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Monday, October 29, 2007
Peak Angst

It has been suggested that the winning of two World Championships in three years AL romps to another title - by the Boston Red Sox Boston sweeps Colorado to win World Series - will be devastating for followers of the team, particularly long time followers.

Why? Because the frustration of rooting for a team whose time seemed never to come was part of our being, our DNA. This Angst, it is said, kept Bostonians functioning With the Red Sox victories comes a loss of angst. It was the great hope to believe in, our reason for being. To see the Curse of the Bambino lifted. To be forgiven. Forgiven for trading Ruth to the Yankees in, what was it, 1919.

As one who grew up in two towns both within 30 miles of Boston, Plymouth and Holliston (our motto during the years I lived there: "Like Hopkinton, but different"), I feel I ought to respond to this. The idea here seems to be that angst is perishable and to be cherished. Like oil. And now that the Red Sox have won, and won twice, no more will come our way. What angst is - is known. What fields explored and drilled is all there will be and must be nurtured and guarded accordingly. I think it is more as one Globe columnist put it: 2004 was an exorcism. 2007 is an exclamation point. It's good to win Union Leader - Sox fans, it's OK to win - Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007. I'm still feeling my way through being a Washington Nationals Fan and need to be reminded of the feeling.

I have no worries in any event. I have plenty of angst left, having banked it up for a rainy day, I can lower the prime rate in angst. And still feel in my very finger tips the Anxiety of the Goalie at the Penalty Kick.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

When the media paused to step back and write a big picture story on the California Wildfires Thousands of Homes Still in Danger as Fires Continue to Burn - New York Times that swept through the San Diego (see Dim Sum Diaries) and Los Angeles back country they were preoccupied with Katrina comparisons. Which they soon discovered weren't particularly apt. They concluded Orange county was not New Orleans and moved on to other things. A few straggled long enough to reach the conclusion that unlike a hurricane you can fight fire. You can even fight fire with fire.

Fires are curious things. Playing around with one newspaper's interactive graphic. I realized again that, in the wild, a fire tends to be a line, a moving feeding line, not a mass. The lines sweep down out out of the hills towards the ocean, a Westering of sorts. Westering is a notion I picked up when I read Steinbeck's the Red Pony in eighth grade. That was the last time in my educational history I was ever invited to take an AP class. Sometimes I am reminded that some of us didn't get to California by traveling west. Yes, I reply (at such times), I think; though, that the principle at play may be the same, but point taken. This works whether you live in Malibu or on Malibu rd. in Silver Spring.

I was under an incompletely formed impression that there were mitigating steps one could take to protect ones property from fire. I was a little suprised that so many homes burned. As it happens the Washington Post has dropped two articles into tomorrows outlook section on this. I had the idea it was largely a matter of clearing brush from the fire breaks which I assumed were around all homes and developments in Southern California. It's not that simple, but the critical issue still turns on whose responsibility, what mitigating steps that may, are In the Line of Fire. Both articles indicate that that most involved in the issue believe the answer lies in having costs and basic preparation moved to property owners, from local state and federal fire fighting operations. Steve Pyne in Blazes on the New Frontier references an Australian model, one of education emphasizing knowledge and preparedness. A more informal version of this seems to have largely worked until the last few rounds of suburban expansion. Higher insurance rates followed homeowners into the higher risk hills The calamity curve | But density of housing tracts made individual action pointless. Too many people, too fast to absorb the necessary caretaker ethos. One that builders did not pick up for them.

What level of risk assessment is sensible also enters into this. Protecting against 75 mph Santa Ana winds like a catagory 5 hurricane hitting a coastal city ; a once every 50 to 100 years occurrence, may not be a cost effective level of care. Certainly development builders looking at an entire additional streets worth of property they have to buy for what they build, and high cost roofing materials may think so. Homeowner's associations that maintain these firebreaks as well.

How effective are current measures? Does the evidence show that, where these practices held diligently, homes and property escaped unnecessary loss? Pyne's article suggests that what we are going through is analogous to urban environments in the late 19th century. Urban areas of timber framed dwellings burned down in city wide conflagrations in Boston, New York, and Chicago. They were rebuilt in brick and stone, And rebuilt to a code. Evolving code across the progressive era for the tenements; building and block. With each event - like the Triangle shirt company fire - practices changed, became tighter. Fire doors and the pneumatic devices that pulled them closed, labeled exit paths, sprinklers. Cities were not going to stop building multi-story buildings in dense proximity. Neither are we now going to stop building suburbs into the hills and woodlands. The question is one of regulation and practice.

This in turn brings the question to our place in things. A sidebar accompanying these articles refers to the Wildlife Urban Interface, which seems to be often abbreviated as the iZone. In the first formulation it carries strong connotations of concern for the health of the wildlife zone, plants and critters. It may bring up the tension between a land scape that flourishes under natural annual burn through or decannaul fire storms when this is surpressed to protect built environments. Woodlands management: fuel buildup vs natural clearing.

Spoken of as the iZone it seems more a mute reference to a boundary between us and nature. A reminder that we are not really in nature, but are essentially outside of nature, against nature. Does man create (need to create) an artificial environment amidst nature to live in? At best we live in an uneasy balance with nature and perhaps always in struggle with it. Enormous amounts of our energy are directed towards keeping the flow of nutrition coming from agriculture and animal husbandry. In so much of the world it is only one or two harvests from failure.

Whose nature is nature. It's an ownership issue. Is it our right, is it our necessity to subjugate the land to live well? Is the last word on nature our nature which will give all else its final form? I'll end here with the first couple of lines from that His Name Is Alive song. Come to me:

the fire is coming for us here
you chased us through the house
bless this day and
guide us back
pray your prayer
don't look in back
who is it you're shooting at?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

There are two issues I wanted to touch on briefly before all opportunity to say anything about them at all vanishes. Both tangentially involve the FCC, but in a democracy its all about communication and as the Ramones once sang "We want the airwaves".

First up is the issue of Telecommunication company indemnity which is haunting the FISA bill. A month ago the FCC indicated that with the Administration moving to quash any legal challenges to the mechanics of wiretapping, they were not about to start any independant investigation of their own into what the telephone companies might or might not have done on the administrations behalf FCC declines to investigate NSA-telco link. At around this same time an ex executive from QWest claimed the FCC vowed to punish them for not cooperating in informal wiretap requests Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm. Lawyers and executives for the Big Telcos had been invited up to capital hill that next week. While the current QWest management and ATT demurred of saying much of anything, Verizon offered that they did respond to national security letters, thousands of them Verizon Says It Turned Over Data Without Court Orders. A broad array of security requests and well before 11 Sept. 2001. That last fact alone really does add an entirely new dimension to the unwarranted scrutiny of Americans and the shifting justifications proffered.

What seems to be being discussed are devices such as Optical Splitter spliced into major trunk lines, by the NSA (see Ars Technica's on going discussion opcit/links). While this is often discussed in terms of metadata, it seems superficially obvious wholesale data collection occurs as this is done PolicyBeta - Blog Archive - More surveillance than meets the eye. Which is then subjected to secret and undisclosed metadata inquiry.

In a era when a U S senator (Richard Shelby) feels he can task the NSA to give him some dirt on (then National Security director) Tony Lake Richard Shelby and the Politicization of Intelligence. I would suggest that the safeguards and professionalism that the political appointees at the head of the intelligence community like to talk about mean nothing at all. Particularly in light of a Vice Presidential office which lives in an environment of no law at all, or at best their very own special and secret law (treat as top secret compartmented Vpotus only). When such assurances are placed on paper; they lend no value to the paper which is no better than blank for it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee which Senator Rockefeller (D WV) chairs prepared a report on the FISA bill which will recommend immunity on the grounds that the telco's were acting in good faith Companies Seeking Immunity Donate to Senator - New York Times, because they were receiving regular letters from the White House saying the President was declaring this to be authorized activity. Steny Hoyer among others questions whether increasing vague letters allowed what the telcos could plainly see was illegal invasion of privacy of American citizens and asks why they should be retroactively shielded from an examination of this Steny Hoyer Says Some Strong Words Against Telecom Immunity | TPM.

The bottom line is that the FISA bill being put together by the democratic congress would substantially abandon the principle of requiring warrants for invasive intelligence collection on American citizens. The message given to the Telco's is If you work for/with us it can be very rewarding, and you'll never run foul of the law because the realm of the law starts below where we are. If you resist us we will gleefully use the regulatory power of the federal government to damage your business. By stalling the processing of your interests, allowing that of your competitors. No wonder the FCC didn't want to investigate.

Then there is the FCC and their whack-a-mole issue of media consolidation Plan Would Ease Limits on Media Owners - New York Times. There is in this nothing but bad faith with the American public. The last time around they made attempts to demonstrate that media consolidation (ownership rules ) would actually increase diversity. No one save for a few media reporters bought this. Studies (including studies from within the FCC which they tried to suppress) did not indicate this. Groups that appeared to be saying otherwise were shown to be composed entirely of astroturf.

This time no one seems to be in confusion of who the winners will be (or the losers FCC Moves to Change Ownership Rules Again | MetaFilter  [link from 28Oct added 03Nov07]). The strategy seems only to be a quick push before anyone can react Informed Comment: Sneaky FCC Must be Stopped. Kevin Martin : like the Victor records dog, he hears his master's voice.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007
Are We Having Fun Yet?

Last week I went over to a Bill Griffith book signing at Politics and Prose Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse which is only a few blocks from my sister Ann's house. Griffith is the author and artist of the comic strip Zippy Zippy the Pinhead - Wikipedia. He was in town for a comics convention. Since he was due to speak the next day and had a presentation all prepared for that, things were limited to a question and answer session which was pleasantly informal. Griffith grew up in Levittown, NJ (born in Brooklyn I think). He began drawing in New York City before moving to California in the late 60's. Though I hadn't known it, a neighbor of his growing up was Ed Emshwiller the pulp sci-fi illustrator of the 50's and early 60's. Who would occasionally use the Griffith family as models Bill Griffith - Wikipedia. The writer of science fiction short stories Carol Emshwiller was married to Ed Emshwiller.

Griffith always struck me as a comic strip artist who had been to art school, and he is listed as a graduate of the Pratt Institute Pratt Institute - Wikipedia. They have a motto: "Be true to your work and your work will be true to you." (I wonder if it is possible to be true to copy cataloging library books. I have the most sincere 852 fields in the patch.) Along with Bill Griffith the Pratt Institute has graduated Jules Pfeiffer, Peter Max, and (if Wikipedia can be believed) Rob Zombie. Mr. the Toad was perhaps his earliest reoccurring character and predates Zippy [who first appeared in Real Pulp comix #1 Mar 1971]. Early Zippy's stuck pretty close to the blank seeming menace of the the pinhead microcephalic Schlitze who was in Todd Browning's movie Freaks, which I have seen though I can't remember when. Zippy's unsettling charm was to combine this menace with the ability to lead a fully actualized life centered on interrogating pop culture ephemera. Where Griffy, Griffith's alter ego character, struggles to keep ironic distance and skepticism, Zippy embraces all teleudaemonistically.

Griffith seemed very much like I expected him to be. For some reason this surprised me at the time. He was friendly and engaged, free of the aloofness and bitterness one might attribute to a counterculture critic. He seemed a familiar person. Which I attribute to there being a lot of himself in the Zippy strips. He was asked about fellow comic artist Dan O'Neill... This brought out a quick review of the Air Pirates saga. Comics in an anarchistic vein. Griffith was there and knew all these people. Events which have passed into American legend. The topic shifted to the copyright issues involved with a comic that exists to make fun of corporate pop culture. Hello Kitty, Bobs big boy, Nancy and Sluggo have all pleased or alarmed Zippy, and they have all fired back with broadsides of lawyers.A picture named ZippyRamones.jpg

I name one Randi Schaffer as being the person who brought Zippy first to my attention. This was before any Washington area outfit was carrying his stuff. I still think of Randi as being Scott Schaffer's little sister, though surely she was more than that. She was in her youth a comic book connoisseur. What sold me on Zippy was the line Griffy uses to describe him: "mind like a UHF channel selector", Always loved that line I've remembered it all these years. Though its hard to communicate to people in this age of multiplexing TV, DVD, and TIVO remotes.

Randi also tried to sell me on Cerebus who was an aardvark of sorts. This seems to be considered more an alternative comic. The underground comics movement Underground comix - Wikipedia of which Zippy is part is best exemplified by R. Crumb. It is to a big degree inseparable from the hippie counterculture movement it sprang from. There was a comic which involved a small blue creature, I guess, he was mostly hat, who concluded most if not all episodes by kicking one or more of his friends in the nuts. (and they wonder why my generation revolted against the hippies). Then there were the Fabulous Furry Freak brothers. The era of true underground comics petered out, it's said, when head shops were outlawed roughly the period between when "Wish you were Here" and "Animals" came out. Or in the great alternate calendar about when the Ramones started up. In the period that followed the post underground, and self published movement started. These were comics like: Eight Ball by Daniel Clowes who also did Ghost World, Art School Confidential and who also went to the Pratt institute. There were comics like Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett, these days doing that Gorillaz thing (Feel good inc. etc.) with Damon Albarns. I also recall a comic which seemed to be drawn entirely with triangles and involved its protagonists falling from one gothic drama into another. A series of implausible and extremely unfortunate events (Which could also describe Love and Rockets).

Another comic I remember though the enthusiasm of a particular person is Reid Fleming : Worlds Toughest Milkman that a former college housemate Dan Searing liked. This was a canadian comic by David Boswell that ran in a Vancouver weekly.

While I've never been the comics consumer that some people I've know have been I'm not unaware of the medium. Whether it's one panel masters like H.T. Webster, Charles Adams. Or the classic newspaper panel strip like Zippy or Winsor MacCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. When Griffith was asked what other strips he like he named Ferdinand. I remember Ferdinand in a vague non remembering sort of way. He was a little King I think. I can't recall now whether that ran in the Boston Globe the Herald or the Framingham Daily News. The other strip he named was Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Nancy was about the gag, always a gag - at least on Ernie's terms. I applaud this choice, because the Ernie Bushmiller who drew it was my grandfather, Paul Ernst Bushmiller's, 2nd cousin. They were both children of a group of three brothers who all emigrated from Dusseldorf in the 1880s. Something about a Kaiser and rampant militarism, it's no longer all that clear.

Bill Griffith doesn't like Bill Waterson's Calvin and Hobbes because it's not a real child's voice but an adults voice full of regrets and recrimination. I liked that strip. It never occurred to me to take it as anything but the musings of a wistful adult. I thought it made sense within its own highly artificial terms. It was one of the least natural comics to run in a newspaper, I feel the same way about the Leviathan. I am at a loss when my 6 year old nephew takes it on as his design for living.

I like the classic four panel strip. You can present something and get two takes and double take out of it. Of course there is the obligation to be funny or observantly wry. To have an inclination towards this at least. I know Art Spiegleman has shown comics can go beyond this, but I shouldn't think a little humor now and again would hurt anything.

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Friday, October 12, 2007
Come to Me

I did not notice when I wrote about some video's for the band His Name is Alive last month, and named some older songs - that HNIA had a new recording out. I was on a Kray Brothers bend at that time. The new record is called Xmmer [not xxmer as iTunes had it last week], which was released in mid September His Name Is Alive :: Michigan's Finest. Andy Fm is handling vocals these days. How can you dislike a record that has songs like "How dark is your dark side?"

There is a video for one of the new songs come to me. Compared with the Kray videos, which were asiduosly grey in scale, this one is at the very least more colorful - HIS NAME IS ALIVE. And it ends about as well as a story can end (your common - boy lost from land meets island story). Building up terra firma from out of our mouths. Apparently this is how worlds are made. Best use of the cut-out form since Matisse or even South Park. At the moment I'm only responding to this song through the visuals, music and sound textures. I will take up the lyrics eventually as a second step (who is it you're shooting at?)

I think I especially like having the snake as hero of this tale, a flood narrative, which seems to be hinting a possible native American origin. The snake tends to get a bad rap in literature. Metaphoric overuse as poisoner and tempter. Would be bitters of small boys the Riki Tiki Tavi's of the world are declared to protect. Rarely are they allowed just to be earnest critters of the earth. Yet reading between the lines of the various flood myths they are always on the bus. Aside from the larger bird who was misused (something of a management issue there) and the snake, the other animals: Fox Rabbit Ox Toad, and the small bird seem rather useless. In comparisom to the terristrial beasts who were collectively at a loss, nothwithstanding eventual heroism, the beasts of the sea seen swimming along, just go about their business; eating and being eaten. Prey and prawn (wait, is that how that works?)

Looking back at it I suppose there might have been a bit of natural subtext to HNIA showing up in Metafilter last month. I don't mind this at all. I don't regard this the same way I regard realising too late that nearly any topic being discussed in the Washington Post is there because of some groups full and carefully planned agenda. There really is no such thing as news. I never figure this out, I only fall, hook line and sinker, every time.

I don't mind being a news consumer, even as I recognise that the information provided is not often empowering so much as simply more product. But, I don't like the feeling of being had for lunch. Consumed in the cycle, by agenda setters and media platforms undisclosing of the vested interests and their schedules. A school of small fish steered towards the correct limited awareness. Prey and prawn (is that how that works?)

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Monday, October 8, 2007
Signal to Noise

 Ever wonder what lies in the other direction from the cross walk in front of Abbey road studios fixed forever in time by the cover to the Beatles Abbey Road album. Looking at my niece's giant Abbey Road poster I did. I stood blankly before the poster and wondered "what do you suppose lies up that road, what would you see if you turned around and looked the other way? Thanks to the advanced miracle that is Google Earth (and Map) questions like this are now almost pointlessly facile. Abbey Road Studios even has a webcam Abbey Road Studios Abbey Road webcam. Pointlessness; however, is my reason for being. The crosswalk lies just above the intersection of Abbey and Grove End road. Which goes on up towards St. John Woods Subway station. A small fountain or sculpture of some kind is in the middle of the intersection. Handsome row house bound the southern end. It is not unlike sections of Washington DC. Old school suburban.

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 With the end of another Summer Schedule at WFMU pastishe absurdist dj, Ken Goldsmith, goes off the schedule. I at least will miss him. They've moved several people, and they're highly individualized shows, around. WFMU; that place is full of flux.  

 For one recent show Intelligent Design with Kenny G playlist | 09.26.07 Ken G played a piece which consisted of all the Beatles UK albums played thru at 800 percent normal speed but phase shifted down to normal tonality. The whole thing clocks in at about an hour. Its not bad, similar really to that Damned on 45 single that Captain Sensible put out. Parts of it continue to work as music even at this velocity altered rate. George Harrison's sitar pieces. Something innate to the overtones of the sitar I imagine. I promised Nicole (niece) I would put up a link back to this  Listen to this show (MP3 - 128K).

 For his last show he brought on as guest Alex Ross who has written a book  The rest is noise : listening to the twentieth century [] . The premise of the book a histroy of  20th century composition is that while people generally contend that 20th century avant garde music has been a failure and rejected in the market place. It has not been, because it can be shown that it has been widely influential and has permeated popular culture.  It may be true that compared to its aged cousins classical, and romantic music, or to todays fellow travellers who are willing to call themselves songwriters rather than composers the job doesn't pay as much. But for evey city orchestra dialing up another season of Mozart. Philip Glass is out there wrestling with life out of balance.  Since my idea of musical good times can involve bands like Black Helicopter. I don't know how much stake I have in such debates, but given that I copy-catalog books for a university library I'll be looking out for this book when it comes through. 

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Monday, October 1, 2007
Rite Rum

 Mir from Dim Sum Diaries had a post from a couple of weeks ago on Guardian Story Writers' rooms | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Books. The writers were mostly Brits and Irish, the Guardian being a UK newspaper, but it was good stuff. I'm always fascinated by the environments and work habits of people who manage to write for a living. I'd have written this sooner if I could learn to write through being tired.  I've been  worn out the entire month of September. This seems to be continuing on into October. It's the eight unsympathetic hours I endure at work every day that I suspect.  Well that and riding the bike to and from work.

 The Guardian piece had no obvious connection to the book  How I write : the secret lives of authors [] I saw last month, but the theme is similiar and some of the same authors are involved. Curiously no one is credited with putting this piece together although some editor must have. It is quite minimal in its own way. Each writer is in a separate link. A picture of a writer's workspace and a few paragraphs by them describing it. The piece is lengthy, there are about 37 authors included.

 One can see Will Self's Post-it notes.  Nearly as I can tell Mr. Self blocks out and locates incidental notes for his novels entirely with Post it notes.  I can never get those things to stay stuck on anything. If I tried this I'd find a note years later behind a file cabinet. "Oh yeah" I'd say "I suppose that book would have made much more sense If I had remembered this."

 After I had looked through the lot, there seemed to be some natural dichotomies or choices that stood out. Of course if you just looked at the pictures alone you could tell the rooms of women writers from the rooms of men writers, but not all of the time. Always; however, it is a room of their own. Then there is table or desk? I was gratified to see that a large number of these writer wrote at tables rather than desks. Desks are fine things for paying bills, but it's always seemed to me that if you want to write, a large table is the best surface to work on. Even notwithstanding what is the next basic choice: Pen and paper, or the computer (there is a further desktop | laptop breakdown, there were people in both camps but no one seemed to make a issue of it). Nearly every one of these writers had a computer though several claimed to never have used it. I've written in longhand a fair amount in my time. I don't recall ever entering into mystical connection with the spirit of the muse by inflicting bent glyphs onto a sheet of paper. As far as the "smell of the ink goes" as the Joey Ramone once observed "Carbona not glue", that's your man. Between typewriters and longhand; once you work out how you deal with corrections it's not all that different. I suspect many of those who hold by the cult of the crayon were possessors of merit stars for penmenship in elementary school. They probably never had guidence counselors tapping their fingers on little pamphlets as they pushed them across the desk to you with titles like Living with Dyslexia, saying "you should read this, paul."         

There is the Maximalist | Minimalist breakdown which basically covers the question: How much stuff is in the room with you. The writers in this piece work in places they variously describe as an office, study/library, or studio. Generally with a decreasing level of formality and materiality. I used to think it made things much more distracting to try to write in a place that had a lot of books. That particular avenue of distraction has dissapated over time. Across all the types of workspace runs the clean or clutter issue. I side step that by looking less at what you have, and more at what would you have.

 A couple of writers brought up the important issue of facing. Window or wall? I would have a wall in front of me, but not directly in front, the window I would have at my shoulder rather than behind me. Reminds me of fifth grade math class, I suppose. I learned nothing that year.

 Where in the geography of the house is best is something else people focused on. Not much of an issue for those hammering out the next great 21st century novel in a bed-sit, but many of theses people where succsessful writers and asked: Basement, first floor, second floor, or attic? The real question may be unitary or multi entrance,  Can you get by with an open but non throughway alcove, or do you need a door?

  I'll have to come back with with a picture of this room at some point. At the moment it is somewhat south of optimum, and hinders activity. By this I mean to invoke that moment in Caddyshack when Bill Murray gets out the leaf blower.

 Currently I  start everything on the Neo passing things through to the Macbook for the final draft. I only deal with TextEdit on Macs and WordPad on PCs. Writing is text. The presentation layer is just that, another subsequant layer. Even if it's your responsibility it's a separate concern. The TextEdit document for web log posts is a template (wrapped in html) divided into sections: random observations, rough, and final drafts with a list of what hypertext links I want for the post between. When these draft documents have served their purpose I place them into a folder infinitely deep within the file structure of the Macbook which I am sure I have never opened to examine.

11:58:47 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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