Monday, December 31, 2007
In fact, there seems to be an organic growth to the clichés, but back in the day, one would be more apt to give back and throw under the bus these mindless repetitions. Of course, one can shrug it off by thinking 'it is what it is' and continue language decimation armed with these fickle few phrases, but I hope to stop.
All of the words underlined above have been labeled as some of the worst used (or should I say overused) clichés of 2007. Choosing from among 2,000 submissions, the public relations department at Michigan's Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie targeted 19 singular affronts to the English language. Some of them underlined above…
Here goes: My first resolution – stop using clichés like the above – lets see how long that sticks…
Happy New Year!
Just about everybody is creating lists of their own. Not to be outdone, I decided to give it a try. Nothing spectacular like the list of celebrities who seem to have had wardrobe malfunctions (either of their own volition or not), but this is a list of magazine essays that were deemed some of the best of 2007. This list is a selection among the many that David Brooks of the New York Times recommends. I read almost all of the essays over the last five days and every one of them is worth a read – even if you print it out and read it on your way home from work…
Roger Stone, Political Animal by Matt Labash in the Weekly Standard
"Some original, some borrowed, Stone's Rules address everything from fashion to food to how to screw people. And one of his favorite Stone's Rules is "Unless you can fake sincerity, you'll get nowhere in this business." He is honest about his dishonesty. "Politics with me isn't -theater," he admits. "It's performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake." "
The Evolution of an Investor by Michael Lewis in Portfolio
"Blaine’s training at Lehman consisted of a monthlong class, which focused mainly on overcoming customers' objections, and a close reading of the bible on how to peddle stocks to people you've never met: Successful Telephone Selling in the '80s, co-written by a Lehman managing director named Martin Shafiroff."
- A well-planned presentation creates a sense of urgency. If the prospect fails to act now, he will risk a loss of some sort.
- Speak with confidence and authority.
- The most important part of the presentation is the close.
The Story of a Snitch by Jeremy Kahn in the Atlantic
"He ambled past the massive Board of Education building, with its columns, and headed down North Avenue to Greenmount Cemetery. There he turned left, passing the abandoned row houses where the “corner boys” were already opening for business, hoping to find a junkie in need of a morning fix. Farther on, past still-shuttered hair salons and check-cashing outfits, he turned down East 24th toward Bartlett. Just after seven o’clock, he reached his front porch and called out for his girlfriend, Yolanda, to let him in. Then he sensed something behind him..."
Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News by Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin in the Commentary Magazine
"Over the course of the preceding three decades, Bennett wrote, the United States had indeed experienced “substantial social regression.” About this, the data were unequivocal. Since 1960, there had been a more than 500-percent increase in violent crime; a more than 400-percent increase in out-of-wedlock births; almost a tripling in the percentage of children on welfare; a tripling of the teenage suicide rate; a doubling of the divorce rate; and a decline of more than 70 points in SAT scores. To Bennett, the conclusion was inescapable: “the forces of social decomposition [in America] are challenging—and in some instances overtaking—the forces of social composition.”
A death in the family: Politics and Power by Christopher Hitchens in the Vanity Fair
"Having volunteered for Iraq, Mark Daily was killed in January by an I.E.D. Dismayed to learn that his pro-war articles helped persuade Daily to enlist, the author measures his words against a family's grief and a young man's sacrifice."
There and Back Again - The soul of the commuter by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker
"The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory at least), commute even though it makes them miserable."
Everybody Sucks: Gawker and the rage of the creative underclass by Vanessa Grigoriadis in the New York magazine
"Journalists are both haves and have-nots. They’re at the feast, but know they don’t really belong—they’re fighting for table scraps, essentially—and it could all fall apart at any moment. Success is not solid. Consider the Gawker mind-fuck at a time of rapid deterioration of our industry: Young print journalists are depressed over the state of the industry and their inability to locate challenging work or a job with health insurance."
The Immigration Charade by Christopher Jencks in the New York Review of Books
"Certain poll questions suggest that 69 percent of Americans want to deport illegal immigrants. Others indicate the true figure is only 14 percent. Conservatives, having learned from past failures, demand “enforcement first.” Employers, fearing bankruptcy, demand the legalization of the current immigrants first. Neither powerful group will budge."
Moral Psychology and the misunderstanding of Religion by Jonathan Haidt in The Edge
"Our brains, like other animal brains, are constantly trying to fine tune and speed up the central decision of all action: approach or avoid. We have affectively-valenced intuitive reactions to almost everything, particularly to morally relevant stimuli such as gossip or the evening news. Reasoning by its very nature is slow, playing out in seconds. Studies of everyday reasoning show that we usually use reason to search for evidence to support our initial judgment, which was made in milliseconds."
Creative Destruction's Reconstruction: Joseph Schumpeter Revisited by J. Bradford Delong in The Chronicle
"But as fascinating as his life was, it is Schumpeter's economics that sing to me, because he tried to set long-term economic growth — entrepreneurship and enterprise — at the top of the discipline's agenda.
Over the previous two and a half centuries, three different economic worldviews, in succession, reigned. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Adam Smith's was the key economic perspective, focusing on domestic and international trade and growth, the division of labor, the power of the market, and the minimal security of property and tolerable administration of justice that were needed to carry a country to prosperity. You could agree or you could disagree with Smith's conclusions and judgments, but his was the proper topical agenda.
The second reign was that of David Ricardo and Karl Marx. Their preoccupations dominated the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They worried most about the distribution of income and the laws of the market that made it so unequal. They were uneasy about the extraordinary pace of technological, organizational, and sociological change, and about whether an ungoverned market economy could produce a distribution of income — both relative and absolute — fit for a livable world. Again, you could agree or disagree with their judgments about trade, rent, capitalism, and machinery, but they asked the right questions.
The third reign was that of John Maynard Keynes. His agenda dominated the middle and late 20th century. Keynes's theories centered on what economists call Say's Law — the claim that except in truly exceptional conditions, production inevitably creates the demand to buy what is produced. Say's Law supposedly guaranteed something like full employment, except in truly exceptional conditions, if the market was allowed to work. Keynes argued that Say's Law was false in theory, but that the government could, if it acted skillfully, make it true in practice. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, Keynes was in any case right to focus on the central bank and the tax-and-spend government to supplement the market's somewhat-palsied invisible hand to achieve stable and full employment.
But there ought to have been a fourth reign, for there was a set of themes not sufficiently explored. That missing reign was Schumpeter's, for he had insights into the nature of markets and growth that escaped other observers. It is in that sense that the late 20th and early 21st centuries in economics ought to have been his: He asked the right questions for our era."
The Abduction of Opera by Heather Mac Donald in the City Journal
"Welcome to Regietheater (German for “director’s theater”), the style of opera direction now prevalent in Europe. Regietheater embodies the belief that a director’s interpretation of an opera is as important as what the composer intended, if not more so. By an odd coincidence, many cutting-edge directors working in Europe today just happen to discover the identical lode of sex, violence, and opportunity for hackneyed political “critique” in operas ranging from the early Baroque era to that of late Romanticism.
The Abduction from the Seraglio is a humorous tale of the capture of a group of Europeans by a Turkish pasha, who tries to win the love of one of them; Mozart lavishes joyful, driving rhythms—led by piccolo, triangle, and cymbals—on its Turkish themes, and adds a rich lode of elegant solos, particularly for tenor. Bieito transferred the Abduction to a contemporary Eastern European brothel and translated the dignified pasha of Mozart’s sadly irrelevant tale into the brothel’s sick pimp overseer. To give the production’s explicit sadomasochistic sex an even greater frisson of realism, Bieito hired real prostitutes off the streets of Berlin to perform onstage. Needless to say, neither the streetwalkers nor the whippings, masturbation, and transvestite bondage are anywhere suggested in Mozart’s opera. In one representative moment, the leading soprano, Constanze—who has already suffered digital violation during a poignant lament—is beaten and then held down and forced to watch as the pasha’s servant, Osmin, first forces a prostitute to perform fellatio on him and then gags the prostitute and slashes her to death. Osmin hands the prostitute’s trophy nipples to Constanze, who by then is retching."
Friday, December 28, 2007
The assertions are as follows:
#1. First off, there’s the implication that artists, like lawyers, doctors and dentists, need a license to practice. Many artists already feel the need for a license: It’s called a master of fine arts. But artists don’t need licenses or certificates or permission to do their work. Their job description, if they have one, is to operate outside accepted limits.
#2. Second is the implication that an artist, like a doctor, lawyer or dentist, is trained to fix some external problem. Art rarely succeeds when it sets out to fix anything beyond the artist’s own, subjective needs.
#3. Practice sanitizes a very messy process. It suggests that art making is a kind of white-collar activity whose practitioners don’t get their hands dirty, either physically or emotionally. It converts art into a hygienic desk job and signals a basic discomfort with the physical mess as well as the unknowable, irrational side of art making. It suggests that materials are not the point of art at all — when they are, on some level, the only point.
While #1 and #3 are very much agreeable, I questioned #2 over at Art and Perception in a post yesterday. Link to the post here.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Lighting up is great for the mood, spirits and the festive times that December and the New Year bring, but a silly profusion of any good is an easy road to cheap excesses and that is the current state of suburban lawns today. Of course, adding to the confusion in the night is the scene that greets passers-by in the morning - large carcasses of white nylon casings that seem to billow all over the lawn shorn of their air filling (I am guessing it is air that they use to pump those huge effigies of Santa and Homer doing things to inanimate objects that cannot be written about here) and generally making a mess of the whole lawn. Yesterday, we noticed a nylon-based Ferris wheel that actually dwarfed the house that put up the abomination and had me convinced into thinking that Barnum and Bailey were in town. Honestly, I did not mean to do a Debbie here, but if this is not a lit up neon-sign of our growing trade deficit with China, then I am not too sure what is... Closer scrutiny of any of the cardboard cartons that these things come packed in would doubtless tell you three magic words that large scale retailers sing before falling asleep – ‘Made in China’. It almost looks like we are celebrating China’s expertise in capitalist acumen than Christmas and New Year.
I really do not have anything against a bit of lighting in front of homes, in fact every year we do it zealously. It lifts spirits and spreads the good cheer that comes with Christmas and New Year. But, a surfeit of lights, sparkle and gas filled monstrosities might be a little too much on the eyes - not to mention that looming trade deficit.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Wired magazine reported on research conducted by Glenn Albrecht – an Australian professor of environmental studies at the University of Newcastle – on how pockets of population in the Australian outback are psychologically reacting to the growing denudement of the forests, changing landscapes and the exploited outback around them. His research concludes – and frighteningly so – that peoples as a whole are starting to feel sadder – a new type of sadness – of displacement similar to the feelings felt by indigenous populations when they were moved forcibly or otherwise from their original lands. His research indicates that familiar markers of landscape are changing so fast that even over a period as short as a lifetime, humans are starting to acutely feel and experience the psychological effects that result from a loss of once familiar environs. The change in ones immediate environment is manifesting itself in familiar neural signal pathways from our sensory organs to the brain being distorted and re-wired – resulting in a mental tension and a sadness that is slowly gaining over peoples the world over. He has created a new word to describe this syndrome – solastalgia (a linguistic mash-up from ‘solacium’ meaning comfort and ‘algia’ meaning pain). The word seems to eerily bring up references to nostalgia and the feeling he describes seems to be close to nostalgic – ‘a pining for a lost environment’ or a ‘form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home’…
This morning, we waited for the sun,
our son and I,
him, with a minor infection,
me, a balancing act.
We parsed the grays,
tried giving life to forms,
even leavened the wisps.
The clouds did not listen.
The trees at the edge
were nude from the wind,
contrasted lightning skywards.
Solidity a testament.
Our window small,
the moment brief,
our symphony short.
In the dawn’s slow march.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
From the gallery website comes this interesting excerpt:
"According to government statistics, an estimated one million people in India are manual scavengers (the majority are women) whose work involves the removal of human faeces from public and private latrines and open sewers. Unofficial estimates of the actual number are much higher. Scavengers clean public latrines on a daily basis, using a broom and a tin plate. Human faeces are piled into baskets carried on the head to a location that can be up to four kilometres away from the latrines. At all times, and especially during the rainy season, the content of the basket will drip onto a scavenger's hair, clothes and body. The continuous exposure to dirt and human faeces, coupled with poor living conditions, make people employed as manual scavengers vulnerable to serious illnesses, amongst which tuberculosis is the most common. Despite various governmental acts that prohibit the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry, non-flush toilets, this practice is still common throughout the country".
This reminds me of a show we went to in Princeton that showed the untouchable’s sordid situation minus the faecal matter. It was enjoyable, direct and engaging – although my wife who had recently given birth to our second son decided that it was too depressing…
I am glad that the arts are functioning as a mouthpiece towards drawing attention to little known aspects of the currently roaring Indian tiger, but I fear that by using excrement, there is a tendency to overly sensationalize the situation rather than help it in any way – but then in today’s world, the loudest, most boorish ones are the ones who get noticed anyways. Ultimately the sincerity of the artist in drawing attention to the issue may only be judged by meeting the individual – which I have not – so until then, I reserve judgment on the sensationalist aspects and am just happy to note that artists are spotlighting some of the lesser known aspects of the country I am from…
Funny enough, as I was reading about this, another famous 'faeces-as-art' scene came to my mind. In 1961, Piero Manzoni defecated into 90 small cans, signed and sealed them and then priced each can based on its weight pegged to an equivalent quantity of gold. It is reported that the cans are in various art collections all over the world. It is also reported that many of the cans have also exploded - expanding gases in closed spaces... None of that is of worry here - the gallery has taken a lot of pains to explain that the faecal modules are super clean and sanitary...
- The Guardian covers the exhibition well here.
- Article in the National Geographic on Dalits:
- Human Rights Watch. “Caste Discrimination: A Global Concern.”
Yesterday we sang hosannas to the theory of evolution when a team of scientists led by a professor from Texas (University of Texas at Austin) found evidence of tuberculosis in early migrating humans as they made their slow trek from their African cradle of civilization to slowly populate the various corners of the earth. One of the fallouts from this slow evolution and the resulting favorable mutations and natural selections that followed were the development of favorable skin colors that helped them best adapt to their particular environment.
Not to be outdone, there is news today that in the same state of Texas, the higher education panel of this august state has approved for opening an Institute for Creation Research.
Yes, we did talk about the creation museum in Kentucky on Simplistic some time back, but this Texan institution goes a step further towards trying to legitimize the creation fallacy - in the name of giving out master’s degree in science education. I am not too sure when science and creationism crept into the same bed, but here in this institute they cozy up even further...
Some useful information on the website of the institute:
All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week. The harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us.
There is more in the dean's letter extorting prospective candidates to join up:
Thank you for considering the masters degree in Science Education at ICR as you prayerfully seek God's counsel regarding your place of service in His Kingdom. Our calling is to partner with students who are committed to a view of science and education that is not restricted to naturalistic processes and who have the zeal and self-discipline required to excel in an environment that is both rigorous and rewarding.
Of course, there is a certain school which believes that the instant you touch your photographic images with any software tools, you pollute the concept and the resulting image is not worth its salt. This may be true for images produced in scientific journals, but does not seem to hold true for a lot of amateur photographers (and some professional – especially folks who cover the news) who have clearly started to use these tools. Tell-tale signs are visible to a practiced eye and even if I do not claim too much practice myself, I did notice a couple of photography shows down in Chelsea where the images were clearly manipulated to suit the subject or the theme. Personally, I do not think there is anything sinful about manipulating an image. It is just that the chemical laced manipulations laboriously done inside that makeshift and cramped darkroom can now be done fairly easily in front of a computer. Of course, historically, 'more effort' is sometimes perceived as being 'more original' and the darkroom based morphs of yore were definitely heavy lifting.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The theory goes something like this. The original human beings evolved around the regions below the Horn of Africa. It is now believed that most of the original humans were very dark skinned. The dark skin gave them protection against the intense ultraviolet radiation from the African sun. (Light is absorbed lesser by dark colours than lighter colours and hence blocked the harmful UV better...) Again the dark skin was purely an artifact of evolution rather than a random colour assigned by forces beyond comprehension. By and by, the proto humans migrated out of the horn of Africa, following the Red Sea all the way taking a route along modern day Palestine, onto Syria, then Turkey and the vast beyonds... As they moved north, the sun became less bright, the climes colder and the vegetation less tropical. As it turns out, the explorers found that their dark skins were now an impediment rather than a blessing. The cause lay with the synthesis of vitamin D (Vitamin D is produced photochemically in the epidermal layer of skin and is not available freely in nature)... The less intense sun could not penetrate the darker skinned migrants and a lot of them found themselves depleted of vitamin D. Reduction in vitamin D leads to a weakened immune response to bacteria’s and for the Leptomeningitis tuberculosa bacterium (the one that causes a special form of tuberculosis), the migrants were a choice prospect to infect. Many migrant ran afoul of the bacterium and a chance few who had the odd mutation that resulted in lighter skin colour escaped (the lighter skin colour meant more vitamin D synthesis that resulted in a stronger immune response and a proportionately higher resistance to diseases like tuberculosis and the like). The random genetic mutations that resulted in the now favorable light skin started to build up as the migrants and their generations started settling in lands farther north. Of course, many, many more mutations will pass before we get to the cornucopia of human skin colours today, but in a nutshell, this is a leading theory that is gaining grounds in an attempt to explain the diversity of skin colours that we see around us…
The findings are reported in the current issue of The American Journal of Physical Anthropology (abstract here) by a team of American, Turkish and German researchers. The researchers have maintained that the new evidence “permits us to speculate that a case of TB was exacerbated by the reduced level of ultraviolet radiation encountered during the expansion of a low-latitude population of dark-skinned Homo into temperate Turkey.”
Again, all this is speculation, but the case is gaining ground and becoming stronger… Further research into the scattered bones of our ancestors along the ancient migration routes will surely settle this argument. I wonder what Dr. Watson, who is now famous for his macaca type slurs would have to say…
The first shows a girl on her 9th birthday dancing near her family's home that straddles one of the biggest garbage dumps in the world. The sofa ostensibly is part of the rubbish.
The second image (which actually won the competition) shows a married couple from Afghanistan. Mohammed, the husband, is a mature 40 years and Ghulam, his wife, is 11. More related news here.
Photographed by Stephanie Sinclair
James Gorman in the NY Times
Friday, December 14, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Exhibit one is an installation piece consisting of about 450 feet of PVC tubing connecting pumps, intermediary equipment and oil barrel containing crude oil. The tubing snakes its way all around the gallery floor, ceiling and rafters and is crowned with a light box that projects the moments before Saddam's execution. The smell of crude is overpowering yet strangely mesmerizing (they seem to have used sweet crude as opposed to the sour crude which has higher percentages of sulphides and is supposed to smell like rotten eggs). The message is fairly clear - the invasion and the execution of Saddam seems to have been driven by one thing and only one - the stuff that flows silently in the PVC plumbing in the gallery space. I must say it was a little too much for me in its reality and starkness - maybe that is what the artist wanted.
Exhibit two is a little more ironic and is a humorous word play that is sinister in its overtones. Two panels, one containing the Sotheby’s description of the infamous Jeff Koon’s 'Hanging heart' exhibit and a second panel that contains subverted/substituted text from the first in a humorous yet meaningful way.
The original text reads as follows:
There is an enormous amount of excitement in the Sotheby's building at the moment because we are able to realize one of the most important works by Jeff Koons Hanging Heart. It looks like it came from out of space. It has an absolute surreality about it, for you almost think that it cannot be so perfect. The hanging heart was part of a celebrations series that was conceived in 1994 but it took Koons an enormous amount of time to make, because he was so obsessive about perfection. The technical requirements of realizing this work were so complex and so involved that he postponed, and postponed and postponed it. When we finally saw it, it was like going to Santa's workshop, one of the biggest moments Sotheby's had for hanging out a work of art was hoping that the emotions would bring out this incredible 'whoa'. -- Sotheby's, November 2007
Now the substitution:
There is an enormous amount of excitement in the White House at the moment because we are able to realize one of the most important works by G.W. Bush - hanging Saddam. It looks like it came from out of space. It has an absolute surreality about it, for you almost think that it cannot be so perfect. The hanging heart was part of a celebrations series that was conceived in 1994 but it took Bush an enormous amount of time to make, because he was so obsessive about perfection. The technical requirements of realizing this work were so complex and so involved that he postponed, and postponed and postponed it. When we finally saw it, it was like going to Santa's workshop, one of the biggest moments Bush had for hanging Saddam was hoping that the emotions would bring out this incredible 'whoa'. -- Copycats, November 2007
Of course, the text also included an obligatory pair of PVC hearts that suspiciously looked like it had been filled with some more left over crude spilt from the Total barrel conspicuously present on the gallery floor. Overall, well worth a visit – if not for the smell or the theatrics, at least for the post-visit reflection on our current state.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Most of these works executed between 1973 and 1990 were and are classics. Mundane people doing their mundane jobs, so often overlooked for doormats in normal life now in this gallery being stared at and studied with attention by people wondering “Just how did the *&%# did I miss all this expression in ordinary people...?”
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely wasting away
Give me an answer,
fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty four"
So sang Beatles in their reflections on getting older. Among other things, getting older is something that none of us really relish – let alone getting to 64. Oftentimes, I wonder if I would still be doing art then, but then what else might be there to pleasure one's soul other than art, the love of my life and grandchildren. Talking about art, I also think about how one would look and perceive art as old age sets in. You might have a more refined, minimalist outlook or you might have a garish, overbearing persona on canvas – not too sure what might happen – sometimes no outlook at all – your senses dulled by a feeling of satiety after inhaling a life well lived…
Sometimes artistic outlooks/outputs (on canvas or otherwise) may be forced to proceed in a particular direction dictated by onset of illnesses or certain other maladies than as a conscious self-provoked decision to explore and nurture newer avenues. Whatever the case, the infirmities that befall one that consist of a kind that cannot be reined in and controlled tends to produce art that is often varied, richer (sometimes) or more diffuse - depending upon how you look at it. The case of de Kooning (depression), Monet (cataract) and others come to mind here. In this article on Art and Perception (provoked by reading a report on this individual's research reported in the Science Times), I write about how one might ascribe greatness to art based on past glories attained by the artist rather than appreciate art for what it is – in some cases a gooey mass of ill mixed colors or in other cases sheer resplendence – in both cases the result being a function of the infirmity that befell the artist.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
"In a photograph, differences between a crag, a marble column, an oak, a frog, and a human face are merely differences in shape and texture. From the height of ten thousand feet, the earth appears to the human eye as it appears to the eye of the camera; that is to say, all history is reduced to accidents of nature. This has the salutary effect of making historical evils, like national divisions and political hatreds, seem absurd.
I look down from an airplane upon a stretch of land that is obviously continuous. That, across it, marked by a tiny ridge or river or even by no topographical sign whatever, there should run a frontier, and that the human beings living on one side should hate or refuse to trade with or be forbidden to visit those on the other side, is, from the height where I find myself, revealed to me as ridiculous. Unfortunately, I cannot have this revelation without having the illusion that there are no historical values.
From this same height I cannot distinguish an outcrop of rock and a magnificent cathedral or between a happy family playing in a back yard and a flock of sheep; so that I am unable to feel any difference between dropping a bomb to destroy a cathedral, the happy family, or even the rocks or the flock. If the effects of distance between the observer and the observed were mutual, so that as the objects on the ground shrank in size and lost their uniqueness, the observer in the airplane felt himself shrinking and becoming more and more generalized, we should either give up flying or create a heaven on earth."
---- By W.H. Auden from "De Droite et de Gauche"