Thursday, September 29, 2005

to my loyal readers, ian buruma follow-up

Wonderful, thorough, emdashes has brought to our attention a counter-argument to Ian Buruma's New Yorker article on North Korea and Kim Jong Il. I responded on her blog, as her links gave me a little something to help organize my feelings about the piece, which I had noted as frustrating, but didn't pursue earlier this summer. Because I'm lazy.

I also made an interpretation of and plug for this documentary about 20th C dictators. It's relevant to the discussion, and my crit of Buruma.

In other news, I call you "my loyal readers" because my blog has now disappeared from blogspot's list of blogs to watch or whatever it is.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

we are all Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Sometimes, one of the middle-aged beurocrats in your life sends you a humorous forward and you actually open it and you are glad you did. This one was titled, "Things to do while your co-workers are on vacation" and I thought the photos were beautiful. And we can all appreciate the labor that went into making these installations.

I guess, apart from the alfalfa keyboard, these aren't really much like the natural/unnatural earthworks of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. This site, though the official one for the artists, doesn't have the best photos. I think I was at the architecture museum in DC and saw a beautiful exhibit of images of their work.

I was also looking at that pesky Sept 5 food issue of the New Yorker and found Schjedahl's review of Robert Smithson, another earth works artist. For some reason, Schjedahl praises Smithson's essays, but doesn't quote them at length. Are we supposed to enjoy these literary "objects of art that will outlive much of what hangs in modern museums" only in modern museums? And frankly, he didn't do a great job of describing the landscape that Spiral Jetty is, and has become a part of.

And so I give you, in no particular order, photos of (1) Christo and Jeanne-Claude's large backyard umbrellas dotting a Japanese landscape (2) Rober Smithson's sepia toned Spiral Jetty in Utah's Great Salt Lake (3) a generic cubicle office in which every item is wrapped in aluminum foil (4) the same, wrapped in newspaper (5) a computer keyboard that appears to be sprouting delicate green alfalfa sprouts (6) a generic office cubicle filled with pink plastic peanuts. (7) Christo and Jeanne-Claude's surrounded islands in Biscayne Bay

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Houston, TX

My younger brother teaches middle school in Houston and he's still there now, Thursday night. He tried to leave early Wednesday morning, but I guess telling one bazillion people to leave town isn't really an evacuation plan. He sat in traffic all morning, then gave up, bought supplies and headed home.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

tit for tat

To Emily Gordon, at emdashes, I say, "Start your engine, honey." I'm as proud drag race this comrade as I am to be the crotchety nemesis of Juniper Pearl, pretentious hack. Scroll down her sidebar.

So, as they sing on Freaks & Geeks, "I don't give a damn about my bad reputation . . . "

But Emily, why, when I click on the text "I Hate The New Yorker" at emdashes, do I link to Robert Gordon at TMP? Does my browser have the hiccups? And why did you use the word pneumatic that way?

Corrected: emdashes. I think I was awe-struck by the emdashes EMily play on words . . . .

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thrift and design

I inaugerate a new category, for low-impact consumption.

This post is about three new solutions . . .

A bookshelf that, because of the curved cut away sides, and the fact that the bottom 2 shelves are deeper than the top 2, serves as a long sought after night table. Bought at a tag near Clear Creek State Park, PA. Actually, the guy selling the stuff took one look at me and tried to sell me the pieces he'd refurbished (or whatever, he fixed them up and then tried to make them look older than they were) but I bought this, the only peice without any tricks to it. Listen buddy, I've been going to auctions since before I was born . . .

A chrome stool (one of four that I found in the neighbor's trash) will allow us to take off our muddy, snowy shoes in comfort this winter. Don't mock the generic rug, it was free.

A cheap brand of raspberry jelly that tastes slightly different than Smuckers - I've been having a hard time finding large jars of Smuckers Raspberry and I figured its time to move on. Ingredients: Corn Syrup, Red Raspberries, Fruit Pectin, citric acid and sodium citrate. Nothing especially fancy, but that's what most store bought jellies have in them. Made in PA and available at Foodland - Belle View. With this promise: "Our recipes are old but our facilities are sanitary and modern." Awwww. As for Smuckers, I was at a nice brunch place that specialized in "northwest" cuisine and I bit into my nice hearty whole wheat toast with jam and what did I taste? Smuckers. Maybe this one doesn't quite fit the category, but I thought I'd make the recommendation anyway.

As for the photo and text relationships, well, you can mix and match them, if you'd like.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

accessibility for bloggers with visual impairments

You may have noticed the subtle redesign. I like this better, and I did it at the suggestion of the American Foundation for the Blind. This is a list of their suggestions for accessible blog design and blogger services for bloggers with visual impairments. If anyone has further suggestions, please let me know! All I had to do was replace the word "left" with "right" in the opening "set up" part of the template.

Now might be the time to explain the "blindness" category on my blog. Its not as widespread as the discussion of deaf/Deaf in disability activism or disability studies, and its not analogous either, but I'm using the term "blindness" to discuss representations, whereas I will be using the term visual impairment to discuss personal experiences in the material world. I know its difficult to keep these separate, and they are related in many ways, but maintaining the distinction is worth a try.

Take the example of Picasso's painting of the Blind Man's Meal, posted on this blog, back in July. The man in the painting is "blind" in a symbolic sense, because he is a representation. He's blind only because Picasso says he is, represents him as such, relies on other conventional representations of blindness to make his painting. Picasso's work (apart from being in a visual medium, and of course this is significant) doesn't really address (or try to address) issues of the experience in the world of a man with visual impairment in the early part of the 20th C.

By the way, the term "blindness" is much more common than that of "visual impairment" in . . . so for now I'm putting posts that deal with either issue under blindness. In the end, that may make the discussion more accessible . . .

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Monday, September 19, 2005

pointed critique of certain "vegetarian" practices

Now, I don't mean to be rude. BUT . . . some recent food related bloggings, here, there and everywhere, have brought these issues to mind. And I want to be honest and up front with everyone about how I feel about some common vegetarian eating practices in the US.

(1) I'm frustrated when vegetarians don't know the food prep practices of the restaurants they eat at, or the cuisines they enjoy. A rather repulsive case in point - a good friend of mine years ago would only eat McDonalds rather than Taco Bell because she ate their fries. Yes, the ones fried in animal fat. If she cared, she should have done the research. I mean, Taco Bell has a lenten menu. One can get food for vegans there, if need be. And this friend (who, I think, is still a vegetarian, but frankly, no longer a friend) always said that Taco Bell had nothing meatless. Was it an excuse to eat fries? Did she just not like Taco Bell? (Understandable, but in a fast food context, you could do worse.) I wonder to this day . . . .

(2) I'm saddened when vegetarians adapt dishes (or food groups) with meat and dairy substitutes rather than just learning about and eating cuisines that don't include meat. I was recently hosting a vegan friend here in Pittsburgh who insisted on going to Mad Mex, where he had heard he could eat vegan cheese and sour cream (which, I understand, are suspect to the informed vegan), rather than Aladdins, where they know how to prepare bean dishes.

(3) While I enjoy fushion as much as the next adventurous diner, when making substitutions, I ask the vegetarian to make informed choices. Tofu does not go with every cuisine. Pick the cuisine appropriate bean. Read a range of meat and meat free recipes from the cuisine you are preparing to get a sense of which flavors are essential and which can be left out of a dish or which ingredients can be substituted in to round out an adapted dish without doing violence to culinary tradition.

(4) I am often uncomfortable travelling with vegetarians (especially outside the US) in cultures or to household where meat is part of the diet. I don't think its polite to refuse a dish, or to explain to someone all your food ways, if you are a guest.

I could go on and on about how pushy, but ignorant, so many vegetarians I've know have been about eating out and cooking in. In every one of these cases (and more besides), I have held my tongue and not bitched until now, in this post, with you, dear readers. Like titling a blog "i hate the new yorker" this post will probably be misinterpreted by many well meaning souls. . . but please,

(5) Don't assume I like to sit home eating raw beef. Ok, so I've eaten raw beef, but only when it was served to me by someone who wanted to share something they thought perfectly normal and enjoyable. I cook veg all the time, but I put a lot of effort into it - research, reading recipes and cookbooks, talking with culinarily experienced friends and family, experimenting, shopping carefully.

Thanks for your patience. And happy eating . . . Please feel free to write in with suggestions for "keeping veg" responsibly.



And what should I do about all these stupid comments?

Not to sound like someone's english teacher, but "good" "best" and "sucks" are not really very persuasive. I try to delete comments from absolutely fake entities, but if people are vague in their praise or criticism of the blog, the New Yorker, movies, whatever, I have no way of telling if they are just stupid, or posting for exposure or what. So, read the blog carefully, consider the title an ironic overstatement and try to be descriptive in your replies.

And you'll get an A, I promise.


What should I do in Boston?

Before answering, read my LA query. You can find it in the travel category, or the August archive.

This time, I'll be researching in Watertown, MA and staying in the North End and/or Cambridge.

So, cheap eats, museums, landscapes and public parks, what have you??


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

sept 5 New Yorker, food issue(s)

I have no desire to read or comment on this issue. Perhaps it is only a bitter jealousy on my part, living as I do in Pittsburgh, PA, where good food is very hard to come by. Unless I make it myself, which is so much work.

On that note, I just got back from a very early morning trip to the Strip. (see photo, not mine, taken from saeru at flickr)

In lieu of my review of the New Yorker food issue, I encourage you to leave your comments on the issue, or Pittsburgh's food issues, here.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

San Francisco Art Commission

I like when people take photos of art, especially paintings - it calls attention to the limitations of photography.

Art by Visually Impaired Artists

This one is my favorite, stunning.


dogs, cosmic irony, and the New Yorker

For anyone who read my last post. How strange is this? A cartoon from The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

PS. Maxi Saver Dollar Theater is running Crash and Hustle and Flow, both got positive reviews from Denby.

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sept 12 New Yorker, David Denby gets laid . . .

Or so concludes my partner in crime, who read the movie reviews for me again this week. He read aloud,

"The movie leaves us with the grateful realization that, for a man, love and trouble are worth having more than anything, and it ends with a triumphant double coda that brings the sexual jokes down to earth with a touch of sexual realism (nicely put, Denby) and then sends them off again with a flight of lyrical fancy." (103)

This after last week's abject sexual bitterness! Granted, they are different movies, but . . . this is Denby reviewing Judd Apatow's 40-Year Old Virgin. Hmmm . . . .

The man lets his identification with the cinema take the foreground. And, after all, that's a nice, honest way to expose the ideological position from which you are writing, which is what I am, recently, asking Acocella to do too. Again, see the very insightful comment to my July post "I'm not particularly hot . . ." We've been watching the TV show Freaks & Geeks here and director Apatow is quite genius with uncomfortable, klutzy romance. That scene where Nick sings to Lindsay . . . ow, that hurts.

As for Denby's approval of Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins, I myself dislike anthropomorphic readings of nature films. [I also don't like people's relationships to their pets. But that is because I live near Frick Park, and if I try to take a little run or walk after a day of work people's leash-less dogs come up to me and sniff my crotch. And the people yell to the dog, and I want to scream at them, your dog does not understand language! At least not at this moment . . . Besides, no matter how much these people identify with or overfeed their pets, the dogs will always be faster than them and able to approach my crotch without restraint, unless they wear a leash, as obligated by law. But these people are too lazy to walk the extra few yards to the enclosed leash free area. I used to think communities were nice, but there is a community consensus that people with dogs can use the park in this way and I find it intimidating. Enough.] Back to polar love. Again, Denby praises the film's warm fuzzy moments, and identifies with the romance of the birds as he places himself right in the middle of the romantic drama, when the penguins,

"find a partner, they stand with heads bowed before each other in what appears to be silent adoration. If we are moved, are we experiencing what they are feeling or what we are feeling?" (103)

Awwwww . . . .

On another rant, am I the only person in the world who found the last blockbuster French bird doc, Jacques Perrin's Winged Migration to be nationalistic? What with the birds dying in post-Soviet industrial waste, or mowed down by tractors in the US and then finding timeless bird paradise in the French countryside, where a little boy in peasant dress and a HUGE GOLD CROSS SPARKLING IN THE SUN runs through an idyllic meadow?

Finally, Red Eye, directed by Wes Craven. I think I'll try to see this. I love movies that place in very enclosed spaces. And I love scary movies and these categories overlap quite a bit to create my very favorite movies.

Note the irony. If you click on my Frick Park link, after a long intro, you will see the quote, "Parks are the most Democratic spaces in society." Mob rule is more like!!!

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Friday, September 09, 2005

the chase (arthur penn, 1966)

Well, this isn't a very good movie. But it is a lot like a lot of things . . . with the strange and lovely stage-y ness of 1960s film, post studio, before the wonderful 1970s . . . So the film feels like "Rebel Without a Cause" and Penn's "Miracle Worker" and "I Want to Live!" I have to thank the undergrads for "Rebel Without a Cause" - I'd never seen it until one of my students brought it in and I was so struck by its eerie-ness I rented it that semester and, clearly, I've been thinking about it off and on since. But the stage-y ness in "The Chase" is mostly in the set and lighting.

The use of eyes, and sometimes voices is more familiar . . . and seems to have been something retained from this period of Hollywood filmmaking to the present. I mean, Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Robert Redford . . . I guess its fair to say that they've defined what it means to act for lots of Hollywood stars today. The scene between Robert Duvall and Brando about the $50 is great. Why does Fonda count as an actress? Klute, that's why.

Someone else was watching "The Chase." Someone very very clever.

On a related note, are Robert Redford and Brad Pitt related? Or does Brad Pitt just try to look like Redford? Sometimes I think they are all related, and sometimes I think its just something they learn.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

aug 29 New Yorker issue

Malcolm Gladwell informs wealthy New Yorker readers about health care and health insurance problems I know only too intimately, in his article "The Moral-Hazard Myth, Why our health-care system doesn't work." This same week I spent $300 to pay for doctors' visits last spring. The article is more rhetorical than informative. Now that I'm using I can easily keep an eye on discussions of the New Yorker magazine. If you search the bookmarks generally under "NewYorker" you get the best results, and there are a lot of links for Gladwell's article.

David Denby reviews the movie Pretty Persuasion. My partner in crime here read this out loud to comic effect. His thoughts - that Denby's passion and anger at the young girls plainly reveals that he has no sex. Ever. Given the comments left on one of my earliest July postings about American Sucker, it seems like this graphic and bitter honesty is the single most appealing thing about Denby's prose style.

His review of "The Aristocrats" is like every other review I've read or heard. Everyone seems to be ignoring that this joke might be about class, not sex. But pretentious old Denby is in a particularly bad position (see above) to address this. Or maybe he's the only man for the job . . .

Peter Schjedahl on "The Life of Matisse." Similar article in the New York Review of Books was much better. Actually, I think that article in the NYRB was written by the author of the book reviewed in the New Yorker. Our house is a veritable hotbed of general interest publications, so expect my next posting to be on the most recent New York Review of Books, the article on the politics of museum exhibitions. Now, that gets the blood boiling . . .

My new hobby, web visiting museums. The Hermitage, where The Dance (Matisse, 1909-10), above, is housed.

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If you thought I was some kind of right-wing paranoid attacking the liberal media . . .

. . . you're wrong. I am criticizing the New Yorker from a left of liberal position, with some of the issues raised here, at Print Culture thrown in. They've been very explict and I owe them a big thanks for being so articulate on complicated and personal issues. Since I, however, am less comfortable with direct communication, I often try to show not tell my critical position, here in this blog, and more generally in life (an approach that drives friends and family members crazy, but is sometimes sneaky and persuasive when teaching undergrads). But if you read the blog, you know all this.

Recent posts suggest that I need to create an "about my blog" category.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

aug 22 New Yorker

I'm going to just ignore the whole Target ads as art thing. Wait, no I'm not. I hate the way my friends from New York, who readily mock anything vaguely suburban still shop at Target and love the deals on cheap crap.

I like "Vis-a-vis the Venice Biennale" illustrations and Alex Ross' survey of Schreker.

But about that Joan Acocella . . . now she's writing about the Bolshoi ballet company, "After the Fall" as she calls it. The thing I don't like about this piece is that it makes obvious whats so wrong with the last one (my rant on the aug 8 issue). She makes fun of Soviet aesthetics and as she does this, it becomes clear that what she likes is classical ballet as a good, old fashioned 19th C bourgeois art form, or the variations on this tradition that late capitalism has produced (ie, "downtown" contemporary dance, as in the last review). And she positions this kind of dance as non-ideological, where as Soviet dance wears its ideology on its sleeve and repulses her. In good ballet, she praises the individual dancer "She is like an animal: joyful, physical, seemingly unmindful" or, another prima donna "She belongs back at the Kirov, where such virtues - line, form - are stressed over dynamism." (77) While these are fine descriptions of physical dance, the language makes dance seem simply natural, in the first case, or formal, in the second. In both cases, empty of politics, economics or even cultural context. And is dance ever empty of these? Please.

I don't know why this is an argument worth making (is dance important in today's media culture?), but maybe it gains more relevance if its linked to Spike Lee's Bamboozled. Where dance and the dancer (here tap, which makes the audiance confront the ideological meanings of dance in the context of US race) cannot escape from its cultural and political meanings to be just dance, natural, formal, etc.

New question to ponder: Why does Ian Buruma always make me uncomfortable? His "Reports on Life in North Korea" did it again . . . after the thing on dictators in NYRB . . . an essay on Satyajit Ray . . .


del's antipasto

Foreground: Beets, marinated red peppers, marinated carrots, banana peppers, hot peppers and black olives. Bed of nothing special greens. 2 kinds of salami, ham and a fairly tasty provolone.

In the Background: The red wine vinegarette they make. Simple, classic, quality.

Del's menu, coupons, etc.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

aug 8 & 15 New Yorker issue

What about that always liberal never radical news magazine? That bourgie arts and entertainment periodical?

I'd been looking forward to Louis Menand on Edmund Wilson, but this was a little bit of a let down. If, as Menand writes, "Wilson thought that literature is determined by history and by psychology" (88) Menand takes history for granted (not a safe thing to do) and gives us too much information about Mr. Wilson's personal life. Though I must admit, I did appreciate learning that when Edmund Wilson and his wife (the totally fabulous) Mary McCarthy fought "he would retreat into his study and lock the door; she would set plies of paper on fire and try to push them under it." Ah, love. But where is the historical materialism in that? I want to know.

Amardeep Singh compared Wilson and Menand in April 2004.

When I read Joan Acocella's review of "Downtown Surrealists," that is, surrealist contemporary dance companies, a feeling of annoyance crept in. Moved by one company, she babbles. The name of the peice they performed is "Frozen Mommy" and she closes her review "You saw Mommy, she was frozen." Frankly, that's weak. It adds nothing. It relies on a kind of assumption of sensory or experiential empiricism. Or objectivity. Or some sort of assumed consensus of shared experience, which seems unlikely. Or an assumed transparency of the work.

Unless . . . well, more on the dance audiance later . . . as I say, my annoyance was there, but just barely.

Further, she describes the dancers in "Frozen Mommy" as seeming or performing roles that were "mad and, at many points, evil" but she likes this fine. Sarah Michelson's work, however, crosses some arbitrary line for Acocella and she describes herself as feeling "abused" as if the dance was designed "against the audience" and accuses Michelson of an excess of "attitude." But given Acocella's review, its hard to tell why one surrealist approach works for her, another doesn't. In one piece, she's willing to assume that the audience knows, reads and enjoys a coherant dance work, in another, she relies on her own distance from the piece to define its merit, or lack of merit, as it were.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

katrina as natural/unnatural disaster

David Brooks, sheepish conservative, puts the hurricane in the context of US history (race, racism, labor, class, immigration) on todays New York Times editorial page.

With bonus Pittsburgh area history!

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poverty, katrina and the boundaries of national tragedy

The posting titled "Race and Hurricane Katrina," and its comments and links at Amardeep Singh's blog (a blogroll standby here) have helped me form my inchoherant rants and queries to friends into the questions below. Still muddled, but that's where I am:

1. Why does the media care about poverty in Louisiana only when there is a flood?

2. If I grant that the flood is a particularly revealing disaster, in that the "natural" (flood) and the "unnatural" (poverty under US capitalism) converge, can we expand this definition of national tragedy to include deaths at the US Mexico border (desert heat meets US labor and immigration policy), the war in Iraq (natural resources (weak, i know) meets US energy and transportation policies) and so on . . . . ?

3. Are the floods, and other evidence of the earth's activity really "natural" in any sense? Or are they the product of global warming, more water moving on the earth's surface, more pressure on the plates, more active warm and cold fronts in the ocean, etc?

4. Is there a difference between a flood refugee finding food for immediate consumption and finding something else that might have value later (elsewhere called "stealing" and "looting")? Even if it is someone else's, they left it, they have valued it less than their lives and whatever else they took with them, if they were lucky enough to get the information to get out and had the resources to do so . . . . No one is making a profit here. Well, maybe not no one. Which leads us to question 5 . . .

5. Who will rebuild the petroleum infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico?