Thursday, February 11, 2016

How to Make Your Smartphone Dumber

Apple Iphone 6
Confronted with ever more complex gadgetry and virtual reality accessories that are harder and harder to operate? You may want to make your smartphone dumber. Perhaps you’re one of those people who looks back fondly on the days when you went to the dentist if you were looking for Bluetooth. Maybe you don’t feel like going to the app store every time you want to rent a movie. Maybe you just want to use the calling capacity of your phone to find out movie times at the cineplex or browse a blockbuster. Smartphones are getting too smart for their own good. If Siri is going to editorialize about everything then D.I.Y. may start to be more attractive. There are lots of other ways to make a smartphone dumber. One of course it to simply toss it under the wheel of an oncoming truck. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. For those people who are nostalgic for the old days of the simple cell phone, which is to wireless service what the old rotary phone was to touchtone, there are numerous ways to turn your new Iphone 6 into a neanderthal. However a good place to start is to get your head out of the cloud. Once you no longer have access to a bank of information, you’re on your way to returning your phone to what it was in those heady days when Alexander Graham Bell uttered his famous lines “Mr. Watson--Come here--I want to see you." 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why Some Writers Refuse to Submit?

Portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov (1872)
It is easy to see how writers like Mailer, Hemingway and Plimpton (who all boxed), Isak Dinesen (who hunted game), Gloria Steinem (who became a Playboy bunny) Jean Genet (who was a hustler and criminal), Peter Matthiessen (who explored dangerous places like the Himalayas)  and most recently William Vollman (who explored his dark side in varying dangerous milieu ) challenged bulls or  added tails to their tales. It was the only way to differentiate themselves from their colleagues, meek Kafkaesque creatures who lived in fear of rejection and waited for telephone calls or the return of sases (remember them) from imperious editors who could make or break their careers. Even running for your life at Pamplona or performing half naked in a sex club and facing the leering eyes of inebriated businessmen was better than dealing with the literary world in a places like London, Paris or New York. Graham Greene was another writer who put himself in danger whether exploring the criminal world of Nice (J’Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice) or in his varying travels through Mexico, Africa and Caribbean. V.S Naipaul chased his high in his well documented sadistic relationship with his mistress. Many writers and artists, whose art evolves from their quirky and eccentric way of doings things and ofttimes their inability to conform to the more narrow lifestyles afforded by run-of-the-mill professions, occupied the world of haute boheme. But few would go to the lengths of colorful figures like Norman Mailer who stabbed his then wife on eve of his candidacy for the mayoralty of New York. What made Dostoevsky engage in dangerous revolutionary activities that in a famous instance found him in danger of execution? Was he looking for material or was he just trying to escape from the lot of being your typical weirdo and egghead whose ego would one day be trampled by an insensitive world? “Not having heard from you, I was wondering about the status of my submission,” is the kind of note that writers today may text or e mail. Even a firing squad is better than that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Todd Haynes' Carol evidences the same disconnect that infuses the lives of its two central characters Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Blivet (Rooney Mara). At one point a young Times reporter, Dannie (John Magaro) who’s got a crush on Therese comments “I’m charting the correlation between how characters behave and what they really feel.” The scene in question takes place in the projection room of a movie theater and Dannie could be commenting on the movie we're watching. One understands why the sexual orientations of Haynes two characters, deriving from the l952 Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt, or Carol, on which the film is based, run afoul of the mores of the Eisenhower era New York the film portrays. However it’s at the same time hard to comprehend the why and wherefore between Carol and Therese. The idea of the relationship makes total sense, particularly with reference to the cocktail of transgressive sexuality and class that fuels the action, but there’s little magnetism between the two characters (at least as they are portrayed by Blanchett and Mara) There are all kinds of wonderfully subtle touches. Blanchett is the reticent seductress, yet it’s her ambivalent prey who ignites the actual sexuality. In the end, Mara’s eyes seeking out those of her lover never seem to hit their mark. And there are memorable lines. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse, you run out of cigarettes,” Carol says. “I never say no and it’s selfish,” is one of Therese’s signature remarks. The movie’s Manhattan is pure Hopper, off center silhouettes in window frames and lonely street corners illuminated by harsh overhead light. Carol takes the form of a mystery, but the true mystery lies in the nature of an attraction between two people that, at film's end, still remains an enigma.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody (photo: Roy Erickson)
There are people who don’t like talk about their bowel movements and others who go on about their diarrhea and constipation, as if they were talking about the election. Generally the people who don’t like to talk about bowel movements find it repugnant to talk about them at dinner and make irate remonstrative comments like “this is not dinner conversation” when they're eating with someone who starts talking about Ex-Lax. There are a whole class of people who find it so impossible to talk about excrement that it’s as if this venerable old product of the digestive tract didn't exist. Such unfortunates won’t even use that old-fashioned euphemism for shitting, elimination, and they have such a problem with bowel functions that even in a moment of anger they won’t call a person “a piece of shit.” This self-same crowd do not get the pleasure from the smell of their own shit that most normal people do. While no one likes it when somebody has stunk up the bathroom most human beings experience their own fecal odors as a kind of sublime perfume. From an olfactory point of view this is significant and could easily be the subject of a study. A sample title for such a paper would be  “Narcissistic Defenses Against Self-Created Fecal Odor.” "Shit or get off the pot" might be the subtitle. “Doody” is a word that children use for excrement. Only the most precocious child will use the word bowel movement (though irritable bowel syndrome will undoubtedly be something they'll face as grown-ups). Children and even teenagers refer to bowel movements as “doody,” using the expression “I have to make a doody” (a usage that undoubtedly became more widespread due to the l950's television show, Howdy Doody.) Of course they may simply say “I have to go," when it's time for #2,  a more demure locution that's often inculcated in children by coprophobic parents (who have overdosed on Pasolini's Salo).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rome Journal XVI: SPQR(ca)Vita

painting by Juan Francisco Casas  (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
The pagan spirit never left Rome, despite the advent of Christianity. There's probably no city on earth where the sacred and the profane, religion and sacrilege co-exist so freely and openly. Donato Bramante’s Tempietto is a jewel of Renaissance architecture, commemorating the martyrdom of St Peter, on the grounds of the church of San Montorio in Pietro. But you have to expand your notion of what constitutes a spiritual experience if you attempt to see Bramante’s work anytime before February 16 as the façade of entranceway, is now covered with a poster of a naked woman advertising “SPQR(ca)VITA," a show of sadomasochistic paintings and drawings by Juan Francisco Casas. Granted the show is presented by the Spanish Academy, on whose grounds both the church and Tempietto are situated, but a painting of a woman on all fours, leashed, collared and licking a book on "Bernini" seems  simpatico for Rome, particularly if you are caught up in the current resurgence of interest in the transgressive Marxist Christian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. In fact one of Casas' works, a painting of a bloodied cadaver entitled simply “Pier Paolo,” obviously references the filmmaker’s violent death. Other images in the exhibit include a topless woman with a bag over her head and a naked woman whose body is inscribed with the words, “your eyes can be so cruel just as I can be so cruel though I do believe in you.” Visitors to the Tempietto will have their Augustinian moment when they choose to either turn left to the City of God embodied by a reliquary or take a right turn toward the world of flagellation and defilement of the flesh—which, one might argue, contains its own version of the crucifixion.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


 "Death of  Caesar" by Vincenzo Camuccini
Civility is a tightrope walker. It’s a word that connotes the kind of obligatory manners that are tantamount to hiding the truth or it can be an overarching principle that transcends subjectivity and that has its own epistemic truth. For instance, shock jocks like Howard Stern claim to be saying what everyone's thinking. That’s the same tune Donald Trump is playing. When he talks about keeping Muslims out of the country until further notice, he's merely iterating what others are too afraid to express. When he throws out insults about women nursing babies, having periods or using the toilet, he's simply indulging in harmless bathroom humor. However, what's missing in these kinds of outbursts is civility. From the point of view of cognition, civility is a concept that allows us to give even our foes and opponents full breadth as human beings--despite the fact that they may have opinions which differ from our own. You can win the battle and lose the war (as we well know from Iraq). Denigration can indeed reduce an opponent’s power, if it is done artfully, in a debate. But at the end of the day, we exist in a polity—a country, city or state that reflects the fact that we’re social animals. That’s where the word politician comes from. Thus if we continue to seek feelings of triumph and power, placing civility to the side, then we have made our own bed and must sleep in it. Caesar sought triumph over accommodation and even his close friend, the thoughtful Brutus, eventually turned on him.