Monthly Archives: March 2007

Nine-banded satori

You know how it is when your whole life seems to have been the setup for a punchline, and then the Golden Moment arrives?

At Kripalu there’s this Labyrinth, a landscape construction involving spiraling pathways punctuated by items left by visitors, displaying intentions of various sorts (decipherable and otherwise), fairly obviously mystically inflected and semi-informed by various Traditions. Watches left as memento mori, keys as metaphors for… coins, rocks, pinecones… well, you get the idea:

Somebody has contributed a road-kill armadillo:
Now, this is western Massachusetts, and the nearest armadillo on the hoof is maybe Texas… so SOMEbody has to have brought this road-kill armadillo from maybe Texas, in order to commit it to its place in the Labyrinth. Setting aside the questions of why and with what mystical intention, we can ask the practical question

HOW was it brought?

And the answer leapt to my mind immediately:

It was brought
as carry-on

There. My life is now complete.

On for whom to Stand Up

Walt Whitman 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass:

All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the greatnesses are in conjunction in a man or woman it is enough … the fact will prevail through the universe … but the gaggery and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…

I ran across this passage in John Leland’s Hip: the history (picked up remaindered at the MIT Press bookstore 10 days ago), and the above is one of the several bits that resonate at the moment, as I consider that which passes through the mind in an environment of yogic concentration. I came here after 8 months of involvement with yoga, sort of wondering whither this is headed. There’s lots that I have no wish to be involved with (the Spiritual trappings, mostly: “take off your hat to nothing known or unknown”). Having been NOT a student of English or American Literature (at least not since high school), though I’ve read a lot at my own speed, I’m forever finding lacunae in my experience. Leaves of Grass is one such Yawning (Yawping?) Gap in my Education, and I alternate between the pleasures of adult discovery and the regret that my adolescent self wasn’t Exposed to those specific Heresies in the passage. On sober reflection, it’s pretty clear WHY my long-ago teachers suppressed that side of Whitman (“dismiss whatever insults your own soul” ? I don’t think so…).

And as for “every motion and joint of your body”, well, that’s what I’m working on, and it’s turning out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. The point of concentration for me personally is “have patience and indulgence toward the people”, working against what is for me the easy descent into Judgement of Others. I’m very interested to see what comes next…

The author, glimpsing himself in the mirror

I haven’t paid nearly enough attention to Italo Calvino, and it keeps coming back to bite me. My sister in law has an Inscription at the entry to her Library, from Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, and the sad fact that pretty much everybody but me was already familiar with it doesn’t diminish one bit my pleasure in having discovered it at last. Here it is, on the off chance that you don’t already know it:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning Top Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified,

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books by Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

All this simply means that, having rapidly glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter’s night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established.

You cast another bewildered look at the books around you (or, rather: it was the books that looked at you, with the bewildered gaze of dogs who, from their cages in the city pound, see a former companion go off on the leash of his master, come to rescue him), and out you went.

(see more, nicely bracketed by bits of text on both sides, via Frank Pajares’ lovely site)

My Man Bruce

I’m slightly surprised not to have seen much reference to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant this year. I listened to it today and (as usual) found bits of it apposite and provocative. Some good lines even if one doesn’t entirely agree, and/or hadn’t had occasion to think of it that way –a lot to chew on, follow up, explore in more detail. He’s a luvvim/hateim speaker, like Garrison Keillor in that respect (my spouse can’t abide GK, and knows it’s him within ONE syllable, and OFF goes the radio).

Here’s another way to experience Bruce (8:15, and worth it as an Example), and it (as object, and as Example) will make even more SENSE once you’ve listened to the soundbites below:

So on to the SXSW soundbites:

1. broadband eats everything …the old line guys are trying to live on artificial scarcity, pile up the DRM… (0:18)

2. the native Internet generation cares nothing for the proprieties of 20th century media (0:13)

3. you pitch Google and Wikipedia together, and it’s kind of game over for the 80s (0:32)

4. Reformulating the Four Worlds model to reflect new realities: (2:05)

First: global market world (make it in Shenzhen, ship it to…)
Second: governance at all levels
Third: commons-based peer production a new thing, growing fast with profound effects on general population
Fourth: disorder, parts of the world just falling off that don’t have any of this (fastest-growing part of the planet)

5. commons-based peer production more powerful than people give it credit for (0:30)

6. things that are businesses stop being businesses …CraigsList, the profession of journalism and the Global Precariate(1:39)

7. a new world of laptop gypsies, vulnerable to charlatans, ripoff artists, dunderheads, lynch mobs (0:19)

8. on artistic qualities: repurposing of Harry Potter characters, pastiche: Sow’s Ears aren’t Silk (0:48)

9. mashups in vogue, but a raw source of creativity? no musical staying power, pastiche, epiphenomenon (1:08)

10. Lev Manovich’s ‘Soft Cinema’, and powerful compositing tools in people’s hands (1:47)

11. need a new form of media criticism (0:50)

12. using the term ‘blog’…a passing thing? (0:08)

13. style of discourse: Dig This! (0:28)

14. spam as semiotic pollution, machine-generated robbery and gibberish (0:36)

15. broadcast tv as evil medium that debases (1:58)

16. conventional businesses melting like the Arctic (0:46)

There’s more… Go to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant for the link to the whole thing.

The Testosteronic Phallacy of Dominance and Control

Mud Time creates some bleak mindspaces, and Stephen Downes’ posting of yesterday afternoon Why the Semantic Web Will Fail can perhaps be read in this light. A few trenchant bits:

The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.
We are talking about the most conservative bunch of people in the world, people who believe in greed and cut-throat business ethics. People who would steal one another’s property if it weren’t nailed down. People like, well, Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch.
And they’re all going to play nice and create one seamless Semantic Web that will work between companies – competing entities choreographic their responses so they can work together to grant you a seamless experience?
Not a chance.

…The future is not in the Semantic Web (or in Java, or in enterprise computing – all for the same reason). Careers based on that premise will founder. Because the people saying all the semantic-webbish things – speak the same language, standardize your work, orchestrate the services – are the people who will shut down the pipes, change the standards, and look out for their own interests (at the expense of yours).

…The future of the web will be based on personal computing.
Not because everybody in the world is some sort of Ayn-Rand-close [?clone?] backstabbing money-grubbing leech.
But because there’s just enough of them – and they’re the one’s who tend to rise in business. And when they say “give me your data” (or “let me manage your money” or “base your career on my advice”) it’s merely a prelude to their attempting to take you to the cleaners.
If my online world depends on them – and in the Semantic Web, it would – then my online world will fail. Will be a house of cards that will eventually collapse.

I extract these pieces not as a substitute for Stephen’s whole argument, but to challenge you to read and consider the whole thing, with the wish that you’ll come up with something hopeful as an anodyne. But I’m afraid he’s right –and I’d been blithely thinking that it was government meddling that would end the Idyll, but no, it’s those Adamic Market Forces that are the real danger, underlain by their besetting sins of greed and venality, in the service of Interests. It’s a Guy Thing.

Who Knew? the Wet Pet Food Recall

Connoisseurs of the Baroque in the North American food system are surely slavering over the “pet food” scandal, but I have yet to see anybody commenting on the remarkable scale and concentration revealed. Here’s a bit of the San Jose Mercury News coverage:

The recall now covers dog food sold throughout North America under 51 brands and cat food sold under 40 brands, including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba. The food was sold under both store and major brand labels at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers. The recall covers the company’s “cuts and gravy” style food, which consists of chunks of meat in gravy, sold in cans and small foil pouches, from Dec. 3 to March 6…

So the North American market seems to run on what’s basically commodity pet food, despite the differences in labelling and price… and the Canadian Menu Foods seems to be a pretty big player. Here’s how summarizes:

Menu Foods Income Fund is a limited purpose trust established to hold approx. 51% of the partnership units of Menu Foods L. P., which will, in turn, acquire all the securities and assets of Menu Foods Ltd. Menu is a leading North American manufacturer of private-label wet pet food products, selling its products to supermarket retailers, mass merchandisers, pet specialty retailers and other retail and wholesale outlets. Menu currently produces more than 800 million containers of wet pet food per year and is focused on the manufacture and sale of premium private-label wet pet food products.

I saw a news story this morning suggesting that the Problem was thought to be in the wheat gluten used as a “filler”, and says that a Menu Foods spokesperson

…said that recalled products were made using wheat gluten purchased from a new supplier, a change that coincided with the onset of complaints about pet illnesses. Since discovering the problem, the company no longer uses that supplier and has instead turned to another source for its wheat gluten (but it is not yet known whether that ingredient was related to the reported pet illnesses).

I have yet to see a story about Senior Citizens made ill by eating pet food paté, but I’ll bet there will be one sometime soon…

Calder’s Odds and Sods

Remaindered at the MIT Press bookstore when I visited a week ago was Angus Calder‘s Gods, Mongrels, and Demons : 101 Brief But Essential Lives. The single Amazon reviewer pretty much pans it, but I disagree after a week-long acquaintance with many of the Brief Lives, and find Dave Hallsworth’s review much more congenial (“Today’s academics, whose knights and emblems have all fallen in the gutter, are unable to differentiate between odds and sods..”). The dust cover offers this additional description:

A compendious assemblage of oddballs, tinks, heidbangers, saints, keelies, nutters, philosophers, freaks & other personages, whether real, imaginary, legendary or mythical from Billy the Kid & Hedy Lamarr to the Scottish Queen of Morocco & Ludwig Witgenstein

Biography is pretty voyeuristic anyhow, so it might as well be entertaining. Most of Calder’s miniatures are 4-6 pages, but some are longer and some shorter –i.e., they’re ideal Bathroom Reading (a genre which ought to be better appreciated). They’ll provoke you into unexpected excursions: the Tricky Sam Nanton profile rekindled my interest in the fine structure of Ellington Orchestra pieces of the late 1930s, and the entry for Lee Miller reminded me of her remarkable WWII photographs and her collaboration with Man Ray [they developed solarisation, aka The Sabattier effect, seen in the middle image below]:
Gary Miller
…and there are lots of people one had never heard of, but is glad to have made acquaintance at last. Racier than Wikipedia (no requirement for neutrality), more British than American in sensibility and vocabulary (trying to discover the meaning of “keelies” led me to [which didn’t help], but it took my Chambers Scots Dictionary to point me to “street arabs, pickpockets” and the Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang to specify “an Edinburgh band of young blackguards, ca 1820”), and withal a lot of fun.