July 28, 2009
As you know, Burma is the country currently known as Myanmar. It is called Myanmar right now because its military dictatorship knows that you associate the word "Burma" with the words "human rights abuses," and so, in a nice branding coup, they changed the name a few years back. Now if you see "Made in Myanmar" on a sweatshirt you're buying, well-- where the heck is that and who cares? Which is what they want. I needed to say this first, so you'd be reminded about Myanmar. But this post is really about something else.
It is hard to think that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the jailed pro-democracy leader who has been living under house arrest for fourteen years in Burma, faces a sentence of five years in a disgusting Myanmar prison because a sprightly young American named John Yettaw decided what a fine thing it would be to swim across the lake that acts as a moat to keep people away from her. True, he was arrested, too. But I have little pity for him.
This thoughtless action provided just the pretext the Burmese military dictatorship was looking for, and it promptly arrested Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi for violating the terms of her house arrest, some say in order to lengthen her imprisonment, since her house-arrest term was coming to an end in a very few years.
As a person involved in refugee relief on the Burmese border, I am often astounded at the continuing smiling naivete and thoughtless actions of my fellow Americans when it comes to involving themselves in the life of another country, the politics of which they do not understand. We've been accused of this ever since "The Quiet American" came out. But really. How long must we not grow up?
This charming capacity for ignorant blundering is not only the province of the odd swimmer. I recently had a smiling software executive assure me that her company is selling their "people-tracking" software in Burma. "Oh, yes," she twittered, "We have a growing presence in Myanmar." Does she get that she is saying, "We're thrilled to be a part of the largest crack-down on human rights the world is currently enjoying?" No. She doesn't get it. She's swimmin' across the lake. She's beaming as she backstrokes. She's causing causing real, human misery and she's masking it as market share. She knows not what she does.
In our world, ignorance is not bliss. It is a refusal to respect other people's rights. It is a left-over colonial attitude, and I don't care how "innocent" you are, if you blunder into Myanmar without doing your homework, or worse, not caring to do your homework, you are reenacting the worst of colonial imperialism mixed with the worst of our American refusal to grow up. There is little more repulsive than an aged virginity : our naive ways do not excuse our irresponsibility.
July 27, 2009
You should have been there on Saturday night. Old hands in Providence refuse to go down to the city center on the nights when the city lights all the bonfires in the middle of the river and puts on block parties all around the town. I like the combination of fire and water-- I always go. Usually to sit mesmerized watching the firelight, back to a cement post, crowds brushing along behind me.
Sometime during the day, my friend Kirk left a message on my cell mentioning that he would be playing at Steeple Street that evening, should I want to come by. Well, 3 Steeple Street is a little bar where Kirk sometimes plays, and so I thought I knew what I was getting into when I headed for the place around nine.
When I turned the corner it became clear that in fact Kirk and his quintet were playing IN Steeple Street. The street was blocked off, Verizon had erected a huge crimson "Verizon Jazz Stage," with tall curtains and patterned projections on the buildings behind it. As for audience: I stopped counting at four hundred people.
Four hundred people sitting there, listening.
Jazz players my age are either dead or good. If they live through the drugs and the alcohol, they get better. It is such an arcane music, such a backwater and so unpromotable that you can be sure that jazz players are not playing for the stardom. They play to play.
Kirk is able to do things with sixteenth notes that I never heard him do in the past. The thing that hit me most was the complete lack of ego in his playing-- a noticeable lack of marketing the current CD or trumpeting the next engagement. They played, they listened to each other, Kirk sang. They played Jerome Kern and Gershwin and Monk.
Surrounded by church steeples, bridges, river water and firelight, the music drifted up into the stars. The band so amazingly on, the quintet in such mental tune-- Kirk's signals no more than a quick trace in the air-- it all seemed like the play of one mind, one entity.
July 24, 2009
When I was an undergrad, I had a professor ( Sr. Nicholas Maltman O.P., PhD.) who started each day by studying archaic Italian for a full hour. My uncle Nicholas Boratynski, held as the family genius, used to start his day at the office by solving a fresh mathematical problem posed to him by his colleagues.
Now I have found what I would do had I their perspicacity and mental drive. I would start each day first thing with a lecture by Douglass Scott. Hard to pull off, since he lives in Boston and I in Seattle. But worth it should one have the opportunity. Blows the carbon right out of the engine. All those gorgeous examples of type and image and color and texture, his deep knowledge and great love of his subject-- by each lecture's end you're ready to tear out the door and attack your own work.
In a design world so often dominated by "personalities," by people who can be harsh or patronizing about student efforts, Scott's dynamic yet even-keel approach makes a place where students can open up and absorb and create without risking life and limb. Of greater value hath no teacher.
July 23, 2009
"Ornament und Bildentwurf," (Ornament and Design Process) is the book created at the Imagelab Workshop at Basel where pattern and ornament and complexity were recently explored. If you can get your hands on it, it's really worth reading. Signals a big change. And may be a response to the interests of the students, a sort of bottom-up reverse osmosis. Which would also be a new thing at Basel.
Here's a quote by Orlando Budelacci, a contributor:
"Ornament is not only adornment, decorative accessory and luxurious decoration: above all, it is no crime."
The walls are closing in. Everything I know to be true is being challenged. I must lie down.
July 21, 2009
I just had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture about identity design by Michael Renner, currently Head of the Visual Communication Institute at The Basel School of Design. His review of the creation of marks and systems was very well thought-out and inspiring, but of particular interest to me was the student work he showed at the end of his lecture-- work that explores the signs and symbols people choose to communicate their individuality--their identity. This work is quite unlike anything I had ever seen come out of Basel. The idea of exploring the meanings expressed in complexity is certainly not an idea I naturally associate with Swiss design education, the long-time champion of boiled-down-to-the-essence, ever-simplified reduction. Neither the individual nor the individuality of subjects and objects was high on the list of values in former Basel eras. This exploration of identity and complexity in the layering of meaning represents a sea-change in the way design education is being examined and redefined at Basel. I tip my hat to Michael Renner for balancing reduction and complexity in the current equation.
July 16, 2009
So we are told that Thomas has found a gift suitable for the discerning typophile:
Apropos of this and his previous find, the "dirty mug" (see the "merch" page) I believe Thomas needs his own boutique here on nataliailyin.net. It is ".net" after all. And I throw mine wide.
Recently he found a guy who makes fabulous cookies and sends them to one's home.
If we clamor maybe he'll tell us the cookie person's coordinates.
July 7, 2009
Michael Nielsen asks questions and poses arguments in this post that, without much mental strain on the part of the reader, can be applied to design, music and the future of print. Thank you, Stefan, for passing this on to me. Here's a quote from Nielsen's post:
There are two common explanations for the disruption of industries like minicomputers, music, and newspapers. The first explanation is essentially that the people in charge of the failing industries are stupid. How else could it be, the argument goes, that those enormous companies, with all that money and expertise, failed to see that services like iTunes and Last.fm are the wave of the future? Why did they not pre-empt those services by creating similar products of their own? Polite critics phrase their explanations less bluntly, but nonetheless many explanations boil down to a presumption of stupidity. The second common explanation for the failure of an entire industry is that the people in charge are malevolent. In that explanation, evil record company and newspaper executives have been screwing over their customers for years, simply to preserve a status quo that they personally find comfortable.
Itís true that stupidity and malevolence do sometimes play a role in the disruption of industries. But in the first part of this essay Iíll argue that even smart and good organizations can fail in the face of disruptive change, and that there are common underlying structural reasons why thatís the case. Thatís a much scarier story. If you think the newspapers and record companies are stupid or malevolent, then you can reassure yourself that provided youíre smart and good, you donít have anything to worry about. But if disruption can destroy even the smart and the good, then it can destroy anybody.
July 6, 2009
I hadn't been to New York in a while because I had been avoiding my literary agent who expected a manuscript. So going from my island, land of orcas, trees and fog, to my old island, land of traffic, people and big buildings, was a reentry into contemporary life. A few observations on cultural changes since 2007:
1. More beeping, less chatting:
Many more single beeps around, signaling the turn of lights or the readiness of a bagel, but far less public chatting on cell phones. A great thing about texting! All those teeth-meltingly tiresome overheard conversations on the bus now relegated to the keyboard. Lovely.
2. Anyone who thinks he is in the fashion business is actually in the jeans business and must accept his fate.
3. The nasal labial fold is a thing of the past. In the last two years, the usage of facial fillers has hit my business contacts.
4. Light blue is the new white for teeth. Scary when you don't expect it.
5. Bookstores have more tables and fewer books. Hardcover books sport newsprint pages. Vampires rule the racks. And books about green eating. And about how not to look old.
6. A lot of old people are going around with chopped bangs and low-rise jeans and big belts, squinting to see the tiny type on their ipod touch and looking pathetic.
7. Luckily, their corns keep them from sporting gladiator sandals.