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Saturday
Jul272019

Facial recognition in a time of feeble leadership

Asking a friend about his opinion of "facial recognition" he said he had it on his iPhone and that the concept, the phenomenon, didn't bother him because the whole notion of "privacy" no longer exists.

I would be all for "facial recognition" if it was this: that every citizen be required to make a self-portrait, a picture of their own image, beginning at age 18, and again every 4 years until one expired or was sentenced to death in a Christian Science rest home. I have no doubt that these self-rendered "recognitions" would help create the atmosphere of introspection citizens need to choose better leaders for their present and their future.

Our leadership currently lacks all charm: not only is it difficult if not impossible to find any redeeming qualities among the current crop (including, but not limited to, the USA, China, Russia) the lack of introspection these leaders display, the kind of self-seeing required of leadership in the past i.e. I (the leader) see myself in you (the people I lead), has, as far as the I can see, totally disappeared into the kind of synthetic leadership offered by Donald Trump, in which the people are seemingly willing to be led by a leader with whom in reality they have absolutly nothing in common, not knowing his true face, so that they are the ones serving him, or the overt totalitarianism offered by Putin in Russia or Xi in China.

If Trump or Xi or Putin, or Macron of France for that matter, were required to render a self-portrait every four years as their official 'facially recognized' identity, in whichever medium they chose, other than photography--pencil, oil, acrylics, or watercolor--what a different relationship citizens would have with their leaders and leaders with citizens.

Wednesday
Jul242019

Louise Bogan, "The Blue Estuaries"

When reading Louise  Bogan I imagine that she wanted to be William Shakespeare, in that she was so good at being him, really good, while staying a woman, a woman of her time (1897-1970) and place (mostly New York City).

There are hundred, thousands, hundred of thousands of male poets who also wanted to be William Shakespeare, but there was and is only one Louise Bogan.

No other poet other than William Shakespeare has written on the womanhood of men or the manhood of women as conscientiously and with as much understanding of the plight of each as has Louise Bogan.

The formality with which Shakespeare wrote his poems, a formality for the most part bestowed upon him by those who wrote or read him well after he'd written his poems, is the formality acknowledged by Bogan and the tradition in which she operated as a poet. Her precisions of metaphor, meter and rhyme are Shakespearian, had Shakespeare been a woman writing in the 20th century.

It is easier to reconstruct William Shakespeare's life as a man and as a poet, of which we really know very little, than it is to reconstruct Louise Bogan's life as a woman and a poet, though we know a little more.

 

"The Blue Estuaries, Poems 1923-1968", Louise Bogan, The Ecco Press, New York, 1977. 

Tuesday
Jul162019

Clouds, made in America

America still does clouds well, clouds may be the best thing America does, and I enjoyed taking pictures of them while traveling cross-country, whether they were in the background or the foreground or whether they were the central image of whatever photograph I was taking. There's something very American about American clouds. Many times on the trip I would get goose-bumps seeing them in the sky, in Maryland and Georgia and North Carolina, even in Connecticut. I came to believe as the trip went on that each state had its own particular brand of clouds, just like each state has a flag all its own. Tennessee clouds were thin, sinuous, for instance, while Kentucky clouds were overblown, pompous and so on. Seeing clouds this way, the clouds of each state took on a distinct personality, an individuality, or at least that's the way I saw them, and I came to believe that I could tell when we'd crossed the border from one state to another by the shapes of the clouds I was seeing.

Somewhere in Maryland, along the Old National Highway (40 East) it started to rain, the kind of rain that doesn't seem like it will ever stop. The clouds became an angry mob with a seething resentment of sunshine, harmony, and political comity. The RV rocked and slid around on the old road, and the clouds did nothing about it. Driving, I could only look ahead, keep my hands tightly on the wheel, my eyes on the road. I lost sight of the clouds, there were no clouds to see, there was just one cloud, the biggest cloud ever, a gray mass made up of indistinguishable features. I drove with real determination through the rainstorm, turning my thoughts from clouds to our great national history: first we fought the Indians, then the British, then the Rebels, and now we're fighting ourselves, by which I mean the demeanor and words of our President, and opioids in small towns and the kind overall malaise all empires face sooner or later.

Clouds above gas station, Frederick, MD, June 19, 2019.

Saturday
Jun292019

Late capitalism, post truth, small towns

The young waitress at the restaurant in Mansfield, PA when learning that we're from San Francisco says, "what are you doing here?" She asks the question like she can't believe there's a good answer, as if she didn't live and work in Mansfield, PA but lived and worked instead in San Francisco, CA and couldn't imagine traveling from northern California to rural Pennsylvania.

At a bar just outside Cleveland, OH I overhear a late middle-aged man say, talking to another man about the recent Democratic 'debates', "they think they can beat Trump." The sound of his voice suggests he's a Trump supporter.

In New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio I begin separating small towns into two categories: ones I could live in and ones I couldn't. The small towns I could live in are small enough to be able to walk across the main street without looking. The ones I couldn't live in got a little too big at one time but have since shrunk, and their shrunkenness is the thing I like least about them even if I can walk across their main streets without looking. 

Near Smithfield, PA I stop to take a picture of a field and a red barn. The day is sunny, warm, clear. There are white clouds in the background. I stand in the middle of the road and take one picture in color and one in black-and-white.

While I'm on the road it seems like a perfectly good use of my time to look at the difference between the color photo and the black-and-white, and to really think about the difference.

What is the difference between color and black-and white photos of the same thing, the same scene? I'd to think about that some more.

Field near Smithfield, PA. June 27, 2019. Photo by author.

Thursday
Jun202019

Elvis impersonators and gig listeners

What makes an 'entrepreneur'?

And what's the difference between Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg? One could be on trial for greed and the other for war crimes.

The 'gig' economy is heading toward a worker-led rebellion pioneered by Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. It's heartening to see so many unions--union halls, union signs, openly union declarations of unionism on beer cans, cars, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, paper cups--as righteous as seeing a church on the side of the road somewhere between Pikeville, Kentucky and Moundsville, Virginia. A Church means something, as does a union.

Music can mean anything, and that music can mean anything is a big chunk of its beauty. But music can't mean nothing as so much of the music that calls itself 'country music' does these days.

Listening to David Byrne of/and The Talking Heads, is listening to three, maybe four music's at once, as is listening to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams. Each still sounds like three, possibly four types of music--the folk music of The Highlands of the northern British Isles, the blues of North America, and the radio-induced hit parades of the post-war 1940s & early 50s when music was just beginning to become commercial enough to build, and then to maintain, Graceland.

Country music was a perfect blend of music's, and not the near-bottom/bottom feeding music of the 'gig' economy that is now called country western music. Country music now has no partralineal resonance, and so it all sounds very much the same. We who listen to this country music have every right to be critical of what we're hearing in restaurants and bars across the USA, particularly, but not excluded to, the swath through Appalachia running from western North Carolina thru WVA and on into Maryland.

Even if we critics are wrong we're right: they've made 'gig' listeners of us. We're the ones--the listeners--who now have to provide the meaning to the music! And we're forced to hear it everywhere, this current country western music, in restaurants and bars, in the bathrooms inside the restuarants. Even if we should choose to eat and drink outside in the screened in 'porch' the restaurant provides, the restaurant pipes the music from inside to outside so we have no choice but to hear it as music and provide some meaning to it. 

Imagine if David Bowie had made country music the way David Byrne is making it? Yeehaw! Imagine if Eudora Welty had married Lyndon Johnson! It's time we listeners demand country western music that has the verve, daring, and improbability of such a coupling.

Listening to The Talking Heads while driving into Baltimore, MD on the way to the Museum of Art to see The Cone Collection and then the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, is the only way to go. 

Billiard room, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. May, 2019.