Archive for July, 2005

05w29:3 Traffic Engineering

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 29 number 3 (traffic engineering)

Thanks to Matt Crookshank for this Goodreads suggestion – Timothy


Road design? He calls it a revolution | Sarah Lyall
“It was, basically, a bare brick square. But in spite of the apparently anarchical layout, the traffic, a steady stream of trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, moved along fluidly and easily, as if directed by an invisible conductor. When Monderman, a traffic engineer and the intersection’s proud designer, deliberately failed to check for oncoming traffic before crossing the street, the drivers slowed for him. No one honked or shouted rude words out the window. ‘Who has the right of way?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘I don’t care. People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains.'”

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 23 July 2005 @ 9:12 PM

05w29:2 Letter from St. John's | London Bombings

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 29 number 2 (Letter from St. John’s | London Bombings)

Craig Francis Power has written me a couple of letters from St. John’s, the latest deals with the latest controversy with The Rooms and Gordon Laurin’s firing.
Now, while the news channels today are creaming themselves about being able to devote another full day to the crumbs fed to them by the London police, we should remember that in the long run, visual culture and literature is where a society’s memory lies, and certainly not at the news desks of CBC and CNN, where they tell us that today’s bombing occurred two weeks after the first round. No shit. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Goodreads began partially because of what I read by John Taylor Gatto in an autumn issue of Harper’s magazine a couple of years back:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

And that stayed with me. Then, last winter’s readings of John Ralston Saul drove the point home:

“There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves. The extent to which a populace falls back on superstition or violence can be traced to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them. […] It’s not that everyone must understand everything; but those who are not experts must see that they are being dealt with openly and honestly; that they are part of the process of an integrated civilization. They will understand and participate to the best of their ability. If excluded they will treat the elites with an equal contempt”.

London Bombings
Bombers in London are suffering from a lack of imagination, by which they can’t relate to society at large. I’m reminded of something Mark Kingwell wrote ten years ago discussing crime statistics in the U.S. and noting that for some the conditions of poverty were so severe that going to jail was a step up, guaranteeing shelter and three meals a day. (Such motivations have also led many people into the military over the past couple of centuries as well).

One then begins to see that these suicide bombers are trying to escape their lives. And, as the media would like us to think – they all appear normal, aren’t in dire poverty. They always come across as a middle-class, albeit in some cases, lower middle class. Instead, we have a situation analogous to the suicides of Canada’s north, where the Inuit children, after years of sniffing gasoline for cheap and brain-destructive highs, are hanging or shooting themselves. We have a pretty good idea as to why those kids are self-destructive, and that is because ‘they have no culture’, the story being that the misguided intentions of a century ago to assimilate the native populations did terrible damage to their sense of self as a culture, and in effect, destroyed their imaginations. The imagination of themselves and their place in the world, in the grand scheme of things.

And so, I want to say that suicide bombers are suffering from a lack of imagination. That they are choosing to die, and to escape into the paradisiacal world (the only thing, one imagines, that has preoccupied their imagination for years) rather than continuing to live their dreary, industrialized, modernist, post-modernist, (or whatever other name we throw at it) lives.

Those of us who despise reality television and other aspects of pop culture choose do so because we feel that we have better things to occupy our imagination – great books, the art of contemporary galleries – ‘cinema’ as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters…. but if you’re a child of immigrants, and don’t identify either with your parents or fully with your peers, and instead your imagination is stimulated by religion …. it doesn’t seem to be so mysterious now does it, why these kids would do what they do.

We imagine ourselves, develop ambitions, or at least have plans for the future – next vacation and so forth. Imagining ourselves and our place in the world is terribly important in helping give us a sense of context, and in carrying out our daily activities. Our love for stories feeds this sense of imagination – and we feel more alive when our life is echoed in the imagination – it is a resonance chamber by which we build symphonies of meaning.

The Rooms
The tension in St. John’s is one of two imaginative visions: an elite version (which I suppose would be Laurin’s camp) and one down-home version (the CEO’s camp). Now, admittedly, I’m not in St. John’s and am only working with what I’ve read (today’s links) but let’s look at it according to Saul’s take on elitism. I believe, as does Saul, that people want what’s best. That only seems like common sense. Yes, the elites, and especially art-elites, do form a sort of tribe which treats people outside of it with an element of contempt. They think they are engaged in what’s best. They think that the lobster-trap craft folk are uneducated and misguided and have the blinders on towards ‘what’s best’. Hence, tension.

Ok, that being said, it does seem to me that Craig Power has a point where he writes, “Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being stupid, inbred and drunk. With the events of the past week and a half, is there any reason to wonder why?” having set it up by saying, “Wanda Mooney, a career government administrator, has been installed as interim director. … I don’t know what this woman’s knowledge of art history or contemporary art practice is, but I do know that if you Google her name, you find out that she used to be the woman you called if you wanted to rent space or book a reception at the old provincial gallery. How this qualifies her to run the gallery on even an interim basis, I don’t know, but I can hardly wait to see this visionary at work.”

Perhaps that’s unfair. But the point here is that according to the attitude among artists in St. John’s, the Board of Directors and CEO are suffering from a lack of imagination, one that in itself is contemptuous of the public at large. One that assumes tourists want to travel to foggy and cold St. John’s to see a bunch of folk-art crap, when they could be treated to the best of what contemporary culture has to offer.

But, the point I’m trying to make by bringing up London and my thoughts therein are that treating The Rooms with the contempt with which it has been treated, first by the Provincial Government, which kept it closed for a year, and now with Laurin’s dismissal, is stunting the imagination of Newfoundlanders, a place which so far has imagined itself as backward and victimized, and been rewarded by doing so by a Kevin Spacey movie. Laurin’s purported vision to give the citizens of St. John’s the quality of culture they deserve (that is, the best) and to resist mediocre crap, is admirable, and it’s unfortunate that another Maritime art scandal has resulted in the process. But here we also seem to be dealing with the backlash of ‘the excluded’ toward the elites (who have excluded by obscurantist writing and snotty attitudes for a century now) by treating them with ‘an equal contempt’.

Let’s just say that nobody has a monopoly on the imagination, but London also illustrates that it’s important to foster the best imaginations society has to offer.


Letter from St. John’s 2 | Craig Francis Power
“In his brief tenure, Laurin had already formed alliances with Newfoundland and Labrador’s artist run centres, not to mention its experimental musicians, dancers and writers. There was a real sense of excitement amongst all of us. We actually believed that the provincial gallery, long a bastion for the cultural vacuity of Christopher Pratt (NL’s answer to Alex Colville), would begin to take contemporary art and artists more seriously. I, for one, feel like the biggest sucker in the world. […]Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being stupid, inbred and drunk. With the events of the past week and a half, is there any reason to wonder why?”

Artists ‘mortified’ by sacking at St. John’s Rooms | CBC Arts
“Newfoundland and Labrador’s arts community is ‘mortified and deeply embarrassed’ by the recent firing of Gordon Laurin as director of the province’s art gallery, according to an artists group.Gabrielle Kemp, director of communications of Visual Arts Newfoundland and Labrador (VANL), told CBC Arts Online her group is vexed by Laurin’s dismissal just two weeks after the province’s landmark art gallery, The Rooms, opened. “

Director’s exit stuns community | James Adams (G&M)
“Laurin was hired for the job just a little more than a year ago, following a lengthy search. A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, he’d been director of Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax since 1998. In the spring of 2004, it was expected that Laurin would be overseeing the move of the art collection into The Rooms, but that March the provincial government announced it was postponing the opening of the facility by a year, to June 29, 2005, to save an estimated $2-million.”

Interview #2 | On the Go
“The Room’s is living up to it’s controversial beginnings. Remember the enormous fight over building on top of the Fort Townsend site. Now, within two weeks of our new provincial Museum, Archives and Art Gallery opening, the director of the Art Gallery has been sacked. Gordon Laurin, the now former director, will not comment. Dean Brinton is the CEO of the Rooms. He’s the man who fired him. Here’s part of what he had to say to the host of Weekend AM, Angela Antle.”Aired Friday, July 15, 2005 | Real Audio File

Interview #3 | On the Go
“When the news came out on Friday that Gordon Laurin, the director of our new Art Gallery in the Rooms was sacked, many people were shocked, if not outraged. Now the province’s visual artists are getting together, having meetings and making phone calls to find out what happened at the Rooms and what happens from here on in. VANL, The Visual Artists of Newfoundland and Labrador is an advocacy group for visual artists. That group held a meeting today, and then two of it’s members came by our studio. Elayne Greeley, is the chair of VANL’s advocacy committee. Tara Bryant is a member of the board. Ted began the conversation by asking Ms. Greeley what she’s learned since Friday about why Gordon Laurin was let go. Here’s what she said.

Q: What is important about this dispute for the people who aren’t working artists, the people listening to us right now?
A: Do they want a cultural institution that represents their culture in an accurate and in an informed way, or do they want a watered down version of programming and culture that is aimed at a less informed audience? An art gallery is a research institution as well as a space that presents work, right? So we’re talking about curating, we’re not talking just about a pretty space to hang artwork, we’re talking about representing the culture that has happened as well as presenting the culture that is existing now, and how it is going to move into the future’. [7.32/9.33] “Aired Monday, July 18, 2005 | Real Audio File

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 21 July 2005 @ 1:49 PM

05w29:1 The Rebel Sell

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 29 number 1 (The Rebel Sell)

First, a friend who was in the audience that evening told me about it, and then I saw the video last December on Big Ideas. I taped it then actually, and as I watched it I thought, I should transcribe this audio for Goodreads. But at the time it didn’t seem practical. Winter passed. Snow fell, we had Christmas and the news of the Tsunami, and then a campaign of white bracelets to end global poverty, especially in Africa. By this time, I’d completed the transcription of another hour of video, that of Michael Ignatieff’s speech last March. So, I knew how to do it. I had the experience. I figured it’d take a couple of days. And when the video was re-broadcast the weekend before last, it was a reminder. Yes, I really should do this. And the process began. It took longer than a couple of days, but what’s the rush? The book has just been published in paperback. And perhaps it’ll be someone’s August reading, supplemented with this great introduction and summary by the authors given last October as part of the University of Toronto Reading Series. – Timothy


The Rebel Sell | Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter
“It may give us pause to consider that while Fight Club was hailed as ‘edgy’ and ‘subversive’ when it appeared in 1999, Rabbit, Run enjoyed enormous commercial success when it was first published?in 1960. If social criticism came with a ‘sell by’ date, this one would have been removed from the shelf a long time ago. The fact that it is still around, and still provokes awe and acclaim, makes one wonder if it is really a criticism or, rather, a piece of modern mythology. What Fight Club and Rabbit, Run present, in a user-friendly fashion, is the critique of mass society, which was developed in the late 1950s in classic works like William Whyte?s The Organization Man (1956), Vance Packard?s The Status Seekers (1959) and Paul Goodman?s Growing up Absurd (1960). The central idea is quite simple. Capitalism requires conformity to function correctly. As a result, the system is based upon a generalized system of repression. Individuals who resist the pressure to conform therefore subvert the system, and aid in its overthrow.”NOTE: introductory article from This Magazine

The Rebel Sell | Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath
“So the desire to conform, this idea that we’re all trying to conform, fails to explain the compulsive nature of consumer behavior, why we keep spending more and more, even though we’re all over extended, even though it doesn’t bring anybody any happiness in the long run. So the question is why do we lay the blame for consumerism on those who are struggling to keep up with the Jones’? Because the fault would actually appear to lie with the Jones’. They’re the ones who started it all, by trying to one-up their neighbors. It’s their desire to stand out from the crowd, to be better than everyone else, that is responsible for ratcheting up consumption standards in their community. In other words, it’s the non-conformists, not the conformists, who are driving consumer spending.”

Branded for life | Andy Beckett
“The Rebel Sell is a brave book. In places it is also unfair, light on evidence and repetitively polemical. But the argument it makes is important and original. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, both young Canadian academics, think that for nearly half a century critics of capitalism have profoundly misunderstood their enemy. Worse than that, the authors argue, these critics have – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – provided modern capitalism with the fuel it runs on. […] To Heath and Potter, the story of capitalism since the 60s is the story of business absorbing so much from the so-called counterculture of that decade and after, and vice versa, that the two effectively merged. By the early 21st century, the counterculture’s governing ideas of rebelliousness and ‘cool’ have become the ‘central ideology’ of consumerism. Wherever you find capitalism at its most vigorous – as in the marketing of sportswear and pop music – a ‘rebel sell’ philosophy is at work. “NOTE: (With a response – scroll down to ‘Brand Recognition’)

The Rebel Sell Official Website | Harper Collins

No logo? Not quite | Andrew Potter
“Here’s an interesting article about some recent polling data debunking the notion that today’s youth (18-24) are a bunch of anti-branding anti-capitalists. In fact, it would appear that this crew is actually less likely than the general population to be willing to spend more on ethically produced goods or environmentally-friendly products.”

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 19 July 2005 @ 5:27 PM

05w28:1 Four Years Later

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 28 number 1 (four years later)


Mike Harris and the arts | Robert Fulford
“It is a truth universally acknowledged among artists in Toronto that Premier Mike Harris has wrecked the cultural life of Ontario. This opinion must baffle newspaper readers elsewhere in Canada. On the one hand, Ontario artists seem to spend their time accepting prizes, signing big contracts, and bragging about their international success; on the other, they claim they are living in dark times, starved by a mean, vicious government. The consensus in the cultural community is simple: We must live in hope that some day Harris will be defeated so that his successor can bring back the creative policies of the pre-Harris years, when sympathetic governments vigorously encouraged the arts. It happens that this is nonsense, but it is popular nonsense. In some Toronto circles, it is more or less mandatory. Artists holding contrary ideas usually remain silent, to avoid being condemned for heresy. […] We who favour arts funding claim that most artists of all kinds have been subsidized through most of history. True. But that doesn’t mean government decisions determine the health of the arts. When Russians were writing the great novels of the 19th century, the czars were not literary patrons. When the Impressionists in Paris were producing the best paintings of the 19th century, the French government played no part. Canadians spend so much time talking about cultural policy that we think it more important than it is. Government can help, and should, but arts policies and the arts are not the same and often don’t run on parallel tracks. Looking clearly at what has happened to the arts in the Age of Harris might help us to think about these questions with less hysteria and more, uh, common sense. “Article Date, 10 July 2001

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 11 July 2005 @ 11:07 PM

05w27:1 Ideas about God

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 27 number 1 (ideas about God)


On Evolution of God-Seeking Mind | Conrad Montell
“The earliest known products of human imagination appear to express a primordial concern and struggle with thoughts of dying and of death and mortality. I argue that the structures and processes of imagination evolved in that struggle, in response to debilitating anxieties and fearful states that would accompany an incipient awareness of mortality. Imagination evolved to find that which would make the nascent apprehension of death more bearable, to engage in a search for alternative perceptions of death: a search that was beyond the capability of the external senses. I argue that imagination evolved as flight and fight adaptations in response to debilitating fears that paralleled an emerging foreknowledge of death. Imagination, and symbolic language to express its perceptions, would eventually lead to religious behavior and the development of cultural supports. Although highly speculative, my argument draws on recent brain studies, and on anthropology, psychology, and linguistics.”

The Origin of Consciousness … | Wikipedia
“The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) is a controversial work of popular psychology by Julian Jaynes in which he proposes that consciousness emerged relatively recently in human history. Jaynes asserts that until the times written about in Homer’s Iliad, humans did not have the ‘interior monologue’ that is characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Instead, he argues that something like schizophrenia was the typical human mental state as recently as 3000 years ago. […] Jaynes argues that preconscious humans effectively had a ‘split brain’ which allowed one part of the brain to appear to be ‘speaking’ to another part that listened and obeyed, and that commands that at some point were believed to be issued by ‘gods’–so often recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts–were in fact emanating from individuals’ own minds. Specifically, he hypothesizes that these commands were being issued by a now usually dormant area in the right hemisphere of the brain that corresponds to the location of Wernicke’s area in the left which is believed to be involved in understanding speech. He says, with neurosurgery, these commands can be recreated with electrical stimulation of the area.”

Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind | Julian Jaynes
“But if you take the generally accepted oldest parts of the Iliad and ask, ?Is there evidence of consciousness?? the answer, I think, is no. People are not sitting down and making decisions. No one is. No one is introspecting. No one is even reminiscing. It is a very different kind of world. Then, who makes the decisions? Whenever a significant choice is to be made, a voice comes in telling people what to do. These voices are always and immediately obeyed. These voices are called gods. To me this is the origin of gods. I regard them as auditory hallucinations similar to, although not precisely the same as, the voices heard by Joan of Arc or William Blake. Or similar to the voices that modern schizophrenics hear. Similar perhaps to the voices that some of you may have heard. While it is regarded as a very significant symptom in the diagnosis of schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations also occur in some form at some time in about half the general population (Posey & Losch, 1983). I have also corresponded with or interviewed people who are completely normal in function but who suddenly have a period of hearing extensive verbal hallucinations, usually of a religious sort. Verbal hallucinations are common today, but in early civilization I suggest that they were universal. “PDF File 139 K

E.T. and God | Paul Davies
“The world’s main faiths were all founded in the pre-scientific era, when Earth was widely believed to be at the center of the universe and humankind at the pinnacle of creation. As scientific discoveries have piled up over the past 500 years, our status has been incrementally diminished. First Earth was shown to be just one planet of several orbiting the Sun. Then the solar system itself was relegated to the outer suburbs of the galaxy, and the Sun classified as an insignificant dwarf star among billions. The theory of evolution proposed that human beings occupied just a small branch on a complex evolutionary tree. […] Theologians are used to putting a brave face on such developments. […]Only recently, for example, did the Pope acknowledge that Darwinian evolution is more than just a theory. If SETI succeeds, theologians will not have the luxury of decades of careful deliberation to assess the significance of the discovery. The impact will be instant. […] Suppose, then, that E.T. is far ahead of us not only scientifically and technologically but spiritually, too. Where does that leave mankind’s presumed special relationship with God? This conundrum poses a particular difficulty for Christians, because of the unique nature of the Incarnation. Of all the world’s major religions, Christianity is the most species-specific. Jesus Christ was humanity’s savior and redeemer. He did not die for the dolphins or the gorillas, and certainly not for the proverbial little green men. But what of deeply spiritual aliens? Are they not to be saved? Can we contemplate a universe that contains perhaps a trillion worlds of saintly beings, but in which the only beings eligible for salvation inhabit a planet where murder, rape, and other evils remain rife?”

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 05 July 2005 @ 10:33 PM

05w28:2 Darren O'Donell

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 26 number 2 (Darren O’Donnell)

What would a celebration of Canada, (via fireworks and an international rock concert) be without a case of provincialism, as in, ‘oh my gosh, the rest of the world is paying attention to us, and to one of our own’? In this case, Darren O’Donnell, who was recently interviewed by NY Press, and prompting this Darren O’Donnell edition of GR. Because many people on this list know Darren personally, we’re apt to take his talent for granted, so it’s nice to have this perspective available, and it seems worth sharing with those beyond the Canadian borders. – Timothy


Interview with Darren O’Donnell | Kate Crane
“Basically, I think the child/adult dichotomy is false and, ultimately, not healthy. Adulthood and the various layers of personality armour one has to adopt to function as an adult are, for the most part, a performance or a fiction. Adults are, ultimately, very childlike and, conversely, children are actually far more mature than most people are willing to acknowledge. So the children in the book are actually adults?composites of me and a few of my friends. The adults in the book barely exist. […] The one thing we tell children over and over is the virtue of sharing, and yet we live in this place that glorifies wealth, rewards greed, a place where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. The adult is a mythical creature, as far as I?m concerned.”

Your Secrets Sleep with Me (Review) | Kate Crane
“This tale holds 101 compressed dramas; the resulting tension is as thick and refractive as DC air in August. Though Your Secrets critiques the global spread of America and the sprouting of police states, at its core the book explores the meaning of self, of our relationships with our bodies, the outside world and one another, down to a cellular level.”

Darren O’Donnell’s Suicide Guide to the City | Timothy Comeau
“One of the first projects of Darren’s I became aware of was The Talking Creature, where he basically got people to meet in Kensington Market’s park and chat. In light of Saul’s arguments, that seems to have been a very Canadian thing to do. And now, with Suicide Site Guide, that Canadian tradition favoring talk over text continues. Because, as I said earlier, the play is like a recited journal it reminds me of the fact that journals are now flourishing as a literary form through blogs.”

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emailed by Timothy on Sunday 03 July 2005 @ 9:01 PM