Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!

Dancer friend Kathy reminded me of one of my all-time favorite quotes, in honor of the day:
"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."
--Emma Goldman (above, 1910; photographer T. Kajiwara, from the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace) According to the Jewish Women's Archive, the passionate activist "Goldman was arrested so often that she began to carry a book wherever she went, for fear of sitting in jail with nothing to read."

"Capt. Kirk's Bulging Trousers"

"A [2003] touring exhibition of genuine "Star Trek" gimcracks ["Star Trek: The Adventure," at London's Hyde Park] reminds us of the virile greatness of the original Shatner/Nimoy series -- and the p.c. limpness of all the spinoffs."

Oh Lord! This piece made me laugh so much and feel so happy to be in the company of someone who sees it like I do, someone else who "watched 'Star Trek' on '70s TV in a state of arousal bordering on psychosis which, obviously, has yet to subside"--Mark Simpson, author of It's a Queer World-- that I am posting this entire article, below. 

It's something of a companion piece to my post Capt. Kirk's Parted Lips.

Capt. Kirk's Bulging Trousers
February 26, 2003
By Mark Simpson, "The Skinhead Oscar Wilde" [click for his blog]

The first thing that greets me is Capt. Kirk's package. Jim's intergalactic manhood is clearly, alarmingly outlined against the fabric of his tight 1960s-cut black trousers, dressing very much to the left. I assure you I wasn't looking for it -- it just loomed up like a de-cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey.

It shouldn't be surprising that James Tiberius Kirk, the famously gung-ho Starfleet commander, went commando, boldly swinging where no man had swung before. Maybe that, as much as his twinkly mascara'd eyes and his captaincy of the fastest, flashiest vehicle in the galaxy, the USS Enterprise, was the secret of caddish Jim's phenomenal success with lady humanoids and aliens alike.

Indubitably, as his first officer might have said, raising one angled eyebrow: This was the crucial difference between the sweaty, highly Freudian original "Star Trek" series and the sexless, sweatless, p.c. "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Can you imagine Jean-Luc Picard not wearing spotless knickers with a built-in containment field, changed twice a day and incinerated after use?

Alas, I'm not actually in the humbling presence of the godlike genius of William Shatner himself. Rather, I'm gazing up at a monitor playing a clip from "The Trouble With Tribbles" in a medley of "classic 'Star Trek' moments," at an exhibition dedicated to a genre and a universe that have, so to speak, sprung from his loins. "Star Trek: The Adventure," held in a "climate-controlled" "hi-tech" 7,000-square-foot tent in London's Hyde Park, showcases the "Trek" universe, from the original series more than 35 years ago to the newest feature film, "Star Trek: Nemesis."

Sets, costumes, props and models from "Star Trek," "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager" and the current "Trek" series, the low-tech "Enterprise" prequel, are all here. Billed as the biggest "Star Trek" exhibition ever, the London show has been a great success. This is only the first stop on a world tour, taking in Europe, Australia and the U.S., on a "five-year mission to boldly go where 'Star Trek' has never been before" -- although where that would be is something of a mystery.

In addition to six successful "Trek" TV series, each of them being rerun somewhere in the world right now, there have been 10 "Trek" movies, grossing well over $1 billion. Amazon lists 1,238 "Trek" books, 1,832 "Trek" auctions, 515 videos, 73 music items, 61 PC and video games. I simply refuse to enter "Star Trek" into a Web search engine, as I fear it will cause some kind of terrible e-feedback loop and global net overheating of the kind that happened whenever Kirk asked some upstart out-of-control alien computer to compute "love."

The whole phenomenon is, to use another Spockism, fascinating. The "Trek" series is not only the most frighteningly successful and profitable TV series of our "timeline" but also one that has helped to make television what it is -- and us what we are. "Star Trek" really did turn out to be the future -- not of faster-than-light space travel, but of couch-potato entertainment. We have been, to use yet another Trekkian phrase, assimilated. Resistance was futile.
If the original "Star Trek" series was an exercise in the power of human imagination -- and frustrated aspiration -- the massive "Trek" exhibition can only be called an exercise in hubris. Perhaps that is why the monitor on which I glimpsed Kirk's package is swaying a little, as is everything else suspended from the ceiling -- the vast "hi-tech" tent is moving in the wind, making slightly distracting and very nonfuturistic clanking noises.

Close up, imprisoned behind glass cases, the props and costumes look rather disappointing and forlorn, like deeply discounted items in a theatrical supply store. The disrupters and phasers are bits of badly painted wood; the scale models of the various Enterprises are the discarded toys of rich kids. The recreated bar from "Deep Space Nine" looks like the sort of place you wouldn't hang out in unless you wanted to pick up a low-rent transvestite (mind you, if that had been true of the infantile series itself it might have been worth watching).

The armory from the "Enterprise" series, complete with photon torpedo launchers, is more impressive but something of an elaborate tease. Like the other control-panel-based exhibits here, much of the instrumentation is covered with glass screens and large signs warning "DO NOT TOUCH." What other reason would you have to come to a "Star Trek" exhibition except to press, in Stimpy-esque tongue-lolling abandon, all those buttons you've seen winking at you on TV over the years?

The Scimitar brig restraint cage from the "Nemesis" film, in which Picard is all too briefly imprisoned, is here, but has, like the film itself, the rather tired, S/M-catalog feel that dominated the later, Borg-rich episodes of "Next Generation" -- the nearest that series ever got to sex. The Borg were, after all, everyone's nightmare fetish-party people -- sadomasochists who tried to accessorize themselves a personality and considered themselves irresistible.

My pulse begins to quicken near the exit, however, when I spot, like a beacon, Capt. Kirk's cocky chartreuse green velour shirt with gold braided cuffs and also his black trousers. They are, in a display of costumes from the original series, wrapped around a headless dummy instead of around Kirk's corseted, bewigged torso.

No doubt I'm a terminal nostalgic -- as a boy I watched "Star Trek" on '70s TV in a state of arousal bordering on psychosis which, obviously, has yet to subside -- but the original "Trek" uniforms, like the series itself, seem much more exciting than anything that followed. These are not clothes so much as archetypes. Like "Trek" technology, they embody an idea of function rather than a practical elaboration of it. Here is the cool, intellectual blue of Spock's tunic, with his trusty tricorder handbag slung over the shoulder; here the feisty red of Lt. Uhura's costume, breasts surging forward like rockets, with streamlined waist, miniskirt tailfins spouting a plume of long, long tights, and knee-length pointy black boots.

Ahem. Anyway, "Star Trek" was very ... pointy. In addition to the boots, and Kirk's package, there were pointy sideburns, pointy breasts, pointy ears, pointy Federation logos, pointy lettering in the credits, and also the pointedly pointy mission statement: "To boldly go where no man has gone before," which of course was bluntly de-sexed by "Next Generation" to "...where no one has been before."

Perhaps this is why the "Next Generation" crew were dressed like flight attendants on a particularly dull 1980s airline -- one that went bust because the synthetic fibers and padding produced so much static electricity that insurers refused to cover them. "Voyager" became much pointier, and more watchable, when in later years declining ratings beamed aboard the streamlined and coolly logical Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), promptly massaging up the Nielsen points.

(Perhaps that is why "Enterprise" features the similarly spaceworthy female Vulcan first officer T'Pol, her uniform snugly inhabited by Jolene Blalock.)

"Star Trek" uniforms remain timeless classics, ones that seem to have directly inspired '70s glam rock -- Ziggy Stardust, for instance, looked as though he would have fit in on the Enterprise. Certainly Kirk would have shagged him.

["Capt. Kirk's Bulging Trousers" By Mark Simpson, CONTINUED:
It seems ironic, given the kind of people who are Trekkies -- bed-wetting idealists for the most part -- that the post-'60s incarnation of the series has become perhaps the symbol of corporate culture, globalization and "American imperialism" -- though generally dressed in the drabbest kind of political correctness.

The spinoffs have produced an empire of nerdiness. Give me a stripped-to-the-waist Republican Kirk in full-body makeup, trying to remember to suck in his waist while battling a rubber lizard-head alien with half-learned karate and pro-wrestling moves, any day of the week.

And then I spy it, like a mirage: the bridge of the original USS Enterprise. It's roped off so I can't ride the turbo lift, fire Sulu's phasers, mess with Spock's science station, or put my butt where Kirk's has gone before and take "the con." I suspect that in this instance I wouldn't even if I could. You can get too close to something that has been so important to you for so long. In fact, there is something so venerable about this silly wooden set that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. This is, after all, the holiest shrine of TV culture, of much more importance to the contemporary world than, say, the Church of the Nativity, Shakespeare's Globe or even Lucille Ball's living room.

They really knew about the future in the '60s. They really cared about it. It was, of course, a time when people still believed in it, a time when "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" was not necessarily a self-consciously retro slogan. Perhaps that is why the original series, with its female crew members (albeit in submissive jobs) and racial harmony (ditto -- except for Spock, the Jewish Vulcan), was rather more adventurous and progressive for its time than its spayed spinoffs.

More important, in the '60s they also knew how to make buttons and dials that, 35 years on, are much more "futuristic" than anything seen since. Not only that, they made them for next to nothing. ("Star Trek" cost about $100,000 an episode; Enterprise costs $6 million.) From where I'm standing, those buttons and dials look like the most precious and promising jewels in the universe. By comparison, the "Next Generation" bridge displayed next door looks like the foyer of an expense-account motel.

Naturally, true Trekkies prefer the more recent series, precisely because they have much bigger budgets, more special effects -- and no William Shatner. Apparently Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (and much of the original cast) despised Shatner and the way he played Kirk. He was too aggressive, too violent, too sexist, too vain. The anal-retentive goody-goody Jean-Luc Picard, played fastidiously by Patrick Stewart, was much closer to what Roddenberry had in mind.

It was Shatner's Kirk, with all his magnificent flaws and vanities, however, who made "Star Trek" more than just another canceled '60s sci-fi series. He saved the show from its own appalling virtuousness -- or, to put it more pretentiously, he was the Dionysian bass line to Roddenberry's Apollonian synth music. (By the same token, Cmdr. Data's quest to become human on "Next Generation" is comic, since his colleagues seem to aspire to be androids.)

Shatner was rock 'n' roll -- his post-Trek album-cum-aural breakdown, "The Transformed Man," notwithstanding. It was his perversity, his Napoleonic ego, that made "Star Trek" an epic for our times. Not for nothing was his pre-"Trek" project a canceled series called "Alexander the Great," starring Shatner as the lovable Macedonian psychopath himself. Shatner has earned his place in the pantheon of postwar virile degeneracy: What Brando did for the cinema and Elvis did for music, Shatner did for the small screen.

In fact -- and I think I can say this with no fear of insulting Jim Carrey, himself a helpless Shatner fanatic -- Bill is simply the greatest actor that Canada has ever produced. Although he was (and is) an outrageous ham, applying the "skills" he developed performing in Canada's Shakespearean theater ("I combine English technique with American virility") as indiscriminately to "Star Trek" scripts as LBJ did Agent Orange to the jungles of Southeast Asia, bafflingly stressing words and syllables that mere mortals might think had no importance, pausing painfully in the middle of sentences while rushing headlong over their conclusions, there is something oddly powerful about many of his performances.

Even something believable and human, especially in the slightly camp context of a series like "Star Trek." Even Shatner's vanity is sympathetic. The tasteful, restrained, mannered -- and, let's face it, bourgeois -- seriousness of Picard and "Voyager's" Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) seems faintly ridiculous by comparison.

Jim Kirk, as I say, was clearly a Republican, while the Federation itself was clearly Democratic. The arrangement appeared to reflect that of a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress, the favored mechanism of Cold War consensus. Fortunately for the story lines, this meant that Kirk was constantly breaking the Federation's Prime Directive, which forbade interference in alien cultures. Currently, we see Adm. George W. Bush, with his apparent disdain for the Prime Directive and also the Federation (United Nations) itself, in orbit around planet Iraq, preparing to beam down a heavily armed away team. Bush probably thinks himself more Kirk than Picard, but he's mistaken: He simply doesn't have the same pathos. Or the twinkly eyes.

Spock, half alien and half human, was another example of the inherent drama of "Star Trek." He was supposed to be coldly logical but was clearly a borderline hysteric, as evidenced by those occasions when he was called on to show emotion, such as the proto-environmentalist episode "Devil in the Dark," when he mind-melds with the Horta, a silicone-based life form whose eggs are being destroyed by Federation miners. 'Pain! PAIN!' he shrieks, his usually impassive face distorting horrifically. "Oh, PA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-IN!"

Moreover, Spock was obviously passionately in love with his rug-wearing bisexual WASP jock captain, something not lost on the bitchy, swishy and rather jealous ship's doctor, Bones McCoy, who wasted no opportunity to tease his green-blooded colleague. (For some reason all the male "Trek" medical staffers have been queeny, even the holograms).

Interestingly, the stellar love affair between Spock and Kirk, which has its roots in Greek mythology and American literature (e.g., Alexander and Hephaestion, Huck and Jim, Ishmael and Queequeg) seems to have grown out of the clash of Shatner's and Nimoy's planet-size thespian egos: Roddenberry, driven frantic by their on-set competitiveness, was advised by Isaac Asimov, no less, to channel it by strengthening their on-screen relationship. In addition, a "favored nation" clause was introduced into their contracts, stipulating that any benefits accorded to one must apply to the other.

In other words, gay campaigners still calling for gay characters in the next "Trek" series are missing the point. "Star Trek" featured the world's first on-screen same-sex marriage back in the '60s. (Little wonder then that a whole genre of female-authored "slash" fan fictions built around the Spock/Kirk love affair has flourished, making explicit what was always implicit.)

There was a kind of innocent intensity to many of those shows that is impossible to replicate today, an intensity that somehow manages to coexist with a campy tone, even down to the marvelous episode titles: "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," "City on the Edge of Forever," or "Is There No Truth in Beauty?" -- the one where the Enterprise gives a lift to the Medusan ambassador and his earthling assistant, a female in a glittery dress played by Diana Muldaur). Apparently the Medusans have miraculous navigational abilities in which the Federation is interested. Like a gimp magician, the Medusan is kept in a shiny box -- Medusans are so ugly that no human may gaze upon one without going mad (in this respect, apparently, they resemble David Copperfield).

It transpires that his glamorous female assistant is actually blind and "sees" through "a sensor array hidden in her dress." The Enterprise gets lost and Spock has to mind-meld (wearing natty pink goggles) with the Medusan so that the ambassador can use his body to navigate the ship back to familiar space.

All goes well. Unfortunately, however, while restoring the Medusan to his box, Spock forgets to put his pink goggles back on and goes mad (cue truly frightening hysterical overacting by Nimoy, in wide-angle extreme close-up). Diana has to mind-meld with Spock to draw him back to sanity. Then, having been made insanely jealous by Spock's melding with the Medusan, she mind-melds with her boss permanently.

If I had used more cocaine I could have founded an entirely new school of psychoanalysis on that one episode. "Oedipus Rex," eat your eyes out. That was the greatness of "Star Trek" -- at its best it was like an updated Greek drama for the TV generation. At its worst, well, it was still entertaining. Take "Spock's Brain," in which the science officer's gray matter is stolen by some intergalactic sex kittens and a triumphant Bones uses an implant and a TV remote control to pilot a zombie Spock around.

The true measure of the original series' brilliance is that it's so immense and timeless that it almost makes up for the "Trek"-dreck spinoff series that have followed. Mercifully however, it seems that the Trek universe, which has been rapidly cooling since 1969, may finally be imploding.

The new series, "Enterprise," desperately escapes the p.c. present-future by returning to a low-tech, pre-Kirk past-future (with, appropriately enough, Scott "Quantum Leap" Bakula at the com) in which men are men and are still permitted to captain spaceships by the seat of their pants.

It's something of a "Home Improvement" in space, though rather less popular. Diminishing ratings for the first season of the new series, and protests by devout Trekkies at the cynical rewriting of "Trek" history to include opportunistic enemies such as the Suliban may finally mean the end of that five-year mission that has lasted 35 years.

In this instance, I doubt that even cutting the jib of Bakula's baggy trousers and persuading him to go commando will work. Let's hope they don't try.

[END Capt. Kirk's Bulging Trousers, February 26, 2003
By Mark Simpson, "The Skinhead Oscar Wilde" [click for his blog]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who Would Kirk Vote For?

Barrett sent me a link to a youTube video, "Who Would Kirk Vote For?" It boils down to the plastic Kirk figure speaking from his heart for the hopeful Obama, and Spock from his logic for the experienced Clinton.

No. Here's how I see it:
Kirk is a military man; he would vote for McCain.
Spock would vote for the rational man, Nader.
It's McCoy, the sentimenalist, who would fall for Obama.

And who would vote for Hillary?
Scotty! Because she knows how to keep the engines running.

It's Snowing

And someone would rather watch from inside.

There will be spring...

...but not today.

Piscean Birthday Plans

The reason Laura was e-mailing me [below] in the first place was to make plans for my birthday next week. She suggested getting friends together for Friday night Lenten fish-fry in Joe G.'s church's basement and then drinking at the nearby British Isles pub.
She thought that would cover all bases for people:
"If they can't see themselves at a church dinner, they probably can see themselves at a bar!"

It also appeals to those two fish swimming in opposite directions who represent Pisces.

This reminds me of my birthday two and a half months after my mother died, which fittingly fell on Ash Wednesday. (Some of you were there.)
I was working for the Church at that time, and I went to 7 a.m. Mass to receive an ash cross on my forehead ("remember you are dust and to dust you shall return"); then spent all day preparing a soup supper to be served that evening in the church basement.

Afterward, a few friends took me out to a chic Uptown bar. The bartender came over to our table, saw our smudges, and asked, "And what can I get you good Catholics?"

I drank vodka martinis with gorgonzola-stuffed olives to wash away my sins.
This remains one of my weirdest yet best birthdays. I have a fraught relationship with the Church, but I've got to say, she's great with death.

Mars on Vacation

I sent my artist friend Laura links to Etsy, and she wrote back saying that since I had made it so easy she would indeed look it up. Also an astrologer, she added, "I have Mars in a water sign and am extremely lazy."

Mars is the god of war and is, like the planet, red hot--Diego Velazquez painted him (left) tensed with the potential energy of David Beckham in an underwear ad--but a soggy god of war felt very familiar to me, so I wrote back:
"Do I have Mars in water too? I feel like it--he is not generally very energetic in me...."

And Laura, who knows me and my chart well responded,
"Yes, you have Mars in a water sign- your instincts are correct."

Now, Laura works extremely hard at astrology and art, (and I work hard at thinking about stuff that catches my fancy); but I know what she means by calling herself lazy--she throws her heart into things she loves, but she is not terribly motivated to accomplish boring duties.

One of my favorite stories about her is that she used to sit in calculus class at Macalaster reading a novel behind her textbook. She was great at math but had lost interest.
Here in the Midwest, people see working hard at things you don't want to do as a moral virtue, so I guess I mostly like the story because I appreciate knowing I am not alone in my state of moral depravity.

The thing with astrology is that it's not a hard science, it's a funhouse mirror, in which we see what we're open to seeing.
When I look in that mirror, I don't see an energetic god of war, I see Mars floating in a swimming pool on a blow-up mattress, drinking something fruity and alcoholic through a curly-twist straw.

So don't call Laura or me if you want help with taxes; but we make great poolside companions!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Buckley & Ginsberg, r.i.p.

William F. Buckley Jr. died today.

"A 1973 study in Psychology Today found that many women fantasized about Mr. Buckley during intercourse."
--"How 'Firing Line' Transformed the Battleground", by Laurence Zuckerman, 12-18-99

I find my favorite image of Buckley not in bed but in Jerry Aronson's documentary The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (1993, available on DVD).
Strange bedfellows, this meeting of the revolutionary, gay Beat poet Ginsberg, who declared that "life should be ecstacy," and the Roman Catholic conservative, whom Gary Morris called a "straight queen," and Hillel Italie describes in his obituary as having a "handsome, reptilian languor."

Here Ginsberg sings Hare Krishna (25 sec.), utterly unselfconsciously, for Buckley, who appears genuinely open to the experience:

Because this video doesn't seem to show up embedded in Safari, here's the livelink:
Allen Ginsberg Sings on Firing Line.

The men, who seemed to belong to different species, both expanded my vision of what it means to be human. They shook up my ways of thinking, with their entirely different intelligences and word-smithing. There aren't many people who can do that for us, of any political persuasion. And yes, I do think it's sexy.
May they rest in peace. Or, er...have a really terrific next incarnation. Or whatever.

Where I'm Working, 2

Done housesitting my sister's but still housesitting L&M's (above, you can see my Kirk screensaver) for three more days. I finished my Libya project yesterday and don't start on Armenia until tomorrow, so I am free for 48 hours to research Star Trek to my heart's content.

I've put off reading serious analysis of the ST phenomenon because I wanted to come to my own conclusions, but I've started to look into academic journals and the like. Many of them I'll have to request through interlibrary loan. I will write up some of my own thoughts first, so I know where I started.

This is not exactly what I imagined doing on sabbatical, but it's extremely satisfying--it calls on my background in religious studies, literature, and history. I feel my limitations in American popular culture a bit, though. I haven't owned a TV in ten years, for instance, though I've always taken in a lot of movies. Popular culture is the sea we swim in, though, so I absorb more than I even know.

I am in a different neighborhood, and in the mornings I go here:

Science Blogs & Writing

I also can't say anything original about Star Trek's science, but I've been having a lot of fun educating myself about it and other popular science topics at Bad Astronomy Blog and Cocktail Party Physics.

Astronomer Phil Plait writes Bad Astronomy.
Cocktail Party is science writer Jennifer Ouellette, author of The Physics of the Buffyverse. (There's a bit of popular culture I missed being TV-free: I never watched Buffy. These days it's easy to catch up on TV, though, on DVD.)

Of course, I owe everything I know about the weather to Matt's Long Burn. To show you how little I knew, I asked him a couple years ago what the main determinant of Earth's weather was. He answered, the Sun. Oh, right. Seems I should have known that...

Cocktail Party has a fabulous post about becoming a science writer, with great advice for any developing writer: The Write Stuff.
One of her bits of advice is, "Don't do it like I did," which is to stumble into it. But I've noticed that a lot of successful people arrive where they never thought they were going, and that is one way of doing it.

What she says about writing could be said of life:
It "is first and foremost a craft; you get better by doing it, not by studying it ad infinitum."

My favorite advice:
"if you're going to dress unconventionally on the job, do so around PhD physicists, who are more tolerant of eccentricity."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Seat Belts Please, We're Imperialists

I've taken the opportunity--while being responsible over the past 10 days for the lives of the various dogs
...and cats...
in two homes with big TVs (while their owners fled to warm climates and broke out in rashes, some of them, no lie, from sudden exposure to the Sun)--to watch massive amounts of the follow-up Star Trek series (TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT).

I have to take back what I said about my ability to change starship captains. I tried; but it turns out, for me, there can be only one. And that one, of course, is that ham-and-cheese delight, Captain Kirk.

Except for TNG, the later Star Treks are all pretty good, but they're just TV shows, while the original Star Trek, with all its myriad flaws, is right up there with the Aeneid, the tale Virgil made up about the founding of Rome. It catches who we Americans are, for better or worse, on a mythic level.

We are a lot like the ancient Romans--big bullies who built top-notch roads and stuff and held together an empire by marching heavily armed soldiers into town and saying, we come in peace, would you like to buy a Coke?
I bet the Romans were just as surprised as Americans seem to be when the edges began to crumble and bridges to fall.

And basically Kirk is an imperialist like Aeneas, all talk about the Prime Directive respecting native cultures be damned. A hugely likable imperialist! Sort of like Pope John Paul II. That guy was a fascist, but I couldn't help liking his media image. You felt he would truly be sorry as he held your hand and explained you couldn't be a priest because you were [fill in the blank].
Kirk would be the same: Sorry, you just didn't have the right stuff for Starfleet. Had you thought about the Merchant Marine?

There's a lot of complexity to Star Trek's weird appeal, but the thing I actually set out to write about here was the connection (slim) to Ralph Nader. He was one of the heroes on my childhood radar for making the Klingons put seat belts in cars. OK, not Klingons, but close enough.
Which got me thinking that one of the things uniting all 5 of the Star Trek series is none of the starships ever employ seat belts. All these years, every time a ship runs into an asteroid or whatever, everybody goes flying out of their chairs.
In an early episode of Enterprise, the last of the series made, when the ship is about to get blasted, the captain calls out to his crew, "Hold on to something!"

Hold on to something? That's the extent of passenger safety on starships?
Sure, why not? We don't need seat belts! We're the Roman Empire.

Different motivations rule in the real-world perspective: if the crew didn't fling themselves about the bridge, we'd never get to see under Uhura's skirt.

[image of car crash from physics site at Georgia State U]

be dazzled

I bought this little (3" x 4") collage, or "small encrustation," from Bobbi, who sells her art at Etsy*: reconstructed art & design and blogs at Cobaltika: Visual Journal, which I discovered through Thinkery. I chose this piece because it reflects the dazzle I feel for outer space and language
(words as aliens that live symbiotically with us.)

Bobbi's art is, frankly, cheap. This piece was $8. Being employed only in the vaguest sense, I really appreciate that.

I have mixed feelings about art prices: on the one hand, I know how much life energy goes into each creation. Even something that took minutes to make reflects hours of searching and musing, so if artists were paid by the hour, everything they made would rightfully be very expensive.

OTOH, the elitism that privileges "art" as something vastly superior and therefore way more expensive than other things humans create puts art out of the price range of average people. Worse, it sets it apart as something only special people do; whereas creating stuff--beginning with humming while we scratch a pattern in the dirt with a stick, and then telling someone about it--is our birthright.

It bothers me that I too easily slip into the inertia of consuming hollowness instead of creating or seeking something filling. People like Bobbi (or the musicians who made Once) give me momentum--a push--to make art.

As Ratatouille says, not everyone can be a great chef; but everyone can cook.
Or as the riot grrrls movement put it: "Don't fall in love with the guitarist, be the guitarist."
Or as invites us: "Create a blog." Do it here.

*Etsy is a site where artists sell their handmade work, of all sorts. (Sal buys a lot of clothes.) You deal directly with the creators, so you can ask questions, make comments, etc.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Make art! Make art!

Glen Hansard's acceptance speech at the Oscars last night woke me up from the generally anaesthetic experience of watching plasticized people give robotic speeches.
He and Markéta Irglová won the Best Original Song award for their song "Falling Slowly" from their lovely independent movie Once.
Hansard said the film was made with two handi-cams at a cost of $100,000. He held up his Oscar and urged us:
"Make art! Make art!"

Irglová also made a real-human speech, saying "fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up."
If they can do it, so can we--not just in the realm of art but also in the realm of politics.

If you missed them, here they are:
(If video isn't embedded, here's the live link: Make art!.)

Love amidst War

Poster (left) of Love/ War/ Sex art exhibit, from the 2/8/08 review at "Hrag Vartanian; A blog of art, culture, photography, writing and ideas."

In a 2003 interview, after his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning came out, war correspondant Chris Hedges talks about love as a sanctuary of sanity in wartime (not the topic of the art exhibit advertised in the above poster, but it's an interesting tie-in with Hedges' points elsewhere about the intoxification of war):

Q: When you were covering war, you found that the effects on you were such that you sought out the company of people who were in love. Would you talk about that a little bit?

A: We used to call it the "Linda Blair effect" in Bosnia. You think you've suddenly found the one, normal person that you can have a rational conversation with, and then after 15 minutes their head starts to spin around.

"It's just amazing how almost everyone becomes infected with the rhetoric of wartime, and they just parrot back the cliches they're handed. Whatever disquiet they feel, it's as if they can't express it. They're robbed of language.

"In every conflict I've been in, the only antidote is people who find their fulfillment, their sense of being, in love. In the Balkans, these were often couples who had mixed marriages and, therefore, they were immune from the rhetoric; to paint all Serbs as evil, or all Muslims as evil, or all Croats as evil was to denigrate the spouse, to dehumanize the spouse -- which they couldn't do.

"These [relationships] are always sanctuaries -- sanctuaries that I went to in the war in Salvador. And this is something that I've thought about years later."

He also explains the use of religion as a tool in war:

"Religion is used for differentiating warring populations the same way ethnicity is, race is. It's one of the tools those who want to manufacture a war use -- a very effective one. Unfortunately, within the institutional church or the synagogue or the mosque, there are religious leaders who are willing to go along with that enterprise."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heat Wave!

This morning I walked four blocks to this coffee shop, with wet hair, and my hair didn't freeze before I got here!

Friday, February 22, 2008

"She's the captain."

"There are three things to remember about being a starship captain:
keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, and never abandon a member of your crew."

-Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager

I'm sad that I have now watched 54 of the 79 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS, 1966-1969).

I decided to try the succeeding series in the Star Trek universe, but was disappointed after watching several episodes of the leaden Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG, 1987-1994).
Attraction is like Velcro: there has to be both the clingy hooky bits and the receptive loopy bits. Lots of people love TNG, but there weren't any hooky bits for me.

So I was pleased when I watched the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager (VOY, 1995-2001), set some 100 years after the adventures of Kirk and his crew. The captain, Kathryn Janeway, is kind of Kirk-like: a bit of a pompous honeybear.

In the pilot episode, Janeway has to merge the crew of a Maquis ship into her Starfleet crew, since the Maquis ship is destroyed and both crews are stranded 75 years away from home. The Starfleeters are crewcut West Point types and the Maquis are James Dean rebel types, so this is a fun hook & loop set up, right from the start.

There's some friction between the crews, but the captain proves to the rebel commander, Chakotay (below), that she has the right stuff.
One of the rebels asks Chakotay, "Who is she to order us around this way?"
He replies, "She's the captain."

Chakotay seems like he'll be an intriguing second-in-command. I guess he's supposed to be Native American, but with his facial tattoo, he looks Maori, an aristocratic warrior people.

And there's even a real Vulcan, Tuvok (left), to add some cool. Gotta have a Vulcan.

I will never love anyone like I love Kirk and Spock, but I guess I can move on from a Star Trek captain whose shirt was always riding up to one whose shirt is always tucked in. Shirt out, shirt in--what does it matter? so long as they don't leave you behind on the planet.

The In-Universe Perspective

Wikipedia's Guide for Writing about Fiction has given me just what I need to write a cover letter for the manuscript I am vetting:
the concept of the "in-universe perspective."

I followed up this term I encountered in Wikipedia's flag on the entry for Tuvok, a Vulcan character on Star Trek: Voyager (more on that later). The entry's author wrote Tuvok's biography from inside the fictional universe, as if Tuvok were a real person, without reference to the real-world perspective.

The in-universe perspective puts the reader in limbo, like when someone you meet at a party talks as if you know all the people they mention.

I run into this pretty frequently as an editor, when authors write as if the reader already knows what they're talking about.

In fact, our realities--whether we're writing fiction or nonfiction--are all stories, patterns we construct out of a bunch of crazy raw material. All reality is, to some extent, fictional.

We tend to construct stories we can swap comprehensibley with each other.
But once in a while, someone's brain is calibrated in such a way that they tell stories different from the established norms. They are saints or psychos, or just people you especially seek out or avoid at a party.

But mostly what happens is people just aren't very good at telling their stories to strangers.
This is part of the editor's work, to point out where the author needs to get out of the universe of their own head and plug into some shared, real-world perspective.

That's my work this morning: writing to an author advising him to stop assuming his readers share his perspective. Now I have a name for it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In which the moon taps on our window.

Didja, didja, didja see the MOON last night???

I got so excited when I went outside and saw it darkening red, I ran next door to the neighbors (I'm still housesitting my sister's), saying, "Come outside you guys! It's like we're on a spaceship---you can tell we're here because we're throwing a shadow."

They came and stood on their stoop for a while before Bob patted me kindly on the shoulder and said it was too cold.
(He was right. I watched the rest from inside too.)

Seeing our planet's shadow across the moon was one of those things that rap on the glass walls of my consciousness with their fingers;
those things that let me know everything on the other side is outer space and I exist as a discrete biological entity interpreting time and space through limited means;
those alien things like snowfalls, lilac blooms, death sometimes, and cats.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Tonight (2/20/08)

Image by Larry Koehn, from NASA.
During the totality, when the moon is completely in Earth's shadow, it will appear to turn red and possibly turqoise. Ozone causes the turquoise color. Red, NASA tell us, is the color of Earth's shadow. (Isn't that poetically rich?) Science explains that dust in Earth's atmosphere redirects the Sun's light, throwing this red shadow.

Today also would have been Kurt Cobain's 41st birthday.

Entering Pisces

This is Messier 74, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Pisces.
I found color photos, but I like this B&W one best:
It shows off what SEDS says "is one of the nicest examples of so-called 'grand-design' spiral galaxies seen face-on, so that its spiral structure stands out conspicuously."

Pisces' faint stars appear to form two small circles connected by a string.
The constellation can be imagined as two fish connected by a ribbon, swimming in opposite directions.

In Greek (or Roman) mythology, these fish are the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, Aphrodite (Venus), and her son Eros (Cupid), god of erotic love and creative force. The two changed forms to escape the monsterous storm-giant Typhon (father of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards Hades, the underworld). To stay together, they connected themselves with a ribbon.

(Eros's father is Aphrodite's lover Ares [Mars], god of war.)

Pisces is my astrological Sun sign.
I like the cast of characters--all that desire and fire--and the multidimensionality of the fishes in water has always especially pleased me. Just like the starship Enterprise in outer space, Pisces can move freely in any direction. My brain likes being a fish in the universe.

But sometimes the two fish pull against each other and become immobile, like when your two index fingers get stuck in a Chinese raffia finger-trap.
The trick to getting out of such stasis is counterintuitve: stop pulling. Instead move toward the opposing force.
Being somewhat mulish, it's taken me forever to figure this out.

Right now I'm a bit stuck in my "sabbatical," this time I took off to explore where I want to go with work. I may need a shove toward looking for a job/career.
But I'm not just looking for a job. In fact, I could probably continue doing freelance editing/proofing/indexing jobs. I'm looking for work that will fuel me. It needn't necessarily even be paying work.
(Supposedly Pisces are not very ambitious in worldly terms, and I'm not.)
Maybe I'll just keep blogging...

I just now found this description of Pisces, which relates to me wanting work that connects me with the world but doesn't tie me down to the mundane:

Pisces witness to the difficult task of straddling the divide between the human and the divine. More than any other sign, perhaps, Pisces experiences normal human life as limited, for it excludes so much that can make life more complete.

Yet, even Pisceans have to live as human beings in a world full of limitations.
Coming to terms with the necessity to live in a world separate from Paradise can be an immense problem.

Some may attempt to live as if exclusion from Paradise had never happened, and live life in a constant daydream, very ineffective in the world as it is. Others, however, may learn to live life in the human arena in such a way as to infuse it with divine meaning.

Some famous Pisces I like:

Albert Einstein, who demonstrates the Piscesean preference for seeing the big picture over paying close attention to detail

Elizabeth Taylor, whose warm appetites are classically Piscean

Dr. Seuss, whose work is full of Piscean creativity and charm

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

kosovo, at the coffeeshop

I just asked the Hungarian barista here at the coffeeshop what he thought of Kosovo's independence.
"No problem," he said casually. "My country was one of the first to recognize its independence."
"Oh, good," I said, jumping to a chipper American conclusion. "So you don't think it'll be World War III?"
"No, I didn't say that!" he said. "Who knows? It's always been a hotspot. But these first couple days have been peaceful, so we can always hope..."

"Cuba will be free."

Fidel Castro resigned today.

In noting this remarkable event, I turn to Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas.
Convicted of "ideological deviation" for his openly gay lifestyle and unauthorized writings in Castro's Cuba, Arenas was imprisoned and tormented. Living with AIDS in exile in NYC, Arenas took his own life in 1990.

From his suicide note, written for publication:

"Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression it causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life. . . . I want to encourage the Cuban people out of the country as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom. . .
"Cuba will be free. I already am."

I know of Arenas through director Julian Schnabel's film of his autobiography, Before Night Falls. Arenas was played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem, pictured above. (Schnabel also directed 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.)


For info on suicide prevention or help if you are struggling:
"The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals."
Outside of the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

Don't apologize for who you are.

My dancer friend Kathy attended a week-long dance workshop in Colorado one summer when she was a young college student. Sometime during the week, a gay Brazilian dancer came up to her and told her,
"Don't apologize for who you are."
They had never spoken till then.
Kathy told me, "He just saw it in how I danced, that I was apologizing with my body for who I was. I've always remembered that."

The Brecht poem [3 posts below] has got me thinking about memory.
After I posted it, I thought, wait a minute--that's bogus. You don't forget people you've kissed. But then I paused and realized that at midlife, I have indeed forgotten the details of some people I've kissed; and there haven't even been that many.

However, I clearly remember those moments Brecht writes about: when something immense, like a high white cloud, blossoms for a moment in my consciousness.

Strangers can appear like that, out of the blue, as Kathy's Brazilian dancer did for her. That's the stuff I don't so easily forget.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Kosovo has declared independence from Serbia, as you know. For a brush-up on the background of the situation, I went back to William Finnegan's in-depth "Letter from Kosovo: The Countdown" (October 15, 2007, The New Yorker).

Where I'm Working

I am housesitting my sister's this week, while she and her partner are somewhere more than 70 degrees warmer (it's 0 degrees here this morning). This is the computer desk in their house, where I sit and work or blog:

This month, I've been breaking my sabbatical by accepting a lot of little freelance publishing jobs, and this week I am working on Libya and Easter Island (talk about diversity!).

I generally like to start the day at coffee shops, with the buzz of people around me. So while I stay in this neighborhood, I come and sit here:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Brecht Poem from The Lives of Others

My favorite scene in the film The Lives of Others is when the Stasi agent Wiesler--(right, the astonishing Ulrich Mühe, who died a year later; here's his obituary in Sign and Sight)--sneaks into the apartment of Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), the playwright he is spying on. Dreyman's apartment, even empty, is alive with ideas, images, music, friendship.

In contrast, you later see Wiesler alone in his bleak antiseptic room, lying on the couch reading a book he has stolen from Dreyman's apartment (below). It's a yellow-covered volume of Bertolt Brecht's poems, one of which Wiesler had overheard on his surveillance equipment read aloud during Dreyman's birthday party.

I found the complete poem at Harper's Magazine. Here it is:
On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September
Beneath a young plum tree, quietly
I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved
In my arms just like a graceful dream.
And over us in the beautiful summer sky
There was a cloud on which my gaze rested
It was very white and so immensely high
And when I looked up, it had disappeared.

Since that day many, many months
Have quietly floated down and past.
No doubt the plum trees were chopped down
And you ask me: what's happened to my love?
So I answer you: I can't remember.
And still, of course, I know what you mean
But I honestly can't recollect her face
I just know: there was a time I kissed it.

And that kiss too I would have long forgotten
Had not the cloud been present there
That I still know and always will remember
It was so white and came from on high.
Perhaps those plum trees still bloom
And that woman now may have had her seventh child
But that cloud blossomed just a few minutes
And when I looked up, it had disappeared in the wind.

-Bertolt Brecht, “Remembrances of Marie A.,“ in Die Hauspostille (1927) (S.H. transl.)
(Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke in acht Bänden, vol. 4, p. 232)


And here is a brief (1:58) excerpt of Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, the director of the film, talking with Charlie Rose.

Review: "Beware, The Walls Have Ears"

Neal Ascherson, the Observer's Berlin correspondent at the height of Stasi rule, is transported back to a world of mistrust and fear. He discusses how faithful The Lives of Others is it to the memory of existence under the all-seeing eye of the hated secret police.

Has Been

Talk about unexpected bedfellows; how about William Shatner and
Henry Rollins?
That would be Capt. Kirk and the lead of the hardcore punk band Black Flag (who, it turns out, is three weeks older than me). Rollins is now a spoken word artist.

Together on Shatner's album Has Been (2004), they perform a funny rant about things that bug them:
"I Can't Get Behind That".
(I don't know if this link will stay live, but as of this morning, I could listen to the entire song here.)

The things they "can't get behind" include the usual modern annoyances and woes:
cell phones, leaf blowers, dying polar bears, getting fat, etc.
(Makes me wonder about our friend Bill's life--I have a hard time believing he doesn't hire gardeners who use leaf blowers.)
But their little riff of outrage on religious inanity is the highlight (it's funnier to hear Shatner's overblown delivery, of course):

BILL: I can't get behind the gods who are more vengeful, angry, and dangerous if you don't believe in them!

ROLLINS: Why can't all these gods just get along?
I mean, they're omnipotent and omnipresent, what's the problem?

BILL: What's the problem? I can't get behind that.

I would never voluntarily have listened to anything Bill Shatner recorded--his unrestrained schmaltz usually makes me cringe with embarrassment.
Lee and Faith basically forced me to listen to Has Been, and I was surprised. I never thought of Shatner as a self-reflective guy who could laugh at himself, but in songs like "Real," he is, and he laughs at--not with--us too:

"...the next time there's an asteroid or a natural disaster,
I'm flattered that you thought of me,
But I'm not the one to call.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm real."

Shatner may be a real-life has-been television star, but it seems everyone wants to work with Captain Kirk. At least, he pulls in some surprising people on this album, besides Rollins. Country-Western star Brad Paisley backs Shatner up on "Real."

This is "Real" set to a slide show of Shatner's life:

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Last night I watched the Star Trek TOS episodes "A Private Little War" and "The Gamesters of Triskelion."

Each was troubling for a variety of reasons.

To being with, "Private Little War" is truly worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation of its own analyzing its twisted justification of American intervention in Vietnam. Remember this is 1968. In a thinly veiled parallel, Kirk ends up giving guns to a peaceful population so they can protect themselves against the bad villagers the Klingons have armed.

Then, I really wonder, What is up with all the bondage/domination S/M trips on Star Trek?
Not infrequently present as an undercurrent, it is blatant in "Gamesters," as dominators force Kirk to don a "training harness" and "collar of obedience," and he is chained and whipped for their pleasure--and, presumably, ours.
I seem to be missing something--why is this sort of power-play so prevelent in this show? I mean, besides the entertainment value, what's going on psychologically and politically (not to mention spiritually and grammatically)?

But, in fact, all that's not my point here.
I really wanted to talk about these episodes' unusually excellently bad costumes.

The Mugatu monster ape in "Little War" is my favorite of the Fun-Fur-clad actors leaping about like toy Yetis. The Mugatu actor wears what looks like a do-it-yourself craft project, all white shag with a ridge of rubber spikes down its back.
I would have loved to be the one who got to wrestle Kirk to the ground and bite him. (You see, I get this kind of thing when it's a fake monster.)

In "Gamesters," the "thrall" slave Shahna wears the silliest swimming-suit-like costume ever. It appears to be made from industrial tin foil, and it doesn't really fit her very well. She also has ridiculous puffy, stiff green hair and makeup to match--I'm surprised she could blink her eyes with all that mascara.
(What was it like for the actors to kiss each other in all that makeup?)

But my favorite detail is the big alien lunk who the dominators "select" to mate with Uhura. Maybe it's because I live in a part of the country with many people of Scandinavian descent, but when they call him by his name, I burst out laughing.
His name is Lars.

"Eat food."

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

That's the advice of Michael Pollan, (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma), given for free on the cover of his Jan. '08 book, In Defense of Food; An Eater's Manifesto.

Good Cop: With such wisdom, we Americans can now put the billions of dollars we spend on diet aids to other use.

Bad Cop: As with the Dalai Lama's advice to practice compassion, however, it's so much easier to believe it than to do it.

My dinner on the couch the other night, for instance, met only one of the three requirements, and barely that one:
While the contents of the meal--White Rabbit candy (a chewy Chinese toffee) and red wine--indeed once were plants, they were more "food-like" than food, and the amounts I consumed were, alas, not strictly within the limits of calories required to sustain life.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Oranges and Cinnamon

In Sicily every morning we ate thick slices of oranges, dusted with cinnamon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

American Romance

Geek/punk/pop band Nerf Herder is genius with American romance--like their song "Welcome to My World" about a guy who sits on the couch eating "jagermeister and Cap'n Crunch" because--as I read it--he's too depressed about getting dumped to go buy milk. (Kind of an American-guy version of Bridget Jones.)

Or the poor slob whose girlfriend sits all night at her computer drinking Diet Dr. Pepper (Nerf Herder gets these cultural details just right) wanting something better than him:
"Mr. Spock":

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rivers and Weddings

See more of Mike's amazing photos of the Mississippi River: Micheal McGraw Photography.

Site Maintenance

The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, (1953, click on link to read entire little book), by Edward Gorey, is one of the funniest and truest depictions ever of the nauseating work of editing/revising one's writing.
Though we no longer employ actual ink, scissors, and paste, we may still resort to the sherry.

Inspired by Daily Blog Tips' advice to do site maintenance, I've started to do some general clean up on Gugeo.

For instance, I just added ABBA and NIN to my list of Favorite Music--a nice little pair of palindromes that reflects my Piscean nature (one fish goes one way, one the other).

What Spock thinks of ABBA (43 sec.):

And you see I figured out today how to embed YouTube videos, so I added some of those too.

I also went back to my second post, Magpie Call. Because when I wrote it I didn't yet know how to create a link, (I was using Safari, which did not show all the composing options--since then I have switched to Firefox), I had copied out the url for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's magpie page.
Download Firefox at:

While I was double-checking the Cornell url, to make the link live, I found this fun fact:
"Magpie pairs spend up to 40 days making their large nests, but only spend about 1% of their daily energy expenditure on the task. Laying eggs, on the other hand, takes 23% of the female's daily energy budget."

I'm not interested in the sexes' division of labor here, I'm thinking more about how much energy one can spend on blogging. Is it more like making nests (1%) or laying eggs (23%)?

For me, it depends on many things:
most obviously, time and personal energy available.
But it also depends on what time I count as maintenance. The other night I dreamed about blogging--does that count? And do I count all the hours I've spent...shall we say "researching" on YouTube?

Another Cat Close-Up

Another one of the cats in my life:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

1. Rolling Stone's blog "Rock & Roll Daily" asks:
"Who would have guessed that Trent Reznor (left) would emerge as the Ralph Nader of the music industry?"

2. Doesn't Mr. Reznor look like Professor Snape (right)?

Would Ralph Nader look like this too, if he grew out his hair?

Equal Time

Barrett's lion-cat, Henry.
Talk about a gold star!
Did he mind me sticking a camera in his face?
Why, yes, he did.
If our body sizes had been reversed, would he have eaten me?
Why, yes, I expect so.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Award

OK, enough already of that heavy lifting.
Here is my award for quotational versatility.
From Bink, who knows her terriers.
(Especially this one, Joop, who lives with her.)

A gold star, maybe?

P.S. Isn't there some sort of blog award given for quoting Trent Reznor, Alan Greenspan, and Mr. Spock all in the same post [below]?

Steal This Blog

Why am I blogging about S/M art? I’m not really into it, per se. But I like that in theory it represents a whole host of transgressive acts of liberation.

In America, however, the really revolutionary acts are not sexual but economic.

As befits an Economist reader, I find Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor's most transgressive act is not him singing, “I want to fuck you like an animal, You get me closer to God,” (though I do love that), but him telling concert-goers to revolt against unfairly high CD-prices by stealing them:

It puts him in league with Abbie Hoffman, the Sixties revolutionary who wrote Steal This Book.

It’s not an invitation to get ripped off, anymore than S/M is an invitation to rape; Reznor doesn’t really want to live on a bus-driver’s salary—though Mr. Hoffman did envision life without money.

Reznor and bands like Radiohead are revisioning the economic structure--record labels that rip people off, artists and fans alike, for huge profits.
Not surprisingly, many bookstores wouldn't carry Steal This Book, since people stole it, but musicians (and writers, like us) have an avenue Hoffman didn't:
the Internet.

Reznor said in a 2007 interview:
"The greatest thing about the Internet is that everybody is their own distributor. Being your own distributor is power and the thing that labels once held over artists."

In 2007 Radiohead got around the record companies by offering their latest release on the Internet, asking downloaders to “pay what you want”.
This opens plenty of other cans of worms;
but it’s a adaptation that could shake up the stranglehold of a greed-driven music industry.

Reznor knows this is revolutionary:
"The power of getting your message out to an audience is very empowering as an artist.
"These are exciting times and things are happening that I couldn't imagine just a few years ago."

And--back to the Economist--Alan Greenspan, chair of the Federal Reserve until 2006, says something very similar:
"Progress is not automatic... it will demand future adaptations as yet unimaginable.
"But the frontier of hope that we all innately pursue will never close.”

--Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence; Adventures in a New World (2007).

And--since I haven't mentioned Star Trek in a while (uh...that would be 48 hours)--let me add that Alan Greenspan's words, “The Enlightenment’s legacy of individual rights and economic freedom has unleashed billions of people to pursue the imperatives of their nature...." echo Mr. Spock's in "Amok Time":

"It would be illogical for us to protest against our natures.
Don't you think?"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Closer to God II

First Casting for Milo (2004) by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin

Did I mention that I never paid any attention at all to Nine Inch Nails until two days ago?
I don't yet know NIN well enough to know what I think of Mr. Reznor; but I'm intrigued to meet in his work questions and people I've met before, such as the disturbing beauty of Joel-Peter Witkin's photographs.

After having stumbled across NIN's song "Closer" (by watching all the Star Trek videos --Closer to God I-- on YouTube), I watched NIN's own music video of "Closer," which I don't recommend if you're squeamish:

Many of the images in it are drawn from Witkin (the image above is not representative of the video--I chose it for the cute dog) and painter Francis Bacon, whose figures end up looking like raw meat.
Directed by Mark Romanek, the video is part of New York's Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.

It's very undomesticated stuff, which I appreciate.

One of the problems I ran into with the Catholic Church was
its [our] overdomestication of spirit, its reluctance to get down and dirty and honest--about faith, about flesh, about self.
We cover over the messy, wild bits, which isn't a bad idea if you are doing a lot of committee work.

But avoiding the inconvenient demons of our natures is contrary to the work of being an artist--or a saint.
Addressing this problem of self-censorship on his site, Romanek offers this advice for aspiring artists:
people need to discover and follow their own unique path. perhaps the best advice on the topic i've ever come across is from [filmmaker] john cassavetes:

"you have to fight every day to stop censoring yourself.
and you never have anyone else to blame when you do.
what happens to artists is that it's not that somebody's standing in their way, it's that their own selves are standing in their way. [italics mine]

the compromise really isn't how or what you do, the techniques you use, or even the content, but really the compromise is beginning to feel a lack of confidence in your innermost thoughts.
these innermost thoughts become less and less a part of you and once you lose them then you don't have anything else.
so many people have so much to say and there are so many really worthwhile things to say that it seems impossible that we could cut ourselves off from this whole avenue of enormous excitement."

from cassavetes on cassavetes
edited by raymond carney

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Stir into Flame

"Remember to stir into flame the gifts of God...." 2 Timothy 1:6.
Goauche and collage material, 2004.
I used to make art regularly (like the piece above), in fact, I used to call myself an artist; but I've barely made any in several years.
Trying to write about Spirit, however, makes me want to get out my paint and glue and papers and get at it again.

BTW, today Peggy Whitson (NASA bio) celebrates her 48th birthday, orbiting Earth at 17,210 miles per hour, on the International Space Station (ISS).
A NASA astronaut and biochemist, Whitson is the first female commander of the ISS.
Like Capt. Kirk, she is from Iowa.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Closer to God I [NC-17]

Trent Reznor (left), Nine Inch Nails

“I want to fuck you like an animal.
...You get me closer to God.”
--lyrics from NIN's "Closer"

I found this song through a YouTube video that takes the cake for innovative editing,
marrying Star Trek's S/M homoerotic subtext to NIN's song of violent desire and need. Star Trek + Nine Inch Nails = Closer:

I could add "Closer" to my Teen Spirit list of talking points, started after I vetted the dreadful book on spirituality for teens that said Shiva was a goddess (Teen Spirit 1). The list would now become NC-17, for disturbing sexual content, but spirituality is NC-17, dealing as it does with life and death in the raw.

In fact, Shiva the Destroyer, Hindu god of creation and destruction and transformation, could tie in to "Closer," especially Shiva's manifestation as Lord of the Dance. Shiva's dance of cosmic bliss represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth--it's the union of opposites, transcending duality.

Dualistic systems, such as Christianity, separate the dark from the light, pleasure from pain. Where the two interpenetrate, you get gods like Shiva and songs like "Closer."

Bengali Hymn to Shiva:

"Because you love the burning-ground,
I have made a burning-ground of my heart,
That you, Dark One, hunter of the burning-ground,
May dance your eternal dance."

Kirk says...

"Get a Life!"

(Thanks for the SNL link, Lee! For some reason I can't embed it, but the link works.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sticky Stuff on Tet

Peach blossoms, traditional symbols of fertility and fruitfulness for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, a three-day holiday beginning on February 7 in 2008.

I often wonder what I'm missing when people get all charged up about some fiendishly clever plan that seems like guaranteed disaster to me.
Hey! Let's buy and sell houses at insanely inflated prices with money we don't have!
Let's invade smaller countries and tell the people who live there that we're liberating them! They won't mind, or if they do, heck, they won't be able to mount a resistance.

Then, if all goes bust, I think, well, that's too bad I was right after all, despite not knowing the difference between a stock and a bond or what the Defense Department does.
But, look for the silver lining, my mother always used to say. The good thing about disasters is we all learn so much, I think to myself.
And we do!
We give the clever plan a new name!
And then we do it again.

This Iraq War, for instance. Didn't it used to be called something else forty years ago?

What a year.

I was thinking about it today when I picked up Mom's Sticky Rice Dessert at my local Vietnamese deli. It's a special dessert--a log of sticky rice with sweet fillings, wrapped in banana leaves--made in celebration of the lunar New Year of the Chinese calendar, called Tết Nguyên Đán, which means "Feast of the First Morning" in Vietnamese.

It's weird to me that Tet is just a normal word denoting a happy holiday, because I always hear it as one part of the phrase "Tet Offensive," the massive attacks the Vietnamese communist forces mounted in 1968 beginning on Tet, despite American military intelligence declaring they were incapable of doing so.

I was in second grade forty years ago, so I didn't catch the details, but I sure remember the concerned, caring voice of Walter Cronkite in our living room every evening.

Five (5!) years ago as we were preparing to invade Iraq I had this body-memory feeling: Haven't we done this before? Didn't it turn out not so great? Am I missing something?

But to hell with gloom!
Here I am buying dessert from my Vietnamese neighbors, who weren't even born in 1968.
Maybe in forty years, if I'm still here, I'll be buying samanu ––a sweet wheat pudding––for Nowruz, the ancient Persian New Year celebrated on spring equinox in Iran and northern Iraq, and thinking how nice it is we aren't killing each other anymore.

Hope. It's sticky stuff.
So, Happy New Year, world!

[recipe for Sticky Rice to follow, below]

Sticky Rice Recipe

Martyn sent me this recipe she got from a Vietnamese friend many years ago. I admit I have never made it, but she did, so it should work.

Sticky Rice Dessert

2 cups sweet rice (glutinous)
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling options:
fresh grated ginger
minced peanuts
sesame seeds
diced bananas
sweet bean paste
whatever you like

To make fillings stick together, boil 3/4 cup cold water. Whisk in 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder (or try cornstarch). Mix with filling ingredients.


1. In a 2 quart saucepan, cover rice with hot tap water and soak for one hour. Drain well. Add back to pan.

2. Mix coconut milk, sugar, and salt into the rice. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Let cool completely.

4.Shape handfuls of cool rice into balls.
Dipping hands in water between shaping each ball helps prevent rice from sticking to hands.

5. poke a hole in the middle and put in about 1 teaspoon filling. Press hole in rice closed, so filling is hidden in the middle.

6. Wrap each ball in aluminum foil [or tie in banana leaves, if you can get them] and steam for 1 to 2 hours until rice is soft.

7. Unwrap and let cool before serving.