In Defense of Rearview Mirrors & Other Things

05.7.14

You don’t want to write that one. They’re about to be mandatory in all vehicles. You’ll have egg on your face.

That’s what Jessica wrote in response to my desire to write about why I don’t exactly think backup cams are all that great. But, hey, I’m 23. This is likely one of the only things I get to be super fussy and a reactionary about, so just let me have this one precious moment of finger waving and judgment.

You see, when I first got my license back in the old days – in 2006, the year Justin brought sexy back, kids – my mom handed me the keys to a behemoth 1997 GMC Yukon, a car that has arguably some of the worst blind spots around and a high center of gravity. I named her Phoebe, and over our many years together, we have driven countless miles, crossed the country a total of four times, and never once been involved in a car accident.

I’m not going to tell you that I’m the best driver around. I think I’m a good driver, but I’m certain there are people who would say I’m actually awful (Jessica thinks I drive like a grandma). What I will tell you is the reason why my mom gave me Phoebe: to keep me safe.

In my mom’s mind, it was better to hedge her bets and put me in the biggest car possible so as to minimize the damage on impact, should I ever have an accident. Of course, the flipside of that logic was that my being in a car like Phoebe would most likely maximize the damage to the other car. And there you have it, kids, my Uncle Ben responsibility origin story.

Over the years, I have grown to know my car intimately. I know where my blind spots are, and I know how to check them. I know how to maintain speed and make a sharp turn without flipping over. And I know how long it takes my car to come to a full stop. This intimate knowledge, more than any skill on my part, is what has kept me from causing damage to myself and others while on the road. It is the same knowledge that helped me maintain control and be the only car to not crash when all traffic lost control and slid down a snowy road in New Jersey two winters ago.

But none of that has to do with backup cams, necessarily. What does is the woman in central Jersey who, after many embarrassing minutes trying to parallel park her car, decided to throw up her arms and get out to apologize to the crowd that had gathered to watch her struggle. I happened to be walking by at that same moment and offered to help. I imagined I would simply guide her – she was, after all, trying to park on a curve. Instead, the distraught woman handed me her keys and said, “Here, you can do it.”

So there I was, sitting inside a nice lady’s brand new Lexus. I pulled out and forward, so as to reposition the car. As I backed into the spot, I wondered: This is a large enough spot, why couldn’t she do it? I looked around the car, realizing that there was a backup cam I hadn’t noticed. And it hit me: this poor woman had made absolutely no effort to look anywhere else but that small screen.

My point is not to say that backup cams are bad or otherwise useless. It is simply to suggest that we still need to get to know our cars. No amount of technology can replace knowing how far ahead or behind you a car actually is. Or exactly how sharp the curve of the street is that you’re trying to park on. Sure, backup cams can help you avoid hitting a small child hiding behind your car (as has happened to someone I know), but they can’t replace your own sense of space. And antilock brakes can’t always keep you from losing control of your car (as I learned).

So, before we go around saying that it’s irresponsible to buy a car without backup cams (ahem, Jessica), or planning for a future without sideview mirrors, let’s first check our ideological blind spots and acknowledge one simple fact: you are behind the wheel, not your technology. And it’s foolish to tout backup cams as some utopic automotive wonder.

Get to know your car, people. I promise it’s worth it.

When Communities Erode

07.12.13

Thanks to William for another spectacular guest post. You can follow him on twitter at @willibaldoea

We live in a time when no one wants to remember. We pretend we are where it starts. Look at the way we live—we build houses on cliffs, on fault lines, in the path of things, and when something happens, we don’t learn history, we build it again, right on the same spot, bigger, better… Fallout accumulates. What we’ve got now is a blend of fact and fiction that we’re agreeing to call reality.

– A.M. Homes, This Book Will Save Your Life

There’s a fantastic article titled “From Coast to Toast” in the August issue of Vanity Fair. It looks at two communities, one in Malibu and another in Nantucket, that are facing serious erosion problems and the increasing possibility of disappearing for good. I’ll let you read it for yourself, because I think it’s a fairly interesting and involved piece that merits attention and thoughtful consideration. Besides, I can’t tell you what the right answer is.

What I can say is that moments like this reveal something that goes beyond who’s rich and who’s not, which the debate here appears to be about. Admittedly, the debate is also about man and Nature, and we can’t seem to untangle the issues long enough to know what the most pressing facet of the problem is. Or what the most pressing facet is at this moment. That’s the real problem, in my eyes, and also the saddest part about this entire debate.

I can’t help but think about The Bling Ring, a film that’s simultaneously lauded for its beautiful direction but critiqued for its lack of anything resembling a moral stance. Sofia Coppola lingers among the teenagers she depicts in all their delusional and raucous splendor. She doesn’t say much about them, but her lingering instills a sense of discomfort. Or at the very least it did in me, because I recognized those teenagers. They were the same ones I went to school with who are now detoxing from heroin and cocaine addictions, removing tattoos they grew to regret, and dealing with the legal consequences of lives they put on the fast track long before the time was appropriate.

I can’t say my friends made the wrong choices and that I made the right ones. That all remains to be seen, really. What they do with their lives from this point forward, and what I do with mine, are the only true indications of what successes we’ll be able to claim later in life. So as Coppola did, I invite you to linger with the people you meet in the Vanity Fair article. Don’t judge them – because you’ll want to, and there are two sides that are equally understandable but also infuriating.

Just sit with them. Listen. And hope, for everyone’s sake, that this is something we can figure out.

If you want my opinion, I’d say let nature takes it’s course. It seems like the only humble approach possible, and maybe it’s what will ultimately save us from ourselves.

 

The Unlikely Feminists

07.6.13

Thanks to William for this wonderful guest post. You can follow him on twitter at @willibaldoea

Kardashians are Feminists

Say what you will about the Kardashian sisters, but they’re smart ladies. They’ve managed to spin an entire empire out of nothing (well, maybe a sex tape, but…).

Their ability to get people talking should be noted, because people certainly do talk – whether they like them or not. There’s no denying that they have had an effect on the collective consciousness at some level.

Take Kim’s marriage to Kris Humphries, for example. She filed for divorce after 72 days and the world erupted into a furor. Boycott, boycott, boycott!

Not too long after, Sinead O’Connor filed for divorce after just 17 days. That’s right. You heard it here first, because apparently no one cared to comment – TWO YEARS AGO. But then again, I suppose a divorce pales in comparison to O’Connor’s other antics. Let’s not forget that Nothing Compares 2 ripping up a photo of the Pope on live TV.

Back on topic.

The silence that followed O’Connor’s divorce should serve as an indication that it’s not attention that matters, but the magnitude of that attention. Remember when Britney annulled her marriage after 52 hours? Again, whatever.

People raged on for days, weeks, months about the Kardashian divorce. She was making a mockery of marriage, they said. We should cancel all of their shows, others cried. And amid it all, what did the Kardashians do? Kim went into hiding, releasing a public statement asking for privacy. Ironic, much?

Kris Jenner made the interview rounds to hawk her memoir and the upcoming premier of Kourtney and Kim Take New York. The world asked for answers, and all Kris could say was: the world would know more and get all the answers to their questions once the new season premiered.

Fury, anticipation, but most of all – ratings. The world watched. And around this time, Keeping Up with the Kardashians went from a half-hour show to a full-hour.

More ratings.

So what does this have to do with feminism? Probably nothing, but maybe a little something. You see, I have a friend who abhors Oprah Winfrey. Wait, I have more than one friend who does, but whatever. The point is, this friend – a very vocal and self-described feminist – hates the fact that Oprah, admittedly one of – if not the – most powerful women in America (the world?), spent her time doing shows about poop, bra fittings, and other seemingly trivial matters.

Of course, Oprah also did shows about serious issues. She made it her mission to use her show as a platform for the safety of children. She even got America to read! That’s no small feat. But she still talked about poop, which is kind of like what the Kardashians do. They just sit around and spew. Poop, poop, poop.

But the Kardashian girls may be up to a little more, whether they know it or not.

On a recent visit to Sears, I got to see firsthand what these ladies are doing for women. You see, my sister has always been petite, but after her second child, things just didn’t bounce back the same. She’s still tiny at 4’ 10”, but her hips are much wider than you would expect for someone her size. This small fact has had an enormous impact on her fashion choices, since she now has to dress for comfort.

Having two children under the age of 6 also means that there’s no money to pay for fancy, personally-fitted jeans, or even to tailor every pair of pants in one’s closet. So there are now only a few pairs, with their forgiving fabric, that get regular circulation.

I found this sad, since my sister had always enjoyed dressing cute and being adorable. I mean, come on, she’s 4’ 10”! It doesn’t get cuter than that unless you’re a grumpy or hipster cat on the internet!

My sister and I went through every rack at Sears in search of new, cute clothes. We tried every possible cut. Nothing seemed to fit, and sometimes even didn’t make it past her knees. Clothes for women that are 4’ 10” assume you’re also 12. The only option was to buy larger jeans, but these were made for women well over 5’, so these would require major tailoring. Again, not an option with two kids.

What began as a joke ended up saving the whole shopping trip. We had seen the Kardashian Kollection and grabbed a few pairs and headed to the fitting room. We prepared for the worst, but hopefully most Instragram-worthy moment. And then, nothing. No sucking in. No yanking at the zipper. Just, nothing. They slipped right on. The only minor problem was that there were about 8 inches flapping around. They were too long.

It didn’t matter, we said. We’d get them tailored. Sure, it would cost money, but nothing had fit my sister quite like this for a few years now. We headed back to the rack and picked up a few more. After a while, we noticed that they all fit differently but were essentially the same style. We looked closer: KHLOE, KOURTNEY, KIM.

Each pair had been designed for each sister’s body. The KHLOE was hippy and tall. The KOURTNEY was narrow and petite. The KIM was hippy and short.

In her single days, my sister was a KOURNTEY. This was the style you’d normally find in the juniors section. Now, her hips corresponded to KHLOE, but the length was all wrong. But in true fairy tale fashion, the third one was just right: KIM was generous at the hips and met the height requirement. Not only that, but they were comfortable.

I don’t think I had seen my sister beam that much since she gave birth to her son. You might think I’m exaggerating, but this was the face of an adorable young woman who was too busy, too cash-strapped, and too stressed to take care of herself while she went about being the best mom one could ever imagine. For her to be able to find a pair of jeans that slipped on without a hitch, and more than anything framed her body – which had changed significantly – meant the world.

There’s a difference between putting on something that fits and putting on something that feels great. And there’s certainly a difference between dressing up to reduce discomfort and dressing up to accentuate and celebrate your body. The Kardashian sisters seem to know that difference.

So maybe these girls will lead the revolution. It might not seem like much, but for women like my sister, it means being able to celebrate her feminity, her curves, and her youth.

Sure, Kardashian Kollection jeans run well over 60 bucks a pair, but they are occasionally on sale (we found them at about $25/pair). And in the end, being able to buy a pair of jeans that fit you at the first go might be worth it. More than anything, it means that women with uncommon body types, or simply more curvaceous in their features, can buy jeans without having to go out of their way to adjust them after the fact.

With all of the attention the Kardashian sisters get, I’m fairly certain their fashion line will have some sort of impact. Maybe not a huge one, but an impact nonetheless. And that’s significant when we take into consideration the critiques lodged against the Kardashians for their excess, vanity, and just plain pointlessness.

These ladies, famous for being famous, are leading the charge in redefining standards of beauty. And if you don’t believe me, take any woman with curves shopping. See what having not just your size, but your shape readily available does for a woman’s self-esteem.

Sexy is no longer just for those whose bodies can fit into the ready-made sizes you’re likely to find at most places. They’re for every woman, at every height, at every size. And they’re at a major department store, not a fancy shop where your jeans are fitted while your bank account is sucked dry.

I think that’s pretty amazing.

So yes, friends, the revolution will most certainly be televised.

OHMIGAWD, I’ve turned into Kris Jenner!

What Maisie Knew: Storytelling Done Right [Guest Post]

05.15.13

Onata Aprile What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew is a gem of a movie. Its subject matter – divorce, family dysfunction, loss of innocence – is the stuff of made-for-TV movies. But, accompanied by a talented cast, Scott McGehee and David Siegel manage to navigate the titular character’s story with great skill and empathy.

Maisie is six years old. Mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) is a has-been, middle-aged rocker who dreams of returning to her days of glory, while father Beale (Steve Coogan) is an art dealer with the attention span of a squirrel. The two are engaged in the aftermath of a bitter divorce, where Maisie serves as a pawn in their constant struggle. Alexander Skarsgård (Lincoln) and Joanna Vanderham (Margo) provide supporting roles as Susanna’s well-meaning boyfriend-cum-husband and Beale’s nanny-turned-wife, respectively. While unrelated to Maisie, they care for her deeply and provide the support she desperately needs.

The first half of the movie is dedicated to Susanna and Beale fighting over time with Maisie, both in and out of court. Any good editor would tell you that these first 40 minutes could be reduced to a simple 5-minute scene, but McGehee and Siegel use the repetitive nature of the struggle to underscore Maisie’s perseverance and uncanny maturity.

In one scene, Susanna succeeds in gaining custody of Maisie, only to take her home and immediately leave her alone while she complains to a friend about what an irresponsible parent Beale is. In yet another scene, Beale is scheduled to pick up Maisie for his court-ordered time with her. Maisie waits patiently in the lobby, but he never shows. Notice a pattern?

Throughout the movie, Maisie maintains her composure, never buckling under the pressure of her parents’ need to use her as a bargaining chip. When Susanna pries about Beale’s life, Maisie is careful to answer with a meek, “I don’t know.” And yet, she sees everything and knows what’s at stake. In the heartbreaking opening scene, a pizza delivery man shows up at the door while Maisie’s parents are fighting about money in the background. Without missing a beat, Maisie runs upstairs to her piggy bank and returns with a wad of bills for the delivery guy. “Here’s your tip,” she says with a smile.

The nature of love, and especially of that between parent and child, is a major theme throughout the movie. While Maisie’s parents fight tooth and nail for custody, their actions belie any claim to actually wanting to care for their daughter. Both parents are extremely possessive of Maisie, and the courts are alternatively a source of validation, or a site of great pain and struggle.

In the final thirty minutes, the movie reaches its boiling point as Maisie falls asleep in a bar and is literally passed along from person to person until she ends up at home with one of the female bartenders. Upon waking up, Maisie panics and wants to go home, though her parents are nowhere to be found. Lincoln and Margo provide Maisie with stability from this point forward, and for the first time we see her be playful. In short, she is allowed to be a child.

If you enjoy a great story and fantastic acting, watch this movie immediately. Julianne Moore deserves great credit for playing what can only be described as a truly ugly character. McGehee and Siegel are fair, though, and grant her a moment of redemption at the end.

The only gripe I have about the movie is that the fantastically talented Onata Aprile is given sixth billing in the credits. Once you watch the movie, you’ll see why this is such a crime.

Thanks to William for this wonderful review. 

Tough Stuff: RokBed V3 Samsung Galaxy S3 Case Review

02.1.13

Thanks in advance to William Vega, contributing writer, for another great post. 

There’s a reason I have an S3: I like its slim form factor.

The holidays have left my pants feeling a bit tighter, and I really can’t deal with a rectangular bulge in my pocket. Not only is it unsightly (and so clearly not the kind of bulge I want to be showing off), but it’s uncomfortable. It’s why I made it a point to buy my S3 only when I knew slim silicone covers were available. Like a condom, I wanted my cover to be as unobtrusive and smooth as possible… for my pleasure.

Enter the Rokbed case from RokForm.

I won’t lie. I decided to give this case a try because it comes with a mount for the car, and I’m tired of putting my phone alternately between my thighs (try explaining that reach to the neighboring car), on the dash (watch is slide!), or in my cup holder (oh, look, it fell). So in the interest of getting the most out of my GPS, I slid this not-so-little guy on.

The RokBed case is a tank.

The bottom part of the case slides out so you can slide the phone in, but I didn’t notice this feature. Instead, I snapped the phone into place and proceeded to try and remove it for the next 10 minutes. I almost thought I’d have to break the case to retrieve my phone, which, in hindsight, is not a terrible thing. Consider children who play with phones: if they can’t remove the case, then chances are they won’t break or otherwise damage it. Impressive feat.

Despite its sturdiness, though, the case still presented a few issues for me.

Because the S3 is such a sleek phone, the hard keys are only slightly raised on its side. With the RokBed on, these keys are buried under the bulk of the case, making it all but impossible to easily reach the hard keys. And while this might simply take some getting used to, it presents a real problem for covertly silencing your phone while it rings in your pocket. No way you’re getting to those keys.

The biggest disappointment for me had to be the mount, since the included piece is flat and has a one-time use adhesive. And because the case mounts from the back, the phone has to be placed right in front of you on a surface parallel with your body. Unfortunately, there is no room on my SUV’s console – which is completely flat – to attach this case. My only other options are on top of the dash (but that would mean the phone lies flat on its back, making it impossible for me to see the display) or on the windshield, which is slanted and would face the phone away from my direct line of sight. Plus, I don’t want an unsightly mount piece permanently stuck to my windshield.

There are few ways around this problem, but they unfortunately require that you purchase additional equipment, like the v3 Suction Mount, which retails for $49 from RokForm. But when you take into account the fact that this case already goes for $45, you’re paying nearly $100 for the convenience of a mount that offers more versatility.

The included mount would be fine if it were suction-cup and not adhesive-based. At least then you could put it where it was most convenient, depending on your dashboard or console configuration. This is unfortunately not the case.

Still, if what you are looking for is a sturdy case, and you don’t much care for maintaining the sleekness of your device (as I suspect many of those iPhone 5 users with the monster cases don’t), then this case is definitely worth it. It will protect your phone and keep young children, or at the very least disgruntled PhD students, from removing the case easily.

Additionally, the back of the case comes with a no-slip grip (with magnet), which works wonderfully if you place the phone on your dashboard and don’t want it to slip out of sight. This is how I will be using mine from now on, since it keeps the phone within reach (and ear-shot for GPS), but I realize this is something I could have added to my existing case on my own for much less than $45.

Over all, this is an excellent case, just not for every user.

If what you want is protection, it’s a worthwhile investment. But if what you’re looking for is an unobtrusive case with mounting functionality at a reasonable price, consider the purchase carefully before mounting this beast.

RokBed close up

RokBed V3 Samsung Galaxy S3 clear case

RokBed V3 Samsung Galaxy S3 protective case

RokBed V3 Samsung Galaxy S3 case

RokBed V3 Samsung Galaxy S3