a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Issue #29 (January 20, 2010)

Vladivostok, Russia

Photo by huan.matus

fragged mentation
by Chris Collins

Weather of Catastrophe

The worst storm of the winter season thus far came upon Los Angeles Sunday, depositing several inches of rain and menacing homeowners along the periphery of the burn area from last summer's Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest with the threat of mudslides.

Southern California is classified as semi-arid desert. Its climatic analog is the eastern Mediterranean, also in the mid-30s north latitudes and exhibiting similar terrain and scant precipitation.

The city rests in a sandy basin bordered on the north by the San Gabriel Mountains. The range is composed of rugged and almost sheer eminences which top out at about 10,000 feet. Lower elevations are covered in thickets of combustible scrub oak. Pine growth is confined to the higher elevations.

Rainstorms of such prolonged intensity in Los Angeles occur roughly every other year. Your loyal NV West Coast bureau reporter went on a tour of conditions in downtown Burbank on Sunday. Unfortunately the inclemence which waxed in increments left illegible ink remnants of his notes. However, he did return with these photographs.

All were 8 to 15 second exposures taken with a finicky Pentax Spotmatic using a red filter over 35mm black and white negative film.

The rain halts occasionally but more storms are on the way. Through it all, the Angeleno civic spirit, with its intractable, nigh-psychotic tenacity in the face of Mother Nature's despotry, has not buckled.

[In milder conditions: the reverse of the Hollywood sign, Bronson Canyon below and Griffith Observatory seen in the distance]

Extra: James Bowman memorializes French auteur and Cahiers du Cinema alumnus Eric Rohmer (1920-2010)

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the midwestern oak desk of Joe Carducci...

Sadanand Dhume ex- of the defunct Far East Economic Review, on Islam in Asia claims,

"For the most part, it arrived through trade rather than conquest, by Indian dhow rather than Arab charger. It was preceded by more than a millennium of Hinduism and Buddhism, whose achievements included Borobudur, a massive ninth-century Buddhist stupa, and Majapahit, a Hindu-Buddhist empire whose influence stretched to present-day Cambodia."

That caveat "For the most part" is wide enough to drive a prehistoric demi-holocaust or two through. The coming of Islam to the Indian subcontinent which he is vaguely referencing is now considered to have been the bloodiest event up to that era, though as V.S. Naipaul reminds us the victors wrote the history and labeled their handiwork the Golden Age of Islam. The later arrival of Islam to Sumatra, then, must have been more polite as it was not brought by a land army of plundering Seljuks. Still, even Mr Dhume sees a problem today in this post-Golden but still rather Coppery-tasting Age of Islam.


Michael Kimmelman in NYT on the art of the populists in the EU.

Do not send an art critic to defend western civilization. What seems important to Kimmelman:

"Never mind that there are only four minarets in Switzerland to begin with, and that Muslims, some 340,000 of them, or 4 percent of the population, mostly from the Balkans and Turkey, have never been notably zealous."

He goes on to blithely accept the construction that cartoonists "provoked violent protests around the world." Cartoonists drew, therefore many people were killed! This etiquette, we'll-call-it, which is "the politeness" Naipaul is referring to above, does not run both ways you'll notice. The west in the form of Swiss voters are not allowed to be provoked to defend the Switzerland they have inherited and created, by even such as terror, while Islam is conceded a reflexive violence in response to... art, in the form of political cartoons far less scatalogical than any of a thousand pseud-art scandal-mongers he'd approve of and cheer on as they try to get one more rise out of the western bourgeoisie. The art critic's purview is the poster art and how the pros in Zurich done it, but the truth is the Swiss trust the Muslims to be Muslim but they do not trust their own political class to protect them, rather than preen their cultural distance from them to the elites of internationalism in global capitols -- the so-called Davos man -- which includes the odd art critic apparently. That said, I did enjoy Michael's NYTMag 2005 profile of noted art-cartoonist/anarcho-fundamentalist Raymond Pettibon.


FT's John Lloyd review of Marxist critique of the EU, The New Old World.


Andrew Anthony in the Guardian on the death of a Brit academic true-believer unlucky enough to get to meet an idol of his idealism long ago in a Phnom Penh far away.


On Google's exit from China, from the FT:

"With the US technology giant allowing uncensored searches in Chinese for the first time, citizens of the People’s Republic are this week indulging their curiosity ahead of a widely expected crackdown. 'I’ve been doing all sorts of crazy searches, really distracting myself from my work,' says one. 'I’ve done Tiananmen Square, the love affairs of national leaders, the corruption of leaders’ children. Everything.'"


IBD asks, Is China Really Growing that Fast?

"Last year, Derek Scissors, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, likewise critiqued China's economic record-keeping — and asserted China's current economic model of high growth based on forced lending by the government is unsustainable. 'In the past, the People's Bank would report loan growth in the 15% range, supporting better-than-10% GDP growth,' he wrote. Last year, China's lending surged by a third, thanks to its own $590 billion 'stimulus' package. But growth was just 8%."


Jean Sabate in LeMonde on Vladivostok, "Russia's ruined Far Eastern Metropolis." With all the globalization action in Asia, beginning with Hong Kong and Japan in the sixties, followed most notably by South Korea, Taiwan, and China, I've wondered over the years whether Russia's smudged window on the far east, Vladivostok, might not jump-start the new Russia with a wild east boomtown -- a Slavic Seattle... So I've periodically checked the one or two English-language V-stock news sites but nothing particularly seems happening other than a hellacious trade in used and stolen automobiles which somehow has everyone in town driving their right lane roads with right-side steering wheels. Think about it! How can they amount to anything doing that? No drive-thru banking, no drive-thru liquor stores... Generations of Russians exiled to Valdivostok for being too clever or too wild can't seem to overcome the dead hand of all those military bases and facilities built up over the last century and a half.

[Photo by huan.matus]


The Inuit Circumpolar Council has sued the EU to overturn last year's ban on the import of seal products. "The legislation was one of the most non-partisan bills to pass through the European Parliament. Believing the issue to be massively popular amongst EU citizens ahead of elections to the chamber in June, some 550 deputies voted in favour of the ban, with just 49 opposed."


Retail in Chicago.

Carson Pirie Scott & Co. closed in Feb 2007; since then Whole Foods, Roundy's, Fox & Obel, Billabong... have announced they would open up in Louis Sullivan's State Street landmark only to have plans fall apart. Now Target...?

Mayor Daley is still working the angles to try to allow Wal-Mart past the unions and the city council's blockade. He seems to have manoeuvred the more radical aldermen and -women into path of job-hungry, shopping-crazed females expecting they'll be torn limb from limb. But it's been going on awhile now.


Jeffrey Ball in the WSJ peers through the cloud of subsidies to try to chart the actual relative costs of producing this or that energies.


There are sons of Haiti in the NHL.


The FT on China's blogger/race-car driver Han Han. "Driving is safer."


Duane Eddy is still alive and he's just played Orange County.


This Ain't the Summer of Love - Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk, by Steve Waksman.

"When not on the make with the Runaways, Kim Fowley was always hustling for other opportunities. Contacted by Murray Krugman to see if he had any lyrics he could contribute to the upcoming Blue Oyster Cult album, Fowley arranged a meeting between Krugman and Don Waller, a Los Angeles musician and journalist known for his affiliation with one of that city's most important early rock fanzines, Back Door Man. Waller laid out all his lyrics on the rug of Fowley's apartment floor; Krugman singled out "This Ain't the Summer of Love" as the one for the Blue Oyster Cult to record."


Migrating Forms, formerly the New York Underground Film Festival (and named for the second feature film by James Fotopoulos) has its call out for experimental film and video submissions:

Early Deadline: January 15, 2010
Regular Deadline: Feburary 15, 2010
Late Deadline: March 15, 2010

Festival: May 14-23, 2010 at Anthology Film Archives, New York, New York


Dave Kehr in the NYT on early sound film releases to DVD.

In my research for my upcoming film book I've been leaving TCM on whenever they run a string of pre-1933 films. The early sound period, especially 1928 to 1931 is full of interesting production clumsiness where the generally invisible Hollywood narrative mode was suddenly quite visible and audible. On top of such interest there are a good number of well done films as well and the flatter production style with naturalistic sound if not acting leaves a better taste in one's mouth than the superslick greased narrative propulsion of recent years. Of the early sound period Kehr writes, "Most of the studios made revue films as a quick way to get their stars before the microphones -- and to see who would survive the transition and who would not.... From Warner Brothers, 'The Show of Shows' seems almost aggressive in the way it pits the studio's biggest stars of the silent era, including John Barrymore and Rin Tin Tin, against peppy newcomers like Sally Eilers and Chester Morris." It wasn't quite that Darwinian but the studios used the changeover and its new expenses to look for savings elsewhere and the fat salaries of stars in the late silent era were big targets.

What is generally forgotten is that Edison never intended for there to be a silent era. Film was to be another wax cylinder-style player -- a kinetoscope, playing a celluloid cylinder and synced to the sound cylinder, these to be seen and heard by an audience-of-one at a nickelodeon or an arcade. Edison did not patent his projector technology as he did not imagine it feasible to assemble an audience for a scheduled projection of an image. Perhaps he felt it could only be a poor substitute for the live theater of flesh-and-blood actors if put under a similar proscenium arch. His underling, William K.L. Dickson, played along out of respect for the old man, but Dickson believed in projection and left the Edison Co. in 1895 for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company which focused on the coming film projection standard (and where ten years later D.W. Griffith began putting together the narrative grammar most film and video-makers have depended on since, not to mention its backspin influence on theater, fiction, journalism and cartoons). But way back at the end of the 19th century, the moving image accompanied by music alone, and the odd title card, launched an enormous new cultural industry and had a thirty year-run at the top of the artistic food-chain; it's now called the Silent Era. Here's the first Dickson-supervised Edison sound film production from 1894 (the once broken wax cylinder was recently reassembled digitally and synced up).

[USPS stamp: William Dickson]


Obituaries of the week.

Jan Gabriel, voice of smokin' US-30 Dragstrip, and the Santa Fe Speedway near Hinsdale, noted for his opening, echoing call: "Sunday!!!" He was also a disc jockey beginning in the late fifties in northwest Indiana and the Chicago area, and host of "Up Tempo" on local television, sock-hops, etc.

George Leonard, Look Magazine, Esalen, Aikido...


Jack Brewer guests on the new episode of the Watt from Pedro Show.


(thanks to Steve Beeho, Andy Schwartz)

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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