Personal: July 2008 Archives

Call Your Parents

| | Comments (0)

I know in the grand scheme of things, my unhappiness isn't really that desperate, but it's still not a happy feeling. I will say that the intensity of it coming on during periods of sudden instability can make it particularly annoying.

So let's see. The ongoing thing is applying for jobs and having none of them reply to you except the one that turns out to be a pyramid scheme. Having the activation on monkey's computer act up was particularly aggravating in that it meant I was on there for hours (till 6am in the morning) installing cracks and rebooting. It's almost enough to make me want to pay for Windows, but let's not get crazy or anything. I now have another 30 days to figure things out, so at least it's less imminent, though having it hovering there isn't exactly fun.

Things were really coming to a head as I found out more and more about my visa status and the limits of OPT. I'd talk about it more but I'm still finding out more, and I want to do a proper post about it.

It's having things build up like that that can make watching an otherwise lovely piece of filmaking (Easy Living by Preston Sturges) be most memorable for the ache of hunger the main female character feels in the middle of film. Watching Stella Does Tricks at the same time didn't help. What does all UK independent cinema have to be so determinedly gritty?

I got a poem accepted by an online magazine. And since they pay for publications, I'm now a professional writer. One of the small presses that The Elbow Within will have the best chance with of any I've known, Chiasmus (most annoying website ever), is finally having a book competition

Aberdeen, Dino's, AAA

| | Comments (0)

This has really been the summer of car troubles. Part of it is my own fault, since I decided to buy the Mountaineer (which I still want to hug to sleep at night), but the litany of stuff that's had to be done and the number of trips I've made to Aberdeen (ie: Aberdeen Auto Body at 1043 Fulton Market) have gone right past the point of being in any way funny.

Let me just say up front that I trust Aberdeen - and I don't just say that because this whole site is identified with me and they might well read it and be mean to me (as all tradesmen are wont to do to the effete who are required to patronise them) - but I've used them for years now and even if I didn't trust them, I like them. Best of all they're also nearby.

It used to be that they were so close that I could take a 3 minute walk and get to them, back when we used to live on May St. But even now they're not that far away, and Wayne the office manager has gotten used to loaning me his car when repairs take more than an hour.

I'm normally content to sit around at Dino's (at 954 W Fulton Market, a lovely working man's bar in the middle of the meat packing district, two blocks away from Aberdeen) have steak and eggs and watch the news, but once it gets to an hour, I can't just keep hanging around. Dino's also serves probably the best French Toast I've ever had anywhere, much less in Chicago, and they serve steaks (also in the form of superb steak fajitas) that are to die for.

Anyway it'd be way too depressing for me to go through the list of stuff I had to have done, though for the number of times I had to ping pong back there, the price tag wasn't as prohibitive as you might think. Suffice to say ball bearings, wheel alignment, tail light, windshield washers, driver's side lock. In the end it's not the parts that added up so much as the labour, which is fair enough, given how much time and tsuris it all came out to. But that might just be me being too accustomed to dealing with them - feel free to disabuse me and hand me an "easy mark" sign round my neck.

Right now I'm waiting for AAA to turn up. I must say that paying for AAA is just worth the price of admission. Getting roadside service through your insurance might cost less, but in terms of full service whereever and whenever it's needed, AAA doesn't disappoint.

Turns out that the minor problem that appeared to be the air conditioning in monkey's Saab is more likely to have to do with the alternator (of which the AC failing is a symptom, I belatedly discover), and apparently that means somehow that the steering on the Saab is now like pulling through molasses - I assume it's all got to do with the power steering etc. Needless to say it's not driveable, and hence the need for a tow. I'm hoping that maneuvering out of the rather straightened underground garage isn't just too much to ask.

My regular correspondent was telling me how he had had a conversation with someone else I know, about how they both disliked Jeff Koons' work - especially since I'd been telling people about his exhibition that's going on right now at the MCA in Chicago. To which my reply was:

Interesting. For me it's just stunning the scale and subtlety of the work. If nothing else, what you notice most about his work up close is the fine and detailed use of materials. Take the balloon animal bunny rabbit - it has a balloon animal carrot, which is just fantastic. The idea that you would fashion out of chrome and steel something that is otherwise so fragile - is just breathtaking. With the giant dog, the fact that they replicate the balloon knot at the tip - the bit that looks like an odd belly button - is superb.

He has one work where a large bear is being conspiratorial with a old style English bobby. He has a pink panther hugging a mermaid. And what's not to love about a golden Michael Jackson with is golden monkey? But yes, it strikes me that the Nth degree of whatever contemporary art moves towards has so much to do with exactly the experience of material - of touch, or the visual notion of what something would feel like.

And so much of it is shiny. I couldn't stop smiling throughout the exhibition. I was squatting down and trying to look at the items in as much detail and perspective as I could when one of the black rent-a-cops began basically mocking me saying "it's not a car, sir" but I find the complexity and immense simplicity of the giant balloon animals just stunning.

My correspondent's response was to talk about some of the problems of making art "accessible" through exaggeration - about people who win awards and prizes because their work takes on a large thing of subtlety that should have the heft of reality, and yet reduces it into something exaggerated and simplistic - in a way people can find so much more easier to absorb. He also talked about how people can tend to "steal" things - using something rendered by someone else and simply reusing it or enlarging that thing. And in so doing essentially appropriating the other person's work as their own. My response:

I think you're absolutely right, that people can tend to lean on the iconography of "other things" as a means of burnishing their own credentials, and that kind of hackery is exactly plagued by this kind of simplicity and exaggeration - being hyper-indian etc. But I'd like to think there's a difference between exaggeration and scale. Because I object to the use of extremity more than a bunch of people - I even object to the way philosophers try to define existence by making wild surmises at the extreme ends of (only vaguely possible and wildly hypothetical) human experience. But artists and writers are capable of creating objects and narratives of such grandeur and scope as to be exactly breathtaking. In that way they would seem to be using spectacle not as a means of titillation, but as a means of accessing extremes of emotion within the individual.

But what seperates Titanic from King Lear is exactly the fineness and quality of the detail. Not that I'm saying Titanic was put together in a slapdash manner, but it is not going to have the same rigour of composition and consideration as a film or narrative of more heft and substance. In part it's this confidence in the ability of real artists to imbue the microcosm of their works with that consistency of detail that surely sets them apart from hacks. It's how people can really tell from reading a small section of a writer's work that the greater work, if not his/her corpus is worth something. Because close up, to the minute detail, it all pays off even at the level of the dot stroke or punctuation.

I think of Koons' work very much in the tradition of Duchamps - though in Koons' case he's even more conscious of the necessity for detail in order to achieve his effect. We might think it's really easy to make a giant balloon animal, but it's constructed out of a huge amount of steel and chrome - it weighs exactly tonnes, and yet it's representing something that is otherwise fragile and almost delicate.

When it comes to what I assume to be the more fundamental issues of choice, composition, color, shape etc. it would seem to matter less the material you work with (oils, paints, canvas, matchbook covers, glue), than the arrangement of items. And it's not as if Koons is saying he invented the balloon animal - he's not passing himself off as the creator of the pink panther - he's relying exactly on your recognition of the item from a separate context as a means of achieving his effect. In part it's about how transposing something into a different medium changes things - how the use of materials is exactly transformative in that context.

If we understand the totality of what distanciation does - really understand the full shape and effect of any metaphor - we start to see the full picture. Because metaphors use the unexpected to accurately depict a recognizable reality that we exactly recognize beyond the distancing of the metaphor itself. Which is why even when people say "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table", we know what they mean. But while it is a means of accurately depicting reality, it is also a rhetorical act - it serves to impose the artist's world view upon you. We are being persuaded to view the sky in this way, just as Hopper's paintings try to persuade us of a certain sense of alienation in the landscape of the city - something he does by focusing on unexpected things, ordinary things that would otherwise not be subject of such focus.

In many ways, I would argue that this is exactly what is happening with Tony Fitzpatrick's work - that it's very much about juxtaposition - so much so that Maggie instantly recognizes it as her city. But maybe not so much the city as she knows it, but her father's view of the city.

I love my new chair. monkey wanted to go for a drive and we ended up popping in to DWR (Design Within Reach). They were having a floor sale, so I managed to get a display model of the "Air Chair" for about $70, which is a steal. It's comfortable beyond all expectation and yet provides all the back support you could ever desire. I suppose it' probably meant as an outdoor chair (hence the little handle-hole for "drainage"), but I'm using it in my office now an it's fantastic. Mine is white, rather than the pictured blue.

We also bought a bar stool that turns out to be too high for our kitchen counter, but it's just too pretty to return.  Currently it's positioned right at the corner end of the counter, so as to not be too obtrusive in comparison to the two chairs that are the right height. But I've had to stack my laptop on top of an "overlap" in order for me to be able to comfortably use my laptop while on the chair. It's nice and tall though. Probably not the most comfortably thing for long term use, but that has its advantages too. Ours has a brown seat with white lining. Also got it for half price.

Went to Office Depot to get things to help organise my room a little more, and managed to get myself not to succumb to paying $12 for wire mesh magazine holder when the plastic ones do very nicely at 4 for $14. Cheap and cheerful honestly, though I think the clear ones are the way to go. Bought an in/out tray from the same "collection" - which is stackable so I can make 4 levels up to the height of a shelf. I'm using the lowest shelf as my recycling bin for the time being. (Pictures below)

Bought the uber coin sorter thing, so my career as a bus-conductor cannot be far off. Also got my Chawly changer. Have decided that my pepper spray and torch will be a seperate "night-time only" attachment to my keychain since the changer is small but not that small.

God damn it's hot. I've been considering flashing some sort of "bat-signal" for Maggie, but I'm not sure it'd be much use or good. Wonder when Mark's going to show up for the "end of the month". Hopefully he'll be up for some lamp and fan installation.

A couple days ago, I was asked about my critical appreciation for The Hulk (2003), and how I could find that much seperation between that film and Ang Lee's other film Crouching Tiger - the question being in part whether I viewed the latter much as Native Americans might view Dances With Wolves. I haven't been able to get it up to write much online since I responded, so this is just what I sent back.

V. Interesting. Yes, there is an extent to which for me and monkey, we are more familiar with the genre that Crouching Tiger inhabits, and so we really see the generic aspects of it. There is an extent to which we feel it panders to western audiences, and that's not something we like, though I have to say I have much more substantive issues with the film.

Having said that I'm at least as familiar with the genre The Hulk inhabits, though my memory of the original Hulk series on TV is a little fuzzy. But I place it very squarely in terms of the 80s/90s Superman franchise, and certainly in contrast to the Batman films, more recently the X-Men films etc.

So purely in terms of genre, I'd have to go with the Hulk, if only because if how Crouching was very much an exhibition of a genre, rather than the adding of a new sophistication and refinement on a genre that has had rather uncomplicated antecedents.

But that's not the extent of it by any means. The one thing that stands out to me, and I'd say this about both Crouching as well as (the god awful) Brokeback, is that both find themselves plotting around very conventional notions of family and responsibility. Fair enough. But in doing so it seems the narrative they tell is very much bound by that convention - of straying away from the strictures of how you were brought up (ie: this taking up the middle of the respective films) and then having to pay some kind of price or consequence for the transgression. Not that I have any real trouble with this kind of moralism (though I do to an extent), it's simply that it breeds rather unsophisticated narratives. The Hulk is much more interesting in this respect. The argument it makes about childhood and about the fluidity of time and moment, not to mention the much more subtle point it makes about a yearning for convention and control in tension with liberation, marks out a new complexity with Ang Lee's filmmaking that he's been at pains to achieve since.

In comparison, while I still have fond memories of it, The Ice Storm is far too MFA to have that kind of resonance. And while Lust Caution was very insistent on a bending of sympathies beneath subterfuge, the way it handled that movement from purity of conviction to the muddying of reality was so awfully melodramatic.

But in the end, for me the final litmus test of the rigour of the film I would argue always has to rest on the way the filmmaker uses image, composition and frame to affect the way we understand the narrative, and in that respect while Crouching was persistently pretty, it was only with The Hulk that that aesthetic sense really marries with a depth of sophistication when it comes to meaning and rhetorical intent. I've talked about the tableau when The Hulk is flying through the air. It's telling that Crouching uses it's flying moments very much as spectacle, as something of astonishing beauty and skill, but I would argue little else. In contrast with the Hulk, the close up on the Hulk's expression as it flies through the air is central to how we understand that experience of flight for this otherwise supposedly self-indulgent monstrous figure. The Hulk brings a new legitimacy rather than simply excitement to the notion of transgressing against the controls of society. And it's telling that this takes place most rigorously in the filmic aspect of the production, rather than purely from the spoken script.

Part of me wonders though, how much of this conversation is the same conversation we always have - where you privilege films with larger more intense emotional effects (Midnight Cowboy springs to mind), whereas I prefer things of perhaps less mimetic rigour, and choose films for their intellectual depth. That you privilege affect and the honesty of emotional engagement in a way that I cannot help find manipulative - such as when films use an extremity of circumstances as a means of evincing emotional responses.

I suppose it makes me wonder what you'd think of Bicycle Thieves - the old Italian black and white film, that while I'm sure if I watched it now I might react to badly, but I just remember it as a film that while hugely affecting, did not feel overtly manipulative. As it is I can't watch section of Sullivan's Travels now just because I know how awful it gets, though I'm still glad of the place that extremity has in terms of the integrity of the film's rhetoric.

In 2007, there was a window of opportunity for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to be passed. The Democrats had won the mid-terms and had control of both houses of congress. There was to have been a Grand Compromise, in particular helped along by the supposed "Gang of 12" - the same 12 senators, 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans, who had stood up against filibusters on judicial nominations.

I can't argue with the Economist, who at the time made the case that while the bill was "Better than Nothing (But not Much)." It was a flawed bill, and there were any number of things wrong with it. However it was as close as the federal government had gotten to useful and sensible reform in years if not decades. Importantly for me, it would have mean that economic migrants would be admitted not on the basis of "family ties," but on the basis of merit. Which privileges educated English speaking migrants like me. It also provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants from South America.

What was most important about what happened was that the right wing of the Republican party had chosen to stand up to their base and make the case against xenophobia and bigotry. The leadership of the party was trying to exactly be leaders and say to their constituents that they were acting in the best interests of all Americans, rather than pandering to the problematic predjudices of some conservatives.

In the face of that the Democrats decided to say no. They wanted to hold on to their mantle as the party of inclusion and to continue to paint the Republicans as bigots. It was in their interests to let the Republican backlash implode the party and cannibalise the moderates who were trying to pull the party into a more moderate stance on immigration. Of course this was also an attempt on the Republican side to outflank the Democrats on immigration to win over Latino votes.

But to me what matters was that the Republicans stood up to the worst instincts of their party and tried to get something useful done. They were only able to do so by making a razor thin compromise that came out of long and painful negotiations between both sides. The Democrats on the other hand decided to play politics. They decided to let the bill die instead of helping it stay alive, calculating that making the Republicans look predjudiced was worth their being obstructionist.

One of the last attempts to keep the bill alive was to open it up to amendments and discussion. However it was clear to everyone that because the compromise was so fragile, that if amendments seriously changed the bill, instead of simply providing a forum for discussion, the bill would be sunk. Enter Barack Obama.

He decided to hang an amendment that would sunset one of the most useful sections of the bill. He wanted to revisit the notion of a meritocratic basis for citizenship (rather than familial) after 5 years. Had the amendment passed, the bill would have had no chance of success. It's obvious to me that Obama was pandering to Latinos in trying to preserve a portion of the law that historically has been beneficial to them. Considering what the Republicans were doing in standing up to their constituents, Obama's amendment was a stunning act of political posturing at the expense of hard-won compromise.

In contrast, John McCain's record on immigration has exactly been one of standing up to his base at great personal and political expense. It's exactly this issue that almost destroyed his chances of running for President. And yet he stood up with President Bush and spoke on the side of good sense and good policy. Say what you will about the President, he did his very best, and put his personal political popularity to the side in trying to pass reforms of Social Security and Immigration when both are such controvertial issues.

In comparison, in one of the few moments in a shallow history of federal government, Obama has only shown an instinct for political posturing at the expense of useful bipartisan compromise.

Anyway, you can take a look at what Lindsey Graham's reaction was to Obama's amendment. A reaction that I think has gotten unfair coverage from the left, but that's also where the best footage is available online.

You'd have to be in my head to go through the things I'm thinking about Obama, but I'd say it was inevitable that he eventually disappoint from the heights that he's promised. What I will say is that most people aren't junkies like us, so the activists might be a little less energised, but the general electorate is only going to get a vague filter. Really no one's paying attention yet, which is why both sides have just been engaging in the conventional posings of the 2004 campaign - the right is holding it's ground and the left is running towards the center. Now the holidays are over it might get more fun.

You'd think him moderating on some issues would make me happy, and it does to some extent. It also makes me happy that the hard left are going batshit crazy (I exaggerate). But hearing people express their disappointment with Obama just makes me want to point and go "ha-ha". That said, it's not like I didn't go through the exact same process when I was hearing about Obama's lack of testicular fortitude when it came to immigration reform in 2006. 

If anything I'm sort of feeling bad for McCain since he seems only to be getting the most "lie back and think of England" coverage from the press. And basically all the comedy being done about him can't get away from the age thing, which seems only to solidify that image. The NYTimes piece about him struggling with his "nemesis" the teleprompter was just mean. Not to mention this morning's AP headline that proclaims that as the race shapes up and we get to know more about the candidates, the dynamic has become "Old Guy vs. Change." Talk about bitchy handbag moments.

Normally the title of this post would be "junkies like us", but I'm being repressed, so I feel obliged to be more accurately descriptive. The fact that Obama's getting a headline for speaking in a stadium is just baffling.

Small Designs

| | Comments (0)

There are ways in which my life has just gotten smaller. I seem to focus in on small things - fidgeting with the detail in order to turn them the corner.

It's been plaguing my mind since John(?) at Aberdeen brought it up, that the issues with my front windscreen washer may have been due to the alarm being installed. In the end I had had the car for so little time before the alarm was put in so I can't know for sure either way. And they mostly fiddled with the wiring from the door. But again, whatever. Everything's fine. I'm hoping talking about it will help exorcise it from my head.

Even though it meant repairs and money etc., the new BugMobile is now pretty much tip top, and I should just be happy. The rear washer doesn't work, but that really isn't that big a problem. The tail light is fixed, the door lock now works, and the suspension is much much better. Someone even called up with a parking space I may get to rent from August onwards. I suppose it must be an owner who's been renting their spot to another renter.

But yes, small things. My OPT card should arrive in the next couple of days, if not next week. Once that happens I've promised to tidy up my room and get rid of all kinds of clutter. I should apply for a couple more jobs.

But while all the waiting is happening, I've been taking lots of advantage of - where they list deals. I've bought my favorite new pair of shoes from there for about $10, a laptop cooler today for about $12 or so after a rebate (the envelope is already on my desk waiting for the UPC to arrive). It also got me my new favorite flashlight, which I've been keeping on my keyring - especially now I don't have two sets of house keys anymore. It led me on my whole crusade to find PAR20 sized floods that use LEDs.

Also on my keyring is a canister of pepper spray, which is fun. I haven't tried it out yet with the inert training canisters, but we'll see. I got it from the same place I got my baton. I suspect if I hung a utility knife on top, the christmas tree would just fall over. Not to mention if I added a coin change thingy. Though I've been tempted by the kind used by bus conductors.

If you go to, you too can buy a Fat Cell, just like you'd get at the MCA giftstore, which is a lovely place. I now also have a pair of one silver and one gold dice that are spherical.

I've been watching episode after episode of Grand Designs, which is a fantastic series. I had seen an episode years ago back in the UK without realising it was part of this series. If you have an interest in buildings and architecture, there's really no better series. Rule No. 1 in building your own house: always spend the money to hire a professional project manager, but also make sure your architect has someone who can do the engineering and materials side, and a quantity surveyor is not optional. The host is then spookily like Butternut Squash (Matthew McFadyen), who played a surveyor in Shooting the Past.

Powered by Movable Type 4.1

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Personal category from July 2008.

Personal: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Personal: August 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Opera web browser - downloadOpera Mini - Mobile Web Browser