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Thursday, August 28, 2008
Voyage of the Sea Donkey

 You could call it Lake Effect radio. Sometimes things come about that deserve mentions of honor. One of these was the Voyage of the Sea Donkey (or Voyages de l'ane du mer dans la Nouvelle Monde, in the manner of a 18th century travelogue).  WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman using Skype, a laptop computer, iTunes and other small bits of consumer electronics broadcast his weekly show from a rowboat in the middle of Lake Owassa. Aided primarily by his two children. Lake Owassa is up in the wilderness portion of New Jersey not far from something called the Delaware water gap.  For the project the boat is named, by his daughter, who reminded me a lot of my niece Nicole. A poster (a naval jack) was made.  Pictures are taken (they're on his playlist for that day Ken | Playlist | 20Aug08). It was a rare and lovely thing. Arraryed perhaps from the same feelings that led Issak Walton to write the Complete Angler. Or Melville to write Moby Dick. Which originally was intended to be a treatise on Fly Tying (Aye, its Armstrong's Edwin Woolly Bear, if you want to fish for the White Whale).

 In all a heroic effort of aesthetic sensitivity. This was one of the two things I thought of once I figured out what was going on: the line from the New Pornographer's song, the Bleeding Heart Show "the minimum - heroic." Carl Newman sings, but I think Dan Bejer wrote that song, and he got that line from somewhere else. It is a description of those occaisions when if a thing is to be done at all, the least that is to be done is everything.

 The other thing I thought was that this was a quintessential Ego Leonard moment. Ego Leonard (9), if you recall this from last summer was a nine-foot tall plastic Lego minifig. Its Curricula Vitae, such as was known, was that in August of last year it washed up on a beach in the Netherlands, apparently after a round of Festivals in England and the Low Countries earlier in the summer. Reporters looking into the matter determined it appeared to have been fashioned in a Dutch art collection. There was a web site that cryptically explained its purpose No real than you are. That web site still exists and indicates that Ego Leonard has his own exhibition at a gallery in Amsterdam currently. Ego Leonard - the oversized minifig - is supposed to be an ambassador from his world, the virtual, his portfolio to seek information on us and our world and inquire of us what beautiful things to admire we know of.

  I was charmed by this simple idea and have tried to keep an increased aesthetic awareness to this web log when I can. Recently I got around to reading the book Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura, set in a Japanese fishing village perhaps 400 years go. A book with a surprisingly strong aesthetic turn. The cover of this book is one of the seemingly random thumbnail images that grace the edges of this page. It currently links through to a scan of an illustrated card Tran brought back from Vietnam. When I finished the book I thought: was there a competing ethos between these?  One a justifying beauty of observation and character. Against this with Yoshimura a way of comprehending the world called Mono No Aware. Which I'll describe here simply as a poignant and deep sense of things


 It would be amiss if I didn't tag something onto the end of this.

a picture named blueHeron.jpg A Pteradactyl of some kind

The only part of my day free of flourescent lighting is my commute to work. A portion of this I have arranged  to occur on a bike path along Northwest branch creek. I enter it about a mile north west of the geographical phenomenon that runs the length of the east coast called the fall line. At this point the creek has over many years cut down through sixty or so feet of bedrock to leave a wooded gorge. When I'm not too late for work I sometimes stop and take pictures, like this one from a few weeks ago.

At about this same spot earlier in the summer while riding home one evening, I looked up and saw a very large buck looking down at me from the rim of the slope, silhouetted in the twilight. It's horns branched twice on each side of its head. "That is a big animal to be so comfortable a mile inside the beltway" I thought. "Hey" I called out to it "Look out I could be the the Hunter Gracchus for all you know". This information seemed to alarm it because at that point it lifted its front legs turned and bounded out of sight.

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Monday, August 25, 2008
Climb Mount Olympus

 The Olympics are over. I thought they went well and that it was worthwhile Politics and Games: Was Beijing 2008 a Mistake? - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News:. The world survived, and by-and-large the drama was contained to people running very fast, swimming very fast or jumping great lengths into the air. All of which is in the Olympic charter.

   For me, watching NBC, it was the usual bittersweet experience. Once again I didn't catch a glimpse of any sailing events. I saw rowing the second Saturday, I liked it when the Chinese women's four-crew won a gold. They looked so happy. I watched lots of Beach Volley Ball. NBC though insists on filling its programming with warm treacle moments of adversity overcome. They increasing are going to that well too often. They couldn't cover an event without telling a story couldn't tell a story without telling a sentimental one. Their numbers may show the public wants this, but then somebodies numbers once showed them that Louis C-K needed his own TV show. We all know how that went. In twenty or more years of watching the Olympics one thing that has stayed with me was not an athletic thing but a simple montage of the production team and crew, with David Bowie's 'Heroes' as background, that the network put together and aired in a quiet waning hours of the summer games in South Korea. There was no Seoul moment from the Bob this time. It all seemed rather flat.

   For China, watching the world, the games went very well A Victory for China. I certainly noted that Beijing was an elegant and modern metropolis, when the sun was out and you could see it. Several commentators observed that these were games that meant more to the host than they did the contestants. Most people seemed aware of the meta contest that was occurring. For China to wrestle the world into accepting China on China's terms.

 The question of the hour is what direction for China now? News Analysis - After Glow of Games, What Next for China? - News Analysis - More slow cautious top down reform. Or as some see it, this has been a validation of centralized mass control. The perspective from China's leadership hierarchy is that China has always been this way. But they overestimate their importance to ordinary lives.

   Francis Fukuyama, no less, weighed in on this in last Sunday's Washington Post. New beginings from the End of History They Can Only Go So Far. Fukuyama's mission is the tough job of keeping history ended.  All ideology especially with any blush of revolutionary ferver will be apt to see in itself perfection fulfilled, and insist that change cease. From there to repress or deny human modality and innovation of political form. He makes two basic statements in this piece. In this season of rising authoritarian rule: All autocracies are different in their own way. Well yes I suppose. Autocracies timocracies plutocracies, aristocracies democracies theocracies, there is a list of sorts. We are not seeing a single phenomenon he tries to say, but in the procesess and means of political containment, their arrangement of priviledge, they have their similarities. Perhaps realizing this he qualifies this with a distinction. In brief: Weak parasitical = Bad. Strong coherant = not so bad.  What he is really doing here is setting up an apology for the new style of ordered and closed governance as long as lip service is paid to abstract freedom, the Beijing Consensus. That the people have their expression through consumption. That Democracy is best understood as a goal driven enterprise. Judged from someone's angle of satisfaction. Measurable materiality not mere autonomy. I tend to think of markets as like Internal Combustion Engines. A thing having a real world limit to 'thermal' efficiency, never rising above a certain and significantly less than full percentage, and only when cared for and tuned constantly. I am aware that it is a discredititable impiety to bring such a doubting gaze on the Free Market.

 The truest moment of the affair, the Olympics, came in the moment when two elderly women found themselves threatened with imprisonment for having the audacity to request not once but twice audience for a grievance. Question Authority and get re-educated  How educational is a Chinese re-education camp? - By Jacob Leibenluft - Slate Magazine:. China's leaders understand and fear the strength and spirit of their people. Perhaps it is well they know this much. This success of these games amid so much random and churning energy as they had in their town this fortnight ought to be seen as a signal that they can let go a little and things will be allright.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tiger Phone Card

 The most ubiquitous thing littering the by-ways of my neighborhood are phone cards. More so even than smashed Corona bottles, though there are plenty of those as well. This is an observation of street things born of a close watch of the jagged detritus below my bike wheels, that I keep for my tires sake.

 I supposed this surprised me. I accumulated aA picture named ManyPhoneCard.jpg small collection of these cards in their two and five dollar increments as I found out what they were.

The condition of the cards is oddly uniform. They are never in good shape. They are bent rolled spindled, but never mutilated, rarely folded. These are the terms of the card canon. In this a mute testimony to the emotions attached to a technology of communication.

 After I had a few of these, and was trying to come to some conclusion about them, but before I had much of a thought of writing about them, I heard a song on the radio. A duet by structure, a male and a female singer: "I'm in my hotel room. I'm sitting on the hallway floor. I know we're both so so so, so tired, my phone card just expired." "You only call me when you're drunk I can tell it by your voice, it's the only time you open up to me and tell me that you love me." This is Dengue Fever and their song Tiger phone card,  a love song dedicated to the phone card. 

 My neighborhood is a working class neighborhood. Of immigrants dominated by complexes of garden apartments with many single males mostly working in general construction. Even the couples always have the remainder of their families somewhere behind, somewhere abroad. I like the card in the phote that refers to African Heroes, but am reminded there of the line from F. Scott Fitzgerald "Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy"  There is a great yearning associated with these many many cards: on the sidewalks, in the playgrounds, down by the creek. All the places these calls are made from. Windblown markers of love and loneliness.  And of the cryptic global economy that places purposeful livelihoods far from home. Making for a great struggle to gain extraction from poverty and peasantry. These little slips of color printed cardboard speak of the needs that made it necessary, the dreams that make it endurable.

11:36:16 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Vladimir Tecumseh Putin

  This season rose revolutions bleed red. This is Vladimir Putin's gambit: Direct confrontation and force  Georgia Fight Spreads, Moscow Issues Ultimatum - Demonstrating that he is intent on not just being a leader determined to stop what centrifugal forces would tear Russia apart, but to wind the clock back mightily. And in definite terms it is Putin not Medvedev. The Tsar still reigns. This only delays the day when Russia will still have to confront that inevitable crisis of authoritarian rule, transition. If not by election, then to your blood, to a tyrant, or to the deluge. The particular ground for this confrontation, South Ossetia, confused me. I thought the Russians and Georgians were fighting over a place that had beach resorts (Abkhazia). Well, its both really and more besides  Russia's aim in Georgia battle was strategic - Los Angeles Times:.

 The simple reason Russia did this is because they could Russia Vows to Support Two Enclaves. in Retort to Bush - To send a message to all the former Soviets and Warsaw Pact states that had the temerity to go their own way, grow ties to the west, particularly the ones that signaled that they might join NATO. The violence and odious use of para-militaries, a calculated thumb in the west's eye. Here recall Kosova, Bosnia, and our position there that paramilitary group activities constituted war crimes.

 This will have little effect Putin's on increasing ambition to rebuild a Russian sphere of influence, to place Russia back on a path of independent destiny. The cyber attacks leading this and other signs in this particular case hint strongly that this was not an ad hoc incident that spun out of control, but a carefully planned provocation. How strong is Putin's position, How far does energy wealth get him? The control that Gazprom and other energy entities gives him is very real, the economies, the winter heating of vast swaths of northern and central europe are dependent on it. People come to the oil-haves with their lists of needs. How strong is the Russian military (regionally if not OOA). Not very, really. However, adjacency is a force-multiplier, they were able to put 25 thousand troops against 9 thousand easily. I heard a panel (on a radio show) this week full of people dismissing Russia's capabilities, essentially arguing against the current operation. This went on until someone on the panel reminded them they had already done it. It was a fait accompli. For a few seconds at least the panel was very quiet. The way forward now is to consolidate on the alarm that this has engendered.

 The other side of this coin is how weakened are we? Militarily distracted and exhausted by Iraq and Afghanistan. How abused and over-extended are our intelligence capabilities. Especially as we try to gin up the potential for a war with Iran. Amidst all the rhetoric and saber rattling. I want to give rhetoric games a quick review. Keep it to words. Leave it so that the other fellow ends up saying all the stupid stuff. Why is our rhetoric so out of line with our available responses? Whatever happened to walk softly and carry a big stick. I guess when you have no stick, you talk smack. Candidate McCains's posturing on this is for domestic consumption only. He has no hidden reserve of answers, no divisions in his pocket, no ethical stance against invasions, regime change, when they can be effected. He bought the Bush administration's imperial nihilism and now he owns it. Amid the calls for action, I want to give diplomacy its due. Against the slander that all talk is Sudetan and forever Munich. Properly done diplomacy will remove war from an opponent's repertoire of rational options before they seriously  consider them. The US's reasoning seems limited to Secretary Rice's position that 'this isn't 1968' (or even presumably 1978) That these days Russia wants to be part of the world system rather than outside it, and the US still owns that.

 There is the neo conservative angle. The confederacy of Cheneys has not gone away they have just been working quieter. "The Georgian leadership is a special project for the United States," the Russians say. Saakashvili has been a favorite, a close ally of the administration's political and economic agendas, and dependable. However, Ambassador Khalilzad's almost stuttering interview on NPR about Saakashvili's move into South Ossetia and the Russian invasion that followed was a sign that that he at least was caught unprepared for how things unfolded. I read that while President Bush was still in China, Dick Cheney was phoning Saakashvili. It makes you wonder what they were telling the Georgians. Not so much that we were telling them to try to retake South Ossetia or giving them green lights, but we were giving them no caution or reason for caution.

 This bear baiting in Georgia Ukraine Azerbaijan Uzbekistan Poland, born of some notion that we won the cold war in some definitive and absolute fashion, beyond the crass and ossified old Soviet system finally crumbling away under its own sick weight. That we were handed by Athena the right to impose terms and rule singly, globally. Was this necessary or wise? What else is involved?

 Ordo quod obses, order and security. These are the real watchwords of our times. Democracy: the unencumbered aspirational charge of the people to rule their own destiny, when you can get any one to even take that notion seriously comes in a distant second. 

 Both sides wanted this war. But as Donald Rumsfeld once sourly noted you have to fight a war with the army you have. In parallel observation, the war you get is never the same or as enterprisingly exciting as the war you wanted. It cannot be otherwise, war is a pas-de-deux of mutual exclusivity. There are few victories in war and even they are all hollow by portion. Consider this when reading the Washington Post's predictable wrapped-in-the-cloak-of-freedom editorial Blaming Democracy The fundamental principle at stake in Georgia. Compare and contrast with Andrew Bachevich Russia's payback | and Fred Kaplan's commentary The Bush administration's feckless response to the Russian invasion of Georgia, - Slate Magazine:. Who are the leveler heads? If we had truly cared about Georgian freedom we could have ensured it with more care and turned aside this Finland-ization. We are left now with what appears as the rebuilding the warm safety of the cold war through negligence and ignorant intent, as though the Global Long war On Terror (Glot) was just too complicated. Talking about freedom is easy and means little. Only what freedom is needed to keep the global factories humming is the freedom that will be received. What is being lost is the idea that there is anything more to the life of the ordinary man that being obedient producers and consumers. I caught a little of Naomi Klein on Democracy Now on Friday I recognize what forms her view of China the Model, the new marketized order and security state China's All-Seeing Eye : Rolling Stone:, the erosion of the standards of human rights. The question is, are we confronting this, looking the other way, or taking notes.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Streets and Roads

 There has been more media attention given to the topic of bicycle commuting, warranting a brief return to the subject. I'll call this post Streets and roads . Latter, perhaps, there will be More roads to follow; in honor of the two books I learned to read with, my mother was a school teacher we had these at home.  I was going to call it Bike v Car II : a Mass less critical. The effect of higher cost for driving is changing habits. More people are pulling bicycles out of the basement or garage. People who once only rode for recreation or exercise on weekends are now tentatively putting two wheels down on the road on weekdays, during rush hours. One of these is even my friend Robert who last week was knocking about on Craig's list for a bike to get him from his house to the nearest metro station and back again at the end of the day. A daring move for someone who has commuted previously with a pick-up truck.

  There was an extended MetaFilter commentary on some recent Critical Mass rides  Wheels on fire, rolling down the road... | MetaFilter. These are occaisional and re-occurring conglomerations of bicycle riders proceeding slowly through major commuting routes during rush hour bringing traffic to a halt. Critical Mass is more of an event than a group, but they have a mission statement of sorts. That roads and road engineering need to be balanced among differing vehicles and transportation modes. The question is whether Critical Mass's AgitProp methods deliver on this message. A lot of these rides proceed in an atmosphere of considerable hostility and tension. Self-indulgent arbitrary abrogation of rights, and right-of-way. This is often regarded (and reported as) a defeating self-righteousness. The MetaFilter thread was full of low and juvenile attitudes of environmental piousness damaging to any attempt to position the movement as principled. Most people would be content to see Critical Mass melt its way through the earth's crust to some place below Seattlest: Seattle Critical Mass Needs to End. 

  I could say something of my own pedestrian ways, but I may have already tipped my hand here. I've been bicycling a long time: untold decades, eight bikes, zero cars.   The MetaFilter thread contained a hotly engaged argument as to whether bicyclists should follow common rules of the road (as though the road were a commons) or rules of individual advantage. The logic, such as there was, revolved around the inability to conserve the energy represented in the momentum of a bike and its wheels at any given moment. Use it or lose it. Red lights and stop signs are only there for suckers and things with engines. This is absurdity, follow the rules of the road. Get inside the realm of expectation. Get over yourself. Be a rational object, or the results will trend toward tragic.


 A Reuters article came in on the wake of this taking the form of an overview  Cyclists and drivers struggle for harmony | U.S. | Reuters. Statistics and the big picture. How many bike commuters are there, what are the trends? They quote US census figures that less than half of one percent of US workers commute by bicycle, against 77 percent who drive. At first glance it might seem obvious where government should come in on this, but is policy always descriptive, or prescriptive? The article describes the effect of formal and institutional education initiatives and programs mostly related to Seattle's efforts.

 They also dealt with road engineering. Some of the things they describe are familiar to me.  The right hook, where cars turning right will cut a cyclist off if you come up on the right along the curb. You have to position yourself off their left headlight. This is easier to do on smaller more informal roads, much harder on bigger ones. The fix is to paint in a little area called a bike box just ahead of the intersection stop line. Harder to fix a phenomenon I call a T-block. Often on avenues with multiple lanes in each direction that have a T-intersection, cars in the far lane will continue to proceed through a red light because they consider cars coming through - those turning left will turn into closer lanes. Even with a light turning red it is impossible to tell whether a car will stop or accelerate. I can agree in principle the the notion of rolling stops at  stop signs, but would point out there is a difference between rolling through a stop sign at 5 to 10 mph and 20 to 30 mph.  I would have traffic engineers know that things like rumble strips accomplish nothing. Drivers simply swerve into the opposite lane to go around them. You don't want to be a cyclist around multiple cars when one of them starts to move in unpredictable ways.

The Reuters article closes with a quote from Scott Bricker executive director of Portland's Bicycle Transportation Alliance."The data shows that as more people ride, the streets get safer." I would add that governments at all levels need to be encouraged to see the streets and roads as not just transportation solutions for cars only.

11:42:53 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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