is, to me, almost sacred music. There is no other piece of music I imagine to be powerful enough to match the intensity of the emotional bond between parent and child. Which I’m just guessing at because, you know, I’m not technically a father yet.

John Coltrane: In a Sentimental Mood (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, 1962)

This is Coltrane possibly at his most restrained, playing within the contours of Ellington’s classic composition.  Accompanied only by a bass and drums, the Duke on piano and Trane on tenor sax recorded a spare and impossibly beautiful rendition of the melody.

Kermit the Frog: Rainbow Connection (The Muppet Movie Soundtrack, 1979)

You may have noticed this from the hint I dropped earlier… I’ve decided that my daughter needs to know the Muppets. I grew up during the heyday of the Muppet Show on TV; the Muppets are always great fun, for kids and for semi-grownups like myself. One reason for the broad appeal is that the Muppets are not as nakedly didactic as some of today’s kid-friendly entertainment.  Still, there is a powerful and positive message the Muppets demonstrate again and again through music, movies, and goofy Internet videos: no matter what you are, it’s OK to be you.  You might be a frog or a bear or a pig or a Gonzo living in a human world… but no matter what you are, you can go out and do your thing on your terms. This song is an apotheosis of the Muppet worldview: your dreams are real; hold onto them and follow them, even if people doubt you.  Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me. Unfortunately, Jim Henson is no longer around to match the voice of Kermit’s classic body of work… we can only hope our daughter takes to New Kermit.

Louis Armstrong: When You Wish Upon a Star (Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, 1968)

Classic Disney song, in the inimitable voice of Louis Armstrong.  For trumpet icons, Louis Armstrong occupies the opposite pole from Miles Davis. Miles is all smoothness and cool… and Satchmo is all warmth and charm. Satch’s gravelly pipes make the words flow like maple syrup: When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you. We should all start out believing that, and hold onto it even when the world demonstrates otherwise. If I can give that to my daughter, I will have done well. There is no place for cynics in an enterprise like fatherhood…  Anyhow, What a Wonderful World may have been too obvious a choice here; we will come back for more Satchmo in a minute.

Beach Boys: Surfer Girl (Surfer Girl, 1963); God Only Knows (Pet Sounds, 1966)

The Beach Boys get a two-fer. Brian Wilson harmonies=super soothing. “Surfer Girl” may as well be a California lullaby… though there are relatively few opportunities to ride the surf along Eastern Parkway. “God Only Knows” is maybe one of the purest and sweetest Beach Boys tunes.  So many are about teenage love (too early!), racing cars (definitely too early) and waxing down the surfboard (yeah, umm…).  “God Only Knows” is just a simple love song. While it is associated with the HBO show Big Love, which is about polygamy, the series ended, and for my daughter we can pretend it never happened.

The Beatles: In My Life (Rubber Soul, 1965); Blackbird (The White Album, 1968); Octopus’ Garden (Abbey Road, 1969)

Once every few months, I get into a running conversation with a particular friend of mine comparing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. One note to add to that conversation: the Beatles go on this list; the Stones quite obviously do not. “In My Life” is Lennon at his most sentimental. “Blackbird” is Paul… Paul can sing a soft ballad about perseverance like nobody.  “Octopus’ Garden” is a Ringo song; fanciful and fun. Even if we all know an octopus can’t really have a garden. But hey, frogs aren’t supposed to be able to sing, right? This should be a Muppets song.  Wait a minute, hold on…

Stevie Wonder: You Are the Sunshine of My Life (Talking Book, 1973); Happier than the Morning Sun (Music of my Mind, 1972)

There is nothing more joyful than a Stevie Wonder song. We ended our wedding ceremony, and danced our first dance to Stevie Wonder. He always sounds as though his heart is about to burst, unable to quiet his voice from dancing within and around the melodies. Just a unique voice, a unique understanding of the human condition.

Crosby Stills Nash & Young: Our House (Déjà Vu, 1969)

The CSNY harmonies are always nice when they work, but this song especially is the musical equivalent of a warm fire on a cold night for me.

Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions: People Get Ready (1965)

There are a lot of R&B singers I enjoy who felt too raw for this list. Curtis Mayfield, though, has a voice like honey. This is maybe the most perfect vehicle for that voice, the gospel-steeped civil-rights era spiritual covered, but never equaled, by a thousand other folks.

The Jackson 5: I’ll Be There (1970)

My daughter is going to grow up in a world where she doesn’t ever have to know Michael Jackson as a sickly-looking freakshow scandal magnet. To her, he can always be 12-year-old Michael with the little Afro, singing his heart out.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Summertime (Porgy & Bess, 1957)

Miles Davis: Summertime (Porgy & Bess, 1958)

Our baby will be a summer baby, and this is the classic song of summer… leading to the conflict I laid out at the top of the list. Miles’ cool version?  Or Satchmo’s hot version? They couldn’t be more different: Satch’s horn pierces the orchestral opening with his horn; Miles eases into it, floats above it like an August haze.  Armstrong brings Ella Fitzgerald with him, though. Shockingly, I realized after I was done that hers is the only female voice on this list. I may need to work on amendments. If there is only one female voice, it should be Ella, clear as a bell and soft as a pillow. Your daddy’s rich and your ma is good looking/so hush little baby, don’t you cry… even if only half of that is true.

Nat King Cole: L-O-V-E (1965)

A gorgeous little pop trifle. Nat is a crooner in the greatest sense of the word.

Hall & Oates: Sara Smile (Daryl Hall & John Oates, 1975)

I had been planning to have Hall & Oates represent for the 1980’s until I realized they recorded this one in the seventies. Whatever. I was a sucker for top-40 blue-eyed soul before I got into the real thing—and I challenge you to find anyone better at it than Hall & Oates, or a ballad plainer and more sincere than this one. When you feel cold I’ll warm you, and when you feel you can’t go on, I’ll come and hold you… won’t you smile a while for me?


Paul Simon: Loves Me Like a Rock (There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973)

When I was President / and the Congress called my name / I said now who do, who do you think you’re fooling?

Ray Charles: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (?)

I shouldn’t need to explain this one.  Classic song meets classic musician.

John Lennon: Instant Karma! (1970)

I had a very serious John Lennon phase in my early teens, and the first draft of this list had a few more songs from his solo career. Imagine, especially, is a beautiful thought wrapped up in a beautiful song, but Instant Karma is just happier. This was post-Beatles Lennon at his least-preachy, most-positive, feel-good. It feels like a celebration.

I’ve ignored plenty, but what’s here has meaning. Did I really skip the 80’s? The 90’s? No love for Lil’ Wayne? Please, help me fill in the gaps I’m sure you’ve found. Hopefully, I will return to this list and finish it before the baby gets to first grade.

Posted in babytime, musicality | 2 Comments

Weekend Project: Playlist for my unborn daughter

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I needed a weekend project to prompt myself to write the next entry.  It’s cold outside, and sitting indoors I decided to try and answer a question I’ve been thinking about for several weeks now: if I was going to make a playlist for my child, what would be on it?

In reading through the pile of you’re-going-to-be-a-father literature I have piling up on my nightstand, I came across the happy thought that babies, even in utero, are listening to us.  The excellent “The Expectant Father” by Armin Brott and Jennifer Ash notes studies that show babies will—within minutes of being born—recognize their mother’s voice.  When a mother whispers in one ear, and a stranger in the other, the baby turns to face the mother 80 percent of the time.

There was another passage that really got my interest.  The author relates the story of a Canadian orchestra conductor:

“As a young man, I was mystified by this ability I had to play certain pieces sight unseen. I’d be conducting a score for the first time and, suddenly, the cello line would jump out at me: I’d know the plow of the piece before I turned the page of the score. One day, I mentioned this to my mother, who is a professional cellist. I thought she’d be intrigued because it was always the cello line that was so distinct in my mind. She was; but when she heard what the pieces were, the mystery quickly solved itself. All the scores I know sight unseen were ones she had played when she was pregnant with me.”

I thought that was really exciting. Music is something I have strong feelings about. Playing an instrument (trumpet) was a great creative, expressive outlet when I was young.  It provided me some balance; I was a soft-spoken kid, but I played a loud instrument.

These days, music is less a creative pursuit for me than it is a way to enjoy life. I would love dearly to pass my musical affinity on to my daughter, so I resolved to attach a pair of headphones to E’s belly.  I would do this with her assent, optimally, to play music for our baby, at times she is moving around and we are reasonably certain she’s awake.

We’ve got a little less than three months while she is still a captive audience.  Given, that—what is it I want to pass down to her? What is on the playlist? If she will forever recognize the songs I play for her in the womb, I’ve got to choose carefully.  It seemed like a good project for an unexpectedly cold weekend.

First, I came up with some basic criteria:

  • Lyrics and melody. First, I am a sentimental fool. If I can picture myself singing a song to my baby daughter, it may be on this list. That includes songs about pretty girls, emotional love, and fun, silly things. Second, I wanted songs with pleasing melodies. Words give a song meaning, but a tune makes it memorable and beautiful. On this, my apologies to Bob Dylan and to hip-hop artists, generally. Much respect, but this list is not for you.
  • Timelessness. I’m reaching for songs or artists that could reasonably be called iconic. The songs need to have been relevant for a generation or so, and as such, it won’t be ridiculous to picture my daughter listening to them 10 or 15 years from now. This is a brief course in music appreciation… so if it’s on the iTunes top ten at this second, it’s probably not here.
  • Soothing sounds. This is an introduction. We’re not trying to scare the baby or get her riled up. There is plenty of beautiful music I can jump up and down to; those songs are not on this list. To make the list, it will preserve the baby’s calm. If I can picture myself reclining on the couch with a smile on my face while I listen to the song, it could be here.
  • Nothing suggestive. There are several songs that meet the above criteria but are suggestive of physical love or other… er, um… mature behavior. I enjoy many of them. There will be plenty of time for my daughter to listen to songs like these when she is 24 years old. Again, this rules out about 98 percent of hip-hop music.

I haven’t gone so far as to assign point values to songs… but these were all in my mind as I combed my personal iTunes library to compile a list. Fitting “research” around my assorted weekend tasks and appointments, I’ve come up with a playlist I’m reasonably satisfied with, though the results are by no means definitive.

I’ll end the post here, as the introduction got a little longer than expected. I’ll unveil the playlist during the week; in the meantime, please feel free to make suggestions.

A teaser:

Posted in babytime, musicality | 5 Comments

Bodegas, re-mapped. Plus, Open NY.

A small bit of geekery for you, if you have the time. I’ve been messing around a little with the best way to map these guys… The map I posted the other day was built from a Google Fusion table, which seemed to be like using a really powerful laser beam to open a particularly tricky… envelope. I’d been playing around with Fusion tables for other projects, but the tool seems mismatched to the task, for now. So here is a link to the bodegas on franklin ave in plain old Google Maps. At this stage it seems both more useful and appropriate.  Anyone with ideas or expertise is encouraged to share.

Also tonight, I attended the monthly Open NY Forum meetup; I’ve been hanging around these events for a few months now. I’m the guy sitting quietly, wearing a suit, listening to an assortment of computer geeks talk about hacking government. In a good way.

In my experience… along with money, right now government also lacks a surplus of young, ambitious, cutting-edge programmers. We heard from three fellows with Code for America who are among those with skills willing to contribute how they can. Click out to their site (and to Civic Commons) to learn more. I won’t go into the whole spiel because I won’t do it justice, but the folks who visited with us are working on building a library of open-source (i.e. public domain) software for governments to share. It’s potentially a transformative idea; cities should share best practices for tech the way they do for, say, environmental policy.

The other presentation was from two guys working on a project they call GovTogether, through which they hope to recruit a member of Congress to submit him-or-her-self to be ruled by Internet plebiscite. Their idea is to build a platform that will allow legislators to poll their constituents before every vote they cast, and agree to abide by the wishes of the majority every time. The hurdles are many; the signal-to-noise ratio of a national town meeting would seem to be infinitesimally small. The challenges we have today trying to help voters make educated choices would be multiplied dozens of times over, with real consequences. But the essential question (to me) is this: what quality of leader would choose to cast aside his own ideas or beliefs and make himself an empty vessel for the whims of a fickle public? Elections have consequences, or so they say.

Posted in data tools, elections, food/foodies, open government | Leave a comment