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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008

While it’s not the definitive or last study about this, there’s an interesting Hypebot article which claims that blogs have more influence over record purchases than MySpace.  Supposedly, MS helped Lily Allen to become a UK star but the Arctic Monkeys deny that MS was the vehicle that launched them.  It’ll be interesting to see other studies about this.

Also wanted to note this L.A. Times article about how fans are getting involved in artists’ careers by becoming their patrons/producers.  It’s not an entirely new model (patronage goes back centuries and the fan-as-producer model is more than a few years old now) but it’s worth mentioning and repeating after you hear all the gloomy music biz stories and wonder how artists are gonna carry on in a brave new Net world.

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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008

A few weeks back, we took a look at Bookworms With Ink, a literary blog book-obsessed tattoo enthusiasts where it’s hard to get cooler than this. It only gets better, that blog. Its growing community surprises me more and more with the varied quotes and illustrations people choose to have permanently etched on them. I’ve yet to come across anything quite as fascinating.

The other day, though, I found Lou Reads, a blog by a Louisville teacher that is basically a log of every book, well, that Lou reads. Each book is logged, dated, and reviewed. I’m loving this as much as the tattoo blog—Lou’s reviews are some of the sharpest and warmest I’ve ever read. Her taste spans Cormac McCarthy to Michael Chabon to Jennifer Crusie. She’s as spot on in her comments on pop trash as she is Pulitzer winners, and searching her archives is great fun when you start clicking random, dated tags wondering, “what will Lou read next!?”

Lou is fascinating in her own way. In her “About Us” section, she notes that she used to keep a log of all books she read, and she read a lot. Until Hurricane Katrina, when every book started was soon abandoned. In “the last six months or so” (from June 2007), she notes that she has again been able to read books to their ends, and so has re-started her logging.

Every book stirs a memory of a time and place in my life. I read the bulk of Love Warps the Mind a Little in the bed of the man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I bought Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush in a small bookstore in Sligo, Ireland. The only books I was able to devour post-Katrina were genre pulp fiction like Tom Corcoran’s Gumbo Lindo and Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein ... Now that I’m reading again, I thought I would pick up where I left off—in a more public and more thorough form.

My favourite thing about Lou is a hear-me-roar honesty. Check out this exceprt from her review of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld:

I was also a scholarship kid at a tony New England prep school (although it was a day school). I wasn’t as much of an outsider as Lee, but I was definitely in the “unpopular” clique. And shit happened to me too. And I changed and grew during the course of my four years there. At the end of the book (I don’t consider this a spoiler) when she nearly flunks out her senior year for giving up on her math exam, I couldn’t believe that she was the exact same train wreck that she was when she first came to Ault.

Not your average review, right? Yet, still an opinion both shocking and utterly relevant. These are the sorts of reviews I want to read.

On Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:

Ooof. It seems like the only way to properly describe the effect that this book had on me is to make unintelligible, grunty, despairing sounds. Oooof. Uuhhh. Shhhh. Ohhhhh. Insert long, deep, desperate sigh here ... I read the last chunk of the book in a single sitting in Starbucks. Huge mistake. Unwilling to sob in public as I turned the last few pages, I swallowed my despair and ended up haunted by it for days. Don’t take that comment lightly. Quite literally, I went home, made myself comfort food, and then curled on the couch, despondant, for the rest of the evening. Simply revisiting the book right now has hurled me into a funk.

I don’t think I’ve read a review of The Road yet that nails the books breathtaking effect as well as this. Her ability to grab at the heart of stories. their settings, and subtexts is just glorious.

One more great moment from Lou Reads, this one in reference to Ernest J Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying:

Tragic, heavy book ... one where it takes you clear ‘til the end to actually feel sympathy for any of the characters. But what an impact. I was stunned, disappointed, when I met with my seven ninth grade advisees this week and found out that they all thought it was b-o-r-i-n-g! But to my surprise (and honestly renewing my faith that 14-year-old girls are still GIRLS) they were way put off by the somewhat explicit sex scenes!

You won’t find that stuff in the New York Times.



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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008

Media for the visually impaired.

Photo by Adam Graham

Photo by Adam Graham

The Genius of Louis Braille

Louis Braille’s genius was in realising that reading is something that’s done in the brain, the mind and the heart, that the eyes see or fingers feel the letters but the mind brings them to life. He also understood, as Gutenberg did before him, that his technology allowed people to have a private, contemplative relationship with the written word. In some ways technology is no friend to the visually impaired person. It may be convenient to turn printed words into sound, and books may be simpler to produce and make more titles available, but something crucial is lost if we can’t turn our ingenuity towards keeping braille alive, and even advancing it. A simple, refreshable book reader for sighted people has been difficult enough to produce, but more valuable than that, and infinitely more useful to society, would be a smart, ecologically sound refreshable braille device.

Colours. Issue #72.  Dedicated to the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Colors magazine has devoted an entire issue to blind and visually impaired people. They profile a blind rapper from Texas.

I’m the only blind rapper I know, but I still come and go, flip, screw, get down and get around just like I could see. Bein’ blind is just an inconvenience and I carry myself like I can see. People been telling me, “Man, you got killer flows” and it’s my turn next. I’m getting ready for a 40-city tour and I’m lookin’ for a Grammy. You know my kids need some good food to chew on.

I don’t rap about bein’ blind. Not that I’m ashamed or anything but I don’t want no sympathy claps and I don’t want to use my blindness as a stepping stone. I want my music to represent me. I want people to walk away from my
show wondering to themselves, ‘Was dat cat blind?’

And eighteen year old Ricardo Steimetz, who said: “I had no interest in birds. Then I went blind.”

My favourite birds are the ones that sing the most. I guess that makes sense, because I build my relationship with them through sound. The birds that don’t sing are graceless. At the moment my favourite birds are the blue ones. Some don’t sing when their feathers are molting, or when they get sick with fever or something. They become silent. Spring is the best time of the year for birds, it’s when they sing the most. In winter only a few of them sing, but it’s ok, it’s a cycle.

The blog Search and Destroy has several photographs of pages from the blindness issue of Colors.

Braille Without Borders

Braille Without Borders began as a project in Tibet in 1998. The website Climbing Blind has a story about the origins of Braille Without Borders.

Run by Sabriye Tenberken and her Dutch partner, Paul Kronenberg, instruct about 30 Tibetan students who are blind. They teach them to navigate independently with their canes through the chaos of Lhasa, to weave along narrow streets through moving cars and mopeds, around construction sites never protected, and over random holes in the streets, several meters deep, filled with dirty water and excrement. They’re also taught Tibetan Braille and how to use computers with voice synthesizers.  Most importantly, she instills in her students a sense of self-respect and hope. Sabriye funds her center on a shoestring budget, only recently having the funds to buy the school building with an advance from her newly released book, My Path Leads to Tibet It is a small international development organisation which aims to create training programs and Braille book printing houses for blind and visual impaired people. Braille is used as the basic tool to impart literacy to blind people. “Without Borders” on one hand means BWB can work anywhere in the world, but more important BWB doesn’t want to set any borders for blind people.

There is also now a project in Kerala in India.


Tagged as: media braille
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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008

Ventura highway
in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger
than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know

America, Ventura Highway

At some point every Californian takes a trip up the coast. In my lifetime, growing up a So-Cal kid, I’d estimate that—between family vacations when I was a lad, student politics during my college years, law school up in Sacramento, and a girlfriend from San Jose—well, I’ve probably gone up and back 37 times. It’s one of those treks that, done right, you can never really tire of. Especially, if you are doing it with loved ones for the first time. A new lover, a spouse, children. The cruise up 101 and then Highway 1 never gets old.

It’s sort of like a rite that one has to experience before they can gain state citizenship. Why? Because one can’t truly understand the rhythms, the prospects, and the capabilities of this great Golden State until they have sampled the spectacular views along the craggy coastline; the lush hues of the ocean, kissed by the ever-changeable, vibrant sky; and the quirky folk and idle pace that define the seaside lifestyle. Taken together, these aspects of the coastal trek—and particularly from Southern California up to the San Francisco Bay Area—form one of the United States’ essential experiences; a national treasure, decaring uniqueness, demanding encounter.





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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008

You want proof that there’s no God. Want incontrovertible evidence that 99.9% of Hollywood executives have their heads so far up their rectums that they could read Variety through their urethra? Word has just come down that William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer is being made into a movie. No, that’s not the incriminating facet. It seems a certain talent free actor has been tapped to play the iconic role of Henry Dorsett Case. It’s a performer so pathetic he makes Keanu Reeves’ turns in the downright rip off Johnny Mnemonic look like the work of Sir Laurence Olivier. That’s right, everyone’s least favorite waste of Star Wars space, Hayden “One Broken Note” Christensen is rumored to be the front runner for the part. Apparently, it all depends on how his upcoming sci-fi spectacle does at the box office. Oh if only it were that easy.

In the realm of ridiculous action stardom, where for every Bruce Willis we have a dozen Nicolas Cages, sulking Skywaker is the absolute worst choice no matter the role. He’s dead eyed and uninvolving, like a trip to the zoo the day after the animals committed suicide. Since Tinsel Town usually thinks with its wallet first, crotch second, and aesthetics dead last, it’s no surprise that this Canadian klutz keeps getting hired. George Lucas’ lamentable prequels made a mint, and the last time anyone checked, Christensen is still riding that rail all the way to the next casting call. Who cares if he was laughably bad as a kind-of Bob Dylan in Factory Girl? It doesn’t matter that Awaken took a dirt nap at the turnstiles. With only a few warm notices for his work in Shattered Glass, he’s a hack of happenstance, someone with more luck than the entire Hilton clan put together.

So he’s perfect to fill the steroid stretched shoes of past punch and jurists. There is definitely a more brain addled Schwarzenegger element to his work, a thinking as his second language aspect that makes him incredibly blah onscreen. Even better, Christensen loves to accent that plainness by tossing out random drawls. Sometimes, he’s from Texas. At other moments, he’s a native New Yorker. And then there are times when his stilted speaking style suggests a medieval knight dropped on his head one too many times. Placing him in a period piece - and what else is the Wars universe except one big backlot recreation of reality where the digital replaces dysentery - allows the so called actor to prove his patheticness. He indeed suffers from one of those telling talent atrophies - the “m’lady” syndrome.

By its very nature, Old English is supposed to suggest history. Contemporize any of this dialogue and you destroy the illusion almost instantly. Certain known names have struggled with m’lady’s speechifying malady - Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel…basically any Method icon of the last 30 years. But no one is as uncomfortable as Christensen. All throughout the prequels, whenever called upon to address his paramour Padme, his painful approach to titles of recognition made him sound like a stroke victim relearning words all over again. It was even worse in Factory Girl, when his faux Zimmerman poet was seemingly reduced to a junior high nerd phonetically stumbling over multi-syllable vocabulary words.

But all occupational therapy aside, Christensen’s biggest flaw is his abject lack of magnetism. Actually, he does own some performance polarization. The minute the lens hits him, the lack of ability automatically repels the camera. This is crystal clear from his work in Doug Liman’s lamentable Jumper. With a premise that promises more than its horribly hackneyed cast can provide, this sloppy sci-fi stinker weeps at the throne of previous speculative spectacles. It’s not just that the Bourne Identity/Mr. and Mrs. Smith director decimates a concept with a great deal of potential, but somehow, he let Christensen on the set to add insult to stupidity.

Jumper is by far the worst work in the actor’s already dismal canon. We are supposed to believe that a shy, geeky like dork who pines for a girl he’ll never impress discovers his secret ability to teleport, leaves his abusive home, robs a bank, and becomes a jet setting playboy who eventually gets said gal. Right. The internal logic links that fail along the way from plot point A to B are enough to undermine the entire structural integrity of cinema. Even worse, Christensen’s character is fashioned into a pouty anti-hero, the kind of smug, “do anything” dude who can threaten the lives of hundreds, commit all manner of thought and actual crime, and yet feel absolutely ambivalent about the risk and/or ethics. 

The rest of the narrative is a knotty combination of unexplained context (as a ‘jumper’, Christensen’s David Rice is born with an inherent enemy, the fierce fundamentalist ‘paladins’ led by Samuel L. “Mail Me That Script” Jackson) and misfired stunt sequences. It’s clear from the work behind the scenes that Liman is a little light in the white knuckle, edge of the seat kinetic loafers. A chase through various locations around the globe - including several vertical and horizontal shifts - should be more exciting .Instead, it often plays like a gerbil having a seizure on the editing button. Besides, Liman approved Christensen (as well as his biological alter ego, the OC awful Rachel Bilson) for his lead. Clearly, the man has limited intellectual or aesthetic capacity.

The main facet of the film’s premise is something called a bi-location scar. It’s like a black hole in temporal space that sucks in the ‘jumper’, instantly transporting him or her to a designated place in their mind. Christensen’s deficient daring-do functions in the same way. The minute he appears in a scene, entertainment and all sense of believability are leeched out of the material, replaced by a void of uninspired dullness. You can literally see the CGI skipping pixels and dying a digital death. From his Terminator as turd crewcut to the dark circles around his Satanically slack eyeballs, Christensen commands a certain surreal kind of respect. It’s not based on what he does as a celebrity. Instead, we marvel at how completely insidious and vile true evil can really be.

Now some may believe that this is too much hating on a half-shaped hunk who really didn’t ask to be George Lucas’ whelp of a whipping boy. They will point out decent things he’d done (look for the list to be about one item long) and suggest that more time in front of the Panaflex is needed. Eventually, they say, he will produce some interesting work. Frankly, that’s a lot like the whole monkey and typewriter analogy, except that the chimps have more of a chance at channeling Shakespeare than Christensen does. This is why his hiring (make that ‘proposed’ hiring) to play Case seems so senseless. It’s a reach far beyond his already proven paltriness. Besides, it dooms Neuromancer before it even begins, leading those already familiar with Gibson’s pioneering novel to fear the worst (the ‘who’s who’ for Molly Millions is enough to give purists nightmares now).

And that’s because Christensen, for all the snark, has yet to prove himself anything other than an incredibly lucky bastard. Had an irradiated lemur been cast as Anakin Skywalker, the prosimian would have his choice of starring roles. Money and cultural meaning can do that to any actor. Sadly, it’s the audiences who will have to suffer with such cinematic strategizing. Jumper will not add to the actors’ legitimacy, except when it comes to putting pesos in the suits’ pockets. Few will recognize it’s the premise doing the profiteering. Instead, Christensen will get all the decidedly incorrect credit. And our long national acting night terror will continue.

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