Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scenes from a Parade


  • A young woman wearing a t-shirt that says: "Torture is barbecue"
  • On Broadway a young man and woman playing catch with a sizeable dildo with a base shaped like a foot, such that I initially thought they were tossing a model of a human leg across the street in advance of the Pride parade. What can this mean?
  • Ronnie Kroell, late of Make Me a Supermodel, who on close inspection and in natural lighting actually looks as though he were first airbrushed and then lit by professionals.
  • Small clusters of fundamentalists, who look like they've all gone together to special stores to buy their clothes. They've also really gotten into those big Old Testament beards favored by the Afghans and the guys on the Luden's Cough Drop boxes. Pride parades without religious extremists are like Easter without malted milk balls: it would be more logical and straightforward, but would lack a certain traditional element that one remembers from childhood. There are, however, fewer each year.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Have You Read All These Books?"

I honestly hadn't expected to get this question, especially since my library is in three parts at the moment: 1)in my childhood bedroom, on double stacked shelves, 2)in my parents garage in a set of stacked wine crates and 3)in my current apartment. The only response I could think of was "yes, except for that one there." (pointing randomly)

Umberto Eco apparently gets this question on a regular basis, what with having a 30,000 volume library as of 1994 (I wonder how much it's grown in the past 14 years).

[For] people who possess a fairly sizable library (large enough in my case that someone entering our house can't help but notice it; actually, it takes up the whole place.), visitors enter and say, "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" At first I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiarity with books . . . but there is more to it than that. I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized by the anguish of learning and will inevitably lapse into asking the question that expresses his torment and his remorse.

In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. "I haven't read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?" But this is a dangerous answer, because it invites the obvious follow-up: "And where do you put them after you've read them?" The best answer is the one always used by Roberto Leydi: "And more, dear sir, many more," which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office," a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.

-Umberto Eco, "How to Justify a Private Library" in A Passion for Books
as quoted here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Makes Oil?

Kevin Kelly wisely chooses not to bet against bacteria.

Which means that Vinod Khosla's startup company may not be blowing smoke about its new discovery.

House Porn 4

David Ling has a house with a bed cantilevered over a waterfall. I, for my part, would tumble to the pool below if I had such a thing, but I love the deep blue color of the wall with the peeling paint.

David Ling has a house with a bed cantilevered over a waterfall. I, for my part, would tumble to the pool below if I had such a thing, but I love the deep blue color of the wall with the peeling paint.

Video at

Note the interesting eyeglass collection.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Seven Who Fled

One night in Mallorca, in November 1935, I had a wonderful dream. I stood in the middle of a desert and the mountains in the distance suddenly burst into flames, and then they hardened into a row of luminous pearls. I awoke in a fever of joy and stepped out on the veranda. The Bay of Alcudia was as black as the fur of a yak, and on the horizon seven fishing boats lay in the sea with their seven torches.
I haven't read this book for many long years but as I look back on it from what seems like an enormous distance, I see seven fishing boats with their torches floating on a sea which is black as the fur of a Tibetan yak.

--Frederic Prokosch, from the 1983 Introduction to The Seven Who Fled

I'm reading this on the recommendation of Harlan Ellison in one of his interviews. Prokosch was apparently a hugely popular writer in the 1930's with at least two bestsellers, but is now almost completely forgotten. I'd certainly never heard of him before. The book is embedded with these sort of jewel-like decriptions of the landscape, coupled with set of characterizations that are pre-modern, in the sense that the characterizations we see in silent movies are pre-modern: where the heroine is beautiful and yet overly curvaceous, where the hero's long blond hair comes loose and hides his face when he runs awkwardly (to our eyes, guided by college athletics and ergonomic shoes). The people dislike each other for reasons that don't quite match up with their actions. Their character is described a little to closely by race or nationality. Distant lands are described in terms that are currently reserved for other planets. In short, certain things are described in a shorthand that can't be read any longer, while other things for which we, in 2008, don't need to say are spelled out explicitly. It is for that reason and in that spirit that the book should be read, and read slowly, as Michael Ondaatje's English Patient said of Kipling, because it was written slowly, by hand.

What had happened was this.

There had recently been, all over Sinkiang, considerable disturbances. General Ma's army had swept bloodthirstily through the desert; the Tungans were still waging a truculent guerilla warfare against the provincial government; the Soviet government in the north had sent down its agent to Urumchi and Kashgar to support the Governor's forces. The cities, the towns, the tent-sprinkled plains, all rustled with distrust and detestation.

One day the Amban at Kashgar, a timorous, sedentary man, had petulantly issued orders that all Europeans leave the city. Meaning by that, of course, all Europeans whose motives appeared to him uncertain or unfamiliar. The officials made inquiries; the soldiers behaved impudently; the Amban wearily explained that orders from the Governor at Urumchi had to be obeyed. The atmosphere in the city grew hostile, full of glances, full of suspicious little whispers.

And so early one morning seven Europeans gathered at the il-smelling serai outside the poplar-lined walls of the old city and joined a small caravan that was starting eastward on a long journey toward Aqsu...

And what follows is the story of the disasters that befall them, singly or in pairs.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Friday night, walk over to Michael & Kirk's. The Californians are in from San Clemente, and we order pizza--$44 for two mediums seems awfully steep, no matter how many toppings are on them. Kirk makes us watch Kathy Griffin, so now I'm naturally addicted; previews of that real estate show with the OCD guy who worries about the temperature and exact composition of his Starbuck's mean I've got to watch that one too. Everybody tired from a late night the night before, or maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, do nothing around the house in anticipation of Ed the Fox News Outlet's party, except shave my beard into a pornstache. Ride out there with Eric & Liza and Mark the Shark. Eric shouts at people whose cars have broken down in the middle lane, thus stopping traffic for six miles. Trip out to Iowa takes two hours or more. We stop at the Oasis and I get a 64oz Diet Coke for $0.99. All the sizes are the same price. Weird. So I drink my lake of Coke slowly over the course of the evening and so cannot sleep on the two hour ride back. For some reason they've decided it would be an opportune time to shut Southbound 90 down to one lane for the evening, resulting in a 2AM return time. Ed & Gina produce a nutrition-free buffet on purpose; Gina regales us with stories about living in Alabama, where she was the only dinosaur-loving atheist in Church school. As a result, she ended up going to the swimming pool a lot that summer. Patrick gets the lead role in American Theater Company's production of Hedwig, and we all promise to go. He and Joshua wear coordinated red, white & blue vests for the evening. Joshua tells stories about working in the Rock & Roll show at Six Flags Louisville, where he got a taste of being famous for the twelve people who would show up on a regular basis with his name written on posters, bodyparts &c.

Today, I wake up too late for yoga again, and watch Lindsay Graham knock the stuffing out of Joe Biden on Meet the Press for no good reason. I notice a bunch of restaurants lately with "we don't think we have Salmonella-bearing tomatoes" disclaimers on the doors.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Polaroid a Day

Jamie Livingston took a Polaroid a day every day from March 31st 1979 until the day he died. 6,697 of them. Mental Floss has the story.


Lunch at a neighborhood cafe. Cheesesteak that's a little too dry served by a waitstaff that's a couple of people short.

That night I head out to see a band called Mucco Pazza at the Stan Mansion on Kedzie with Ed, Gina, Mark the Shark and a bunch of Gina's friends. A lot of interesting fashion choices and incomplete haircuts in the room. The band is a punk marching band with gypsy swing and early 20th c. classical influences (references to Shostakovich and Bartok, cheerleaders who chant about number theory). About 30 people on stage, when they're not playing from within the audience or on a balcony at the back or trumpeting out of the proscenium arch. A lot of short people keep pushing in front of me, and tall guys push in behind. Very loud, very hot.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Markos goes after the AP

The nitwittery has seriously pissed off Mr. Kos. Go get em, tiger.

House Porn 3

I've always wondered who owns this amazingly decorated house on Cedar Street.

George Soros on the Bubbling Economy

George Soros holds forth in McLean's. He makes the extremely valid point that even a moderate contraction in the credit market could result in a large, sustained economic downturn, and that market fundamentalism hasn't done well by us lately (or ever).

Behind the housing bubble, there’s a super bubble which has been growing for the last 25 years. Every bubble has an element of reality and an element of fantasy, of misinterpretation. The reality has been a trend of ever-increasing use of credit, of credit expansion. The misconception is that markets tend toward equilibrium and can be left to their own devices, to take care of their excesses. In the boom phase, it’s very pleasant because you enjoy credit creation and, with that, comes wealth creation. In the bust phase, it’s very unpleasant because you have credit contraction, a reduction of leverage, a decline in the value of collateral, etc. and that involves wealth destruction.

Herr Doktor Professor Karl Popper also gets a guest reference, in a question on the interaction between freedom and empirical reality:

Q: You argue that freedom of thought doesn’t mitigate the misconception problem—that is, that an open society can’t produce a perfect market. Does it actually do the opposite?

A: It’s a somewhat different issue. I discovered a misconception in my own ideal of open society, which I kind of took over from Karl Popper. We all took it for granted that the purpose of critical thinking is to improve our understanding of reality. That’s the cognitive function. Then there’s this manipulative function, which is to change reality to meet your own desires, to influence people in a way that they’ll follow you. Politics is dominated by the manipulative function. You can’t take it for granted that critical thinking will give you a better understanding of reality. What you took for granted, you have to introduce as a requirement. I’m not abandoning open society at all; I’m just taking another step in what is necessary to bring about a well-functioning open society.

America, because of the adversarial, competitive nature of the political and economic system has really lost sight of the importance of understanding reality.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday I wandered around the Old Town Art Fair(s) with Kirk, Karen and Kate. Too much sun, rather than too hot, resulting in the necessity of an extended afternoon nap. Read Full Circle in one sitting while listening to Joni Mitchell, who sounds like California and always will.

Sunday, up at 5AM to hear the wind howling past for half an hour, followed by a short burst of rain and cooler weather. Fall asleep on the couch and miss yoga. Long phone call with Mom & Dad for Father's Day.

The Quotable Me

"The first child resembles the father, the second child resembles the mother, and the third child resembles me."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Writers Interview Roundup

William Gibson interviewed by io9.

Douglas Coupland's descriptions of Vancouver circa City of Glass are closest to my sense of the place. It's hemmed in and separated from the rest of the world by an ocean, a border, mountains. And then there's the unknown and incomprehensible north. Vancouver sits there, insulated to some extent, but picking up influences from across the ocean and across the border. The signals seem to be amplified by those symbolic barriers. Psychogeographically, I identify with greater Vancouver more than I do with the rest of Canada, which I have a fondness for and good feelings for. Vancouver's peculiar culture feels like home.

I like it because I grew up in a really extreme monoculture in southwestern Virgina. I was surrounded by Southern white folks – this was in badass Appalachia, up in the hollers where my mother's family had been forever. Having that experience in a small town made me happiest in big cities. Especially in radically multicultural big cities – as far as you can get from monoculture. I'm happiest where people are generally not even of recognizable ethic derivations. I'm into hybrid vigor.

Canada is set up to run on steady immigration. It feels like a twenty first century country to me because it's not interested in power. It negotiates and does business. It gets along with other countries. The power part is very nineteenth century. 99 percent of ideology we have today is very nineteenth century. The twentieth century was about technology, and the nineteenth was ideology.

And Gore Vidal in the Independent on family, feuds and fame.

As a 10-year-old, Gore appeared in a Pathé newsreel, landing a light aircraft. How did that feel? "Great. I was the most famous kid in the United States. That was 1936." He points to a dresser covered with small framed photographs. "There's a picture of my father."

"He looks like a film star."

"He was like a film star. He was the most famous college athlete in the history of the United States. A quarterback at West Point. He won a silver medal in the Olympic Games of 1924. In the 43 years that I knew him, we never quarrelled once, and we never agreed on anything."

His father's picture is towards the back of the display. Most prominently positioned is an image of a young woman with tousled hair, a mischievous grin, and great vitality: a tomboy with Katharine Hepburn cheekbones.

"Amelia Earhart," Vidal says.

"You can see courage in those eyes." "You can."

"Didn't she have a fling with your father?"

"She had more than that. I said to him, "Why didn't you marry her?' This was after she went down in the Pacific in 1936. They'd set up three airlines together." Even now, more than seven decades later, there is emotion in his voice. "He said: 'I have never really wanted to marry another boy.' And she was like a boy."

...He has recalled [his mother] telling him, for instance, that rage made her orgasmic ("I forgot to ask her if sex ever did") and remarking that she was born only "because my mother's douche bag broke". Nina also informed him how, on the way to their honeymoon, his father had told her: "'There's something very important I want you to know.' I was so excited. He's going to tell me he loves me. But he didn't. Instead, he said: 'I have three balls.'" According to Vidal, his father "was in all the medical books".

Sounding Rooms

The always great BLDG BLOG has a series of posts on hidden rooms, including this one, discussing Allen Fea's book. Nice set of comments as well. Apparently, the dream of finding new rooms in one's house is a common one, particularly among city dwellers. Likewise, the theosophists used to say that this was one of the first signs that you were doing some astral travel while lucid dreaming, and that the extra spaces were the result of the psychic space being a mirror of the physical or vice versa.

I used to have dreams about finding "extra" rooms behind the registers, and "extra" roads, usually dirt roads, lined by trees and elaborate, looming houses which appeared between existing hedgerows near my house.

This was probabaly touched off in part due to the fact that there was an entire extra row of lots that ran behind one of my friends' houses, one of which contained the single spookiest house in the neighborhood. Made of nasty, rotted-looking brown wood, abandoned and half ruined, surounded by burnt out grass and weeds. We could just see into the property whilst perched in a crabapple tree at the edge of my friend's back yard, with the partial obscurity offered by the branches adding to the uncanny feeling, as if we were stalking the house through the savannah. We used to take turns telling each other hair-raising stories about the place (axe murderers, Amityville-style demonic possession, crazed drug-fiend cultists and bloodthirsty ghosts made star appearances). The object was to make someone completely freak out and lose their nerve for staring at the place.

After a few years, someone knocked the thing down and landscaped it into a backyard garden with azaleas and a water feature, completely oblivious to the fact that they were planting their ground cover on top of a gateway to HELL!!!

I think every neighborhood should be furnished with a derelict building vibrating with the uncanny for the purpose of edification and atmospheric enhancement for the young people.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dr. Chemex

I feel cheap and tawdry when I use links from boingboing or kottke, but sometimes they're too good to pass up, like this article from Gourmet Magazine on the inventor of the Chemex coffee maker.

“He loved to drink and he loved to eat,” says Roy Doty, a cartoonist who was a friend of the late inventor, “so going out for dinner with Dr. Schlumbohm was a horrifying experience.” Guests were treated to epic all-night food crawls in his huge Cadillac Coupe De Ville, which he pimped out with built-in shades and a solid-gold Chemex coffee maker bolted to the driver’s door. (When he traded in his car every two years, he removed the golden amulet and set it on the newer, larger model.) Like many German immigrants, Schlumbohm felt at home in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, once a stronghold of German restaurants and coffee shops. He drove his guests up into the 80s, handed anyone loitering near the area a ten-dollar bill to watch the car, and then marched in for his first course. Soon, they all piled back into the car and moved on to the next joint. “Eventually,” says Doty, “you’d be somewhere eating streusel with him and by that time it was two or three in the morning.” But three in the morning was nothing to Schlumbohm, who surrounded himself with fellow night owls and often made calls around that time to discuss his newest ideas.

When he did return home, it was, unsurprisingly, to a bachelor penthouse on 5th Avenue—a peeping Tom’s paradise overlooking Greenwich Village, with thousands of dollars worth of binoculars dangling from the windows, and ice buckets stocked with perpetually chilling German beers and wines at the front door for visitors. “He loved women, Dr. S., and women loved him,” says Doty.

The Puzzle Box Apartment

Eric Clough and a team of (sometimes unpaid) artists and artisans built a luxury apartment embedded with secrets:

[S]ome of that furniture and some of those walls conceal secrets — messages, games and treasures — that make up a Rube Goldberg maze of systems and contraptions conceived by a young architectural designer named Eric Clough,
whose ideas about space and domestic living derive more from Buckminster Fuller than Peter Marino.

The apartment even comes with its own book, part of which is a fictional narrative that recalls “The Da Vinci Code” (without the funky religion or buckets of blood) and “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” the children’s classic by E. L. Konigsburg about a brother and a sister who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discover — and solve — a mystery surrounding a Renaissance sculpture. It has its own soundtrack, too, with contributions by Kate Fenner, a young Canadian singer and songwriter...

Photos Here

And also Here, in case the NYT loses its mind.

Habeas Corpus: Back from the Dead

Despite the best efforts of the Bush Administration, Habeas Corpus is back. The Guantanamo Bay terror suspects have constitutional rights, and should have their day in court. A Supreme Court ruling is the best way for this right to be affirmed--it confirms its place in the Constitution, which a repeal of the previous terror law would not have done. All in all, a good day for the American system of justice.

Still, as a 5-4 ruling, this points out the importance of getting some youthful liberal (or at least centrist) types on the Court. Subtext: Obama'd better win.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sebastian in High Style

"It's better to live your life like an open book...sometimes it's open to the wrong page"

Friday, out to the MCA with Ed, Gina and Mark for the Jeff Koons exhibit and First Fridays. Then, off to Luxbar in the Viagra Triangle for some Urban Cougar observation, take some time to glue myself together, then off to Minibar where I run into Jarrod and Bryan on their last day before Google, rejoin the MCA crowd, and end up at Sidetrack

Saturday, too wiped out for Bluesfest. Recover, head out to Jason's B-day tour at Cocktail, then Minibar again. Am described as "really solid".

Friday, June 06, 2008

Erland Ellisunk

Speaking of the AV Club, they've got a new interview up with Harlan Ellison (the man the myth the legend). I love the fact that Harlan made a cameo in Gay Talese's Frank Sinatra has a Cold, and almost gets the shit beaten out of him.

Update: Part 2 now available

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More on The Fall

The Onion AV Club has a lengthy interview with Tarsem on The Fall:

So I said that to the actors, the moment I met them on the set. I just said, "Here, I am your puppet. I will create the best atmosphere for you, and you tell me if anything is intrusive. You'll never get a situation like this, except when—" What [David] Fincher calls very lazy filmmaking, and I agree, is when you just put lights out there, go telephoto, shoot 10 cameras, throw it together—actors love that, 'cause they can be natural from far away. I had unfortunately chosen a style in which the camera was in your face. It was very Yasujiro Ozu, it was very static. I just said, "Nothing should move. Nothing should come and save me. If the situation's not working, I want to be screwed."

Unfortunately, the handheld, really gritty-shitty look is perceived as realism. In that style, I find that you can make a cupboard act. You shoot an ad and the actor is dreadful, so you just pick up the camera and shake it around, and then suddenly it looks like the actor can act. It separates boys from men, when people are sitting in the camera stand just observing. Instead, I picked a worst-case scenario by putting the camera up close.

On the other hand, I said "The moment we go on location, you will be my puppets."

There were a lot of unique talents on this movie. For one, Lee Pace delivers multiple performances simultaneously, including convincing cast and crew that he was actually a paralyzed actor playing a bedridden stuntman. He did this so effectively that he wasn't recognized when he walked around at the gym off set.

For another, Eiko Ishioka delivers amazing, operatic costumes for the fantasy seqences, as she did for The Cell. The costumes together with the sets and the props? art installations? by art director Ged Clarke to build the fantasy sequences of the film.

Thirdly, the lab that printed the film did an amazing job, producing Baraka-like levels of color saturation:

there's a guy called Lionel Kopp who used to run a lab in France that I absolutely adore. And he has a lot to do with this particular one. Because I went in with specific paintings, pigmented early color photographs from Russia, and blah blah and say "There's an aesthetic and a technique that has to get in here." If it was easy to do this kind of stuff, hey, everyone would hire relatives. It's not. And this guy really has an aesthetic that I absolutely adore and trust. So I was in Paris with him all the time. And when we had to set the look, I would just tell him stuff and he'd achieve it. It was difficult technically sometimes. But aesthetically, you know, I had a look in mind and had to achieve it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Same People

Anna Quindlen on the California Gay Marriage Decision: Love Won

(and soon it won't be a big deal, at all)

Lotsa Things Could Happen

Fafblog calls it: "By the time a the Democratic National Convention only one delegate still supports Hillary Clinton. His name? Jesus."

Chicago: City of the Year

According to Fast Company:

The real Chicago isn't so easy to keep up with. It's constantly reinventing itself. Jumpy. Agitated. Impatient. It's as if the place is trembling. Move aside. Don't linger. And if you're going to dawdle, get out of the way. But what any Chicagoan will also tell you is that the past is very much present. It doesn't go away. It shouldn't. In fact, that's Chicago's lure and its beauty: its ability to take what was and figure out what could be.

Chicago has given America social investing and the stories of Stuart Dybek and Aleksander Hemon. It has been greening itself since long before it became trendy, and it has been dancing, too -- this is the home of house music, Wilco, and Lupe Fiasco. Here, in the birthplace of the American skyscraper, Santiago Calatrava is redefining the form with his Spire, while at the Art Institute, Renzo Piano is building a $300 million addition. The economy is growing faster than New York's or L.A.'s. And one of Chicago's own, who arrived in the 1980s and, in the tradition of the great rabble-rouser Saul Alinsky, took a job community organizing, has made a shockingly viable run for president, despite everyone telling him he was too inexperienced. Early in his campaign, Barack Obama told supporters, "I try to explain to people, I may be skinny but I'm tough. I'm from Chicago."

I agree, it's the energy of the place that really makes Chicago different. You come back afraid that you missed something while you were away.