Gang Rule

Sep 20 2014 @ 9:42am

Graeme Wood flags research from David Skarbek, author of The Social Order of the Underworld, suggesting that prison gangs play an indispensable role in maintaining order in California penitentiaries:

“Prison gangs end up providing governance in a brutal but effective way,” he says. “They impose responsibility on everyone, and in some ways the prisons run more smoothly because of them.” … For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood – a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

The Beauty Of Plumes

Sep 20 2014 @ 9:09am

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Thomas Herbich captured the surprising elegance of cigarette smoke:

Over the last three months photographer Thomas Herbrich snapped some 100,000 individual photographs of smoke, looking for unexpected anamalies and fortuitous coincidences where familiar shapes emerged. It’s fascinating to see how the brain tries to create order out of chaos, just like looking up at the clouds, suddenly familiar patterns seem to stand out: faces, hands, or scrolls of paper.

Herbich spoke to D.L. Cade about the project:

I was very surprised by how extremely quickly smoke move[s]. It’s easier to photograph a racing car! The rising of cigarette-smoke is actually so quick that conventional flash equipment is too slow, as is the photographer – only a few milliseconds pass between recognition of the subject and the taking of the shot, a length of time in which the smoke has already changed again.

I therefore used a quick flash with a flash duration of 1/10000 sec. or faster – and took more than 100,000 digital photos in three months (which killed one camera). The “poor” photos were immediately separated out on the laptop and rejected. Only 20 or so of the photos actually made the shortlist.

See more of his work here.

A Poem For Saturday

Sep 20 2014 @ 8:16am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

There is no one I would rather read on the subject of Frank O’Hara than John Ashbery. He introduced the LunchPoems50thLO1995 paperback of the Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, which Alfred A. Knopf originally published in 1971, edited by Donald Allen. And now he’s written a short introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Lunch Poems, which debuted as Number Nineteen in the legendary City Lights Pocket Poets series, and is now reissued with facsimiles of previously unpublished letters between O’Hara and his editor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

On the outside, though, the book looks exactly as it always has, and we learn in one of the O’Hara letters that the familiar—and to so many of us cherished—cover was the choice of the poet, “What color is lunch? Maybe some sort of lipsticky red? (My favorite colors are actually orange and blue.)” We also learn that he didn’t care about the chronological arrangement of the poems in his first major book but did want the date of composition listed after each poem “as it is in Allen’s [Ginsberg’s] Reality Sandwiches.”

“No other poetry collection of the ‘60s did more to shatter the congealed surface of contemporary academic poetry,” Ashbery writes. “Freed from his Museum of Modern Art desk job for an hour or so at lunchtime, O’Hara wanders the streets of midtown, free-associating about trips he has taken, including a recent one to Spain on MoMA business, on which I accompanied him, and to Paris, where he has many friends. . . .Frank’s disabused enthusiasm carries the reader to a marvelous half-fictive universe where we bump elbows with Lana Turner, Billie Holiday, Rachmaninoff, and the Mothers of America, whom he urges: ‘let your kids go to the movies! . . .They may even be grateful to you/ for their first sexual experience.’ Horrors! To compound this unthinkable suggestion, O’Hara even gets away with using the word ‘fuck’ more than once, and yet he’s no macho spewer of hard truths, but a kind, inquiring, deeply curious and attractive youngish man, passing a few minutes of speculative rumination before heading back to the office, like all of us.”

“Song (Is it dirty)” by Frank O’Hara:

Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that’s what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that’s what you think of in the city
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes. very
he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that’s what you think of in the city
run your finger along your no-moss mind
that’s not a thought that’s soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

– 1959

(From Lunch Poems, Expanded 50th Anniversary Edition © 1964, 2014 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books, San Francisco)

Feminism Meets Occupy Wall Street

Sep 20 2014 @ 7:29am

Rachel Hills profiles feminist writer Laurie Penny, author of Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution:

[Penny] is skeptical of attempts to take the bite out of the gender equality movement. “I think the whole question [of rebranding feminism] is very indicative of how threatening a lot of people find feminism and gender liberation in general,” she says. “My first response to that is always that feminism is threatening to the status quo. It is a legitimately scary idea for people who are invested in things staying the way that they are. There’s only so far you can dress it up.”

But Penny seems unsettled by the increased acceptance of feminism by society at large:

Not for her is the “tepid and cowardly” mainstream feminism focused on getting more women into boardrooms, or stamping out sexy music videos. “Let others construct an unchallenging feminism that speaks only to the smallest common denominator,” she writes.

Tara Wanda Merrigan provides an overview of Penny’s arguments. A big one:

Read On

Getting The Last Word

Sep 19 2014 @ 8:37pm

Roger Grenier contemplates how writers approach death:

With certain authors, including some of the very greatest, we cannot speak of a last work. With them an entire640px-Marcel_Proust_(Père_Lachaise) life’s work is constantly put back on the loom, and so is condemned to remain unfinished. Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust, Robert Musil are in this category. Nietzsche wavers between the desire to construct and a totally free form. Only death stopped Proust from pasting strips of paper onto his manuscripts and his page proofs. With Musil, we never stop digging away at the mass of unpublished pages that supplement The Man Without Qualities. Critics attribute his inability to finish to masochism. But is having more and more to say, trying to reach perfection, really masochistic?

Saint Bonaventure, the Franciscan philosopher nicknamed the Seraphic Doctor, supposedly had the unique privilege of continuing his memoirs after his death. François-René de Chateaubriand, the first great French Romantic, was jealous: “I don’t hope for such a privilege, but I would like to resuscitate at the ghostly hour—at least to correct my page proofs.”

Read On

Have We Outgrown Growing Up? Ctd

Sep 19 2014 @ 8:04pm

A reader chuckles at the notion that high culture has ceased to exist:

Responding to A.O. Scott’s essay, Freddie writes:

There is no such thing as high culture. There probably never was but even if there was it died long, long ago. Outside of your fantasies, there is no group of intellectual elitists looking down their noses at the music or TV you like. Such people do not exist.

I find that amusing, considering this article from yesterday’s issue of the New Yorker on the resurgence of the Frankfurt School (probably history’s foremost critics of “low culture”). One passage:

Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon – presiding over unprecedented monopolies. Internet discourse has become tighter, more coercive. Search engines guide you away from peculiar words. (“Did you mean . . . ?”) Headlines have an authoritarian bark (“This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind”). “Most Read” lists at the top of Web sites imply that you should read the same stories everyone else is reading. Technology conspires with populism to create an ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes.

I agree with Freddie’s claim that lovers of pop culture are not “an oppressed and denigrated minority,” but to say that there is “no group of intellectual elitists looking down their nose at the music or TV you like” is just plain wrong. As a PhD student in Communications, I sit in classes with some of them on a daily basis.

Another is skeptical of the entire end-of-adulthood argument:

I’m sure A.O. Scott wrote that piece with the best of intentions, but it amounts to a navel-gazing bout of bullshit.

Read On

Face Of The Day

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:40pm

Muslims Protest IS Violence

A young man chants as Muslims gather for Friday prayers on the street outside the Mevlana Moschee on a nation-wide action day to protest against the Islamic State (IS) on September 19, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Muslims across cities in Germany followed a call by the country’s Central Council of Muslims to protest against the ongoing violence by IS fighters in Syria and Iraq. By Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Paternity Pays, Ctd

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:25pm

A reader makes a nuanced argument:

There are some real problems with Miller’s position. Men increase their hours, while women reduce theirs. As a rather natural consequence, men get bonuses and raises. This happens when one works longer hours and work harder. Women want to work less. As a rather natural consequence, women have trained employers to be suspicious of women after they have children. Even if a particular women works longer and harder, she is tainted by the general reaction. I don’t think this is the fault of employers. Employers have the rather sad duty of living in the real world where economic decisions actually matter and have consequences. Thus, they are typically a conservative (in the traditional sense) bunch who go with what mostly happens: a women will work less and want more time off.

What we really need to do is to stop being a society that demands that the adults in a two-parent family both work. We need to re-organize back to the idea of one parent works to support the family and one stays home. We should be egalitarian about which one stays home and encourage fathers to stay home as much as mothers.

Read On

Flowery Speech

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:03pm

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Robin Lane Fox surveys a history of plants in poetry:

Surprisingly, the poetry of flowers is often patchy and ill-informed. None of the ancient Greek poets mentions the brilliant wild tulips that run like red rivers through parts of the Greek landscape. Chinese poets focus on a narrow canon of flowers, soaked in symbolism and hidden meanings. They say nothing about the heavenly wild flora, the superb shrubs and mountain flowers that have transformed Western gardens since their collection and introduction by Europeans. John Milton’s poetry describes bunches of flowers that would never flower during one and the same season. No gardener, especially in Britain this year, would agree that April is “the cruellest month” and in no gardens or landscapes known to me does April breed “lilacs out of the dead land,” least of all on the American East Coast within range of the young T.S. Eliot.

The exceptions prove the rule. Sappho had an engagingly sharp eye for the flowers of her native Lesbos, including milk-white pansies. Theocritus’ poems, some three hundred years later, include particular flowers from his second home, Cos, and also from Sicily or southern Italy that he probably therefore visited. Shakespeare of course observed and included many flowers, and D.H. Lawrence was also unusually alert, not just to dark blue Bavarian gentians but to the dark trunks of almond trees, which he acutely observed during his time in Taormina and rendered in poetry there. William Cowper could garden well, but among living poets, only James Fenton has had a garden that challenged expert gardeners with its assemblages of snowdrops and highly unusual plants.

(Photo by Susanne Nilsson)

What A Drip

Sep 19 2014 @ 6:37pm

Colin Marshall introduces Dripped, an animated tribute to Jackson Pollack:

In its 1940s New York City setting, painting-swiping protagonist Jack lives not just to make world-renowned canvasses his own, but a part of him. When he gets these works of art back to his apartment, he doesn’t even consider selling them; instead, he chews and swallows them, thus enabling him to assume in body the forms and colors famously expressed in paint on their surfaces. We are what we eat, and Jack eats art, but even becoming the art of others ultimately leaves him unsatisfied. Determined to paint and eat a canvas of his own, he finds his stomach can’t handle his work in progress. Thrown into a bout of frustration, an angered Jack tosses one of his paintings to the ground, randomly splattering it with every color at hand. And thus he discovers, in this animated fantasy, the technique that Jackson Pollock would pioneer in reality.