Sunday, April 29, 2007

Modernism, a reaction to the violence of WW I

Abceda (Alphabet), by Vitezslav Nezval, Karel Teige. Czechoslovakia, 1926

The visit to Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939 at the Corcoran in Washington, DC, this Saturday refreshed me in a way I hadn’t expected. I have a great affinity for modernism, its clarity and mastery of the unadorned. I was reminded, however, of the ethic that drove modernism during its run of over two decades on the world stage. Modernism is a movement described as being bookended by two world wars. After spending over two hours viewing the exhibit, one comes to the end and turns a corner that reveals a large sepia-toned, daguerreotype print, shot from in a trench, of soldiers, in their ankle-length coats, helmets strapped under their chins, bayonet’s affixed, leaping into and over the trench, running full force into war’s death and destruction. I was transfixed. I heard myself saying aloud, “The end.”

Modernism was driven by the belief in the power of art and design to create new models for living. That was what I was reminded of and, on Saturday, felted renewed by. Modernism had a Utopian agenda. It had ambiguous and sometimes subversive qualities. The exhibit text that accompanies the various mini-exhibits featuring the movements within the movement were spare and very helpful. They served to reinforce an understanding of the exceptional passion the movement had to fully integrate art, design and life.

Purism, the Modernist movement centered in France around the work of architect Le Corbusier, was premised on the integration of form and function. The movement focused on simple geometry, industrial materials, such as concrete, steel and glass, and open planning. Its seminal ethos anchored Modernism. (I can't say “Le Corbusier” without feeling a sense of awe.) Looking at the architecture and design of the time, it is hard to appreciate how radical Modernism was. Moving from a Victorian aesthetic to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye is an incomprehensible leap.

One of the wonderful parts of the exhibition was the integration of film footage, often on large screens, from the period. There, before my eyes, was Le Corbusier walking into the Villa Savoye! Or was it him? Only the back of a dapper man in the drive way, and then legs going up a stair, and then a quick side view before he disappears around a corner---his physical movement is so full of life. There is also the experimental abstract films which must have been so exciting to see at the time---the colors, the wacky movement. Then there is amazing footage of early modernist dance and theater productions. Even a Leni Riefenstahl film clip is included in the National Modernist section. It is very brief, but is a pan of the largest stadium field I have ever seen. The camera is far back from the field, but the pan still takes nearly a minute to cover all the assembled athletes performing synchronized “modern” fitness movements. The number of people, appearing as mere dots on the field, must exceed several thousand. It is an unbelievable clip. Whatever you may think about Leni, she was no slacker.

The exhibit is large and thorough. The presence of Mondrian’s spare abstractions, based on ideas of spiritual harmony, Rietveld and Oud’s exploration of pure color and architecture as a force for social and spiritual understanding and the extraordinary Bauhaus school in German with multidisciplinary design and art programs are wonderfully represented. I kept hearing the eternal “Yes!” in my heart. It is so helpful to feel the presence of those whose work represented the value of art and design as a foundation for the quality of life. Can we get that back, please?

I want to also mention Charlotte Perriand. There are numerous examples of her work throughout the exhibition. She is most noted for her furniture design. What I appreciated about Perriand is how imaginatively her ideas transitioned from the mechanical / industrial origins of the modernist movement all the way through to those ideas arising just before WW II. Near the beginning of the exhibition is a magnificent ball-bearing necklace. A crafts piece she created. It is practical, functional and shining with beauty. Near the end of the exhibition, in a large room in which one cannot fail to feel comfortable, is a Perriand necklace made of modestly-sized alabaster or oyster shells, representing Modernism's movement into organic forms. The dynamism of her work vouches for the power of openness and courage. These seem to be especially important qualities of spirit at this time of increasing fearfulness.

What is "Modern" is the concern for humans in space and community---the faith that art and design serve humanity. In this sense, it feels the world has become ancient.

The War Archives

Click on image to enlarge

Tom Tomorrow remembers:

"I was planning to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the war by looking back at some of the more remarkable statements pundits made at the time. But I'm a weekly cartoonist, and this month I just had too many other ideas clamoring for my limited space, so this one stayed on the back burner and never ended up running. So here's a small exclusive for the HuffPo."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Arc for Choice!

From eyecaramba at Flickr

Yep. Another Pro-Choice Welder.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Staying in Iraq Forever.

This post from Josh Marshall's TPM is a great re-cap of the administration's mess.

Thank you Rostropovich

I like this post from Clive Davis on Rostropovich. His left hand is pretty mesmerizing, and then, there's his right. How lovely the sound.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Comfort + Security = Sleep

I thought this thought from David Brooks a few weeks ago was helpful in categorizing all the narratives swirling around us.

"Today the big threats to people's future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation. Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The ''liberty vs. power'' paradigm is less germane. It's been replaced in the public consciousness with a ''security leads to freedom'' paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world." Emphasis added.

I appreciate the categories of "decentralized phenomena," but, I would argue with the highlighted sentence. Somehow it seems to me that the more secure people are the LESS interested they are in exploring the possibilities of their world. The more secure they are the more they seem to want to protect their comfort and position or authority/power/privilege. I think Brooks has this backwards. It is a hopeful idea, it should be true, security leading to exploration, but, it seems bass-akwards. I think shaking things up is the only thing that leads people to explore and question their reality. Comfort and security lead to...a nice nap.

How low can it go?

Although I am not much for polls, I was interested by this one from the British. There seems no end to the plummet of opinion about this United States. But, at least they like us "a little or a lot!" I have that Sally Field feeling.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Logic Fails Us Again.

Click on the cartoon to enlarge it.

I returned from a computer-free, weekend getaway, only to feel overwhelmed by all the information and ideas flying around on the web when I got home. So, I thought I would think about the flying stuff. Instead of writing, I'll just post this gem, unpack my little bag and head for dreamland.

Friday, April 20, 2007


My friend PT sent this today. Yeeeah!

Off for the weekend will not be blogging again until early next week. I tried to get a guest blogger in, but, guess what? They are all booked! Oh, well! Gotta go....

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Other's Grief

Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaie/AFP/Getty

This photo accompanies Andrew Sullivan's quote from a Kurdistani who was in Iraq visiting when one of this week's bombs went off. Sullivan's comment is reassuring to me.

"In the three days that Americans have rightly been fixated on a horrifying act by a mentally disturbed person, well over 200 innocent people have been massacred in a country with less than one tenth the population of the United States, where the U.S. government has ultimate responsibility for security and where al Qaeda and Sunni mass-murderers roam with impunity."

I wonder when we might develop for others the kind of empathy we feel for our "own." What human quality is it that imbues us with deep care for only our own tribe, so to speak, and not for other tribes, all of whom are humans like us. It is not particularly unique to the USA tribe, as we can see in Iraq, Darfur, Bosnia and on and on.

In this instance, our government has created the problem in Iraq. Its population is experiencing terrible suffering and grief because of the administration's reckless, misguided, thoughtless attack that it then mismanaged into a catastrophe of carnage. Our hearts, minds and devotion should go out to these people in the same manner it goes out to our own.

It would be fair to hold our government to the same standards of examination that the institutions of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are going to be held. If our government had met these standards of responsibility it is unlikely that we would have ever gone in to Iraq or, had we gone in,
still be there.

If we could place 1/10th of the focus on the conduct of the administration in Iraq that we will on Virginia Tech, the administration would be toast by now. But, we have ignored the suffering caused by our government's mad assault and bizarre behavior in a far away land. Our insouciance in the face of the great harm we have brought on the people of Iraq is unforgivable.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

VT Shootings

Andrew Sullivan puts some prospective on it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Free Speech Case to Watch

This case could never be lost. Right?

Monday, April 16, 2007


I am heartbroken, and broken-spirited about the shootings at VT today. I don't even know how to talk about it. It descends to the realm of unspeakable. I can't bear to think how I would feel if my child was gunned down in such a terrifying way, in such an insane manner, for no reason. It is horrifying.

I know the nation's hearts and minds are focused on this loss. There will be an outpouring of support and concern from Americans. But, I must say to this outpouring, that if we also focused the same incensed feelings on the loses of mostly innocent Iraqis and decent American soldiers in the Middle East, we could end the war. Our separation from the horror of Iraq, and for that matter the suffering of Palestinian's, makes us less able to identify with them. If Iraq was being covered with the thoroughness of the Blacksberg tragedy, people would be in such revulsion they would change the world. But because there is no thorough coverage, we are able to turn away from that catastrophe.

One way to grasp what is happening to innocent, men, women and children on a daily basis in Iraq is to read what is happening. I have included below, what happened in Iraq, just today as reported in this blog.

The horrifying loss of our American children, can lead us to understand the horrifying loss and suffering of the people in Iraq. This understanding could energize the public to insist on getting us out of Iraq. No more senseless death, anywhere.


BAGHDAD - Gunmen killed a U.S. soldier on patrol in southwestern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. One other soldier was wounded. A roadside bomb also killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another in southern Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - Coalition forces killed an armed man during a raid in Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military said. The military was investigating claims by local Iraqis that the dead man was an airport highway security guard. Four armed men with suspected ties to al Qaeda were detained during the raid.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army has killed seven insurgents and arrested 83 others in the past 24 hours in different parts of Iraq, the Defence Ministry said.

BAGHDAD - The bodies of 30 people who had been shot were found in different districts of Baghdad on Sunday, police said.

BAGHDAD - The final death toll from two car bombs in a mostly Shi'ite district in southwestern Baghdad on Sunday has risen by two to 17, with 50 wounded, police said.

BAGHDAD - The death toll from a car bomb targeting a police patrol on Sunday has risen by four to nine, with 17 wounded, in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Karrada, police said.

RAMADI - U.S. forces killed three Iraqi policemen on Monday in a case of friendly fire during a raid against suspected al Qaeda militants in Ramadi, the U.S. military said. It said American forces had come under small arms fire and returned fire. Seven insurgents were arrested.

MAHMUDIYA - Mortar rounds killed three people and wounded 18 in Mahmudiya, about 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

NEAR HIMREEN - Gunmen kidnapped nine workers and killed one on the way to Himreen, about 90 km (55 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

FALLUJA - The bodies of seven people were found shot in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja, police said. There were signs of torture

FALLUJA US military base was attacked by five mortar shells. No reports of injuries.

HAWIJA - Gunmen killed the imam of a Sunni mosque in the town of Hawija, 70 km southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

HAWIJA - The bodies of three people were found tortured and shot near the town of Hawija, police said.

BAIJI - Gunmen killed a tribal leader and wounded his son on a road near Baiji, 180 km north of Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL - The bodies of six people, including a policeman, who had been shot were found in different districts of Mosul, police said.

MOSUL - Police in Mosul said the death toll from an attack by two suicide truck bombers outside an Iraqi military base on Sunday had risen to six. The U.S. military said four Iraqi soldiers were killed and four others wounded.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed Talal al-Jalili, the Dean of the Political Science College, in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, police said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed Mohammed Abdullah al-Zubaidi, a senior member of the former Baath party in western Mosul, about 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, a medical source at the Mosul morgue said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed 13 soldiers and wounded four in an attack on an Iraqi army checkpoint near Mosul, police said.

MOSUL – Gunmen killed Dr. Jaafar Hassan Sadeq, a professor form the Faculty of Arts of Mosul University.

ISHAQI - Gunmen kidnapped five civilians in their cars in Ishaqi, police said.

ISHAQI - A suicide car bomber targeting a police directorate killed nine people and wounded 10 others in Ishaqi, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad. Ten cars were destroyed.

KIRKUK - Gunmen assassinated an imam and severely wounded his son in an attack in the district of Huweija in Kirkuk, while policemen found three unidentified bodies on the road linking Huweija to Kirkuk city, Iraqi police said.

KURKUK - A policeman was wounded while trying to defuse an explosive charge in southern Kirkuk, while another device went off near a police traffic patrol, severely damaging one of the vehicles, a Kirkuk police source said.

KUTU.S. forces arrested two people who set up a fake checkpoint in northeastern Kut, while an explosive charge targeted a house in the city but left no casualties, eyewitnesses said.

ZAKHU (Dahuk) – Border forces in Zakhu, Dahuk province, arrested 12 people from the area of Sinjar in Mosul, near the Iraqi-Turkish borders, for attempting to enter Turkey illegally, an official source said.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Cereal Box That Screamed.

I have had an empty cereal box next to my iMac for a couple of days. I have been wanting to write about it because it caused me to pause. The cereal is America's Choice, Frosted Shredded Wheat, the generic brand sold by the Super Fresh grocery. I like shredded wheat, a hang over from childhood, and this brand is about a dollar less than the name brands and has 19 ozs. rather than the usual 12 to 16 ozs. of cereal. According the the face of the box, the cereal has "9 vitamins and Minerals," which seems sort of meager, but, ya get what ya pay for. On one side of the box are recipes for Almond Half Moon Cookies and Chocolate Nests. On the other side is the usual "Nutrition Facts" information.

What caused me to pause was the back of the box. On the back is a colorful presentation entitled "Our Democracy at Work." It reads like a Cliff Notes explanation of the US Government in a kind of Power Point configuration. At the top of the box panel is the Preamble to the Constitution. Following that very bracing statement, I mean that sincerely, is this statement made by this American corporation:

"The foundation on which our government firmly stands is made up of three parts---the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Each of these branches of government has unique powers and the power to check each other. The separation of these branches insures that no one area of government can become too powerful. This is called a system of checks and balances and it guarantees that our government always represents the people and never the government itself." (Emphasis added)

Wow! What follows that statement is a brief explanation of each branch of government. Some salient points that are made:

1. The Executive Branch makes sure that the laws Congress passes are carried out.
2. The President makes appointments to the cabinet and many other important positions in government. These appointments can be very influential to how the government runs. Therefore, the Senate must approve all of the President's appointments---this is the "check" the Congress has over the Executive branch.
3. Congress is responsible for making the laws...
4. If the Supreme Court decides that a law passed by Congress does not agree with the principles of the Constitution, it is said to be unconstitutional. The is the "check" the judicial branch has on the Congress and the President.

My read is that this cereal box is FLAMING the administration in the most prosaic environment possible. I have recently been lamenting that we the people either didn't receive civic lessons in school or we didn't listen to them. Understanding the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances is the most basic understanding. It fits on a cereal box! The government's clear system of checks and balances is so misunderstood and the current administration obfuscates in such a manner that we are losing touch with the originating ideas. So, here, on the back of a cereal box, of all places, are some basic, originating ideas.

I want the America's Choice company to do a series on civil liberties on the back of the cereal box. Civil liberties seem the most difficult to explain. They are so sophisticated and beautiful, so protective of our civil existence and so misunderstood as the essence of our freedom.

I imagine that the America's Choice ad agency team is like a secret democracy cell, hidden away on the most mundane account. The team appears in every way perfectly normal, even a little hip. However, in the tradition of the early American pamphleteers, they heroically and subversively write to re-inform and enlighten the American people about the workings of their government; they quietly lead, at the least, the shredded wheat lovers, to freedom. Pity the Coco Puffs fans.

The Evil Narrative

When Dick Cheney reportedly said, "We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it," one must wonder what comic book he was reading at the time. It seems to me that evil is a potential that exists in each of us. All we can do with this lurking force on the personal level is manage, moderate and minimize it. It cannot be subdued. It just is. Evil is a piece of human potential. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Confucius, understood this and tried to teach us to manage it.

Lao Tzu, in his writings, collected in the Tao Te Ching said,
"Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself." Rather than targeting evil to be defeated, Lao Tzu would council equilibrium, a steady dance that continually negotiates and assuages. To attempt to do otherwise ends in overreaction, force against force and destabilization, with results that are often worse than the original problem. Pushing against the natural energy of evil, can be maintained for a while---but is eventually exhausting. There is always the push-back. We see this in the individual psychological realm as well as the larger world theater.

With a healthy respect for the world's contrariness, we cannot assume we have established answers that work in every situation, as Cheney does. We can even disagree on where the equilibrium lies, but, to me, the equilibrium is essential. It is in restraint that stability arises.

There is some argument that the threat of war has its mollifying effects. That the fear of military force, and its occasional, swift use and then swift retreat is essential. I would say this fulfills the idea of maintaining equilibrium in certain situations. The difficult part is finding leaders with the wisdom to know the difference between action to achieve balance and protection, and action to "defeat" something.

My thinking lies somewhere between the ideas of hawk and dove---somewhere between war and peace. We can and must argue about where equilibrium lies and whether, or even if, it should be sought in every situation. But the dialogue about these considerations has been abandoned in the belief that we can eliminate evil through forceful opposition. Striving against a natural force is just, well, unnatural. The only realistic strategy is to manage it in the most sophisticated terms. To believe that evil can be defeated is a shockingly childish idea. It is one worthy of comic book characters, which is what our administration seems to have become.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Grave Yard

Baghdad: Wrecked cars in a car 'cemetery'; the cars were previously
used as car bombs in various areas of the war-torn capital.
Photograph: © Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty

This harrowing photo presents a sculptural landscape that I couldn't ever have imagined. It is not so much the wrecked cars, the eerie uniformity of color, their blasted nature. It is the underlying story, the rampage, the hundreds of deaths, the thousands of mangled bodies. Stop the war now. Keep saying it.

Satuday's Word for Sunday Brunch


I am nonplussed over people's usage of the word "nonplussed." Speakers seem to think the word means unfazed, indifferent, unimpressed. However to be nonplus is to be at a point where one no longer knows what to do or say. The meaning is: bewildered to the point of speechlessness; utterly perplexed; completely puzzled. The misunderstanding is so wide spread, that if it is used correctly many people become confused as to what the speaker means. Ye gads!

The origin of the word is French, combining the words non and plus, meaning "not more" or "not any further." In other words, it is too much, referring to the state in which nothing more can be done. Because we see the "non" in front, it appears to us to indicate "not," as in---"I am not plussed." But we really have no meaning in the English language for "plussed." We make it up. "Plussed" takes on the meaning of upset, fazed. Throw in the "non" and we think we are saying: I am not, in the least, fazed! This is incorrect. In fact, it means you are totally fazed. So could everybody, ahem, New York Times included, spread the word on today's word. Thanks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Canary Court Gets Its Own Blog!

This is to let friends and family know that I am going to post updates on the Canary Court renovations here at a second blog. I want to keep Narrative Forces for publishing thoughts and information on art, literature and culture, with a little science and astronomy and some design and architecture thrown in. Canary Court has its own vivid life. Keeping it separate, also lets me keep the history and photos of its process all together.

So please bookmark both blogs. I will start publishing this weekend on the Canary Court blog. Thanks for all your support.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Urban Renovation - April 10, 2007

I am including the following link to my Flickr account that has pictures of today's demolition results.

The skeleton of the building reveals the dramatic difference in the house built for the rich and middle class, from the house built for the servant class, which is the kind of house I have. It is all in the details. It is in the way wall-meets-wall, and wall-meets-ceiling. It is in the care with which the bricks were laid and the quality of the lumber and flooring. Its in the quality of the beams and studs. The quality of the joists. The difference is dramatic. The walls are separating and crumbling. Some of the wood has deteriorated from termites, long gone, but still influential. This one hundred year old, little ten-foot wide gem, has some problems. All of which were neatly concealed beneath the drywall.

I am thinking that my one and only real estate adventure could be a catastrophe. But, then again, with Trudy and Paul, it could be totally solvable. Probably it will be somewhere in the middle. Paul said tonight, "We can build it to last for twenty years. Would that be enough?" Hmm. That might be a little short for my lifetime. Or, it could be just right. Who knows!

Let's see what tomorrow reveals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Joshua Bell in L'Enfante

I got a helpful comment on my post yesterday on the Washington Post article about Joshua Bell playing in the DC "subway." It lead me to Saw Lady in NYC, who has a great read on why Mr. Bell's performance was not a show stopper. Saw Lady is a NYC subway musician and musical saw player. She's been around the platform.

Saw Lady's thinking about the art of "busking" has its merits. But, NYC is such a different environment than the, ugh, DC environment. I would challenge Saw Lady to try her musical saw in DC. The experiement could be a very different experience, unrelated to how the musician relates to the mobile audience, as Saw Lady suggests. Better, yet, she should try out her "busker theory" here in Baltimore's underground-above ground-underground. Oh, yeah, Hon.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sol LeWitt

One of my very favorite artists has died of cancer at the age of 78. I trust Tyler Green to honor the man. Green also links to the NYT obit, among other options, that are pretty helpful.

If I weren't living temporarily in someone else's house, I would be making a small penciled graph-drawing on a wall in his honor. (What is it that is so mesmerizing about those penciled walls?) Rest in peace you kind, generous, humorous and brilliant man. Thank you for giving me such art-happiness.

"It was said that Mr. LeWitt didn’t like vacations. His pleasure was being in his studio. He explained that he had worked out his life as he wanted it to be, so why take a vacation from it?" NYT Obituary, April 9, 2007

Iraq Fatigue

This ABC brief report on the writings of Ali Alawi, adds to the bitterness of the administrations management of the war. The war must stop. Why aren't we in the streets like these Iraqis? Yes, they are led by the damnable, Shiite firebrand, Moqtada al-Sadr and they will all be in a big lock-down tonight with a 24-hour curfew. But why are we so acquiescent? Is it because there is no draft? Is it because there are not enough of us who know even one of the ten of thousands of men and women over in that sand pile? Would we take to the streets over and over, if we weren't so comfortable? What?

How can we stop this bloodshed? It is not good enough to say we have to wait-out this administration for two years. We need to bring all the Middle East players together and let THEM help bring stability back to Iraq. We must talk to them. Let Bush take credit for bringing all the parties together. Let him "win" the war. Our part in the carnage has to cease. Bring everyone home. Now. Keep saying it!

(Photo: Iraqi Shiite men wave Iraqi flags during an anti-U.S protest called by firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime on April 9, 2007 in the holy Shiite city of Najaf south of Baghdad, Iraq. Large crowds held flags and anti-US banners to show support for the cleric. Meanwhile the capital Baghdad was put under a 24-hours curfew. By Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images.)

At Last it Begins!

Today I met with the handsome fellow above, Steve Belis, and the magnificent Trudy McNair, who is next to him. Steve is the representative of the Dept of Housing and Community Development, the agency which is giving me a grant to get the lead out, so to speak. Trudy is the owner of New View Construction, LLC who is the builder on my project. Take a good look because all you see around them at the Canary Court house will begin to be demolished tomorrow April 10. I have also included, for you technical types...the much coveted building PERMIT. The entire panoply of permits (building, electrical, plumbing etc.), for my teeny 650/sf, will cost $900! Let the journey begin.

Art without a Frame

This piece is fun read. Here's the question: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

"(Joshua Bell's) performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste." There are even three videos.

Bush in Theater / Soldiers as Props

Astounding. No, very, very frightening.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter!

This couple is Hanna Jaszyk, on piano and Czeslaw Karolak, on violin. The video fills me with the sense of a simpler time, a different pace, an entirely different value system, long gone. It relieves me of that hyper-produced, slick, cynical world that, of late, withers me. They are playing Mozart: Sonata for Piano and Violin. K454, mov. Andante.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

What the...?

Ok. Would this video, created at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, inspire you to give your hard earned cash to join their MFA program in graphic design? I'm just asking.

Got Milk?

This LA Times column should put a nice hornet in John McCain's Kevlar. He is so disappointing. As you surely know, he walked into a street market in Baghdad to demonstrate how safe the city is and how unfair the reportage from Baghdad has been.

The next day the massive protection he had for his "safe" walk was revealed. Market vendors laughed up their sleeves at the entourage. The LA Times columnist, John Kenny, transports us on an imaginary family trip to Farmer's Market in Indiana. The trip is taken under the same conditions as the Baghdad market. Read on. Please.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould is always an interesting subject. A renowned and curious Canadian virtuoso. He had a formidable technique that enabled him to choose very fast tempos while retaining the separateness and clarity of each note. Part of the technique consisted of taking an extremely low position at the piano, which allowed him more control over the keyboard.

There is some evidence that Gould worked from a young age with his teacher Alberto Guerrero on a technique known as finger-tapping, a method of training the fingers to act more independently from movements of the arm. But it is at least clear in films of Gould's playing that he employed an outward motion of the fingers sometimes at key moments in passages, pushing the finger tip forward on a key to strike a note, rather than pressing it downwards or pulling it towards him.

Gould had many eccentricities, such as rocking and humming, isolation, difficulty with social interaction, and the uncanny focus and technical ability. Some attribute this to Asperger Syndrome ( which was not a defined disease in his time.) Others say there were ample psychological and emotional explanations for his eccentricities. At Clive Davis' blog, I came across this 1959 footage of a young Gould working out on the Bach Italian Concerto in a recording studio. The 1959 city footage is pretty nice. This is terrific.
(The still photo is of Gould and his teacher Guerrero)

Bitter Lesson

A recent Rolling Stone interview with some leading thinkers was convened to discuss the Iraqi quagmire. Gen. Tony McPeak (retired), Member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, contributed an important thought:

"This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment."

Emphasis added.

Urban Renovation

Over three and one-half months have passed since the purchase of the Canary Court house. It seems like six months. There have been numerous people and institutions that have crossed my path. I wish now I had taken a photo of everyone I've met in this process of assuming "home ownership."

Today the Bank's appraiser finally had a viewing of the house. He'll get back to me next week with the "comps" and the "as improved" values. The bank will base its rehab loan approval on this report. (You can click on the photo to get a sense of the interior condition and the lack of straight lines, especially that ceiling line.)

Last week I received the amazing Commitment Letter from the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for the long sought Lead Abatement grant. This grant amounts to about $13,985! Those of you who have been following this know that this money will go toward gutting the house to remove all traces of lead. Lead is prevalent in any house built before 1978. Mine was built in 1913. The assumption is that the house is reeking of lead paint. (A real problem if you plan on eating the house.) The funds go toward gutting and then replacing some of what is gutted. It is a great help. The biggest help the commitment letter provides is that we can begin next week to gut the house. Then, before the end of the month I will settle the larger amount the bank is loaning me. So the money part is nearly complete and the construction will begin. Scary/good.

I will only allow myself to carry a certain mortgage amount. Beyond that lies only agoraphobia (caused by the inability to leave the house because of the lack of disposable cash.) To limit myself, and also have ALL the things I desired, caused the reality crisis. So I have slowly, painfully removed some of what I planned. Which is ok. I will work things in as time and money allow. The big things will get done and that's what matters. Importantly, I will have the green features I want that will reduce my energy bills and help the environment a bit. Every bit counts.

Emotions. I do not yet feel like a home owner. I feel like a person in the midst of a design problem. The architectural planning has been thrilling for me. It has been an exercise in creating a functioning living environment within 650/sf. So far it has been a joyful design problem. I loved it! It is the financing that was the struggle. I switched to Chesapeake Bank and they have been wonderful. Very informative, warm and helpful---a welcome change from that damn 1st Mariner Bank.

More on all this as things begin happening on the construction level. So far there have been some moments of big fear, but mostly I have an enlarged understanding of what architects do and how complicated it is. I also appreciate that I have a sort of cohesive design sense living inside me. That feels good. I thought the process would be all consuming and over whelming, but it has been neither. So far its been like a long hike through a mixed landscape. By the way, I have a woman contractor, a Russian male Construction Supervisor/carpenter and a Latino finishing team. Whoo-hoo! More pictures to follow.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Facade

Ingmar Bergman kept me engaged tonight as AJ and I watched Persona. We were a bit uncertain that we could manage another Bergman film after viewing the trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and then the killer, The Silence. We were in agony after three Monday's in a row of suffering souls. Should we go again? Could we handle so much agony? Well, we did. Who could miss Persona, the ninth film in the ninth week in the Bergman retrospective at the Charles Theater?

The weird vampire-like, lesbian over toned, Freudian laced film was worth the watch and a big relief from the sodden, god trilogy that preceded it, nearly causing these two fans to give up Bergman all together.

Simply, a nurse takes care of an actress who has stopped talking after confronting a trauma on the stage while performing Elektra. I think it is pivotal that the role of Elektra caused the trauma. In Greek mythology, Eleckta is an assassin, in cahoots with her brother Orestes, to the avenge the death of their father, the great Agamemnon.

In the Elktra play one witnesses the rapid changes of the characters' sentiments - tension, hatred, fear, joy, ecstasy; not unlike Persona, only in reverse. Elektra finally kills herself, having avenged, with her brother Orestes, her father's murder. One believes, in the most operatic sense, that it is with some joy that Elektra kills herself after years of rage, yearning for her murdered father and the terrible treatment by her step family. So one must ask why Elektra, the play, traumatizes Elizabeth Vogler---the speechless, hospitalized actress?

Here is my read. Elizabeth Vogler has mastered the artful facade to such an extent that she has no idea who she is. This is not unique to anyone who lives in the world. We all play so many roles that we have difficulty sorting our our real selves from all the roles we play to please all the players in our lives; hopefully, we differ by degrees from the actor. The actor must become very confused. While we, the non-professional actors, are playing roles to survive amongst the plethora of people with whom we must interact, there is purpose to our roles, albeit sometimes groveling; the actor on the other hand, chooses and masters roles, for a livelihood. Some would say it is a livelihood driven by narcissism. Though narcissism is not my issue, it is pertinent to the extent that it drives the facade in a way entirely different from the "facade" of the work-a-day life most of us lead.

The turning point for me in the film was the moment when the silent Elizabeth passes a TV that is showing footage of the war in Vietnam. On the screen is Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who self-immolated to protest the torture of Buddhist monks and nuns by the unmerciful, American-backed, Diem regime. Elizabeth is horrified and trembles. She lets out a sound of fear. Some critics attribute this reaction to the sensitivity of the great actress. They posit that her vulnerability to the world is what contributes to the intelligence of a performance. Nonsense.

I think this act by the monk mirrors the traumatizing aspects of the Elektra play. Both the monk and the character Elektra were moved to perform authentic acts. Repeat: authentic acts. They wore no masks. They carried out horrific acts with authentic behavior and authentic courage. These acts required an innate self-knowledge and self-confidence that empowered them to carry out their roles.

Elizabeth on the the other hand is empty of an authentic personality. I think that while she is playing the role of Elektra, she is forced to confront her inauthentic existence. Who IS Elizabeth? The only reaction she can take, in light of her profound Elektra epiphany, is to stop acting. Say nothing. Play no role. Purify her being.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth is unable to realize an authentic self, because, even in silence, she is compelled in the most cynical way to cannibalize the nurse, Alma, whose name translates as "soul." Actor as monster / inauthenticity as destruction of the soul---that's my read. It was the astonishing appearance of the footage of Thich Quang Duc in the midst of this solemn film that lead me to this thinking.