26May

Death Cab For Cutie

A slightly new direction. A more upbeat feel. Same slightly ambient alternative melancholy.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq-yP7mb8UE]
26May

Dalai Lama vs Religious Freedom

Some of you might know I’ve an active interest in Buddhism. It’s worth knowing a few things such as commented here. I’ll quote big chunks, because he’s more eloquent than me on this subject! I feel the need to put this out there because the western media aren’t really covering the issue in any sufficient detail—and as with any subject you might know enough about, the media do a poor job in covering things well.

So why are Buddhists demonstrating against the Dalai Lama? Because, over the past decade, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile have been spearheading a drive to persuade Tibetans, and the wider Tibetan Buddhist community, to stop their involvement in the practice of a particular Buddhist deity called Dorje Shugden.

Now, the word ‘deity’ in Buddhism means the same as ‘buddha’; Dorje Shugden has historically been viewed as an enlightened being, on the same level as the buddha who taught in ancient India.

Many high Lamas in Tibet praised the practice of Dorje Shudgen; these Lamas included someone called Trijang Rinpoche, one of the current Dalai Lama’s tutors (now deceased). It’s safe to say that until recently, the practice has been revered and respected by generations of Buddhists, and has done no harm to anyone.

Despite all this though, the Dalai Lama is encouraging Tibetans to abandon the practice on the grounds that it harms the cause of Tibetan freedom, and is ’spirit worship’. He has not revealed evidence for these claims, despite repeated requests from Buddhist practitioners who are concerned about the mounting persecution and violence that’s happening as a result of the Dalai Lama’s efforts to destroy the practice. This persecution includes the refusal to grant ID cards to Tibetans who will not give up the practice, refusal to admit the children of Dorje Shugden practitioners to schools in the exiled Tibetan community, and death threats against those who continue with the practice.

There’s a campaign worth being aware of at the Western Shugden Society and videos like the one below showing some of the real situation faced by many Buddhist practitioners. Stay with it, and there are some more you can follow on this series on YouTube. Particularly moving is the second part.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5sOm-uQH9Y] [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aboblx-0zAs&feature=related]

21May

Disaster Map

In case you wanted to know where any kind of disaster is in the world. All sorts of hazards for the morbidly curious. Actually quite interesting, after you get over the paranoia of how fragile things are. And if you are that type of person you might find yourself the lead character in this.

Note that the map hasn’t yet recorded having Gordon Brown and a Labour party government leading the country listed as an official disaster. I understand things are now getting too detailed for the map to represent fully.

20May

Abandoned

I’m going through a phase where I love abandoned buildings. And there are a lot of them around. They’ve got some strange romance about them. A lost time. A building that says, ‘I was once great, and now look at me. I wasn’t always like this. I used to mean something.’ It’s pretty humbling. Your home or workplace could be next.

Have a look at these galleries.

One on Urban Exploration. I like the spirit of this, a concept in this age where we’ve explored everything, there’s another dimension to investigate. Asylums, hostels, hospitals—areas that once provided a service.

Abandoned factories.

Endangered machinery, as pointed to from Boing Boing.

Gunkajima, Japan.

Abandoned stations of the London Underground.

And finally, Ghost Town, a motorcycle diary through Chernobyl. Amazing how the Soviet era is semi-preserved, untouched after all these years.

20May

Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

Taken from my old blog…

This is an interesting one. The Fortress of Solitude is a book that’s difficult to catagorise. With brief genre moments, and certainly many nods towards SF / comic book fandom, it describes the lives of two boys, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude. One white, one black, both growing up in Brooklyn. Not a simple friendship.

The first and largest chunk of the novel is in third person, following mainly Dylan’s family as they move into the area of New York populated mainly by blacks, a decision spurred on by his Bohemian mother. It is here that Jonathan Lethem gets in full prose swing, clearly echoing Don DeLillo, in mood, pace, sentence structure. And for me that’s not a bad thing at all, considering Mr DeLillo a deity. I still think so little is ever discussed of style, it’s worth making a point here how talented a stylist Lethem is.

Fifth grade was fourth grade with something wrong… The ones who couldn’t read still couldn’t, the teachers were teaching the same thing for the fifth time now and refusing to meet your eyes, some kids had been left back twice and were the size of janitors. The place was a cage for growing, nothing else.

One such sentence used to describe the poor quality education that Dylan must go through, and ultimately rise out of. Lethem’s voice is perfect to capture 70s America, with all the music, the language of the street, the graffiti, then the drugs. Lethem shows with warmness the racial tensions of the period, the yoking, the “yo, mama“, the social challenges of the area. When he bursts into those stream-of-consciousness style sentences, he’s poetic. Never quite riffing like DeLillo does, but still up there.

Dylan being one of the only white boys in the area suffers, inevitably, but not without making friends along the way. His relationship with Mingus is distantly affectionate, and Dylan does his best to blend in with black culture. But his geek side is too strong for him to remain bound by Brooklyn. Of course, a magic ring is thrown into the mix, granting invisibility, something Dylan appears to have craved, and the powers of flight. This ring came from someone who was on the way out of society, who seemed relieved to be rid of it.

The story breaks into first person, as we join Dylan after college, then looking back on college, before revisiting Brooklyn. You can’t help but by this point be totally immersed in his upbringing, so engaged, that this section stands up on the supporting frame of the third person narrative. They wouldn’t work without each other. Dylan is now suffering from an uncertain relationship with his past, almost unable to move on fully, Brooklyn never leaving him. Lethem writes with such an obvious love for the area. And all the time in the background is Dylan’s father, the painter of SF novel covers whilst working on a film, painstakingly, over the course of his life, never quite being finished. A relationship that is distant in the first section, ever more powerful towards the end of the novel. And of course there is the ring, revisited.

It is complex in places, hazy in others—but never meant to be clear. Only towards the end can we understand where he was going, and even then it is more a feeling, something within ourselves, our own childhood and future concerns, perhaps, that is brought to mind.

For lovers of style, sharp dialogue, and cultural investigation, this cannot be recommended enough.

16May

Kid Koala—Moon River / Skanky Panky

The longer you listen, the better it gets. Still, it’s hypnotic to watch this guy mix. Play close attention to around the two minute mark on Moon Rover, where he starts getting Rather Bloody Good with the needle. And nice to see them being brave and tampering with classics in an interesting way, rather than the usual cliché beats.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScwI7c5iiRo&feature=related] [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F38xj4STA8k&feature=related]
14May

Notebook Sketches

Matlock: a strange mixture of old and new. Chrome, brass and leather-trimmed bistro bars stand alongside shabby collectible shops. Old ladies prefer the company of old ladies in tea rooms with steamed up windows, and that haven’t been decorated in years. Walkers stride through traffic with a nonchalance and purpose of street kids in Delhi or Mumbai. There are middle-aged women here uncertain how to be fashionable, too far away from the guidance of city girls. People crane their necks to read the menus in shop windows. There is plenty of selection these days. New furniture shops with shapes and textures that seem unlikely in a dale. Consumerim has arrived here, finally, and the town seems unsure how it should react to it.

————-

A dark valley that retains a near perfect stillness against the quick-moving clouds.

Winter has stripped the land of any dignity.

A lattice of dry-stone wall across the hills.

Drizzle, gathering in huge drops; poised beneath strips of fencing, and from the tips of trees.

Disused barns, or sheds, or storehouses, their roof tiles blighted by lichens, nature reclaiming it.

The stark cry of a bird.

On the hillside: headlights from a car navigating the awkward terrain. You feel suddenly vulnerable at this invasion of the stillness.

The tops of hills surrendered to the clouds.

Silhouettes of trees expose birds’ nests.

A chill and loud wind.

12May

Lads’ Mags The Same Two Centuries Ago

I like this concept. I think I could subscribe to something like this:

A pocket lifestyle guide from 1835 to be auctioned this month provides an insight into the aspirations and anxieties of young men about town on the eve of the Victorian era… Like today’s men’s magazines, The Young Man’s Own Book furnished its readers with advice on everything from relationships and how to deal with the inlaws to personal hygiene, good manners and what to wear…. Charles Hanson, the auctioneer who found the book in the attic of a farmhouse in Derbyshire, said: “The authors of this book were the style gurus of the day.

Of course there’d probably be a lot less cleavage back then. And since when was FHM concerned with manners?

8May

Falling Man, Don DeLillo

Taken from my old blog, because I was reminded about it recently.

A performance artist hangs in statuesque pose. Knee bent. Upside down. The pose of the famously pictured man on 9/11. And this artist is effectively frozen in time. Which is the metaphor at the heart of Don Delillo’s latest novel, Falling Man. That of a moment in time so frozen, so embedded in characters minds, that they are unable to move on. They, too, are frozen in a moment.

The subject of 9/11 is a risky business. Not because of the content, but the weight of the content. It is difficult to avoid the more tabloid angles. But DeLillo takes a sidestep of this. That is, after his much quoted opening:

It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night.

The full weight of the events of 9/11 are there, of course, but secondary—as much as they can be—to the effects on the every day routines of our existence. Those routines that will never quite be the same. Keith is a survivor, a lawyer in his late thirties, having walked from one of the towers before the collapse. His relationship with his wife is reignited in some primitive level, a focus on the needs we don’t really understand. But Keith soon has an affair with a black woman who suffered in the destruction of that day, forms a kind of therapy with her in their intimacy, a way of coping with the events. They never connect in any other context than the discussion of that day.

So where are the Big Issues that DeLillo has usually tackled in his books? The grand conspiracies?

I think I understand DeLillo’s intentions from the passage during a writing class:

From this point on, you understand, it’s all about loss. We’re dealing inevitably here with diminishing returns. Their situation will grow increasingly delicate. These encounters need space around them. You don’t want them to feel there’s an urgency to write everything… The writing is sweet music up to a point. Then other things will take over.

He’s not after the obvious. Why do that when he’s done it before in his career, long before other people approached the subjects? He wants to focus on the effects. You get the idea he’s looking for that moment that we become human, in this almost inhumane (un-human?) situation we find ourselves in post-9/11.

And so the characters don’t really develop, they undevelop, peel back to some level before, searching for whatever it is to fix their lives since the destruction of the towers. Keith becomes heavily involved in poker games, for example, detached from the mechanisms of reality. His wife has flirtations with art and church. All the time his son looks towards the sky for more planes. This isn’t quite normal DeLillo territory. Gone are the almost claustrophobic paranoias that featured in his earlier works. There is a search for openness, perhaps honesty in things. But people seem unable to move on. They see the representation of the Twin Towers everywhere.

There is some questioning to be found, of the motives behind the suicide bombers, but this feels detached form the other sections. I wonder if it is there as a framework, or perhaps even to remind ourselves that the bomber had a human side too, once?

A more wonderful analysis can be found on the New York Times. But I applaud DeLillo for not doing the obvious thing, for not looking for headlines, and maybe this will surprise some.

Oh yeah, his prose is on sparkling form too. When DeLillo steps into third-person, he really riffs like a god.