I haven't yet made my first million and so, like everyone else, my family is forced to use toilet paper. My one consolation, however, is that there seems to have been a technological revolution in toilet paper manufacturing since I was a kid. The new stuff is infinitely softer, even--dare I say it--luxurious. Also environmentally conscious, however, I was forced to forgo my favorite brand, Cottonelle, after learning that its parent company, Kimberly Clark, was cutting down some of the last virgin forests left on earth in order to make their fluffy wares. (For this reason, we also don't buy Kleenex). Luckily, there were other companies out there offering the superior product that soft-connoisseurs demand.
But now the New York Times has taken all the fun out of my morning constitutional:
...fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them. ...You can read the full article here.
Environmentalists are focusing on tissue products for reasons besides the loss of trees. Turning a tree to paper requires more water than turning paper back into fiber, and many brands that use tree pulp use polluting chlorine-based bleach for greater whiteness. In addition, tissue made from recycled paper produces less waste tonnage — almost equaling its weight — that would otherwise go to a landfill.
One question remains unanswered: if they recycle all of the paper in China, then does using recycled paper really lower your environmental impact? Sadly, the Telegraph says yes.
The hardest part of writing this post is choosing which pithy pun to end on. Bummer? Well, shit? Oh, crap? Crapcakes? How do you like them crapples? I choose not to choose.
The WRAP study calculated that sending one tonne of recovered paper from the UK to China produced between 154kg- 213kg of CO2 and transporting one tonne of recovered plastic bottles ranged between 158kg-230kg of CO2.
But the CO2 levels represented less than a third of the carbon savings produced from recycling.
The transport emissions became even smaller - less than 10 per cent of the overall amount of CO2 saved by recycling - because the waste can travel in containers that would normally be empty because the UK imports more than it exports to China.
So, the news today that New Yorker was ending its forty-four year run as this country's most austere film distributor marks this as a turning point in film viewing as we know it. Who will pick up the slack, after the closures of Warner Independent, Red Envelope, Paramount Vantage, and Tartan Films, all just last year? One wonders if this is a product of our deepening recession or part of the ongoing problems distributors face, which includes global piracy, instant access to once difficult and esoteric material, sluggish advertising, and uncooperative, demanding theatrical outlets.
While the theatrical system sorts itself out, it's worth thinking about what we're losing in the process: well curated, film-loving distributors, who need to take chances to survive. In my eyes, New Yorker released the best film of 2008; who will release this year's best film?
Inside the museums
Infinity goes up on trial.
Voices echo, "This is what
Salvation must be like after a while."
Hail, hail rock and roll.
Deliver me from the days of old.
Rock and Roll will never die. Rock and roll is here to stay. The reason? It bends time and space, distorting the present moment so that it stretches into infinity. Ironically, it also usually comes in two-and-a-half minute packages.
But the addictiveness of the pop single is part of the way that rock and roll distends the present. The repetition of the song and its lingering afterimage as a tune stuck in your head is an ever-swelling moment that cannot sustain itself. It is detumescent at the same time that is ascendant. The effete rock star playing the phallic guitar creates a plateau--an elevated plain without a peak or a climax--a perpetual present that is always already succumbing to the vacuum of the past. The present contains the past within it: it is becoming-past, a gyre whose center cannot hold.
In his treatise on modernity, known as The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin writes:
Every epoch... not only dreams the one to follow but, in dreaming, precipitates its awakening. It bears its end within itself and unfolds it--as Hegel already noticed--by cunning. With the destabilization of the market economy, we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.As it is for epochs, so it is for smaller units of time. Each moment is already the one to follow and the one that came before. This aporia is compounded by the fact that these moments are not discrete. Time is not divided; it is a continuous substance. The song contains its future demise. The record is worn out before you've even played it. The pop song's sugar is already dissolved. It pushes the present into infinity, but it is hyperactive, working itself to death. Pop songs are like batteries: they hold a charge, but they are disposable.
Songs not only exist in time (that is, over time), they affect time. That is, music affects our perception of time and it is at least possible to argue that time is both a necessary condition for and a product of perception. (Is it that time would not exist without us to perceive it, or that time is just the language in which we understand the world?)
But not all time is created equally. As a box contains an object, so does a folk song contain time within it. These songs are passed from player to player, down through the generations, acquiring wisdom that no individual effort ever could. Like a stone that has been worn smooth by the running of a river, the folk song is formed slowly, affected by every pair of hands, every voice and every instrument that it passes through. Its shape is the shape of centuries of use. Compared to the disposable pop song, born in an orgasmic bang that is already a little death--the pop song is gone before it even arrives--the folk song exists in geologic time.
The Coo Coo Bird, as Greil Marcus has written, is a song about a bird that has never existed in America. It is an English folk song that came across the waters and went to seed in the Appalachians. By the time it reemerges in Clarence Ashley's brilliant 1927 recording (included in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music), the coo coo bird "warbles as she flies,/but she never hollers coo coo 'til the fourth 'a July." Bird song marks the passage of time, and yet the bird does not exist. Even Ashley's rolling, looping banjo is an ever-evolving present. Inside this moment, all moments reside.
Is it any mistake that many of the best psychedelic bands of the 60's had a direct connection to folk and its electric cousin, country music? Rock and roll is the electrification of folk music and in this way it is folk plus capitalism, a modern art for the ancient guitar. By mutation, the folk song evolves into a commodity and thus becomes subject to fashion and currents. (There is nothing more quintessentially American than looking at a wooden instrument that is literally thousands of years old and saying, "not bad, but it'd be better with 120 volts running through it.") Hit songs are a kind of fashion and fashion is a kind of Futurism. The slow forming oral history of the folk song becomes an attenuated, electric instant, a revolving present that propels you into the future at the same time that it denies time. This is the distended present: an infinity that exists in an inherent repetition that, like an amped-up version of Benjamin's monuments of the Bourgeoisie, is gone before it arrives.
In his brilliant and labyrinthine, psychedelic masterpiece, Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay, Dan Graham creates a distended present through the use of infinite regress and video feedback.
Two mirrors face one another on opposite walls of a gallery. A camera on top of a video monitor faces the mirror, but sends its signal to the opposite video monitor. One combination of camera and monitor is in "real time," while the other is on a five-second delay. (The monitors also face the mirrors, so that the cameras photograph the image of the other camera and then send them to the other monitor, ad infinitum). The opposing mirrors create an infinite regress and the feedbacking video monitors also create an infinite regress inside of, but separate from, the infinite regress of the mirrors. There are mathematical proofs that demonstrate the existence of multiple, coexistent orders of infinity, but Graham is able to demonstrate this fact phenomenologically; there is an immediate understanding that in the gallery, space and time are extending infinitely (without actually extending at all--it is, at once, both real and phantasmagoric). Time spreads along on an axis perpendicular to the direction that it usually flows in. Each moment extends indefinitely: eternal return. Like the best rock songs, this participatory work is a drug-trip-without-drugs, an electronic trance-machine. It is no mistake that this actual, perceivable distension of the spatio-temporal plane also feels a bit like science fiction, for Graham has literally created a time machine, one that extends the present into infinity.
Here is Graham discussing the future contained in the past, the science fiction of 19th century painting, and the religiosity of rock music:
For Graham, "Teenage Heaven"--only briefly alluded to here, but elaborated on in his incredible video-essay Rock My Religion--is the infinite present represented/occupied by post-war Youth. This is a new kind of youth characterized by teens as super-consumers: a consumer class divorced from productivity. They exist only to buy and to be. As Tom Wolfe pointed out in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, teens are essentially dandies; their lives are devoted wholly to aesthetics. For Wolfe, these super-consumers may be denim-and-t-shirt clad Beau Brummels, but for Graham they are angels (two very different visions of heaven on earth). The teen angel exists only to consume, and as such is directly connected to the forever-new of Fashion. As Benjamin notes in The Arcades Project: "Newness is a quality independent of the use value of the commodity. It is the source of the illusion of which fashion is the tireless purveyor. ... art's last line of resistance... coincide[s] with the commodity's most advanced line of attack... ." Capitalism and modernity are one.
In one of the most amazing moments of the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, Brian Wilson describes the people for whom he wrote his music as "children of god." For a time, the documentary appears to break down; Wilson's definition is infinite. "Not rapidly approaching thirty" is as close to a number as he gets in trying to define the age of his intended audience. What he is actually describing is something more spiritual, not a "target audience," with all of the violence that implies, but a congregation. He is talking about Graham's teen angels: the timeless, androgynous, polymorphous perversity of youth itself, beyond good and evil:
But "Angel of the Morning," beautiful as it is, is still mired in the pre-feminist sex-politics of the so-called "sexual revolution." She's an angel because he gets to leave (birth control as miracle). This song also clearly demonstrates the sex-without-climax plateau of "pop" music: he's already left before they've even consummated their relationship. Again, as in Benjamin's monuments of the Bourgeoisie, the ruins of the relationship are contained in its beginning. The song is only about the attraction and the denouement; the love itself, like the man, is curiously absent. This particular order of infinity is eternal return (this is the condition of modernity). They are always about to, and have always already, consummated their love... and he's already gone. For in this song, left and will-leave are one.
The song is an ouroboros. Play it again and again. The record is a gyre whose center cannot hold. It will get stuck in your head, playing on a mental loop. Long live rock and roll.
Minnesota U.S. Senate Race
Republican Norm Coleman challenged the election results in court when the recount total landed in Democrat Al Franken's favor, by 225 votes. On Friday the panel of justices hearing the case ruled against Coleman's request to open and count some absentee ballots that he maintains should have been tallied. He had broken the types of rejected ballots into 19 categories. The judges tossed out the validity of 12 of those categories. But the battle continues. More here.
California Proposition 8
On November 5, 2008 a writ petition was filed with the California Supreme Court. The petition seeks to invalidate Proposition 8. The California constitution states that rights cannot be taken away from minority groups through the process of simple majority elections. The court will begin hearing arguments on March 5, 2009. For more information about the writ petition, and the plethora of groups and companies that support overturning Prop 8, click here.
This past week Israel held elections for Prime Minister and parliament. Kadima, the centrist party led by Tzipi Livni that is interested in negotiating peace with Palestine, picked up 28 seats. Likud, a right-wing party led by Benjamin Netanyahu that is opposed to peace negotiations, picked up 27. Overall, right-wing parties picked up more seats than centrists or left-wing parties. This means that the probability that Netanyahu will be Prime Minister is high. Already his party is negotiating with others in an effort to form a coalition. However, some right-wing groups have said that they are not interested in joining Likud. Livni is also hard at work building her own coalition. A definitive result is not expected for weeks. The outcome of these elections will most likely have a profound effect on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Keep up-to-date here.
On Wednesday Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic (MFD) party was sworn in as Prime Minister. Last year elections between incumbent head of government, Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, turned sour. Tsvangirai was ahead in the first round of elections, but subseqent rounds, widely thought to be rigged, went in Mugabe's favor. In September a power sharing deal was discussed, but not implemented until now. Mugabe is still president and maintains control over the armed forces. Tsvangirai is taking office amid desperate times in Zimbabwe. A cholera epidemic has killed over 3,000 people in the past year and inflation has left many with no way to secure their basic needs. Already there is evidence of frissures between the two parties. More here.
The Obama administration urged a federal appeals court Monday to toss out a lawsuit about CIA clandestine operations in the alleged kidnapping and torture of terrorism suspects.The Justice department is invoking state secrets. Carter-appointed judges say there may be merit to the administration's claim. Some civil-libertarians are worried.
Marc Ambinder isn't:
But since parsing Presidential symbolism has become our new national past-time, it's worth thinking about this case on more than its merits alone. And Justice's response isn't exactly a signal that an independent investigator seriously looking at the case for war crimes is close at hand.
It wouldn't be wise for a new administration to come in, take over a case from a prosecutor, and completely change a legal strategy in mid-course without a more thorough review of the national security implications. And, of course, the invocation itself isn't necessarily an issue; civil libertarians and others who voted for Obama did so with the belief that his judgment and his attorney general would be better stewards of that privilege than President Bush and his attorney generals (and vice president.) Obama certainly never promised Americans that he'd declassify everything, or that the government had to renounce its right to assert a state secrets privilege forever.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that he hoped that one day all people would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Because of my experience of being ridiculed and judged harshly based on what I'm wearing, I like to think that for MLK, fashion would not be a signifier for 'content of character.' For this reason, I was upset that on such a historically significant day, people cared about what clothes were being worn.
Last week Salon.com published an article by Erin Aubry Kaplan entitled "The Michelle Obama hair challenge." When I saw the heading I cringed, thinking that it was indicative of continued fascination with questions of fashion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Hair has always been political, especially in relation to the African American community. (As an aside, I understand that fashion is also political, but there is a difference between clothes that we can take off, and parts of our body that we have for life).
The article explores the relationship that Michelle Obama's hairdo has to racial identity. Issues of presentation, and to what degree minority bodies assume the look of the majority, have long been topics of discussion in minority communities. I've spent my own life dealing with the topic of hair. As a transsexual, my relationship to hair has had to do with ideals of sex and gender, rather than race, but the underlying significance is similar. (However, like clothes, length of hair can be changed fairly easily in comparison to its physical structure.) Do you conform your body to 'pass,' by removing signifiers that scare the majority, or do you embrace your cultural identity (and who defines that identity)?
The Obama's are now their own cultural phenomenon. Many people in the country look up to them, not only for their political prowess, but as an image of what America is. Their decisions will have profound influence over the dialogues and choices that people will make for years to come. This is why the question of Michelle Obama's hair is a very important one. If you are not well apprised of the issues at hand, I strongly suggest delving into this article. At the bottom of the article's first page are links to more of Kaplan's writing. I strongly suggest taking some time to get to know her work.
Would you like a Huiilmcraker?
Yes. This sounds good.
Do you like my rug table? It's called a Vilmhootsklerrkuuker-tablet.
Yes. I keep a rug phone right next to it for calls and to call.
Would you like Smjkr spread for your Huiilmcraker?
It's right on the Vilmhootsklerrkuuker-tablet. Have two.
Oh thank you.
Good. This is nice.
According to Crook, this is a result of a combination of careful, to-the-letter calculation and hyperbole:
The stimulus continues to be advertised as an $800bn-plus package. This figure represents the direct and cumulative effect of the measure on the budget deficit between now and 2019. It takes no credit for revenue feedbacks as a result of higher activity: it is not an economic forecast of the change in the deficit. This is the biggest number you could plausibly cite based on what is actually proposed. The emphasis on it is a curious combination of rectitude, there are rules about the way this accounting is done, and boastfulness – look at the size of my stimulus. Since voters think, when it comes to budget deficits, smaller is better, the boasting is misplaced. No other government would call this an “$800bn stimulus”.You Can read Crook's analysis of the Congressional Budget Office's review of the stimulus package at his blog, here.
President Obama's nomination of Senator Judd Gregg to lead the Department of Commerce today was something of a curious, bipartisan move, considering Gregg's desire to abolish the agency he's set to lead.
In 2004, Republican Gregg was challenged by Doris "Granny D" Haddock, a 94 year old pacifist, in an election year that was mostly disastrous for Democrats. That senatorial race is documented in Run Granny Run, a very decent and heartfelt time capsule of a film, embedded above for free, courtesy of SnagFilms.
John Henry is not only one of my favorite songs, I think it's one of the greatest contributions made by American music. It is a marvelous amalgam of philosophy, history and tragedy with a driving, life-affirmative pulse.
People often start the story of America's contribution to Art with the influx of European avant-garde artists fleeing the ascendancy of Nazism. But this narrative neglects the incredible, indigenous arts, already in full flower by the time the Surrealists arrived in the States, that had an equally profound effect upon 20th century culture. I try not to read too much into the fact that this neglect results in an American art that is supposed to begin with a transfer of white, European intellectual capital instead of one that begins with the immense talents of our own ex-slave population combining over a long period of time with high and low European musical traditions to birth both Jazz and Folk, respectively. Instead of American art as the result of a long, slow simmer combining all of the myriad nuances of our incredible diversity, its the Surrealists and the Frankfurt School moving to New York and Los Angeles that begins American art ex nihilo.
But it's inaccurate to occlude black artists from the history of American art. Jazz directly affected every art movement from the 1920's through the 1960's. Looking at a Pollock painting, do you not see Charlie Parker in equal parts with an Americanized Surrealism? And Folk music--along with its mutant offsrping, Rock and Roll--arguably affected every art and social movement from the 1960's onward. (Though it had help, Rock and Roll was powerful enough to upend the social order in and out of America: simply hearing "Rock Around the Clock" could start riots in Germany.)
But why rewrite art history in a post about John Henry? Because John Henry is part of that history. Its story is of a black man working himself to death, often over a bet with a white man (usually his boss) and in the earliest versions that have been collected, this racial tension figures prominently in the narrative. Eventually, however, verses get dropped, epithets get replaced and John Henry can return as a heroic figure for the mostly-white Labor movement, albeit as a somewhat-comic rather than a tragic one. By looking at the rich history of this song, we can see that John Henry is something like an American saint: a martyr to manual labor at the service of speed and transformation--the end of one America, giving itself up in sacrifice for the next--but whose strange and beautiful act of prideful selflessness isn't unmixed with exploitation.
There are many, many versions of the song--the depth of its variety is staggering--but in nearly every version John Henry forsees his own death. Sometimes he does this as a baby, sometimes as a man, but he is always, like Babe Ruth pointing to a spot in the stands, quite specific in his call: "John Henry told his captain/'Captain, how can it be? The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. & O. road/Gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord./Gonna be the death of me.'"
The Big Bend Tunnel on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad was more than a mile long, running straight through a mountain in West Virginia. "Driving steel" didn't originally refer to laying down track. According to NPR's Present at the Creation, in order to tunnel through mountains, men would drive steel spikes into the rock and then fill the hole with explosives. This laborious method was later replaced with steam drills and a contest between John Henry and one such drill is of course the subject of the song.
John Henry's miracles do not end with prognostication. In a superhuman effort, he defeats the steam drill and in so doing causes his own death. This is often represented by him "taking sick" and going to bed or driving steel so hard that he "broke his poor heart," but in one particularly gruesome variation, "He broke a rib in his lef'-han' side,/An' his intrels fell on de groun',/Lawd, Lawd, an' his intrels fell on de groun'."
John Henry, Zarathustra-like, also tells his captain, "A man ain't nothin' but a man" and, while not a praying man himself, he tells his Shaker, "Shaker, you better pray./For if I miss this six foot of steel/Tomorrow'll be your burial day." In one of the versions collected by John Lomax, he also asks his Shaker, "'why don' you sing?/I'm throwin' twelve poun's from my hips on down,/Jes' listen to de col' steel ring,/Lawd, Lawd, jes' listen to de col' steel ring.'" This strange equation of religion, music and labor is strong: earlier in the same Lomax version, John Henry has a little woman named Mary Magdalene who would "go to de tunnel and sing for John/jes' to hear John Henry's hammer ring."
John Henry's hammer itself is also the subject of much versification. Most often it is nine pounds, although it sometimes swells to ten, twelve or even thirty. In my favorite version--the Wiliamson Brothers and Curry 1927 recording, "Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand"-- it has a handle made of bone and "Every time he hit the drill on the head,/Hammer reached right down and groaned, Lord, Lord. Hammer reached right down and groaned."
John Henry is sometimes a paragon of fidelity, sometimes a womanizer and sometimes a cuckold. (Serious folk nerds may be interested in the overlap between John Henry lyrics and other folk favorites: John Henry also has a little woman dressed in red and another dressed in blue, just as John Hardy and the unnamed protagonist of the famous blues song "Cocaine" do. He also sometimes "come's o'er the hill with a twenty dollar bill and its 'Baby, where you been so long?'"--a phrase familiar from "I Wish I Was A Mole In the Ground"). In many versions, his "little woman" actually becomes celibate in his memory--"I don't need no man, lawd, lawd."-- while "all the women of the west" flock to the spot of his death. In one of my favorite verses that appears in nearly every version, once John Henry has lain his hammer down, his woman, either Polly Anne or Sally Anne, goes to work and "Sally drove the steel like a man, Lord, Lord. Sally drove the steel like a man."
John Henry is often buried "in the sand" so that every time a train rolls by, they can holler, "There lies a steel driving man." In a touching variation to this final verse that first appears in Leadbelly's rendition, they bury John Henry at the White House. It is interesting that there is never a mention of immortality; John Henry is a purely secular saint. He died for us.
But John Henry is not only a song about a railroad martyr; it's about the industrial revolution itself. John Henry's race with the steam drill is a parable about machine labor replacing manual labor and the ways of life that went with it. There are many folk songs that bemoan the coming of the industrial revolution, but the body of John Henry songs are perhaps the most complicated. Henry is a hero, but he is also a tragic figure. He foresees his death because there can be no future for steel drivin' men. The country has fundamentally changed. And so, "The very last words that John Henry said: 'Son, Don't be a steel drivin' man, Lord, Lord. Son, don't be a steel driving man.'"
Here's another beautiful version, "Spike Driver Blues," by Mississippi John Hurt (the music starts at 1:55):
MOS has a history of interesting projects that alter the way we think about and interact with urban and suburban spaces. Urban Battery, their winning entry for the flip a strip competition, refuses to just gussy up an outmoded strip mall. Set in Scottsdale, Arizona, Urban Battery addresses the energy needs of the strip mall and mitigates its most undesirable effects without trying to fundamentally alter its function. As the flip a strip description puts it: "The firm wanted to sustain the frank, lowbrow purpose of the strip mall, rather than 'gentrify' the genre. No money or energy was wasted on ancillary services or aesthetic flourishes."
Urban Battery generates energy--an estimated 75,000 kWh per year--for the strip mall using wind turbines. Its most striking feature, the 300 x 300 ft. vertical screen, is really a vertical greenhouse: it is comprised of "thin glass channels housing a network of pipes, tubes, and algae" that filter the air, shade the mall and provide a source for biofuel. Elegant in both conception and design, it also serves as a smart solution to the strict anti-billboard zoning in Scottsdale, providing an attractive, green advertisement for the mall (as well as an advertisement for green technology itself).
In the very near future, it will be necessary to address the consequences of the world that we've created. Thinking about the way we create and use energy in conjunction with the way we create and use space seems like an excellent place to start.
You can see many more MOS projects by visiting their website.
The above images were created by and belong to MOS. Many thanks to MOS for providing them.
Read the rest here.
The Republicans are in fighting mood after Obama failed to secure a single vote on their side for his $819 billion financial stimulus package in the House of Representatives, despite intensive wooing.
The bill came laden with spending on Democratic pet projects, including $50m for the arts and $400m for global warming research that critics said had little to do with boosting the economy. It also contains “buy American” protectionist provisions that have alarmed trading partners, including Britain.
Obama is striking back with an audacious bid to acquire a “liberal super-majority”, giving the Democrats untrammelled power in the White House, the Senate and House of Representatives. He hopes to appoint Judd Gregg, a Republican senator, as commerce secretary, leaving Gregg’s Senate seat at the disposal of the governor of New Hampshire, a Democrat.
One point I'd like to quibble with: There is an art industry just like there is an entertainment industry. But unlike the movie business, the art world isn't recession-proof; people are losing their jobs left and right. Therefore, I can assure everyone that $50 million for the arts is not a "pet project"; spending on the arts will directly stimulate the economy.
Even if they were to give all the money to, say, someone super-established like Richard Serra there would still be a stimulative effect: he employs assistants, buys supplies, builds crates, ships art works, and attracts visitors and money to galleries, museums, book stores etc. who all have employees (for the time being). And, since we're talking Serra here, he quite literally employs steel workers. One way of thinking about this nifty video is that all the people running around in time-lapse wouldn't have jobs without Richard Serra:
I'm no economist, but I'm pretty sure we could put 50 million art dollars to work in Los Angeles alone.