Friday, January 30, 2009

This Guy Has It Down: Obama Reads Bush's Letter

Now who says we can't continue to enjoy political humor during the Obama years? This guy, from Funny or Die, has it down!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Weatherpixie, and a Winter Storm

We've had a true winter storm here of a kind we rarely have, with 10 inches of "Fresh Pow!", as Jack calls it. It's very unusual to see the trees laden with snow for more than a few hours, but this looks as if it will stick around for awhile. I took a walk in late afternoon yesterday, once most of the streets had finally been plowed, and saw dozens of kids sledding in a local park – their shouts of delight could be heard ringing around the neighborhood for a couple of blocks. There's no school again today, so Jack should be able to ski a bit in our backyard, where he made a couple of mini-jumps. On Friday night he'll go skiing with Lenni in Paoli.

Fresh Pow, wow! I stumbled across a sweet little application called Weatherpixie, where you can create your own graphic that shows a representation of the weather using data reported (mostly) by airports and aerodromes around the world.

As the weather in a particular location changes, the character's clothes reflect the local weather and the graphic will show rain, snow, airborne particles and changes in cloud cover. Daylight, sunset and current moon phase are also displayed on the Weatherpixie page (though they are not part of the image I was able to import here, alas). This link takes you to frequently asked questions about Weatherpixie, which was created by Tamsin, in the United Kingdom. At this link you'll find a Pixie Guide, about the characters, many of whom resemble Tamsin's friends. (There are male characters, too.)

If you click on the gadget on the left, you can go to My Pixie, with the updated report. Oh my! The image changed just now to an American flag. (Not sure why. I wonder what became of the little dressed-for-the-chill pixie chick?...Okay, now she's back..)

Here was the weather news when I checked just now, in Bloomington, Indiana, at the Monroe County Airport:

64 minutes ago, at 10:53 UTC, the wind was blowing at a speed of 4.6 meters per second (10.4 miles per hour) from Southwest in Bloomington, Monroe County Airport. The temperature was -7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit), and the pressure was 1,016 hPa (30.01 inHg). The relative humidity was 85.6%. There were overcast at a height of 213 meter (700 feet). The visibility was 11.3 kilometers (7.0 miles).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Queen of the Supermarket": Bruce Springsteen

This is from Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Working on a Dream, and it already has some co-op world aficionados. For a more critical view, go to the blog of Black Eyed Dog.

I am so used to seeing – and creating – a supermarket (read: food co-op) in the image of my idealism (the 7 International Cooperative Principles) that I don't have visions of WalMart when I hear the song. Instead, it reminds me of the wonderful people who work the front end at Bloomingfoods and other locally-grown cooperative grocery stores. (Want to start your own food co-op, with the help of your friends? Go to Food Co-op 500 for a how-to kit!)

I just found more negative criticism of the song, making me wonder if it doesn't find its source in the less-than-happy shopping experiences that are routine for most people. It's true: the typical trip to the supermarket, especially to a Big Box store, can be pretty grim. But travel instead to Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; or Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op; Community Food Co-op in Bozeman, Montana; Weavers Street Market in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Lakewinds Natural Foods in Minnesota; Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin Texas; Cook County Whole Foods Co-op in Grand Marais, Minnesota; Lost River Community Co-op in Paoli Indiana; or any of the other stores in the co-op network, and you'll find a world alive with great food, music, artisan energy, and a continuum of radiant community connections. You could even say we are "working on a dream."

I was going to post a YouTube video of the song, but the ones I found are filled with really ugly images of trips to uninspired grocery stores. I'll wait until something more creative is available. I'm guessing it will come from the co-op world, where more effort goes into the creation of human scale stores. Here is a picture of our original Bloomingfoods, in an old carriage house in the alley off Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana. It's still in business, after 33 years!

Queen of the Supermarket

There's a wonderful world where all you desire
And everything you've longed for is at your fingertips
Where the bittersweet taste of life is at your lips
Where aisles and aisles of dreams await you
And the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air
At the end of each working day she's waiting there

I'm in love with the Queen of the Supermarket
As the evening sky turns blue
A dream awaits in aisle number two

With my shopping cart I move through the heart
Of a sea of fools so blissfully unaware
That they're in the presence of something wonderful and rare
The way she moves behind the counter
Beneath her white apron her secret remains hers
As she bags the groceries her eyes so bored
And sure she's unobserved

I'm in love with the Queen of the Supermarket
There's nothing I can say
Each night I take my groceries and I drift away
And I drift away…

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"I Am Lonely: The Solitary Frog's Lament": Toads for Jade

My brother John Kennedy, of Santa Fe New Music, was just in town to audition musicians at the IU Jacobs School of Music for the Spoleto Music Festival held in Charleston, South Carolina. His visit here once a year gives us a rare chance to have dinner together and share stories.

This year John carried letters from his daughters Jasmine and Jade. Jade is an artist, and I really need to scan and upload her handwritten letter to convey its beauty. (There are many subtle colors in the round organic forms living behind the lines and words.) She had this to say:

On Sunday we got toads! They are so cute! One of our toads is named Sandy. Today me and mom were playing with Sandy and she hopped out of the cage and I couldn't find her because she was behind the cage. Jazzie's frog is Kermit. Mine is Carrot. I might change it later, Well bye!

Jade and Jasmine might like playing a computer game designed by Elena Bertozzi, "I Am Lonely: The Solitary Frog's Lament", available at the Ardea Arts website:

This game was created over the summer of 2008 with an Undergraduate Research grant from UWW. Biologist Jeff McKinnon wanted a game that would interest high school students in Wisconsin frogs. The game teaches players how to identify 12 frogs by their calls, habitats and markings. We are very proud to have made it to the finalist round of the Serious Games Showcase in Orlando Florida. Make sure your speakers are on.

I just played the game and I'm happy to say that I found my solitary female toad a mate. They have exchanged gametes, and more Wisconsin toads should result. Oops, played again and left my toad in a very dangerous place, near a turtle! Must go back and try to get it right. There are wonderful frog and toad sounds in this game.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander

Here is the poem that was written and read by Elizabeth Alexander last Tuesday at Obama's inauguration, typed up by my mother, poet Joyce Kennedy.

This link goes to Alexander's bio in a program for a 1994 conference called "Furious Flower: A Revolution in African American Poetry" honoring Gwendolyn Brooks – there's even a letter there from Bill Clinton, sending his and Hillary's greetings to the participants. (I wonder how often – if ever – that happened in the Bush administration.) The conference notes make me realize how little poetry we see in bookstores any longer, in even those bookstores that are still around.

I thought it was fantastic to have a poet at the inauguration, as it was to have world class musicians playing at the magical moment when power changed hands, right at noon, in advance of the bungled oath. My mother has this to say about the public response:

In googling for the poem, I was surprised to find a great deal of negative criticism. Seems people did not think it "poetic" enough--it didn't "soar," it was filled with banal, every-day images, prosaic language, etc. They didn't like the way she delivered the poem, either – the fact that people started dispersing as she was reading (I noticed that, too) meant that the words were not inspiring to them. Of course, a lot of the criticism, as in many blog responses, comes from opinionated, loud-mouthed (metaphorically) people who probably don't know a fig about poetry.

The comments come, I'm sure, from people's notions of what poetry is, what it is supposed to do. I thought Alexander's poem fit in well with Obama's respect for "the least of these," for community, and for the power of words.

I do think it is very difficult to write an "occasional" poem. One of the bloggers invoked Robert Frost, the poet at John Kennedy's inauguration (and the first one to read at such an event). But Frost wrote a banal poem for the occasion which luckily got blown away in the wind (another version has it that he couldn't see the words with his 87 year-old-eyes) so he recited one of his good poems from memory.

I didn't find Alexander's poem banal – I thought it drew well on themes associated with Obama, in language ("say it plain") that could be understood by many. It's interesting what a bad rap poetry gets (a headline in The New York Times this past week, on another topic entirely, was "No Time for Poetry"): it's usually seen as either too accessible or too obscure. I attribute this to the fact that so few people seem to read it or give it any serious thought, resorting to relatively inchoate notions of some kind of "soaring" language. Like other art forms, it exists within traditions – Alexander clearly knows them well.

(Of course the reading is on YouTube, too: the comments there are particularly dumb, of the "im not that interested in poetry and stuff but even i know poetry rymes" school of criticism.) Here's to some praise for the Praise Song – and may we always have presidents who include poets in the mix.

Praise Song for the Day:

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
The will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp.

Praise song for walking forward in that light.

Elizabeth Alexander, 2009, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Alberto Casiraghi of Pulcino Elefante Press

In another captivating segment of the film Proceed and Be Bold!, a documentary about printmaker Amos Kennedy Jr., Elena Bertozzi introduces Kennedy to Alberto Casiraghi, the founder of Pulcino Elefante Press in Italy. (The image of Casiraghi's art here comes from the Musicartz Berceto website.)

Here is more information about Casiraghi, from Ardea Arts , where he is a collaborator:

The founder of the Pulcino Elefante Press, Casiraghi letterpress prints small editions of books in collaboration with individual artists. He has also published several collections of poetry (In the Close Distance; The Cherries are Distracted; Poetry of the Reserve). Among his books are Ordinary Reliquaries and In the Whale Fields in collaboration with Antonio Papaglia.

He has produced a prodigious number of editions. The catalog of his books published by Vanni Scheiwiller in 1997 includes his first 1743 books. Last year he published over 500 books in editions ranging from 9 to 42. In his own words, Alberto is the bread baker of publishers, the only one who prints fresh books daily.

I love the way the film brings together two dedicated printers, one in Alabama and one in Italy, with Elena Bertozzi helping them cross the boundaries of geography and language. They find a way to collaborate – co-elaborate – around their common obsession.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Elena Bertozzi of Ardea Arts

Amos Kennedy's friend and lover Elena Bertozzi plays a large role in the film Proceed and Be Bold!, discussing his work, their relationship, and showing a bathroom in her house where the walls are covered with his posters. She opens a wooden trunk of handwritten letters she's received from Kennedy, talking about the anomaly and value of that form of communication (and later, in another context, she answers him with a digital love letter.)

Bertozzi completed a Ph.D. in media and communications in at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, with a dissertation called "At Stake: Play, Pleasure, and Power in Cyberspace." Before that, she earned her M.S. in immersive mediated environments and telecommunications at IU in Bloomington. Now she is an assistant professor of multimedia arts and digital communication at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater.

Bertozzi is also director of Ardea Arts, "a bridge between the print and digital worlds." The group defines itself as "artists, designers, writers, musicians, educators and information professionals. Some of us are on the cutting edge of new technologies while others of us are in the Luddite camp, but all of our work is firmly grounded in craft. We aim to create products which simply and elegantly fulfill their function."

I find it fascinating that these artists have a connection to IU, and I'm enthralled by their mission – it unites creatives and enables them to collaborate without defining and delimiting them on the basis of "new technology" fault lines.

And I must say: I do like Elena's name! Come to think of it, I like Kennedy's, too. The "play of the signifier" leads me to more "living ghost" members of my artistic family.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Proceed and Be Bold!" Letterpress Printer Amos Kennedy, Jr.

I had a chance to see the new movie Proceed and Be Bold! last night through the Ryder Film Series at Indiana University. The film is a documentary about "humble negro artist" Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., a letterpress printer who used to teach at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Once a computer systems analyst, Kennedy left that job in mid-life when he became fascinated with letterpress printing. Now he lives and works in Gordo, Alabama, where you can contact him (letters are preferred) about purchasing his work; he guarantees that "no two prints will be the same." His love of printing, subversive sense of humor, and artistic independence are evident in the documentary, which was made by Brown Finch Films, a Chicago-based filmmaking collaborative run by 3 young women: Laura Zinger, Michelle Kaffko, and Stacey Simcik.

There's a scene in the film where Kennedy is interrogated by campus police after mailing a postcard – one of his many provocative "nappygrams" concerning social justice issues – to the affirmative action office at IU, with the message "Affirmative action is a joke!" At the end of the interview, Kennedy says: "I think we've established what this is: this is ART. ART."

The film interviews a number of Kennedy's friends, collaborators, and family members. Some of my favorite comments are observations by Kennedy's parents, his son, and his friend Elena Bertozzi. The photo of the artist here comes from the website for Just Seeds, a Visual Resistance Artists' Cooperative.

As Kennedy puts it, "Now I just make stuff, that's all. And I tell people that want to do art that they should just make stuff."

Proceed and Be Bold! is a terrific film for focusing on artistic independence, innovation, and the revival of letterpress printing. It is also a testament to playful, insightful artistic collaboration. Click on the film's title to see a trailer; it's showing through the Ryder again tonight.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Arlene Goldbard on Community Arts and Cultural Development

My friend Mike Wilkerson, who teaches graduate courses in arts management at American University in Washington DC, posted a link to the Community Arts Network Reading Room on his facebook page. There's an excellent piece there by Arlene Goldbard, called "The New New Deal 2009: Public Service Jobs for Artists?" , illustrated with WPA posters from the Library of Congress.

There are terrific links there, including one to Obama's arts and humanities transition team. Here is a link to the National Archive on-line collection of WPA resources.

Goldbard's work is immensely helpful for taking on those anti-arts types emerging now on tv news, objecting to stimulus package appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts. She recalls the CETA era under Jimmy Carter, and how it was shut down immediately once Reagan was elected:

During the heyday of CETA, murals, plays and publications also excited controversy, but the ultimate and successful opponent was right-wing opposition to the whole concept of public service through the arts, which was ridiculed as using taxpayer funds to give people jobs playing with paints.

I was a CETA artist for a couple of years, working with senior citizens and children, and yes – we did play with paints, words, and other materials. It was a very enriching experience, for which I made a modestly sustaining income.

Goldbard's summary gives an excellent up-to-the-minute report on public arts funding and its history. At her website you'll find more personal writing about her work on behalf of cultural development, as well as information about her book, New Creative Community.

Arlene Goldbard is a writer, speaker and consultant on culture, politics and spirituality, based in Kansas City, Mo. She is a long-time veteran of the community cultural development field who began writing about cultural policy (including public service employment for artists) more than 30 years ago. She worked at the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program in 1973, when the first CETA arts jobs were created. Her most recent book is “New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development” (New Village Press, November 2006). You can subscribe to her blog and download her writings at her Web site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mixed Race Family of Humans

Remember "Society's Child," the 1965 song written by Janis Ian when she was 13 years old, on the topic of interracial romance? The song describes the turmoil of a young girl who tells her black boyfriend she can't see him anymore: her mother says "But honey, he's not our kind," and her teachers "all laugh, their smirking stares/cutting deep down in our affairs."

The song was a sensation at the time, partly because of the then-taboo topic, and also because it was written and performed by someone so young. (I remember being intrigued by that image of Janis Ian, slouching in her newsboy's cap: there were more kinds of difference going on than just race.) I recall intense conversations with friends who insisted that the children of any mixed race couple would be accepted by no one; neither blacks nor whites: they'd "belong" no where.

I thought of this when reading a about the families of Barack and Michelle Obama in an article in The New York Times called "In First Family, A Nations' Many Faces":

The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor.

My own family includes Sarah Lepani, the mother of my sister's husband, who lives in a village in the Trobriand Islands. My sister married Charles, from Papua New Guinea, where white people are called "dim-dims": their children joke about being only "dim."

My brother married an African-American who spent some years in her 20s in Paris. Their two daughters are the same ages as Malia and Sasha Obama, so they are able to identify with those young girls – who now somehow belong to "everyone."

I married someone from Germany. One of Andreas's aunts married an Iranian, so he has cousins who grew up in Tehran. His sister, Susanne, was married to Adama, from Africa, before his tragic, untimely death from meningitis. Some of Adama's brothers and sisters are Christian, others are Muslim – as determined by their father, who saw advantages in each religious view.

In my extended family, then, there are those who speak Kirawina, "place tok" from the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea, as well as English, German, French, Spanish, and Persian. We represent cultures from North America, Europe, the Persian Gulf, Africa, Australia, and Melanesia. I can appreciate the beauty of Obama's family, the richness of the differences they represent.

And it's not that long ago that my mother's mother, who was a Scotch-Irish American, made the big cross-cultural step of marrying the son of Norwegian immigrants.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Democratic Vistas" by Richard McGuire

I was very struck by the cover of the New York Times Book Review this week, an illustration by Richard McGuire.

Called "Democratic Vistas," it shows Obama looking out over the long stretch of the U.S., his left hand on an "open to the left side" Bible. Far off, across city, field, plain, and the Rockies, there's an image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's a gorgeous image, and it hasn't been posted to The New York Times website – to have seen the image Sunday, you had to get your hands on a print version of the paper.

I emailed Richard to ask if I could scan and post it here, and he generously said yes. I think he should offer it as a lithograph (if he's able to do so), to sell among all that other Obama memorabilia.

McGuire has created some wonderful children's books, in addition to many covers of The New Yorker. He's also been working on an animated film project, Fear(s) of the Dark, produced by Prima Linea. He discusses that project here in an interview with Steven Heller. Heller is co-founder fo the MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts, and author of the very interesting on-line Daily Heller. Here's an admiring post about McGuire at a weblog called, too.

That's it for now...I'm off to watch at actual Transformative Moment take place, as Obama becomes our 44th president. It's quite extraordinary and thrilling!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

As Newspapers D/evolve

I grew up in a family where, like clockwork, my father fetched the Minneapolis Star Tribune from the front stoop first thing in the morning. He then carried it to the kitchen table, where a little territoriality about various sections would ensue. Dad, and then the rest of us, would spend breakfast reading, expressing disgust or delight (most often the former) about something going on in the world. On week-end mornings especially, spirited conversations would take place about all manner of random topics: look at this brilliant cartoon! I can't believe Ann Landers said that! Why do the Vikings so rarely win? Will the Viet Nam war ever be over? Doesn't this "Mall of America" sound preposterous? Have you seen the review for the new play by Theatre de la Jeune Lune?

The Strib, which in better days was run by John Cowles Jr. (and founded by his grandfather) has recently filed for bankruptcy. John Cowles Jr. sat on the boards of directors of the The Associated Press and Columbia University's Pulitzer Prizes; he and his wife, Sage Cowles, have contributed immeasurably to the quality of life in the Twin Cities, elevating the level of dance, the arts, and discourse about philanthropy. They are Hill Fellows at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. I'd love to know their views about the devolution of newspapers as purveyors of culture and information.

Daughter Number Three recently asked the question What Will You Miss About Newspapers?, echoing a post by marketing guy/"guru" Seth Godin (on January 14) called When Newspapers Are Gone, What Will You Miss? Godin's provocative-yet-blithe remarks (he won't miss much, and seems blasé about the demise of journalism) were picked up by Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing, where they inspired a long, insightful comment thread.

Several writers talked about how newspapers helped them learn to read. Comment #2, posted by Robbo, reminds me a bit of my own experience:

When we were kids we'd all scramble over the various sections of the evening paper (The Telegram - now defunct) and hunker down on the floor of the living room to read. A lot of my early reading experience was gathered with the paper - starting with the comics - all emulating our father and poring over the wall of words spread out before us. Dinner would be ready and we'd all troop to the table - comparing black ink stained elbows as trophies of how much we had captured from those pages. Maybe when they come up with a touchscreen carpet that sensation of physical immersion in the media will return. That's what I would miss - the physical relationship with the paper - and the ink.

Other people noticed that Godin underestimates the effort and cost of quality news writing. This paragraph, with its focus on "magical economics," struck me (and others at Boing Boing) as just plain wrong:

The reality is that this sort of journalism is relatively cheap (compared to everything else the newspaper had to do in order to bring it to us.) Newspapers took two cents of journalism and wrapped in ninety-eight cents of overhead and distraction. The magic of the web, the reason you should care about this even if you don't care about the news, is that when the marginal cost of something is free and when the time to deliver it is zero, the economics become magical. It's like 6 divided by zero. Infinity.

Journalist Joshua Ellis took up the issue in a piece called "What Newspapers Are For" at his Work blog, Zen Archery:

But it’s not free. I can’t understand why people don’t see this. Writing an article about corruption in local or national politics is not free. It takes time and money to make it happen — more time and money than this blog post took, or Godin’s post took, enough time and money that most people can’t afford to do it simply for whuffie or blogerati status. Delivering it may be free and instantaneous, but that doesn’t mean making it is free and instantaneous. In this sense, the economics truly are magical, in the sense that most of the people attempting to practice them are making an extremely artful show out of smoke and mirrors. And the miracles are just as illusory.

This is a fascinating subject for those of us who are "content providers." It makes me want to sit in on a journalism class, to see how students and professors are sorting this out. How do they reimagine the career path that still makes way for quality news writing, going beyond the vagaries of attitude and opinion we click through in all of these blogs?

I tend to see this not as a case of either (newspapers) or (the Web), but both of these and other emerging and electronic communications, like video and tv. The carrier changes, but we still try to protect and enhance the quality of the news.

Andreas prefers to call it "the olds." Okay, off to bring in the Sunday New York Times, which I appreciate in both newsprint and on-line versions.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sanatoi Wedding in Port Moresby

Today is the wedding of my nephew Andrew Lepani and his partner Suzie Tongia. They are the parents of Thierry and Thealani, who've been featured here now and then. The post features 3 – count 'em! – images of Thealani showing off her big new open smile. (When we met her last August, she hadn't yet mastered that trick.)

The wedding is in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where they live. It involves a gathering of clans – Suzie's large family, and Andrew's "wantoks" from Canberra and Sydney, Papua New Guinea and perhaps even from the Trobriand Islands, where Bubu Sarah, his father's mother, still lives. We feel sad that no one from the States was able to attend.

Andrew's Trobriand name is Toiyalelakodewa, "he who guards the shoreline." Even as a four year old, visiting Hawai'i, he strode with confidence into the ocean, and loved to play in the waves. Now Andrew is a world class father, a PNG soccer player, a wonderful partner and family member, a remarkable man. Suzie is patient, calm, fierce and strong, a sister across the seas.

We were able to visit most recently with Suzie, Andrew and the kids when they traveled to Minnesota and spent a month with my parents last August, shortly after Thealani was born. It's amazing to think of them on their special day halfway across the world, and we all send out a huge shout for their continued health and happiness. They are Susanna and Toiyalelakodewa, so this is the Sanatoi wedding.

Here are some pictures from last Christmas – I wonder who made the great painting of Thierry on the wall? Thealani is with her mama, her uncle Nathaniel, and her adoring big brother, mum, and dad. Big Shout to our relies in the warmer climes, on this very special day!

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Entropa": Buyer's Remorse

There is now a 170-square foot piece of electronic art (with moveable effects and music) in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels, titled "Entropa," that resulted in an apology from Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra to the 27 member states of the EU who may be offended by the depictions of their countries.

Created by Czech sculptor David Cerny (who credits Monty Python and Sasha Baron Cohen as influences) the work is a parody of stereotypes of the member states; its subtitle is "Stereotypes are barriers to be demolished." It plays with the notion of the Czech European Presidency motto "Europe Without Barriers." (Cerny is previously best known for his parody of British artist Damien Hirst, in which he pickled what appeared to be a body of Saddam Hussein.)

In Entropa, Belguim is depicted as a half-full box of half-eaten Praline chocolates; Bulgaria is a series of connected "Turkish" squat toilets; the Czech Republic features an LED display flashing controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus; Ireland is a brown bog, with bagpipes playing music every five minutes (-shouldn't that be fiddles?); Germany is a hint-of-a-Swastika assemblage of autobahn segments; Romania is a Dracula-style theme park; Sweden is an IKEA self-assembly furniture box containing Gripon fighter planes (made by the Swedish aerospace company Saab); and so on. (For a full list, click here.) The Bulgarians were the first to notice the unflattering depiction of their country, insisting that their portion be removed. (Harry's Place offer a link to the official Entropa brochure, no longer available at the EU website.)

Here's a piece about the environmental themes explored in the piece: Austria is a series of nuclear reactors; Spain is a giant construction zone, with a fallen bomb in the Basque region; Hungary is a nuclear think-tank.

The countries are represented as pieces of an unassembled model kit, attached to the plastic grid from which they would be detached before (presumably) being glued together – with some kind of toxic glue? (Der Spiegel has a slide show of a number of the images.)

This is not an idealized Europe, an homage to unity and enlightenment values. Instead, it's a conflation of Europe and entropy, the idea that nature tends from order to disorder in random systems over time. Entropy also refers to a formal lack of pattern or organization; to the loss of information in a transmitted message; to the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society; and to the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.

Hmmm. As a cautionary artifact, designed to offend and provoke (in the great history of subversive artworks) I would have to say that Entropa appears to be successful, a brilliant and witty hoax. (It was supposedly the effort of 27 artists representing their own countries, a giant collaboration – like the European Union itself – but money and time represented constraints, and were given as excuses for the misrepresentation.) I found an interview in the Prague Daily Monitor (which will not link, for some reason) in which the artist says he thought someone would surely uncover the "hoax" dimension of the piece earlier than the day after its installation last Monday.

And here is a statement by Cerny (as well as a lot of blogosphere commentary) which begs the question: just what is a "sense of imny," one of those "hallmarks of European thinking"? ("Self-reflection, critical thinking and the capacity to perceive oneself as well as the outside world with a sense of imny are the hallmarks of European thinking.") Humor, perhaps? We'll see!

Whatever else, Entropa suggests that the commissioners need to learn to read art more carefully, paying attention in advance to what it is they are bargaining for as a representation of their values. Already, Entropa (like the European Union) exists as a sounding board for argument, ridicule, anger, humor, and fervent opinion, in which unflattering notions of national identity have to be decoded and put to the test. It's not a pretty picture. It's a giant proto-toy – an unmasking of bad "branding" – with disturbing implications.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Add these to your diet

The article below, which made The New York Times list of most-viewed stories, was originally published on June 30, 2008. Take a look at these highly-recommended foods. (And many thanks to Daughter Number Three for the image assembling them: something to post on the refrigerator?)

We actually do surprisingly well with these at our house. I often add a can of pumpkin to soup or make pumpkin bread. I love beets, and roast them at least once a week...looks like it's a good idea to grate some into salads. Sardines make a quick meal or snack, with just whole grain bread or crackers, cheese, and radishes: a great way to get some protein and calcium. (I'm also a big fan of smoked oysters, a source of vitamin A. No cooking necessary with these fish, or with pickled herring or smoked salmon.)

Cinnamon toast is an excellent snack for children (using whole grain bread) – better than cookies, but with a bit of gratifying sweetness.

"Dried plums" is the new name for that's a food marketing makeover that risks losing a perfectly good word.

Well: Tara Parker-Pope on Health
The 11 Best Foods That You Aren't Eating

Nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden has created several lists of healthful foods people should be eating but aren’t. But some of his favorites, like purslane, guava and goji berries, aren’t always available at regular grocery stores. I asked Dr. Bowden, author of “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” to update his list with some favorite foods that are easy to find but don’t always find their way into our shopping carts. Here’s his advice.

  1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
    How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
  2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
    How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
  3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
    How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
  4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
    How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
  5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Just drink it.
  6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
    How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
  8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
    How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
  9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,” it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
    How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
  10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
    How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

You can find more details and recipes on the Men’s Health Web site, which published the original version of the list last year.

In my own house, I only have two of these items — pumpkin seeds, which I often roast and put on salads, and frozen blueberries, which I mix with milk, yogurt and other fruits for morning smoothies. How about you? Have any of these foods found their way into your shopping cart?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Winter Visit" by Patricia Kirkpatrick

This poem came from Patricia Kirkpatrick on December 24th:

-after Hsiang Hung (1940-)

My head is white, my hair
cut short now.
When I look in the mirror
I hardly know who I am.
But that has been true for some time
even before I was sick.
I know you came to visit.
I don't remember what we said.
"Fresh flowers," you noticed
when I brought tea to the table.
I was happy the whole time you were here.
When you left,
I held the door open,
winter moon lighting snow
as you went.
Spring will come.
I don't know if you'll visit again.
On my desk for days
I've left the cup of oolong
your lips touched.

"Winter Visit" was also posted on Flurry, edited by Todd Boss. Patricia is author of Century's Road, published by Holy Cow! Press, and is poetry editor for Water-Stone Review. She teaches in the MFA program at Hamline University.

When we were both writing poetry in our early 2os, I met Patricia through poet Jim Moore. I still recall having tea one day at her apartment in St. Paul. It was very nice to get this winter visit, on Christmas Eve, many years later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"God Grew Tired of Us"

God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary film that follows 3 young men from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (the same camp that was home to Valentino Achak Deng) to their new lives in the United States. The men were among the thousands of "lost boys" who walked away from their villages in southern Sudan during the 1980s, escaping war and chaos in their homeland. As adults, they were among the 3600 lost boys invited by the United States to live in America.

This award-winning film was directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn, who came to Indiana University about a year ago for a screening, shortly after I'd read What is the What. I was struck be certain parallels: here was another young (white) man with resources in the U.S. helping tell the story of young men in Sudan. The act of telling their extraordinary story alters their situation, while educating an American audience about the conflict.

A film about cultural disorientation and gradual adjustment to life in the United States, the men have financial assistance for the first 3 months of their stay, but then must support themselves. They feel responsible to those they've left behind, spending much of their time trying to locate relatives and friends in Sudan, and working long hours at menial jobs, sending what they can back to the camp.

These two projects – the book and the film – are fascinating when seen in relation to each other. What is the What focuses much more on the experience of the young boys in flight, while the film shows up the contrast between life in the U.S. and in the Kenyan refugee camp. Most affecting is the sense of shared responsibility among the young men, their struggle with loneliness and isolation in the U.S., and their determination to preserve and protect their Sudanese heritage. Both projects are also about developing a capacity for brotherhood, fostered by adversity and necessity. They also indicate a remarkable kind of brotherhood across cultures, between the story tellers and their advocates.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"What is the What"

The movie Rabbit Proof Fence reminded me of the book What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Describing What is the What is complicated, because the subtitle of the book is The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. – What? (This reminds me of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written by Gertrude Stein.)

The novel's subtitle refers to a real-life Sudanese refugee who tells us in a brief preface that "over the course of many years, I told my story orally to the author. He then concocted this novel, approximating my voice and using the basic events of my life as the foundation." Valentino is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan: he makes a harrowing journey from his plundered village in southern Sudan to temporary shelter in Ethiopia to a huge refugee camp in Kenya to Atlanta, Georgia, and then (currently) back to his village, where he is now involved in building a school with the help of profits from the book.

What is the What is one of the most riveting, well-written books I've ever read. It brings into unforgettable focus the experience of displacement, through the words of a man recollecting the odyssey of his childhood, accompanied by other vulnerable young boys. Like Rabbit Proof Fence, it shows children attempting to preserve and defend their way of life, their family ties, and their dignity.

In both examples, the act of telling the story is complicated by the mediation of others who can empathize and provide assistance, but who have not had the direct experience. History comes alive in both stories, based on the survival instincts and determination of children. It would be so easy to get these stories wrong – to sentimentalize or exploit them – but in these instances that has not been the case.

The best place to learn more about this book, and the conflict in Sudan, is at the website of the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Rabbit-Proof Fence"

I finally saw the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, the story of "half-caste" aboriginal children in Australia in the years of the "stolen generations," between 1900 and 1971. Forcibly removed from their mothers to be brought up in camps and homes, they were then "advanced" into white society, to work as domestic servants and farm laborers.

In the movie, 3 young girls escape from the Moore River Native Settlement to walk home to near Jigalong, crossing 1000 miles of harsh terrain. The film is based on the true story of Molly Craig, who was taken from her mother at age 14, along with her 8-year old half-sister Daisy and her cousin Gracie Fields. Molly's story was recounted by her daughter, Doris Pilkington, in a book called Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

I thought the movie was very powerful, with remarkable young girls in the leading roles. The part of Molly is played by Everlyn Sampi, from the remote community of Djarindjin in Western Australia. Everlyn's grandfather stowed away on a ship in the Glasgow Docks, made it to Australia, and then married an aborigine and had eight children, including Everlyn’s mother Glenys, who was herself taken into "protection" by the white authorities.

A documentary about the making of the film shows director Phillip Noyce searching through the outback for child actors and discussing the challenges of the movie. He seemed to be quite sensitive to the needs of the kids, hiring a mixed race actress to be their acting coach, and coming to understand how stressful the topic could be for them. The most moving scene in the documentary shows the day the cast enacts the moment when the 3 girls are forcibly taken from their mother. Afterwards, the cast and crew break down, overwhelmed by the subject and its traumatic reenactment.

The movie played to some defensiveness about the policy and its enforcer, A.O. Neville, Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia from 1936-1940, portrayed in the film by Kenneth Branagh. I'm wishing I'd seen it with Andrew and Suzie, my nephew and his wife from Papua New Guinea, or with my sister and other relatives in Australia.

Nearly one year ago, on February 13, 2008, Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd read this Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples at the House of Representatives in the Parliament House in Canberra. Here is a tribute video to the film, with music by Peter Gabriel, who wrote the soundtrack. And another short video called Australia Says Sorry to Stolen Generation, that includes Kevin Rudd reading the apology.

This link, to Environmental Economics and Sustainable Development, a site by Brad Ewing, will take you to a piece about the unintended consequences of the rabbit-proof fence on the climate in Western Australia.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Congrats to the new Seward Co-op

Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli opened on the morning of January 8th in a new location: 2823 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The new store is the result of more than three years of planning and effort on the part of the co-op board, staff, and members.

Daughter Number Three was on hand when the new doors opened; she shot this camera phone photo of the excited crowd. She has collected information about the project in a post to her site, where there is also a link to a flickr stream of photos. This one, of Seward general manager Sean Doyle and former board president Dan Nordley (Chief Park Ranger at Triangle Park Creative) comes from that stream.

Past GMs P.J. Hoffman, Stuart Reid, and Gail Graham were on hand to help celebrate; all of them continue to do critical work in the world of food co-ops. Dave Gutknecht was there too; he's the editor of Cooperative Grocer.

I also found a report about the store, in advance of its opening, at a blogsite called The Deets, by Ed Kohler. That's where I got this work-in-progress outside pic. I like the modern look of the exterior: "We are Green and Proud, have you noticed!?"

It's another great achievement in the world of food co-ops, not least in that hotbed of crunchy organic food, Minnesota. Congrats to the community of Seward Co-op!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Make Your Own: "Knick Knacks and Ric Rac"

I am a huge fan of Etsy, the website featuring handmade things. In fact, I've made a resolution this year to buy as much as I can directly from artists, or from fair trade sources, or from the co-op – if I can't first make my own!

Clicking over to Etsy is an invitation into many small art galleries with excellent, personable, oftentimes quirky fun service. It's like being at a great flea market filled with creatives who are exceptional renovators and innovators. They are unabashedly obsessed with their art, something I find very refreshing. And they invite you home to tour their studios!

My DIY friend Nicole sent me to this very fun site yesterday, Knick Knacks and Ric Rac, a peek behind the scenes of the Etsy site madewithlovebyhannah. This artist makes silkscreened skirts, dresses, tops, decorative objects, and she hosts crocheted items made by her grandma. While I'm not too likely to make mushrooms out of styrofoam, hers are ingenious and she offers tutorials. Here are some free downloadable knick knack gift cards.

The blue tablecloth is from Hannah's great-aunt Deda, from Germany, who embroidered it when she was about 12 or 13 years old. (The craftsmanship looks remarkable.) For a tour of delightful kitsch-en goodness, visit this site and be amazed. (Nor, the Dutch skirt above is for you, in memory of that border in your Irvine Avenue kitchen, mentioned in the comment on Lois Lenski!)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Little Match Girl" with Ballet of the Dolls

What if only your memories – and your fantasies – kept you warm?

One last memory from Christmas 2008: we went to the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis to see Little Match Girl, created and performed by Myron Johnson's Ballet of the Dolls. It was a gorgeous, mesmerizing show, with music by The Tiger Lillies.

My mom says she loved hearing her mother read her the story of the Little Match Girl as a child, and I think I recall a stage version at the early Children's Theatre Company, where I met Myron when we both took classes there during high school. His work with the Dolls never ceases to amaze me – he brings such an original, witty, deeply emotional, and innovative sensibility to everything he creates. And the dancers in this show, including Jolie Meshbesher as the little match girl, never seemed to pause for breath. It was, of course, ultimately tragic: a meditation on the suffering that exists alongside us, and the ways in which we look the other way.

We huddled in out of the cold in the lobby of the old Ritz, where there was a Christmas tree covered with mittens and gloves donated for those in need. It was great to be in the not-overly-renovated Ritz, a beautiful space for the Dolls to dance and come to life. Looks like northeast Minneapolis is coming to life in other interesting ways, as well – I wish I'd had more time to explore during daylight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Mother Makes Christmas"

One of the first artists to make an impression on me as a child was Lois Lenski, illustrator of more than 100 children's books. Lenski created the art for the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace – up until Betsy became a teenager, when the style of illustration changed completely, throwing me for a loop as a young girl.

Lenksi also wrote children's books, including Houseboat Girl and others in what she called her regional series. She used a distinctive style of hand lettering to write the titles of her books, and now I am wishing that typemaster Mark Simonson would create a Lenski font. (What would be involved, I wonder?)

Once on our winter trip to Minnesota we stopped in Bloomington, Illinois, to eat at the Central Station Café, one of the few restaurants downtown. There is a fabulous used bookshop across the street, where I found a copy of Mother Makes Christmas by Cornelia Meigs, with Lenski illustrations.

I can just see my friend Deb now, rolling her eyes and saying in a knowing way: "Ah yes indeed, Mother DOES make Christmas!" To all of you mothers out there in the Christmas aftermath, including my own, thank you for your efforts this year. Here are the endpapers of Mother Makes Christmas: look at all the help she has in that bustling kitchen!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

John Berryman Poetry Celebration

I just became a fan of John Berryman on facebook, and am so glad to see that he has hundreds of other fans (a modest 462 at this count). Andreas and I have been combing the web for his works, and so many have fallen into obscurity, just when we need Berryman the most. I believe there will be a Berryman revival.

So imagine my delight when I found the John Berryman Poetry Celebration on facebook, via actor Ben Kreilkamp. Ben has a letter in the on-line New York Times today, about the situation in Gaza. He recently played Herod (and a bison) in Natividad at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, during the Christmas season.

The party is coming right up, on January 9th, and I won't (alas) be able to attend. But I think we should all dedicate more time to having parties for departed poets. This one sounds amazing. One confirmed guest is Katherine Lanpher, author of Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move. Katherine used to be co-host of "The Al Franken Show" – I'm hoping the Berryman Party will help take her mind off the nerve-wracking Senate race crawling along in Minnesota.

Here are the details about that party, given by Twin Cities photographer Sean Smuda (that's his photo with the flowers). Facebook calls it a global event.

My Friends,

Please stop by Friday January 9th at 10:30 pm for a celebration of poet John Berryman's life and work. Poets Paul Dickinson, Dessa, Dobby Gibson, actress Sally Wingert (of the Guthrie) Steve Marsh, myself, Johnny Swardson, Ehsan Alam, Juan Antonio del Rosario,Geoff Herbach and Jen March of Electric Arc Radio and others will work their way through his 77 Dream Songs. Carol Johnson's 1974 half hour Berryman documentary, "I Don't Think I Will Sing Anymore Just Now" will also be screened. This all takes place following Dobby Gibson's book release party for Skirmish, his latest collection of poems at the Loft (at 7pm).

Cheers, Sean Smuda

2948 Chicago Av S Buzzer #08

street parking or in the MN Jobs lot across Lake St

Beverages will be available for donation

Here is a video of Berryman reading in Dublin.