December 31, 2005

Meathead

10am, Telegraph, rained-over, wind-swept, deserted except for the Usual Suspects (myself included); in the Milano an old homeless guy up the back starts sobbing loudly, behind the counter they turn up the music and soon we're all immersed in cheerfully-cheesy Conjunto and the smell of burning bagels. I walk down to Moe's through sudden driving rain and buy Deleuze's monograph on Francis Bacon -- who could resist a book full of sentences like "The head-meat is the becoming-animal of the figure"? Not me.

December 30, 2005

Kids These Days...

A mild rant for the boys up the corridor: art's not a fucking lifestyle, it's a calling; art's not a fucking cargo cult -- you don't hang around acting like cliched starving Artists waiting for the Art to come; art's not the opposite of craft, it is a fucking craft, or at least it uses craft; you don't paint (or sculpt, or play) art, you just fucking paint or sculpt or play and if it turns out to be art (in whomever's eyes) then that's cool.

But I kinda like what you're doing -- just stop talking about it.

December 27, 2005

The Visible

"The visible is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination.... Pornographic films are thus only the potentiation of films in general, which ask us to stare at the world as though it were a naked body." (Frederic Jameson, natch)

Good pornographic films surely make us stare at a naked body as though it were the world... (and the visible has no end, of course, but it's easy to see why Our Fred might think it does...).

December 24, 2005

I Ro NY

Years ago when I was still new to California, I'd sit in tech meetings and occasionally make a poker-faced suggestion or response that seemed -- to me -- obviously absurd or ironic, usually to defuse a tense situation or to gently point out that some plan or idea was unlikely to work. Trouble was, while this sort of thing worked well in Britain or Australia, you don't usually do humour in California (or the States as a whole, for that matter) with a straight face. Like all those laugh tracks on US TV that tell you when something's supposed to be funny so you can laugh at the right place, in person you have to signal the funnyness with suitable facial expressions or other physical or verbal markers (subtitles for the humourless, as a certain friend would say...). So my suggestions were often taken seriously, and I'd end up spending a large amount of time slowly explaining that I hadn't really meant it literally, and patching up the damage.

So my colleagues built me an Irony Hat, a big over-sized spangly baseball cap with the word "IRONY" on the front in bright multi-coloured paint. The new rule was that if I were going to be ironic or sarcastic or sardonic with a straight face in a meeting I had to put the Irony Hat on first. It was immediately effective -- there's nothing like sitting there with a silly hat on in a straight tech meeting for making it impossible for the people around you to take you seriously. It became addictive, and people around me started using the phrase "I've got my Irony Hat on now..." when they chanced a bit of irony or straight-faced humour.

A few years later I was selling t-shirts, jewellery, and photos (etc.) up on Telegraph in Berkeley. It gets hot and sunny on the street, and one day I realised that (subconsciously?) I'd brought along my Irony Hat rather than the usual little Giants cap. I put it on and thought "this'll be interesting...". A few minutes later a tourist wanders along and stops at my stall. He squints at my hat and reads it off slowly "I ... Ro ... New York? What the hell does that mean?" I didn't know either, unfortunately, but it spawned yet another new local catchphrase.

I still have the hat. It's a lot less useful nowadays, what with all the irony outbreaks infecting California lately.

December 22, 2005

Industrial Santa Clara

There are few sidewalks or footpaths where I work in Santa Clara. It's an industrial part of Silicon Valley that was developed slowly from the late 1950's through to the early 1980's, and in that time and place it was inconceivable that anyone would want to walk anywhere -- only undesirables would need to walk, the rest of us would of course drive. By design, you can't easily get anywhere on foot there without either trespassing, or walking on the busy streets themselves. The town planners seemed to have wanted you to leave yourself open to arrest solely by trying to walk anywhere useful (not that this happens nowadays, at least not in my experience -- too many health-conscious Silicon Valley types being arrested would really present an image problem for a city struggling to attract new-tech businesses). I've actually been stopped and questioned by the local police for walking in a similar sort of place in suburban LA (another part of the world where sidewalks are deliberately missing from the landscape); at least in Santa Clara the police seem to be more concerned with things like red light runners or keeping the peace on El Camino.

I walk to the local sandwich shop every day or two in Santa Clara, a round-trip distance of maybe 2 kilometres. I do it to get some exercise, and because -- being an older industrial area -- it's full of the sort of sights I love: oddly-shaped factories, interesting machinery, railway sidings, weird specialist trucks, etc. Walking to the sandwich shop is an exercise in itself -- again, you can't do it without either walking on the busy four-lane street itself (risking death by passing truck) or without trespassing. I am nearly always the only person on foot I ever see during the walk. My colleagues mostly think I'm nuts for doing this.

But for me the real loons are the people who work in my building and who get in their cars just to cross the road to get to the local Carl's Jr. (a hamburger chain on par with MacDonalds) to pick up hamburgers to eat back in the workplace -- a round-trip journey of maybe 100 metres. That's crazy.

(Part of California).

December 19, 2005

The Return Of The Giant Slits

Somehow I didn't even know they existed until "Cut" came out, and for a year or so they were one of my fave bands, then they disappeared slowly from my consciousness. And then last month someone asked me whether I thought the Slits were "punk". I did a doubletake -- my memory was of a sort of collision of Bjork-before-the-fact meets Dennis Bovell, all bass-heavy reggae-tinged pop with sharp drumming, lots of space, a ska inflexion, and anarchic vocals -- a few years after punk started disintegrating. Punk? But what would I know... so I downloaded "Cut" from iTunes and got a vivid reminder of what I used to like about them... and what I really disliked about them. All of the above, and more: the vocal and guitar phrasings on their great cover of "Heard It Through The Grapevine", the Bovellesque bass mix, the little piano riffs on "Typical Girls", the annoying lyrics, the relentlessly invigorating slapdash rythmic drive, the feeling of musicians discovering the space reggae gives you in a song. And that singing... as someone said elsewhere, Bjork sometimes seems a lot less surprising if you heard the Slits (Ari Up is still around, by the way). Great stuff... for a while, I suspect.

And yes, apparently they really were punks before they did "Cut" -- as always, I was so far behind the avant garde that by the time I'd heard of them they'd moved beyond punk -- check out Punk77's The Slits page for the gory details.

December 17, 2005

Happiness

"Happiness Is So Much Fun." -- the new words of wisdom on the side of Mars. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? Outside on Telegraph, a grey day, near-freezing drizzle, and on the corner of Dwight and Telegraph outside Cody's a greying blonde woman selling books out of cardboard boxes keeps yelling about how we don't have freedom of speech in America and to buy now because she knows she'll be arrested in a few minutes because of what the books say. An hour later she's still there, louder than ever, now bellowing at the top of her voice about how she's the loudest fucking voice on Telegraph, you can hear me on fucking Durant she yells, listen to me sticking up for free speech! A local Berkeley cop, vaguely known to me, rolls his eyes as he walks past; a few minutes later a bunch of local vendors start hooting loudly at her because she's alienating the passers-by who might buy the T-shirts, jewelry, and bad art for sale in the stalls around her. It only increases her determination, and by the time I've rummaged my way through Moe's, she's looking radiantly-self-absorbed, happy at the centre of her self-righteous little universe. I walk up to Panache and get a haircut.

December 13, 2005

The Triumph Of The Will

"Sixteen thoughts that will make you thin" -- cover-page teaser on the latest "O, the Oprah Magazine".

December 12, 2005

This Isn't Sydney...

A comment in my Woy Woy thread led me to This Isn't Sydney, "Spike"'s rather eclectic and rambling photo and text blog of the Woy Woy area and surrounding nooks and crannies like St. Huberts Island, Point Clare, Phegan's Bay, etc. (all of which I once knew well). If you're interested in the Woy Woy area (now there's a straight line begging for treatment...), check it out.

December 10, 2005

Why I Love Berkeley, Part 27

Berkeley Typewriter

Berkeley still has two active typewriter sales and repair shops.

December 08, 2005

Biological Decrees

In the wake of my little Jeremiad on Lysenko, a bit of googling led me to this excellent article about the breathtakingly dishonest use of the Lysenko disaster by some IDists and Creationists:
"Biology decreed by political mandate, whether through appeal to a central party elite or through appeal to democratic populism, is bad biology. As the Soviets learned, bad biology has a high price tag. Let us hope that the consumers of the west will have the good sense to read the reviews of politically sponsored science and not actually have to buy it before realizing that it's a lemon." -- from "How Intelligent Design Advocates Turn The Sordid Lessons From Soviet And Nazi History Upside Down" (Wesley R. Elsberry and Mark Perakh, at TalkDesign.org).
Some hope. But let's give that vicious old right wing attack dog Charles Krauthammer the last words (from The Washington Post):
"How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too."

December 05, 2005

Where'd They Learn To Talk Like That?

A few nights ago a local TV news program tackled the problem of teen bullying via texting and mobile phones; I watched open-mouthed as several of the kids involved discussed the unwanted text atttention entirely in terms of its effect on their self-esteem.

December 03, 2005

Short Shameful Confession

I just love the cheezy Bad Boys Bail Bonds ads on late night TV here.

December 02, 2005

Embodying Islam

Last week a bunch of guys wearing the signature bowties and dark suits of the local Oakland Black Muslim organization allegedly went on a rampage smashing bottles, shelving, etc., at a couple of local liquor stores and causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. A brazen, thuggish operation: they didn't bother with disguises, they didn't bother hiding their affiliation, they knew they'd be captured in minute detail on the security videos causing the damage, and they knew that those videos would be played again and again on local TV, sending a strong and intimidating message to the local community not to mess with them. Par for the course in that part of Oaktown, unfortunately.

But what's most significant here is that Americans in general know so little about Islam as it is in the real world that the local news stations ran pieces explaining that the Black Muslims -- and their forebears in the original Nation Of Islam, with their beliefs in the Mothership, the evil scientist, the bizarre symbologies, etc. -- have little in common with traditional Islam (many Muslims don't recognise them as Muslims in any sense at all). I'd have to say that for many people around here, though, especially in the black community, they (along with a few deeply-selective images of extremists threatening America) probably embody "Islam". Which is a bit like thinking (say) Identity Christians typify Christianity in general....


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