Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Eminent domain in the era of unbridled capitalism

Trump got the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to begin condemnation proceedings against all three, justifying the move as an attempt to add hotel rooms to support the new Atlantic City Convention Center. Clare Sabatini said CRDA representatives told her she would be handcuffed and taken out of her restaurant if she didn't sell.

'This is America!' says Vincent Sabatini, 75, recalling the battle during a break from his kitchen on a recent Wednesday night. 'How can they put me out of business? How could they just take my deed from me?'

- Restaurant Owners to Sell to Trump," by John Curran, Associated Press Writer

The year is 1814. The British Post Office and its cronies are attempting the first case of eminent domain ever to be used on a massive scale in an urban intervention.

Under examination is Joseph Hillman, an ironmonger, of Foster Lane. The examining judge, William Bankes, has heard evidence that the site under discussion, St. Martin's-le-Grand, is populated by some dozen "houses of ill repute". He's been listening to testimony that the location is a pernicious den of thieves, a menace to law-abiding society.

Hillman replies that St Martin's parish is “valuable to the inhabitants.” He talks of silversmiths living near Goldsmith Hall, of old families, of local traditions. He adds that the inhabitants are old and will be greatly inconvenienced by the forced removal. “Do you think the inhabitants of St. Martin’s-le-Grand are older inhabitants, more stationary, than in general the inhabitants in other parts of the city?" asks Bankes. Hillman replies, "There are not people of longer standing in any neighburhood, than in the neighbourhood of St. Martin’s-le-Grand.” Are there any brothels there? asks Bankes. Hillman replies that there are two.

Eminent domain is new law, running in direct conflict with the law of privacy and the fundamental protection of private houses. As its uses expand, so do its dangers.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Just like the winter of 1814

"An operation to rescue 500 people from vehicles stranded in snow on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was tonight under way as winter weather hit the west of Britain hardest."
--Guardian Staff

Harsh winters are rare on this island, warmed as it is by Atlantic currents. So blizzards always take Britain by surprise. In 1814, people were dying on the roads because of hitherto unknown levels of snow. Postboys, who were regularly threatened with a month's hard labour in prison if they were caught loitering in their deliveries, froze to death on their horses.

In 1814, the Age of Reform and the first evangelical awakening were already underway. The winter stopped people, their fading warmth pulling them towards each other to discuss their connections more earnestly.

Disasters are coming. All disasters have moral consequences beyond their physical ones. Disasters can be excuses to crack down on terror, reasons to police the roads, inspiration to care for the weakest, excuses to relax one's expectations of a hard work ethic. Hurricanes are heading south, and snow is heading north. Good time to keep a finger to the wind.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Folk v. Housing

Marcus Salter, head of Genesis Properties, estimates that the small colony of fairies believed to live beneath a rock in St Fillans, Perthshire, has cost him £15,000. His first notice of the residential sensibilities of the netherworld came as his diggers moved on to a site on the outskirts of the village, which crowns the easterly shore of Loch Earn.
-- Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

Other links:

  • the rest of Scotland has its share of sacred stones, sometimes standing monuments, but sometimes, similarly, merely sacred rocks in the middle of fields, over which one must not plow.
  • there exists, as I learned from my Scandinavian folklore teacher Timothy Tangherlini, a prototype in Scandinavian folklore wherein a rock in the middle of the field must not be plowed because fairies (trolls, fians) live below
  • more broadly, the sacred geography of most cultures associates different types of beings with different types of places, giving us hints as to what psychologists and anthropologists have deemed the "psychogeography" of ancient peoples, and what obsesses new age fanatics about the supposed spiritual nature of rocks. From Central American folklore, the wamani, apu, and tirakami are supernatural beings that live on mountain peaks and in mountain lakes. Minnesota and California have their share of sacred rocks. Some kami of Japan occupy similar positions. Kevin Nute, a Japanese architecture theorist, has written perceptively about the concept of "ma" and how it relates folklore to contemporary building, planning, and architecture

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Indictment of Meritocracy

"Charlotte is brilliant (a perfect score on the SAT), beautiful (%u201CI bet you get really tired of people telling you you look like Britney Spears%u201D), and athletic (legs sculpted by running cross-country in the hills of North Carolina). The most striking thing about Charlotte Simmons, however, is that she wants to be a star. She wants to be recognized. She is animated by amour propre. Her main concern seems to be what she thinks other people are thinking of her. While she says she wants the life of the mind, what she really wants is to be recognized as the best at Dupont. "
The New Atlantis - Love in the Age of Neuroscience - Mickey Craig and Jon

Monday, November 14, 2005

Visual Treats

The Internet is filled with exciting new ways of parsing information, but they change pretty quickly. About six months ago, the thing to do if you were interested in visual perception and cultural processing was to go over to the Delicious Visuality page of bookmarks individuals had put together -- everything from satellite maps to graphs of social connectivity in elementary schools. But these days, Delicious Visuality is all but dead -- the last *two* are posts from none other than moi-meme (how tragic to get excited about the new sites and then realize that you yourself listed them two weeks ago...)
Fear not. The internet is ever providing wonderful fun toys aplenty.
Worth noting:

  • The imagesource tag: the place to go for lists of image servers, online poster collections, galleries of old paperback illustrations and lp folders
  •, a constantly renewed wellspring of the delightful


Sunday, November 13, 2005


A long and cold week in Cambridge, as England tilts swiftly north, into the biting cold wind. The sun sets at four in the afternoon, leaving a few hours in the afternoon of slowly setting sun, slanted mustard yellow light making the buildings shoot up into golden windows of flame, and undergraduates shoot across courtyards to warmer fires in armchair-crowded common rooms.

I've been hiding from blogging, and from the world, for the past week. November is a hard time for academics. Long American PhD's and state schools necessitate applying every November for a seemingly endless series of external research grants. In the process, the scholar puffs herself in essays, listing her accomplishments and potential, comparing herself to notables in the field. Some people find it a good time to take stock and practice self-promotion. At a time when I'm sliding between different definitions of my identity, I often find selling myself to be the most difficult activity I can engage in.

So yesterday evening, I quit the British Library and walked all the way to Piccadilly, where I was meeting Ngheim and Andrea, her boyfriend, for coffee at the fifth floor cafe of the Waterstone's bookstore -- a glassy, art deco treasure in downtown London with a view out over the rooftops and steeples of the West Ends, stretching past Westminster Abbey to the Thames.

All the way there I stopped and took photos with my silly two-cent camera. Terrible photos. Most of them barely came out; fuzzy, out-of-focus, too far away -- the two-cent camera has neither zoom nor focus nor megapixels. But spending an hour aimlessly walking and looking whipped me out of the archival malaise of meditative pages without end, of brooding about whether at 27 I've wasted my life, of whether the movement has a future or anybody reads my work. It whipped me out and whipped me back into the world of details, people, places, lives, heaped on top of each other, lovely, rich, and meaningful.

This morning, the Canon from the Cathedral of Ely preached about prayer as a form of attention. He quoted Simone Weil on the purpose of education, and her claim that *all* education, and *Christian* education in particular, are meant chiefly to increase the ability of the student to attend -- not to perform, not to make great marks, but to attend upon a single subject, with the end of a life-long habit of attention to other people. Later in the evening, I was passing through the kitchen downstairs. The radio was on and BBC1 announced that brain cells actually regenerate, even in adults, even well into maturity, with the practice of attention.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, November 07, 2005

I have broken another camera.


oh sadness.

acquired new camera two hours later at extremely dodgy shop at Tottenham Court Road: piece of crap from Konica, 1.3 MegaPixels; £30.... about all I can afford right now. saving pennies for something special one day. It had better be indestructible. Any recommendations?


Michel Gagne's Insanely Twisted Puppet Show.
kudos to the newsletter of all things puppet online, PuppetVision; Scott Radke's online marionette gallery, and the traveling online puppet show itself.

American Terrorism

The UK is willing to use the laws of libel and slander to protect its citizens from violence-provoking hate speech. Given that, the UK media has been going after a number of fundamentalist evangelists who have had no shame about publicly announcing that London *deserved* to be bombed in the 7/7 attacks.

What follows: more about Fred Phelps, the evangelist who has the UK mad with rage. Excerpts from the 2001 documentary film Fred by Steve Drain
, courtesy of the Topeka Capital-Journal:

Watch below as Phelps encourages homosexual Christians to mutilate their bodies "with a rusty piece of barbed wire."

As UK judges and lawyers have rightly decided, such speech represents *not only* a gross interpretation of Christian scripture, but an act of terror in itself. It ought to be outlawed in America. Phelps ought to be taken to court for slander to protect the good names of other Christians. It's true, we believe in dialogue and dissent and discourse within the church. But we don't condone acts of terrorism.

It's cowardly to merely sit back in its face, as so many Democrats have, and wait for one's enemy to hang himself; these churches may be the fringe, but they're misrepresenting the face of religion in the media; they're misrepresenting America in the UK; they're misrepresenting the Christian attitude towards sex towards both gays and straights, whom we would much rather encourage to respect their bodies and enter loving relationships with each other than listen for a *moment* to the kind of abusive nonsense Fred Phelps is spouting.

Let's envision a better America: one free to discuss loving relationships between all sorts of individuals, one free to promote education, freedom, and kindness; one where such incendiary acts of terror are dismissed as the madness of small-town crooks, as substantially daft as the claims of UFO watchers; blown off as nothing but hate-filled fluff, and not given a moment of time to articulate a message that represents *either* America *or* the Christian church.

Watch excerpts from a sermon delivered by Fred W. Phelps Sr. at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.

» Quicktime

» Large WindowsMedia

» Small WindowsMedia

» Large RealMedia

» Small RealMedia

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Coffeehouse culture in the twenty-first century

As Habermas and Dundes understood, civil society and public discourse depend utterly on the exchange of liquids:

I can see you

In his work on the evil eye, folklorist Alan Dundes wrote about the powerful effect of blue glass eyes-of-God one sees throughout the Arabic world, hanging in houses, and eyes painted on shopfronts to scare away petty thieves.

Back in the day when the CIA was the OverSeas Service (OSS), they recruited folks who also read folklore:

Another of Lansdale's spooky counterinsurgency tricks was what he called the "eye of God technique," wherein government troops, using information gathered from counterintelligence efforts, called out the names of Huk guerrillas over loudspeakers and threatened the rebels with death if they did not surrender.

Lansdale devised a related scheme to intimidate civilians, using "all-seeing eye" graffiti to threaten constant surveillance. He later wrote:

"[the method] was especially useful in towns where some of the inhabitants were known to be helping the Huks secretly. The army would warn these people that they were under suspicion.

At night, when the town was asleep, a psywar team would creep into town and paint an eye on a wall facing the house of each suspect.

The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.

-- Jon Elliston on Pscyhological Operations in War, interesting history from the conspiracy nuts

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Zizek on Katrina

Friend, read this article now:
Twelve years earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell... In the beginning of October 2005, the Spanish police, who have dealt with the problem of desperate African migrants trying to penetrate the small Spanish territory across Gibraltar with lethal force, displayed their plans to build a wall between the Spanish and Moroccan border.

The images presented -- a complex structure with all the latest electronic equipment -- bore an uncanny resemblance to those of the Berlin Wall, only with the opposite motive, designed to prevent people from coming in, not getting out.

The cruel irony is that it is the government of Zapatero, arguably the most anti-racist and tolerant in Europe, that is forced to adopt these measures of segregation -- a clear sign of the limits of the multiculturalist "tolerant" approach which preaches open borders and acceptance of Others.

It is thus becoming clear that the solution is not "tear down the walls and let them all in," the easy, empty demand often put forth by soft-hearted liberal "radicals."

Rather, the real solution is to tear down the true wall, not the police one, but the social-economic one: To change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world.

-- "Katrina: Rumors, Lies, and Racist Fantasies," by Slavoj Zizek, In These Times. Posted October 31, 2005

Slavoj Zizek is undoubtedly the most articulate and brilliant of the remaining postmodernists. Lacan is gone; Derrida and Sontag ascended into heaven this past year: Zizek remains, a younger avatar, dead-set on commenting on contemporary society.

Zizek's ethics are unremittedly ethical, even Christian, without compromising his intellect. He brings in Marx because he understands class; he brings in Freud because he wants to make sense of ill-expressed desires. And this unswerving intellect gives Zizek real punch when he comes to look out our modern world. He writes, "In the much celebrated free circulation opened up by the global capitalism, it is "things" (commodities) which freely circulate, while the circulation of "persons" is more and more controlled."

As my friends reading this know well, I was trained in many of the same philosophers and froofy French deconstructionist disciplines as Zizek, and I've often felt let down by them: my fellow grad students are often so dark about the semi-fascist presidency, so bereft of hope for America or any other nation, so unwilling to engage popular culture on its own terms and ask why it takes the expression that it does. My heart leaps when I read Zizek: he stands as the emblem of what all those books can do when they're put to good use.

Zizek parses as fantasies about freedom we tell ourselves when we keep repeating that goods will, as they never have before, lead us into human liberties beyond our wildest dreams. They're fantasies bent of good intentions -- peace and prosperity for all -- but the most muddled and cruel of realizations, where old forms of racism come to life more intensely than ever before.

It takes Zizek all his training in psychology, philosophy, history, and politics to make sense of similar lies told about New Orleans. His is a model well worth attention for the rest of us.