Monday, December 15, 2008
Who do think is the artist? It looked like William Blake to me, but I've never seen Latin in Blake's work.
This is the question I asked myself as I looked at these images on the wonderful blog BiblioOdyssey. Apparently they from a book of drawings called De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines (Images from the Ages of the World) by the sixteenth-century Portuguese artist who at one point studied with Michelangelo. You can read more about him on the original blog (whose author and commentators also saw similarities with Blake, as well as with illustrations from alchemical books), for the moment I will leave you with a few groovy images.
The blog commentators also commented on the proto-surrealism of the praying mantus on the frontspiece.
Rock the apocalypse.
I repeat: groovy.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I love paintings like this. Firstly because I love paintings of architecture. I like buildings and cities and public spaces, and I like how the lines of buildings compliment or contrast with the lines of perspective and the frame of the painting. Secondly because I love paintings within paintings. I love this impossible imaginary gallery with its majestic baroque vaults and its jumble of artworks representing the classical architecture which was the original model for that baroque. The galley has an unlikely opening at the back that reveals some king of monumental gate. To the left of the gate we see a painting of the arch of Constantine (another gate) and to the right the pantheon, its columns almost parallel to those of the gate. Which is more real? The sky outside matches the sky of the paintings. The style of the paintings is the same as that of the framing painting itself, and we almost get the sense that this hall is filled with mirrors or windows set at odd angles. To the right we have Trajan's column with its barely distinguishable frieze representing his imperial triumphs -- art within art within art. Of course, we would be seeing this in the Louvre, so we find ourselves in a gallery surrounded by paintings as we look at this one. Maybe we are in a painting as well?
I love the bravado of it. Why paint one just one painting when you can paint a gallery? A Borgesian labyrinth of paintings and play between styles and lines in which the dizzy spectator loses track of where he or she is, whether in Rome or in the imaginary gallery or in the real one.
When I was a child, one of the bathrooms in my house had a large mirror that had two wing-mirrors that could be folded out. I used to fold them into a triangle, leaving only enough space to stick my head in so that I could see an infinite forest of Liams, fading in distant green images of the weakening light spectrum. I know what Pannini was after -- holding infinity in the palm of his hand.
"Portrait of a Youth" (Lucrezia Borgia?) by Dosso Dossi.
The second picture, it has been asserted recently, is the only known painting of Lucrezia Borgia, the great femme fatale of the Renaissance. Only one question: hot or not?
Friday, November 21, 2008
A woolly freakin' mammoth.
Yesterday I read in the Times that some scientists believe they can reconstruct the DNA of a woolly mammoth from hair that has been preserved, and even bring one to life:
There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes.That would be a hell of a way to confuse Vladimir Putin. The article laconically added:
The same would be technically possible with Neanderthals, whose full genome is expected to be recovered shortly, but there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species.Yeah, you think?
I actually think that there are ethical issues involved in bringing back a species that nature had already decided to retire. Any thoughts on that?
At the same time, having a real live woolly mammoth around would be very cool, and I would like to have one, thank you very much, please.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sunday, November 09, 2008
...a world of possibilities...
I've added three new links to the sidebar, and all three will provide my dear readers with hours of strangeness and beauty.
Cabinet of Wonders is a site maintained by a writer named Heather McDougal, and it features well-written posts covering all sorts of oddities. It is 17th-century Wunderkammer meets steampunk. Heather describes it well:
What we have here is a Cabinet of Wonders, a place where things of interest are set out, in possibly bizarre, possibly fetishistic presentation, for perusal by the discerning, who understand that presentation, and scientific interest, are all a form of magic.The other two sites are short on words, but rich in imagery. If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats is a group blog dedicated to... well... pop culture, I guess... Just a lot of strange images, archived under provocative categories.
The Roving Medievalist is the main blog of Jeffrey Smith, Ohio's greatest monarchist, and features lovely photos of usually medieval churches. Scroll down his sidebar and check out some of his numerous other blogs, including one dedicated to Baroque architecture (Frozen Music) and cemeteries (A Morbid Fascination). Enjoy.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The Latin phrase above was sent to me last night by my friend and colleague Steve after Obama won the election. "Hope conquers fear."
We voted yesterday around 4:00, since we wanted to wait until Filius imperatricis pulcherrima Africae occidentalis got out of school so he could accompany us to the polls. Then we settled down for a tense night with the TV and the laptop, as I flitted between a half dozen different websites and exchanged instant messages with William. Once Penn went, I started to relax. Ohio came through, and when the polls closed in California, we knew. I was in shock, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis was in tears. About 12:30 we went out for a walk. Crowds flowed up and down Broadway cheering and crying. We stepped on to campus where a group of people were jumping up and down, yelling and hugging. Sponteneous chants broke out. "O-ba-ma," of course, and varients of "Yes, we can" ("Yes, we did;" "yes, we could"), but also "de-mo-cra-cy!" and "U-S-A!" People sang the national anthem and "America the Beautiful."
One black student shouted, "Our first president! Suck it, Harvard!" (Obama graduated from Columbia).
This was a victory for Democrats, for blue Manhattan, for students and for African-Americans, yes, but it was more than that. It was a victory for our country. The McCain campaign made the choice clear -- unable to formulate any real vision for the country, they made it about fear of change and culture war and devisiveness, about race. Pennsylvannia and Ohio were not suppposed to vote for a black man. "Real" Virginia was not supposed to vote for a Democrat. North Carolina was supposed to re-elect their senator because of religious slurs. The United States of America said no, thank you.
My country made me proud last night. Spes vicit timorem.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
The Dangerous Panic On The Far Right
There was always going to be a point of revolt and panic for a core group of Americans who believe that Obama simply cannot be president - because he's black or liberal or young or relatively new. This is that point. As the polls suggest a strong victory, the Hannity-Limbaugh-Steyn-O'Reilly base are going into shock and extreme rage. McCain and Palin have decided to stoke this rage, to foment it, to encourage paranoid notions that somehow Obama is a "secret" terrorist or Islamist or foreigner. These are base emotions in both sense of the word.
But they are also very very dangerous. This is a moment of maximal physical danger for the young Democratic nominee. And McCain is playing with fire. If he really wants to put country first, he will attack Obama on his policies - not on these inflammatory, personal, creepy grounds. This is getting close to the atmosphere stoked by the Israeli far right before the assassination of Rabin.
For God's sake, McCain, stop it. For once in this campaign, put your country first.
John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as "not one of us," I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.
At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, "Kill him!" At one of your rallies, someone called out, "Terrorist!" Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered. At your campaign event Wednesday in Bethlehem, Pa., the crowd was seething with hatred for the Democratic nominee - an attitude encouraged in speeches there by you, your running mate, your wife and the local Republican chairman.
John McCain: In 2000, as a lifelong Republican, I worked to get you elected instead of George W. Bush. In return, you wrote an endorsement of one of my books about military service. You seemed to be a man who put principle ahead of mere political gain.
You have changed. You have a choice: Go down in history as a decent senator and an honorable military man with many successes, or go down in history as the latest abettor of right-wing extremist hate.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
"John Aravosis at AmericaBlog writes:
McCain was speaking today in New Mexico, doing his usual personal attack on Barack Obama, as the stock market plummeted (you can see the ticker next to McCain on the screen, an apt reminder of what McCain and his fellow Republicans represent), and McCain asked the crowd "who is Barack Obama?" Immediately you hear someone yell "terrorist." McCain pauses, the audience laughs, and McCain continues on, not acknowledging, not chastising, not correcting. Oh, but McCain does say in the next sentence that he's upset about all the "angry barrage of insults."
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports on a similar moment at a Palin rally today:
"Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," Palin said.
"Boooo!" said the crowd.
"And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'" she continued.
"Boooo!" the crowd repeated.
"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.
And Dana Milbank highlights another incident from Tuesday:
Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."
"Getting ugly out there," says ABC's Jake Tapper.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
-Mets Manager Jerry Manuel, after pitcher Johan Santana pitched a three-hit shutout, only four days after pitching a 125-pitch game.
UPDATE: Not that it matters. The Mets once again squander the end of their season, do not make the playoffs, and break my heart.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Don't worry -- the Joker is suspending his campaign and canceling his debate to solve the problems of our economy. And this not yet another stunt by a candidate that is ethically, politically, and intellectually bankrupt. It's country first!
UPDATE: Sam Stein details McCain's disgustingly hypocritical opportunism at a time of national crisis.
UPDATE II: McCain arrives, everything goes to hell. Which explanation do we prefer: that he is a slave to the extreme right wing of his party, or that he's willing to let the country fall into depression to avoid a debate? What a turd.
Money quotes -- From a GOP lawmaker, on his own colleagues:
"For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?"
From a Democratic staffer:
"Bush is no diplomat, but he's Cardinal freaking Richelieu compared to McCain. McCain couldn't negotiate an agreement on dinner among a family of four without making a big drama with himself at the heroic center of it. And then they'd all just leave to make themselves a sandwich."
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
"I think still -- the fundamentals of our economy are strong."
John McCain, "Black Monday," September 15, 2008.
"The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
Herbert Hoover, the day after "Black Thursday," October 25, 1929.
From The American Prospect via Think Progress via Bob Cesca.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Okay, I'm going to lay off politics soon. But since I'm still steaming about Giuliani and Palin's disrespect towards community organizers, I can't help passing on this Joe Klein article (hat tip to Kevin). Klein refers to this press release, from a group called Catholics Democrats:
Catholic Democrats is expressing surprise and shock that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's acceptance speech tonight mocked her opponent's work in the 1980s for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She belittled Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer in Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago, work he undertook instead of pursuing a lucrative career on Wall Street. In her acceptance speech, Ms. Palin said, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." Community organizing is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching to end poverty and promote social justice.Klein comments:
So here is what Giuliani and Palin didn't know: Obama was working for a group of churches that were concerned about their parishioners, many of whom had been laid off when the steel mills closed on the south side of Chicago. They hired Obama to help those stunned people recover and get the services they needed--job training, help with housing and so forth--from the local government. It was, dare I say it, the Lord's work--the sort of mission Jesus preached (as opposed to the war in Iraq, which Palin described as a "task from God.")
This is what Palin and Giuliani were mocking. They were making fun of a young man's decision "to serve a cause greater than himself," in the words of John McCain. They were, therefore, mocking one of their candidate's favorite messages. Obama served the poor for three years, then went to law school. To describe this service--the first thing he did out of college, the sort of service every college-educated American should perform, in some form or other--as anything other than noble is cheap and tawdry and cynical in the extreme.
Perhaps La Pasionaria of the Northern Slope didn't know this when she read the words they gave her. But Giuliani--a profoundly lapsed Catholic, who must have met more than a few religious folk toiling in the inner cities--should have known. ("I don't even know what that is," he sneered.") What a shameful performance.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Caught on mike:
I'm trying to just get work done, but unfortunately I'm on edge all day waiting to see how the media defines its simplistic and mistaken narrative.
Chuck Todd: Yeah, I mean is she [Palin] really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?
Uberrepublican Peggy Noonan: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this -- excuse me-- political bullshit about narratives --
Here's the truth: John McCain so desperately wants to be president that he gave up long ago in resisting the Bush GOP in any meaningful way. Even if he really were a "maverick" (whatever that means), he's still a poor choice for president. His approach to economics is stuck in the 80s. His approach to foreign policy is frightening. He seems impatient with any facts -- whether there's a difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis, what countries border Iraq, what countries even exist anymore. Everything is reduced to good vs evil, victory vs defeat. If possible, he is even more hawkish and simplistic than Bush. He makes jokes about bombing other countries. Granted, his personal story regarding Vietnam is compelling, but by all accounts he took the wrong lesson from that war: the disaster of Vietnam was for him not due to hubris and overreaching or the cynical policy of using our own troops and the civilians of another country as expendable pawns in a game of geopolitics, rather it was due to a loss of nerve -- we should have won, whatever winning in Vietnam could possibly have meant. McCain's "toughness" translates into a terrifying reality -- he will go to war with anyone from Iran to North Korea to even Russia because he believes there is no problem that doesn't have a military solution, and no matter how badly things go, he will never admit he was wrong and change policy.
Meanwhile, his lack of judgment is pretty much proven by his irresponsible vp pick. Un-vetted and with absolutely no experience or even display of interest in foreign policy (the McCain campaign keeps echoing the idiotic and desperate "Alaska is close to Russia" line as its only response to this question), Sarah Palin is an incredible gamble. She may turn out to be capable, but how would we know? McCain certainly doesn't, since he picked her after only having met her once. The more I learn about her the less I like her. Ideologically she is from the far right wing of the Republican party, and her extremely brief time in office is already marked by scandals and abuse of executive power. She has shown herself to be confident in reading a speech written by a Bush speechwriter (decrying Washington insiders!). She seemed to warm to the Rovian talking points in that speech -- I was especially struck by her cold-hearted mocking of community organizing, which at its best was typical Republican disdain for anyone who wants to empower and help the less fortunate and discriminated people in our society, and at its worse was encoded racism (urban community organizer = black; small town mayor = white).
The truth is that the GOP convention was pathetic -- delayed at first because of a storm that might remind the country of the Republican criminal negligence after Katrina, it was marked by the uncomfortable avoidance of the president they had so emotionally praised in the last two conventions. A series of speakers attacked the Democratic party using hateful divisiveness and unbridled hypocrisy (Mitt Romney, wealthy former governor of Massachusetts and d*******g, decried the dems as "eastern elites") and the rhetoric climaxed with Palin's speech full of outright lies about her own record (bridge to nowhere) and Obama's (just about everything she said about him was mendacious). Then after this red-meat hate-fest, McCain comes out and promises reform and bipartisanship. This is an insult to our intelligence.
So we shouldn't worry, right? The GOP has run this country into the ground and there's no way Americans would give them another four years, especially when any sane observer can tell they promise nothing new, right? Well, here comes the media. Palin is "a rising star" that "energized the base" and once again, McCain is "the maverick." This is the narrative they seem to have chosen and perhaps no amount of reality will prevail against it. I hope I'm wrong. I hope the cognitive dissonance it takes to support McCain can't hold up. I hope the debates will reveal how much more prepared to be president Obama is than his rival. I hope Palin's and McCain hypocrisy tumbles and falls open for all to see. Unfortunately, for now, I'm still waiting.
UPDATE: for a snarky, but sadly accurate, take on the obscene double standard the press narrative follows for the two parties, here's vol. 1 and vol. 2.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Everybody's quoting Andrew Sullivan on this, because he nailed it:
It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.
What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.
My favorite part:
But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Watching Michelle Obama’s speech last night, you might have been struck by how deeply shameful it is that such an obviously smart and decent person must repeatedly assure the public of her patriotism so that a nation of suspicious and resentful idiots don’t think she’s planning to bomb their local scrapbooking club with a Socialist Black Muslim Virus. Or you might have looked at her dress and thought, well, whatever the f**k Leslie Sanchez was thinking.
God save us from the trivial and shallow pontifications of TV news commentators who look for news where there's none and never mention the news that is actually there. What qualifies these pathetic swindlers for their jobs?
UPDATE: If you were watching the networks, you probably had to listen to pompous pundits and missed the great populist speech of Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Go Big Sky Country! My dad was from Butte.
SECOND UPDATE (Okay, I know I'm getting out of control and I promise to go back to work after this): You know when you see an ad for a book or a movie that you know is terrible and that you know that nobody liked it, yet still the ad puts out highly truncated quotes from the critics? Like "...fantastic... a great movie..." I always suspect that the original quote must be something like "It was a fantastic waste of time. I was expecting a great movie, but it was crap."
Well, that's what McCain is doing in his new ad (this is via TPM).
The ad's narrator says: "Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country. 'Doesn't pose a serious threat.' Terrorism? Destroying Israel? Those aren't serious threats?"
Here is the full May 18th Obama quote, as supplied by the McCain press release itself:"Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. That's what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That's what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That's what Nixon did with Mao. I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela -- these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we're going to wipe you off the planet."
This is not just twisting Obama's words. It is altering the context so dramatically that it utterly changes the meaning. In other words, it is a lie. Can people be so naive to fall for this? Can they?
One thing I wonder -- how can someone be so lazy that they never do research on what a candidate actually says or does, but they still have the energy to go to the poll to vote?
Friday, August 15, 2008
"John Tirman questions the GOP's victory narrative about Iraq.
It is a measure of the Orwellian state of the US media and politics that he should have to bother. I mean, the place is a burned out hulk where hundreds die every month in political violence, where armed militias are ubiquitous, where nearly 5 million people remain displaced from their homes, where you have unemployment rates of 50% in some major cities, and where pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalists face off against Sunni Arab nationalists and Salafis and Kurdish separatists. If this is a success, I'd hate to see a failure."
Friday, August 08, 2008
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Yeah, I know. I haven't been blogging much recently. Mostly the reason is that I've been working very hard on the dissertation. At the same time, I think I'm more in a period of taking in ideas and impressions than of writing them down.
I have been reading Candles in Babylon by Denise Levertov. Great book, she is an amazing poet. According to Wikipedia, she converted to Catholicism in the last decade of her life. When I read that, I tried to remember what other poets have converted to my religion. All I can think of right now are Gerard Manly Hopkins and Robert Lowell, but something tells me there are more. Does anyone out there have some names?
UPDATE: Okay, we will drop out Robert Lowell as nothing more than a spiritual tourist and start the list, which will be updated as more suggestions roll in:
1. Denise Levertov
2. Gerard Manly Hopkins
3. Thomas Merton
4. Oscar Wilde
5. Paul Claudel
I'm not doing this to create a kind of triumphalist "who have the Catholics bagged?" list. Rather, I ask myself if their is something about Catholicism (the liturgy, the tradition, the stories, the mystery, the physicality, etc.) that may be especially appealing to poets. Please write in with more suggestions.
UPDATE 2: CowboyAngel is right. I had a conversion experience in prison after shooting Rimbaud. He was in Reno and I shot him just to watch him die.
UPDATE 3: Lee has added many to the list, including Chesterton who (I was not aware of this) also wrote poetry.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Also, what do Benedictine monks do? They make beer! Via The Way of the Fathers, a blessing for beer:
V. Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Oremus. Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisiae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi, et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti; ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corpus et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Et aspergatur aqua benedicta.
Blessing of Beer
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord, this creature beer, which thou hast deigned to produce from the fat of grain: that it may be a salutary remedy to the human race, and grant through the invocation of thy holy name; that, whoever shall drink it, may gain health in body and peace in soul. Through Christ our Lord.
And it is sprinkled with holy water.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I was in Salt Lake City this past weekend for my cousin's wedding. A brief subjective report on the bumper sticker and lawn sign situation in this surprisingly moderate city in the reddest state in the union:
Obama: Too many to count.
Ron Paul: Two.
What does this mean? No idea.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Once I was exposed to darkwave, I found a small label based in Brooklyn called Projekt Records, the child of the hardworking Sam Rosenthal. The label features many related sub-genres of gloomy and beautiful music: Gothic-Darkwave, Dark Cabaret, Ethereal-Heavenly, Neo-Folk, Ambient-Electronic... I don't know what any of this means, but they have some great bands. They even have Christmas music. Project also has a page with information on their artists, with links to their websites and myspace pages (I only recently learned that myspace is good for more than just getting busted by Dateline: it's a great place to listen to music).
Sam Rosenthal also has his own band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl (website, myspace page). They've been around for some time and gone through different lineups, but the song in this video gives a sense of what they're about: haunting vocals, real acoustic instruments and percussion, and Sam on keyboards.
I'll feature one other group on this post, Attrition. I will just quote at length from an article about recent Projekt releases:
My absolute favorite – and possibly one of the best dark ambient releases in recent years – comes from one of the leading names in that genre, the UK experimental outfit Attrition, alias Martin Bowes. I came upon this talented artist a few years ago – fairly late in the game, considering Attrition has been around since the early '80s – and I was instantly hooked by Bowes' solitary devotion to creating moods and atmospheres instead of catchy melodies. Back when the term “industrial music” was less mainstream and applied mainly to avant-garde acts like Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Einsturzende Neubaten, Attrition were building a revolutionary style of their own, and decades later Bowes hasn't strayed from that goal with the latest Attrition release All Mine Enemys Whispers – one of the band's finest achievements in a long and storied career.Here's the cool and messed-up video for their song "This Girl Called Harmony":
Whispers weaves the horrific tale of Mary Ann Cotton, one of England's most notorious serial killers. Responsible for the deaths (by poisoning) of up to 21 people – most of whom were her own children – Cotton would be perfect subject matter for a horrifying Halloween concept album. But instead of taking the more overtly gruesome route, Bowes opts for a sublime ambiance of growing doom to pull you headlong into the very thoughts of this human monster... even daring to make you sympathize with her before dragging you bodily to the depths of the underworld, surrounded by the whispering chants of her many victims.
As it turns out, Cotton is more than a mere macabre curiosity as far as this artist is concerned: the project was born out of Bowes' own ancestral link to Cotton's killing spree. Not only is he a distant relative of the constable who arrested Cotton in 1872, but Bowes recently came into possession of Cotton's sewing box, which the convicted murderer gave to the officer's daughter (Bowes' great great great aunt) just before her imprisonment. A photo of the box is included in the CD liner notes, and the sound of the box being struck can be heard on the track “Gates of Eternity.”
Interwoven with Bowes' elaborate synth programming and sound effects – which range from deep drones and hums to open, airy washes and some jarringly distorted glitch-loops – are eerie contributions from variety of recognizable names in the Gothic and dark ambient/industrial genres: Emilie Autumn takes up her signature violin as well as providing one of the few conventional lyric passages (a creepy rendition of “Rock of Ages”) on “Gates of Eternity,” while Rasputina's Erica Mulkey joins on cello, Ned Kirby of Stromkern plays piano and Laurie Reade of Pigface and High Blue Star offers backing vocals. Even Bowes' children participate with a bone-chilling rendition of a Victorian children's rhyme (“Mary Ann Cotton... She's dead and she's rotten”) on opening track “What Shall I Sing?” The expanded canvas results in a more complex, focused sound than I expected, with motifs that speak to an abstract storytelling style – it all feels like the score to a sublime horror film that exists only in your mind.
Avoiding all of the pretensions that can often accompany a concept album, Whispers is one of the most unique musical realizations I've heard in a years. A completely immersive work of art, it deserves to be experienced in a darkened room, awash in your choice of incense. To top off the experience, there's even a set of collectible stickers styled after vintage poison vial labels, that you can use to keep your roommate from borrowing your favorite cologne.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Okay, remember when I was going to get a tattoo? Well, I have yet to get the tattoo I wrote about before. That will be next -- now we've decided that my tattoo will be in Latin, and the tattoo of imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis will be in Arabic (her great-grandfather was an Arabic scholar).
In the meantime, something else happened. It was in April, and filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis et privignus meus was up in Yonkers with the pope (and several thousand other people). IPAO called me when she got out of class at Fordham and informed me she was going to get a tattoo whether I wanted to come or not. She was right, we had been dragging our feet on this. I got on the subway, we went to the Village, and signed ourselves up for tattoos.
We had already been thinking about this. IPAO wanted to get the words "Africa, Mother of Life" on her back in Kpelle, a language spoken in Liberia that has its own script. I had planned on a verse from the Psalms that haunted me ever since I had first read it in Latin:
Ad vesperum demorabitur fletus et ad matutinum laetitia. [Psalm 29](Two notes: 1) It's not actually from the Vulgate, but from the translation from the Greek Septuagint. Jerome's Vulgate psalms never caught on, since people were used to singing the other version. 2) The numbering of the Psalms is different in English and Latin -- that's why it's Psalm 30 in the RSV.)
In the evening weeping shall have place, and in the morning gladness. [Douay-Rheims version]
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. [RSV, Psalm 30]
I downloaded a font that was more or less based on the caroline script, printed up the quote from Psalm 29, and gave it to the people in the tattoo parlor. They turned it into a fake tattoo and then the artist just did the real one over it. Despite what people say, it was not that painful, though I did feel nervous trying to sit still, afraid that I might sneeze and end up with a black line all down my arm. It healed quickly and now I have finally got my tattoo -- my first tattoo. There is still the wedding tattoo for my other arm... and the Chi Rho for the shoulder... and the line from the beatitudes in Syriac I want for my lower leg... and... and...
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Medieval Rock n' Roll. From a thirteenth-century manuscript of the Cantigas of Alfonso X.
I was in an 80's band. My band in college went through a couple different incarnations and about three different names (Ditto Geese, Mercy Duck, Brekekekex Koax Koax), with about as many campus gigs as names. The core of the band was made up of the bass player, Dan, and myself on the guitar and occasionally "singing." We weren't great musicians (Dan was just starting out -- since then he's become an accomplished jazz bassist) but we had spirit and imagination. A reviewer from the college paper defined our style as "eclectic surf jazz." We were interested in a variety of things and wanted to experiment with different styles, so we had, inter alia, an "African Song," "Rock Song," "Calypso Song," and "Bulgarian Song" (those were the titles for awhile). We also had fun with different rhythms and time signatures, doing "Wild Thing" in 6/8 time and a long improvisational piece called "The Thing in 7/4" (shades of Jazz Odyssey!) I wasn't in a band after that, though I did play around with a four-track recorder and once actually "sang" in public in a bar in Spain.
I love music, and almost all kinds of music. That said, it's been some time since I've felt I have to be on the cutting edge of anything. I have spent little time trying to find out what those young people are listening to and never listen to music on the radio. Only recently have I started to listen to something relatively new. I learned about Rasputina through a friend, and then through compilation association, I got interested in a number of bands that may or may not be justly placed in the Goth subcategory of darkwave.
I've never really gotten that into Goth before. The Cure is great, but I was never a huge fan. I can only take that tinny 80's guitar sound and Robert Smith's whiny voice for so long. A lot of other Goth stuff is cold and mechanical, long dance tracks with too much synth and boring drum machine rhythms. The darkwave stuff I've been listening to is different. There are more acoustic instruments (violin, flute, piano), real live percussionists, and influences from different kinds of world music. The singing is usually very good, often by classically-trained women with haunting voices. Some of the musicians show familiarity with real medieval music, too (not fake Led Zepplin stuff that results in music like this).
The music suits my somewhat dark and contemplative nature. It can occasionally be a bit pretentious or jejune, but for the most part it is creative and intelligent. I hope to introduce a few bands over a couple of posts.
One of the first groups I got into was Miranda Sex Garden. Originally a trio of madrigal singers, the group has gone through a number of incarnations, and the core has always been the singer Katherine Blake. She has a beautiful, clear, and strong voice, and is trained in medieval music, and the band's songs, which can out and out rock or be reasonably experimental, use it to great effect. She also has another group, Mediaeval Baebes, which apart from the enjoyably campy presentation evident in their name, are pretty much a straightforward singing group that does medieval music.
And now some music from Miranda Sex Garden in their rocking, experimental phase...
...and in their earlier madrigalish phase:
Miranda Sex Garden: website, myspace.
Mediaeval Baebes: website, myspace.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Apparently anything that could be remotely construed as to have anything to do with Islamic culture supports terrorism. I'm too grumpy to even address this, so I'll just send you to the Notes on Religion blog by Rashed Chowdhury:
After pressure from the right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin, Dunkin' Donuts has cancelled an online ad featuring TV host Rachael Ray wearing a keffiyeh.
Malkin described the piece of Arab men's headdress as "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists".
According to Dunkin' Donuts, "no symbolism was intended" by the silk keffiyeh. Malkin has praised the company for its decision, saying that the picture of the scarf could have led to "the mainstreaming of violence" (BBC).
So my question is: what was Timothy McVeigh wearing when he perpetrated his terrorist act? And if he was wearing a shirt and trousers, should everyone now stop wearing shirts and trousers? Come on now.
If you disagree with Dunkin' Donuts's decision, please contact them.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The Russians won. Once again Eurovision shows how much European culture has gone downhill since Homer. The song is horrible, the presentation, inconceivably bizarre.
UPDATE: Sitemeter just told me a visitor from Holland stopped by. Anyone who knows me knows I'm joking about European culture. One thing though -- dudes, you have to do something about Eurovision.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
So what's going on? Obama's people say he has won the majority of pledged delegates, Clinton's say she has won the popular vote. What does all this mean? Well, it's confusing as all hell, but let's take a look at it.
Pledged (and super) Delegates
Officially, the party's nominee is chosen at the convention. Each state party picks delegates that pledge to vote for a candidate based on results from the state's nominating process, either a primary or a caucus (I don't think any states pick delegates at state conventions any more, but I could be wrong). The results are rewarded proportionally (as opposed to what the GOP does -- winner-take-all), though each state has it's own (usually extremely convoluted) way of counting and rewarding them. Since the system is so complicated, no one knows exactly how many pledged delegates each candidate has, though the tallies are close. For example, RealClearPolitcs gives Obama 1652 and Clinton 1496 pledged delegates. The New York Times provides both their own estimation of delegates (Obama, 1625; Clinton, 1481) and the AP's (Obama, 1649; Clinton, 1497). The difference between the two candidates in the respective estimations are 156, 144, and 154. The remaining three primaries -- Montana, South Dakota, and Puerto Rico -- offer a grand total of 86 delegates. So, according to party rules as they currently stand, even if Clinton were to get every single delegate from each of those primaries (practically impossible, especially since Obama does well in western states), she still couldn't win the majority of pledged delegates.
The wrench in the works here is the question of Michigan and Florida. These two delegate-heavy states held early primaries in defiance of Democratic National Committee rules, rules to which none of the candidates (including Clinton) objected at the time. When those primary elections were held, it was understood that their delegates would not be seated at the convention. The candidates agreed not to campaign in these states (Hillary followed through on this promise in letter, but her "fund-raising" trips to Florida make one wonder if she did so in spirit) and all the major candidates except Hillary took their name off the ballot in Michigan. It was not even possible to write-in Obama in Michigan.
On May 31, the DNC will meet with the campaigns to make a ruling on Florida (211 original delegates) and Michigan (157). The Florida results were: Clinton, 50%; Obama, 33%, and Edwards (who has since endorsed Obama), 14%. In Michigan, Clinton won 55% of the vote, while "uncommitted" won 40%. So, if these two states were given all their delegates, and if Obama was not awarded the "uncommitted" delegates from Michigan, Clinton may be able to barely overtake Obama in pledged delegates. Especially in the case of Michigan, it goes without saying how wrong this would be. Although the DNC has every right to exclude the delegates of the these states, I would like to see some time of compromise that allows their delegates to participate, but in a reduced way (the GOP, for example, cut their number of delegates in half). I cannot see a reasonable situation that would allow Clinton to take the lead in pledged delegates.
The superdelegate count -- that is, the delegates who have a vote in the convention because they are party insiders or elected officials and whose purpose is to keep the party from nominating an egregiously unacceptable candidate, the people's will be damned -- is somewhat fluid, since at this point they only state their intention and do not have to commit in any institutionally binding way. Still, almost all stick to their original endorsement. Right now, the count is estimated like this: RealClearPolitics -- Obama, 305; Clinton, 279. NYT -- Obama, 304.5; Clinton, 272. AP -- Obama, 307; Clinton, 279. Don't even ask me what that .5 delegate means. According to the NYT, there are only 181.5 superdelegates that are still uncommitted. The times has a nifty little interactive toy that you can manipulate to see different scenarios that would allow each candidate to win the nomination. Right now, if Clinton were to win 50% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need 96% of the remaining superdelegates. If, impossibly, she were to win 100% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need an overwhelming majority -- 68% -- of the undecided superdelegates, and the common wisdom is that superdelegates would be very unlikely to overturn the popular vote.
In short, at this point it really is next to impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination. Even given more primary victories, even given an unlikely surge in superdelegate support, even given a way to include Florida and Michigan that would seem at all acceptable to all parties involved -- Obama will still be the nominee. When an Obama supporter claims that Obama has won the nomination, she or he is not being arrogant or democratic, or "dismissive" of Clinton's voters or the states to come, it's just the reality of the situation. It has been for some time, but at this point it's very hard to argue.
The Popular Vote
Clinton's campaign keeps talking about how she won, or will win, the popular vote. This is very misleading for three reasons:
1. It wouldn't matter anyway, because that has nothing to do with the rules that everyone agreed upon at the outset. Obama's people have made a good point in saying that that if that were the case, they would have run a different campaign -- concentrating on running up the vote in Illinois, for example.
2. There is no popular vote tally. Because Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington have caucuses -- meetings across the state instead of primary elections with ballots -- they do not release a vote total. Results can be extrapolated, but it's not like a national election with countable ballots. The system doesn't work that way.
3. Only by the most tortured accounting involving Michigan and Flordia can Hillary Clinton claim to have a substantial lead in the popular votes. According to RealClearPolitics's analysis,
Obama wins the popular vote unless you count Michigan but do not count "uncommitted" as votes for him. Counting the popular vote total without caucus states or FL & MI, Obama wins by almost a half million votes. Extrapolate the caucus and that's over a half million votes. Even with Flordia (but without the 100,000 vote lead he has in the caucus extrapolation), he wins by almost 150,000 votes. Only by counting Michigan without "uncommitted" does Clinton win (by 181,000 votes) and if you take away the caucus estimation, it's more than 100,000 votes less.
So by the best-case scenario, Clinton comes out 181, 523 votes ahead. "Uncommitted," however, received 238,168 votes in Michigan. It's true that there are still three primaries ahead, including Puerto Rico which Hillary should win handily, but the math by any metric is not only not in her favor, but overwhelmingly against her.
Should Clinton give up? Well, that's up to her. Her campaign is in debt, she can't win, and it's essential that the Democrats win the White House this year. Her attacks on Obama have calmed down, but still her surrogates like Geraldine Ferraro are calling Obama "sexist" and questioning whether or not they would vote for Obama in the fall. I won't even go there, since this post has been long enough.
One more thing: I, like many Obama supporters, have often been very disgusted at how Hillary Clinton has run her campaign (just do a search on "Hillary" for my blog for details). Still it's been a very close race and it's time to relax a bit. It's also time to think back on the campaign and to realize that for all the race-baiting and sexism that have sprung up over the past year or so, it has been a close campaign between two ground-breaking candidates. Arianna Huffington, who has never been hesitant to criticize Clinton, had a nice column on what she has achieved in this campaign:
I have regularly criticized Clinton over the course of her campaign (and long before it, starting with her vote to authorize the war), but there is no question that she has forever altered the way women running for president will be viewed from here on out. In the words of the Times, Clinton has established "a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign -- raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her."Of course, I say this from the perspective of one who has supported the winner. Although I respect what she has achieved, I still deplore the Rovian methods she often used to achieve it. I hope this is that last time I will be writing about Hillary Clinton unless I am commenting on how she is throwing all of her support to the person who is without doubt the nominee.
UPDATE: Perhaps Arianna and I have gotten too sentimental. Via The Late Adopter, Allison Benedikt in Village Voice tears apart the idea of Hillary Clinton as a victim of sexism:
Here’s the thing: There is plenty of sexism—more than enough, thank you very much—in this country. Which is why it’s so sad to see Hillary’s supporters (and lately even her female detractors, and way too many column inches) elevate her to some kind of goddess warrior, symbolizing the decades-long fight for gender equality, absorbing the entirety of history’s catcall in one massive blow, and then standing tall again because that’s what women do. Powerful stuff, except that she’s a lying, race-baiting insult to our collective intelligence. Powerful, if she and her husband hadn’t sold out poor people in the ’90s or if she had stood tall like a woman against the war in Iraq or if she wasn’t right now trying to change the rules of the game and stir up the worst kind of identity politics. Powerful, if her most fervent supporters weren’t threatening to vote for John McCain out of spite, Supreme Court justices be damned.Benedikt refers to a NYT article I had already read that shows some remarkable views of certain Clinton supports:
Cynthia Ruccia, 55, a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics in Columbus, Ohio, is organizing a group, Clinton Supporters Count Too, of mostly women in swing states who plan to campaign against Mr. Obama in November. “We, the most loyal constituency, are being told to sit down, shut up and get to the back of the bus,” she said."Get to the back of the bus." Interesting choice of words, considering the context. There are more, including Ferraro's comments.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Where in the world (shrines apart) is there another church with no registered parishioners that has a pastor and 20 assistants, offers confessions 13 hours a day and utilizes 520-plus volunteers -- 250 for liturgical duties, 270 for social outreach? and has Br. Sebastian Tobin, a non-ordained friar, making sandals in the basement. This is a commuters' church such as is possible only in New York.
Daily at 7 a.m., as it has since 1929, the St. Francis Breadline -- a $600,000-plus-a-year project -- welcomes the hungry and homeless for coffee and sandwiches.
This St. Francis complex is as much beehive as parish. There are Franciscans everywhere. The friars are fire department and union chaplains, physicians, psychotherapists, canon lawyers, teachers, treasurers, magazine editors and the all-essential fundraisers. The parish has adult education programs, seniors groups and self-help meetings, Filipino Fellowship, Masses in Korean, devotions, novenas, stations, lecture series and outings. Catholic to the core.
At Br. William Mann's West 31st Street bookstore, even the thieves are Catholics. One elderly soul dropped an unpaid-for videocassette into her pocketbook. Mann asked her to replace it on the shelf. A hopeless case? The video was, "How to Make a Novena to St. Jude."
Hey, this is New York. If people rub St. Francis' bronze heels on West 32nd Street, someone knocked off most of the animals' heads on the St. Francis sculpture on West 31st Street.
St. Francis was also the home of Father Michal Judge, OFM, the NYFD chaplain who was the first official victim of the attacks of September 11th. I saw the first half of a documentary about him called Saint of 9/11, and he seems to have been quite a remarkable man. The film was good, too, and you can watch it on your computer if you have Netflix. In one chapel of the church there's beautiful stained glass memorial to the victims of 9/11. It shows a dove circling the base of one the WTC buildings while angels comfort two firefighters. A cross is imposed on the building and beams of light proceed from the cross. To the right, placed a position that is appropriately, for a minor friar, understated, is Father Judge, contemplating the light. A very moving tribute in a unique sacred space.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
It's a busy day for celebrations! Happy Mother's Day for all you mothers out there, and happy birthday of the Church for all you Christians out there. Things are even more joyous chez nous, since Filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis is getting confirmed today. He's taking the name of Augustine for many reasons, but especially because his mother took the name of Monica when she was baptized and confirmed a few years ago. Only recently did I remember that Augustine's father's name was Patricius, that is, Patrick, which was my confirmation name when I received that sacrament so long ago.
Pentecost, from a sixth-century manuscript.