The word scientist was first uttered at a meeting of natural philosophers in 1833. This, of course, postdates Isaac Newton, Galileo and Francis Bacon.
"Scientist" was proposed modeled upon "artist," because, if philosophers ask what questions and answers mean, natural philosophers would be armchair thinkers, discussing the world around us. If an artist performs art, a scientist performs science. Seems like a logical move.
I've been fairly reclusive this winter. Another five-month stretch of gray weather coupled with a job I work from home means I have to manufacture reasons to leave the house, apart from going to the grocery store and letting the dog out.
Now, I collaborate with a team of people at work each night. We chat about who's doing what and we edit each other's work. Sometimes the conversation degrades into methods for cooking salmon. Well, maybe that's a rising of the conversation, not a degradation of it. I have a fiance and some friends I speak to regularly.
But as for a collaboration that leads to a mapping of the world's tides or creating a mechanical calculator, I don't have that group of breakfast mates. Except that I do. We don't have to all be around a table to have big ideas, though I guess it couldn't hurt.
Laura Snyder, who gives that talk at the top of the page, makes a quip that if we could lay off Twitter and Facebook, we'd get some real work accomplished. I don't think that's true. Social networks are powerful collaboration tools – if we use them as such.
Let's put forth some big ideas, then. Let's collaborate. If you're local and want to talk over coffee, let's do that; if you're not, we can tweet or email or whatever to exchange those big ideas. Let's change the world, even if it's an armchair discussion about what our questions and answers mean, because that's important, too.
Simon Rich is a 30-ish comedy writer (maybe not quite yet, since his bar mitzvah was in 1997). Two weeks ago, I'd never heard of him. I grabbed some David Sedaris off the shelf at the library and perused the new fiction racks, and picked up Rich's novel What in God's Name. It has an organizational chart on the back cover, with God as CEO of Heaven Inc. I figured I'd already read a book this year about Hell as a telemarketing firm and, well, I was at the library. If the first few pages were awful, I'd just return it unread. Wouldn't be the first time.
The premise here is that God created this company (Heaven Inc.) to farm xenon from the earth's atmosphere. It had some side businesses, too, but one day God was bored so he decided to create humans as a diversion. He then went and dropped Heaven's unemployment rate by drawing up all these different human-related departments like prayer intake (God never actually reads the prayers) and the miracle department, where angels work in cubicles to make miracles happen.
One day, frustrated with people, God decides he's just going to extinguish the human race. Forget about his beloved NASCAR, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Yankees. Nobody was listening to his prophet Raoul (who ran around the streets of New York in his underwear with a cardboard sign dictated by God yelling at people), and he was just tired of the enterprise. So God sends his company a memo saying that in a month, all human-related departments are going to close and most people working those jobs will be laid off (but they'd still enjoy some company benefits like discounted gym memberships).
God is going to, instead, open an Asian fusion restaurant called Sola.
Craig, a miracle department employee, convinces God to save the humans if he can answer one prayer. God tells him sure, he just has to call his shot. That is, if the one you pick doesn't work out, you don't get another chance. So Craig and his cubicle neighbor, the newly promoted Eliza, get to work on picking a prayer to answer.
They find what you'd think would be an easy one. A prayer from someone named Sam that he and a girl named Laura get to be together. OK, that's not so easy at first. But take, also, that it's stapled to a related prayer: Laura wants her and Sam to be together. Also, it turns out they live six blocks apart in lower Manhattan.
Obviously the world winds up saved, but the journey's fun, so pick it up and follow along. But here's the thing.
Laura wants to be with Sam, and Sam wants to be with Laura. They have a couple of chances during that month and both just make it awkward. This is apparently a frequent complaint for angels – they keep giving humans every chance in the world to make the right choice, and they keep blowing it.
They don't know it, but Sam and Laura need to kiss to save the world. They want nothing more, anyway, and to do so would literally save the world from extermination.
That thing you've been putting off because it's a little difficult and might perhaps be uncomfortable to start? What if it would save the world if you'd just fucking do it?
Update 4/7/13 — It's clear to me that I've gotten my point across with this post and my emails to the restaurant; I think I've had a healthy enough exchange with Empire, and that they've done enough to try to do right by me. As I mentioned in the original post, I think the restaurant does a lot of good for our local economy and environment, sourcing locally and being locally owned; I don't feel that leaving details of my negative experience up is really warranted. That's not to say I'll necessarily go back to Empire, but if you've had positive experiences there, by all means, you should continue to return.
So I've taken down the content of the post, but I'm going to leave the headline up and continue to allow comments.
In 1970, John Baldessari cremated all the art he created between 1953 and 1966. He keeps the ashes in a bronze, book-shaped urn.
Let's say that another way.
Everything John Baldessari created for thirteen years – the soul, the heart, the love, the tears, the pain (because true art really does hurt a lot of the time) – became ash, at the creator's own hand.
That's a lot of his own history to just drop. Yeah, he's holding onto it, but not in its conceived form. It's dead. He didn't just pile the stuff, pour some gasoline and light a match. He did it in a crematorium. He put it through a death ritual.
And then he turned on a camera and wrote, "I will not make any more boring art," until the film ran out.
My last Tweet was a share of launching a Twitter listening experiment back on February 19. I haven't sent out a Tweet in six weeks, then. I have responded to a couple of direct messages, but nothing any of you all would see.
My thinking was, "I spend an awful lot of time on Twitter, I don't follow many people, and I feel like I give a lot more value than I get." So I followed some more people, and read when I wanted to read, but refrained from tweeting. Here's what the last six weeks have shown me.
The numbers. I gained 20ish new followers and, after an initial drop, my Klout score increased by 4. I recognize that Klout is influenced by my other networks, and a short series of posts specifically influenced that jump.
I got engaged and didn't feel an immediate need to share. Major life event, yes. The world needing to know? Not right away. That felt kinda good. We actually waited a full 24 hours before telling anybody. We called our siblings, parents and uncles and aunts, emailed a bunch of people, and then put it on Facebook 30 hours later (it's amazing how many people are looking at Facebook after midnight on a Friday night/Saturday morning).
I went on vacation and just enjoyed my family. We went to Charleston, S.C., to visit my parents, with a side trip to Savannah, Ga. And, while I pulled out my phone frequently enough to log the places we visited, it felt good to be present with the people and places, without using Twitter as interlocutor. That included the drive down and the drive back, by the way.
I missed idle chatter. Sometimes we just talk to Twitter like we talk to the dog. We know the ears will perk up for a second but no one needs to respond. So let me tell you, I've done a lot of talking to the dog, and it's the wrong venue to share things like the story of the guy who was killed when he tried to ride his lawnmower across a highway.
I missed joining in. I'm a sports guy anyway, but my job has me covering a lot of sports in addition to what I'd normally follow, so I'm pretty well engulfed in sports from late afternoon until about 1:00 in the morning, when all the west coast games wrap up. I haven't joined any of the March Madness or, even more difficult, baseball spring training, talk.
I missed being helpful. I'm a reasonably helpful guy. I know some people, I know some stuff. When Twitter asks a specific question that I know the answer to, I get some satisfaction from knowing that answer and being able to help out someone who is asking for help. That hurts both me and the answer-seeker, which is just silly.
It may take me a little time to get back full force. Then again, first pitch of the Red Sox' season is in a little under two hours, so it might not. Ta.
Shrimp and cheesy grits and fried pickle spears at Boulevard Diner.
Despite the fact that it's the last Tasting Charleston spot I'm writing about, Boulevard Diner was our first restaurant stop in Charleston. We stopped after a windy walk at Shem Creek, where we saw shrimp boats and pluff mud and piles of oysters sitting under the raised walkways.
The sweet tea was perfect, the fried pickles are always going to be an acquired taste (one I'm not likely to acquire, though I will admit to consuming them), but oh my, the shrimp and grits.
This is one of those places that is primarily an eatery for locals, including people who were clearly there on their lunch breaks, where the servers are friendly and the portions are ample.
I just can't tell you, though, how creamy and delicious those grits were. When you eat food and you suddenly feel like you're sitting in front of a fire drinking sherry and eating chocolate lava cake, even though it's clearly lunch, you know you got the right meal.
Like Black Bean Co., I wouldn't make Boulevard Diner a destination stop, but if you're in the area and looking for a place to go, you could do a whole lot worse.
While on the way to Folly Beach – because if it's semi-warm enough to walk on sand during the winter months, you do – we got hungry and, in an effort to umm, push through some of the fried southern cuisine we'd been eating, we stopped at the Black Bean Co., a local chain.
I ate a really tasty wrap with chicken, almonds, oranges, rice noodles, greens, goat cheese and a citrus vinaigrette, along with a side of couscous.
The food was good and light (much needed, the way we'd been eating), and was tasty. It wouldn't be worth mentioning, though, if I didn't say something about the ceiling fans, which are a series of a half dozen kayak paddles rotating on a pulley driven by a single motor at one end of the building.
It's clearly a restaurant that cares about the environment and the people it serves. I wouldn't call it a destination restaurant (don't go to Charleston and make it your one meal in town), but if you need a light lunch, go for it!
Hyman's Seafood is one of those tourist places that locals eat, sort of like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse. It's always busy, the hush puppies are amazing, and there's always an owner or manager around to come chat.
The gentleman that came to chat us up was an older fellow in a wide-brimmed hat, which he tipped at the ladies, and when he asked about business, he asked only of the men what we did. That's Old South; felt a lot different than we're used to up north, especially in a busy restaurant.
The restaurant is famous for its flounder, which some complain is bony because it's a whole flounder. There's a video on the restaurant's home page explaining how to eat it without worrying about bones. Pretty awesome.
By the time we got to Hyman's, I needed a break from fried foods (other than their hush puppies, of course &ndash they serve a basket for the table before your meal, much like Italian restaurants serve bread). I ate jerk shrimp with some mac & cheese, and tried am amber from Palmetto, a Charleston brewery that's been brewing since 1850.
The food was delicious, the atmosphere outstanding, and the beer was a nice, full-bodied ale that wasn't overly hoppy.
You'll also get a sticker as you're preparing to leave; they hand out between eight and twenty gift certificates a day at the Old Market to people seen wearing the stickers.
If you're in town, make it a stop (you were probably going to anyway).
OK, so Waffle House is a national chain; in fact, if you're so inclined, it'll take you less than two hours from Syracuse to get to the one in Clark's Summit, Pa. But Waffle House is uniquely southern, and I'm not sure I'd visit one north of the Mason-Dixon line – you can give people a recipe and train them all you want, but if you're making food that's not in your vernacular, you can't make it right.
If you need proof, go to your local northern U.S. Cracker Barrel and get some grits. You'll come away with the feeling that they're just like watery oatmeal, but made of corn.
I spent the summer of 1997 as co-director of music at a camp in Cleveland, Ga., about an hour's ride north of Atlanta on the Georgia 400. It's where Babyland General Hospital is, the place where Cabbage Patch Kids are born.
We were allowed off camp for a couple hours each night, and the only two places in town to go were a smoky little townie bar and a Waffle House. And so for two months, nearly every night you could find me at the Waffle House with a double order of hash browns scattered, smothered and double-covered (that's scattered over the grill, instead of in a crispy pile, smothered with grilled onions, and covered with cheese), along with a glass of sweet tea.
And so when I found myself in Charleston, I had to return to Waffle House. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered: classic diner, waitresses who can retain a patient, southern hospitality while still moving at Sunday-morning diner speed no matter the day or time. And the hash browns are every bit as delicious as I remembered.
How many times have you heard a song and said, "I wish I'd written that"? With me it doesn't happen very often; sure, the royalties on "Call Me Maybe" must be off the charts, but I rarely hear a song I think is clever and moving enough to wonder what was in the writer to create it.
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those beautiful songs I want no part of after reading Alan Light's book about it, The Holy or the Broken.
Cohen's been so tortured by the song throughout his career that he had his agent send the author an email giving his blessing to the project, but the artist himself wasn't going to be part of it.
It took Cohen years to write and finally record the song – he put 80 verses together before finally getting it together in the studio in 1984, and when he finally did, his record company said the album he put it on was awful and refused to release it.
So it languished, again.
Cohen is one of the tortured writer set. Every detail has to be perfect. He's spoken in interviews, Light writes, about being drunk in his underwear on a hotel room floor with papers scattered around him. This is not romance; these are demons.
The version many people are familiar with originates with Jeff Buckley, but the song's history takes a stop-off at John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, first.
Listen to Cohen's version (above, top). It's road-weary. It's weathered. It's sarcastic. On the whole, it's more pessimistic than optimistic.
Cale's version (above, lower left) has the same weathered, pessimistic feel. He is a few years younger than Cohen, but still someone who has been around and lived some life. He first did the song for a Cohen tribute record. When he asked Cohen to send over a lyric sheet, he came home to 15 faxed pages on the floor, with all 80 verses. He picked five for the tribute album, and it was that version that Jeff Buckley (above, lower right) first heard.
You can see how his simple accompaniment derives from Cale's, along with his selection of verses. But Buckley is young – eternally; he died while taking a swim on the way to a recording session – and his version is optimistic and romantic. And there's another thing: Buckley was a perfectionist. If you're familiar with the studio recording he did for "Grace," you know it starts with a breathy sigh. You could certainly interpret that as intimacy, given how sexy his version is. But, Light writes, it was a sigh of exhaustion. They'd done so many takes that night, he was beat.
The song, though, probably would have kept languishing if it weren't for two things that both happened in 2001: The September 11 attacks in the U.S. and the animated film 'Shrek.'
John Cale's version made it into 'Shrek' (Rufus Wainwright is on the soundtrack because Dreamworks had the film and Wainwright), and Jeff Buckley's started appearing over photo montages on the music networks.
And all of a sudden, it was everywhere. It became the default overlay for tragedy montages on TV dramas and sitcoms and in films. And everybody decided they had to cover it, and they had to do their best Jeff Buckley. Here are Wainwright, Allison Crowe and John Bon Jovi:
And somewhere along the line this happened, and Bono – who loved the sardonic humor in Cohen's version when he first heard it – nearly destroyed the song forever, on a 1995 Cohen tribute album.
Oh, my, Bono, what have you done?
It's also now appeared on many seasons of "American Idol" and "X Factor," because, well, it takes some concentration and some range to do the Jeff Buckley version, which is really what's done these days.
My take on the song: I love Buckley's guitar intro; it has such an incredible resolve after a minor buildup. But Cohen's closing verse isn't done nearly enough. It goes like this:
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel so I learned to touch
I've told the truth; I didn't come to fool ya
But even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
My take on the book: This is great if you're a real music nerd. Really, it's not for the weak, the casual fan or the "Pop-Up Video" crowd.
One more version – one of my favorite covers, even if it's not iconic, to go out with.