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. . . 2001-12-26

Hungover by the chimney with care

Unlike myself, boing boing sobered up long enough to point to this interview-as-philippic from Lawrence Lessig:

"Copyright law silences speech. If the government wants to silence speech, it needs a very good reason. And if it doesn't have that reason, it should not silence my speech."
Incidentally (insignificantly, in fact), Dianne Feinstein's office finally sent a form letter response to my citizenly concerns about the DMCA and copyright extension; it turns out that I didn't realize the importance of intellectual property rights. Ho-K, Senator Feinstein!

I guess I should be grateful that they hadn't prefixed something about September 11 making Disney's and Universal's profits more imperative than ever....

. . . 2001-12-29

Invidious comparisons

Eagle-eyed Juliet Clark plucks this juicy hank o' middlebrow from Lewis Lapham's column in the September 2001 Harper's:

"Because the schools serve a spiritual and political purpose instead of an intellectual idea, they cannot afford to make invidious comparisons between the smart kids and the dumb kids, between the kids who read Shakespeare's plays and those who watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Elsewhere, another professional pundit does his dirty job of turning a short paragraph into a full column. (And I regret to say that my weblog compeers, those gay betrayers, are not linking to the original....)

. . . 2001-12-31

Happy New Year
At Copan, the line of history broke a short generation after the dating of the Hieroglyphic Stairway and Altar Q. No monument discovered has a date later than the year we number 800 A. D. They may have continued the reckoning of time after this without recording it in monuments. Perhaps they deserted the city; perhaps they stayed nearby. Life can continue without a reckoning of time. It has a kind of latitude, and time is one way to speak of that latitude. But when time comes to a stop as it seems to have come to a stop around Copan, the latitude remains. Perhaps the people went away. More probably they stayed and not too far from there. They stopped making monuments and may have no longer reckoned the calendar or thought consciously of the temples and sacred precincts, but remained as much or as little as they were before. The whole set of our minds is splinted so in time and history, our thinking structure fails to stand without them, and we are reluctant and uneasy, thinking of timeless man, of man without history. When we come back now to Copan, we feel at home there because, however remote or alien its terminology, we sense through all our ignorance that time and history have been here once. It seems entirely natural, too, the only human reaction, to feel regret and melancholy and bewildered protest that all these structures are empty and fallen, that something stopped here a thousand years ago. We assume of time and history that they are continuous and progressive and always were. The insistent questions that confront us here and characterize us are, "Where did these people come from?" and "Where did they go to?" We are brought to face the discontinuity of time and history, the continuance nevertheless of man, and the equivalence as answers to these questions of nowhere and here. We assume that we, too, came from somewhere, go someplace; but of ourselves also we would have to answer nowhere and here, and know that one answer said the same as the other. And, together, the answers say, insofar as we can be characterized, we are they and they are we, timeless and unhistorical. It is true that we have on either occasion invented times and histories for ourselves and, by an act of will, imposed them as long as strength lasted. We invented these the way we invented speech and buildings and costumes and the changes of modes in these; but, whatever we are, we are without them and apart from the changes in them. These things in themselves can be said to have times and histories; but they have little or nothing to do with us. We lean on inventions, though, to give us standing. We dress ourselves in inventions and house ourselves there. We give ourselves mythic identity, find something we ought to do and project rewards. We are never what our pretensions claim though at times we seem to be when our pretensions succeed for awhile, when will and self-denial and force mold us into some image we impose upon ourselves and on those around us, so that common consent gives us the role we claim for ourselves. To say we make something of ourselves is a form of praise for a person or a culture.

There is a large mask on a stairway in the East Court, a wide-eyed human face with symbols beside it that show it to mean the planet Venus. It is something to say of Venus, and what else should we say? But without the label, we should never have found it out. The Mayan culture and this whole site as exemplar are mask and metaphor. So are we.

One of the strongest impressions that we have is that under the mask and metaphor something is there though it is not perhaps man that is there. There is something which is. Nothing else matters. Copan is a liberation. It is all gone, emptied away. To see it is to see ourselves gone, to see us freed from the weight of our own world and its limitations. One aspect of the roles we assume is taken as something more than whimsical self-indulgence. It is the assumption of the responsibility for our own natures and environment. It is to say that both can be bettered and that we know the direction of betterment and can work that way, and that given time enough and good will and energy, we can evolve a world subject to our reason and wisdom which are sufficient for that, and that this then will be the world, the world that is. One supposes that whoever may have lived at Copan may have thought this way and that the development of this city may have been directed toward that end; one supposes that whoever may have lived here is we. That the idea is historically absurd is only in part our own absurdity: it is the absurdity of our historicity. Whatever we are, we are not historical. The world we make and ourselves, so far as we make ourselves, ourselves in the particularities of time and place, as cultural man -- all this can be destroyed and make no matter. We are happy at Copan to witness our own destruction and how we survive it. If something may be said to happen, what happens to us is not what happens. The evident destruction of Copan is witness to this as we, in our own lives, are witness to the same things. We are delivered from our continuous failures and frustrations. Perhaps more importantly, we are delivered from our self-limited successes, the awful banalities of the good life.

Joy and desire surround us without our doing, without our understanding.

The world or what we term the world, that medium in which we find ourselves, and indeed whatever of it we set apart and term selves, is not related to what we make of it and not dependent on what we make of the world or make of ourselves. It is not in the least altered, nor is our basic nature altered, by any cosmology or culture or individual character we may devise, or by the failure or destruction of any of these, as all of them fail. If they seem for a time to succeed, they blind us as though they were real; and it is by our most drastic failures that we may perhaps catch glimpses of something real, of something which is. It merits our whole mind. The good society and the good life are more than we could imagine. To devise them or to assert and defend their devising is not the point.

from "Copan: Historicity Gone" by William Bronk

. . . 2002-01-16

No Pictures
No Caption

Meeting of minds

  1. Withdrawn from circulation

    Rebound, pulped, or sold down the river to Moe's -- ah, but publication, that was the glorious thing.

  2. Open the door, Richard

    I had all these keys since long before buying the lock, so one of them's gotta fit.

  3. Hide & no seek

    Is this what winning feels like?

  4. Dear Abby [2.7MB MP3]

    Dear Mixed-Up Teenager:
    Gee, baby.
    You say nobody loves you?
    And everybody hates you?
         (Yay, yay, yay, yeah. Oo-ooh.)
    You know... baby...
    When someone's so low
    I gotta suggest that you do go
    Out in that yard
    And eat worms.
    Yeah. Worms.

. . . 2002-01-19

Barbarians behind the gate

People quaintly used to wonder how the Dark Ages could've happened, but the past hundred years have cleared that mystery right up. A Dark Age happens because so many people dedicate their lives to making sure it happens.

I'd heard about the escalating management-workers feud at MOMA, but somehow missed hearing about its root cause: management's plans to replace the current museum building with a new one, the rationale apparently being that all the other kids were getting new buildings.

True, a lot of other kids got new buildings during the 1990s, and got some fine globs of publicity for them. What the other kids didn't get were decent collections or competent curators. MOMA has plenty of both, and a new thoroughly-staffed annex would have been useful in releasing some pressure. Instead, MOMA leadership is celebrating the recession by firing existing staff, scattering collections into cellars with no guarantee of their return, and devoting itself to a reconstruction project that's bound to overrun schedule and budget.

It's criminal (or should be) when short-sighted corporate greed leads to the erasure of cinema history, and when fundamentalists dynamite monuments, and when Bill Gates ("Ooh, I waaant those pictures!" / "On second thought, who needs 'em?") buries a huge archive of American photographs -- but it's hardly surprising. I mean, it's just good sense that you shouldn't trust corporate greedheads with questions of public domain, and you shouldn't put fundamentalists in charge of a government, and a nation's cultural heritage shouldn't depend on the whims of a billionaire.

But what can be done about institutional betrayal...? For decades, people have donated irreplaceable and (one would think) indispensable work to MOMA, trusting it to preserve and provide access. The sheer volume of eggs piled in that one basket gives an illusion of solidity; it's easy to forget that it takes only one batch of idiots to wreck the entire enterprise. And idiots are a resource that museums never run out of. Ideally, the city would intervene in the public interest, but under present circumstances the most inspiring mayoral proclamation we can expect is "Let them buy their own Pollocks."

Makes me want to join some kind of Art First! guerrilla movement and start liberating stuff, but I'm probably a little too old and clumsy for that.... So all I can say is: Everyone, please bootleg! Everything! All the time!

+ + +

The Secret Hoarder

In other old-and-in-the-way news (via davidchess), back in mid-October John Ashcroft again widened the gap between privacy haves (the Bush family, the Bush administration, and major corporations) and privacy have-nots (the rest of us) when he told federal agencies they should just ignore the Freedom of Information Act:

Any discretionary decision by your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information.... When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records.

. . . 2002-01-20

Department of Homeland Security

Near the end of the workday, network performance seemed to stall. Moving through the active processes, I brought my FTP window to the front and saw it emit the message "Connection privacy lost" just as there was a burst of modem activity. Holy shit, I didn't even know it was possible to break into an open FTP session, much less for the FTP client to recognize the intrusion! It's amazing what computers can do nowadays.

In a fatigued flurry I stopped the process, rebooted the modem, ran virus checkers, inspected my system files, got my backups together, and fruitlessly searched the web for more information about losing FTP connection privacy...

... and after about fifteen minutes I remembered that I was working on a website for a privacy advocate and that its FTP bookmark was named "privacy."

. . . 2002-01-23

Having emerged from the interminable horror of World War II into the unterminable horror of a nuclear-powered Cold War, mid-century artists could see no way out but back. Post-apocalyptic pastoral cropped up in forms ranging from 1947's four hit versions of "Civilization (Bingo, Bango, Bongo)" to Bernard Wolfe's Limbo in 1950.

In 1946, director-writer-cartoonist Frank Tashlin published The Bear That Wasn't, a picture book in which a bear was driven into deep delusion by human contact. In 1950, Tashlin published The Possum That Didn't, in which an opossum was driven into deep depression by human contact. In 1951, while working on Son of Paleface, Tashlin published a third picture book, The World That Isn't, written and illustrated in much the same way as the earlier two books, but more unambiguously targeted at adults.

  The Artist Who Is

The Printing Press

Tashlin's message stayed as consistent as his technique: people may vary but their social institutions are inevitably insane. However, with the whole of humanity as its funny-animal protagonist, the third book follows a more ambitious path back to nature. Contemporary American existence is depicted in gag-busy pages and simultaneously "described" by a standard Western account of social evolution: the "Ice Age" is a drunken apartment party, the "discovery of the wheel" takes place in a town full of car accidents and happy morticians, time is measured, Christianity's gentle influence is felt, the printing press aids Man in his quest for knowledge....

Yoking high allegorical intent to his vulgar gag background, Tashlin doesn't distinguish between the familiar mild irritations of mid-century middle-class comedy (nagging wives, rude children, cheating contractors, taxes, billboards) and questions of life-and-death, and the conjunction sometimes jars.

But give him credit for following a premise through. Fantasists tend to wallow in daydreams of a fresh new start while simultaneously recoiling from the mass destruction needed to get there -- which, fairly or not, always seemed a bit irresponsible to me. Tashlin's proto-hippies and neo-arcadia are almost unique in being made possible by what's presented as a consciously -- and ethically -- intended apocalypse. Sort of like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with Burpelson Air Force Base in place of the chicken farm.

"In spite of the opposition, Man continued trying to think for himself, even though it was more difficult than... or... or... it was even more difficult than... or..."
He knew what to do...

. . . 2002-01-24

A System Thursday Business Section

Juliet Clark thinks that wider dissemination of Ian Frazier's entrepreneurial insider report, "Tomorrow's Bird," may be just the stimulation our detumescent economy needs, and I'm proud to be one of the first to agree with her.

In order to stay competitive, as most people know, the crows recently merged with the ravens. This was done not only for reasons of growth but also to better serve those millions who live and work near crows. In the future, both crows and ravens will be known by the group name of Crows, so if you see a bird and wonder which it is, you don't have to waste any time: officially and legally, it's a crow. The net result of this, of course, is that now there are a lot more crows—which is exactly what the crows want. Studies they've sponsored show that there could be anywhere from ten to a thousand times more crows than there already are, with no strain on carrying capacity....

International correspondent Kristina Youso Connoy contributes this follow-up:

I must respond immediately to report that the international crow takeover has already achieved stunning success. In Tamil Nadu, they are the only birds to be seen, and they are everywhere, always, shrieking loudly and feasting on the overflowing piles of garbage found around every corner in urban India. It was quite noticeable, if not hitchcockian and/or orwellian, that there were absolutely no other birds of any kind. Except maybe in a wildlife sanctuary somewhere. I have documentary evidence of crows bugging a group of saggy tired water buffalo by the public toilet/beach. Also their name in Tamil is "kaakaa." This was, as you might guess, the only Tamil bird name I could ever remember. Was this also part of their plot?

. . . 2002-01-24

  Peace on Earth, Mistrust towards Man
Photos by Juliet Clark
The Elves of Teegeeack 3

Scariest sight during last month's visit to Los Angeles was the line of normality-starved families waiting to visit The L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland ("Santa's Home in Hollywood").

Department store Santas are disturbing enough; can you imagine the MEST-scarring trauma of a Scientology Santa? "Well, Jimmy, your free personality test indicates that Santa will bring you EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY if you'll just stuff these copies of Dianetics in your parents' stockings...."

In Hubbard's holiday homily, note his characteristic replacement of wishy-washy "love" with manly paranoid "trust." That was the true meaning of Christmas 2001, all right: No telepathic mind control, no peace!

The nicest sights were at the Getty Museum's Devices of Wonder exhibition. Gadgets through the ages isn't that novel a curatorial idea, but not many curators get to plunge fist-first into Getty-sized pockets: a Chardin, for example, is casually thrown on as illustrative spice....

As usual in high-concept historical surveys, the contemporary work included seems an ill-advised afterthought. I'm not even sure what they were afterthinking: our investment-oriented rhetoric-privileging high art world pointedly shares neither intent nor craft with infotainment manufacturers. Better to just borrow a corner of the Exploratorium, or fill a plastic tub with boing-boing-ed swag.

On the other hand, the Joseph Cornell boxes fit right in, especially the knock-down twist-around pick-me-up gorgeous "Beehive (Thimble Forest)" -- with silver bells/boughs sadly frozen, though, by the conflict typical of such exhibitions: the fine art museum relies on preservation whereas the artifact relies on manipulation, and they compromise in mere display. Perhaps deep pockets somewhere sometime might be persuaded to provide replicas in the gift shop...?

Beehive (Thimble Forest)
. . . 2002-01-31

Timing is everything except for what size is

My favorite single comment from the decades-long circumcision debate is the guy who said "But if I was any more sensitive, I'd faint!"

Following a mental track laid down by Spike, I'm moved to do my bit to draw attention to dutchbint's splendid practical joke:

"Here's how it works: when you hit a website, the referer field contains the URL to the site you came from. So if you arrived here by clicking a link on http://www.arse.com/, your referer info will say http://www.arse.com/. But, suppose you've just searched Google for cuntbusters, and you've clicked the result for dutchbint.org. Then, your referer info will say http://www.google.com/search?q=cuntbusters&hl=en&safe=off&start=10&sa=N. The script checks to see if certain words (like fuck, cunt, ejaculation, orgasm, naked etc.) are present in the referer field. If it finds any of those words, it will redirect you to aforementioned Online Decency Compliance page."
A technique which, I think, would've spread like wildfire had it not been unveiled in early September 2001.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2001 Ray Davis.