Friday, May 31, 2013

You Will Never Sleep With a Woman Who Looks Like That

If you discount countless, forgettable chunks of time spent at school, home, and 7-Eleven, I passed most of my waking hours from ages ten through twelve playing baseball and goofing off with friends at the Point Loma Little League fields. Those two adjacent baseball fields were about a mile from my house, and twice a week my team, the San Diego Credit Union Padres, would gather there to practice.

"You should just be called the Padres, not all that bullshit about credit unions," my dad said, as he drove me to the field on the opening day of the season when I was eleven years old.

"But the credit union pays for us to have a team," I said.

"Yeah, well, I pay for you to do everything, and you don't see me making you wear a shirt with my giant goddamned face on it."

"That would be a weird shirt," I said.

"Please. You wear all kinds of dopey shirts, and — what the fuck am I talking about right here? The shirt's not real, I'm just making a point. You got your gear?" he asked, pulling up to the field.

Saturdays were filled with a full lineup of games, all of which the league's players were required to attend, so my parents could drop me off bright and early and then do whatever they wanted all day until my game. The prospect of a morning to himself was very exciting for my dad.

"There's a lot of good teams this year, I think," I said, continuing our conversation as we arrived at the fields.

He reached over me and popped open my door.

"Fascinating. Now out of the car. Vamoose. Out! Out! Have fun and don't screw with anyone bigger than you. I'll be in the stands when your game starts," he said.

I put my hand up for a high five, and he used that hand to push me out of the car. Then his Oldsmobile screeched away up the street, like he was fleeing the scene of a double homicide.

When we weren't playing in a game, most of the Little Leaguers would keep busy playing tag in between the two fields or eating a spicy linguiça sausage made by the local Portuguese family that ran the snack shack above the field.

Every once in a while, someone would raise talk of venturing into the canyon that sat about fifty yards beyond the outfield fences. We were all scared of the canyon. It was packed with trees that grew so close together their branches became intertwined like a bundle of snakes. The canyon's ground was muddy, and it emitted an odor that registered somewhere between "maple syrup" and "rest-stop bath room." It was a group of cannibals short of being the perfect setting for an Indiana Jones film.

Every kid you ran into had a different theory about what lurked inside the canyon walls. "My brother found a pile of poo there that he said was too big to be dog poo or cat poo, but not big enough to be human poo. He said it's probably wolf poo," said my friend Steven as we waited for the game ahead of us to finish so we could take the field.

"Your brother's an idiot," said Michael, the chubby catcher on my team, who always wore his hat backward, so that the back of it came down right above his dark-green eyes. "A bunch of gays live in there. That's where they butt-fuck each other."

"What? Why wouldn't they do that at their house?" I asked.

"I don't know, I'm not a homo. But if you want to get butt-fucked, go into that canyon," he responded, inhaling a bite of sausage that would have killed a lesser twelve-year-old.

At that point in my life, the only two things that scared me were the movie Arachnophobia and that canyon. I tried to never get too close to it, for fear that something might reach out of the forest and pull me in. If I absolutely had to go near to chase an errant throw, my neck would stiffen and my breath would quicken as my body prepared to flee. I decided to run the theories about its inhabitants past my father to see if he had a scientific opinion on the matter.

"Why would gay people screw each other in a canyon filled with wolves?" my dad asked me as he drove us home after my game, my mom sitting beside him in the passenger seat.

"No, that's not what I said. One kid said there were wolves. It was a different kid who said the thing — "

"Hey, look at me, I'm screwing. My pants are off. Oh shit, there's an angry fucking wolf. Does that make any goddamn sense to you?"

"No. But that's not — "

"Plus," my dad interrupted again, "I don't even think wolves are indigenous to this area. Your school takes field trips. You ever heard them say shit to you about wolves? You gotta think about these things critically, son."

"No, I do. I didn't think that the wolves were — "

My mom turned to face me in the backseat. "Also, Justy, you know that homosexuals have sex just like heterosexuals do: in the privacy of their homes. Not in the woods."

"Although sometimes straight people do screw each other in the woods. Mostly when you're in high school, though," my dad added.

I decided to drop the conversation. But that week, on two consecutive nights, I had nightmares about the canyon. Each involved me finding something terrifying in a clearing at the center. In the first dream, I stumbled upon an aquarium that had a screaming Patrick Swayze trapped inside of it, begging me for help, but I was too scared to approach him. In the second, I was confronted by a large squid that had two or three sets of human legs. After that last dream I shot up out of bed, wide awake. I tried falling back to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes I pictured the canyon, then Swayze, then Squidman.

Hoping it would relax me, I tiptoed out of my bedroom to grab some water from the kitchen. I was still shaken from the dream, and the shapes of the shadows on the hallway wall looked ominous. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw something move, and I froze in place. It's just a shadow that looks like a person, I told myself. It's not a person.

"What in the hell are you doing?"

I shrieked like a frightened monkey and jumped back, crashing into the bookcase behind me. As my eyes adjusted I realized that the shadow was my dad, sitting in total darkness in the La-Z-Boy chair that faced the windows to our backyard.

"Jesus H. Christ. Calm down, son. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I had a freaky dream," I said, trying to catch my breath. "What are you doing?"

"I'm sitting in the dark drinking a hot toddy. What the hell does it look like?"

"Why are you doing that right now? It's the middle of the night."

"Well, contrary to popular fucking belief, I enjoy a little time to myself, so I wake up early so I can have it. Clearly I'm going to have to start waking up earlier."

"Oh. Well, sorry. Didn't mean to bother you," I said, turning to head back to bed, glass of water forgotten.

"No apologies necessary," he said.

Maybe it was the bourbon in the hot toddy, or the serenity of the darkness all around him, but at that moment my dad seemed uncharacteristically at ease.

"Can I ask you a question?" I said, turning to face him again.

"Fire away."

"If something's freaking you out, what do you do to not freak out about it?"

"Is this about that Arachnophobia movie, again? I told you, a spider that large couldn't sustain itself in an urban environment. The ecosystem is too delicate. Not fucking plausible."

"It's not about Arachnophobia. It's just — if something's freaking you out, how do you get it to not freak you out?"

He raised his mug of hot toddy to his lips and took a big slurp.

"Well, scientifically speaking, human beings fear the unknown. So, whatever's freaking you out, grab it by the balls and say hello," he said.

I had no idea what that meant, and even in the dimly lit living room he could tell.

"I'm saying, if something's scaring you out, don't run from it. Find out everything you can about it. Then it ain't the unknown anymore and it ain't scary." He paused. "Or I guess it could be a shitload scarier. Mostly the former, though."

As I padded down the hallway back to my room, I knew what had to be done: I had to enter the canyon. There was just no way I was going it alone.

by Justin Halpern, Grantland |  Read more:
Photo: courtesy Justin Halpern

Cy Tombly from Cycles and Seasons 

Aldo Rossi / 1981

Natalie Maines: A Dixie Chick Declares War on Nashville

In 1986, while George W. Bush was busy finding Jesus and swearing off alcohol, a spunky little blond girl named Natalie Maines was finishing sixth grade in sleepy Lubbock, Texas. At a graduation ceremony, one of her favorite teachers offered a mock prediction: She would be elected president of the United States, then get "kicked out of office for excessive talking." For Maines, who instead grew up to be the Dixie Chicks' lead singer, then the most vilified woman in Dixie, and now, at age 38, a fledgling solo artist, the story proves one thing: "I was born outspoken. It followed me my whole life."

For nearly seven years, though, in the wake of the Chicks' last album, 2006's Taking the Long Way, she was uncharacteristically quiet. Instead of recording new music or touring (outside of scattered Chicks dates), Maines was at home: raising two kids while her husband, former Heroes star Adrian Pasdar, pursued his acting career; gardening in her lush Brentwood backyard; folding laundry while she listened to Howard Stern on the radio. "People have a very romantic idea of what they'd do if they could sing," she says, displaying no apparent exertion as she trots up a nearly vertical section of a hiking trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, a few minutes from home. "But I'm a mom, and it takes a lot of time." She claims, with a laugh, that she put out her rock-dominated solo debut, Mother, largely to get people to stop bugging her to make new music. "I didn't think I had time in my life for this," she says. "I sing all the time. But maybe nobody's hearing it, because I'm singing in my car or in my house or whatever. I don't need the roar of the crowd, and I don't need to hear cheers to feel validated."

Six mornings a week, Maines hikes this vertiginous five-mile-long path, which offers a brutal workout and a Lord of the Rings-worthy view that stretches for miles, even on today's cool and overcast spring morning. Maines is as fed up with country music as anyone still in a group called the Dixie Chicks could possibly be, but she still craves the wide-open spaces she used to sing about. Or else she just needs someplace big and quiet to process all that's happened to her. "It's probably good for her mentally, to kind of air her brain out," says her dad, Lloyd Maines, a famed steel guitarist and producer in his own right. "And she looks to me like she's in the best shape of her life." It's almost silent up here, except for the crunch of our feet on the dirt trail, the panting of her dogs, Mabel (a white Labrador) and Banjo (a friendly, dreadlocked puli, a breed introduced to her by Taking the Long Way producer Rick Rubin), and my own increasingly labored breathing. "I usually run the second part," Maines says. "But I won't make you do that!"

When fellow hikers pass by, they offer no more than friendly nods – no one recognizes her. Maines has a blunt-force haircut she compares to Rachel Maddow's, and is wearing a blue windbreaker over a sleeveless sweatshirt, a gray tee, running shorts and yellow-and-blue-neon running shoes. She looks, at the moment, more like an unusually attractive high school volleyball coach than anyone's idea of a star. "The short hair fits my personality more," she says. "I think maybe, with long hair, it was a role – I was playing dress-up a bit." (...)

For anyone who really knew her, it was no surprise when, on March 10th, 2003, Maines stood onstage in London, on the eve of the Iraq War, and made a casual comment, punctuated with a smile: "Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." For country-radio programmers, and at least a hysterical minority of fans, it was as if she'd French-kissed Saddam Hus­sein while setting fire to a puppy wrapped in the American flag. An unprecedented boycott and high-tech lynching followed – often overtly sexist, with drown-the-witch overtones: Bill O'Reilly calling them "callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around" wasn't even the worst of it. As chronicled in the superb 2006 documentary Shut Up and Sing, Maines and her bandmates handled it with strength and grace, touring in the face of death threats, playing with their young kids backstage while protesters screamed and smashed CDs outside the venues. Recorded with the controversy fresh in their minds, the barely-country Taking the Long Way turned out to be one of the Chicks' best albums, slapping down their critics while winning five Grammys and selling 2.5 million copies despite near-zero country-radio support.

But the backlash left inevitable scars. "I joke that I have PTSD, but there's probably truth in that joke," Maines says, blue eyes shining. "It all put an ugly light on people that I was kind of happily naive to. But when I was going through it, I really didn't feel like it was affecting me. I was in fight mode and battle mode, and I felt, you know, I was right, and free to say what I want to say." She went into therapy in the past few years. "Not just stuff with the controversy, but I think I've always been sort of a person that just pushes the feelings down, and then they do eventually come back up. So I didn't have tools to know how to deal with them or acknowledge them. I always like to pretend everything's OK. I'm a shyer person now, less trusting." (...)

Harper and Maines never discussed genre: "The words 'rock,' or 'country,' or 'soul' . . . none of that ever came up," says Harper. But as co-producer, Maines knew exactly what she wanted it all to sound like, even singing melodies for guitar solos and bass lines – and she was quite certain that she never wanted to make anything resembling a country album again. "I can't listen to our second album," she says, referring to the Chicks' 1999 breakthrough, Fly. "Because I was really, like, embracing country and really waving that country flag. My accent is so out of control on that album. I'm like, 'Who is that?'"

When the Bush controversy hit, Maines was stunned. "I always thought they accepted us in spite of the fact that we were different," she says. "It shocked me and kind of grossed me out that people thought I would be a conservative right-winger, that I'd be a redneck. But at that time, people didn't ask us things like, 'What do you think of gay marriage?' If they had, they would have learned how liberal I was. But I was so confused by who people thought I was and what I had been putting out there."

Afterward, she started acting out. "There was a part of me that was like, 'Oh, this isn't OK? Fuck that.' I didn't know the cat was in the bag, but it felt so good that the cat was out of the bag. Then I definitely just went, 'Oh, really? You don't like that? Well, how about this? Not only do I not like this president, I love gay people! And I'm pro-legalization of marijuana and all drugs! Yeah, let me blow your mind.'"

by Brian Hyatt, Rolling Stone |  Read more:
Photo: Mark Seliger

Behind the 'Internet of Things' Is Android—and It's Everywhere

Ken Oyadomari’s work space at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., looks like a triage tent for smartphones. Parts from dozens of disassembled devices are strewn on workbenches. A small team of young engineers picks through the electronic carnage, carefully extracting playing card-size motherboards—the microprocessing heart of most computers—that will be repurposed as the brains of spacecraft no bigger than a softball. Satellites usually cost millions of dollars to build and launch. The price of Oyadomari’s nanosats, as they’ve become known, is around $15,000 and dropping. He expects them to be affordable for high school science classes, individual hobbyists, or anyone who wants to perform science experiments in space.

A big reason nanosats are so small and cheap: They run on Google’s Android operating system, familiar to anyone who’s shopped for a smartphone or tablet. It’s the No. 1 mobile OS by a wide margin; Android handsets outsell Apple’s iPhones globally by about 4 to 1. Impressive as those numbers are, they actually understate Android’s prevalence, because increasingly it’s the operating system behind just about anything with a computer chip. Along with Oyadomari’s nanosats, three of which recently went into orbit, Android runs espresso makers, video game consoles, refrigerators, rifles that post video to Facebook, and robotic harvesters for farms.

Android is becoming the standard operating system for the “Internet of things”—Silicon Valley’s voguish term for the expanding interconnectedness of smart devices, ranging from sensors in your shoe to jet engine monitors. As each of these devices hits the market, Google further outflanks Apple and Microsoft as the dominant software player in a connected world.

Android’s risen so fast in part because Google gives away the software to device makers and developers. Google is counting on making money from ads and other services on Android phones and tablets. The software is also open-source: Anyone can tinker with the code and use it in any gadget they want. The NASA engineers fine-tuned the operating system to require less power, letting their tiny satellites run for days on a handful of batteries. “If we can have satellites that are really small and really cheap, it will be interesting to see what some guy in his garage will be able to do with them,” says Oyadomari.  (...)

Google isn’t the only tech company to introduce its own minimalist, Linux-based operating system. Years ago, Intel developed a version of Linux for mobile called Moblin, while Nokia built another version called Maemo. Palm’s WebOS also had Linux at its core. As usually happens with operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows on PCs in the 1990s, tech companies coalesced around one product. For just about everything that isn’t a server or a PC, the winner is Android.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the nonprofit Linux Foundation, says Android has conquered the device market from the bottom up. The operating system ran on 75 percent of the smartphones—162 million units—shipped during the first quarter of this year, according to the research firm IDC. While iPhones and iPads come in very few versions and only from Apple, Android-powered mobile hardware of all shapes and sizes and brands has flooded the marketplace. The companies that build components have had to scramble to make sure everything they make functions well with all those gadgets. The result is a huge and growing number of hardware makers and software companies becoming expert in all things Android. “Every screen variant, mobile chip, and sensor known to man has been tuned to work with Android,” Zemlin says. “There’s this network effect, so that now anyone who wants to make a custom product can take Android and morph it into anything.”

by Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image via:

ACO Underground ft. Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)


[ed. See also, this Duck Soup post: Are Cycle Helmets Really Useful?]

About a year ago my 14-year-old daughter needed a new bicycle helmet. Her skull and level of sophistication had both outgrown her old pink flowery one. We paid a visit to the local bike shop. On a far wall our options were stacked five high and 10 wide: multivented Specialized models, slick red and black designs by Giro, brightly colored versions manufactured by Bell. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to the prices, which ranged from $40 to $120.

"Do any of these provide better protection than the others?" I asked the guy working the floor. "Does price reflect safety?"

I trust the guy working the floor. Over the years he's sold me tubes, tires, lube, shoes, gloves. He knows his merchandise.

"Not really," he said. "They all pass the same certification test." The difference, he told us, is in style, fit, comfort, and ventilation.

That struck me as odd. We live in an age of near-comical product differentiation. You can buy cough syrup in 14 formulas, coffee in dozens of permutations. Yet when it comes to bike helmets, I later learned, we're all wearing decorative versions of the same Model T: a thick foam liner (actually expanded polystyrene, or EPS) attached to a thin plastic outer shell. The basic setup hasn't changed much since the first one was sold in 1975.

That classic design deserves serious plaudits. The $40 helmet is one of the great success stories of the past half-­century. Like seat belts, air bags, and smoke detectors, bike helmets save countless lives every year. They do a stellar job of preventing catastrophic skull fractures, plus dings and scrapes from low-hanging tree branches and other common nuisances.

But what about concussions? A friend of mine, Sheilagh Griffin, commutes on her bike and races cyclocross on weekends. During a recent race she had lost control and flown over the bar. Though she'd been wearing a helmet, headaches plagued her for the next few days. Her doctor diagnosed a concussion. Twenty years ago that wasn't such a big deal. It was a shake-it-off ­injury. You popped two aspirin and saddled up again the next day.

That has changed. Sheilagh's doctor told her to stop racing until the headaches subsided. And then sit out for one or two more weeks, to decrease the odds of a vastly more problematic second concussion. (...)

Standing in the shop, my thoughts turned to my daughter's precious brain. Most of us reflexively strap on helmets assuming they'll protect us. But how well do they actually do the job? I wanted to know if the technology and design of the headwear had kept up with our growing understanding of what goes on inside our skulls. I started asking questions.

Over the past year I toured helmet labs, interviewed brain researchers and government regulators, and pored over dusty volumes in medical archives. What I found was troubling.

Statistics don't tell the whole story, but they're a good place to start.

Stat #1: More people are riding. Between 1995 and 2009, the annual number of bike trips in the United States grew by 30 percent, and the number of daily bike commuters grew by 60 percent.

Stat #2: Despite that growth, until recently bicycle-traffic deaths were declining. From 1995 to 1997, an average of 804 cyclists in the United States died every year in motor-vehicle crashes. During an equivalent three-year period from 2008 to 2010, that average fell to 655. The number went up in 2011, but there's evidence that cycling is becoming safer. That's partly a result of more bike lanes and other infrastructure, and partly because more riders make roads safer for cyclists. But at least some of the decline can be ­attributed to helmet use. By 1999 half of all riders were wearing them—up from just 18 percent eight years earlier—and that figure almost certainly increased as many cities passed mandatory-helmet laws. (No reliable survey on helmet use has been published since 1999.)

Here's the trouble. Stat #3: As more people buckled on helmets, brain injuries also increased. Between 1997 and 2011 the number of bike-related concussions suffered annually by American riders­ increased by 67 percent, from 9,327 to 15,546, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a yearly sampling of hospital emergency­ rooms conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Of course, concussions are more readily diagnosed now than they were 15 years ago. That likely accounts for some of the increase. It's also possible that some of the 149 fewer riders killed every year survived to get lumped into the brain-injury ­category. But that still leaves thousands unaccounted for. We're left with this stark statistical fact: The concussion rate among bicycle riders has grown faster than the sport.

by Bruce Barcott, Bicycling |  Read more:
Photo: Jonathan Sprague

Letter To A Young Programmer Considering A Startup

If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, you’ve grown up in a world that has come to idealize startups, their founders, and the people who go to work at them.

If you’re in school, maybe you’ve felt pressure or been incentivized to drop out and join or start a company. If you’re already out in the working world, perhaps you feel that your non-startup job is in some way inadequate, or that you’re missing out on valuable experience and potential wealth.

The generation you’ve grown up in has, for the past few years, teetered on the brink of being “lost”. Jobs are scarce, and going to university offers no assurance of landing one. Big, old corporations are no longer guaranteed safe havens in which to build a career. Startups seem, through the lens of the media, like the only sign of life in an otherwise dying landscape. I understand their appeal.

Everyone’s path is different, and your choices are your own. That said, you aren’t making your choices in a vacuum. Here are some things to consider that, in my experience, you’re less likely to hear about working in startups.

A startup is just a means to an end.

I recently interviewed a young man. I asked him where he wants to be in four years. “Running my own company,” he said without hesitation. I asked why. “Because entrepreneurship is in my blood,” he replied. There was no mention of what his hypothetical company would do, what problem it would solve for people. His goal was business for the sake of business. That’s what he had gone to school for, after all.

People are fulfilled by their work when they operate with a sense of purpose. So much of our understanding of the psychology of success is around setting goals and keeping those goals at top of mind: visualizing the moment of accomplishment, tracking our progress towards it, having others hold us accountable to reaching it. Goals give shape to our individual futures.

Maybe a startup is the best way to meet a goal, and maybe it isn’t. If the goal of the young man described above is to run a business – any business! – then perhaps a startup is indeed his best path forward. For others, though, I often wonder if they’re fitting their goals into the format of a startup because it’s an approach that’s lauded, admired, and easily understood (if not easily accomplished). (...)

A startup job is the new office job. Startup culture is the new corporate culture.

Startups are portrayed as an exciting, risky, even subversive alternative to traditional corporate work. Startups are thought of as more free, more open and flexible. Some companies surely begin that way, but a few interviews at later-stage startups will make clear just how quickly they ossify into structures that look very much like the organizations that came before them. (...)

Business school graduates like the young man I interviewed are going directly from college to startups, if they even finish school at all. Business majors, traditionally risk-averse, now say they don’t want to work for big companies. But startups are the new big company. They are, as I’ll describe below, the field offices of a large distributed workforce assembled by venture capitalists and their associate institutions.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an office job. Just realize what you’re signing up for. When the company-provided keg runs dry, the free lunches are making you fat, and playing the Xbox in the break room is no longer as fun as it used to be, what then? When you find that you now report to a politicking middle manager and not the inspiring CEO who interviewed you, will you still want to be there? Is a supposedly novel working environment enough to sustain you? When everywhere you might consider working looks more or less the same, is the novelty even there? (...)

Startups are part of the system, not a rebellious wrench in the cogs.

The funding for startups – that is, the money that pays your prospective salary – comes from somewhere. Wealthy individuals and institutions invest in startups as just another asset class. The futurist Bruce Sterling recently quipped that “start-ups are full of [young] people working hard to make other people rich – Baby Boomer financiers mainly”. While that might be an overly general and cynical take it’s by no means untrue. (...)

There is nothing inherently disruptive about a venture-backed startup. The startup system is just another system; an alternative to the corporate ladder with just as many rungs to climb. Some startups may end up dramatically reshaping a market, but then so might an incumbent player or an active regulator.

The now-perennial celebration of startup-driven disruption begs the question: if we accept that disruption is even happening, are we better off in the resulting disrupted market? Have we solved a problem, or have we shifted the problem elsewhere? Have we created value while furthering justice and equality, thus yielding enduringly positive change? Or have we merely made one group of wealthy people slightly more rich at the expense of another group of wealthy people? Are we creating a better future or just scrambling up the present?

by Alex Payne, |  Read more:
Image: Shutterstock via Wired

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brazilian people (by Lucas Ninno)

Quote of the Day

The CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. says there’s no quick replacement for oil, and sharply cutting oil’s use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would make it harder to lift 2 billion people out of poverty.

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” CEO Rex Tillerson said at the oil giant’s annual meeting Wednesday.

by David Koenig, TPM |  Read more:
Image: Donna McWilliam

Japanese Vegetable Pancakes (Okonomiyaki)

[ed. I'd think ready-made tonkatsu or hoisin sauce would work equally as well.]

Okonomiyaki are traditionally served squeezed with a generous criss-cross of Japanese mayonnaise and a okonomiyaki sauce, tangy-sweet-salty mixture I’d liken to Japanese barbecue sauce, which is sold in bottles but I attempted to cobble together a version from recipes I found online, below. Please forgive me if the flavor isn’t perfect; I am new to it, but we loved it, just the same. Pancakes are then sprinkled with bonito flakes, seaweed flakes or even pickled ginger, but we enjoyed ours with a finely slivered scallion and toasted sesame seeds. I imagine they’d also be good with bites dipped in a simpler dumpling dipping sauce.

Yield: 4 large pancakes or I am really sorry, but I forgot to count, but I’d say at least 12, probably 14, smaller ones

1/2 small head cabbage, very thinly sliced (1 pound or 5 to 6 cups shreds) which will be easiest on a mandoline if you have one
4 medium carrots, peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
5 lacinato kale leaves, ribs removed, leaves cut into thin ribbons
4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Canola, safflower or peanut oil for frying

Tangy Sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (note: this is not vegetarian)
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon rice cooking wine or sake
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey (use 2 if you like a sweeter sauce)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Make the pancakes: Toss cabbage, carrot, kale, scallions and salt together in a large bowl. Toss mixture with flour so it coats all of the vegetables. Stir in the eggs. Heat a large heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Coat the bottom with oil and heat that too.

To make a large pancake, add 1/4 of the vegetable mixture to the skillet, pressing it out into a 1/2- to 3/4-inch pancake. Gently press the pancake down flat. Cook until the edges beging to brown, about 3 minutes. 30 seconds to 1 minute later, flip the pancake with a large spatula. (If this is terrifying, you can first slide the pancake onto a plate, and, using potholders, reverse it back into the hot skillet.) Cook on the other side until the edges brown, and then again up to a minute more (you can peek to make sure the color is right underneath).

To make small pancakes, you can use tongs but I seriously find using my fingers and grabbing little piles, letting a little batter drip back into the bowl, and depositing them in piles on the skillet easier, to form 3 to 4 pancakes. Press down gently with a spatula to they flatten slightly, but no need to spread them much. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the edges brown. Flip the pancakes and cook them again until brown underneath.

by Smitten Kitchen | Read more:
Images: uncredited
(Adapted, just a little, from Josher Walker of Xiao Bao Biscuit, in Charleston, SC via Tasting Table)

GMO Wheat Found in Oregon

Unapproved genetically engineered wheat has been discovered in an Oregon field, a potential threat to trade with countries that have concerns about genetically modified foods.

The US Agriculture Department said Wednesday that the genetically engineered wheat is safe to eat and there is no evidence that modified wheat entered the marketplace. But the department is investigating how it ended up in the field, whether there was any criminal wrongdoing and whether its growth is widespread.

"We are taking this very seriously," said Michael Firko of the Agriculture Department's animal and plant health inspection service.

A farmer discovered the genetically modified plants on his farm and contacted Oregon State University, which notified USDA early this month, Firko said.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for US farming. USDA officials said the wheat is the same strain as a genetically modified wheat that was legally tested by seed giant Monsanto a decade ago but never approved. Monsanto stopped testing that product in Oregon and several other states in 2005.

The discovery could have far-reaching implications for the US wheat industry if the growth of the engineered product turns out to be far-flung. Many countries around the world will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the United States exports about half of its wheat crop.

Oregon department of agriculture director Katy Coba said in a statement that the discovery is "a very serious development that could have major trade ramifications". The state exports about 90% of its wheat.

"I am concerned that a highly regulated plant material such as genetically modified wheat somehow was able to escape into a crop field," she said.

USDA officials declined to speculate whether the modified seeds blew into the field from a testing site or if they were somehow planted or taken there, and they would not identify the farmer or the farm's location. The Oregon department of agriculture said the field is in the eastern part of the state.

The discovery also could have implications for organic companies, which by law cannot use genetically engineered ingredients in its foods. Organic farmers have frequently expressed concern that genetically modified seed will blow into organic farms and contaminate their products.

by AP Washington, (via The Guardian) |  Read more:
Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

Sarah Jarosz (feat. Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas)

Sigrid Viir, Achievement Counter

Welcome to the Real Space Age

This is not a rendering. It is a launching pad in the New Mexico desert for rocket planes that will send you into space for $200,000. It opens later this year.

At dawn one morning last November—just as the edge of Earth comprising Florida spun into the field of light bursting from roughly 93 million miles away—she emerged one last time from the monstrous doors of the Vehicle Assembly Building, twelve stories long but dwarfed. This was what had been billed as the “final mission” of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, a 9.8-mile journey to her final resting place at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitors’ complex. That Atlantis’s journey would begin at the VAB—525 feet tall, the largest single-story structure in the world, having sprouted a half-century ago in the frenzy of the space race, as stupendous an achievement as each of the space-faring rockets that would be assembled inside it—multiplied the emotion.

Very far away, still sheathed in its massive launch-apparatus exoskeleton, one could make out Launchpad 39A, site of the historic Apollo 11 moonwalking blastoff, where Atlantis had also taken off to orbit the Earth, once more and finally, in 2011, marking the last in NASA’s 30-year-old shuttle program. The other surviving orbiters, Discovery and Endeavor, had already completed their extraordinary processionals to museums in northern Virginia and Los Angeles (the latter requiring hundreds of trees cut and roadways reconfigured to accommodate its size). A throng of personnel was on hand, those who had built and maintained and flown her, including some of the 7,000 whose jobs were ending with the program. With signs and T-shirts that read WE LOVE YOU ATLANTIS and THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES and WE MADE HISTORY, they fell in behind her. Many wiped away tears as she crept along at two miles an hour, past the dense, still swampland that had, many times before, exploded along with her, the alligators and pigs and birds flushing at her ignition, the fish heaving themselves from the water, the light from the trail of fire flashing from their scales.

Now the procession was funereal. For NASA’s public-relations machine, desperate to engage Americans’ notoriously fickle interest, it would amount to an odd victory: Stories about Atlantis’s retirement appeared in media outlets across the globe, all written as obituaries. The events of the following evening were equally bleak: A formal dinner at the nearby Radisson commemorating the mission of Apollo 17, whose lunar module had closed its hatch 40 years earlier and ferried the last man back from the moon. In attendance were ten surviving Apollo astronauts, an extraordinary group to say the least, the only men to have traveled to the moon, now gray-haired or bald. Their fears for the nation’s space future were well aired; many of them—including the famously reticent Neil Armstrong, whose recent death had cast a significant pall—had written letters to President Obama saying his space policy portended the nation’s “long downhill slide to mediocrity.” Just as China rushes to land on the moon by the end of this decade, the astronauts noted ruefully, the U.S. is now essentially vehicleless. For a taxpayer-funded fare of almost $71 million per seat, American astronauts are now taxied to the International Space Station by their former archenemies, the Russians, aboard the old, reliable Soyuz rockets against which NASA once raced. The delivery of cargo is now outsourced to private companies. In a tear-stained column titled “In an Earthbound Era, Heaven Has to Wait,” the Times’s Frank Bruni said that for Americans already “profoundly doubtful” and “shaken,” the shuttle’s end “carries the force of cruel metaphor, coming at a time when limits are all we talk about. When we have no stars in our eyes.”

All of which made the scene I’d observed in a desert town in southern New Mexico a week earlier even more exceptional.

In a landscape redolent of Mars, a group of scientists, many of them young NASA astronauts recently decamped to private industry, practically evangelized about this very moment: Unbeknownst to most of the world, after decades of failed Jetsons-esque promises of individual jetpacks for all, people—civilians, you and me, though with a good deal more means—are finally about to ascend to the heavens. If the twentieth-century space race was about the might of the American government, the emerging 21st-century space age is about something perhaps even more powerful—the might of money. The necessary technology has converged in the hands of a particularly boyish group of billionaires whose Right Stuff is less hard-boiled test-pilot, more high-tech entrepreneuring wunderkind—and whose individual financial means eclipse those of most nations. A massive industry is coalescing around them. Towns and states and even some countries are fighting one another for a piece of it. In New Mexico, workers are putting the finishing touches on the first of at least ten spaceports currently under construction around the world. More than 800 people have paid as much as $200,000 apiece to reserve seats on commercial flights into space, some of which are expected to launch, at long last, within a year. Space-travel agents are being trained; space suits are being designed for sex appeal as much as for utility; the founder of the Budget hotel chain is developing pods for short- and long-term stays in Earth’s orbit and beyond. Over beers one night, a former high-ranking NASA official, now employed by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin transportation conglomerate, put it plainly: “We happen to be alive at the moment when humanity starts leaving the planet.”

by Dan P. Lee, New York Magazine |  Read more:
Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Galactic


Tatsuro Yamashita

アトムの子 /92' Live Version/山下達郎
[ed. Child of atom/Tatsuro Yamashita]

Making His Life the Party

The Paramount Hotel in Times Square may not have hosted a spectacle like this since the ’40s, when Billy Rose, the hallowed New York showman, trotted out 6-foot-tall showgirls for Broadway divas and Hollywood stars.

On a recent Thursday night, go-go girls in silky white capes swung from on high, as art heavyweights like Larry Gagosian and Simon de Pury mixed with fashion celebrities like Vera Wang and Tory Burch, and waiters in crisp white shirts and skinny black ties passed through the room with trays of Dom Pérignon.

Socialites from the old order (Gigi Mortimer and Ghislaine Maxwell) blended seamlessly with those of the new (Nicky Hilton and Hannah Bronfman). Bono talked Knicks with Vito Schnabel. Tony Shafrazi, another art dealer, showed up late with Owen Wilson.

Yet none of the luminaries commanded more attention than Aby Rosen, the developer and bon vivant, who was celebrating his 53rd birthday. Pointedly underdressed in a black T-shirt, Mr. Rosen was gyrating on the dance floor to Kool and the Gang, silver hair flowing, fist in the air. At midnight, a shower of gold confetti rained from overheard. An attempt to raise a celebratory glass devolved into a shirt-drenching Champagne fight, with Mr. Rosen, happily the loser, dripping in the middle of it.

“If you give a party,” Mr. Rosen said in his Kissingerian growl, “you better give it right.”

Consider that a mantra.

Propelled by a bearish charm and a provocateur’s sensibility, Mr. Rosen, the son of a small-scale developer from Frankfurt, has thrust himself into roles typically reserved for scions of New York’s leading families. He is a real estate titan whose company controls the crown jewels of modernism, the Seagram Building and Lever House, and an art collector with 800 postwar gems, including 100-plus Warhols. He is a regular on the charity circuit, particularly since being named chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts, a post formerly held by Kitty Carlisle Hart.

He is married to a pillar of New York society, Samantha Boardman. Dinner invitations to the couple’s 14-room home on Fifth Avenue — opulently furnished with Warhols, Basquiats and Calders — are highly coveted, with the guest list ranging from Barbara Walters to Alex Rodriguez to the Harvard professor Steven Pinker. Attendees say that the star wattage radiates equally from the guests and hosts. “They’re the ones with active minds,” said the artist Rachel Feinstein, who, with her husband, the painter John Currin, is a frequent guest. “They seek him out, he seeks them out.”

But what Aby Rosen really wants to be is a party boy, to judge by his latest endeavor. He already owns a celebrity-packed clubhouse restaurant in Midtown, a fashionable hotel in Gramercy Park and a glassy resort in South Beach that rages during Art Basel Miami Beach. Unknown to most of his birthday guests, his most ambitious foray into night life was under their feet — the $20 million revival of the Diamond Horseshoe, a legendary nightclub in the basement of the Paramount Hotel that was immortalized in the 1945 musical film of the same name starring Betty Grable as the headlining showgirl.

Set to open this fall, the Diamond Horseshoe, as envisioned by Mr. Rosen, will be a new night-life concept: a Dalí-like mix of high art and camp, theater and circus, audacity and calculation. In other words, Aby Rosen at his essence.

“I wake up every morning and I think, ‘You know what, I’m a lucky bastard,’ ” Mr. Rosen said, creeping through traffic in the back seat of a black Mercedes S-class on a recent afternoon.

by Alex Williams, NY Times |  Read more:
Yana Paskova for The New York Times

New Flickr: Vast Space for Storage, at No Cost

If you ever want to see just how much whining a million Interneters can produce, try giving them something wonderful at no charge.

Take Flickr, for example, the Web site that Yahoo bought in 2005. Its central concept was cool and useful: It’s an online gallery of everyone’s photographs that the whole world can search, annotate and admire. It’s a place to study photography, to applaud good work by fellow camera buffs, to back up all those precious JPEGs, and to post a photographic record of weddings, vacations and other achievements for friends and families to enjoy.

Flickr was disappointing, however, for two reasons. First, the free account permitted you to display only your 200 most recent photos. The $25-a-year Pro account offered unlimited space.

Second, Flickr was ugly, cramped and baffling. It seemed to display your pictures in only two sizes: tiny square thumbnails (which made no sense — how many photos are perfectly square?) and full size. It took a lot of clicking and experimenting to navigate. And good luck figuring out how to download a photo; the process was so nonintuitive and buried, it could have been a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Last week, the new Flickr was born. First, the good news: Every free account holder gets one terabyte of storage. That is an insane, historic, vast amount of space. That’s enough room for about 600,000 typical photos, enough to last you the next couple of birthday parties, at least.

That’s 70 times the free space of the next closest competitor, Google Drive. And those are full resolution photos, too — the originals. Flickr doesn’t compress photos, degrading their quality, the way Facebook does.

Flickr, in other words, is no longer just a way to present photos to your admirers. (Indeed, it’s easy to keep them private, or share them only with family or friends.) It’s now an excellent way simply to back them up. An external drive for this purpose costs about $100 — and is worthless in case of fire or burglary. Yahoo is giving you that backup space for nothing.

(Most photo software, like iPhoto, Aperture and Lightroom, can send pictures directly to Flickr, or you can upload huge batches using various free Mac or Windows apps. If disaster ever strikes, you may be alarmed to discover that Flickr offers no way to download photos en masse — only one photo at a time. Fortunately, free programs and Web sites like Bulkr or make bulk downloading from Flickr a piece of cake.)

And now the other good news: Flickr’s redesign is, on the whole, a gigantic improvement. The primary screens are wall-to-wall photos. Not weensy little thumbnails, but big, four-inch-wide representations, tiled to fill your entire browser window, scrolling down and down and down. Point to one to view its title, photographer, and the Favorite and Comment buttons.

This is an incredibly successful way to give you an overview of a set of pictures. They’re big enough to see clearly (unlike the old thumbnails), yet small enough to take in hundreds without having to click to another page. For a visitor who wants to see your shots of some place, person or event, these scrolling views offer a quick, satisfying way to get the (ahem) big picture.

This display is especially effective in displaying panoramic photos, of the sort that, for example, the iPhone and Sony cameras can create automatically. Finally, they get the full-screen-width treatment they deserve.

All right, so the new Flickr is generous and lovely. Then, why are longtime members screaming bloody murder?

by David Pogue, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: NY Times

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Marie Bovo - Interior Courtyards (2008-9)

Martha Stewart and the Cannibal Polar Bears

[ed. Presented mainly in the context of media messaging. In reality it's pretty normal for adult male bears (black, brown, polar...) to prey on cubs. Ever wonder why momma bears are so ferocious and protective of their young? (Sarah Palin excluded...)]

During the Cold War, a joint U.S.-Canadian military installation was built outside the tiny northern town of Churchill, Manitoba, at the western edge of Hudson Bay. Those stationed at Fort Churchill had several jobs to do, like be ready to repulse the Soviets if they invaded over the North Pole and figure out how to lob nuclear warheads at Moscow through the Aurora Borealis, which was proving, mysteriously, to muck up the guidance systems on their rockets. A lot of the soldiers' time was also spent dealing with a nuisance: hundreds of polar bears that ambled across the tundra there every fall.

In November 1958, for example, one ate a pair of boots at the firing range. Another smashed a building's window, poked his head in, and had to be blasted with a fire extinguisher. At least twenty polar bears were loitering near the mess hall and the dump, and, late one Sunday night, three turned up at the central commissary. Soldiers in station wagons drove them back into the wilderness. One report noted, "The most effective, anti-dawdling weapon has been the small helicopter." Even so, occasionally the bears would rear up on their hind legs and try to tussle with the armored flying machines. One helicopter pilot described how unsettling it was to make a low pass and find "some six feet of indignant polar bear throwing haymakers" with paws the size of dinner plates. After a while, military contractors limited the amount of work done outside at night; the higher-ups decided it would just be easier to stay out of the polar bears' way. "So this is civilization," began one newspaper article about military wives at Fort Churchill.

By the time I arrived, one November a half-century later, the military was gone. The fort had been dismantled and carted off, though two massive, ruined radar domes still sat in the distance like some post-apocalyptic Epcot attraction. A dozen specially built vehicles called Tundra Buggies crawled along the network of dirt roads the military had built and abandoned. Each was stuffed with tourists, many of whom had paid several thousand dollars a head to fly to Churchill, now billing itself as "The Polar Bear Capital of the World." They were mostly older vacationers, taken out to the tundra every day to get a glimpse of the animals, then deposited back in town to prowl the gift shops along Churchill's main road, buying polar-bear caps and snow hats, polar-bear T-shirts, polar-bear aprons, polar-bear Christmas ornaments, polar-bear magnets, polar-bear boxer shorts, polar-bear light-switch plates, polar-bear wind chimes, polar-bear baby bibs, and pajamas that say "Bearly Awake."

A Tundra Buggy, if it resembles anything at all, resembles a double-wide school bus propped up on monster-truck tires. Three had pulled off the road to watch a lone polar bear splayed flat at the rim of a frozen pond, asleep in the willows. I was behind them in a scaled-down vehicle known as Buggy 1, one of the storied, original rigs of the fleet. Buggy 1 is now operated by a conservation group, Polar Bears International. One of the group's videographers was shooting footage of the bear through an open window while the other staff on board tried to sit perfectly still so as not to rattle his tripod. The cameraman had been filming the bear for a long time, in Super HD, hoping it would stand up or do something alluring. Up ahead, tourists filed onto the rear decks of their buggies, training their Telephoto lenses and little point-and-shoots at the animal. It lifted its head once or twice, but that was it. After a couple of minutes, I noticed that the tourists had turned ninety degrees and were photographing us, aboard Buggy 1, instead.

It was then that Martha Stewart's helicopter came into view. Everyone turned to watch it as it passed, flying low and very far ahead. Two hundred years ago, Arctic explorers described polar bears leaping out of the water and into boats, trying to "resolutely seize and devour" whichever dog or human being was sitting closest to their jaws, unprovoked and absolutely undeterred even if you tried to set the bear on fire. Now Martha Stewart had come to Churchill to shoot a special segment about the bears for her daytime television show on the Hallmark Channel.

Polar Bears International had been working in a loose partnership with Martha Stewart for many months in advance to handle logistics for her shoot. The group was trying to ensure that Martha told the right story about the animals. It isn't enough anymore to gush about how magnificent or cute polar bears are, as the many travel writers and television personalities that came to Churchill over the years had tended to. The stakes were too high now--too urgent. Climate change had put the bear in severe jeopardy. According to a 2007 study by U.S. government scientists, two-thirds of the world's polar bears are likely to be gone by the middle of this century. And, of course, that's only one of many dispiriting prognoses trickling into the news these days. Another recent study predicts that climate change may wipe out one of every ten plant and animal species on the planet during that same time. Another claims seven of every ten could be gone. Tropical birds, butterflies, flying squirrels, coral reefs, koalas--the new reality will rip away at all of them, and more. The projections range from bona fide tragedies to more niggling but genuinely disruptive bummers: tens of millions of people in Bangladesh are likely to be displaced by sea-level rise and flooding; the Forest Service warns of maple syrup shortages in America.

The polar bear, in other words, is an early indicator of all this other turmoil coming our way. It is, as everyone on Buggy 1 kept telling me, a "canary in the coal mine"--that was the phrase they used, always, with unrelenting discipline. The animal had become a symbol for some otherwise inexpressible pang--of guilt, of panic--that can burble into the back of your mind, or the pit of your stomach, when you think about the future of life on Earth. But, Polar Bears International was arguing, it could also be a mascot--a rallying point and call to action. At this point, bears are all but guaranteed to disappear from a lot of their range. But the science suggests that there's still time to slow climate change down and, in the long term, keep the species--and many others along with it--from vanishing entirely.

Practically speaking, this leaves conservationists like Polar Bears International in a unique and sometimes disorienting position. Unlike with other species, the central threat to polar bears isn't something that can be tackled or solved on the ground, out in the immediate ecosystem. The only meaningful way to save the polar bear now is to influence the energy policies and behavior of people who live thousands of miles away--which means, in part, influencing influential media personalities like Martha Stewart. At some point, polar bear conservation stopped being solely the work of biologists and wildlife managers and became the work of lawyers, lobbyists, and celebrities as well. The bear is dependent on the stories we tell about it.  (...)

Robert was literally trying to control the image of the polar bear in Churchill before that image was broadcast around the world. Churchill turns out to be the best, most convenient place in the world to see or film polar bears in the wild. (When you see a wild polar bear on TV or the Internet, the chances are good that you're looking at a Churchill bear.) Because Polar Bears International operates in close partnership with a tour company in Churchill that owns the majority of the permits and vehicles needed to access the animals on the tundra, the group has been able to intercept most of the major media that come through town. They install biologists and climatologists on the reporters' buggies like scientific press agents, trying to make sure an accurate narrative comes across, and they provide B-roll footage of bears plunging into melting slush to help newscasters illustrate the problem. In past years, though, PBI had gone out of its way to help television crews only to feel betrayed by the finished product: the reporters ignore climate change altogether, or regurgitate the junk theories of climate change deniers. Most television crews are now asked to sign memorandums of understanding, outlining certain guidelines, before working with PBI. (As a rule, one PBI staffer told me, Robert regards all journalists as "pirates and thieves.") But that fall, Martha Stewart hadn't signed one. And in the days before her arrival, her producers had become a little incommunicative about their plans. We'd all headed out on Buggy 1 that morning because PBI had initially hoped to tour the tundra alongside Martha and her crew, docking back to back with Martha's buggy to pass people back and forth periodically for interviews. But that was starting to feel unlikely now. Though no one was quite saying it, there seemed to be concern that Martha Stewart was going rogue. (...)

All day, a strange paparazzi-like triangle had been materializing: Martha wanted good access to polar bears, and PBI wanted good access to Martha. I wanted to watch the whole process of brokering access, since I was quickly understanding that the media relations dimension of polar bear conservation was a critical part--maybe the most critical part--of the preservation of this five-million-year-old species.

Our driver pushed Buggy 1 as fast as it would go, which wasn't very fast, trying to gain ground. Something that I'd kind of suspected for hours was suddenly obvious: we were chasing Martha Stewart across the tundra.

by Jon Mooallem, The Atlantic | Read more:
Photo: Jon Mooallem

Eugenio GranellEl vuelo nocturno del pajaro (1952)

Andy Warhol shopping for Campbell’s soup. 1965.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Viviane Sassen, Paradise Lost (2005). Image courtesy to Stevenson Gallery

Why I Hate Dreams

I hate dreams. Dreams are the Sea Monkeys of consciousness: in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. The wisdom of dreams is a fortune on paper that you can’t cash out, an oasis of shimmering water that turns, when you wake up, to a mouthful of sand. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off.

Pretty much the only thing I hate more than my own dreams are yours. “I was flying over Lake Michigan in a pink Cessna,” you begin, “only it wasn’t really Lake Michigan…,” and I sink, cobwebbed, beneath a drifting dust of boredom.

Dreams are effluvia, bodily information, to be shared only with intimates and doctors. At the breakfast table, in my house, an inflexible law compels all recountings of dreams to be compressed into a sentence or, better still, half a sentence, like the paraphrasings of epic films listed in TV Guide: “Rogue Samurai saves peasant village.” The recounting of a dream is—ought to be—a source of embarrassment to the dreamer, sitting there naked in fading tatters of Jungian couture. Whatever stuff dreams are made on, it isn’t words. As soon as you begin to tell a dream, as Freud reminds us, you interpolate, falsify, distort; you lie. That roseate airplane, that wide blue arc of cold water: no, it wasn’t like that, not at all. Better just to skip it, and pass the maple syrup.

Worse still than real dreams, mine or yours—sandier mouthfuls, ranker lies—are the dreams of characters in books and movies. Nobody, not even Aunt Em, wants to hear about Dorothy’s dream when she wakes up at the end of The Wizard of Oz. As outright fantasy the journey to Oz is peerless, joyous, muscular with truth; to call it a dream (a low trick L. Frank Baum, who wrote the original story, never stooped to) is to demean it, to deny it, to lie; because nobody has dreams like that. Nobody has dreams like the dreams in Spellbound, either; or like those in Little Nemo in Slumberland, Alice in Wonderland, Inception, or even, quite, in Meshes of the Afternoon, the 1943 film by Maya Deren which, in the flickering of its pseudonarrative, the ostinato of its imagery, the strange urgency of its tedium, comes closest, and yet still rings false, camera-bound, hokum-haunted.

If art is a mirror, dreams are the back of the head. A work of art derives its effects from light, sound, and movement, but dreams unfurl in darkness, silence, paralysis. Like a recipe attempted in an ill-provisioned kitchen, “dreamlike” art relies on substitutions: dutch angles, forced perspective, absurdist juxtapositions, arbitrary transformations, and, as Peter Dinklage’s character points out in the film Living in Oblivion, a lamentable superabundance of dwarfs. Dreams in art either make sense, or they make no sense at all, but they never manage to do both at the same time, the way dreams do while we’re dreaming them..

by Michael Chabon, NY Review of Books |  Read more:
An image from Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland

Jan Bishop, The Prowl (Source: Flickr / janbishop)

Brad Phillips, nature morte

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

What is a revolution? We used to think we knew. Revolutions were seizures of power by popular forces aiming to transform the very nature of the political, social, and economic system in the country in which the revolution took place, usually according to some visionary dream of a just society. Nowadays, we live in an age when, if rebel armies do come sweeping into a city, or mass uprisings overthrow a dictator, it’s unlikely to have any such implications; when profound social transformation does occur—as with, say, the rise of feminism—it’s likely to take an entirely different form. It’s not that revolutionary dreams aren’t out there. But contemporary revolutionaries rarely think they can bring them into being by some modern-day equivalent of storming the Bastille. (...)

It’s fashionable nowadays to view the social movements of the late sixties as an embarrassing failure. A case can be made for that view. It’s certainly true that in the political sphere, the immediate beneficiary of any widespread change in political common sense—a prioritizing of ideals of individual liberty, imagination, and desire; a hatred of bureaucracy; and suspicions about the role of government—was the political Right. Above all, the movements of the sixties allowed for the mass revival of free market doctrines that had largely been abandoned since the nineteenth century. It’s no coincidence that the same generation who, as teenagers, made the Cultural Revolution in China was the one who, as forty-year-olds, presided over the introduction of capitalism. Since the eighties, “freedom” has come to mean “the market,” and “the market” has come to be seen as identical with capitalism—even, ironically, in places like China, which had known sophisticated markets for thousands of years, but rarely anything that could be described as capitalism.

The ironies are endless. While the new free market ideology has framed itself above all as a rejection of bureaucracy, it has, in fact, been responsible for the first administrative system that has operated on a planetary scale, with its endless layering of public and private bureaucracies: the IMF, World Bank, WTO, trade organizations, financial institutions, transnational corporations, NGOs. This is precisely the system that has imposed free market orthodoxy, and opened the world to financial pillage, under the watchful aegis of American arms. It only made sense that the first attempt to recreate a global revolutionary movement, the Global Justice Movement that peaked between 1998 and 2003, was effectively a rebellion against the rule of that very planetary bureaucracy.

Future Stop

In retrospect, though, I think that later historians will conclude that the legacy of the sixties revolution was deeper than we now imagine, and that the triumph of capitalist markets and their various planetary administrators and enforcers—which seemed so epochal and permanent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—was, in fact, far shallower.

I’ll take an obvious example. One often hears that antiwar protests in the late sixties and early seventies were ultimately failures, since they did not appreciably speed up the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. But afterward, those controlling U.S. foreign policy were so anxious about being met with similar popular unrest—and even more, with unrest within the military itself, which was genuinely falling apart by the early seventies—that they refused to commit U.S. forces to any major ground conflict for almost thirty years. It took 9/11, an attack that led to thousands of civilian deaths on U.S. soil, to fully overcome the notorious “Vietnam syndrome”—and even then, the war planners made an almost obsessive effort to ensure the wars were effectively protest-proof. Propaganda was incessant, the media was brought on board, experts provided exact calculations on body bag counts (how many U.S. casualties it would take to stir mass opposition), and the rules of engagement were carefully written to keep the count below that.

The problem was that since those rules of engagement ensured that thousands of women, children, and old people would end up “collateral damage” in order to minimize deaths and injuries to U.S. soldiers, this meant that in Iraq and Afghanistan, intense hatred for the occupying forces would pretty much guarantee that the United States couldn’t obtain its military objectives. And remarkably, the war planners seemed to be aware of this. It didn’t matter. They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war. It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman.

Clearly, an antiwar movement in the sixties that is still tying the hands of U.S. military planners in 2012 can hardly be considered a failure. But it raises an intriguing question: What happens when the creation of that sense of failure, of the complete ineffectiveness of political action against the system, becomes the chief objective of those in power?

by David Graeber, The Baffler |  Read more:
Illustration: Randall Enos


[ed. See also:  mono no aware (The "Ahh-ness" of Things)]

It is peak sakura — the short, spring season of cherry-tree flowering that so besots Japan. In Ueno Park in Tokyo, falling blossoms settle over the sleeping salarymen, recumbent on tarpaulins with traffic masks yanked down around their necks. Curtains of petals draw open and closed in the wind around huddled teenagers. The flowers land on bitumen and bare soil, sometimes drifting into the open food containers of gathered observers. A distracted child places a piece of yellow eel, festooned with sakura, into her mouth.

For all their abundance, these branches are more likely to produce the candied maraschino cherries used to trim cocktails than the grocer’s fruit with which we are familiar. Japan’s urban cherries are ornamental, neutered cousins of orchard varieties. Planted to mark out places or events of note, some of the trees are thought to be more than 1,000 years old. Despite their lack of edible fruit, for two to three weeks in late March or early April, the city’s cherries become the most important trees in Japan. The nation’s climatic range triggers a staggered cherry flowering — a ‘blossom front’ that is monitored by the Japanese tourism agency as it sweeps up from Fukuoka, through Tokyo and north towards Sapporo. The cherries, and late, slow-moving plum flowers, jostle as they race around the Japanese Alps (cold snaps advantage the plum buds). When the sprays of blossom finally break open through the capital, their momentum is as forceful as floodwaters returning. The cherries’ high, white foam pours through avenues that lead to shrines, into graveyards, over public lands, and then to the brink of rivers and lakes where great canopies of petals spread above koi fish the size of corncobs.

During sakura, families and other groups, from workplaces or social clubs, assemble to celebrate a tradition known as hanami: flower-viewing picnics. These picnics first flourished in the Heian period, and are featured in the 11th-century courtly novel The Tale of Genji. When the hanami are in full swing, it can seem as if Ueno Park — one of Tokyo’s most popular locations for the celebration — has become the staging ground for a hundred small re‑enactments of scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young women in short crinolines, chalk tights and dark Rococo-era dresses dart between the trees like insistent fairies. Some carry lace umbrellas (‘Goth Lolita Wear’ occupies a whole floor in a nearby department store). Junior wage-earners, sent to stake a patch for their superiors, set to dreaming in intimately vulnerable postures; their arms and legs flung out to indicate an intention to occupy more space. Paired shoes in a row belong to no one nearby. Nihonshu (saké) turns cheeks ruddy and friends garrulous.

As the sun sets, the mood of enchantment reveals other themes: metamorphosis and attraction. Flash cameras twig at the edge of perception all through the night. The shots later come to colonise social media — sakura, stark and fibrous against the black sky. The flowers are extended electronically, long after they have withered, dropped, and ceased to be.

Gazing into the throats of flowers is surely one of the most trite, and universal, acts of environmental appreciation. From hand-picked posies displayed on a mantelpiece to the questing of the German Romantics for the impossible blue flower — a symbol of inspiration for the 18th-century poet Novalis — flowers induce an apparently effortless contemplation of aesthetic beauty in nature. Yet, for all the stock wonder of cherries crowned in blossom, contemporary Western environmentalism has an uneasy relationship with notions of the beautiful.

Political environmentalism has learnt to take a functional view of nature, turning a blind eye to cultural values such as beauty and to aesthetic practices such as hanami. In striving to establish an impartial, globally consistent means of gauging nature’s value, local forms of environmental imagination have been relegated to the work of poets. Nature is viewed as systemic and quantifiable, neither mysterious not resplendent. In an overburdened world, this is how we have come to debate the comparative significance of habitats and organisms: as ecosystem services.

Perhaps, for environmental thought to be accepted in the political mainstream, it was always necessary to discard the drippy spiritualism of a former age and embrace the numbers game. Yet, something important has been lost in the exchange. Sidelining the environmental imagination — particularly its manifold local variations in different cultures — has narrowed the green movement. Better science, accountancy and leadership might well be essential to confronting the realities of our current environmental crises, but without developing a way to talk about the unreal aspects of our environmental relationships and our imagined attachments to natural phenomena, progress will only ever be tenuous. Ancient as it is, the Japanese tradition of sakura offers germane insight into this very contemporary problem.

by Rebecca Giggs, Aeon |  Read more:
Photo by Jérémie Souteyrat

The Faraway Nearby

Many stories are told about the T’ang dynasty artist Wu Daozi, sometimes named as one of the three great sages of China: that he ignored color and only painted in black ink, that he transgressively painted his own face on an image of the Buddha, that he painted a perfect halo in a single stroke without the aid of compasses, that he painted pictures of the dragons who cause rain so well that the paintings themselves exuded water, that the Emperor sent him to sketch a beautiful region and reprimanded him for coming back emptyhanded, after which he painted a 100-foot scroll that replicated all his travels in one continuous flow, that he made all his paintings boldly and without hesitation, painting like a whirlwind, so that people loved to watch the world emerge from under his brush.

One story about him I read long ago I always remembered. While he was showing the Emperor the landscape he had painted on a wall of the Imperial Palace, he pointed out a grotto or cave, stepped into it, and vanished. Some say that the painting disappeared too. In the account I thought I remembered, he was a prisoner of the Emperor who escaped through his painting. When I was much younger I saw another version of this feat that impressed me equally.

In an episode of the Sunday morning cartoon Roadrunner and Coyote, the eternally hopeful predator makes a trap for the bird. At the point where a road ends in a precipice, he places a canvas on which he paints an extension of the road, complete with the red cliff on one side and the guard rail on the other. The roadrunner neither smashed into the painting nor fell through it, but ran into it and vanished around the painted bend. When the coyote attempted to follow him, he broke through the painting, plummeted, was smashed up, and then, yet again, as always, he was resurrected. Your door is my wall; your wall is my door.

The one creature embodied grace, the other foolish desire, as though they were two elemental principles that could never mingle, in body or spirit. Chuck Jones’s Wile E. Coyote is a version of the great creator deity of the North American continent, Coyote. This is the god whose eyes and cock sometimes detach to seek their own satisfactions, who is often broken, occasionally killed, always resurrected, and never annihilated, who represents the comic principle of survival. But only as I write do I also notice the bird is a Taoist master, like the calm masters nothing could touch in the stories of old China. They walked through fire, through rock, and on air with aplomb.

These feats of the bird and the painter are paradoxical and impossible, but only literally, or only in some media. People disappear into their stories all the time. We live in stories and images, as immersed in them as though they were Wu Daozi’s inkpots; we breathe in presuppositions and exhale further stories. We in the west have been muddled by Plato’s assertion that art is imitation and illusion; we believe that it is a realm apart, one whose impact on our world is limited, one in which we do not live.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, my mother liked to recite, though words hurt her all the time, and behind the words the stories about how things should be and where she fell short, told by my father, by society, by the church, by the happy flawless women of advertisements. We all live in that world of images and stories, and most of us are damaged by some version of it, and if we’re lucky find others or make better ones that embrace and bless us. (...)

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

by Rebecca Solnit, Guernica |  Read more:
Image: Blue Eggs Box, The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. © Sharon Beals, 2008