Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Someone scrawled on the wall "I smell the blood of les tricoteuses"

Marseilles has more graffiti than any city I've ever been to; it grows wild here like some sort of tropical flora, as colorful and irrational as blue dappled flowering vines in the Amazon. Along the major highway there are abandonned motels and apartment complexes- a truly uncanny sight for some reason- that are completely tattoed with fat three-letter, multicolored splats, like mishapen butterflies ground into the concrete. I think the city leaves the buildings standing as some sort of warning to the passing cars.

Some of the emblems are remarkably ornate and Byzantine, but overall there's a surprising lack of imagination. The three and four-letter tag predominates, and I have yet to see any objects or images. Even the most colorful tags remind me of dopey art on customized vans of the 70s- the California fairground style. And these people have a burning message to share with the world that amounts to "SNIK" or "AUK"? It's as if they learned to communicate from corporate logos, which of course they quite likely did. I realize that there are some brilliant graffiti artists out there- that's all the more reason for SNIK to try harder than he is.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Faire une promenade par auto

Driving in France is an ordeal. My host Laurent calls it “une sport”- one has to maneuver the vehicle through crowded streets and dodge all sorts of people, vehicles, animals, and other obstacles. The fault does not lie with the French- they do not have bad drivers; they have bad roads! Europe built its roads to carry horses and hansom carriages. Therefore, they are very narrow. In America, when the automobile was developed, city administrators would tear down entire blocks in order to widen the roads. The Europeans, by contrast, threw up their hands and said “Screw it!” They decided to adjust to the cramped conditions. Now, you see countless roads that could only plausibly handle one-way traffic being used to go both ways at once. It’s like watching a psychotic pinball game. Europeans don’t need video games; they have cars.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The French

*note from claire: let me first give you some insight into our interactions for a second. we were talking on the phone this morning, rufus having woken me up across time zones, and I mentioned that I'd posted some of the stuff he had send me to his blog as he had asked. I told him I took a few and posted them en masse, which you can see I did. Across the ocean, I heard his throat tighten slightly.

"How many?, All of them?, Just a few?"

"Just a few, to make it long enough. Some of your posts were small."

"did you leave in the titles?"

"Of course."

says kindly, and genuinely, realizing it likely doesn't matter: "well, I can't dictate how you do it."

But since I know he wanted me to do them one at a time and will be checking, his blog being pretty important to him, here you go honey, i love you and i miss you:

(Once again, The French)

The people who are renting me an apartment are extremely gracious. On the night I arrive, they welcome me into their home, during a friend’s birthday party, and give me champagne and cake. They offer me food and supplies for the apartment, and even take me out to eat after the party. They’re so friendly I’m almost afraid they’re going to rob me!

It might have something to do with Franco-American relations. They take me to McDonald’s, or “Le MacDo’s”, to get food. Afterwards, they assure me that French people really do like McDonald’s, contrary to popular belief. I’m way too polite to tell them that I don’t like McDonald’s. Instead, I joke about Pulp Fiction- they are both eating Royales with cheese. I’m a bit disturbed to find that the French really do call it “with cheese”, instead of “avec fromage”. On the other hand, if I called cheese “fromage”, I wouldn’t want to associate it with whatever the hell McDonald’s puts on their burgers.

In other MacDo’s news, they really do sell a sauce pour les potatoes frites, which really is mayonnaise. We also laugh about that scene from Pulp Fiction, and I try, and fail, to explain poutine to them.

I wonder briefly if they’re also trying to make up for the stereotype of the French as being rude. However, I have to say that my general experience is that the French are extremely warm and gracious people. I’ve had good experiences with the vast majority of French people that I’ve encountered. Maybe there’s something wrong with me!

I have a friend who speculates that it was the De Gaulle generation that really hated Americans, and he believes that the rudeness is a thing of the past. As for me, I’ve noted here before that, when Americans say that French people are rude, they really mean that Parisians are rude because the vast majority of them have only been to Paris. Moreover, they’ve been there as tourists and, like tourists to NYC, they tend to forget that it’s a thriving city where people are busy going to work and not especially inclined to stop and help them enjoy their stay. Americans in Paris tend to act like colonial settlers dealing with rude natives.

Maybe it is me though. I tend to meet extremely kind people wherever I go. I think I come across as well-meaning, if a little bit helpless. Also I genuinely enjoy most people’s company. To tell the truth, I think I generally long to be closer to other people. Unlike my grandmother though, I do not hug strangers. So, people have always been willing to help me, for the most part. I would also say that I would have accomplished very little in this life without the kindness of women. I’m probably not the only person that this is true for.


talk binary to me

so there are rumors swirling about radiohead's "Tenspirasy", and the link between OK Computer, an album released 10 years ago, and their most recent album, In Rainbows which was released this last October 10th, on 10 servers, each album having 10 songs, 10 letters in the title etc. etc.

The theory gets stranger and here is a very inelegant link that talks about it here:

the band aren't really trying to deny that they are trying to send a message here.

as Rufus may have mentioned a while back, I am a massive fan. This is primarily directed to Greg, who I hear is pretty much a genius at mathy things. Do you know much about binary? Or Holly? (binary is related to computer stuff?) Anyone? Forgive me, both of you if I'm offending your sensibilities by assuming you know things that are totally not even close to what you study.
In the meantime, I'm going to play around with my iPod and see what's what with the new playlist. more from rufus in a second.



New Blog: German Expressions

Greg's made a new blog that covers some German expressions. It will be written in both German and English, for the interested.

It's here.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Posts from Rufus

Rufus couldn't get these up, but sent me a bunch of posts he'd been working on so I offered to put them up in chunks for your are the first few about his trip:

The Airport

Claire calls the airport a “non-place”; it is probably the closest thing we moderns have to purgatory. Airports tend to look “futuristic” in the way people imagined the future would be in the 1960s: everything is hygienic, homogeneous, scrubbed clean, and very non-specific. Airports are timeless, not in the sense of having a “classic” look, but in not evoking any era at all: they stand outside of time. It’s like a place designed in a laboratory to stage vast psychological experiments inside of- all random variables have been removed. It’s a locale after a lobotomy.

Even worse, more and more places look like airports now. Travel hotels look timeless and placeless in the same engineered way- like the Disney version of a nursing home. In fact, these places share a common aim with asylums and nursing homes to hide the passage of the outside world from the people inside. The same goes for newer libraries, shopping malls, schools, even police stations have started to look like airports. It’s a sort of manufactured indistinctiveness. Before long, no place will look like any place, and every place will look like no place.

Beware the savage lure of 1984

I’m flying to Milan on Air Italia. Apparently, the flight is a stop-over because nearly everyone on my flight transfers in Milan. They look to be headed to India or the Near East. What this means is that I’m the only person on the flight who doesn’t fit the “racial profile” of an Islamic terrorist, and conversely the only person to be given the full treatment in customs: once through the metal detector (no beeps), twice with the hand-held metal detector (still no beeps), one pat-down, search of my bags, two more (more thorough) pat downs, searching my shoes, chemical swab of my camera, several questions, and then released back into the wild. It’s very impersonal; they don’t even give me a hug.

It’s an open secret that these searches don’t really accomplish anything. Seemingly every local news program’s “investigative reporters” have smuggled “bomb components” onboard a plane in order to show that the searches don’t work. The classic problem with putting security in the hands of security guards is that the job doesn’t pay very well, so you never get the best or the brightest. Instead, you get bored average Joes who can’t wait for lunch. I don’t know if the nightmare of dealing with a dim border guard who can’t quite understand the answers given to his questions comes from Franz Kafka or Woody Allen, but the joke is ruined now that Guantanamo Bay is the punch line.

No one will ever be safe. But they have to search us anyway. If they don’t search anyone, the bed-wetters will complain; if they search everyone, the rest of us will complain. So they settle for the happy compromise of searching all the wrong people. During the customs once over, I’m wondering why they’re searching me so thoroughly, and suddenly realize that there’s no reason at all. I don’t fit any “profiles” whatsoever; it’s just random selection; it’s a game of chance. I’m contestant number 237. If the terrorist boogeyman really is looking to fly the unfriendly skies, he’s got a good betting chance of getting aboard. We should never trust anyone who promises to make us safe.

And it’s amazing how quickly we adjust to these things. People who loose their limbs experience the phantom limb syndrome, but we seem to miss nothing we’ve lost. We just push on and put up. When I leave the customs date rape, the first thing to go through my mind is a sort of relief: “Well, at least now they know for sure that I don’t have anything!” I take their side and am relieved to discover that I’m not a terrorist.

Mother and child

The plane is packed. When the young mother with an infant gets on, nobody wants her to sit by them. They look at her like she’s calling out draft numbers for the military. Please God, don’t let it be me!

Customs 2

In Milan, the customs people are considerably nicer, or just less diligent. But they do search my detachable camera lens here as well. Apparently, a wide-angle lens is an extremely suspicious item to travel with. A note to all the drug smugglers reading this: do not try to hide your cocaine in a hollowed-out camera lens.

Greg and Holly were right about the interview to enter Europe: it really is cursory at best. I’m used to the American interview, which is brief, but complete. A full transcript of my interview in Milan would read:

Border guard: Hello. You are American?

Rufus: Yes.

Border guard: Is this you? (Pointing at my passport)

Rufus: Yes, it is.

Border guard: Okay. (Stamps passport) You can go.

In flight

The flight from Milan to Paris must be frequented by models. They play lots of hip mellow music on board, stuff like Air and Portishead. The in-flight movie is a video of models walking the runway in a recent show. It’s hilarious; it’s like AbFab airlines


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Et voilà!

It looks like I will be able to post some stuff on Saturday from a friend's apartment with wifi. I'll try to get some pictures together. Right now, I have spent 45 minutes on line trying to find the name of Flaubert's steamship from 1849- for those trivia fans out there, it was "le Nil". Why I didn't write this down before I left is a mystery to me.

One bit of advice: when speaking to French people, if you don't understand what they're saying, just say "Ah, voilà!" and they will think you understand them. If you listen, about 30% of a French conversation is just the word voilà. I think they also use it when they don't understand each other.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One last thing...

I have to leave the Internet Cafe soon, but a scary thought just went through my head- could one of the reasons that I'm feeling so run down and disconnected right now be Internet withdrawal?


Le Renard et l'enfant

Incidentally, I saw the film Le Renard et l'enfant the other day, and I am guessing it will get released in an English version (It's largely told in voice-over. easy to dub) before long- as The Fox and the Child, most likely. See it if you can. It's just lovely. It was made by the people who made the March of the Penguins and has the same sort of photography that makes you want to give up whatever you're doing with your life to live in the wild filming animals. It's basically a children's film about a girl and a family of foxes, and I felt a bit weird watching it with all these kids and their parents. However, the only other things playing were a dubbed version of An Inconvenient Truth and a frothy French romantic comedy called something like, A Kiss, if you Please. So, the kids' film won out. Anyway, I highly recommend it.


More Notes on Marseille

I'm feeling much better today. Yesterday was frustrating. History research is very much like detective work. When you see the young detective in the movies pouring over old newspaper clippings on microfilm, there's a reason that it's in montage- it's bloody boring work and a bit like panning for gold. And it takes forever. Today, for example, I researched for 9 hours straight and came up with an advert from 1834 that I might be able to use in my dissertation.

But, I'm feeling better today, probably because I ate better last night, and slept better after that. So, here are some brief notes on Marseille:

1. That's how they spell it in France- not Marseilles- so I'm going with them.

2. They say that the same climatological and geological conditions hold true across the Mediterranean. I don't know if that's true, but Marseille looks just like the West Bank.

3. If this is the climate in Israel, I am starting to understand the appeal of living there.

4. Marseille has a reputation for rioting, kids burning cars, and other mayhem. People worry about it's "Islamicization", but it's always been a place of insurrection. Read the lyrics of the Marseillaise some time!

5. The graffiti outside mon chambre reads: "Sarko la pute!" a comment on Nicolas Sarkozy and whoredom, respectively.

6. Sarko is hated here because he left his wife for a nymphet model. It's as if the French are mad at the father who betrayed their mother- all very Freudian. Politics in republics can tend towards a massive family psychodrama!

7. Marseille calls itself "the port to the Orient"- indeed, I'd say about 35% of the population is from North Africa.

8. Actually, Marseille hasn't rioted as much as Paris has in recent years. Because of that, National Geographic sees Marseille as a model of integration. I didn't agree with them until yesterday. Now, I see what they're getting at.

9. At any rate, the Islamicization stuff is stupid. You can see what the problems are here- lots of bored kids with few job prospects hanging about- and they have nothing to do with Islam. It's quite a bit like our town Hamilton, actually.

10. All that said, I am endlessly amazed by the daily kindness and general high spirits of the French people. I'm not sure if it's them or me, but I've been generally very well treated everywhere I've gone in France.

11. Holly and Greg are right about the challenges of language. I've been able to have conversations in French, but just barely. It's a whole different animal from written French. I understand about 50% of spoken French and about 95% of written French.

12. In general, moving to a foreign country is a bit like having your identity erased, or waking up with amnesia. You wonder who you are in this very different context. If the only being we have is being-in-the-world, changing the world seems to threaten our being. I feel entirely diminished in France, but in some way this is freeing as well. I have no fingerprints here.

Naturally, I have more to say. At some point, my friends here are going to let me use their wi-fi, and I'll post my voluminous writings and photos. Oh joy, right?


Monday, January 21, 2008

Very Quick Update

I am in Marseille and really tired. It is beautiful here. I miss my wife. I am trying to find good things in the archives. I am writing from an internet cafe, so this is all very short.

I guess my sense of it all, after one day of finding fuck-all in the archives and worrying unnecessarily, is that coming to a foreign country alone like this is akin to starting at point zero. On one hand, I'm thrilled to be here, and beginning to pick up spoken French, being under blue skies, etc. On the other hand; I feel like an idiot every five minutes and I'm tired and worried about the archives. Ack!

This is grad student madness for sure.


Graz After A Year

It's be almost exactly a year since we arrived in Graz. This month, we'll be reapplying for our visa status, to allow us to stay here a while longer. Greg has signed a new contract with the university, for a further three years of research employment, and we're looking forward to having that time here. In contrast, here are some thoughts looking back on the last twelve months of living in Austria. We each wrote our thoughts out separately, so there is some overlap and repetition. Also, there are no pictures this time. The biggest adventure this month was hiring the services of an electrician to repair our stove before it burned the building down, and as interesting and European as the stove is, we're guessing you actually do not want to see pictures of the inside of it. We do have those pictures, though, so if you're really into the private interior life of an Indesit built-in model combination stove/oven appliance, just say the word...

Holly's Take
In some ways, it's been exactly what we expected. This is a gorgeous city in a gorgeous country, and the shine isn't really wearing off on that. The official language is, indeed, German. Things are more expensive here. There are only 4 television channels, two of which are showing dubbed American sitcoms at any given time. We are really, really happy to not have a car. Europeans have a very different fashion sense than Americans (Not necessarily better, mind you--just different). There are a lot more dogs in public spaces than in the U.S. (especially noticeable in cafes and on the buses and trains), and a correspondingly increased supply of dog crap (especially noticeable on shoes and sidewalks). Greg's job is what he expected, and my unemployment is more or less what I expected. The beer and baked goods are every bit as amazing as I'd been led to believe. Our appliances are tiny, and our shopping habits have changed to accommodate that.

But having your expectations met isn't the exact point of traveling and exploring, is it? It seems unlikely that when Apollo 11 got to the moon, all the astronauts rolled out the door, announced, "Yep, I thought so," and piled back into the lander so they could finish a round of canasta.

Some things have surprised me, certainly. I did not realize that the local accent and dialect would be so .... rugged, so challenging for me to understand. I did not expect it to take so long improve my language skills. I didn't expect to have re-learn the body language and etiquette of walking down the street, I got a tremendous amount of exercise this year doing the Eye Contact Shuffle, where each person tries unsuccessfully to clear the path of the other person. I did not expect the overwhelming popularity of riding boots. I didn't expect seasonal foods to be such a point of obsession here. I didn't expect the hochstuhl toilets. I didn't expect to feel so intimidated about traveling around Europe. (I suspect that is a result of having put so much energy into planning the move, and now feeling like planning a leisure trip is just Too Much. I think I'm starting to recover from that.) I didn't expect that Austrians would be really into decorating things, especially with flowers and plants. I didn't expect such a passive-aggressive character in the general populace. I didn't expect that people would have to *ask* to find out where I'm from (I thought everyone would hear my accent and just know. This is not the case.) I didn't expect it to be impossible to find shoes here. I was surprised to learn that spicy food isn't really a thing here. (I nearly cried with joy when I found a Thai restaurant in Vienna that served me some stir fry that could peel the paint off the walls.) I was genuinely surprised to discover that Stargate and Charmed are so, so popular. I didn't not know that so few films were actually produced in German, in the original, or that my hatred of dubbed films would render movie going very unpleasant. (I also did not expect to have to choose my seat assignments in the movie theater!) I didn't expect that I wouldn't be able to just order "coffee"--it never occurred to me that here, coffee is an ingredient, not an end product. I also did not expect it to be basically good weather all the time, and essentially free of snow.

Greg's Take

It's hard to believe that as of January 17th, it's already been a full year since we arrived in Austria. Some people, admittedly myself included, might have thought that us moving to Europe was a perpetual idle threat, but here we are looking back on the first year and ahead to the next three years. I guess this is a good time to talk about how the actual experience compared to my expectations and also how it compares to the thirty-two years I spent in the US.

Since I had already visited the German-speaking world a few times prior to coming here, I was not totally clueless of what to expect, but there is a significant difference between asking where the toilet is and trying to negotiate a rental agreement.

So from my experience over the last year, here is an overview of what I find to be advantageous and disadvantageous of living in Graz versus the US.

It is true that we pay a lot of taxes here. This is a common criticism that I hear from (usually Republican) politicians when someone suggests a social program of some sort. "Oh, if we had that, then we'd have cripplingly high taxes like Europe." How much do we actually pay in taxes, you ask? I have no idea really. I have never seen what I get paid before taxes. In fact when I signed the contract for my job it only ever mentioned what I get paid after taxes and deductions for benefits. What benefits, you ask? Well, we get universal healthcare and a pension mostly. I have also seen a lot of counter arguments to public healthcare in the US saying how it is a dumb idea and couldn't possibly work. They claim that sure we have it here in Europe but we have clunky old machines and are tremendously understaffed. That doesn't agree with my experience at all. Having had a bit of a medical adventure here last year, I can say the hospitals are well-staffed and they have completely modern facilities. When I had to spend the night in the hospital and get some tests, I only had to pay €16 (about $25). As for the pension plan, it works like this: Every year you get paid more money. When you retire, you continue to make the maximum income you've earned as long as you're alive. So I might pay a lot of taxes, but I don't have to think about it and I get something good for my money. It's not all being blown starting wars that I don't support. I don't have to fill out a tax form either unless I want to claim that the government should pay me something back. When all is said and done, I get payed a comfortable amount. I also don't have to think about sales taxes, because when I go to the store, the taxes are already included in the advertised price of every item.

What else do they do with all that tax money? Well, they support the educational system. Not only is are schools free like the public school are in the US, but the universities are very cheap. It costs only a few hundred Euros per year to attend. This is less than I spent on books when I was going through the university system in the US. Speaking of education, there are also plenty of continuing education options at a reasonable price. We are using these to further our language skills in the evenings.

Another thing that tax money is spent on is subsidizing the public transportation system. Although we frequently walk or bike anywhere we need to go because they have an excellent and extensive foot and bike path network which connects the town, it is good to know we can also take a bus or the tram. The bus/tram network covers most of town and it seems like it is going to be extended further in the immediate future. Not only can you get around town easily, but you can get to other cities easily as well as the train network is very much alive and well here unlike the scant token presence of the Northeast Express in the US. I recall one time we looked at trying to take a train from Albuquerque to Austin and were horrified to discover it was a three-day trip via Chicago (with two legs of the trip on local buses!) and cost over $1,000. Trains are simply a more economical and efficient way to move things than via cars and trucks or planes. Although I have only taken the train to Vienna and into Slovakia so far, I anticipate further use of it. Where else does tax money go? We have public bathrooms. It seems like not a big deal until you actually need one. I suppose the lack of them in the US helps fosters the rugged individualism of sneaking into fast food restaurant bathrooms or buying a token item to justify its use.

Working in the university is great here since universities are public institutions, it makes me a public servant. As such, it means I get higher interest rates on my savings account. We also get a five-week yearly allotment of vacation days at least twice as many holidays as the US. Additionally there is no notion of "sick days" per say. If you're sick, you stay home. If you miss more than three days, you get a doctor's note, end of story.

The local cuisine is fantastic. We're pretty sure that Austrian botanists have developed the technology to grow root vegetables directly in butter. It must help that there are many local farmers so getting farm fresh food is easy. There is at least one farm market open every day and others which are open at least twice a week. On the note of food, I feel it must be mentioned that the chocolate is top notch here and we have been eating lots of it for its.... medicinal properties. Our main complaint with the food here is that non-European cuisine is hard to get overall. Spicy food is effectively nonexistent. I admit I really miss green-chile based food and am frequently crying for enchiladas. Also cheddar cheese isn't a thing here.

Although communicating is difficult, there is at least a temporary advantage to abysmal language skills in that when someone says something really dumb or irritating, we don't notice, including when it was one of us who said it.

A couple more odds and ends: People are serious about recycling here. Recycling bins are ubiquitous in town and it is expected that you will separate plastic, metal, clear glass, colored glass, paper, and organic matter from the other trash. I don't know for sure, but I think we add to the landfill a lot less based on the fact that about 1/8 as much "miscellaneous trash" is simply dumped instead of recycled.

There is no WalMart in Austria. They had set up shop in Germany back in 1998 and had 85 stores until about a year and a half ago when they all closed. There isn't anything quite like it either. The closest thing we have is InterSPAR which is a very large grocery store that also sells some home items. Although you can buy most anything you want here, it should be mentioned that there are no 24 hour stores. Most grocery stores are open roughly from 7:30 to 7:00 on weekdays a slightly shorter day on Saturday and closed on Sunday. There is a single everyday store in the train station for people who planned poorly and the Turkish markets are open on Sunday.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Au revoir!

We've been running around like crazy for the past few days trying to get everything ready. This afternoon I leave on Air Italia for Paris, by way of Milan. Tomorrow morning, I arrive in Paris and take the train to Marseille. Hopefully, this year I will not have screaming children behind me making it impossible to sleep between Toronto and Paris.

Anyway, I'll try to post here when I get the chance. I may not have a wi-fi connection though. So, if you don't hear from me, assume that I'm doing French things of some sort.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Closer to the Golden Dawn

It's already being called "one of the most important discoveries of all time," by someone who is likely learned enough to remember the discovery of early Madonna super-8 movies back in the mid 90s. So, you know it's big news.
In Rome, archaeologists might have actually discovered Lupercal, the mythical cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf and later founded Rome. The cave endured as a temple for the priests of Lupercus until 494 AD, and is mentioned in all sorts of Roman texts, but it has been lost for centuries. Until now? I think it is entirely possible that the underground temple that has been discovered is the right one, especially as it is within the Palatine hill, underneath the palace of Augustus. From the pictures, it certainly seems to be a temple of Romulus and Remus, and it is a great find, at any rate.

Most societies have a founding myth- and usually a pretty bloody one. I'm hard pressed to think of a founding myth for contemporary societies that quite compares. Oh, we certainly have our myths, but nothing like the two abandoned sons of Mars being suckled by a she-wolf by the river Tiber. Somehow, George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and owning up to it doesn't really compare.

And actually, given all the current chest-thumping, I think that might make a good Republican campaign ad for this year:

"In the face of Islamic terrorism and illegal immigration, we need to elect the candidate who was descended from the god of war and suckled by a she-wolf before killing his own brother in a fit of jealous rage. We need Rudy Guiliani!"


The Pye's Theatre of the Absurd

Like sitcoms poking fun at married life directed by David Lynch, the short films (and photographs) of Toronto-based artists Nicholas and Sheila Pye detail the struggles of a nameless couple haunting decaying rooms as they spit fluid on each other, feed ribbons through the walls, set fire to the floor, piss themselves, and plates fall from the sky.
They're fairly young and the work still needs to overcome the anxiety of influence a little- it's still a bit too much like Lynch or Ionesco if they were an attractive, somewhat vain, young couple. But, it's really rare to see work that is so self-assured, not to mention self-contained, coming from artists who are just starting out. It's safe to say that the weird little world they've created will eventually declare its independence from their forebears and grow into a compelling little empire of its own.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Canadiana: The Group of Seven

As part of my ongoing effort to give our readers enough information to successfully infiltrate Canadian society and pass for natives, today we discuss a term that every Canadian I've ever met knows the meaning of: The Group of Seven.

Who were they?

The Group of Seven was a group of Canadian painters from the 1920s. They were landscape painters, influenced by Impressionism, whose work today goes for thousands of dollars, and is sold in prints all over Canada. If you have a Canadian grandparent, it's a safe bet to give them a Group of Seven print as a Christmas gift.

Were they an official group?

Yes. The original group consisted of: Franklin Carmichael, Lewlin Harris, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. Tom Thompson and Emily Carr were also associated with the group, but never actual members. The seven met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto and noticed similarities in each others' work. They started meeting about 1913, were briefly delayed by the first World War, and reunited afterwards to travel through Ontario sketching and painting. They held their first exhibit in 1920. Incidentally, Thompson died in 1917 while canoeing; this is still somewhat mysterious because he died of a blow to the head and not drowning.

How long did they last?

By 1931, the Group was successful enough to exhibit their work alone, so they stopped exhibiting as a group that year.

Why are they important?

Canada is a beautiful country and the Group of Seven shaped how Canadians look at their land. They created a certain mythology of Canadian wilderness, which is still hotly debated. The Group of Seven has become a central part of what Canadians think of themselves. They're as Canadian as Norman Rockwell is American. Unlike Rockwell, they celebrate the land and not the people. The paintings are also gorgeous. I particularly like Carmichael's paintings as well as Harris's.

That said, part of the appeal of the paintings is that they're a bit anodyne. You couldn't imagine anyone ever being offended by the Group of Seven, although some European critics actually were; but you also couldn't imagine devoting your life to collecting them, or staying up all night debating them.


Disenfranchised no more!

Okay, now we have someone to vote for in the US Presidential race!

(Lovingly borrowed from Josh McCormick.)


Politics in Graz

With the looming US election at hand, I find myself rather disenfranchised by the selection of candidates and further disenfranchised by the fact that, in general, absentee ballots go uncounted. Since it appears that we will be in Austria, I am turning my interest to local politics. The Graz mayoral election is on January 20th and there are a lot of issues to familiarize myself with between now and then.

The main thing we’re voting for (indirectly via parliamentary process) is who should be the next Bürgermeister (Mayor, or literally citizen master). Here is a helpful graphic that I made to show where everyone is on the political spectrum from left to right.

There are six major parties here (for varying degrees of the notion or “major”). Generally speaking, the moderates are more popular. On the furthest left, we have the Kommunistische Partei Österreichs (KPÖ), who are, as even those you who don’t speak German can intuit, the commies. I bit to the right of them, are the only non-TLA (three letter acronym) party, die Grüne who are the green party here. Towards the center are the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) who are the the “socialists” and most closely aligned with the US notion of liberal democrats. The Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) are the traditionalist conservative party. By traditional, I mean family values and all that but also generalized good will. To their right are the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) who are more of the xenophobic fear-mongering sort of conservative. Finally, not necessarily more conservative, but more openly nuts is the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ), headed by the former governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, who broke away from the FPÖ a few years back. Haider has a certain amount of infamy even outside of Austria.

Here is a graph of the relative representation of the parties from the last (2003) election.

GemeinderrätInnen means council members. The capital I denotes that this refers to both genders.

Campaign Platforms

The KPÖ is actually a bit of a fringe group in Austria overall, getting only about 1% of the votes on average, although they get around 6+% or so in Styria, our provence and a solid 20+% in Graz . The basic platform of the KPÖ is focussed, unsurprisingly, heavily on low income people. They support public housing. They are in many respects anti-EU and claim that the adoption of the Euro has made things more expensive for poor people. They are proposing some sort of “social pass” for low income folks to get breaks on all manner of things such as free public transportation, discounted utilities, price control on foods and so on. These are probably pretty shocking ideas to the most Americans, but some of this stuff is already going on here and it is not actually as traumatic as it might seem.

The Grüne, of course, are principally concerned with environmental issues. A big item this election is Feinstaub (toxic particulate matter in the environment) although as near as I can tell, all candidates are saying that something must be done about it. They are in favor of extending our already enviable bike route network in and out of town. I’m still trying to understand their specifics because I am too lazy to wade through their 70 page manifesto.

The FPÖ is the original far-right party here. I won’t candy-coat it, lots of people in this party and its spin-off the BZÖ are actually children of Nazis. The main intents of the FPÖ is to fight against the “Islamification” of Europe. For example they propose forbidding the construction of mosques, banning headscarves in public schools, universities, and for public employees. The also want to ban any manner of begging/panhandling. They suggest increasing security by adding more more police, police dogs, emergency phone posts, maintaining a “criminal atlas” which I guess would be like a generalization of the US sex-offender maps. Reading the security proposals in their PDF seems like they are waving their arms and saying “OooOoOO” in a scary voice. It’s pretty laughable to me given how low the crime rates are here compared to Albuquerque.

The FPÖ proposes free transportation for all you (presumably Aryan) people up to the age of 27, guaranteed free University education to all, free and compulsory preschool, special educational elite training for science types.

On the health front, they are proposing mobile healthcare vehicles and “health houses” in every district. On transportation they seem mostly concerned with improving parking and building more roads in and out of town to help commuters.

The BZÖ is actually not that different from the FPÖ except that it is a different set of egos with the same basic agenda. I expect that the traditional small percentage of vote that the FPÖ normally garners will just be subdivided between the two parties. Some the points on which they differ from the FPÖ is that the support a minimum wage, flat tax, abolition of inheritance tax, tax breaks for childcare and the re-nationalization of agriculture.

The ÖVP is currently the party with the most power and as such, their guy Siegfried Nagl gets to be mayor. They may be the sensible right-wing party, but they are still fairly progressive by US standards. They intend on extending the public transportation system fairly extensively. They also intend to provide free wireless internet access in all public places and buildings. In fact my only significant beef with the ÖVP is that they are catholic and push pro-catholic agenda. The separation between church and state is less pronounced here than in the US. The prime example of this is that churches tax the populace, unless you have registered as an atheist or agnostic, which, of course, incurs a fair amount of eye-white.

The SPÖ are the second most represented party here and are overall pretty progressive but not as radical as the greens or communists. Their major points are transportation, education, and creating jobs. I have to say, they are probably my choice at the moment if just for their transportation proposals. They want to increase the amount of pedestrian streets in town, extend the public transportation system, and adopt a free loan public bicycle system like is already in place in some other parts of Europe.

Political Ads

Here is a sampling of political ads from the different parties. I’m going to start our with the tame ones first.

Although the best ÖVP ads are out on the street an not online, our current mayor has a running theme where he is photographed with various symbolic objects. He is Photoshopped next to a gear to indicate progress, a pacifier to indicate family, a poisonous mushroom to indicate good luck (don’t ask), a police car light for security and so on. Here he is with a cup of coffee. It illustrates what I find funny about the ads. Apparently he is very small. The ÖVP and SPÖ are the only parties that don’t seem to run attack ads.

The SPÖ ads, on the other hand mostly focus on the fact that Walter Ferk is unbelievably friendly looking.

The website contains a lengthy video of him being friendly by giving flowers to old ladies and candy to bus drivers all set to a catchy electropop score.

The KPÖ ads are surprisingly tame. Here is one that says “Help instead of talk.”

They do, however, sell party merchandise with pot leaves and likenesses of Che Guevera.

This FPÖ ad is one of the more provocative and thus interesting.

She has a lot of billboards which follow the basic theme of culturally insensitive rhyming couplets with her looking smug in front of the clock tower. In this one, it literally says “blue courage instead on a flood of immigrants.” At the bottom is her tagline “She hits the nail on the head.” This is a pun, because she replaces the normal word for nail (Nagel) with Nagl, which refers to current mayor Siegfried Nagl, so we are given to understand that she’s actually hitting him on the head. LOL? One of her other slogans translates to “building mosques is no fun.”

To steal a line from Red Dwarf, this political ad made by the green party is “almost Swiftian in its rapier-like subtlety.”

Here we see a topiaried Hitler moustache indicating what a bunch of Nazis the BZÖ are. There is very similar one against the FPÖ, but it is clearly
a woman’s face. I kind of like the fact that it looks like someone is snorting an umlaut.

Here’s the Grand Poobah of tasteful political ads.

This is from a pro BZÖ group called, I kid you not, The Orange Panthers. Never has neofascism been so wacky and fun! It appeals to young people with sex and shocked nuns. Anyway, it says “We would give our last shirt for Graz.” Most of the other ads for the BZÖ candidate show him posing with a broom (with which he’ll sweep all of the brown people out of town) or of him and Jörg Haider giving eachother butt-pats. Another thing on the BZÖ site which made me laugh is that all of the candidates list their zodiac signs as well as their favorite meal and drink.

Ok, this is not quite an ad per se, but I did find it very amusing that every party’s website has a picture like this:

Hope your elections are also interesting!


The Lucre of Hope

There's some good news for Barack Obama- he's at least beating Hillary Clinton in book sales. Her book Living History is selling about 1,000 copies a week, compared to his 7,000 copies/week of The Audacity of Hope, and 2,000/week sales of Dreams from my Father. Of course, this likely means nothing- people already know all about her and her opinions, and have more to learn about what he has to say. To be honest, the only political book that I'm currently reading is Stephen Colbert's I Am America (and so can you!).


Haroun Childeric Eggeberth

For all of my bitching and moaning, I generally take reassurance from science, which still seems to be an accumulation of human knowledge, unlike most other areas of human endeavor.

Stem cell research is exciting, especially as I meet more and more people who have been helped through these experimental procedures. One of my father's island-mates had his legs saved last summer, which was thought impossible, through regular injections of embryonic stem cells. And I think our friend Brendon might have recieved stem cells to replace the cells lost during his chemo.

More good news- recently, scientists have figured out ways to derive stem cells from adults instead of fetuses. And researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have now plucked embryonic stem cells from cells removed from two-day old embryos without hurting the embryos.

I've never personally been opposed to deriving stem cells from aborted fetuses. However, I recognize that many people have legitimate ethical objections to this procedure. It is good news that scientists will soon find a way to avoid the ethical complications through better science, and that more people will come around to supporting really revolutionary research. If the 20th century was the century of physics, I think this century will be the century of biology.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Punk'd by PETA

We just watched a fascinating documentary ("I Am an Animal") about PETA last night, and now there's this madcap story:

"PETA Requests Vegetarian Diet in Jail for Cannibalism Suspect... Sheriff's officials were astounded Thursday by a letter requesting the man accused of murdering his girlfriend and possibly participating in cannibalism be placed on a vegetarian diet to keep him from being "involved in any senseless killing" while incarcerated."

"Only in a culture where people routinely kill and eat living, feeling beings would anyone even think to kill and eat a human loved one," (some PETA dick) said."

Okay, you hear that, grieving family members? You got what you deserved for eating all those damn hamburgers! Man, the bereaved can be so insensitive, can't they?

(Also, seriously, what is the deal with PETA constantly hating on women? Has anyone else noticed that?)


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Giving 'em what they want.

Judging by the number of comments, it is clear, the people have spoken, and they want cuckold news from this blog! Okay, fine.

So, here's the site of an independent film entitled The Cuckold, recently shot in Buffalo, New York. I've talked about Buffalo before: it's one of those rust belt cities that seems to be waiting on a miracle. The architecture there is amazing- the legacy from its glory days as an economic capital of the United States. It's been in decline since Bethlehem Steel ceased production in Buffalo (Lackawana specifically) between 1977-1983. The economic effects can be seen in the trailer for this film.

Apparently, the film deals with another bewildering aspect of the cuckold scene: its racially-specific fantasies. As a writer to Savage Love puts it, "White men watching black men fuck their wives or girlfriends is one of America’s biggest secrets." Well, at the very least, it was never dealt with on Friends.

Not being terribly inclined towards humiliation myself, that part of cuckolding confuses me more than anything else about it. I understand people wanting to experiment with other partners, but not really why they would want to be demeaned and denied sexual pleasure themselves. Where's the fun in that? And, for some cuckolds, the man who their wife humiliates them with needs to be black and better endowed than them. It perhaps goes without saying that the couples in the cuckold scene seem to be overwhelmingly white.

I've said before that white guilt creates traps black men in a fantasy role as much as white racism does. That certainly seems to be the case with cuckold fantasies about black studs taking white wives- the "black bulls" are asked to play a role straight out of Mandingo. Actually, a controversial article in Details Magazine actually detailed "Mandingo Parties". It's an uncomfortable fantasy, which is probably part of the sizzle for some people. However, it's also clearly seen as a fantasy and, in some ways, seems to be more egalitarian than the sort of involuntary racial role playing that is often mandated in the larger society. Here, people enter into the scenarios willingly, and there seems to be some idea of "righting" an unequal order by celebrating black superiority.

I don't want to argue that these people are racist. Honestly, I don't think sexual fantasies are ever politically correct. But I do think there's a link between white suburban kids fantasizing about cartoony gangstas shooting each other and their suburban fathers fantasizing about cartoony black studs fucking their wives. They play off the same taboos and mysteries about other races. They both take place in an alternate black reality created by white dreams of freedoms that are not permitted in bourgeois society. Unfortunately, the realm of black possibility is often totally circumscribed by white fantasy. If whites ever really understood black experience, they would lose their make-believe studs and gangstas.

Another unspoken legacy of racism (among many) is that white people, as far as I can tell, desperately want to be closer to blacks, while remaining completely unable to do so. There's too much pain and too little understanding there for it to happen in any meaningful way. Racial cuckolding plays off white fears about black males, while allowing some sort of connection to take place. But, like most connection between the races, it's fictional; it implicitly dehumanizes the participants and degrades the connection. But, strangely enough, it does so openly and purposefully, and this dehumanization is also probably why it's arousing.

Let me repeat myself: sexual fantasies are never politically correct, and I don't believe that racial cuckolding is an embodiment of racism. I do think it's an embodiment of racial taboo. I also think that it's fairly symbolic of most interactions between blacks and whites in America- defined as much by fantasy as by the realities that are never openly dealt with.

What say you?


Movie Notes: Hatchet (2006)

Two general notes on art:

1. Artistic genres proliferate due to the general principle of emulation, which is the basis for the development of art more generally. Emulation, therefore, is central to the artistic enterprise. However, when acted upon unreflectively, emulation becomes imitation. This is what strikes us as unoriginal in some art.

2. We generally overestimate the first works of art we see and cling to these mistaken impressions due to nostalgia. People often speak of dreadful movies or songs that they loved as children in unnecessarily glowing terms. (However, I refuse to believe that The Goonies isn't really a masterpiece!)

Both of these points lead me to Hatchet, a film that was apparently made to emulate the slasher cycle of films from the early 80s without a clear explanation of why one would want to lovingly recreate films that were often cynical and formulaic in the first place. The slasher films, or "dead teenager movies" as Roger Ebert called them, followed in the wake of the very successful film Halloween by John Carpenter. A few dozen of these movies came out in the early 80s. They were very cheap to make- you can shoot twenty minutes of an unknown actor wandering around a dark house while a three note piano theme plays- and fairly profitable. I think they only stopped making them because they ran out of holidays.

The slasher films were often pure formula: one of the directors interviewed in Going to Pieces, a documentary about the genre, actually talks about watching a slasher film with a stopwatch to determine exactly when key plot twists should take place in his own film! There can be a joy in formula films- I personally adore Shaw Brothers kung fu movies. Many people love slasher films for their purity- the filmmakers just wanted to scare their audience. Some fans poke fun at the flaws of the genre, while celebrating its triumphs. Others have shot their own takes on the slasher film. Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof is a cross between a slasher and a car race movie. Wes Craven's Scream cleverly deconstructed the genre. Man Bites Dog and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon are two slasher mockumentaries.

Hatchet takes the genre a bit more seriously, but still has a fair amount of humor to it. The film is hawked thusly: "It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one." I suppose this is poking fun at the unoriginality of recent horror films. But then we're told that this is "Old school American horror". Never mind the fact that the slasher films often stole from Italian Giallos and more often were actually Canadian films. What's confusing here is that the film is apparently not a remake but a rehash? And that's the pitch?
The film details a group of teenagers lost in the Louisiana bayou getting picked off by a deformed mutant named Victor Crowley who looks exactly like Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part II, and who is played by Kane Hodder, the stuntman who played Jason in a few of the Friday the 13th movies. We also have cameos from the actors who played Candyman and Freddy Kreuger as well as other genre notables. From the start it is clear that this is a movie for the fans, and the filmmakers dish out heaping servings of practical gore FX and female nudity, as well as some fairly decent gags. This is a film to watch with friends, pizza, and a lot of booze.
The problem, which should be obvious by now, is that the movie is extremely stupid. Logically, very little of it makes sense. Some of the jokes are actually cringe worthy, such as when the wacky black guy climbs a tree in fear. And the gore is so excessive as to be physically impossible. I'd imagine that pulling someone by the legs would drag their whole body along the ground- not tear them in half. It all plays like the sort of script that a horror fan might write at age 12.
There is little excuse for just how closely the film follows formula. The characters all die in exactly the order that one would expect with any knowledge of the genre. The old couple goes first, the two bimbos follow soon after, then the wacky black guy gets it... etc. etc. It almost seems like a spoof of slasher films because it's so by-the-numbers, joke-filled, and the gore is so cartoonish. It's definitely a fun movie. But it's not remotely scary and it carries no real surprises.


See the mice in their million hordes, From Ibeza to the Norfolk Broads

First off, thank you to everyone for letting me rant about the stupidity of electoral politics. It wasn't pretty, I know. Even worse, as the Chicago punk band Screeching Weasel once put it, more poetically than any of us could:
"Politics are boring
Politics are fucking boring
Philosophizing propoganda spewing
Teenage armchair revolutionaries..."
etc. etc.

No kidding. Talking about politics is as exciting as hearing about what sports teams are "looking really good this year." Anyway, so long to all of that. It's time to get back to more important matters like weird sex, horror movies, drugs, glam rock, bitching about academia, and the rest of it. Also, I'm off to France on the 16th for six or seven months. So there's that.


Honestly, I'm going to shut up about this very, very soon!

The psychotic left-wingers who read Salon regularly (or, at least, the ones who comment there) hate Camille Paglia for not being a sufficiently true believer, but I tend to enjoy her writing. I'd say I only agree with about 35% of what she says, which is fine with me. I agree with this:

I will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee of my party, because I want Democrats appointed to the Cabinet and the Supreme Court. But I plan to vote for Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary because he is a rational, centered personality who speaks the language of idealism and national unity. Obama has served longer as an elected official than Hillary. He has had experience as a grass-roots activist, and he is also a highly educated lawyer who will be a quick learner in office. His international parentage and childhood, as well as his knowledge of both Christianity and Islam, would make him the right leader at the right time. And his wife Michelle is a powerhouse.

The Obamas represent the future, not the past.
Personally, I'm a bit guilty over allowing my sour grapes to air where everyone can share in their pungent aroma! However, what really bothers me about this race isn't just my usual sense that the fix is in (although there's that too); it's the feeling that we're never going to escape the psychotic left-wingers and right-wingers among us who treat politics like a religious cult. One shudders to think of those Republicans who find it politically expedient to believe that there is absolutely no basis for theories of evolution or climate change or innate homosexuality: they're apparatchiks and one expects that, if Obama was nominated, they would just as fervently believe that he is a jihadist, or a communist, or a pedophile. Actually, according to the posters on the Free Republic site, he's already an "enemy of the state"!

That doesn't make me any more comfortable sharing mental space with those progressives (or regressives) who claim that they're not really fond of Hillary Clinton- a candidate who seemingly combines the arrogant, entitled narcissism of George W. Bush with the inveterate dishonesty and wannabe conservatism of Bill Clinton*- but they're going to support her anyway to teach the media a lesson about sexism. I really do want to think the best of people, and I just can't imagine that anyone would really be so much of a twit as to support a candidate simply to counter "perceived sexism". But in the last few days, I've read way too many variations on: "I don't really support any of Hillary's ideas. But I'm going to vote for her anyway because she's going to really piss off the 'neocons' and the sexists! (To give one example, grabbed basically at random, here's an actual quote from an Edwards supporter: "I will happily, joyfully, gleefully vote for Senator Clinton in the general if she wins the nomination, first and foremost to piss off the fascists, the wingnuts and the gasbags by pissing ON them." And this is what calls itself the "reality-based community"!) I mean, if angering the chauvinists in the media or on the right is a legitimate goal for grounded adults to have, why not just support Britney Spears, a woman who has been endlessly vilified by the media for the crime of suffering from mental illness? "Britney for President: I don't really agree with her, but Rush Limbaugh hates her".

I realize that groups often define themselves in contrast to an imaginary Other. Christ, as a grad student, I'm required to have that sentence tattooed on my ass! I'm just starting to wonder if some people have any other reason to believe the things they do. I wonder if one of the actual drawbacks of Obama for some individuals is that he is willing and able to transcend the party bickering that gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

*(Not to mention the goddamned warmongering. Seriously, can't we just elect someone who doesn't want to bomb Iran? Just for, you know, the hell of it?)


Christmas Leftovers

The problem with doing a list of great Christmas rock songs is that as soon as you're done you start thinking of great ones you've forgotten. Since I keep talking about glam rock as of late, how could I have ever forgotten Slade's loopy, wonderful "Merry Christmas Everybody"? Where is the Youngsters' "Christmas in Jail"? Ah, what can I say? It'll be even better next year.

In the meantime, here's a list of Christmas classics compiled by Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach from The Cramps. Click the song titles and you can listen to MP3s.


Andy Warhol Factory Spoof

French and Saunders in an eerily accurate send up of the Warholites. Apparently Paul Morrissey has called this sketch the most accurate factory portrayal thus far. I think it's very clever.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I just got a phone call from Europe- they told me to suck it. Oh well. What can you say about New Hampshire? You can expect the Republicans to eventually rally around the Republican who is most likely to win in a general election, because they're smart. Meanwhile, the Democrats can be expected to rally around the Democrat who is least likely to win in a general election, because while they're not smart, they are lovable losers.

McCain versus Clinton- it's really hard to care, isn't it? I suppose I'd vote for him. But, to be honest, I can't imagine either of them actually, you know, doing anything if elected. The war, which is really more of an occupation than a war, and more of a colony than an occupation, will probably last another four years. The war on drugs will last another four years. Poverty will last another four years. Politicians and Americans will agree to never say anything rational about immigration. They might restore a bit of the Constitution. Or not. In the end, you can always count on Americans (and the vast majority of human beings for that matter) to bitch constantly about the way things are, while doing everything they can to avoid anything ever changing. Same with Canadians, Europeans, Asians, etc. etc. etc.

In Robert Anton Wilson's terminology, most people are neophobes, not neophiles.

Everyone talked for a week about how Americans crave change, but in the end, the candidates who were seen as the "agents of change" lost and the company men of the respective parties won. I think most human beings will choose never to change things, if they can help it. From formulaic movies, television shows, and food, to failed political programs- they fear change while they hate the same status quo that they defend to the death.

Change is terrifying to us because it's the only way that humans register the passage of time, which can only lead one place for us- death.

Don't get me wrong- Obama and Huckabee won't change anything either: if they would, they wouldn't have made it as far as they have. But, in the end, the voters have spoken, and they prefer the same old shit to moderately different shit. How brave.

I think I'm going to sleep this one out.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cultured Dolphins

If dolphins have language, use tools, and use ornamentation... doesn't that make them, you know, more like us and the other primates? Doesn't that open a door into some awkward discussions about how unique we aren't, as a species? David Byrne has articulated some interesting thoughts on that, plus some nifty photos.


Best Article Title of the Week

Harvard Scientists Build a Device to Smoke Weed During Brain Scan

Hey... you ever get an MRI while high?!


Worst Newspaper Article Title of the Week

Here's the title for a Globe and Mail article about employer health benefits for the pets of employees: "Furry Friends with Benefits"!


Highway 71 Revisited

We've talked before about the fascination of photographs from strange places. (I've got to gte back to posting Hamilton photos). Barry Stone takes some really fascinating pictures all over the US, but lately focusing on Texas. Some of his photos are archived here. Others are blogged here.

He has a new show of photographs from Texas. "Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery is pleased to announce the second solo exhibition of photographs by Barry Stone titled “Highway 71 Revisited.” An opening reception for the artist will be held Friday, January 11, from 7–9 PM. There will be a talk by the artist on Sunday, January 13th at 12 PM." I'm often struck by how empty Texas looks in photographs. Stone uses that to good effect.


It's Got a Good Beat and you can Flail to it...

I suppose there's probably some nurd who will accuse the rest of us of being "Luddites" for not having a hell of a lot of use for this gadget- a personal MP3 player/ taser. Ideal for paranoid music fans, the the Taser MPH can hold about 150 songs (such as "Shock the Monkey") as well as hitting a stranger with 50,000 volts. I imagine that this will seem like a good idea until the first idiot accidentally fries his brains trying to listen to Toby Keith.


Deutsche Wortschatz des Tages: Siebensachen

Last night in language class, we learned the expression alle meine Siebensachen which was used to indicate whatever you take with you when you move, literally your 7 things. The instructor told us that the Austrian/Bavarian variant on this term is sieben Zwetschgen, which
not only didn't explain WTF that was about, but also led to a difficult conversation in broken German about why, if the correct spelling of Zwetschge is that way, why is it *always* spelled with a K (Zwetschke) anytime you're buying plums? And what's wrong with using the pre-existing German word for plums, anway? (Pflaumen). Not even getting into the discussion about who the hell takes a bunch of plums with them when they go somewhere.

I did a little research today into this peculiar Redewendung, and learned that it's probably 7 because 7 is the traditionally significant number in German lore, and also makes a nice alliteration with Sachen. Beyond that, there is some debate about if there are, in fact, 7 specific items summarized by this expression. Glasses, prayerbook, shoes, hat, and assorted other bits and baubles are supposed. Maybe an onion, although I couldn't find any back up on that one.

The other thing I learned is that this expression has equivalents in French (emballer son saint-frusquin or emballer ses frusques), Dutch (zijn biezen pakken or zijn matte oprollen), and English (to pack up one's traps). Several of the usage notations I found suggest that this is an imperative, which if translated into modern colloquial English, would be something along the lines of "Pack your shit" with an unspoken component of "and then get out. Now." Siebensachen are the few important things you absolutely have to have with you when you're fleeing, escaping, or being ejected.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov

Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov are getting some love from ARTnews this month. It's nice to see a renewed interest in realist art. One can only look at so many unmade beds exhibited in galleries! I also like their strangely Ballardian swimming pool images and the way their work tweaks the nose of socialist realism.

On the other hand, there's a bit of a kitsch flavor to some of their paintings that leaves me cold. I realize it's intentional on their part. However, you can only take "kitschy" so far before the quotation marks start to vanish. I'd say I prefer their more pop-surrealist work- good surrealism reminds me of dreams, which are much more difficult to put in between quotation marks.



So take a chance on a couple of kooks...

It looks like Barack Obama is doing better in New Hampshire, which is good for me, since I'm now one step closer to telling Europe to suck it. (Note to Europeans: I am joking! Please do not beat me up when I arrive in France in ten days from now!)

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's numbers are dropping. I prefer Obama to Clinton. I have to admit though that the glee some people have over her decline strikes me as weird. I keep seeing this video of Hillary Clinton's "heated response" linked across the Internet. Bloggers are acting like she smacked her kid or something. She just sounds forthright to me. Talk about a double standard- polticians all talk that way. It's called scenery-chewing. People seem to have really visceral feelings about Hillary Clinton, as if they have to choose whether or not they're willing to make out with her. It's sort of bizarre to me and I also get uncomfortable with some of the Hillary haters- you get the feeling that they're taking out their personal issues with women on a total stranger.

Elections are like job interviews: you just pick the person who you think would do a better job. It's not personal and it really shouldn't be. It's not the WWF, and it's not really a value judgment, even though some people have taken to treating it like a religious election. I think they need to lighten up a little. None of these people is going to be perfect. But, at least, just about everyone running is better than what we have now!



Sunday, January 06, 2008

Notes on "Sweeney Todd"

1. I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this one. With Tim Burton films, you can pretty much predict what the costumes, hair, color palette, and general look will be before you see them. He definitely sticks to a certain look and tone. On the other hand, here he had to stray from the usual Danny Elfman score and make Johnny Depp sing. Not to mention the fact that Tim Burton is generally brilliant if a bit repetitive.

2. Oddly enough, more of the original play comes through than the Tim Burton touches. It's more like a Sondheim movie than a Burton one. Maybe we should say that it looks like Tim Burton and plays like Stephen Sondheim. Therefore, it's more satisfyingly adult that one might expect.

3. For the first time that I can remember, there's nothing really special about Johnny Depp's performance here. He sings, slashes, and scowls, and that's about it. I realize that he was trying to get his first singing part right (that's not him singing in Crybaby). And yet, he usually does more than acquit himself well, which is what he does here.

4. One last gripe- CGI looks rather fake on the big screen. There area scenes on the London docks that look like the actors are walking though one of those green screens. The usual Burton swooping camera through the city looks like a video game. Overall, CGI has to heft to it: it seems disembodied.

5. The best performance here is given by Helena Bonham Carter. Her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett is salty, maternal, devious, witty, and earthy.

6. The set-design is great. I love the old rippled glass panes in the windows.

7. In the end, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is pretty much the same Grand Guignol musical melodrama that it always was. They cut out the ghost chorus, but otherwise it's the same darkly brilliant story that it was in Sondheim's original musical. That's all for the best. Aside from a few gripes, it's well worth seeing.


Toronto- New Year's Eve 2007


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Notes on "No Country for Old Men"

I'm sure that everyone has heard by now that No Country for Old Men is a masterpiece. So here are a few additional thoughts, having just seen it tonight:

1. The movie is set in 1980, and I swear to God that it sounds like 1980. I don't know how they got that right and I've never raved about sound design before. The Coens must have been paying attention to how the world sounded back in the 1980s.

2. The movie was so good that I had planned to rent another movie tonight, but decided not to because I'd likely get pissed off at the next film for not being as good.

3. I've only read two Cormac McCarthy books: Blood Meridian and The Road. I could still tell that this movie got his tone exactly right.

4. Javier Bardem gives the best performance as a psychopath since Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He's like an alien trying to make sense out of the behavior of human beings. The performance steals the film.

5. Seriously, Hollywood- stop putting out all of the good movies in the same month! You could have adults going to the cinema all year long. Instead, you schedule 11 months of the CGI kiddie matinee crap and one month of movies for adults. Now we have to scramble and take out a loan in order to see No Country for Old Men, Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Atonement, and God knows what else before they're gone.

6. Admittedly though, I hung around in the lobby afterwards and listened to the other audience members expressing serious confusion about what they had just seen. And it was not a particularly confusing movie. So, maybe the audience is dumbing down Hollywood and not vice-versa. So far, Alvin and the Shit-eating soulless Chipmunks has made between three and four times as much money as this pitch perfect masterpiece.


Scientific American has an article about something I was talking about this morning with Claire- the use of hallucinogens to treat mental illness. There's quite a bit of research going on in this area. It's sure to be controversial, but has anyone else heard of using hallucinogens this way? I've known people who believed that they had ended their clinical depression through LSD. Also, I've read about people using much lesser-known hallucinogens to kick herion addiction, quite successfully in fact, without actually getting addicted to the hallucinogens. Actually, is it even possible to get addicted to LSD?


Make way for the Homo Superior

Okay, so here's an interesting topic: Mensa. Has anyone been to their meetings? I'm going to arrogantly assume that the regulars could all get in. I'm befuddled, but could qualify. Holly, Hiromi, and Claire are all Smarty Smartsteins. Greg could probably control Mensa with his mind...

But, I'll be honest, Mensa has always struck me as a bit... I don't know, eugenic. There's something a bit weird about getting people with "superior intelligence" together to form a society. What do they do, sit around and finish crossword puzzles together? Do they want you to breed with other high IQ people? How far do you have to go from socializing primarily with other brainiacs to writing studies of the Jukes and the Kallikaks and advocating sterilization for low IQ people?

Okay, that's probably unfair. It's not like they're a lobbying group, right? I mean, Claire's told me that they basically get drunk and do anagrams! Also, it strikes me that Mensa is one of the only truly affirming social organizations that I can think of. Most social organizations empower their members in some way, but they generally mix the praise with the shame in a way that Mensa really doesn't. Unlike political, therapeutic, or religious groups, Mensa don't really imply that their members need them, or that they're flawed or embattled without them. I think this is a point in their favor.

In other words, Mensa is the only social group I can think of that has the life-affirming elements with none of the lowering elements. It's weirdly Nietzschean, isn't it? Actually, that's not entirely true- I'd imagine that body building clubs are similar. I wonder if anyone's ever formed a Mensa weight-lifting club. They could bench press and do anagrams!

Postscript: We could also form our own Mensa. With hookers and blackjack.


David Lynch on Product Placement


David Lynch on the iPhone


Friday, January 04, 2008

Here's a pretty eerie picture of Marc Bolan from the early 70s. Bolan was probably the biggest thing in British rock after the Beatles broke up- a mix of rock swagger, pop exuberance, and spacey surrealism. Bowie was great, but there probably would have been no glitter rock without T-Rex.
Last September marked the 30th anniversary of Bolan's death in a tragic car crash. Bolan himself didn't drive. He had this picture taken because he believed for several years that he would eventually die in a car crash. Does anyone else wonder how to explain these people who have a strong and correct sense of how they will die? It's actually pretty fascinating to me. I'm really glad that I have no idea how I'm going to go.


Der Spiegel says there's no freakin' way Obama's going to get the Presidential nomination for of all the usual reasons: he's too young, his message is too vague, and candidates who win in Iowa don't usually win elsewhere. And then there's this: "and for many Americans, too black." I hear this all the time from Europeans- it's impossible that those bigoted Americans would ever vote for a black man. I think the Obama people should use it in their campaign.
"Vote for Obama and tell Europe to suck it!"

Obama people- give me a call if you want to use that. I've got more where that came from.


Radiohead - Scotch Mist

I realize that many of you won't care about this, but Claire will be happy to see it.


The Who-Gives-A-Fuck Iowa Caucus Report

There were a number of surprises in Iowa last night, but the big winner was America. Now we don’t have to listen to about half of these people over the next year.

The best news for us here at GSM, of course, is that Michelle Obama has moved one step closer to becoming First Lady. She's really accomplished something great here, although we should point out that Ms. Obama has gotten a lot of help from her husband, Barack Obama.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee won, all thanks to the divine hand of Providence. Also a really sleazy attack ad, directed by Jesus, that he decided not to run... and then held a press conference to show it to reporters. You know, so that they'd understand why he didn't run it... and air it on the national news with an explanation of what a good man he is. He's also planning to air it during the Super Bowl with the message: "I'm Mike Huckabee. Isn't this ad gross? Glad I didn't run it, huh? Thanks a lot, Jesus! You've ruined your sister's birthday party!"
Seriously though, my favorite slur that Huckabee made against Romney in that ad? "No executions!" Seriously. Because Jesus hates pussies. My favorite (real) Huckabee line about the ad? On CNN, Huckabee patted himself on the back for not running the ad (after having done so twice) by saying: "What shall it profit a man, if he should win all the world and lose his own soul?" Republican voters have rewarded him for being a transparent douche.

Mitt Romney came in second, and came one step closer to removing his latex mask and revealing that he's a lizard soldier from the planet Zarcon. I might vote for him in order to see this.

Fred Thompson came in third thanks to the votes of Law & Order fans as well as Republican voters who thought it might be a crazy lark to elect a candidate who is a moderately decent human being.

John McCain came in fourth. To win over Republican voters, he is planning to change his bio: he didn't get tortured in Vietnam; he tortured them, Dude! Again, Jesus hates pussies.

Lastly, Rudy Guiliani sucked it hard, which was especially disappointing for him since he's already changed his name to El Presidente and chosen the palace concubines who will serve in his administration. He is planning to win in the other states by playing even scarier ads, including one that alternates the words "9/11" and "terrorists" as the theme to Jaws plays loudly in the background. His new slogan? "Guiliani. Come with me if you want to live!"
Incidentally, if I was President, first thing I would do is to get a throne like Jabba the Hut, complete with a small frog bowl. I wouldn't eat them; I'd just keep them around and scare them.

On the Democratic side, John Edwards came in second. No doubt there is some right-wing talk show host right now sputtering: "They voted for Edwards?!! B-bu-but, people! He gets haircuts! Don't you hear me?!!" To step up his style of campaigning thus far, Edwards plans to punch Hillary Clinton in the face.

Hillary Clinton came in third among Democrats. Experts agree that losing Iowa won't necessarily hurt her, although her head did explode. She is planning to dispatch her crack team of small, flying monkeys in vests and fezzes to bring her that Obama, and his little dog, too.

The Clinton News Network (CNN) who last told us that her three-point lead was "strong" and "decisive" now assured viewers that Ms. Clinton's loss "was not necessarily bad for her." She's still leading in New Hampshire, decisively and strongly, I'd imagine.

Anyway, it was good news overall. I like most of the candidates running to some extent. I'm not exactly thrilled about Huckabee. But, remember that the Democrats had twice as many voters turn out to cast ballots as did Republicans, so Obama beat Huckabee overall, which makes the Baby Jesus cry. And that's good for all of us.