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December 27, 2019

Poetry and Religion — Les Murray

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion...

There'll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds—crested pigeon, rosella parrot—
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

December 27, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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Fair warning: there goes the day.

December 27, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

BehindTheMedspeak: Why a lazy doctor is your best bet


John Kay's column in the Financial Times explored the conundrum of why heroes are those who solve problems rather than avoid them.

Certainly this holds true in medicine, at least in my field: Anesthesiologists with a reputation for being "good in emergencies" seem to be held in higher esteem than those who aren't, even though avoiding emergencies — and thus having little experience with them — seems to me far preferable and indicative of a superior level of expertise.

And if you are lazy like me it very quickly becomes clear — say, within a week or two of beginning your residency — how much easier it is to avoid trouble than to get out of it.

Here's Kay's piece.

No one remembers a cautious captain of industry

I have been reading Joseph Conrad's "Typhoon", the least sentimental of Christmas stories. It describes how Captain MacWhirr and the crew of the Nan-Shan spent the day saving the ship from a storm in the South China Sea. The typhoon broke open the camphor chests belonging to the 200 Chinese labourers on board, leaving a pile of anonymous silver dollars.

The resulting problem has become known as Captain MacWhirr's dilemma. How can you distribute a prize among a group when only the individuals concerned know the size of their contributions and must be expected to exaggerate them? Capt MacWhirr concluded that the only possible solution was to divide the money equally.

Game theorists have constructed a solution to Capt MacWhirr's dilemma that gives an incentive to everyone on board to tell the truth. If you want the answer, I refer you to the Journal of Political Economy for 1981*. But the economists' solution, arithmetically ingenious, is impracticable. Capt MacWhirr "got out of it very well for such a stupid man", as his second officer observed.

The story of Capt MacWhirr is often interpreted as an account of how an unimaginative but determined individual can rise to the occasion. But Capt MacWhirr faced a second and even more common dilemma in which his intellectual limitations served him less well. He saw the signs of the oncoming storm but, having consulted the manuals of seamanship, ignored their recommendations. "Suppose", he says, "I went swinging off my course and came in two days late, and they asked me 'where have you been?' 'Went round to dodge the bad weather,' I would say. 'It must have been dam' bad, they would say. 'Don't know,' I would have to say, 'I've dodged clear of it.' "

If Capt MacWhirr had followed the textbooks, he would have been known only as the skipper who failed to bring his ship into port on time. If Margaret Thatcher had acted to deter Argentina from invading the Falklands, rather than ordering a taskforce to remove the occupying forces after they had landed, she would probably have been remembered as an unsuccessful one-term prime minister.

In politics, business and finance, as on the seas, the hero is the person who tackles a problem, rather than the person whose actions prevent the problem arising. The statesmen we need are those who avert wars and prevent depressions, but such individuals gain little credit. They encounter Capt MacWhirr's second dilemma. These wars and depressions might have been dam' bad. We don't know; we dodged clear of them.

Capt MacWhirr's second dilemma explains the paradox illustrated by Jim Collins in "Good to Great": more successful leaders attracted fewer column inches. Al Dunlap of Scott Paper declared his admiration for Rambo: "Here's a guy who has zero chance of success and always wins." But Mr Dunlap's company was acquired by Kimberly-Clark, whose chief executive for 20 years, Darwin Smith, avoided the storm by taking the company out of the competitive coated paper businesses and into high-value-added consumer products.

Mr Dunlap was a celebrity but Mr Smith is little known. We prefer to read about Lee Iacocca and Lou Gerstner, who held the helm in the storm, or Jack Welch, who managed the ship through turbulence largely of his own creation.

In the financial world, the cautious captain will be fortunate to remain long on the bridge. Since bonuses depend on maintaining a head of steam, diversion from a straight course will prompt a mutiny. It was not difficult to see the credit storm coming. But better for the chief executive to risk his career in the coming tempest than to sacrifice it in a vain attempt to persuade his colleagues to take a circuitous route.

We crave heroes. So we admire ambulance drivers more than traffic police, business visionaries more than competent managers and creative financiers more than advocates of sound money. That is why we often find ourselves at the centre of the storm.

* A Superior Solution to Captain MacWhirr's Problem: An Illustration of Information Problems and Entitlement Structures (Gene E. Mumy, The Journal of Political Economy Vol. 89, No. 5 [Oct., 1981], pp. 1039-1043).

December 27, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Phase 2, the New York City graffiti pioneer who invented "Impact Expressionism," is dead at 64

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Above and below, exemplars of his work.

Below, excerpts from his New York Times obituary.

In the South Bronx at the dawn of the 1970s, all the creative components that would coalesce into what became widely known as hip-hop were beginning to take shape.

At the center of them all was Phase 2, an intuitive, disruptive talent who first made his mark as a writer of graffiti — although he hated the term.

"He had a natural gift or ability to stylize letters," said Alan Ket, a founder of the Museum of Graffiti in Miami, adding that he "continued to develop styles that were pioneering or just wildly innovative."

His influence on the burgeoning art form was seismic.

The graffiti artist Coco 144, born Roberto Gualtieri, met Phase 2 in 1973 and found him to be an almost mystical figure: "a person from another dimension that came in and deconstructed the letter and reconstructed it again."

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Phase 2 was born Michael Lawrence Marrow on August 2, 1955, in Manhattan.

He was raised primarily in the Bronx, in the Forest Houses projects, and attended DeWitt Clinton High School, which in the early 1970s was rapidly becoming a graffiti hotbed.

Conveniently, it was across the street from a Transit Authority storage yard; subway cars were the preferred canvas of the day.

He began writing graffiti in October 1971, inspired by a cousin, who went by the name Lee 163d.

The form was evolving rapidly, with each day delivering a fresh set of artworks on train lines across the city.

Phase 2 was best known as the pioneer of softies — bubble-style letters that helped usher graffiti away from simple tags and toward full-fledged artworks.

He painted a variety of substyles of these letters, with a name for each: "squish luscious," "phasemagorical phantastic" and so on.

Many innovations that became commonplace, like loops and arrows, are credited to Phase 2.

"His lettering constantly changed; you never saw his tag repeat itself. He was constantly trying to destroy himself, destroying his previous style," said Hugo Martinez, who formed the United Graffiti Artists collective, of which Phase 2 was a member, in 1972.

Phase 2 — sometimes referred to as Phase Too or Phase II — was featured at the first gallery show of graffiti, a United Graffiti Artists presentation at the Razor Gallery in SoHo in September 1973.
Writing in the New York Times, the critic Peter Schjeldahl singled out one of his canvas works: "Phase II's name is couched in fat, sensual, screaming‐pink script set in an ambience of blue billows."

He also painted onstage, along with several other writers, as part of Twyla Tharp’s ballet "Deuce Coupe" in 1973.

Phase 2 enjoyed the thrill of writing on subway cars; "impact expressionism," he called it.

In an interview with Wax Poetics magazine, he recalled writing a poem to a police officer on the vandal squad who had just missed arresting him: "If you only knew/the real Phase 2/the super sleuth/who's still on the loose."

By the beginning of 1975, he had largely given up subway graffiti, moving his work onto paper and canvas or into sculpture.

And he was consistently developing new styles, sometimes passing them off to his fellow writers.

Crucially, he rejected the word graffiti — "the G-word," he called it.

He found it denigrating and preferred terms like style writing.

"It’s like calling a meteor a pebble," he told Raw Vision magazine in 1997. "I'm absorbing and devouring language in its coexisting state and creating something else with it."

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He was also a sometime D.J., as well as a dancer and a founder of the New York City Breakers crew.

And he rapped: In the late 1970s he was a member of a crew called the Wizards, and in 1982 he released a pair of singles, "The Roxy" and "Beach Boy."

Charlie Ahearn, the director of the 1983 film "Wild Style," has said that Phase 2 was the basis for the film's main character, Phade (played by Fab 5 Freddy).

Phase 2 wasn't formally involved with the film, but he was a consultant on the 1984 hip-hop movie "Beat Street."

In the late 1970s, Phase 2 began applying his artistic gifts to a different medium: party fliers.

His designs, laid out by hand, were modern, orderly, and dense; he called the style "funky nous deco."

In an interview this year with Eye on Design magazine, he said he drew influences from Art Deco, the comic book artist Jack Kirby, and the painter and collagist Romare Bearden.

He designed hundreds of them — for Grandmaster Flash's early D.J. gigs, for a variety of uptown events and, later, for the Friday night parties at the Roxy, where uptown and downtown were commingling, and where he would also do live painting.

Phase 2 was comfortable moving between scenes.
"For somebody to be from the South Bronx, he wasn't like everybody else," Van Silk, a former party promoter, said. "He was intellectually different."

He designed the first logo for the Tuff City record label and the fliers for the New York City Rap Tour, which in 1982 took a cadre of rappers, dancers and artists across the Atlantic to England and France, the first real exporting of New York hip-hop culture.

"He was one of the few artists of that '70s period that continued with the newer set," said Mr. Schmidlapp, who later began IGTimes (International Graffiti Times, later International Get-Hip Times).

The publication became the first graffiti magazine with any significant distribution, for which Phase 2 became an art director and writer.

In 1996, Phase 2 and Mr. Schmidlapp released a graffiti history book, "Style: Writing From the Underground."

Phase 2 also wrote an oracular column for the hip-hop and graffiti magazine Stress.

His persistent concerns were the determination of who would tell the stories of his generation, and the proper code of conduct for people in the graffiti scene.

He was "policing the culture, explaining, calling out suckers, biters and frauds," the writer Adam Mansbach, a friend of Phase 2's since the 1990s, said.

He was particular about what collectors he would sell to, and whom he would do shows with.
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"He’d rather go hungry," Mr. Schmidlapp said, than compromise his integrity.
But if he liked you, his nephew Seku Grey said, "He gave away his art, literally."

And while Phase 2 prized his anonymity — he rarely posed for photos, and for decades he publicly used an alias, Lonny Wood, rather than his birth name — he was an inveterate letter writer, replying to correspondence from young graffiti artists.

From the 1990s forward, Phase 2 brought his collage artwork to collaborations with the skate brand Supreme and designed album covers for the Rawkus and Definitive Jux labels.

He continued to make art, selling privately and occasionally in galleries, including works on paper and robot-style sculptures influenced by his love of Japanese animation.

He had been in the early stages of a documentary project with Mr. Grey and a book about his fliers with the hip-hop historian Pete Nice.

But he was primarily concerned with preserving what he deemed to be the correct and proper history of aerosol art.

His writings, Mr. Ket said, "were militant and a call to action. A warning that people were being hoodwinked by the media, the gallerists, the collectors, other artists. He was our reality check."

December 27, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Car phone charger anonymizer

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Think this is dumb?

Read this December 17, 2019 Washington Post article headlined "What does your car know about you? We hacked a Chevy to find out," then think again.

From the story:

Simply plugging a smartphone into a car could put your data at risk.

[Jim] Mason* gives out gifts of car-lighter USB plugs [top], which let you charge a phone without connecting it to the car computer.

You can too!

Have at it.

*A Caltech-trained engineer who works for ARRCA, a firm that helps reconstruct accidents. He helped the Post by performing a forensic analysis of the target Chevy featured in its story.

December 27, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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