Radio Open Source to Close

Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Open Source, Politics, Software, Technology |

I first started listening to Christopher Lydon when he hosted a show on NPR in Boston called “The Connection.” I was living in Massachusetts at the time. This was back in the late 90s, before the tech bubble burst. His show was so intelligent and informative that I became a regular listener. After I left New England, I was chagrined to find that his show was not nationally available. But he soon moved on to other things.

What made “The Connection” so great? I think it was Lydon’s openness to new ideas, the great range of his intellectual curiosity, and his ability to listen–not just to his guests–but to everyone. According to my recollection, at least half of each show was reserved for listeners to call in. Lydon demonstrated the power and the joy of listening–and this is still his greatest gift.

I had similar hopes for “Radio Open Source,” Lydon’s current project. The idea behind OS was to allow listeners to contribute to the development of show topics using the Internet. The web site also encouraged listeners to comment on shows. “Radio Open Source” took the format of “The Connection” to the next level of user participation. In that sense, “Radio Open Source” had far more potential than “The Connection.”

The shows I downloaded were as interesting as they were informative. Unfortunately, “Radio Open Source” is shutting down. I hope it gets new funding and it returns this fall. Until then I will pick up the mantle, raise my escutcheon against the fray, unsheath my rapier, carry the standard, beat the bongos…well, let’s not get carried away.

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Magnum @ 60: Paolo Pellegrin at CVZ

Posted on June 23, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Night Life, Photography, Politics |

Paolo Pellegrin’s photographs of last summer’s war in Lebanon went on display last night at the CVZ Contemporary in New York City. Pellegrin is a member of the elite photography collective Magnum, which is sponsoring a month-long series of exhibitions celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

Seeing the work in person is an experience (and I’d recommend taking the elevator over tramping up the five steep flights of stairs). It’s harder to dismiss. On the web, we can give photos a second or two of attention and then click–it’s gone forever. In person, a lasting impression remains in one’s memory. My impression was that I was looking at the work of a great photographer with a lot of guts. I tried to to put myself in his shoes, although I don’t think that’s what photojournalists intend their work to do. If it’s fair to generalize, then presumably they want their subjects to be the focus of attention, not themselves. But I can’t help it. I’m compelled to do both. If I am to look at photographs, then I will do so with the awareness that I’m viewing the world through the eyes of another person.

Photographs like Pellegrin’s can lead writers and viewers into areas where language ceases to make sense. For example, Pellegrin’s work is not merely a set of documents–they are works of art. But in what sense can they be said to be beautiful? Body parts? Grief-stricken people? Powerless victims caught in global war between politicians?

This could meander off into a rant about the cruelty of using air power in areas heavily populated with civilians. Large numbers of civilians are always killed in these campaigns. In WWII, my understanding is that very often large numbers of civilian deaths were part of the strategy. Punish the nation. Break their will to fight. Destroy their ability to make munitions. In the case of Lebanon, it seems that Hezbollah made its home among civilians perhaps in order to use them as human shields. I don’t know. It didn’t work.

My wife asked me if I thought that the exhibition would create anti Israel feelings, and I said that it was unlikely to change anyone’s views. People who are anti Israel have whole host of reasons for it already. Anyone who has looked into the matter has seen the photos of body parts and corpses left over when a bus explodes carrying unarmed Israelis. Not so curiously, the burnt body parts of both groups look the same. But there was one photo that may have showed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, smiling amid the ruins of southern Lebanon–and his gaze seemed demonic. If it was him, what on earth was he smiling about?

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Louis Kahn’s Building

Posted on April 4, 2007. Filed under: Art, Film, Humor, Jokes |

After seeing the film “My Architect,” a documentary about the life of architect Louis Kahn, I became enraptured by his work. I scoured the web for photos of his buildings. And they were magnificent. The Salk Institute, with its open courtyard, was revelatory. The Kimbell Art Museum, with its arches and its use of natural light, is a masterpiece. While all these structures are important, the documentary leaves no doubt as to what Kahn viewed as his magnum opus: the government buildings of Bangladesh in Dhaka.

The film, of course, could not do complete justice to this complex of buildings. In the course of my research, I came upon some extremely rare audio recordings of Kahn speaking with his patrons at the building site. The conversations describe a small structure that was aparently bothering the Master. He hadn’t designed it. It wasn’t in his plans. But it was there. Let’s listen in:

MAN: “This is the ‘education hut’ or ‘the questioning house,’ Mr. Kahn. It is where we take the people who are not desirable. We play smacky-face with them a little bit there. Think of it as a Rousseauean place where people are ‘forced to be free.’ If you like, it’s a torture chamber.”

KAHN: “Vat for we need this eyesore here? I build you this magnificent temple to democracy and you build an outhouse on it?”

MAN #2: “Lou, don’t worry about a thing. We got it all taken care of. You just concentrate on the big stuff. You’re the big picture guy. The visionary. The genius. It’s not a problem.”

KAHN: “Vat dis vas not in my original plans. Where is zis from? Who makes zis?”

MAN #2: “Lou, it’s gonna be great. We’re gonna sell ’em a load of clams on this one.”

The tense, creative discussions show the Great Man questioning and searching for meaning. Notice how he never retreats, never budges from his vision. No detail is too small. Kahn is relentless.

KAHN: “So ve need dis building here? Are you sure?”

MAN #2: “Lou, I gotta say there is no room for negotiation. The building stays.”

KAHN: “Alright already with this building. Genug.”

A small boy approaches the Master. He is described as being Bangladeshi, of short stature with black glasses and freckles.

KAHN: “Vait a minute. I have a visitor here.”

BOY: “Poppa, will you play with me?”

KAHN: “I can’t play here. Can’t you see I’m working here. It’s too hot to play ball here. Go play with your mother over there. And I’m not your father.”

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  • Quotes of the Day

    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

    "Famous men and women, by the act of putting themselves on display, whether as politicians, actors, writers, painters, musicians, restaurateurs, or whatever, invite public appraisal. They are all, impressively or pathetically, acting on the presumption that their ideas, their fantasies, their music, their bodies are more original than those of, say, a plumber or a certified public accountant. They are all exercising the impulse, as Mencken put it, ‘to flap their wings in public.’ This is so obvious to the critic–and, I believe, to the ordinary reader or spectator–that it seems hardly worth saying. But resentment of the practice of criticism itself is strong among professional artists (and all Presidents of the United States). There is a psychological type among them that hates critics on principle as parasites or failed performers. This is very natural but surely very childish and, in any country claiming to be civilized, actually anti-social. The existence of critics, good, bad, or indifferent, is a firm clause in the social contract between the governors and the governed in any nation that is not a dictatorship. Public figures should accept with good grace the public response to their invitations to be admired and resist the temptation to retort, except in the face of flagrant malice."

    --Alistair Cooke

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