Thursday 01 August 2002

A nude group sculpture

In an act of pity for all those poor surfers who end up on his site looking for nude photos, Jeff Ward published some gorgeous daguerreotypes from the 1850s. Inspired by Jeff’s example, I’m offering one of my favorites: the jacket photo for a book called New Japan: A Chronicle of Starting Over, a collection of documentary photographs taken from 1945 to 1970 (many of which appeared in Mainichi Graph, the Japanese equivalent of LIFE magazine).

A nude group sculpture
Thirty Beautiful Women’s Bodies

The caption inside the jacket reads:

Thirty Beautiful Women’s Bodies
This large nude group sculpture, which originally appeared on the cover of the 1955 New Year’s edition of Mainichi Graph magazine became a hot topic of conversation. An epoch-making event in magazine journalism, the picture was composed by Hara Seiichi and photographed by Nimura Jirō.

You can click on the photo or on this link to see a large (190K) version of the image. No group nudity phobia here, though suggestions as to the significance of the red and yellow scarves would obviously be welcome.

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Polishing and perfecting

Dave Winer:

When I see writing that’s too polished, where the grammar is too perfect, I am suspicious that at a deeper level it has been sanitized and dumbed-down.

Vladimir Nabokov:

I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.

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A taxing woman

Video cover: Itami Juzo's Marusa no OnnaOn our fourth date, I took Ayako to the movies again, to see Itami Juzo’s Marusa no onna (A Taxing Woman). We’d seen Tokyo-ga, the Wim Wenders tribute movie to Ozu. We’d eaten an expensive sushi dinner. And we’d “gone to bushwalking,” as Ayako phrased it—in an exact transliteration of the Japanese. I thought another movie was called for and a Japanese comedy seemed the perfect choice.

We met just before the six o’clock session at the Valhalla in Glebe, an ancient fleapit not far from Sydney University. Ayako had come straight from the merchant bank where she worked as an analyst. In her elegant gray suit and high heels, she looked immaculate and utterly out of place amongst the scruffy university crowd. Trying to balance formality with comfort, I’d chosen jeans with a jacket and a tie.

Though I’d come of age in the seventies, when sex on the first date was almost a matter of course, by the mid-eighties AIDS had arrived and by the end of the decade we were all more cautious, delaying the first kiss until the second date before tumbling into bed on the third.

But Ayako and I had yet to hold hands and we certainly hadn’t kissed. I couldn’t make up my mind: was she was prudish about sex? or was the decision to sleep together a cross-cultural mystery? Since she was the first Japanese woman I’d dated and I hadn’t yet discovered Pictures from the Water Trade, I’d resolved to take it slowly.

In the opening sequence of A Taxing Woman, a nurse unbuttons her uniform, exposes an enormous breast, and suckles her eighty-year-old patient. Twenty minutes or so into the film, the tax-evading gangster masturbates his mistress to climax while speaking on the telephone to an associate.

I began to think that I was re-enacting the scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which the Robert De Niro character, Travis Bickle, takes straitlaced Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a porno movie on their first date. I was convinced life was about to imitate art, that Ayako would suddenly stand up and walk out, leaving me in the theater. But Ayako sat quite still, intent on watching the movie.

When the gangster’s mistress gets out of bed after sex and walks across the room, there’s something white clenched between the cheeks of her ass.

Marusa no onna (A Taxing Woman)

My God, I thought, it’s a fucking tissue!

Unable to restrain myself I looked to my right, to gauge Ayako’s response. She’d raised her hand to cover her mouth as she always did when she laughed, though her face showed just a trace of a smile. She didn’t turn to meet my gaze.

We didn’t sleep together that night. But the reserve between us evaporated and, coming out of the theater, Ayako took my arm for the first time as we crossed the street to the car.

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Sunday 04 August 2002

The things’ view of it

James Agee draws no specific connection between the photograph Walker Evans made of the Burroughs kitchen in Hale County, Alabama in 1936 and the paragraphs that open A Country Letter, Part One of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Yet it is impossible not to believe that the lamp Evans photographed through the kitchen doorway one summer’s day in 1936 is not the same lamp upon which Agee focused his attention while Evans lay sleeping.

Walker Evans: Burroughs Kitchen, Hale County, Alabama, 1936It is late in a summer night, in a room of a house set deep and solitary in the country; all in this house save myself are sleeping; I sit at a table, facing a partition wall; and I am looking at a lighted coal-oil lamp which stands on the table close to the wall, and just beyond the sleeping of my relaxed left hand; with my right hand I am from time to time writing, with a soft pencil, into a school-child’s composition book; but just now, I am entirely focused on the lamp, and light.

It is of glass, light metal colored gold, and cloth of heavy thread.

The glass was poured into a mold, I guess, that made the base and bowl, which are in one piece; the glass is thick and clean, with icy lights in it. The base is a simply fluted, hollow skirt; stands on the table; is solidified in a narrowing, a round inch of pure thick glass, then hollows again, a globe about half flattened, the globe-glass thick, too; and this holds oil, whose silver line I see, a little less than half down the globe, its level a very little — for the base is not quite true — tilted against the axis of the base.

This ‘oil’ is not at all oleaginous, but thin, brittle, rusty feeling, and sharp; taken and rubbed between forefinger and thumb, it so cleanses their grain that it sharpens their mutual touch to a new coin edge, or the russet nipple of a breast erected in cold; and the odor is clean, cheerful and humble, less alive by far than that of gasoline, even a shade watery: and a subtle sweating of this oil is on the upward surface of the globe, as if it stood through the glass, and as if the glass were a pitcher of cool water in a hot room. I do not understand nor try to deduce this, but I like it; I run my thumb upon it and smell of my thumb, and smooth away its streaked print on the glass; and I wipe my thumb and forefinger dry against my pants, and keep on looking.

In this globe, and in this oil that is clear and light as water, and reminding me of creatures and things once alive which I have seen suspended in jars in a frightening smell of alcohol—serpents, tapeworms, toads, embryons, all drained one tan pallor of absolute death; and also of the serene, scarved flowers in untroubled wombs (and pale-tanned too, flaccid, and in the stench of exhibited death, those children of fury, patience and love which stand in the dishonors of accepted fame, and of the murdering of museum staring); in this globe like a thought, a dream, the future, slumbers the stout-weft strap of wick, and up this wick is drawn the oil, toward heat; through a tight, flat tube of tin, and through a little slotted smile of golden tin, and there ends fledged with flame, in the flue; the flame, a clean, tanged fan:

Looking at Evans’s photograph (one of 61 that begin the book) then reading Agee’s prose, I thought (as I always do) of an essay by Jean-Luc Godard, called My Approach in Four Movements, in which he outlines his plan for making the film Two or Three Things I Know About Her:

If one now analyses this project for a film, one sees that my approach can be divided into four principal movements.

1. Objective Description (or at least attempt at description, Ponge would say)

    1. objective description of objects: houses, cars, cigarettes, apartments, shops, beds, TV sets, books, clothes, etc.
    2. objective description of subjects: the characters, Juliette, the American, Robert, the hairdresser, Marianne, the travellers, the motorists, the social workers, the old man, the children, the passers-by, etc.

2. Subjective Description (or at least attempt)

    1. subjective description of subjects: particularly by way of feelings, that is through scenes more or less written and acted.
    2. subjective description of objects: settings seen from the inside, where the world is outside, behind the windows, or on the other side of the walls

The poet Francis Ponge, who exerted a considerable influence on Godard when he was making A Married Woman and Two or Three Things…, published a book of prose poems called Le Parti Pris des Chose (roughly The Thing’s View of It) in which he attempted (in Tom Milne’s words) “to get back to the basic task of the poet: the naming of things, or to put it another way, the treatment of objects as subjects.”

It is clearly simplistic to suggest that Evans handles the “objective description” of objects and subjects whereas Agee takes responsibility for their “subjective description.” since a substantial part of the beauty of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men lies in the ease with which both artists move fluidly from one descriptive role to another.

Yet ever since I first saw Two or Three Things… and read Godard’s essay and some of Ponge’s poems, I’ve felt that Godard’s approach in four movements, which offers a precise yet limitless blueprint for any work that attempts to combine words and images, also acts as a lucid summary of Evans and Agee’s approach.

[Blog In Prog]

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Tuesday 06 August 2002

Prize for the 1000th comment

DishmatiqueTim TamsAs the number of comments on my posts approaches the 1000 mark, I thought I’d offer a prize to the visitor who makes the 1000th comment (kind of like the 19th caller to a radio station who wins the concert tickets).

The prize will be the winner’s choice of either a complete Dishmatique dishwashing system or a selection of Tim Tams, shipped anywhere in the world. The winner will be announced as soon as the 1000th comment has been entered. Naturally the judge’s decision is final and no correspondence shall be entered into. I’m open to suggestions as to whether people on my blogroll should be declared ineligible—as are family or employees of the sponsor and the radio station. (Or am I taking this a little too seriously?)

And AKMA’s friend (associate?) Tripp has been automatically disqualified for referring to the Dishmatique as a “silly little specialized tool.”

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Wednesday 07 August 2002

We have a winner!

The 1000th comment registered

Could this be your 1000th comment?

See you tomorrow.

Posted by Mahesh Shantaram on August 6, 2002 11:29 PM

Indeed it is my 1000th comment, Maresh. Congratulations! What an apt comment! And such confidence too. (As in: “See you tomorrow, when I tell you where to ship my prize.”)

Just to prove that everything is above board:

Evidence for the 1000th comment prize winner
type=comment&id=1000

Dishmatique or Tim Tams, Mahesh… the choice is yours. Just email a delivery address and the prize will soon be on its way. (And a sincere thank you to everyone else who took part. Plus a special thank you to Burningbird for her tireless efforts in promoting the competition.)

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I am VERY INTENSE!

The voice of experience is instantly recognizable. Dorothea Salo resonated with Jeff Ward’s realization that the same intensity that makes him a “natural scholar” also makes him a “natural asshole.” She responded by explaining that she is not an intense person (though she is often mistaken for one). She outlined certain characteristics of the intense personality, most of which I exhibit (though I can’t, of course, speak for Jeff) then offered some practical tips for maintaining a successful relationship between an intense person and his or her non-intense partner. Dorothea concluded her post by answering my rueful question about whether relationships between people with roughly the same “intensity coefficient” will be more successful than those between couples whose intensities are drastically out of balance:

Jonathon, for what it’s worth, I do not think that two high-intensity people should try to make a go of it unless their avocations dovetail nearly precisely. If not, they will grow apart, because neither of them will put in the effort to pull together. Two low-intensity people are likely to be fine.

And a highly intense person can be happy with a not-intense person, and vice versa. As I said, it’s tough, but it’s manageable. I have found the rewards worth it.

This advice matches my own experience in that my relationships with non-intense women have lasted a lot longer than those I’ve had with intense women—although I can lay claim to plenty of unsuccessful relationships with intense and non-intense women alike. But Dorothea’s post did bring to mind a relationship that foundered on the issue of intensity.

It started like this. In late 1994, at the height of the short-lived CD-ROM boom, I was working as a multimedia producer when my boss—sensing the growing importance of the Net—decided to establish a corporate Web site. Responsibility for building the site fell largely on me and H, the programmer with whom I worked most closely.

I’d almost convinced myself that I liked being a producer, but I realize now that deep in my heart I didn’t truly enjoy it. When you’ve spent most your life photographing or writing, supervising other creative people can be a miserable substitute. Heaving a sigh of relief, I poured all my pent-up energy into learning about HTML, GIFs, and JPEGs.

H and I worked like Trojans for a couple of months and, once the site was up and running, decided to add personal pages. H showed me the page he’d designed. It had pictures and descriptions of himself and everything he loved: his wife, their cat, his car.

Me, in Saitama, with my former Japanese teacher's brother-in-law and two niecesWe thought it would be neat if the structure of my page mirrored his. But as I sat down to make my page, I realized I was in trouble: I had a cat but no car, no wife, and—though I’d been a photographer for nearly twenty years—hardly any pictures of myself.

I managed to scrape up a snapshot from the period I lived in Japan. I was visiting the the sister of one of my Japanese teachers and she took this picture of me (in the leather jacket) with her husband and two daughters in front of their apartment block at Saitama in northern Tokyo.

She took lots of other pictures too but I liked this one best. In it I am hardly recognizable.

My cat, PuddingPudding was originally my parent’s cat; she’d belonged to someone a few houses away before she inveigled her way into their lives. My mother, hoping to travel, didn’t want a pet but my father secretly fed Pudding for three months until mum relented. After my father died, my mother continued to care for Pudding, even though, as she confessed to me: “I like her but I don’t love her.”

I’d always been fond of Pudding and so, when I bought a house, she moved in too. Thinking she was the prettiest little cat, I was astonished when a friend looked at her and said: “Mate, you can’t possibly think that’s an attractive cat!” Well, I always thought she was. Sadly, I had to have her put down a couple of days ago, after the cancer for which she’d had surgery nearly a year ago had started to spread. She was an affectionate little cat, and she had a sweet nature. I’m lucky to have had her.

Still life with PowerBookFor H’s car, I decided to substitute my PowerBook, since each catered to our need to tinker with machines.

It’s strange, years later, to look at this artless—and unintentionally revealing—still life: the PowerBook 180 (self-reflexively displaying the Web page under construction) flanked by Genji Monogatari, a stack of CD-ROMs (one about Ozu on top of the pile), a Japanese-English dictionary, magnifier, pen, and mug of coffee.

My life in a stolen moment, to quote the immortal Bob. How little it’s changed.

Miyamoto NobukoNo wife? No problem. I borrowed Itami Juzo’s wife, Miyamoto Nobuko, star of his comedy A Taxing Woman. Why? Because I’ve always been strongly attracted to women who:

  • are intelligent;
  • have a sense of humour;
  • wear glasses (see item one);
  • are Japanese;
  • have red hair and/or freckles.

Miyamoto Nobuko represented my ideal: the kind of woman I wanted to be married to. Perhaps the red in her hair owes a lot to the late afternoon sun but as I asked on the Web page, “Hey, who’s perfect?” I uploaded the files to our server and went back to the story I was writing in my spare time.

Around Easter in 1995, quite out of the blue, I received an e-mail from an old friend who was living and working in Lisbon. She’d somehow stumbled across my Web page and sent a message from a colleague’s computer. I replied on Good Friday and went off to visit some friends who lived on an island north of Sydney.

On my return, there was another e-mail—from the colleague, a Brazilian woman. Her name was Lauana.

Lauana's emailWithin a week we were exchanging e-mail messages of extraordinary intimacy, within a fortnight this virtual relationship had become intensely sexual, and within a month faxes and phone calls were adding fuel to the flames. English was not her native language so she spelt phonetically. In her e-mails I could hear the lovely South American cadence of her voice.

We talked endlessly about moving the relationship into the real world but couldn’t decide where. I suggested Phnom Penh or Vientiane but she, living in Europe, preferred Prague. The time difference meant that our lives were totally out of sync. She would wake me to chat at 3:00am. I would drift back to sleep, wake up and stagger into work, switch on my computer, check my mail, find two or three messages from her, write a quick reply, then try to do my job.

At that time I was reading VOX, the hilarious Nicholson Baker novel about telephone sex. I airmailed a copy to Lauana. She sent me a picture of herself.

Lauana's self-portrait

We drove each other crazy. Minor issues of emphasis or tone in an e-mail led to massive misunderstandings and flurries of conciliatory messages. I longed for the unspoken understanding and emotional restraint that I’d shared with my Japanese girlfriends.

My phone bill skyrocketed. To save on international phone calls, we communicated via IRC. Thank God the company was paying for my Internet access.

I found myself being snappy with H although we had worked together for over two years—often under crushing pressure of deadlines—without a single disagreement. He behaved towards me with more grace and tolerance than I deserved.

My friends, when I talked about the relationship, took it as further (superfluous) evidence of my craziness. Then, one day, out of the blue, a casual acquaintance said: “You’ll never guess what’s happened to me. I’ve fallen in love with someone on the Internet.”

Tell me about it, I thought.

Eventually it blew up in our faces. A virtual relationship was—paradoxically—simply too intense. People told me this wasn’t a real relationship but that’s not how it felt. At the time, it seemed absolutely real. As real as the lilting tone of her voice, as real as the lingerie on her bed.

A year or so later, reading through the hundreds of e-mails we’d sent, I came across one of her first, in which she’d predicted exactly what would happen.

Lauana's original email

For a brief time, we continued exchanging e-mails, though the intimacy was gone. Until one day I mentioned that, although we’d never met, I regarded her as affectionately as any other lover. Lauana immediately wrote to rebuke me.

There’d been no intimacy between us, she said. I didn’t know her smell, nor how she kissed. I’d never “toched” her. In fact, Lauana told me, I hardly knew her at all. She was right of course. I hadn’t loved her. I’d been captivated by a technology that fostered a transient—and ultimately false—sense of intimacy. Perhaps our three month “love affair” had been, at best, a virtual one-night-stand.

The day after I received that final e-mail, I was sitting at my workstation, fussing with a page on the corporate site, when H suddenly looked across at me and said: “It’s nice to have you back.”

“It’s nice to be back,” I replied and we each returned to our screens.

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Thursday 08 August 2002

Japanese remorse? Hardly.

Responding to Eric Olsen’s argument that “if the Armies of Allah are defeated, humiliated, crushed, scattered upon the four winds, then the whole philosophical house of cards collapses and you have a beaten, malleable people willing to accept a new way of life, such as Japan after WWII,” Burningbird wrote:

Eric bases his philisophical attitude about the importance of humiliation on his interpretation of Japan’s response to the atomic bombing, and how, in his opinion, they’ve become such good post-war partners because they believe that they deserved the atomic bomb. In reference to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Musem, he wrote:

The museum, the city, and the country emphasize peace and conflict resolution not because they don’t feel historical guilt for WWII, but because they do. The town and the museum almost revels in the details of the destruction wrought by the bomb, not out of self-pity, but out of a fundamental sense of sorrow and guilt FOR HAVING BROUGHT THIS DESTRUCTION UPON THEMSELVES.

The atomic bomb brought bitter remorse, not from those who dropped it, but from those whom it was dropped upon. Why remorse? Because they believe they deserved it.

I’m not going to respond to Eric’s assumptions about Japan, though I hope that Jonathon Delacour does. Jonathon, do you agree with this? Can this possibly be true?

No, I don’t agree with this. No, it can’t possibly be true.

Alan Cook has already responded to Shelley’s questions, lucidly exposing as ill-informed nonsense the “let’s humiliate the Arabs/Muslims just like we did the Japanese” position.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Eric posted in response to Paul Musgrave’s argument that:

The Japanese have long thought about World War II only in terms of the suffering they felt. Any sense of historical guilt for the actions of the wartime government (and remember, for Japan the “war” started in 1931) is, if there, entirely impossible to see. Contrast this attitude with Germany, where historical guilt has led to strong laws against Holocaust denial and the outright ban of the National Socialist Party. In Japan, the prewar parties are still extant, and are in fact in power; even more, the fate of the Showa Emperor (Hirohito) illustrates the continuity between pre- and postwar Japan.

Although Paul’s statement struck me as entirely reasonable, Eric was having none of it. Drawing on his visit to Hiroshima and “the conversations [he has] had with hundreds of Japanese from all walks of life about this subject,” Eric constructed a fantasy post-war Japan in which the Japanese “internalized the shame” of their humiliating defeat, embraced “the nobility of American ideals,” admitted that they had been entirely at fault in starting the war, and contritely accepted as well-deserved the destruction of most of their cities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Nothing could be further from the truth. (And one can’t help noting the irony in the fact that Eric buttresses his argument with totally conventional, left-wing Japanese anti-war sentiment, which if it was uttered by Americans, would attract only his derision.)

The Japanese embraced democracy for a variety of reasons, not one of which was “the nobility of American ideals.” Rather they equated democracy with the American industrial and military might that had defeated their army and navy in the Pacific and created the B-29 which, in a matter of months, had reduced Japan to rubble:

Despite the havoc inflicted by the American bombers, the Japanese realized that the B-29 was a magnificent machine, one far beyond their own capabilities to produce… The sight of a glistening B-29 trailing white vapor high in the sky, or flying low over the land… not only inspire[d] hatred and fear in the people it threatened; strangely enough they could not resist admiring its beauty and its technological perfection. It came to symbolize the superior strength and higher civilization of the United States.

Masataka Kosaka and Masuo Kato,
quoted in Kenneth P. Werrell’s Blankets of Fire

In the aftermath of the war, the majority of Japanese were preoccupied with:

  • finding food and shelter for themselves, their children, and their parents;
  • tending to the survivors of the firebombing and the atomic bomb attacks;
  • repatriating their defeated servicemen from the Pacific and (over a much longer period) from Russian labor camps;
  • enduring the humiliation and hypocrisy of the War Crimes Tribunals;
  • setting to work to rebuild their country and lay the foundation for Japan’s economic recovery.

Eric Olsen attributes to the Japanese a capacity for remorse and a readiness to follow a higher ideal that is entirely at odds with their essential pragmatism. Not so long ago, I asked a Japanese friend why she believed that the Japanese had so readily embraced democracy in the post-war years. She thought for a long time and then replied, “I think it’s because we Japanese don’t really believe in anything.”

What she meant was not that the Japanese had no belief system but rather that beliefs are something you put on and take off like a set of clothes. They realized that militarism had led to a catastrophic defeat at the hands of democratic America and so they thought, “Let’s try democracy instead (particularly since the Americans are insisting that we do).” Or, more exactly, let’s run American-style democracy through the Japanese blender and see what comes out. Exactly as they had done during the Meiji Restoration when, within a couple of decades, they replaced over three hundred years of Tokugawa autocracy with a complete social system based on British, French, and German models.

The Japanese film director Tadashi Imai—whose career straddled the wartime years—provides a classic example of this peculiarly Japanese pragmatism. Imai made pro-Communist films before and after the war and pro-militarist films during it. As Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie explain in The Japanese Film:

One of the most arresting things about Imai’s early films, however, was not that they were poorly made but that a man of Imai’s convictions, and reputation, should have made them at all. From The Numazu Military Academy right through the war, Imai made films which were straight government propaganda, containing material which, one would think, any right-thinking young leftist would have avoided like the plague. The majority of Imai’s wartime films were purposely made to glorify those very ultra-rightist tendencies within the nation which, both before and after the war, Imai so often fought against.

It is always difficult—and usually foolish—to attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in character, even—or particularly—when they are so glaring as in the character of Tadashi Imai. One can, at any rate, be fairly safe in saying that there was no Machiavellism involved: Imai is idealistic to the point of embarrassment. Nor was there any simple opportunism: Imai’s integrity, no matter what the cause, is quite above reproach. Yet, having said this, one must then accept the fact that Imai was just as dedicated to the Imperial cause during the war as he was to the Communist cause both before and after it. In way of explanation one can only again call attention to the Japanese genius for the volte-face, and for the completely apolitical quality of the Japanese character. That this often approaches intellectual dishonesty no foreign observer of the Japanese can fail to appreciate. At the same time, however, it is equally apparent that the Japanese themselves do not appreciate the illogic of their position and, far from believing in their own dishonesty, are acting in the best faith of which they are capable.

In a very real sense, Tadashi Imai is the Japanese Everyman, swaying with the prevailing ideological breeze, blissfully free of either guilt or remorse. After the war he performed what Anderson and Richie describe as “a real ideological somersault, [landing] on his feet with An Enemy of the People, a vicious and almost personal attack on the Emperor-system.” One day a militarist, the next day a democrat, but not out of the idealism mixed with contrition that Eric Olsen would have us believe.

This moral flexibility underpins Paul Musgrave’s assertion that the Japanese lack “any sense of historical guilt for the actions of the wartime government.” In my next post, I’ll explain why I believe he is correct.

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Friday 09 August 2002

A disagreement or three

Burningbird concluded her post The Debate falters, lying broken in the dust like this:

However, me thinks the debate on the Iraq invasion between us has run its course.

Crikey, Bb! It’s all well and good for you to declare the debate over, but I’m stuck in the middle of a “discourse” with Eric Olsen. And, the way these warbloggers argue, I think I’d have less grief converting my Movable Type templates and all my archives to XHTML 2.0 and CSS 2.1.

But, since I try to finish anything I start, I guess I’ll have to press on. Perhaps the best way to do this is to comment on Olsen’s key statements (which I’ve italicized) in the order he made them.

The museum [in Hiroshima], the city, and the country emphasize peace and conflict resolution not because they don’t feel historical guilt for WWII, but because they do.

The museum and the city emphasize peace because Hiroshima is one of only two cities to have been subjected to an atomic bomb attack.

Odd that Japan emphasizes peace by consistently ranking fourth in its percentage share of world military expenditure (after the USA, Russia, and France but ahead of the UK, Germany, China, and Saudi Arabia).

Japan emphasizes conflict resolution not because of any feelings of historical guilt for WWII but because Japanese decision making has been based for centuries on achieving consensus between conflicting parties.

The town and the museum almost revels in the details of the destruction wrought by the bomb, not out of self-pity, but out of a fundamental sense of sorrow and guilt FOR HAVING BROUGHT THIS DESTRUCTION UPON THEMSELVES. Look carefully at the “message” of the museum…

The “message” of the museum to which Olsen refers—note the artful use of quotation marks—is not actually the message of the museum in any official sense, but an interpretation of the museum’s meaning by a private group of Japanese citizens headed by Miyoko Kono:

The context used in this web page was edited by “The Group to Convey the Spirit of Hiroshima” based on the materials borrowed from Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.

The atomic bomb brought bitter remorse, not from those who dropped it, but from those whom it was dropped upon. Why remorse? Because they believe they deserved it.

Actually the atomic bomb brought not bitter remorse but an overwhelming sense of self-pity, as Paul Musgrave rightly noted. And, far from believing they deserved it, the atomic bomb attacks served mainly to reinforce the ninonjinron, the theory of Japanese uniqueness (“We are the only people in the history of the world to have been subjected to atomic bomb attacks.”)

Immediately after the war, MacArthur and the American occupying force found remarkably little resentment in a decimated populace that had only weeks before fought with suicidal zeal for the honor of the emperor.

Against whom, precisely, had the populace fought with suicidal zeal? The B-29’s that were raining fire on every major Japanese city? (Apart from Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki, which had been reserved as atomic bomb targets.) What weapons did they employ in their fight for the honor of the emperor? With what terrifying fanaticism did this civilian population, who were overwhelmingly the victims of the air war against the Japanese home islands, wield their shovels, sandbags, and buckets of water?

And since we didn’t enslave their entire population, or ship their women off to “comfort camps,” or plunder whatever treasure remained in the country, but in fact helped them to rebuild on every front, no opportunity was afforded to transfer any of this guilt onto America.

No rational person would deny America’s magnanimity towards its vanquished foes, but let us not also forget that the United States poured billions of dollars in aid into Japan in order to create a bulwark against Soviet and Chinese communism. One might best characterize America’s behavior as enlightened self-interest—something the Japanese understood all too well.

Olsen summarizes the Japanese attitude towards defeat as

We were all hopped up on the religion of nationalism; we began a war of aggression; we got our asses kicked; we deserved what we got.

All hopped up on the religion of nationalism. Yes, definitely. Somewhat like contemporary America.

We began a war of aggression. Yes, although some would suggest that Roosevelt deftly manouvered the Japanese into a position where it was inevitable that they would attack the United States.

We got our asses kicked. Absolutely.

We deserved what we got. Not in any way at all. Most Japanese have been taught a highly sanitized version of the history of the Pacific War. They have hardly any knowledge of the atrocities committed by Japanese forces in China, Korea, and South East Asia and little interest in revisiting the past. Primarily, as I’ve noted above, a majority of Japanese—who know nothing about the three hundred thousand killed in the American firebombing campaign—see themselves as the unique victims of the atomic bomb attacks.

Well, that’s pretty much it for Olsen’s first post. Next I’ll address his reply to my previous post. After that I’ll explain why, despite what Olsen might have been told by “the hundreds of Japanese from all walks of life,” words count for nothing. Only actions have meaning and, overwhelmingly, Japanese actions are consistent not with guilt and remorse but rather a sense of victimization and self-pity. Finally, I might get around to explaining why I believe that Truman was almost certainly justified in dropping the first atomic bomb (and perhaps had little alternative to dropping the second).

In the meantime, I’d like to suggest an Honor Roll of Warbloggers, which would display next to each name: the warblog URL, the number of years of active military service, and the likelihood of the warblogger’s being called up to fight against Iraq. It is commonly observed by students of military history that civilian enthusiasm for going to war is inversely proportional to the sum of combat experience and eligibility for military service.

Or, as Camille Paglia said in her interview with Andrew Sullivan:

When our best and brightest expect a servant class to shed their blood in the nation’s defense, we’re starting to look like late imperial Rome.

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Saturday 10 August 2002

Ethics of an auteur

Thomas Doherty on Leni Riefenstahl (link via Arts & Letters Daily):

Perhaps the neglect of Riefenstahl — as an artist, as opposed to as a case study in demonology — reflects the difficulty of owning up to the enduring attraction of Nazi aesthetics. Since the 1960s, the main currents of humanistic inquiry have discounted the new-critical notions of immutability and transcendence of art, insisting on the linkage of the personal and the political. Ironically, Riefenstahl, the artist whose career pre-eminently confirms the commingling of art and life, has been auteur non grata precisely because her work has lived beyond its historical moment and ideological context. Whether in the mise-en-scène of Star Wars (1977) or the staging of a heavy-metal rock show, our fascination with her fascism — our surrender to the absolute beauty of her images — is unsettling to contemplate.

Riefenstahl, meanwhile, remains committed to what she smugly calls in her memoirs “my comeback.” Not too long ago, at a fin de siècle soiree given by Time magazine, she could be spotted happily chatting with Henry Kissinger. Taking in the scene, a writer for The New Yorker could only comment, “There is no God.”

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Sunday 11 August 2002

Sorry, no Twinkies

The 1000th Comment Contest winner, Mahesh Shantaram, has claimed his prize by providing me with a shipping address. Although I included photographs of the Dishmatique and a pair of Tim Tams in the contest announcement, Mahesh wrote:

Anyway, I hope to expect this Tim Tam thing, whatever it is, in my snail mail box someday…

But he appears to have figured out that Tim Tams are biscuits/cookies since in a followup email he wrote:

Say can I get Twinkies instead? We don’t get Twinkies in India and I’ve heard so much about it :`(

I don’t think we get Twinkies in Australia (Allan, Victor, or another Australian resident might correct me on this). So it looks like it’s Tim Tams for you, Mahesh. Just make sure you refrigerate them as soon as they arrive.

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Monday 12 August 2002

Riben Guizi

G. Allen Johnson’s review of Minoru Matsui’s Riben Guizi (Japanese Devils) begins:

It was never a secret that Japan’s militaristic regime during the 1930s and early ’40s was among the most brutal in human history - except to the Japanese people, who were largely oblivious, thanks to their government’s propaganda. Whereas many of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis didn’t come to light until after the German surrender in World War II, Japan’s M.O. was well-known to the rest of the world ever since its invasion of Manchuria in the early ’30s.

It is something the nation - which has not had an official military since World War II - still struggles with today, and especially today. Recently, Japan’s wartime activities have stirred fresh controversy because official history books taught in schools do not mention the atrocities.

I’ll refrain from writing more about Japanese attitudes to the Pacific War until I finish watching Matsui’s documentary.

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Margaret Bourke-White & online books

Jeff Ward wrote:

I’ve been radically unsuccessful at anything resembling normal sleep for a couple of days now. I was supposed to be on the road to visit my parents, but I’ve ended up researching an idea. You see, in a few weeks I have to start writing a a book. I hadn’t figured out exactly what I was going to do. The course is “extended topics in nonfiction” and the quantity of writing involved will be massive. I feel much better dealing with something I’m comfortable with. Photography was my first choice, but specifically, what?

I’ll use the blog to string it together first. I like the idea of doing it in public; it will be like having advance reviewers. The working title thus far is Imaginary Heroes: The Rhetoric of Representation in 1930s America. Rolls right off the tongue, eh? I began to think of this while reviewing significant documentary photography books published between 1937-1941. The list was small at first, but it’s been expanded a bit with a few books that I wasn’t aware of until now.

Jeff’s list includes Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee (of course), You Have Seen Their Faces by Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell, and An American Exodus by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor.

This is a marvellous idea for a book and, given how much I’ve learned from Jeff’s ideas about Walker Evans, I can’t wait to read the book as it takes shape since Jeff is ideally qualified to write about the documentary photography of that (or any other) era.

For me though, no-one holds a candle to Walker Evans. I’ve always thought that Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange are monumentally overrated—the former melodramatic, the latter sentimental, both their reputations inflated by virtue of their sex. It’s as though curators, desperate to include some women from that period in the documentary pantheon, had to settle for work which, had it been done by a man, would have been regarded as competent but undistinguished. (I have no doubt that Jeff will demonstrate conclusively why I’m wrong and that’s one reason I look forward to reading his book.)

Perhaps this is simply a matter of taste, or ignorance. Although I hold Bourke-White and Lange in low regard, I adore the work of their near contemporaries Lisette Model and Helen Levitt. When I taught the history of 20th century photography, the classes devoted to Model and Levitt were invariably well-received—particularly by students who’d assumed that Diane Arbus was the only important woman photographer.

I used to devote a class to the work of either one or a pair of photographers: Bourke-White and Lange shared a double bill (as did Ansel Adams and Henri-Cartier Bresson). Model, Levitt, and Arbus rated a class each. Over the sixteen week semester, I’d show 21 photographers (11 whose work I loved, and 10 whose work I thought was important but didn’t much like at all). I realize now how I imposed my prejudices on the students but at least they were clearly stated.

No matter how much I dislike Margaret Bourke-White, she took one photograph that influenced my own picture-making enormously:

Margaret Bourke-White: Henlein's Parents, Reichenau, Sudeten Section of Czechoslovakia, 1938
Margaret Bourke-White: Henlein’s Parents, Reichenau,
Sudeten Section of Czechoslovakia, 1938

When I first saw this picture, in John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs, I nearly fell over, captivated by the way that Bourke-White had (perhaps accidentally) achieved a perfect balance between the interior flash and the external daylight, pulling everything into a single plane. It’s an absolutely remarkable photograph: about picture-making (look at all the pictures within the picture, including the windows, as Szarkowski points out below); about generations (the portrait of—probably—Henlein’s grandfather on the wall behind his father and that of his grandmother on the wall behind his mother, reflected in the mirror); and about history (what will become of them when the Nazis arrive? Or have they already taken over?).

Szarkowski writes in the accompanying text:

Bourke-While had an excellent sense of simple, poster-like design, and a sophisticated photographic technique, both perhaps the legacy of her apprenticeship in the demanding field of industrial reportage. She was excited by the new opportunities presented by photoflash bulbs, which made possible clear and highly detailed pictures under circumstances that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible for photography. The use of two or three bulbs, synchronized to flash together as the shutter was released, could produce a reasonable simulation of normal interior light. Bourke-While became very skillful at this technique, which required especially delicate calculation when the level of the interior flash had to be balanced against the level of natural light visible through a room’s windows. According to the accepted formula the outside landscape should be about twice as bright as the interior: otherwise the images seen through the windows would look like pictures on the wall.

In the case of the picture opposite, the photographer evidently miscalculated a little, but the picture is surely more interesting as it is than it would be if naturalistically correct. The two kindly old people sit in a room that is hermetically sealed with illusions.

I was so taken by this photograph that I think I may have said to my friend Gerrit Fokkema: “I will never, ever take a picture without flash again.” And for many years all my pictures, whether taken indoors or outside, used flash to balance the illumination and flatten the picture plane, just as Margaret Bourke-White taught me.

<aside>I’m selfishly waiting for Jeff Ward to start writing his book online. Ever since Steve Himmer and Joseph Duemer discussed writing a novel online, I’ve been seriously considering writing my own book about post-war Japan publicly. I think I’ll hold back to see how Jeff approaches the activity but ever since he broached the subject my sleeping patterns have been shot to pieces too.</aside>

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Tuesday 13 August 2002

Once more without feeling

In her latest O’Reilly column, Blogging for Dollars: Giving Rise to the Professional Blogger, Meg Hourihan writes:

There’s a vast group of people out there now who are experts in finding the news and links, capturing its essence in short snippets, and churning it out hour after hour, day after day.

Let’s pay them, Meg suggests, to work fulltime on weblogs about the latest happenings with the Google API, links and commentary for insurance company policyholders, or wine-related information for Wine.com customers.

I don’t even know where to begin with this and, given the trouble I got myself into last time, it’s probably best I don’t even start. But Stavros’s response to Meg’s previous column applies equally well to the latest one:

“How tedious is this? How perfunctory and lacking of any sense of the mad, wild spirit of creativity that is tearing through the souls of (fill in the names or pseudonyms of your favorite bloggers here)?”

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The nation prepares for war (1)

Student nurses practice fighting with wooden swords
Student nurses from the Japanese Red Cross Society Training
School practice kendo (wooden sword fighting), June 14, 1937

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Thursday 15 August 2002

The Gemco Li’l Scrubber

Gemco Li'l Scrubber dishwashing apparatusThanks to Burningbird for pointing me to what looked like one of the most exciting developments in dishwashing technology since the original Dishmatique.

Eric Grevstad used his Gemco Li’l Scrubber (apparently not to be confused with the same company’s Li’l Scrubby) as a test subject for a Hardware Central review of the Toshiba PDR-3300, which he describes as the best value he’s seen in a digital camera (a compact 3-megapixel, 2.8X-optical-zoom model, for the low 2-megapixel price of US$349).

As much as Eric might like the PDR-3300, I was far more impressed with the Li’l Scrubber. But Eric cautioned me in an email that the Li’l Scrubber is designed quite differently from the Dishmatique and, as a result, suffers from operational problems:

…you pry off the top to pour in and then push to release the soap — actually not my favorite design, since it’s hard to scrub without squeezing the soap trigger.

I realize now that I got carried away by the appearance of the Li’l Scrubber, as well as by its artful placement with the scourer in the porcelain dishwashing apparatus stand. And, having read Eric’s comprehensive review of the Toshiba camera, I’d be a fool not to trust his evaluation of the Li’l Scrubber.

But another part of me just hankers after one. I think that before trying to obtain my own Li’l Scrubber by mail order from the US, I’d better get a second or third opinion as to its potential. (At first glance it looks as though it would be vastly superior to the Dishmatique for cleaning my Le Creuset cast iron skillet grill.) AKMA and Dorothea Salo’s husband David spring immediately to mind as dishwashing enthusiasts. It’s been a while since we’ve seen David’s byline on a Caveat Lector post—this could be the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Naturally I’ll be most interested in any other first hand experiences with the Gemco Li’l Scrubber.

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Friday 16 August 2002

Accessibility rocks!

It’s just before eleven on Friday night and I’m knackered. I’ve spent much of the week preparing for a two hour presentation on web accessibility, which I delivered this morning. It turned out well (naturally Mark Pilgrim’s name was mentioned frequently). Interesting that, in Australia at least, the issue of accessibility is a real eye opener to even knowledgeable Web developers. But, with the experience of implementing all of Mark’s tips from 30 days to a more accessible web site plus plenty of background research, I think I managed to do justice to the subject. In any case, the audience stayed until the end and asked plenty of smart questions, so they were clearly engaged by the subject.

I spent some time discussing Maguire v. SOCOG (Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games), since it is (as Constructing Accessible Web Sites describes it) “the first fully adjudicated case in the world on the issue of constructing accessible web sites.” Mr Maguire was awarded AU$20,000 when SOCOG failed to make the Sydney Olympic web site fully compliant by the start of the 2000 Olympic Games.

One of the people in the group today told me that he heard a news item about Mr Maguire’s complaint while listening to the car radio in the lead up to the Sydney Games. In addition to finding it hard to believe that a blind person would want to use the web, he was also suspicious that Mr Maguire was simply trying to extract some money from a high profile organization. For anyone who isn’t aware of the need for web accessibility, these are entirely understandable responses.

I heard about the case then too and recall being amused by SOCOG’s excuse that making the site accessible would require a developer to work eight hours a day for just over a year and that another AU$2.2 million of infrastructure would also be required. Even though I knew only a little about accessibility at the time, I knew enough about web development to realize that the SOCOG case was flimsy.

So, hats off to Mark Pilgrim for all the time and energy he poured into 30 days to a more accessible web site and to the CEO and his head of web development who invited me to prepare the presentation for their staff. It felt great today to be able to spread the word a little further.

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Saturday 17 August 2002

The Rorschach reading test

Burningbird asked for some reading recommendations. Here are some of my favorites (not necessarily in order of preference):

  • Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters
  • Richard Ford, The Sportswriter
  • Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits
  • Saiichi Maruya, A Mature Woman
  • Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Alberto Moravia, Boredom
  • Fumiko Enchi, The Waiting Years
  • Soseki Natsume, Kokoro
  • Naoya Shiga, A Dark Night’s Passing
  • W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
  • Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure
  • Allison Fell, The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro
  • James Salter, Burning the Days
  • Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
  • Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Eudora Welty, Collected Stories
  • Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer
  • Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel
  • Taeko Kono, Toddler Hunting
  • Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch
  • Akira Yoshimura, On Parole

I tried to keep the list to ten but couldn’t manage it.

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Sunday 18 August 2002

In search of lost time

(With apologies to Dorothea Salo.)

Time spent wondering whether I should attempt to install Linux on my ancient ThinkPad 600E notebook computer: 1 week

Time spent figuring out which Linux distribution to install : 1 hour

Time spent moving documents from notebook to desktop PC to free up 1.5GB of space on (6GB) notebook hard drive: 1 hour

Time spent running Norton Disk Doctor on notebook hard drive: 10 minutes

Time spent optimizing notebook hard drive: 1 hour

Time spent running chkdsk on notebook hard drive: 15 minutes (including restart)

Time spent changing default OS language from Japanese to English so that the Partition Magic installer would work (including restart): 5 minutes

Time spent installing Partition Magic on notebook (including restart): 10 minutes

Time spent shrinking Windows partition to make room for Linux: 20 minutes

Time spent installing Red Hat Linux (up to arriving at the Disk Partioning Setup screen): 15 minutes

Time spent realizing that the 1.5GB of free space specified by the Linux installation guide did not include 435MB for the swap file (because my notebook has 288MB of RAM): 1 minute

Time spent freeing up another 1GB of space on the notebook hard drive: 1 hour

Time spent running Norton Disk Doctor, optimizing, and running chkdsk on notebook hard drive: 2 hours

Time spent shrinking the Windows partition to make even more room for Linux: 20 minutes

Time spent (custom) installing Red Hat Linux: 1.5 hours

Time spent wondering why the LILO boot menu didn’t appear, no matter how many times I restarted: 20 minutes

Time spent rereading The Red Hat Linux Survival Guide before I discovered that I had to edit the /etc/lilo.conf file so that I could boot to either Windows 2000 or Linux: 5 minutes

Time spent editing the /etc/lilo.conf file: 5 minutes

Time spent wondering why the LILO boot menu didn’t appear, even though I’d edited the /etc/lilo.conf file: 10 minutes

Time spent running /sbin/lilo to ensure that LILO liked the configuration file: 30 seconds

Time spent congratulating myself that I’d installed Linux entirely by myself: 5 minutes

Time spent realizing that my weblog looks shitty in Mozilla on Linux: 15 seconds

Time spent playing with new cat: 45 minutes

And yes, before anyone reminds me, I know I said last month:

I know nothing about Linux but I know this much… wizards or no wizards, I won’t be installing it any time soon.

To which I’d reply: never believe me when I say I’ll never do something. (At least I did the wizardless custom install. And now I know slightly more than nothing about Linux)

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Monday 19 August 2002

The James Bond spy camera

Frustrated with my current digital camera (a Sony DSC-S70), I followed a link from Scripting News to Ray Ozzie’s weblog, where he sings the praises of the Casio Exilim EX-S1, “the best camera [Ray] ever owned.” As Ray puts it:

Casio EX-S1 digital cameraThe resolution is perfectly fine for on-screen viewing, it has a great flash, it has ample capacity when used with a 128mb memory card, it beats out even the Blackberry in terms of its battery life (weeks), and best of all, it boots and is ready to snap a picture in sub-one-second. Just works, just right. Strongly recommended.

The EX-S1 is a 1-megapixel camera in a stainless steel body that’s about the same dimensions as a credit card and only half an inch thick. It has a fixed focus 5.6mm/F2.5 lens (equivalent to 37mm on 35mm camera).

The size impressed me immediately—one disadvantage of the Sony is that it’s just too big to take with me everywhere. A greater negative, however, is the Sony’s shutter lag, an unfortunate “feature” of most digital cameras. It’s impossible to shoot fluidly with anything but a digital SLR (where the image is deflected by the mirror through the reflex prism to the viewfinder). With a digital camera, the image coming through the lens appears on the LCD screen. When you press the shutter release, the camera finds focus and the shutter closes (the image then freezes on the LCD screen), then the shutter is released. This can take up to a second and a half (less if you prefocus, but if the subject then moves you can’t be sure that you’ve focused accurately).

The fixed focus design of the EX-S1 virtually eliminates shutter lag since there’s no focusing to be done: everything is always in focus from 1 meter to infinity.

I had my doubts about 1-megapixel (the DSC-S70 is a 3-megapixel camera with a tack-sharp Zeiss lens) but I was interested enough to track down some detailed appraisals of the Casio camera—Ray’s weblog post is merely a recommendation from a satisfied owner, not a review that balances the camera’s strong points with its shortcomings.

There are two comprehensive reviews, at Steve’s Digicams and the Digital Camera Resource Page. Both are generally enthusiastic: about the camera’s tiny size, its acceptable (not great) image quality, and range of manual functions. But, taken together, they reveal a number of problems:

  • there is no easy way to turn the LCD screen on and off
  • the 4-way selector switch on the back is too small to be operated easily with a finger tip
  • the power button and the shutter release are so close together that it’s easy to turn the camera off when you try to take a picture.

This could be a perfect example of the old adage: Don’t buy the first model of anything, wait until they get it right the second time around.

Nevertheless, I remain interested: the tiny size and no shutter lag make it an ideal point-and-shoot camera while the 1-megapixel (960x1280) image is more than sufficient for web display, as Jeff’s image gallery proves (Steve, inexplicably, took most of his gallery pictures at the interpolated 1200x1600 resolution, so that most of them look soft). I’ll check one out the next time I’m near a camera store. Despite my misgivings, I may succumb to its obvious appeal.

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Tuesday 20 August 2002

Horace Bristol’s vision

Horace Bristol: from Honeymoon, Japan, 1948Thanks to Jeff Ward for alerting me to Horace Bristol’s Japan (a “folio of 14-16 page pamphlets bound together in a wrap-around case with bone closures”). I always considered myself well-informed about documentary photography in 30s America but I hadn’t heard of Bristol and certainly didn’t know that he had collaborated with John Steinbeck; nor was I aware of his Japan and Korea photographs. I was so taken by the “honeymoon” photograph (at left) that I tracked down a copy of the Japan book via abebooks.com and just received an email from the merchant to say that they’ll ship it to me today. The picture that Jeff reproduced from Bristol’s Korea book is terrific too—though I prefer the unashamedly “staged” quality of the Japanese photograph. Given that documentary photographs are never transparently truthful, but invariably constructed, I admire pictures that acknowledge the fundamental dishonesty that lies at their core, even as they pretend to depict “reality.”

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Make that a soda

Mark Pilgrim visualizes having too many drinks at his wedding reception:

This is how it goes, until a full-body numbness mixes in with the adrenaline and the lack of sleep and the awful awful music that I specifically asked the DJ not to play and the general oh-my-God-ness of actually being in the middle of my own wedding, and at this moment I suddenly realize that I’m feeling a little bit tipsy. It is this moment that you must understand, this moment that you do not understand, because you have lived this moment in your own way but never in the way that I have lived this moment, the way that I always live this moment. This is the moment that sets us apart, you and me, husband and wife, alcoholic and not. This is the moment where you switch to soda, but I do not.

When I read Mark’s post, my immediate response was: “Whoa, how are the wedding guests going to handle the “non-alcoholic bar”? But what I was really thinking was: “Whoa, how would I handle a non-alcoholic bar?”

I’d handle it fine, by flicking the switch in my head from “drinking” to “not drinking.” The problem is, though, that the switch can be somewhat stiff and difficult to flick at times.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t be a matter of “handling it.” Because “handling it” implies that “it” needs to be “handled.” It equals alcohol, and handling equals making sure everything stays under control. Which inevitably means rules: don’t drink before the sun has set, don’t drink on weeknights, don’t drink alone, don’t mix your drinks, don’t drink more than two beers and one glass of wine (or one beer and two glasses of wine), drink only low-alcohol beer, stop drinking when your face feels numb… the inexhaustible strategies of the addictive personality. Simpler not to drink at all. But that’s a big ask—when you like the taste, and the comfortable numbness, and the physical act of sipping your drink (I imagine that smoking offers similar pleasures and more).

But, at the wedding reception, I’d drink soda (lemon, lime, & bitters, actually), I’d watch and listen (and be far more present than if I’d had a drink or three), I’d talk and laugh and dance, and I’d be grateful to a host who respected his new wife and himself, and who—in demanding the best of his guests—had offered us all a remarkable gift.

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The art(?) of loving

Jeneane Sessums wrote:

That problem being that too few of us understand what it means to love. Simply to love and to love simply. At the heart of the matter, too many (for my liking) are missing heart—a passion that transcends the feelings we have for ourselves (our own individuality, needs, and so on) and that transcends even the feeling we have for the other person involved (the recipient of our love).

That “beyond” place is a place where love loves itself—driven by an undeniable instinct to protect and honor itself at all costs…

And AKMA wrote:

The [second] [okay, “the almost-kinda-practice-for-a-second”] honeymoon couple relished their four days on their own, and report to the world that they have only grown more deeply in love than ever. Speaking just for myself, I shall say that my fondness for, adoration of, attraction to, pride for, joy with, respect for, delight in, and passion for Margaret have grown hour by hour for nigh onto twenty-four years now. She’s just flat-out the greatest. Thanks, sweetheart.

While Dorothea Salo recalled “two terrified people arriv[ing] at their newly-rented apartment eight years ago:”

They loved each other, very much. They had been paired since she was a college freshman and he a new-minted grad student. But they had spent the last two years apart (save for a few precious visits) after he left grad school. Would their love survive a tiny apartment (with roaches, yet), her inability to cook, his never having lived on his own?

She picked up the phone book and hunted for restaurants that might serve a couple of vegetarians. (Her vegetarianism was all of two days old.) Her eye lit on a Mediterranean restaurant that, by the address, couldn’t be more than a few blocks away. They set out, holding hands again.

That was the best decision they could possibly have made. The server in the little restaurant welcomed them kindly. Did he see how tired and afraid they were? The food they ordered turned out to be excellent, hummus and falafel and grape-leaf-wrapped rice. Suddenly they thought that perhaps they’d make it after all.

They have gone back to the little Mediterranean restaurant every year on move-in day since then. They’ll go again this year.

Mike Golby described it like this:

What is it to me? Hmm… I’ll have to go Hallmark on you, Frank. Love is like the South African sun, cycling our ancient earth, giving us life, sustaining us through times good and bad and, at night, radiating [like the wave breaking skywards] to the unknown sky. Love is all we have and, contrary to my good parents’ advice, all we need. Like the sun’s light, love is all around us, twenty-four hours a day. The darkness, which we so often take as “something”, is always an absence of light and evil, to me, is always an absence of love.

I wonder whether some people are better equipped to love than others, or simply more skilled at it, or got better lessons in loving (or studied more seriously), or does it just—as the cliché suggests—come down to working at it?

I’ve always believed that becoming good at anything requires:

  • an interest in the subject
  • a certain degree of aptitude
  • one or more “experts” whose behavior one can model
  • a sense of inner confidence (the belief that you can do it)
  • accepting that hardship and sacrifice are part of the cost
  • tenacity (aka passion and commitment)

And, at a very deep level, the process has to be fun—only sheer enjoyment will carry you through the periods where the goal seems unattainable, the activity pointless, the struggle just too hard.

It’s easy to apply these parameters to becoming a champion swimmer, or photographer, or vice-president of marketing. But how about love?

I think I’ve always assumed that having good role models is the critical factor but now I’m not so sure. Plenty of people manage to build lasting relationships on the foundation of a damaged childhood. Or do they?

Is tenacity the essential ingredient? Can one person’s determination keep a relationship afloat? Is it true that some individuals possess an innate ability to love (or an aptitude for loving deeply and sincerely)? What might give one the confidence and resilience to sustain a relationship for (say) 24 years?

I don’t know the answers. I’m good at certain things, but (regrettably) I couldn’t put loving at the top of the list. As much as anything, I’m intrigued that hardly anyone assumes they’ll be able to play golf as well as Tiger Woods, yet most everyone takes it for granted that love is a skill that comes naturally. Even though, as Jeneane pointed out, “too few of us understand what it means.”

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Thursday 22 August 2002

The shame of designer tribalism

In the week that a Nigerian woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, Arts & Letters Daily pointed to Raymond Tallis’s review of Roger Sandall’s The Culture Club:

For adherents of what Sandall calls the culture cult, primitive culture is not inferior to modern civilization – it is different and quite likely better. Some commentators of this persuasion call for a radical simplification of modern life based on their notion of the condition of the primitive. Nothwithstanding their own doctrine of incommensurability, they take “a sour view of modernity”, forgetting, Sandall argues, that modern civilization not infrequently “allows changes of government without bloodshed”, as well as “civil rights, economic benefits, religious toleration, and political and artistic freedom”; whereas most traditional cultures “feature domestic repression, economic backwardness, endemic disease, religious fanaticism and severe artistic constraints”.

As if to underline Sandall’s argument, the BBC reported that:

The largely-male crowd in the [Nigerian] courtroom reacted to the judgement of judge Aliyu Abdullahi with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

“We uphold your conviction of death by stoning as prescribed by the Sharia. This judgement will be carried out as soon as your baby is weaned,” the judge said, as Amina cradled her eight-month-old daughter Wasila, reports the French news agency, AFP.

It’s ironic that many of those in the west who (correctly) condemned the court’s verdict happen to be the Designer Tribalists that Sandall accuses of engaging in the “sacralization of cultural difference” which, Tallis notes:

serves as a hypocritical denial, by people who are comfortably remote from its consequences, of the fact that there are cultures that have deeply undesirable aspects. The veneration of closed, tribal, warrior cultures involves a failure to acknowledge the absence in such societies of, among other things, individual rights and freedom of thought, rights that these same romantic primitivists demand for themselves.

Sandall’s ideas touched a chord in me, living as I do in Australia. I was hardly surprised by the final paragraph of the review:

Some of the passion in Sandall’s writing comes from a local issue: his horror at the betrayal of the Australian Aboriginal people by practitioners of romantic primitivism, the intellectuals who rewrote Aboriginal history, enforced bilingual instruction, encouraged a cultural apartheid of “self-determination” and prioritized the preservation of traditional culture over the skills of modern life. This has resulted in vocational disability among Aboriginal people, due in part to a catastrophic decline in literacy, and (to use Ernest Gellner’s words) in “frozen, visible, and offensive inequality”. The result is a diminution of life chances, and condemnation to a marginalized existence of a kind that boutique multiculturalists would not accept for themselves and their own children.

These same romantic primitivists and boutique multiculturalists run the Aboriginal Welfare Industry in Australia, dreaming up billion dollar schemes that have hardly improved Aboriginal health and literacy. While Aboriginal people are ravaged by chronic alcoholism and drug addiction, a herd of white lawyers, intellectuals, and bureaucrats roots deeper into the trough, only occasionally removing their snouts to utter the nonsense that Sandall excoriates.

Noel Pearson, the only Aboriginal leader to condem this cosy arrangement, has been largely ostracized by an Industry that is deeply offended by his speeches and essays. (When someone mentioned Pearson at a meeting I attended, the designer tribalist audience was so outraged that a heckler’s shout of “sell-out” provoked cheers and clapping.)

Why do the chattering classes despise Noel Pearson? Because his trenchant criticism of the system of passive welfare incriminates them. Because in his vision for Aboriginal Australia there would be no jobs for them. Because he shatters their comfortable illusions by talking like this:

The truth is that, at least in the communities that I know in Cape York Peninsula, the real need is for the restoration of social order and the enforcement of law. That is what is needed. You ask the grandmothers and the wives. What happens in communities when the only thing that happens when crimes are committed is the offenders are defended as victims? Is it any wonder that there will soon develop a sense that people should not take responsibility for their actions and social order must take second place to an apparent right to dissolution. Why is all of our progressive thinking ignoring these basic social requirements when it comes to black people? Is it any wonder the statistics have never improved? Would the number of people in prison decrease if we restored social order in our communities in Cape York Peninsula? What societies prosper in the absence of social order?

A rule of thumb in relation to most of the programs and policies that pose as progressive thinking in indigenous affairs, is that if we did the opposite we would have a chance of making progress. This is because the subservience of our intellectual culture to the cause of class prejudice and stratification is so profound and universal. What we believe is forward progress is in fact standing still or actually moving backwards…

I contend that people who want to be progressive today, are in objective fact, regressive in their thinking. This is especially and painfully obvious if you know the situation in the Aboriginal communities of this country. Petrol sniffing is in some places now so endemic that crying infants are silenced with petrol-drenched rags on their faces.

I’ve quoted three paragraphs from Noel Pearson’s Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture two years ago, titled Light on the Hill. I could quote a dozen more. The Australians who most need to read it won’t. It mystifies and infuriates me that they can wring their hands over the injustice done to Amina Lawal in Nigeria whilst acting as willing accomplices in the injustice inflicted on Aboriginal people in Australia.

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Friday 23 August 2002

A cat’s tale

In response to repeated demands for photographs of my new cat, here she is:

Cat tail and Ethernet cable

I didn’t give her a name until a couple of days after she arrived and, unfortunately, the name I chose hasn’t really stuck. It’s a Japanese name that begins with an “R” and I realize now that only Japanese speakers will pronounce it correctly. More seriously, a Japanese friend pointed out to me tonight that the name I chose is associated with a tall, elegant, somewhat aloof style of Japanese beauty, whereas this little cat is short, somewhat tubby, and endearingly friendly. My friend thinks I should call her Hanako or Momoko (flower child and peach/pink child, respectively). I’m not so sure. She’s a gray and white cat. I did manage to take a nice photo of her, but I’ll hold off posting it until she has the right name.

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Saturday 24 August 2002

My kingdom for a 2-megapixel miniature camera

My search for a small, fast (i.e. minimal shutter lag) digital camera continues. I went to the city to buy Mocha Coffee Tim Tams and check out the Casio EX-S1 which, contrary to my expectations, was very comfortable to use (given that it’s hardly bigger than a credit card).

Minolta Dimage X digital cameraAs soon as the salesman realized I was a serious buyer, he switched into upsell mode and showed me Minolta Dimage X, a 2-megapixel model with a 3x optical zoom (the 1-megapixel Casio has a fixed focus 5.6mm wide angle lens).

About 50% more expensive than the Casio, the Dimage X makes a great first impression. The shutter lag isn’t appreciable, I can imagine taking it with me everywhere, and the 2-megapixel resolution is a lot more appealing. But the reviews all had a consistent theme: innovative design, marvellously compact for its feature set, disappointing image quality. Worse still, the camera doesn’t the memorize flash mode after power off, a major disadvantage for someone who never, ever takes pictures with flash.

Sony DSC-U10 digital cameraIt’s clear that the demand for itty-bitty digital cameras is strong. Sony has just announced their DSC-U10, another 1-megapixel camera about the size of a tiny mobile phone. Although there’s no optical viewfinder, it uses AAA batteries and memory sticks (of which I already have three). It might be worth a look when it ships.

If the Casio had a resolution of two megapixels instead of one, I’d buy it immediately. I guess I’ll have to keep looking—though the features I’m after may just be too idiosyncratic.

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Finally, a decent browser

Strange that I made Mozilla my primary browser on the day Dorothea Salo wrote:

This is the new, not-improved-enough-yet Caveat Lector. Not guaranteed to look right on anything but Mozilla yet; more testing this evening.

Browser usage for weblog.delacour.net on 24 Aug 2000I stuck with IE6 because I thought it was important to see my site as a majority of web users do. (As the stats reveal, so do lots of my visitors: just over 74% for IE versions 5 and 6.). But yesterday morning I finally got sick of IE6’s starting a separate 10-20MB process for every window I opened. How is it possible for an application to be such a memory hog? Time to switch. I briefly considered Opera but thought I’d give Mozilla a spin first. I’m glad I did. What a marvellous browser! (Or is it just that I haven’t yet discovered Mozilla’s dark side?)

Why didn’t anyone tell me about Mozilla? I had it on both my desktop and notebook computers, but only to test that my weblog rendered properly. It wasn’t until I’d installed Linux and started using Mozilla that I thought about trying it on Windows.

What do I like? Tabbed browsing. Cookie management (although I have AdSubtract too). Tabbed browsing. Bookmarks. Built-in Google search. Tabbed browsing. Text zoom. And boy doesn’t it load pages fast! IE is a joke by comparison.

Speaking of which, AKMA’s new CSS-based design loads about a zillion times faster now. Looks clean and elegant too. Congratulations to AKMA for diving into CSS (and to Dorothea on her great job). Should we call this one a Salover?

I’m sure there must be lots of other great Mozilla features I haven’t yet discovered. Hopefully you’ll let me know what I’ve missed. (I assume that the 20% figure for Netscape 5 represents mainly Mozilla users.)

Oh, I just discovered that I can’t add a last minute URL from the Movable Type Edit Entry screen (those widgets only work in IE). Hardly the end of the world.

Update. While implementing the suggestions left in the comments (blocking ad images, stopping animations from looping, and stopping popups, popunders, window resizing & moving), I discovered that a window of tabs can be saved as a group bookmark. How cool is that? Now I can open Mozilla, click on the bookmark, and have eight sites open, each in their own tab.

One other question: is Mozilla immune to the security problems that plague IE? Or are the people who write these exploits less inclined to target browsers like Mozilla because of their smaller market share?

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Sunday 25 August 2002

Mac zealotry alive & well

Something of a shock to find dozens of links about Jaguar at diveintomark this morning. If this is the response to a 0.5 release (10.1.5 to 10.2), what’s going to happen when Mac OS 11 (XI?) ships? The response to Jaguar is something I haven’t seen since System 7 shipped.

One Friday in May 1991, about a week before the official release date, a friend with close connections at Apple called and asked if I’d like a copy of System 7. “Sure,” I replied.

“Send a courier over this afternoon to pick up the Zip disk,” he told me.

I mentioned to Sean, a young systems support guy in the company where I was working, that we’d probably have a copy of System 7 later that day. A couple of minutes later I heard him on the phone, explaining that there’d been an emergency at work and he’d have to work until very late.

“Wow, Sean,” I said when he’d put down the phone. “You cancelled your date so you could install a new operating system? After raving all week about this hot new babe?”

“You bet” he said fervently. “System 7 is more important than any girl.”

One assumes he’s rearranged his priorities in the intervening years. But, then again, perhaps not.

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Monday 26 August 2002

Introducing Reimi

Reimi-chan (my new cat)

This is Reimi. I decided to stay with the name I gave her when she first arrived, notwithstanding the problems I mentioned about its pronunciation and meaning. When I consulted an internationally renowned expert on naming animals, she advised me that:

animals, in particular cats and dogs, respond more positively to names that end in a long ‘e’ sound, such as Zoe. If possible, you want to name an animal a two syllable name, ending with the long e sound, such as Joey, Sammy, Kimi, Baby…

That nixed Hanako and Momoko.

The Chinese characters for Reimi

So I considered all the Japanese female names I like that end with a long ‘e’ sound, such as Nami, Fumi, Kimi, and Mami but soon realized that I think of her as Reimi (technically, three syllables in Japanese: re-i-mi). My friend Natsuko got around the fact that she’s not a tall, elegant, aloof cat by suggesting an alternative kanji for rei. So now her name means lovely/companion (rei) and beautiful (mi).

Pronunciation remains a problem. After hearing Natsuko say “Reimi,” my sister Louise asked: “Does it start with an ‘R’ or an ‘L’?”

Both,” replied Natsuko. Or, as Jack Seward explains:

To a layman like myself, the Japanese r sounds like a blending, in equal parts, of the l, d, and r of English. To a scholar of phonetics, it is a single-tap r with the tip of the tongue hitting briefly against the ridge behind the upper teeth and immediately descending. Try saying the English name Eddy, pronouncing the dd only very briefly and touching the tip of the tongue to the ridge behind the upper teeth only very lightly. This should give you a close approximation of the Japanese word eri, meaning collar.

Interestingly, research Professor Patricia Kuhl has conducted over the last 25 years at the University of Washington reveals that, at six months of age, babies of all nationalities can differentiate between sounds no matter what the language. “But over the next six months of life,” as Gregory Roberts writes in this story for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

the babies get even better at perceiving the changes in sounds from their “own” language, the one their parents speak — yet they gradually lose the ability to recognize changes in sounds that don’t exist in their native tongue.

As an example, Kuhl cites the English “r” and “l” sounds, which distinguish between words such as “rake” and “lake.” In the United States, babies from English-speaking homes detect the change from “ra” to “la” when they are 6 months old and get better at it by 12 months.

But in Japanese, there is no such “r” and “l” distinction. In Japan, where babies at 6 months perform as well as their American peers with the “r-l” shift, they can’t tell the difference at a year old.

As for Reimi-chan, she doesn’t seem to care how her name is pronounced, particularly when she’s being called for dinner.

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Gleaning

Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and IAgnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I is the best film I’ve seen for a long time—certainly the finest documentary essay since Chris Marker’s Sunless. When I walked out of the theater this afternoon, I was torn between buying a ticket for the next session and going for a long walk to savor the deep impressions left by this film.

Gleaners come after the harvest to scour the fields and orchards for unwanted vegetables and fruit (though one of Varda’s interviewees makes a careful distinction between gleaners and pickers, based on whether the scavenged items sprout from the ground or hang from trees or vines).

Varda—who made her first feature, La Pointe Courte, in 1954—starts with Millet’s painting of women gleaning wheat, then moves from the countryside to the city where people glean from market refuse or supermarket rubbish bins—from desperation, as an act of political principle, or for a variety of other reasons.

It’s tempting to think abstractly of filming (or any kind of art-making) as gleaning and Varda encourages this to a degree by interviewing a number of artists who use found objects as the basis of their artworks. But, in an interview with Andrea Meyer of indieWIRE, she cautions against taking the parallel too far:

It is true that filming, especially a documentary, is gleaning. Because you pick what you find; you bend; you go around; you are curious; you try to find out where are things. But, you cannot push the analogy further, because we don’t just film the leftovers. Even though there is some analogy about people that society pushes aside. But it’s too heavy an analogy.

The Gleaners and I is fashioned from many intertwined parts: trenchant social criticism, meditation on approaching death, analysis of agricultural practices, travel diary, homage to the irrepressible human spirit. It is, by turns, sad and comic, peopled with wonderful characters, such as a man who collects cast-off junk from outside people’s houses.

“Look,” he tells Varda, holding up a map of the town where he lives. “The city council supports us by publishing this map that even shows the days we can collect from each area.”

Varda gently suggests that the map has been provided for the opposite purpose: to advise the townspeople when they are allowed to throw away their unwanted items.

“Well,” he admits (speaking for all of us), “I suppose I’m seeing it from my own perspective.”

Agnès Varda is mentioned briefly twice in James Monaco’s The New Wave, which focuses on the big five: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, and Rivette (hardly surprising, given the degree of respect accorded women filmmakers when the book was written in 1976). Richard Neupert’s A History of the French New Wave Cinema promises to treat Varda more seriously.

The Gleaners and I is a sublime example of the film as essay, a form most closely associated with Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker, two of my favorite filmmakers—perhaps that’s why I loved it so much, why I just ordered the DVD, and why I’m eager to see more of her movies.

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Tuesday 27 August 2002

Doc Searls, American Porn, & a suddenly affectionate cat

Late this afternoon I made a good start on a post about the diverse responses to Doc Searls and the babe blogs. I went out for dinner, making it back just in time to start taping the PBS Frontline documentary American Porn (I did work experience in a porn shop for a couple of months last year, in the course of researching my book).

I lay down on the sofa to catch my breath and watch the first ten minutes of the program before getting back to writing. But Reimi-chan appeared beside me and—for the first time since I brought her home—jumped up on my chest and settled down on my stomach to watch TV. This was the moment I’d been waiting (and hoping for). She’s been skittish and reluctant to be picked up. Then, last night, she walked along the top of the sofa, leaned down, and licked my face. Still, I didn’t expect her to want to sit on me so soon and I sure as hell didn’t want to disturb her.

Now it’s late and my spirited defence of Doc Searls must wait until tomorrow.

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Wednesday 28 August 2002

Misunderstandings

Doc Searls wrote:

Oh: when you get tired of all the male kinda shit that seems to comprise 5/4 of the blog world (techblog or warblog… now there’s a sexy selection), wander on over to the smartest babeblogs on the Web: Dawn and Moxie.

Burningbird responded:

I know that Doc couldn’t possibly mean to come across so absolutely, completely, and without any excuse sexist. I had to check the calendar to see if, somehow, all of weblogging was magically transported back in time to the 50’s when I read this post.

If Dorothea Salo was “saddened by the uproar surrounding Burningbird’s wrist-slap of Doc Searls over a less than perfectly egalitarian characterization of blogs,” I was astonished that the uproar (in Bb’s comments and at Blogsisters) seemed to take place in a context-free zone.

“Am I the only one,” I asked myself, “who’s aware that Doc is on reasonably close terms with the babebloggers, Dawn Olsen and Madison Slade?”

But when Madison Slade (moxie) tried to defend Doc by commenting:

I’m one of the bloggers involved.
Doc’s comments were not sexist, rather part of an inside joke between the three of us. Dawn and I were quite amused by that post. We love the Doc.

xian put her firmly in her place:

moxie, bb never said the babebloggers comment was sexist. close reading shows that she is mainly objecting to technology (and war/politics) being considered the province of males.

Well, no. Close reading of Burningbird’s actual sentence reveals nothing of the sort. One could equally be left with the impression that it’s the term “babeblog” to which Burningbird objects.

But if we apply the “close reading” not to Burningbird’s post but to her own comments on that post, xian is absolutely correct. The main source of her frustration and annoyance is the assumption that technology (and war/politics) is the province of males. (I don’t think that’s what Doc meant, but it’s the inference that’s been drawn.)

And Burningbird did imply the babebloggers reference was sexist, in a comment at Blogsisters:

Bluntly, in the right context, I don’t mind babe, particularly when it’s used as an affectionate term of endearment. But I do not like it out of the context. I think it is offensive.

If it’s only offensive when lifted out of context, then—in the context of Doc’s relationship with Dawn Olsen and Madison Slade—it’s not offensive at all, since it’s quite clearly being used as an affectionate term of endearment. How do I know? Because I’ve been following the Dawn/Madison/Doc saga since Doc’s LA Party Report six weeks ago, in which he described his first encounter with the Los Angeles blogging scene. And because a comment by Dawn Olsen on one of Doc’s posts suggests the feeling is reciprocal:

Doc, not sure how this thing works - but here goes. You are the sexiest and sweetest tech blogger ever. You transcend geekdom and are an icon. Thanks for all your kind endorsements. Moxie and I love you!!! Mrs. Searls is one lucky lady!!!

Why does this matter? Because I don’t care for the way Doc’s remark has been taken out of context without any regard for its intent. Because I think it’s unfortunate that a lighthearted and inconsequential observation has been used to pillory someone who is kind and supportive and decent. Because I sense that what’s happened to Doc could just as easily happen to me (or any other guy).

Let me make it clear though: I don’t think that was Burningbird’s purpose at all. In a number of subsequent comments, she made it clear that she holds Doc in high regard. Dorothea Salo nailed it when she wrote:

To my mind, Bb did everything right. She didn’t ignore something she didn’t approve of. She didn’t fulminate, she didn’t proclaim a sudden dislike for Doc, she didn’t generalize from one message to all of Doc’s output, she didn’t generalize from (a putatively sexist) Doc to the rest of the universe. She used humor, not anger, to get her message across.

And all her message really contained was, “Ow. Doc, that hurt.”

But, out of Bb’s post, came the furor that Dorothea found astounding:

Most of it (some of it in BB’s comments, some on Blogsisters) fell into precisely the errors that Bb herself did not commit. Demonizing Doc over a single message. Demonizing men over a single message from Doc. Demonizing Bb for caring, often accusing her of rhetorical violence she didn’t get anywhere near.

It’s this doctrinaire, reductionist, Pharisaical mindset that I abhor—this insistence on enforcing the letter of the law while utterly ignoring its spirit. I decided years ago that words count for little compared to actions, that how someone behaves over time provides an infinitely more accurate guide to their character than a throwaway remark.

In Blogaria, unfortunately, words are actions. Or, as Deb Gussman pointed out in Bb’s comments, “one of the problems with writing is that the writing’s all you’ve got.” She neatly summed up the key issues:

[Doc is] not the first or last one of us who will say something sexist, or racist, or ageist, or who will make a generalization, or whose irony will be missed. We all do this sometimes b/c we are all part of the same system. For me, a 40 year old feminist, reading Bb’s post was helpful—a confirmation that I’m not alone in responding to language the way I do. Some of you responded differently. I don’t think the dialogue here has to be reduced to political correctness. What’s exhausting (to me) is feeling unheard, or misunderstood, or feeling unable to say what I mean with precision and clarity. Still, I think this conversation is valuable. I think it confirms that human beings respond to language in vastly different ways, that we experience reality differently, that we can’t always control the way other people understand what we write, or say, or believe, and that it’s good to be able to keep talking.

That’s it in a nutshell: “We can’t always control the way other people understand what we write, or say, or believe.” Doc Searls couldn’t control it and nor could Burningbird.

But it’s possible to write in a way that encourages people to keep talking and that’s something that Burningbird achieves with enviable consistency. Burningbird is such a gifted blogger. She writes with confidence and clarity about a startling array of topics: technology, nature, politics, books, traveling … with each post reflecting her passion and commitment for the subject at hand and the world at large. Moreover, she switches styles fluidly, writing precisely, poetically, or passionately as the subject demands.

Her posts attract comments like bees to pollen; for the most part, those comments are good-natured and insightful, occasionally they are boorish or aggressive. Either way, Burningbird is a warm and gracious hostess and her attitude encourages visitors to return. Even if she makes an occasional error in judgement—as I believe she did about Doc Searls—she does it in a way that opens up the conversation, both in the comments people leave and in the posts other bloggers write in reply.

Seen in that light, Burningbird’s irritation with Doc’s remark is understandable. Burningbird is one of the few bloggers who can switch effortlessly from technology to politics to war and back. She’s clearly on top of the technical issues and she can slug it out with the politico/warbloggers too. If I were in her situation, it would drive me batty to be informed that technology and war/politics are the province of males.

Is that what Doc wrote? I don’t think so. I rather think he was lampooning single issue blogs and saying: “If you want something different, these two smart, sassy women write engagingly and well.” In other words, he was directing some flow to two female bloggers he likes and respects. And he gets chastised for being sexist.

And, on the other side, Burningbird runs rings around the tech/war/politico-bloggers again and again, only to see them lose interest and go back to pissing in each other’s pockets. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?” she must think to herself. “Make myself feel better by reading a Salon story about how women film directors have it tough too?”

In other words, there are no winners here. Doc is denigrated, Burningbird feels demeaned. He might have phrased it a little better, she might have looked more closely at the context and his intent.

Jeneane Sessums gets it right:

Shelley, I don’t think Doc has a sexist bone in his body—and I know that’s not what you’re saying—you’re asking if his words were sexist as they were aligned in his sentence.

Don’t spank him for that. Spank the assholes whose hearts are filled with darkness and hate.

Because there’s little to be gained in criticizing those few men who are—deep in their hearts—your allies (no matter what throwaway remarks they might occasionally make).

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Thursday 29 August 2002

Silkworms

Horace Bristol: mature silkworms being placed on trays
Horace Bristol, Japan, 1949: Mature silkworms being placed on trays

I collected Horace Bristol’s Japan (recommended by Jeff Ward) from the Post Office this morning. Just as Jeff suggested, it’s a real find: beautifully constructed photographs of everyday life in postwar Japan in fourteen individual portfolios.

I picked a photograph from the Silk porfolio, to honor Burningbird’s insightful review of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn:

Once I had the first key I could then see the second key, the second thread that binds the stories — a thread of silk. Sebald liberally sprinkles references to silk throughout the book, as an adult would sprinkle clues for a child at an Easter Egg hunt.

References to Thomas Browne’s father being a silk merchant; the purple piece of silk in the urn of Patroculus; the silken ropes given to Hsien-feng’s viceroys so that they may hang themselves, an act of benevolence as their sentence decreed that they …be dismembered and sliced into slices.

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Friday 30 August 2002

A story we try to prove true

Michael Barrish, Story:

I’ve long believed that we each have a story, often unknown to us, that we try all our lives to prove true. As I see it, this is the key to understanding a lot of otherwise inexplicable behavior… It can usually be summarized in five words or less.

I am alone.

Mark Pilgrim, Proven True:

Every day, I try to clarify in my own mind some specific thing I am grateful for. This generally takes the form of “today is better than yesterday in some way”… But every now and then I—intentionally or accidentally—step back and feel gratitude on an absolute scale.

I am blessed.

Jonathon Delacour:

At a certain point I came to understand that nothing lasts, everything vanishes away, and my best approach is to lovingly embrace this transient world. I find pleasure in everyday pursuits whilst knowing they will soon disappear. I appreciate the poignancy of things.

Life is a beautiful dream.

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Saturday 31 August 2002

La Vida es Sueno

(Este es el soliloquio más famoso del drama español; ocurre al final del primer acto, cuando Segismundo piensa en la vida y en su suerte.)

Sueña el rey que es rey, y vive
con este engaño mandando,
disponiendo y gobernando;
y este aplauso, que recibe
prestado, en el viento escribe,
y en cenizas le convierte
la muerte, ¡desdicha fuerte!
¿Que hay quien intente reinar,
viendo que ha de despertar
en el sueño de la muerte?

Sueña el rico en su riqueza,
que más cuidados le ofrece;
sueña el pobre que padece
su miseria y su pobreza;
sueña el que a medrar empieza,
sueña el que afana y pretende,
sueña el que agravia y ofende,
y en el mundo, en conclusión,
todos sueñan lo que son,
aunque ninguno lo entiende.

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
destas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

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Dreams can come true

Casio Exilim EX-S2 lens and viewfinderWanting a small digital camera I could take with me everywhere, I seriously considered the Casio Exilim EX-S1, before finally concluding:

“If the [EX-S1] had a resolution of two megapixels instead of one, I’d buy it immediately.”

Now via DPReview comes news that Casio “has announced a new two megapixel version of its ultra small, ultra thin ‘Exilim’ digital camera.” The EX-S2 is due to ship in the US on September 17. I hope I don’t have to wait too long for it to arrive in Australia.

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Van the Man

Today is Van Morrison’s 57th birthday.

The Van Morrison Website

Wavelength

Van Morrison Praise Page

The Official Van Morrison Website

Van-Morrison.com

Into the Music: The Best of Van Morrison in Concert

What do people who like Van Morrison listen to?

Van Morrison Song Lyrics

Amazon.com Van Morrison Essentials

It’s Too Late To Stop Now: The Van Morrison Interview…

Update. Ray Sweatman suggested some more links in his comment and I’m adding them to the list:

KVAN Internet Radio—Live Van all the time

The Vantrades List

Van-L Discussion List

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour