Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Operations were shut down here yesterday at around 2 in the afternoon when, during a mighty heat wave, the power cut out. Much of the Los Feliz/Oaks area was without juice for a solid twelve hours. There are rumors of a "brownout," which is to say a deliberate outage courtesy of the mayor, in order to save some money and possibly to send a powerful message to someone in the hood. Someone like Bill Bratton perhaps? The police commissioner who lives down the street? Who can say... With all that heat it's possible that an overzealous usage of air conditioning simply fried the grid.
Politics aside, an urban blackout is always an enlivening event. A return to a pre-technology state of nature. A blunt unplugging that necessarily invites change: the freezer melts, the email is missed, the oxygen-respirator stops pumping. The quiet is deafening - no air conditioners, no pool motors, no computer fans, no refrigerator hum. Just dogs, coyotes, tinnitus, and the distant churn of traffic. The robe that cloaks our electricity addiction suddenly drops to the floor and catches you off guard. There she stands naked beside us as we walk around absent-mindedly switching switches that pull no power from the wires.
As the warm night settles in, emergency candles are pulled from the back of stuck drawers. There is unbridled peacefulness in the air you would normally miss. And there is also an eroticism, something to do with enduring a restriction of modernity. A brief reminder of the earth's unfazed permanence beneath our fragile civilization. It causes the sprawling city to shrink down to something very local and individual. For now, your existence doesn't have to contend (or compete) with every other human, masses of busy strangers to whom we are linked to by phone, by internet, by electric wires, mega-systems and unconscious voices pressuring us to act in certain ways.
The lights came on at 2AM. There was loud ghostly glockenspiel music echoing through the house. (In the day, I had turned the upstairs radio on and up as a way to signal that the power was back on, not thinking the outage would last so long.) It was such incredible dreamy music I was tempted to lay in bed and listen to it all night long. But then the urgently revived air conditioners and pool motors and computer fans and refrigerator hums shattered the moment. Back to reality.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
How do you take your coffee?
Note to self: Get it through your fat head, any trace of caffeine that enters your body after 5PM means a long, restless night of racing thoughts. Capiche?
("Coffee, 2001" from the "I like..." series by Marcel van der Vlugt)
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
"Le Grand Chalet" of Balthus...
Balthazar Klossowski de Rola (1908-2001), aka Balthus, aka "Le Roi des Chats" (The King of Cats), the controversial painter of the erotic dreamlife of pubescent girls (as imagined by a dirty old man?), had lived several lives before he arrived in Rossinière, Switzerland in 1977 at the age of 69. His second wife, Setsuko Ideta was thirty-five years younger than him. Here he discovered and quickly moved into the magnificant and slightly shopworn estate he would call "Le Grand Chalet." It was a home to be reckoned with...
This giant house was full of rooms that Balthus decorated with eccentric fervor. "The Room Full of Toys," was a shrine to all of the toys that his daughter, Harumi, had played with in her childhood. Another room was filled with hundreds of exotic birds, uncaged, just flying around. And so on...
Henri Cartier-Bresson and his wife, Martine Frank, photographed Balthus and his family quite informally as they went about their days at the Grand Chalet in Rossinière in the 1990's. It is not hard to imagine that as Balthus gradually lost his ability to paint and draw, (and fornicate?), his entire life, and this home in particular, became a sublimated, living, breathing work of art.
OK sure, The notion of excentric old artists in their crazy sweaters and their decadent estates seems quaint and childish from a certain remove, but I would bet my dental insurance that to live in Balthus' mode of existence, just for one day, would be a fiercely humbling and eye-openning experience.
Here is where The King of Cats lives today.
Monday, June 26, 2006
The dreams of the insane...
I'd like to say something pithy and uplifting to start your week. But that's probably not going to happen. Or will it? Let's just see... Vegetarians and animal lover's beware...
Building on the "you are what you eat" theory, I would like to submit the following: After having eaten delicious lamb for dinner last night (a rarity) I was shortly thereafter subjected to a continuous six-and-a-half hour nonstop fluffy-white bleating dream consisting of pastoral grass-grazing under swirling mint jelly skies. This was set to alternating techno-acadian rhythms falling somewhere between Aaron Copland and Kraftwerk. Now fully awake, I can only surmise that for those six-and-a-half hours, I had tapped into the living memory and consciousness of the baby sheep I had consumed. If this is the case, and I am permitted to generalize, I can report that a lamb's consciousness is somewhat less ordered than our own, but also somewhat more dazzling on an aesthetic level.
So here's my question: If the lion lays down with the lamb, and after a little while, the lion gets hungry and eats the lamb, does the lion acquire lamb-like attributes? Or, nutritionally speaking, is the lion only permitted to digest only those last few moments of terror the lamb experienced while being devoured? It's not a pleasant subject, but I'm told that the tenderness and tastiness of meat depends on how aware the animal was of it's impending doom. A scared animal will secrete hormones, namely adrenaline, that flood the muscles and toughen the meat. This is one reason why Temple Grandin, the visionary (and autistic) "Dr. Doolittle" of our times, has been so successful in marketing her high-walled, curved conveyor belt used for ushering animals into the abatoire. This contraption humanely carries the animals through a slowly ascending spiral corridor rife with eye-pleasing patterns and sound dampening metals. Their eyes are drawn upward to the sky above and fans keep fresh air circulating. Only at the very last moment are the animals brought into darkness, one by one, where the slaughter is swiftly implemented.
Are you feeling slightly nauseated? That's sure how I felt when I woke up. But I'm working through this (and taking you with me!) We're taking the bull by the horns, together... Oh, I neglected to mention that our cat caught the same mouse not once, but four times yesterday. Each time it came into the house the mouse was a little more damaged. But very much alive. Sarah and I would trap it in a box feed it strawberries and place it way out in the garden. Half an hour later, the cat would saunter in carrying it like a baby, by the scruff of the neck. Somehow all of this factors in... As do the unbelievably strange Beatrix Potter books of childhood, which I recently had the opportunity to revisit. (I'm sounding like someone with way too much time on his hands... not true, not true, but what can I do?)
So, back to the abatoire... Dr. Grandin's conveyor belt to the gallows does two remarkable things: It allows for an animal's happier ending and yummier meat for us carnivores. I am intrigued by these kinds of interfaces... places where one set of values meets its opposing set, quasi-harmoniously stitched together by some jerry-rigged feat of human engineering. I applaud the animal-loving Dr. Grandin for understanding the bigger picture and searching for "elegant" solutions that benefit all parties involved. She knows she's not going to stop people from eating meat, she eschews histrionic PETA-style tactics and attacks that only aggravates and further divides the issue. She sutures unlike tissue to unlike tissue and somehow makes it hold.
To complicate things, I noticed that there is an article in The NY Times about the ethics of eating animals (including shellfish). Not sure if I will read it or not. I am a man of very few vices and such writings make me wary... If someone takes my annual summer lobster away, through guilt and journalistic manipulation of facts no less, I'm going to be very upset.
OK, now I've painted myself into a corner. The only way out is here.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
"The Wild Blue Yonder"
Werner Herzog's newish sci-fi fantasy, The Wild Blue Yonder, takes some pretty thin material and spins it towards an ecstatic state. There are some extraordinary visuals and a soundtrack so moving it will inevitably transport you light years away. Which is the point. Unfortunately, the story requires such an incredible suspension of disbelief that many jaded viewers will be left wondering what to do with themselves for 79 long minutes. Which also seems to be the point. Herzog is testing our limits, our ability to (dis)engage in fantasy, as a species, at this point in time. How little CGI can we endure? How little drooling alien makeup can we abide? To what extent will the simply dazzled eye bypass our hyper-critical brains and speak directly to some more cosmically attuned part of ourselves?
The plot here is an absolute mess. Almost likeably so. You sense Herzog saying, "the plot is unimportant, let there be inconsistencies and confusion." Thus spake Werner. So here's what you get...
An angry alien narrating from present day Earth, explains how his "people" came here from the Andromeda galaxy, a journey that took thousands and thousands of generations to make. By the time they got here they were so inbred, so travel-weary, so lost, that their attempts to colonize Earth with their own benevolent society failed miserably. ("We built malls and no one came!") To make matters worse, these humanoid aliens brought some potentially harmful space bacteria with them, which Earth scientists discover and which triggers a global alarm - Earthlings must go looking for another place in the universe to live. In searching for another place to live, astronauts discover a system of invisible space-time accelerators, or space highways, that enable interstellar travel in a relatively short time. Herzog brings in some wonderfully nerdy scientists to explain this discovery, and the bogus science seems entirely believable. Scary how easy it is to fall for a scientist's schpiel (spiel? Schpeilcheck anyone?)!
One system of space highways leads directly to the abandoned planet of the narrator, a beautiful blue underwater world covered in a layer of ice with a liquid hydrogen atmosphere. We see that what really pisses off this ponytailed alien is that it took them tens of thousands of years to get from their planet to Earth, and yet it only took us humans a short time to get to their planet. Once there, we began looking for ways to colonize their abandoned planet. What exactly happens at this point is still a blur to me, but basically, Earth is abandoned and left to return to a prehuman state of natural bliss. (The final shots of the movie, depicting this utopia are breathtaking.) Ostensibly, humans are sent off to other less habitable places and are allowed to return home every now and again for a vacation on our Eden-like planet.
The main thing to be aware of here is that 90% of this convoluted tale is told with pre-existing footage: mostly some NASA space shuttle footage from what appears to be the 80s, and some incredible underwater, beneath the ice, scuba footage from Antarctica. We are asked to believe that the Antarctica footage is the other planet, and we are asked to believe that the Shuttle astronauts are not shuttle astronauts from the 80s, but astronauts in search of other places for humans to live in the universe. This is hard to do, since we have previously seen this footage in one form or another. By the time we get some mundane (but original) talking head shots from the supposed scientists, we are relieved and absolutely ready to believe their every word. It's an interesting experiment. One that surely would have been dead in the water had it not been for the soul-stirring glue of the soundtrack by cellist Ernst Reijseger, Somalian vocalist Mola Sylla, backed up by the Sardinian Voices. (Sadly this appears unavailable anywhere in this galaxy. The samples on the site do not do it justice.)
My fair lady Sarah got seasick during the underwater segments, a few others left the theater, unable to sustain their interest, and disbelief, in the ultra long takes. I was fascinated, but also very aware of the charlatan Herzog at play. I can so easily picture him accepting a bet which challenged him to make a feature using found footage, or perhaps a bet to see if he could complete five films in one year (something he did). So yes, the results here are a little thin, but not without exquisite charms. Could it be that Herzog, now getting on in years, employs tricks and self-propelling experiments do some of his famous "heavy lifting" for him? It is not likely the case. If you read the recent New Yorker account of his latest movie (a dramatization of his earlier documentary "Little Dieter Learns to Fly"), then you know that he's still happily putting himself well in harm's way.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Show me your Chickens Suit...
... and I'll tell you who you are.
You complain and you complain about a world that's gone mad, a world that treats you bad, but obviously it's your own fault. You don't have the proper attire for your chicken, dummy. OK, so admitting this is half the battle. The other half entails going to Edgar Honetschlaeger's Chickens Suit website and choosing the right outfit. The little number you see here has an Austrian flag theme. But the camouflage body suit has a certain wartime appropriateness that will also bring out the urban fashionista in your bird. Choices, choices, choices... See the fashion show reel here. Plenty of chicks.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Know your visionaries. They will remind you of the capacity of influence one person can have. I've only just learned about Rudolf Steiner, and I want to thank the fine people (you know who you are) who introduced me to the universe of ideas that stem from his genius.
Rudolf Steiner (1861 -– 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, artist, writer, esotericist, architect, educator, economist, and social thinker. He is the founder of Anthroposophy, "a movement based on the notion that there is a spiritual world comprehensible to pure thought but accessible only to the highest faculties of mental knowledge."
He is the original spiritual scientist. Which means that along with all the hard science comes a certain degree of seemingly loco ritual. For example, one of Steiner's biodynamic soil preparations requires "stuffing cow manure into the horn of a cow, burying this into the ground (40-60 cm below the surface) in the autumn and letting it decompose over winter." Bring it on I say. Science could use more DaDa underpinnings.
Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a spiritual component. He believed the Goethean view that thought is a perceptive instrument for ideas, just as the eye is a perceptive instrument for light.
He also created many of this Anthroposophy's practical applications, including:
As a young man Steiner's thoughtful intellectual prowess was observed by many. In 1888 was invited by the Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony to edit the complete edition of Goethe's scientific works. During this time he also collaborated in a complete edition of Arthur Schopenhauer's work. He also wrote articles for various magazines, including a magazine devoted to combatting anti-semitism. In 1896, Friedrich Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, asked Steiner to set the Nietzsche archive in Naumburg in order. Her brother by that time was no longer compos mentis. Forster-Nietzsche introduced Steiner into the presence of the catatonic philosopher and Steiner, deeply moved, subsequently wrote the book "Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom." (Surely there's a copy of that on George Bush's bookshelf!)
OK, I won't continue plagiarizing the Wikipedia entry on this fascinating man. You can see it for yourself right here. I've only grazed the surface of Steiner's incredible range and passion for good living. Biodynamic farming, Waldorf education, and ethical banking alone are such massive offerings to the betterment of society it's mind boggling to think that he was able to implement any one of these. As we in the United States slowly come to learn the errors of our chemically altered, spiritually stunted, and economically greedy ways in the years ahead, Steiner will surely become a household name, lauded as a visionary superstar and godfather of positive change.
I will say that I had the opportunity this past weekend to taste some wine that was made using biodynamically grown grapes and it was delicious. Normally, I steer way clear of the organic wines because they taste like horse piss. But Frey Vineyards has an outstanding collection of organic and biodynamic, sufite free wines that (ugly labels aside) will please even the snootiest of wine snobs (like Gazpachot). The biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc is particularly good for summer.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ignorance is bliss...
I'm no conspiracy theorist ("the plague of feeble minds"), although I'll admit that it's possible, even likely, that there are government systems and events and scandals that rage below the public radar. Controlling people and information is the name of the game after all.
All societies require that certain information be classified. Along these lines, the concept of the "control file" seems grounded in the basic logic of power.
Essentially, a control file is an intelligence dossier that contains information you don't want the public to know about you. It is used as a form of blackmail to keep potentially threatening individuals in line, or to coerce key individuals to take actions they normally would not. You've seen it in movies. The scene where the envelope with damning photos is thrown on the desk of some boat rocker. There is speculation that control files are used extensively in higher business and government circles to ensure that prevailing agendas are pushed ahead without resistance. Monica Lewinsky, for example, would have made a nice fat control file for Bill Clinton at a time when he was most threatening to his adversaries. A little digging around on google will turn up the notion that there are huge data bases of these files linking powerful people to sex scandals (pedophilia and kept sex slaves in particular) and other unseemly activities. Other sources indicate that there is a control file kept for every American citizen. Who knows. Personally, I try to steer clear of circles dictated by such Machiavellian charms (although I reserve the right to be fascinated by the idea of their existence). Paranoia will destroy ya, and thinking too much about the government from a lowly, uninformed, John Q. Public perspective is a good way to warp your weltanschuung beyond repair.
(American propaganda leaflet: "Military Top Secret" encouraging Japanese soldiers/citizens to surrender to American forces during Saipan battle, 1944. English translation here.)
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
May I help you (ruin your day)?
Since we're talking about world records today, I thought I'd toss in another... The world's absolute worst airline service... To experience the jaw dropping awe of this wonder you will need at least six hours, a speaker phone, and a clean criminal record, since you will want the judge to take pity on you for the horrible acts you might commit when subjected to this horror show. OK ready?
Call US AIR at 1-800-327-7810, their "special" reservations number (you get this number when you call their normal 800 reservation number AFTER trying to book tickets online, which flat out doesn't work and refers you to a live reservation operator, a gesture that will cost you $5 more per ticket, for the astonishing show of nightmarish service I'm assuming). Now you're ready to book a ticket. I dare you. Something easy, say, two r/t tickets from LAX to JFK. That shouldn't be too hard right? OK, dial the number, now put on the speakerphone, sit back, and start counting to a million slowly. Again. Again. That's about how long it will take to get a reservationist just to pick up. OK, now try to make the reservation. That will take some patience, since the reservationist doesn't speak English very well. And their computer is frozen. And they don't know what JFK is. They will have to put you on hold. For twenty six minutes. When they come back they say they accidentally erased your reservations and need to start over. You start over. But the reservationist gets it wrong. When they read you back the information, the dates are wrong, the airports are wrong, the times are wrong. You are waiting for Alan Funt to walk into your office with a camera crew, but he does not arrive. Finally, after another ten minutes on hold you are told that your ticket is booked. Wait I wanted two tickets, sitting together. Oh. You will need to reorder the second ticket...
This goes on and on and on. A few days later, when you go to check the reservations online, one of the tickets does not show up. You call reluctantly, and you spend another enjoyable session on the phone with a senior customer service agent who can not verify whether your ticket has been cancelled "by someone" or not. They need to talk to another supervisor. 'How long will I be on hold?' you ask explaining that time is of the essence. Two minutes, they promise. You hold them to that promise. Forty seven minutes later you are still on hold and you have decided to blog about this wonderful occurrence and the good feelings it gives you about traveling on US AIR. You will have had time to remember that old Lily Tomlin character and you will learn that that character was called "Ernestine." You will have time to find an image of her, correct the colors, and splice in a US AIR logo. Your day is wasting and you feel great about it. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Frere Pigatschmo for bringing this story to my attention...
As you read this, the world's largest photograph is being taken by the world's largest camera. The Legacy Project, a group of experimental photographers in Irvine, CA is using an abandoned military airplane hangar as a light tight box, or camera, that will capture an image of the surrounding airfield on a 33 by 111 foot piece of material soaked in 20 gallons of light sensitive emulsion. This is pinhole photography writ large, a phenomena often exemplified at various walk-in camera obscuras around the world. (There's a nice one in Santa Monica).
For those of you from the area, no, they're not using the famous blimp hangars in Tustin, those are REALLY big. The place in question is the nearby El Toro Marine Air Corps Station, a base slated to be leveled later this year and bulldozed into a development that will include a 375-acre park, museum district, sport complex and thousands of suburban homes.
The exposure time for the image is a whopping ten days. From there the massive fabric sheet will be soaked in a specially made tub, first with 200 gallons of black and white developer, then with 600 gallons of fixer. Once the project is complete, the hangar will be torn down making it, effectively, the world's largest disposable camera. What will happen to the photo is anyone's guess... Once the Guiness Book is through verifying the snaps record breaking dimensions, perhaps you might step in with the world's largest photo album?
See the photoshoot slideshow here. And if giant cameras are your thing, here's a guy who wants to build a mega pinhole camera in space.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
After an incredible getaway to the North it will take some time to get back into the Southern swing of things. Today, just a few quick visual notes summarizing the California equation... Maybe I'll get into this at some later point, but for now I'm convinced that there is some correlation between the north/south orientation of the state (it's regions and cities) that mirrors the seven human chakras so integral to the assertions of spirit and spiritualisms that fill the empty spaces out here... click to enlarge as always.
Friday, June 16, 2006
The urge to be Serge...
"Reqiem pour un con" ici...
Thursday, June 15, 2006
A lotto Nietzsche...
I bought a lottery ticket on impulse. Something I've never done. It was as though the car was steering me right into that 7-11 on Vermont Ave, a voice telling me how to spend the last $5 in my pocket. I spent two days trying not to think about what I would do with my $65 Million. Good thing, because I didn't win. Actually, I got two numbers right. Does that count? Anyway, I won't be needing this information on household staffing anymore, so I pass it on to you. Fascinating.
In other news... Is Nietzsche still controversial? Of course many of his ideas were ripe for bastardization. He was an inexhaustible provocateur, less interested in stating his ultimate position on things than challenging his readers to ask themselves why they should disagree with him. If you can't come up with a good enough reason why you should not put a pancake on a bunny's head, well than surely this must be the way to go.
But love him or hate him, the man could write! I'd go so far as to say he was really a writer not a philosopher - someone deeply in love with stringing words into blockbuster aphorisms, words that reflected passionate, messy and often contradictory feelings about human nature and the meaning of life.
No shortage of advices from uncle Friedrich:
On who you work for...
"It seems to me that a human being with the very best of intentions can do immeasurable harm, if he is immodest enough to wish to profit those whose spirit and will are concealed from him."
On the true nature of artists...
Artists are not the men of great passion, whatever they may try to tell us and themselves. They have no shame, they observe themselves while they live; they lie in wait for themselves, they are too curious. They have no shame before great passion - they exploit it artistically. Their vampire - their talent - generally begrudges them any such squandering of energy as is involved in passion. With talent, one lives under the vampirism of one's talent.
"A snake that cannot shed its skin perishes. So do the spirits who are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be spirit."
"Great men, like great ages, are explosives in which a tremendous force is stored up; their precondition is always, historically and physiologically, that for a long time much has been gathered, stored up, saved up, and conserved for them--that there has been no explosion for a long time. Once the tension in the mass becomes too great, then the most accidental stimulus suffices to summon into the world the 'genius,' the 'deed,' the great destiny. What does the environment matter then, or the age, or the 'spirit of the age,' or 'public opinion'!"
On self creation...
"Some souls one will never discover, unless one invents them first."
On growing up...
"A man's maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play."
On being a fan...
There is an innocence in admiration; it is found in those to whom it has never occurred that they, too, might be admired some day.
On George Bush...
"To close your ears to even the best counter-argument once the decision has been taken is a sign of a strong character. Thus the will to stupidity."
Want more? The Nietzsche Aphorism Generator is right here.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
All this useless beauty...
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
So Bush is in Baghdad on a surprise visit. He must have gone to pick up the world's most expensive photograph.
"If there was any doubt about where the contemporary art market is going, they were dispelled this morning at Christie's Baghdad, where the US Government paid a record-setting $286 billion - plus $240 for framing - for this portrait of the dead Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." (full story here).
Honestly? I can see the benefit of having a democratic country in the middle east. I can also see the benefit of draining the oceans and getting all the cool treasure that must be down there. America claims to be acting in the interest of democracy, but it sure feels like empire building to me. Fear that our hundred years of world supremacy is up.
Remember this face?
Ten years ago our country was a sleepier, more confident superpower. Our hubris was bolstered by a lack of imagination and a deep sense of irony. Ten years ago today, June 13, 1996, in a speech endorsing a national effort against teen pregnancy, Bill Clinton said this: "The other thing we have to do is to take seriously the role in this problem of older men who prey on underage women...There are consequences to decisions and...one way or the other, people always wind up being held accountable."
And ye shall reap what ye shall sow. It's a land of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Monday, June 12, 2006
An irresistible lucidity passed over...
Two of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, men who unlocked the invisible secrets of the cosmos and the unconscious, macro and micro, had almost no idea what to make of each other's work. They met in Berlin over the New Year's holiday in 1927 where the seventy year-old Freud was staying with one of his sons. Einstein, a mere whipper-snapper at forty-seven, would have been the only other brain on the planet to rival (and perhaps eclipse) Freud's fame. "He understands as much about psychology as I do about physics," Freud reported, “so we had a very pleasant talk." The weather and music were two neutral topics in which both men were expert.
How sad. This awkward meeting has many peers in the annals of celebrity history. A favorite is the time Brigitte Bardot came to Abbey Road studios (after hours) all dolled up to meet John Lennon. The latter, being nervous, decided that a few hundred thousand micrograms of LSD would take the edge off. Fittingly, the sex kitten and the rock start sat in a dark studio for a couple of hours while one twanged a sitar and the other looked at her nails.
Freud and Einstein shared a native language, German, but their respective professional vocabularies had long since diverged, to the point that they now seemed virtually irreconcilable. Even so, Freud and Einstein had more in common than they might have imagined. Einstein’s favorite psychological doctrine came from Schopenhauer: We can do whatever we want, but we cannot choose our wants. Freud’s ideas owed much to Schopenhauer and were quite in keeping with that sentiment, although as a medical man, he attracted patients by offering the hope that they could overcome their neurotic actions. Perhaps the single idea most closely shared by these two was the notion that every event has its cause.
Five years later, Einstein was contacted by the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN. He was asked to choose another person, anyone alive, with whom he would share an open correspondence on a pressing global topic of his choosing. He chose this one: "Is there any way of delivering humankind from the menace of war?" And his pen pal would be Sigmund Freud. Freud accepted, but blanched at the question.
Dear Mr. Einstein:
When I learned of your intention to invite me to a mutual exchange of views upon a subject which not only interested you personally but seemed deserving, too, of public interest, I cordially assented. I expected you to choose a problem lying on the borderland of the knowable, as it stands today, a theme which each of us, physicist and psychologist, might approach from his own angle, to meet at last on common ground, though setting out from different premises. Thus the question which you put me--what is to be done to rid mankind of the war menace?--took me by surprise. And, next, I was dumbfounded by the thought of my (of our, I almost wrote) incompetence; for this struck me as being a matter of practical politics, the statesman's proper study...
Einstein was up for a world class meeting of the minds. Freud was a crotchety old cokehead with better things to do. Ultimately, the correspondence went forward, and was published as a book called "Why War?". You can read some of the letters here. Pretty interesting stuff.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
A most attentive dragon...
As far as optical illusions go, this one is beyond boggling.
You can watch the film and then make your own dragon (here).
Then again, if you go to the lengths to make your own dragon
you might ask yourself the following:
"Do I really have this much time on my hands? Or could this be an illusion as well?"
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The History of Ice...
Every so often, out of the kindness of my cheeseburger heart, I will put forth a book idea for someone to write and publish. It's the least I can do.
The topic of ice, or more specifically, refrigeration, is not very silly. Nor is it overtly sexy. But, when you consider just how fundamental it is to this thing we call civilization, its importance can not be underestimated. And yet its story remains largely untold. Let's start with the fact that we can't make the stuff. I mean sure you can stick water in your freezer, but that's cheating. No electricity, no winter, no ice.
Which begs the question what did they do before there was electricity? Certainly, ice was big business. The Tudor family (of Tudor City fame) made their pre-real estate fortune by selling ice to restaurants and wealthy homeowners in New York City throughout the 19th Century. How many huge blocks of ice were schlepped from mountain caves and frozen ponds to cities and towns in the lowlands by horse-drawn carriage? Was ice a luxury most of the country could not afford? I don't know.
Iceboxes, containing blocks of ice, were household items up until the 1940s. But would there be any ice to put in it in August? Again, how could there be, pre-electricity?
Techniques of preserving ice by crude forms of insulation, such as straw and dung were developed. I suppose your average temperate climate farmer could store blocks of winter ice for a certain length of time in an underground storage facility, let's say reasonably through May. But June through November I guess you pretty much went without. No summertime ice tea. Unless the iceman cameth. And if he did, I understand that the kids would run behind the wagon shouting, "Chips!, Chips!" hoping for a few cool slivers to suck on. Refrigeration, frozen food, as we know it today was simply not an option. Were our stomachs heartier, more accustomed to digesting rotten meat and fetid dairy products? I guess there was lots of pickling, smoking, curing, preserving, salting and fat-rubbing going on. What a drag for the taste buds. Not to mention your social life.
And what about the tropics? Ice must have been more precious than gold. Probably still is in many places. Maybe one reason certain cold climate cultures pulled ahead of other warm climate cultures was because they were able to hold on to ice for longer periods of time. The longer you hang on to your ice, the longer you can store food, therefore, the less time you have to spend per day on sustenance, the more time you can spend on other culturally progressive pursuits.
In summary, ice melts. It's a big deal in the global village these days. And apparently it was once an even bigger deal in Frontier Village.
Friday, June 09, 2006
A meringue in the minefield...
As couples go, there's a long standing precedent of the American guy and the Asian girl. I'm guessing we all have our theories as to why this congress has endured over the decades to the point of cliche. But what I want to know is why the inverse of this coupling is so scarce? Asian guy and American girl. I'm probably rubbing sticks on a powder keg here, but come on, don't you wonder?
I popped this question to someone last night while watching Kurosawa's excellent noir caper, Stray Dog, in Johannes' outdoor jungle cinema. She opined that some American women might be wary of men who are accustomed to a more submissive type of woman. Good answer. But I wasn't convinced. I'm prone to think there are answers far darker and more difficult to utter. Aren't there always?
Actually, I could care less about the answer. I'm just drawn to the idea of having tough conversations with less stress and more success. We know there's a universe of tricky topics that are left untouched. We intuitively favor avoidance. Is that self-preservation tactic or just a lazy default mode? Can we agree that the stuff we choose not to talk about is probably stuff that matters very much? We naturally fear that our missteps will trigger landmines, and in many cases they will. But verbal landmines detonating in the company of intelligent friends can and should be tolerated - as long as there are no hidden agendas and a shared goal of enlightenment.
If you're fishing for topics, a good basic place to start is with the democratic prime directive: all men are created equal.
(The World of Suzie Wong is a movie I haven't seen in many years, but may be renting soon. Stay tuned...)
Thursday, June 08, 2006
A remarkable lapse...
So I've been working on a new project (no, not the Craigslist job, thank sweet baby Jesus). This gig requires steady, laser-like attention to a succession of variable details for three to four hour stretches at a time, twice a day. It involves a lot of physical jumping around from one source to another, collecting information, while simultaneously synthesizing that info, making snap decisions about the relevancy of its content, and prepping for the next set of info. It's a brisk and rhythmic process with some fairly analytical backing vocals. Put another way, picture a 21st century techno-literary version of Lucy's chocolate conveyor belt routine and you won't be far off. Ultimately, I am surprised at how satisfying all this concentrated discipline and focus can be. I tend to be more of a macro person. In a word: spacier.
Why am I boring you with this work-a-day review? Because... Once I'm in the throes of a session and have reached a rhythm of maximum efficiency, I'm in a very unique headspace, "flow" some call it, and here's where the magic happens....
An aside: when it comes to brain lateralization, or handedness, all bets are off for me. My left/right wiring was clearly done by a dyslexic mandrill.
So... Yesterday, while moving the mouse with my left hand, (something I usually wouldn't do even though I'm predominantly left-handed) I literally caught myself in the act of writing with my right hand, something I would never do period. I saw it scrawling away out of the corner of my preoccupied eye. So what, you say? So everything, I say back.
The implications are that at least some of the limitations we set for ourselves are enforced by our conscious personality. This must be one way our system copes with chaos, by fixing certain aspects of our consciousness as "identity," so we can get our bearings and get on with it... But who knows what we're really capable of then, if our minds are loaded up with pseudo-imperatives: I'm left handed, I can't sing, that is too much for me to lift, I'm not good at math. Etc. etc. etc.
How can a ninety-pound woman carry a massive air conditioner to the second floor of her home, install it in a window unassisted, and then not remember how it got there? I'll tell you how. She's got a lot on her mind... she forgets her self - her limitations. OK, enough... I'm not going to belabor this too much. Just run with this idea and see how it factors into your own experience. Will ya?
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Death on the installment plan...
Found on Craigslist (writer/editor jobs in LA):
SEEKING HOT SHOT EXECUTIVE FOR FASHION TRADE PUBLICATION
If ANY of these do NOT describe you, please do not apply:
Fashion and the latest trends are ALWAYS on my mind.
I MUST know what the latest “new thing” is or I will die.
I would be doing this anyway, even if I wasn’t being paid.
I get hot flashes when I see a FABULOUS hot item.
I always know of the newest stores and coolest hot spots.
I am always in the stores shopping nearly EVERY DAY.
I would do ANYTHING to have a job like this.
I can LEAD a Fashion Department.
Candidates must answer YES to ALL of the above, must also be a SELF-STARTER who possesses strong & proven LEADERSHIP skills, have at least 5 years EXPERIENCE as a Retailer, Editor or Designer AND must realize that this is NOT a 9-5 job, but a 24/7 MINDSET. Compensation TBD.
(Detail of "Henri Robin and a Specter" -1863 - by Eugene Thibault.)
Monday, June 05, 2006
As my hair goes from brown to silver I have been taking measures to down play the role of things like alcohol and overeating in my life. You know moderation in all things. For the most part...
Yesterday, my friend Johannes broke his ten day cleansing fast with a gigantic feast lovingly prepared over two days by a pair of beautiful Persian sisters. Ten days is a long time to go without food ("I'm one-quarter Christ, he made it forty days," Johannes joked, dizzy and sallow, planted in a canvas chair in his jungle backyard). But our host's famine was soon to be countered by a gluttonous marathon of ingestion. Beginning at sunset, course after delicious course was carried into the garden, described to the assembled guests in both Farsi and English, and slowly devoured. Johannes, who ate sparingly and drank a glass or two, came to life. His demeanor passed through every gradation, from quietly detached to Zorba the Greek. The setting progressed from cloister to carnival. Fine wine was flowing as though the Claret levees had been compromised. Gazpachot did not disappoint as far as intake is concerned. A memorable night of overconsumption if ever there was one.
A detail, throughout the evening, avocados were dropping off of the trees around us like shrunken heads splatting to the ground: suicides? sacrifices? hard to tell.
Here it is twelve hours later and well, it's been a slow Monday for sure. Strangely, when I got home all the lights in my neighborhood were out. There had been a blackout. I followed suit. Sometime this morning all the electronics came surging and whirring and beeping back to life. What a racket. My computer insisted it was 4:30PM December 14, 1969. OK. Why not. I received a chain email (in power point format no less) which always produces a slight queasy feeling. I have no idea what to blog about today. I recall someone saying something last night about a species of drunken squirrels who hide fruits in trees so they ferment and become alcoholic... I recall many fragments of interesting conversation, but none seem to fully materialize in my current state. Best get to work. Onward...
("Les Tortues pour Le Vivre" from "Les Diners de Gala")
Sunday, June 04, 2006
When Irish eyes are smiling...
I'm told that in Ireland artists don't pay any taxes. Can this be true? What a progressive way of civilization building. I'm sure we can all think of some wealthy Irish artists who are greatly benefitting from this. But then, what an incentive there is to give back to your culture. On your own terms. But I wonder, how is this all enforced? Is there an art brigade that storms into your studio unannounced and demands to see recently made art? How do they define an artist? Did James Joyce get a piece of this action? (Not that is mattered with his income). Could you imagine the abuse that system would face if tried here? Questions, questions, questions... You've got to have a lot of faith in the creative output of your country to pull something like this off.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Attack your Grammar...
How many niggling little grammar rules is nipping at your toes at any giving moment? Perhaps, relieved of your work-a-day brain settings, your modifiers begin to dangle. Perfect grammar is something you need to work on. I urge you to not overlook this. We need to stop our putting of bad grammar into the environment, which kills the language.
OK, enough of that. I've been bothered by my comparatives and superlatives lately. How do you know if this ocean is "more blue" or "bluer" than that one? Is that cat the "finickiest" or the "most finicky"? The temptation is just to go by sound. "The beautifullest monkey in Spain" sounds wrong. But what's the rule?
Simple. Mostly. It comes down to syllables. One syllable words get the er/est treatment. Fat, fatter, fattest. Tame, tamer, tamest. (However, if you are right, wrong, or real, you are in need of more.) Three syllable words get the more/most ad-on: More glamorous than the most expensive jewels. That should get you through most of the day. But there are a few not so uncommon areas that are most irregular. Namely two syllable words... Is the water "shallower" here or "more shallow" over there? Well, technically both are right. Many two syllable words can go both ways. Two syllable words that end in "-ful, -less, -ing, -ed, or -ous" are going to take the more/most prefix. That's more useful to remember in the most pressing moments. On the other hand, two syllable words that end in a "y" almost always take the er/est endings.
It's prettier and tidier that way.
So that's all good when the values of things are increasing. But then there are times where the degree of comparison isn't always more more more... Sometimes we need to indicate that one thing is inferior to another. Lying about blow jobs? Excusable. Wars? Not so much. When we are making the not-so-much comparison, less and least are the only options open to us, unless we use the construction not as...as: I'm not as itchy today as I was yesterday. I am less itchy today than I was yesterday. This is the least uncomfortable of my wool sweaters. Often this less streamlined grammatical option can be replaced with sleeker adjectives. Is it less cool than yesterday? Yes, it is definitely warmer.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Some days you walk up to the tree and it's bursting with strange and delicious fruits and flowers of all shapes and sizes. Other days the ground is covered with familiar, half eaten, ant encrusted, rotten, smushy leftovers. Some days nothing at all. Those are the scariest. Suddenly you're a dumb animal aware that there's more out there but stuck in its skin, in its place, with your dull flickering bulb.
The brain is such a crude and limiting machine for us. We're born 8-bit processors in a multi-trillion bit universe. Knowing our limitations is only a fraction of the ride. Actually, it's the ticket. From there, it's up to you to crack open the machine and let the bits out. Let them spread, pollinate and get their little bitty hands dirty. Multiply. They were never yours to begin with.
Stop wallowing in your own pickle juice and strike out on a journey. Follow a clear path of thoughts and feelings, but also make chaos an ally. Be willing to be derailed. Humbled. Humiliated. Hushed-up. Of course you must be equally strong and willing to fight without being dragged back down the river you just swam up. You are looking for something you won't know until you see it or feel it. Sounds religious? Who cares what you call it. Go. This is what we do, or are meant to do. You see, your tree will always bear fruit. But what kind of fruit, the quality and exotic nutrition it provides, is more in our hands than most of us will ever take responsibility for.
(Chris Coyne's "Context Free Art" and "Design Grammars" are here.)
Thursday, June 01, 2006
The Shady Bunch...
All you purists click right here.