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A short refresher on how our system of government works. The country belongs to its citizens. The citizens elect representatives (Congress) to perform chores necessary to the common good. One of the powers given to Congress by our Constitution is the ability to declare war. The President can only implement, not usurp, this power.
So what is this we're reading today about plans for a full-scale invasion of Iraq, devised by the executive branch? Looks like Bush Jr. and his henchmen have it all mapped out: first they leak that the CIA has a license to kill Saddam, anytime, anywhere. The most likely point of entry for these trained killers would be with the inspection team going in to Iraq to look for nukes and germs. So of course Saddam refuses to allow the team into the country. Jr. says "Aha! He must be hiding weapons of mass destruction!" Polls show most Americans think this is bad--even though 10 years of sanctions and bombing have reduced the country to a fraction of its former power. Then Jr. goes before Congress and requests the necessary authorization and funds to start a war. Meanwhile, those of us who never once get called by a pollster and receive back only form letters from our elected representatives watch 200,000 citizens go off to die or be gassed. And why? (1) So Jr. won't be embarrassed anymore that his Dad didn't "finish the job" 11 years ago in Iraq and (2) so Jr.'s buds in the oil business will benefit from the extraction of Iraqi oil, once it becomes available from the new client government.
Are we really such big suckers? Or is it that we want the oil, too, so we can keep playing with all our toys? If it's the latter, maybe we shouldn't get our BVDs in a twist when a skyscraper or two gets toppled by the enemies such activities inevitably create. What's the loss of a few thousand people when millions continue to enjoy videos, nice cars, and gourmet meals? If this logic sounds repugnant, then perhaps the best thing to do is: start looking for other sources of energy (cultivating Russian and other non-Middle East/non-Caspian sources in the short term), and demand that Congress pull the plug on these ill-considered invasion plans. Oh yeah, and quit funding the military occupation of Palestine.
Lovely and Amazing, directed by Judith Holofcener (Walking and Talking) is highly recommended: it helps to clean the toxins out of your system if you've recently seen the awful Minority Report. Don't go see the film expecting a neat narrative arc, though: it just kind of ends. But the details and performances are wonderful. Think Ghost World without the male menopausal bile; Magnolia without the apocalyptic pretensions; Short Cuts without the length. Stroke of genius: casting the formerly dapper Michael Nouri (Jennifer Beals' sugar daddy in Flashdance) as Brenda Blethyn's liposuction doctor. The man has a gentle voice, competent bedside manner, and eyes of pure burning hate. Blethyn plays a wealthy woman with grown daughters who adopts a little black girl; the kid freely tells everyone her own mom is a "crack addict." The stolid, Buster Keaton face of this 8-year-old, passive-aggressive Holy Terror has to be seen to be believed. In one of the running story lines, Blethyn enrolls the kid in the Big Sister program so "she can have contact with black people"; the family is outraged, however, when the Big Sister straightens the girl's hair. Artists should get a kick out of the scenes where the oldest daughter, knickknack sculptor Catherine Keener, shops her wares around various arty retail outlets: the rejections she gets are priceless. ("Fine, get out of my store," says a snotty German in a fashionable eyewear, after Keener backtalks him.) In another awkward scene, the middle daughter, a neurotic, starting-out actress, stands nude in front of a Brad Pitt type she's just slept with and asks him to critique her body. He briefly wakes up from his narcissism to tread through this dangerous minefield, in a scene women should find amusing and men captivating. (She's the "lovely and amazing" of the title.)
On 6/30/02, Media Whores Online posted the following notice by yrs truly in The Record, which documents "egregious press whore misbehavior":
In a piece that read like it was geared towards viewers of VH1, his new employer, Salon writer Jake Tapper recently trashed Al Gore's appearance at Lot 61, an arts & entertainment oriented Manhattan bar. He quotes large-tongued Kiss singer Gene Simmons very admiringly on how great Bush is and how irrelevant Gore is. Tapper is obviously really proud to have gotten this quote: he refers to it again later in the article. He appears to be offering it as evidence that the young and the hip don't like Gore, but the only problem is Simmons is just another aging redneck at this point. The article is incredibly snide; it's obvious that soon-to-be-tanking Salon is starting the cycle of Gore-bashing all over again. Of course, Gore's cogent criticisms of the disastrous Bush regime got swallowed up in all the bile.
So now that Bush Junior is firmly in power the press is finally focusing on his shady financial past. Where was Paul Krugman when we needed him, prior to the election? Oh, yeah, enjoying his FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in speaking fees from Enron.
Most of the Harken Energy story was reported in 2000, in the late S.H. Hatfield's excellent book Fortunate Son (which you may recall, was "discredited" by Rove & Co, thus getting Jr.'s cocaine use out of the papers). The Aloha Petroleum deal isn't mentioned in the book--only a series of questionable insider loans and what one Wall Street analyst called "unusual" stock swaps. Krugman's account creates the impression that the Aloha deal kept Harken afloat and was somehow connected to Bush's sudden stock sale. But that's not really accurate (it's even worse):
Harken was tanking in late 1989 and was miraculously "saved" by the granting of drilling rights in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, which I'm sure had nothing to do with Jr's Dad being President. While the stock price was high after that announcement, the State Department informed Bush Senior of Saddam Hussein's plans to annex Kuwaiti oilfields. Obviously war in the Middle East wasn't going to help an uncommenced, speculative drilling project. Using his precognitive powers, and not based on a tip from his Dad, of course, Bush Jr. unloaded his Harken stock in June 1990. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and the Harken stock went south around the same time. In 1991 the SEC investigated Jr's late-reported, insider stock sale, and again, for reasons having nothing to do with Jr's Dad being President, said "no enforcement is contemplated at this time" without fully exonerating Jr. When Jr. says "it's been vetted" that's what he's talking about.
Krugman got all his information from a story that's been posted on the Center for Public Integrity website since April 2000. That piece doesn't mention the Bahrain/Gulf War angle, but Joe Conason's pre-election story in Harper's did. Regardless, the facts of Bush's shady corporate history were on the table before the election, and no one gave a shit. The Washington Post, which, like Krugman, is just now bringing the Harken story to light, admits that the CPI website "attracted little attention" before the election. Instead, the press talked about important stuff like Gore's too-heavy makeup and sighs during the debates.
Saw an unspeakably dreadful movie yesterday. The lead actor can't act his way out of biodegradable Hefty bag. He spends most of the film shouting, and is completely unconvincing as a real person. The film is touted as "science fiction" but is full of logical fallacies and absurd predictions. Some of the characters fly around with Flash Gordon rocket belts, emitting blue flames, which inexplicably don't set their pants on fire or cook their asses like rump roasts. The main character has his eyes surgically removed and replaced to avoid retinal-scan IDs, and then uses the old eyes (twice!) to get back into his former place of employment--a police facility that is supposedly hunting him relentlessly. Wouldn't the first thing they do be to (optically) "change the locks"? The psychic "precognitives" floating in an indoor swimming pool keep sinking underwater for long periods of time--no explanation is given why they don't drown. When one of them is removed from the pool after years of floating she has enough muscle tone and stamina to walk around the city for hours (assisted by the lead actor, but c'mon). When the precogs envision a future murder, a Rube Goldberg contraption carves a wooden ball on a lathe and sends it spiralling around a Plexiglas habittrail, zooming around curves and then coming right at the viewer: this serves no purpose except to be "cinematic": as if the viewers are all big babies who have to have objects dangled over their cribs to hold their attention.
More crap: The film envisions we'll have superconducting or MagLev transportation in place by 2054, with cars crawling down the sides of buildings and feeding into Hot Wheels-track spaghetti-bowls. This is a vision worthy of pulp "scientifiction" of the 1930s, which William Gibson brilliantly parodied in his short story "The Gernsback Continuum." When are we going to get past this model? The scenes of the lead actor jumping from hovercar to hovercar are completely fake. The chase/fight scene in the robot car factory is a swipe from the clocktower-battle in Hayao Miyazake's anime Castle of Cagliostro, a far superior film. There's some supposedly "noir-ish" stuff involving a Hannibal Lecter-like doctor and his "decadent" German nurse--an ethnic parody worthy of Mel Brooks. When the lead actor solves a precrime using projected images from the psychics, he "conducts" the pictures on a widescreen monitor with a virtual data-glove, like a symphony conductor waving a baton--this is pretentious and laughable and almost unbearable to watch. The movie borrows from dozens of better films but it's hollow at the core. The director hasn't made a good movie since the one with Dennis Weaver being chased by a Mack truck, and the lead actor has never made, and will never make, a good movie. Please don't go!
Two works by Cory Arcangel:
Carnivore: "This project is a standalone home TV unit which connects via Ethernet to a packet sniffer and counts the number of times the phrase "boo yaa tribe" is passed through the network displaying the result on a television screen [note: the television is woodgrain!]. It is done in collaboration with RSG and made entirely out of discarded computers and salvation army bought equipment."
Landscape Study #4: "Essentially I decided to create a background for a game that doesn't exist about my home-town of Buffalo, New York. To accomplish this feat I took 360 degree landscape photographs of a neighborhood in Buffalo and scanned them into a computer. I then formatted them to fit the graphics format of the the Nintendo Entertainment System which because of its severe hardware limitations can only hold 8K of graphics. Once formatted for the Nintendo, I wrote a program that would scroll the graphics [remember Mario?] and my partner Paul Davis wrote a sound track. I then melted the computer chips off a Super Mario cartridge and replaced them with chips I manufactured." (This piece is currently on view at Bitforms gallery in NYC.)
Another Arcangel project (with others): A vinyl record called 8-bit Construction Set ("Atari vs. Commodore").
Interesting interview with Arcangel, Davis, and other artists on the Beige label expressing their "fat bits" and "post-data" philosophy of art/music, and dissing Oval's Markus Popp for using pre-programmed software.
Much of this material on Arcangel, et al, can be accessed through this page hosted by a major museum.
Techno Diary, Installment 2. My listening has been bipolar lately, alternating between fairly pristine German minimalist house and florid, funky, latter-day manifestations of kozmigroov.
In the former, stripped down vein, I recommend 3 recent mix compilations: Michael Mayer's IMMER (Kompakt), Steve Bug's The Flow (Cocoon Recordings) and Swayzak's Groovetechnology v1.3 (Studio !K7). All are DJ'd by musicians who also make their own tracks, and all have a strong point of view. "Self styled dub techno house blokes" David Brown and James S. Taylor (aka Swayzak) have assembled cuts with an audible bearing on their own music, with hints of electro, reggae and postpunk (e.g. Wire) sniggling in and around the mid-tempo beats. Some of my favorite tracks are Wolfgang Voigt (as Studio 1) doing robot Bob Marley on "Lila," the 60-second moogasm of CIM's "RNA," and the Mike-Ratledge-on-Angel-Dust keyboards of Pile's "World Record Holder." On the Bug CD, I like the rave-up ending of Hakan Libdo's "Kiki de Montparnasse" fading into the pulse of Antonelli Electr.'s "Nachtclub Pavement," the cheerfully out-of-phase wah-wah of SWAG's "The Soundworks," and have even grown to like Marshall Jefferson's spoken-word account of playing "tongue hockey" with an unknown female while on 'shrooms. On the Mayer comp, A Rocket in Dub's "Rocket No. 3" (that's Antonelli under another name) flanges along nicely, and John Selway's "Flying Far" is ecstatic and poignant without getting corny. The only track I DO NOT like is Phantom/Ghost's "Perfect Lovers (Unperfect Love Mix)": "Ve are 2 perfect lovers/besides zuh fect dat ve're not there..." UGGGH. One more techno CD (not a comp) that should be mentioned in passing: Bolz Bolz's Human Race is a complete hoot. The spirit of Krautrock thrives in these chugging analog loops and goofy samples ("take a walk/take a bath/take pains/to take an exam"), but this is nevertheless not what I would play if I was trying to turn someone on to recent electronic music. It's pretty close to metal.
On the Nu-Kozmigroov tip (my own coinage?) I recommend Cardiology, by Carl Craig protege Recloose (Planet E), AtJazz's Labfunk (Mantis Recordings), and every volume of Michael Reinboth's ongoing series The Future Sounds of Jazz (be sure it's on Compost, not the other label doing a series with the same name). This is music to make street-purist Simon Reynolds curl up in the fetal position, but f*ck it, I'm older than he is, I collected a lot of Kozmigroov the first time around, and I'm really excited it's back and being done so well. A fundamental, keystone work for these recordings, IMHO, is Herbie Hancock's Thrust, augmented by new loops-and-breaks technology, so if you're into that Rhodes/Clavinet/Bass-synthesizer vibe, and wonder, like I do, how jazz kept taking wrong turns after the '70s (first fuzak, then the formaldehyde classicism of Wynton Marsalis, et al), you'll be glad to know that there's a new crew breathing life, energy, and science into the form.
"Creepy Clown" and New Media
I just received a brochure in the mail from Thundergulch, "the new media arts initiative of of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council." Here are some of the depressing topics from their Spring/Summer 2002 lecture series:
Database Cultures in Collaboration: Panelists discuss the challenges of using databases as the generative engines behind their art work, creating alternative systems that reveal the poetic, metaphoric, critical, and community-building possibilities of manipulating and reconstituting data.
Race in Digital Space: [Panelists] discuss how digital media influences and changes social ideas about race and ethnicity.
Curating New Media--Inside and Outside the Institution: [Panelists] discuss the challenges of organizing, displaying, and distributing new media art...
Fortunately, art gets made and trends emerge at the grassroots level (that is, on the Internet) despite these numbing discussion topics. In this post I discuss two such trends. One is DIY Curating (speaking of databases), and the other is The Stalker Collage.
As William Gibson has said, "We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not" (for post-modern read "wired"); and anyone with a big enough server can have a library straight out of Borges. As I've mentioned elsewhere, there are bottomless databases of specialized interests, such as this site devoted to "furries," fantasy creatures combining human and animal attributes. Every week of the world, kids and adults upload hundreds of strange, anthropomorphic, sometimes frankly sexual drawings to this site, giving themselves a forum (and perhaps feeding some addictive need on the part of the host?).
Artist Bill Schwarz acts as a curator of curators: his web page, although randomly organized, is a trove of amateur and professional online collections: snowflake photographs, Dymaxion designs, snapshots of trailer homes, audio files of hillbilly "hollers," architect pages, facts about music synthesizers, and more links about shipping containers than anyone would ever need.
The internet fosters other types of collaboration, not in the organized, top-down, intellectual way envisioned by Thundergulch but through the efforts of everyday artists taking an idea and running variations on it. One such genre is what I'm calling the "Stalker Collage." In this "new art form," a character is inserted into all kinds of stock situations using rudimentary paint or imaging programs. One of the funniest is "Creepy Clown" (website).This digitized cousin of John Wayne Gacy lurks behind joggers, picnickers, scuba divers, and young lovers on holiday, usually just standing there like a statue without the other characters being aware of his presence. He is extremely creepy, but also laugh-out-loud funny, and the peculiar genius of the idea is that anyone with a 3-D program can make a successful "Creepy." Just download the character, pick your clip art scenario, and let your own "inner Creepy" guide you to something truly stomach-chilling.
The Tourist Guy (photo added to post in 2010 - the link below is dead)
Another variation of the collective pastiche is the Tourist Guy. This is already pretty dated, but the documentation's worth checking out. The entire project sprang up spontaneously in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, when the image passed from email to email of a tourist posing on the North Tower, oblivious to the airplane zooming in behind him. The image was quickly debunked as a cut-and-pasted fraud, but then people started copying the bland, knit-capped figure of the "Tourist Guy" and dropping him into every imaginable scene, from the assassination of Lincoln to a rooftop in The Matrix. Like Creepy Clown, the Tourist Guy is usually a silent, passive witness to some activity, and the chemistry between his cigar store Indian placidity and rambunctious scenes of murder and violence is often hilarious. And once again, anyone with Photoshop could make a "Tourist Guy" masterpiece. This is real New Media art: "creating alternative systems that reveal the poetic, metaphoric, critical, and community-building possibilities of manipulating and reconstituting data." You aren't likely to hear about Creepy Clown on those panels, though.