Josh Keyes
Via AMERICANSUBURBX, "American photographer Paul Schiek weaves a tale of glass, fabric, suffocation, flash bulbs and fragile human threads. The viewer's head (and heart) are held underwater by force as a feeling of organic claustraphobia and a slight tinge of a smothering madness rush through. Josh Keyes
How an American soldier is made: The Denver Post followed high school graduate Ian Fisher as he enlisted in the Army, engaged and disengaged to get married, went through training, left for Iraq, and returned home. Josh Keyes
The ink-and-wash drawings in June Glasson's The Foulest of Shapes explore the power - and limits - of outré female behavior. Josh Keyes
Outside magazine shared 16 hard-working photographers & their toughest assignments. Philipp Engelhorn set out across the frozen countryside of northern Xinjiang, China in a horse-drawn sleigh to photograph the eagle hunter above. Josh Keyes
Seed Magazine, always dependable for ambitious & conceptual scientific think-pieces, with a lovely (if brief) photojournal of flight patterns. Josh Keyes
Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky's early studies of silver bromide - and his brilliant use of blue, red and greeen filters - gave the world its first "natural color" photographs - landscapes of his native Russia or portraits like that of Tolstoy (above) that seem for all of their vividity entirely out of time. More photos here.

Via Kottke. Josh Keyes
John G. Moebes, a photo- journalist for Greensboro, North Carolina's News and Record, may be better known for more dramatic sit-in and stand-up photographs taken during the Civil Rights movement, but his filler work throughout the year was just as telling of time and place.
Josh Keyes
Slinkachu's Little People finds his remodeled, repainted model train set characters resituated throughout all such crevaces and corners of the city you're not likely to have noticed.
Josh Keyes
The 50 States Project asked a photographer in each state to act as a documentarian-in-brief, responding, over the course of a year, to calls for photos of "People," " Habitat," "Landscape," Industry and a forthcoming assignment later this year.

Above: Juliana Beasley's
New Jersey. Josh Keyes
Good Places to Leave and What That Means: Dan Boardman's Home Project finds more stillness than desolation in the vast, open spaces around his Minnesota home.

(Via Wesley Yendrys) Gwen Roland, Atchafalaya Houseboat
Gwen Roland and Calvin Voisin left civilization in the turmoil of the early 1970s for the unspoiled beauty of the nation’s largest river swamp, Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin. Quilting their underwears, netting crawfish, fashioning a bed from twine, pulleys, and mosquito netting, they wouldn't return to the grid for six years. C.C. Lockwood, a friend and photographer they met along the way, provided the camera which brought the couple to the nation's attention.

Thank you, Christa Mangini.
Josh Keyes
In Passing.
Jessica Dimmock, The Ninth Floor, 2004
Acknowledgement as a practice unto itself has to be shoehorned somehow between detached objectivity and the more charitable, humanistic impulse to help. It's probably the first respect a documentarian can pay to her subject. Jessica Dimmock's The Ninth Floor was a three-year exercise in subordinating judgement and pity to respect, an incredible discipline rewarded by an incredible series of photographs.
Josh Keyes
Accursed Shares: Josh Keyes paints nature running hard up against the unnatural ornaments we've left lying about the place. But rather than settle for low-hanging juxtapositions, Keyes's paintings are short stories told with an intelligent poignancy that feels no need to point.

For 15 years, Mr. English, 55, has been growing neatly planted rows of vegetables in a public housing project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Another from the NYT's "One in 8 Million" series: "Buster English: The Green Thumb."

Chad States photographs his subjects in the poses and settings they find most masculine, making portraits of masculinity that broaden our ideas of what it means to be a man today. So says The Morning News.

But are any new questions suggested by the photos and the answers offered by his subjects? If so, they're where you're willing to find them.

What We Did: In a pile of trash a man discovers measures of the immeasurable, 701 photos of what could be abstracted, but never truly mediated.

Where Will Steacy's "Down These Mean Streets" (top) tries to find a stoic, bruised dignity in urban decay, Stephen Tamiesie's "Places" (bottom) looks for the peacefulness in the banal.

There is being in being a bridge: In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built - they're grown.

Neither waving nor drowning: Asako Narahashi's half awake and half asleep in the water.
In the first, naturalness stripped of nature, the archetype reduced to an abstraction. In the second, a reflection nearly returning the abstraction to the real simply by acknowledging artifice. If we're to go by this journal, however, the second photo preceded the first, the art which suggested the archetype.

(Via), and with a nod to Charles Mudede.

A photograph cannot free itself of pretension, the photographer - as the writer, musician, or painter - from being pretensious. There is the pretense or presumption that the particular does - that it can, that it must - contain the universal, that the real can be signified, reflected or referred to. The bolder that pretense, the greater that experience or history we can feel is shared, the greater that sense of individual reality we can believe credible. Brian Ferry's photos contain only that pretense, and very softly, at that: They're photos of days in a life, and a very particular one at that, and they humbly submit the following for your consideration, maybe your appreciation, maybe even your relation. He takes beautiful photos.

Our newborn empire born on those Josephine curls, world peace borne on those leonine locks: Laura Jacobs wonders whether a first lady’s coiffure has less to do with hair than it does the state of the unions - hers and ours.

The Boys & Girls of Modern Days Rail Ways: "The Polaroid Kidd's" snapshots of friends in transition - in grain cars and jug shacks, squatting in solitude or plural celebration - center the margins and those-wouldn't-be-marginalized, folks who might prefer to see their lives as paradigmatically particular, rather than fodder for photo-documentarians. Perhaps.

Human likeness can be captured in photography. Whether we get the ones we're after is the question. Bill Jacobson's shadowy, pale portraits deny us the presumption of possession, presenting us with stand-ins beckoning us even further yet from that which we'd yearned to hold, grasp and understand.

What I do at work when I'm supposed to be working: When working wage comes hard up against our limited capacity for mundanity.

Six months’ worth of household waste, a pair of dead seagulls, and a flood light on the floor: The sculpted shadowworks of Tim Noble and Sue Webster.
Todd Hido's "Ohio" frames a childhood within a fiction, or at least disguises the borders, pairing snapshots taken from within with current works using the same camera. "Homes at Night" wonders at the same borders, seen from without, a series that suggests more than it purports to answer.

Via AmericanSuburbX, which featured Hido this January past.
Layers of Voyeurism: Kohei Yoshiyuki spent six months in Chuo Park, gawking with the other gawkers gawking on the young lovers, before returning with a camera and a flashbulb.

Showing in Individual Demographics at Seattle's Greg Kucera Gallery.
The Boston Globe's having enough trouble selling paper editions these days, but its Big Picture is consistently one of the better and more vibrant photojournalism collections out there. With Iran's clampdown on foreign media coverage this past week, The Big Picture - with Twitter and Facebook has been closing as much of the distance or dark as technology seems able to.

Another from the NYT's lovely "One in 8 Million" series: "Steve Marmo, the bar fighter."

With the bleak prospects of Tony Scott's Pelham 123 promising all-the-same a new season of nostalgia for 1970s New York, a round of correctives must also be in order. Camilo Jose Vergara's photographs don't fixate on the "gritty", romanticizing the rubble, but neither do they shy from the lives lived creatively or vibrantly within the semi-decay.

Pairing teen girls with adult male-to-female transsexuals, Charlie White's Study shows each blossoming into womanhood, though along entirely different paths.

"Sans manquer de naturel, manquent de nature." Without lacking naturalness, they lack nature. Winkler + Noah's children are arrested between impulse and form, what would be a wilder nature and what becomes of our self-mediation.

Ryan McGinley's upcoming show at Art Basel Switzerland has youth caught at a moment somewhere between nature and occupation, sexuality and individualized desire.

The Evil of Banality: The complacency of Hannah Arendt's over- and mis-used phrase masks a more pernicious and deceitful anti-semitism, methodological as well as full-bodied, as new revelations about an affair with Heidegger make clear.
How Alone Are We? While Frank Drake calculates the likehood of extraterrestrial civilizations, Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins debate their likely appearance.

How Iago explains the world: “Othello” speaks to one of the most salient confusions of our time — the conflict between transparency and secrecy.
While the nation is now likely to have the first generation that is not as well-educated as its predecessors, its educators and policy-makers are asking whether there shouldn't be more - and better - non-college options.

There are no seven stages of grief, George Bonanno's arguing, and the way that grief unfolds for most people is almost nothing like the model says it should. Recovery may be quick, slow, or occasionally not at all, but studies are suggesting that grieving is not work - a slog or a sprint through the stages - so much as process: we can't be unsuccessful at it, and we're more resilient and sufficient to the occasion than we'd suspect.

Experimental fiction may want to destory publishing and life as we know it, but it also seems to sharpen the intellect, as a few UCSB researchers discovered and the New York Times and others have reported on, though it was an argument best made by Ben Marcus in the piece linked above, an extraordinary essay
if you can find it.
Can economies function without Growth, subquestion: is Growth - like technology - always synonymous with progress? If we define progress as a combination of health and contentment, isn't economic growth best defined as an abnegation of progress for the sake of bottomless pecuniary avidities?

Der Spiegel questions the "cult of the GDP" in mainstream economic analysis.

Toward a great number of discussions: In 1805 the news of the Battle of Trafalgar took 17 days to travel the 1100 miles to London, a speed of 2.7 mph. News of the 1891 Nobi earthquake in Japan took just a single day to travel 5916 miles, some 246 mph. With the greased-wheels of Twitter, we're seeing events like the 2008 Sichuan earthquake find their way to England in under 8 minutes, at 38,250 mph. 204,000 mph, had the twitterer been quicker.

Via Michael Stillwell, via
A Farewell to Alms.
And then Google as a tracker: Re-calibrating Google's fancy Pageranking algorithms to sort complex webs of ecological processes and relationships, a few clever computational biologists are slouching toward a more dialectical understanding of species extinctions and their reverberations.

The Wonder Killer: Google - as the web-at-large - may flatter an aptitude for research and analysis, but it pays few favors to the balance of our general knowledge. "Even if he is tone deaf," had Robert Conquest, "an educated man must know something about Debussy." But search engines and their proximity as fostered by Blackberries and iPhones have facts and the very ideal of Cultural Literacy on the run.

As for Cultural Literacy...
The North Pacific Gyre - bka The Great Pacific Garbage Dump - is somewhere between 700,000 km² and 15 million km² in size, though it can't be located precisely on any map. The doldrums or horse latitudes whose calm sailors once mortally feared, are feared now for the mass of plastic bags, sneakers, vials and drift nets more twice the size of Texas.

Composer George Russell threw the chord-based compass out the window - "It is for the musician to sing his own song, really" - and let Miles Davis go on from there. This was a radical notion, and the modal revolution of Kind of Blue, released 50 years ago last week, a radical departure for modern music.
Phoning Home: Could a woman's avoidance of her father and gesture for her mother be predictable around her menstrual cycle?

Google's Street View is treated less as an intrusion or violation of privacy than the prudent extension of the public's domain and its Right to Know, one more tribute paid to the vast entitlement of the multitude and its modernized Manifest Destiny. As our elective affinities mature into bottomless avidities, discretion is decried as counter to the commonweal while indiscrections like Street View's are defensively rationalized by an alleged greater good. Perhaps, in this respect, this blog's as guilty as this article [as this downloader of music here as this Gawker there] in justifying such appropriation. But where should the new lines be drawn? What "new" rights should be newly billed?

Are gays the new niggers, and who's allowed to say so? Bayard Rustin thought he'd earned the right. Nobody, says Rev. Irene Monroe, and that kind of relativism is an insult and danger to the lot of us. Where can the debate go from here?

Whether empathy is an approach or obstacle to reform: Like Atticus Finch, Alabama Governor Jim Folsom made an effort to understand the fundamental goodness and perspective of each of his constituents, black or white, Christian or Jewish, and like Atticus Finch, his humanizing forestalled reform as often as it sought redress.

Craigslist's Missed Connections attempt to fix mistakes made in one’s offline existence. Where much of the web succeeds in enticing us from the commons, circumscribing the peculiarities, pains and pleasures of our private experiences and nurturing our indifference to those of others, the I Saw You has the connection of the unconnected at heart, the re-embodying of what had circumstance had left to idea alone.

Seven lies about lying: An Errol Morris and Ricky Jay dialogue.

Always imperfect, always perfectible: Before the media come mothers when it comes to teaching young girls about body image.

Terisa Greenan started dating Scott, who introduced her to Larry (with whom she fell in love), and then Matt, and Matt's wife Vera. "Polyamory scares people—it shakes up their world view," by allowing for that same pluralism of interest, appreciation and attention we'd prefer to envision over engender.

Yes, our greater artists are driven by questions of the human condition, decorum and the sublime, but the prevailing market's another not-always-silent partner in those decisions. Your economy of scale over here will give you a culture of scale over there.

As educators applaud one another for each enthusiastic and slavish embrace of technology, study after study find students most engaged by direct discussion.

The writer "will have to play the role that is not a role; to be the living man, the one left alone at three o’clock in the morning, when it’s always the dark night of the soul; He has to see the light and the truth that can be seen even in our phony and artificial age.”

The failure of Isaac Rosenfeld's writing was the failure of his life, and back again, his earnesty (sic) and his keen intelligence never in complete decorum.

Via the ever-reliable McLemee, and more.
We'll gladly pay you in muffins today for a bushel of berries tomorrow: The Thoughtful Bread Company's embrace of bartering is ideal-in-ideal with the owners' eco-fundamental- ism. It also gets their "ana- chronistic," artisinal bread in more hands, at much lower prices.
The infinite in the infinitisemal: For Bachelard, the miniature is not a copy, but a conduit of its own - an awkward extension of the mind engendering reverie, re-envisioning and, finally, possibilities.

Can our letterpressers get us nearer, our God, to thee? Can the tacit language of design talk us through the last mile? Can a typography 'redeem a nation from shame?'

The Tenses of Fidelity: After each successive motherland had fallen and memory's biases made suspect, the word still remained: Luan Starova's beautiful piece on the library of his father and citizenship of his family, on narrative and memory as the last estate. From Words Without Borders's "Memory and Lies" issue.

"Now let's talk about something more cheerful" - Sholem Aleichem discovered in Yiddish and its speakers habits of faith that were transferable from religious into national identity.

"With the power of the wind, a knitting machine knits from the outside towards the inside of the building." For Christa.
Salvific secularism: Reason need not be an antagonist to faith, our self-satisfying humanism allergic to mystery. Maybe faith v. reason is an ultimatum built on a false premise, arguments ad ignorantiam. Maybe, what our "crisis of meaning" calls for is the sounding of each note together, a notion once more widely-embraced.

"I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe. In fact, if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing."

51 years after Leonard Read's classic essay, Thomas Thwaites is trying to build a toaster. How does language shape the way we think? For the Kuuk Thaayorre, if you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello.".

A tour guide for the spirit world of history: W.G. Sebald's photo-prose streamed and branched and wandered the periphery of loss, retrospective - if not exercised - "by the possibility that reason, progress, and material well-being might destroy the human spirit."

Remembering how — rather than what - we remember might save us from remembering what never happened. A recent paper on the "voodoo correlations" of semantic generation and the erroneous construction of memory is behind neuroscience's first concerted effort to impact the law.
The federal government spends billions to take humans into space and on building weapons — and an estimated $60 billion on the U.S. intelligence budget. Relatively speaking, cancer research is a low priority. The "Cancer Community" needs a cohesive political movement.

"Instead of shirts or underwear or whatever one might expect to find in a bureau drawer, there were gin bottles."

Frances Kroll Ring was the "last real witness" to Fitzgerald's lasting ambitions, putting the lie to the myth that he'd burned out each last one.
Like a dream itself, a work of art should set more questions than it resolves, should imply more reponsibilities than it can absolve us from. Charlie Kaufman's epic Synecdoche, New York might be one of the saddest, most joyful dreams ever put to film, as well as one of the boldest attempts to do so.
Forfeiting the poetry of nobody home: We are one day amazed before our new technologies, the next entitled and, soon enough, indifferent, parties to a new whateverism, open to what we've gained, fearful of admitting the degree of our loss.

Neil Postman had a point...

We sign ourselves into a civil contract whenever we take or view a photo, make ourselves as complicit in the violation and consequent voyeurism as we are in the commiserating and memorializing. "Controversies," a recent exhibit at Paris's Bibliothèque Nationale, questioned these moral dimensions while playing with and challenging them.

Harry Fisk's maps of the Mississippi for the Army Corps of Engineers show the Mississippis that were beside the Mississippi that [was], in all cases a powerfully restless, wandering river forever angling and readjusting to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient.

See also: John McPhee's prescient New Yorker profile of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi's power struggles over the years.
In DBS therapy, one or more electrodes the size of a spaghetti strand are precisely positioned in the Parkinson patient’s brain, then connected by wire around the skull and through the neck to a pacemaker-like device, a neurostimulator, just below the collarbone. Thing is, these magnets have been making the patients quite a bit happier, as well. Might it be useful as a therapy for drug-resistant clinical depression, as well?

Do women write "female poetry"? Simone de Beauvoir notwithstanding (or as you please), is there an a priori difference in perspective and possibility between male and female writers? Does a discussion of the body declare gender, or are the territories open to everyone?
From Harper's, Kevin Baker on Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again. A snarky conjecture easy-enough to make and often-enough heard, but one which bears more, not less, consideration.
The Unemployment Rate for People Like You: White women ages 25 to 44 with a college degree? 3.6% unemployment. Asian and American Indian men and men of more than one race without a high school degree? 16.9%. Another powerful infographic from the New York Times interactive team.
Half-sleeve or back-of-the-neck tattoos may earn you a smidgen of reputational capital, but the codes are constantly updated and credentials more rigorously questioned. "Being incompetent and displaying it," though, will always be shibboleth enough. Can a woman "prong" a man & other vexing matters before today's lexicographers.

Between thought & expression: "Reading, study, silence, thought are a bad introduction to loquacity," and our best writers are too often terrible conversationalists. Why so?
Inside the pre-internet office: Ed Park, novelist and eventual co-founder of The Believer on vast lulls, copy queues, and change-by-degrees.
But where they saw garbage: William Kamkwamba's first windmill, DIY industrial design and the transformation of Africa.
“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what is wrong. We have robbed man of his liberty. We have imprisoned him behind the iron bars of bureaucratic persecution. But this is a day to return to the high road, to the main road that leads to the preservation of our democracy, and to the traditions of our republic.” Scott McLemee - a house favorite - looks back to Lowenthal and Guterman's Prophets of Deceit.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Raymond Carver: How Lish’s pencil created Carver's literary style – and how the author’s wife is undoing it.
Ruthless opportunist and an outspoken anti-Semite, but Wagner understood the human voice. In that regard, if no other, he may stand alone among composers, as three Welsh physicists recently discovered.
Why the argument between conservative and progressive Jews over Israel sounds a lot like the African-American 'house negro' debate.
A 25-cent word when a dime word would do: The New York Times data miners identify the words readers find most abstruse. How imprecise is laconic? How suspect is louche? How attractive (to a columnist) is fecklessness? And what more their lists tell us about edifying linguistic challenges and untoward erudition.

Like Ed Dadey's Nebraska Art Farm, The Wassaic Project is engaging in creative redefinition (leave the destruction for others): Sculptors, painters and performance artists from around the country are now making ways for the stately wood-crib grain elevator in upstate New York. (Slideshow here) The Belief in Regenerative War: It's not simply an occupational hazard - "the lust of the spectator" - which drives so many of our intellectuals toward a support for war, it's a fantasy of collective and communal rebirth.

What a Strange Creature You Are: Women at their monthly peak of fertility will prefer creative over wealthy men; pubic hair may be for chafe protection; your altruism may also be longview avarice. Things to consider in a new special from New Scientist.
When does a Prius have the same environmental impact as a Hummer? The 95 percent of the time it’s parked.

(Thank you, Emily Eagle.)
At 9:20pm, 1% of all Americans are doing homework: Another spectacular graphic from those whiz kids at the Times.

Your Ringwald neurons may be dormant, but they exist. Too, your Gilda Radner, Gregor Samsa and Gilbert Gottfried neurons. The study of epileptic patients with electrodes implanted in their brains isn't an investigation of our celebrity-obsessed culture, but of the organic nature of our memories, the tiny synaptic channels that (almost) reliably guide our associations like water into a gutter (if you will).
Not all human vending machines are created equal, or are equally earnest. Craigslist may be "scattershot, confessional, desperate, and sleazy," but the needs of each user are also undisguised and unapologetic. The other sites are for the "discerning petit-bouregois" who trust in inference, the nod to discretion, an illusion of informed decision, the refinement and sophistication of the disguises we all assume, willingly or not, brilliantly or disastrously.

What makes us happy? How universal are the criteria? Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 42 years, the psychiatrist George Vaillant has been the chief curator of one of the longest-running, most exhaustive, longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history, as literary as it is scientific.

The importance of signaling: How a once-ridiculed theory of communication between plants challenged our notions of language and its receptors. From Ken Weiss and Anne Buchanan's "conversation about the nature of genetic causation."

"How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" No, wrote Wendell Berry, "How are you going to shut up that voice that's now in every American mind, "I'm too good for this kind of work'? That is the most insidious voice of all." Berry yearned for that "language that can make us whole, though mortal, ignorant, and small" and he stood his own purpose on its every expression, choosing at each turn the longer way home, finding in each labored way what was to be his own."

"A free-hearted man with the world for his words.
From the good samaritan to The Selfish Gene and back again: New studies suggesting that altruism rather than avarice is our primary motivation, though this hardly quiets the call-and-response. Can't altruism simply be avarice taking the long-view?

Yet the mind leaves no physical record: What do we mean when we say "human"? Is insight a genuine, cognitive function, or a virtue by virtue of anthropomorphism?
Autism is often described as a disease or a plague, but when it comes to the American college or university, it's more often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved. Can an inherited, dehumanizing ideology ever embrace individualism?

"I don’t use notebooks. I use shirt boards" - The Paris Review's extensive interivew with Gay Talese on his hows, whys and what fors, and a fantastic Once Around the Island with the well-pressed man.
Bon Jovi's Faces Seen v. Faces Rocked: How an MC's claims are quantified.

Places that could be anywhere and everywhere, but are actually nowhere - Marc Augé's seminal Non-Places looked ahead to the time, "not far off, when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance" (in the words of Paul Theroux).

Were they and their ilk just cranks, unable to accept the indifference of change - "Cold things warm up, the hot cools off, wet becomes dry, dry becomes wet", as Heraclitus had so simply observed- or were they, as Neil Postman, right to worry over the distinction between intractable Change and careless forfeiture?

Many cosmological theories not only see our universe as one of many but also claim that time does not exist.

"What does all this work add up to, in such a short life? Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we've amounted to." A frequently-asked question, of late.

The Freakonomics of Conservation: The energy you save by switching off your phone charger for a whole day is used up in one second driving a car. Leaving every lamp lit when you turn in scarcely equals one bath. To make energy personal, argues David MacKay, we have to put a figure on almost everything, we have to be prescriptive where it most counts.

Obama's Plan For Gay Rights: As a candidate for President, he thought he might try to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. As a President, he's got much more on his mind...or he's being tactical...or "fierce advocacy" didn't mean what we'd taken it to mean. After a well-timed letter from the Human Rights Campaign and some screaming and yelling across the internet, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have picked up on it.
But isn’t objectivity an ideal? Not if the purpose of human knowledge—of human life itself—is not accuracy, and not even certainty, but understanding.

What Board Games Taught Us About the Economy: "The Bank never ‘goes broke.' If the Bank runs out of money, the Banker may issue as much as needed by writing on any ordinary paper," for a start.
Naysayers portray memory deletion as an easy out, a shortcut, a convenient way to sidestep unpleasantness. But it could also inspire hard work and renewed engagement.

SUNY researchers have learned to neutralize PKMzeta, a molecule that plays a not-entirely-understood role in memory retention. The implications of this are no better understood, though there are some intriguing possibilities...

The Case for Working with Your Hands: Matthew Crawford's decision to leave a Washington think tank for a rural bike shop was a preference for critically creative thought over critically reactive analysis. It was a life of the mind he could now hear, see and feel.

-photo by Alec Soth.
"When people say 'New York is hard,' it becomes 'My life is hard'. So what should we think when people cry people cry 'New York is dying...'"

Whether we are stewards of our environment or its conquerers, our stories do eventually come to rhyme, if not exactly repeat. Three new books on New York look at the city's ecosystem in adjustment.

The prices we pay for the chains that we refuse: Once we're done fixating on the hows and And Hows of memory or impulse or laughter at their most organic levels, we might consider the answering-for science still owes to human experience.

What We Do When We Believe: Errol Morris's new series on the Vermeer forgeries of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch painter whose masterful and masterfully-inspired works question our own notions of truth as much they do on our concept of merit and genius.

And when you're done with that: Whose Father Was He?, Morris's last series for the Times. No Call Waiting in Your Headphones: Long before discmen, cell phones and iPods, Sony's Walkman was allowing us to become deaf to one another, one ear-goggled fool at a time. On the Walkman's 30 year anniversary, A.N. Wilson finds nothing to celebrate.

What say:
Somber City Journal is an experiment in collecting and sharing such articles and essays and ideas and songs as might interest a particular web-based omphaloskeptic or idealogue errant. Updated several times on the week, the journal tries to archive in almost-real time such healthy mental foodstuffs as we're like to fill our heads with over on this Far Western Front.

See anything here you might like? Write us. Have something you'd like to share? Write us. Care to introduce yourself? Write us. We'd love to hear from you.

Produced by Sam T. Schick and the design team at Wandering Works, Somber City is rather open to your suggestions, impressions, recommendations and possible collaborations. You need only speak up and
November 14, 2009
"The film you have just seen was an improvisation"

John Cassavetes's Shadows didn't just anticipate American independent film, it helped will it into being. Its debut 50 years ago this week gave that nascent genre both a mandate and an immediate precedent: an uninhibited, tense and kenetic study that still surprises, still dares.

From Slate, "How John Cassevetes' Shadows changed American movies forever.
November 14, 2009
The Open Road London (1927)

Like "Barcelona 1908," Claude Friese-Greene's London can seem of a kind with the many other captivating-but-anachronistic silent documentaries from the early- 20th Century. Like Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky's early colour photographs, however, Friese-Greene's "biocolour" cine-logues reveal the likeness to our own times that black-and-white film can do so much to obscure. Aside from the vintage film titles, London 1927 looks and feels remarkably like it would today, a seemingly unnecessary revelation - the old times would have felt just like our own; these are the times they'll sentimentalize later - only implied.
October 9, 2009
Is philosophy getting its "virtual Socrates"?

Is torture ever justified? Would you steal a drug that your child needs to survive? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Michael Sandel's "Justice" course at Harvard were of a legend long before they were of the internet, but their recent offerings among the other online-university courses raises the bar quite a bit.

More from The Chronicle of Higher Education here, and from the folks at Virtual Philosophy.
October 8, 2009
"Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett"

Something has happened to PBS favorite "Charlie Rose." The erudite conversations and sober intellectualism have been replaced by an absurd world where illogic, inane dialogues, and open hostility rule. Filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr.'s "Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett" is both disturbing and farcical, but in its deconstructed feedback loop it manages to call to a nature barely suggested in the more-easily affected "naturalness" of the regular sit-down interview.
September 28, 2009
Love T.K.O.

Re-posted at the express request of Miss Meghan Melloy, Teddy Pendergrass's "Love T.K.O." (in performance here) off 1980's TP, and Lambchop's entirely surpassing cover.
September 28, 2009
Just Waiting Until Something Strikes Me

Imogen Cunningham's looks - the glances and peerings into and documents she made of the world about her - were much more than nearly tactile or merely evocative, and had much more to their merit than a near-lack of affect. "Too aesthetic to be anything other than old-fashioned," she recorded in passing her own passing world, in its own fashion, a respect that came to be seen as a style.
September 28, 2009
The Wide Salton Sea: On lightning, dove-hunting, miniaturizing and aggrandizing (Salvation Mountain.)

Showdown with Zeus from Lucasberg on Vimeo.
August 8, 2009

What can't be embedded nor enjoyed directly, yet but streamed in its entirety: Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse and David Lynch collaborate on "Dark Night of the Soul."

(Thank you, Meredith Hope.)
July 25, 2009
The Kuroshio Sea: The main tank at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world's second largest acrylic glass panel. It can hold four whale sharks amongst more than eighty other fishes (and other species) of the sea.
July 17, 2009
A Hot Day Getting Hotter

And variations on that heat: With the smell of granola oven-ing in the oven, the nearer smell of some basil simple-syruping for an evening julep on the porch, and a sun climbing indefatiguably o'er head, a few songs walking us along toward evening. Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band put considerably more fire behind their tell of Pharoah's Army than the sweet Swan Silvertones felt to; and Jole Blon...

On April 18, 1929, The Breaux Freres - Amédée Breaux on accordion with his brother Ophé on guitar and Cléopha on the fiddle, along with their sister, Cleoma Breaux, on guitar and vocals - recorded "Ma blonde est partie," thought to be the earliest recording of the cajun standard "Jolie Blonde." A 1958 take by the 21-year old Waylon Jennings, sung in French and accompanied by Buddy Holly on guitar, made his introduction to the AM world, while an English-language, Tex-Mex take from the Flatlander's first record made an ethereal waltz of the "cajun national anthem," replete with singing saw and Jimmie Dale Gilmour's incomparable voice. There are many songs to drink your sun tea to, but these are doing just fine today.
July 2, 2009

Hauschka - Morgenrot from Jeff Desom on Vimeo.

Pulled up again from the files, Jeff Desom's quiet film of falling.
July 1, 2009
Covers Brokedown Palaces

June 8, 2009
Wanderers this morning came by...

Stockholm's Söderberg sisters, Johanna and Klara, in all of their sylvan sublimity, I daresay doing the Fleet Foxes one the better.
May 15, 2009
Variations on a Dream

Which, as dreams go, obey no formal chronology but go as their story goes. Maybe everthing that dies someday comes back, or maybe these things never do leave us.

Paul Robeson wasn't the only one spotting Joe Hill back of the picket lines or strike meetings in the days and then decades after the organizer's assasination. Fourteen years after Phil Ochs's death, Billy Bragg began hearing similar whispers, the same calls to carry the struggle on. Another decade on yet and Will Oldham too was dreaming that dream, carrying on that same song.

Bob Dylan's dream of St. Augustine would have come much later in the night than had Robeson's or Bragg's and shares with them no more of a form than that which one can take with through those gates of ivory or horn. Augustine had himself been many years in the dark before setting down his Confessions, before making his first tender and tremulous movements toward what was higher in him. Turning toward Augustine in 1967, following a near-fatal crash which laid-him up for several months, Dylan was turning from the gate which had delivered him to so many others, if not himself. April 16, 2009
Beached from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Keith Loutit's tilt-shift motion pictures show us our world miniaturized but teeming, a scale model allowed to assume its own life.
March 26, 2009
They Were All Rank Strangers to Me...

Sometime in the middle of the night - maybe twenty minutes shy of Devils Lake, ND - I awoke from another dream of Rank Strangers to a landscape that seemed to be only of ice extending toward each horizon, a sense that the train was in the clouds or on the water, but not on land. Almost whole, the moon's opaque double, reflected against the window's glass, floated adjacent to/overlapping the original like an unexplained venn diagram. Structures began appearing on the ice sheets like meek punctuations- a 15'x15' hut, grain silos, a gate without a road - inserted into a dark that afterward went on without further interruption.

Five months before, aboard an Empire Builder making the opposite way, I woke from the same dream, the same song haunting me afterward. After so many ways across this continent and others, and so many of those ways made in the fashion of much larger transitions, I've developed my own relationships to these songs of wayfaring, of being a stranger myself and of finding strangers when I mean to be dreaming into my home.

A small collection, then, from a much larger collection of 'stranger' songs: The dreams of Ralph Stanley and Vic Chesnutt, the wayfaring of Almeda Riddle and Neko Case, and the hopefulness of the Kinks - that maybe after so hard a way as we've come and maybe many miles more yet, we might find something of a way together.
March 28, 2009

I might suggest turning down the sound on the video, playing something along the lines of the track above.
March 4, 2009
I wish I was a mole in the ground...

Known almost as well by "Tempie," "Darling, Where Have You Been So Long," "I Don't Like No Railroad Man," "I Wish I Was a Little Bar of Soap," "Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang Low," and "Skipping Through the Frost and Snow," not to mention those versions heard above, Bascom Lamar Lunsford's original 1924 take on "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" has never hurt for acknowledgement. Covered well over 100 times, in fact, the song he first collected in the hills of his own Western North Carolina has been all but canonized, as these things go.

These four versions represent an even-enough evolution of the song, from Lunsford's heavy, upstroked, almost-clawhammered style, through the less toothsome, up-picked version by Dock Boggs, Jackson C. Frank's "Kimbie" from his 1965 debut, and "I Won't Be Found," the first track from Kristian Matsson's 2008 debut as Tallest Man on Earth. Enjoy.
© 2009 Somber City Journal / Sam T. Schick