Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ballet Montage?

Ok. There is an 18 year old in Brazil who loves ballet and Caetano Veloso. S/he calls her/him self "thepraddo." S/he has found footage of Larisa Lezhina dancing Diana and Acteon, Pas de deux, composed by Cesare Pugni and choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev, and laid under the video Caetano Veloso (you know how I love this guy) singing Patricia. It is a funny and sweet. And it is astonishing how well the movements to the classical Diana work with the popular Brazilian hit Patricia. And then there are all those Nureyev leaps!

Two Years After Katrina

It is difficult to fathom the the mind-set of the Administration. We know its political thinking is based on the desire to flush government down the toilet and let market forces and the military determine the future of human life. But, it is the cruelty of their politics that infuriates. Here's what Bush said when he finally showed up in NOLA:

"Tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again."

The following is an excerpt from a post at The Daily Dish:

"Two full years after the hurricane, the Big Easy is barely limping along, unable to make truly meaningful reconstruction progress. The most important issues concerning the city's long-term survival are still up in the air. Why is no Herculean clean-up effort underway? Why hasn't President Bush named a high-profile czar such as Colin Powell or James Baker to oversee the ongoing disaster? Where is the U.S. government's participation in the rebuilding? And why are volunteers practically the only ones working to reconstruct homes in communities that may never again have sewage service, garbage collection or electricity?

Eventually, the volunteers' altruism turns to bewilderment and finally to outrage. They've been hoodwinked. The stalled recovery can't be blamed on bureaucratic inertia or red tape alone. Many volunteers come to understand what I've concluded is the heartless reality: The Bush administration actually wants these neighborhoods below sea level to die on the vine."

A report from the Institute of Southern Studies gives some details:

"Although it's tricky to unravel the maze of federal reports, our best estimate of agency data is that only $35 billion has been appropriated for long-term rebuilding.

Even worse, less than 42 percent of the money set aside has even been spent, much less gotten to those most in need. For example:

* Washington set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two biggest sources of rebuilding funds, especially for housing. But as of March 2007, only $1 billion -- just 6 percent -- had been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity, HUD spent another $3.8 billion on the program between March and July, leaving 70 percent of the funds still unused.

* The other major source of rebuilding help was supposed to be FEMA's Public Assistance Program. But of the $8.2 billion earmarked, only $3.4 billion was meant for nonemergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals.

* Louisiana officials recently testified that FEMA has also "low-balled" project costs, underestimating the true expenses by a factor of four or five. For example, for 11 Louisiana rebuilding projects, the lowest bids came to $5.5 million -- but FEMA approved only $1.9 million.

* After the failure of federal levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses. But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won't be completed until as late as 2011.

The fact that, two years later, most federal Katrina funds remain bottled up in bureaucracy is especially shocking considering that the amounts Washington allocated come nowhere near the anticipated costs of Gulf rebuilding.

For example, the $3.4 billion FEMA has available to recover local public infrastructure would only cover about one-eighth of the damage suffered in Louisiana alone. But this money is spread across five states -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- and covers damage from three 2005 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma."

While George W. Bush celebrated John McCain's birthday, this administration left people to die in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Now it is leaving the city of New Orleans to die."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Brotherly Love

Medieval times are often referred to as the Dark Ages, although there is a considerable body of information developing that points to the period as being not so dark, with a generous amount of the period (11th to the 13th centuries) providing the civil society and creative energy that launched the Renaissance.

Allen Tulchin of Shippensberg University in Pennsylvania writes in the September Issue of the Journal of Modern History that there is historical evidence that during the Medieval period there existed the arrangement legally referred to as "affrerements" between men. These were sanctioned civil unions in which each man pledged "un pain, un vin et une bourse" (one bread, one wine, one purse) before a notary and witnesses. Here's the news.

One wonders, of course, what options women may have had. I guess that requires a further study...with the usual grim findings. I think we would find that the women had no "purse" to share and therefore could not, like the men, establish the security of a sanctioned union. Just my guess.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Soldier's Free Thoughts

The Pentagon has shut down as many soldier's blogs as they can find. Here's one that they haven't shut down, Army Dude. A guest blogger (Steve Clemons) at Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic Magazine online, Dish, posted this information. Read it before the government kills it.

As you may have read, the administration is setting up a 24/7 "Iraq Communications Desk" in Baghdad that will provide more immediate information about military activities in Iraq. Here's a link to the information posted at Talking Points Memo. Here's the nut of it:

The Defense Department insists it simply wants to disseminate reliable information quickly and efficiently, and this has nothing to do with serving any political agenda. Fine. Here's a fairly straightforward test: will the "Iraq Communications Desk" be just as diligent in publicizing discouraging news as it is putting a positive spin on developments on the ground? Will it back up assertions with data that is open to public scrutiny? Will it steer clear of White House-approved political rhetoric?

If the answer is "yes," it's a helpful public resource. If "no," it's a propaganda tool. Time well tell.

Control of the narrative is the quintessential urge of the present and it will be the most highly developed and rewarded skill of the future. The odd and unexpected emergence of the web and its bloggers is the one thing standing in the way of this controlling urge. It is the most important media challenging this rapid movement toward control of the story. Our main stream media is lost to us, wholly owned and controlled by corporate interests. Our political parties are locked-down in talking points and in the gaming of ideas.

As messy as the blog scene gets, it is one reliable place where a free press is at work. I still think it is amazing that the web came along when it did, to provide a challenge to the Rovian ethos and to become the new free press, when the MSM failed us.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What Would George W. Bush Do?

Click to make image larger

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wicked Wiccan World

It's not often that one gains access to a look inside the disputes in the Wiccan community. Today the Boston Herald has uncovered the possibility of allegedly "wicked" Wiccans gone wild. The wildness seems to include raccoon heads, entrails and offal. It sounds so, er, Wiccan. Here is the up-to-the-minute coverage. You read it here second (after the vaunted Boston Herald).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When is big, too BIG? or You Promised me a Fuselage.

Building 5 at MASS MoCA
Cai Guo-Qiang's pyrotechnic installation

One of my favorite museums in the country is in a BIG friggin' mess. And I thought I had troubles!

Swiss artist Christoph Buchel and MASS MoCA Director, Joe Thompson are in a struggle that will not end easily or cleanly. The matter raises all kinds of legal contractual questions and it looks like only the courts can answer them.

Anyone who has visited MASS MoCA remembers what was in Building 5 when they visited. My memory is enlivened by my photo of Cai Guo-Qiang's floating / exploding cars that were there on my visit. Building 5 is mammoth. Buchel's idea for his installation, "Training Ground for Democracy," in Building 5, was to include the following, and then some:

"1 Fuel Tanker, Cleaned … 1,000 green beverage cups from race track. . . 9 10'x8'x20' Sea Containers … 10 Used Toothbrushes … 6 French barricades … 4 Ink Pads … Credit Card Reader … Bouillon Cubes … 21 Satellite Dishes …Heart-rate Monitor … Balloons from election rallies."

...not to mention and entire two-story Cape Cod house. The museum lost heart when Buchel asked for the fuselage of an airplane. This would make one hell of a mock-umentary.

Fahrenheit 451 - A remake!

Finally, a re-make of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Frank Darabont will direct. Darabont directed Shawshank Redemption, the Indiana Jones series, the Green Mile, to name a few. His recent comments regarding Fahrenheit 451 are worth repeating. In describing the movie, where firemen start fires rather than putting them out, Darabont says:

"It's a rabidly anti-intellectual world — a world in which literature is destroyed or otherwise censored; the intellectually curious are chastised and punished to the point of distraction by nonstop, insipid programming; and meaningful knowledge and interpersonal relationships are shunted in favor of empty propaganda and personal apathy.

Welcome to Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," where "fireman" Guy Montag burns books while prosecuting, and in one instance killing, those who cling to them.

Welcome to President Bush's America, said director Frank Darabont, a culture that proves that there is more than one way to burn a book."

Given today's news that the AP-Ipsos poll found 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book within the past year, compared with 34 percent of conservatives. You know this is a timely film. See it and weep.

Nina Berman, Award Winning Photographer

Click for larger view

UPDATE: 22 August 2007
I would like to repost this entry today. It seems the world is just catching up to Nina Berman. The NYT did a story on her today. You read it here first, 15 March 2007. It is time for another look.

Once I saw Nina Berman's "Marine Wedding" photographs, I couldn't stop thinking about them. I kept asking people if they had seen them. No one I knew had. So I thought I would put a post up about her / them.

Encountering these pictures is difficult. Her portfolio found here is powerful---some photos are like a blow to the heart. If you visit this site, look at the multimedia piece, too. The sound track is a mashup of sounds with Laurie Anderson, singing "O Superman" from her 1982 album Big Science, over the visuals of S.W.A.T. teams training. Those "supermen" are pumping it up everywhere today---sometimes, just for fun. A recent interview with Berman in Salon provides some insight into her work (and also, a photo of the Marine, before the Iraq war).

I am thinking that her "Purple Heart" and "Marine Wedding" collection are like the American Friend's Service Committe (AFCS) "Eyes Wide Open" traveling presentation on tour last year. That presentation provided a mournful sight of boots in an orderly arrangement of rows, as well as with piles of, mostly, children's shoes, representing, respectively, American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who have died in Bush's war. Berman's soldier's pictures are like that AFSC presentation for peace. In these photos, however, the reality-based world takes over from the mournful sight of the boots. Berman is totally in our faces.

Photograph, Nina Berman, "Homeland Insecurity."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mama knows hair and music.

Dave of Ted Leo and the Phamacists
photo by Your Mama's Hair aka Becka

Your Mama's Hair (you must see the Sunkist guy in Brooklyn) gave me the lead on Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, what a great sound. Some of you Mozart/Leonard Cohen/Bill Evans fans may need to get through the edge of the guitar razzle, funk at the intro, to get to the rock of it all, but its worth the happy wait. Thanks, Mama.

Barb, Do Not Rest!

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, my Senator, issued a statement today regarding Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute:

“I join Dr. Esfandiari’s friends and family in relief and joy at today’s news that, after more than 100 days of unjust imprisonment, she has been released by the Iranian government. This is an important first step, but I will not rest until Dr. Esfandiari is allowed to return to her family in Maryland.”

GO Barb!

Ms. Esfandiari, the 67 year old scholar and Director of Middle East Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, who was held at the infamous Evin prison in Tehran, was on her twice-yearly visit to her elderly mother in Tehran when she was arrested and accused of spying for the CIA. She has reportedly lost a considerable about of weight and has suffered.

This is what mindless, foreign countries do to people. However, this kind of blindness is now a basic form of justice practiced by the Bush administration. To think that the US has lowered itself to the atrocious practices of mindless, foreign despotic governments is appalling.

Because of our Abu Graib and Gitmo, we are unable to argue persuasively for freedom and justice. We are in such violation of these concepts.

Send Ms. Esfandari home to America. We beg of you.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Here comes the future again.

A giant block of Aerogel
"Frozen Smoke"

New materials are always interesting. A product called Aerogel was discovered in 1933, but has only recently been mastered for mass production. Times UK provides an overview at the above link. It has amazing properties with lasting implications for environmental applications. Look for it right with all that nano-technology. Here's the nut of it:

"Aerogel is also being tested for future bombproof housing and armour for military vehicles. In the laboratory, a metal plate coated in 6mm of aerogel was left almost unscathed by a direct dynamite blast.

It also has green credentials. Aerogel is described by scientists as the “ultimate sponge”, with millions of tiny pores on its surface making it ideal for absorbing pollutants in water.

Kanatzidis has created a new version of aerogel designed to mop up lead and mercury from water. Other versions are designed to absorb oil spills...Earlier this year Bob Stoker, 66, from Nottingham, became the first Briton to have his property insulated with aerogel. “The heating has improved significantly. I turned the thermostat down five degrees. It’s been a remarkable transformation,” he said.

Mountain climbers are also converts. Last year Anne Parmenter, a British mountaineer, climbed Everest using boots that had aerogel insoles, as well as sleeping bags padded with the material. She said at the time: “The only problem I had was that my feet were too hot, which is a great problem to have as a mountaineer.”

However, it has failed to convince the fashion world. Hugo Boss created a line of winter jackets out of the material but had to withdraw them after complaints that they were too hot."

More Mumble

The Village Voice weighs in. This seems like a more lively, critical piece.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When Did Noise Become the Measure of Celebration?

I recently joined two friends for lite-fare and a drink at a local wine bar. To the rear of the wine bar was a group of twenty women, 20 to 30-somethings, celebrating something. The noise level of their "conversations" was intolerable. We were finally forced to leave because we were unable to hear each other speak. When did noise become the measure of celebration, or, for that matter, a good time?

The elimination of quiet in public places now seems complete. It is difficult to find any convivial quiet place. Though it seems sudden, I think this progress toward the loss of quiet places has been gradual and relentless. Quiet places for reflection, or the experience of a vivid sense of tranquility, or the possibility of finding or renewing one's self in quiet space has been extinguished by noise---noise that is being ratcheted up to numbing levels.

Even more insidious is the insertion of music into ever space. When music is everywhere, is music anywhere? From clothing stores, to churches, to grocery stores, elevators, telephone on-hold systems, booming car sound systems, the infernal ice cream trucks (this may be Baltimore specific), offices, the Jiffy Lube, the doctors office, waiting rooms, to name a few. This incessant muzak-ed mush is deadening.

The iPod has contributed to this in another way. Once the head phones are on, the wearer enters their own sound isolation, removed from all that is around them. A friend of mine in DC, who takes the bus to work, is one of a rare few who does not plug into an iPod on the bus. She said recently that she realized in the midst of the bus ride that she may have been the only one who was actually there.

My friends and I went to another place around the corner that had tables outside. It was quieter, but even at the little outside bistro area, music was being piped out. Isn't it getting a little scary? Does this immersion in noise/personal sound have something to do with closeness? Does this noise create spaces where people are protected from closer personal interaction or saved from being alone, in the scary quiet? Is the constant intrusion of sound a measure of the loneliness we feel?

Generation D.I.Y.

From left, Ry Russo-Young and Greta Gerwig in “Hannah Takes the Stairs,”
directed by Joe Swanberg, one of the leading practitioners of mumblecore.

My favorite film fan sent me this must-read from the New York Times. If you like knowing the latest about film, here it is: "mumblecore."

"Huh?," you may mumble to yourself, "waasat?" Post-collegiate filmmakers have managed, through the availability of technology unthinkable even five years ago, to make films of a personal nature that aren't, in the first instance, seeking a distributor. Here's the nut of it:

"But what these films understand all too well is that the tentative drift of the in-between years masks quietly seismic shifts that are apparent only in hindsight. Mumblecore narratives hinge less on plot points than on the tipping points in interpersonal relationships. A favorite setting is the party that goes subtly but disastrously astray. Events are often set in motion by an impulsive, ill-judged act of intimacy.

Artists who mine life’s minutiae are by no means new, but mumblecore bespeaks a true 21st-century sensibility, reflective of MySpace-like social networks and the voyeurism and intimacy of YouTube. It also signals a paradigm shift in how movies are made and how they find an audience. 'This is the first time, mostly because of technology, that someone like me can go out and make a film with no money and no connections,' said Aaron Katz, whose movies “Dance Party USA” and “Quiet City” will be shown as part of a 10-film mumblecore series at the IFC Center that begins Wednesday and continues through Sept. 4."

Did you get that? A mumblecore festival! In a few months you will be thanking me for keeping you so up to date. Most of these films were too indie to even make Sundance. How great is THAT? You need only mumble "mumblecore" at your next party to confirm your film chops. The amazing part, in this day and age, is that these trends can move through quite quickly. Those filmmakers who founded this artistic expression, Aaron Katz, Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg, Frank V. Ross (white males all), are reaching their 30s now and moving on to other kinds of film making. We shall see if the 10-film series at IFC will mean the expansion or the end of the genre.

Coffee Comedy

A guy called "Winter," just "Winter," has set out to visit every Starbucks in the world. He seems to be having a very good time and is engaged in a task without end. Here are all the Starbucks and their photos that he lists for Baltimore.

His unadorned, weird web site joins the mass of Starbucks media available on the web. The McDonald's of coffee houses (44 million customers a week!) has its fans and detractors. It has been suggested that Starbucks has created a sense of belonging for its customers. The belonging is engendered by the insider knowledge of coffee combinations, such as an order for venti-caramel-decaf-soy-latte-20 pump. Or the "short cappuccino" which is not on the menu and known only to the truly inside cappuccino aficionados.

One of the most entertaining articles I have read to date on the Starbucks phenomenon is Michael Agger's piece, Hacking Starbucks: Where to Learn about the Ghetto Latte, Barista Gossip and Nicole Kidman's Usual, was posted at Slate on August 15. It is full of funny links, like the link to Mark Malkoff's goofy video of his visit to all 171 Starbucks in NYC in 24 hours. I enjoyed this article and the serious enterprise Starbucks is, as contrasted to its presence as a foil for good comedy.

I am blogging this from a local indie cafe, Spoons Coffee House and Roastery, 24 E. Cross St. Federal Hill across from the Cross Street Market. I'll say no more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Iraqi "Oil Bill"

An apparently little explored ingredient of the Administration's exit plan for Iraq is the passage of the "Oil Bill" which provides for the care and distribution of Iraqi oil. The bill, formulated at US direction, is a center-piece of the Administration. I continue to read about this bill, but it is always understated and reported with little investigation. The Administration is particularly adamant about its passage by the Iraqi congress. My understanding is that the bill cedes all control of Iraqi oil to "foreign" oil companies. The Administration urgently wanted it passed before the Iraqi congress left for their August break. The Iraqis did no such thing. This appeared today in the blog Iraq Today:

"A statement, signed by 419 Iraqi oil experts, economists and intellectuals, expresses grave concern that the newly proposed law would deprive Iraq from its most vital natural resource, oil, and give foreign oil companies ultimate domination over Iraq's oil wealth. Iraq's intellectuals demand a fundamental modification to the proposed law, and a referendum, the statement said. The law is expected to be discussed in the Iraqi parliament next month, after the parliamentary summer holiday is over."

It is not that we have wondered whether the War on Iraq was
first, last and always about OIL. The suggestion has always been denied at best, mocked at worst, by the right as an example of leftest paranoia. Now that we have rained hell upon the people of Iraq, we are trying to move the Iraqis to give away their oil resources. We strive to control their oil for ourselves and also give it away as a reward to the members of the "Coalition of the Willing."

If there is one thing the Administration could point to is that even if we withdraw, we win...if we can get that OIL. No matter how many people die.

One wonders what it would take to get the Iraqi congress to pass this bill. Do we just pay enough of them off? Offer a million dollars to every legislator who votes for the bill? The country certainly does not want for corrupt officials and the audacity of the Administration is legend. With a war costing $10 billion a month, any bribe our government would offer individuals would look like a smart deal. Too, cynical? I can't tell anymore. After all Iraq and its people have suffered, I hope they hold steadfast to retain this vital resource of their country, that they do not pass this bill.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fred and Rita to the Rescue.

Thanks to Camille Paglia's enormous sense of good taste, I spotted this video in a recent article of hers. I hate to wax nostalgic. It seems regressive and geriatric of me, and I am neither, but, looking at the current state of the culture, the planet seems in need of civility, as well as sensuousness and some non-virtual loveliness. We need some kind of grace, some relief from the bombardment of empty spectacle and the overwrought sensationalism of a lot of really non-events. We need a respite from all the technological hoo-haw between us and other humans. With the increasing use of CGI in filmmaking, when "real" would do the job, I feel further removed from a simpler beauty and a direct encounter with a real, er, role model.

This video says much about a kind of joyfulness of spirit that is refreshing, and, well, just plain happy. That the video is scored with one of my favorite Mazzy Star songs, Fade into You, maxes the pleasure. The song is woeful and somber and a brilliant counterpoint to the Fred Astaire / Rita Haworth footage. The conceit of musical melancholia driving the visual, affective sumptuousness...knocks me out.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Site of the Day...

...or Happy Birthday Andy Warhol! Warhol would be a ripe, fluffy-haired, 79 years old today. Yipes!

Warhol was a collector of much stuff. He placed the stuff in over 600 small boxes, like the one above, sealed them up and stored them away. After his death, the boxes were given to Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum for cataloging. Hundreds of professionals and volunteers have spent a long time opening and cataloging all the ephemera. This site, Time Capsule 21, (TC21) gives the visitor an opportunity to explore one of those boxes. It's a very, very cool site. Very dynamic. You'll learn some interesting details about Warhol and the context of his art.

My visit to TC21 enlivened my appreciation for the weightiness of the everyday. I have read that Warhol considered these boxes proper art commodities. He talked of placing a drawing on each box and then selling them, each at the same price, to patrons without them knowing the contents. Perfect Warhol.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Missing the point.

The Annaul Kos Convention generated some sparks over the debate about taking lobbyist's money, as explained in The Caucus, the NYT political blog. Hillary said she would continue to seek and accept contributions from lobbyists. Edwards and Obama, principally, said that they would not. I think the controversy over this issue (read the comments at the end of the article) misses the point.

Politicians need millions and millions of dollars. As they raise it they necessarily create questionable alliances---every candidate should rightly be considered under a cloud because of all this money. They travel from the enclaves of North Hampton to the enclaves of Los Angeles and every enclave in between seeking cash. The question we should be asking is why must candidates raise all this money?

I believe that the bulk of this money goes to buy air-time on network television. If a candidate does not buy air-time, they are history. I think the campaign cash raked in by the networks is really at the heart of this dilemma. Think of what power the networks hold in our political process. It is outrageous. They hold the keys to the power! And candidates must buy it from them.

Next question. Why should our candidates be forced to sell their souls so that networks can make billions from campaigns---local, state and national? Air-time for elections should be free and it should be equally distributed to qualifying candidates on the, ahem, "public air-waves." I think this could greatly reduce the corruption of campaign financing and help to support candidates who may be unappealing to corporations and PACs, but who may be very appealing---maybe even exciting, imagine---to the American people. Maybe we would hear less of this canned, co-opted, empty, studied babble offered by both parties, ad infinitum. Maybe interesting language and words with meaning might emerge.

We don't think much about it anymore, but isn't it strange that there are regular reports on how much money a candidate raises? THIS ability, or lack of ability, becomes the measure of the candidate's viability. Their viability is NOT being measured by their ideas, integrity, skills. It is being measured by the acquisition of cash.

It does matter from whom a candidate takes cash: lobbyist, drug companies, real estate cartels, lawyers, Wall Street, AIPAC, even unions. They demand their pound of flesh. As Obama said, it is doubtful that lobbyists and corporations are giving this money for the public good. But, the bigger issue is that candidates must raise this boat load of money in the first place. Let's insist that networks serve the public good by providing free air-time for elections. This would help reduce the burden of raising the money and reduce the corruption of campaign financing. There is a better way. One piece of that "better way" is significantly reducing the monies that a candidate must raise to be viable. Candidates having to buy time from network television is a big part of this nasty problem.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

In case you're looking for a spare tire.

This is a marketing video from the Military Times. I cringe at a lot of what is being said, but the line..."to leave our footprint as small as possible" is just nuts. Preposterous.