Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Apologies for lateness, slow-downs, and work stoppages: 2 jobs and miscellaneous writing projects have kept me from the console. If you read books, and I know you do, you might find some of my recent book reviews for The Brooklyn Rail. Also, in addition to publishing a chapbook of poetry with Dos Madres Press out of Loveland, Ohio, I am collaborating on a spoken word project with two Newark-based filmmakers, Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno, whose documentary REVOLUTION 67-- about the Newark urban rebellion-- is a must-see. The project has been commissioned by the Newark Museum in celebration of its 100th year. More on that in future posts...

So Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson died-- international tragedies, I suppose, similar to the situation when any human being passes away. An Iranian comrade reports that on Twitter, someone posted: "While you in the West mourn Michael Jackson, the Iranian government is still killing us over here." Ah, the priorities of the public. Celebrity culture reigns as do auto-theo-crats: nothing new. But in tandem to Renaissance's damning, delightful, and on-the-mark post from yesterday, I would have to add my voice to chastising the woeful disrespect to, if not outright negligence of, essential human events and reportage. The cult of the celebrity, the cult of the personality, whether in terms of aesthetics or politics is all pervasive and a sad commentary on us. Or at least some of us. J/C

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tread Lightly as the Gloved One Departs

A thin, not to say skeletal figure lay wound in a white sheet, transferred from helicopter to white van on the roof of a medical center in Los Angeles. As always when big news happens in that city, the main visual feed is itself by helicopter. There is an eerie feeling imparted by the drift, silence and weightlessness of these helicopter feeds. But in this case, the eerie nature of the affair was extraordinary in its own right.

Those who have been tramping through the Amazon or lost on the wrong side of an Antarcitic mountain may not know, but the rest of us know that Michael Jackson is dead at 50. I will bet dollars to doughnuts he was badly overmedicated and that his handlers, especially those with trunks full of pills, will have much to answer for in the coming months.

In fairness to my own musical taste, I must state up front that, no matter how sad or how evocative I might find his passing, his music never worked for me even a little bit. I found it strangely cold and unappealing despite my acknowledgement of its technical mastery. The same for his dancing: wonderful in its way, but robotic, alienating, icy. The school of dancing characterized by many dancers simultaneously making the same elaborate, jerky movements has always struck me as not a little fascistic (and clearly militaristic) in nature.

He presented, more than anything else in the past decade, a figure twisted by multiple, compounded tragedies. His horrid visage, his trysts with children, his queer amusement-park "ranch", his bizarre liaisons with the mothers of the children of which he had custody (not his biologically), his obvious financial and physical frailty, his long train of lawsuits and his multitudinous retinue of handlers and sycophants--not to say the millions of fans who (to me inexplicably) responded viscerally to his showmanship; all of these curious strands of human entanglement were wrapped tightly around the singular musical and physical talent that seemed to possess him.

In a rush to lionize him in the first flush of sadness over his passing, the mainstream press focused on his obvious achievements in music and often went too far in calling him a "groundbreaker". This in particular mystifies me--he didn't break any ground not already trod by the truly great Muhammad Ali, and while he did cross the color barrier, the newsbreakers seem to forget that musically, the color barrier had already been crossed by Motown years prior (though admittedly whites and blacks by the early 1980s had stopped listening to the same music with the advent of Album Oriented Rock radio stations and the attendant Caucasianization of that blues-based genre).

Those African-Americans who were heard commenting on his passing were--and perhaps they can be forgiven for this in their surprise and their grief--apparently willing to ignore the very obvious and major flaws that in the case of his relationship to young boys may have in fact been villainous; and to focus entirely on his worldwide fame, his "wonderfulness" as a human being, and of course his record-shattering musical achievements.

Mr. Jackson's life and death are far, far beyond the capacity of this blogger to do more than briefly comment upon, and yet I am, like the rest of world, caught up, for now, in the mystery and the wonder of his outsized persona.

It is perhaps as interesting to note the items driven like stricken hounds from the world's front pages by the Jackson death: first, Iran, where a great nation lies torn and beaten after a week of shocking events; second, the inept amours of the smitten governor who disappeared to Argentina without seeming to understand how it might affect his public duties; third, and very sadly, the same-day-death of the extraordinarily popular and most talented actress Farrah Fawcett (whose charms also were mostly lost on me)--and whose passing would certainly have dominated the news had not the earth suddenly quaked in that rented Los Angeles home occupied by the Gloved One.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009



Bing was a Crooner

Have you heard?

Now you can make better decisions. With Bing, the new "decision engine" from Microsoft!

Ads for the new Google-competitor from Redmond actually suggest you can change your life with this wonderful Bing thing--avoid getting a Mohawk, for instance (I think that's what they were driving at)? Or learning to play guitar at the age of six or seven? Bing will help you decide.

How exactly does this astonishing new decision engine work? Maybe I am missing something, but I could swear the decision engine, having responded to my quest for an answer about "clean energy", gave me--and let's not get too excited waiting for the revelation here--a list of links with the words "clean energy" in them! And the top spot in the "sponsored" section was for the clean energy giant we all know as ExxonMobil.

I don't have a problem with ExxonMobil--somebody's got to sell me all that gasoline I use--but if I can have just a brief word with the guys over at Bing, I would like to tell them that they need to fire their ad agency.

I don't have a problem with Microsoft, either. They've managed to produce a suite of tools that somehow satisfies about a trillion people last time I checked and there's not a lot of smoke belching out of the smokestacks at Microsoft HQ either. So it isn't as if they don't create a pretty popular and a pretty green product out in the land of Gates.

But the ads for Bing are nothing less than insulting. Okay, MSFT wants to have a Google-killer. Good luck with that. At one point they thought MSN was going to kill the Internet (you can choose not to believe that, but it's a real-live data-point from the mid-nineties). Aside from a wonderful spin-off called MSNBC, I can't see where they created anything better than Hotmail with that gargantuan effort.

But back to my annoyance with Bing, and how the ads are insulting. What's with "decision engine"? That's not what it is. It would have to be far more sophisticated to approach that realm--something like an expert system (still a chimerical goal for visionary developers) that would somehow divine your intent and deliver wisdom.

It's like calling a car an airplane. Bing is a search engine--it's just like Google! The notion that we should be encouraged to "Bing and then decide" is worse than cute and silly. In my opinion, calling Bing a "decision engine" borders on misrepresentation and falsehood.

But then, Microsoft has always seemed to have a tin ear for marketing. That's a whole 'nother blog post.

For now, just remember that Bing was a Crooner popular back during World War Two. He was not a decision engine.


Sunday, June 21, 2009


See the man.

Alone on the subway platform.
Note the crazed hair, a nimbus around his head,
a halo teased by distracted fingers
for hours while he hunched over his book.

His cardigan, buttoned by its sole button,
frayed and evanescing into flocculent haze.
Cat’s hair clings to him,
interweaving white and dark into the interstices.
The force of static alone
knitting an exo-sweater in the atmosphere around him.

He holds his broken-backed book an inch from his eyes,
his free hand absently plucking random cat hair.
Holds them
at arm’s length,
releases them.
They drift, in dense currents of subway air,
falling back into the gravity and mass of his body.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tehran a-Twitter

Journalists have been under virtual house-arrest as the mullahs in Persia try to squelch what started out as a stolen-vote protest but is now evidently a youth revolution. Youth revolutions, as we know, are tough to squelch without either pots of money to bundle kids off to college and the suburbs, or a deep roster of brutal bench-players ready to come on the field with brickbats and piano-wire.

As the mullahs whirl and wobble in the wind of protest, and as journalists speak sotto voce into secure phones, what's kept CNN and the rest of the West informed are the so-called "social networking" technologies now come of age.

Witness Twitter--of which much fun has been made when, say, an Ashley Tisdale-level celebri-star lets her followers know her hat-size. Now it is the single best source of immediate news coverage on the scene of what is certainly the most important political movement in Iran since they took the hostages. Like a thousand tiny salamanders slipping through grasping clerical fingers, these brief missives from the angry streets are letting the world know of thousands on the march, men and women, of beatings, of tear-gas, of open revolt against the foundational, turban-bedecked figures of the regime itself.

Witness Facebook--where the opposition leader Moussavi has pronounced his readiness to commit himself to martyrdom. Proving itself more than just a place for posting pix of beer-pong escapades, Facebook has now given voice to perhaps the most profound promise every posted to it.

During the new Iranian revolution Facebook and Twitter, streaming out images and commentary banned by the regime, have combined to make quite obvious the power that the atomization of mass media has long promised.

Facebook and Twitter prove that media--and information--really do want to be free. And they prove that when in the hands of those not just longing for freedom but with little left to lose, they become powerful weapons beyond the control of even the most sullen official opprobrium.

We have yet to see what happens when the youthful string of Iranian frustration plays out to its fullest length. But however it does so, we know even now that "social media", heretofore considered a lightweight in the world of communications, will have helped define it.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Heartworm, a small press out of Philadelphia, has just published Chris Leo's FEATHERS LIKE LEATHER. This volume is a magnificent miscellany of lyrics, sketches, vignettes, stories, squibs, and unclassifiable (and all delightful) lessons of a multilingual lexicon. Aesthetically, this book is gorgeous-- a perfect-bound spine that rests gracefully in one's plying fingers, paper stock that indicates that this tome is for the ages, and a cover illustration by Andrea Ambrogio, who must be, should be, painting large canvases over New York City to cover its new steel and luxury-atrocity edifices. Leo's mischievous and musing mastery is apparent throughout the various pieces, pieces which, when contemplated coherently, make for a streamlined narrative. The first printing is already sold-out; the press will make more available in July. Grab a few for yourself and any readers, bards, or ballladeers you know. The website for Heartworm is at J/C

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Modest Proposal

There is no compelling reason for any car company to build more than a couple of thousand cars a month for the foreseeable future.

They should all switch to building mass-transit vehicles,including buses, light rail, bullet trains and airplanes with bigger seats.

For the next ten years, we should learn the one lesson Cuba has to teach us (besides some great musical riffs): fix the old cars. Keep them on the road. When everyone is driving a ten or fifteen year old car, and when our nation is crisscrossed not with highways but with much-more-efficient mass-transit of every kind, then the car companies can go back to building pleasure-mobiles.

In particular, General Motors, which we now own much of, should begin doing this right away. No more Chevys. No more Caddies. During World War Two they stopped building LaSalles and instead built the Sherman tanks and B-29 Superfortresses that cemented our position as a world power even up until today.

Now we are sucking down foreign oil like nobody's business, and the suburbs have proven a bad idea soon to be depopulated in an emerging, less-wasteful economy, and we have succeeded in creating some of the ugliest landscapes in the world with our obsession with parking lots and malls; and it is time to call an end to it.

General Motors, your orders are as follows: no more cars for a while. Buses and trains are what we need.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Like most participants in this still nascent twenty-first century, I am a citizen in search of an identity. Therefore, I fret little about identity theft. No, it doesn't occur to me to become concerned about the pilfering and appropriation of my "information." Nevertheless, I am besieged by passwords, codes, and pins for my various on- and off-line activities. So far I've managed to accrue passwords, codes or pins for my work email, my personal email, my banking statement, my student loans (3), the door to my workplace post office, my Amazon account, my Alibris account, the site to which academic recommendations are kept on record for me, various sites to which I send academic recommendations for students, several online music sites, my Netflix account, and on and on. It has become difficult to remember all of the passwords, codes, and pins and the very little identity which seems viable is being vitiated by the mental effort of recollecting what password goes to what account. Locks and keys are replacing any lyricism in life and it's become dire enough that one thinks seriously about committing identity theft against oneself to see what happens. Or doesn't. J/C

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Please Stop Taking Pictures, Please

Too many people are taking too many photographs.

I blame the digital revolution--in which data storage has become geometrically cheaper each year, thereby enabling more and more photos to be taken with better and better resolution at almost no cost except the purchase of the camera itself.

(Disclaimer: occasional snapshots have my complete support, especially when populated by family members smiling and hugging.)

My problem is with the quintillion photographs that are destined to mean not much to anyone, including the photographer. To me, it seems these photographs are being taken, often by travelers weighed down with brand new-looking SLRS, in pursuit of what I imagine to be "experience" or "sensation" or perhaps bragging-rights.

I believe, perhaps like an old-fashioned Photographer might, that one has the right to take photos (save snapshots) only if one understands what type of relationship one is taking to the subject matter.

No longer part of the scene, the person behind the lens has removed him/herself from the experience and has sublimated the direct experience for the flattened, miniaturized memory. This can create the comfortable sensation that all the world is just an arrangement of shapes passing by our rangefinder (or by proxy, someone else's). Grandeur is reduced to banality; compassion and empathy to passing interest; awe to intellectual criticism.

Ultimately the great digital photography revolution is creating a race of lonesome hunters, each seeking to capture some solitary image cropped and presented to one's self (and others) as the essence of experience--in total ignorance that the actual experience of plain "being" has passed them by.

When traveling, I recommend the type of camera that can fit in your pocket--if that. This way you don't need to worry about that brick of digital circuitry hanging like an albatross around your neck. Postcards often work well as a substitute for all but the most spectacular photos you might take yourself. Of course, be certain to record you and your friends and loved ones in those special places you've visited.

But other than this--please get your face out from behind the camera and spend some time being fully present in the world you inhabit.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Speaking to the sun

the title you asked me to pencil in
above the picture you had drawn, your head tilted
for ten minutes or more, intent on creating a garden
more perfect than the one we had worked in all morning.

Done entirely in orange crayon, with sunflowers
and a farmer and the sun itself
all the same size and color, and all
smiling to each other like neighbors
over a fence.

Each drawn with a certain weight -
sunbeams and flowerstalks in the same confident strokes
as the ones that framed the lone human
you’ve allowed into your garden.

Even the balloon around the words
you have her speaking, now that you ring
my title with your fat orange crayon -
all the same, now you’ve forever linked
the speaker with her words of one moment.

And it is suddenly apparent that you’ve created
that alchemical moment, that I’m forever spelling
my way towards and never achieving,
and your garden, your art become the place
I wish we lived, where every element
is perfectly evident, where our words
will not let us throw them away, and remain with us
warm and honest in the ringing air.

Mark Aiello

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


My personal computer has been on a gradual decline for quite some time. Then the curtains closed or rather the screen went black the other day. I've ordered a new laptop but it hasn't yet arrived; only sporadic access to this machinery has restricted the flow of rhetoric and rant on this here site. So my apologies.

But let's digress and retort and rant...

Kindles, resembling those old toy scribal standbys, Etch-a-Sketch, might one day be used by me but will never meet my books or bookshelves. There's just no reason for them to know one another and upset each other's essential natures...

I love dust jackets, they're like dinner jackets for books, and Kindle lies naked.
How profane.

Pages have splendid threaded textures, Kindle has metallic surface. What's more aesthetically pleasing?

I can write in books and reflect on the comments of my former, naive self. Where should I preserve my marginalia on/in Kindle? In my handwriting? Just some thoughts... J/C

Monday, June 01, 2009