Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Expression of Quiet Trouble

As If
By J. Allyn Rosser

How do you explain why elephants
appear to move their unwieldy hulks
with greater dignity than most humans do
in their finest moments,
as if they had evolved beyond wanting
anything but what they have?
Why does the field begin to ripple
before the wind arrives in whispers,
as if there were a communication,
as if the landscape were poorly dubbed,
and we weren't expected to notice?
What butterfly does not dart away from us
as if it could sense our latent cruelties,
and yet return to check and double-check?
Has the night not gotten recently darker,
as if to insinuate that we have squandered
the light that was there?
Have we made too much of our own?
And did you notice afterward the dawn
opening up with a tentative eagerness
as if there were something crucial to illumine,
as if we would wake up early just to see it?
I imagine you reading this now
with an expression of quiet trouble
itself troubled by currents of hope,
as if you imagined me here with you,
as if I might be able to see your expression,
and at least answer it with mine.

Hat tip: TNC

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Syllabus Porn

 IMO, this Katie Rophie article (despite it's caveats) goes a bit too far into DFW idolation, but it's still worth reading for a look at how  refreshing his approach to even mundane topics was. Money quote:
Wallace is bringing to the endeavor rigorous Salingerish standards of not lying, or not being phony, that would reproach other more ordinary people if these standards did not border on parody, and were not expressed in such a good natured and honorable way.
Most of us operate on what Wallace elsewhere calls the “default setting;” we make a calculation about what is the right expenditure of energy for a syllabus; we make a sensible adult decision about preserving analytic brio for other things, and don’t think too much about it; we use the conventions, the years of worn-out tradition, as a shortcut to speed up communication.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rock Opera!

I've never really understood the obsession with calling rock musicals "Rock Operas." Like many musical arguments, the whole premise seems like a silly exercise in nomenclature to me. However, I do agree with the premise of this article that the Who's greatest musical is not the more highly rated Tommy, it's instead the magical, grandiose Quadrophenia. The two instrumentals alone are the best composed and played rock music i've ever heard, while side three - "5:15", "Sea and Sand", "Drowned", and "Bell Boy" - contains all members of the Who firing on all cylinders for the last time on album. I couldn't recommend listening to the album in it's entirety more.

Random Clustering

The Melbourne Urbanist reminds us that random distributions are not evenly spread out - instead, they cluster together in groups because, as David Pinker notes in his book The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined, "it would take a non-random process to space them out. The human mind has great difficulty appreciating this law of probability".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Monotony Interesting

I've been listening to Phil Manley's "Life Coach" recently and the phrase that comes to mind is "making monotony interesting." I mean that in the best way! The song starts off with a simple drum loop that is quickly joined by a relatively static electronic bass riff that rides out the whole song. Eventually, a guitar plays an ethereal riff for about a minute before moving to the same riff as the bass except that the notes go up and down the scale note by note. It sounds very much like Rainbow Dome Musick-era Steve Hillage (before he discovered drum kits and formed System 7).

The song itself is nothing special, but the combination of the sounds really does something to me. Perhaps it's the echo of the guitar that bounces off of the back of the soundstage of the song. Or perhaps it has something to do with Terry Riley.

 From what I understand, Terry Riley's In C was one of the first "minimalist" compositions in that it consisted of musical stasis that gradually transforms itself into something different, often so subtly that you don't even notice it until things have changed. I think of "In C" a lot, even if I find the actual recording I have to be unlistenable. The theory is sound, I just feel that it works better with electronic instruments than in a classical orchestral setting. For example, Pete Townshend was thinking of Terry Riley when he wrote the famous - and kick-ass! - keyboard riffs of Who's Next (going so far as to name "Baba o'Riley" after the composer). I also hear Terry Riley in the Orb, in particular the amazing "oxbow lakes" off of Orbus Terrarum where the static piano riff slowly changes into something else as the electronic madness takes over...

The last example that comes immediately to mind is múm's "Slow Bicycle" that rides essentially the same riff for a good nine minutes but is mesmerizing all the same. Oh, and The Days Of Mars by Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom!

I could go on and on but my main point of this rambling post is that montonous music can be interesting if the musician gives you the space to ride the groove - and you accept it. And that following musical influences into the past is really a hell of a lot of fun.

OWS and Police Brutality

I've been enjoying the story of the Occupy Wall Street movement the last few months. I think that the movement is important if only because it draws more attention to the huge issue of income inequality of this country.

However, i've been watching the increasing conflict between the police and the movement with dismay, not only because it's obviously horrible for all of the people involved but also because it dilutes the economic message of the movement. As Josh Marshall puts it:
"...something seemed to have changed in the previous couple weeks — basically that the dominant imagery had become about confrontations with the police rather than the core economic messages which had been more dominant previously. In most cases it didn’t seem to be the fault of the OWS protesters. It was peaceful or mainly peaceful protests getting met by excessive police responses. But still, at the level of imagery and message, the end result can be the same. ...

The issue of police brutality and militarized or quasi-militarized policing is a legitimate and very important issue, entirely unto itself. But the the campus police at Davis or the NYPD for that matter aren’t what’s driving the rising inequality of American society."
I hope that this trend doesn't continue, because IMO American inequality is the premier problem facing our country today. If it's not addressed soon, expect the unrest and strife to continue - and if anything, escalate.

Friday, November 18, 2011

That Demon Life

Did you ever wake up to find
A day that broke up your mind
Destroyed your ntion of circular time

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway

Ain't flinging tears out on the dusty ground
For all my friends out on the burial ground
Can't stand the feeling getting so brought down

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway

There must be ways to find out
Love is the way they say is really strutting out

Hey, hey, hey now
One day I woke up to find
RIght in the bed next to mine
Someone that broke me up with a corner of her smile

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway
- "Sway", off of Sticky Fingers by the The Rolling Stones. Quite possibly the best song they've ever recorded. You simply have to listen to Mick Taylor's guitar work on this one. Powerful each and every time I've listened to it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So You Want to Be a Writer

So You Want To Be A Writer by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
- Quibble: I'd argue that even the most inspired writing benefits from some rework and wordsmithing. But the sentiment still stands, and who can argue with the great line "the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is Music?

Music is the shorthand of emotion.
- Leo Tolstoy

Where Do You Buy Your Stuff?

Grist has been doing an expose on Wal-Mart recently, and today's installment examines the poor quality of the stuff we're buying these days. Long story short: Wal-Mart profits from selling sheer volumes of stuff, so they induce manufacturers to cut corners to lower costs. These lower costs mean people buy more, but they also mean that the quality is lessened, so that stuff wears out faster, meaning you have to buy more stuff. Buying all this stuff at Wal-Mart gives them more control over the market, making the whole thing a vicious circle:
Prices on general household goods have fallen by about one-third since the mid-1990s. Given how awash in stuff we were in those boom years, it's shocking just how much more we buy now. Since 1995, the number of toasters and other small electro-thermal appliances sold in the U.S. each year increased from 188 million to 279 million. The average household now buys a new TV every 2.5 years, up from every 3.4 years in the early 1990s. We buy more than 2 billion bath towels a year, up from 1.4 billion in 1994. And on and on.
While there are certainly factors beyond Walmart that have contributed to this ever-expanding avalanche of consumption, the company has been a major driver of the trend. Its growth and profitability rest on fueling an ever-faster churn of products, from factory to shelf to house to landfill.
In a paper [PDF] that came out last year, three business professors illustrate how inducing manufacturers to cut product quality enhances Walmart's competitive position. "Because lower quality products are usually cheaper to produce, it is often argued that discount retailers induce lower quality in order to drive down prices. Our model suggests, however, that the competitive and bargaining position effects provide incentives to induce lower quality regardless of changes in production costs," the authors write. In other words, getting manufacturers to make shoddier products doesn't just mean that Walmart can offer super-cheap wares; it also helps Walmart marginalize its competitors and gain more dominance over its suppliers.
It's one of the reasons I never shop there.

Everything is Sub-division

“It goes back,” he might have begun, “to the second Day of Creation, when ‘G-d made the Firmament, from the waters which were under the Firmament,’—thus the first Boundary Line. All else after that, in all History, is but Sub-Division.”
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, p.360–61

The Perils of Face Time

I recently upgraded my iPhone to version 4 (not the version with Suri) and have been loving the new experience. However, one feature that I haven't even been tempted to try is FaceTime. Hell, I don't even like talking on the phone, much less doing it via video.

The FaceTime thing always reminds me of a wonderful riff from Infinite Jest where DFW details the quick rise and demise of video phones. Money quote:
The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.
The whole section needs to be read in its entirety - it's easily one of the best portions of that over-long, frustrating, fascinating book - but you can read a brief  excerpt at here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Opting Out of Air Travel

TNC, with his usual eloquence, explains one of the reasons why he's choosing not to fly these days:
Finally there is the fact that, as much as possible, I should avoid supporting airline travel in its current American iteration. As I said before I don't do this expecting any kind of policy change--but The God of Policy is not omnipotent. I expect an end to that sick feeling I get whenever I see passengers arbitrarily herded into full-body scans, or stranded on runways for hours, or yanked from their seats and stripped searched. There is still value in looking oneself in the mirror--whatever one might hope to see. Thoughtful resistance, in and of itself, is valuable.
That's so well put I would only add to it the monetary factor: air travel is certainly not as inexpensive or convenient as it used to be. Given these facts, who can fault anyone for choosing to drive, take the train, or forgo the trip altogether?

We Are the Robots

My son Hunter has become obsessed with robots. If you've spent any time at all on this site, you know that that makes the SciFi nerd in me very happy. We've recently spent a few happy hours looking at the robot pictures in Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad and talking about the different mecha in my old copy of Robotech Art 1. But in perhaps the happiest development i've discovered that I can head off tantrums by putting on Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine. Now we roll by marching around the house chanting "We are the Robots." It's a good life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Not a story?

"But this is not a story. We're talking about the real world."
Tamaru narrowed his eyes and looked hard at Aomame. Then, slowly opening his mouth, he said, "Who knows?"

- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, p. 326

Morphing Starlings

An incredible morphing collection of startling formations. Thanks to the Dish for pointing it out!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Time

Time flows in strange ways on Sundays, and sights became mysteriously distorted.
- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, page 153

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Whether Announcing Despair or Affirmation

Whether announcing despair or affirmation, American Realist art in the 20th century is a persistent effort to discover what position man occupies in a world he has brilliantly transformed but often seems unable to control.

- William Kloas

Friday, November 4, 2011

Six Months After

Incredible photos of northeast Japan during, 3 and 6 Months after the terrible earthquake and tsunami.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Refreshing the Tree of Liberty

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
- Thomas Jefferson

It's a powerful quote that speaks truth but has been used dangerously over the last few years. In the case of Greece and the decisions being made by the European Union without the explicit consent of the governed, I fear that that the people are about to take to arms and remind people about the inherit messiness of democracy.

Update: To clarify, i'm not advocating revolution. I just don't understand how the EU can continue to dictate terms to its member states - each ostensibly with their own sovereignty! - without going to the people for accountability. The collapse of the Greek Referendum today shows that it's not going to happen anytime soon, which, as Andrew Sullivan writes:

"...there are also profound long-term risks in pushing for the deeper European integration required of this crisis without popular, democratic consent. ... We're already seeing the paradox of accelerating the loss of sovereignty past the popular national will: you actually increase nationalism and division, rather than ameliorating them. In other words, the EU begins to defeat its own reason for existing."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pictures of Halloween Past

A wonderful collection of pictures from old Halloween nights. Beautiful in it's artlessness.

Halloween as Religion

Starhawk reminds us of the pagan traditions of this most excellent holiday:
For Witches, for those who practice the renewal of the ancient, pre-Christian Goddess religions of Europe and the Middle East, Halloween is our most sacred holiday, our New Year. In Celtic Ireland, Wales and Scotland, Samhain, pronounced ‘sau-in’, was the time when the sheep and cattle were brought down from the summer fields, when the harvest was gathered in and the dark time of year began. The fruits of the harvest, the blessing of the year’s abundance, was shared with the ancestors in the form of offerings which have come down to us in modern times as the candy we give to children-who are the ancestors returning.
Harvest is a time of ending, but also a time of beginning, for the Goddess stands for the great regenerative powers of nature. Out of darkness, light will be born anew. Out of the time of cold and dormancy, new life will return. Death is part of a cycle that brings about rebirth.
In that sense, the witches celebration of Halloween is very Buddhist: not to become too saddened by death, for out of every ending arises yet another beginning, regardless of how difficult it is to see at the time.

And what a celebration it is! Easily my favorite time of year.