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From Mideast scholar and blogger Juan Cole:
I see a lot of pundits and politicians saying that Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have been fighting for a millennium. We need better history than that. The Shiite tribes of the south probably only converted to Shiism in the past 200 years. And, Sunni-Shiite riots per se were rare in 20th century Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites cooperated in the 1920 rebellion against the British. If you read the newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s, you don't see anything about Sunni-Shiite riots. There were peasant/landlord struggles or communists versus Baathists. The kind of sectarian fighting we're seeing now in Iraq is new in its scale and ferocity, and it was the Americans who unleashed it.Way to go, us! Saddam probably gets some credit for suppressing Shiites while his fellow Sunnis got fat government jobs. But there's no question who let the cork out of the bottle and then stood there clueless watching the explosion.
From the blog vault: "Show Us Your Gnomes."
"Blip Festival Cell Phone Call" [690 KB .mp3] (about 30 seconds)
Artist and artMovingProjects gallerist Aron Namenwirth called me on his cell phone while he was attending the recent Blip Festival of 8-bit music in NY; I was w*rking and missed the call, but I kept his phone message and made it into an .mp3. This is what the recorder picked up--it conveys a little of what you missed if you didn't catch the Festival.
Sitepal TM avatars (or rather "personal virtual characters"). The idea is that reading a blog is too tiring and we need a little cartoon character that looks sort of like the blogger to read the text to us in a synthetic voice. The reviews:
72 neutral-to-favorable del.icio.us links (with one or two hints of mild sarcasm)
1 solid "creepy" from Guthrie Lonergan
Elsewhere Lonergan weighs in on the fake 3-D version of the Sitepal avatar: "wait till she talks twice and then she watches your cursor...creepsville." It's a fact--her eyes look like frozen horror movie eyes swiveling around inside a fright mask.
DJ Spooky said of the Net, back when it had a mystique: "the Net mirrors the street; as above, so below." This is still true, if by street we mean "place of rampant herd-like conformity." Case in point: 72 people accepting these goofy-ass personal avatars at face value, no pun intended, vs one person willing to suggest that the gimmick is flat-out macabre. (And that therefore, by implication, the creators should go back to the drawing board because they FAILED.)
From "Maya in the Thunderdome," by Marcello A. Canuto, about the inaccuracies in Mad Mel's Mayan movie (Salon, prob. subscription only):
In an action scene that springs entirely from Gibson's imagination, our [Mayan peasant] hero is able to escape the city. [...]. He flees through the jungle, and with only two pursuers remaining, he bursts out of the forest onto a beach. There, where the land ends and the water begins, both he and his tormentors witness Spanish galleons and rowboats ferrying Spaniards and Christianity to the lands of the Maya. His pursuers, as if in a trance, walk weakly toward the arriving Spaniards. Their pursuit is now irrelevant, as their world is about to end.
Again, the historical facts tell a different and more compelling story. Several accounts exist of Spanish expeditions in the early 1500s, sailing from Cuba and making stops along the Yucatan coast for provisions. Invariably these encounters ended badly for the Spaniards. So fierce was the Maya defense of their lands that Cortes avoided much of this coast, choosing to land farther west along what is known today as the coast of Veracruz. The Maya, at the time of the conquest, were intractable and fiercely autonomous. Most villages resisted the Spaniards. In fact, the Spanish conquest of the Maya was a long protracted campaign that some claim goes on to this very day.
In Apocalypto, the arrival of the Spanish signals "a new beginning." Remarkably, the event is portrayed as tranquil, as if the Spaniards are the adults who have finally come to rescue the "littleuns" stranded on the island of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. In reality, the arrival was anything but serene.
Within decades of the first contact with the Spaniards, the Maya would die in the hundreds of thousands as European diseases, colonial exploitation and cruelty took root. In 1552, in the name of Christian piety, Fray Diego de Landa ordered that hundreds of Maya codices, carrying sacred knowledge accumulated over centuries, be burned as works of the devil. If there were ever an apocalypse in the history of the Maya -- and herein lies the ultimate demoralizing irony of the movie -- it would be because of European contact. But in the movie, after two hours of excess, hyperbole and hysteria, the Spaniards represent the arrival of sanity to the Maya world. The tacit paternalism is devastating.
After many centuries of misguided and simplistic views of the Maya, recent scholarship has shown the complexity and historical depth of their civilization. In Maya society, as in all civilizations, violence, surfeit and disparity were balanced by accomplishment, restraint and illumination. Gibson's feverish vision of a childish Maya society sacrificing itself to extinction is more than inaccurate, it works against the progress of decades of diligent scholarship to restore to present-day Maya people a heritage of which they are proud, and from which we have much to learn. I can only hope that audiences seeing this movie will be motivated to learn about the Maya -- present and past -- rather than be sated by Gibson's sacrificial offering at the altar of entertainment.
John Parker, solo performance on the Elektron Monomachine, at the vertexList benefit last night. His gig combined live improvisation with programmed sequences built up in the studio note by note. Manufactured by Swedish hacker types, the Monomachine is a sophisticated descendant of the old 8-bit chips (Elektron also made the Sidstation, using a Commodore 64 chip) and has a nasty edge of pure DSP (digital signal processing), which may explain Parker's popularity with the 8-Bit crowd in attendance last night. Also, his penchant for unexpected dark metal riffs popping up out of the sometimes atonal chaos of live sequencing and knob turning didn't hurt.
The Reeler has a report on the Digital Art and Video fair (DiVa) at Miami, penned by Paddy Johnson, who covered all the Miami events this year on her blog. She concludes that
...by and large the ratio of good stuff to crap was much better than that of other fairs. Still, how good can a fair possibly be if nobody knows about it? I met some of the most fascinating artists I had seen in a long time, and I feel like I was one of maybe 20 people who noticed. The odds of something like this occurring during a time where there are 1,400 journalists in the city covering the art seem wholly unquantifiable. In the end, it may also serve well as the most compelling evidence that cinema and digital art are of little importance not only to fair organizers, but also to those who attend and report on them.Among the reasons cited for the lack of traffic at this fair (which I had work in) were bad weather, remoteness from the main fair locales, and underpromotion via flyers, etc. But as Johnson suggests, the chief explanation is that "Miami" is about selling objects, not experiences. After a couple of decades in which conceptual art, performance art and video made inroads into the art marketing system, we are in a period of conservative retrenchment, greased by "Bush millionaire money" in the hands of undiscriminating collectors, where almost any bad thing flies off the wall as long as it has physical presence and the perception (usually wrong) that it can be easily unloaded later.
Ironically, or as if reflecting some perverse inverse ratio, this tulip mania for painting and sculpture is occurring just as a new art model--one that is neither performance, conceptual, or video, but was reflected in some measure in the DiVa fair--is on the rise: I refer to art made with home computers, as well as (or overlapping with) art being made on and about the Internet. That's where the intellectual juice is now, not the nth repetition of neo-expressionist painting.
In case you were wondering what Daniel Mendelsohn looks like, here he is. Who is Daniel Mendelsohn? He's the writer who so burns with jealousy over Jonathan Franzen's success that he wrote a memorably hateful hatchet job on him in the New York Times. Several people I talked to, including ones who'd never read Franzen, read that piece and were appalled by how harsh and personal it was. (Also badly written.) Mendelsohn is the subject of a lengthy interview on Salon today, discussing his just-released, "Proustian" book about the Holocaust. Yes, that's how it's described. We already know everything we need to know about Mendelsohn, though, from his Franzen review, and that publicity photo, which I think you will agree is very...smooth. Oh, and one more detail--he lives in an upper West side apartment that Salon describes as "elegantly furnished."
Some funny responses to the photo from the comments, after the jump.