Archive for the ‘What Is Going On’ Category

For the mayor mr rob ford

November 3, 2013



In tune with our time

June 27, 2013

From the permanent collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Apparently Philip Reingale invented internet humor in 1805.

"Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog" by Philip Reingale (1805)

“Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog” by Philip Reingale (1805)

The Picture I Took of Smokey Robinson Tonight, Big and Small

June 22, 2013




Police BBQ

May 31, 2013



May 3, 2013

You know how Google commands a fleet of camera-cars that drive around cities creating ‘street views’? This cumbersome process is only a suggestive stepping-stone.

In 7 years when every weirdo is wearing Google Glasses equipped with GPS, a complete pictorial map of the world will be steadily filled in. The uploaded views of 1,001 pedestrians in Bangkok will be aggregated by massive online databases and from your laptop in Illinois you’ll be able to tour Bangkok city streets and move your roving eye into restaurants, office buildings, and even some apartments, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, refrigerators, the drawer of a mahogany desk. Any visible space shared by wearers of the magic glasses.

As this astonishing spectacle dawns/dons on us we will turn to various gurus to make sense of it all, and inevitably we will need to consult Mr. Borges’ short fiction about the civilization—striving fanatically for informational exactitude—that created a map of the empire the size of the empire. “On the Exactitude of Science” (1960):

Borges Map

Related: See also the White House’s new initiative to ‘map the human brain’.

Tanky Soundtrack: My Bloody Valentine, “Map Ref 41°N 93° W” (Wire cover)

p.s. in our looming future there will also be a strange new journalistic genre, wherein people will compose accounts of virtually-encountered cities, written from afar. It will be a hybrid of “The Parisian Prowler” and Jayson Blair style absentee-reportage. (Also, related: Instead of waiting for after-the-fact youtube videos, Washington Think Tanks will hire Google Glass stooges/fixers to attend protests, meetings, etc. in distant cities. [Through an earpiece] “OK, Anwar, do you see that guy on the left holding an anti-Ennahda poster? Can you casually go up to him and ask his opinion of the new IMF loan deal?”

Animal Punishment

March 30, 2013

Animal Punishment

Cave Art These Days

March 12, 2013

Do you remember a while back we were riffing on the dystopian fantasy world, Warhammer 40,000, which, rather than being set a paltry fifty or one-hundred years from now like timid/typical sci-fi, is set forty-thousand years into the future?!

A comical, almost unfathomable span. Except: whenever I think about Warhammer 40K I think also about Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the incredible Herzog film exploring the art of Chauvet Cave—the oldest paintings ever discovered—which date from… more than 30,000 years ago. That is: We, now, are roughly equidistant in time from the artists of Chauvet Cave as we are from Warhammer Chaos Space Marines. (And, to these early human draughtsmen, surely we would be as freakishly post-human sci-fi as any 40K space marine—oh, if you’ll kindly excuse me while I update the RSS feed on my handheld device for an anonymous Yemeni blog about unmanned drone warfare… hmm, while I wait for that page to load (must be a slow signal from the telecom satellite—go figure) I’ll just read this week’s news about how the FDA approved 3D-printed synthetic skull replacements; the new worldwide network for robots to communicate and give each other advice; and how a rat brain in North Carolina remotely controlled the bodily functions of a rat body in Brazil via the internet.) (The thing, then, about Warhammer 40,000 is that we are Warhammer 40,000.)

One of Herzog’s basic contentions is that the wonder of the Chauvet Cave art rests not only in its extreme antiquity, but also its expressive quality—that is, the drawings are not only artifact, but art. The powerful, realistic drawings transcend the centuries and convey something essential of prehistoric experience.

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago

A kaleidoscope of big cats, sketched 32,000 years ago. The eyes…


The motion of a ferocious horn.

The ferocious motion of a ferocious horn.


The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

The most iconic image from Chauvet Cave: the Wall of Horses. Among the noble team, note the smallest horse panting to keep up.

Herzog argues that the drawings of Chauvet Cave announce the dawn of human culture.

I was happily reminded on the bus today of T.S. Eliot taking a similar line. In discussing the artist’s relation to her cumulative cultural heritage, Eliot draws the long line back to cave art. The cumulative cultural “mind” is a mind which changes, but “this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawings of the Magdelenian draughtsmen.”

At the time when Eliot wrote this (1917) it’s true that primitivism was en vogue, and appreciating Magdelenian cave art fit this aesthetic program. But Eliot isn’t praising Pure Premodern Man, pristine before all the muck of centuries piled upon him. He’s rapping about Premodern Man and all the subsequent stuff piled atop. For Eliot, the artist is situated in a long procession of cultural moments, and to become a mature artist

…involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year (LoL); and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.

(It’s not a coincidence, I think, that this was written at the crest of WWI, when Europe was imploding. One senses an anxiety to gather and footnote all the achievements of culture, against the tide of oblivion.)

So, as the Mind of Europe crawls onward through the centuries it accretes new experiences, builds upon the past, and develops new tools for expression, but, crucially, Eliot contends, it does not improve. “This development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.” Reflecting upon the past, the artist “must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same.”

This is what Herzog is up to in the cave, right? He would not argue that Chauvet has been surpassed, certainly not by his own art. And, in a broad sense, he too is trying to capture, to corral, to hold still, the wondrous experiences of being human—in a meta sense (art about art) as is his wont—but not unlike the original cave artists. Yes, the “material of art is never quite the same”—in the Chauvet Cave Herzog ‘draws’ with 3D cameras, and his cave images are displayed to others on distant glowing screens, but he is up to the same game. (By echoing the “dreams” of his forebears, he shares in them). And I think he’d welcome this comparison/compliment, and roll with this last quote from Eliot:

One of the facts that might come to light in this process [of criticism] is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.



p.s. BUT. To get back to our Warhammer space homies…. Eliot & Herzog contend a certain universalism of human experience—that mature art in any period rings roughly the same bell. But as we increasingly become psychic cyborgs of our former selves old art might become impossible—or merely a quaint hobby. No more “human experience”! Do we not have a renewed existential anxiety—like Eliot at the crest of the Great War—of a new Great Divide & an old world irrevocably crumbling? Gather ye rosebud paintings while ye may, for tomorrow we’ll be disembodied algorithms stalking the holographic horizon hunting/gathering network information packets. [Oops, Nevermind: I just received communication from Dunru, a Paleolithic shaman and art critic: “You think we didn’t have disembodied avatars? After Barnak, King of the Valley, perished from the earth his spirit was transferred to an obsidian stone, which was consulted for major clan decisions and conferred powers of fertility.” I stand corrected! Humans, always forever weird.]

p.p.s. Here’s a shout-out track for the Warhammer Space Marines: “Space Cowboy” by Sly & The Family Stone (perhaps obsidian?). Got some nice funk yodeling in there! Also, if you gulp the new JT album, The Mad Dog 20/20 Experience, I think Timbaland has been feeling the Sly Stone lately. Check in particular the outro on “Strawberry Bubblegum”.

p.p.p.s. To soundtrack the gaping span from Chauvet to Warhammer it’s probably best that we turn to sci-fi honky-tonk. From the compilation Nashville Sputnik, Brad Wolfe “Changing Times” and Joel Mathis “Time Machine“.

My Vacation

March 11, 2013


Hassan al-Banna & The Flux Capacitor

March 6, 2013

You know that silly internet meme where people locate “time travelers” in old photographs? Well—somewhat improbably—I think I discovered evidence of Muslim Brotherhood time travelers in an old Lehnert & Landrock photo. Check out the name of the ahwa in the classic photo below. The calligraphy is a bit ornate, but, yes, it reads: **Mohamed Morsi Supporter Club**.


Lehnert & Landrock & Morsi. The (literal) signs of his presidency have been in front of us for 75 years!

From right to left in standard font, it’s:

نادي    محمد مرسي    مؤيد

Muy trippy! Nice fodder for a new conspiracy theory…
(Now it’s only a matter of time until we unearth time-travelling evidence of Mohamed Morrissey…)

Sky / Guy

March 5, 2013

Tristan, this is a visualization of the joke I was trying to make at your mom’s house but was too drunk and you were like Who/what are you even talking about?

On The Offensive

November 15, 2012

In tandem with Israel’s assault on Gaza, the IDF delivered a ‘social media’ blitz, which included niceties such as the swaggering death notice tweet: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

The most repugnant dispatch was a vid-tweet of the actual assassination footage. “In case you missed it–”

“In case you missed it—” is demonically glib. In case you missed it is what you say when sharing a clip from SNL, not assassination footage. And: Of course we “missed it”—it was filmed from your fighter jet. Unless by “you” the IDF means “Palestinian pedestrians”, as in: “In case you were shopping the next block over and missed the targeted killing + lethal shrapnel”. But then why would the IDF be tweeting in English? Oh yeah, because this is part of a media campaign directed at Western audiences. Or maybe it’s a hat-tip to US citizens, “In case you missed it, we’re putting your military a$$i$tance to good use.” And, since we’re doing a close reading of tweets: In case you missed it is a dark preface to a video of a missile strike that didn’t miss its target (“In case you missed it, we didn’t miss”).

And what of the coincidence that this attack comes in the midst of Netanyahu’s re-election campaign and some supporters have already dubbed the attack his “Seal Team 6 moment”? Even if the man rubbed out—“our Bin Laden”—was Netanyahu’s “sub-contractor in Gaza”?

First Person Shooter

November 14, 2012

In keeping pace with American imperial ambition, the video game industry has invaded foreign lands. Several years ago when Modern Warfare 2 was released a friend who follows the grisly aspects of the US war in Afghanistan told me that the game’s climactic scene was copied almost exactly from a leaked AC 130 gun-camera video (“shot-for-shot” was his dark pun). The leaked video showed the American gunship strafing dozens of Afghans on a hilltop outpost—and now in the video game version lil’ ol’ you got to pull the trigger. Like many of these games, the villains here are technically “Russians” (to be politically sensitive? lol), but players understand who is really being shot in Afghanistan. Americans seem quite eager to participate in armchair-imperial-bloodlust-snuff-film-cum-entertainment, but let’s not mix-up our adventures in Afghanistan & forget who we sub-contracted to actually fight the Soviets… oh yeah, Al-Qaeda!

So last week came the kerfuffle that at least seven members of Seal Team 6 have been disciplined by the Navy for assisting game designers of Medal of Honor: Warfighter simulate the raid that killed Al-Qaeda guru/posterboy/financier/inhouse-hack-poet Osama bin Laden. How dare they help in producing America’s premier propaganda!? They are supposed to leave that to the Navy itself! (The other irony, of course, is that modern warfare, like Modern Warfare, is already a video game: we have all read stories about military employees controlling death-delivering drones from computer consoles in Nevada. Then leaving work to pick up kids from soccer practice. BTW: Does the Pentagon provide treatment for virtual-based PTSD?)

All this came to mind this week when reading about the new EP from Kuwaiti-born musician, Fatima al-Qadiri. As she told Pitchfork’s Ruth Saxelby the EP, “Desert Strike”, is named after a video game of the same name from her childhood.

It’s named after a Sega Megadrive game from 1992, based on Operation Desert Storm from the first Gulf War in 1991…. The record is dedicated to this sci-fi period of my childhood—surviving the invasion of Kuwait, the war, and then playing a video game based on those events a year later.

Holy Shit & Dark & Unreal. The vantage of the game is American (obviously), so young Fatima would be playing as the U.S. invading her neighborhood—commanding digital helicopters as they bomb the region, steering toys of the tanks that rumbled the real highways outside her childhood windows. The surreal mixtures of experiences: first-hand and virtual. The evil twin of the bullshit we’re always carrying on about!

Screen capture from Sega’s 1992 game “Desert Strike: Return to The Gulf”. In development, the game was based on the Lebanese Civil War and titled Beirut Breakout, but the setting was changed to coincide with Desert Storm.

The original iteration of the game penalized players “if they destroyed objects that resulted in negative economic and political results”, but this feature was not popular during internal review and was scrapped. Oi.



For all of you fretting that the gaming industry is woefully retrospective, fear not: the recent game Battlefield III is set in Iran. Cool foreshadowing for WWIII? Fingers crossed!

Not enough line-blurring for you? The new Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 features a cameo from man-o-th’-hour Gen. Petraeus. (Picture)

p.s. It is convenient that the leaked gunship videos (etc.) that inspire these game sequences are in a familiar format: first-person shooter. And isn’t assuming that POV the point of this entertainment/propaganda? [Related: Of the many sites that host leaked combat videos pls note that brands itself “Shock & Awe Entertainment“]

New Eyes for Old News

September 28, 2012

Our brainy chum & co-brogger T.—who looks to be the bearded baby had Oliver Reed & Alan Bates conceived during the wrestling scene in Women In Love—has recently produced an crucial video essay.

The essay explores the relationship between Image and Revolution through a sustained examination of the documentary images of the Arab Spring.

Pivotal & dramatic moments of the Arab Spring were viewed globally by millions through live satellite feeds, and we are often told that the revolutionary impulse was driven by these images as they spread across youtube & twitter & facebook &tc.

How should we, a distant audience, understand these images? What exactly do they capture? The spirit of the revolutionary moment?

Central concerns for those who wish to document/study social change. Central concerns for those interested in the power/impotence of political art. In our worlb that is so often mediated by imagery & experienced vicariously through screens of one sort or another, this b necessary commentary.

Program Note: No is lunch break cat video; the essay establishes its argument gradually, diligently over 15 minutes. PREFERRED VIEWING SETTING = INCAN STONE TEMPLE CONVERTED TO MEDIA LABORATORY

The Tiers/Tears of Reality

September 19, 2012

I was speaking the other day with the Persian~Parisian~Prowler about the issue of virtual reality / virtual realty in Second Life and he pointed me to this entry of Third Life.

After a momentary examination it became clear the post-normal manner in which Third Life exists. It is not a game played by avatars within Second Life, but rather a parody of Second Life created as an entry within a parody of Wikipedia. (Seriously, what is up with “Uncyclopedia”?)

Interlude: “Nutted By Reality” by Nick Lowe

In previous times the question of the “most real” was no less difficult, but perhaps less complex.

I mean, Plato described the unreal as puppet shadows cast upon a cave wall. But now we have to contend with satirical shadows (Third Life) cast on a satirical cave wall (Uncyclopedia) derived from a shadow play (Second Life) held in a fake cave (the Internet), which is itself a shady realm.


old news

September 17, 2012

What Is Going On

September 11, 2012

At a real party this weekend I heard about a friend who is “working as a bouncer at funerals in Second Life”. What? Apparently, at funerals in Second Life [already lost!] grievers [or maybe “griefers”?] throw “balls of code” to disrupt the solemn proceedings. Thus, the digital funerals frequently require a bouncer. Got it?

Reading more about Second Life I learned that the virtual world has a very real economy (a GDP[?!] of several hundred million US dollars) and several very wealthy Residents. The most prominent is an avatar named Ailin Chung, née Ailin Graef, “the Rockefeller of Second Life”, who “owns thousands of servers’ worth of [virtual] land, most of which are sold or rented to other users as a part of her ‘Dreamland’ areas”. I don’t know what that means, but somehow she employs 80 IRL humans in her endeavors, and became “the first online personality to achieve a net worth exceeding one million US dollars from profits entirely earned inside a virtual world”.

And here’s where the need for bouncers becomes apparent.

In December 2006, while conducting an interview for CNET with Daniel Terdiman on her economic assets, the virtual studio in which the interview took place was bombarded by flying animated penises and copies of a photo of Graef modified to show her holding a giant penis in her arms. The griefers managed to disrupt the interview sufficiently that Chung was forced to move to another location and ultimately crashed the simulator entirely.

Yet the weirdest aspect comes with the copycat-consequences IRL. “This attack in Second Life later became a template for a real life flying penis attack on chess world champion and Russian presidential candidate Gary Kasparov.”

What is truly insane is imagining the surreal explanation that would be required to parse the incident for a Normal Person.

Normal Person: “Oh my! Why did someone just charge into this ballroom and throw a rubber penis at Gary Kasparov?”

Post-Normal Interpreter: “Well, you see, that prank was an homage/IRL allusion to an online attack against a prominent virtual real estate mogul.”

NP: “…someone threw a rubber penis at this woman as well?”

PNI: “Not at the woman per se, but at her online 3D avatar. And in that case they weren’t actual rubber penises, nor were they thrown. Rather, a cascade of self-replicating animated images of rubber penises overwhelmed the digital forum in which she was giving an interview to a CNET reporter avatar.”

And later if you ran into this poor NP after Gary Kasparov was arrested for protesting in defense of Pussy Riot? We can imagine NP asking with shaky trepidation, “Umm, is Pussy Riot related to the… rubber penises…?” “No, not exactly. But you might say that, in a way, Pussy Riot’s performance was a “rubber penis” thrown at the Russian Orthodox Church.”

(The title of the Kasparov/penis article deserves a nod: “Kremlin critic gets genital reminder about who’s in charge“.)

The levels of fictive realities deepen: Kasparov’s disrupted event was a coalition of opposition groups gathering to form “a symbolic alternative parliament”. The penis, dangled & maneuvered from a miniature helicopter, was operated by a man inspired by the online prank group named “Room 101”, a reference to a location in the fictional world of George Orwell’s 1984. LoL. With IRL becoming a simulacrum of a simulated world, Baudrillard is gonna need to smoke some bath salts and update his freakin books!

If nothing else, this sort of business deserves a new tag! Revisiting Bruce Chatwin recently, I was reminded of his book What Am I Doing Here. The title is strengthened by the missing/implied question mark (a literary point which fails to grasp!—compare the listing with the adjacent image—horrors!). Anyway, for us, a new tag: What Is Going On.