Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stumbling around the web

This amazing program lets you access flickr with key words in a completely satisfying way. I found the photo above when I entered the work "skylight." Pretty lovely.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fiction and Food

I was reading Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal (all right, all right, the WSJ is the frightening sometimes, but its not ALL bad!) He provides his Five Best examples of culinary writing he finds, yes, "delectable." I particularly related to the buttered toast in Kenneth Graham's "Wind in the Willows," as I had just finished the same, with tea, for dinner.

The Passing of Time

I think everyone but me has seen the family of Diego and Susy Golberg in Buenos Aires, Argentina and their three sons. It's a marvelous thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Tess Gallagher, photo by Teresa Olson

It is attention to the simple everyday acts that keep me grounded. This poem by the great poet Tess Gallagher perfectly reminds me of the beauty of the ordinary and the simple connections that can enrich and deepen my days. Gallagher walks to the mailbox to post a letter. She pays attention to the smallest and greatest things. This attention brings her peace, and fits this simple moment into the meaning of her life.

We all do these simple things, but do we notice both the weight and beauty and freedom of it? It is such a pleasure. Someone, some saint probably, and I paraphrase, said that attention was the greatest kind of love. In our fast moving, demanding lives, attention becomes the most precious thing.

Under Stars

The sleep of this night deepens
because I have walked coatless from the house
carrying the white envelope.
All night it will say one name
in its little tin house by the roadside.

I have raised the metal flag
so its shadow under the roadlamp
leaves an imprint on the rain-heavy bushes.
Now I will walk back
thinking of the few lights still on
in the town a mile away.

In the yellowed light of a kitchen
the millworker has finished his coffee,
his wife has laid out the white slices of bread
on the counter. Now while the bed they have left
is still warm, I will think of you, you
who are so far away
you have caused me to look up at the stars.

Tonight they have not moved
from childhood, those games played after dark.
Again I walk into the wet grass
toward the starry voices. Again, I
am the found one, intimate, returned
by all I touch on the way.

"Under Stars" copyright (c) 1987 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted from "Amplitude: New & Selected Poems," Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Gallagher's most recent book of poetry is "Dear Ghosts: Poems," Graywolf Press, 2006.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rem Koolhaus and the EU Flag

At the top is the stodgy current EU flag. The second flag is the Rem Koolhaus inspiration.

Some of you may have seen this Koolhaus idea for the EU flag in the Design Within Reach newsletter that Rob Forbes sends out. I mostly always find the letter informative and enjoy reading Forbe's perspective on design.

I wanted to post the European Union flag by Koohaus that was included in the latest DWR newsletter. It speaks wonderfully to unity, diversity and design. No fear of color there! This should be some country's flag, don't you think? Actually maybe it should fly over the Seattle Public Library (SPL) a Koolhaus design that is a my humble opinion.

The Silence | Ingmar Bergman

Johan, The Silence | Ingemar Bergman

"The director also reveals that ..." I received an anonymous letter, containing filthy toilet paper; so one could say the treatment accorded to this film, which by today's standards was pretty innocuous, was rather fierce. There were even people who rang up and threatened both my own life and the life of my wife...So the sexual trauma in Sweden must have been acute. One is always glad when a film is a success. But then, when I discovered why it was a success, and how many of the people who were going to see it were saying furiously they'd never again go and see a Bergman film, I was terrified.'"

The Bergman retrospective at the beloved Charles Theater here in Baltimore showed the final film in a trilogy: Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence. This was the eighth week of Monday night Bergman films and I'm not handling it well.

The Silence was so deathly tedious, I almost tore my hair out after the first hour. I leaned over to A., my Bergman film companion and said, "I am dying!" In this film Bergman shows the audience his idea of how the world looks without god in it. The loneliness portrayed in the film is unbearable. The close ups and the unmoving camera each adds to this feeling of stillness and alienation.

Throw two sisters, one a scholar, dying of alcoholic deterioration, the other a hedonistic, whoring, thoughtless person (she will leave her sister alone to die), together with a lonely, unloved young son of one of the sisters, an approaching war outside the hotel windows, where the three have stopped, and things get pretty awful. Then all you have to do is add a troupe of midgets, which Bergman does, and my sense of dread arises from the depths of my psyche screaming.

Bergman thinks that people were critical of this film because of the taboos it broke around sexuality. I don't think so. It was the assault by silence, emptiness, inability to commuicate, and the excessive use of symbols that drove this viewer crazy. I can tell I am going to be stewing over this film for a couple of days, at least. Talk about your nihilism.

Next week...Persona.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mad TV and iRACK

My friend Steve offers this funny YouTube send-up of Steve Jobs and the Bush administration all in one. Just in time for a Saturday afternoon break.

Art Review | Global Feminisms

"Ecstatic, Hysteric, and Other Saintly Ladies" by Anna Baumgart (2004)

"The word feminism will be around as long as it is necessary for women to put a name on the sense of assertiveness, confidence and equality that, unnamed, has always been granted men." Roberta Smith, NYT

Roberta Smith, NYT Art Critic, has reviewed the new exhibition Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum (coming right on the heels of WACK! at the Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, see my March 12th entry) and has found it worthy, especially the work of women creating art in far flung places where feminist art provides an aggressive critique of an assaultive male culture. As supportive as the review is, and it is, there is the final blow, " should have been much better."

This critique provokes in me a short, quick gasp of disappointment. Smith continues:

"(T)he show itself feels narrow. Nearly devoid of significant painting and sculpture and thoroughly dominated by photography and video, with a documentary slant to many of its better works, it is more about information, politics and the struggle for equality than it is about art in any very concentrated or satisfying sense."

I know this unsatisfied sense. I am thrilled by the expression of feminist philosophy, but I find myself hungry for ART, masterful technique. Because this is work created by women after 1990, all of whom were born after 1960, one wonders if this somehow reflects the state of training in art schools, rather than state of feminist art? I often hear friends who teach in art schools lamenting their student's rejection of formal training as being a restraint of expression. Is this just the state of art in general?

This speedy, pop culture world combined with access to "easy" technology allows anyone to be "an artist." The liberation of art from formal restraints offers the possibility for radical new ways of doing art and envisioning our world. The problem, as always, when such "restraints" are removed is that mediocrity ensues, with only occasional flashes of brilliance. The irony is that under formal restraints, the result may be the same---brilliance being so rare.

In art with feminism as its motivation, there seems to be the need to shock the viewer into understanding, because the forces of discrimination seem so natural. The use of shock forces recognition. But if shock is the time-honored means, over time it becomes just boring---oh there are the bloody sanitary napkins again, oh there are the butchered bodies again, and so on.

And, is it the curation that is at fault? Is it by choosing easily readable work that the value of struggling to master technical skills is undermined? Is it only about the message? Are we just in love with the message and unconcerned about the "exertion and passion," to use Smith's words, of the object of our love.

Feminism is a philosophy. I think that the philosophy is much bigger than ART. Art helps to communicate the philosophy, but art is not feminist. The message is not the medium. So this unsatisfactoriness, if you will, could be the result of numerous factors effecting the art world in general. Didn't Andy warn us, years ago?

So far, no one seems able to curate a significant show of masterful works with a feminist message. The statement, " should have been much better..." leaves me with the hopeful feeling that the critic knows the work is out there. Someone please find it. The hunger prevails.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Alison Krauss and The Chieftains

OK. It is Friday night after a week of anitibiotics, the desolation of virus, narcotic cough syrup, aspirin, orange juice, hot toddies and mucus galore. And this has soothed me. Alison Krauss, long over due for St. Paddy's, singing the traditional irish folk song "Molly Brown," or "Molly Ban" as the Irish say. Take a look at the lap bagpipe being played. It looks something like a clarinet attached to a vacuum cleaner bag. It sounds mournful and beautiful.

The song tells the tale of a young man who shoots his love by mistake. "Her apron wrapped around her, he took her for a swan." The Irish have quite a tolorance for tall tales and sad folly. The songs can be so beautiful and the tales so...odd.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Terrorism Has No Religion

I found this absolutely riveting campaign while checking out the various Iraq blogs. It is so slick that I can only believe it is being produced in the West. I found it on a site called Iraqi Mojo written by an Iraqi who was born in Baghdad and raised in the US. I am very puzzled about its origins. I haven't seen it on any other sites.
3/22/07 Update:
I received these words from the blogger Iraqi Mojo:

"I don't know who administers the website ( but the ads are produced by the Iraqi government, and may have been funded by the US govt. I'm sure they hired a private company. The ads are indeed powerful and well made. You can email the webmaster of the site if you like:"

I have emailed the webmaster, but, no reply, yet.

2007 Solar Challenge

Joann, at the often quietly subversive, Rocketboom, has this good news.

Who said this?

"Evidently, Mr. Clinton wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.

Chances are that the courts will hurl such a claim out, but it will take time.

One gets the impression that Team Clinton values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public's faith in Mr. Clinton will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold -- the rule of law."

This quote was pointed out by Glenn Greenwald. It is spoken by Tony Snow in his pre-press secretary days. Hee-hee.

Thought for the Day

"Information is surprises. We all expect the world to work out in certain ways, but when it does, we're bored. What makes something worth knowing is organized around the concept of expectation failure. Scripts are interesting not when they work but when they fail. When the waiter doesn't come over with the food, you have to figure out why; when the food is bad or the food is extraordinarily good, you want to figure out why. You learn something when things don't turn out the way you expected." Roger Schank

Roger Schank, is a leading visionary in artificial intelligence. His writings are part of the website the Third Culture. This group maintains that the third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. In other words, this group feels that the traditional leaders in thinking (the literary intellectuals, basically, those who teach the humanities) have lost their way. They bemoan the passing of public thinkers. They believe that scientists and other thinkers now have the role of enlightening humanity about its ways of being.

The Third Culture group feels that the literary academicians have become bloodless purveyors of confusion. Their contribution is "chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost." Take that Derrida! Another way of saying this is, I think, that literary intellectuals are mired in language and are failing in their role of educating for meaning. They are not reality-based.

Anyway, it is a jolly good battle. I have noticed lately, that the headlines are full of science, full of a gathering of understanding through scientific discovery. If the Third Culture is correct, that the those in the humanities are being marginalized by their inability to adapt to a radically changing world, where Marx and Freud are no longer relevant, then what will happen to the humanities? How does it need to change? Who will break through?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bergman is Dead.

OF "Winter Light", its Director, Ingemar Bergman says that one of the meanings of the film is "that at all costs one must do what it is one's duty to do, even if it can seem meaningless." This dreary film, referred to as a masterpiece, is elusive. Its simple storyline is sodden and pondering. Bergman seems to confirm his film's meaning about persisting, by finishing this film in the face of so much meaninglessness.

So goes the seventh of twelve films in the Monday night Bergman film retrospective at the Charles Theater! This one was not over soon enough. So far it is the only unsatisfying film in the series for me.

Bergman has told us at other times that where there's love then there's God. I think of the Seventh Seal, where the man and woman proceed through the frightening woods in their fragile wagon, trusting themselves to each other's love. The winds howl, creatures lurk, they are afraid and nearly blown away, but they come out on the other side of the forest at peace and more surely in love.

So in "Winter's Night" we have Marta's declared love, which Tomas, the Pastor, cruelly rejects. It is seemingly a love that is just not enough. Then there is Jonas (gorgeous Max von Sydow), severely depressed, who agrees to seek Thomas' counsel, only to be assured by Thomas that god is, er, sort of dead. Fortified with these words, Jonas leaves the pastor and kills himself at a river's edge. After helping load the dead body into a vehicle for removal, Tomas returns to his church and begins his regular service. Agony.

The film does not hint of light at any time. All is dark, gray. cold. One must imagine what winter light could be.

The filmmaker, Sergio Trasatti, points out how "Tomas can't accept Marta's love and he cannot save Jonas' life because he can't give love to them; and this lack of love is the real silence of God".


(click on pictures to enlarge them)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Design Diva

One of my all time favorite designers is Paula Scher of Pentagram Design. Through a convergence of good fortunes I found this video interview of her today on YouTube. Take a look.

Will We See it Coming? Soon Enough?

Last week NASA released a report titled "Near-Earth Object Survey and Deflection Analysis of Alternatives." The study is about how to destroy asteroids, or the like, that could impact with earth and cause the end of civilization. Nothing too critical. The release is discussed in an OpEd piece by Russell L. Sweickart, former Apollo astronaut, and the chairman of the B612 (powerful new vitamin?) Foundation, which promotes efforts to alter the orbits of asteroids. At least someone is on the case. Hear! Hear!

Here's the timing part that struck me as impossible for westerners to get their instant gratification around. This one paragraph is full of (unintended) humor.

"Two potential deflection techniques appear to work nicely together — first we would deflect the asteroid with kinetic impact from a missile (that is, running into it); then we would use the slight pull of a "gravity tractor" — a satellite that would hover near the asteroid — to fine-tune its new trajectory to our liking...To be effective, however, such missions would have to be launched 15 or even 30 years before a calculated impact."

Uh oh.

What to read?

One of my favorite bloggers, Susan Hill, a British lover of literature had the following suggestions recently. I am going for the Iris Murdoch's Sand Castle.

Stop the War!

What an exhilarating photo. I didn't make it to this protest, as I have for dozens of others. This march on Saturday, the Anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, turned out thousands in Washington and in major cities across America.

I didn't see much coverage. So I am showing the protesters here marching. Free people. Free country. Free speech. As our rights have been eroded by this administration (Bill Maher pointed out recently, that all we have left of the Bill of Rights are "...handguns, religion and they can't make us quarter a British soldier"), I look to events like this as the reminder of the constitutional foundations of our country. However, even the right to protest has been circumscribed by designating "Free Speech Zones" at sensitive events, such as political conventions! Good grief!! Shouldn't a party convention be the ground zero of free speech!?

Right now this administration searches our phone records, credit cards, mail, and Internet communications. The protection of privacy has been given up. So has search and seizure, warrants, self-incrimination, trial by jury and cruel and unusual punishment. Bush/Rove/Cheney know that we do not understand these civil rights, much less care about them.

The best line from Bill Maher is this: "George Bush asked us to sacrifice things he knew we wouldn't miss---privacy and morality. He let us keep the money." Cynical? You bet. So take a good look at the picture above, because these actions could go the same way our other civil rights have gone. This kind of free speech may become the next "quaint" thing to disappear.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Exquisite Web

One of the best things about this web is that before going to bed, as I am about to do, I can type the words "rilke poems" into goggle and end on this note:

    The Wait

    It is life in slow motion,
    it's the heart in reverse,
    it's a hope-and-a-half:
    too much and too little at once.

    It's a train that suddenly
    stops with no station around,
    and we can hear the cricket,
    and, leaning out the carriage

    door, we vainly contemplate
    a wind we feel that stirs
    the blooming meadows, the meadows
    made imaginary by this stop.

    Rainer Maria Rilke
    Translated by A. Poulin

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On The Lighter side...

London's Mika, offers this terrific, raucous sound, Grace Kelly. It makes me want to strut my meager stuff. The album, Life in Cartoon Motion on Island records, is a very glam rock. I have the sense of Queen on biodiesel. But this song works for me.

"Why don't you like me
without making me try?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ten Questions

"6. Are we willing to consider the irony that our unceasing communication with one another — the dozen extra phone calls that we all now make each day; the two dozen pointless e-mails — is making us less human? And that we might have more important things to say if we could re-master the lost art of shutting up, for at least a half hour every now and then?"

Tom Mallon, Deputy Chair for the National Endowment for the Humanities, in the American Scholar journal laments the problems of the humanities through the proposal of ten questions. Number six is interesting. Try the other nine.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Something is Really Going On

Galerie Lelong, down on 26th Street, NYC, has just opened this show. Yet another important show of feminist art at a renown gallery. What could be happening! This exhibition, opening on the Ides of March, Role Play: Feminist Art Revisited 1960-1980,investigates women's shifting and constructed identities. Lord knows, we've got 'um. I've had at least three just today.

Then, there is Global Feminisms, organized by Linda Nochlin and Maura Reilly for the Brooklyn Museum. In this show, the curators "contrast seminal feminist artists of the last 40 years and their influence on younger female artists, many of whom do not identify with the term." The show features young women artists and mid-career emerging women artists.

These shows along with Wack! at MoCA in LA, make my heart tap dance. I wonder if there is some kind of crone convergence, emanation polarity, curator infusion plot going on? If you are anywhere near these shows, let me know what you think. Ok? I am waylaid here in Baltimore, "Hon" city, as in, "Hey, Hon, ya wannanother cuppa coffee." The little city that is home to big-hair feminism. Yessss!

Photo:Boryana Rossa (Bulgarian, b. 1972). Celebrating the Next Twinkling (Praznuvane na sledvascia mig), 1999. Single-channel video, Edition of 2, 2 min. 45 sec. Private collection. Photograph courtesy of the artist

A Basic Reading List on Iraq

Juan Cole, revered Middle East expert and prolific blogger, offers this basic list of books to shed light on all we do not know or understand about Islam, the Middle East and Iraq, particularly.

Laura Does Columbia

The top half of this augmented photo shows Laura Bush reading to children. On the bottom is a photo of children protesting the Bush visit. The narrative mind is boggled. What the...? Also, am I getting a little whacky or is Laura starting to morph into the Batman's Joker?

U.S. First Lady Laura Bush shows a book to children during her visit to Rafael Pombo's library in Bogota, Sunday, March 11, 2007. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)
Colombian demonstrators clash with anti-riot police after the arrival of U.S. President George W. Bush in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2007. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

Did you want to know this?

America's favorite drug dealer has a gossip site.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Well it seems the force of a narrative thread, according to New York Times art critic Holland Cotter, in reviewing the Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, MoCA, exhibition, WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution, is missing.

In the spirit of feminism, Cotter's review of this first major museum show of early feminist work, while highly supportive of the show, also provides useful criticism. This criticism doesn't diminish Cotter's greater understanding of feminist art of the 60s and 70s:

"One thing is certain: Feminist art, which emerged in the 1960s with the women’s movement, is the formative art of the last four decades. Scan the most innovative work, by both men and women, done during that time, and you’ll find feminism’s activist, expansionist, pluralistic trace. Without it identity-based art, crafts-derived art, performance art and much political art would not exist in the form it does, if it existed at all. Much of what we call postmodern art has feminist art at its source."

My strongest connection to this thinking is the emergence of performance art. It always seemed to be the freshest and riskiest form of feminist art. Its place as an art form was wildly debated at the time. Performance art also seems to me to be essential to revolution on many levels.

This show, curated by Cornelia Butler, Chief Curator of drawing at MoMA, travels in the summer to P.S. 1 in Brooklyn. Hopefully by the time it arrives solutions will be provided that enlarge and better elucidate the role and context of feminism in the progress of art. As the reviewer suggests, waiting 40 years for something to happen leaves one wanting, whatever the show.

Photo above: "The exhibition “Wack!” begins with “Abakan Red” (1969), a suspended fiber sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz."

It's all how you view it...

Here's to sunshine, warmth and godawful, low brow, stupid humor.

..."The Limits of Frivolity In a Nation at War"

This from the IHT, something to consider:

"Years ago, when the world was locked in a deadly ideological battle, the dissident Czech writer Josef Skvorecky reminded us that in a democratic society the pinups and pornography and pulp fiction were necessary, or certainly inevitable, accompaniments to expressions of quality and genius. The freedom for one entails the freedom for the other.

And anyway, said Skvorecky, it was important not to be become so despairing of bourgeois democracy that one is tempted to replace it with something serious and revolutionary.

The media under revolutionary regimes is very serious — no national preoccupations with the mysterious deaths of dysfunctional models, just the elevated and ennobling stuff that the party leaders are concerned with.

So where does that leave us on the triviality-significance spectrum at this perilous moment in our history?"

Baghdad's Poets

“What has happened to the poems and the poetry, all covered in blood and lying with the scattered souls and the bodies beneath the rubble?”

Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Sara recites a poem in the ruins of Baghdad’s al-Mutanabi street. Poets gathered to recite poems at Mutanabi street which was destroyed by a deadly car bomb on March 6.(AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)

Yes indeedy!

It has arrived! The official document of home ownership: the DEED. S-i-i-gh.

As you can see I have redacted super secret double foreground information. We are all becoming use to this redacted look in our government documents. No? Freedom of information is for elite eyes only. Everyone else can read between the lines. If you look at the top right corner, you can see that I paid one-thousand-six-hundred-fifty-dollars ($1,650) to the City of Baltimore to have this Deed transfered to my name. Unbelievable.

This document, the Deed, is an historically important document. It guarantees, unequivocally, that I am the true owner of the property. This system of deeding property is basic to the stability of neighborhoods, cities, states and ultimately the government. I never thought about the Deed before, mainly because I never had one before. But billions of dollars of property changes hands every year. Without the system of deeding land, there would be a chaos of a dark ages magnitude.

Wikipedia says here that the South African system of deeds is haled as the best system in the world. Hmm. Further cruising of the Wiki reveals that Frederick Douglas, the Lion of Anacostia, great African-American orator, and one of Baltimore's most revered historical figures, was for five years, the Recorder of Deeds in Washington, DC! Knowing that it took over two months, $1,650 and some help from some knowledgeable friends (thank you A + T) to get this Deed in my hands, I now understand the other possible implications of Douglas's famous saying: "Without struggle, there is no progress."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Dismal Truth

I am wondering what it is about passion and relationship that would make even an astronaut drive half-way across the country in a diaper to seek revenge. What we do for love! What is this amalgam of emotion that causes so much pain and suffering? How does it become so confused and inappropriate to the idea of love? I just wonder what happens in the mind to create this high tension, this ripping away of civility, kindness, generosity. It's this shocking astronaut love-triangle that set me to thinking (yet, again) about this calamity called love. If even an astronaut can succumb to the hysterics of a relationship gone bad, what chance is there for me?

What is it that causes even very sane people to flip and become violent? I'm no stranger to this feeling myself. I have become confused and completely unclear about situation to the extent that I have acted badly. I have become blinded by emotion. I have never sought physical revenge, well maybe once, long ago, I THOUGHT about "adjusting" the breaks on a car of someone I was very, very angry with. But, that is just a thought, it is not action. How does one's vision become so tunneled that they actually act on causing physical harm?

I don't have the answer. I don't want to make cynical jokes about the astronaut and the thousands of other people who go off the deep end. I realize that I might just as easily become distraught in the face of conflict in a relationship. But, what is the difference between me and the "astronaut?" I do a lot of research. I could link to many studies that look at different discrete causes for violent action. These studies evaluate endless causes, from lack of physical affection for infants, to the hours of violent video games, to the repression of sexual expression. But, I want to work through my own sense of it.

Is inflicting emotional and financial harm, as happens in so many relationships that end, only different by degrees, from violent harm? What is that revenge button that gets pushed? Are we all just little monsters, after all? Is the defense of the ego through some kind of outward attack, the twisted center of us all---a center that all individuals indulge along a whole spectrum of possible responses? I think so.

Because, harm is harm. All philosophies and religions forbid it. In fact, I believe, the tenet to cause no harm is embedded in all faiths and philosophies because it addresses the raw, dark center of human nature. This dark center is such a powerful force that only consistent teaching, repeating, law-making and cultural taboos diminish it. I might feel smug about winning a court battle for the condo on the upper east side, as an example, damaging the financial survival of a former spouse. Isn't that a kind of violence?

Everyday the media presents visuals and stories of a violent, apparently, disintegrating world. I feel infused with these images. Maybe they undermine the kind of spell of cultural restraint. And, then, again, maybe the prevalence and shock of the images fosters moderation. But, I would suggest that none of this is particularly relevant to my concerns, because this urge to harm has existed from the first moment. It has pervaded human existence. It is built in.

Only with a better comprehension of this dark place, through understanding its nature and maintaining a practiced, remedial reflection, can we begin to contain its compulsive out lashes. None of us is immune to its drives; we can cause harm on the grandest to the smallest scale. The astronaut and I are of the same nature. I'm putting myself on notice.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Life of a Mind

I don't know about your brain but mine feels like this rubber band ball I have at the office. My mind is a hopeless machine that is continually thinking up things, layering one thing on top of another, creating a mess of entangled, unrelated, blabbing. It is not as if I have much control over it. My mind just keeps producing thoughts, like a heart beats or a lung expands and contracts, over and over. It's sole role is producing thoughts. And that's what it does, ad infinitum.

At some point in my life I was hopeful that this profusion of thoughts and ideas might be a sign of a good mind. "My word, what a very good mind." Wrong. It is a sign of a mind out of control. Sometimes it is like an untethered, rampaging elephant, at other times like a tribe of monkeys swinging through the trees---from one thought to the next, branch after branch, day after day, for a life time.

At least that's what we think of as a life, all our thoughts and ideas. All our thoughts and ideas and what we did, or didn't do with them. That's a life. Think about. Or better yet, try not to think about. Good luck.

Like streaming video, the thoughts appear and pass on. It doesn't take much of anything to get the mind distracted and off to the next thought. In fact mine kind of likes that best, just moving from thought to thought. And it is more interesting if they are not related. Keep me distracted and I am like a person gorging on a delicious meal.

Just watch a couple of minutes of what is going on in your mind. Two minutes. Try it. Try to make a note of every thought you have for two minutes. Listen to them bounce all over the place like a ball on a racket ball court. Better yet, go the other way, try to not have a thought for just one minute. Humbling, isn't it?

Of course, some thoughts stay. And stay. And stay-and-stay-and-stay! The obsessive thoughts for me are usually related to a slight, or a sticky relationship thing. Things not going my way causes some rampaging. And then there are those who have contrary opinions. This is good for a two hour churn. Or worst, someone doing something in a way other than I do. Pretty damn unforgivable. I mean, I have standards.

This repetitive thinking about an unpleasant situation seems to be a major price of being human. That digging and gouging at every ouch of a conflict. The angry replaying. The mental retelling. The urge to "fix" the story, changing or exaggerating the event, blowing it out of proportion. The delight of coming up with better responses than we could at the moment of the event/slight/conflict. Retelling it with a better ending. Comparing the event to other events similar to it until we see some deeper meaning to what took place, some meaning that escalates our anger until we can think of nothing but OMG! It is a quagmire of enslavement.

My mind is unstoppable and shameless and no thought is too low for it. What if every one could read your thoughts? Eh? The very idea of others reading my thoughts makes my mind run around like a person who just caught fire. I mean, I don't have thoughts like Ann Coulter or Anthony Scalia. I don't think I do. But some of my thoughts are a little, how should I say it, uh,...judgmental. Judging this, judging that, judging every frigging thing that comes before me. Is it good or bad, right or wrong? I have a judgment on everything.

Darwinist tell us that this judgmental work of the mind is what served to boost the possibility for human survival. Those early ancestors who were really, really good at reading the situation and making a good judgment about it survived. So it is a valuable skill. However, it seems to have become refined to a point of excess. Do I need to evaluate everything and anything? Yes, my mind feels compelled to do so, morning, noon and night.

So my mind spins like a whirligig until I drop into bed at night. Then, it can relax. Give me a break. But, no. Now it dreams! Insane things!! Where is the relief? I am trying to live peacefully with my mind. I know you, reader, probably have a quiet mind, like the "still forest pool" the Buddhists talk about. But, my mind seems like an ocean roaring. I guess knowing I have this kind of mind is better than not knowing. But, I'll have to think about. And, I have the mind for it.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Mendacious Policy

I was thinking today of my sense of the current administration's shocking incompetence. I ask myself how it can be so, so incompetent. We see it in everything it touches from the new VA scandal, to the US Attorney scandal, to the Katrina scandal, to the no Child Left Behind failures, right up to the mother lode, Iraq and the War on Terror. But I think referring to these results as incompetence is a mistake. It creates a kind of bumbling, benign sense of the administration.

Actually, it is not incompetence, it is policy. To underfund, to privatize, to "drag governement into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," as Grover Norquist likes to say, is policy. To suggest that there is sound policy, but it is just incompetently executed frees the policy makers from the responsibility for their policy. The policy might be all right, but just badly executed by the blunder heads. The policy just gets to go on. We need to keep linking the disasters to the policy. Otherwise, the policies aren't examined for the wreakage they create. Instead, incompetence gets the attention. The policies go unexposed and unexamined, because we're calling it incompetence.

The administration creates a disaster through its policy and it is called incompetence. The admnistration then gets a weird kind of oh-the-poor-guy sympathy! "Gosh, they just don't seem to get a fair break do they Harriet?"

The policy of underfunding and privatizing the VA went as planned and was skillfully executed---no incompetence there. Administrators were following policy. It is the persistence of the Bush policy, the mendacity of it, and its superb execution that is the real story. Let's nail this one on their foreheads because it is a slippery but essential distinction.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Cheney Diplomacy

I missed this funny comment reported Wednesday by WaPo. It seems VPOTUS, Dick Cheney, while traveling in Asia, requested the Chinese turn over information on their military weapons expenses. The US fears the Chinese are secretly amassing an inordinate amount of military weaponry and demanded a thorough accounting. This was the response from Chinese Foreign Minister, Qin Gang:

"If someone always tears through your clothes and even wants to lift open your underwear, saying 'Let me see what's inside', how would you feel? Would you want to call the police?"

Yes. Somebody PLEASE call the police! But, as others have noted, Dick Cheney IS the police. Therein lies the trickiness of our situation.

12th Annual Lou & Nancy Linden Texas Independence Day Party

Lou & Nancy Linden are the stuff that community partying is made of. The Annual Texas Independence Day Party on William St in Federal Hill is some party. This year's party was in honor of Ann Richards and Molly Ivins. My heart weeps. It is hard to manage the loss of both Ann and Molly from the landscape of Texas, or from the landscape of America, for that matter.

This year's party,to which I am a neophyte, having been out of town for the earlier ones, was a blast. Viva la Revolucion!! A great party.

Lou is a mariner, a preservationist of traditional sailing ships. Nancy is one of Baltimore's most talented painters. So their party is imbued with fellows in pea coats as well as people in heavy metal and cowboy boots. Somehow the dichotomy works beautifully.

The Linden house was filled with over 100 people. The famous fritattas, straight from the burning heat of the Weber, are to die for. There is beer and tequila and wine in abundance. The crowd sways in unison. The hot grill. The famous fritattas. The libations. Each provides a conjuring of community and rebellion that is irresistible. A great evening. Lou and Nancy are the King and Queen of Texas, right here in Baltimore! Thanks for the rebellion!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

FOUND POEM - NASA Describes Saturn

Surely one of the most
gorgeous sights
the solar system has to offer,
Saturn sits enveloped
by the full

...Between the blinding
light of day
and the dark of night,
there is a strip
of twilight
on the globe where
in the atmosphere can be seen.
Bright clouds dot
the bluish-grey
northern polar region here.
In the south,
the planet's night side
glows golden in
reflected light

Saturn's shadow stretches completely across the rings in this view, taken on Jan. 19, 2007, in contrast to what Cassini saw when it arrived in 2004 (see PIA05429) Courtesy of NASA / JPL / Cassini Telescope-Camera

ACT is on the job!

The Huffington Post, and apparently every newspaper in America, had this story today about Stephen Spielberg unknowingly owning a stolen Norman Rockwell painting.

The best part of the story for me is the reference to the newly formed FBI Art Crimes Team, ACT! It is too hilarious. Do they get designer jackets for their raids? A nice Philippe Stark kind of Mondrian thing? I can see the ACT equivalent of CSI down the pipe. At last, sheer delight.

The Walter Reed Scandal

This comment from Juan Cole targets the sleeper issue in the failures at Walter Reed Hospital and the abominable care of our wounded soldiers. (Cole, an expert on the Middle East, has some of the most cogent insights on the Iraq catastrophe you can find.)

"But everyone should pay attention especially to this para. in the WaPo report:

' The committee also released an internal Army memorandum reportedly written in September in which the Walter Reed garrison commander, Col. Peter Garibaldi, warned Weightman that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure" because of staff shortages brought on by privatization of the support work force at the hospital. '
The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here. And so is the privatization of services for US troops in Iraq punishing them. Indeed, the privatization of guard duties through the hiring of firms like Blackwater caused all that trouble at Falluja in the first place. KRB never delivered services to US troops with the speed and efficiency they deserved. The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals." (my emphasis added on the word "privatization")

This problem is a huge piece of the Bush agenda throughout every level of government, and especially in Iraq. Watch this story gain significant traction, soon.

Slate Magazine - Auden at 100

A wonderful read. We need the poets. Here is one of the greats who is, as all greats are, controversial. I like that. Grab a cup of tea, relax and revisit that terrific literature class that moved you to begin to grasp the vividness of life and then to confront the gathering realization that you have some moral responsibility for it. Thank you Slate!

Also, while you are at it, click my link in the right sidebar to zelda bijou, poet of Mallow Hill, for some risky business she trys to share. Happy Saturday.

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Gender Bender

The following quote is from a article written on February 26 by David Frum, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a power in the conservative movement.

"Men have much stronger political opinions than women do, and they make up their minds much earlier in the election cycle. Women take much longer to decide. And that is why most campaign events and most campaign advertising is aimed at women rather than men: Women are more persuadable.

After the '96 election, journalist Christopher Caldwell asked a pollster specializing in women's issues why women voters decide so much later than men.

The pollster replied, "Do you want the politically correct answer? They're busy juggling both career and home. They're pressed for time. The non-politically correct answer is that they decide late because they're only marginally interested in politics." Women voters are only about two-thirds as likely as male voters to read the newspaper. In 1996, only about half of female voters could name the vice president of the United States."

Do you believe this? Do you know any women who are not politically aware? Who runs grass roots organizations? Who is there at the polls working on election day? Who organizes the bake sales, the marches, the community protests? I think there may be some differences in the topics of political interest between men and women, but I cannot believe that women are "only marginally interested in politics."

Yes, I do believe women are more thoughtful about their political choices and may make their choices later in a campaign cycle. And that's good. But those poor, beleaguered campaign managers have to keep working the whole damn cycle to try to win women's votes. According to this theory, if only men were to vote, we wouldn't need such a long campaign cycle. Day One, vote! Because the men's vote seems to be set in cement.

I think this is just old theory and David Frum is so 80's. Its worth scanning Frum's article just to get a whiff of the cynicism that now drives our election process, not that you didn't know that already.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Deep Poverty

I often wonder when this thing called the United States is going to go totally haywire. It is our national myth that we are not susceptable to break down and chaos. However, I think a democracy is a very fragile system that depends on numerous factors. One of them is some equality of wealth and its implied sister, opportunity. The McClatchy Washington Bureau has completed a new study that reveals startling growth of the little discussed group of American people, the severly poor. Even those doing the research were shocked by their findings.

"A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas."

16 million people. Signs like this keep appearing. As a people we should be shattered by this information. This news, to my knowledge, did not make one front page of any newspaper. I haven't seen it anywhere on the internet, except as a note on OneGoodMove. We have got to get Bush/Republicans out of office. The damage is just too great. We cannot bare this kind of "compassion."

India / Baltimore. Closer than you think.

Well the house renovation is moving along at a carpenter ant's pace. The drawings are done. The bank is ready. The contractor is begging to rip things out and nail in some 2 x 4's. The lead abatement people are ready to scrape and suck the living day lights out of the building and spit the lead out in some sealed tank. I sit imagining the kitchen bathed in morning light, the smell of a crusty frittata baking in the oven. However, the Baltimore Building Department has other plans. They have rules. The rules change, however, depending on with whom you may speak when trying to get an answer to a question.

The Department in their razor-sharp wisdom has focused on the replacement deck. One guy says no problem. The deck is fine. Don't worry. But Baltimore is becoming a little like India. In India, the backpacker rule is that you must ask three different people directions, for example, because you will get three different answers. If you are lucky two of them may have some similarities. You could go by the two that are similar or you could get a fourth answer. If the fourth answer relates to the two that are similar, you can go with it. Because Indians often don't know the answer, they will make one up rather than disappoint the traveler. It is like that in Baltimore City, but different. Not trusting the first answer, which seemed a little loosey-goosey, we made a second inquiry. This person said the Department wants photos, it wants detailed drawings, it wants the electric company to certify that the deck is properly sited, it wants full documentation. The deck requirements are a page long. What!?

We are putting the deck in exactly the same place that the old deteriorated deck was. This little 8'x8' deck is is gonna' be trouble. I can see it coming. The renovation I am doing is so ordinary. There are no additions, no bump-outs, no third floor addition. There is no change whatsoever to the structure or size of the place. This seems to annoy the Department. They must find something over which to exercise their power. The Banana Republic of Baltimore raises its hoary head and bleats. And, we will bend to its little dictator's bleating. I figure the second answer is the worst case scenario. I'm going with that. More later.

Elegance and Death

It is hard to be sure that what you believe is happening, is what is really happening. Tonight, Jack, the bartender at Henningers (home to the famous TV dinner), decided that I needed to finish off my 1/2 lb of steamed shrimp with a hot towel and a squeeze of lemon for my hands. It was an classy gesture, ending a fine, spicy treat. Those around me at the bar indicated through their guttural groaning that the special treatment I was receiving was, somehow, undeserved and unwarranted. I beg your pardon. Jack and I have a kind of mind-meld, human intuiting, razz-ma-tazz thing for elegant gestures. He gives. I receive.

What other bartender prepares tall votive candles with the pictures of deceased celebrities that are ensconced on the bar? Who? Name ONE! When I arrived tonight, I knew the recently deceased Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. would be glued to a votive candle. And he was. He was there with candle light illuminating his Xeroxed photo. Schlesinger, intellectual-in-residence at Kennedy's Camelot, was not only a preeminent American scholar but a lion of liberalism. This lion was right down the bar from Anna Nicole's votive candle. Her photo was in full color, as was her cleavage. Jack does not discriminate.

What more can I say? Very special. R.I.P.