Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Christian Marclay

(Wikipedia) (via)

Monday, February 26, 2007

But I have diagnosed in myself as a designer moodiness and ill-temper and have roughly identified the causes as (a) a queasiness with the decorative, (b) a denial of disposability, and (c) a faith in The Cool. These are, obviously, interrelated, since the decorative is disposable, and appeals to The Cool seek to elide the finer aesthetic distinctions, short-circuit further thought, and deny the disposability of one's work. Putting faith in The Cool (as in, "Man, I don't know why I like it, it just looks cool") often accelerates productivity in an attempt to keep criticism at bay. To be prolific is to be saved by numbers, which should remind you of that old salesman's joke about what we lose on individual sales we make up in volume. Fear of accusations that one's work is merely decorative and therefore disposable is what drives the designer into having faith in The Cool. But neither the religion of The Cool nor any other aesthetic religion can rescue us from the facts of life. Our work as individuals is limited by our fate as a species. You and I will not overcome death, genetic engineering notwithstanding, and every species, dependent as it is on planetary habitability, will one day succumb to the expiration of its Use-By Date. -David Barringer

Even though (because?) I spent two and a half years at an arts school known for its design programs, I still have no idea what the word "design" actually means. But reading Barringer's book-length essay American Dog Barks in the Yard (issue #68 of Emigre) left me wanting much, much more of this stuff.

Barringer insists on talking about art simultaneously in aesthetic, moral, and commercial terms. Excluding one of the three, he says, is to deny what makes a designer a designer; and furthermore, that it's a designer's pesky sense of morality and indignation that keep the craft from going completely obsolete.

I found the quotation above especially convicting, both because I've long been a fan of Cool, and because it's so easy to imagine that one's sense of Cool is a calm acceptance of morality, rather than a pathetic denial of it.

On a vaguely related note, my free copy of The Feltron 2006 Annual Report arrived in the mail today. Eric Felton created a report of his year's activity, including his top tracks on iTunes, how many times he visited a museum, how many different types of meat he ate, etc., and will send them for free to anybody who requests one. The idea might seem a little pretentious, but the great design, humorous content, and deliberate noncommercialness make it just perfect.

now playing: Matt Mason

Her Name Is Sophia

two great nights of poetry in the bay area

This Wednesday in Berkeley:

Steve SmartElliot Harmon

STARRY PLOUGH. 3101 Shattuck. 510-841-2082.
(1 block uphill of Ashby BART).
8:30-11pm. Sign-ups: 7:30. All ages before 9pm.
$150 Cash Prizes. $7 door, $5 students w/I.D.
Contact: voluptuary @ hotmail.com

This Friday-Saturday in San Francisco:

24-Hour Reading, 6 PM to 6 PM
Playspace Gallery, California College of the Arts, 1111 8th St, SF
Patrick will read at 10 PM, with a group representing Beeswax. Elliot will be at 3 AM, representing people with crapppy timeslots.

If you miss either of these shows, then I totally heard that you have a gross ingrown toenail.

Book Review

Return To The City Of White Donkeys -- Poems by James Tate

James Tate suffers from a crucial problem I myself would kill to have: he's prolific and has published many, many books. Having said that, across his many books, both poetry and prose, he tends to write within the same theme and voice, with the same consistent poetic choices. James Tate suffers from a crucial problem that almost all of us do: he has a comfort zone.

That in and of itself isn't a bad thing per say. At his best, these factors meet in crescendo, creating fresh and inspiring verse. At his most comfortable he comes as off as someone else writing their version of a James Tate poem. Tateiness, you might say, is what ruins Tate's latest volume of poetry. The wonderful Russell Edsonness of the first poem quickly dissipates in a sigh of the same tricks and Tate as you turn the page.

If not for Tate, Edson, Simic, and Knott, the "Boston Surrealists" like I like to say, many folks like myself may never have gotten into poetry. Prose poetry's knack is weighed to its content, but in this book Tate seems to heavy-handedly suggest a meaning larger than the small worlds and moments his characters occupy. He does this mostly in the last lines from poem to poem, leaving us a bit forced into conclusion, or the purposeful absence of one.

In this absence, we tend to search. In this day and age, we've come to expect every poet to be working out an intellectual project in his or her book, a "wire monkey" as Brian Teare often said to me. It reads like a Spoon River anthology in disparate verse, each poem is an interesting through dimensionless new person and place, though that is just my personal projection.

This book is about 1/3rd too long, not necessarily poem wise but word and line wise. Tate's imagination is as odd and amazing as ever, but his editorial choices and eye are the largest question. It's a shame that a smattering of mediocre poems skews the bell curve for the small smattering of brilliant poems. It's worth flipping though, but for Tate at his best pick up Worshipful Company of Fletchers or The Lost Pilot.



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

now playing: Matt Mason

Ode to My Wife’s Panties

Amending Basic Rights

Two things happened today which got me thinking about the idea of basic rights, the Constitution, and a debate I think the country needs to have. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) introduced a bill today to restore Habeas Corpus protections and bar information obtained through torture. Basically, Habeas Corpus is the protection for citizens from unlawful detention, the right to appear before a judge to challenge ones imprisonment. Also today, Jose Padilla was deemed fit for trial by U.S. prison doctors. Padilla is an American Citizen who was detained in 2002 and deemed an "enemy combatant" by President Bush. Since his initial arrest, he has been denied his citizen's right to Habeas Corpus, detained without charges for five years, kept in strict solitary confinement, and routinely applied blindfolds and noise canceling headphones. His lawyer recently said that Padilla is "so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of ‘a piece of furniture.’ ”

Congressman Dodd's Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 would also repeal certain provisions of the Military Commissions Act, specifically those giving the President the power to create a Military Trail System outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. court system, denial of the accused to see the evidence against him or her, the power of the President to waive the Geneva Conventions and torture bans, and the protection of all military personnel and agents of the Executive Branch from prosecution stemming from any aspect of the Military Commissions Act.

According to the U.S. Constitution, all citizens are protected by habeas corpus, except in instance of rebellion or invasion. President Lincoln briefly suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, when the South rebelled. Aside from that, not even during the War of 1812 when Canada and Britain not only invaded the U.S., but burned the capital down, was this right ever questioned. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the debate over the Military Commissions Act, Attorney-General Alberto Gonzalez testified that he believes “there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” Gonzalez' thinking legal thinking is that "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas...''

At the root of all this is the question: where do our rights come from? This is the debate worth having, because there are two critical ways of thinking around this issue, and, considering our current administration and the case of Jose Padilla, it's far more relevant than the little attention given it by the media. One school of thought, the one which many conservatives proscribe to, is that the Constitution gives us our rights, and that all things outside the scope of the original framing fall outside the scope of "basic rights." Speaking to the ACLU, Supreme Court Justice Scalia recently said that there is "no basis in the U.S. Constitution for abortion or homosexual rights..." While Scalia went on to say that such social issues should be settled by majority rule and not the courts, it is an example of the same idea, that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the basis of all our freedoms and protections.

The other school of thought says that the Constitution doesn't grant us our rights, that all our rights, freedoms, and protections come from the people, and that the Constitution is only there to limit Government. In fact, James Madison had originally objected to attaching a Bill of Rights to the Constitution because he believed it would wrongly create the impression that the document granted said rights, as the first school of thought insists, and he believed those rights and freedoms were a basic assumption. While the framers were just people like any of us, with their own faults and hypocrisies, they did clearly state that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

While there is a lot of gray area in between, it's an argument worth having. It makes one lament Reagan doing away with the requirement that civics be taught in school. My opinions fall mostly with the latter, that our rights are innate, not just as Americans but as humans. I'd like to have a national discussion on these issues, and the media needs to educate, rather than bury the story under easy headlines from the Anna Nicole Smith soap opera. Maybe I'm wrong, it wouldn't be the first time. I am, after all, no longer an Air America apologist.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Recommended Reading

My Kafka Century -- Poems by Arielle Greenberg

Arielle Greenberg is renaming, reclaiming, reconstructing, and having fun doing it. In My Kafka Century, she builds a grotesque new world brick by brick, line by line. Blocks of memory become the air and soil of her poems, the fragmentation of which both stutters the reader and beckons him or her on. She creates a web of obfuscation, rhetoric, and image. Her writing is that oft sought after combination of accessible, sarcastic language with a densely layered intellectual project.

Greenberg weaves the struggles of gender politics and femenist identity, within the world and within the narrative I, so cleanly and plainly that it becomes an unquestioned hum, like the everyday expectation of voices and cars outside our windows. Her poetry is the poetry of the old city, be it European or American. My Kafka Century makes it quickly evident that simple description can invoke paranoia, desperation, and gravity, from line construction down through the very nouns and verbs she circles with. There is an urgency in her images, and a simple calm in her rhetoric.

My Kafka Century is both a communion with God and a struggle away from him. Faith becomes trial and ordeal, plea and hymn. A flight from God and an awakening to a new, more real, God. She takes every part of herself, her heritage, her identity, and dissects it piece by piece, wraps it inside out and ends up with something wholly new and astounding. If God made Greenburg in his own image, then the reverse must also be true.

Greenberg’s poetry is of the body without the body, without the mind needlessly taxing every feeling and whim. The great paradox of My Kafka Century is that her poetry is also the mind speaking without the weight of the body to narrow its scope. Her tales are broken nursery rhymes told dejected and after the fact. The book is staggering and unpretentious. Her words are musical and funny, distopic and prosaic, narrative and New York School, German Jewish and crass austere.

Greenberg takes a step back from the world, looking at it with laughing yet serious eyes. Humor and melancholy often go hand in hand in the human experience, and that comes across with great care and poetic furor in her lines. It’s been said that the good comedians see the world as a ridiculous place, the great ones don’t. My Kafka Century is something great.


Friday, February 09, 2007

now playing: Matt Mason

Hand and Blue Prints

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Recommended Reading

Moraine -- Poems by Joanna Furhman

A moraine is a mound, ridge or ground covering of unsorted debris left behind by a melting glacier. Joanna Fuhrman’s form follows function as the melting away of her lines and verse deposit perfect piles of metaphor and imagery building to pyramids of postsurrealism, and at the same time questioning the very things they left. Her ridges are the frustrating dynamics of relationships, her ground coverings the asphyxiating place of gender roles in the world, and her mounds the poet struggling with this vague idea of poetry.

Ted Berrigan once said that being a poet is possibly the most ridiculous thing you could be, so you might as well have some humor about it, and Furhman has it in droves. That humor, married with sass and grit, becomes a plea to poetry and for poetry. Some people might say Furhman’s poetry is line after line of wild horses without a hitching post in sight, but these poems were not meant to be tamed or ridden. That isn’t to say there is a lack of control -- Fuhrman’s chaos is mathematical, what on first glance is an endless string of wild digits becomes a wonderful algebraic truth as the poems continue to build their mounds of sticks and mud and until an entire city of glacial debris springs forth.

The urban landscape is not to be denied in Fuhrman’s poems, and in true post post New York School she melds city life with historical influences, friends and lovers with the endless movement of city life. Think Baudelaire meets Sarah Silverman. In the poem "You Should Have Been There For The Hangover! Moraine," Fuhrman invokes O’Hara, Whitman, Rukeyser, Parra, Breton, de Campos, and Lorca by name, but that list could easily go on to include Bishop, Vallejo, Knott, Berrigan, Tzara, Apollinaire, Schuyler, Edson, Notley, and so many more. She piles these things and more until the forest is lost before the trees, until the reader has to adjust his or her eyes to see the reality going on just below the sticks and leaves.



Tuesday, February 06, 2007

now playing: Matt Mason

Watching the Horizon

Monday, February 05, 2007

Retracting It (Or: No Longer In Defense of Milkshake)

I owe an apology. I owe an apology to Sam, Marcus, Daniel, Chad, Brent, and every other Bears fan in the world. I was pulling for the Colts; because they've been so good for so long, and my Patriots have knocked them out year after year; because after these past six seasons, they'd moved from hated nemesis to respected rival; because I wanted Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning to get their rightful turn at the top of the mountain.

I was wrong.

Back when I was a kid, I remember the Broncos coming so close year after year, and when they finally ousted Green Bay to "win one for John," I put aside my Bronco-hating ways to tip my hat to Elway. I remember the tears coming down his cheek as he raised the Lombardi trophy. In recent years, I remember those same tears, as Tom Brady shook his head from side to side in disbelief in the hail of confetti culminating year after year of underdog achievements, and Jerome Bettis, who I let my distaste of the Steelers subside for when he and Bill Cowher hoisted that same trophy together. They'd worked so hard to get there, and there was nothing but joy in those scenes.

After the clock ran out on Chicago last night, it was all flat.

The Colts have been struggling for so many years, coming close many times, but when they finally won it all last night, they just seemed to be relieved it was over. The happiness seemed empty and staged. Peyton Manning talked to the media afterwards as if it were just another game. It wasn't just another game. It was a sloppy, rain soaked Super Bowl, but a Super Bowl none the less. The Bears fell back into base defense and bad-Rex showed up. The Colts played just good enough ball control to win. As Don Shula walked the trophy through two rows of Colts, lined up to touch it one by one, it all seemed contrived, it was all half smiles, it was as if there were still games left to be played.

I like Peyton Manning. I like Tony Dungy. I've lost my empathy for the colts. If not for Elliot's quip about, "all pre- and post-game shows are basically just an excuse to defrost Tommy Lasorda to see what he thinks," the aftermath of the game would have left everyone in the room with a sort of melancholy. Sure, we had chili. Sure, we had good Belgian beer. Sure, Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy finally won their Super Bowl, but maybe they won it four years too soon for them to really bleed emotion when they hoist the trophy. A week ago, I wanted Peyton Manning to get his ring -- as the game faded last night, I'd wished it'd been Urlacher and Lovie Smith instead.

The drinking game we'd thought up, to take a shot every time Jim Nantz compares Peyton Manning to Dan Marino, fell disappointingly short. Just like the Colts themselves. You won the frickin' Super Bowl, dude, act like it!

Bears Nation, I'm sorry. Brett Favre decided to play again next year, so between that and the rest of your division, you're guaranteed six wins to start next season. I won't make the same mistake next January.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Recommended Reading

Dust Habit -- Poems by Trane Devore

Robert Creeley's grandson would have made the old man proud. Devore's poems are shoe-boxes of polaroids and Daguerreotypes, each one tainted and beautiful and alert and alive within the act of being. Each line and phrase breathes rediscovery into the space which Devore gives them; the absence of physical density alters time in the poem, drawing the pieces across the tongue in half speed film. Moments become days and days become breaths.

Voices float freely in and out of Devore's poems, as in an old and smoky room. Sections cobbled from meter, speech, seemingly found text, all fall together into autumnal verse. One hears Creeley, and through him Williams, Oppen and Zukofsky. Give yourself time to spend with the lines, to absorb the depth that so few words can carry. Devore's book is a slow bourbon, a savored chocolate mousse, and a dusty old shoe-box all rolled into one.



Thursday, February 01, 2007

Some thoughts on Executive Authority

It's worth mentioning that Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) began an inquiry today into President Bush's historically extravagant use of Presidential Signing Statements. Such signing statements are normally used sparingly when a President signs a Bill into law, but may note that a certain provision does not apply to the Executive Branch. Fairly straight forward, however Bush has used this provision more than 1,100 times since he took office, on everything from Exempting the Executive Branch from anti-torture legislation to Exempting the Executive Branch from laws making it illegal to intercept and open other people's mail.

At issue is the separation of powers. Bush has used Signing Statements so often that it now (actually, years ago, it's just that up until now Congress had some weird rule about not questioning the President, probably relating to Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, that "Thou shalt not question a fellow Republican") creates a Constitutional Crisis, in which the Executive Branch has effectively undermined the Legislative Branch's sole ability to, well, legislate. Rep. Conyers announced his formal hearings on the same day that President Bush himself was fingered as having ordered the outing of CIA Operative Valerie Plame, and consequently destroying her team of anti-nuclear proliferation operatives, in an attempt to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson and his Iraq War criticism.

These two events today come on the heels this week of President Bush, through Executive Order, declaring that all Federal Regulatory Commissions (the Federal groups that regulate clean air and water, food and drug safety, civil rights, etc) will no longer be headed up by scientists, experts, and civil servants, but by his political appointees. We all remember Michael Brown, who headed FEMA and who's background was in raising show ponies. Bush has said this will allow him to make certain all Federal Regulatory Boards are now guided by his Administrative Beliefs. The same Administrative Beliefs that questioned contractors on their view of Roe v. Wade before offering them jobs in the reconstruction of Iraq.

I highly recommend reading Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann's book, "The Broken Branch," about the faltering of the Legislative in the Executive's decade-long power consolidation. It's a much needed informed debate worth having in this country. It is also, however, worth noting that President Bush isn't the first President to use his office to excess. Three of the Progressive movement's greatest champions, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, all stymied the other branches of Government in their day. FDR when he walked the line of socialism's safety net during the Depression, and imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II; Teddy Roosevelt when he took on corporate power and private money against the Robber Barons, and Lincoln when he suspended Habeus Corpus during the Civil War.

The office of the President is so powerful because, with the stroke of a pen, one man can change millions of lives. The current upheaval over Executive Authority should begin a debate about the separation of powers on those merits, and not solely as an excuse to further assail Bush. Remember, Congress and the Courts were complicit in facilitating the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and in the Warrentless Wiretapping Program. The Legislative Branch under the GOP gave away it's power to Bush, as the GOP itself believes in a strong Executive and a neutered Legislative and Court. Separation of powers is the start of the debate, one political party controlling all three branches of government, and the excess that breeds, is where it should move next.


now playing: M. Rather, Jr.

My Dog Rubbed Her Whole Buddy In Goose Shit

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