Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pigment [a poem]

Prone to breezes, I get carried away,
Steeped in my environment,
Though failing to dissolve.
The city was colored with visitors,
A crudely scrawled moustache
On the Mona Lisa, easily removed
But always replaced.

Bruised by the irony
Of fragile charcoal,
Exquisite color rubbed out
By time if not by hand;
I prayed for oil and a painter.
Someone to capture me and
Someone to fix me
To a lip, a breast, a heart.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Universe We Perceive

As much as I was engaged by Freakonomics, I was bothered by a phrase repeated, that economics analyzes the world as it is, not how it ought to be. I my contention is that economics only analyzes the world as it is measured, not as it is. Especially as we consider policy, it's an important distinction.

So I was very impressed at the end of
The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio when he writes "mathematics is the symbolic counterpart of the universe we percieve" (italics his). The last chapter touches on the ontology of numbers and their use in scientific models, challenging the popular notion that mathematics is objective. Another aspect of this "challenge" is our notion that 1+1=2. Livio writes:
Other itelligent civilations out ther might have developed totally different sets of rules (for science & math), if their mechanisms for perception are very different from ours. For example, when one drop of water is added to another drop or one molecular cloud in the galaxy coalesces with another, they make only one drop or one cloud, not two. Therefore, if a civilization that is somehow fluid based exists, for it, one plus one does not necessarily equal two.
And to tie this all together, the Golden Ratio (phi=1.6180339...) is used to calculate the spirals of galaxies much as nautilus seashells and pentagrams.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thoughts on Creators, Divine and Human

"That, which can change us, is within us"

"When I attempt something of my own design, I lose that peace"

These were lines from different testimonies at meeting this morning. One line led me, the other line I opposed.

A couple days ago, I poo poo'd Sibyl for saying that she doesn't feel that she is the one writing her plays, but more along the lines of channeling from some ineffable source. It's a common sentiment. Somehow sitting in Quaker meeting got me to think of Frank Miller and Sin City. In the collection of the first volume, Miller writes that he didn't expect the "Marv" story to go on so long, but that he had no choice, Marv wouldn't quit. Despite the vicious violence that Marv exerts, he is obviously a hero. He survives and strives because it's in his character, and at the end, he accepts his punishment at the electric chair because he accomplished his goals, far beyond what his creator first imagined.

Two thoughts come out of this. First, human striving is it's own reward and goal. Second, that writers, creators and audiences, delight when their characters take off on their own, writing themselves through trials, victories and defeats... why should this be any different for our creator.

In the first thought, it makes more satisfying the end of Goethe's Faust. After spending 5+ hours watching Faust travel with and benefit from his time with Mephisto, at Faust's death, Mephisto leaves empty handed and Faust's soul goes to Heaven. Believe it or not, there is a similarity with Frank Miller's Marv. Demonic in their adventures, both remain true to themselves, Faust to his human striving, Marv to his vengeance. As an audience, we are compelled with the nature of their struggles; Faust's realizing that power does not bring happiness; Marv's escalating danger as he discovers Goldie's murderer.

The second thought is closely related, and illustrates why I don't believe in an intervening God. The best characters are envisioned by their creators with everything to take them through the story whether or not the ending is pleasant. Note too, how stories and characters disappoint when their creator clearly jerks them apart from what their soul (for lack of a better term) would otherwise choose. Tolstoy can't save Anna Karenina by writing in a good shrink. Likewise, I believe our creator set us in motion, and like fictional characters, we make choices, we determine action. For God to intervene to answer our prayers, and undermines our life, which is to say, the story.

Another thread to consider, is the nature of worship. When has a fictional character worshiped it's own creator? Doing so suggests no self determination on the part of the character, and unbelievable arrogance on the part of the creator. Though God is god and we are mortals, there is an interesting juxtaposition. Do we not celebrate the creator by loving the creation: the characters, the setting, the opportunities? Furthermore, characters tend to regard their creators like Daffy Duck did Chuck Jones ( in Duck Amuck), teasing and fighting efforts to erase body parts and draw ridiculous situations. But there is still a bit of love, affection and joy in that tension. Could a similar relationship lies between our creator and ourselves?

Returning to the first two lines. I do feel that which can change us lies within us. It is part of our creation, endowed by our creator. But in contrast to the next line, perhaps we should not pray for peace so much as we should pray for striving, it makes for a better story.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Squared Poem I

Lucid moments drawn from the inkwell
Moments of unconsciousness steeping in paper
Drawn out of mulched conversations and bleached
From the taillights of passing thoughts,
The words disappear and reappear in the
Inkwell, refusing to stay on the page.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Literary Event of the Year? Amy Hempel Is Back In Stores

This may become the summer of short stories.

I've been delighted with Etgar Keret's stories, and I'm a bit hungry for more.

But I've got another gem on deck. Ever since reading Chuck Palahniuk's
essay "Not Chasing Amy," I've been fruitlessly hunting for books by Amy Hempel. They're out of print. Good luck finding a used copy. But a few weeks ago her collected short stories was released, and I snatched a copy up right away... hardcover no less. Adding to my excitement was a little piece by Benjamin Strong in the Voice.

Each ode to Hempel (Palahniuk, Strong, the intro by Rick Moody) pulls out singular lines that hit you like a ton of bricks. For instance, "The impact knocked two days out of my head, but all you can see is the cut on my chin," or
"The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Anti-Allegory of the Cave

Flickr pic by Wsyz

So there are lot of pictures and articles and hubbub... but it took me a few days... and an actual visit to realize that Apple's
new store entices us into Plato's cave, rather than escape.

This effect is heightened when you go down on a nice sunny day. There are those who argue, and rightly so, that Fifth Avenue commerce is hardly reality, but in a literal sense, there are obstacles, climate, risks, food, beauty and so on. But what do shoppers do, they step down, away from the light. They position themselves in front of the screen that projects images that aren't there, merely forms. Or perhaps they put on headphones and listen to musicians scattered across the globe. Perhaps most ironic, that for the obsessed, it was their own philosopher-king that drew them into the cave.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Too much fun to concentrate [Updated]

For all sorts of reasons there hasn't been much opportunity to post lately, mostly because there's been all sorts of thoughts and conversations swirling around my head that haven't really formed themselves in any coherent way. Plus, I'm having fun, being social, and I'm getting plum tuckered out.

So in no particular order.... last night Frauke and I saw the Girodet exhibit at the Met. This painting in particular was fun as the artist's revenge against an unhappy patron. I spent a lot time with Frauke and her husband Lars this past week since David and Molly were visiting. David & Lars have known each other for over 15 years.

The five of us all saw Target Margin's Faust. Among the marvelous elements was this gem of a line: "to be polite in German is to lie." Really, when I thought about it, one is polite when there isn't genuine affection. A lie indeed.

Sunday's highlight was picking up another Raeburn Ink shirt, street fair corn on the cob, and blue ribbon sushi.

I've been reading The Golden Ratio, when a line is cut in an extreme and mean ratio. So it was fun to open up Esopus #6, on process, with cut-outs by mathematician John Conway to make your own dodecahedron model (a platonic solid).

I also just picked up Etgar Keret's collection of short stories The Nimrod Flip Out. Dan and Victoria had screened the film version of Pizzeria Kamikaze, so I felt impulsive today to dig a bit deeper. Very fun so far... a bit of George Saunders, a bit of Will Self... and a whole lot that's new.

[Update 5/26] The NYTimes has a review of the Girodet show.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

No Title [a poem]

I’ve struggled with waltzes.
unable to block out
the iambs of heartbeats
or depart from
hurried spondaic steps
stepping on feet, and then
tripping over anapests


Hurray! Norm returned to the blogosphere, dropping a bunch of posts like peanut shells.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Cherishing What Persists: the Photography of John Szarkowski

I was lucky enough to clock out a bit early yesterday, so I headed up to MoMA primarily to catch the Munch show. While the show was nice, the paintings haunting... the experience just didn't live up to expectations. Perhaps because I was more interested in seeing wood cuts and prints, perhaps dealing with crowds, perhaps the heaviness of the pallet was too dissonant with the brightness of the day.

There were a couple pieces that made clear the challenge of painting before the use of photographs. One in particular, when Munch had an eye disease, really seems to communicate on canvas what was experienced in his mind's eye.

As often, the real treat is in being surprised. This time it was seeing
John Szarkowski's photographs, particularly of the Midwest. There was nice contrast of pastoral, but settled composition that felt set in time and a number of wilderness landscapes, many near or part of the what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Some pictures are much like my own, particularly dawn breaking on one lake with a lingering mist over the water. But for those less inclined to portage, these are more accessible and better composed.

Pictured above: John Szarkowski. From Country Elevator, Red River Valley. 1957.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Symphonic Week With Many Notes

Dave Ramirez & Sarah Sze. Photo by Joshua Lutz

It's been a great week, being social naturally leads to funny interactions and fun surprises (I guess that's why we long for social lives). As often, this week's stories are mostly through the Courtney-Adkins social network

Monday, after my final, I blew off some steam at 13P's Triskaidekaphiliac benefit (Erin Courtney is a P, which stands for playwright, not pool). Scott & Erin's friend Scooter showed up, where reveled in our mutual dislike of phone talking. The two of us basically use the phone to get off of it. We feel that cell phones lead to poor planning (he was stood up, mobile-less that night), and that unthoughtful cell phone use further encroaches on the otherwise ambient serenity of public spaces.

Tuesday we had our program-wide capstone end event, where I gave our presentation at least ten times, but early on I got totally zapped on the generalized methods of moments (an economic modeling term). Bill & Fredrica came by, as did Joe and Jason, which was great to explain to them what I've been doing all year. Overall it was fun, and I developed a greater understanding of our study by presenting it so often.

Last night was full of fun and surprises. After work, I went up to Freedman Plaza at the Southeast corner of Central Park for the Public Art Fund's "opening of Sarah Sze's installation "Corner Plot." Sarah is another Courtney-Adkins friend, as is her installer, Dave Ramirez, with whom I'm more familiar, and invited to the opening. There was a bonus fun of pictures in the New Yorker, New York Magazine and the NYTimes.

As with her other work, there is a visceral playful reaction of entering Sze's universe. But in my talks with Dave, I've realized a certain irony of her work. On the surface, her work is composed of familiar every day objects, often disposable or cheap, or seemingly so (Styrofoam, #2 pencils, painter's masking tape, and so on). Further, elements of her work seem fragile, creating a "lightness" in the overall composition. But when Dave tells me about the installations, there is a huge juxtaposition with the intense labor, problem solving and very foreign processes to execute the pieces. At SFMoMA, she cut up a truck, hanging and stretching around the atrium. Here, they had to dig a huge hole to encase the world you spy in the windows. Furthermore, the top casing was dropped in by a crane. If you didn't know, a crane costs around $350 an hour. In this way, much of Sarah's magic lies masking the sweat so we can focus on the sweet.

Afterwards, I went over to Scott & Erin's for dinner with the kids and their friend Sibyl. Sibyl made a spaghetti squash dish that rocked my socks off. Instead of pasta, the strands are squash... which really made it look like Sibyl is an incredibly accurate and meticulous vegetable chopper. She then revealed that it's just the nature of the squash, leading to my most profound food revelation since Mark Schofield introduced me to quinoa.

Then (yes there's more!), Erin, Charlie, Sibyl and I played Blockus, a game that Scott had only finally read the directions to the day before though they had the game for months. Especially since I started at BBBS three years ago, my interests in game play has skyrocketed, and this game was great in so many ways. First, it's simple, second it's challenging, third it's colourful. Towards the end, the grown ups were getting a bit absorbed in the game, which was bit too much Charlie's 5-year old psyche to handle, so there was a bit of a melt down... but man, that kid is wicked clever.

I read him a couple books to help him get to sleep. I've got to admit, reading a child to sleep has got to be one of the most therapeutic activities one can do.

In closing, in my last week of school I've seen old friends, met some choice new folks, explored the city, seen art, and started a book for fun (see the "Lately" section). These are the things I was pining for in my earlier post complaining of little new.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Court of History

In the face of overwhelming opposition, the Bush administration is fond of saying that history will vindicate them.

Today's NYTimes had an interesting article by Jim Robbins about terrorism, or at least treason in an earlier era. Let's consider a couple issues in light of this article: detainees at Guantanamo, and civilian wire taps under the rubric of the war on terror (which is not an enemy, but a tactic... good luck fighting that one... and declaring victory)

Through my daddy-o's interest in the NPL and the sedition act of 1918, I was interested to read Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana's posthumous pardon of three women and 75 men. Like today, the advocates for those men and women saw the charges were unfounded, and had less patriotic motives. From the article:

Clemens P. Work, who was conducting research for the book when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, said he had found the similarities between 2001 and 1918 to be eerie.
"The hair on the back of my neck stood up," Mr. Work said. "The rhetoric was so similar, from the demonization of the enemy to saying 'either you're with us or against us' to the hasty passage of laws."


The sedition law, which made it a crime to say or publish anything "disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous or abusive" about the government, soldiers or the American flag, was unanimously passed by the Legislature in February 1918. It expired when the war ended, Mr. Work said.
Those charged faced penalties of prison, death, and high fines, often ruled long after the war. So how does history view Governor Sam Stewart?
Blame should be laid at the feet of Governor Stewart, Mr. Work said. "In the last 100 days of his term, he commuted 50 sentences, including 13 murderers and 7 rapists," he said, "but not a single seditionist."
Forget about kids, history can be so cruel. Beware Mr. Bush, I'll wager that history will adopt my opinion of you, and it won't take 80 years. Even though it is pop journalism, the Rolling Stone article made for interesting reading.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wed with an Empire at Their Feet

Though it was back around Valentine's Day when they were wed there, my friends Lisa Hinshaw and Tam Nguyen were featured in yesterday's Daily News piece (picture and all!) on the the Empire State Building's 75th Anniversary.

Now they're expecting, will they have a story book birth in a cab?

I think it was covered in Metro or AM New York when it happened, but I never saw the article.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Boom Boom

No, not the incredible John Lee Hooker cut... but really two boom's.

After a couple weeks of missed calls and missed outings, Mitchell and I took a nice long bike ride. Over the Manhattan Bridge, through Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Heights and down into Red Hook, where we admired the Statue of Liberty and the New York harbor on a most beautiful day.

Then we heard two faint booms, and saw a dark cloud of smoke, more like the aftermath of a fire cracker than a continuous fire. We rode off to investigate, but it was clear that whatever happened was further away than it seemed.

So instead we had a super indulgent snack at
Schnack involving root beer floats, hot dogs and fries. It was Mitchell's first root beer float ever. The stereo was perfect for trying to teach Mitchell about headbanging and how to rock! He was skeptical... seeing it as a bit too weird and silly. I really felt like a parent out of touch with the aesthetics of kids.

This morning I read about the booms. Gothamist has more pics and a video.


In other news... Gretchen conveyed this funny story at her birthday party. In her spanish class, they were assigned to describe some one they know. Gretchen described me as being offended by the name
Banana Republic (and not shopping at the store), favoring colourful pants (I wore red linen to the party), and enjoying a drink (I had scotch & soda). Apparently her classmates were intrigued, and would like to meet me.