Monthly Archives: April 2005

Roadway Painters

The Los Angeles Times profiles a group of self-taught painters who now have been accepted by the Florida art mainstream.

From the mid-1950s to the ’70s, along a stretch of the Atlantic seaboard 120 miles north of Miami, more than two dozen black Floridians including Gibson worked as landscape artists, together churning out at least 200,000 gaudily hued images of Florida’s coastline, lush interior, royal poinciana trees and fiery sunsets. They frequently sold the hurriedly painted scenes, sometimes with the paint still wet, out of their cars along U.S. Highway 1 and other roads, hence the name later given them: the Highwaymen. It was a good business and a good life.

Literary Map

Randy Cohen of The New York Times is creating a literary map of Manhattan showing where various fictional characters might have ‘lived.’

New Media Article Wrapup

 Although I watched some Bloomberg TV when I was in Johannesburg, I largely avoided reading the news. On the way back, though, I enjoyed flipping through a stack of newspapers and magazines, and I caught an article about wikis, "The Advent of the Online Whiteboard," in the Financial Times (4/22/05, p. 11).

One difficulty is that typically they lack a clear structure. […] This is why wikis tend to work well alongside other various technologies, such as blogs, and within frameworks where the scope and rules of discussion have been formally agreed.

And an article about blogging and other alternative forms of journalism in The Economist, "Yesterday’s Newspapers," (4/23-4/29 Issue–the same issue had an article about South African race relations).

Talking at times more like a pony-tailed, newage technophile than a septuagenarian old-media god-like figure, [Rupert] Murdoch said that news "providers" such as his own organisation had better get web-savvy, stop lecturing their audiences, "become places for conversation" and "destinations" where "bloggers and podcasters" congregate to "engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions." He also criticised editors and reporters who often "think their readers are stupid."

It was also good to come back and see some interesting articles in the New York Times, including "A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets" (4/25/05, an article about how cellphones are being used as alternative press and a way to organize mass protests):

Nondemocratic governments elsewhere are already learning that lesson. Cellphone messaging is an important communications channel in nascent democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution used online forums and messaging to help topple a corrupt regime. Few countries censor information and communications as tightly as China, which has as many as 50,000 people policing the Internet. Yet China is also now the largest cellphone market, with nearly 350 million users, while the number of Internet users is roughly 100 million and growing at 30 percent a year. The result is a constant tension between a population hungry for freer communication and a government that regards information control as essential to its power.

"More Ham, Less Wry,"; (4/24/05) about poetry and fiction readings in New York city…

One factor that draws people to readings is the chance to see the writer in person. It’s one thing to read Ian McEwan’s "Saturday" and another to actually hear him read it. I remember listening to T. S. Eliot’s voice on tape and realizing how namby-pamby he sounded, which shouldn’t really have shocked me, but did. For when we listen to a piece of fiction or a poem in our own mind, the "voice" of the writer becomes, in a sense, a stylized version of our own, suddenly made sonorous as it booms out this gorgeous language written by someone else. But when we attend a reading, we essentially give the writing back to the writer and let him or her tell it to us.

Out of South Africa

Leopard_webE and I just got back from a trip to Johannesburg, where I was speaking at a conference on globalization and democratization. We had some good conversations with the political activists, think tank writers, diplomats and academics who attended, although we all divided firmly on whether democracy is "inevitable" and whether economic development is "a" precondition or "the" precondition to demoracy. The locals we spoke to were justifiably proud of the political and social changes that South Africa has seen, but the country remains racked by economic challenges. South Africa currently is saddled with a staggering unemployment rate that hovers around 50%. Violent crime is high, and many of the places we visited in "Jo-burg" felt like hardened compounds. Yet the people we spoke to were largely optimistic, recognizing that the huge shift in ownership of resources was bound to be a challenge (one they consider surmountable). We were struck by the parallels between Taiwan and South Africa, especially how they both transitioned from minority-ruled to more majority-based government in "relatively" bloodless ways.

E and I also made a sidetrip to Sabi Sand, a 153,000 acre "private reserve" adjacent to the Kruger National Park. There is surprisingly little written in the guidebooks and web sites about the different lodges you can visit (apart from the high end lodges like Singita), so we ended up going through Adventours, a travel agency recommended by our Jo’burg hotel concierge. We stayed at a lodge called Idube, which turned out to surpass our expectations, helped by the gregariousness of lodge manager Andy. Our ranger Rob (who patiently answered each inane question of city slickers like us) and tracker Titus were adept at tracking down game, and we saw more on each drive than I would have expected to have seen in weeks in the brush.

It is amazing how close you often get to the animals. (I have posted some of my photos on pBase.) On one of our drives through some thicker
brush, we ended up surrounded by about 14 elephants.
(We later learned that there were about 20 in total in
the herd we saw; another jeep reported being down by
the river, on the lowerside of the ridge where we
were, with another half dozen or so elephants.) Parts
of the group blocked both sides of the road, and there
was a young bull that kept nearing us (about 3 feet
away from us and the jeep at one point). Rob
kept saying to him, calmly but firmly: "Don’t touch my
jeep." And the young bull backed away. A young calf approached us
from the other end of the road, which was fine at
first, but then from behind him came his mother. She
crossed her legs and laced her trunk on her tusks,
which we were told are signs that she was unhappy. Rob claims she was unhappy because her calf was
complaining about being fed, but Euching will happily
tell you that we were "ambushed." Needless to say, we
tried backing up, but then found ourselves backing up
into another elephant. At one point, it looked like we
were going to have to exit through the underbrush, but
the elephants finally gave way.

Out of South Africa

Leopard_webE and I just got back from a trip to Johannesburg, where I was speaking at a conference on globalization and democratization. We had some good conversations with the political activists, think tank writers, diplomats and academics who attended, although we all divided firmly on whether democracy is "inevitable" and whether economic development is "a" precondition or "the" precondition to demoracy. The locals we spoke to were justifiably proud of the political and social changes that South Africa has seen, but the country remains racked by economic challenges. South Africa currently is saddled with a staggering unemployment rate that hovers around 50%. Violent crime is high, and many of the places we visited in "Jo-burg" felt like hardened compounds. Yet the people we spoke to were largely optimistic, recognizing that the huge shift in ownership of resources was bound to be a challenge (one they consider surmountable). We were struck by the parallels between Taiwan and South Africa, especially how they both transitioned from minority-ruled to more majority-based government in "relatively" bloodless ways.

E and I also made a sidetrip to Sabi Sand, a 153,000 acre "private reserve" adjacent to the Kruger National Park. There is surprisingly little written in the guidebooks and web sites about the different lodges you can visit (apart from the high end lodges like Singita), so we ended up going through Adventours, a travel agency recommended by our Jo’burg hotel concierge. We stayed at a lodge called Idube, which turned out to surpass our expectations, helped by the gregariousness of lodge manager Andy. Our ranger Rob (who patiently answered each inane question of city slickers like us) and tracker Titus were adept at tracking down game, and we saw more on each drive than I would have expected to have seen in weeks in the brush.

It is amazing how close you often get to the animals. (I have posted some of my photos on pBase.) On one of our drives through some thicker
brush, we ended up surrounded by about 14 elephants.
(We later learned that there were about 20 in total in
the herd we saw; another jeep reported being down by
the river, on the lowerside of the ridge where we
were, with another half dozen or so elephants.) Parts
of the group blocked both sides of the road, and there
was a young bull that kept nearing us (about 3 feet
away from us and the jeep at one point). Rob
kept saying to him, calmly but firmly: "Don’t touch my
jeep." And the young bull backed away. A young calf approached us
from the other end of the road, which was fine at
first, but then from behind him came his mother. She
crossed her legs and laced her trunk on her tusks,
which we were told are signs that she was unhappy. Rob claims she was unhappy because her calf was
complaining about being fed, but Euching will happily
tell you that we were "ambushed." Needless to say, we
tried backing up, but then found ourselves backing up
into another elephant. At one point, it looked like we
were going to have to exit through the underbrush, but
the elephants finally gave way.

Literary Pack Replacement

A group of literary bloggers calling itself the “litblog co-op” is looking to stir up interest in fiction.

Hoping to promote overlooked contemporary literary fiction, 20
literary bloggers have created Read This! Four times a year, the
Litblog Co-op will share its pick with readers, with the first
announcement coming May 15. Los Angeles blogger Mark Sarvas, who runs the Elegant Variation Web
site and conceived of the idea, told The Associated Press on Thursday
that they hope to have a "measurable impact on the life of a book," in
terms of discussion and sales. […] The online community, Sarvas said, remains disappointed by the "pack mentality" of mainstream media outlets, which tend to give much of their attention to the same titles.

Edward Champion says that members will take turns nominating titles for the group.

Life in a Rectangle

I saw a hardback copy of Deborah Copaken Kogan’s Shutterbabe in one of my favorite secondhand bookstores and could not pass it up.  Shutterbabe is her memoir about life as a war photographer:

Call it the curse of the photographer. Unlike the memories of my childhood–fuzzy around the edges, suffued more with movement and smell and sound than with the rigidity of graphic lines and shapes–most of the memories I have since becoming a photographer are four-sided and flat. When you learn to properly frame an image in the viewfinder of a camera, you start to frame and catalog everything you see, whether you photograph it or not. And suddenly, memory has the shape of a rectangle. The vastness of a forest becomes twelve trees with a a rock balancing out the foreground. A person becomes a close-up of the crow’s feet around his eyes. A war becomes red blood in white snow. Sometimes I feel like my brain has become nothing more than an overstuffed spiral notebook full of negatives, printed at will in a disorganized flurry by the tiniest provocation.

Flak Magazine calls her life "swashbuckling." Fazal Majid calls it engaging, but sometimes too candid. Anna Moorhead profiled Kogan for Digital Journalist in an interview that later became controversial, when photographer James Nachtwey disputed Kogan’s account of the genesis of his Romanian orphanage images. (Nachtwey, a former photographer for Magnum, is a founder of VII Photo Agency.) Kogan in turn later wrote a rebuttal. The book gives great insight, however, into what kind of people are attracted to the lifestyle of a war photographer.

Technorati Tag(s): photography.

Reporters Sans Frontières

"Mr. Miyagi" at My Very Own Glob points us to the web site of Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders), highlighting member blog Singabloodypore. The organization says that it is a network of more than 130 journalists "serving the public interest." Steven McDermott of Singabloodypore asks: "So Why are Authoritarian Governments So Worried about Blogging?"

Soap, Poem, Jail and Flow

I recently finished reading a terrific book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called Flow: The Pscyhology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi explains how people turn living into an autotelic experience, even when facing extreme hardship.

Tollas Tibor, a poet who spent several years in solitary confinement during the most repressive phases of the Hungarian communist regime, says that in the Visegrad jail, where hundreds of intellectuals were imprisoned, the inmates kept themselves occupied for more than a year by devising a poetry translation contest. First, they had to decide on the poem to translate. It took months to pass the nominations around from cell to cell, and several more months of ingenious secret messages before the votes were tallied. Finally it was agreed that Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! was to be the poem to translate into Hungarian, partly because it was the one that most of the prisoners could recall from memory in the original English. Now began the serious work: everyone sat down to make his own version of the poem. Since no paper or writing tool was available, Tollas spread a film of soap on the soles of his shoe, and carved the letters into it with a toothpick. When a line was learned by heart, he covered his shoe with a new coating of soap. As the various stanzas were written, they were memorized by the translator and passed on to the next cell. After a while, a dozen versions of the poem were circulating in the jail, and each was evaluated and voted on by all the inmates. After the Whitman translation was adjudicated, the prisoners went on to tackle a poem by Schiller.

Technorati Tag(s): books, poetry.

Is Buffet a Lazy Fool?

Contrarian Marc Faber wonders why he is seeing analysts with rose-colored glasses appear on CNBC. He points to a "persistent weakness (pdf file)" in U.S. financials and retailers, and questions the quality of corporate earnings.

Manufacturing accounted for about 40% of corporate earnings in the early 80s; today it accounts for about 10%. Financials used to account for about 10%, and today they have surged above 40%. So Faber concludes that a lot of U.S. corporate earnings are from financial shuffling.

Additionally, Faber points to a chart in a recent column by Eric Fry that shows how aggressively legendary investor Warren Buffet has been cashing out of his portfolio. Fry asks, tongue-in-cheek, whether  Buffet is losing his touch.

Is Warren Buffett lazy? Or foolish? Why else would he allow more than $40 billion dollars to pile up on the balance sheet of Berkshire Hathaway? Why else would he refuse to buy any of the stocks that Wall Street’s finest minds recommend? It’s possible, of course, that the Oracle of Omaha is still as shrewd as ever.

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