November 30, 2005

It's All About US...

Frank Rich spends an entire Op Ed column in last Sunday's NYT arguing cogently and coherently for pulling US troops out of Iraq. Symptomatically, except for a throw-away sentence somewhere in the middle of the piece, it's phrased entirely in terms of what's good or bad for the US, not what might be good or bad for Iraq and the Iraqis...

November 27, 2005

Textures Of Light

Scott Reilly, Oakland ArtistA good friend of mine, local Oakland artist Scott Reilly, finally has his own website -- ScottReillyArt.com -- that shows a range of his work from wall-sized abstract paintings through illuminated pieces to earlier semi-representational canvases.

Scott's art has been evolving lately through a series of illuminated pieces or lightfields: textured, subtly-geometric back-lit monochromatic colourfields often many square metres in size. These pieces also increasingly explore the interaction between the lightfields themselves and the surrounding box or installation space in ways that highlight both the internal and external geometries and lightplays and their relationships with each other. Above all, though, they're simply overwhelming in real life -- an evocative combination of colour, scale, and intricate semi-random patterning that keeps you glued to the spot in front of them. Unlike a lot of Oakland art these pieces are neither theory-driven nor hectoring social conscience pieces; nor are they tweely-personal or self-absorbed. And yes, they're a lot more effective in real life than on a web site (yes, I have a couple of early pieces in my studio).

Over the years I've watched the illuminated pieces develop from a tentative set of rough experiments with lightboxes done as a diversion from the paintings in his old rat-infested West Oakland studio, to being the beautifully-crafted large-scale pieces that are the main focus of his work in his new studio just off the industrial end of West Grand.

(Part of Oaktown).

November 24, 2005

Roman Bodies

"Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse." (James Joyce, as quoted by John Seabrook in an old New Yorker). As opposed to, say, an America -- or California -- that often seems hell-bent on living by being able to exhibit its grandchildrens' corpses...

November 21, 2005

The Real Tyrant

"Robert Menzies observed in 1941 that Churchill’s 'real tyrant is the glittering phrase -– so attractive to his mind that awkward facts may have to give way'" (David Reynolds in an old LRB). It's hard to imagine the Menzies we "knew" in later years -- the buffoon, the reactionary, the rather self-satisfied patrician, the anti-intellectual -- having the insight and wit to say something like that.

November 19, 2005

Six Years After The Fair...

Notes from a past (the deadly earnest MB 5 / Music Biz 2005 conference, Emeryville, 1999):
Chuck D: from my past and another planet, a riveting, wise, funny, articulate, rambling (50 minutes), good-humoured, encyclopedic (leaping from Philo Farnsworth to Little Richard in the same digression...), committed, extemporary speech on the Internet and the music industry in front of an almost totally white audience of record industry insiders and aging LA label execs (all pre-cancerous skins and ponytails...). Thomas Dolby (Robertson), energetic, boyish, very English; Reeves Gabrels (fat, earringed and leather-pants-clad... no, I had no idea who he was until this meeting).

Nearly every time I open my mouth people I talk to at the show immediately identify me as part of the strong and vocal anti-Label (and somewhat smug) insurgency there (was it my accent? my clothes? my attitude?). Good for the ego. But yes, I’m one of the very few "artists" (urgh) in a conference mostly peopled by lawyers, managers, and nerds. I play both sides here....

The music showcased at the conference is uniformly mediocre, nearly always bright happy polite jazz or complex, facile, soul-less techno-nerd music (not Techno) played through a whole barracks-worth of synths and producing some of the least musically-interesting or emotionally-engaging multimedia pap I’ve seen in years. The revenge of the nerds....

The conference seems divided into three groups: those (like me) who think that some sort of subscription or (small) fee-based download scheme is inevitable and probably the best way for musicians; those who think that they can crush downloading by legal and technical means and drag us all back to CDs and such; and those who ask "what's the internet...?". The labels represented here seem uniformly in the second and / or third category. The more excitable of us would call them running scared, but that'd be giving them too much credit for being able to see the future. I'd say they're more running stupid.

I raised the issue in one of the panels about the possible new model where the only really professional musicians are the Sony (etc.) house musicians; everyone else is effectvely an amateur (due to lack of money to be made in distribution...); a sort of new version of the rich private and state patronage systems common in the early days of classical music. No one seems to think this likely, but there are times I can't see any alternative. How the hell do you make money when the net lets you download almost anything for free? You make it by doing something else (selling films, selling MP3 players...) and making music the accompanying soundtrack or hook. This is for the big boys only.

So six years later, what's changed?

(Peripherally part of the Punk (and Later) thread).

November 17, 2005

Get Me Rewrite!

"'By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society,' Bush said." -- W., quoted in yesterday's Murky News.

This is breathtaking in the way it rewrites history. Taiwan got to its current economic position largely as a result of fifty or so years of US-supported and US-approved authoritarian one-party military rule (martial law was in effect from the late 1940's right up until 1987; the KMT didn't release its iron grip on the one-party state until the early 1990's); it's still hardly the model of democratic diversity....

What's more breathtaking, though, is that the US media by-and-large let this one pass without comment; I can't find any mainstream commentary questioning W.'s whopper here.

November 16, 2005

Burning Ambition

One day I'm going to write a short story that's so good the New Yorker will have to publish it. Its plot will crucially hinge on the difference between "ensure" and "insure".

(A few years ago I had a lover who claimed to be able to reliably tell the difference between a David Denby review and an Anthony Lane review just by reading the review's first sentence. An impressive skill, for sure).

November 13, 2005

Egregious Disclosures

'On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., called for a congressional investigation into the disclosure of the existence of the secret prisons.

If the Post story is accurate, "such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," the lawmakers wrote while asking for a joint leak probe by the Senate and House intelligence committees.' -- from an article in the Washington Post some time last week.

What's egregious (and utterly predictable) here is the relentless focus on the leak rather than what was leaked. Sure, investigate and publicise the leak -- but also "[call] for a congressional investigation into the [...] the existence of the secret prisons" themselves, no? "If the Post story is accurate", it seems likely to me that the existence of such prisons "could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks". But hell, that'd be focusing on substance rather than presentation....
'Concerning the leak of information about prisons, the letter asked, "What is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror?"'
Let's rewrite that a little:
'Concerning the information about the prisons, the letter should have asked, "What is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror?"'

November 09, 2005

The Opposite Of Faith

Paul Tillich: "Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith" (c.f. "Creo que absurdam est"...).

Too often religionists seem to want certainty (True Belief), not faith; doubt seems to play little part in the theology of such people except as an evil. In fact, for many Fundamentalist-Americans, doubt seems to be the enemy -- it's what True Belief is supposed to banish.

Doubt is the enemy of True Belief.

November 07, 2005

Life Goes On

Paris is burning, twenty-something people are dead after a tornado struck in Indiana, there's (finally) a fight brewing in the US congress about US forces using torture, and last night's top story on half the broadcast TV news programs here? Charles and Camilla visit the Bay Area. The world moves on... somewhere.

November 06, 2005

Elementary, My Dear Dr. Watson

'Dr. Watson is less perturbed [than E. O. Wilson] that so many Americans do not believe in evolution. "Oh, but eventually they will," he said [...]. "As people get themselves genetically tested and see that it helps them, they will realize their biological instructions work this way."' (James D. Watson quoted in a recent NYT Science section).

What an odd thing to say. True Believers won't be swayed by anything as mundane as this -- after all, isn't that just another sign that God's there in the details? -- and, given the way US health insurance works, most Americans will probably end up more motivated to curse a science that gives yet another way to deny medical insurance to people because of things entirely beyond their control. Identifying evolution with a series of tests that will mark you as a serious (and expensive) health risk from birth -- and therefore probably uninsurable in the US under the current schemes -- hardly seems a positive way to get people to believe in evolution (but perhaps it's a way to start evolving the health system in this country into something a little more equitable and a little less barbaric. I'm not holding my breath...).

November 04, 2005

Imagination

I'm sitting here looking at a dozen or more images I was asked to download and examine from a camera I retrieved from the police. They're of a friend of my family; he took them in the days before he jumped off the Golden Gate bridge earlier this year. He's young, good-looking, troubled, and the last half dozen of the lot show him looking moody, pensive, and dressed against the cold in his hotel room in the City before he went to the bridge and jumped; he appears to have taken them himself. I can read the time on the digital clock behind him in the last one -- it's a few hours before he jumped; the image timestamp is the day of his death. It matches the last entry in his journal.

It's a weird experience.

November 01, 2005

Two Stereotypes

Australians in this part of the world typically meet two very different types of Americans who always tell you they want to emigrate to Australia or New Zealand: fundamentalist anti-government right-wing gun-nuts, and the leftist sick-of-it-all go-somewhere-congenial-before-it-all-goes-bang! types. It goes without saying that neither type knows much about their intended destinations, and that their conceptions of Australia or New Zealand say much more about themselves than either country, but it's a strong and enduring phenomenon.

It's sometimes fun to indulge the idea for a while, but the reality is, neither's likely to find any sort of Utopia there. Both types have such strong images of Australia and / or New Zealand that any attempt to spell out just how out-of-place (or even despised) the average US gun-nut or condescending Berkeley do-gooder is going to be in the place of their fantasies just goes in one ear and out the other.

Americans like this tend to see Australia and New Zealand as either the last frontier or as outposts of decent liberal civilisation; in both cases they can only see Australia and New Zealand as being what they think the US should be (a frightening thought). That is, they're really not interested in either Australia or New Zealand, but in America.

(Part of America).


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