Monday, April 28, 2003

I was recently reminded of this post I once made on Metafilter. Don't miss the excerpted correspondence with Fender Tucker near the end of the thread.

I learned of Keeler through the website of Richard Sala. And I learned of Sala because i stumbled upon a book of his, hidden in some stacks at a used bookstore.

The book was the Chuckling Whatsit, a strange and riveting tale about a mysterious and powerful totem. The story is dark and Victorian and Sala manages to tread on that fine line that joins the humorous and the macabre - not too unlike Edward Gorey. The plot involves secret societies, ancient mysteries and convoluted sub-plots all woven together with a dark sense of humor.

It is not odd then that Sala's website provides one of the few links to Keeler on the web. The Keeler society is itself a sort of secret cult, hinted at by writers such as Neil Gaiman and William Poundstone.

Friday, April 25, 2003


-She walked in like royalty. We loped around her, covering our faces.

-Symmetry exists because of imperfections. The mirror gives itself away because of subtle reflections. Otherwise it would be a habitable space. Time forward is not the same as time backward. No matter how abstract the mirror, it always has a fault.

-Denouement is underrated. Too often the fall from climax is so abrupt as to make our stomachs turn. Listen: The man has stopped singing. The chorus now chimes in, cradles us in their voices, softly lays us down.

-Truth is like an explored landscape. Unreachable truths are like far-away lands that we can only point to and wave our arms. We clamber back and forth; metaphor and analogy are our only crude tools. But what if the tools we need have not been imagined? (A is like B presumes B)

-Our world is manufactured by our community, our friends. It is a universe of consensus. As we jump to different circles we re-discover the proliferation of worlds.

-Our arguments follow the same pattern. The rules of rhetoric were discovered long ago. Often we willfully delude ourselves that we are making progress. To think otherwise is unbearable.

-We are storytellers. Our life, when drawn for others, has the straightforward drama of a classic narrative. The text has been cleaned of the ugly and the inscrutable. But have we left out the most important parts?

-We are so anxious to create meaning out of patterns that we create them out of nothing. An unrelated sequence of events becomes a cataclysm. Two insults in a row become our downfall. One unsolicited kiss becomes our salvation.

Monday, April 21, 2003

since i was a child, i have always been covetous of images. i always felt there was never enough time to really "see" and experience everything around me. i craved the possession of images past and present, and the creation of my own personal dreams, symbols, and future.

i started taking pictures to remember -- documenting and recording images i could not trust my mind to hold completely and accurately. but over time, i realized that through images, i could not only capture moments of significance, but also moments of beauty, that in themselves had worth in the vicarious experience of their viewing. in addition, by capturing those small moments of beauty all around us, and by focusing and re-experiencing that beauty, i possessed another tool to determine my own mood and consciousness.

This is the introduction to my friend Paul's fantastic Asia project. Paul got his start in the world of New York fashion photography. As his roommate in Manhattan, I used to watch for him on TV's Fashion File, sometimes catching glimpses of him at the end of the runway, taking pictures of Naomi Campbell or other models who strolled in front of his lens.

Now Paul, an amazing photographer who has studied with Mary Ellen Mark, turns his camera to Asia. The sequences of images are a gorgeous visual narrative, like a wordless novel.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Speaking of the private, I have been reading ostinato, which is neither poetry nor prose, but rather a biography written in the language of emotions. Reading it, I become hyper aware of my own emotions - the sensation and images that make them up. And how interesting and disappointing that so many of his emotions are about sex and pain and the small deaths we suffer as we live. I'd like to think there was more. Love for instance. But, Love is primarily a selfish emotion.

So writes my friend and she is right; for the thought raises in me the larger question of how we can escape the old philosopher's conundrum of reducing all actions and emotions to mere solipsism. The "other" it seems in the best case can be much more than a reflection of ourselves or a pool into which we cast our wishes and dreams. They can also be an expansive gateway, a secret door, which when unlocked can seem to open up a wider world.

The reflection of ourselves, unlike a simple mirror, always brings something back with it, an alien cargo, which makes this more substantial than an illusion, much more real and substantial than a hall of mirrors.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Alexandria, a city at once sacred and profane; between Theocritus, Plotinus, and the Septagint one moves on intermediate levels which are those of race as much as anything - like saying Copt, Greek and Jew or Moslem, Turk and Armenian... Am I wrong? These are the slow accretions of time itself on place. Just as life on the individual face lays down, wash by successive wash, the wrinkles of experiences in which laughter and tears are utterly indistinguable. Warm casts of experience on the sands of life...' So writes my friend, and he is right; for the Interlinear now raises for me much more than the problem of objective 'truth to life', or if you like 'to fiction'. It raises, as life itself does - whether one make or takes it - the harder-grained question of form. How then am I to manipulate this mass of crystalized data in order to work out the meaning of it and so give a coherent picture of this impossible city of love and obscenity?
-from Lawrence Durrell's Balthazar

A fund-raiser for a Burning Man construction. (Those are friends. I am not pictured)

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

jury duty

My jury service ended today. Overall, I feel that i did my small part at combatting injustice.

The accused men were two black men both of whom attended a large party at a well-known bar here in San Francisco. The more serious of the accusations (six counts in all among the two men) were that these two men had committed battery against san franciso police officers, that they had resisted arrest and provoked violence.

I like to believe that I have a fair and open mind about these things. Most of my direct experience with the police, with law enforcement, has been through my younger brother, a tattooed rebel who has served jail time here and there. I know, from him, that at times he has been treated unfairly, been the subject of quick accusations and, for many police officers fits the profile, both in his looks and demeanor of a 'usual suspect.' But, I also know that he can be a bit of a scoundrel sometimes, that much of the jailtime he has served has been, from our family's perspective, well-deserved.

The case I just heard lasted about a week and we deliberated for about eight hours total before coming to a unanimous decision. The first jury poll showed that we were unequally divided with the slight majority of us weighing in with a 'not guilty' verdict. Others were undecided and a few were convinced of the defendant's guilt.

I was surprised at how civil, fair and open-minded my fellow jurors were. Maybe I had watched too much tv an expected it to be contentious. But, we heard each other out, carefully reviewed everyone's notes, went over the details of the testimony both from the defense and the prosecution witnesses. As we discussed the details among ourselves, more and more inconsistencies emerged, across all testimonies.

I know from my readings and from having known a defense attorney very well that witnesses can be unreliable. Our memories are fallible and selective. When judging someone's recollection of an event, you have to also take this into account and not assume that direct contradictions in testimony necessarily assume that a witness has willfully lied. In some case, we actually found the opposite to be true, that some independent testimonies were -so- similar as to arouse our suspicions.

Those of us who argued for 'not guilty' relied on a couple tactics. The first was to remind our fellow jurors (and ourselves) of the distinction between 'not guilty' and 'innocent'. It seemed clear to me and to others that a lot of misconduct had probably occurred on both sides that night. But, our role here was not play impartial judge and award guilt or innocence. Our very narrow role was to determine whether the prosecution had presented us with enough compelling evidence to determine whether -these- specific defendants could be convicted of -these- specific charges. Its an important distinction.

The second tactic among all the jurors was to look at credibility. It was generally agreed upon that both sides (prosecution and defense) had deep flaws in their case. Despite the small errors of memory, there was gaping holes in the prosecutions case that were enough to make me (and many of us) uncomfortable that two men could be convicted on this basis. Or, to put it more personally, that you or I could be convicted on nothing more than this. It was not a matter of pointing out that police can be untruthful (they can) but, in our case, merely pointing out that police can be human, and like all us humans, flawed.

After eight hours of talk, of the discussion of the finer points of the case, we slowly came to agreement. Each of our fellow jurors felt inclined to agree, if they had not done so earlier, that they could not uphold an abiding conviction in this case, that they could not walk away and feel, say a month later, that they had made the right choice in voting for a conviction.

We all voted Not Guilty on all six counts.

I should add here that one mistake made by the prosecution (and to a lesser extent by the defense) was to underestimate the intelligence of us 12. In many cases it was clear that loaded words were being used to try to sway our view of events, strong words that should not have been used. If such introduced prejudices are not supported by the testimony of your witnesses, they are likely to backfire, causing the jury to more cleanly pick apart your case, looking for other signs that they have been manipulated and, ultimately (and this is a prosecutor's nightmare) casting doubt on your entire presentation.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Starkeffect's too cute Think of Me from the new Metafilter Music site.

Read more about mic in track, to see where these sound samples are from.

This is the right moment to be here. Poised between two imperfect moments. Conversations at the bar, the dj plays latin jazz and salsa, This feels like a ballroom of friends or of friendly strangers. We are drinking at the bar, me sipping the lone manhattan among a small sea of cosmopolitans. As the music picks up, a pack of people arrive, mostly women, dressed in wild colors, walking in like a samba school, refugees from another affair. The men arrive later. They eye the women who are nodding their heads and bodies, swaying to the drums, the rhythm. The whole place has soon erupted and, somehow, I am also in the middle of the dance floor, hips moving in a south american style. We have all collided now, the giggling girls from earlier, the men in pursuit, the strangers at the end of the bar. We are all sharing this moment.

On the next day, the sun is breaking the sky open, dissipating an early morning rain, reflecting itself endlessly in a patchwork of quivering puddles. The local coffeshop is full of us, all of us drinking coffee, reading our books and newspapers, squinting at the sun.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Between pain and pleasure there are three
creatures. One looks at a wall,
the second puts on a sad disposition
and the third advances on tiptoes;
but, between you and me,
only second creatures exist.

Leaning on my forehead, the day
agrees that, in truth,
there is much accuracy in space;
but, if the happiness, that, after all, has size,
begins, alas! in my mouth,
who is going to ask me for my word?

To the instantaneous meaning of eternity
this encounter vested with black thread,
but to your temporal farewell,
corresponds solely what is immutable,
your creature, the soul, my word.

- Cesar Vallejo, from Payment of Bones (1923-1936)
If you happen to get invited to the San Francisco Ballet because a friend has an extra ticket and you go and you love the performance, with its sublime production of the germanic nanna's lied, then you should also grab some dessert downstairs, rushed, in an intermission, chocolate served between the dances.

Now twice someone has mentioned Taco Portal, a psychedelic trance affair at San Francisco's Border Cantina. This is irresistible. I will be there next thursday or next.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

A good friend hands me a ticket to go anywhere in the world. The ticket is to anywhere, so the farther the better I suppose. But how do I balance distance with desire?

Travel always evokes an exciting sense of escape, of at least temporary freedom. Its a fusion of the novel and of the tempting idea of losing oneself in time. One is able to reset oneself, to at least shed this restlessness, if only temporarily.

The challenge is to throw yourself into time with no structure and not succumb to boredom. To find a way to focus on a present where events follow each other in natural succession and each task seems immediate and necessary.

Travel is imminent.
I am doing jury duty this week. A criminal case at the San Francisco Courthouse. And that is all I can say about that. Except that it is taking up all my afternoons.

Monday, April 07, 2003

A rough night amidst dreams of spirals. I tell very few people that I dream of spirals so this is an admission of sorts. I think in spirals. I do calculations in my head with spirals.

I have tried a few times to put on paper the shape and dimensions of my dreams. But, in my head, I can zoom in and out at will and so I have no sense of scale, no fixed reference for these things, these mathematical organisms.

They do have an orientation. I associate numbers with points on the spiral. The number 10 is at about what I'd consider 9 o'clock on a clockface. The number 1000 is also at that orientation, on the next trip around the curve. Then, surprisingly, the next number is about 1 decillion - 10^33. I can not be sure that that is where these numbers stand. As I zoom in to discover them, the larger spiral loses its focus, I am in too close, and I am left looking at the local topography.

Sometimes, in my head, I will quickly zoom in, hoping to discern the local shape of the curve. It's not smooth, I have gathered that much. There are bumpy sections on its spine, some bumpier than others.

The number 13, for example, has given me a lot of trouble. It seems somehow to have an odd place among the folds of the curve, as if it is not always there or as if the curve takes an unexpected twist. This has, for me, practical implications since I do even simple addition like this, by climbing along the curve.

Ask me what 8+5 is and, half the time i will tell you it is 12.

Friday, April 04, 2003

A few quick things. The Robots have Feelings Too show coming up here in San Francisco. A lot of great stuff - much of it online at the website above. I'll try to find time to visit.

Two unrelated friends talk about Thomas Struth.

I've been getting a lot of good music from Radiovista. The current playlists are right here. I've been looking forward to each new mix. Eclectic, fantastic stuff.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

My friend Lisa writes me to let me know that she is on the cover of a Polish art magazine. That is her on the left in the above pictures, wearing a skirt and wielding a red light saber.

The magazine Raster is online and looks interesting even if, like me, you dont understand Polish and have to settle for looking at the pretty pictures (ooh! Nan Goldin.)

When I think of Lisa, I still think of her as I knew her in college and I think of play-doh carrots. She used to buy orange and green play-doh and make hundreds, no thousands, of tiny play-doh carrots - small enough that you could roll them between two fingers.

She left these carrots everywhere, she kept them in tiny boxes and also let them run wild all over her room. Sometimes, at unexpected moments, like when removing a book from a shelf, out would come a little stream of carrots.

I am still not sure whether this was some sort of art project or whether it was just playful obsessiveness. With Lisa, I'm not sure there is a difference.