2nd Law

a blog by collegiates from around the purple nation (though mostly living in NYC) in the midst of transitioning to the real world

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The States of the Union

Hark Tradition: Historical Predictions for Bush's Address

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

The past has been an eventful year, and will be hereafter referred to as a marked epoch in the history of the world (Franklin Pierce). In the world beyond our borders, steady progress has been made in building a world of order (John F. Kennedy). For five years now we have met the challenge of these changes as Americans have at every turning point -- by renewing the very idea of America: widening the circle of opportunity, deepening the meaning of our freedom, forging a more perfect union (Bill Clinton).

A disloyal portion of the American people have during the whole year been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union. A nation which endures factious domestic division is exposed to disrespect abroad, and one party, if not both, is sure sooner or later to invoke foreign intervention (Abraham Lincoln). Even more deeply, we have gone through a long, dark night of the American spirit. But now that night is ending. Now we must let our spirits soar again. Now we are ready for the lift of a driving dream (Richard Nixon).

In the midst of these blessings we have recently witnessed changes in the conditions of other nations which may in their consequences call for the utmost vigilance, wisdom, and unanimity in our councils, and the exercise of all the moderation and patriotism of our people (Andrew Jackson). A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies (George Washington).

Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world - assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace (FDR). When we turn from the man to the Nation, the harm done is so great as to excite our gravest apprehensions and to demand our wisest and most resolute action (Teddy Roosevelt).

America is a great and good land, and we are a great and good land because we are a strong, free, creative people and because America is the single greatest force for peace anywhere in the world (Richard Nixon). The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable - yet we know where it leads: it leads to freedom (George W. Bush).

President George W. Bush will deliever the 2006 State of the Union address tonight, 9PM EST. Click here for more information.

All previous State of the Union addresses can be found here.

Monday, January 30, 2006

the Fame Train

Reporting from the Field: An Enlightened Idiotarod

(aaron, our band leader, with emily, melanie, and steph inset; on the inside cover of the metro, 1/30/06)

well well well...we showed up at the idiotarod's starting line a little past 2:30 this saturday after hazarding the disfunction of the l-train and other atrocities, only to find several tens of gawking spectators and ... buhdumching ... no carts. we were the only cart there.

(our theme, by the way, was 'descart', involving lightning bolts and this cartoon image of descartes designed by some french corporation.)

to avoid the po-, the organizers had changed the route at the last minute, although our team, unregistered, had no idea. we drank some more whiskey. feeling like tools, the whole crowd cheered us on anyways, since they were looking for some foolish action, and we decided to set off towards the williamsburg bridge.

we were beset by wandering crowds of spectators, photojournalists on bikes, and a reporter who followed our wayward cart for awhile. we dumpstered, found a beautiful wrought-iron chair that we stuck in the cart so that anyone could ride it as if on a float in a parade. and the portrait of the little asian boy i found many moons ago in front of the korean methodist church up the street ("Chang")...he became our cult hero. ben waived him around saying "Never forget. Never remember!" it got solemn. and sorta racist.

after running like crazy over the williamsburg bridge, passing blank faced hasidic couples and a couple who cheered us and was smoking a smelly joint, we found to our delight the whole crew of carts sitting in a school playground on the other side of the bridge!

we were reunited but quickly attacked by the asshole banana team that effectively turned steph into a smoothie. luckily we had dumpstered lo mein noodles from morton williams the night before and noodled the hell out of them.

it all finished in a manhattan park by the east river, with a marching band and champagne and dancing.

and aaron is all over that inside cover of the metro!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Putting the "Street" Back in Street Art

Yesterday my aunt sent me this link to some totally amazing street art. The artist's name is Julian Beever and he uses a technique called anamorphism which creates the illusion of three dimensionality when viewed from certain vantage points (this technique was also really popular in the seventeenth century according to my Art Hum professor). The drawings are done with pastels on completely flat surfaces without any form of electronic aid.
I may be the last one to have heard about this, since apparently he has been doing it for ten years in cities all over the world (the Netherlands, US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Belgium), but I am posting it anyway just in case.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We haven't talked about this.

Yesterday, I was in the campus lithography studio with my friend. We walked past the drying rack as he explained that his studio access would not terminate at commencement,
"Well I mean I'll be able to use the studio this summer." There it was, out on the table.
"What do you mean that you'll be using it this summer?" I asked.
"Well, I will probably living here this summer. Where else would I go?" he explained.
"Oh," I responded "I guess we just haven't really talked about it."
"Ya, we haven't talked about it."
"Interesting," I thought to myself.

When you are a second semester senior in college almost everyone wants to ask you one question. Passing acquaintances ask the question because its an easy fall back, friends who haven't seen you in a while want to touch base with the big pillar questions that they think they should have the answer to, your "elders" want to ask you because they want to make a judgement of your character, and your parental figures are constantly just asking because its their job (it goes hand in hand with "What are you majoring in?" "How are you doing?"
and "Do you know how much we love you?"). The question: "What are you doing after you graduate?" is a big one. Or perhaps its just constructed into some big angry furry animal, when it shouldn't be. But I find I just want to crawl under the covers and definately not look under the bed to check if its really there.

Don't get me wrong I'm happy I'm graduating. I'm excited to live. To pay bills, my rent, my cell phone bill and my electric bill. I'm looking forward to drying my hair before I leave my room for the day and I'm curious to understand the reprocussions of a sick day. I want to discover if it really is a dog eat dog world and I want to have those wine and cheese get togethers after work.
But the thing is maybe I'm not excited for that at all. Maybe I'm excited to not have to stay up until 7:30 in the morning writing a Historiography paper while looking up the definition of historiography on OED. I'm excited not to have to drink those two cups of coffee and one large cookie while reading some major Western text for tommorow's discussion. I'm excited to be done with school for a while.

But I'm also excited to apply to Journalism school and attend classes, and write papers with much stricter deadlines.

I'm also excited not to have structure, to live in a commune in Brooklyn, make art, have a garden, cook soup for 12 people, and be Bohemian in my RENT apartment drinking Heideggar and Beer, while the heat is off, my covers won't pull over my toes and I'm burning my first novel to keep my blood moving...and as all of this is going on its raining outside and the smoke from my future cigarette stains my wall paper.

But it seems that my friend and I have discussed this. But the thing is that it has never seemed permanent. But soon enough it will.

So that's the deal. I'm glad I talked about this.

The Complete New Yorker

An account of the completely over-protected New Yorker

Last year, at around this time, my friend Aleks (a hopeful contributor) and I had finished our fall internships with The New Yorker Magazine. Despite its perks, we felt like celebrating. We had just spent 15 hours a week for the past three months proofing scans of every page of every issue of the publication. The project, headed by the magazine's general counsel Edward Klaris, was to produce a complete digital archive of the magazine. So, starting from 1925 and ending close to the present, we squinted at thousands upon thousands of New Yorker pages to ensure they would be in perfect condition for future consumers.

At the time, I didn't question why the project was led by the general counsel, or why the New Yorker - a leading publication - was bothering with cumbersome PDF files. Proofing an issue took unimaginable patience. Mobility was slow: the pages lagged when loading and zooming to read the print was often necessary. But like most interns, I shrugged it off. A couple of months later, our hard work was released to the public in the form of eight DVDs for $70.00-$100.00 (depending on where you bought it; and prices are currently dropping).

The initial reaction to The Complete New Yorker was enthusiastic. Readers were eager to get their hands on old issues. I don't blame them. Despite the untold boredoms of scan-proofing, there were exciting moments where I would stumble upon a review of George Balanchine's first year of production at the New York City Ballet. Other times, I would stop to read a short story written by a young Raymond Carver. Or I would catch references to past events through the cover illustrations: WWII soldiers in their brown uniforms, a family observing the wonders of color television, or flowery allusions to the counter-culture movement. I learned that the man you see every February was a real dandy named Eustace Tilly (Although I often joked that the true constant of the magazine was the never-ending flow of high-end liquor advertisements).

As time passed, complaints began to emerge. For many users, the 8 DVDs were difficult and old-fashioned. Swift interface with the magazine was impossible: the DVDs wouldn't allow any text to be cut or paste, searching was only allowed in abstracts or titles (as opposed to within the text), and reading issues out of chronological order required switching discs or returning to the index. Additionally, the discs could not be copied onto the hard drive and the license agreement forced users to waive their privacy rights on their viewing information (e.g. time spent viewing a page, number of times a page was accessed, IP address, and so on). "I am so profoundly disappointed," wrote a prominent blogger, Mr. Jalopy.

The culprit behind this dinosaur of technology is copyright law. Having undergone major changes in the last third of the 20th Century, copyright law has struggled to keep pace with technology in the digital world. As a result, it has forced considerable setbacks on our ability to access information in digital medium. In this instance, the copyright law of 1976 gave magazine publishers the rights to print collections or revisions of archived issues. However, recent court rulings on the law have decided that if the magazine wishes to publish free-lance work in a new format (e.g. digital instead of print), the free-lancer must give permission and be compensated. The New Yorker, desiring a digital anthology but hoping to avoid the hassle of free-lance compensation, decided to skirt the problem by scanning the original issues onto a DVD. As Mr. Klaris said to the Wall Street Journal, "We were either prescient or stupid."

And that's not all. The reason why users can't copy the DVDs onto their hard-drive is thanks to another piece of legislation called the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which provides copyright protection in the form of DRM (Digital Rights Management). DRM, in this case, is what blocks the computer from copying the DVD. As Mr. Jalopy has documented, this is frustrating for two reasons. First, the term-of-service agreement allows the consumer to back up the DVDs on his or her computer. However, this is impossible because of the copyright restrictions. Furthermore, The New Yorker grants the consumer the right to return the merchandise if they find this policy unsatisfactory. But Mr. Jalopy cannot do this because of the policy on opened software.

But I digress. The nuances of this absurdity are not what is important. What is at stake is the simple fact that copyright protection has severely limited the way we can interact with technology and access content. It's unfortunate that there exists the potential for us to have a much better digital archive of The Complete New Yorker, and that this potential is limited by copyright, not technology.

P.S. For those interested, Mr. Jalopy's grumblings did not go totally unnoticed. There are some - ahem - ways to circumvent copyright protection and move the magazine onto your hard-drive.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why We Fight

Eugene Jarecki's latest is an admirable failure of all-too-epic proportions

"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry... [but] we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
-Eisenhower (Farewell Address, 1961)

Eugene Jarecki's new film, Why We Fight, focuses on Eisenhower's farewell warning about the dangers of a military-industrial complex and paints a convincing picture of how that phrase has come to aptly describe the current political situation in America. Jarecki brings a considerable amount of information to the table, but the film fails to pack a cinematic punch and Why We Fight ends up being more like a better-than-average History Channel special than a sophisticated piece of political cinema.

The primary reason for Why We Fight's cinematic fumbling is that it takes on too much; in addition to "exploring a half-century of American wars" and "the economic, political, and spiritual" forces that drive America to fight, the film also focuses on seven diverse Americans, 16 prominent experts, as well as Eisenhower himself. By taking on so much, Jarecki fails to adequately address the subtler nuances of his topic and the wealth of facts and opinions he employs often provoke more questions than they illuminate.

Because of its relationship to The Eisenhower Project, the film was screened at Columbia (Eisenhower was president of Columbia from 1948 to 1953) the night before its American theatrical release. Free tickets were given to the Political Science Department and Jarecki gave a Q&A session following the film. Taking its title from a series of 1944 Frank Capra propaganda films, Why We Fight won the Grand Jury Prize at last year's Sundance and features John McCain, William Kristol, Gore Vidal, Richard Perle, Dan Rather and others. In addition to plentiful footage of bombs, presidents, fat Americans, and unhappy Middle Easterners the film also features the personal stories of seven normal Americans who have played different roles in American militarism.

Why We Fight could succinctly be described as 'the thinking man's Fahreneheit 9/11"; Jarecki introduced the film by acknowledging that we are all "tired of the shouting match" and offered his film as an attempt to stimulate dialogue. Although Why We Fight was considerably less of a cinematic shout than Michael Moore's contribution on the same subject, it did not, in my opinion, bring much more to the table. Both films used ample historical and contemporary footage, as well as an abundance of facts and "educated opinions"; likewise, both films made similar points, although Janecki's film was much more sophisticated and subtle and a lot less sensationalized and self-righteous.

In an interview with the BBC, Jarecki made the following comment comparing Why We Fight to his previous film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger:

"It really followed on from the experience we had making The Trials of Henry Kissinger... I thought I had made a film about US foreign policy but the audiences seemed to be most interested in talking about Henry Kissinger the man. To me, that felt politically impotent because the forces that are driving American foreign policy are so much larger than any one man. With the next film I wanted to go further - I didn't want to stop at an easy villain or a simple scapegoat. I wanted to have a much more holistic approach that really took on the whole system."

Taking on the whole system is a flaw that the overwhelming majority of contemporary "political" movies share. By attempting to tackle an issue as big as "why we fight" in 98 minutes, the film is essentially defanged of all substantial political bite. Although Why We Fight is certainly far more nuanced than a righteous shouting party like Fahrenheit 9/11, it lacks incisiveness of a more moderate (in scope, not politics) film such as Errol Morris's The Fog of War. Why We Fight is like a non-fiction counterpart to films like The Motorcycle Diaries and The Edukators (more on that later), which Richard Porton insightfully criticizes in his article "A Failure of Nerve." Like both films, Why We Fight is full of banal aestheticism (missiles against a striking blue sky, pleasingly-composed panoramas of large weapons) and cliched americana (fat Midwesterners, pick-up trucks, diners, fireworks, etc). Porton describes such films as aesthetically and intellectually impoverished and laments the absence of a "radical narrative political cinema, with no concessions to either liberal pabulum or crude agit-prop" (an absence which he sees as being thrown into startling relief by the recent re-release of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 The Battle of Algiers).

Although Why We Fight is appreciably more complex than either The Edukators or The Motorcycle Diaries, like those films it does more to relieve bourgeois guilt than to stimulate dialogue or deal with Big Questions. Jarecki does indeed tackle the "whole system" -and does it as much justice as can be expected in 98 minutes- but his film is less provocative than one might hope. While he does shed considerable light on the military-industrial complex, his approach turns all criticism outwards: toward the president, the vice president, the arms manufacturers, the congress. Jarecki corrects his former mistake of fixing the weight of America's faults on one individual and instead diffuses criticism into a holistic indictment of The System. However, this indictment is more comforting than one might expect, since Jarecki never takes the step of forcing us to question our role in The System and with whom agency lies. Rather, like Wilton Sekzer, the bereaved father who requests that his son's name be placed on a bomb headed for Iraq, we can sit back and lament our position as deceived cogs in an imperial machine. 50 Cent's comment in a recent Guardian interview is perhaps a good indicator of the reaction such a film provokes:

"Yeah... the war is a business. You have to think about how much money is being made by companies who manufacture weapons... [when asked if this makes him angry] Nah, I just acknowledge it."

The success of films like Battle of Algiers and The Fog of War, in my opinion at least, lies in their moderate scope: by focusing on one man (Robert McNamara) or one war (the Algerian revolution), such films are able to bring questions of agency and morality to the fore, rather than leaving them submerged under grand indictments of the status quo. Both films are relatively limited in their subject matter, but both have implications that reach far beyond the time and place their modest running times constrain them to (this was demonstrated by the screening of Battle of Algiers in Pentagon a few months after the invasion of Iraq) . Jarecki is clearly a brilliant man; he is painfully eloquent and exceptionally well-versed in his subject (as he demonstrated in the Q&A), but cinema, at least "political" cinema, is often better suited to allegory than comprehensiveness, and attempting comprehensiveness on a topic as large as "why we fight" is asking for admirable failure at best.

(Pictures: Richard Avedon, Eisenhower; General Dwight Eisenhower giving orders to American paratroopers in England, June 6, 1944; Frank Capra film still; Eugene Jarecki; Why We Fight film still; Wilton Sekzer, Why We Fight film still; 50 Cent; WWII poster)

Precise Accidents

who's up for a day of drinking whiskey and pushing a shopping cart?
it involves getting drunk at 2 pm in the afternoon, decorating a cart,
and running with it 5 miles through new york in the sloppiest race
you've ever seen....

Idiotarod 2006

aaron and i are soliciting ideas for the cart's theme... i thought about making a literal "think tank" with guns that shoot poetry or concepts like the "nihlectic". perhaps too flowery. also, we have yet to secure a cart, although last year god just sent us one from the heavens and left it on college walk.

p.s. the chinese new year is the next day. year of the DOG! yay!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Free and Wonderful Audio

For those of you who have seen The Office, probably the funniest televison show of recent years, I must alert you to the presence of a free and wonderful gift from the internet (in the form of the online version of Britain's excellent The Guardian newspaper).
For those of you who have not seen The Office (the first season is the best) said gift is still free although perhaps slightly less wonderful.

The aforementioned gift is a series of downloadable podcasts of The Ricky Gervais Show, the latest comic endeavor from The Office boss Ricky Gervais. While the show sadly lacks the presence of Dawn, Tim, and the excellently bollixable Gareth, we do get a new character named Karl (Pilkington). Karl's inane insights make up the comic heart of the show (at least the episodes I have heard) to the extent that it could be called "The Karl Show"; however, Gervais makes significant comic contributions (his description of thumbs as "one of the major milestones of human evolution" comes to mind) and I continue to find his shrieking outbursts of laughter
and interjections of "brilliant" funny after the 87th time.

Although the show is somewhat "less good" than The Office, it's still hours of first-rate mindless entertainment. And what's more, (not to contradict the above mindlessness) it is even educational: factual tidbits such as Plato's death by egg and a 30-second summary of Descartes' Discourse On Method are liable to crop up at any time. And, as if that isn't enough, it's free. And wonderful.
Available: here

Welcome to 2nd Law

Hello everyone. Welcome to 2nd Law.

I thought it would be appropriate to write a brief introduction for this blog, if not for the sake of our potential readers (one day!), then for the benefit of its modest creator, Eremi. The blog's title refers to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the entropy within a closed system never decreases. No matter how much energy is used, entropy cannot be reduced. Or, as Eremi saw it, no matter how much energy is expended, things are still going to be just as complicated. 2nd Law serves as a metaphor for our final year at Columbia, as well as for what we will continue to do in life once we have graduated.

In many ways, 2nd Law makes sense. It's something towards which we've been working. Throughout the years, there have been many attempts and visions of club-building, project-making, and idea-sharing. There was Apathy Club, INERTIA, Optimism Club, and PM Club. While club activities were relatively low in energy, it is fair to extend the original title metaphor and say that it didn't reduce the scope of our ambition or ideas. Hopefully this blog will become more self-explanatory over time. And hopefully our contributors will reveal their talents and intelligence to you the same way they have to me. To sum it up, this blog is a collection of a collection of people who have made theories, stories, art, polemics, essays, interpretions, critiques, and whatever else people can create together. With that, welcome; read and enjoy.