Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Brooklyn Optimist Sounds Off On Eric Gioia

The Optimist played pundit this week, giving his two cents to Katharine Jose of The New York Observer about all-but-announced candidate for Public Advocate Eric Gioia. I first met Gioia in the early days of his first term as Councilman to Sunnyside, Woodside, and Long Island City when I was managing editor of The Queens Courier, and though I no longer cover Queens I have kept up-to-date about Gioia and his two media savvy terms in the Council.

If you aren't familiar with Gioia, you should certainly read Katharine's fine profile of him in today's Observer. Though I'll likely end up supporting Norman Siegel in his bid for Public Advocate (full disclosure: I've already attended one of his fundraisers), I respect Eric Gioia. Unquestionably, he has been a responsive councilman and an effective representative for his constituents - a rarity in this day and age. At the same time, however, Gioia has made sure to never do anything without being noticed by the media for doing so.

For many, these are the qualities of a model politician. As for me, I don't condemn ambition. Often ambition can be a virtue in politics, for it generally compels the politician to take into account the needs of the people - if for no other reason, but to calculate their own self-interest.

Mediocre politicians tend to be as tiny as their aspirations. They maintain the status quo simply out of convenience. In the Bush era, we've not only come to tolerate widespread mediocrity from our elected officials, we've come to embrace it. At a time when everything our President touches turns to dust, we're just happy if an elected official doesn't make things any worse.

Politicans like Eric Gioia, for good or for bad, at least challenge their colleagues in government to do better.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brooklyn Poet Lynn Chandhok Reads Her Poem "Confetti, Ticker-tape"

Park Slope poet Lynn Aarti Chandhok reads "Confetti, Ticker-tape" from her book The View From Zero Bridge. Along with Wislawa Szymborska's "Photograph from September 11", this is, in my personal estimation, the most powerful poem about 9/11.

Thanks again to the Community Bookstore and Catherine Bohne for making this video recitation possible.

Brooklyn Poet Lynn Chandhok Reads Her Poem "Long Meadow"

Park Slope poet Lynn Aarti Chandhok reads "Long Meadow", a poem set in Prospect Park from her book The View From Zero Bridge. Every parent should feel its gravitational pull. I read it to my fiancée on Valentine's Day.

Thanks again to the Community Bookstore and Catherine Bohne for making this video recitation possible.

The Brooklyn Optimist Interviews Park Slope Poet Lynn Chandhok

When the New York Observer weighed in with its top 100 Brooklyn writers a few weeks ago, one of its most glaring omissions was Park Slope poet Lynn Aarti Chandhok. Chandhok is not just one of my favorite Brooklyn poets, she ranks among the most gifted poets of contemporary American literature.

Perhaps it is presumptuous to make such a grandiose appraisal of a poet's work with only one book of verse under her belt, The View From Zero Bridge (Anhinga Press), but as is the case with my beloved Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, who has only 250 or so published poems to her credit, it is quality that defines a writer's opus, not quantity.

Despite the Observer's myopia, the quality of Chandhok's poetry has not gone overlooked. The View From Zero Bridge was awarded the 2006 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and, perhaps more impressively in this lyric-less age, it even found a readership, ranking #8 on The New York Times' best-selling, small-press poetry books this past January.

Staged in a noetic realm spanning her ancestral land of Kashmir, India and her home in Park Slope, Chandhok spins lush, tactile tapestries at once traditional and wholly her own. It is her ability to draw us into her silken saffron-hued memories, so carefully observed and imagined, and then to illuminate the universality of her personal reverie that makes Chandhok's poetry justly important. I need only glimpse Zero Bridge for its most vibrant images to reawaken in my mind - fields of marigolds, singed scraps, a leaping magnet - as if they were recollections of times I myself had lived or dreamt.

It is my great pleasure to share this humble interview Lynn was kind enough to grant me. After the video has played, please take a moment to watch the clips above of Chandhok reading her poems "Long Meadow" and "Confetti, Ticker-tape". I requested that she read these two poems, both set in Brooklyn, because I was particularly moved by them. I believe that you will be as well.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank Catherine Bohne profusely for granting me the use of the Park Slope Community Bookstore for this interview. If you have not lost yourself in the cozy confines of the Community Bookstore you have been adrift in Brooklyn.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm Running For Office (And So Should You!)

Today I am announcing my candidacy for county committeeman for the Kings County Democratic Party.

Not impressed? Never heard of the county committee? You're not alone. This obscure position is the lowest level of elected office in our great nation. Roughly two county committee members (one man and one woman) represent every 700 or so Brooklynites, meaning that there are literally thousands of county committee seats for both the Democratic and Republican parties in our borough.

Why would I run for an unpaid job to represent a territory about the size of 3 city blocks? I owe my enthusiasm to Matt Cowherd and Rachel Lauter, the co-founders of the fledgling New Kings Democrats, a political club that grew out of Brooklyn's Obama campaign. These young Democrats were not content merely to shift the course of national politics, they decided to make an impact locally as well.

That's why they've set about recruiting hundreds of political neophytes like you and me to run for county committee. Our aspiration is to have our say in deciding how the Kings County Democratic Party will operate: which candidates the party will endorse or nominate to serve as our public officials, which judges it will select to rule our courts, and many other issues of great significance to all Brooklynites. Right now, under the iron fist of Brooklyn's Democratic boss Vito Lopez the county committee is a joke; a rubber stamp for his tyrannical rule.

We've set out to change the way politics works in Brooklyn. It is our hope that with strength in numbers, we can build a critical mass that will ensure that the people finally have their voice heard in government.

How will we succeed? We need YOU! Email me immediately at to find how how you can join us and run to be a county committee member. I'll tell you everything you need to know. It's a lot easier than you think to run and get elected and the time commitment once in office is little. The New Kings Democrats will train you for FREE on how to run your campaign and provide you resources to help you succeed. The only requirements are that you are a Democrat registered in Brooklyn and that you vote.

So, what are you waiting for? As radio host Thom Hartmann says: "Democracy begins with you. Tag - you're it!"

Friday, May 9, 2008

Brooklyn Blogfest 2008: A Hit For Bloggers and Fans Alike

Congratulations to everyone who participated in last night's gala 2008 Brooklyn Blogfest. The event was an indisputable success, drawing over 250 talented bloggers and their fans to the comfy confines of the Brooklyn Lyceum for a night of presentations, networking, and, of course, libations.

The event's organizer Louise Crawford of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn deserves the lion's share of the credit for pulling off the largest borough Blogfest ever without a hitch. Special thanks also goes to Louise's stellar team, which included Eleanor Traubman (Creative Times), Adrian Kinloch (Brit in Brooklyn) and Petra Symister (Bed-Stuy Blog), and a host of other talented Brooklynites who donated their services to bring the blogosphere together under one roof.

Despite being given the somewhat harrowing task of handling the evening's video projections (even after I admitted that I am technologically incompetent), I enjoyed myself immensely. Among the individuals I had the pleasure of talking with were local blog giant Bob Guskind (Gowanus Lounge), 2009 City Council candidate and Brooklyn Streets, Carroll Gardens blogger Gary Reilly, the always delightful Katia Kelly of Pardon Me For Asking, Brooklyn Independent TV host Megan Donis, and Brooklyn Paper editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman.

Another highlight of Blogfest for me was getting to spend time perusing the work of Brooklyn's wonderfully talented photobloggers. Below is the video I produced for last night's Blogfest entitled "A Photoblog Tribute to Brooklyn". Please feel free to pass it on liberally to help celebrate our borough's prodigious and prolific photographers.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Mets Go To War

As a lifelong Mets fan, I could wax on endlessly about the wonders of the Amazins.

But this piece is about a quarrel I have had with my team of late. And I'm not talking about their 14-12 record. That, ya gotta believe, will pass.

My problem is with the Mets TV network's new subway ad campaign. In case you haven't noticed it, the series of ads feature action shots of one of the team's stars accompanied by fighting words: Jose Reyes slides into a bag above the caption "Bases, Reloaded"; David Wright swings to the slogan "Not-So-Secret Secret Weapon"; and new ace hurler Johan Santana's headline threatens "Armed and Ready".

I fully admit that I might very well be blowing my concerns out of proportion, but after passing these ads for a couple weeks, I've come to the conclusion that the campaign's rhetoric is uncalled for, if not flat out inappropriate. After five bloody years lost to quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems to me in poor taste to rile up Mets fans with military-inspired wordplay.

Gone is the tender amiability of "Meet the Mets", the audacious hope of "The Magic is Back", even the fatalistic gravity of "The Team. The Time. The Mets." and "Your Season Has Come". Instead, the Mets holster up this season with an arsenal of aggression aimed oratorically at gunning down their adversaries. Replace Wright and Santana with photos of Ted Nugent and Charlton Heston and you've got perfect publicity for the N.R.A.

Many of you may be confounded, if not appalled, by this conclusion, but as someone who teaches advertising copywriting I understand the potent craft behind headlines and how they are carefully composed to provoke the public. I am not inferring that the Mets have deliberately unleashed a barrage of stealth pro-war propaganda. I understand that the hostility of the campaign's tone was likely conceived to combat the stinging memory of the team's ignominious collapse last season. Nonetheless, words carry great influence, especially with children. The terminology we employ to describe something inevitably plays a part in defining its nature. To some degree, this ad campaign glorifies baseball as a shootout and the Mets as soldiers. For many this might mean nothing, but to me I'd rather keep blood lust out of the ballpark.

I am reminded of George Carlin's classic stand-up bit about the differences between baseball and football. In sum, Carlin characterizes the language of baseball as portraying a genteel game of beauty, while football's delineates a brutal battle to annihilate. Those who feel passionately like I do about baseball know that the sport is far from as innocuous as Carlin jokes, but we also know that what makes baseball special is its humanity. The heroes of baseball aren't famed for meting out the most concussions or firing slap shots past hapless defenders. They are idolized for immortalizing our childhood dreams in a world so otherwise ruthlessly determined to crush them.

America's pastime isn't war. When I go to Shea, I ask nothing more for my price of admission than a few hours of peace. That 50,000 New Yorkers can find this tranquility together 81 times a year is the true miracle of the Mets.