Saturday, December 31, 2011

Odd and neat stuff

I made a trip to the RISD gallery today, which I do every so often. After all, it's there. The main room was filled with Nancy Chunn's Chicken Little and the Culture of Fear maxiseries. Emphasis on maxi; I lost count of the panels, and some weren't even on display. It was more fun and less preachy - or maybe just more fun about being preachy - than you might think. Very acrylic-y.

I'd gone there to see the "Made in UK" exhibit, which varied. Most of the pieces in the Young British Artists corner weren't really my thing, although Gillian Wearing has an interesting approach to portrait photography. But there were a few paintings by Bridget Riley, the OG of op-art. And a still-life by William Scott, the late Scottish painter, that I found arresting even though I wasn't 100% sure what the subject was.

The above picture is by Lucy Williams. She wasn't part of the UK exhibit, even though she's English. But in another room they had one of her mixed media pieces. These are kind of fascinating, like dollhousees in two dimensions. Well, two-point-something.

And because it was the last Saturday of the month, admission was free. That's certainly a nice bonus.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wrap-up Friday Random Ten

So today was my last day at the job... for 2011. No, not leaving there just yet. But I'm taking Tuesday off, and Monday is considered a holiday, New Year's being on a Sunday and all. So officially I'm not in until Wednesday, January 4. Unofficially I need to stop in Tuesday morning because I forgot to send in my timesheet. Ah well, give 'em a surprise.

1. Bob Dylan - Absolutely Sweet Marie
2. The Clash - Guns of Brixton
3. The New Pornographers - Centre for Holy Wars
4. The Magnetic Fields - Busby Berkeley Dreams
5. Joe Jackson - Pretty Girls
6. The Kinks - No Return
7. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Be Easy
8. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Summertime
9. Lou Rawls - You Can Bring Me All Your Heartaches
10. Tom Waits - Talking At the Same Time

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The somewhat improvement

The writing has been going surprisingly well the last couple of weeks. I don't want to jinkx it - so I won't - but I may have hit on a method for keeping my productivity in a decent place. Along with creativity, one hopes. In some instances they sort of go hand in hand.

Thing is, I'm still prone to dawdling and getting late starts. It's just that once I do start, I finish the writing session later too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's (a) murder

During my morning routine, I'd say between getting up and shaving, I heard a big ruckus. Plenty of cawing outside. Ravens and/or crows were having a confab about something. It might be jarring at first, but for me it was nice to know they were there. And I was glad to be living in the city, because in the country I'm sure one of the neighbors would have driven them off with a shotgun.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Unique Christmas cheer

Safe to say neither of them know quite what they're getting into.

Friday, December 23, 2011

X-Mas season Friday Random Ten but...

Without Christmas music. Maybe in a couple of days, or months, if I feel like it.

This year's Christmas and the upcoming New Year both fall on Sunday. Monster truck announcers are getting antsy.

1. Lou Rawls - Your Good Thing (Is About to End)
2. Yo La Tengo - When It's Dark
3. R.E.M. - Old Man Kensey
4. Nick Drake - Sunday
5. The Beautiful South - From Under the Covers*
6. The New Pornographers - The Fake Headlines
7. The Magnetic Fields - Bitter Tears
8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Long Hot Summer Night
9. Sly & the Family Stone - Everybody Is a Star
10. Wes Montgomery - Canadian Sunset

* And how could I not love a song like this?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Burning down the house

I'm reading Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves now. Being a rather massive book with copious footnotes, I saw a comparison with Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. While that book is longer, this one probably takes a lot of people longer to read. The reason is that while JS&MN is a fairly straightforward narrative, and the notes basically do their own thing, Leaves is all gnarled up. There's a section in the first half where the type runs backwards and forwards (lot of printing tricks here) and it gets hard to tell text from footnotes from footnotes to footnotes.

How is the tale itself? It's kind of a trip. I might have enjoyed Clarke's book more, but this one has its rewards, certainly. Johnny Truant is an interesting creation in that his LA wastrel life brings him smack against the uncanny. In the main he's a Chuck Pahlaniuk character—which essentially means a Bret Easton Ellis character with more intelligence and less money—but sometimes he turns into a raving genius out of Lovecraft.

There are a couple of genuinely disquieting scenes, like Holloway's freakout in the labyrinth and the Pekinese story. MZD isn't an author I see myself emulating, but I'm sure there are pluses to doing so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quarrel between friends

It's always been something of an exaggeration to say that Christopher Hitchens has blood on his hands in re the was in Iraq. It's impossible to imagine Cheney and Rummy on the edge of our seats, saying, "We need at least one of the two snotty English guys at The Nation, and then it's a go." Similarly just about all of Congress made up its mind without much thought to the intellectuals. And if Hitch's job was to sell the left on the enterprise, well, mission unaccomplished.

But the thing about claiming the principled high ground is that inevitability isn't much of a defense. If the evil effects of your actions were a fait accomplit anyway, that doesn't mean you did the right thing. Only that you had company.

And the thing about being morally superior in the face of opposing evidence is that you tend to double douwn on the indefensible. Many cases in point here.

Katha Pollitt has a good and thoughtful in memoriam here. There's personal affection, but she certainly doesn't let him off the hook.

Having had some complications from acid reflux, I can only imagine that esophygeal cancer is a very painful thing to have, and a crappy way to die. I felt for him in those last months. Never prayed for him, though. In his case it would have been disrespectful.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O orangutans

How much can I say about this? Digesting your muscles is a neat trick but it's gross and not good for you in the long run. I think we're getting to the point where preserving habitat for animals will mean creating new habitat where it didn't exist before. In cases where that will work, anyway.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Laborious Friday Random Ten

My department looks to be short a few people for the next couple of weeks. So, my boss and another person look to be kind of swamped for that period. I volunteered to take on a couple of things, split between myself and a guy I work with. It seemed like the right thing to do and a pragmatic thing to do as well. It's always good to demonstrate your value.

1. The Clash - Brand New Cadillac
2. Bob Dylan - Visions of Johanna
3. R.E.M. - Kohoutek
4. Frank Sinatra - You Make Me Feel So Young
5. Mika - Any Other World
6. Tori Amos - Marianne
7. The New Pornographers - The Body Says No
8. The Beautiful South - Straight In At 37
9. Lou Rawls - A Natural Man
10. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Burning of the Midnight Lamp

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Emptying the world

Both are pieces that I just found out about and read today, but kudos to this fellow for rebutting that one on the issue of Amazon versus what bricks and mortar bookstores. Manjoo's piece is predictable and short-sighted, for reasons it's not too hard to point out. Predictable because whenever corporate America wants to get its way, you can count on a cadre of intellectuals to patiently explain to all of us why the behemoth should get everything it wants. Short-sighted because the case rests almost entirely on Amazon's cheapness.

Now, we all like to save money. More and more, we need to save money. But low cost is not the only value worth preserving. Accepting that it is has caused the collapse of manufacturing in this country and the narrowing of retail options. An economic death spiral, in other words. So it's good to see Doig point out the value bookstores bring to the community.

Of course, as some will say, "communi-wha?" There are lots of places where his argument will fall on deaf ears.

Like farmers’ markets, bookstores are an example of what urbanists refer to as “third places” — places that usually exist to sell something but that also contribute to a city’s public realm, like coffee shops. “In this way, ‘literary culture’ may also translate to ‘urban culture,’ and the appreciation urban residents have for the inherent qualities of urban life,” says Mike Lydon, principal of the Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning firm. “One might describe Amazon as the fast, cheap, standard, virtual suburban big-box model, while the indie bookstore is the urbane alternative that is seemingly rising alongside the rediscovery of America’s urban neighborhoods.” He may be right: after a long decline, the number of independent bookstores stabilized in the last few years and has even ticked slightly upward, according to the American Booksellers Association.

Not everybody sees the need for "third places" because not everyone is invested in there being a public realm. For a lot of suburbanites, exurbanites, and people who want to be as such, life is home, car, work. The idea of spending time in a place you don't own in order to soak up some kind of cultural aura is alien to them. Which is why nihilistic pundits will always find a willing ear. (And a paycheck, but that's a different story.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Don't you just love culture war?

If there is a compliment that needs be payed to American television, it's that there's stuff on it that pisses off these people. It's hard for me to comprehend being more offended by seeing Chaz Bono on a dance competition than lynch mob stirrer Nancy Grace on the same show, but there it is. Unfortunately they actually seem to have some power. Of course the forces of backlash usually do.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hair hair! Friday Random Ten

Took part of the day out yesterday and got a haircut. Which means that I'm still fuzzy-headed, but not in such an obvious way.

And on that note I gotta hit the rack.

1. Reading Rainbow - Wasting Time
2. The Clash - Rudie Can't Fail
3. The New Pornographers - The Mary Martin Show
4. Bob Dylan - Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
5. The Kinks - Lazy Old Sun
6. Alexander Brailowsky - Polonnaise # 2 in E Flat Minor (Chopin)
7. Lou Rawls - Righteous Woman/I Want a Little Girl
8. Kendra Shank - Moves
9. Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
10. R.E.M. - Maps and Legends

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can't all be good

Had a sort of disappointing reading experience recently with Jonathan Balcombe's Second Nature. The subtitle promised a look at the inner lives of animals. In retrospect the generalness of that mission statement maybe should have been a warning. That is, the animal kingdom is pretty big. Promising to look at the inner lives of all of them is so doomed to failure that one might suspect the author was out to do something else instead. And guess what?

Still, I have enough of an interest in animal psychology to go in with an open mind. Hopefully Balcombe, a trained ethologist, would have some worthwhile insights.

He's not entirely lacking. There is a neat passage on bat migration. But the real meat (pun possibly intended) of the book is a push for radical vegetarianism. The scientific observations are secondary to the message of "Animals think and feel so don't eat them. And meat is bad for the environment, so no one should eat it."

Now I'm not personally on the verge of converting to veganism, but my personal sense of inertia doesn't invalidate the book. Nor am I comfortable with telling the rest of the world what to do. But again, that doesn't mean Balcombe doesn't have the right to make his case.

No my real problem with all this is the simple fact that I didn't go looking for advocacy. I went looking for insight, and hopefully a kind of beauty that can be illuminated by science. Enough of that might have justified more preaching, but the balance was all off.

Definitely a case where I was glad to be borrowing instead of buying.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Brace yourselves

What does the end of the world even mean? There really aren't many predictions - at least imminent ones - that our entire Big Blue Marble will be atomized. Most predictions are for the end of some aspect of the world or other. And sometimes that means the end of our dominance as a species. Which I'm not sure would be a bad thing, although I'm really just musing here.

In any case it's kind of amusing that we still need to be assured that the Ancient Mayans aren't making spoooooky noises in their tombs about our imminent demise. If their work on the calendar was going to be taken as apocalyptic science fiction, it's too bad they weren't able to profit from it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

That's Friday for You Friday Random Ten

A woman at work was talking to one of her employees - she's sort of a boss, I guess, but without the negative connotations - and was using a different voice every few seconds. I asked if the voices were a regular Friday thing. She said yes, in so many words. People get giddy at the end of the week.

1. John Lee Hooker - Burning Hell
2. k.d. lang - Help Me
3. Tori Amos - Doughnut Song
4. Duke Ellington - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
5. Nancy Wilson - If It's the Last Thing I Do
6. Reading Rainbow - I See Light
7. Ben Folds Five - Smoke
8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Rainy Day, Dream Away
9. Nick Drake - Hazey Jane I
10. The New Pornographers - The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Welcome, December

This is, I think, one of the first nights of the season in which the radiator has clicked on. That's a milestone. It also means that I'll probably be wearing toasty warm socks tonight.

And it's doing so honestly. No one's set the building thermostat up to a crazy temperature. If the heat is on and you go out and non-insane people are walking around in t-shirts, something's wrong.