May 23, 2006

he came home from the war
with a party in his head

Group-Think and the Informed Skeptic, by Dana Ellyn

* Molly Ivans. excerpt:

"'Ted Koppel suggests in The New York Times that we outsource war: 'Blackwater and other leading security companies are seriously proposing to officials at very high levels of the government that their private forces could relieve a number of the burdens now being shouldered (or not) by American troops. ... The Pentagon ... is nonetheless struggling to come to terms with what it now calls ‘the long war.’ There is every expectation that the fight against global terrorism and the most extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism will last for many years. This is a war that will not necessarily require aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, fighter jets or heavily armored tanks. It will certainly not enable the United States to exploit its advantages in nuclear weapons. It is a war, indeed, that favors the highly mobile and adaptive fighting skills of the former Special Forces soldiers and other ex-commandos ....'

"'Will'? Hell! Did and does. This is a war that is being fought with the wrong tools—and, in Iraq, at the wrong time, in the wrong place and against the wrong enemy.

"It never did call for tanks, jets or carriers—just a combination of good detectives and good intelligence. In other words, smart, clever people with language skills. All of which we have fully available to us because of ... immigration. Lebanese, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Pakistanis and Indonesians have all become Americans, and in so many cases we got the bravest of the brave—those who fought Saddam, the ayatollah and Assad, Lebanese who saw their country torn apart by religious factions. These are Americans who know the culture and language of the Middle East and other Islamic countries, and who care deeply about how it all comes out.

"By all means, reform immigration with this deep obeisance to the Republican right-wing nut faction and their open contempt for “foreigners.” But do not pretend for one minute that it is not a craven political bow to racism (yes, racism—I am actually calling them racists, although they pretend it hurts their feelings. Try reading their websites and see for yourself), and to nativism, to xenophobia and to Know-Nothingism. Just don’t forget what you are throwing away in the process."

* David Byrne on the lost art of album design and packaging. excerpt:

"We also tend to link things that aren’t really connected. It’s a neural tendency that probably has some very useful and practical applications, but these assumptions also lead us to make connections that are imaginary and unjustified. We connect the typefaces and designs of some fairly arbitrarily designed LP covers to the music inside that we know and love, as if the images actually embody some part of the music. Well, OK, if you want to be picky about it you probably can tell something about James Brown [Jungle Groove] by his choice of footwear as seen on that LP sleeve. But you learn nothing about the Kinks [Face to Face] from their sleeve. Our sense of the author and the music being represented and embodied graphically is imaginary. We see the music and its package as all of a piece. This of course is what good packaging does. Salty snacks and washing detergents are sold mostly based on their brightly colored packaging. Most people don’t make this assumption about books — we don’t assume that the cover of a book is a visual representation of the writing, as imagined by the author, but with music we sometimes do make this leap. Hence the love of LP sleeves… and even CD booklets.
"We presume these connections — author to package — with cultural products in ways we don’t with other stuff. No one stares enraptured at a Downy bottle while doing the laundry or at a Progresso can while opening a can of soup — there is no 'author' behind these packages. We are alienated from the creator in most industrial age mass-produced products. Imagine a pre industrial economy — it might be reasonable to presume that the craftsman who made it, whatever it is, can be sensed in the product. Maybe this is what we sense to some tiny extent in recorded music. A longed for human connection. Sensing this connection, this link, un-alienates us. The (sometimes) imaginary connection between the author and the packaging of his or her product is not in fact a direct link. It is a marketing button that the sales people have learned to press, over and over.
"Music didn’t always come in packages that presumed to represent the contents. Originally what you as a music consumer could buy was sheet music — which sometimes had the picture of the singer on the cover. Later, recordings — cylinders and 78s — usually came in generic sleeves. Only in the 50s with the advent of the Long Player did packaging that included large breasted women and snazzy typography become commonplace. The era of graphically packaged music may have had about a 50-year run.
"The role of graphic designers will change. Rather than being called upon to create one or two iconic images that are emblematic of an artist and a new product their job will be to imagine sets of links, connections and relationships…. and to make those visually enticing, fun and rewarding. I can’t imagine what exactly that might be, but it will be whole lot more than LP sleeves."

* Watch the films of William Burroughs.


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