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    Tuesday, September 8, 2009, 3:52 PM [General]

    Tomorrow marks a significant place in the calendar, if you put any stock in the idea that numbers mean something.

    For me, nines signify endings -- and new beginnings. So at the moment, I find 09/09/09 to be an auspicious number, since I believe that today we face a social and historical situation where many things must and will end: a society based on consumerism, our perpetual and incessant foreign wars, and television, which has infantilized American "consumers" to such an extreme degree as to destroy the national intellect, which once enabled Americans to act in their own self-interest.

    Tomorrow's date is significant enough that Yahoo! News is running a story about it. Among other interesting fact, this article notes that:

    Any grade-schooler could tell you, for example, that the sum of the two-digits resulting from nine multiplied by any other single-digit number will equal nine. So 9x3=27, and 2+7=9.

    Multiply nine by any two, three or four-digit number and the sums of those will also break down to nine. For example: 9x62 = 558; 5+5+8=18; 1+8=9.

    Sept. 9 also happens to be the 252nd day of the year (2 + 5 +2)...

    See also the Beatles' prophetic Revolution Number 9, which was made at the end of the sixties, in 1969, and might be the first time an artist used sampling in this way.

    Tarot card: The Old Man, Prismacolor pencils drawing by Dave B.


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    Stencil Graffiti

    Monday, September 7, 2009, 2:10 PM [General]

    The ugliness of freestyle tagging is increasingly taking a back seat to stencil graffiti.

    Under the influence of the U.K.'s great stencil artist Banksy, stencil graffiti has become a major influence in public art in the world's more cosmopolitan cities. Not all of it is great, or even good, but a surprising amount of it is very high quality.

    In San Francisco where I took this picture, most of the stencil graffiti is executed on the sidewalks rather than private buildings. This puts it squarely into the realm of public art, as opposed to vandalism. But even though it's more polite than tagging, it expresses an anti-authoritarian, outsider aesthetic. As such, it is revolutionary.

    Other traits of the revolution to come include anonymity, the uncompensated production of free art, goods, and services, a tendency to use hit-and-run tactics rather than prolonged confrontation with the powers that be, and humor, especially satire and sardonic ridicule.

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    Roadside Attraction

    Monday, August 31, 2009, 3:25 PM [General]

    Look at these beautiful, bright yellow daisy-like flowers with orange centers. They're so bright that on a gloomy, foggy morning like today's they absolutely dazzle the eye. And yet they're nothing more than roadside weeds.

    They're small; each bloom is about the size of a quarter.

    I found them growing beside the blacktop on my way up to the village store to buy bananas this morning. I don't know how common they are because I've never seen them before.

    If I had been driving instead of walking I'd have never spotted them. But I'm becoming a big believer in slowing down enough to get rewarded by things exactly like this. These gorgeous flowers provided one of the high points in my day, however humble, unremarkable, and commonplace they might be.


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    The Knight Between Death and the Devil

    Monday, August 24, 2009, 10:01 PM [General]


    Today I consulted the oracle, so if you're the kind of person who thinks that oracles, astrology, reading the auspices, etc., is nothing but a bunch of foolish superstition, please stop reading now and go to another site. I have no wish to annoy you.

    The consultation was a little startling. Any draw which includes both Death and The Devil is bound to be, especially if it's only a three-card draw. However, there's nothing here to be afraid of. Unlike the knight in the picture, death is behind me, and that's certainly a true reflection of the actual state of affairs. My mother's death, the death of my marriage, and the disappearance of my old life are all in the past now. Time to ride on.

    Also unlike Dürer's knight, who has the devil behind him and now confronts death, I have the devil in front of me. I look forward to wrestling with him. Struggling with the devil calls forth a lot of energy, and my adversary, while clever, is incapable of creating anything; he can only destroy.

    In Dürer's 1513 woodcut, which he called Der Reuther (The Runner), an aging knight rides easily past a pig-snouted and horned devil, whose single most prominent, crescent-shaped horn is suggestive of Islam. Mounted securely atop a muscular and vigorous stallion and accompanied by his faithful dog, the knight appears confident and invincible, but death, astride his pale and gaunt horse, waits alongside the road in front of an ominously eroded wall of earth, holding up his hourglass for the knight to see. But does he see it, or the pale rider accosting him? 

    This is the first of a series of three of the artist's greatest woodcuts, called collectively Meisterstiche. The other two are St. Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melancolia I (1514).


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    Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 6:54 PM [General]

    I'm staying here beside the green water and it suits me.

    Hanging among the green trees by the waterside, and it's peaceful.

    In a fourplex by the side of the road in a remote place.

    Where I can climb the stairway to heaven any time I want.

    I think I'll forget about politics. Politics is caca.

    Pericles, that old Greek politician guy, said way back in B.C. during the Peloponnesian War that "You may not take an interest in politics, but you can be sure politics takes an interest in you" (this according to Thucydides in his history of that war.)

    I wouldn't want to be the one to argue with somebody so illustrious who's been dead that long, and anyway he may be right. I always thought if I at least knew what was going on, I'd know when they were coming to get me.

    But any more I just can't do politics. No way. Not since it got so twitterfied, and all weirded out and nutted up with all this "death panel" &c. &c., and stuff.

    I just can't do it any more since we went full frontal wingnut. Sorry guys.

    Now, does anybody want a hot trip to heaven?



    photo by me


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    Two by Johns

    Monday, August 17, 2009, 7:57 PM [General]


    Jasper Johns, who painted the two versions of the American flag here and here, was inspired to take up this subject by a dream.

    According to a 1988 New York Times article, One day in 1954, Johns casually mentioned to (fellow artist Robert) Rauschenberg that he'd had a crazy dream the previous night. ''How crazy was it?'' Rauschenberg asked. ''Well,'' Johns replied, ''in this dream I was painting the American flag.'' The American flag? Rauschenberg didn't think it was crazy at all. ''That's a really great idea,'' he said.

    The immediate result was Johns's original encaustic-on-fabric pasted-on-a-board flag, the conventional-looking red, white, and blue one. This was in the mid-fifties, and Johns was 24. He had no idea that acting on his dream as Rauschenberg suggested would make him famous.

    The proprietor of the site "Sacred Narrative," from which I got this information, suggests that "Dream work is easy."

    "To make your dreams work for you," she says, "you have to do three things:

    "1) remember them

    2) listen to them

    3) act on them"



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    That Sound Again

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 8:40 PM [General]

    Yes, indeed. At the senior center, they have automatic doors for people who use walkers or are in wheelchairs, etc. Big square pushbuttons to open those doors are on the walls about seven feet out in front of them.

    So comes the old woman with the walker, and opens the doors to go outside. She is still getting herself around, but has seen better days and is not completely present either. Still, she's doing OK.

    After she waits in the driveway a couple of minutes, the van arrives to pick her up. The front door opens and I hear it -- the toxic drone of right-wing hate radio -- coming from inside the van, which is driven by a younger old guy. Maybe a son, that would be my guess.

    Then he snaps at her as she's getting in, because she's having a hard time getting her walker and all her stuff in, then she gets the seat belt tangled up in the door.

    Finally the door closes and off they go. God, what a messed-up country we're living in.

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    Three Books

    Monday, August 10, 2009, 6:09 PM [General]


    If you were shipwrecked on a desert island and could take only three books with you, which three would they be?

    I didn't have any trouble deciding when I asked myself that question this morning. The first would be the King James Bible, and I'd want to take the copy I have now, a facsimile of a latter-day reprint of the 1611 edition, with the original 17th-century spelling preserved. Besides being the ultimate repository of wisdom and the primary of the only two sources of western literature (the other being the scattered literary treasure of classical antiquity), the book's language is incredibly beautiful, with its archaic spelling matching and amplifying its equally antique turns of the phrase.

    For example, in Chapter IV (or IIII) of Genesis, God says to Cain, "What hast thou done? the voyce of thy brothers blood cryeth vnto me from the ground," which packages the instinctive human need for revenge and exacting retribution for crimes in the neatest possible metaphor. The KJV is an inexhaustible source of these kinds of intensely poetic moralistic images, and its histories are as exciting and entertaining as any ever written, if one takes into account their ideological, tribal slant.

    My second choice is pure history, but with strong poetic tendencies: the Modern Library's one-volume edition of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall." Edward Gibbon's Roman epic actually embraces the history of the entire Mediterranean region and beyond, and extends nearly 16 centuries, from the dawn of the current era to the beginnings of the Renaissance and the final conquest of the Eastern Empire by Islam. It includes chapters on the rise of Islam and on the spread and early success of Christianity, and serves as a primer of all the knowledge anyone serious about mastering the fundamentals of western history should be familiar with.

    Finally, I would spend many of my free hours on this desert isle, of which I would have 24 a day, immersing myself in Dante's Divine Comedy, one of the few indisputably essential works of the western canon. I've only read an outdated English translation of the first third of Dante's masterpiece, which functions among other things as a literary bridge connecting the middle ages with the gateway to modern times, the Renaissance. I'd want an edition with the original Italian on one page and the English translation on the facing page, so I could learn medieval Italian in my spare time.

    With Gibbon, Dante, and the Old Testament prophets for company, life on the desert island would certainly be more tolerable that it would be without them. However, I'd still hope to be rescued.


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    My Demographic

    Friday, August 7, 2009, 9:11 PM [General]


    A correspondent writes:

    89% of Republicans are WHITE ANGLOS.

    What should all those aging White Guys do?

    They should live in mobile home parks in the Mojave Desert of Arizona and California, and play lots of golf -- full-size golf (XL) and miniature.

    They should go to McDonald's and ask for senior coffee. They should play bingo on Friday nights.

    They should attend church and be sincere believers in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, but not let the teachings of Jesus interfere with their political views, because that's the most important part of their religion.

    They should have large-screen TV's in their mobile homes and watch re-runs of "Seinfeld," whose jokes they still do not understand after all these years. 

    As time goes on it will be increasingly risky for Republicans to drive, and they will spend their final years tooling around their mobile parks on golf carts, sometimes bumping into one another.

    In the background The Who is singing, "Talkin' 'bout my demm-ographic..."

    Portrait: Houston Mayor Bill White


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    Sea of Tranquility

    Thursday, August 6, 2009, 7:33 PM [General]

    Today's was my first full morning yoga practice in a long time, and it felt great.

    I still have the remnant of a torn-up shoulder from that fall I took last December, and if I don't get my complete morning stretch it just doesn't feel right.

    Concentrated, controlled breathing, pranayama by name, requires more concentration than anything else in the practice, more even than meditation. It's nearly impossible to empty out the mind for more than a few seconds; when unoccupied it immediately seeks a thought, like a child afraid of his own reflection.

    Afterward, with tranquil mind and relaxed body, I contemplate the history of our time, which is the last 250 years or so, compared with the time that preceded it -- the previous five thousand years. A historian of the French Ancien Régime I once read -- I forget who it was -- said that the government and culture of Louis XIV's France and ancient Egypt were more similar than the life of the Ancien Régime and that of France in 1890. Materially, we're much better off than our ancestors, better off than they ever even dreamed of being. In our family lives, our spiritual existence, our security or life's foundation...I'm not so sure -- can't really tell. Was there ever a generation before like ours, that didn't know from year to year what their lives were going to be like?

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