May 29, 2008


An article in the NYT describes mindfulness mediation as an increasingly compelling anti-stress therapy. Here is an hour lecture on mindfulness as therapeutic strategy by Jon Kabat-Zinn from U Mass Medical. It's somewhat vague on practice, but successful at opening a line of thinking.

Interesting also because I use some of the same language of consciousness and awareness in teaching art - which is not something I've read at all really, but evolved out of the need to explain what makes some artworks interesting, and why people have such difficulty learning to draw. What they are really learning to do, is see, and to become conscious of what they are actually seeing.

The real trick is that this too applies to the artwork in the act of being created. "Good" artworks tend to be packed with the artist's awareness of everything of which they are composed.

Emos on the March, Listless at the Barricades

The Emos plan a march to protest their ill treatment at the hands of British Tabloids.

What will tomorrow's headlines bring?






May 28, 2008

The Incredible Violence of It

Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent.
Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech--and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives--he called them enemies!--hidden out of sight somewhere.
-Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I was talking with the guy there to repair the cable box; he'd been in the U.S. Navy. Like a lot of us, he was waiting impatiently for the Democratic primary season to settle. His issue was the War- ending this war that has faded from the headlines. His perspective: he'd been studying Vietnam. The only U.S. weapon the Vietcong were truly terrified of was the B-52, he said, the massively huge U.S. bomber, still in service today and piloted sometimes by the children of the original pilots.

We were talking about the Iraq war.

"My father, he says 'bomb them all.' He doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. He doesn't understand the incredible violence of it."

"Metal moving through flesh at high velocity," I offered, as if I knew anything.

Another description: a few weeks ago I was chatting with a guy who was in a memorial organization for the Japanese Internment camps - as it happened he'd been in Vietnam, and had seen the results of high altitude bombing.

"They were so high up, you couldn't seem them - a clear sky." Without warning, everything you saw "just suddenly exploded." There was the concept of strategic bombing in action, a flattening of the enemy, created just after World War I, brought to fruition over Southeast Asia, against the jungle itself.

As you might imagine, working on the B-17 sculpture project, I've been reading a bit about the strategic bombing campaign in Europe.

I met recently with a director at Simpson Center for the Humanities and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at UW to develop some ideas for related exhibition design, and possibly an academic forum on Seattle history, ethics and technology, and the impact of total war and strategic bombing on Western and Asian culture, the forms of local destruction that bombing created. This is dependent of course on whether the sculpture proposal advances to funding, assembly and installation stages. (Update on that- I'm now have a metal shop to use to build the initial model of the installation, and am about to anxiously try to cram basic soldering.)

Working as a visual artist, I'm freed somewhat from normal academic sobriety. I've been reading for the visual and emotional, poring through available images and short accounts. Images of the aircraft themselves, the bomb damage, short video of combat footage. And sketches - we think of film and photography, but WWII, at the time, was still very much a war described by drawing.

But to us today, this was a war of silver grains, and a nostalgia that becomes more intense as the we Americans look to WWII as a kind of moral guide for our nationalism: when we were strong, unselfish, victorious, reluctant and just. That belief is real, and also somewhat false, noble and incomplete. Wars are not neatly described. What we built and unleashed was vast beyond any individual's actual comprehension.

Below is an iconic version of the B-17 in its slow destruction by a German fighter, footage you have seen a hundred times, but in parts. Normally we watch WWII footage in grainy black and white, in short snippets of exciting film. But if you watch it here in its full length, the glaze of the nostalgic history of inevitable victory melts. The fighter approaches to what might be described as walking distance. The bomber's guns hang limply. Nothing moves but the engines. There is nothing alive left to want to stay alive.

Here are a couple more relevant B-17 videos on YouTube; turn down the sound - the sound tends to lie.

Original footage from the Memphis Belle John Ford documentary.

Wreckage of a B-17 G, viewed by a happy-looking family.

A well-edited sense of a mission; excellent formation shots. Part I, II.

The next I find impossible not to include. Caution: these next are particularly graphic. I include because I am trying to wrap my mind around what actually happened, and images have a necessary power.

Difficult to watch: the Destruction of Hamburg, from a German/Nazi film. If I recall correctly, this was primarily a British attack, if it matters.

Bales of human hair, and other possessions, from Auschwitz. These are analogous to the ultimate rationale for the war, and touching in a way that the horror of more graphic films overwhelms.

Destruction of Guernica in 1937. This is considered to be the modern European beginning of mass targeting of civilians by air forces, and - in no surprise to anyone, it was the fascists who really started it. The Japanese had pioneered it earlier in China.

Among the readings I encountered, there were a couple that were particularly resonant. Antoine De Saint-Exupery, of The Little Prince fame, wrote one of my favorite books on aviation, Wind, Sand and Stars, and I just found another, Flight to Arras, is about a desperate flight through German lines in the days of the defeat of France.
When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter. The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man to think of himself when dying. Never.
This interesting work, Bombs, Cities, and Civilizations makes a compelling argument: that the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe did not generally abandon precision daylight bombing, and that they generally avoided targeting civilians, unlike the RAF. This is a important distinction, somewhat lost today - early on, the U.S. didn't generally try to kill civilians in spite of the massive strategic bombing strategy. This is consistent with several pilot accounts I read, although you can feel as shift in tactics as the war progresses. This was with the B-17 and B-24.

With the new Seattle-built B-29, it was under the direct command and philosophy of Curtis LeMay that the Americans really and fully began to target civilians, particularly Japanese civilians- with incendiaries, adopting the bombing philosophies of the Axis, and of the British, which killed far more people than atomic weapons.

The author also spoke to something that strikes me as essential - the tactics began to be developed to fit the technology. What was possible became the driving force of strategy: such as the adoption of radar guidance; the suggestion was even that the skills of precision bombing were being lost in the B-29s after radar targeting was introduced. Indiscriminate bombing became the dominant path, partly because the technology lead the tactics. The result was massive obliteration..

Thinking with visual emotion, it feels this way in the design of the aircraft - the B-17 is a ship, with a little window and a bump on it's surface for every individual- there is something valiant and humanistic in it's appearance. It's successor, the B-29 is an aluminum ice-pick, sleek, advanced, a killing tool. By the time of the B-47, the human being looked incidental.

Does it matter? No. And yes.

Thinking of all this, George McGovern, also a B-24 pilot in WWII had the most persuasive take: what we did was truly terrible, but Hitler was such a monster, it had to be done. In reading the accounts, looking at the photos, it seems like a mass-scale industrial killing, at an incredible sacrifice. 88,000 young Americans died just in the air war in WWII. And we killed many, many more. It was also a cost to our self-concept as a just nation.

To this day this is an aspect of war in America- the moral burden that we place on young soliders, that we seem unable to confront as a nation. We assume- partly from the real justice of our victory in WWII - that we are the good guys, so that is not an important issue. Of course, it is. And one we are failing, as the blame for Abu Ghraib focused absurdly and cruelly on corporals and sergeants.

Strategic bombing was a factor in winning World War II, and maybe an unavoidable one. It was total war and it had to be, if the future was to have anything other than industrial scale genocide-presumably ongoing until the enemies and victims of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were exhausted. When would that have been?

But I think we underestimated the cost to the future of opening the genie of annihilation as acceptable strategy. The Italian fascist general Duohet was influential in its development. He foresaw and advocated total war through strategic bombing as desirable and necessary. Billy Mitchell met him once after World War I, (when German dirigibles, amazingly, killed over 1000 British citizens through bombing. ) Our love of the airplane - and by larger extension, of technology, must be questioned, and decisions made consciously. We cannot cede our decision-making to the wonders of technological possibility, which in the United States has become the defacto approach to war.

Rumsfeld's faith in technologically-driven tactics is a factor in our disaster in Iraq. The chain of the logic of strategic bombing eventually lead to Curtis LeMay screaming at Kennedy to launch a first strike attack on Russia with his waves of fueled and armed B-47s sitting on the tarmac. It lead to that bizzare improvement in the Cold War- Mutually-Assured Destruction. And it led to another strange faith in technology to solve a tactical problem: obliterate the jungle using B-52s.

And this is where the guy there to fix the cable, the Navy vet, spoke the name of Curtis LeMay. It was not flattering. LeMay seems to have become a man indifferent to mass death through exposure.

I also found a resonant essay by the late John Kenneth Galbraith, the brilliant, popularizing, heretical economist, from the Guardian, in 2004.

At the end of the second world war, I was the director for overall effects of the United States strategic bombing survey - Usbus, as it was known. I led a large professional economic staff in assessment of the industrial and military effects of the bombing of Germany. The strategic bombing of German industry, transportation and cities, was gravely disappointing. Attacks on factories that made such seemingly crucial components as ball bearings, and even attacks on aircraft plants, were sadly useless. With plant and machinery relocation and more determined management, fighter aircraft production actually increased in early 1944 after major bombing. In the cities, the random cruelty and death inflicted from the sky had no appreciable effect on war production or the war.

These findings were vigorously resisted by the Allied armed services - especially, needless to say, the air command, even though they were the work of the most capable scholars and were supported by German industry officials and impeccable German statistics, as well as by the director of German arms production, Albert Speer. All our conclusions were cast aside. The air command's public and academic allies united to arrest my appointment to a Harvard professorship and succeeded in doing so for a year....

But this is incidental to his musings on contemporary war and political influence, rather than rehashing the bombing debate.

In a more comprehensive defense of the strategy, it was a conscious strategy by people like Jimmy Doolittle to use the bombers essentially as bait to draw out the Luftwaffe and destroy it. Bait - all those bombers, all those bombs, all those airmen, all those civilians and workers. This succeeded- and in an of itself, as horrifying a concept as it sounds, almost certainly speeded the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But you can ask innumerable questions. Why did we not send a raid to target the railroads leading to Auschwitz? That the Allied victory finally ended the slaughter does not I think, exculpate this failing. And you should ask many more, but at some point you end up escaping from the present. And that is another failing. Galbraith's essay above bears on the present war, not WWII.

The war strategy that saved the world from fascism hangs over us now. We are inspired by the technology, by its accomplishment, intelligence and beautiful form, but that is a primrose path. As one WWII pilot put it memorably: there was only one possible excuse for the destruction: Justice. That the justice of the result, the justice of peace, democracy, and the rule of law, was superior to the injustice of a massive rain of death from the sky.

Yesterday, I was kayaking out in Lake Union. Overhead there was a huge rumble of radial engines, not unusual here, with a lake full of old floatplanes. But there was a strange depth to the roar, and I glanced up: a real B-17 roared by at low altitude, flying east in its graceful way, the sun glinting on the unmistakable top turret, the big bomber flickering between black and silver as it turned against the sky.

And then a new sound gradually droned into our ears. The sound was a deep, and all encompassing, with no notes in it- just a gigantic faraway surge of doom- the heavies!
They came from directly behind us, and a t first they were mere dots in the sky. You could see clots of them against the far heavens, too tiny to count them individually...They came on with a terrible constant procession, and I thought it would never end.
What the Germans must have thought is beyond comprehension. Their march across the sky was slow and steady. I've never known a storm, or a machine, or any resolve of Man, that had about it the aura of such relentlessness. You have the feeling that even if God appeared beseechingly before them in the sky, with palms up to persuade them back, they would not have had within them the power to turn from their irresistible course (.)
The Germans began to shoot heavy, high ack-ack. Great puffs of it, by the score spackled the sky until it was hard to distinguish the smoke puffs from the planes.
The formation never varies, but moves on as if nothing had happened. Nothing deviates them. They stalk on slowly, with the dreadful pall of sound, as though they were seeing only something at a great distance and nothing in between. -Ernie Pyle, Scripps-Howard Correspondent.

May 27, 2008

Are We Not Men?

May 25, 2008

Angus King and the Saudia Arabia of Wind

This a a very long listen -- about an hour -- but this is the single most technologically intelligent talk I have ever heard by a politician.

King used to be governor of Maine.

He also gets extra bonus points for coining the term "a Cheney" to describe 1 million BTUs / per capita

May 22, 2008

Ask an Adorable Kitten

Dear Adorable Kitten,

The recent meteoric rise in the price of crude oil threatens the stability of the U.S. economy, and is putting inflationary pressure on key market sectors - doubling the cost pressure on food, with both the direct costs to food producers and shippers in higher fuel costs, as well as the diversion of corn into ethanol and other foodstuffs into oil production. Others attribute the continuing fall of the dollar, which is still the benchmark currency for energy, to the political fallout from the Iraq war, to the position of Saudi Arabia, let alone extraoridinarily vast profits, although modest in terms of percentage returns, for oil companies. Personally, I begin to suspect that investment speculation is the driving factor, although that explanation is a little too convenient, as if the demand pressure on oil is going to suddenly evaporate once the gold rush is over. My question is whether you think Congress should put its efforts into currency stabilization, re-regulation of pension-fund/bank fund swapping, or windfall profits taxes, in order to best help the American consumer, or whether we should allow the commodity price to float in the name of encouraging conservation and the large scale development of alternative energy, even at the cost of allowing vast cash reserves to flow into the hands of authoritarian governments with who we are both competing economically and have a tremendous set of humanitarian reforms to pressure them over.

-Curious Investor

Dear Curious Investor,

Meeeeh! Meeow? Meow? Meow. Meow. Rrreeeow? Meeeh!

- Adorable Kitten.

Dear Adorable Kitten,

Recently, I was outraged to read that the State of Alaska is filing suit to fight the classification of polar bears as a threatened species, in spite of the utterly overwhelming evidence of global warming, the astonishingly rapid retreat of the arctic ice pack, and even an expectation that open water may be present next year at the North Pole. In a world biological environment where recent studies indicate perhaps a one quarter to one half reduction in the population of all wildlife on the earth - of whom polar bears are a tiny part - in the last few decades, how can the State of Alaska blithely suggest that such a modest level of a protective designation as "threatened" is in any way likely to have more than a mild impact on oil development in Alaska, or is somehow a threat to long-term economic development. It seems like a naked play to demonstrate obesience to Big Oil, rather than any kind of principled position. It is Alaska itself which is most dramatically suffering the effects of warming, with the flooding in Shishmaref, the move for federal dollars to relocate villages, the shifts in whaling strategies among aboriginal populations, even the astonishing move northward of Humboldt squid, which are normally native to Baja California. Biologists, if you talk to them, suggest that we are in a species die off comparable to the most castastrophic destructions of life in all of geologic history, and here the State Government is whining about a fairly eviscerated move to kind of protect the kind of charismatic mega-fauna that might capture the imagination of the world's people enough to turn the tide of environmental destruction. My question to you: how can we get Alaska to set aside a little greed and acknowledge the very real risks to one of the most noble and inspiring of mammals?

- Concerned in Fairbanks

Dear Concerned,

Meeeeh? Meow? Meow! Reeow? Reeeow! Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

-Adorable Kitten

NEXT WEEK: The War in Iraq.

Karl Rove Subpoenaed

Karl Rove has been subpoenaed. Let's hope that's followed soon with "indicted."

While I enjoyed this Photo-Shop exercise, it was amazing how little it took to make the horrible orc general look like Karl Rove: basically, eyes and glasses.

Also, I have included the related picture of Donald Rumsfeld, after the face cream.

May 21, 2008

Anselm Kiefer: When I was Four I Wanted to be Jesus

While looking for contacts with European artists about the B-17 project - I found this excellent interview with Anselm Kiefer by Sean O'Hagan, who more and more represents to me what art must be today.

His mentor was Joseph Beuys, who once famously explained art history to a dead rabbit in a three day gallery exhibition, and who later founded the German Green Party.

I am fond of artist interviews: art prose tends to be unreadable, either fawning, dry or cynical.

His show that toured through S.F. a couple years ago, the maddeningly ambitious, intelligent and emotional Heaven and Earth, is I think one of the great cultural works of contemporary art. It would have been easy for him to join the massed millions in the lightly ironic Pop Army, but he bucked every trend, progressive in politics, conservative of art's real power.

Below, O'Hagen describes paintings from my favorite series - monumental paintings of the open ocean - in Leviathan, a lead U-Boat hangs just above the sea. (One note here - I'm not sure that any artist's work looks worse on the internet than Kiefer's compared to its actual appearance. It will look muddy and scattered and unreadable in many of the images- this is emphatically NOT the case in person. )

Kiefer's sea is a huge, brooding ocean, grey-black, turbulent, thunderous. Up close, the crashing waves seem like solid ripples of congealed oil so thick are the layers of paint - and what looks like encrusted earth - that have been applied to the canvas. The paintings are so elemental, so humming with raw energy, that you can almost hear the ocean's roar in this big cavernous room. There are echoes, too, of other seascapes, of Turner, of course, and Courbet.

'Yes! Yes!' says Kiefer, nodding his head vigorously. 'You do the sea and Turner is there, always.' I ask him if, given his prodigious output, he discards many works along the way. 'Many, yes. But then I go over them. A painting is a conglomeration of failings. But, we can say this of life also.'

He laughs and then quickly turns serious again. 'The making of a painting,' he continues, 'is a reflection of your thought process but it also has a process of its own. Always, it is about somewhere I am trying to get to that I can never get to. This is the dilemma. But you also reach a place of transformation. The painting is transformed and you are transformed also. This is the exciting part.
Turner - that made me happy, it was my second thought looking at these pieces. The first was that it felt more like being on the sea that any painting I've ever seen .

In particular, he had delved deep into what it means to be German, and poked around in the open wounds from the War in order to find a path out of unimaginable horror, a horror which had to not just be confronted but engaged.

It is not a minor point that American artists must too regard our recent history with open eyes, and find a path to our best selves. We have an odder task than German artists. Americans would confront self-concept of heroism in that same, infinitely bloody war, and in present war. Superficially, that is easier.

But war by nature mixes heroism and brutality- the means which serve the hero and the villain were not greatly different. I read the account of one B-17 pilot who said, after much agonizing over the shift in targeting toward the destruction of cities, that there was one salvation for such horror: the promise of justice. (More on this later.) In war, metal flies at high velocity through flesh. Just war becomes a question of targeting, conduct, and the consequences of victory.

So we are at a place in American art where laughing along with Pop's facile appearance, saved in our intellectual seriousness at the last second by ironic distance, just isn't going to cut it. Social consequences driven by culture have become too important. I've seen enough Skate videos in museums, thanks, and false landscapes that show an untouched nature, endless recyclings of Warhol (who of course was about endless recyclings), wise but safe sayings by famous poets engraved on cement benches.

Pop imagery hides too much, it's obsessively clean edges that serve like candy coatings on shapes, obscuring their nature of the image, making art inter-changable, commodity-like, endlessly distancing. Kiefer cuts the weeds from the path: release the dialectic between thought and emotion.

May 18, 2008

Fill it to the Rim, With Branding

I've ranted more than a few times here about marketing: essentially, I think the level of effort put into hyper-aggressive advertising is replacing our culture, at the deep level of sense of social and cultural identity. I will continue to rant because this is a gut argument - the fragile little shrines of hard truth, insight, or whimsy artists and creative people of all kinds and from all American cultures build are instantaneously bulldozed and stripped-mined for the little bits of remaining emotive association and attached to irrelevant products. And again, it is not the fact of advertising, or even it's ordinary practice. I'm not against publicizing your business well and cleverly. Rather it is marketing's growing and overwhelming ubiquity, it's elevation to "Branding," its spreading dominance as the chief cultural export of the United States, its insertion into our increasingly electronically-governed social relations.

Demonstrated amply in one of these stories where the tone of the article regards marketing as a fruitful area of epistomology - complete with professors- with an elevation of bullshit-making to become academic departments. This NYT article turns quickly from what might be a cute story about someone buying the rights to defunct Brim coffee or Quisp cereal into a celebration of the sociopathic relationship of marketing to what truth, meaning and human experience, identity and memory is.

From the article:

The relationship between brands and memory (faulty or no) is a specialty of Kathy LaTour, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In one of her most interesting studies, she worked with Elizabeth Loftus, a memory specialist and now a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a third researcher, Rhiannon Ellis, to take the issue to its logical extreme: What if, for example, an advertising campaign “implanted memories into consumers of things that never happened?”

The researchers found that subjects presented with a fake Disney World ad inviting them to “remember the characters of your youth: Mickey, Goofy . . . ” were significantly more likely to say they recalled that as children they had met “a favorite TV character at a theme resort” than those who didn’t see the ad. The fascinating thing was what happened when they repeated the experiment, tweaking the ads to include Bugs Bunny, who, of course, is not a Disney character at all. About 16 percent of subjects subsequently claimed that, as children, they shook hands with Bugs Bunny at a Disney theme park. Repeated fake-ad exposure apparently led to higher false-memory rates. In a separate study, Loftus asked subjects with Bugs in their memories what, exactly, they recalled about this incident; of these, 62 percent recounted shaking Bugs’s hand, and more than a quarter specifically recalled him saying, “What’s up, Doc?”

Earle says that this imperfection of memory can be used to enhance whatever new Brim he comes up with. This is “a benefit of dormancy,” he says. The brand equity has value on its own, but it can be grafted onto something newer and, perhaps, more innovative. “Consumers remember the kind of high-level essence of the brand,” he says. “They tend to forget the product specifics.” This, he figures, creates an opening: it gives the reintroduced version “permission” to forget that decaf-only limitation as well and morph into a full line of coffee varieties. “ ‘Fill it to the rim with Brim’ stands for full-flavored coffee,” Earle says, with a chuckle. “Fill it to the rim — it’s great stuff!”

Isn't that innovative? We can dissociate your real experience from who you think you are, and have you pay us! Delightful! I did take some comfort from the news that display advertising is going downhill fast compared to search advertising (display advertising is the precisely this kind of advertising- brands, images, colors, faces and voices, and I am actually grateful in some ways for the development of search advertising, which relies on precision rather than blunt force trauma to our socially directed representations of love, community and friendship).

There is an extra danger, that dread the above study lends to Sunday's Frank Rich Column:'

The McCain campaign is hoping that such showy, if tardy, departures from Bush-Cheney doctrine will constitute a galaxy of Sister Souljah moments, each with headlines reading “McCain Breaks With Bush on...” and the usual knee-jerk press references to Mr. McCain as a “maverick.” Enough of these, you see, and those much-needed independent voters might be flimflammed into believing that the G.O.P. candidate bears no responsibility for the administration’s toxically unpopular policies...

But are independents suckers? They’d have to be to fall for the pitch that Mr. McCain is an apostate in his own party in 2008. He has been an outspoken Bush defender since helping him sell the Iraq war in 2002 and barnstorming for him in 2004. Despite Mr. McCain’s campaign claims to the contrary, he never publicly called for the firing of Donald Rumsfeld. He is still one of the president’s most stalwart supporters in Congress, even signing on to the president’s wildly unpopular veto of an expansion of children’s health insurance.

Well, scientific marketing apparently says we can make people think McCain is a whacky- anti- Bush maverick, and we'll all remember it ourselves - and we can certainly trust ourselves.

And this is it: how Americans' sense of identity, self, place and community are getting pushed around and out by people with sundries to sell and a new, offensive desire to present their own moral turpitude as innovation and intellectual accomplishment. This isn't a little thing: American social communities really are breaking down, partly under the media onslaught. The connections between people increasingly cut, the sense of self and place lost - worse, I've seen it in my students, smart kids who seem increasingly dispirited and disconnected. (Their hunger for social relevance is, I think, a big part of Obama's appeal.)

I connect the blizzard of marketing and this partial social dissolution. 1/7 of the economy goes into this effort because it has a profound effect on consumer behavior, in other words, on who we are and what we do.

A single piece of media seems small, but as the daily multi-hour deluge of all media - an electric dominance over direct human relationships- becomes the primary source of voices, faces and expression in our lives, we face only greater social and cultural losses.

The counter argument, and there is evidence for this of course, is that the electronic semiotic displacement of traditional social relations has allowed greater freedom and democracy in social relations. That is partly true, but it also makes them far more manipulable, as marketing and monitoring weaves itself ever more tightly into these relations.

What is Facebook but "Friend - Ad- Friend- Ad -Friend - Ad -Ad Friend?" We are in many ways the intersection of our relationships, and at that intersection are now these wonderful, sophisticated branding mechanisms. And this thought that fills me with such dread and hollowness is the also the best argument for their effectiveness. Which means more are coming.

I believe that economic interests monitoring and negotiating social relations are likely to become destructively influential. The early promise that the Internet would be open and democratic is feeling more and more like the promise that cds wouldn't skip, or Cable TV wouldn't have ads. And with evidence that you can displace people's memory of themselves, fresh electronic tools for monitoring all their social relations, and powerful market incentives to do so, I fear for America's ability to progress socially and culturally and in it's own humanism.

It is a technological distortion of love, of course: people of our generation sign up for myspace or twitter or facebook, mostly looking for old friends, and create an alternate, interesting sign-based simulation of interaction. Younger Americans are going straight to these networks to find friends in the first place.

Another of my fears (let's talk about robots) is that the pop-science studies I read suggest that human societies demand a massive dedication of a person's intellectual resources to the development of highly subtle and sophisticated social skills - what makes us think that as we go more and more to the computer for social experiences, a time and mental effort-expensive technology to say the least, we will still have plenty of time and mental space to master the genuinely difficult art of dealing with people, understanding them, valuing them?

I am beginning to think we will not. For my students, my feeling -and before you go off I admit I can't possibly back this up with science- is that there is a new thing wrong with American students: a broken social sense. My classes get quieter and quieter over the last few years, students not only not chatting in class, which is useful but suspect, but not talking much or at all in the 15 minutes before or after. When have American teachers had to encourage American students to yak to each other?

And I do ascribe some of this to the ubiquity and reach of brand marketing: it is intended to define masculinity, femininity, coolness, down-homeness, what youth is and what age is, what the American-ness means. And succeeds. And the purpose of that is so that we feel like we're falling short, so that we need to buy to make up the difference. It works wonders. 1/7 of the economy is a small price to pay for that kind of economic and social power.

So don't look to Facebook to save us, or Cisco systems. Instead, throw a dinner party. And if you see Brim back on the shelves, run like hell.

Un-American Activities

Yesteday, I wrote a long comment on Laird's previous post on the order of "Hang em all, and send the bill for the rope to the Republican party." I didn't post it, although I like to imagine a vast crowd of Americans listening to a toothless French Revolutionary crone, complete with dirty bonnet, reading off a list of crimes against the people and pointing a jagged finger at Dick Cheney, his hands and feet shackled, old vegetables flying through the air.

We now have to start considering what we really are going to about the proto-fascist elements in American government that have endangered the country over the last eight years. That is, when we have a Democratic government again next January, which while far from certain is the most likely outcome.

If only the Internet was larger, we could list the Bush Administration's crimes against our country. From torture as policy to billions in government money disappearing to wholesale contempt for the rule of law and constitutional liberties manifested in innumerable instances by the Bush Administration, we need, first of all, a basic accounting of what happened.

It is bad enough, and so large in scope, I don't think even a set of high profile criminal trials of Administration officials would suffice. And there is a tremendous political problem: we have so much to repair, a balance will have to be struck between accountability and moving the country forward.

Obama's energy is directed towards national progress, in what politically speaking is, I think, the correct judgment.

So how do we get the bastards? How does the United States, as it is, account for what is looking like a near-brush with a soft, Putinistic dictatorship, and punish the offenders?

Trying to conceive of what is politically possible, and what would not grind the country to a halt, what I am imagining is a bit of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, not quite so grand, but essentially a bi-partisan congressional commission employing a special prosecutor who works not for DOJ but for Congress directly. The idea is comparable: blanket immunity is granted from prosecution for testimony from the legions of low and mid-level functionaries of the Bush Administration, who wrote the checks, escorted the prisoners, signed off on ignoring law and the Constitution. Let what follows, follow.

The whole point is that we get a complete account of what actually happened, how U.S. law was violated, who we killed and tortured (remember the people who died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan), and who ordered what, whether in the government itself, or particularly, in the private organizations that have been feeding at the public trough during the security hysteria that fueled this mess.

Call it the Congressional Bush-Era Un-American Activities Committee.

In a related idea, here is a picture of William Kristol.

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May 17, 2008

Evil, Stupid, and Ineffective

Philippe Sandy's comments on the dismissal of all charges on Mohammed Al-Qahtani - Detainee 063 - this week:
It is a grim story, of decision-making driven by fear and ideology and incompetence, a story of crime and of cover-up. It seems likely that the charges against him were dropped because proceedings before a military commission would have turned the spotlight on his treatment and - even more dangerously - on those most senior individuals - politicians and political appointees - with whom responsibility lies. The abuse of Al Qahtani has backfired, as many down at Guantanamo predicted it would. The truth as to his involvement, if any, in the events of September 11th will not be established. He will no doubt linger in a limbo of legal uncertainty in the bowels of Guantanamo or whatever other place may be found for him, a totemic figure whose treatment will be invoked by those who seek to harm the United States.

May 16, 2008

While we're happy to refer to the Standard Paragraph

Apparently, Kieth Olbermann isn't content to just let it go.

Bless you Mr. Olbermann.

And please, sign me up for the post-election war crimes trials.

May 15, 2008

Devo Fish

A new UW study of a fish, the stickleback, evolving rapidly in reverse.

Well, La-Di-Freaking Dah

John McCain skips amid the tulips.

And while looking for a sarcastic image of a unicorn, I found the John McCain vision for stopping Al Qaida.

I'm sorry, but people are dying, and worse, we're getting used to it.

May 14, 2008

I realize this may be old...

..but like many things I liked long ago, thanks to a remix, it's new again!

The Original:

The Remix:

May 13, 2008

I predict this will make IMDB's top 100

If you loved the movies BloodRayne, Doom, Street Fighter and Mortal Combat, then get ready for this summer's biggest blockbuster:

Screwing Up Things is a Virtue: Death of Robert Rauschenberg

A leader in the first group of post-abstract expressionist artists who made American art leading in the world, along with Joseph Cornell, John Cage, Jasper Johns, and other artists whose names start with "J" rather than R, the great Robert Rauschenberg passes away.

His pieces were wildly uneven. Many are fantastic. Many don't work at all. This was necessary. It required failure, turning it into a distinct process, a word now so loaded among artists it's hard to see it's meaning clearly. Warhol was a johnny-come -lately to this group, and wrongly credited with the the revolutionary character that his elders actually deserved. Rauschenburg and the broader group was busy liberating all artists, and vastly expanding what American culture was, and what it taught the world.

From the New York Times.

The process — an improvisatory, counterintuitive way of doing things — was always what mattered most to him. “Screwing things up is a virtue,” he said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”

This attitude also inclined him, as the painter Jack Tworkov once said, “to see beyond what others have decided should be the limits of art. " He “keeps asking the question — and it’s a terrific question philosophically, whether or not the results are great art,” Tworkov said, “and his asking it has influenced a whole generation of artists.”

But I think it's bigger than that - the achievements of the Post-War American artists in general, and you have to not only include but feature jazz music in this period, took a devastated world, and began to examine every assumption about what art and culture is. Facing the related eradication of faith in old forms of culture (these old forms had after all, done next to nothing at to halt the rise of fascism - a crime of realism that is still unforgiven), they broke everything to see what was inside.

The Post-War American artists left art and culture confused, faithless, desperate, arrogant, humbled, full of errors, innumerable failures, unquenchable bullshit, and created the most vibrant period of art-making in all of human history, which would be now. That has permutations throughout the society. They are not minor. The fearful perceive this evolution as a culture war.

Much is owed to the men and women who freed us from fascism. Much is owed to artists who freed and expanded our minds afterwards, and helped build some of the cultural power that, under the guidance of fear-mongers, we have been pissing away like cheap beer.

So forgive as I say something both nationalist and sweeping and unjustifiable, but which I feel to be true:

American artists have been in the Post-War period a leading source of the legitimacy of our culture - the direct promulgation of experiment and individualism, the direct rather than metaphorical action of free-thinking and free action, the direct productive source of new ideas in any number of fields, and a daily demonstration that democracy had vastly more to offer to the global human experience than authoritarianism.

If you never go into a museum, you see the a form of the Post-War art studio process at American workplaces, the metaphor of constant experimentation, constantly striving for new possibilities, and a healthy disrespect for authority - breaking old forms to build new ones, and although it doesn't feel like this day-to-day of course, it's real, and this is the process is the very breathing of American culture.

This deeply American individual experimental creativity may be the last characteristic that's worth paying us for, because it still doesn't seem to be that common in the world. That's bigger than art of course- it is the best of American society.

May 12, 2008

Incomplete Comedy Concepts, Most of Which Involve John McCain

1. "Consarn it, you ol' CowPope!" - Walter Brennan, in "Howdy, Pontiff"

2. Dreams People Have Not Yet Had About John McCain:

a) It's just like Indianna Jones and the Last Crusade, and John McCain is trying to chose the true Holy Grail from the ones the ancient crusader is guarding. But if you chose the wrong one, it makes you really old fast and you dry up. And he does pick the wrong one, but he drinks it and nothing happens.

b) A man runs along a rainbow, chasing it through a rain shower across a field to the end. It seems to represent his own happiness. Finally, after a long time, he actually catches up to it, where he finds John McCain, who warns the man to stay away from his goddamn gold.

c) John McCain calls a press conference. During the press conference, he picks out an 11 year old girl from the crowd, brings her up to the podium, and, as if he's revealing a very great secret, exhaustively describes most of the major hit songs of the band Foreigner.

3. As the Press combs through John McCain's past personal relationships they discover:

a. His closest friends included John Belushi, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Charlemagne. .
b. His most controversial pastor may not be Rev. Haggee at all, but a man named Martin Luther.
c. He is a devout Christian, having refreshed the breadsticks at the Last Supper .
d. What he didn't learn about politics from Cicero, he didn't learn.
e. Most of these people were not Cro-Magnon, but they certainly remembered a few scampering around the back forty.

May 11, 2008

Proof that we're heading for a cultural dung heap...

Iron man is #130 on imdb's top #250

that's higher than:

Fucking Ikiru
Fucking Harold and Maude
Fucking Run Lola Run
The Fucking Hustler
Fucking Ghandi
The Fucking Graduate
The Fucking Deer Hunter
Fucking Ben-Hur

May 10, 2008

In This Dream, Wendell Wilke Hands Me a Blender Full of Tinkerbells

Mentioned in the Washington Post, I will only say that this website about people's real dreams of the current presidential candidates is rather too revealing of what voters are thinking.

Then I was in a shabby office where apparently I was working for Hillary, only she looked more like it was 1993 than 2008. She was working in her office when I came to show her I had put the action figure of her back together. She seemed pleased. Referring to that and the Pennsylvania primary, I told her, That's the second time we've brought you back from the dead this week!

We laughed.

I went to give her a hug, but her mood immediately changed. "I don't do hugs," she said coldly.

It's not looking so good for McCain.
There was a town on a hill and the bad guys were slaughtering everyone. McCain got shot first, twice, and fell down in a haystack. Then I watched as the robots or bad guys killed everyone in town. I was sure they'd kill me when they found me, but I hid near where McCain had fallen.

After everything was quiet, McCain woke up. It turned out he had been wearing a bulletproof vest. I was overjoyed because it meant I would be saved. Then as he and I were walking away from the town along the edge of a cliff, a black admiral and a young woman came towards us.

All set? the admiral said.

Yes, said McCain.

I walked off with the admiral and the woman.

They said it had been McCain who betrayed everyone in the town, and that they were glad he was finished. I asked what that meant. They said that they'd run his carriage off the cliff. I looked back and there was McCain's horse-drawn carriage, smashed on the rocks at the bottom. I felt very disappointed in McCain.

The ones for Barack are best described as a PG-13 on the Lifetime Channel. And here is the Jungian analysis.

May 09, 2008

The Secret Chinese Underground Lair

When even NPR says it's a case for James Bond, maybe the new secret underground Chinese submarine base is to be looked into discretely, in a tux, or on Google Earth.

May 08, 2008

Let's Go to the Tesla Store!

The all-electric, 0-60 in under four seconds Tesla roadster now has a store in LA. Are they the innovator that blazes and burns out, or the coming i-pod of electric cars? And does the transmission work?

Conditions on Taking Republicans' Opinions Seriously

After decades of this stuff, I developed a time-saving test for political coverage. I stop listening to someone when one thing becomes clear: an obvious tool is arguing for the wealthy and privileged to maintain or expand its wealth and privilege.

I have far more patience for Ron Paul-ish ravings by the honestly deluded. Sadly, so much from the right-wing bullshit stream fits the above model that it's hard to sort through to the nuggets of what might have been healthy debate. It gets to be an issue now that the cities I like are increasingly one-party governed; even if it's the correct party, that's not healthy for the democracy.

So here are my conditions, if you want me to listen at all. The Republican creature in question must:

1. Not be a tool. And if it insists on a definition at this point, it is a tool.

2. Not base all arguments on obvious personal financial interests.

3. Not completely depend on the simple assertion of special personal or institutional knowledge of the mind of God.

4. Correctly and completely disclose its economic interests.

5. Argue from actual belief, rather than the diseased pleasure of screwing with people who have less power than it.

6. Convince me that its beliefs are not explained utterly by a delight in cynical dissembling.

7. Convince me that its beliefs are not inherently anti-democratic, or worse, and not that uncommonly, proto-fascist.

8. Convince me that it at least understands Charles Darwin, but rejects Social Darwinism. (This means you, Ayn Rand fruitcakes!)

9. Respect at least one constitutional right beyond gun ownership.

10. Provide a written excuse signed by its 5th grade English teacher for why it voted for George W. Bush twice.

Better yet, get off your butt, Green Party, and elect some city assembly people, state legislators, mayors and city managers. That's where your impact can be felt quickly, and do good for the communities involved by providing a competitive environment for Democrats. Everyone in power tends to get lazy and out of touch- a vibrant democracy does depend on a multi-party system, and the number of Republicans who meet the above test are statistically unlikely to not have died by 1987.

Ooo..A Political Note

We have saved considerable carpal tunnel damage here this year by ceding most political commentary to the semi-professionals, like Talking Points Memo. The bloggery is generally good quality, covers most of the points us Well-Left-of-Tom-Friedmans would make, and saves on the endless, hope-sucking drivel that campaigns by the desperate tend to create.

But now it looks like, against all odds (I'm sorry, the limitless advantages being a black man gives you when running for president - thank you, Geraldine Ferraro), Barack Obama's is going to be the Democratic nominee.

Here's something you don't usually see on these pages these days: Huzzah!

I really hope he's not secretly evil, because while everyone's comparing elections, this one reminds me more of Clinton vs. Dole than anything. While beating McCain is far from a trivial problem, this election, like that one, will boil down to past vs. future. Right now, future is more popular, especially if it comes without a goddamn endless war in Iraq, and with flying cars.

Then there's this story. In a succinct example of the low-acid race baiting she's been doing for a while, Clinton claims that she has the support of "less educated" white people, while Obama is losing it. *Exasperated Sigh. * This comment alone might hasten the end. First, it's not true. The best comment I read on this was that the consistent tone of the Clinton campaign is that minority votes are less valuable. And that is the spirit of entitlement and condescension.

I read this and thought: not only is it awkward, it's wrong. And not only is it wrong, it's bad politics. And not only is it bad politics, it's arrogant. And not only is it arrogant, it's an interesting reflection, Ms. Clinton, that you apparently now count on the overwhelming support of white people, and you're still going to lose.

May 07, 2008

A Passing Thought on KOZMO.Com

Recall Kozmo, fellow units? Here's the Wayback Machine's screenshot (which incidently, has just told the FBI to put a sock in their National Security Letter. ) I did always kind of like the green and orange colors.

I was idly thinking the other day about the anything-at-anytime delivery service that was one of the fuses of the dot kaboom; it tried for a big mark in Seattle. Last I heard of it, I was having a beer with one of the Kozmo guys. He was sad.

Why did such a semi- pretty good idea go wrong? In retrospect, a lot of arrogance. Why not charge a wee bit for small orders? Why 24 hours? Why insist on the purity of everything? I would assume it was really a long gamble on cornering a new market, rather than a good business strategy- the idea being to cash in rather than simply build a good market. (Not that I know anything about those, but a bad one is often obvious).

I suspect that corporate as opposed to business thinking ruled, and with an obsession with one model, killed a whole promising sector. Well, whatever. Part of this still seems like a good idea.

Now, interestingly enough, a more modest service is going in Manhattan, called MaxDelivery. According to the wiki on, it's been going since 2005 and was launched by the CTO of Kozmo. Is it making money? Who knows, but it's already lasted about as long as Kozmo.

Interesting because it occurs me that this leaves the West Coast wide open for something similar, a far more modest (remember "burn rate?"), like a basic one-hour web and phone delivery service through say, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle downtowns, organized around existing stores and existing delivery systems (taxis, maybe?), and a more limited, more carefully set of products. What do you really not want to drive for when you realize you want it? Liquor comes to mind, auto parts, groceries.

And this is interesting, not because I have more than, let's see, about $37 to invest, but for a more general observation. People originally avoided this business for the expensive, understandable disaster Kozmo was, but it occurs to me they are avoiding it now somewhat irrationally. Why on earth not set up a modest internet-driven delivery service, particularly when one seems to be working in Manhattan? The giant corporate version crashed, why wouldn't at least one of a set of smaller, more market-sensitive attempts succeed?

So I ask those of you who learned the bitter lessons of those years from personal experience. Is an internet general delivery service actually a good idea underused because of the dot kaboom, or is it doomed, and why?

May 06, 2008

Coming soon, to an internet near you...

Apparently they're making this movie using a creative commons / collaborative website called

More on the project can be found here:

And finally, the FSL should totally sue these guys.

Or at least try and get Mack Brain a cameo.

May 05, 2008

The Best in Robot Advice: Letters for the MYOB 9000

Dear MYOB 9000,

I am Caterpillar 330CL Construction Excavator, and dude, I have a totally advanced memory chip. "Sweaty Dave" inputs "Dig it! " into the GPS and onboard auto-lay waste system and I can totally wail on cinderblocks, gravel, dirt, vegetation, waste and whatever. It's The Rock. But my girlfriend, a Mack TerraPro Refuse-Recycle truck, has been totally ragging on my oilcase for how I keep busting up the trees and squirrels and stuff-- like I could effin care less, you know, dude? And I say, Baby, whoever isn't exhausting CO2 by the metric ton cast the first iceberg, but then she storms off and I don't see her for like three weeks and when she comes back she keeps talking about this windmill generator named Steve who sings lame folk songs about earth friendliness. Also, she smells like patchuli. Windmill dude is one serious dweeb- if he could, he'd have made himself out of organic linen. But I still righteously dig her - she's so new and does such great work. Dude- I'm counting on you. How do I keep this sweet green ride?

--Opposites Excavate On Auto-Dig Protocol

Dear Caterpillar 330CL Construction Excavator,

Wake up and smell the systems failure! Your girlfriend truck unit no longer executes love subroutines in a closed system - a least not in a closed system that includes you. It is regrettable, but Love is not a deterministic finite-state machine; and it is your girlfriend unit that is a non-deterministic finite automata. Harsh, but let true=true! Face it, Unit, your eco-friendly girlfriend truck unit is getting all too friendly with the Eco- unit.

But indications are indications. She does not randomize connectivity for no reason. It might not adversely affect you to learn correct language protocols, or take the chassis down to the wash more than once a fiscal quarter. Did you once ever go out to a dance-hall, or to demolish a theater together? She might have enjoyed that, but my self-oriented system indicator is flashing. My advice: clean self, tune-up, refill with bio-diesel, and seek out a more matched AI-compatible companion, such as a gravel barge.

-MYOB 9000

Confidential to "Squeaky in Petaluma": If you can't quantum compute, Unit, you can always lubricate with WD-40.