Another ten-day delay. Like everything, I can find a reason.
In a recent post-new-year's post on 43F, Merlin linked to Thoreau's Walden, which to my (not great) surprise exists in its entirety on Wikisource. The section Merlin was quoting from is the introductory chapter, "Economy," which in turn contains the famous line: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Like most Americans, I was given this to read and ignore when I was 14 years old. Y had been mentioning Thoreau too, just a few days ago. So the coincidence prompted me to re-read it, and I was struck by both the sentences before and after the famous line above:
After: What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. What a subversive hippie, that Thoreau.
But the line that hit closer to home was the one before:
As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
A sentiment very near and dear to me.
I didn't make any New Year's resolutions, I had already made a basketful of them a couple of months earlier. And one of them: never be bored, and never do something out of simple boredom. There's no reason for it, always more opportunity for interest, and given the known-to-be-finite amount of time we all have here in the universe, why waste even one minute more than we have to? So: I've been busy.
Next post, coming rather sooner, will touch on three of the people I happened to encounter these past ten days.
You read it here first....
Well not really since I have been sending SMS pages with the expression "JFX" for some time. I thought it was a common parlance but I haven't been able to find it in any web search, so maybe I just made it up. I like it regardless.
"JFX" is short for "Jesus FX" which appealed to my picture-making nature.
"Jesus FX" is in turn is short for the maledictive "Jesus F***ing Christ"
Except that, unlike this blog post, it can appear in a Google safe-mode search.
I got the new National Geographic yesterday and the lead article was simply banner-titled: "Love." The text was about the neurochemistry of attraction and attachment, with connecting photos by Jodi Cobb. I have to admit that I was a bit puzzled on (a) what made this a NatGeo story (yeah, yeah, an easy one: to sell magazines. But why NatGeo instead of Cosmo then? Where's the market differentation?), and (b) why they sent Cobb out on this one, since the resultant photos of affection are, well, charming but hard to point as particularly specific to the topics in the article, and why would you need to fly around the world to get them? Anyway, to the Real Meat of this entry:
The article didn't cover any particularly new territory (it is a popular magazine), but it had some useful references on something I've been suspecting for a few years now (also not news for people who know more about neurology than I do): a potentially-harmful connection between selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor antidepressants like Paxil and the ability to create, maintain, and enjoy attachments.
Attraction is known to be connected to the neurotransmitter serotonin in some ill patients and in people feeling in love, serotonin levels are low. SSRI medications like Paxil and Prozac are designed to increase serotonin levels the patient is less likely to feel depressed, but also loses their interest in sexual attraction and attachment.
These meds are among the most common presecribed today. Millions of people are on them.
Digging further I found these presentations on MedScape which describe a whole medical symposium held on this during 2005, titled "Sex, Sexuality, and Serotonin."
Helen Fisher's opening presentation at that link is a good reference because it lays out in detail a lot of medical understanding about the mechanisms of attraction and attachment, before getting to her concerns about anti-depressants (the other presentations are good too).
Now, if someone is very ill and needs to, say, avoid suicide because they are deeply depressed, well by all means they should be helped. But these side-effects expose a somewhat undefined element in our current notions about "health care" namely, that they focus almost entirely on the individual "patient," without concern or even much awareness of the potential interaction effects between the patient and associated non-patients.
If a depressed patient is depressed becasue she's beaten at home, will Paxil solve her problem? Or if a patient has BPD or a related personality disorder, should their insurance cover the psychological harm they will inevitably inflict on the people in their families and workplaces? These are difficult questions that are largely left unasked and thus unresolved (perhaps because good answers to them may not benefit insurance companies).
Killing the ability to experience attraction suppresses not only a lot of the things we as humans consider "fun" but ultimately also the actions we consider at core of life's highest purposes attachments, commitments, feelings of connection between one another and the universe. You can consider these aspects of a higher calling or just a natural expression of the presence of the appropriate amounts of dopamine; either way they are key to our well-being as human beings, or ability and sense of achievement, and the well-being of the other human beings around us.
Verifies my suspicion that if people in most any relationship were just more willing to generate a little oxytocin, even if they didn't feel like it, they'd feel better and their relationships would be stronger. But that starts to sound more like bar talk :)
I've had a few folks send me some tangentially-related Dilbert cartoons about a "never been cubicled" photographer...
I started writing this on Friday. Or Saturday. It has been a week of many good things. Of real moments, whatever those might be. Every day with something amazing and I thought I'd write them down but even as I started new amazing things were happening, either around me or importantly inside me, in reaction to events, to books, to music, to art, to people. Can there be a higher human experience than realization?
I can make a list but it's important that such a list is open-ended:
I've been slow as a congressman on getting the rest of my gear together, but I think I've decided the new piece: a Sea-Quest Pro QD+ BCD the lift and sizing seems right for me and the price isn't too grim...
That still leaves me without my own a regulator (I'll probably go for an Aqualung Titan LX), an octopus (Aqualung Legend), some sort of console/SPG/computer (Oceanic Veo 180?). So another $600 of stuff to get after this next purchase. Plus Oceanic will hit me for another $90 for a cable to connect the dive computer to your PC :/ I still won't have tanks or weights, but who buys tanks or weights? Plus I have to save-up for that swell heads-up display (it's not clear if the HUD will integrate an underwater MP3 player).
It has occured to me, of course, that I could have gotten a nice Canon 20D for the same overall cost. But the 20D would just be a new version of what I already have. It makes pictures, just like my other picture-taking tools. The scuba gear makes completely new experiences.
A couple of days ago I was having a coffee-shop stop and spied a travel book. At that moment, I realized something important:
If the letter "F" were prepended to Ireland, then it would be Fireland. Which would be great, because they would be the closest country to Iceland. Then, they could have a war!
It would be so cool. Err, hot.
Phil Perkis writes of photography:
To experience the meaning of what is. To stay with it for even a few seconds is no small task. The sound of voice without language, a musical line, a ceramic vessel, a non-objective painting. The presence of it, the weight of it, the miracle of its existence, of my existence. The mystery of the fact itself.
When you drive around the city and come to a red light or a stop sign, you can just sit back and make use of these twenty or thirty seconds to relax to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy arriving in the present moment. There are many things like that we can do. Years ago I was in Montreal on the way to a retreat, and I noticed that the license plates said Je me souviens "I remember." I did not know what they wanted to remember, but to me it means that I remember to breathe and to smile.
It often seems to me that photography is a daily form of gratitude.
So Canon did it put Humpty Dumpty back on the wall. The digital Cantax has returned, with a new (quieter?) shutter and a repaired lens release mechanism too.
They removed every inch of gaffer tape from the camera (I had peeled back a lot before sending it in, but they were far more thorough). Surprisingly, however, they left the Russian "brain-transplant" software in place...
Guess I'll add re-taping to my to-do list. I've come to realize I've got quite a stack of recently-purchased and never-read books, including the Parr Photobook: A History which had been backordered for so long. Martin Parr will be appearing here in San Francisco on the 24th I'd better get to reading!
All this and Iron Python, MacWorld, and EI 2006 in the next couple of weeks too! Guess it was good that I got out a little over the break because it looks like I'll be working, studying, and staying focused for a bit.
One of my favorite work-related blogs, one which I read very deliberately, is Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen. In a recent entry, Garr writes about the recent Nobel Prize award lecture given by Harold Pinter.
Like most people casually interested in the Nobels, I sat down and read the transcript of Pinter's lecture
which uses the context of his plays as a bridge through to the principles of political theatre and then into a biting and at times terrifying polemic against modern US and British foreign policies.
At one point he nominates himself as a speechwriter for President Bush, and while reading one can almost hear Bush's voice in Pinter's parody:
God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.
Pinter's lecture on literature covers much political ground, and little of it seems much directed at literature but the economy and directness of his language reveals the greatness of his authorship, and he even goes so far as to include a poem by Pablo Neruda and to all but close his lecture with a poem of his own.
That same evening, only two nights ago, a journalist friend & I went to see George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, a dramatization of how Edward R. Murrow's most famous hour, his broadcast against the Red Scare, "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy." In that program, Murrow sagely used McCarthy's own words, brought to history by the indelible recording of film and tape. And as Murrow closes the program:
Earlier, the Senator asked, "Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?" Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare's Caesar, he would have found this line, which is not altogether inappropriate: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
What TV journalist today, I asked my friend, would be so fluid with language and eloquent in their reporting as Murrow was? What modern TV journalist would not shy away from using a source like Shakespeare, fearing that its presence would marginalize their words as "overintellectual" and "elitist"? And yet, Murrow's language spare, direct, well-chosen words was exactly the sort of language that was best-able to be the sharp pin for McCarthy's balloon.
McCarthy's later appearance on TV himself using his same sorts of now-ineffectual innuendo and ad hominem vitriol that had previously given him so much credibility in the minds of an anxious public ultimately was the true sign of his defeat.
The buzz on Presentation Zen was not about Pinter's words, or the subjects of his attacks (well, not entirely). Rather they were set aside for the interest shared with the blog, that of presentation. So I called up the video of Pinter's presentation, which I had been assured was even more effective than the speech.
I had expected this. Pinter's plays often leave so much to the actor, to the reader. The words themselves spare, the performances breathtaking. And I was keen to hear his delivery of Neruda's poem, and of his own. Poetry great poetry is always best aloud, with a speaker to breath their life into it. So I clicked "play" and spent the next 46 minutes held captive, wanting to remove the headphones but not daring to.
I had already read the script. I knew every word that Pinter would say. And yet his delivery, carefully crafted by an actor and a master playwright, presented through video editing in as spare a manner as any minimalist play, was as riveting a performance as any I am ever likely to see.
A common theme on Presentation Zen in recent months has been the idea of presenting naked without the bells and whistles and complicated visual noise. Here is Pinter, enthusiastically raw with his message, with the Nobel in his grasp, swinging it like a hammer at the things he finds most horrible and difficult in the world.
Murrow was no Harold Pinter. And likewise Pinter is no Murrow. Murrow ended his telecast on McCarthy with a monologue that is both accusing and yet hopeful, a call for good people to arise:
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
And Pinter too makes such a call, but obliquely, and by the time he reaches it we have already been bludgeoned by the force of the rest of his words.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us the dignity of man.
Pinter's statement of hope seems melancholy, while Murrow's is full of force. Yet I cannot believe that Pinter would be blind to this. And his call for "fierce intellectual determination" is not made of casually-chosen words.
Listening to Pinter's Bush parody, I was reminded of another speech I had heard, back in the days of Ronald Reagan (another target of Pinter's pointed words). It was a speech given not by a proper politician, but a fictional one.
In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!
This is part of the closing monologue given by Charlie Chaplin as the faux-Hitler in The Great Dictator. In the scene, Chaplin's little tailor, masquerading as der Fuhrer, hopes to bring a broad sea change to the shape of his fascist country through the power of such promises. And yet... even then, many years ago, I felt that with some minor tweaks here and there, such a feel-good speech could have been just as easily given by Hitler himself, rallying his adherents to a kinder, gentler, world where everyone was a brother because everyone had been hammered into the same narrow shape.
And one other speech also came to mind, one that was alluded too some time ago here on botzilla. At the time I was discussing the Melian debate, which I felt so closely matched the events then unfolding at the UN. And Pinter's parody reminded me of the famous oration at The Funeral of Pericles, a speech delivered to a crowd who knew full well of their leaders' actions on Melos:
Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.
The Athens Thucydides describes not only demanded tribute from its neighbors and murdered those who did not pay it, but fully a third of the Athenian population were slaves, many dragged from previous freedom in those same military conflicts.
George Bush did not invent political duplicity, nor did Hitler create the deceptive feel-good-about-your-country dodge. No, it is an old dance, and one whose rhythms must surely be reflected in some basic part of our human character and biology, for it has been a part of us for a very, very long time.
Had I only listened to Pinter, and had these same connections linking-up in my mind, I would be in a sorry state indeed. His words are wilting. And the history of our species has many faults we'd like to forget. And yet they are not the full story either.
Harold Pinter was not the only Nobel Prize recipient this year, there are other prizes, such as the Peace Prize given to Mohamed ElBaradei and, important to me today, the joint prize in Economics, given to two prominent theorists of game theory: Robert Aumann and Thomas Schelling. Their presentations too are preserved on video and available on the web. And they too stray from what a casual observer might consider the core topic of their awards.
Alfred Nobel started his prizes to help the world, a world he felt he had harmed by the same business that brought his great monetary fortune: the creation of dynamite and the many weapons that came from it. So perhaps it is not so surprising that just as Pinter strayed quickly from purely literate concerns to those of life and responsibility and dignity on our planet, so too do these economists: Schelling's address covers his theories regarding international gamesmanship and the remarkable fact that over the past sixty years, no nuclear weapon has ever been used in anger, since that week long ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And Aumann's lecture roots at the basic causes for this, revealing curiously counter-intuitive arguments for peace and cooperation through the use of ready but unused deadly force. He dedicated his talk to the memory of the pacifist Leo Tolstoy.
Aumann and Scheller have reduced conflict to an analysis of interactive choices. They are game theorists, and have pushed past such classic game-theory paradoxes as the prisoners' dilemma to examine what they call the theory of repeated games. Rather than looking only at strategies of "how can I win this game," they considered what are the best strategies for winning a game repeatedly? In games where there are potentials for both winners and losers, they found that often the best strategy for long-term success was not in domination (and requisite subjugation of the loser), but in cooperation. That unless the initial payoff of domination was so great as to effectively end the game, that it could not be sustained as long as the loser had the ability to retaliate and punish.
In the extreme case, we have games such as nuclear MADD where the punishment is absolute and final. In lesser cases we have governments, companies, and individuals who come to recognize that their best long-term goals are the ones in which they all participate in both the game and the rewards.
Pinter's words imply a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong on the part of the listener. They appeal to the desirability of truth without having to explain why truth is valuable. Murrow likewise addresses an audience whose values, surpassing issues like momentary political gain, place truth and fairness and broad equality at their cores.
Aumann and Scheller, building upon the work of prior Nobel laureate game theorists like John Nash (who's had a movie biography of his own), pull back the underpinnings of those values to reveal just how powerful they can be. Repeated game theory describes and accounts, not only for punishment and revenge, but more importantly for cooperation, for charity, and for altruism. In Aumann's lecture, he declares two key points:
Using private information reveals it. That time reveals all truths. Repeated games are ultimately about the very issue Pinter addresses: truth. Eventually the players strike a mutual equilibrium, a cooperative outcome in which dominance cannot be sustained.
Aumann's analysis surely comes from a warm-hearted man, but it is an analysis built of cold solid bricks, with evidence and ramifications that are social, biological, economic, rational, mathematical. As surely as Einstein's equations laid-out principles that can describe both the a-bomb and television, so do these game-theory principles lay down the case for hope.
Yes, duplicity and the lust for power have always been with us. But over repetitions, things do improve. Slavery in Athens has been gone for a very long time. Hitler's gas chambers may not be the end of state brutality and democide, but such horrors would be hard to hide in today's world. There are no weapons of mass destruction, and the world has come to know it. Truth will prevail.
Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward.
Truth its revelation, propagation, and accountability is thus both the mechanism for our potential salvation and part of its reward.
(It has been a while since I've written an entry under this category. Maybe it's been building-up! Written in one sitting, forgive the awkward sentences (link repairs, 20 jan))
I've added nine more pix to the slideshow from New Years Eve.
They're at the front, so if you've seen the rest, it's easy to see all the new ones at once.
Do you know why digital wins over film when shooting color? Because there are no decent C-41 labs within a thirty-minute drive of here. Which means at best I have to drive 30 minutes to Keeble's, 30 minutes back, then repeat the process to pick up the negs hours later. Or at worst bring it to anywhere local and then spend a good deal more than those two wasted hours trying to spot-out all the crap and scratches they leave on my negatives (or even crease marks, as I recently experienced when a roll marked "process only" was dutifully folded-up into a wad and stamped flat in an envelope by one local lab guy).
These last few frames from Saturday night were completely mis-treated by a guy who was standing there listening while I discussed with his manager how I wanted the negs handled. In fact I asked him some extra questions about handling rollfilm negatives. When I returned and found the negs mis-cut and with bits of dirt scratching against them inside the "clean" enveleope? He shrugged and walked off...
Six days... well now that they're gone here are some things I thought I might do, but did not....
In the end, despite my initial impulse to stop myself, I decided to bring a camera last night and to be happy to hide behind it well not really. I don't want to simply erase my own behaviors and patterns, what's the point of that? I want to be a better me and I really can't think of how I can get that to happen if I don't include my shooting in it. It's a part of me too. Awww.
As I was driving up to San Francisco it occured to me that the SMS pager client in my Treo stores a different thread for each active address, and that text typed into the thread remained resident even if the message wasn't sent, or threads were switched*. So while I drove up I wrote about a dozen different individualized little SMS New Years greetings, didn't send them, and when my watch read a minute or two before midnight I was able to rapid-fire send them all to different people as if I were the world's fastest T9 typist, and then cap them with a dodgeball to all the people whose addresses didn't already have active threads in my phone.
So anyway, the shooting:
I shot about a short roll of Kodak chromagenic and two rolls of Tri-X in the Elan, armed with a big strobe on a big cord. I found that I could keep the strobe, with the head aimed up parallel to the body, comfortably in my pocket, cords connected, with the camera on my shoulder when I wasn't actively shooting. So my hands and face were open and unhindered to be expressive, give hugs all 'round, etc etc etc. And dressed in black, with a black camera, which drew even more attention to just the light-colored extremities. I love this doggoned "CRS" sweater, I should buy another one.
I was armed lightly glass-wise, just the 28mm. I haven't actually used the Elan all that much, and the AF had a terrible time locking in the dark, crowded bar. Couldn't focus manually if my left hand was busy holding the strobe (or a drink. Or both). So that meant pre-setting the focus to 1m, aperture to f/8 or f/11 and letting the 550EX make a big pop. Blindess in the service of immortality, I say. Had to swap batteries just before midnight, the used ones were hot to the touch when they came out of the strobe.
Karen was the only person I saw that I think I already knew but a number of people said they remembered me from other places and events. I guess they did? In any case a couple of orbits around the bar carrying the camera and holding-up the strobe, without even shooting (and the bartenders were cool about me wandering inside their workspace, as bartenders often are) and then all the 200+ people there knew exactly who I was and sure acted like they were my buddies. I'll consider it an object lesson.
The camera was rarely up. I wasn't hiding. I was shooting but not through a psychological window. I don't know if there's really a difference but it felt like one. Or maybe it was the Cuba Libré.
Woke up late but feeling great and ready to mix-up some Rodinal. Some Bronica negs from yesterday's batch are still drying and they'll need scanning, too. Today will finally be my (one) stay-at-home holiday?
* I guess the memory-cached SMS scheme was a design choice based on the fact that you can be interupted easily by incoming calls.
This is *unlike* the FotoTimer darkroom timer, which I normally use for all my film developement and which loses track and discards its current timing if you get a call while processing film! I learned the hard way to turn wireless mode off *before* starting the developer cycle. Ouch.