Wednesday, February 28, 2007

:( Emotional Rescue :)

According to the neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Domasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC, the only way to stop a "negative" emotion from dominating our consciousness is to experience another, stronger (and I would add, opposing) emotion. Think of a time you were stressed out and someone told you to calm down. It doesn't work. Rational words fall flat in the emotional realms. Laughter, fear, exasperation, fury, elation, etc. can keep sorrow, boredom, self-loathing, lingering peacefulness, loneliness, etc. at bay, at least in the short term. This is the stuff of opera. Remember: There's no slaughter without laughter!

(Fernandel photo by Philippe Halsman)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bend like reed...

"Rigidity is for buildings, fluidity for people..."

Picture those words hanging vivid as an orangutans in my dream two nights ago. What exactly does it mean? On the surface it's pretty self explanatory, but why these vaguely Taoist words? Why now? What is my unconscious suggesting? Hey, I'm only here to report this stuff from the other side of the fence...

Speaking of smooth moves, next time you're in Tokyo make sure you stop by Usagiya, a "magic bar" owned by the truly enigmatic and killingly funny Toto, a sleight-of-hand master who will make you laugh and shriek and scratch your head raw. If you can't make it to Tokyo, Toto is performing all this week at The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

I mostly stay away from modern day magicians. They seem to be severely damaged individuals with a love for black hair dye and annoying facial hair. These angry, world-class manipulators are in it for the female attention that was denied to them as nerdy teens. But Toto is great. Someone loved him right.

("Reeds" by Friedrich A. Lohmüller)


Monday, February 26, 2007

The "Green" Oscars...

The notion of this fantastic, multi-billion dollar cluster-fuck of ego and excess trying to show a "green" face to the world is so patently ridiculous, it just makes me laugh. Did the celebrities bring their own champagne glasses from home? Were the hundreds of kleig lights replaced with energy efficient bulbs and run off of wind farms? Were the gowns and set pieces spun from hemp and recycled rags? Will the hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue generated be used to stop deforestation and global warming and other ills of society? I think not... But green is good, it makes people feel like someone somewhere is taking care of things so that we might go on living uninterrupted.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pixels of political parallelity...

Just running through possible '08 Democrat pairings in my head this morning and enjoying the mirror-like, 3rd law of motion-esque balance of an Obama/Gore get together. Obama, the new kid on the block, would have a seasoned old-timer behind him wielding a certain amount of below-the-radar power.

Imagine that: Obama in the George W. slot, and Gore stepping into the dark, deep vortex cleaved open by Cheney. If tidy reversals of power with a liberal slant are your thing, then this might just be your ticket.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Not fade away...

We all know about planned obsolescence and how it drives consumer economies around the world. But does that mean that nothing is meant to last?

The cave paintings at Lascaux are around 20,000 years old. The first photographs are more than 180 years old, many in near perfect condition. The pages of Picasso's sketchbooks may be yellowing but they're still quite intact. So why is it if you print out a digital image on your home computer printer that it starts fading and turning wonky colors in a year (or less if there's any light in your house, god forbid...)?

So, you go to the store and instead of having an answer, they sell you these wicked expensive archival inks and papers with the assurance that these will last up to 70 years. Wow, a whole 70 years! Can you imagine if our artworks and documents throughout history had such a ridiculously short shelf life? 'You know honey, I'm told there was once something called a Bill of Rights, but you know, the archival inks faded and the backup disc is in a format that they don't make readers for anymore and the master file is corrupt,' bla, bla, bla...

If our records went back only 70 years, then today we'd be teaching our kids about a world that began in 1937. What demented beginnings those would be to teach.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The joy of underthinking...

An old philosophical conundrum goes like this: When does a chair stop being a chair? When you lay it on its side? When you saw an inch off one of the legs? Two inches? Remove the leg entirely? What if you saw it in half? What if you put it in a woodchipper? Is "chairness" related more to form or function? Both? How many chairs can you imagine? Are those chairs chairs too? It's a maddening excercise that reminds us how infinity is contained within things we might consider to be finite. Another famous example of this is Zeno's paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles.

Life on earth is characterized by such quicksand. You can draw as many lines, fix as many rules as you like. These are ultimately the futile acts of the control freak. Nothing is what it seems.This awareness creates such a mind-boggling, hair-splitting reality, we often have to pull back and choose not to think too hard about things lest they fall apart in our minds and drive us mad. I have a friend with a very good brain for deep logic and philosophical inquiry. He became a chef.

("The Innocent Eye Test" by Mark Tansey)


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Walton Ford: Aping Colonialism...

It's time to reassert that Walton Ford is one of my heroes. His work blends so many things I’m interested in – the subversion of old art techniques, obscure animal behaviors, black humor, political satire, historical allegory, anthropomorphization, family history, visionary cartooning, and the brutality of beautiful things. There’s so much mesmerizing complexity in his work, and always that faint whiff of repulsion and rotting flesh beneath the magnificent plumage and pelts... I'm wildly jealous of his talent.

As a descendant of white, southern slave owners, Ford wrestles with the ethics and mindsets of the colonial world in all his work. "I was born in 1960. There was the great kind of southern gentleman, naturalist sportsman tradition in my family that was still being kind of held onto in spite of the fact that most of family's wealth was, of course, gone with the wind...thank god," he says.

"My work resembles the kinds of notebooks that these colonial guys kept. They did sketches of the local fauna and flora, and named things after themselves and their own friends and colleagues back in England. It wouldn’t matter that the thing they 'discovered' might be known for thousands of years in the local culture. These guys went ahead and called it "Johnson’s this" or "So and So’s that" and gave it a Latin name and filed it away."

"Take a figure like Audubon, who was kind of a madman. He was violent. If he didn’t like you he might challenge you to a duel or something. I mean the guy was completely out of control and shooting birds off the deck of ships and watching them drop in the ocean. On a riverboat trip down the Missouri he’d shoot a coyote and wound it and it would run off into the hills and he’d never see it again. He wasn’t the enlightened sportsman that we’re used to thinking about. Often when I paint something in his style, I try to think that it’s almost like his dream state or something. It’s like the way he really thought somehow betraying itself and leaking into the work, infecting it somehow, giving it a computer virus and making it do what it oughtn’t do. Or what it shouldn’t reveal."

"So I use those modes of representation to paint this other stuff. That turns that tradition a little bit on its head. Rather than in the service of these great collections or empires, it tells an alternative narrative. I try to bring it up to date and think about how it affects the way we think today and how similar the 19th Century is to now. That moment of empire is almost the same. That moment of fear and first contact and misunderstanding and misapprehension is exactly what we’re going through right now. And we haven’t seemed to figure anything more or less out since then. You still feel like you would be 'carefully shot and carelessly buried' if you made the wrong move."

"All of this makes it sound like I have this great intellectual reason for making these things, but ultimately I want to paint a sexy monkey, and I want to paint a big, huge elephant with an erection. And there’s this other sort of silly kind of underground comic aspect to me that just wants to paint this stuff."

Must read interview with Walton Ford, plus more clips and images, here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


A great journey. There's something amazingly unfinished and perfect about Mexico. Baja Sud's Sea of Cortez side is completely pristine and rejuvenating.

Remember when you return from a trip to avoid your old habits like the plague. See yourself drawn to them, catch yourself, and try something new. It is easy to forget that life offers much more than a to-do list. Travel is the best antidote for wrote living.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Sometimes you go to Baja for a spell...

Farewell amigos, until the next time we see the whites of our digital eyes...


Pablissimo B. Gazpachot

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Taking Tiger Temple...

If you're agonizing over that special last minute VD gift for that special someone, please allow me to take a load off your back... This one's a no brainer:

The Theravada Buddhist Temple, aka Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, aka "The Tiger Temple," is conveniently located in the Saiyok district of Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, just 38km north-west of Kanchanaburi along the 323 highway. You and your significant other will be charmed to the melting point by the sight of monks walking quietly through a dreamy white rock quarry in their saffron robes with tigers on leashes.

The approximately 20 tigers at Tiger Temple are mostly Corbetts with one Bengal, called "Mek," in the mix. They are caged part of the day, and walked to the quarry where they are free to roam, splash in the pond, and play with tourists through the afternoon. You see, they are either cub rescues or were born at the temple. It is possible that these tigers' offspring will be returned to the wild, but this current generation will live out a life of non-violence among the monks. Unlike the somber, furry death-machines you'll find at zoos, these tigers seem to have no trouble breeding in this enlightened form of peaceful co-existence.

Love is a horny tiger on a leash guided by a monk. Happy Valentines.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The European...

Ever wonder where people like David Bowie and Bryan Ferry got their schtick? Well, for starters, consider Anton Walbrook. He is an actor one should have on any short list of greats. Born in Vienna, the scion of a family of circus clowns, Walbrook took great pains to leave the family business and the prat falls behind. As a known "half-Jewish homosexual," he fled Nazi Germany, changed his name (from Adolf Wohlbruck), and soon landed in London. In his earlier films he was prone to over-the-top, expressionistic acting style, however, exile and his fervent anti-Nazi stance would bring gravity to his exuberance. In working with the Archers he became one of the most still actors of all time. The effect is mesmerizing, almost alien. His pasty lizard-like presence makes his human qualities all the more pronounced.

Walbrook was said to be a loner on the sets of his films eating alone with dark glasses on. Of course. He was always accompanied by his childhood English nanny, Edith Williams, who helped him with his accents.

Most will remember him as the obsessive impresario Boris Lermontov in The Red Shoes. He is also unforgettable in the role of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, the German war prisoner, in The Life and Death of Col. Blimp, another great Powell and Pressburger offering. The 49th Parallel is said to be great too, but I ain't seen it yet. Non P&P films worth looking at include: La Ronde, Queen of Spades, and Saint Joan.

Monday, February 12, 2007


What happens when the psyche goes unrecognized? For example, can you ask someone who exhibits "old school" behavior, that is, someone who acts out of tradition, rationality, duty, and a fixed playbook, what the real motivation is behind their actions? Do they even know or care? Is there any benefit in having them confront themselves from another angle?

People who spend a lot of time wallowing in the pond of their consciousness might believe that they are privvy to some kind of enlightenment. But what kind of enlightenment leaves you speechless and dismissive when confronted with so-called unenlightened beings?

Consciousness is a mine field dressed up as a secret walled garden. Either you do the work - you enter into it, you find and detonate the mines - or you admire its beauty (and inherent danger) from the relative safety of an overlooking balcony. Can one person help locate and detonate another person's mines and escort them from the balcony into their garden? It's either the greatest thing we can do for one another, or a damned awful idea.

("Secret Garden" photo by Manikantan Ramadas)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

State of the Species...

Humans are creatures of habit. We are fearful of change and actively resistant to it. We're animals after all, and we are equally as conservative in our behavior by nature.

With US elections coming up, we will soon be entering into the drama of national and global discussions, debates, and disagreements over familiar topics. The various sides will attempt to distance themselves from one another and play up their differences, even though they will all be pretty much on the same old playing field, bickering over the same old rules, all in the name of continuance.

What I'm wondering is what happened to the visionary thinkers? The enlightened experimentalists? The charismatic leaders who are truly capable of uniting and evolving humanity forward one hundred generations in the time span of one or two? Should these people exist, they don't have to run for office, but they must have a clear voice in society and be able to publicly provide radical road maps for our leaders to embrace. I'm not talking about rushing things either. You can't rush a tomato plant to grow faster. But you can find and implement the best set of circumstances for those tomatoes to flourish and taste delicious.

How interesting it would be if the United Nations (or some other appropriately international body) hosted a State of the Species summit. We could review our time on Earth and address major issues: Were we better off as a nomadic animal? Did the invention of property send us spiraling down a wicked wormhole? Are there moral economies we can agree upon? Is Anna Nicole Smith eligible for sainthood? Don't we owe it to ourselves to figure out how to use our collective humanity to our greatest benefit?

(Photo from the amazing "She Shoots Sheep Shots" series by Gale Zucker)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Helicopters: "Flashlights in the sky"...

In Los Angeles you will come to form an opinion about helicopters. They are as much a part of our habitat as are trolleys in San Francisco or Weddell Seals in the Weddell Sea. By day they zoom across the massive sprawl of LA County delivering politicos and high-powered executives to and from meetings. They film themselves - one closely tailing another with cameras hanging out the side as some dismal action sequence dramatically overplayed in the other gets etched into celluloid. They spy on celebrity weddings and poolside trysts. They hover over burning buildings and track car chases for the sake of TV ratings. Many people learn to hate them - giant pesky mosquitoes and sad proof of every LA cliche in the book. I, for one, love them. They are just the most amazing machines ever built. Helicopter porn is my thing.

By night helicopters do less zooming and more circling. Night time is the right time for committing a crime. And when the cops are called in to dangerous neighborhoods and situations, they need all the surveillance tools they can get. Just about everyone in LA has been jarred awake in the wee hours by the chopping rotors of a helicopter stationed directly above their pillow (or so it seems). The sun-bright search light jerks across acres of land looking for a hoodlum on the lam. Someone I know says, "the helicopter at night becomes a giant flashlight dangling on a string in the sky." She monitors the circular orbit of the whirlibird, always disappointed that the circles are not geometrically perfect. She's German. What do you expect.

You've probably never heard the song Sarah and I wrote: "Turtles Watching Helicopters." Too bad for you, it's a smash hit single in our house. Perhaps we'll record it someday for you to download, burn, and pop into the CD slot of your Sikorsky.

("Rotorelief 2002" by Robert Chambers)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Is suffering relative?

Is it possible that I've "suffered" enough? Has the universe decided to decrease the tension on the rack a notch or two for now? Too soon to say amigos, but keep your fingers crossed will you?

I flinch as I write this, look at me sawing away at the violin strings of my own privileged hardship... Especially having just seen the offensively-slick Blood Diamond, and knowing what those child soldiers in Sierra Leone and Rwanda went through (and still are to some extent in smaller numbers). How dare I!

I waiver on what I call The Transitive Proportion of Suffering Capacity. Is a hangnail in Beverly Hills proportionately equal to having your arms cut off in Africa? Before you lick the envelope on your letter bombs, what I'm asking is this: is the intensity of an individual's suffering relative to their life experience? Is suffering relative or is suffering more of a fixed scale, the extremes of which only a few humans will ever get to know? There are convincing arguments in both directions.

("Stickes" photo of Rwandan war child w. makeshift stitches by Neil Abramson)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beyond Drowning Polar Bears...

Last week's announcement from Paris that global warming is real and that humans are in part to blame should come as a surprise to almost no one. This musn't become a divisive political issue here in the US. I thought An Inconvenient Truth was a great film, but I know that many Republicans can't tolerate Al Gore, and that the notion of him as the poster child for global warming is repugnant to tham. These are rifts we don't need at this time.

We know that polar bears are drowning in the Arctic. Their highly specialized hunting skills are dependent upon a certain standard of sea ice which is rapidly disappearing as the oceans warm up. But we seldom hear about the other victims of global warming. The study, "Extinction risk from climate change," measured the responses to current change and habitat limits of 1103 species in many habitats, and found that climate change is "...likely to be the greatest threat in many if not most regions."

The red fox is heading north and can now be found in Arctic regions where winters have become less severe. That's bad news for the cold-hardy arctic fox, because it can't compete with its larger, more aggressive cousin.

Earth's warmer areas are also affected. Tiny animals called coral polyps build huge reefs in warm ocean water. Reefs come in many different colors. Fish dart around the reefs. Lots of other creatures call coral reefs home. But many coral reefs are in trouble. Because of global warming, ocean water is heating up. If the water near a reef gets too warm, the polyps die. Then the once colorful reef turns white. When a reef dies, fish and other creatures have to find new homes, or they die too.

And it's not just animals and plants but the very shape of the Earth that is at risk. The tiny nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific is comprised of nine coral atolls. Tuvalu has no industry, burns little petroleum, and creates less carbon pollution than a small town in America. This tiny place nevertheless is on the front line of climate change. At just 15 feet above sea level at its highest point, Tuvalu may soon find itself joining Atlantis.

What can you do? Stop emitting CO2. Save energy. Put pressure on major offenders. Don't politicize.

(Facts and figures in this post lifted from various places around the internets)

(Polar bear photo by Howard Ruby)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Movie Trailer Ethics...

Is the function of a trailer to get butts in seats or to accurately portray the essence, or soul, of a film? Depends whom you ask, but increasingly the former I'd say. As a collaboration of money types and creatives, making a movie is always some unbelievably strange combination of art by committee, business by artisans, and snake-oil pitching by madmen.

What we know is that many trailers have little to do with the movies they represent. Typically, someone other than the storyteller, a marketer of some kind, creates a mini-representation of the feature length product that compresses and supersaturates key emotional and visual moments into a disjointed and disarming seduction bomb.

When it works, the trailer can be better than the movie itself. Here's one of several excellent trailers for Buffalo 66 (not the one I wanted to show you, but all of them are on the DVD I'm told). Of course, it should be noted that Vincent Gallo made his own trailers for his own movie - a privilege few will ever earn.

More often than not, the trailer is an overblown, misleading, patchwork quilt of cheap thrills. Notes on a Scandal is a good example of this. The movie wasn't great, but better than this lesbo-teen-lust-thriller teaser. Bad!

Movie trailers are bound by no cultural ethics or laws other than those of the corporation behind the production. Given that scary thought, it's no wonder that many of us have trained ourselves to come at them with psychic weed-wackers, in hopes of carving out our own ideas of what the forthcoming attraction is about. It's possible that I've been in Hollywood too long: I used to make a distinction between films and movies, but that line has blurred beyond distinction in my head as well as in reality.

Which reminds me... Trailers are interesting examples of mimesis (representations with their own rules apart from the thing they represent), since movies themselves are already representations.

Did you want to see this again?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Enter the Insula...

Before you honor your cravings for that second donut, or send a check to those poor little orphans on TV, or dance like you're Fred Astaire to elevator music, or feel humiliated after you've done so, why not learn a little more about the wet machine that's responsible for all of these actions and many, many more.

Introducing the insula. Traditionally seen as a bit player in the theater of the brain, it turns out that this prune-sized lump buried deep in our gray matter might play a leading role after all.

This interesting article will fill you in.

(Illustration by Lou Beach)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dolphin Theory...

I love people! Well... a few of them. And those people I call friends know that I am there for them 100%... On occasion. But before I set myself up to seem flitty and unavailable, let me please explain my Dolphin Theory. (For those who've heard it, sorry for the repeat.)

The ocean is big. The paths of individual dolphins, social and savvy sea creatures, cross and uncross. The crossings are special. A time for celebration and careful exchanging of notes. They gather, play, and dissipate in accordance to the chance patterns of their assembled wills and callings. There is never scorn or a sense of being "dropped" when someone swims off. Only warm appreciation, good wishes, and sweet anticipation of future, random meetings. Dolphins can not conceive of abandonment since their companions are always alive in their spectacular mammalian mindhearts.

Dolphin Theory gets its name from the song "Heroes" by David Bowie. In the song Mr. B sings: "I wish I could swim... like dolphins can swim..." I used to think he was singing "swing" instead of "swim" and I was taken by the notion of swinging dolphins, that is, dolphins who move through time and space freely, in pursuit of their own missions and blisses, effortlessly dodging fishing nets and other entanglements that can drag your streamlined spirit to the bottom of the sea.

Practicing Dolphin Theory enables you to fully enjoy the time you spend alongside your friends. And then, when it is time to swim off, for whatever reason, there are no hard feelings or desperate promises. Till the next time that we say goodbye, I'll be thinking of you.

If you find yourself tempted to brand Dolphin Theory with a scarlet "S" for selfish, you'll be missing the point. Once we leave adolescence, true friendship is not about "hang time" or expectations or responsibility for another life. It is about supporting and participating in the dazzling matrix of individual paths we weave, and trusting in the larger, unseeable pattern, knowing that its interconnecting lines are both freeform and geometric.

Dolphins know that if you reject the noise and petty obligation, and follow the sonar of your inner voice wherever it leads you, you will help create a healthy system that allows for significant crossings at all the right moments.

(photo by Flip Nicklin)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

High Windows & Lepidopterists...

Damien Hirst's upcoming show at Gagosian (LA) will feature mosaics of butterfly wings masquerading as stained glass windows. They are exceedingly beautiful and will no doubt raise the hackles of animal rights people here as they did in the UK. I'm not sure if animals were harmed in the making of these works, although I wouldn't be surprised. Earlier butterfly works of his were made by allowing them to land on wet canvasses where they became forever stuck.

While we're on the topic, is there a connection between stained glass windows and cartoons? The rich primary colors, the thick black outlines, the graphic storytelling, the sense of awe and delight they bring to young (and older) eyes... Could our love of illustrative comics be rooted in our early exposure to stained glass? Or is it more likely that our appreciation of stained glass stems from our deep, vaguely spiritual identification with Bugs Bunny? More mysteries to ponder...

(click on image for large version of Damien Hirst's butterfly collage)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Spice of life...

Making our way to "Little India" in Artesia for some authentic Indian food last night (we had to turn around the traffic was so bad), I spotted a license plate that said simply: "XB."

This reminded me of the many Russian Easters I experienced as a child (my mother is Russian Orthodox and grew up in a Russian community on Long Island). XB are the Cyrillic letters that stand for "Kristos Voskrese" or "Christ is risen" (or "Christz vas Crazy!" to my young ears). You come to learn this is because XB is written in raisins all over the towering, white ziggurats of delicious (and artery clogging) "paskha" a sort of cheesecake they make in boatloads for the holiday. Paskha gets spread on "koulichy" (cakes) and together it's a very distinct flavor. Deeply Russian, I'd say. And of course, all of this eating was of grave importance to a husky little boy intoxicated by NYC suburbia.

In retrospect, the food was my "in" to the "otherness" of it all - the fact that these people had their own day for celebrating Easter, their own language for singing about it, their own iconography, and their own customs that were completely foreign and, frequently, hysterically funny to my limited sense of living. I was reminded, looking at that license plate last night, that this early exposure to a completely foreign culture must have been the thing that sparked the acute wanderlust that nags at me every moment of every day. What else is out there? How weird and wonderful is it? Who am I in other contexts? And so on...

I will wrap up this bit of nostalgia with a tip for my fellow wanderlust sufferers who are handcuffed in one way or another to a single geographic point. Ethnic cuisine. Seek it out. The real stuff - not the stuff they water down for "Gringos." If you can't find it in a restaurant, try to meet the people who make it in their homes (even better!). Always dinner, never lunch or breakfast. This is key, as fine ethnic cuisine always produces the most vivid and fantastic dreams. You want those unfamiliar spices and secret ingredients swirling around your system as you sleep. It's the most exotic (and least costly) form of travel there is.

("Istanbul Spice Market" photo by Rod Hoekstra)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Together at last...

I was touched to see Steve Jobs (L) and Jaron Lanier (R) finally found a project they can work on together. When these two computer-box whiz kids put their heads together, you'll be sure to see some great graphics and some explosive marketing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Adjunct Space Programs & Imaginary Zoos...

The problem I have with zoos is similar to the problem I have with space programs. I completely understand that both of these utterly fascinating institutions require a professional scientific environment in order to function. What makes me sad is that this requirement fosters an undercurrent of constriction and convention. The unbridaled sense of wonder and amazement and poetry they provoke in us are considered too pedestrian (or unprofessional) for the day-to-day operation of the institution and are left untapped.

Do you get NASA-TV? Do you watch it? On the one hand it's impressive to hear those insanely focused astronauts report to ground control every remote detail of their technical run-throughs and experiments. Time in space is precious and these people have serious work to do. And sure, every now and then we get the requisite weightless summersault with a big grin for the cameras. But still, what I would give to have the right someone posted quietly at one of those little porthole windows, staring into space and back at our little planet and just exposing their wonder and amazement in a soul-stirring, stream-of-consciousness voice. Say a hybrid between Joseph Campbell, Brian Eno, Muhammed Ali, David Attenborough, Stephen Colbert, and Bjork. Or maybe all of them could huddle around a small window with shots of calvados?

So it's the same with zoos. But different. You walk through a zoo and you feel the science and the care and the catering to kids with goofy signage. But again, there's something important missing. Animals are so mysterious and befuddling to us: What is there consciousness like? What do these other life forms mean to us? Their existence touches mythological realms and the vivid symbology of dreams. Couldn't a zoo do a little bit to play up this aspect while exposing us to animals? Couldn't their interpretation of animal behavior and suitable habitats be less "faux-real" for everyone's benefit? A little less conservation a little more fiction, please?

Since a wild animal in captivity is a thoroughly un-natural occurence, why pretend that it is? Zoo animals have to adapt to the specifics of confinement no matter what they are. Or, if they are born into captivity, they will accept their surroundings as natural to begin with.

I'd like to propose a new zoo, one that allows animals to speak more directly to the human imagination. A zoo in which all the animals are born into the contrived environment, which will have some stark differences from their ancestral homes. Of course they are treated with deep respect and the finest care available. These animals would live in man-made habitats that enhance or play off of the strange mythological characteristics we perceive in them. Artists, set designers, poets, and semioticians would work with animal behaviorists, comparative psychologists, ethologists, neuroethologists and anthrozoologists to create fantastic and compliant environments for an animal or group of animals. I hestitate to give an example.

I know, from one perspective this all seems indefensible, cruel, and laughable. (Welcome to my world!) PETA, I'll be expecting your call. But from another perspective, what I am propsing bears no comparisson to legitimately debatable uses of animals - in the circus or even in elephant polo matches. On the contrary, what I propose is as much for the animals' benefit as our own. I believe that many animals, and especially mammals, WANT to connect with the human psyche by design. Though largely unused in the wild, this atypical link is still as much a part of their instinct as finding water or warmth. It is a function of the larger geo-biological matrix we share.

Let me be clear: I think the greatest traits of any living creature are its adaptability and its "deep identity," by which I mean its existence as a fixed biological point in the universe AND as a point of meaning in our conscious minds. I think a zoo that embraced these ideas would be a huge benefit to animals in captivity and a great gift to all life on earth. Anyone interested? Let's go, time is precious!

Further study (in no particular order):

OOZ & Natalie Jeremijenko
"A Zed and Two Noughts"
Walton Ford
Life of Pi
Animals in Dreams
Dreams of Animals
Animal Astronauts
Space Zoo

("Laika Commanding Sputnik 2" from here)