Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Bicycle Thief.

The well-locked bike sculpture.

This is a bike / bike lock sculpture from Vancouver. This is just the way I sometimes feel about my bike. I want to protect it from whoever it is that steals bikes. I went into a deli near where I am living on Saturday morning to buy milk. I rode my road bike to the deli. Though I would be in the store for, maybe, a minute or so, I was totally afraid to leave my bike outside, and, at the same time, I don't want to lock my bike up. I took my bike into the store and propped it against the wall, grabbed the milk, paid and hurried back outside with my bike. I rode home, lopsided with the milk, and cursed the world of fear and the hyped angst of life.

There is just a lot of fear swirling around. You only have to watch the nightly news for about ten minutes to get the drift of the invasion of fear. I am trying to shake it off, but it grabs me and reduces me to a caricature of a person who has possessions that must be protected. It is the last place I want to visit. This possession protection is crazy and tiring. The sculpture is a great representation of this crazed feeling.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Chain, chain, chain...

There has long been afoot the effort to emasculate the import of the 60s. First the era was demonized by the right as nothing but wanton, self-indulgence in sex and drugs . This narrowed and superficial view has for decades become the standard understanding of that era. Little analysis is given to the era's powerful creative vitality of a singularly unique nature. The intelligence and meaning of the politics, and the art of the political voice, is woefully unexamined. Now that it has been emasculated, the new trend is toward sanitized, commercial presentations of the period. These slick, brightly colored exhibitions miss altogether the gravitas of the time.

Thankfully, Holland Cotter's NYT review of the Whitney Museum's exhibition, Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, catches them in the act. It is well worth the read. This brief quote helps nail-down the problem.

"To many people who came of age between 1963 to 1972 political intensity was the defining feature of the period and its most interesting art. It never let up.

In 1965 antiwar protests started — 25,000 students marched on Washington that year — and they grew larger and more frequent. By 1967, more than 400,000 troops have been sent to Vietnam. Che Guevara was killed that year; the Black Panthers had formed the year before. In 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Racial uprisings spread across the country. The Democratic convention brought the war home to the Chicago streets. In 1969: university takeovers, Altamont. In 1970: Jimi dead. Janis dead. Cambodia. Kent State.

You will learn almost nothing about any of this from the show. Or about the gay liberation movement. Or about the gathering women’s movement, although militant feminism makes total sense given the relentless sexism of psychedelic art, in which all women are young, nude, available “chicks,” and very rarely artists.

Nor would you have any inkling that, for Americans at least, pop culture during these years meant black culture. Apart from Hendrix’s presence, the show is overwhelmingly white. Aretha Franklin’s first big hits — “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “Natural Woman” — were all 1967. You won’t find her here. Nor will you find Marvin, or Smokey, or Otis, or Fontella or Ray. Again, take one style for the whole picture, you leave most of the picture out."

That brief window of time and the events that formed and moved it were really like no other. I continually think that such faith in the power and art of audacious action will return, especially given our current urgencies (which is putting it mildly) and our abusive government(again, putting it mildly). The youth of today seem more geared to getting in on the game. What they fail to realize is the game is a scam. When they do, it could be rock and roll all over again. Until then, steal this blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Believe It or Not.

Anthony Gottlieb, in The New Yorker, provides a delicious perspective on religious belief, through a review of an atheist tri-fecta: Christopher Hitchens new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sam Harris' The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. Gottlieb muses about belief and discovers that the fourth largest group of believers are non-believers. After Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, by current estimates, the fourth largest belief system is atheism. Unbelief, it seems, is a relatively modern concept, prevalent in mostly wealthy countries, other than the US and Ireland. Its "followers" total some 500 million people.

Gottlieb is rightly puzzled about how religious thought could produce both merciless slaughter, superstition, subjugation and hatred on the one hand and the exquisite St. Matthew Passion on the other. This will always be the gut shame of it all. If, as Gottlieb reports, we are presumed to be hard-wired for religion, we seem to be in one last, horrific, short-circuiting of it all. It is an irony that atheism takes its place on the stage as a revelatory force for clarity and sanity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dumb and Stoopid

In my hometown, Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Art is trying to figure out how to prevent museum visitors from feeling dumb. They are furiously reviewing wall cards and considering removing words like "Baroque" that might make visitors feel dumb. This is SO sad. I am crying.

Theater-wide food shortage. The salad bar is closed.

Juan Cole reveals the following leaked memo from the Green Zone, which reports that getting food out of Kuwait, up to our troops, is becoming a problem. Cole says that local food cannot be eaten because of the danger of guerrillas poisoning the food:

'Due to a theater-wide delay in food delivery, menu selections will be limited for the near future. While every effort will be made to provide balanced meals, it may not be possible to offer the dishes you are used to seeing at each meal. Fresh fruits and salad bar items will also be severely limited or unavailable.

The informant adds his own comment:

The bottom line is that our troops depend on a ground supply line that runs from Kuwait to the various bases in Iraq. When I was in Iraq last year at the U.S. base in Balad I had the chance to eat four meals a day--breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight rations (midrats). If you like late nights the midrats were great--steak, eggs, pancakes. Pretty good food. Well, based on this memo, it looks like those were the good old days. We don't have enough convoys to give our troops three hot meals a day. '


(h/t: japandrew. image: Doug Mills/The New York Times. Washington. May 22, 2007.

Did they surrender, throw in the towel, give up, roll-over, faint, collapse, capitulate, or WHAT?! Do you believe that withdrawing the time-table for deployment from Iraq was a "win" for the Dems, as Harry Reid implies? That they now have Bush on the run? Didn't they have a mandate? Does anyone but Russ Feingold feel betrayed? They say we need 11 more votes to make the withdrawal stick. How could that be?

On other fronts, there are reports that everyone, the US and Iraq, is planning for withdrawal. Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the University of London and author of Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied, gave a recent interview in which he seemed pretty pessimistic about current plans working out. Replying to a question about the moment when the US embassy personnel will need to be evacuated by helicopter from Baghdad, he advised that the architects of the US embassy give it "a large roof." This is a good indication of the possibilities of the "surge" and now the "2nd surge" succeeding.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

(Heart) Long tracking shots.

One of the big thrills of watching a film is the long tracking shot. When I am watching a film, I often become aware that there have been NO cuts, just one long shot. When I see that happening, I tend to elbow my film companion and whisper, one shot, its still going, look, look! My film companion is usually not appreciative of the elbow or the comment. With CGI today, the ethics of the long shot become compromised. I am talking about tracking shots with no CGI. Great fun.

There are long tracking scenes that are famous, of course. Haskell Wexler's 1976 Steadicam shot at the opening of "Bound for Glory," the biographical film about Woody Guthrie, is one of the greats. The Daily Film Dose site provides a terrific roundup of some good ones. Most recently, in "Children of Men," the filmmakers constructed a 12 minute segment that is worth the ticket price, alone. Orson Wells' 1958 film, "Touch of Evil" with our hero Charlton Heston, is another delight. Ticking bomb in the trunk of a car! Just as Heston is about to kiss Susie, BOOM!

Scroll down to the comments on the above link and read the enthusiastic responses of those who love the long tracking shot and suggest others for your appreciation. Yes, long tracking shots are usually audacious, self-congratulatory exercises---gymnastics of the ego---but, they are such fun. Those that integrate well with the logic of the scene are especially satisfying. "Touch of Evil," below is one of those.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Brother's Day on Mother's Day

A classic:

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Beauty of Relics.

High Noon in the Desert, Photo by blogger Jamm
Click to enlarge

This photo essay of photographer, Marshall Sokoloff, in The Morning News, brought back the striking nature of the desert for me. I lived in the desert for over two years in a small town in California named Desert Hot Springs, about 20 miles and a lifetime away from Palm Springs. Sokoloff's photographs entitled Dreamland precede a wonderful interview which is below the photos when you scroll down the page. The photos and the interview bring back the grit and feel of the desert.

The abandoned nature of the desert repelled me when I first arrived to live there. It was high noon and everything was flat and ugly. Heat rippled the roads and horizon. I awoke early the next morning, though, and walked out into the desert that surrounded the place I was to live. What had been flat and unattractive at noon the day before, was now alive and dazzling in the morning light.

The longer I lived in the desert the more moved I was by beauty and feel of it. The sparse, dry environment was stripped of all but the essentials. There was little visual distraction. You could really see things. Because of that, everything was heightened and quietly dramatic. It is no wonder that so many mystics emerged from long periods in the desert, renewed and clear. I understand that now. The desert represents not so much abandonment, as it does the the folly of human effort and striving.

Sokoloff's photos are of a particular place, the Salton Sea. I never got that far south. But, I have to say, the desert is the desert. Go anywhere in it and you will find these gems like Sokoloff found, collapsing, turning to dust, blowing away. This disintegration of life happens more rapidly in the desert because of the heat and wind. The desert quickly teaches the truth, as you are watching.


Click image to enlarge.

It is spreading to unlikely places. This is an AP photo taken outside St. Vincent Archabbey last month, a group protests the school’s decision to invite President Bush to deliver the commencement address. The southwestern Pennsylvania school’s president is the former head of Bush’s faith-based initiative. "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Torture. Petraeus speaks out.

The Commander of the Iraq debacle, General David H. Petraeus, has sent a letter to the troops. He suggests that soldiers are measured by how they treat the enemy. A good soldier does not torture. It is an audacious letter. It has taken six years for ONE person in the administration to set the standard straight and to reassert our respect for the Geneva Conventions. It is heartbreaking that the Pentagon's own recent internal report showed high support and widespread acceptance of torture among U.S. soldiers. Hence, the Petraeus letter has been sent out to the troops. It will be interesting to see how the Right handles this letter. It they are consistent, they must show outrage.

Jane? Is that you?

Oh, my, my, my! This wildly satisfying and, yet, discomfiting encounter of Stephen Colbert and Jane Fonda is not to be missed. Never have I seen Colbert at a near loss for words. There is a cringe factor to the event and also a delight. It completely reverses the power dynamic of the show. Where Colbert neatly puts his guests into the dumpster of embarrassment---what can they say that is not smartly derided by the beloved Colbert---Fonda gets the upper hand, er, lap. She carries it off with a prankster's grace and wit. It made my week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Revenge Songs.

If you haven't had an introduction to Patrica Barber, pity you. This performance of "Gotcha" is pretty wonderful. Barber wrote this for a friend who was going through a very bad divorce, "It's pure revenge," says Barber. "People like revenge songs." People really like great music and great lyrics. Barber is brilliant and very sexy. She's got the moves, even while sitting at a piano. If you have never heard her sing "Postmodern Blues," you might want to seek it out. Her new album, "Mythologies" is so, so fine. Barber became the only songwriter ever to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she took the opportunity to create an ambitious and affecting work, a song cycle based on Greek mythology where each of the 11 mythological characters in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is fleshed out in music. I doubted it. I was wrong.

Australia and US to Swap Refugees

Australia has a camp for asylum seekers in Nauru.
The USA used
Guantanamo. Both are off shore islands.

Huh? I put aside this article because I just didn't know what to say. I still don't.

"The move is aimed at deterring would-be refugees by preventing them from reaching their destination of choice...The hope is that potential refugees might think again about trying to get to the US if there was a chance they could end up in a faraway place like Australia, and vice versa."

This seems to be a new philosophy of refugee management forged with Australia's John Howard. The article is cruel, if it weren't so weirdly funny and, er, ignorant. This stance is right up there with the US refusal to consider Iraqis for immigration to the USA. This is a difficult issue, because we do not want to let Iraqi terrorists into the country. We should be very careful to keep out those who would bring harm to our families through terrorist attack. However, we have even refused the entry of Iraqis who have served the American war effort: journalists, photographers, interpreters, Green Zone workers, American Embassy workers. These people have aided the US in the war effort. Now that their lives are in danger because they are "collaborators" with the US, we refuse them entry to the country. We did this to the Vietnamese as well. Remind me, why is it that we are not trusted, globally?

How much is too much? What does it take?

A colleague recently sent me this link to the BIG photography of Chris Jordon. Jordan gives us some perspective on the vastness of ecological and material abuse. I found the presentation of huge numbers of objects almost overwhelming. But, what really got to me was the photo of 2.3 million prison uniforms representing the number of people incarcerated in the United States. The number is unimaginable. Besides being consumers of almost uncountable objects, as Jordan shows, how could we, also, quietly imprison so many humans without even a examination of why this is happening? What has gone wrong?

I feel that because of the Iraq war, there is little citizen or government attention to the local problems of our own country. And then, too, because we have an administration that feels government should be shut down, there is no attention to the philosophy of government caring for its people. There is no government investigation of human issues and the work toward solving them. If government has no role in protecting and liberating its people from its various oppressions, who / what will do it? Instead, we have 2.3 million humans in cells, rotting.

Helvetica. The BBC critique.

Here is today's BBC celebratory tribute to H-E-L-E-V-I-T-C-A!

Dowd on Sarko / Sego / Deneuve

I liked this quote from Maureen Dowd's editorial today about Sarkozy's win over Segolene Royal. Dowd is wondering how on earth Sarko will move the French toward capitalism and past the 35 hour work week:

"At a Paris flea market on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the vendors did not eat fast food or takeout at lunchtime. They set up tables with tablecloths, china and crystal and joined other vendors to dine on whole roasted chicken, fresh salad, bread and wine. And some would not interrupt their meal even for shoppers who wanted to buy their wares.

When I was reading newspapers during lunch at a Left Bank hotel, the maitre d' approached. 'You're a journalist,' he pleasantly accused me, implying that only such a robotic American creature could work while eating. He had a point. Nearby, in the lobby, Catherine Deneuve was having fun, smoking and drinking wine with girlfriends surrounded by Chanel bags full of Chanel bags."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Big Beauty. Heart of Iron.

Click image to enlarge. Photo by blogger Jamm

Don't you wonder how the huge metal sculptures are installed? I saw several Richard Serra sculptures at DIA a year ago. I fell in love with them and wandered in and out of them for quite some time. The beauty of the rotund pieces was exhilarating. Now two of them have moved to MoMA in New York.

Richard Serra's Torqued Elipse IV (1998) and Intersection II (1992) were installed in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at The Museum of Modern Art in preparation for Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years (June 3 - September 10, 2007).This YouTube video captures the installation of the two pieces over a 24 hour period. Notice people kind of pushing them around to get them in the proper position! It looks pretty simple, if you have a ten ton crane.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Falkland Funnies

I recently read somewhere that the the Falkland Islands had become a desired vacation destination. This information made me feel unbalanced, as one swaying about on the deck of a ship at rough seas. And then this appeared.

Well, I thought, has everyone forgotten the ridiculousness of that whole Margaret Thatcher absurdity? Who remembers? Margaret sent 8,000 troops against the Argentine to protect this remote, minuscule "British Colony" for the honor of Britain. You can just see Reagan in his pajamas roaming around the White House rooting for Margaret and her Falklands.

Has everyone gone completely loony? An exhibition commemorating the defense of the Falkland Islands? It is hard to put this in the context of today's warring worlds. The Falkland Islands defense by Margaret Thatcher almost seems kitsch, if weren't so absurd. Now there is an exhibition to commemorate this kooky event? Don't go!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Helvetica typeface, which blogspot fails to include as an available typeface, celebrates its 50th birthday today. I first noted the idea of the transformative nature of a typeface when living in New York. I noticed that all of the garbage trucks were anointed with a very clean Helvetica typeface. This awareness, of how a typeface can create a positive feeling about a service that had little respect, had a big affect on me. The trucks, white with the clean black Helvetica type looked, well, elegant. Here's a good perspective on Helvetica:

"The most common typeface in American society. 'You see it on police cars, on garbage trucks. You know a typeface has arrived when it appears on a garbage truck.' It is also the official typeface of the New York subway system. For many graphic designers, the decades-old rule still holds: When in doubt, use Helvetica." It is "sans serif", meaning no accentuating lines or decorative touches, and is simple and plain and easy to read. Max Miedinger of Switzerland created this typeface in 1957 for the Haas'sche Schriftgiesserei type-design foundry in Switzerland. The name is the ancient Roman word for Switzerland. The typeface Ariel is a near clone of Helvetica, and is the Microsoft alteration intended to avoid licensing fees. Source: Bob Bahr, "Drawing" magazine, Spring 2006, pp. 83"

I know many a designer who would rather gag than use Helvetica, the most common typeface in the country. But, in the right place, it is the right type. For Modernists, trying to survive the angst of the 50's, the arrival of this clean, Swiss (at the time, the Swiss ruled graphic style) sans serif type was a god-send.

Happy Birthday Hel-vet-i-ca, Happy Birthday to yooooou.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Ashley Gilbertson is author of the forthcoming book "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War". Image © Ashley Gilbertson. Baghdad. March 28, 2007. "Ed Wong and I had been out for a few days on an embed in Baghdad when we chanced upon two Shiite militia men attempting to evict a Sunni family -- Suaada Saadoun and her family of seven -- from their home in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood. American and Kurdish soldiers intervened and arrested the two men, then returned to base. The next morning we found out that Suaada had been assassinated on her way home from the market. I accompanied the Americans to the house and the crime scene. I saw her family grieving, the bullet that killed her, and the upper plate of her dentures that had fallen out when she was killed." Click for larger picture.

The Veto has the problem of Iraq completely tied up in language. We could simply disengage with a plan crafted by our military commanders. We are occupiers. We have ruined a country and a population beyond anything anyone could imagine. This occupation reeks of death for no purpose. Really, could the chaos be any worse? Are we to remain in Iraq for two decades, staving off the tribal assaults upon each other? Holding back the dam? Stability? WE can't create stability. Only a legitimate government can do that.

The depth of the dilemma is so great that there is ONLY one solution and that is to carefully remove ourselves. There is no win or lose. There is no honor in what we are doing or in staying. The Democrat's plan was actually the most flexible one that could be devised. The October date was a "soft" date. The President and his commanders had all the leeway imaginable in the proposal put forward. The administration characterizes the proposal with the utmost misinterpretation, as they usually do.

Stop the war. Now. Get our kids home. Keep saying it.

Marilyn in Dayton?

Milton H. Greene, Marilyn Monroe, New York City, "Ballerina" sitting, 1954.

Oh, my goodness! The continued fascination with MM is amazing. For some reason, the Dayton Art Institute has launched a major show for this legend. Ohio? Someone explain this to me. It seems wrong, somehow. Look at those feet.