March 30, 2008

Dry Humour

On the Taft Highway out of Bakersfield, in the middle of a wind-blown nowhere surrounded by fields of dirt and rough tracks, there's a little town (hamlet, really) called Dustin Acres.

(The Taft Highway between Bakersfield and Taft reminds me a lot of the way the Rosedale Highway out of Bakersfield used to look twenty years ago — down-at-heels, rough, tough, scrappy, an uncertain future…).

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March 29, 2008

The Kern River Oil Fields

Kern River Oil Fields from Bakersfield

I've tried to get something like this shot of the Kern River oil fields near Oildale for a couple of decades now; this is probably as close as I'll get, taken early this afternoon on the bluffs overlooking the Kern with a huge long hand-held lens. One thing you learn over the years: taking shots of refineries, bridges, oil fields, etc., with a very big lens can cause all sorts of police activity directed towards you. Not this time, though (they were quelling a fight a bit further along Panorama Drive).

Click on the thumbnail above to get a bit of the flavour of the place (basically northeast Bakersfield): literally dozens of square miles of denuded desert hills crawling with wires, pipes, poles, fences, tracks, tanks, and swinging pumps. And it's constantly alive; all those nodding donkey pumpjacks plod along without moving, giving the whole scene a sort of organic Rube Goldberg / Heath Robinson feel.

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Left Bank

A pleasant two hour stroll down the left bank of the mighty Kern River through Bakersfield…

Kern River, Bakersfield


Kern River, Bakersfield


Kern River, Bakersfield


Kern River,  Bakersfield


Kern River,  Bakersfield


Kern River,  Bakersfield


(Later, the Rosedale Highway, 7th Standard Road, Round Mountain Road, China Grade Loop, Merle Haggard Drive, North Chester (a rough old street, to be sure)).

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March 28, 2008

Westside Story

Highway 33

Highway 33


Derrick Avenue, The Coalinga-Mendota Road, Highway 33, Utica Avenue, Highway 99, The Stockdale Highway, Buck Owens Boulevard, Coalinga, Avenal, the Lost Hills, Kettleman Hills, McKittrick, Taft, Maricopa, Oildale, Weedpatch... Bakersfield, again.

In the Lost Hills area you drive for miles along rural two-lane blacktops through surreal treeless landscapes of rounded near-desert hills scarred by pipes, pale tanks, rutted tracks and the usual rusted twisted junk strewn around forests of nodding donkey pumpjacks, a stinging smell of burning. Everywhere, driven dust, tumbleweeds, pale willy-willies against the haze, and mountains looming in the murk just off stage. Everything natural in this harsh hard-edged landscape is in soft subdued pastels; everything else glints or flexes in bright colours or black. This landscape defeats my attempts to photograph it; it'd work much better as video shot from a truck.

At Vons on the Stockdale Highway, there's a bunch of "Jindabyne" DVDs on special near the checkstand. Outside in the parking lot, huge dark-painted SUVs and pickups with tinted windows, ostentatious crosses, Raiders logos, assault stereos, raised suspensions and oversized tires, "Jesus would bomb the Cr*p out of the Iraqis, That's what He'd do" stickers; what did I expect?

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March 25, 2008

Those Speeches

I keep returning to the apology, even after the all fuss has died down. Short, eloquent, thoughtful, moving, measured, appropriate, no weasel words, well-delivered: this is the way it should be done. Sometimes words matter, sometimes even small gestures symbolise a deeply significant change in attitude and circumstance.

After all these years I don't really think it took much courage to say it; the real question is what it took Howard's government not to say it. What took courage was living what it describes….

And that other recent speech? As many commentators have said, it's refreshing to be spoken to on issues like this like a grownup, something that augurs well for Obama as a person, but (judging by the childish response from a lot of the right-wing press here) might endanger him as a candidate. The courage in this instance wasn't talking about race per se, but doing so in ways that didn't condescend by substituting simplistic sound bytes for thoughtful complex analysis. He'll probably pay dearly for that.

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March 21, 2008

Such A Card

Clinton's team (and its surrogates) have so successfully played the various divisive resentment and blackmail cards lately that they've created a situation where whomever of Clinton or Obama "wins" the primaries, they'll both lose in some way. In fact, division is pretty much the only effective strategy Clinton has left: Clinton can only win by dividing; Obama can only win by uniting, and they both know it. In contests like this, division always wins, if only by the damage it causes any ultimate winners, especially in a primary season as closely-matched and evenly-spread as this one (where, almost by definition, more than half the relevant primary voters will not especially want whoever wins).

In particular, if Clinton loses, she's already framed that loss so well in terms of a negative identity politics that many of her supporters will resent Obama for not being the "right" identity (whichever that might be), and feel cheated by some version of "the man" (with all the various nuances of that phrase). Her supporters will resentfully mutter (or shout) "we wuz robbed!" and not feel any desire to support Obama because he's just not one of them.

Conversely, if Obama loses, many of his supporters are going to feel deeply repelled by the sort of divisive old-school by-any-means-neccessary tactics and strategies (including some really egregious gender blackmail and coded racial messages) that will help underpin any Clinton "win". Few people are going to believe Clinton if she wins and then starts appealing to a sense of Democratic unity, or gets all inclusive on everyone.

Clinton's the self-annointed old-school establishment candidate, and while neither candidate can do much to effect real change after being elected, Obama might have been able to change the way the election itself worked, which might have been a start. When the primary race began I would have been fairly happy with any of the front-running triumvirate (with obvious caveats about the claustrophobically-narrow choices available in any modern US presidential election); months later, I'm not so sure.

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March 19, 2008

A Trip To The DVD Store

The local Borders had "Blackadder III" in the Documentary section this evening; Koyaanisqatsi, Man Of Flowers, and Anton Corbijn's collected video works were lurking in the "Foreign Language" section (Koyaanisqatsi is at least plausible, I guess); and a new reissue of Battleship Potemkin sat in the "Comedy" section.

Easy targets, for sure; the really striking thing, though, is that they actually had those DVDs.

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March 15, 2008

Cantor Rulez!!! (A Philospher Writes…)

Why Cantor matters (and Wittgenstein's just an interesting historical oddity): "Writing decades after Cantor's death, Wittgenstein lamented that mathematics is 'ridden through and through with the pernicious idioms of [Cantor's] set theory,' which he dismissed as 'utter nonsense' that is 'laughable' and 'wrong'." (from Wikipedia's entry on Cantor).

From the Olympian heights of philosophy, mathematics must seem so grubby, and, well, useful, but to this reader, it's hard to get past Cantor's transfinite numbers for examples of abstract beauty and the stringent clarity of the purely counter-intuitive. I think the first time I read about — and understood — the various comparative transfinite cardinalities of the integers, the rationals, the reals, etc., (and, crucially, the associated proofs) was when I realised I could do mathematics in ways I can't do arithmetic (don't ask me to add things up). To a young Woy Woy boy struggling with high school in the foreign reaches of Canberra, this was a revelation.

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March 11, 2008

Point Blank

"Point Blank": another of those "why haven't I seen this before?" films, a sort of Californian Get Carter (or, more accurately, the other way around, given that it pre-dates the original Get Carter by several years), a relentless LA / San Francisco noir played out in a series of colour- and texture-coded tableaux, doubletakes, prefigurings, repeated motifs (scenes, faces, backdrops, mirrors, bodies, stances, gestures, actions, screens, blinds, curtains, beds, sounds, phrases) echoing across time and place, the laconic Lee Marvin (apparently deeply involved in a lot more than just the acting in this film), the beautiful dark subtly-lit catacombs of Alcatraz, used to give the last scenes a feel of being played out on a stage (without being stagey), brazen ambiguities and little shaded mysteries hanging out in plain sight. With the exception of the music soundtrack and the almost total whiteness of the cast, this is a film that's aged well: it doesn't feel like a film of its time so much as a film about its time (so much so that some of the most authentic period bits set in LA almost looked fake to me, way too true to be real).

(Part of Flix).

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March 08, 2008

Truth In Advertising

Ogilvy quotes Claude Hopkins thundering "People don't buy from clowns!" (on humour in advertising). But how else to explain Western Culture?

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March 05, 2008

Guild House

Design Observer's Dmitri Siegal recently wrote a short piece on Philadelphia's Guild House, mentioning in particular the necessary relationships with the famous Venturi text(s) and the way the context for both the building itself and the original texts have changed in interesting ways. A nice, succinct, and thoughtful read.

But like so much writing on architecture, it doesn't ask the real questions: what was (is) it like to live in the Guild House? How does that experience compare with the original architect's vision (if any)? What was (is) it like to live with it in your neighbourhood? How does it affect life in the neighbourhood? How does that relate to the architect's original vision (if any)? How much does the architecture (as opposed to just the construction) interact with or impose on all these things?

You know, the hard questions, the ones usually elided in architectural writing. Treating architecture solely as a species of visual design (somewhat forgivable in Design Observer, I guess), means treating the true end users — the tenants, the neighbouring residents, passers-by, etc. — as decoration, at best. And treating a particular building solely as a rhetorical phrase in a historical discourse of ideas and images writes the end users out of the story completely.

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March 01, 2008

Fair Trade

I live in a neighbourhood that's now officially designated an "Arts District". This seems to mean that all the artists have been priced out of the area by an influx of galleries. There's art here alright; just not too many artists any more.

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