Friday, December 15, 2006

Mezzotint of the NYT Arts page about a drawing of the NYT Arts page by Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya

The NYT went wading in the waters of recursive art today. Their Arts page is a collaboration between the NYT staff and Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya, who drew the entire page and whose drawing was then repeated on the page in an endless recursive regression of pictures of pictures within pictures. Copies of the page along with drawings the artist made of it are being displayed at a show called “Altered, Stitched and Gathered” at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City. As NYT reporter Randy Kennedy noted, it made for a strange interview.
It turns out to be a strange thing to interview someone for a newspaper article who you know will then hand-copy some of that article before it is printed, including some of the sentences he is just then uttering. During the interview that afternoon at P.S. 1, Mr. Ozkaya and this reporter talked admiringly about Borges and his “Pierre Menard” short story, giving the reporter the idea of mentioning the story in the article while at the same instant knowing that Mr. Ozkaya would later transcribe the words, reminding him of the discussion during the interview.
The story at the link includes reflections on author Jorge Luis Borges and his short story, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” as well as -- naturally -- critic Walter Benjamin. There's also a video showing Ozkaya creating the drawing and an explanation of how the page was made up. I wanted to keep the chain of recursive transformations going, but didn't have the time or the patience to draw the page. Instead, I shot a photo and converted it to a mezzotint in Photoshop (click to enlarge).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Accident, or was Diana's killer "licensed to kill"?

Still wondering what really happened to Princess Diana? The official inquiry report calling Diana's death "a tragic accident" did little to diminish speculation by conspiracy theorists. Ellis Sharp pokes huge, gaping holes in the leading conspiracy scenarios -- and then tops them with his own completely over-the-top take on what really happened.
The Prince of Wales’s face was a cruel mask as dawn broke over Highgrove...
Read the rest here. It goes downhill quickly. Very funny.

The Dr. Pangloss "Best of All Possible Worlds" Award goes to David Brooks

Quick: In which of all possible alternate universes could this statement possibly be true?
In general, poor people today live at about the same standard of living as middle-class people did in the 1960s.
It's a universe in which David Brooks actually knows what he's talking about (Times Select link) when he nominates Nicholas Eberstadt's "The Mismeasurement of Poverty" in Policy Review as one of the best essays of the year. Here's the link, if you want to try to wade through Eberstadt's article in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review, which itself is a summation of the longer version of his study being published as a monograph by the American Enterprise Institute Press. (Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, not to be confused with the Dr. Pangloss Chair in Political Economy at the Candide Institute in the alternate universe). Or you could check out an economist who knows what he's talking about here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

With strokes, time is of the essence

In recent weeks, a couple family members of friends of mine -- one in his sixties, and one in her twenties -- have had strokes, which is why the Jane Brody health column in the NYT this week caught my eye. In the wake of Senator Tim Johnson's apparent stroke this afternoon, Brody's article seems especially timely. As Brody cautioned her readers, minutes count when it comes to strokes.
This treatment, with a drug called t-PA (for tissue plasminogen activator), can help dissolve a brain-damaging clot in the 80 percent of victims who have strokes caused by them. But it must be administered within three hours of a stroke to be effective, and the sooner the better.

About only one stroke victim in five who could benefit from t-PA receives it, primarily because people don’t realize a stroke is happening and wait too long to get to the hospital.
Medical experts are trying to help people react more quickly by summarizing the warning signs and what to do in an acronym, FAST.
  • Face weakness or numbness, droopy mouth or crooked smile.
  • Arm or leg weakness or numbness.
  • Speech difficulty in understanding or speaking.
  • Time to call 911.
According to early news reports, the South Dakota Democrat was able to get medical care very quickly. Here's hoping that Senator Johnson makes a speedy and full recovery.

Paul Krugman without the Times Select filter and with lots to say about why we're all falling behind

Paul Krugman's "The Great Wealth Transfer" in Rolling Stone mercilessly dissects three "comforting myths" we tell ourselves to obscure the ever greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a very tiny, very rich minority:: 1) Inequality is mainly a problem of poverty; 2) Inequality is mainly a problem of education; 3) Inequality doesn't really matter.
Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.
And don't miss Krugman's dramatic evocation of a way to visualize all this, an imaginary line of 1,000 Americans with their height proportional to their wealth, with the tallest guy in line now towering over everyone with a height of 560 feet, almost five times taller than his 1973 counterpart. (Via Avedon)

Note to Washington Post: Nothing can justify Pinochet's killings and torture

John in DC at AMERICAblog commented on the bizarre Washington Post editorial glorifying the late Augusto Pinochet of Chile.
This is a disgusting editorial in today's Washington Post praising Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Per the Post, Chile has seen great economic growth since Pinochet left the scene, so that makes him not so bad. Forget the fact that Pinochet killed thousands of his own people and threw their bodies into the sea simply because of their political beliefs. I mean, who hasn't? From CNN:
According to an official report by the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet in 1990, at least 3,200 people were killed for political reasons and another 1,197 disappeared.
Chile had ten million citizens at the time that Pinochet was busy killing them. The US has 300 million citizens, that's 30 times the population of Chile at the time. To appreciate how many political prisoners Pinochet had put to death, an equivalent number in American terms would be nearly 100,000 Americans put to death for their political beliefs, and another 36,000 Americans mysteriously disappeared by the government. Is that a price you're willing to pay for economic growth?
Just in case these are just number to the editors of the Post -- to be weighed on the economic and political scales just like other numbers -- that is, in case they have forgotten that these were real human beings, let's look at just one of those thousands and his brutal fate in the days after "the other September 11," Pinochet's coup that took place on September 11, 1973.

Victor Jara was a beloved folksinger, political activist and supporter of Salvador Allende. In the soccer stadium renamed Estadio VĂ­ctor Jara in 2003, he was brutalized and killed in a manner worthy of Saddam Hussein.
Jara was repeatedly beaten and tortured, the bones in his hands were broken as were the bones of his ribs. Fellow political prisoners have testified that his captors mockingly suggested that he play guitar for them as he lay on the ground. Defiantly, he sang part of a song supporting the Popular Unity coalition. He was murdered on September 15 after further beatings were followed by being machine-gunned and left dead on a road on the outskirts of Santiago. Soon after, his body was taken to a city morgue.
What goes around, comes around. Until Iraq came along, one of the more shameful episodes in our history was the U.S. complicity in the coup and our continuing support for the brutal Pinochet regime -- to the extent of even tolerating the murder of American journalist Ronnie Moffitt in Washington, DC. So perhaps it's not surprising that the Post, a major cheerleader of the Iraq war, concludes with this tribute to the realpolitik of someone who in this context should be considered the mother of all neocons.
The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.
Just like Iraq, it was all about democracy. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Meteorology of winter in Wisconsin

We got our first snow (2.3 inches, a record) on October 21st. That melted, of course, and then the Friday after the election we got some more. That melted, naturally, and then on December 1st it came down pretty good. That melted, in due course, and then it got just plain gloomy. Then the sun came out and with it a howling arctic chill that froze the lake, to the delight of the ice boaters. But that was then. Now it's warm again, the snow is disappearing, there's mud everywhere and fog as far as the eye can see (not very).

Welcome to Wisconsin in December -- and winter hasn't even started!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If this isn't contemporary art, what is?

I took this photo in April 2004 at the Outdoor Neon and Light Exhibition in the UW Stock Pavilion. I wish I could tell you who created this lovely work, but I was too entranced to take notes (and, of course, it was dark). I still flash back on memories of the show. You can see more examples at Lisa Koch's website here.

It strikes me as ironic that in the very year our city proudly opened a shiny new Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center (known in some quarters as the condo magnet) the biennial light show was not held due to lack of funds. If this is not contemporary art, what is? If you have a few spare bucks to help bring it back, I'm sure the UW Glass Lab would love to hear from you.

Making a flying glass reindeer with legs

That's what they were doing at the UW Glass Lab open house when we went there this afternoon. Lisa Koch (orange t-shirt) and Quincy Neri first made the body, then attached legs (bottom photo) and built a base, all out of that hot, semi-liquid primordial substance we call glass. (You can see their highly technical pattern drawing pinned to the wall behind them in the bottom picture if you click to enlarge.) It was a fun event, and we bought a few pieces and wished when we got home we had bought more. But there was a twinge of melancholy intermingled with the enjoyment. One of the things the UW Glass Lab is known for is its neon program, along with the Outdoor Neon and Light Exhibition that was held here every two years since 1988. Except this year. No money. If you miss the Neon Show as much as I miss that magical event, contact the head of the program, Steven Feren, and let him know.

Surf's up in Cleveland. Who knew?

Here in Wisconsin we get excited about the lakes starting to freeze over. But according to the New York Times, in Cleveland they're made of sterner stuff. When the weather gets tough, the tough go surfing, heading for the big waves -- such as they are -- kicked up by the storms of early winter on Lake Erie before it freezes over.
They surf in Cleveland because they must. They surf with two-inch icicles clinging to their wet suits, through stinging hail and overpowering wind. They work nights to spend their winter days scouting surf. They are watermen on an inland sea.

Given its industrial past, Cleveland largely turns its back to Lake Erie, lining the coast with power plants, a freeway and mounds of iron ore to feed its steel factories. The shore is especially deserted in winter, when strong winds and waves pummel the land. In December, as temperatures dip into the 20s and ice gathers in the lake's small coves, Cleveland surfers have Lake Erie almost entirely to themselves.

"Surfing Lake Erie is basically disgusting," said Bill Weeber, known as Mongo, 44. "But then I catch that wave and I forget about it, and I feel high all day."
Looking for photographic evidence that this isn't just a sly hoax perpetrated on the NYT by some stringer with a bizarre sense of humor? Although the print edition of this NYT story didn't have any pictures, there's a chilly-looking photo at the online version. More photos here. Interested in joining the polar bear surfers? Blogging Ohio points to some resources.

Christmas ensemble glowing in the twilight

As a fading December sunset reflects on the roof of a car, figures of the Illuminated Nativity Village on Madison's Tokay Blvd. come alive with light, along with all of the ensemble's glowing livestock.

Self-hating towns and their residents

Saturday Night Live had a very funny bit tonight co-starring guest host Annette Bening as part of a duo of self-hating local morning show hosts whose contempt for themselves was only exceeded by their contempt for their audience. Their show was called "I Hate This Town."

Memory is a funny thing, and you never know when a web of associations will spin away from something and veer off into a completely new direction, completely different in tone and emotional resonance. My flashback, inspired by the skit, took me back to a very different meditation on self-hatred -- a vivid essay I read a couple years ago, which intertwines the theme of urban decay and moral decay to fashion a powerful statement on self-loathing. It was called "Little Man in the Woods" and written by novelist Jaimy Gordon a professor of English at the University of Western Michigan in -- yes -- Kalamazoo.
I feel at home in a town that hates itself. After I left it, Baltimore came up in the world and in its own eyes, but for me it was too late. I gravitated to another city rich in self-disgust, Kalamazoo, whose burghers sneer at its mistakes and whose youth can't wait to get out, or say they can't. If they are still here in their thirties (they usually are), they slouch around in jeans and flannel shirts, smoking cigarettes and grinning sheepishly. They blame no one else for their troubles. I like them, these good-natured volunteers for their own defeat.

If you want to meet the living creatures of a place, naturalists say, go to the edge of it, the wet meadow between pond and forest, the strip of brush between the last yard and the first farm. And this is how I've happened to meet orphaned deer in Kalamazoo, on the overgrown property of the old Home for Boys--three of them, milling about in confusion near the still warm body of their mother, who had been hit by a car on Oakland Drive--or a puff adder on my jogging path, nervously spreading its faux cobra hood; or, in the bog called Kleinstuck, with his back up against the largest bald cypress in Michigan, a scared little man masturbating. The modus operandi of this man's pleasure was to make women joggers run screaming out of the woods at the sight of his naked penis. And I make him the hero of my story, for an exhibitionist is the very flower of self-hatred, its extruded, visible sexuality. In showing his sex to you, he asks not for your love, but for your loathing. Kleinstuck, his chosen backdrop in this case, is what is left of nature in Kalamazoo. A leftover scrap of nature in the city is all edge. In such a place, neither this nor that, or rather this but also that, self-hatred, like wildlife, feels at home.

No city can have always hated itself, you think; but once a town begins to have that habit of mind, it colors the water, rusty and styptic, like tannin in an old cask. A self-hating town like Kalamazoo will long ago have buried the living stream it built itself on. Kalamazoo sank the wild Arcadia, which must have run amok in the mud streets of the pioneer town once too often. And when, in the restoration-minded nineties, the downtown authority decided to let the creek out again, they confined it like a bear in a zoo to a concrete trench so deep you have to stand at the railing even to see it. For acts of faint heart like this, Kalamazoo has nothing good to say of itself. Why? It still has handsome old neighborhoods, natural ponds, so many big trees that, flying over in summer, you might not know a town was there. It has history: an old railhead once on every self-respecting hobo's list, it gave the world the Checker cab, the card game Flinch, the Upjohn "friable" pill and the Gibson guitar. Abraham Lincoln slept here.

Nevertheless, Kalamazoo prefers to hate itself. Dan Mancilla writes that at a wrestling match put on by some low-budget promotion in a gym near the airport, the visiting "heel" tried to heat up the sparse crowd by telling the folks they were all losers for living in Kalamazoo. The people nodded their heads serenely. Hating itself is second nature to Kalamazoo; it has forgotten its first nature, whatever that was. True, Checker closed, Gibson went south, Abraham Lincoln never came back, Flinch sold out to Milton Bradley. The great paper mills shut down one after another, leaving great Superfund sites behind them. Maybe all that closing, all that submissive coming down in the world, poisons the mind of a town forever, as the paper mills poisoned the river. Still, some towns love themselves. Grand Rapids, fifty miles north, thinks well of itself, though it sports the fishy brand name Amway on its Grand Hotel. Ann Arbor, one hundred miles east, loves itself, and what does it have over Kalamazoo? A thousand restaurants. Houses cost half as much in Kalamazoo. Those who sneer at themselves in Kalamazoo are sneering in mansions, while those who gloat in Ann Arbor gloat, like as not, in shacks.
Partly an overview of the history and sociology of Kalamazoo, partly a personal meditation on the self-loathing malaise she sees running through her adopted Rust Belt city like a buried stream of toxic waste, Gordon's essay is about reclaiming her space, the “bog called Kleinstuck” where she regularly goes running, from the sad and self-hating exhibitionist who lurks there. But why is it part of Gordon’s personal story that she feels at home in a town that hates itself? She never says, and the question gives her essay an added dimension of suggestive mystery.

Check it out. You can read the entire essay here on Gordon's homepage. It's also available in book form as one of the essays collected as part of In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland.