Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eve Ensler on Sarah Palin

Read this via e mail and had to post~

Eve Ensler, the American playwright, performer, feminist and activist best known for "The Vagina Monologues", wrote the following about Sarah Palin.

Drill, Drill, Drill
I am having Sarah Palin nightmares. I dreamt last night that she was a member of a club where they rode snowmobiles and wore the claws of drowned and starved polar bears around their necks. I have a particular thing for Polar Bears. Maybe it's their snowy whiteness or their bigness or the fact that they live in the arctic or that I have never seen one in person or touched one.  Maybe it is the fact that they live so comfortably on ice. Whatever it is, I need the polar bears.
I don't like raging at women. I am a Feminist and have spent my life trying to build community, help empower women and stop violence against them. It is hard to write about Sarah Palin. This is why the Sarah Palin choice was all the more insidious and cynical. The people who made this
choice count on the goodness and solidarity of Feminists.
But everything Sarah Palin believes in and practices is antithetical to Feminism which for me is part of one story -- connected to saving the earth, ending racism, empowering women, giving young girls options, opening our minds, deepening tolerance, and ending violence and war.
I believe that the McCain/Palin ticket is one of the most dangerous choices of my lifetime, and should this country chose those candidates the fall-out may be so great, the destruction so vast in so many areas that America may never recover.
But what is equally disturbing is the impact that duo would have on the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, this is not a joke.  In my lifetime I have seen the clownish, the inept, the bizarre be elected to the presidency with regularity.
Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of Fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves. She does not believe in global warming. The melting of the arctic, the storms that are destroying our cities, the pollution
and rise of cancers, are all part of God's plan.  She is fighting to take the polar bears off the endangered species list. The earth, in Palin's view, is here to be taken and plundered. The wolves and the bears are here to be shot and plundered. The oil is here to be taken and plundered.
Iraq is here to be taken and plundered. As she said herself of the Iraqi war, "It was a task from God."
Sarah Palin does not believe in abortion. She does not believe women who are raped and incested and ripped open against their will should have a right to determine whether they have their rapist's baby or not.
She obviously does not believe in sex education or birth control. I imagine her daughter was practicing abstinence and we know how many babies that makes.
Sarah Palin does not much believe in thinking. From what I gather she has tried to ban books from the library, has a tendency to dispense with people who think independently. She cannot tolerate an environment of ambiguity and difference. This is a woman who could and might very well be
the next president of the United States . She would govern one of the most diverse populations on the earth.
Sarah believes in guns. She has her own custom Austrian hunting rifle. She has been known to kill 40 caribou at a clip. She has shot hundreds of wolves from the air.
Sarah believes in God. That is of course her right, her private right. But when God and Guns come together in the public sector, when war is declared in God's name, when the rights of women are denied in his name, that is the end of separation of church and state and the undoing of everything America has ever tried to be.
I write to my sisters. I write because I believe we hold this election in our hands. This vote is a vote that will determine the future not just of the U.S. , but of the planet. It will determine whether we create policies
to save the earth or make it forever uninhabitable for humans.
It will determine whether we move towards dialogue and diplomacy in the world or whether we escalate violence through invasion, undermining and attack. It will determine whether we go for oil, strip mining, coal burning or invest our money in alternatives that will free us from dependency and destruction. It will determine if money gets spent
on education and healthcare or whether we build more and more methods of killing. It will determine whether America is a free open tolerant society or a closed place of fear, fundamentalism and aggression.
If the Polar Bears don't move you to go and do everything in your power to get Obama elected then consider the chant that filled the hall after Palin spoke at the RNC, "Drill Drill Drill." I think of teeth when I think of drills. I think of rape. I think of destruction. I think of domination. I think of military exercises that force mindless repetition, emptying the brain of analysis, doubt, ambiguity or dissent.  I think of pain.
Do we want a future of drilling? More holes in the ozone, in the floor of the sea, more holes in our thinking, in the trust between nations and peoples, more holes in the fabric of this precious thing we call life?

Eve Ensler
September 5, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

the Choice

Very good reading about our presidential nominess and the state of affairs.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Obama and the Palin Effect

Holy Moly, look at what Deepak has to say about Obama and Palin. Link to article is above.

Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the rousing effect that Gov. Sarah Palin had on the Republican convention in Minneapolis this week. On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international figure. Palin's pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real appeal goes deeper.

She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of "the other." For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don't want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (Just to be perfectly clear, I am not making a verbal play out of the fact that Sen. Obama is black. The shadow is a metaphor widely in use before his arrival on the scene.) I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand Palin's message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.

Look at what she stands for:
--Small town values -- a denial of America's global role, a return to petty, small-minded parochialism.
--Ignorance of world affairs -- a repudiation of the need to repair America's image abroad.
--Family values -- a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don't need to be heeded.
--Rigid stands on guns and abortion -- a scornful repudiation that these issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.
--Patriotism -- the usual fallback in a failed war.
--"Reform" -- an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn't fit your ideology.

Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from "us" pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of "I'm all right, Jack," and "Why change? Everything's OK as it is." The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against their own good. The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and narrow-mindedness.

Obama's call for higher ideals in politics can't be seen in a vacuum. The shadow is real; it was bound to respond. Not just conservatives possess a shadow -- we all do. So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to Think

While surfing/researching for my inventory project I came across this blog posting.

How to Think
Managing brain resources in an age of complexity.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called "How to Think," which would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules, which I sometimes share with students. I've listed them here, followed by some practical advice on implementation.

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you're reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.

2. Learn how to learn (rapidly). One of the most important talents for the 21st century is the ability to learn almost anything instantly, so cultivate this talent. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works. (I often need a 20-minute power nap after loading a lot into my brain, followed by half a cup of coffee. Knowing how my brain operates enables me to use it well.)

3. Work backward from your goal. Or else you may never get there. If you work forward, you may invent something profound--or you might not. If you work backward, then you have at least directed your efforts at something important to you.

4. Always have a long-term plan. Even if you change it every day. The act of making the plan alone is worth it. And even if you revise it often, you're guaranteed to be learning something.

5. Make contingency maps. Draw all the things you need to do on a big piece of paper, and find out which things depend on other things. Then, find the things that are not dependent on anything but have the most dependents, and finish them first.

6. Collaborate.

7. Make your mistakes quickly. You may mess things up on the first try, but do it fast, and then move on. Document what led to the error so that you learn what to recognize, and then move on. Get the mistakes out of the way. As Shakespeare put it, "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."

8. As you develop skills, write up best-practices protocols. That way, when you return to something you've done, you can make it routine. Instinctualize conscious control.

9. Document everything obsessively. If you don't record it, it may never have an impact on the world. Much of creativity is learning how to see things properly. Most profound scientific discoveries are surprises. But if you don't document and digest every observation and learn to trust your eyes, then you will not know when you have seen a surprise.

10. Keep it simple. If it looks like something hard to engineer, it probably is. If you can spend two days thinking of ways to make it 10 times simpler, do it. It will work better, be more reliable, and have a bigger impact on the world. And learn, if only to know what has failed before. Remember the old saying, "Six months in the lab can save an afternoon in the library."

Two practical notes. The first is in the arena of time management. I really like what I call logarithmic time planning, in which events that are close at hand are scheduled with finer resolution than events that are far off. For example, things that happen tomorrow should be scheduled down to the minute, things that happen next week should be scheduled down to the hour, and things that happen next year should be scheduled down to the day. Why do all calendar programs force you to pick the exact minute something happens when you are trying to schedule it a year out? I just use a word processor to schedule all my events, tasks, and commitments, with resolution fading away the farther I look into the future. (It would be nice, though, to have a software tool that would gently help you make the schedule higher-resolution as time passes...)

The second practical note: I find it really useful to write and draw while talking with someone, composing conversation summaries on pieces of paper or pages of notepads. I often use plenty of color annotation to highlight salient points. At the end of the conversation, I digitally photograph the piece of paper so that I capture the entire flow of the conversation and the thoughts that emerged. The person I've conversed with usually gets to keep the original piece of paper, and the digital photograph is uploaded to my computer for keyword tagging and archiving. This way I can call up all the images, sketches, ideas, references, and action items from a brief note that I took during a five-minute meeting at a coffee shop years ago--at a touch, on my laptop. With 10-megapixel cameras costing just over $100, you can easily capture a dozen full pages in a single shot, in just a second.

Cite as: Boyden, E. S. "How to Think." Ed Boyden's Blog. Technology Review. 11/13/07. (

From Early Adopter to Early Discarder

From the NY times a few weeks back. Click on the title above for a link to the article.

All my life I’ve been a successful pseudo-intellectual, sprinkling quotations from Kafka, Epictetus and Derrida into my conversations, impressing dates and making my friends feel mentally inferior. But over the last few years, it’s stopped working. People just look at me blankly. My artificially inflated self-esteem is on the wane. What happened?

Existential in Exeter

Dear Existential,

It pains me to see so many people being pseudo-intellectual in the wrong way. It desecrates the memory of the great poseurs of the past. And it is all the more frustrating because your error is so simple and yet so fundamental.

You have failed to keep pace with the current code of intellectual one-upsmanship. You have failed to appreciate that over the past few years, there has been a tectonic shift in the basis of good taste.

You must remember that there have been three epochs of intellectual affectation. The first, lasting from approximately 1400 to 1965, was the great age of snobbery. Cultural artifacts existed in a hierarchy, with opera and fine art at the top, and stripping at the bottom. The social climbing pseud merely had to familiarize himself with the forms at the top of the hierarchy and febrile acolytes would perch at his feet.

In 1960, for example, he merely had to follow the code of high modernism. He would master some impenetrably difficult work of art from T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound and then brood contemplatively at parties about Lionel Trilling’s misinterpretation of it. A successful date might consist of going to a reading of “The Waste Land,” contemplating the hollowness of the human condition and then going home to drink Russian vodka and suck on the gas pipe.

This code died sometime in the late 1960s and was replaced by the code of the Higher Eclectica. The old hierarchy of the arts was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary. Instead, any cultural artifact produced by a member of a colonially oppressed out-group was deemed artistically and intellectually superior.

During this period, status rewards went to the ostentatious cultural omnivores — those who could publicly savor an infinite range of historically hegemonized cultural products. It was necessary to have a record collection that contained “a little bit of everything” (except heavy metal): bluegrass, rap, world music, salsa and Gregorian chant. It was useful to decorate one’s living room with African or Thai religious totems — any religion so long as it was one you could not conceivably believe in.

But on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed. That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone.

On that date, media displaced culture. As commenters on The American Scene blog have pointed out, the means of transmission replaced the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and as the marker of social status.

Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it. (In this era, MySpace is the new leisure suit and an AOL e-mail address is a scarlet letter of techno-shame.)

Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.

This transition has produced some new status rules. In the first place, prestige has shifted from the producer of art to the aggregator and the appraiser. Inventors, artists and writers come and go, but buzz is forever. Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem — Web sites like Pitchfork for music, Gizmodo for gadgets, Bookforum for ideas, etc.

These tastemakers surf the obscure niches of the culture market bringing back fashion-forward nuggets of coolness for their throngs of grateful disciples.

Second, in order to cement your status in the cultural elite, you want to be already sick of everything no one else has even heard of.

When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact — an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland — you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm. This will highlight the importance of your cultural discovery, the fineness of your discerning taste, and your early adopter insiderness for having found it before anyone else.

Then, a few weeks later, after the object is slightly better known, you will dismiss all the hype with a gesture of putrid disgust. This will demonstrate your lofty superiority to the sluggish masses. It will show how far ahead of the crowd you are and how distantly you have already ventured into the future.

If you can do this, becoming not only an early adopter, but an early discarder, you will realize greater status rewards than you ever imagined. Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-upsmanship is forever.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

No, Not Here, That's Not Possible - Why Can't Artists Be Artists at SAM and the Frye?

I was at my desk in the collections dept. when Jen Graves' intern showed up to inquire about painting in the museum. At first I was cranky, then realized how wistful and frankly envious I am when I go to major museums in the east and see painters actually painting from masterworks and ask myself why the hell haven't I done this?

Nice article, text below and link to it is also above when you click on the title.

No, Not Here, That's Not Possible
Why Can't Artists Be Artists at SAM and the Frye?
by Jen Graves

The first painting you encounter in the blockbuster traveling show Inspiring Impressionism at Seattle Art Museum this summer is not an impressionist painting. And it's not an older, "master" work—by an artist like Velázquez, Titian, or Hals—either. An exception was made to start the show with this otherwise unremarkable 1912 canvas by the little-known artist Louis Beroud because Beroud's painting, An Evening in the Louvre, directly illustrates the theme of the exhibition: artists learning from other artists, often by painting copies while standing right in front of them in galleries. In An Evening in the Louvre, a whiskered, white-haired Louvre janitor is beginning his work for the night, cleaning up after copyists in the gallery, whose easels and unfinished oil copies await the artists' return in the morning. This is part of how great artists learn, even artists who abandon tradition, the show reminds us. There's example after example of the impressionists' copies of master works in Inspiring Impressionism.

Well, SAM may support the premise of this show—but only in theory. SAM is the only stop on the exhibition's national tour, which also stops in Denver and Atlanta, that universally forbids painting in its galleries. The Stranger sent an intern, John Borges, to the museum posing as a great-artist-in-training, with paints, a palette, a drop cloth, and a traditional French easel, and he was escorted straight up to the administration offices and told what he wanted to do was impossible. "It seemed like the guard was rooting for me," Borges said afterward. But no dice.

Even as great historical European museums and many leading and smaller American museums allow painting in the galleries, SAM says it can't.

"We can't be all things to all people," Lauren Mellon, SAM's chief registrar, told me later. "Having a copyist program is very labor-intensive, and we don't have the resources to do it."

With last year's announcement by Mimi Gates that a massive influx of donations of art would catapult SAM to the status of "major museum," and given the fact that SAM still has an additional physical expansion built into its future plans in the new building it shares with Washington Mutual, will there ever be a time when SAM could accommodate copyists?

"It is not practical for this institution," Mellon said flatly.

Resistance like this makes Gary Faigin crazy. Faigin is an old-fashioned painter and artistic director of the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. He's always trying, to no avail, to get his students in to paint at SAM—and at the Frye Art Museum, a Seattle repository for late 19th-century and early 20th-century German and Austrian painting.

"It's just an attitude thing," Faigin said. "The older museums are just more hip to the fact that this is part of the deal—it's part of your service to make this possible. The idea that it puts the art at risk, or that it blocks other visitors, or the chemical smell—well, all of that that seems reasonable if you started out feeling like you didn't need to do it. If you consider it a part of your mission, you work it out, just like all these other museums."

Both Mellon and Frye registrar Annabelle Larner said the European tradition is only practiced in a few major museums in the United States, those with extensive resources. (The Stranger's intern was bounced even more emphatically from the Frye.) But that's not really true. A quick search revealed copyist programs—programs that allow individuals into the galleries in order to copy in wet mediums—at the following museums: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, along with the ones you'd expect—the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The Art Institute of Chicago allows students of its school to copy. The High Museum of Art permits the practice for special occasions (usually for school groups)—special occasions like Inspiring Impressionism, where the show started its tour last winter. A class of students copied a Murillo from an earlier exhibition of Louvre paintings. Their copies were exhibited concurrently with Inspiring Impressionism.

When it comes to resources, a copyist program can be done on a shoestring—as at Denver, where a small portion of an education department staff member's time includes overseeing the vetting of applicants. The most extensive program, at the National Gallery, where 10 easels are maintained and loaned out, still amounts to only about a quarter of a full-time job, according to the current manager, Carol Nesemann.

On a trip to Vienna this summer, Pamela Belyea, Faigin's codirector at Gage and his wife, happened to see a copyist drop her paints to the floor in the vaunted Brueghel room at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. "Nobody batted an eye, they just wiped it up," she said. "It is ridiculous how challenging it is to find an avenue for art students to copy at the Seattle Art Museum or the Frye Art Museum. As a museum, if you actually believe you're creating a community of artists, then you have to crack the door open a little."

Considering that there probably isn't a single room in an American museum as precious as that room packed with Brueghels—or very few—why are some American museums so uptight?

"That's a good question," said Portland Art Museum director of collections Donald Urquhart. He quickly added that he didn't think "uptight" was necessarily the right word—Portland Art Museum forbids copying in paint, too. So do the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty. All three institutions say they're protecting their art and their patrons.

There are risks and irritations involved in copying. Paints could splatter, rickety easels could fall into works of art, and other visitors' views could be blocked. But that's why museums control the terms of their copy programs. Along with each permit comes a long list of rules and regulations. The only universal rule is that copyists cannot use canvases the same size as their subjects—that would be forgery.

Other rules vary, but most include stipulations about remaining a certain distance from the art, using approved easels, working only during certain hours when museum traffic is light, and relocating if another visitor asks. No extra guards are deployed to watch a copyist, but regular guards know and enforce the restrictions. Copyists are only allowed to work on one painting at a time, and the object of a copyist's work is agreed upon in advance. Museums only control copyrights to works they own, so copyist programs apply to objects in the museums' own permanent collections. If SAM allowed copying, for instance, you still wouldn't be able to copy the visiting impressionists, but you could make versions of SAM's big Sargent, its Bierstadt, its Cranach, or its newly acquired John Singleton Copley.

The National Gallery has regular copyists, from the woman who polishes off copies of impressionist paintings to give to her children, to the serious hobbyist who spends a couple of years on a single Dutch painting. Mellon, SAM's registrar, knows these people because she managed the copyist program at the National Gallery before she came to SAM. Still, she says, the galleries are too small and the art turns over too regularly even in the collection galleries for a community like that to develop at SAM.

Copying, apparently, is a polarizing subject. It does tend to come down to those who see it as part of a museum's job and those who don't. Mary Suzor, director of collections management at the Cleveland Museum of Art, says it's a small but vital part of Cleveland's commitment to education. She has been at museums with copyist programs for 25 years and has never heard of a damaged artwork. "It's a program that takes a certain amount of time and energy to see through, but the people who want to be copyists are motivated for all the right reasons, and they really want to do whatever needs to be done to follow the rules," Suzor said.

It's notable that the larger museums that disallow copying are on the West Coast, where museums are younger and less tied to European traditions. They also have fewer significant works of old art. Copying may seem like a stodgy, outdated, white-guy thing to do, but forbidding it also smacks of imperialism—of a second-rate king hoarding the few treasures he has. And who's to say that being anachronistic is the same as being conservative? Seattle's most adventurous museum, the contemporary Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, does consider requests from copyists. After all, an artist in the galleries is a profound symbol: It demonstrates that a museum is part of the messy life cycle of art, not a graveyard.