feb 08






(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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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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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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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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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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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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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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“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.”)


“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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  • 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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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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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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“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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