Friday, February 28, 2014

"Shadows" by Twin Graves

Wow. Dark Wave music... luscious, satisfying.
"Shadows" by the UK's Twin Graves from their just-released EP "Walk In Circles."

How Conservatives Lost The Culture War by Damon Linker

Here is a very lucid, thoughtful, concise, and correct piece about the death throes of the tyranny of conservative culture. The United States, at its core, is not about legislating private morality or private religious beliefs. A court and the government, whether federal, state, or local, cannot inflict a personal belief onto the population. I do not have to believe and behave according to someone else's religious beliefs. It just is not the way we do things here, and when push comes to shove--and we push and shove in courts in this country, not the streets--it is obvious to see.
From The Week, by Damon Linker.

How conservatives lost the culture war
The triumph of gay marriage is rooted in the country's founding

This is a demoralizing moment for combatants on the conservative side of the culture war. Every few days, it seems, a judge strikes down a state statute or constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (The latest was in Texas.) The Supreme Court (or rather, Justice Anthony Kennedy) seems poised to nationalize gay marriage at any time. And of course there's the defeat of Arizona's anti-gay bill. The desperate effort of Arizona lawmakers to pass such a law in the first place (along with a similar ill-fated attempt in Kansas) recently inspired Andrew Sullivan to remark that we're living through the "death throes of the anti-gay movement."

That may well be right. But what if we're living through something even more significant? A poll released this week by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute reinforces what a series of surveys have shown for years: An incredibly rapid and far-reaching shift toward public acceptance of both homosexuality and gay marriage. Indeed, PRRI's new numbers are so stunning that they inspired conservative culture warrior Rod Dreher to declare in no uncertain terms that "the culture war is over. The other side won."

When it comes to gay issues, I think he's right. (Abortion is another matter altogether.)

How did it happen? As I've argued before, the triumph of gay marriage can ultimately be traced back to the 2,000-year-old Christian ideal of equality. More recently, a shift in the definition of marriage took place after the introduction of the birth-control pill in 1957.

But there's more to it than that. The traditionalist religious position on homosexuality was bound to lose as soon as it stopped shaping American culture as a whole, and became, instead, the outlook of one subculture among many. And that happened in the mid-1960s.

(Much of what follows is adapted from my book The Religious Test.)

Up until that time, Americans, and indeed most men and women in the Western world, considered homosexual desires to be gravely evil and acting on them even worse. This judgment was accepted by nearly everyone, including most homosexuals themselves, many of whom lived lives shot through with shame, denial, and self-loathing.

Which is another way of saying that on matters of sexuality, Americans assumed a morality of ends, presuming that certain ways of living and acting are right or wrong in themselves, intrinsically, with their rightness or wrongness determined by the extent to which they conform to an ideal vision of humanity.

One version of a morality of ends is taught today by the Roman Catholic Church, in an idiom derived from the natural-law writings of Thomas Aquinas. Human sexuality, the church claims, is ordered by God toward the end of procreation, and sexual desires and activities that aim primarily toward other ends (such as pleasure or intimacy) are essentially disordered and offensive to God — in a word, evil. Traditionalists from other religious groups, now and in the past, may describe their beliefs in less philosophically rigorous ways, but when they denounce homosexuality or any other form of extramarital and/or non-procreative sex, they inevitably do so in terms of some stated or implied morality of ends.

But here's the thing: Our form of government isn't based on a morality of ends — and it isn't empowered to enforce one. It is based on and enforces a much more minimal morality of rights. Writing in the wake of Europe's religious civil wars, the liberal thinkers who most influenced the American constitutional framers (John Locke and Montesquieu) treated disagreement about ultimate ends as the normal condition of social life, and then sought to find common moral ground shared by every faction within society, regardless of the ends they pursued.

That common ground turned out to be a belief in individual dignity and rights to life and liberty that flow from it. Most liberals have also added rights to private property and the pursuit of whatever ends (including happiness, however defined) the individual affirms, provided that those ends do not infringe on the equal rights of anyone else to do the same.

But that leaves us with a puzzle: If liberal government is supposed to limit itself to upholding a morality of rights, how is it that the United States ended up with laws that forbade sodomy and policed other forms of sexual behavior when such laws are obviously expressions of a morality of ends?

Here's how:

The social and cultural consensus in favor of a morality of ends in sexual matters was so strong and so universally held that the government enforced it, despite its illiberalism. The consensus fundamentally shaped public opinion, which was echoed by elected public officials who wrote and enforced those restrictive laws. Meanwhile, no one thought to challenge those laws in the judicial branch of government; and even if someone did, judges (whose views are also shaped by public opinion) would have rejected it.

As long as the morality of ends regarding sexual traditionalism held as a near-universal consensus, illiberal laws policing sex were safe. But as soon as that consensus started to break down — as soon as significant numbers of citizens started to make the case for sexual freedom — the liberal state was poised to begin withdrawing from enforcement of the newly contentious morality of ends and substituting a more minimal morality of rights. Short of overwhelming cultural and social consensus in favor of a morality of ends, this will always be the default position of the liberal state.

From that point on, traditionalists would be perfectly free to continue adhering to their beliefs, but those beliefs would no longer have the force of law behind them because they now merely expressed the will of a part of society rather than the whole of society. What was once The Culture was now merely a subculture. (It remains an open question whether in the wake of the sexual revolution the U.S. has any unified culture at all — or if, instead, American "culture" is nothing more than the sum total of its subcultures.)

That's how the liberal state began its inexorable retreat from enforcing a morality of ultimate ends in sexual matters — a retreat still underway but lurching closer to completion every day (with efforts to reverse it doomed to failure).

It might sound obvious, but it's nonetheless true and too infrequently acknowledged: Conservatives lost the culture war in the 2010s because they lost the culture in the 1960s.

Link to original article at The Week:

BEAUTY: Photography--Ville Andersson

Although he is a multidisciplinary artist who is capable of painting and drawing, it is the photographic work of Finnish artist Ville Andersson which grabs me, silently, and refuses to let go. His scenarios are enigmatic, full of mystery... yet I know what they are saying, and the part of me inside that is connected to something intangible understands it all. I get it, as a dear friend of mine and I used to say, "out of the corner of my eye."
To understand something--to feel something out of the corner of your eye.
Do you understand?

The artist sums his work up beautifully:

"A work is not just a visual representation, but more akin to a mediator between prayer and hope. The image should not be defined solely by its aesthetic properties, but rather by the overall impression it gives. Appearance and style are important to me, and although I aim to produce visually interesting work, work that creates mood through style, and meaning through form, the true meaning of my work remains rooted in the unseen.

I want to portray visions and images hidden behind the visible world. Images emerge from somewhere beyond consciousness and connect with our material reality, then continue and carry the imagination and emotions far beyond this plane of existence. To an extent, these images operate in something of a dream world lodged somewhere in the hidden depths of the mind, giving unconscious impulses and premonitions for our consciousness to interpret.

A mundane, visible reality is allowed to blend with ideas and emotions, with the transcendental and the internal. These in turn require the consent of the viewer to be exposed to influences and an active process of allowing the mind to flow freely, eked on by unknown forces. Hereby I proclaim both objectivity and scientific precision to be banned completely.

Images are not mathematical problems for the mind to solve, but rather like visions that flutter hazily on the borders of consciousness, without ever fully revealing themselves. Untouched, indestructible and polyphonic, they whisper and suggest meanings. In a world of excessive rationalism and secularism I hope that I can offer a place of refuge, where the anxiety of existence and the conflicts between dreams and reality, between spirit and matter, are given a momentary rest.

This is not escapism or indifference towards reality. For me, the only thing worth studying is the human condition. It is meaningful through the creation of awareness, understanding, character, identity: in short, all that involves being human. I prefer to turn to making these images, making use of my own internal feelings rather than clumsily attempting to portray some outside reality."

The above works are from his Disturbed Silence and Between Light and Darkness series.
Top to bottom: A Forest; Beauty; I Have Always Loved Ghosts. They Have No Bodies; In Between; Let The Light In; Let The Light In 2; Passage; Red; Repressed Bu Remarkably Dressed; Sebald; Stage; Transformation; untitled; Villa

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Just watched...

... the scathing indictment of the film industry, "Seduced and Abandoned" by director James Toback, with Alec Baldwin.

This 2013 documentary follows Toback and Baldwin to Cannes during the 2012 film festival, as they meet with possible investors to drum up cash for a film concept they have come up with. It is still unclear to me whether or not the film was real and they were genuinely attempting to find funding or if they dreamt up a fictitious film concept in order to show the near-impossbile difficulties of getting a film to the screen. In the end, it doesn't matter if it was real or manufactured since the result is the same: we now know why there are practically no good films being made anymore. The fare at the local cineplex is full of recycled and rebooted cartoon characters and comic book plots because that has been shown to create cash, moola, cheddar, scrilla, at the box office. And the film industry, like pretty much any venture in the world these days, is now based on how much profit is in it for the investors and shareholders. Gone are the days of Hollywood when people made films because they were about something, films that meant something, films that matter, films that speak to us as and the human experience. The art is gone. Any director who wants to make such a film now has to do so without any large or mainstream investors, which virtually guarantees that the film will not be picked up by a major studio, which guarantees that there will be little if any publicity. The deck is stacked against any kind of artistic statement... which is not to say that it is impossible. Good films do sneak through and important, beautiful films do get made. But it is no longer the norm in Hollywood. The question is no longer "Is this a good script? Is it going to touch people's hearts or minds?" but "How much money can we wring from it?" Just like the banking industry, the mortgage industry, the health care industry, it is not about participating in a human experience, but how much can be taken from people without them noticing.

This film captures what has gone wrong in Hollywood but does not show how to fix it since a fix would require a change in how industries, the wealthy, and Capitalism think. It shows the frustrating, vexing, peculiar, maddening world of film production. And the cast is staggering, reading like a Who's Who of living legend film directors: Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, Frances Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski... and a roster of high profile actors.

Recommend? Yes. It would probably help if one were interested in the film industry though...

Just watched...

..."We Need To Talk About Kevin" with the divine Tilda Swinton.

Released in 2011, this absolutely harrowing film, based on Lionel Shriver's 2003 award-winning novel of the same name, deals with a mother (Swinton) and her uncontrollable, sociopathic son (played with chilling effectiveness by Ezra Miller). And this film is harrowing precisely because the horrific events in it are not only within the realm of possibility, but have already happened in many forms. This is definitely one of those films that requires viewing without much information or plot points so I feel I need to honor that and keep this review brief, without spilling too much. I will say however, that it begs the question--and this is something that you could keep in mind going into it-- how much is a parent responsible for the behavior of their children?

Tilda skillfully plays the mother with a sickening sense of restrained helplessness. And all three of the actors who play her son Kevin at various ages do a marvelous job. It may be Tilda's film, but it depends heavily on the interaction between her and those three actors.

Recommend? Yes. But be aware it is a penetrating psychological study. Hang on.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Flashback: Eurythmics

Just take a look at this video and you will see why Annie Lennox is a legend. Just standing stock still on the stage, she has more presence and commands more attention than most pop stars will or ever could... she is mesmerizing, powerful, and compelling.

Here is Eurythmics performing "No Fear, No Hate, No Pain, (No Broken Hearts)" in 1984.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Welcome, Ellen!

Newly out Hollywood actress Ellen Page, star of "Juno," "X-Men: The Last Stand," and "Inception."

Welcome, Ellen! Continued success to you!

BEAUTY: Painting--Carol Marine

West Coast artist Carol Marine is dedicated to creating a small, 6" x 6" painting every day. Because of the speed with which she must work in order to accomplish this feat, her style for these small pieces is loose, impressionistic, and so engaging. I am sure such disciplined practice is useful for larger, more time intensive paintings, but I love these marvelous little studies which allow us to see each glorious glob of paint and each confident brush stroke. And I love her sense of composition: her subjects might be drawn from "ordinary life," but her framing and colors elevate each scene. If you see something you like, she sells these daily pieces at Daily Paintworks. Matted and mounted in larger frames, these little gems could look great in a grouping of four or six!

Her blog for her daily paintings:

And check out her full artist website:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"I Heard The Party" and "Hypericum" by Gem Club

Emotionally expansive, delicate, trembling... Gem Club sing the devastating "I Heard The Party" from their 2011 "Breakers" release.

"with a mouth full of fresh flowers
you woke up the neighbors
no one could have told you
your body would fail you
silent as the star
it broke you like a song
i heard the party's here
have i only come to
watch through your window
float up through the ceiling
softly escaping
drag you to the ground
you stood there alone
i heard the party's here"

And from their just-released album "In Roses," here is the stunning "Hypericum."

Monday, February 17, 2014

BEAUTY: Photography--John Divola

In the 90s' photographer John Divola set his camera up in remote areas, turned on the ten second timer, and ran as fast as he could. He named this series, appropriately enough, As Far As I Could Get and explores the motif of running and its emotional and psychological implications. There is something eerie about the series... a figure in the distance running away from us, the viewers, could signal running from danger, a danger to which we, the viewers, might still be exposed. Perhaps we are being emotionally as well as physically abandoned. Or perhaps instead of running away, the figure is running toward something... and what could make someone run in such a manner... to greet, to stop, to catch?

"Talk Is Cheap" by Chet Faker

Here is the sultry yet edgy "Talk Is Cheap" from Chet Faker's soon-to-be-released (April 15, 2014) album, "Built On Glass."
The video is quite poignant...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

BEAUTY: Video--Marilyn Minter

Painter and photographer Marilyn Minter is also a video artist. In this short, hypnotic video, I'm Not Much But I'm All I Think About, she uses vodka and silver cake frosting in a glycerin suspension to represent the ideas of excess, glamour, and vanity.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BEAUTY: Photography--Maren Morstad

In solidarity for the folks suffering through extreme blizzards on the east coast of the US, here are Maren Morstad's heart-stoppingly atmospheric photos of New York City in snow... at night. Wow.