Monthly Archives: December 2007

Mediated in 2007!

Here goes with the year-end run down, of the most memorable listens and reads during the year 2007. Note that many items here came out in previous years, but it takes time to pick out the worthwhile stuff! Links go to earlier Mediated posts on the subject.

Music (2007 releases):

  • Menomena – “Friend and Foe” – pop from Portland that pushes some boundaries, but always keeps a nice rhythmic base.
  • The Shins – “Wincing the Night Away” – another Portland-based band (these days anyway), this CD strikes me as a bit watery somehow, with great production that’s better recorded than live.
  • Spoon – “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” – more pop, pared down to the basic elements with great catchy songs.
  • Panda Bear – “Person Pitch” – weird home recordings that channel Brian Wilson into the electronic era.
  • Bruce Springsteen – “Magic” – one of his better efforts in recent years, more varied and lively than “The Rising”, say.
  • I’m Not There – Soundtrack – two CDs worth of Dylan covers, proof that many old gems still have some life to them.
  • Mekons – “Natural” – the old Leeds punks are still at it 30 years later, retaining the “Dark Dark Dark” vision.
  • Tabu Ley Rocherau – “The Voice of Lightness” – compilation of the Congolese superstar from the 60s and early 70s.
  • (I’ve not heard the Radiohead, so that will have to wait til next year!)
  • (And I’ll put in a good word for the new Dion release, “Son of Skip James”)

Music (older releases, mostly jazz, just the tip of the iceberg!):

  • Sonny Rollins – “Way Out West” (1957)
  • Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959)
  • Sun Ra – “Space is the Place” (1972)
  • Joe Henderson – “Lush Life” (1992)
  • Vijay Iyer – “Reimagining” (2005)
  • Ernie Watts – “Analog Man” (2006)

Best Live Shows

  • Viva Voce @ Dante’s, Jan 25
  • Dave Holland Quintet @ The Shedd, March 21
  • Billy Hart Quartet @ Village Vanguard, May 30
  • Decemberists / Menomena @ Edgefield, July 22
  • Spoon @ Crystal Ballroom, Sept 6
  • Vinicius Cantuaria @ Rasa, Utrecht, Oct 5
  • Battles @ Doug Fir, July 3 & @ Melkweg, Oct 14
  • Tacuma, Reid & Weston @ Bimhuis, Nov 11

Books (Fiction first)

  • The Echo Maker – Richard Powers (2006). How a knock on the head could make you another person (and you wouldn’t even know it). Somewhat disturbing reflections on identity, set in the mid-West heartland.
  • The Savage Detectives – Roberto Bolano (1998, trans. 2007). A journey with the young poets of Mexico, as told by those who met them along the way.
  • The End of Mr. Y – Scarlett Thomas (2006). A story of the ‘end of mystery?’ which puts the narrator into the heads of other characters, sort of how a reader enters the head of the author, perhaps.
  • From Hell – Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (1999). A ‘graphic novel’ of the Jack the Ripper story, with stark black and white drawings that still seem incredibly garish, as fits the crimes.
  • Falling Man – Don DeLillo (2007). A reflection on 9/11 and how it turned people in new directions, some anticipated and some not.

Non-Fiction

  • The Island at the Center of the World – Russell Shorto (2004). The story of Manhattan in the Dutch years. Shorto argues for the distinctive contribution of the relatively tolerant Dutch in shaping New York City.
  • The Geography of Thought – Richard Nisbett (2003). An examination of different patterns of thought in East and West.
  • The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007). How the improbable may be more likely than you think!
  • I Am a Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstadter (2007). Ideas about what we are (I’m not sure if I’m a strange loop though…).
  • A Brief History of Everything – Ken Wilber (1996). An overview of Wilber’s integral philosophy, in Q & A format.

If you want more ‘Best of’ lists, I recommend the music lists at PopMatters – interesting choices in lots of genres with good, brief writeups.

Advertisements

Count Your Blessings

Christmas Day, 2007. If you’re reading this, then you’ve surely got plenty to be thankful for; the miracle of life itself to start with. While we face surprises and setbacks all the time, the essence of life seems to me to be the daily effort to keep going, to keep trying to reach our goals, to engage with the world. Enjoy!

P.S.  Just after writing this I look out the window to see a bit of snow falling here in Portland.  White Christmas!

Downshifting

Interesting article by Gregory Clark (professor Economics, UC Davis), “Life After Peak Oil” from the Sacramento Bee today, on the ramifications of expensive energy. Maybe not so bad…

So the future after peak oil will involve living in such dense urban settings where destinations are walkable or bikeable, just as in pre-industrial cities (the city of London in 1801 had 100,000 inhabitants in one square mile). Homes will be much smaller, but instead of caverns of off-white sheet rock, we will spend our money in making much more attractive interiors. Nights will be darker. We will not have retail outlets lit up like the glare of the midday sun in Death Valley.

Such a lifestyle is not only possible it will be much healthier.

I think that making this come true is largely about starting to shift mindsets and lifestyles now, so that the transition is not so painful.

The Air Car

Air car

I’m not quite sure how I’ve missed this concept, but in any case yesterday I learned of the Air Car – a car that runs on simple compressed air!  The compressed air moves the pistons, and an onboard air compressor can keep the tank full using very little energy.

The main designer behind it, Guy Nègre, has worked on Formula One race cars.  But this car is being targeted to urban environments, where most trips are short and it makes sense to have a small vehicle.  Apparently he did offer the design to established companies:

During the first phase of development, Guy Nègre, thought that he could develop an engine and sell it to the large automotive manufactures. Unfortunately, because adapting an air engine to traditional cars meant changing bodies and production line the large companies refused and he was forced to change his approach. The inventor then set out to develop a vehicle according to his philosophy. This car had to be ecology friend, silence, and practical.

As usual, it looks like the big car companies can’t see innovation when it hits them on the head!

Sounds like commercial introduction is next year in Europe and perhaps in India.  I’m fascinated to see how this works out…

Lighting the tree!

Gouda tree lighting

Last night a few of us trekked over to Gouda to witness the lighting of the big tree in the market square. While that was nice, even better I thought was the lighting of the candles in each window of the ancient Stadhuis (town hall, dating back to 1540) in the center of the market, along with most of the windows all around the square. The photo above gives a good sense of it. Also fun to hear “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” with a bit of Dutch accent.

On 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

The Road

Bleak.  Harsh.  These words are actually not strong enough to evoke the world of ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy.  I didn’t count, but the words ‘dead’ and ‘ash’ must each appear hundreds of times in the novel.

It’s the story of a man and his young son, somehow still alive after apocalyptical catastrophe, along with a few other humans and little else.  They don’t have names, but they do have some memories, and they are heading toward the coast, barely staying alive.  Despite it all, you can’t help but care about what will happen to these two wanderers, pushing their four-wheeled shopping cart along the road.

This is perhaps in exercising how much one can strip away and still leave some recognizable humanity.  Or perhaps it’s a reminder of all we take for granted; easy access to food and shelter, safety, cooperation & trust.  Or it’s the hope that the next generation will hold the older ones to their best ideals, not let them slip.

Weihnachtsmarkt in Münster

Yesterday a bunch of us made a trek out to Münster, Germany for the Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkt). Weather was about as good as you could hope for on the first of December, clear and about 10 C (50 F). Once we found the market we couldn’t resist one of the big attractions, the Glühwein (mulled wine) served in little boot mugs, with some nice additives available as well.

Gluhwein

Here are three of my companions over from the U.S., Ricardo & Margarita & Izzet, with their boots.

Trio with mugs

Münster itself is quite a pretty old town, with a main street lined with beautiful gabled buildings.

Gables in Munster

The market goes on well into the night, and the windows are all nicely lit.

Munster lights

The markets also offer a pretty wide range of gifts; especially nice are these big chocolate hearts!

Hearts