Saturday, October 30, 2010

S. Carey's "Rothko Fields"

When I am listening to a radio, inevitably my ears will perk up when they hear something they like. Earlier this week, while listening to, I heard S. Carey’s “Rothko Fields.”
There’s something very hypnotizing about this small song. It does make me think of looking across an endless field. But I can also see why it’s titled after the painter Mark Rothko: his most famous paintings feel like fields. Just long, drawn-out blocks to stare at, blocks that shouldn’t be that interesting but are. This song shouldn’t be that interesting; it’s just long, drawn-out sounds, but I find myself fading away from myself when I listen to this, find myself staring but not seeing anything in front of me, occupied elsewhere in my mind, the way I am when I stare at cornfields or Rothko paintings.
Art so frequently references other art, but I’m impressed by this S. Carey song because it references a visual work so accurately. So frequently a work of art that directly references another work of art fails to capture its original. Almost always the second work emphasizes its own poor quality by reminding its viewer or reader or listener of the quality of the first work, and thus struggles even more to stand alone as its own great piece. But when I first heard this, my computer was on the other side of the room; I was packing my bags, and I knew the moment I heard this it was something special. It was worth listening to. Only when I ran over to my computer to see who had made this and what it was called so I could return to it again did I see that it was in reference to Rothko. I was already dreaming of fields. I was already there.
S. Carey, I discovered, is in the band Bon Iver, which explains why picked this song out for me. Having listened to some of his other stuff, I can say he’s talented and his solo work is similar to his band’s work. But I suspect this song will always resonate with me more, perhaps in part because it was my first encounter with him but also because it’s the only one so far that has grabbed me and made me dream exactly what he intends me to.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Rhizome Collective

One of the things that consistently impresses me is community organizations and how much a difference they can make. Lately, I've been doing research on various organizations, and thinking back fondly on my own time at the ones I used to work or volunteer at.
One of the ones that has caught my eye is the Rhizome Collective. The idea is that, like a rhizome, they started small but grew roots that went all over the place. They work mostly in finding more sustainable ways to live, and they've even published books on the subject.
This group is located in Austin, Texas (which I always hear so many nice things about), so sadly, I can't join them because of geography, but if I ever end up there, I'll have to think of swinging by.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beyond Victoriana

It's been a while since I mentioned how much I appreciate steampunk. So, I am delighted to share this link with you: Beyond Victoriana. Basically, it's a blog about steampunk, but that also discusses things like race, which means it's combining two things I like: steampunk and critical thought.
Also, the site is looking for submissions right now. (Scroll down a little.) I'm kind of thinking of submitting something, though I'm not totally sure what. Hopefully I'll come up with something soon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Politics of Invader Zim

Invader Zim was a short-lived children's television show. It was a wonderful and delightful story following Zim, an Irken invader of Earth, and his sidekick Gir, who were getting thwarted by Dib, the one human who sees who they are.
I've never heard anyone mention the politics or political view of the show, but it occurred to me that the show does have a certain subtle commentary on American life.
For example, the Irken empire represents a version of America that is invading Earth. Irken's are not only colonizers, but they're materialistic and deeply interested in commercialism, like when they take over an entire planet and name it 1-800-Call Nowia, where products are shipped all over the galaxy. Like the most imperialistic forces in America, their leaders are inept, as anyone who has watched the Tallest, who themselves simply direct generally more capable invaders, who destroy a planet and enslave the planet's people to serve the Irken Empire. Zim is also inept at conquering, though not from a lack of trying. Given that this show was produced in the early years of the War on Terror, it's hard not to see this as a commentary on the Bush administration's policies, which mirror much of Irken policy, though obviously in a less comical way.
What's more, Earthlings seem completely ignorant of the invasion at hand. Most of the characters find Zim annoying, not threatening. Most of them aren't the least bit scared of him. Even though he comes from a society bent on destruction and exploitation, no one, save Dib, is the least bit aware. Since the story clearly takes place in Western society (almost certainly somewhere in the U.S., where it was created), this is a commentary on how ignorant and clueless the majority of Westerners/Americans seem to be over the invasion of Irken culture (imperialism, commercialism, etc.)
But then Zim, as an alien, could easily represent the outsider coming into Western/American society. As the first episode shows, he clearly hides some of the signs of his alien nature, such as his antenna and his red eyes. He's passing as one of them, though it seems he never quite pulls passing off, as his skin is still green, different from all the other human characters.
And he struggles to understand "human" culture, as he frequently misuses terms ("human-lava") and upsets himself over otherwise mundane situations. It's this ignorance that probably holds off a full invasion, and given the coded-race of Zim ("Other," as many people of color are seen as), this also seems problematic. The creator of the show, Jhonen Vasquez, identified himself on his Twitter as "brown," which means that he is not white either. Do immigrants/people of color/others want to invade Western/American society? Are they simply too stupid to do so, according to this show? Is that invasion bad? And why is the invasion of Others combined with the markers of the Western world (like imperialism)? And what does that mean that a person of color is saying these things?
It's also interesting to note that Dib, the one human who is actively fighting against Zim, is also portrayed comically, and not as a hero. Dib may be read as a defender of Western society/white people within the larger context. And although he has some success thwarting Zim, a lot of this is Zim's own inability to properly invade. And since no one else on Earth believes Dib is correct, does this mean that the rest of his community isn't as racist?
This is a complicated political viewpoint, one that I want to further investigate.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eric/Sookie Moments

I'm a big fan of The Southern Vampire Series, even if I'm still trying to hold off on reading all the books in one swoop. That said, an intense fan typed by all the Sookie/Eric scenes from the books. (It's in PDF form.) Of all the relationships, Sookie and Eric's is my favorite. Eric is by far one of the more interesting characters. He appears to be a bad boy, but he's far more loyal than he wants people to believe.
Props to whoever typed this up. That takes a lot of time and dedication.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Central Park

I spent the day exploring the southwest side of Central Park. It was a beautiful day outside, and I caught some sights. Here are some photos.

This is the Dakota. This is the building where John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. If Lennon was still alive, it'd be about seventy years old.

It's named the Dakota because of the Dakota Native American who decorates the front of the building, pictured here. This I had a slight problem with, because I dislike how Native Americans are used to decorate sports teams, and I wonder if this is somewhat similiar.

I love buildings, but usually when I spot an interesting building, I know nothing about it. This was one of the buildings I spotted and was curious about. I think what got my attention was that this sign sort of reminded me of The Hotel Yorba, which has a similar sign. Apparently it's just an ordinary hotel, just like The Yorba.

I don't know about anyone else, but it seems like a lot of the depictions in movies and tv of Central Park have also included a lot of these bridges. I think they're pretty.

I'm almost certain there was a murder here on Castle.
I love plants. One of the things I love about them is the way roots spread out above ground.

Another random building where I was like "What is this?" It's apparently just a private day school.

I'm used to seeing these guys at the beach, but I was totally stunned at seeing this guy at the park. Right after I took this picture, he seemed to think he had found something.
Sun Bubbles
As you've probably figured out by now, I'm not much of a photographer. Often I make mistakes. Sometimes, though, I like my mistakes. I was trying to take a picture of this woman's beautiful wedding dress, and instead I caught the sun at just the right angle, and I got a sun bubble. Sun bubbles, I decided, are my favorite.

At the entrance to Central Park there are big statues and memorials. This said it was to those who had died on a shipwreck, which mostly just made me think of the beginning of Moby Dick.

I realize this is probably unintentional, but this boy's power stance makes me think of rock stars and a particular SNL skit.
These clouds are glorious. In addition to having a strange love for buildings and roots, I love glorious clouds.

I like how dark the buildings in this photo are. They're dark in life, obviously, but my camera seems to have captured them as much more forboding than they needed to be.

I wandered over to the square and discovered it was a monument to Christopher Columbus, which just put a bad taste in my mouth. Even before I became aware of how awful it is to celebrate when groups of people were first conquer by the West, I thought this guy was terrible because he insisted that he had found India even though all he had done was bump into another large land mass. I hate this statue for glorifying this guy.
This is the actual statue, which is way up on an obelisk. I like that I captured this guy with signs of capitalism behind and around him.
Whole slew of photos from this little trip at my Flikr page.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kittens that Drink Tea

Every once and a while, a museum exhibit comes along that is so crazy and unexpected it's hard not to wonder.  Enter this little exhibit of Victorian taxidermy.  Note the pictures.  The kittens in the first picture look so normal, looking like they are on the verge of having an expression.  And then you remember that they're dead.  And then you remember how woha crazy this is. 
What really gets me is that a few weeks ago a museum studies friend told me it takes ten years to put an exhibit up.  At the time, I just thought about how that put exhibits into perspective, and made me respect them a lot more.  But thinking about that now in comparison with this exhibit made me think of how much time must have gone into this already freaks me out a little. 
Though to be fair, I already knew Victorians were whimsically morbid. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get This Now

I love albums.  I love it when an album comes together perfectly, each song awesome but each of them fitting together well to make one cohesive work.  This is no way a full list, but simply some suggestions of great albums that aren't meant to be listen to as single songs but as great, full works. 
Don't let Fiona Apple's When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king/What he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight/And he'll win the whole thing 'fore he enters the ring/There's no body to batter when your mind is your might/So when you go solo, you hold your own hand/And remember that depth is the greatest of heights/And if you know where you stand, then you know where to land/And if you fall it won't matter, cuz you'll know that you're right title scare you into think this is some pretentious work.  It's a simmering rage of an album, every awful thing ever to happen in a relationship boiled down into the most clear moments of anger.  Apple can sing through every emotion of a breakup, which is why the next time you get dumped, you're going to be reaching for this. 
I've already mentioned multiple times on this blog my love of The Hard Lessons, but I'm going to rave about them again: you really need this band.  You really need to see them live.  But if you can't do that, then you want their debut album, Gasoline, which, despite being relatively old (in music years), stands up surprisingly well.  It's the best hodge-podge of rock, soul, country and indie out there, and considering how different most of these songs are, the fact that this album still stands as one solid work is all the more impressive.  (And if you're really cheap, try their Wise Up!, which is also perfect.)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet's Pride and Prejudice.  There are a lot of amazing soundtracks out there, and I could probably write a list just about that.  Few soundtracks could have probably been created without a movie and still be completely listenable.

Korn's Issues.  Considering the above answers, this seems totally unexpected, but I've found that when the mood is right (which is to say, really wrong...), this album is totally necessary.  Critics rightly talk about how Nirvana's mastered the quiet/loud dynamic that The Pixies famously started, but Korn takes it to it's inevitable conclusion.
And if you're into bands like Korn, then maybe it's time you discovered Planetstruck and their Mild Chronic Inflammation.  Especially if you miss Kurt Cobain. 
Paul McCartney is always going to be the cute Beatle, but for only being the cute one, he still puts out some fabulous stuff.  Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is one of those albums.  It sounds exactly how you'd expect a McCartney album to sound, but in no way is that a bad thing. 
I've never met anyone who's heard of Sandor Lakatos, but after hearing Budapest at Night, an album of violin-dominated Hungarian folk music, I really didn't care.  It's waltzing music, but there's something slightly dangerous about it. 
Every once and a while Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings pop up on a commercial or a tv show.  Their Dap-Dippin' is soulful and fun and retro in the best way possible. 
Spoon has several flawless albums.  Gimme Fiction is one of them.  Few things are like this album on a rainy night. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Women and Objects

Found this interesting paper on philosophy and women. Basically, the goal of this study is to determine some of the factors that may be at play in the gender gap in the study of philosophy. Generally, when I read about gender gaps, it is in the context of business, not academia, and not usually a specific field of study.
One of the things that caught my attention was the experiments that they described. One of the first experiments described details a story about a young man who is reading a book and leaves it and his watch on a table. It says that there was another story about a young woman and two different objects, a fork and a wedding ring. But it doesn't actually give us the full story. I'm curious as to what it was. The female protagonists couldn't have been reading a fork and also leave a wedding ring. So, she was eating? Or maybe cooking?
This probably doesn't affect the results, but it is interesting to note that the stories written here about a man and a woman were gendered. The man is reading, doing something intellectual. The man leaves a watch, something precise and useful. The woman was doing something with a fork, something that involved food, something women traditionally are responsible for within a family. She left a wedding ring, which indicates to the reader she's married; the male character may or may not be married, but a point is made to define her marital status, not his. It's interesting that the story wasn't about a woman reading a book who also leaves a watch, especially since women do read and women do use watches. Or, conversely, men use forks and wear wedding rings. Also: it specified it was a wedding ring. Although some of the readers might assume a woman's ring was a wedding ring, it could also be just a ring. Lots of women, married and unmarried, wear non-wedding rings. The researchers could have written a story about a woman who was wearing a necklace and writing a paper with a pen.
One of the other things the paper mentions, much later on, is that women with high IQs are actually discouraged because they are negatively impacted by confusing problems.  This goes back to something I read years ago in Marie C. Wilson's Closing the Leadership Gap: women only stay in a field if they are truly confident.  My mind is a little blurry on the details, but basically Wilson argued that men stay in a field of study even if they're bad at it.  Women only stay in a field if they are truly good at it.  Apparently this is why there are so few women in certain fields, because they lack the confidence men have to stay with something.  This study is defending the same basic idea that women are unlikely to stay in philosophy because they lack confidence. 
Gender informs so much of our lives, and so much of that informing is subtle. These researchers were right to work on this problem, because, clearly, it affects us all. At the same time, the paper mentioned that there were a lot of experiments where gender apparently didn't affect the results. The paper didn't expound upon those issues, but I would love to read about those experiments as well, because maybe there is information there that would be useful to understanding this gender gap.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wonder and Wilson

There's this great profile of E.O.Wilson, the famed scientist.  I actually don't know that much about him personally, so reading about what his workspace and childhood was interesting. 
I encountered Wilson in a biology class several years ago, and I was instantly smitten with his writing style.  Science is usually considered dry and boring, but I've always felt there was something wondrous about it.  Wilson's writing has always done a good job at capturing that wonder, which is the first thing I feel in love with.
Wilson has recently published fiction, and he's well-known for his nonfiction, but I am curious to see Wilson the poet.  His sense of wonder would be wonderful for poetry. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shirley Chisholm

There's this nice article mentioning that a building has been named in honor of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run as a major party candidate. She was a pretty incredible woman, so this is a nice honor, considering the building's history, given at the end of the article.
What always surprises (and saddens me) is how frequently people don't know who Chisholm is. I don't think Chisholm is the only often-forgotten important leader, but it's sad so many of the these often-forgotten are People of Color or LBGT or in some way not part of the mainstream power system.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network

I came upon this great little review of The Social Network.  Although I haven't seen the movie yet, I've been reluctant to do so, since the trailer showed very few women and, as usual, in the service of men.  Yawn.  If I wanted to see stuff like that, I could just watch almost every mainstream movie, thanks.

At the end of the review, the author, Rebecca Davis O'Brien mentions that The Social Network probably only defines half of the generation.  As someone who is loathe to admit that she's part of this generation, I find myself wondering the same thing: when is someone going to tell the story of my generation and my gender, since apparently we can't expect most stories to do both?
And then I find myself pondering other questions, most important this one: what is that story?  Perhaps it is good for me to be thinking that women have such a wide variety of experiences that there is no good way to tell a story that is inclusive of all women in this age group.  And maybe that's why I have a problem with The Social Network being hailed as the story of our generation in the first place: our experiences are too varied to be defined so narrowly, even if we pretend as if gender isn't a factor.  (Or all the other things that are factors: race, sexuality, religion, etc.)  Or this is just another round-about way of me saying that I am sick of movies that focus on privileged men and then hearing about how they somehow represent everyone, even though the world is made up of much more than just these men.  

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ethiopia as Utopia

Edwardian Promenade posted this great biography of Meta Warrick Fuller, an important African American artist.
One of her most famous works is this beautiful Ethiopia Awakening.  It depicts an African woman pulling the bandages off of her mummy-self, revealing a beautiful Egyptian queen underneath.  Her bandages represent both the confines of history (and, conversely, an imagining of history that sees ancient Egypt as monolithic and white) and the bonds of slavery.  The woman underneath is not just beautiful, but regal, demanding respect. 
Ethiopia is often pictured as a utopia in African American writing.  There's a good reason for this: Ethiopia is the only country that resisted both slavery and colonization (political slavery to a dominant, white European/American power).  In the middle of all the rhetoric that African Americans couldn't possibly run their own society without white interference, Ethiopia was a clear example of how an African country could flourish without giving into the standards of the Western world.
One of the best poems on the subject is by Frances E.W. Harper, unsurprisingly titled "Ethiopia."  (Scroll down to the second poem, past her much more famous "Bury Me in a Free Land.") 
In Harper's poem, Ethiopia is not yet a utopia.  (This is similar to her poem, "Moses," where the poem leaves off before the Hebrew slaves manage to find their promised land, again, as a representation that African Americans have not yet completed their journey.)  Ethiopia will become a utopia, according to the poem, when God grants African Americans justice and they return home to Africa, free.  But like in Fuller's sculpture, there is the image of bondage, in this case "the yoke" and "his [the slavemaster's] fetters."  Harper imagines these things falling away, just like Fuller's sculpture pictures a woman with bondage around her legs.  She's hopefully in the process of losing them, but hasn't lost them yet. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Songs About London

British Invasion band The Kinks has a lovely song about London called Waterloo Sunset.

In addition to it being both a lyrically sad and melodically happy, there's a great cover by David Bowie.  He makes it into much more of a rock song.

The only thing I don't like about this song isn't so much the song itself as it is its status as a song.  This seems to ignore a lot of other important songs.  
For example, everyone of a certain age has heard the song by a Ms. Fergie.

No one in the U.K. has ever failed to hear "London is the Place for Me."  Although a lovely song in itself, and song has taken on a particular tone to it, especially given the Windrush generation's memories of the song, and how it turned out to be the rose-colored view of coming to the mother-country.

So even though "Waterloo Sunset" has been voted the best song about London, but for my money, the best song about London has to be something by The Clash.
I'm sure most of you expected that to be followed by a clip from "London Calling," with a discussion of how excellent the song is.  And it is a perfect composition.  It imagines London in a nuclear apocalypse.  But for a song that is actually about London rising up and demanding justice, the Clash song that you should look to is none other than "The Guns of Brixton."

Although only about a neighborhood of London, the song is ultimately about fighting the injustice of police brutality.  Which, considering how strong the police state in London is, with the police's DNA database one hot mess and the entire city under surveillance with CCTV, this song seems more important than ever. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010


In addition to falling in love with cities, I've been known to fall in love with neighborhoods. My own childhood neighborhood, the areas around my Grandmothers's homes, Tavistock Square in London, even a certain corner of MSU's campus have become significant to me. Of course, these places are significant because I spent a lot of time there, because I know have memories of being there.
Every once and a while I find myself at a certain place and I realize I'm just loving what the place looks like. (Usually this is followed by how stupid I was not to bring my camera, because of course I want to take pictures.) The neighborhood in question was Midtown.
There's something perfect and antique about this neighborhood. Most of them are older homes and apartment buildings are from the turn of the century. Some of them are uncared for, but their are ones that are, and there's something very livable about them. They look like they need to be lived in.
We passed by the Forest Arms, which made me sad. In 2008, the Forest Arms, an apartment complex, burned after being recently renovated. Looking at it now, I noticed that there were hanging plants from third floor windows, which, coupled with what looks like a still damaged building, was poetic. Damaged buildings should always look like new life is springing from them.
When I think of the Forest Arms, I also end up thinking about the Hard Lesssons's The Arms Forest. It's named after this same apartment area. I love the album, and seeing the building always makes me think of this.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Breaking Down Gender

Slate is running another great series of articles, this one exploring male-female relationships.  In a recent article, the author mentions that a lot of our culture's unease about platonic male-female friendships is probably related to gender roles
I like having guy friends.  The article mentions women like not having to talk about their feelings all the time with their guy friends.  I take umbrage with this statement.  There are guy friends that I never talk to about my feelings, but I don't want to conclude that's because of their gender.  It could easily be their personality, because I have lots of other guy friends who I can have long, private conversations with too.  And because there are girl friends that I have very little of those discussions and others that I have a lot with. 
Gender seems to me to be a poor way of choosing friends or even relating to them, especially since there are so many personalities and experiences to learn from and understand.  I like this series because it explores how strange society reacts to these relationships, but sometimes the assumptions about gender bothers me.  Gender is far more flexible and fluid.