Sep 27, 2012

We are All Middle Class / Dissappearance of the Middle Class

A startling statistic is that in a recent survey, something like 97% of the US population described themselves as either "upper middle-class", "middle-class", or "working class."

I'm partly encouraged by this as it conveys a very American mentality of egalitarianism and the desire to place oneself neither as "lower class" nor, interestingly, as "upper class". And there is still the stigma attached to the lower class. "Low class" has associations with low tastes, low education, so nobody wants to be considered "lower class."

It seems like a strange situation. On the one hand, Americans resist thinking of themselves in terms of their location in the income strata. We vehemently reject identification with a particular income group culture. We are all, apparently, middle class, which means absolutely nothing.

How many people actually know what income quintile they occupy? There has been a very loud division of the 99% and the 1%, but what about the top 20% or the bottom 20%? (granted, dividing the population into five groups is about a logical as dividing it into two, but there is value organizing based on common interest)

If you don't know where you stand, what your interests are, how can make rational decisions about your lifestyle, your future, and your representation in the city? If a political candidate makes a statement about fighting for the middle class, who is he or she talking about?

In light of the fact that income distribution in the US has steadily increased since the end of WWII, and the global trends around the world are of increasing income disparities, what does that mean for the hypothetical middle class? The median household income of the US is around 50K. If that's middle class, you'll be struggling in many major US cities.  15% of the US lives below the poverty line.

Sep 26, 2012

updates

So what have I been up to lately? I think I've been remiss in blogging for awhile.

I'm still climbing a lot- on average at least once a week. I'll probably join the Upper Limits gym- they have a student monthly pass that's $30, and as often as I go, it doesn't make sense NOT to get it. I actually went tonight, since Wednesdays are $10 for students. Still don't own shoes, although maybe I'll add them to my Christmas wish list. I do feel myself getting better at this, although Dew is totally flying by, as often as he goes and his body type. He moves like an expert climber. It's kind of a shame since I really like Climb So Ill much better, but that is a much more expensive gym. (Although they also have $10 climb fridays for the month of September!) It's a great workout for me although hard on my hands. I always come back with my hands blistered and opening the car door is a feat of strength.


I'm still running occasionally. I got up to 5.5 miles the other day, running for 50 minutes. I think I'm ready to tackle an hour run, maybe next week. It's a shame the weather is beginning to turn since I'm not sure I'll have the same motiviation to run as it gets colder.

And colder it has become. The trees outside are beginning to show the signs of turning, a few leaves turning autumn red. As far as the weather goes, we're full in psycho mode. The transitional seasons here are just schizophrenic. A few days of frost warnings followed by mid-70s' and high humidity.

School is going well- easy. I need to push myself more. My concept review went really well. My instructor said I had the entire room rapt with my situation of the project. I just need to do it. Catherine, the other professor we were reviewing with, called me a lunatic, but in a good way.

Sep 13, 2012

third week in

This has been a slow week for studio production although we have our first big review coming up monday. Part of the issue is that my 'site' is the river and my project is a mobile, amorphous thing which travels up and down that river. So while other people lasercut small site models, am I supposed to make the entire river in a model? Maybe. It would at least show them that I'm thinking about the site.

Tuesday, partly as an excuse to go look at water architecture and underwater clear tunnels, Saori and I walked to the zoo and checked out the new sea lion exhibit. It's pretty cool. They have an underwater tunnel of acrylic, and a big surface observing area. I timed it so we'd get there in time for the feeding which was a lot of fun.

Part of me thinks, you know, it's kind of exploitive to make animals do tricks for people, but the more I research- people exploit everything they can get their hands on, and typically indirectly harm everything else, so if you can make people care about marine life by having Splashy wave at them, why not?

It was a beautiful day at the zoo, too. It's nice to live somewhere that can support such a lush environment. And it's free.

Yesterday we had studio early, and I didn't really have much to talk about, just thinking and writing. Today I'm going to do some more sketching and hopefully start making models with shrink-wrap and sticks and stuff.

Also yesterday, we went back to Upper Limits for more bouldering. Dew got me a chalk bag for my birthday, so I got to use that. And actually, I got a great book wednesday from my friend Kenny, so I've been slowly working my way though that as well.

Skipping professional practice today- although I probably shouldn't. Oh well, one day is not going to kill me.

Sep 9, 2012

Birthday week!

The day of my actual birthday, I worked in studio all day and didn't make a big deal out of it. That night, however, Saori and I were planning on going out to dinner at Salt, a highly rated restaurant in CWE known for high quality American cooking. But... it was closed tuesday. So we thought hey lets just go grab some cheap dinner like Pho Grand, and then hit up the downtown roofttop bar. And then we realized that Pho Grand was also closed tuesdays, so we went to our local go-to Pho place- also closed. We did finally get our pho nearby though, and that was pretty good.

Afterwards, I directed Saori downtown to the Hilton which had the sky bar. Once we got down there, we were finding it hard to find parking, which a little unusual for St.Louis and Saori said, "Is there a game tonight?" crap. First of all, it makes parking a nightmare anywhere close to the stadium, which we were, second, the rooftop bar immediately throws in a $10 cover on game nights, and it would be packed during and after the game. My tuesday night strategy for the empty downtown totally falling apart here.

We did finally make our way to Bridge, an upscale bar downtown which is pretty much a wine bar that serves beer instead of wine. I really like it because they have a rotating draught beer menu with about 60 beers on tap from local breweries and around the world and you can try each one in glasses ranging from 4oz to 32oz. Good place to try a few beers although most of the beers sold are pretty strong. So if you have five four-ouncers, you're spending a minimum of $20 and definately not in any condition to drive.

The next few days were pretty normal as far as normalcy goes in grad school. Friday night, I enjoyed happy hour with my classmates while it poured rain outside, and then Saori took me out to Salt for dinner.

Salt serves really good innovative American food made with local ingredients. And duck fat. Lots of duck fat. We had duck fat fries with aoili and house-made ketchup, one seared scallop (just one, but a big one, served in a small mason jar which was sealed and contained a bit of smoke)which we divided into four bites between us, tomato soup served with a mini grilled cheese sandwich, and the sorghum laquered roasted duck, which was pink in the middle and served on a bed of kale sauteed with bacon. Amazing. The duck was really ducky and succulent and I think it was either sorghum or maple syrup drizzled which tied the whole thing together. For dessert, we got the duck-fat fried red velvet 'twinkie' which is exactly what you think it is. Not one but two servers came around to gauge our reaction to the dessert which was apparently pretty new on the menu and I gave my feedback on the batter which they had recently changed.

Yesterday (saturday) was a very busy day. We hit three of the places seen in this movie highlighting the best things about living in St.Louis:


Here is St. Louis from Anastasis Films on Vimeo.

We started off by going to Soulard Market, a place I've been wanting to visit ever since I got to St. Louis. This market is about 100 years old and is full of vendors selling fruits, vegitables, flowers, pets, seafood, meats, spices, and fresh pasta. At 10am, it wasn't that crowded yet. Bring cash and your own bags. We picked up some pasta and some breakfast there.

Afterwards, we went to get coffee at Sump,  less of a coffee-shop and more of an obsessive love-letter to coffee. The menu has only a few items on it, and they only serve particular coffees in particular ways. If you want the Guatemalan coffee, you have to get it with the Chemex process, which is the way that the heavily bearded proprietor determined would bring out the best characteristics of that particular coffee. 

Humming with the heavy dose of caffeine, we went back to studio to work for a few hours before we went back downtown to do a site visit on the riverbank. Afterwards, we met up with Dew and Chuck at SoIll, a modern and clean climbing gym with some great bouldering walls. For some reason, the V0s and V1s were a lot easier than those at Upper Limits. The facility too was very updated, airy, and full of light. The rental climbing shoes were superior and much newer than Upper Limits. The price for a daily pass was a few dollars more though. Another major difference is that the bouldering walls in SoIll climb a lot higher than Upper Limits, so when you get to the top, you have a lot longer to fall- however, the floor is a giant rubber cushion, so you can drop eight feet with no problem. It is a bit more scary being that high, but it also motivates you to stay on that wall.

Sep 3, 2012

28 is the end of fun

It comes to this at last.

Twenty-eight.

When you're 27, you can rationalize it all away. You can think, 'man, 27 isn't so old! It's so close to 25! I'm still in my mid-twenties!' 

But 28. That's getting dangerously close to 30. When you're 27, you can go out, blow off work and get wasted and backpack Europe and go skydiving all the same time and your boss will laugh and say 'oh well, he's just 27. I wish I did that kind of stuff when I was his age!' But when you're 28, when you leave the trash can on the curb for an extra night, random strangers start harassing you about when you're going to take some responsibility, dressing better, and start a family.

Ok, being a little facetious here.

Actually, I don't really care about my age. I try not to have regrets, and I've been lucky enough to do a crazy amount of things that are important to me in my twenties (live in South America, backpack Europe, dance, make friends, visit twenty-odd countries, graduate college, get some work experience, fall in love, etc.) so I really have no excuse to complain.

So where am I at 28? Living in St. Louis. I'm together with Saori, we're going into our last semester of graduate school at Wash U. We worked this summer in Boston. Suki is old, but still pretty healthy and still chases string and talks vigorously to us. Hopefully a she still has a few years left in her.

Sep 2, 2012

Distractions

I don't normally link to outside content, but since the end of last semester, I've been captivated by web comics. I've always been a huge fan of comics, like newspaper comics, funnies, that kind of thing. I've never been into comic book comics because they seemed to take themselves way to seriously and I've never been a "the stereotypical hero" fan in general. It's just something that's never interested me. Why should I care that the Human Laser can shoot beams out of his eyes- what kind of a superpower is that, when I can read about a real life science lab where they have to do the math to make sure turning on the machine won't end all life as we know it.

Actually, I'm sure there are some great comics out there- numerous people have referred me to The Sandman series- but the only one I've ever read was The Watchmen. It was good, but not like, oh my God, what have I been missing? kind of good. Maybe I need some Frank Miller. I love graphics and illustration.

And, with the slow death of print media, the comic pages are suffering. The syndicated ones online have been all corralled into the smothering embrace of goComics.com under the direct control of a media syndicate behemoth. Plus, all those guys have to keep it within set boundaries of taste, format, size, and content. They're paid and pretty well-read, so ok for them.

Webcomics seem to be solely supported by books, merch, and banner ads. Because pixels are infinate, they can be however big or small they want to be. The only format constraint is the website, and their only constraints are pornography and obscenity laws. In general, they're poorly drawn, self-indulgent, vulgar, and totally self-involved. And they're great. People with talent and wit creating whatever the hell they want. Some are better drawn, some are more clever.

My current addiction is The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is essentially explained by the title and seems to be a series of situations which probably sounded really cool or funny loosely tied together by a modicum of plot. Ninja zombies figure prominently in one story. It's well drawn, totally silly and ridiculous, and un-self-consciously revels in the fun and excitement of a ninja doctor ramping a motorcycle through an open helicopter door. There's also a velociraptor named Yoshi which is kept as a pet/transport.

XKCD is also excellent, with an esoteric eye for advanced science, computers, math, and linguistics. Gave me some great advice for coming up with passwords.

Perry Bible Fellowship is dark, exquisite, and extremely twisted. The most lovely webcomic I've seen with lush illustrations in a variety of styles and media. In one strip, a herd of beautiful unicorns lament the fact that unless a male unicorn is found, the group will die out. On the hill, the silhouette of a stallion unicorn emerges. It is a donkey with a carrot tied to his forehead, and he plays it real cool.

On the trail of hot maple syrup

From the bbc-
Thieves in Canada have stolen millions of dollars worth of highly prized maple syrup from a storage facility, Quebec police have said.
The story goes on to say that the quantity of missing syrup is not yet known, but that if the entire warehouse were to be emptied, it would represent a tenth of Canadian production, the majority producer of maple syrup.

It's an incredible mystery to me. If the syrup was stolen for monetary gain, who are they going to sell it to, especially in the quantities it was taken? Is there a breakfast-food black market, where cases of Captain Crunch that "fell off the truck" are sold next to giant unmarked bags of domestic pancake mix?

Perhaps there is secret cabal of independent breakfast restaurant owners formed in opposition to PPEC (Pancake Producing Eatery Chains) whose members include such breakfast juggernauts as Denny's, IHOP, and Waffle House. This secret cabal might find it useful to have a few million liters of maple syrup on hand for distribution whenever PPEC flexes its powerful ties to the maple syrup industry and forces them to reduce output, just to prove America's dependence on syrup.

Aunt Jemima has been called in for questioning.

In other news... Belgium announces plans to make a waffle the size of Lichtenstein.

In other news... the ant population of Quebec quadruples overnight.

In other news... oil traders were puzzled to discover that the several hundred barrels of recently purchased grade II actually contained an unknown, sweet-smelling sticky substance.

Bouldering again

Yesterday, Saori and I met up with Kenny, Chuck, Dew, and another architecture student for bouldering at Upper Limits Rock Gym. The gym is downtown, but located close to the metrolink station so we might try taking the metrolink down from studio sometime.

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing, more simple and more technical in skill than wall climbing. For one thing, you don't go very high. You're not wearing a harness or tied onto anything, so if you fall, you want to be low to the ground enough not to hurt yourself. Most of the bouldering I have done barely gets a few feet above the floor. The challenge is really using the limited hand-holds and footholds to maneuver through a course. It's a lot more physically taxing for me since you're using a lot of muscles to cling to the face, or hanging from the underside of a roof. My arms and shoulders and hands are sore for days afterwards. It's really fun though for a few hours and the people who do it all have this intensely powerful and wiry look which I would also like to aquire through these kinds of workouts.

It's not that cheap- I mean, it's cheap for gym standards- but not cheap for someone with negative cash flow. A day pass is $12 and climbing shoes and chalk bag rentals add up to $7. The place we go offers a student monthly rate of $29 (not including rentals) so I'd have to go at least three times a month to make it worthwhile. Climbing shoes are a big investment ($60+) so I'd have to use a lot of $4 rentals to get there.

I'm going to see if I keep coming as the semester heats up. I'm definitely going to try.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...