Thursday, August 31, 2006

Autism is hard to define...

Is autism ready to stake its claim on human evolution or is it just the latest anomaly of human consciousness to catch the attention of the medical community and therefore garner a flood of over-diagnosis? Theories abound with regards to the reach of this neurodevelopmental disorder, some say it occurs in 1 in 166 children, while others say 1 in 1000. That's quite a discrepancy.

Autism experts such as Simon Baron-Cohen suggest that autistic children often appear to lack a "theory of mind" or the ability to see things from another person's perspective. Baron-Cohen says theory of mind is "exclusive to human beings above the age of five and, possibly, other higher primates such as adult gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos." Another noted scholar, Stephen Pinker, states: "Together with robots and chimpanzees, people with autism remind us that cultural learning is possible only because neurologically normal people have innate equipment to accomplish it."

What's very clear is that no one, save a few hot shot professor types, likes the chimp/people with autism comparisons, least of all members of the always interesting Autism Hub. Meanwhile the primate experts take continual offense at their subjects being reduced to human terms and not being understood within the context of their own exististence.

And what do the chimps have to say about all this? Predictably, they too fall prey to wild overstatement.

Autism is hard to define.

(young chimp drawing by another Sarah)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Beware the Atomic Balm...

New Energy is all the rage. But how new is it really going to be? Will a few hybrid autos save the environment? Will photogenic outcroppings of windfarms in windy places shore up the chasm between our resources and our consumption?
Of course not. As we make tiny progressive steps forward, the current administration is planning to drag us decades backwards into dependence upon nuclear power. We're being told that nukes are a clean, safe, and efficient alternative to fossil fuels. In theory, perhaps, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr. Helen Caldecott, founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute is quick to point out the flaws in the "clean, safe, and efficient" propaganda that is being slung far and wide. She notes that even if we built enough nuclear facilities to replace all the fossil fuel powered utilities in the world, we would only have enough enriched uranium available to keep these plants running for three or four years. Where do you get more enriched uranium? You make it. And how do you make it? Using massive fossil fuel powered plants of course! Nukes are a score for the oil addicted powers that be.

As for the safe part, nuclear generators release significant amounts of radioactive isotopes into our air and water over time - a fact that has been well smoothed over by the nuclear industry. As for storing solid radioactive waste, those promises that it could be safely stored for tens of thousands of years in underground tanks deep inside Yucca Mountain in Nevada have also worn thin. This atomic trash pit was built over at least 32 earthquake faults. This could be the largest single gamble ever taken in that state with cataclysmic repercussions for everyone else on the planet.

Does the prospect of a thoroughly nuclear future make you feel better about the energy crisis? If not, now is the time to do something about it...

(This entry was informed by a piece that aired on the very left leaning Liberty News TV, opposing views welcomed.)

("Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 2" by Michael Kenna)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Religious Break...

"I can well imagine the athiest's last words: 'White, white! L-L-Love! My God!' - and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, 'Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,' and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story."

Chapter 22 from "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sarah is lucky...

Lots of variety and flashing lights this weekend. Sunset Junction on Sunday. Meh... I was underwhelmed this year. Sometimes you feel isolated in LA and you get romantic ideas about being a part of the community and being WITH THE PEOPLE. Then you see THE PEOPLE and you encounter their vacant eyes, and forceful posturing, and desperate costumes, and really you just want to be home with your lady dreaming about all the great things and people there must be out there...

Saturday night we went to some silly function at an airplane hanger in Santa Monica promoting the supposedly superior lifestyle one can find in Las Vegas. Suffice to say, we won't be moving there any time soon. But it was fun, and though I'm not a gambler, Sarah is always game to test her luck. And so she should. She's incredible that way. Her mother always told her as a young girl that she was lucky, so that nugget of positive reinforcement is deeply wired into her being.

She cleaned up at the roulette wheel, doubling her fake money in a matter of minutes. Crowds were in awe as she called the exact number-trough that little white ball skedadled into, at least three times (I lost count) with a few other good picks (red or black) thrown in for good measure. She faired just as well at the Black Jack table until I started urging her to bet massive amounts of chips, which, of course, the gambling gods could not refuse.

Sarah's got some very interesting theories about how "luck" works. When it comes to winning, say picking the right number, as in a roulette wheel, she says it's not about trying to consciously imagine the number, it's about clearing your head and allowing that number to summon you. Is it seeing the future? "Not really," she says. "It's like a dog sensing fear." In this case the dog is the number (which is an animate being???) and it senses one's openess to it and so it reveals itself to you. Or something like that. I should let her speak about it beofre I butcher her words. She occasionally posts her thoughts here. Or here.

Of course talking about luck is like dancing about the judicial system, so maybe she'd rather not.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fencebuilder's dreams...

"The animal is one with its life activity. It does not distinguish the activity from itself. It is its activity. But man makes his life activity itself an object of his will. He has a conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he is completely identified."
Karl Marx

"Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings man the awareness of himself. It maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination.... The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence—that, is, the individual—pure and strong."
Emma Goldman

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part eight

"It is only the awareness of a nonexistence which allows us to realize for moments that we are living."
Max Frisch

Friday, August 25, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part seven

"We cannot remain long in a conscious state or in consciousness, we must take refuge again in the unconscious since there are our roots."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part six

"Consciousness is our only reprieve from Time."
Mason Cooley

"In the consciousness of the truth he has perceived, man now sees everywhere only the awfulness or the absurdity of existence ... and loathing seizes him."
Friedrich Nietzsche

"To a joke, then, I owe my first gleam of consciousness—which again has recapitulatory implications, since the first creatures on earth to become aware of time were also the first creatures to smile."
Vladimir Nabokov

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part five

"When we look around a room or have a dream, things are laid out in space and time and viewed as if from a point. However, when philosophers and scientists consider the location of the form and contents of this phenomenal point, there are fierce disagreements. Descartes proposed that the contents of this point are brain activity as seen by a non-physical place without extension (the Res Cogitans), which he identified as the soul. Thomas Reid thought the contents of consciousness are the world itself, which becomes conscious experience in some way. The precise physical substrate of conscious experience in the world, such as photons, quantum fields, etc. is usually not specified. Other philosophers have proposed that the contents of consciousness are an aspect of minds and do not involve matter at all. Still others, have considered that each point in the universe is endowed with conscious content. This is a form of Panpsychism. Panpsychism is the belief that all matter, including rocks for example, is sentient or conscious."
from Wikipedia ("Consciousness")

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part four

"When two persons look directly at each other it is a fact that after a few seconds the eyes of one or the other will have to be turned away... The 'force' of the eye is real; it is not a figment of the poetical imagination. The nature of this force, however, remains enigmatic."
F. Gonzalez-Crussi

Read about Errol Morris' "Interrotron" here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part three

"The harder you look for truth in certain images, the more they transform themselves into dreams."
Geoffrey O'Brien

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part two

"One major problem in discussing or writing about the process of hypnosis is that through the years, so many definitions of what hypnosis is or is not have been hooked into the word itself, that people have preconceived notions and ideas. It might be said that they have been hypnotized into believing whatever it is they believe about hypnosis."
Steven Heller

Like Ping Pong? Here you go.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Consciousness is hypnosis... part one

"The world is in many respects a circus with rival gangs of hypnotists trying to hypnotize one another."
Robert Anton Wilson

("The Stare Down" painted by Marc Barrie)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Exclusivity for all...

Car design is right up there as one of my greatest guilty pleasures in life. In this department I can be considered a complete classicist, which is to say I think it's a travesty what has been done to the beautiful cars that once graced our streets and highways (and beaches?). Now I'll be the first to admit that over the decades there have been improvements, most of them under the hood, or safety related. But as we all know, cars have not become nearly as fuel efficient or as environmentally friendly as they could be, and that whole mess just stinks of the rotten business and global politics behind this industry.

But by far the most offensive aspects to me are the so-called aesthetic improvements the great car companies vomit into the public eye every three years or so. Each wave is more depressingly horrific than the next. Must every car look like a three week old bar of soap girded with fake silver piping? I blame the oxymoronic democratized notion of the "affordable luxury car" which translates into ever-slicker, shinier, rounder, sexless, overwrought, and just plain ugly vehicles that cater to our fat-assed sense of entitlement and our desperate need to boost our job-worn identities with the most screamingly stupid interpretations of luxuriousness.

This degradation dovetails with another theory of mine which has to do with the American appropriation of European finery and high culture minus any of their the centuries-in- the-making sense of quality control and restraint. Another day another gripe.

For now, can anyone honestly tell me that this is an improvement upon this?

Or this upon this?

Rampant Luxury Car Syndrome (LCS) even took us from this to this.


(The compact but rugged 1969 MGC GT, from its brochure cover found here)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Origins of Mod...

People go on and on about the 1960's as being an accelerated time of global rebellion and mass reform. Fair enough. But if the game is to draw a point on a timeline - to isolate the raw source of modernity - I'd say a far more radical time for our planet was the 1860's.

For starters, The Civil War - its causes and its aftermath - cut far deeper into the bonemarrow of a youthful and fractious USA than Vietnam. Plus the uniforms predate Sgt. Peppers by a clean century.

In the 1860's the industrial revolution was just sinking its mechanical teeth into the land, taking the human hand out of productivity, and paving the roadways of mass production that would supply paisley peasant blouses, transistor radios, and birth control pills to a confused and stylized youth movement - still one hundred years down the line.

Meanwhile in Europe, the original young soul rebel - a feisty socialist painter named Gustave Courbet - actively challenged the prudish affectations and controlled sentimentality of the Neoclassicists with his bold Realism.

Imagine the genuine, no-holds-barred shock that "L'Origine du Monde" must have caused in 1866. (Incidentally, predating Warhol's Banana by 101 years). Then imagine the triple shock that must have swallowed James Whistler's proud face upon returning to France after fighting for Chile's independence from Spain. There were his beautiful mistress' nethers on display for all of Parisian society... as rendered by his good pal Gustave.

That those nethers belonged to Joanna Hiffernan, or "Jo" of the flaming red hair, already well known as the model for Whistler's angelic "Symphony in White #1: The White Girl", only added to the scandal... And kicked open doors for generations of artists to launch aesthetic explorations into the realms of the extreme.

With Courbet's insouciance, dusty curtains were drawn to reveal a hypnotic voyeur's paradise. A world where nothing could ever be forbidden to the eye. These deep seismic events in Art, Industry, and War along with countless others that occurred during the 1860's unleashed tsunamis that would strike the shores of western cultures in steady and unrelenting waves for at least the next hundred years.

("155th Pennsylvania Regiment 1864" by Don Troiani)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New planets...

The NYTimes reports that our solar system has just gone from 9 to 12 planets with the stroke of a pen. My question, having just pretzelled my way through of an early morning yoga class, is what does this mean for all of those convicted souls of the new age who have so emphatically based their astrological findings on a 9 planet system? Does this mean I'm not going to become fantastically wealthy in my 40's now? Typical. BTW, in a related story, remind me to go off on Science one of these days... I'm pretty much done with it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Genuine enthusiasm...

You can fake enthusiasm, but it never holds up to the real thing.

("Harry, Peter and the Off-camera Chicken Breast" by Paul Gachot)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Make up your mind...

Recently this expression has caught my attention. Is it "make up" as in invent, as in "to make up a story?" or is it "make up" as in assemble, tidy, make presentable, orderly as in "make up your face" or "make up your bed?" Probably some of both. The act of deciding is really about applying a small psychic cookie cutter to all the chaos of the universe, pressing down, scraping all the excess dough away, and committing to the resulting cookie as if it were reality. Amazing how that works. Of course, making a decision is something we're not really hardwired to do as humans. We have our systems, our metrics, our rules of thumb, our best guesses, but since making a decision is really a lot like trying to predict the future, making the "right" choice is never easy (and hardly ever measurable). Good decision-makers are essentially good actors. Good self-hypnotizers with a knack for divining consequences.

(Mazehead image by István Orosz)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

High Fidelity...

O Fidel, I've never cried myself to sleep, but every now and again I'll laugh myself awake. There are very few moments as rehumanizing and fulfilling you know. Last night was one such occasion. Vividly hilarious dreams borne of leftovers and cheap wine. And now, seeing you so well in your red, white, and blue Adidas sports top, celebrating life in the face of death (but possibly dead anyway), makes me laugh again. A pure, rolling Wild Turkey-and-Cohiba-tinged guffaw straight from the gut. O Fidel, you live in the world of appearances and manners, and normally I might fear that you have forgotten what your REAL laugh sounds like. But this picture confirms the reverse. A toast to the theater of the absurd in life and dreams, old man. May you never live to see a Starbucks on your shores. Or a logo on your chest. Happy birthday you splendid old goat.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Eye-pecking crows...

It's troubling. There must be something deeply symbolic about blowing up airplanes. I mean if the goal is simply terror, or to hurt us, there are a zillion options besides commandeering and destroying mid-flight passenger jets. Surely more people could be killed while waiting in line at the airport - BEFORE passing through the security check. But somehow planes make a statement. Our fear of flying is right up there with our fear of snakes (two motivators that will surely make "Snakes on a Plane" several cargoloads of cash at the box office). Plus the act of taking down an airborne plane now carries extra-allure since it would imply the ability to sneak by the TSA, thus making a mockery of all the desperate and after-the-fact security measures we've come to rely on for peace of mind. Those who mean us harm have clearly decided that fear is their currency and that randomly exploding planes are the most effective delivery systems. They are hoping that these images will sink into our nightmares and corrode the foundations of our society from the inside out. Personally, I think the American psyche is more resilient than that.

Planes may tap our individual fears, but it's consumer culture that fuels our national pride. Any real or fear-based interruption to our daily lifestyles, the shopping and devouring, the choices we covet and feel entitled to as Americans, would likely be a far more immediate blow. I hope the folks at the Pentagon are up on this stuff.

(Crow painting by Mary McAndrew)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Special like the rest...

Have you ever put a nice piece of a flaky French baguette in your trap and somewhere there in the mastication process discovered a human hair pulled taught across your tongue? As your fingers find an ending and slowly pull the strand from your mouth, you measure, with crossed-eyes, its length, its color, its relative curliness. Is this my hair? My sweetheart's hair? Or is this the hair of someone at the bakery? Someone at the store? Someone I'll never know? For a second or two you are suspended in analysis mode, your face waiting for the signal to relax or to grimace, for the back of your throat to tense-up and heave ever so slightly forward, or swallow. We can only "bless" so many individuals in our small existence. As for the rest, well... Hell is other people.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Animals are Republicans...

If you think about it, who's more conservative than animals? They are rigid creatures, set in their ways, with no interest in progress or the welfare of others. They are easily spooked and annoyed at the slightest change in routine. They are hawkish. Aggressive. Insensitive. They destroy nature. They wear fur. They don't believe in science. They wage war with no exit strategy. They want others to clean up their shit. They have a laissez-faire attitude about everything. They drive SUVs. They are self-serving, narrow-minded, and use emotional blackmail and the appearance of loyalty to get what they want.
Animals are republicans.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Manning the controls...

It has been observed that men are less adept at dealing with their emotions than women. This awkward relationship with the turbulent weather systems of the psyche has traditionally lead many men to wall-up that part of themselves and position their captain's chair firmly in the analytical part of the brain. The resulting repression, or imbalance of psychic pressure, frequently leads to a tremendous buildup of emotional energy which is often expressed in the most basic of ways - outbursts - which, depending on the individual, are sometimes violent or animalistic in nature. A growing awareness of this aspect of the male psyche has lead to a whole men's movement which involves sublimating the emotions into primal drives such as banging drums and running through forests in grass skirts.

Lately, I've noticed my own unconscious way of dealing with this male pattern emotional disconnect. I've created a character, a voice - the steady, even keeled News Anchor who reports soberly on the minute to minute changes that occur internally. He is a first hand witness to all the raw bile, the childish whimpering, the melancholic gloom, the sexual voraciousness, the unbridled enthusiasm, the telephone-book tearing frustration, and countless other messy affairs that may be unfolding at any given moment. My inner Ted Koppel is a master at packaging, processing, toning down (or is that detonating?), in short - rationalizing my emotions into tidy, civilized sound bites ready for broadcast (should any passing human care to tune in). I'm not saying this is good or healthy or anything. It's simply my way of dealing with the issue at hand.

Of course, there are those times when I find myself face to face with my inner Jack Nicholson, and in those moments I have strong feelings that HE's the one who should be the one doing the %@#!-ing emoting. I'm sure that Mr. Koppel would have some pithy and subtly cutting remarks for the drooling and disheveled Mr. Nicholson. Then again, I'm sure that Jack would have an effective retort of his own.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Urticina lofotensis...

My insides were hanging out all night, exposed to the elements like some deep sea mollusk in repose. You know how that goes... But what's always strange is how after a "long dark night of the soul" you wake up with all that raw meat tucked back in its shell, not scar or a drop of blood in sight. Just big bags under your eyes and a jangling psychic hangover that makes you especially slow and fuzzy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Existencilist...

Anonymous British graffiti artist, Banksy, is one of the kingpins of "Brandalism" a movement which reclaims free speech, people power, and public spaces through illegal and provocative stencil art. London in this case, but could be cropping up in your town too. Part activist and part prankster, Bansky's motto is:
"It is easier to get forgiveness than permission."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bridging the gap...

San Francisco here I come.
Right back where I started from.

Old faces make a decade round,
like a comet on the ground.

Is ambition a dirty word?
Or a false god of life deterred?

Back on Sunday...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sunset Salad...

I can cook, but my cooking often has an unusual quality - adult meals as they might be imagined and assembled by a child. In other words, crazy concoctions for "sophisticated palates" as envisioned by the Cap'n Crunch set.

Sunset Salad is as good an example of this as any in my repertoire. Although it is not my own recipe, it smacks of the Gazpachot touch. I had this recently at Sunset Beach, a hipster hotel in Shelter Island, NY, and I was blown away by its over the top deliciousness. I made this for Sarah one night last week. I think she really liked it. And here's how to make it...

(serves 2)

Two heads of Frisee lettuce
One large serving of fried calamari
1 1/2 cups of top notch carrot/ginger dressing.
Salt & Pepper

Chop off the butt end and the dark green leafy tops of the frisee lettuce heads. Basically you want the small inner leaves, the yellow spiky ones. Wash and dry. You can toss in a couple of dark leafy bits, but not too many. Put the usable leaves in a nice big bowl. Stick in the refrigerator.

Order and pick up the best flash fried calamari from a high end Italian restaurant. You want breading, but not the heavy fried chicken style breading some joints go for. Light, crispy, rubbery. Yum. Keep them hot.

You can make your own carrot ginger dressing, but why bother? It's more fun to drive around from sushi restaurant to sushi restaurant begging them for 2 cups of this liquid gold. You'll be turned down a bunch of times by knife wielding sushi chefs. Don't get flustered. You can do it. And don't get two parking tickets like I did either. Also, some places will call their dressing "carrot ginger," but it will be brown and watery, and that's no good. You want something that's a thick, oily, orangy-yellow with fine bits of carrot throughout.

OK, so sit down your dinner partner. You can serve a small appetizer before. I think a few thin slices of Bresaola (cured filet mignon) with some strong goat cheese will do the trick. Squeeze lemon and drizzle olive oil on the Bresaola before you put a small bit of cheese on it. Roll up and insert into your mouth...

Pour the hot calamari over the cold frisee lettuce. Squeeze lemon all over the bowl. Then pour all of the carrot-ginger dressing over the hot squid and the cold lettuce. Let it sit for a minute while the calamari sucks up all that sweet dressing.
Present the bowl. Toss. Serve. Eat.

Best served with a crazy good French Rose. I like Chateau Pradeaux from Bandol.

Sunset Salad is pretty filling stuff, but if there's any room left in your gullet, try to find some really good quality tiramisu for dessert.