30 January 2007

The Patterson-Gimlin Film

I can just watch this over and over again.

28 January 2007

Mormon Mentality and Global Warming

For a while now I've been planning some sort of post on latent environmental messages in the Book of Mormon. I realize that many of the readers of this blog are not LDS, so it would have been written for a more general audience. However, last night I came across this post at Mormon Mentality (a blog I had never visited before). In it the original writer, having just seen An Inconvenient Truth, asks why church leaders are so silent on the issue of global warming (and on environmental issues in general), why church members seem unconcerned, and what church members should be doing about it. The responses that followed covered a fairly broad spectrum of LDS thought, however most seemed to be arguing their points based on political ideology, showing how well, at least in my opinion, business and media have managed to politicize the issue. The following is the response I left to the post and ensuing discussion written (keep in mind) for an LDS audience, and from a largely scriptural perspective, since that is what seemed to be lacking from the essentially political discussion of the issue.

I’m even later in the discussion, but I read the whole dern thing, so I’ll at least say my bit:

In the Book of Mormon, a text in which I assume we all have some degree faith, or at least appreciation, the issue of human impact on the environment (of which global warming is an example, but not the only one) is treated, somewhat obliquely, through scriptures concerning the land of Desolation. In Helaman 3:5-7 and Alma 22:31 we learn that the land to the north had been severely deforested, to such an extent in fact that the animals inhabiting the area had all moved south in search of food. This “desolation” we will remember was the result of, and a significant factor in the collapse of the Jaredite civilization. The Jaredites were relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Even if we are so naive as to imagine that they occupied the whole of the North American continent (not very likely) their collapse had little if any effect on the world as a whole, other than open up land for occupation by the Nephites. They had no political, no economic ties with any countries on the other side of the globe. Their energy resources did not depend on the political stability of nations thousands of miles away. They had only the land the were given, the wisdom of their leaders, and the righteousness of their people.

We are told that the Book of Mormon is a message for our day. In it we read of the collapses of two civilizations. In both cases their prophets pleaded with them until the very end, but the people were too “wicked” to listen. As we learn from the example of the Jaredites, one symptom of a wicked people is over exploitation of resources and degradation of the local environment.

I write these words from Thailand (my wife quietly suffering in bed with a rash brought on by air pollution), a country no less cellphone, iPod and SUV obsessed than the USA, despite the current military junta’s desire to “
simplify” and backtrack. The fact that they are poorer does not limit their aspirations, but instead makes them that much grander relatively speaking. We are quickly becoming one civilization (actually, I think we have been for some time), and the actions of one country can have repercussions around the world (the 1997 financial crisis originated right here). At this point in our civilization’s history there is no such thing as a strictly local environment. It’s all local. And just because your own back yard in the Whatever Valley, UT happens to be green and peaceful doesn’t mean that someone else’s desert isn’t blowing sand your way. Did you know that China’s soil (and our own) is being blown onto the Rockies as we speak, darkening the snow and making it melt faster? Do you people know where your water comes from?

I’m sure annegb has moved her defeatism and ignorance to greener digital pastures, but let me just say that I am ashamed to belong to the same church as her, and those that agreed with her in this discussion. If we are told to study the scriptures (BoM in particular) and follow the examples of the prophets, prophets who fought for their people, for their civilization, until the end, how in the world can anyone justify such a stance? I for one will follow the admonitions of our prophets and seek after “anything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” regardless of whether it comes from that “putz” Al Gore. If there are virtues in the environmental movement (virtues like, frugality, conservation, self-sufficiency), and means to more fully magnify those virtues in myself and in my community, then we should embrace them without waiting for church leadership to tell us specifically to “go Green.”

There is a baffling tendency among some members of the LDS church to treat the Republican party line as though it were gospel doctrine and political leaders as though they were church leaders. We are also, as a church, being left behind on environmental issues by evangelicals who are beginning to understand the role of stewardship in a more robust and productive way than we seem to. I would encourage any good Mormon members of the GOP to listen to this talk by Roger Kennedy to broaden their understanding of the US, the history of the land she now occupies, and the diversity of opinions that can be held by a Republican. Also this episode of Speaking of Faith discusses the environmental movement and growing evangelical engagement in a spiritual context.

Here's more:

I’m sorry annegb, but if you think we agree on anything, I’m afraid you misunderstood me somewhere. I don’t think we should live merely decent lives, but rather exemplary ones, meaning radical change. If the rest of the world were to live up to our standards the results would be appalling. In the US we consume 20,030,000 barrels of oil per day. That’s more than China (6,391,000 bbl/day), Japan (5,578,000 bbl/day),Russia (2,800,000 bbl/day), Germany (2,677,000 bbl/day), and India (2,320,000 bbl/day) combined. Those countries are the top five oil consumers after the US, and have a combined population of 2,790,097,000. Nearly half the world’s population. Actually, about 300,000,000 shy of half, which happens to be the US population. As proud citizens of the USA we use, individually, .0667 barrels of oil per day. That doesn’t sound like much, but if our other buddies in the top six were to consume just as much their combined usage alone would top 186,285,476 barrels a day, or 67,994,198,877 bbl/year. And if the rest of the world were to live up to our standard, well, I don’t even want to do the math. The numbers for energy consumption, CO2 production, water consumption, waste accumulation, etc. are just as grim.

Much of the clean living, natural beauty, health, and happiness we enjoy in the US are the result of shipping our problems elsewhere. I happened to serve my mission in one of those places (the Dominican Republic) and I live in one now. On the flip side much of the clean living, natural beauty, health, and leisure we enjoy in the US are the results of work done by wacko environmentalists, labor organizers, and other lefty nutcases endorsing radical change.

That said, I wonder why the second-coming isn’t here yet? Maybe God is giving us a chance to repent and clean up Lake Baikal on our own. After all, the atonement is contingent upon our repentance.

By the way, the people at co2science.org are totally evil, I don’t care what ward they belong to. They take a perfectly good, peer-reviewed study offering corroborating evidence for global warming, like the northward expansion of larch forests on to the tundra (due to the melting of the permafrost), and say that, in their opinion, it’s because CO2 is an excellent atmospheric fertilizer. When you do that to the scriptures it’s called “wresting.”

Wouldn’t ignoring global warming count as “no management” as opposed to “intelligent management?” Or is this just part of a broader plan to get of rid NYC, Holland, Bangladesh, New Orleans, South Florida, and Tuvalu, all of them veritable blights on our globe, and true enemies of freedom. If only Iraq were below sea level.

annegb- “I love to read and lay around and watch TV and eat junk food. I don’t have too many aspirations beyond getting the dishes done and serving dinner to my food-slut husband.”

Sorry if I got the wrong impression. Look, I don’t expect you to go out and become an environmental activist, nor do I think most members of the church should. There is plenty of good that can be done in the world, and I’m sure you’re anxiously engaged in your own area of concern. What I am asking is that those of us who do chose to focus on those particular issues not be antagonized by fellow members of the church. Especially when there is scriptural precedent for concern and action over environmental issues, and plenty of overlap in values between environmentalism (values I listed earlier, like frugality and self-sufficiency) and the church. I don’t think changing out your incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents is extremist. I don’t think recycling is extremist. I don’t think conserving water, electricity, or gasoline is extremist. Nor do I think they are based on feelings of fear or insecurity when they are in accordance with some of our core values as members of the church.

Each of us has been endowed with our own free agency (as you well know), and the world we create emerges from each of those individual actions. I don’t want to limit the good you do in the world, please don’t try to limit the good I do by saying there’s no point.

Thank you for your last comment, I feel I have a better idea where you’re coming from.

One more point, of general interest, on the rest of the world living up to our standards. As cleaner, lighter-weight substitutes for current technologies are deployed in developing nations, I actually think there is at least a (teensy-weensy) chance that they might do better than us. In the US our switching cost is greater since we are tied to our current infrastructure. It’s possible to envision a near future where currently struggling nations far outstrip us in quality of life while we struggle to catch up. Oh, the irony.

Jonathan, am I correct if I summarize your argument thus:
the world is going to heat drastically, it’s the sun’s fault entirely, and there is nothing we can do but embrace the coming apocalypse?

I think scientists who actually work in field of climate change are concerned because in addition to the poorly understood mechanism of global warming caused by the sun (an estimated 0.6˚ in the past 100 years), human beings are generating enormous amounts of gasses (not just CO2) which have a well documented correspondence to higher temperatures here on earth (acounting for the other 0.4˚). In other words, we are making a bad situation worse, since many of these processes are feedback loops–increased CO2 leads to higher temperatures which lead to increased CO2 or CH4 (as previously sequestered sources of methane and CO2 are exposed by melting ice). By focusing on the anthropogenic side of the equation (greenhouse gas) I’d like to think we are merely being pragmatic. But then I’m just an art fag, not a rocket scientist (or does that mean you’re just an engineer and care little for hard science). Are you one of those who think we should launch giant sunshades into outer space?

In Dallas, where I was raised, I used to mark the coming of spring by the blooming of the redbuds. It always happened the week of my birthday without fail. For the past five years they have been blooming earlier and earlier. In Austin (which is suposed to be only two weeks ahead of Dallas) I have seen them bloom in December and January. Also several plant species are are creeping north, ball moss (a bromeliad, related to pineapples), is well established in Dallas now. My parents have coma sprouting in their back yard (it was absent my entire childhood). And Jerusalem thorn (native to south Texas, like coma) is becoming a veritable weed in Austin.

This year’s freaky weather in the US (and probably here in Thailand, where we’ve had record cold) is due to El Niño. For signs of long term climate change I’d pay attention to the plants.

26 January 2007

Too Coup for School

Both Time and Newsweek have interesting articles about last year's coup, the military junta, and their misguided interpretation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's calls for simplicity and self-sufficiency. It's kinda depressing.

Ummm. . . pretty pictures?

23 January 2007

Proposal 1: Proposal for a Central Texas Lawn

I hate lawns. After an adolescence spent cutting the family lawn during the summer in North Texas, and another six years working as a gardener, there's not much I hate worse than mowing. Ideally I'd get rid of lawns all together in favor of small gardens and restoring natural habitat. However, for a few years I've been playing around with the idea of small, jewel-like, species-rich lawns as part of a larger garden, or domestic landscape.

I love the dense, chaotic backgrounds of Gobelin and Flemish tapestries. The plants portrayed there are nearly crystalline in their detail, recognizable by species, and, though densely packed, still isolated enough to be viewed as specimens, running a fine line between natural, overlapping fecundity, and the museum case. Rather like a Wunderkammer or cabinet de curiosités.

In constructing a Wunderkammer an individual culls from the profusion of forms in the natural world, selecting those that are the most curious, the most exotic, the most laden with human meaning, be it scientific or poetic (in a way it is a compounding of Bachelard's categories of intimate space--a shell within a nest, hidden in a drawer, inside a cabinet, tucked away in a corner). It is a collection, but the terms of categorization, and criteria for entry are personal, just as the collection of plants covering the ground of the Unicorn Tapestries are specific and sorted, yet personalized and stylized by the weaver's own hand.

My proposal then is for a new type of lawn, culled from the native (and, if you must, naturalized) species in a given location. Since I am most familiar with the flora of central Texas I will base my selection of species upon that specific set. The intent here is not to recreate native prairie or savanna (which I feel should be done anywhere there is space available, say over half an acre of empty and unused yard), but to create a small, intimate, aesthetic object upon which one may tread. Also, the goals and guidelines used to create the lawn should be adaptable to other areas, guiding the selection of an appropriate species list.

Goals and Guidelines (Patterns):

1) Natives--The species selected must be native to the area, or naturalized and productive citizens, meaning no invasives. A few dandelions are okay, but no Sonchus.

2) Low-growing, but Mowable--The species selected should be naturally low-growing, or amenable to training through mowing. Ranunculus macranthus will shoot up twelve inches if you let it, but it doesn't mind creeping along the ground. And while you shouldn't be afraid to break out the push mower every once in a while (no rotaries, please), you shouldn't feel compelled to either.

3) Complete Coverage--The aesthetic effect desired is that of a green ground dotted with small blooming plants. In a xeric lawn, for example, if one area is too shady for buffalo grass, substitute with cedar sedge, placing blue-eyed grass in the marginal area between the two. The idea here is to achieve complete coverage through a mosaic of species rather than uniform coverage with one species.

4) Wet and Dry Adapted--This is essentially a subset of Complete Coverage when applied to a lawn with both wet and dry areas. It also applies to lawns with uniform conditions, but which might be either too wet or too dry for a particular species. If an area is too soggy or poorly drained for buffalo grass, try a mix of Marsilea and Hydrocotyle.

5) Walkable--You should want to take your shoes off every time you step on this lawn. The plants should be well established and robust enough for daily traffic with shoes on (don't go moving things around in mid summer), yet soft, dense, and finely textured so as to make barefooting preferable.

6) Small--Though this plan could be applied to a rather large area, a whole yard even, it is actually intended to be the floor of what should be thought of as an outdoor room. Plan your space with that in mind, somewhere between 100 and 400 square feet. As for the rest of your yard, why not grow something you can eat, or give some of it back to nature?

Species list for a Central Texas Lawn:

Allium drummondii, Alophia drummondii, Anemone berlandieri, Buchloe dactyloides, Carex planostachys, Commelina erecta, Cooperia drummondii, C. pedunculata, C. smallii, Herbertia lahue, Hydrocotyle bonariensis, H. umbellata, Hypoxis hirsuta, Manfreda maculosa, Marsilea macropoda, M. vestita, Nemastylis geminiflora, Nothoscordum bivalve, Oxalis drummondii, Phyla incisa, Ranunculus macranthus, Schoenocaulon texanum, Sisyrinchium chilense, Tetraneuris linearifolia, T. scaposa, Tinantia anomala, Tradescantia subacaulis, Viola missouriensis.

This list can easily be added to as long as the goals and guidelines above are followed. There are plenty of rugged, low-growing plants with finely textured foliage and attractive blooms, but they may have spines, barbs, woody growth, or spiny fruits and seeds, making them inappropriate. Species for the lawn fall into two basic categories, with some overlap between the two: backdrop and blooms. Buchloe dactyloides, Carex planostachys, Hydrocotyle sp., and Marsilea sp. are all obvious backdrop plants, chosen to provide a green ground for the others to bloom on. Alophia drummondii, Cooperia sp., and Herbertia lahue are intended to be little blooming gems, while Commelina erecta, Sisyrinchium sp., Tinantia anomala, and Viola missouriensis do double duty as backdrop and blooms, as well as providing some green through the winter.

If you plan on embarking on this project, or something similar, please contact me through this blog. I would love to see how it turns out.

20 January 2007

Manufacturing Consent

Q-Referring back to your earlier comment about escaping from, or doing away with capitalism. I was wondering what scheme, what workable scheme you would put in its place?


Q-Or (unintelligible, laughter).

NC-Well, you know I. . . (talking over one another)

Q-What would you suggest to others who might be in a position to set it up and get it going?

NC-Well, I mean, I think that what used to be called, centuries ago, "wage slavery" is intolerable. I mean I don't think people ought to be forced to rent themselves in-order to survive. I think that the economic institutions ought to be run democratically by their participants, by the communities in which they exist, and so on; and, uh, I think, through various kinds of free association.

I first saw Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media about six years ago. I'd recently returned to the US from Spain, was working as a private gardener, fund raising for an environmental lobby, and working on my BFA. When it came to the part transcribed above, I started crying (I might have been a little stressed out for some reason...). Jami and I watched it again tonight (J had never seen it), and I was struck by how much (and how little) has changed since 1992 when the film was released. Several times in the film Chomsky expresses a desire for greater public access to media, essential asking for blogs and podcasts. I noticed, just a few minutes ago, that even he has a blog now. I'll be curious to see what he thinks of the new medium.

The picture above is from a part in the film where a photographer is getting him to pose against a fence. As he's trying to arrange himself he notices a bit of something (food I hope) on his finger, and licks it off. Funny.

An unrelated item, has any one noticed our nifty Rory (our dearly departed Manx) favicon?

18 January 2007


About seven years ago Bill Joy wrote a piece for Wired Magazine , famously entitled "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" in response to a conversation he had with John Searle and Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil, for those of you who might not be familiar, uses what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns to argue that three main technologies (GNR: genetic engineering, nanotech, and robotics) will shortly give rise (within forty years) to such a tremendous growth in technology that we will reach what has been referred to as a technological singularity, where the world around us will essentially begin to wake up, and we will have merged with our machines so much as to have become, effectively, a different species. I hope to write more about this soon, especially the similarities between narratives of a technological singularity, particularly as Kurzweil envisions it, and Christian narratives of the "end times" and the Millennium. In Kurzweil's book The Age of Spiritual Machines he includes a long quote from Industrial Society and Its Future, also known as The Unabomber Manifesto, in which several dystopian outcomes of technological advancement are outlined: our technological systems become so complex that we are no longer capable of running them, so they run themselves, making decisions in their own self interest; or powerful technology is only available to an elite group that either decides that the rest of humanity is superfluous, and therefore expendable, or that the rest of humanity doesn't know what's good for it, and needs to be adapted to the life that awaits it, through genetic manipulation, drugs, and other treatments. Joy, who himself could easily have been one of Kaczynski's victims, also quotes from the same text, reluctantly admitting that there is some merit to aspects of his argument. After citing his own not-a-Luddite credentials (my computer literally could not run without him) Joy lays out an argument for relinquishment of technologies that may lead to what he calls "knowledge-enabled destruction." He points out that though nuclear weapons are enormously destructive, the hardware costs associated with developing them are prohibitive for many nations, and the information necessary for successful implementation is well protected. Genetic engineering, nanotech, and robotics, however, are essentially information technologies, rather than industrial technologies, and therefore subject to the same deflationary trends as computers (DNA synthesis is currently around a dollar a base pair, and bound to drop further), with the same money buying twice as much computing power every eighteen months or so. With time, DNA synthesis will require a couple thousand dollars, and a device that either runs on its own, or talks to your laptop via USB, or wireless (or whatever comes next), and a bit of software. This setup (and this is my example, not Joy's) inevitably leads to the much prognosticated scenario of pimple-faced hackers in the back bedroom cobbling together biological rather than software viruses. Or if we survive that stage, there is always the specter of self-replicating magic pixie-dust (or so it will seem) that renders the world a desert, or a gob of gray-goo. In order to avoid these dangers, as well as others, Joy believes that it will be necessary for researchers to relinquish, to all together abandon, certain avenues of research. In Kurzweil's response to Bill Joy he says that the temptation will simply be too great, and the technology too cheap, to ensure that dangerous research isn't done. Any nation that agrees to abandon certain technologies will therefore be unable to defend itself against those that don't. In a way I can't quite put my finger on, this feels a bit like the US's argument against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Which brings me to the point I really wanted to make.

We're just no good at giving things up, even when the alternative is better than what we have now. Our current culture is one of entitlement. We feel entitled to our cars, our houses, our yards, our entertainment, our lifestyle in general. Instead of feeling grateful, we feel that we deserve those things, and probably a little more besides ("Where's my flying car, anyhow?" is our civilization's running gag). This culture of entitlement is an inexorable tidal force against which a tentative culture of relinquishment will have to fight in order to establish itself.

As a thought experiment, let's try a few of these out:
1) Would you relinquish your car for a bicycle, or public transportation?
2) Would you relinquish disposable diapers for washable?
3) Would you relinquish your clothes dryer or dishwasher for air and sunlight or a little elbow grease?
4) Would you relinquish your lawn for a vegetable garden, or something resembling the native landscape they tore up to build your house?
5) Would you relinquish your azaleas for blueberries, your crepe myrtles for fruit trees?
6) Would you relinquish your synthetic fabrics for natural?
7) Would you relinquish television or movies for a hobby or continuing education?
8) Would you relinquish your country's military budget for a more robust educational system, or universal health care?
9) Would you relinquish channelized water removal and treatment for wetlands?
10) Would you relinquish nations for small, geographically-determined, self-sustaining, semi-autonomous regions?
11) Would you relinquish power for referendum?

I'm sure some of these sound nice enough (if somewhat idealistic or naive), others impractical, and some downright impossible or dangerous. As a culture we are not geared toward giving things up. If we do, then we fear falling victim to the principle Kuzrweil points out in his rebuttal of Bill Joy--all the other guys will get ahead. If we are ever to develop a culture of relinquishment and restraint on a global scale, then how can we do it without cultivating one in our own metaphorical gardens? In many ways our (or maybe I'm just talking about myself here) perspective has become too broad (or too scattered) and at the same time too narrow, causing us to ignore the middle area, the intermediate terrain in our lives where our actions might be most effective. If we as individuals can learn to give a few things up, in favor of something better, then maybe the sum of all those individual changes can infect the culture as a whole.

What do you think we should give up, and what would you replace it with?

16 January 2007

Little Chang

Just 'round the corner and down the street,
He's looking for a tasty treat.
With waggy tail, and padded feet,
Little Chang is neat, neat, NEAT!

13 January 2007


I thought this was interesting: someone in the Malaysian government found our blog through a Google Alert on the term "agarwood."

12 January 2007

One Way Ticket to Vientiane

The trip to Lao was harder on us then we would have liked it to be; so rather than complain about the pointlessness and cruelty of a certain country's bureaucracy, and the ineptness of said country's own citizens at successfully negotiating that bureaucracy, I present you with many many pretty pictures instead:

We took a Lao Airlines prop plane. A first for J.

We were lucky enough to notice that we were flying over our neighborhood, upper center, below the construction site.

J reaps the fruits of French colonialism: watercress soup, frites, and steak à point. Serendipitously, I had just read Roland Barthes nice little essay "Steak and Chips" the day before.

Patuxai, a concrete monster built for PDR Lao by PDR China.

A nifty, and extensive, herbal "pharmacy" at the morning market.

Extensive. This is half of it. We looked for agarwood, but no luck.

While there was no agarwood, there were plenty of rhinoceros horns. Poor rhinos.

That Dam, called the Black Stupa, is allegedly the home of of the Seven Headed Naga, which protects Vientiane. It is just down the street from the US Embassy.

Vat Sisaket, the oldest vat (wat/temple) in Lao.

When Siam invaded in the 1800s Vat Sisaket was sacked. Afterwards the monks went around and gathered up all the melted and beheaded Buddhas and stored them together.

4/7ths of a seven headed naga.

Just a nice looking Buddha.

Vat Sisaket has over 6000 niches in both the temple and the cloisters.

Messy murals. Always a favorite.

Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Lao.

The Seven Headed Naga, all in one piece.

Grrrrrrrr, singha!

Therianthropic singhas wrestling.

Fishes are naga food.

The ubiquity of marigolds reminds us of Central America and Mexico. The other day I read a kooky article that postulates the existence of a proto-Kemi(Egyptian)-Mesoamerican language. Perhaps more compelling are theories that treat the entire Pacific rim as a single cultural continuum. Anyhow, that's what the marigolds remind me of.

After all theses lovely sites, and loads of fun running back and forth between the Thai Consulate and the fax machine, we got to travel back to Chiang Mai. Seventeen hours by three, four, and six wheeled conveyance. The plane took less than two hours, and that was with a 30 minute layover in Luang Prabang. And J still doesn't have the right visa, so we'll get to do it all again in three months.

05 January 2007

Coup de Main, or Maybe Not

As I'm sure most of you know New Year's Eve in Bangkok was interrupted by nine small bombs placed throughout the city, killing 3 and injuring 34. The separatists in the south have denied responsibility, so have supporters of Thaksin. The military claims it was Thaksin loyalists, but some are saying it may have been another faction from within the military (essentially an attempted second coup d'etat), or (and maybe more likely) it may have been the military itself, hoping to scapegoat the loyalists and draw attention away from the fact that its junta seems to have installed itself more permanently than it said it would. Who knows. In a country where the former prime minister decides to have a car bomb placed in his own car in order to curry sympathy, anything is possible.

In further Thailand news, we've had an earthquake (5.1) here in Chiang Mai. We didn't wake up for it as it was poorly announced beforehand. There has also been a state of emergency declared here in the northern provinces due to the extreme cold. No, I'm not kidding. In some of the mountain villages the temperature has been hovering between 8 and 13˚C, and actually dropped below freezing in some places. I realize this isn't a big deal in the States, but if you and your house are tropically adapted (read drafty), and you own no warm blankets, it's kind of a big deal. There have been two cold related deaths in Chiang Mai, a construction worker, too drunk to cover up one night, died of exposure, and a security guard suffered a fatal asthma attack.

In D&J related news, we are going to Lao, either Sunday or Monday, for visa related nonsense. If things don't get resloved on that front soon our options are to live in Burma where Jami will paint her face with turmeric powder and sell apples and smuggle heroin, and I will sell Viagra and cigarettes from a tray strapped to my hip, or we move back to the States and live in a potting shed. Those of you so inclined, please pray that things work out in our best interest (which I hope means a near future absent of turmeric, apples, heroin, Viagra, cigarettes, and potting sheds--well, maybe not apples and turmeric).

And one final begging related item, if anyone can get their hands on a copy of Michael Fried's essay "Art and Objecthood" (Artforum, June 1967 I think) I would be much obliged. My copy is burried somewhere in a garge in Texas. I can't say which garage.

03 January 2007

Coaxing Performa[nce/tism] from a Machine

I had an interesting experience recently while working on a sculpture. The piece includes a reading of Raoul Eshelman's essay "Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism," (much discussed in this essay) done with Apple's built-in text-to-speech software. The program assigns certain values to the pause given for a period, a comma, or or a line break. Weird changes in pitch occur for double quotes and parenthesis. It also has a hard time with unusual words, proper names, and words ending in "ism" or "tion." To coax the performance I wanted from the program I had to rewrite the entire essay phrase by phrase, sometimes word by word, changing the spelling until the pronunciation approximated the real word as spoken. Here's an example from the original text, followed by the altered version. Those of you with Macs can have Bruce (System Preferences/Speech/System Voice/Bruce) read the two versions to get an idea what I was working from:

Representation therefore always gives rise to resentment, which continually threatens to expand into violence; only the renewed employment of the sign can once more defer this threat. Gans--quite consciously--ontologizes and sacralizes Derridian différance. Semiosis is ironic deferral, but this deferral serves not the play of traces and linguistic paradoxes, but rather a "holy" goal, namely the preservation of the subject in the semiotic collective. The ostensive sign always contains an element of paradox, since the sign pretends to be something that it cannot be (a usable thing).

Representation therefore always gives rise to resentment, which continually threatens to expand into violence; only-the renewed employment of the sign, can once more defer this threat. Gans--quite consciously—awntoluhzhize’s and sacruhlizes Derridian différawnce. Semeeosis is ironic deferral, but this defurral serves not the play of traces-and linguistic paradoxes, but rather a hholey goal, namely the preservation of the subject in the semiotic collective. The ostensive sign always contains an element of paradox, since the sign pretends-too-be something-that it cannot bee; (a usable-thing!).

The entire process of trying to persuade something closer to a human performance out of a piece of software was strange. Kind of a Turing test turned inside out, almost as though I were the CPU in a Chinese Room. It also took a long time. The playtime for the MP3 is about an hour, and the rewriting process often took five to twenty minutes per sentence.

The sculpture is called Performatist Piece with Embedded Text, and it consists of a plastic pot, speakers, an MP3 player, and raw cotton (in which the "text" is embedded). It's so light and insubstantial that it hardly feels like a sculpture, which I like. In fact, it only takes about two seconds to turn it into not-a-sculpture, i.e. dumping everything out of the pot.

01 January 2007

Champion of Irony

Being inspired, apparently, by one of our previous posts, that reluctant folkster Chago the Regicide has made his 2002 EP Champion of Irony available on the Internet Archive. He and I were chatting the other day, and he remarked that though he was plenty embarrassed by the music, he was equally embarrassed that it had been so long since he'd recorded anything. How ironic. El pobre Chago.