Archive for January, 2012

Thoreau And Jake Reilly

January 31, 2012

Yahoo Contributor Network ran an article/interview by Brad Sylvester entitled “Jake Reilly’s ‘Amish Project:’ 90 Days Without a Cell Phone, Email and Social Media College Student Drops Social Media, Reconnects with Romance” (noted on 1-30-12). Jake Reilly decides to try to live sans high tech communication for three months. He is very surprised by what he experiences as well as the outcome. This is relayed in an interview that comprises the bulk of the article.

Reilly’s experiment hearkens another great adventure in quitting the conventional, Henri D. Thoreau’s account of Walden. Some uncanny analogies and outcomes are hard to dismiss. True, Reilly’s experiment was within the social while Thoreau’s was ostensibly withdrawn from the social (probably why it did not reconnect with romance at the end though many claim that the entire venture was a romance!). Both did stay in touch and communicate with their fellows; Thoreau through his regular visits to Concord and Lincoln as well as his encounters with those he met near his house, Reilly with his bicycling to visit, and use of wall postings and chalk messaging. The most striking analogy is that both took the time to find out what is worthwhile, what is really worthwhile. Thoreau, with a very conscientious, almost critical methodology discovers that a quality life demands a mindful everyday. Reilly discovers that contemporary high tech communication results in mindless, numbing existence. The most fascinating telling by these two philosophical expeditions concerning the nature of quality, the worthwhile, is their conclusions regarding writing and language. Language, of course, is the very heart of high tech communication devices and social media while writing is presently in flux between the kind associated with the epic that Thoreau considers, the kind embodied in multi media presentations, and the kind used to produce the code that makes digital transmission possible. Thoreau writes: “for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and the experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” (Walden, chap. 3 “Reading”, third paragraph). In the transcribed interview Jake Reilly’s response to Brad Sylvester’s inquiry is “What we do now, on e-chat, is people just flying off with whatever comes to mind. It’s so much different to have it really thought-out. I’m a writer, so it’s time consuming. I think it takes 20 minutes or half an hour to write a letter and really get it the way I want it. I think it’s a better, purer way to communicate.”

Oh that Thoreau, he was so 160 years ago. And that Reilly interview is not much better. It is so 60 seconds ago. Modern communication technology within late term capitalism’s embrace has created this unfulfillable desire for a merging of the spoken word with that of the written, a same time reality.  This quest for seamlessness, sameness, is akin to Zeno’s racetrack, where the contestant never reaches the finish line because there is always half the distance to go. There is always that interval, the interval of time. Thoreau and Reilly taking the time to discover what is really worthwhile reveals difference. And the difference is found in the “taking the time”, not in the “time saving” instantaneity of “real time” aspiration.

The Financing Of Inequality

January 27, 2012

From Reuter’s Magazine: The One Percent War by Chrystia Freeland 1-26-12, a very long and astute article of particular interest to students of social change and its history:


“Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist who is one of the leading students of global income distribution, writes in his latest book, “The Haves and the Have-Nots,” that it is far easier to secure funding for research about poverty than about income inequality. The reason for that is “rather simple even if often wisely ignored,” Milanovic says. “Inequality studies are not particularly appreciated by the rich.” Indeed, Milanovic says he was “once told by the head of a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., that the institution’s board was very unlikely to fund any work that had income or wealth inequality in its title. Yes, they would finance anything to do with poverty alleviation, but inequality was an altogether different matter. Why? Because ‘my’ concern with the poverty of some people actually projects me in a very nice, warm glow: I am ready to use my money to help them… But inequality is different. Every mention of it raises in fact the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.””


I guess that since the media is the message, and the media requires financing, then if you can’t say it, it doesn’t exist. Pretty neat, huh? But do you want to say it?

The Birdfeeder

January 23, 2012

            For a number of years a birdfeeder brightened the winter snow-scape outside my kitchen window. It was a simple, rudimentary plastic feeder perched atop a pole much in the shape of a hog or cattle feeder, an elongated box with inwardly sloping sides that spilled out onto a shallow trough. Along this the designers had placed a parallel rail for the birds to perch while feeding. The sides were clear plastic, not only serving to attract but to alert when conditions warranted a refill. It was that old hard, brittle plastic, tough but prone to irreparable damage in a catastrophe. The seed flowed out at whatever rate the clear sides were adjusted to. The birds swarmed it, both on the feeder and below as its design did nothing to prevent spillage. Blue jays and flickers would come and dig furiously for choice morsels, scattering what they didn’t want on the ground for the doves, juncos and sparrows who never ventured onto the structure itself. The seed flowed out unencumbered for all that cared to land, such as the chickadees and titmice that darted in and out. Once I counted almost 20 cardinals on the surrounding pines and feeder, red and pale orange amidst the green. Occasionally a sharp shinned hawk would swoop in and dine on the diners. Truly an equal opportunity feeder!

            The winter of 2010-11 was continuously long, cold, and snow covered. Near the end, the feeder was raided at night by marauding raccoons, eventually being totally destroyed. No biggy, I’ll replace it with a new one next year.

            Winter was reluctant to arrive in Ohio at the end of 2011. My normal procrastination ceased with the year’s ending and my purchasing a new feeder to perch on the pole along with new bags of birdseed. Wow. I was impressed by the molded plastic design, same durable material as commercial trash cans. Raccoons will find this one to be a challenge. Made in the US of A, good, double bonus. Initially I liked it though it barely fit on the pole, the filler opening was smaller than the old one (rough on cold windy days) and it had this funny tub/recessed wall design where the seed slowly and evenly trickled out well underneath the retaining structure. The bottoms of the tub were slotted to release water, but practice showed it to freeze up into a congealed mass of seed after a rain/freeze cycle. It is a high maintenance feeder, with only a small window to show when it is low on supply. The increasing cold and some sporadic snows finally persuaded the birds to forego their natural reticence of new structures. The new economy finds them with nowhere to perch. They now literally stand in the troughs of seed like goats on a hay bale placed in their bin. Seed doesn’t get scattered to the humble ground scavengers. The feeder is very miserly in its dispensation of choice morsels. The jays, flickers and cardinals really have to work hard at getting the slow release sustenance; nothing leftover for the chipping sparrows to scratch for. No free lunch here. High energy chickadees, titmice and nuthatches remain undaunted by this efficient, exacting and meticulous dispensary. It goes without saying that there has been a marked decrease of not only the number of birds able to access this island of winter nutrition, but also the joy I get at witnessing their number and diversity. I am concerned about those not seen. Much to my chagrin I discovered that I missed the old, sloppy, inefficient, and delightfully generous feeder of years past. I have replaced it with an austere, conservative machine!

A Growing Dilemma

January 21, 2012

            Mention the word religion and what usually springs to mind is churches, mosques and temples with congregations of people gathered there. Mention the word agriculture and most folks think of “down on the farm” with livestock, pastures, and cultivated fields. Not that you can’t find those if you go looking for a farm; no more or less than you will find the faithful gathered in buildings when you look for religion. Few today would think of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home when they think of agriculture.

            Contained within the word “agriculture” is the word “culture”. The first definition given within Webster’s College Dictionary of the latter term is “artistic and intellectual pursuits and products”. What could farming have to do with that?

            Farmers today are doing quite well. The value of agricultural land and what it produces are very high and increasing. The markets claim one set of reasons for that (global demand), technology accounts for another (genetically modified cultivars and methodology) and the smaller percentage of people engaged in the practice may account for still another reason. A recent local news item concerned a township trustee suspected of a conflict of interest in terms of his civic responsibilities. Coming from a multi generational family farm background, his credentials for public service appeared impeccable. Now it is revealed that he individually farms over 2,000 acres and was steering development away from land he leases. “Intellectual pursuits and products” become apparent when considering traditional farming methods of retaining some of the harvest to be reused as seed in the following year’s planting. Do that today and you might find yourself sued for patent infringement on intellectual property. GM planting and methodology assume agreement with the terms of use which essentially retain ownership of how the product is used thereby eliminating the ability to reuse the end result for further production. Luke Skywalker might feel right at home with the “double loop”. Overheard on a morning radio ag talk show, it was mentioned casually as a contemporary matter of fact, much as a cell phone or hybrid automobile. Within that touted efficiency, the agricultural product is marketed as a resource for an energy manufacturing facility (such as biodiesel or ethanol). The residue (waste) from that production is then “recycled” back as animal feed. The residue (waste) from the livestock operation is then used to produce methane, another source of energy. The discussion on supplying the cash crop of energy failed to mention that the livestock are ultimately kept for human consumption (a traditional given). The emphasis of “intellectual pursuits and products” has shifted from supplying food for the table to satisfying the globe’s insatiable appetite for energy, and carbon based energy at that. This has various repercussions other than just, ultimately, global warming. One news item recently indicated that the GM phenomenon of huge per acre yields (allowing for the use of what the land yields as a resource for energy production) has been put into jeopardy by the very mechanism which originally stimulated its patented invention. Under the terms of use agreement, the agri business is to reserve 20% of its corn planting to a non GM cultivar, thereby providing “islands” of refuge for the destructive rootworms found in the soil in order that the 80% GM strain will maintain its rootworm resistance viability. Given the incredibly high yields per acre possible with GM products, and the high price for those products, many are choosing not to forgo that extra 20% earning potential. Studies in the Midwest indicate that this results in the evolution of a rootworm that is impervious to the systemic insecticidal features of GM corn. The entire house of cards is threatened to come down by the greed of a handful who want, or need to have that additional 20% immediately. We’ve seen this movie before. It is not a healthy outlook when agriculture stops being “farming” (with all its unpredictability), and decides to be like manufacturing or mining (with its singular and complete focus on end product and efficiency).

            Other farm related news out stated that last year saw an increase of first time farmers; mostly young people wanting to supply the veggies, etc. that the farmers’ market, healthy eating craze has created. Good news indeed as small scale farming doesn’t require the enormous capital/cash flow that agri business demands, is very compatible with current high tech media marketing, and allows for part time off farm income opportunities. One becomes apprehensive of the sustainability of such practices when one considers that family farms became agri businesses primarily for the benefit of the family. Come again, you say? Folks that farm also want their kids to have a better life and, like all parents, will do whatever in their means to help their children thrive. They want their kids to go to college, as well as have their own homes, etc. Such aspirations can be met by farming 2,000 acres, etc. But will the small scale, start up “family” farmers working to meet the demand of organic restaurants and pricey farm markets forego such desire? The day to day budget may be balanced with maybe some left over for health care and the homestead serving as a retirement investment, but will the children’s future be neglected? Is it that easy (or obvious) to slip the bondage of progressive modernity with all its genetic engineering and convoluted loops of economy?

Martin Luther King Day 2012

January 11, 2012

            Fifty years ago Martin Luther King walked the city streets and country roads of this nation giving voice to what had none, insisting that what he had to say be heard and be given presence. His message was accompanied by the sound of a multitude that lived and supported his insistent demand. That sound grew so large that it occupied the halls of government and could not be denied. Today our political leaders prefer a different sound. We witness this continuously when we hear of super PACS, campaign bundlers, trade group lobby influence, going up and down in the polls on money raised, and accumulated “war chests” meant to do battle against a political “enemy”. Evidence of this super saturation of high finance within our government can be found in laws that permit insider trading by our legislators, elected officials bestowed exceptional health and retirement packages,  revolving door hiring practices, voting maps hastily redrawn to satisfy big dollar contributors, and the continuous elimination, watering down, or blatantly negligent enforcement of legislation, regulations, and institutions drawn up primarily for the sake of the people’s education, health, consumer protection, working conditions,  and environmental quality.

            Martin Luther King is no longer present to give voice to what has none. As he said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Today’s News

January 9, 2012

            An article appeared today that generates a lot of speculative questions relevant in an odd way to understanding the aesthetics of visual culture after the end of art. In the “good ole days” it may have been considered as a human interest story. Currently it finds itself as a political news item. Waitress Offers Tip: Trackers Go Away written by Jessica Wehrman appears in the January 8 Columbus Dispatch. While serving lunch to one of the US senators from Ohio, a waitress noticed a man surreptitiously filming the senator as he dined. She tossed him out but he returned through an employee’s side entrance and once again continued filming using his phone (I guess “videoing” would be more accurate, yet this was totally digital, stored nowhere but rather only transferred in code). She confronted him, threatening to call police. In his haste to exit through the door, the waitress suffered an injury.

            Politics as usual. In this day and age of super pacs and lobbies (having the full constitutional rights of any individual citizen), trackers are equal opportunity muck rakers (or rather muck providers). They supply the data necessary for all those ads created in such bad taste. The amended US constitution guarantees the right to publish those ads. What’s questionable about that? No news there. Paparazzi have been sticking cameras in celebrities’ faces for as long as there has been dirt to be dug. Where’s the slant on the aesthetics of visual culture after the end of art?

            Speculate for an instant. Let your imagination roam. Just say that somehow something like this found itself before the US Supreme Court. Clear enough that one can pretty much disseminate just about anything, short of what could be deemed libelous or seditious. But this wasn’t a matter of publishing or distributing. The tracker was utilizing his hand held communication device to produce something, eventually to be reproduced. Consummate contortionist skills would still leave the strict constitutionalists looking like pretzels. Reproductive technologies during the time of the Constitution’s signing were all about printed (and disseminated) text and imagery. Producing the image was much as producing the word. Both originated from the pen of an author. Anecdotal accounts about the life drawing studio art pedagogy of Ingres had it that his students were required to study the live figure model on one floor, then had to go up to the studio on the next floor to draw what they had seen. In short, no recording devices were extensively employed at the time of our nation’s founders. The legalities of all this may be considered obtuse by legal scholars. But for students of visual culture, it is fascinating to grasp the distinction between the reliance on hand and memory with regard the art (and culture) of 200 years ago and the present emphasis on the utilization of reproductive technologies without any reliance on memory, let alone dexterity.  The intricacies (and distinctions in definition) of such cultural designations as space, person, or boundary become readily apparent without ever having to enter into any theoretical discourse.

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern

January 1, 2012

            They were a husband and wife tag team of studio art faculty. She did cats. If any of your work per chance showed feline, her name would immediately surface. That was her expertise.

            There was a recent art opening of very current work by a local artist. Without being overtly formatted as such, the work chronicled, “journaled” (ours is the culture of predication) the symbiotic creativity of the parent-child relationship, the Pop Culture bedrock of family. Be it baby Louie, Lourdes, or Chaz, that relationship is totally comprehendible within the public imaginary, almost iconic by definition (mother and child). It is currently red hot and circulation is practically guaranteed. You can stake your career on it. And the artist did.

            This week found me reading something I would never have stalked at my favorite book supplier, the library. It was a gifted book, a rather long one (comparable to War and Peace by the looks of it). “The New York Times bestseller COLLAPSE: how societies choose to fail or succeed JARED DIAMOND author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel With A New Afterword” floats in a cloudy sky over a Mayan ruin landscape on the book’s cover- all in black, white, and tones of grey with a few spare horizontal lines of orange. How much of that IS the book cover by design and how much is marketing is totally academic (it is all one and the same, including the academic!). I haven’t completed the book. But this is not about the book. The author includes his anecdotal and personal experience as part of his professional expertise. Sounds only natural for a naturalist who studies nature to rely on his observation. Nothing exceptional about that, is there? But when one starts to do the math, a different image emerges; one of exception that accounts for the book’s cover. Jared Diamond is no Upton Sinclair. It “appears” that the two have a certain affinity. Both seem to be stating that something is rotten in Denmark. Like current news media, Diamond tries to present “both sides”. This is no simple matter he has researched and writes of. His research has taken him all over the globe, as well as to his second home in Montana which is the subject of the first chapter. Folks there have issues (problems) of historic precedence as well as contemporary urgency. Things are unpleasant. According to Jared the citizens of Montana could choose to address these issues through the passage of laws and vigilant enforcement. Diamond himself lives and works in, and is a citizen of Los Angeles, not Montana. Returning to the math, almost a half century has found him at his profession of research, teaching and writing, with accolades aplenty. His second residence in the Bitterroot Valley was the result of an initial professional invitation on the part of a foundation to spend time there. To put it in distinguishing language, how many students lives has he touched? How many have followed in his footsteps to become research and teaching professionals? Now multiply this by how many have done likewise, within the same or affiliated professions without having encountered him. Add to this the professionals who stake their careers on their expertise with regard cats or “family”, and the ranks swell incredibly; a very large contingency of people, “business person[s] without a business” (Our Literal Speed, unless you consider branding a business), who can afford a second home in a desirable location, yet not predicate themselves as part of the problem (or the solution). The tone of Jared Diamond’s discourse does not implicate him as part of the problem or the solution. After all, researching, analyzing, and disclosure of research analysis IS his profession. Laws and their enforcement are what other people, residents (the people he has studied), do to address these matters. His research and writing requires distancing and detachment to maintain professional standards and credibility. And there’s the rub. To paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, within a democracy there are no spectators.

            Judging a book by its cover, I sense that the primary difference between Sinclair and Diamond is that Diamond’s work is produced and consumed as part of a society of spectacle. It has vast appeal (and is marketed) to intelligent, knowledgeable professionals (like himself) who will “Tsk Tsk” while engaging in quality entertainment worthy of their education and station. Where Sinclair utilized the text to activate change, Diamond simply wants to do his job, report on his correlations, sell books, and retire to his home in Montana.

            Zmijewski is on to something when he urges that “professional” artists implement their professional abilities, utilize their art expertise for social change (Applied Social Arts). Yes, there is the risk of shame, of historically falling on one’s face because of the decision to get involved with a specific social action. But this ostensibly “required” deference and detachment, primarily on the basis of what is expedient for one’s career and profession, reinforces and contributes to the status quo. Clinging to an assumption that being “about” something sets one apart from being the actual something does not contribute to the solution of the problem that “something” may actually be.