Bruce Sterling Closes the 2011 Art + Environment Conference

Author and futurist Bruce Sterling gives a smart and entertaining talk about where we are now and where we might be going, both climate change-wise and art-wise. Watch below or just press play and listen while you do other stuff (I know 28 minutes seems like a long time to sit and watch--at least it does to me--and the talk doesn't depend on visuals. Sterling's an animated, worthwhile speaker even when you're just listening).


"Call Me Hope"--from Mama Hope's "Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential" campaign

This is great:

From the YouTube description:

"This is the second video in Mama Hope's (http://www.mamahope.org) Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential Campaign. At Mama Hope, we believe that the essential first step in changing the world is telling the story of connection instead of contrast and potential instead of poverty. People everywhere have talent and capacity, and people everywhere share a desire to be able to use those gifts to improve their lives and the lives of the people they care about. To learn more about the projects we undertake to unlock this potential and get involved, visit us at ‪http://www.mamahope.org

Directed by Joe Sabia (http://www.joesabia.co) and Bryce Yukio Adolphson (http://www.bryceyukioadolphson.com)
Shot and Edited by Bryce Yukio Adolphson
Post-Production Sound by Matt McCorkle (http://www.equalsonics.com)
Produced by Nyla Rodgers (http://www.mamahope.org)"


Hot Drinks: Wendy's training videos from the 80s

Well do I remember being shut in a windowless room at 16, first day on the job at General Cinema, to fumble a training cassette into a sad VCR and awkwardly learn what my work would entail (all the while feeling like I was being watched). In retrospect, I wish I had sought work at Wendy's, if only to be locked in a room with these. Many more on YouTube.

"Then hand that drink to the Coordinator, and tell the guest you'll see him later."


"Vittles" by Aaron Belz

[My favorite poem from Belz's Lovely, Raspberry.
More Belz, including this poem, at ucity review]

--Aaron Belz

Considering how little new there is to say about varmints
perhaps one can write something new about vittles,
or if the mood of the room in which one is writing
is cast perfectly for such an occasion one might even
venture to write something new about vittles that also
discusses or touches upon the interests of varmints,
for varmints are known to prefer certain vittles over others
and to reject some vittles entirely, such as anything leafy.

Leafy edibles might not even be properly defined as vittles,
in which case one inevitably turns one’s attention to parsnips.
Rumor has it that there is a certain kind of varmint that,
while unilaterally rejecting leafy edibles, will in fact partake
of a parsnip if the mood in the room is cast perfectly
for such an occasion, or indeed if the white china is so white
as to remind that varmint of the moon and set him to baying;
he might even partake of bay leaves if that is the case.

Bay leaves, however, and in fact parsnips themselves,
have traditionally been associated with critters,
what with the diet of critters being almost entirely leafy
and not at all thought of as vittles. It is almost comical
to imagine a critter munching on vittles. Let’s say,
however, that you’re stumped for ideas for your writing;
in this case, you might try picturing in your mind
a critter eating vittles—or a varmint eating leafy edibles.

Such fancy performs the function of a mental crowbar,
that is to say, it can if you allow it to perform that function:
you will suddenly remember three or four really sucky
moments of your childhood that you had suppressed,
and they will arrive in your mind with their own lexicons
and their own contextualizing power that is so overpowering
as to recontextualize even your recent thinking about vittles
and all the new things you had hoped to write about them.


Nina Simone, Harlem Cultural Festival, 1969: "Ain't Got No/I Got Life"

I love the joyful ways she sings boobies--a departure from the original lyric.

Hennessy Youngman's "ART THOUGHTZ"

This Metafilter post on Hennessy Youngman's "ART THOUGHTZ" has been sitting, starred to watch later, in my Google Reader account since May. Glad I clicked through. "ART THOUGHTZ" has cracked me the hell up all morning.

On Post-Structuralism:

ART THOUGHTZ: Post-Structuralism from Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo.

On Bruce Nauman:

ART THOUGHTZ: Bruce Nauman from Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo.

On the Female Gaze, with guest host Tamara Suber (slightly offensive, wholly pretty great, and very NSFW):

ART THOUGHTZ: The Female Gaze, with Special Guest Tamara Suber (NSFW) from Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo.

Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo
Hennessy Youngman on YouTube
Hennessy Youngman on Tumblr


Complaints Choirs

Via Brain Pickings, an article about Complaints Choirs around the world. I'd never heard of these before, but the earliest iteration seems to have been in 2005. From the Complaints Choirs Worldwide site:

It all got started during a winter day walk of Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen in Helsinki. Perhaps it was due to the coldness of the day that they ended up discussing the possibility of transforming the huge energy people put into complaining into something else. Perhaps not directly into heat – but into something powerful anyway.

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro". It means "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!"

The Helsinki Complaints Choir:

From the Complaints Choirs of the World FAQ:


We just realized that people complain a lot, no matter what their life circumstances are. Whether they live under socialism or capitalism, whether they are rich or poor, young or old. We wanted to tap into this unending source of energy, we wanted to transform this complaints energy into something else, something surprising. The idea itself stems from the Finish word "Valituskuoro" - which means Complaints Choir. We wanted to see what happens if one takes this term literally. We tested the project in Birmingham (UK) in 2005. The song "I want my Money back" created during a complaints workshop at Springhill Institute became an instant hit on the net.


Complaints Choirs are not intended as protest choirs or an agit-prop revival. The political complaint is only representing a small margin of the wonderful world of complaints. Why should such important issues as broken underpants, boring dreams or spying neighbors be excluded? On the other hand the private, the personal, can be very political at the same time. If somebody complaints "I have too much time!" it can be seen just as a personal tragedy, but it also points to a major defect of the capitalistic society, which sidelines people because they are of no use in the production cycle.


All citizens of a particular city are invited to complain about anything they want and to join the choir. At the first meeting the freshly formed choir decides democratically on the content of the song. A local musician composes a tune for the text which is then rehearsed in 4 or 5 meetings. In the end the choir performs their collective grumbles at different locations in the city.

The Complaints Choir of Copenhagen:

You can see lots more complaints choirs' performances here. It doesn't appear that Minneapolis has one (yet).


"Jen Ratio"--notes from Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken

Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is waking my brain up more than any other book has for a while. I'm reading a library copy, so I'll be copying out passages here that I know I'll want to revisit later, adding some notes on occasion. 

from page 190:

"Dacher Keltner has devised a simple way to...measur[e] the social well-being of any shared environment. It's called the 'jen ratio', from the ancient Chinese word for human kindness. It compares the total positive interactions between strangers to the total negative interactions, in a given period of time and in a given place. The higher the ratio, the better the social well-being of the space and the happier you're likely to feel after spending time in it. The lower the ratio, the poorer the social well-being, and the unhappier you'll be if you spend too much time there.

To measure the jen ratio of a space, you simply watch it very closely for a fixed period of time--say, one hour. You count up all the positive and negative microinteractions between strangers, keeping track of two different totals: how many times people smile or act kindly toward each other, and how many times people act unfriendly, rude, or openly uninterested. All the positive microinteractions--such as big smiles, a hearty thank-you, a door being held open, a concerned question--get tallied on the left side of the ratio. All the negative microinteractions--a sarcastic comment, an eye roll, an unexcused bump, someone cursing under their breath--get tallied on the right side.

The jen ratio is a simple but powerful way to predict whether being in a particular place will make us happier or unhappier. When Keltner surveyed several years' worth of recent research on social well-being and social spaces, he concluded: 'Signs of a loss of jen in the United States are incontrovertible...with a jen ratio trending toward zero.'"


Thoughts: what is the jen ratio of your library? I subbed at the Nokomis Library last Friday and, much as I love the library I currently work in, noticed that it just felt especially good in there. Part of this I'd attribute to architecture: lots of windows and natural light, great sightlines from the info desk through the rest of the building, lots of neat nooks & crannies for folks to snuggle into while still remaining in sight of the desk and part of the whole. But also: the layout and staff personalities were such that everyone who came in the door was greeted, often by name--it's a community library, much smaller than the one I spend most of my time in, but I still think this could be somewhat feasible in a larger space--and you got the feeling that everyone there wanted to be there, was actively participating in "libraryness," as opposed to rushing in to cross off some chore. It's a different neighborhood, in the city as opposed to the gogogo upper-middle class suburb I work in, but I also thought it had a more positive vibe than similar-sized libraries I've visited in the city. Does Nokomis have a higher jen ratio than many other libraries? Does the responsibility for that lie in the staff?

What is the jen ratio of your workplace (while the wider library might be a little less high than Nokomis, the workroom in my library has a pretty good jen ratio, I'm sure)? Of your block? Of your city (I think Minneapolis has the highest jen ratio of anywhere I've lived)? Of your relationships?  


Art Swap at the MIA

Just got back from my first Art Swap, and I'll definitely go to the next one. I love the idea: bring a piece of art, trade it in for a golden ticket, then browse the tables of art and choose a piece to take home.

I didn't get there until 1:30, and the swap ended at 2, but it looked like many folks had made a full morning/afternoon of it--you can return the art you chose for another golden ticket, then choose a different piece, and repeat the process as often as you like as new art arrives. There was a string band playing, some beverages for sale, and a generally festive atmosphere.

I didn't have my camera, and neglected to take a picture of the art I swapped in--a framed art photo we bought several years back at a silent auction fundraiser and never found a great spot for--but below is the piece I brought home for our green-walled living room. I like it, and am considering whether I want to keep it as is or alter it in some way (especially after seeing lots of great mixed media ideas at the Powderhorn Art Fair this morning):


"Foods" by Dahlia Elsayed

I first saw this video a few weeks ago, and have thought about it on and off since. It reminds me of Eileen Tabios's The Chatelaine Shops and Spends (and her other similar projects), which I remember thinking was a brilliant use of Blogger way back in 2005--and, to a lesser extent, of Denise Duhamel's Mille Et Un Sentiments (scroll down at link for excerpt).

I think I could probably benefit from watching this every morning. I've been wondering a lot about "wants" and feelings recently. Which are fleeting? Which are significant? Are any significant? Are all fleeting? T will often say to me, "It's just a feeling, not a fact. It will pass." This sounds like wisdom...but is it? What does a practice like that mean for a maker of art (or maybe that's the one place you stuff the feelings)? What does a practice like that mean for one's life (stability? enlightenment? regret)?

When it comes to food cravings, at least, it's easy for me to grasp:


New Uses for Old Poetry

Louise Gluck poems, placed around the perimeter
of the garden, will deter squirrels and rabbits.

Extend the life
of cut flowers--add a Lucille
Clifton poem to the vase water!

Make a paste of Bernadette Mayer
poems and vinegar
to soothe bug bites and stings.

To freshen a stale carpet, scatter
James Tate poems on it,
wait a few hours,
then vacuum.


2,052-voice YouTube choir performs Eric Whitacre's "Sleep"

"The 2011 Virtual Choir video features 2052 performances of 'Sleep' from 1752 singers in 58 countries, individually recorded and uploaded to YouTube between September 2010 and January 2011. http://virtualchoir.org"

Don't miss this, even if you just watch a little of it. I haven't been this moved by a YouTube video--or global art project that 2.0 video curation and publishing made possible--since Where the Hell is Matt?


"History for Music Lovers" videos by the "historyteachers"

Simply the most insane shit fabulously bizarre stuff I've seen online in ages. Educational videos about history, set to pop songs, but that doesn't begin to cover it. The use of songs like "Hollaback Girl" and "Bad Romance" (for the French Revolution) one might expect, but a music video about the Crusades set to "Eyes Without a Face"?

"Black Death" (set to "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani)

"Macedonia" ("My Sharona")

"Ancient Minoan Civilization" (to Radiohead's "Creep")

"The Crusades" ("Eyes Without a Face," Billy Idol)

*More at thehistoryteachers' YouTube channel (including "Trojan War" set to "Tainted Love")


"Things I Don't Have to Think About Today"

Ten years ago, in DC, my white female then-partner and I realized halfway through moving day that one small trailer wasn't going to cut it for all our stuff. We asked our black male friend and his black male cousin, who were helping us move what we couldn't lift, to go rent a moving van (I forget the company) while we kept on packing. They came back and told us that, unfortunately, none were available on such short notice. My partner called the company and was assured that there were plenty of available vans she could rent immediately. She told the guys there must have been some mistake, and asked if they could head back and pick one up. It hit me like a sledgehammer that they had been turned down because they were two black males wanting to move a bunch of stuff across state lines in a hurry. I miserably suggested one of us ride along with them (in retrospect, we shouldn't have given the company our business. I regret it).

This December 23, after waiting an hour and a half in a jammed airport check-in line, I realized I'd somehow lost my driver's license between home and the airport--it wasn't with me. I told my family to go ahead, that I'd go home and catch a later flight, since I was sure the airline wouldn't let me on without a photo ID. My partner suggested we at least ask if there was some way I could fly ID-less. We asked, and were told this sort of thing happened fairly frequently, and I could still fly, but I'd need to go through both the X-ray-like body scan and the enhanced patdown, and have my hands tested for explosive (I guess) residue. No problem. I didn't wonder until days later if I would have been given the same treatment if I'd been in hijab, or been a Somali male, etc. I doubt it.

I came across the above cartoon, by Barry Deutsch, today via swirlspice. It reminded me of something I like even better, John Scalzi's October 2010 blog post "Things I Don't Have to Think About Today". Below are the first two stanzas, but I really recommend reading the whole thing.

Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today

Today I don’t have to think about those who hear “terrorist” when I speak my faith.
Today I don’t have to think about men who don’t believe no means no.
Today I don’t have to think about how the world is made for people who move differently than I do.
Today I don’t have to think about whether I’m married, depending on what state I’m in.
Today I don’t have to think about how I’m going to hail a cab past midnight.

Today I don’t have to think about whether store security is tailing me.
Today I don’t have to think about the look on the face of the person about to sit next to me on a plane.
Today I don’t have to think about eyes going to my chest first.
Today I don’t have to think about what people might think if they knew the medicines I took.
Today I don’t have to think about getting kicked out of a mall when I kiss my beloved hello...

[read rest of Scalzi's post]