From the monthly archives:

April 2009

Stephen Fry writes to his sixteen-year-old self:

So my message from the future is twofold. Fear not, young Stephen, your life will unfold in richer, more accepted and happier ways than you ever dared hope. But be wary, for the most basic tenets of rationalism, openness and freedom that nourish you now and seem so unassailable are about to be harried and besieged by malevolent, mad and medieval minds.


A street-performer in Mexico City

A street-performer in Mexico City

The Telegraph has a gallery of decorated face masks in Mexico City.


In yesterday’s post, following the advice of Brian, I was looking at the bright side of life.

We are also a species that doesn’t know how to solve problems like this:

Chimneys in DPRK

Chimneys in DPRK

The Boston Globe’s website has a collection of poignant yet beautiful photos of the effects of poverty and tyranny in North Korea.


At least every month or two, it’s worth taking a step back to think about something like this:

International Space Station, March, 2009

International Space Station, March, 2009

Humans made this.

People have lived there continuously for more than eight years.

You are a member of a species that figured out how to build a shelter that hovers 350 kilometers (190 nautical miles) above its planet of origin.

Now, what was it that you said you couldn’t do?


The “former mayor of NY” character, in Shortbus:

“New Yorkers are permeable…therefore, we’re sane.  Consequently, we’re the target of the impermeable — and the insane.”


From Mark Ford’s review of William Logan’s new book “Our Savage Art”:

Certainly his own critical persona owes much to this model; in his introduction to this book he figures himself as a version of Diogenes, the austere ancient Greek philosopher who lived in a tub and despised all people and possessions. “A critic who does his job,” Logan observes, “must be a good hater if he’s to be a good lover, because if he likes everything he reads he likes nothing well enough.”

Yes — but if he ‘hates’ nearly everything he reads or encounters, which seems like the case with Logan (I have not read him) and was certainly the case with Diogenes, does his opinion tell us anything about the work reviewed? Or just about the distance of the reviewer from human experience?

Or, is the belittling expression of disgust more excusable if it is articulate and sometimes witty, rather than merely frothing?

Or, does it simply arouse the same lesser passions as gossip and social intrigue?

Or, is passion passion, regardless of its sub-type nuance?

I have always felt a nostalgic longing for the sort of passionate art audiences that rioted at the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”…


Pen in Hand

April 23, 2009

in Senses,Tools

A reason to walk away from the keyboard and the cell phone:


“Still this childish fascination with my handwriting…To think that I always have this sensuous potentiality glowing within my fingers!”

– Susan Sontag, from Reborn


A great reminder hidden in Maureen Dowd’s cranky interview with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams:

ME: Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

BIZ: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.

Something that seems mundane out of context, i.e. “I am eating a hamburger” gains significance and meaning through pre-existing social context, i.e. “I’m a vegan.”


Mocking Myself for Planting Trees

At seventy I still plant trees,
but don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!

– Qing dynasty poet Yuan Mei (1716-1798)


Lev Yilmaz on procrastination:


Pressing Words (photo by Chris Roberts)

Pressing Words (photo by Chris Roberts)

From a Weekend America story about Marcus Young’s Everyday Sidewalk Poetry:

The project is being funded by a local public art group, with the city’s blessing. Marcus Young is St. Paul’s Artist-in Residence. Young too was walking down the sidewalk, head-down in Minnesota fashion, when he began to notice how construction companies stamp their work. “It’ll say Knutson Construction, or Standard Sidewalk, and one day I just thought ‘Hey, that’s an opportunity for art,’” he says.

The article has a gallery with photos of the process and final results.

The project site has a map and the poems.



April 16, 2009

in Image,Place

Architect Peter Kaschnig decided to paint every aspect of his home blue:

Peter Kaschnig's Blue Abode

Peter Kaschnig's Blue Abode

From the Mirror:

Peter reckons the lack of contrast gives everything an exciting 3D effect. “It’s more vivid than any computer animation,” he says.



Harlan Ellison: “I sell my soul — but at the highest rates.”


From the start of a discussion over at Zoë Westhof’s Essential Prose on getting paid for doing what you love:

I believe that the question of whether or not to combine one’s passion with one’s income is truly personal. Though it often seems like it would be insane to turn down the chance to turn your passion into a successful career, I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve been there and been disillusioned.


It can be liberating and glorious to find a way to make money doing what you love, but it also brings in a lot of baggage. Baggage like obligations and ROI and finances. It can also mean compromising your pure passion to make it more marketable. In reality, many people who try to combine passion and career end up shooting too broadly — the freelance writer who loves writing, but then realizes it’s actually just writing poetry that he loves. Not writing ad copy, or white papers. But he’s making a living writing, so isn’t he doing what he loves?


“We have all been annoyed by our neighbor’s asking us if that was a clarinet or an oboe, and what made that sound. When we’re guilty ourselves, we have often realized that the curiosity as to labels, the desire to identify and pigeon-hole a pleasure, had separated us from the real job of listening to the whole thing, the rich continuous music, which, itself, never stops for annotation.”

– John Cage, Listening To Music (1937)


“We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. The journey for each of us begins here. [He points to his head.] We’re going to explore the cosmos in a ship of the imagination…”

I’ve been watching episodes of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Journey”, now available on Hulu:

The next time you hear someone claim that humanists and freethinkers don’t believe in anything, point them to Cosmos — a rationalists’ Credo, a celebration of human curiousity and invention, and an inspiring summary of what Sagan called “the searching of 40,000 generations of our ancestors.”