Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Whatever happened to art? Abortions and starved dogs...

I'm going to rant and maybe I'm going to preach a little here, so bear with me.

Undoubtedly, you've heard about the two "art" exhibits that made headlines over the past couple weeks, In case you haven't, though, let me refresh your memory.

First, there was Aliza Shvarts, the Yale art major whose final project was a combined media installation. The premise behind her exhibition was to make a documentary of her 9-month experience with self-impregnation followed by repeated abortions. Shvarts filmed every resulting miscarriage and her installation was a looped video showing the documentary along with preserved specimens of the blood from the abortions.

Then, we had Guillermo Vargas, a Nicaraguan artist who paid two local children to trap a stray dog. Vargas then tied the dog up inside a gallery, just out of reach of dog food arranged to say, "You are what you read." The pooch starved to death over the course of several days, but not before several portraits were taken, several featuring the legs of anonymous viewers who looked, but did not help the "exhibit."

Thankfully, after the stories hit the public eye and some background investigation happened, it appears that both are likely hoaxes. Neither babies nor dogs were harmed in the process. The only victim, it would seem, is art itself.

Perhaps no blog post - or blog itself for that matter - is long enough to successfully and comprehensively debate the "What is art?" question. And maybe I'll be accused of using the Supreme Court's definition of pornography ("I'll know it when I see it."), but so be it.

Neither exhibit was art.

What happened to the times when art served a purpose? When a painting was supposed to thrill and inspire you? When the beauty of nature was celebrated in galleries and on canvases? When the best in mankind could be found in the monumental works of the great masters? Have we really come so far as to think that videotaped abortions and starving puppies are great works of art?

On a base level, you might say, art is supposed to get a reaction out of the viewer. Both of those pieces did that. However, I would only agree to a point - more than one simple reaction (in this case, disgust) is necessary. Art should drive us to experience the thrill of having our higher senses tantalized, not make appeals solely to the basest of instincts.

Let me put it more simply. If you and I were in a quiet, well-lit room, surrounded by squares of color on the walls and I punched you in the face, that would not be art, no matter how much of a reaction I got out of you. But apparently, it's okay to do the same thing with aborted fetuses and dead dogs? Bollocks.

Post-post-post-modernism, or whatever you want to call it, has gone too far. Shock value has replaced emotional connection. Irony has supplemented true communication. It makes me sick and I'm sick of it.

I'm no artist, so I can't create something beautiful as a reaction to all the ugliness I see around me. But what I can do is use the power of the almighty dollar and not patronize that crap. I hope those around me with more artistic talent, and more money, will do the same.

I'm Mike Nagel and I approved this message.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Peking Duck - the Chinese Chicken

Trying new foods is one of my favorite parts about traveling. I love sampling local cuisine and regional specialties. In fact, some of my best meals have come while tasting something new - eggs poached in wine in Burgundy, a Guinness as my first beer (ever) in London, Celcuk tost in Ephesus, char grilled oysters in New Orleans or chicken gizzards in Prague.

In prepping for China, one of the things I'm most excited about is the food. Beijing is China's culinary center of the north and, as the capital city, is a host for food from all of Asia. From the Islamic foods of the Uighurs who live in western China, to Mongolian hot pot dishes, to the sweet and saucy Cantonese that we're familiar with - Beijing has it all.

Peking Duck is, by far, the most famous dish produced in Beijing. It’s a delicacy that takes an entire day to produce. Fattened ducks are first killed, plucked and cleaned. Then air is pumped underneath the skin to separate it from the fat beneath. After that, the birds are soaked in boiling water and hung up to dry (Hence, the common, Chinatown sight of birds hanging in the windows). While the ducks are hanging, they’re glazed with maltose (malt sugar) syrup. After they’ve hung to dry for 24 hours, the duck is then roasted in an oven for about an hour, until it turns shiny brown. The ovens are fired using wood from fruit trees — the smoke giving the meat a sweeter flavor.

Two of my classmates - Suzy and Anna - and I discovered a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Boston's Chinatown that serves authentic Chinese food. If you every have a chance, check out King Fung... you won't be disappointed. Like most restaurants Stateside, much of what they offer is Cantonese. However, they did have a few dishes from the north - including the famous Peking Duck. We ordered a day in advance and booked a duck for lunch yesterday.

Let me tell you - it was delicious!

The waitress brought out the entire duck - from beak to feet - for us to peruse at the beginning of the meal. It was steaming hot with glazed, red skin. I think it even winked at me before the server whisked it away for the chef to slice and dice.

Duck is traditionally served in three stages. First, diners receive a platter of the skin and drumsticks accompanied by sides of hoi san (garlic) sauce, steamed pancakes and scallions. You're supposed to make tiny burritos of everything and chow down with your hands, so we did. The skin is pretty resilient, especially since it's basically been lacquered with the sugar basting materials, so there was plenty of fingerwork involved in trying to get everything into our mouths. And there was an abundance of napkin usage, too. Duck is greasy and the juices are kept in by the thick skin during baking.

Second course was a stir fry of vegetables (in our case, carrots, onions, snow peas and bean sprouts) with the duck's meat - boy, was it piled high! Our meal could have easily served five or six, but we valiantly tried to man up and finish it all. We were unsuccessful. I guess we just boyed-up or something.

The final course is a duck soup made with the breastbone and neck. The thin broth tastes quite a bit like chicken stock and comes with chunks of tofu, cabbage and onions. It was a little weird finishing off with the lightest portion of the meal, but by the time we got to the third course, we were all stuffed anyway. So the liquid finish turned out to be the right call.

If you're in Boston and looking for a fun, cheap meal (a day in advance), definitely give King Fung a call. The waitress speaks English, it's easy to find and the whole shebang is only $34 - total, not per person (cash only). Definitely give it a try.

I cannot wait to get to Beijing and see how the fatted ducks there compare.

Quack, quack.

Duck, Party of Three

First course
Second Course
Third - and the bird is done

Death Cab for Cutie downloads...

One of my favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie, has another full-length dropping in a couple weeks. In advance of the album, Daytrotter has put up a six-song, live session for free download. Here's the track list:

1) A Movie Script Ending
2) Cath
3) Styrofoam Plates
4) Talking Bird
5) The New Year
6) Why You'd Want to Live Here

Tracks two and four are from the upcoming disc, Narrow Stairs. The others are favorites from The Photo Album and Transatlanticism, both of which you really should own. Heck, you should celebrate their entire catalog.

Want a taste? I've put up the tracks here for you to download, too, as long as you have Pando. If you don't, go get it or visit Daytrotter to get the files there. Heck, visit that last site anyway as a little web thank-you for the session.

Also, Coldplay just released the first single of its upcoming album for free download, too. I haven't gotten it yet, but I heard it and it's not bad. I'll post it later.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chinese fashion tips...

Beijing, 24 April - The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) debuted the volunteer uniforms to tumultuous approval of Chinese authorities and Hello Kitty fans alike a short time ago.

Volunteers for the 2008 Summer Games, which kick off in less than 100 days, will be required to sport the snazzy threads while at the event venues. This will include members (the low-level ones without any sort of pull or influence) of the Olympic News Service.

The uniforms, which scream both "professionalism" and "Liberace," are comprised of a polyester collared shirt, windbreaker, zip-cargo pants, bucket hat, baseball cap, shoes, water bottle and, yes, the fanny pack members of Eastern European bloc countries mandated should appear at all Olympics. The Germans, however, were defeated in their proposal to include a three pairs of colored crew socks and Birkenstock sandals in the uniform.

All articles of clothing will sport the five-ring Olympic symbol along with the Beijing 2008 logo. Additionally, the tops and hats will also be decorated in a power-blue, paisley wave motif which will help distinguish the volunteers from athletes, spectators and anyone with fashion sense.

BOCOG plans to limit the honeybee population in Beijing by moving thousands of hives south to Shanghai. In doing so, they hope to eliminate random bee stings by insects confused by the vibrant, florescent, floral prints of the uniforms.

For pictures of smiling Chinese runway models sporting the gear, click here.

LOTD... or This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse...

Normally, I wouldn't bother you with such trite material, but this was just too terrible to pass up. This is an actual song by an "artist" named Riskay who apparently has (incredibly) a SECOND album coming out. Yes, the world been subjected to not one, but two Riskay offerings.

Apparently, the tune "hit big in 2007" as an Internet session. Whatever. It's called "Smell Yo' 'Weewee'" and is the thrilling story of a girl who, suspecting her man is cheating, tells him to drop trou so she can... well, you get the point.

I'd say enjoy, but I don't think you will. Try not to bang your head onto your desk in horror and/or paroxysms of laughter.


Editor's note: I decided I couldn't, with good conscience, keep the video posted here. If you really want to see it, here's the link. But you're going to have to leave my site to see it.

Editor's update: There's also an acoustic version. Rock on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Higher Education Blows

Let’s add up the tab of my pursuit of “higher education,” shall we?

Paid for by loans, has got me well over halfway to six figures in debt. In return, I get a degree that qualifies me to, well, do this – blog. Or I could work at a coffee shop and snobbily reference incestuous academic journals while I pour foam onto lattes for people in suits. Awesomeness.

Lost wages:
I didn’t have the greatest job in the world when I moved out of New York City and re-entered academia. But it wasn’t the worst, either. I got to do a lot of really cool things (in return, of course, for selling my mortal soul). The thing was, my soul then was apparently worth more than it is now – perhaps because it was less used? Looking at my friends who were on the roughly the same level I was and where they are now (rolling on piles of money, surrounded by many naked admirers while sipping champagne in high-rise apartments), I wonder at times, if that could have been me. Not the nude guy in the corner. The one with all the cash.

I had started a career path that people have killed for. Literally. I saw someone get stabbed at a NBC Page interview. It wasn’t pretty. Then again, the girl that did it was, so she got the job. Now, I’m coming out of 2 1/2 years of sales experience in what might be a dying industry. But I could tell you the corresponding cities for over 300 airport codes, so I’m a wicked good trivia partner.

Hip status:
If you tell people you live in NYC, you’re cool. If you tell people you’re squatting in an office building that’s 15 feet from train tracks, you’re not. Rent savings mean nothing.

Nerd potential:
Back when I had a “real job,” I didn’t have any time for web 2.0. I was on Facebook, but never checked it. MySpace was a thing of the future. There was no blogging, there was no Twittering, there was no Google Reader and there was no (gasp) iPhone. Now, well, I have all of those (minus the MySpace as you no doubt recall from my Super Tuesday post.). Wow. I should just start playing Dungeons and Dragons and get it over with. Who’s up for a game in Second Life? I’ll bring my virtual, 28-sided die.

Ugh. I don’t know why I’m whining. Sorry to vent this all on you. I think the reassessment of my life began today when I dropped by my grad school’s bookstore and found out that it’s going to cost me $60 to buy a friggin’ black robe for graduation. I already HAVE a black robe from my first time getting a diploma.

But NO – this is different. A Master’s robe has funny sleeves that look like something Gandalf would wear. That’s why you have to give up your May grocery money, Mike. Wizard sleeves! We in higher education feel you haven’t paid quite enough yet for another piece of paper with your name on it. Go visit another ATM and shell out some more, okay?

Oh, and we’re not framing your diploma, either. That costs extra.

(I’m wearing my old robe anyway.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arena rock no more...

Sonja and I spent a most enjoyable evening together on Tuesday. We traveled down to Boston, as I'd bought us a pair of tickets to see Colin Meloy, frontman for The Decemberists, on his solo tour as a big thank-you for being so patient with me during the thesis-writing process. The past few months have been semi date-free and I was trying to make up for it.

S - "Can we go on a date and spend quality time together in a time symbolic of our eternal and undying connection?"
M - "Aieeee! I have 20 more pages due and I haven't started yet! I need to lock myself in, duct tape myself to a chair, stop showering, shun all human contact and subsist on popcorn and beer until I get this done."
(repeat every weekend for four months)

May it be known that, not once, did Sonja complain about me ignoring her. She rocks. I suck.

Anyways, Meloy is out on tour and promoting a new solo album while the band takes a break in between its last tour and next release. The show in Boston was at the Somerville Theater, which is a terrific venue. It's small without being crowded, atmospheric without being contrived and old without being smelly. They also serve beer for $5, so they've got that going for them, too.

It was a terrific concert. I always go into solo shows wondering if the artist can pull it off without a band to interact with, but Meloy is a consummate performer. Any worries I had were laid to rest after the first song when he held the following banter with the audience:

"Freebird!" screamed some annoying high schooler who no doubt has never heard that song in her life.
"Sorry, not going to play Freebird," replied a wry Meloy. "You see, I'm a charter member of MACOF - Musicians Against the Calling Out of Freebird... Incidentally, there's also a committee in MACOF that promotes the writing of more songs about gypsies, which I chair."

The whole night was like that - Meloy playing songs, joking with the crowd and interrupting his own train of thought to tell stories or recall forgotten words/chords to songs. Hands down, it was a blast - particularly his performances of "Perfect Crime" and "Shankill Butchers." It was a low-key, intimate and fun concert.

The show highlighted a realization that I've been coming to for a while now. I don't know if it's out of snobbery or that I'm getting old (or a combination of the two), but I can't do arena shows anymore. I'm just not into getting sweaty with big crowds, being a mile away from the stage, waiting in line for hours to get in and paying hundreds of dollars for tickets the way I used to be. That's ceased to be fun.

In the past five years, I can only think of one, maybe two, bands that I would see again in an arena. The first is Tool, because it's a band that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated and they put an enormous amount effort into putting on a show and not just a concert. The other band would be U2, just for the experience - but the amount of annoying people there and the prohibitive cost of tickets probably would discount me from every seeing them again.

The other bands I've seen in arenas over that span include Death Cab for Cutie (one of my favorites, but I am never, ever going to see them in a place that holds more than 800), Franz Ferdinand (you can't dance in bleachers), Stone Temple Pilots (uh, don't ask), P.O.D. (again, don't ask), the Darkness, Dashboard Confessional (from days as a 15-year-old girl), Incubus (several times - it was a phase), Wilco (awesome group), Kings of Leon (opened for U2 and were terrific, but no one cared because it was a 40,000-seat arena), the Flaming Lips (great performance, but again, not an arena band) and Justin Timberlake (eeeeeeeeeeek! Justin! marry me!).

Live music is meant to be soaked in and appreciated. At its best, it's a deep emotional connection and a touching experience that feels as if it's potentially life-altering (Although, it's not, but for an evening, you think it might be). It's hard to sense that, however, if the periphery of your mind and senses are being bombarded by a huge crowd and an echoing venue. In thinking back to the 15 best live performances I've seen, only two were in arenas (the aforementioned U2 and Paul McCartney playing 95% Beatles songs for 3 hours).

So, unless something huge rolls around, I think I'm calling off all future arena shows. If the venue is bigger than 1,000 people, I'm not going - unless it's a festival, and then I may reconsider.

I want the intimacy. I want the lead guitarist to sweat on me. I want to have the bar and the stage no more than 15 feet from me at all times. Is that too much to ask? I don't think it is.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Going to China with a banjo on my knee...

Okay, so with less than four months to go before the Olympic flame is lit in Beijing (assuming protesters aren't able to steal/extinguish/smother/light bowls from it) it's time to start talking China.

Notice I say China and not Chinese. My Mandarin is woeful at this point, but I have learned how to ask for food, the toilet and tell a taxi driver he's an idiot, so I've got that going for me.

The big news is... well, I'm going.

I know I posted about this before, but there actually was no final confirmation from BOCOG until a couple weeks ago. However, we've received the go-ahead and their processing our visas now.

(Excuse me while I do a huge fist-pump and rip off my shirt, FIFA-style.)

This blog's going to China! Fo' realsies.

Along with receiving my "yes-you're-coming-and-we-realize-we've-told-you-that-before" final invitation, I also now know where I'm going to be stationed...

*drum roll*

The National Stadium - more commonly known as The Birds' Nest (See above: It looks like a nest).

In addition hosting all of the track & field events, the Nest also will be the home of the Opening and Closing ceremonies. I've received some communication that seems to indicate that possibly I could be invited to potentially watch one or both of those events (ie: believe it when it happens). While, I'm not getting excited about being able to streak across the field wearing naught but an American flag when the U.S. team marches in, it could happen. And that rocks.

My role as a member of the Olympic News Service will be at the bottom rung of the ladder - Flash Quotes Reporter. It'll be my job to interview the athletes after their events, grab a few sound bites, write them down and send them to the central office. Not a glamorous job by any means, but I really could care less about that. I'll get to be practically on the sidelines at the Games, that's what counts.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now that I know it's happening for real, I don't know what to think really. Guess it's time for another fist pump...


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Googlegängers (your umlauted word of the day)

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but this article in last Thursday's Times spurred me to do it.

We've all Google-stalked someone. Don't deny it. You've plugged the name of a friend (or enemy) into a search engine, hit enter and clicked through the first few pages of search returns. It's kind of fun, kind of creepy and a common occurrence in today's wired world.

Have you ever plugged your own name in to see what turns up? If so, you've undoubtedly stumbled upon one or more of your Googlegängers - people with the same name that pop up in a search engine query.

The Times article was about the psychological reasons behind why we feel drawn to folks of our same name. There are Facebook groups out there for people with like names and more than one author has written a book or article about setting out to find others with identical monikers. It's more than a passing fascination with some.

For me, however, it provides more annoyance than camaraderie. Why? Because of my massive ego, of course.

Ha, no I'm kidding. Well sort of... Let's talk about my Googlegängers.

I am proud to at least be featured twice on the front page of Google when you search for "Mike Nagel." One is for my Facebook page and the other is for this blog, which is exciting, since I've only been running this page for nine months or so. I don't think it's too bad, overall: I'm at positions 7 and 8, respectively.

Here's the thing... it doesn't really seem like anyone relevant is above me. The top overall hit is a press release announcing Michael P. Nagel as VP of Sales and Marketing for some company called Incisive Surgery, Inc. Then, in 2nd place, there's another presser for a different Mike Nagel.

Finally, on the third hit, we get a Mike Nagel of some importance. Here's his Flickr site. He's a amateur photographer from Munich, Germany and seems like a nice guy. His shots are pretty cool, too. I guess I'm not too upset about falling behind him. Especially since he's had his page up since '05.

The other miscellaneous entries are for some randoms with ZoomInfo and LinkedIn entries that aren't updated. Bollocks! I should be further up, Google!

I know the main way to increase your Google page rank is to be linked to from a bunch of other sites, so thanks to everyone who's linking to me, I appreciate it. Eventually, I'll be the world's greatest Mike Nagel, at least in the eyes of the almighty Google.

However, here's the most annoying thing about having Googlegängers - registering domain names. I'm looking to start my own website, either tying this blog to it or just setting it up as a professional-looking site that I can use to help further my career. However, both and are taken. is occupied by someone who bought the domain name, linked it to a blog and then just left it. How obnoxious! I'd actually use it... If you read this, other Mike Nagel, I want that site.
is just disturbing. It's the homepage for a German actor who looks like he's trying to break into Hollywood. Judging by his physique and D-list level of international appearances, he appears destined to occupy a recurring role on a low-level network soap, at best. If that's my alternate online personality, I'm a little frightened.

Oh well, guess I'll have to either change my name or think up a more creative domain name once I start setting up my site. Any suggestions?

How about you guys? Anything fun come up when you google yourself?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


If you check out my sidebar, I've added a bunch of new stuff.

First off, you can post blogs you like on your Facebook, Digg or accounts. So, that's pretty fun. I'm new at that game, so if you have any questions... ask someone else.

I've also added a few new blogs. Definitely check out LB's page here. She's a deep thinker, great writer, terrific artist and one heckuva dancer and she'll give you a daily dose of cultural commentary and feminist philosophy. Oh, and she's one of the smartest and funnest people I know. Enjoy!

Mike is like a steak... that, he's well done.

That's right. I just turned in my thesis yesterday. 122 pages of earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting, bowel-quaking brilliance. And, once I reformat it to meet the department's requirements, my brilliance will probably stretch to 140 pages or so (Yes, it's spread thin).


Talk about a sigh of relief. I feel like I'm tasting freedom. I feel liberated. I feel like the world is my oyster, if only I would reach out and shuck it-shuck it long and shuck it hard. So, what am I doing in my first thesis-free day in four months?

Sitting in my chair, drinking a beer, watching TV out of the corner of my eye and writing to you guys. Yes, I know how to live life to the fullest. Rock 'n roll, bay-bee!

It's all good. Truth be told, I once again missed writing here, especially since my page views and comments are up (Thank you, friends, family and Internet stalkers). My new discover, courtship and long-term commitment to Twitter hasn't dissuaded me from posting posts of 140+ characters. However, when you're swilling coffee, banging at a keyboard until your fingertips bleed and questioning everything you've done for the past three years, you don't have much time for weblogging, you know?

But I'm back and it's for good. Or for now, at least.

There's a lot going on in my life right now and, of course, I feel like I need to share it online, so I'll get back to doing that. Upcoming posts can/may/will be on the following topics:

- a book deal
- new music for me to illegally share
- Banana slings
- Beijing, baby
- Mike's next blossoming career as a viral video star
- faking death to avoid school loan payments
- the Red Sox
- the worrisome feeling that I may be allergic to my apartment. Or my body hair.
- softball season starting up
- flip-flops
- Brazilian waxes

Who's excited? I'm excited. How 'bout yourself?

In the words of the immortal Jay-Z:
"When I come back like Jordan / wearing the four-five / It's not to play games with you / It's to aim at you"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


This is going to be quick, since I have class in a few. Right now, anything that's not a Tweet is on hold, in terms of blogging, until I finish my thesis. It's due on April 9th, but I'm hoping to have put a wrap on it after this Friday (since I have a 1/2 marathon to run and other writing to do this weekend).

I'll let you know how that lofty goal goes.

But, I was featured in last week's BostonNow. It is not, as you might assume, because of the awesomeness of my blog or because I pitched them an article. No, it's because I was in a bar at 1p.m. in the afternoon and one of their reporters interviewed me about college drunkeness. Go figure.

The link to the pdf is here. I'm on page 10 or something (first quote in the story).