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The news from Iraq, our new colony, upkeep of which will have cost Americans $300 billion after the next round of funding goes through (that's a lot of money), has not been good this month. After the White House's "pictures of people smiling and holding up purple fingers" public relations coup, my sense is that everyone, taking their cues from the media, just turned off news from there--"OK they have a democracy now, good, Bush is looking after us and will get us cheap oil, now let's get back to Michael and the boys." (I say "my sense" because I turn on the TV and as soon as I see someone with a suit and poofy hair sitting behind a desk--which is always--I say "I have nothing in common with these people" and testily switch off.) I get my Iraq news from omnibus sites such as Juan Cole, Today in Iraq, and Steve Gilliard's News Blog, which are combing sources other than the US media, which largely dispenses happy talk and administration spin (however, a lot of those sites' material also comes from the back pages of US newspapers). The news is, it's a goddamn slaughterhouse over there.* The Sunni Arabs held power for some 60 years and they're not going to give it up easily to a Shiite-Kurd government. And they have tons of arms and ammo because the US didn't destroy the dumps after the invasion. Evidently Rumsfeld, et al, wanted our pet exiles (Chalabi, et al) to have access to the ordnance to police the country after we handed it over to them. Bush will not give a straight answer to the question: Are we building permanent bases in Iraq or not? I think we have to assume they are. Meanwhile, our volunteer army is being ground down by too much combat without a break. Are these costs worth it so we can control Iraq's oil? Is that the "real world" Cheney and the Neocons say we're living in? Those are the questions we should be discussing.
*" Dozens of bodies found floating in the Tigris river, a nearly successful assassination attempt on interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, yet another lethal car bomb attack (there've been more than 20 in the past week in Baghdad alone), and a civilian helicopter shot down, reportedly culminating in an execution." --per Salon
Sometimes you just feel like sitting down at your electric piano, plugging in that wah-wah pedal, and knocking out a happy little E-tune: [mp3 removed].
Science Fiction Review
joester recommended Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, a 1991 novel that imagines, among other things, a pan-galactic Internet, canine group minds, and these wack ETs called "skroderiders," which are surf-dwelling plants rolling around in mobile pots that have sophisticated cybernetics to do their short-term thinking for them. It's a good book, a bit of a nail biter at the end, and only suffers slightly having the market necessity of two plucky adolescents among the main POV characters. As usual it's more fun to bitch than accentuate the positive so here are some quibbles:
1. SF writers--especially writers of space operas--have a hard time now that it's abundantly clear that relativity and distance will keep the earth isolated forever from the rest of the universe and we're going to have to solve our own problems. Vinge's solution is to imagine the Milky Way as an onion with different layers of spacetime: we're in the "Slow Zone" midway between The Unthinking Depths near the center and The Beyond further out, where faster than light travel is possible. Much of the book takes place in The Beyond, where people (including our descendants) zip hither and thither. I do wish Vinge had bored us with a half-page of Greg Egan-like physics to explain why he thinks all this is possible--for reasons other than to move the story forward.
2. There are a few weird continuity gaps. Most notable is a portentous statement early on in the book that the accidental placement of a human boy in a kindergarten/kennel with one of the abovementioned canine group minds would change the course of galactic history. In fact, their union acts mostly as a drag on the plot. The group mind is bred for mathematical genius but its sole invention is a kind of telepathy amplifier that one of the characters uses and then abruptly stops using. The relationship of boy and dogs is mainly just a cool, slightly offbeat friendship--no hint is given later why it might be important.
3. The mechanics of the canine "telepathy" that enables six dogs to act as one, operate tools, etc. are only sketchily explained. In some places Vinge refers to "mind noise" that passes among the dogs allowing them to share memories and sense data, including tastes and smells. Elsewhere he describes their communication as a vibration through organs called "tympana" which seems to indicate the data is exchanged through high pitched shrieks. Much could be communicated this way--as with our modems--but it's doubtful that smells or other people's internalized memories could be instantly, palpably transmitted. Again, a bit of physics (or biochemistry) might have helped.
Anyway, these are minor points. I'm already absorbed in the prequel, written in 1999, called A Deepness in the Sky. I still believe in science fiction even though much of its Modernist rationale has gone away.
"Little Shrieker" [mp3 removed]. More drum and bass, specifically a "dark roller," lo-fi f-ed up repeating noise division. This comes from hanging around too many Dutch darkcore websites. (My first foray into beat-slicing, if it's not giving away too much.)
"Calypsum 2" [6.1 MB .mp3]. Posting this again, because I really like it. It's simple but it's supposed to be simple. I think about a computer playing calypso and getting hung up on a phrase, or deciding this is the most valuable phrase (but with a swirly "E'd up" feel that is more dreamlike than cyber). As a bonus (or alternative?), I'm including this 4.6 KB MIDI file of the same tune. It sounds more Latin when played with a piano and the General MIDI drum map. Your browser will probably play it, or Quicktime. In case it doesn't, here's the same thing as a 1 MB .mp3 (played in Winamp, which I prefer to the exaggerated percussion in Quicktime).
Botero on Abu Ghraib
From an online slideshow accompanying an AP story (thanks to bill): "Colombian painter Fernando Botero poses with some of his new paintings depicting the horrors of U.S. guards' abuse of captives at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, Monday April 11, 2005 in Paris, France. Botero says he became so upset that he felt compelled to produce works showing his trademark chubby characters naked and being blooded by Americans. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)"
Man, I didn't know Botero was still alive, but good for him. We can't paint pictures like this in America--artist Guy Colwell did it and his dealer got punched in the face. In fact, Americans don't care about this issue, except that they generally support torture. Abu Ghraib should have been the event that ended Bush's tour of the White House. Instead he got re-elected. I've pondered on this a lot, and come to the conclusion that I share this country with an inordinate number of racist redneck murderers. Troll repellent: "Of course the 9/11 attacks in the US were unspeakable, but those were not caused by Iraqis, therefore Iraqis did not need to be killed or tortured."
Report from the Slo-o-o-o-o-ow Dimension
Here's why I don't go to openings much these days in that so, so slowed down, meditative realm of ancient medieval stone carvers we call the art world. This is New York City we're talking about, as opposed to some monastery on a remote island in the Mediterranean. In the 12th Century AD. Dialogue of actual conversations from the last month reported more or less verbatim. The artists are from my everyday peer group, as opposed to Current Huge Market Entities sheltered from the world by handlers or whatever. Art Opening One:
Artist 1: "So what are you up to these days? Haven't seen you in a while."Art Opening Two:
Moody: "Oh, making work, and I spend a fair amount of time on a blog I'm doing."
Artist 1: "Oh, I didn't know about that. I'll have to check it out."
Artist 2: "How long have you been doing it?"
Moody: "Four years."
Artist 2: "Wow, that's a long time."
Moody: "Yes it is." (Long pause.) "In fact, [Artist 1], I wrote about your work on it. And posted a photo, and put up a link to the gallery where you showed. It was some really perceptive commentary, ha ha."
Artist 1: "You did? When was that?"
Moody: "About two years ago."
Artist 1: "Wow, no one told me about that. I'll have to check it out."
Artist 3, introducing Moody to Artist 4: "[Artist 4], this is Tom. He makes work, and has a blog. (Pause) He mentioned you on it."I just have to add, it's really tough to be bouncing around cyberspace at the speed of thought, looking at great work and having conversations about it with people all over the world, and then have to enter the slow slow decelerated zone of meditative contemplation where the inhabitants either don't use the Internet or pretend not to. I mean, yuck. The point of this post is not to whine about being underexposed but rather to bitch--again--that from my limited experience great tools are not being used in a field that would benefit enormously from them. And yes, it's possible that both these artists use google and know exactly what's been said about them online, and are really good poker players, but how productive is that? Sorry to explain away my joke but I want to be clear on these points.
Moody: "Yes, I posted a photo of you performing. You looked great in it, of course."
Artist 4: "And you didn't email and tell me about it?"
Moody: "I figured everyone googles and it would come up that way."
Artist 4 looks at feet.
Vermeer lives: Home Life, by Andrew Coulter Enright. Full size image can be found on his weblog.
Enright also asks an interesting question about the High Line, the elevated rail line in Chelsea slated to be renovated as a public park: how is it going to integrated with the rail yards that are the proposed West Side Stadium location? From maps he posts on his site, the two properties overlap significantly on the High Line's north end. The stadium developers will no doubt love having to delicately build around the old rail structure. ("Whoops! We accidently compromised some load bearing girders with a backhoe! Damn, now we'll have to tear the rest down!") I'm sure it's all being taken into consideration, though, given Mayor Bloomberg's concern for environmental factors in that part of the city.