Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Enemy Within...

Captain's log, stardate 1673.1. Something has happened to me. Somehow in being duplicated, I have lost my strength of will. Decisions are becoming more and more difficult.
- Kirk

And what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see here indications that it is his negative side that makes him strong, that his 'evil' side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength.
- Spock

(Whimpy Kirk hugs Evil Kirk)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Emerging souls...

"At what age did you become yourself?"

- Marie-Laure de Noailles

(Anthony Quinn c. 1974)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Siberian Misery Tour (Roll up...)

As the thermometer dips below 75 degrees today in Los Angeles, I am pathetically reduced to a shivering mass of thin skin. To think of all those school buses I used to wait for at 7 AM, still dark, nipple deep in snow, enduring New York's howling blizzards of the 1970's and 80's. To think of all those broken men in Siberian prisons who are forced to take outdoor showers in -75 degree weather. Shame!

Hell can be painted in beautiful colors, and this is what two great Magnum photographers, Lise Sarfati and Carl de Keyzer, have done. Their respective books, Acta Est (2000) and Zona (2003), are favorites of mine, capturing worlds that are so foreign and so bleak, and yet so rich in detail and (in)humanity... This world seems important to witness and even embrace, especially in the absurdly cushy "I can't drink this cappuccino" society of LA.

While the infamous Siberian gulag system was dismantled in the 1960's, there are still over a million state prisoners doing jail time in the icy wastelands of northern Russia. Of course the prison camps that the Russian government would allow to be photographed are the cream of the crop (de Keyzer was criticized for his rosie perspective). Even in the showcase prisons we see photos of vacant, shave-headed gaunt young men eating fish and blocks of bread, workers toiling under severe conditions, and of course, a man who fell asleep outside drinking a bottle of vodka having his arm amputated by a butcher-like prison doctor. Rosie or not, to us it's horrible, and yet it somehow rings so true - glimpses of the unconscious horrors that fuel our zest for comfortable living.

You've got to hand it to those Soviet interior decorators, they really knew how to set a scene. In short, Siberian prison camps, in all of their awfulness, are really very photogenic. Plus the air looks a lot cleaner than it does here.

(Photo by Carl de Keyzer)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

An incedent in Lugansk (from TV News)...

Report: Day one. A well-known businessman and parliamentary deputy died in a grenade explosion.

Report: Day two. Yesterday Deputy N. went for a walk with his dog. A young man passing by (as was later learned an Academy of Law student) not knowing that he was talking to a deputy, made a remark that it was prohibited to walk dogs like that without a muzzle. Then the deputy took out a grenade from his pocket and threw it at the student. The well-trained dog (without a muzzle) brought the grenade back to the master in her teeth. The deputy was blown to pieces on the spot.

(text from Boris Mikhailov's "Look at Me, I Look at Water")

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Face forward ...

Do certain faces belong to certain decades or historical eras, or is it just fashion and the media and crude stereotyping and selection that lead us to believe so? Forget hair and make-up. They are obviously plastic. Just the face - It's hard to picture certain ones existing outside of certain timeframes, but that's just crazy talk. Biology does not adhere to our passing aesthetics. And yet the spirit of the day does seem to favor certain looks. Certain facial architectures do seem as consciously designed for a time as certain buildings or cars or fonts.

And as much as there are faces that are dead ringers for their times, Hollywood, rock music and fashion magazines seem to have a special knack for inserting new types of faces into our psyches - faces of evolutionary beauty and horror that seem to add new chapters to the narrative of our curated modernity. I had a list of names to offer as a follow up to this statement, but the list made me cringe. Choose your own illusions.

(Tom Ewell, a face for the 50's, and some blonde with pointy boobs.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Save the amoebas!

"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child
as it is to the caterpillar."

- Bradley Miller

("Carney Goldfish" by Fuco Ueda)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday outs...

I think I could turn and live with the animals. They are so placid and self-contained;
I stand and look at them long and long and they do not sweat and whine about their condition; they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; not one is dissatisfied; not one is demented with the mania of owning things.

- Walt Whitman

("Possum and Fig Newton" by Alex Schaefer)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Clo Clo Cloister...

Our charge and our leader, Clo Clo, takes a moment on this sunny Sunday morning, after the rain, to pray in her swatch of stained glass carpet.

(photo by Sarah Bay Williams)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sunny Disposish...

Oliver Sach's new New Yorker piece, "The Abyss," the story of a severely amnesic English gentleman, is a must read. Not only does it plummet into the many meanings of memory and how, when it's working, it serves to create a continuous reality for us, but it also, quite inadvertently, offers an uproariously accurate "diagnosis" of a certain, classic British bonhomie - a chatty, upbeat self-possession, a loquacious worldview as ordered and uninterrupted as a song bird or symphonic music. It is something I've always found to be extremely charming and fascinating. I referred to it as Wilberforce Syndrome, after one Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster, but of course it can take several forms.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the wake of "The Last Wave"...

The last scene of Peter Weir's The Last Wave is terrifying! What magnificent, horrific tsunami dreams it will give you. The psychological concept of being enveloped by a giant all-destroying wave is familiar. It can manifest itself religiously as a sense of impending doom or Armageddon. It can manifest itself as pessimism - a sense that things are more bad than good accompanied by secret wishes of being washed away by a cleansing death wave. Or you can see it in slow motion: The shiny, soul-sapping machine we've been so busy building for the last hundred odd years has sucked our core humanity out to sea, and now a cushy wave of comfort and mass sedation has enveloped us, buffering us from the pain and fear of being alive; extinguishing the very fuel that makes us potentially interesting beings. In this sceneario we will continue to document and spectate upon our fantasies, recreated in slick and addicting media, but the rules and urges for actual engagement and exploration are buried somewhere deep in Davy Jones' Locker. Cowabunga!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Mystery conspiracy theory...

One thing about mysteries (books, films, etc.) worth noting is how they tamper with the DNA of our intuition. Typically, a mystery gives us subtle leads and clues and then, once we're sure that it was Col. Mustard in the Drawing Room with the Battle Axe, they go and pull the rug out from under us. It's a fun feeling, especially once you see the mystery solved (Aha! Miss Fudge in the Pool Cabana with the Lobster Fork... but of course!), but I wonder - what are the effects of these systematic derailings of instinct? Do they make us sharper? Or do these orchestrated processions of highly cinematic twists and turns actually teach us to fundamentally doubt our instinct in real life? Are we left afraid in the dark with blunted instruments - a condition that causes us to look for guidance outside of ourselves? Who could benefit from such manipulations? How do they get their skills? Cue spooky organ music...

This gets me thinking of the culture of the CIA and other secretive institutions - they thrive in, and therefore manifest, conditions and cultures where basic human logic and instinct have been jammed and folded-in upon themselves to the point of uselessness. If the people in charge of "intelligence" crave paranoia and a world where nothing is what it seems, is it because they can function well under these conditions and mastermind enormous power-grabs right under our noses?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I think it moved...

"Reality is not protected or defended by laws, proclamations, ukases, cannons and armadas. Reality is that which is sprouting all the time out of death and disintegration."

- Henry Miller

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Perhaps it's time for a turn to the left?

The right side looks even darker than usual... Any port in a storm they say, but if you're smart enough to avoid the storm, you can be a bit more selective.

Monday, September 17, 2007

RIP Alex...

I was sad to hear that Alex, the African Grey Parrot who gave his life to science, died earlier this month. Alex (short for Avian Learning EXperiment) was purchased in a pet shop by Dr. Irene Pepperberg in the mid-70s. As an animal psychologist she noticed his remarkable communication skills and began a comprehensive study into the linguistic architecture of Alex's mind - a fascinating, controversial experiment that would last 31 years (until the bird's death). Alex had a vocabulary of 150 words and could express complex ideas and moods. Often, if he was tired of being part of an avian experiment, he would stop all activity and say: "I'm going away now."

Pepperberg maintains that Alex had the consciousness of a five year old human - on par with a great ape or a dolphin. Others in her community suggest that she and the bird had created a subtle system of conditioning that really has nothing to do with the inner life of a bird. I'll add this: I met an African Grey once, randomly, on while a beach with my nephew. We both had the feeling that we were in the presence of something very extremely conscious. Almost disturbingly so.

No one knows why Alex died - African Greys have a lifespan of 50 years - however, he had recently been introduced to the concept of "zero." Perhaps this new awareness of "nothingness" triggered something that interrupted his "being."

And now for some miniature birds...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Are you sure you've got this right?

("Reunion, 1991" by Bruno Barbey)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Someone to watch over us...

When the seasons change in Los Angeles, it's not like it gets cooler or the leaves change. No. You really only know that the seasons are changing when those crazy aliens show up in these spooky cloud-plate spaceship get-ups and hang out over the mountains for a few days. Only then do you know it's time to get out your mesh argyle socks.

And by the power invested in me by my stamp collection, I'd say these aliens are "borrowing" some Altocumulus Lenticularis clouds as cover for their nefarious doings... Did they even ask? Rude and not a very convincing disguise either.

("101 Looking East and Up" by Paul Gachot)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bring home the bacon...

The first thing anybody who knows me knows is that I have a deep abiding love for animals who offer themselves to science. The second thing they know is that I'm absolutely nuts about the Soviet Space Program era... Therefore the discovery of this rare documentary footage warms the cockles of my heart to the point of melting my heat shields. Is it real?
Oh please, of course it's real. As real as the moon landing.

You'll need to click here for the full cosmonaut pig in space effect.

(Stills from "First on the Moon" by Alexei Fedorchenko)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Truths in Advertising...

In the realms of tasteless advertising, this recent Le Tigre shirts ad wears a crown. Get it? The tiger is rippiing apart (mating with?) the (dead) alligator - aka Lacoste. Of course the image is fascinating, and yes, on the surface, the message is clever, but really: are tiger maulings and rotting alligator cadavers so damn snappy that you'd want to buy this company's shirt? How do advertisers think advertisements work? I'm often baffled by this. They seem to desperately believe that tattooing an image on to one's brain will somehow lead to a purchase. Or they think a relentless pounding of "provocative" advertising over years and years will numb us into submission and give us a singular purpose: to offer our billfolds blindly as we crawl to the shops. What a wonderful world that would be.

PS: General Betray US? Hmm. You can do better than that Move On. Or can you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All shapes and sizes...

Christiane Amanpour, Lilly Tomlin, and Anjelica Huston. Three of a perfect pair.
Shall we go for four?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Packaging mourning...

Time doesn't cure all, but it sure adds noise to our original reactions. Six years after 9/11, and many of us are not sure what to feel. Remorse? Anger? Respect? Nothing?

If we look to the media today, we will see a minimum of sombre/emotional coverage, a few heated op-ed pieces ("Where's bin Laden?" and the like) and lots of fluff about Osama's new beard (and Britney's fat belly). Media would like to be able to mimic the human ability to mourn, to transmit the complexity of that emotional state, but in fact, it can't. It can however, simulate our tendency to feel less and less - feed our yearning for distraction as memory dissipates.

True, prolonged mourning is a psychic discipline few individuals are capable of. It requires actively keeping a (painful) memory intact, preserving it from the warping effects of time, fighting the all too human urge to let go and move on. I'm sure there are psychologists who would call it a form of mental illness. Not me though. Like all extreme states of being, I appreciate their existence, and would fight for their ongoing inclusion in our human apparatus.

(19th C funerary photo... think of the exposure time!)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Matmos at Miller...

In the future, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, or more, will claim that they saw Matmos (and Zeena the harpist) at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur on 09/08/07. But less than a hunded of us were actually there. So stirring and indellible was this performance under the stars, it is destined to become part of the core mythology of the early 21st C. Particulary moving was the band's minimal and time-stopping rendition of "Perfect Lives" a modern opera by Robert Ashley, orignally written for tabla and sitar but played here on a computer and an African-looking harp. Other unconventional instruments included packing tape, roses (used as drumsticks), kerosene tanks, tuned teacups, pages of bibles turning, amplified crayfish nerve tissue, and walkie talkies.

Also great was an impromptu acoustic ditty by the Library's own Magnus Toren, in which listeners were reminded that HENRY Miller and Maralyn Monroe were never married (but if they were he'd of taken her to Paris and eaten dinner off her body and dyed her hair blue...)

(Poster by Steven Erdman)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Net worth...

How much of what you do and who you are is a kind of behavioral "net" devised to capture the conditions you desire in life? At what point does the net stop becoming your own invention, which is to say, at what point do you become a thread in someone else's web? And would you even know it if you were?

(Millions of spiders create sprawling mosquito net in Lake Tawakoni State Park
Wills Point, TX, August 2007 - photo by Tom Pennington)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Marine Layer...

Our trip was incredible. Filled with all the ecstatic visuals and adventures one would want from the great outdoors. As we moved along the coast we frequently came in and out of contact with the dreamy marine layer as it dipped on to land and then back out to sea. You were standing in 85 degree bright sunshine, and then you could move into a cloud where it was 25 degrees cooler and droplets of water would form all over your body. Apparently, heat from the sweltering inlands sucks the foggy layer to shore in certain locales. Highly cinematic stuff.

("Sarah leaving the tide pools as fog rolls in" by Paul Gachot)

Monday, September 03, 2007

In tent city...

Gone camping with the lady. May your day be laborless.
P. Gaz

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Package...

If you thought all the film and narrative genres had been discovered, if you thought all pop R&B, rap, and soul musicians were soulless, if you thought R. Kelly was just a child molester, AND you're the type that likes to be surprised and have your pre-existing beliefs challenged, then for you, my friend, I will recommend that you try out Mr. Kelly's wildly inspired hiphopera: Trapped in the Closet. Don't analyze it, don't resist it, just experience it - in a group is best - and allow its hilarious episodic genius to work its whammy on you. Yes, you can watch it on zee computer-box, but better on a big screen in the privacy of your own friends. I thought pop culture was dead, but this shite is pretty entertaining.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The word entrepreneur comes to us from the French entreprendre (to undertake) meaning "an enterer-into" literally. It was introduced into the English language by the Irish economist Richard Cantillon. "Entrepreneurial profit is the expression of the value of what the entrepreneur contributes to production," said economist, Joseph A. Schumpeter.

Vision, risk, leadership, creativity, megaprofits... Sounds all-American, don't it? Interesting that there isn't a good word in English that captures its full meaning.