april 08

4/16/2008

TOMORROW MUSEUM

This site is pretty much going to be a bunch of personal updates from now on, but if you want to see the rest of my writing, it’s right here: The Tomorrow Museum

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WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICAN AIRLINES?

Wired’s Autopia blog admirably tries to explain last week’s mess, but I am just more confused:

The wiring bundles are located near the plane’s fuel tanks, and failure to follow the FAA directive could result in a wire shorting out and sparking. Which could result in jet fumes igniting. Which could cause an explosion in the fuel tank. Which, as you can imagine, could be a really bad situation.
So if the airworthiness directive took effect in 2006, why didn’t the inspections happen then? The short answer is that FAA inspectors have been slacking off. It recently came to light that the FAA’s cozy relationship with Southwest Airlines had resulted in maintenance lapses at that airline, so the agency decided to get tough. And they that figured random, unannounced safety checks would be one way to show just how tough they are.

Those wires are attached the jet wheel well walls, which according to my father who is an airline mechanic, are some of the easiest parts to access and fix. He said it either has to be another part of the plane, and journalists are reporting incorrectly, or this is some kind of stunt to draw attention, maybe with a bailouts plea in the near future.

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4/14/2008

MEN WHO EXPLAIN THINGS

Hey Toby Maguire, why not make a movie outta this?

Rebecca Solnit for the LA Times:

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book – with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, including a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me; with my infinitely generous younger brother; with splendid male friends. Still, there are these other men too.

So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a 19th century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless – for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing.

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4/9/2008

AFTER THE APOCALYPSE THE WORLD WILL BE OUR CATWALK

Diddo Velema’s Gucci gas masks

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march 08

3/6/2008

THIS ELEPHANT PAINTS BETTER THAN YOU DO

Here is a story that sounds like a beloved children’s book come to life: Hong the elephant paints with her trunk. But she doesn’t just make a few fingerpainting-like marks on a canvas, she makes portraits of other elephants! And they are good!

 

So what might we expect from elephants next? Are they going to organize soccer leagues? Form a sovereign nation? Start a group blog? Not so fast says Jessica Palmer of Bioephemera:

If other species do start producing fine art, I’d expect elephants to be at the front of the line. But we have no idea what’s going on in this elephant’s brain, because the narrator doesn’t ask any of the right questions – the most salient being does the elephant intend to represent anything?
Given that the elephant has a very limited repertoire, does not seem to paint from life or references, and uses a stereotyped series of motions that could easily have been entrained, this appears to be no more than a dexterous novelty act. As far as we can tell, the cartoonish painting produced in this video clip doesn’t symbolize anything in the elephant’s mind, except attention and rewards from a trainer. Ergo, it’s not art …
Many of AEACP’s elephant paintings are abstractions, which raises a thorny question: what motivates the elephant to choose colors or shapes in an abstract piece? Is it random, or is the elephant moved to create something genuinely reflective of its emotions? If the expression of emotion is involved, we begin to trespass on a grey area that may well be considered art. But it’s difficult to get any artist to clearly express what he or she intended when creating a piece, and animals are among the least communicative of “artists.” We can’t just ask. Or can we?

She also makes the point that, “Much more commercially exploitative and arguably less interesting art is created by human beings (as always, I refer to Thomas Kinkade).”

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3/4/2008

PROJECT IMPLICIT: SECRETLY I’M A HILLARY FAN (?)

After today, (I hope) this won’t be necessary, but New Scientist posted a link to Project Implicit, where you may discover an unconscious bias for a candidate.

Asked about my conscious feelings of warmth or coldness towards the candidates, I rated Barack Obama top, followed by John McCain and then Mike Huckabee. I ranked Hillary Clinton lowest – not because I disagree with her policies, but because I have negative feelings about her personality, and because I feel she is a divisive figure who is unlikely to heal the rifts in contemporary American politics.

 

The results revealing my implicit attitudes were an eye-opener. While the three male candidates appeared in the same order, Clinton jumped up the rankings to place equal second with McCain.

Do I have a secret crush on Hillary? Well, if so, I’m not alone. According to Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington in Seattle, people often rate Clinton more highly on the implicit test than when asked about their conscious attitudes towards her. Interestingly, the same pattern is emerging for both men and women

My experience was just the same, except that for me, a preference for Hillary was far above Obama and McCain (tied, with Huckabee last.) And I have an extremely low opinion of her husband. Whether it works or not, it’s the game of advertising. As I wrote about that inexcusable Intel ad, marketers aim straight at your limbic system. We’ve seen so many examples of dogwhistling, whether obvious or unlikely, one can’t discount the power of subtext and implication.

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3/3/2008

HOW TO CRABWALK UNDER THE GFW

Several months ago, I went to a lecture at MIT called “What is Civic Media?” Ethan Zuckerman gave an amazing presentation, pointing out a number of ways activists have worked around China’s Internet filter. Here’s one:

 

 

 

The Chinese don’t censor, they “harmonize. As it turns out, the word “to harmonize” and “river crab” are homonyms. Blogger Wang Xiaofeng uses the handle “wears three watches,” which is, as Zuckerman’s Global Voices-cofounder Rebecca MacKinnon points out, a pun on a political slogan coined by former President Jiang Zemin.

Remember the songs and images and tshirts about 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8….? Chinese activists avoided typing text and transfered information in the same ways:

Widespread use of Flickr to spread the URLs of unlocked proxy servers could have an effect in countries like China, UAE and Ethiopia… until governments began blocking FLickr (which they have in many countries that filter the Internet.) To spread clandestine information, it’s important not to have a single point of failure, like a single website that can be blocked. That, in turn, requires that an idea “go viral”, that hundreds of individuals decide to start spreading the information. And that requires an idea that’s sufficiently compelling that individuals agree to take on the risk – however small – of spreading the information.
What would it take to harness this sort of viral spread to harness the net in spreading human rights information? Can activists learn from the story of The Number and find ways to spread information that otherwise is suppressed or ignored in mainstream media?

But just like George Bernard Shaw saw no famines in Ukraine, Westerners will find no censorship in their hotels during the Olympics. Jim Fallows in The Atlantic explains it at great length:

Let’s not stop to discuss why the vision of democracy-through-communications-technology is so convincing to so many Americans. (Samizdat, fax machines, and the Voice of America eventually helped bring down the Soviet system. Therefore proxy servers and online chat rooms must erode the power of the Chinese state. Right?) Instead, let me emphasize how unconvincing this vision is to most people who deal with China’s system of extensive, if imperfect, Internet controls.
Think again of the real importance of the Great Firewall. Does the Chinese government really care if a citizen can look up the Tiananmen Square entry on Wikipedia? Of course not. Anyone who wants that information will get it—by using a proxy server or VPN, by e-mailing to a friend overseas, even by looking at the surprisingly broad array of foreign magazines that arrive, uncensored, in Chinese public libraries.
What the government cares about is making the quest for information just enough of a nuisance that people generally won’t bother. Most Chinese people, like most Americans, are interested mainly in their own country. All around them is more information about China and things Chinese than they could possibly take in. The newsstands are bulging with papers and countless glossy magazines. The bookstores are big, well stocked, and full of patrons, and so are the public libraries. Video stores, with pirated versions of anything. Lots of TV channels. And of course the Internet, where sites in Chinese and about China constantly proliferate. When this much is available inside the Great Firewall, why go to the expense and bother, or incur the possible risk, of trying to look outside?

Discussing Fallow’s article, MIT CMS student Xiaochang Li writes:

touting technology as the solution to China’s censorship and social control issues, we run the risk of glossing over the complex mechanisms of control that go into successful censorship. The Chinese government in all likelihood recognizes the impossibility of really controlling online traffic, not just because of the technology but also because of the commercial needs of both domestic and foreign corporations–of China’s bottom line. What the firewall does is provide an additional barrier, and added nuisance and reminder that you’re doing something potentially prosecutable, a far more effective tactic than full-out blocking.
After all, the censorship doesn’t begin and end with not being able to access some websites or getting your blog taken down – it can have very harsh real-world consequences, and thus relies on mechanisms of self-censorship as much as if might rely on the effectiveness of its state-of-the-art technology.

Somehow it’s a lot more terrifying to know that citizens can access information on Tiananmen Square if they really want to, but either choose not to or just do not know the reference at all. Last year I wrote about Frontline’s episode on the GFW, when a handful of Beijing University students looked puzzled at the otherwise world famous photograph of the man standing up to the tank. One asked the reporter, “Is this a piece of artwork?”

This reminds me of Neil Postman’s introduction in Amusing Ourselves to Death, when he says we have a Brave New World dystopia, not a 1984 nightmare. But that idea I’ll save for a later post.

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THE UNLIMITED WIKI COMPANY

Nicholson Baker, whose previous uphill battles have included a plea to save San Francisco card catalogues, creation of a nonprofit saving hard copies of newspapers, and the resulting book condemning librarians for their expensive switch to microfilm, reviewed John Broughton’s Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, revealing an interesting beef with the web’s font of (almost) everything.

 

 

 

Everyone consults Wikipedia. Part of its appeal is the egalitarian spirit, the possibility that right now a Harvard physics professor might be taking notes from an article authored by a Starbucks cashier. There may not be a hierarchy of “editors,” but the articles themselves are always at risk of getting blackballed. Baker writes about his own contributions to the site, “I tinkered a little with the plot summary of the article on Sleepless in Seattle, while watching the movie. A little later I made some adjustments to the intro in the article on hydraulic fluid—later still someone pleasingly improved my fixes.”

After reading a page on self-publishing Beat-poet Richard Denner, and seeing two users called for its deletion, Baker’s preservationist gears kicked in. He added some information to Denner’s biography and voted to keep it, asking, “What harm does it do to anyone or anything to keep this entry?” Nevertheless, a volunteer administrator killed the article.

Soon Baker was patrolling “AfDs” (the Articles for Deletion debate pages,) “speedy deletes” and “PRODs” (proposed deletes,) for items “unjustifiably at risk”:

I found press citations and argued for keeping the Jitterbug telephone, a large-keyed cell phone with a soft earpiece for elder callers; and Vladimir Narbut, a minor Russian Acmeist poet whose second book, Halleluia, was confiscated by the police; and Sara Mednick, a San Diego neuroscientist and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life; and Pyro Boy, a minor celebrity who turns himself into a human firecracker on stage. I took up the cause of the Arifs, a Cyprio-Turkish crime family based in London (on LexisNexis I found that the Irish Daily Mirror called them “Britain’s No. 1 Crime Family”); and Card Football, a pokerlike football simulation game; and Paul Karason, a suspender-wearing guy whose face turned blue from drinking colloidal silver; and Jim Cara, a guitar restorer and modem-using music collaborationist who badly injured his head in a ski-flying competition; and writer Owen King, son of Stephen King; and Whitley Neill Gin, flavored with South African botanicals; and Whirled News Tonight, a Chicago improv troupe; and Michelle Leonard, a European songwriter, co-writer of a recent glam hit called “Love Songs (They Kill Me).”

All of these people and things had been deemed nonnotable by other editors, sometimes with unthinking harshness—the article on Michelle Leonard was said to contain “total lies.” (Wrongly—as another editor, Bondegezou, more familiar with European pop charts, pointed out.) When I managed to help save something I was quietly thrilled—I walked tall, like Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men.

 

Baker joined the “Article Rescue Squadron,” after reading about it in Broughton’s manual, and turned to the WPPDP, “WikiProject Proposed Deletion Patrolling”:

Since about 1,500 articles are deleted a day, this kind of work can easily become life-consuming, but some editors (for instance a patient librarian whose username is DGG) seem to be able to do it steadily week in and week out and stay sane. I, on the other hand, was swept right out to the Isles of Shoals. I stopped hearing what my family was saying to me—for about two weeks I all but disappeared into my screen, trying to salvage brief, sometimes overly promotional but nevertheless worthy biographies by recasting them in neutral language, and by hastily scouring newspaper databases and Google Books for references that would bulk up their notability quotient. I had become an “inclusionist.”

That’s not to say that I thought that every article should be fought for. Someone created an article called Plamen Ognianov Kamenov. In its entirety, the article read: “Hi my name is Plamen Ognianov Kamenov. I am Bulgarian. I am smart.” The article is gone—understandably. Someone else, evidently a child, made up a lovely short tale about a fictional woman named Empress Alamonda, who hated her husband’s chambermaids. “She would get so jealous she would faint,” said the article. “Alamonda died at 6:00 pm in her room. On august 4 1896.” Alamonda is gone, too.

Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come.

 

Anyone can delete an article with a simple double-bracket, but it’s harder to improve an article or write something from scratch. Baker writes of the resulting internal bullying. I hadn’t heard of the “web-comic articles purge of 2006,” until this piece, but it turns out this was a long running battle with many casualties.

But Jimmy Wales isn’t to blame for anything besides bringing Rachel Marsden back in the public eye. He is against building a moat:

Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia’s panjandrum—himself an inclusionist who believes that if people want an article about every Pokemon character, then hey, let it happen—posted a one-sentence stub about Mzoli’s, a restaurant on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. It was quickly put up for deletion. Others saved it, and after a thunderstorm of vandalism (e.g., the page was replaced with “I hate Wikipedia, its a far-left propaganda instrument, some far-left gangs control it”), Mzoli’s is now a model piece, spiky with press citations. There’s even, as of January, an article about “Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia”—it too survived an early attempt to purge it.

Wikipedia is, of course, a “wiki,” so anyone who feels something is unjustifiably excluded, may write wikia of their own. There is a good comment on Andrew Leonard’s Salon blog post about the article:

This sort of trivia certainly belongs on internet somewhere, but Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia. A comprehensive, encyclopedic treatment of everything still doesn’t justify logs of every time a cartoon character has mentioned the article topic.

 

And as you might imagine, quality control in the form of excluding certain content enrages many people.

Other wikis exist with different standards. For any given topic one might like to write about, Wikia.com usually already has a wiki going, and if not they’ll create a new one where there is sufficient interest. Other similar providers are listed on

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wikis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Alternative_outlets#Directory_of_alternatives
Wikipedia does not have to please everyone. Let Wikipedia can be Wikipedia.

The web itself, providing us with endless room to pursue randomata and obscure whims of fancy, calls for a vast, if not infinite net; but is there anyone that really wants Wikipedia to include everyone who happens to have a public Myspace profile? So what are the limits?

“Writer” isn’t much distinction when about 300,000 books are published every years, and web columns and bylines are even more numerous. Last year, Slate’s Timothy Noah discovered his brief Wikipedia bio failed the “notability guideline.” He wrote an amusing article about it, ending with an updated note that his entry was restored, “can the dividing line between eminence and obscurity really be the authorship of a single magazine article about Wikipedia? I note with interest that Stacy Schiff, author of the excellent New Yorker article cited above, failed to impress Wikipedia’s arbiters of notability by winning the Pulitzer Prize in biography, writing several other well-regarded books, and receiving fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It wasn’t until she wrote her Wikipedia piece that she became sufficiently notable to be written up in Wikipedia.”

Remember Googlewack? I think I might try reading several books a year by authors in print but out of Wikipedia. This seems easier with writers of nonfiction. Plugging in authors on my Amazon Wishlist, the first to come out without a Wikipedia entry at the top of a google search was Marilynn Gelfman Karp , who wrote In Flagrante Collecto. Obscure-ish fiction writers Unica Zurn, Mary Butts, and Sylvia Townsend Warner are all there. Writer Sonia Greene, better known as H. P. Lovecraft’s wife, was briefly erased from Wikipedia, until Annalee Newitz on the (now retired) Wired blog Table of Malecontents argued for her inclusion.

Josephine Saxton of “The Hieros gamos of Sam and An Smith,” isn’t listed, and I’m not quite sure how I found about about this book in the first place. I added it to my Amazon wishlist in May of last year, a few months before someone of metafiler mentioned it as good post-apocalypse lit. I think I was reading The Road around then. Maybe I saw John Crowley’s review alluding to it. After a couple clicks on Amazon this is shipping, soon to be my first experiment of author Wikiwack. I might like it so much I’d be inspired to write a Wikipedia bio for her.

Baker ends his review by saying, “Someone recently proposed a Wikimorgue—a bin of broken dreams where all rejects could still be read, as long as they weren’t libelous or otherwise illegal. Like other middens, it would have much to tell us over time. We could call it the Deletopedia.”

Not a bad idea. Card catalogs, by the way, are now highly sought-after as hipster furniture. Perhaps a website for discarded Wikipedia articles might encourage similar ironic fetish and sympathy … but wouldn’t that create an Ouroboros ring eventually resulting in Wikipedia viability?

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3/2/2008

ICE CAPADES

It’s hard to appreciate winter’s beauty in the middle of its chilly reality. But as the weather warms, so might we treasure the use of ice as metaphor in books, music, and movies.

 

 

 

DJ Spooky (Paul Miller) lectured at the ICA last month, and unlike some critics in the audience, I was impressed with his presentation. He just came back from several weeks in Antarctica, and displayed gorgeous video and music recorded during the trip.

 

The sound of ice is unmistakable: we can recognize anywhere the sound of cubes cracking in a glass. But echoed in Spooky’s samples it takes an otherworldy quality. Chilly, echoey, conjuring up images of outer space as much as glacial scapes. Every year in Geilo, Norway, musicians make instruments out of ice to celebrate the first full moon:

 

 

 

 

I’ve written before about how much I love the ANS machine, a window-chiseling instrument Coil’s played with, (previously used by the incomparable Edward Artmiev in his Solaris and Stalker soundtracks,) but maybe I miscategorized it as sci-fi sound effects. Listening to those tracks again, they makes me think of ice.

While I was trying to figure out why snow and mirrors make me think of one another, I came across Dan Rozin’s Snow Mirror video art. Perhaps it has to do with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. A devil makes a mirror that distorts things and makes them ugly. He thinks he’ll carry it up to heaven to make fools of God and the angles, but on the way, the devil drops it. It shatters and pierces people, making their hearts blocks of ice.The victims’ eyes are now glazed with the troll’s mirror and they only see the ugliness of their surroundings. I’ve tried in the past to find the etymology of the term “ice princess,” (a mistranslation of “Snow Queen”?) but came up with links to a Disney Michelle Tractenburg movie and Torvill and Dean

Understanding the geometry of snowflakes, Gustavian-like detailing always seems natural on ice, as if Katerina Witt pirouetted over it just that way. In Sweden, the ICEHOTEL is built from scratch every year (via BLDGBLOG.)

 

 

 

 

And here are some incredible Flickr sets. But my dream is to one day visit China’s Harbin Snow and Ice Festival, which at night, becomes an arctic Blade Runner:

 

 

HP Lovecraft “collapsed in the street and was carried unconscious into a drug store” because the temperature dropped from 60 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and so he conveyed his hatred in At the Mountains of Madness.

In fiction, ice is always presented as a front that might melt. It is “coldness,” but usually with some sympathy. The character is hermit-like, because she’s suffering, hibernating, lost in her interior world. Nowhere better is this conveyed than Anna Kavan’s novel “Ice.” The world taken over by its namesake, while two men lust for an aloof and suffering young woman, with blonde hair frequently and memorably is described as “silvery” in the light.

 

 

 

 

Winter is an alien society in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. All the people are androgynous and the world is covered in glaciers and snow. I haven’t read Craig Harrison’s Days of Starlight, but me-fi, on this topic, says I should.

Everything2 has a great write up of Rene Barjavel’s The Ice People (the writer stumbled across it the same way I did.) “La nuit des Temps” (once rumored as a Luc Besson project–oh, i hope so!) It is Romeo and Juliet in the snow.

Ice caves house The Thing and set the stage for Alien vs Predator. Lyra in The Golden Compass, flies over the tundra with a polar bear to see the Northern Lights. “Eisbar,” one of my favorite songs by Grauzone, is about a polar bear, (but the lyrics are ridiculous if you know German, so listen to it full before consulting Babblefish.) C.S. Lewis

Smilla’s Sense of Snow, like The Constant Gardner, is one of those potboiler books/movies with characters richer than they deserve to be. Smila’s a half-Inuit snow researcher, but she’s also got a temper and she’s one of the most awkward and angry females I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

I wonder if The Ice Storm was smart enough with the sound effects to have the keys in a fish bowl mimic icicles breaking off Connecticut McMansions? Rick Moody and Katie Holmes are among my least favorite people, so I’m not going to watch it again to find out.

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feb 08

2/29/2008

DON’T TASE ME, DAHHHLING!

 

 

 

(Vogue Italia, October 2006, via The Age.)

 

Paul Virilio’s next book could be a fashion critique. Violence is chic. Just look at John Galliano’s Abu Ghraib inspired spring collection. Fierce! Hussein Chalayan,(who really is a genius,) ends his evolution-themed show with looks inspired by guns. But of course torture and fashion go together like chocolate and peanut butter – have you ever tried to walk about in skinny jeans and 4 inch heels? Now, this week’s New Yorker TOTT is about Taser “Tupperware parties”:

She arranged three Taser C2s—pink, blue, and silver—on a pine coffee table in Beitman’s living room, along with coördinating leopard-print pouches. The new model, introduced last year, is, at around three hundred dollars, cheaper than the one wielded by cops, and is about the size and weight of an electric razor—the Virginia Slims of stun guns.

 

 

 

 

Adorable! But the tampon-taser is more purse friendly

 

Updated: Revisiting some of the controversy over Steven Meisel’s photos for Vogue Italia, I was reminded of last year’s American’s Next Top Model crime scene shoot, discussed on Ballardian.

The tasteless is not the “dead” posing, but the judges’ complaints that models do or do not look dead enough, (“I agree that this is a fashion shot, but you don’t look dead to me. You look like you’re dying.” “Even though she doesn’t look dead, I think she still came up with a great picture.”)

Also, to prepare the girls for the photos, they were given fictional context: another model stole their organs, or shot them in envy, I believe female-on-female murders are of a quite small percentage, but the suggestion of this inside job seems to highlight the hazing rituals of jealousies and peer pressure the show thrives on. One of the girls had recently learned her friend overdosed that week , but still she was coaxed into doing the photo shoot (was it really a coincidence, Ken Mok?)

It was a minor feminist controversy at the time, but on web and photo sites where fans of the show comment, you find no responses to these images other than banality: (“Wow, great photos! I’d say Felicia is my favorite but they’re all pretty horrible, in a good way.” “the first and fifth are best for me”)

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THE KARMIC CONSEQUENCE OF A WRITER’S MISOGYNY

I’ve been rereading parts of J. G. Ballard’s novels anticipating his just released autobiography. One thing that is often overlooked about his work, but a reason I immediately took to his novels and have never tired of them, is his female characters are just so interesting. They are always cerebral, typically middle-aged, and usually somehow implicit in the disaster scenarios. This is remarkably different from the traditional SFnal heroines who stand aside as an expected reward once the hero is through with solving the plot’s crisis.

Virginia Woolf wrote about a writer’s need to be intellectually “bisexual,” and it seems to be one of the truest critiques of fiction writers. The least inventive writers, most notably Philip Roth, (for that read Christopher Hitchens’ delicious takedown in The Atlantic a few months back,) Jonathan Franzen, and Robert Olen Butler, (who is so sadly typical of nearly every “literary” heterosexual male in this country,) all have deep-seated hostility to women that bubbles to the surface once they sit down to write.

A writer just can’t succeed without an understanding, let alone respect for women. The best example of this is Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter vs. the novel everyone knows he cribbed to write his, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. Ford expects the reader to suspend belief and take it his curmudgeonly “sportswriter” has honestly fallen deeply in love with what is the most irritating female character in history (to call her the fictional equivalency of Kelly Ripa is an insult to Kelly Ripa.) Percy’s playboy narrator, on the other hand, rejects unsubstantial women of that kind and eventually finds himself in the arms of his friend Kate – brainy, headstrong, and slightly eccentric.

Well, one exception that comes to mind is my boyfriend, Philip K Dick, whose bizarre relationships with women are legendary. It would be interesting to compare the female characters in his books prior to meeting Anne (his maliciously domineering third wife,) with what came afterward. Reading the biography “I am Alive, and You Are Dead” a few years ago ( and “The Crap Artist,” after that,) I got the sense the meek “dark haired girls” were just a retaliation to her overt manipulations. It wasn’t so much he desired them, as he wished for some balance.

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2/23/2008

… BUT YOU CAN’T WIRETAP THEM

In Boston last October, Simon Glik, a lawyer, used his cell phone to record what appeared to be an overly aggressive arrest. The cops noticed what he was doing and arrested him for secretly “wiretapping.”‘

Harvey Silverglate, a local criminal defense attorney explains in the Boston Phoenix:

Was he wiretapping, though? In Massachusetts, a “two-party consent” state since the 1960s, if one participant in a conversation wants to record it, he or she needs to notify the other. Courts have interpreted this state’s law to prohibit secretly recording not only one’s own phone conversation, but even a face-to-face encounter. (Other states, like New York, are “one-party consent” jurisdictions, where only the taper, or a third party to whom the taper has given permission, needs to know the conversation is being recorded.)

Glik, a 31-year-old lawyer, suspected that the cops who arrested him wanted more to protect themselves from a possible misconduct complaint than to enforce the state’s privacy laws. After all, he wasn’t the first to be arrested for recording on-duty officers. And as long as the law stays on the books, he’s unlikely to be the last busted for performing a civic duty.

Five years ago, Jeffrey Manzelli, known on local radio as Freeman Z, was convicted of illegally wiretapping an MBTA cop at an open-air anti-war rally. Both cases are due to the state’s 2001 Commonwealth v. Hyde ruling. Michael Hyde secretly recorded the police who pulled him over with erroneous suspicion he had drugs in his car. Hyde tried to use the tape as evidence of police misconduct, instead it was used against him. Silvergate quotes Massachusetts’s highest court statement that wiretap law was “intended . . . to prohibit all secret recordings by members of the public, including recordings of police officers or other public officials interacting with members of the public, when made without their permission or knowledge.”

Now that many cellphone have audio and video recording, (as well as cameras that can be muted to eliminate a shutter sound,) the idea of using a “tape recorder in plain sight,” as the Hyde case recommended, seems absurd. Just holding a cell phone in your hand should be enough indication your actions are being recorded.

A few weeks ago, Justice Mark Summerville dismissed the charges against Glik.

Summerville found that the wiretap law, 272 M.G.L. § 99, requires an element of secrecy, but Glik’s recording “was not a secret recording and, therefore, not the type of conduct that the legislature sought to prevent with the wiretap statute,” op. at *3. Similarly, Summerville rejected the Commonwealth’s charge for disturbing the peace because it wasn’t enough that Glik’s videotaping of the arrest “distracted” the officers, because even if “the officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest … their discomfort does not make a lawful exercise of a First Amendment right a crime,” id. In Massachusetts photography (apparently now including videography with accompanying audio) is protected speech, so the complaint against Glik had to go.

But, as Silvergate notes, this outcome is unlikely to stop police from arresting citizen “wiretaping” in the future:

The explicit statement in Hyde, that the law prohibits only secret recordings, creates a perverse incentive for cops to exaggerate or lie about whether a citizen was surreptitiously recording them in order to obtain a conviction in future cases. The small size of cell-phone cameras makes it easy for a cop to claim that at least part of the recording was done before the police noticed. And if it comes down to an officer’s word against the citizen’s, who do you think wins?

Citizens who want to document police misconduct need more protection than the statute, the Hyde opinion, and Summerville’s Glik ruling provide. As long as state law prohibits secret recordings of police activity, there can be little effective deterrent to police abuse. Without evidence, citizens cannot credibly pursue complaints. Under Massachusetts’s Hyde standard, as Chief Justice Margaret Marshall pointed out in her vigorous dissent in that case, the Rodney King video taper (or a reporter in the same position) would have committed a crime by recording that infamous example of police brutality on a Los Angeles street.

Here is a website that gives a great deal more information on these cases. And here is another recent incident, involving, of all things, a “nanny cam”

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2/21/2008

Q AND BLOG

With the blog boom went the message boards —at least the lively, intellectual ones I remember in my early days of web crawling. One of the drawbacks of these perpetual soliloquy creating machines, is there is no good place to ask a question. Social aggregation like Yahoo! Answers breeds rumors, misinformation, and speculation. Twitter only works if you can phrase your question in less than 140 characters, (and your social network is vast and/or your friends are supersmart.)

The assumption is that if you want to know something, you can find it out yourself. But with the glut of blogs and miscellaneous content on the web, it can be difficult to find specific answers to things. Paul Boutin even ran into this problem beta-testing the website that is supposed to rid us of unspecific data–Persai:

I want to read stories that deal with Britney Spears’ mental illness but don’t want to read anything about her custody battle. While I can figure out which Britney pieces will appeal to me by scanning headlines, Persai isn’t sophisticated enough yet to tell the difference—even if a piece touches on her mental health for one sentence, Persai will grab it for me.

 

Well, I’ve got a question that can’t be figured out with a simple google phrase. And I don’t want to dig through a million articles to find the answer. I want to know: How do political polls really work? And what is the participant’s incentive to answer correctly?

Digging around a little, I found that Kerry polled better than actual turnout in the 2004 election, possibly because his voters were more willing to participate in polls than Bush voters. And I learned Canadian polling groups use sweepstakes offers to encourage participate.

But I’d like to see an article that addresses hesitation from the perspective that voting is valued in this country as a private act. Also, I want to learn about the incentives – Monetary? Civic Pride? I don’t care enough to research and write it myself. But I am curious, and I wish there were an appropriate forum to pose that question.

I suppose this entire post is a question. Readers (all five of you,) how do you ask the web a question? Has the internet killed questioning? Also… can you hook me up as a Persai beta-tester?

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2/19/2008

POVERTY AND NEUROLOGY

An especially thought-provoking seminar I attended at the AAAS Conference over the weekend was on the topic of poverty and brain development; specifically that childhood poverty is associated with lower cognitive ability. Language and memory are most immediately affected. It’s certainly a controversial claim, but one that is badly in need of investigation. Should we really assume the American dream always holds true, if we observe that economically-related situations, not the least of which is lack of nutrition, impede the intellectual development of children?

Proximal causes are numerous, (high stress in household, poor healthcare, sparse access to toys and intellectually stimulating conversation) and results are uneven. Noting that the neuroplasticity or brain’s adaptability is highest in early childhood (most at the seminar were discussing the period of six months to three years) researchers are calling for intervention at this stage in a child’s life.

I didn’t take notes as I didn’t intend to report on the story, so I can’t really improve on these points in this Financial Times article:

Stress hormone levels tend to be higher in young children from poor families than in children growing up in middle-class and wealthy families, said Prof Shonkoff. Excessive levels of these hormones disrupt the formation of synaptic connections between cells in the developing brain – and even affect its blood supply. “They literally disrupt the brain architecture,” he said.

The findings explain why relatively unfocused programmes to prepare poor children for school, such as Head Start in the US, have produced only modest results, the scientists said.

More focused interventions could give more substantial benefits, said Courtney Stevens of the University of Oregon. She gave the preliminary results of an eight-week programme aimed at poor parents of pre-school children in Oregon.

Parents attended weekly coaching sessions to improve their family communications skills and show them how to control their children’s bad behaviour. At the end of the programme, participating parents reported big reductions in family stress compared with a control group that did not take part. Brain scans of the children suggested neural improvements, too.

“Our findings are important because they suggest that kids who are at high risk for school failure can be helped through these interventions,” said Dr Stevens. “Even with these small numbers of children, the parent training appears very promising.”

Paul Krugman has already weighed in on the FT article about the seminar, suggesting (of course) some policy intervention I don’t agree with. I do agree that it is annoying to see Horatio Alger so frequently used as relevant example of upward mobility, like the story today about the college student who lived on the streets for 8 months to see if he could make it without the trappings of his education and privilege.

In related news, Scientific American’s Mind Matters blog discusses how high levels of poverty-related stress affect the brain.

For more on the annual wonderment that is AAAS, check IO9 or Wired Science (or Google News.)

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2/18/2008

WORDLESS MUSIC

It’s quite difficult to work effectively at the computer while catchy music is playing. That’s why so many instrumental bands like Explosions in the Sky, M83, Stars of the Lid, and Sigur Ros are hugely popular among young people— let alone the largely singer-free electronic genre. When it comes to music, repetition and familiarity lead to love. A Radio Lab episode explains how the brain relaxes when we hear unusual notes played a second time, using the example of Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring. Even passively listening to several songs while working, you build up an emotional bond.

I often see instrumental music performed live and while most bands have a video display to appease our attention spans; the opportunity to appreciate the music distilled from my Excel or Word documents, is always very special.

I’ve wondered if the trend toward vocal-free indie music is leading young people toward the classics. New York’s Wordless Music Series seems to suggest this is the natural progression. The concerts link up Pitchfork-approved instrumental acts like Do Make Say Think and Mum with classical musicians, and while I’ve yet to see a show, my friends are raving about them.

If there’s one person that seems most likely to bridge the divide, it’s 26 year old composer Nico Muhly, who is featured in a several-page article in this week’s New Yorker. His work space is described as “one screen displayed two pages of a score, and the other showed his e-mail inbox and several open instant-message chats with friends. (Muhly does not require silence or seclusion while working and, in addition to conducting multiple online conversations while composing, often has several online games of Scrabble under way.)”

By the time Muhly reached the reception that was being held in a basement concert room, he was already thinking about his next project: a collaboration with a singer from the Faroe Islands named Teitur Lassen, to be performed by the Holland Baroque Society in three Dutch cities in March. Lassen had come to London to hear the concerto, and he and Muhly huddled in a corner laying plans for their new piece, which was to consist of music composed to accompany a series of YouTube videos that had been chosen expressly for their mundanity.

“There’s a way to search for interesting things on YouTube, and then there’s a way to search for uninteresting things,” Muhly said. “You put in search terms like ‘My daughter’s yard,’ ‘My friend’s restaurant.’ ” The music was to be modelled on cantatas by Bach and anthems by Purcell, he explained. It was going to be great.

The New Yorker also has posted selections of his music.

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2/17/2008

THE FIFTH FLAVOR FRUIT

You know how a goldfish will eat itself to death if you keep feeding him flakes? That’s sort of how I feel about Trader Joe’s freeze dried Rambutan. There isn’t a TJ near me, so every chance I get, I load up an entire shopping bag with it (which doesn’t really help, as I’ll be done with them in a week.)

 

Although the crispy texture makes me pleasantly nostalgic of the “ppace food” I’d get at the Museum of Science as a kid, I’m aching to try the real thing. I’ve actually thought about going to Thailand just for that purpose (well, I’ve wanted to go to Southeast Asia for quite some time but this is just another incentive.) What is it? Why is it so good? Rambutan is umami-like sweet and savory mix.

Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist explains how a French chef discovered that fifth flavor with veal stock – not salty, sour, sweet nor bitter; but somewhere in between. Meanwhile, Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist was trying to figure why his seaweed soup tasted so good and so different. He called it “Umami.” It turns out umami foods (like veal stock) are high in l-glutamate. One hundred years after the discovery of the flavor, scientist found taste-receptors in the tounge sensitive to that amino acid. I’m guessing Rambutan isn’t fermented, nevertheless it certainly has that kind of taste in its freeze-dried state.

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2/16/2008

SAYING YES

“Steven Pinker, extolling the virtues of human language, observes that information is the sole commodity that a person can give away and keep at the same time. I would add that sexual pleasure is also something that a person can confer on another and personally enjoy simultaneously. The linkage between sex and language can further be divined by noting that the English language tacitly acknowledges that sex was the primary force behind the evolution of speech. I doubt that it is mere coincidence that the word ‘intercourse’ has two common meanings, only one of which refers to speech.” – Daniel Dennett

One of Iris’s favorite words is “yes,” noting ,”Around the world, “yes” or its equivalent frequently tops surveys as the most beautiful word in a given language; for you, too, is it the only word that you really want to hear?”

But how often do we hear it? Most positive responses are yep, OK, sure, will do, etc etc. What else could a film called “Yes” be about other than bodice ripping? The scarcity of “yes” in daily discussions must have something to do with its frequency in bedroom utterances.

When John Lennon first met Yoko Ono, he walked up a latter to read a single tiny word with the aid of a magnifying glass: “Yes.” Then there is Molly’s soliloquy in Ulysses closing the book famously with the words “..yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Interestingly, the Irish language has neither “yes” nor “no” (A fact that surely didn’t escape James Joyce when he wrote that.)

Per Wikipedia, “In it to indicate a positive or negate response to a question, the verb of the question is repeated in either the positive or negative form. For example (verb underlined)”

“An bhfaca tú an timpiste?” (“Did you see the accident?”)
“Chonaic.” (“Saw.”)

or

“Ní fhaca.” (“Did not see.”)

The terms Sea (“is so”) and Ní hea (“is not so”) mean “yes” and “no”, but can only be used in response to the question An ea? (“is it so?”).

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LINKS UNSORTED

 

  • We make money not art reviews a book on Spanish artists (ESC – Enter Spanish Creativity, edited by CLA-SE.) Un mundo feliz’s design for the 5th anniversary of Guantanamo is pictured above.
  • Much has been said about the surveillance bill granting telecoms immunity but the EFF blog points out a potential worse result of it: “This amounts to asking Congress to forgive unknown unknowns — crimes that haven’t even been revealed yet”
  • 18 men in Nigeria are locked up, awaiting trial for dressing up as women. They were originally accused of sodomy (which could have resulted in the death penalty,) but Sharia law charges have been reduced to indecent dressing and vagrancy. Human Rights Watch is calling for the court to recognize free association. This BBC article explains how Northern and Southern attitudes are in sharp contrast.
  • Reason’s Jesse Walker interviews Sam Gregory from Witness, a nonprofit that distributes video equipment to third world countries, to document human rights abuses.

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2/15/2008

THE SHMIBERSHARIAN CHOICE

Jesse Walker at Reason has weighed in on libertarians for Obama, and Jerry Brito has a really interesting point:

In their wisdom, the Founding Fathers made the President both the head of government and the head of state. In many other countries the head of state is a monarch or an elected president, while the head of government being the prime minister or some other functionary. The head of state has little power and is the living embodiment of the nation. The King of Spain or the President of Germany, for example.
This is salutary separation of roles that I wish we had. In England, for example, the Queen is owed respect, while the prime minister is just a public servant who is always accountable to the people…
For almost 16 years the head of state in this country has been an embarrassment, and there hasn’t been a decent one in at least 20. I think one reason why some of us who are ideologically opposed to Barak Obama are nevertheless drawn to him is because we’d like to see him in the role of head of state.

Yep that’s it. In other words, while I love Sen Obama, I’m not “in” love with him.

In other campaign news. Forget a Wisconsin debate, how about a Science Debate?

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2/14/2008

FLICKR LUV

 

It’s the best place on the web to spotlight creativity and skillz. And it seems to be the best place to browse if you want to meet a someone (hot) with creativity and skills. There are about 70 members of the group We Met on Flickr, but many, many others have found a mutual love of photography can lead to so much more. But how do you go about making the first comment? Is it inappropriate to add a photo to one’s “Favorites” more than once? Wired posted a Flickr crush how-to-wiki starting with this encouraging anecdote:

While traveling in Japan in 2004, a Scottish Flickr user with the handle “matt” snapped a photo of a girl with a camera. He uploaded it to Flickr with the title, “Mystery Girl in Harajuku.”
A few weeks later, a friend of the mystery girl clicked on a link to photos tagged with “Harajuku” and stumbled upon the photo and also a picture of Matt. Though Mystery Girl’s back is turned in the picture, the friend recognized her shoulder tattoo. He sent her the link to that photo and to Matt’s pic.
The mystery girl was in fact CherryVega, another Flickr user living in England. Cherry posted a comment underneath Matt’s fateful photo with a link to the picture she was taking at the time. Three months later, Matt was on his way to London to meet Cherry in person. They fell in love, and the rest is Flickr history

Here is the picture that started the correspondence.

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2/12/2008

LA CHINA POBLANA

“In Mexico … there is no art: things are made for use. And the world is in perpetual exaltation” – Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double

 

A few months ago, I was searching eBay for vintage clothing when I came across the most beautiful embroidered Mexican blouse. I watched as the price which started at a little high, but i like it rose to ok, i’ll pay that much cause i love it and then totally out of my budget. But the final sale was unbelievable– several more bidders came in with competing snipes and the winner paid $1,247.00 Naturally, that was totally out of the question for me. But since then, I’ve been looking at La China Poblana pieces and I’m really amazed at the artistry and handiwork.

As it turns out, this style of dress is the Mexican fantasy of China, originating with one particularly Indian slave named Mirra:

The oriental slave wore strange clothes, comprised of a richly embroidered shirt, colorful petticoat, a pair of silk sandals and long braids. It was the first time that a woman with oriental features and this type of clothing was seen in the port of Acapulco, so the curiosity of the attendees of the festival held because of the arrival of the Nao de Manila was deeply aroused. People wondered how that “China”(Chinese) had got there, so they immediately named her so, not taking into account her true Indian origin.

Her owners in Puebla baptized the newly arrived in the church of the Santo Angel de Analco under the name of Catarina de San Juan. She received a catholic education and was seen more as a member of the Sosa family than as a servant.

She married a slave of Chinese origin, Domingo Suarez, with whom she refused to have a marital life. While living with her adoptive parents, she continued to wear her strange clothing, which she mingled with the typical indigenous clothes, creating the now traditional China Poblana dress. She was then admitted in the Santa Catalina convent. There she gained the reputation of saint.

Whether the story is true or not the dress is an interesting confluence of Chinese sequins and beads; Spanish-style skirt; and an indigenous style of Mexican embroidery on the blouse. In later years blouses, like the top above, would be paired with equally detailed skirts:

 

There is even a proper way to do your hair in La China Poblana – two braids in white, green, and red ribbons. The item I was bidding on was estimated c. 1930-40s, which means the essence of the look continued for three to four hundred years.

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jan 08

1/28/2008

LITERATURE THAT PAINTS A PICTURE

In the new issue of Modern Painters, Brian Dillon writes about the authors that are popular among artists. Naturally Beckett and Borges are named, but Ballard, Houellebecq, Calvino, Perac, Huysmans, Alasdair Grey, Robbes-Grille, W.G. Sebald, and “the Melville that wroteBartleby, the Scrivener” are quickly gaining recognition in art circles.

I wrote about Pompidou Centre Beckett exhibit last spring and noted how Ballard seems to inspire artists moreso than other writers. Dillion seems to argue that artists are using their literary influences like objects, less for their words than their ideas and concepts. “The reception of literature in the art world is partly a matter of adjectives: today any work that raises the topic of technology and catastrophe, for example, is automatically Ballardian.” But I’d argue that list includes a good part of the best writers of the last century.

Sebald, who Dillon says, “may in the coming decade have the same fate that Beckett had in the previous,” is equally respected among literary types, and every novel these days seems to owe something to Calvino, but the other authors he lists are unlikely to be found on your average creative writing student’s bookshelf.

Literary types chose their science-fiction gingerly (e.g. Modern Library’s P.K. Dick retrospective,) or else with a detached kitsch factor. The same goes for experimental works. If I were to quiz an artist and a contemporary author about the Dalkey Archive’s library, my money would be on it that the artist knows more titles.

Dillon points out that Lanark is on the self of nearly every Scottish artist. Is it on the shelf of nearly every Scottish author? I doubt it.

Ballard is not just popular among architects and artists, he is also hugely influential among musicians, from Ian Curtis to Madonna (2001’s “Drowned World” tour.) But, at least in this country, he’s considered more Boing Boing than Book World. This puzzles and disappoints me.

Clive Thompson’s new column, articulates this point far better than I could:

If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

 

From where I sit, traditional “literary fiction” has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting — well — bored.

Why? I think it’s because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I’d read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, “OK. Cool. I see how today’s world works.” I also started to feel like I’d been reading the same book over and over again.

Speculative fiction authors loved by the art community are too many to count. In several years, Flann O’Brien, Max Frisch, Ann Quinn, Boris Vian, Ingborg Bachmann, Unica Zurn, and Anna Kavan might grow to influence many artists … if not, unfortunately, other writers.

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1/3/2008

ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL’S LOVELINE

 

I meant to post a few things this week, but then I got distracted by Gawker Media’s insanely fun new future-minded blog, IO9. Very much liked the post on Alexander Graham Bell’s great love

One of the little-known facts about the years leading up to Bell’s controversial patent is how distracted he was by an overwhelming crush on one of his female students, Mabel Hubbard.

Gardiner Hubbard, her telegraph magnate father, had hired the young inventor to teach his deaf daughter Mabel how to speak. Bell was known at the time for pioneering a new method for teaching the deaf to enunciate. In fact, it was Bell’s early interest in teaching speech that led him into the telephone field.

Bell became so distracted by his love for Mabel that he could barely work. Finally, he told Mabel’s parents he would confess his love to their daughter no matter what they had to say about it. This was pretty bold, especially for the era – and considering that Hubbard was also funding Bell’s work on the telephone. Mabel, for her part, was independent-minded, and took Bell’s ardor in stride. She suggested they get to know each other better before making any decisions. After their marriage, both agitated for female suffrage.

The weirdest part of all this was that Papa Hubbard may have inadvertently inspired the lusty Bell to cheat on his patent applications. He threatened Bell that he would refuse to let him marry his daughter unless he applied himself to inventing the telephone.

One commenter adds, “I remember reading that when Bell was courting Mabel, and they were walking along the street in the evening, family and friends noticed how they would hurry through the dark stretches – then slow down near the streetlights, because that was where she could read his lips. I always found that pretty romantic.”

Says another comment, ” I read somewhere (it may or may not be true) that they were both willing to discuss at length how the telephone might eventually be be used to initiate contact with the dead.”

So, yeah, IO9 isn’t just awesome, the people that read it and comment on it are great too. And for a good time, click their “space porn” tag.

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THIS HOT HOUSE IS NOT A HOME

Clive Thompson, whose Wired column is always the first thing I flip to in the magazine, explains “solastalgia,” a term coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe the “homesickness one gets when one is still at home.’” And what explains the rising number of solastagics in Oz? Global warming, of course. As a country (/continent) deeply in touch with nature, Australians feel deeply pained as they watch their landscape change. Plants that always grew in their gardens, no longer grow. The coral reef is dying, and familiar birds never come back. People feel displaced although they never left home. “They no longer feel like they know the place they’ve lived for decades,” Albrecht says.

Thompson’s observation is succinct and insightful:

It’s also a fascinating new way to think about the impact of global warming. Everyone’s worrying about resource management and the spooky, unpredictable changes in the ecosystem. We fret over which areas will get flooded as sea levels rise. We estimate the odds of wars over clean water, and we tally up the species — polar bears, whales, wading birds — that’ll go extinct.
But we should also be concerned about the huge toll climate change will inflict on our mental health. In the modern, industrialized West, many of us have forgotten how deeply we rely on the stability of nature for our psychic well-being. In a world of cheap airfares, laptops, and the Internet, we proudly regard mobility as a sign of how advanced we are. Hey, we’re nomadic hipster capitalists! We love change. Only losers get attached to their hometowns.
This is a neat mythos, but in truth it’s a pretty natural human urge to identify with a place and build one’s sense of self around its comforts and permanence. I live in Manhattan, where the globe-hopping denizens tend to go berserk if their favorite coffee shop closes down. How will they react in 20 or 30 years if the native trees can’t handle the 5-degree spike in average temperature? Or if weird new bugs infest the city in summer, fall shrinks to a single month, and snow becomes a distant memory? “We like to think that we’re cool, 21st-century people, but the basic sense of a connection to the land is still big,” Albrecht says. “We haven’t evolved that much.

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dec 07

12/7/2007

TAKE DOWN NICOLE CATSOURAS’ PHOTOS

Tomorrow night 20/20 is airing a story about web harassment implausibly more vile than what Megan Meir experienced:

Not long after their 18-year-old daughter died in a car accident, Christos and Lesli Catsouras were forced to relive their grief.

They soon began receiving anonymous e-mails and text messages that contained photographs of the accident, including pictures of Nicole Catsouras’ decapitated body, still strapped to the crumpled remains of her father’s Porsche. A fake MySpace page was created, which at first looked like a tribute to Catsouras but also led to the horrific photos.

“What type of individual would do that?” asked Christos….

The images became so persistent that Lesli Catsouras stopped checking her e-mail. Nikki’s three younger sisters were forbidden to use the Internet, and 16-year-old Danielle was taken out of school to be home schooled out of fear that her peers might confront her with the pictures.

They are currently suing the California Highway Patrol for releasing the photos. As their attorney explains, ” “One of the officers e-mails some of the photographs to a dispatcher and then the dispatcher e-mails them outside the Police Department. And then from there, you know, it, it created a life of its own and created momentum and it just, it just exploded.”

 

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12/4/2007

THE SOUND OF OZ

Tonight is the third, and final part of the SciFi Network’s enjoyable miniseries, Tin Man. It is The Wizard of Oz revamped, and tipping its hat to Perdido Street Station. Director Nick Willing seems deathly afraid of coming off as cute, and as a result a whimsical sense of humor is missing. Still, Zooey Deschanel has that perfect balance of jaded and adorable. At twenty-seven she might seem like an over the hill Dorothy Gale [“DG,”] but really, how many mid-twentysomethings really know their own backyard?

 

But TIn Man is only using Baum’s chess pieces. The game is entirely its own. I’m really surprised at how far they run from the familiar storyline, and would put money on it that DG won’t be clicking her heels back home at the end.

In terms of entertainment, you can never go wrong drawing from either L. Frank Baum or Lewis Carroll’s influence. I love all of them from The Wiz to Tideland. One of my favorite films in childhood, one I badly need to see again, is Return to Oz. Although I haven’t seen it in ten years, the sound of wheelers – the men with wheels for hands –screeches loudly in my memory, as well as their cackling maniacal laughter.

 

Eeeeeek!!!!!

I’ll never forget that sound! That is why I wasn’t surprised to learn that Return to Oz the only film that legendary sound mixer/editor Walter Murch ever directed.

 

BLDGBLOG interviewed Murch several months ago:

BLDGBLOG: [Brian] Eno once said that he would make field recordings in different parks around London, then listen to the tapes until he’d memorized them – the way you would memorize a Beatles song. So he would know exactly when the church bell rang, and the mother called out to her child, and the birds flew overhead – or a distant truck rumbled by. He memorized the space according to the sounds that occurred within it.

Murch: There’s a wonderful essay by Michelangelo Antonioni, notes for a film that he was going to make in New York. To familiarize himself with the acoustic space of Manhattan (where he had never made a film) he sat in a room 34 stories up in a hotel somewhere on Fifth Avenue, writing down exactly what he heard over a period of three hours from dawn through rush hour. He came up with the most wonderful metaphors for sounds that were mysterious and unfamiliar to him, but which would be run-of-the-mill to a New Yorker. It’s a great read: a kind of meditative poetry, or song, just like Brian Eno said. It can evoke a whole series of emotional responses if you’re sensitive to that kind of stuff.

BLDGBLOG: Speaking of which, is there a specific place, like Leicester Square or some forest near San Francisco, where you thought to yourself: I could do this better – I could make this place sound better?

Murch: [laughs] Back in the late 60s we used to think of hiding a series of playback devices around a house to improve the sounds of the doors closing, the toilets flushing, and so on. Creating a real-life alternate acoustic universe.

Certainly the dominant thing that’s happened over the last hundred years is the universal spreading of white noise – just the general mush of traffic, air-conditioning, and jet planes. Whereas if you were in Leicester Square a hundred years ago, it might have been just as noisy – but the sounds would be more specific, less mushy and ill-defined because of the lack of the internal combustion engine and the constant whir of rubber tires on asphalt. For a number of years Aggie and I lived very near a freeway, on a Sausalito houseboat, and that constant mushy sound eventually became a kind of water-torture for me.

So I don’t have a specific answer for your question – but, generally, it would be to try to find some way to eliminate the white noise and to make people more sensitive to the individual sources of sound and reverberations within the space. Church bells can do that: they attract the ear with their tonality and reverberation, making you aware of the space between you and the church, and making you less aware of the underlying white noise.

I was thinking about that interview the other day, as I attended the COLLISIONtwelve art opening at the Stata Center on Friday night. One of the exhibits, “The Sound of Touch,” was an instrument that recorded sounds and played them back, when one took a wand to a board covered with different sorts of textures and fabrics. A sample of a simple piano note seems ethereal and spooky when the wand is dipped in an assortment of small pebbles, or harsh and stuttering against sandpaper. The creative statement explains, an “acoustic instrument’s resonance is typically determined by the materials from which it is built. With the Sound of Touch, resonant materials can be chosen during the performance itself, allowing performers to shape the acoustics of digital sounds by leveraging their intuitions for the acoustics of physical objects.”

 

But back to Return to Oz. That film was also a cohesive dystopia, a rare and especially disturbing concept for children. I have a lot of friends that had childhood nightmares because of that film. Its vision was much bleaker than the hazy sense of paranoia in Tin Man. You know, I think I might just add it to the top of my Netflix queue.

More YouTube clips likely to keep you up late tonight:

Mombi’s gallery of heads

 

The stone people (at 1:10)

Flying out of there

And beautiful Ozma

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12/3/2007

POOR BABY

A few weeks ago I came across a Gucci baby carrier selling on Craig’s List for $350. I thought it had to be a fake, as it’s so unneccessary, tacky, and ugly. But as it turns out, Gucci has a number of items just for children including monogramed baby shoes and a polyester teddy bear that inexplicably costs $155. Look even Gwen Stefani needs to brand her baby:

 

 

Fall River street artist Rene Gagnon tags trash with the Louis Vuitton monogram:

 

Sadly, the comments on Purseblog suggest people would line up for those old mattresses if they were authentic. Most people agree the baby carrier is adorable but could be “uncomfortable” and is impractical only because “it can’t be used after about 4 months.” Never mind that your baby doesn’t need a stamp of luxury

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THE STATA’S FALLING

As it turns out, the Lewis Carroll- smashed-accordian-fantasy that is MIT’s Stata Center, is as as much of a disaster as it looks. MIT is suing Frank Gehry and his construction company Skanska USA Building Inc for faulty construction resulting in leaks to spring, masonry to crack, mold to grow, drainage to back up, and falling ice and debris to block emergency exits.

 

The best comment I’ve read on this comes from the blog, Why Architects Drink:

those swooping curves and angles make it really hard to flash and seal things up the same way you do in a building made of lots of clean and/or simple angles or fewer curves. Hence, I’m not surprised at all that the building is having leakage and slab cracking problems. In the NY Times article, Gehry states that MIT is “after [his] insurance money.” Okay, fine. I heard somewhere (from a very reliable but confidential source) that the contractor of the Denver Art Museum addition took out an insurance policy on leaks, which it did indeed have to file claims on less than a year after it opened. Having worked on much less complicated buildings than either the DAM addition or the Stata, I find the idea rather intelligent and as demonstrating foresight. Sounds like Mr. Gehry should have done the same, if he hadn’t already. But let’s step back to the design process itself: if Franky-baby is going to be willing to design such weirdness, he’s going to have to doubly stand behind it and vouch for the quality of said design. By quality of design, I mean a wide range of things, including how well it satisfies the program, how physically comfortable the space is, how easy it is to heat/cool, and how well it keeps out the elements.

However….

I have to go up to the board of MIT and the Stata Center, grasp them firmly by the shoulders, and then shake the living crap out of them. And as I shook them, I would ask in a loud voice, “Have you not seen the kind of Pink-Floyd-and-Demerol-nightmare shit that Gehry designs?!?!?!” Because, frankly, if Gehry didn’t take leak/fuck-up insurance out, then MIT shoulda. I mean, did they seriously not know what they were getting? And frankly, if ANY of them have ever built a building, they would know that there are ALWAYS a few problems.

Recently, JG Ballard wrote in the Guardian about how much detests the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It “throws up a fountain of light and good cheer that promises all the fun of a travelling circus – erecting its tent beside a disused railway yard in a run-down industrial city…Stay outside it, at a distance of about one hundred yards, and you will absorb all its audacity, magic, good humour and genius. And its infantilising charm. This is Disneyland for the media studies PhD.”

But the Stata Center, for all its weirdness, really fits into the Kendall Square landscape – a post-industrial park urban nightmare that could be the setting for a number of Ballard’ novels. The neighborhood is ridgid and cold, but not without some similarly innovative neighboring buildings like I. M. Pei’s Wiesner Building. Gehry calls it his “party of drunken robots,”. The playful spirit that was there at conception has carried on with the kind of activities the building houses.

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Libertarians for Obama

2/4/2008

LIBERTARIANS FOR OBAMA

Personality does predict performance. We all knew GWB was insecure, not too bright, and even a little timid. He, in turn, appointed a cabinet of people who have bullied him about and minimized his sense of authority. I’ve long followed Barack Obama’s campaign, but it was his “there will be no yes men” comment, (repeated at the last debate,) that sealed it for me. “I want somebody who can be an outstanding president, should something happen to me. I want somebody who’s got integrity and I want somebody who has independence. I want somebody who will tell me when they disagree with me… I don’t like having a lot of ‘yes’ people around me who are just telling me what I want to hear all the time. That’s part of what happened with George Bush. He surrounded himself with people who were of the same mind. As a consequence, once he started making mistakes on things like Iraq, they just kept on saying it was going OK, when it wasn’t.

I immediately imagined a fantasy baseball-style cabinet – Richard Clarke, Samantha Power, etc etc – and then paused and realized, oh my god, I’m Obama-fangirl.

Obama’s promise of integrity shouldn’t disuade the hard “NT”s on the myers-briggs spectrum. We know that absence of corruption, more than anything else, accounts for the freedom of a nation. Why shouldn’t we elect the least evil candidate?

I wonder if Ron Paul were not in the race (not that I’m wishing he weren’t–quite the opposite) whether the support we showed Howard Dean in 2003 would have naturally flowed to Obama. There are a number of ways we could frame it, public choice, anti-war, and pro-term limits … and remember, this a man that taught constitutional law at University Chicago – free market HQ. He’s at least familiar, if not in agreement, with classically liberal arguments.

Secondly his stump speeches about never compromising, but convincing others to go along with his beliefs, are remarkable both in how obvious that value is, and yet how absent it is in current politics. It’s a value libertarians especially should take to heart, as most of our recommended policies simply can’t be compromised. Obama aims not to talk over our head, but to include everyone. So what if we don’t agree with what he says? At least we will be listening.

Maybe it’s extremely naive of me to believe this, but I honestly feel the election of Obama could pave the way for a libertarian Obama in our near future. No, not a black libertarian, but a libertarian that unites the country and speaks right to the heart of the dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisles, and off the spectrum. Ron Paul isn’t that candidate, (again, not that there’s anything wrong with him.)

Obama comes at a moment when race relations seemed irreparably stratified, offering an undeniably powerful history, “If I am the face of American foreign policy and American power,” he said. “I think that if you can tell people, ‘We have a president in the White House who still has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and has a sister who’s half-Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian,’ then they’re going to think that he may have a better sense of what’s going on in our lives and in our country. And they’d be right.”

More than anything, I respect him for standing up to the Iraq war. I’ve never been quite so disgusted with our government than back in 2002-2003, as plans for the war went underway. Many democrats I know seem to discount this fact in their decision, as Sen Clinton was actually in office, and just cowtowed to her constituents. Someone’s ability to pressured into a decision of that magnitude is disturbing enough, but secondly, Obama spoke out as he was running for senate – if anyone else, a tougher image would have helped him.

The difference between the two candidates in the Democratic race is clear:

So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe. – – Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, October 2002 at the Federal Plaza in Chicago.

VS

And perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation. I want this President, or any future President, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war. Secondly, I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the President’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. And thirdly, I want the men and women in our Armed Forces to know that if they should be called upon to act against Iraq, our country will stand resolutely behind them. – Floor Speech of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on S.J. Res. 45, A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq

It is important to be right on day one.

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nov 07

CYBER SHAME

Right now in my queue are yet unfinished posts on Ian Curtis and Iris Chang, which is why I’ve held off on writing anything on Megan Meier. But Kim Zetter’s Wired News article is pretty much the best thing I’ve read on the subject. It was, after all, a housewife/blogger that uncovered Lori Drew’s name in the first place, and while most of us would agree there’s something, for lack of a better word, majorly fucked up about a grown woman who cyberbullies a girl to death and takes a grieving father to court over a trashed foosball table, there’s something equally fucked about the web reaction, an unhealthy blend of aggression and sanctimony:

Experts say the firestorm that followed illustrates what happens when the social imperative to punish those in a community who violate social norms plays out over the internet. The impulse is human nature, say experts, and few can imagine an offense more egregious than a trusted adult preying on the emotions of a vulnerable child. Shunning wrongdoers, especially in the absence of legal redress, helps maintain order and preserve a community’s moral sense of right – think church excommunications and the Amish tradition of Meidung.

But the drive for social shaming – to right a wrong and restore social balance – can run amok and create paradoxical consequences, especially on the internet where people instigate mobs in ways they wouldn’t do offline.

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11/7/2007

RAINBOW STORIES IN THE TENDERLOIN

(This week I’m going to post a bunch of things that have been sitting in the queue waiting for several edits. here’s something from May🙂

On the flight to Paris, I read William T. Vollmann’s Rainbow Stories cover-to-cover. He sets up the interlinked story collection – each inspired by, in the least pretentious and gimmick-driven way possible – the colors of the rainbow. “The Visible Spectrum,” the introduction, is one of the weirdest, most glorious stories I’ve ever read. It details a downtown hospital waiting room with junkies and homeless persons following multiple colored lines on the floor to their various destinies: methadone, surgeries, or inevitable death.

The radiology man said that sometimes people came in with ruined faces. black mush or green mush or blue mush where their eyes used to be. He said that sometimes people paid no attention to instructions and followed the green line instead of the orange lines, the blue lines instead of the red line. Then the hospital could no longer be responsible. When this occurred, terrible mistakes were committed. People had their kidneys cut out when all they needed was an ankle-cast. People lost their arms and legs beneath the bone-saws for no reason. – He was joking, of course. In my opinion, he was an extremely funny fellow. Mistakes were no usually so serious.

Vollmann’s style is pastiche of pure fantasy and journalism. I’m really anxious to read his nonfiction now. Parts about neo-Nazis were the most surprising to me. It’s difficult to believe that only twenty-five years ago white supremacists were integrated with the subculture of punk rockers and artists. It’s just unimaginable today, (but that might be a footnote to Sasha Frere-Jones’ recent article.)

An Amazon reviewer writes:

“American fiction?” Not quite, I was there. In 1984 my girlfriend and I set of from VA to San Francisco CA looking for adventure. What we found was a world of decadence, violence, deviation, drugs and death that I feel lucky to have escaped alive from. William interviewed several of my roommates from my Tenderloin apt on Ellis Ave. Dickie Disgusting (AKA Frank Hutton) was an “Open High” school fiend of mine from “back east” that we hooked up with. He had gone out there to help start the notorious “SF Skins” that terrorized Height street. They were immortalized by “Camper Van Beethoven” when they were spotted bowling in the Height Street Bowling Alley. Boot Woman was also staying there with us. I knew Mark Dagger and a whole bunch of the characters in the book (and YES the sheep killing story is real, I have friends that did time over it). As crazy as the book is, the SF punk life was even more twisted than one can imagine but Vollman did a great job getting into the seedy world that was ours back then and capturing it in ink. I only hope that there are other survivors like myself back from then, until (or if) I see my old friends again, I can always pick up this book and remember them in their 2os with all their craziness and dysfunction. I will only five it 4 stars maily because it brought back some really painful memories too and I got a little bummed out after reading about the fate of one of the characters. These feelings caused me to have to put the book down for a while. Thank you William, it was a both a pleasure and a gift.. 

(Now, several months later, after visiting San Francisco for the first time, I have this to add🙂

It’s remarkable how the Tenderloin has never gentrified, especially given the Bay Area’s notorious real estate market. It’s a patch of no more than several blocks, but when I found myself lost in it I was as tense as I might be in some parts of the Southwest quadrant of DC. While I can imagine today’s Tenderloin is nothing like what Vollmann wrote about, the crime and poverty continues.

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