At 30,000 feet, again…

July 23, 2012

Last year, I posted about my trip to a work-related conference in San Diego, and my view of the Mississippi River system flooding I saw from the plane:  Well, I’m back.  I flew over the same terrain, and the damage of the flooding was apparent from the air.  You can see how the neat patchwork pattern of the agricultural areas has been smudged with the debris and sediment from last years flood.

Other themes of that post are recurring:  animation for one.  Then I was reading about Muybridge, friend of Leland Stanford, who did the first time-series images of a running horse.  I took a class on programming for Flex – fascinating, eh? – and sat next to a woman who works at Stanford.  Wow!  And at the museum of art, I bought a kit to make a zoetrope.  I just can’t escape myself.  The content for the toy was printed in the Sunday supplements of newspapers in the 1890s.

In my class, as I fiddle with code and talk of servers, map-services, instantiating queries, and so on, I think of the vast industry that has grown up to move large amounts of data, including the cartographic data with which I am concerned, over the Internet to consumers.  Yes, we are ‘consumers’ of map-services.  It’s as good a term as any, but does anyone wonder about how we all got to be consumers…of everything?  I get distracted by the sociology of the IT industry, and lose my place in the flow of the programming…

I took some time off to visit Balboa Park’s museums.  San Diego has something to offer other than sunshine and conventions, but it’s certainly not good coffee!  Next to the San Diego Museum of Art, where I saw a nice exhibit on German Expressionism, I visited the Timkin Museum, for free!  It’s a small collection, but there are a couple of knockout pieces of Sienese art of which I was unaware.  I particularly like the representation of the Trinity in the center of the second piece below, by Niccolo di Tomme. (Click to enlarge the images.)

Then there was this wonderful portrait by an artist I’d never see, clearly influenced by Leonardo, and newly discovered portrait by van Dyck.  The fabric and the hand seem pure Anthony van.

While shopping the museum store, I came upon a book about Yinka Shonibare, MBE, another new one for me.  He was born in London, raised in Nigeria, and now is back in the UK, producing installations, ‘paintings’, and sculpture that are filled with sly and not-so-subtle, but very exuberant, send-ups and skewerings of European culture, colonial and otherwise.  Turns out, his stuff is on exhibit there, so now I have to get back before I return to NJ.

The Big Clock

December 23, 2010

The Big Clock is supposedly a noir film, and it is based on the marvelous novel by Kenneth Fearing of the same name.  The book is pure noir – the film plays a lot of the situations for laughs.  Aside from the deluxe art deco settings and Charles Laughton, the film doesn’t offer much, or it seemed that way to me, having read the book first.  While the novel is a dark, brutal evocation of corporate America, and creates a terrible level of suspense as George Stroud is slowly crushed in the vice of circumstances and his own moral pecadilloes, the film is only moderately exciting.

The plot is clever – George Stroud is having an affair with the mistress of his boss, Earl Janoth.  Janoth kills her, and Stroud is a witness who can place him at the scene of the crime.  Janoth knows he was seen, but not by whom.  He turns the vast resources of his journalistic empire to the task of locating the witness before that man talks to the police.  He entrusts the task to George Stroud!

Within the course of a day, Stroud must run the investigative effort, try to derail it, but not seem to.  (He won’t go to the cops because he doesn’t want to destroy his marriage – a weak link in the story.)  Willy nilly, his team accumulates evidence that begins to point right at him.

In the novel, Stroud is a pretty ruthless and hard-nosed fellow.  The dialogue is coarse and direct:  the dead mistress was a part-time Liz (that’s les-bian).   Janoth kills her when she accuses him of having homosexual longings for his No. 2 man.  Only Laughton carries some of that into the film, portraying Janoth as a flabby, egotistical, effeminate bastard of a mogul.

The movie evokes the theme of the Big Clock literally, placing it in the lobby of Janoth Enterprises, and controlling all the clocks in his obsessively scheduled empire.  The book is more poetic – we never get a clear definition of what is The Big Clock.  We only know that it moves ceaselessly on its rounds, grinding up everyone in its gears, without sense, without pity.  The clock is corporate America.

Let’s be passionate

October 26, 2009


I hear a lot about passion these days.  People ask one another, what’s his/her passion?  People want to be passionate about their work.  What if you are only “passionate” about screwing off?  I have a lingering suspicion that all this stuff about “finding your passion” is yet another attempt by the IWM (International Work Machine) to co-opt our energies into meeting its needs.  Work, work work …it’s what you LOVE!

Work Ethic

July 28, 2009


A fable from Zamyatin’s We:

Record Thirty-four:

Keywords:  The Released, A Sunny Night, Radio Valkyrie

The Three Released – a story that every schoolchild knows.  It’s a story about three ciphers who, for the sake of experiment, were released from work for a month:  to do what they wanted to do and go where they wanted to go.*  These unlucky types loitered around the place they usually worked and peeped inside with hungry eyes.  They stood in plazas for hours at a time; they performed the very movements that were appointed to that hour of the day as needed by their organism: they sawed and planed the air, they rattled invisible hammers, thumping on invisible blocks.  And, finally, on the tenth day, they couldn’t bear it anymore:  linking arms, they walked into the water and to the sound the March, they plunged deeper and deeper, until the water ended their torment…

* This was long ago, back in the third century after the Table.

la vie quotidienne…

January 24, 2009

Does anybody really understand this book?


I am fascinated by commuting, at least by mine.  Of course, in my thoughts always is that other commute, endlessly replayed in my inner television mind…

The view of the World Trade Center site that is glimpsed from the PATH train as it pulls into the WTC station is rapidly being obscured by construction.  I have caught it just in time!

Open use of a video camera is liable to lead to a delayed commute because of questioning by wary police officers, thus my inexpert clandestine camera work.

Protestant slave ethic

September 2, 2008

In celebration of Labor Day, I must call to your attention this earlier post on the subject of toil.  And this snippet from a Labor Day commentary in the NYTimes is enlightening also (my emphasis):

But what’s different from Weber’s era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most …higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do.

This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn’t have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).

In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.

I’m a bit dubious about the assertion that lower income people are not working more to keep afloat, but the point this commentary makes is interesting.  Yes, the International Work Machine keeps the hamsters running on those wheels!  Does it all come from a lack of confidence about what is “the good life?”  Back to those philosophy books!

Do not work harder than required to work,
Young men should sit around and drink all day;
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Halt, Dynamos!

April 4, 2008

A Dynamo

Do not work harder than required to work,
Young men should sit around and drink all day;
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Though poor men may apply to be a clerk,
Because their jobs are not exciting they
Do not work harder than required to work.

Rich men, who sell and buy, eat at Le Circque,
And take their “business trips” to Saint-Tropez,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Old men around retirement age who lurk
At desks and hope no tasks will come their way
Do not work harder than required to work.

Smart men, in school, who learn with blinding smirk
That coasting through a class still earns an A,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Don’t visit every world like Captain Kirk;
Picard knows that the bridge is where to stay.
Do not work harder than required to work.
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

From Holy Tango of Literature, by Francis Heaney, one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The author takes the names of great figures in English literature, makes anagrams of their names ( “holy tango” is an anagram of “anthology”) and provides hilarious pastiches of their work. Halt Dynamos is an anagram, if you didn’t guess, of Dylan Thomas, and this is a spoof of one of his best known poems, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

On to Unemployment

February 4, 2008


“What does Dada mean? Dada has no meaning!” So declared the Zurich Dadaists, derided by George Grosz and his friends as “salon dada.” He was more directed towards revolutionary thinking, if not action. Among other demands:

“…the introduction of incremental unemployment linked to wide-ranging mechanization of every field of activity. Only unemployment assures the individual of an opportunity to assess the truth of his own life and be finally reconciled to experience.”

As another great socialist, Oscar Wilde, said, “Work is the refuge of those with nothing better to do.” Of course, this was before there were so many things to buy, which, of course, makes working all the more desirable. Quite a clever little rat race it is! What a situation…

[the founding of the] Situationiste Internationale in 1957. At first, they were principally concerned with the “suppression of art”, that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. Like the Lettrists, they were against work and for complete divertissement … To hell with work, to hell with boredom! Create and construct an eternal festival.

And back to one of the clearest statements I have read about the nature of work in our society of controlled, stimulated consumption that keeps the wheels going as we all turn our cranks in our cubicles and our factories, while most of us – humans that is – are living in poverty and even squalor and don’t really work as we do but toil and struggle to exist, but we are privileged, and of just what does this privilege consist..?”

The idea that a society can exist without work is disturbing because it implies that work is the product of society and not the other way around, as we ordinarily imagine …

…the act of work, as the manner in which human energy is concerted under civilization, is inextricable from exploitation. That is a word before which we tend to wince. But in early civilization it is not difficult to see it nakedly apparent and coercively enforced. The figures of the rent-racked peasant and the abused slave are inextricable from the centralized mode of production.

Yet is the common observation that men and women want work, even when they do not have to have it’ that few individuals are happy on welfare; in short, that work is looked on as a desirable condition of life, even though it is no longer essential for life. Capitalism is the first civilization in which the upper class “works” in ways that would have been regarded with disdain by the upper classes of previous social orders…Capitalism has combined prestige and power into a new social value, available to many and tempting to all: the value of success. Prior to capitalism, there was triumph, glory, high rank, wealth—but there was no success. Success is the reward of power and prestige that comes from work.

The submission to the dictates of the system[of work]is not as overt or dramatic as that required on a field of combat or before a court of law, but it is there just the same—all the more overmastering because it seems no more than the warp and woof of daily life.

Robert Heilbroner:
“The World of Work” from Behind the Veil of Economics

Pardon me, but I repeat myself. See my Lotus Eaters.

Time to Manage Yourself

February 20, 2007

This image is a poster produced by the Mather Corporation in the 1920s. I came across it in a pre-auction exhibition at the Swann Galleries in NYC. How I would love to have this poster up in my office, or some I have worked in in years past. So different from the New-Agey garbage we see everywhere – soaring eagles, cute animals, wave rings on the surface of a pond – one person makes a difference! – every moment counts!

No, this stuff is pretty down and dirty – to the point. Be productive, WORK, don’t waste time. These images were on factory floors and in offices. Work Incentive Posters is the general name.

It seems corny now, but that’s because we have just gotten more sophisticated in our efforts to manage our time and those around us. Rising education levels, more wealth, more sophisticated work, general exposure to propaganda everywhere: a more subtle approach is called for. That is, if you’re not on the shop floor of a sweatshop where the only incentive needed is the desire not to loose your job.

The entire notion of time management repels me. I have no interest in being efficient and managing my time well. My attitude towards work is that it is how I live, as my ancestors may have gathered berries or tilled the soil, I hack a keyboard. Am I decadent? Alienated? A parasite? I wish I felt differently more of the time. At least while I’m at my desk.

And who says we have time to manage? What a way to view one’s life, as a series of moments to be managed in a work schedule, a daybook, a filofax…