Monthly Archives: September 2008

What Medicine Owes the Beatles

If not for the Beatles, we wouldn’t have CT scans, aka CAT scans, the advanced medical scanning technology that lets your doctor see how badly your bones are broken or whether your aunt really has emphysema.

Here’s the story.

via Epidemix

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Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers

Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems.

From a statement read at an event marking the release of Best American Poetry 2008, held last night at The New School, in New York City. David Lehman is the series editor of Best American Poetry, and Robert Polito is the director of the writing program at The New School.

Chairman Lehman, Secretary Polito, distinguished poets and readers—I regret having to interrupt the celebrations tonight with an important announcement. As you know, the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry.

Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era. We believe the plan is a comprehensive approach to relieving the stresses on our literary institutions and markets.

Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance.

Illiquid poetry assets are choking off the flow of imagination that is so vital to our literature. When the literary system works as it should, poetry and poetry assets flow to and from readers and writers to create a productive part of the cultural field. As toxic poetry assets block the system, the poisoning of literary markets has the potential to damage our cultural institutions irreparably.

As we know, lax composition practices since the advent of modernism led to irresponsible poets and irresponsible readers. Simply put, too many poets composed works they could not justify. We are seeing the impact on poetry, with a massive loss of confidence on the part of readers. What began as a subprime poetry problem on essentially unregulated poetry websites has spread to other, more stable, literary magazines and presses and contributed to excess poetry inventories that have pushed down the value of responsible poems.

The risks poets have taken have been too great; the aesthetic negligence has been profound. The age of decadence must come to an end with the imposition of oversight and regulation on poetry composition and publishing practices.

We are convinced that once we have removed these troubled and distressed poems from circulation, our cultural sector will stabilize and readers will regain confidence in American literature. We estimate that for the buyout to be successful, we will need to remove from circulation all poems written after 1904.

This will be a fresh start, a new dawn of a new day. Without these illiquid poems threatening to overwhelm readers, we will be able to create a literary culture with a solid aesthetic foundation.

I’m Charles Bernstein, and I approved this message.

via Harper’s Magazine


Man decorates basement with $10 worth of Sharpie

When Charlie Kratzer started on the basement art project in his south Lexington home, he was surrounded by walls painted a classic cream. Ten dollars of Magic Marker and Sharpie later, the place was black and cream and drawn all over.


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New Wall Street crisis will create a new financial world order, says RCM CIO

As the sell-off in global markets continues, RCM’s CIO for Europe Neil Dwane believes the aftermath of Monday’s events will lead to the formation of a ‘new world order’, in which the remaining financial giants will flourish.

via CityWire

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Most novels make most poets cringe

It is ironic that Laird, also a novelist, has set up the strawman of television (and, oddly radio, that most literate of mediums) to pose as the enemy of poetry in our age, when, in fact, it is clear that is is the novel that has done the most damage to poetry’s reputation. It is the novel, with its often pseudo-literary mannerisms, that has stolen poetry’s mantle of importance, relevance, and popularity, leaving poetry the scraps. Most novels make most poets cringe, their style is so bad. Poets know how to write, line by line, in a way that many popular, even prize-winning writers of prose do not.

via Eyewear

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Google becomes self aware on August 29, 2011

No longer are there arguments between coworkers, friends or spouses about who said what and when.  With magical speed, the now ubiquitous Google.OS preemptively finds conversation markers even before the parties ask Goog to find them; ending fights almost before they begin.  The psychiatry profession morphs within a few weeks into remote coaches who listen to, and evaluate, the constant stream of recorded audio files.  The psychiatrist then calls the patient and explains his or her state of mind to them.  Those conversations are recorded as well, offering Google even more knowledge as it learns.

via Hologram Thoughts | Google in 2011

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NEA Funds Construction of $1.3 Billion Poem

WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts
announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric
poem—its largest investment in the nation’s aesthetic- industrial complex since
the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.

“America’s metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation’s
verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic
of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart,”
said the project’s head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. “We need to make sure
America’s poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the

Gioia confirmed that the public-works composition will be assembled
letter-by-letter atop a solid base of the relationship between man and nature.
The poem’s structure, laid out extensively on lined-paper blueprints, involves a
traditional three- quatrain-and-a-couplet framework, which will be tethered to
an iambic meter for increased stability and symmetry. If the planners can secure
an additional $6.2 million in funding, they may affix a long dash to the end of
line three, though Gioia said that is a purely optimistic projection at this

The poem is expected not only to revitalize the community, Gioia said, but
also create jobs for the nation’s hundreds of out-of-work poets. According to
the proposed budget, the poem’s 224 authors have allocated $4 million for the
final rhyming couplet, $52 million to insert hyphens into the word “tomorrow” so
it reads “to-morrow,” $7.45 for a used copy of John Keats’ Selected Poems
for ideas and inspiration, and $450 million for a simile likening human fate to
the wind.

Some experts, however, say the poem is already at risk of going over budget,
citing the soaring $5,000-per-square-inch cost of vellum, and an ambitious but
perhaps ill-conceived $135 million undertaking to make the word “owl” rhyme with

“We’ve already put 200 hours of manpower into the semicolon at the end of the
first stanza,” said Charles Simic, poet laureate of the United States and head
author of the still- untitled piece. “And I’ve got my best guys working around
the clock to convert all the ‘overs’ in the piece into one-syllable ‘o’ers.’ I
got [Nobel Prize winner Seamus] Heaney and [Margaret] Atwood stripping all the
V’s and tacking apostrophes in their place. It’s grunt work, but somebody’s got
to do it if this poem’s going to get done.”

Gioia denied allegations that the poem is being mismanaged, claiming that he
has implemented several measures to keep the project on schedule, including
giving no more than two words to each poet, limiting alliteration and assonance
to a maximum of three words per line, cutting out all extraneous allusions to
Eliot and Yeats, and restricting any unwieldy metaphors hinting at the vast
alienation of modernity.

Although the poem is still in the early stages of construction, it has
already come under fire for serious structural issues, including a shaky
foundation and a half-dozen partial synecdoches.

“This poem is an eyesore,” said literary critic Stanley Fish. “The whole
right side of the verse is barely being held up by a load-bearing enjambment,
and it seems as if they just sloppily patched up all the holes in the piece with
plagiarized Rod McKuen passages.”

In addition, the tenuous line that was being drawn between the narrator’s
mortality and winter unexpectedly collapsed on itself Monday. Two poets were
killed in the incident.

“Sure, some of the imagery might be beautiful, but is this poem actually
going to be useful?” Fish said. “Or are people just going to look at it and go,
‘Huh. Interesting.’ Why not put this money toward something everybody can enjoy,
like a TV pilot or a New Yorker cartoon caption?”

“The government needs to stop throwing billions of dollars at the arts,” he

Fish cautioned that previous attempts to funnel money into poetry had been
cut short before they were fully completed, resulting in the large number of
unfinished, million-dollar poems that are still lying unread across the country
to this day.

via The


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The Alchemical Dream

In The Alchemical
a film produced by Sacred Mysteries and directed by Sheldon Rochlin, visionary
author and counterculture luminary Terence McKenna relates some of the curious
history of European alchemy, and the attempted creation of a religious utopia
based on alchemical principles. Dressed as the famed Hermetic magician John Dee,
McKenna strolls wistfully through the crumbling ruins and sweeping castle vistas
of Eastern Europe discussing the lost secrets of alchemy. He gives us a tour of
the last remaining alchemical laboratory in Heidelberg, and tells a fascinating
story of political intrigue and bohemian experimentation in the 16th century.

The alchemists were after what McKenna describes as a “magical theory of
nature.” They used precise and calculated methods that would pave the way for
the future intellectual development of some important sciences such as
chemistry, biology, phenomenology, and psychology. Their intention was to
transform the human spirit and the physical body itself into something divine
and wholly other, something resembling the odd and spectacular alchemical art of
the time. They experimented with myriad combinations of special chemicals,
magical formulas, and complex distillation processes designed to produce the
fabled “philosopher’s stone”: a metaphorical goal which can be read in many
ways. In essence, the alchemists were trying to bring heaven down to earth by
merging spiritual mysticism with the physiological exploration of alchemical

According to McKenna, the group of European alchemists who centered around
John Dee and the British court of Queen Elizabeth I in the late 1500’s believed
that the spiritual philosophy of alchemy was so profound and full of potential
that it should be embraced as the popular religious paradigm of the day. The
Christian preacher Martin Luther had started a Protestant reformation in 1517
with the 95 Theses and now, a century later, Dee felt that the world was ready
for an alchemical reformation. With this idea of a religious reformation in
mind, Dee and a group of court alchemists traveled to the palace of King
Frederick V of Bohemia in 1618 with the intention of establishing a new
alchemical kingdom.

This alchemical dream lasted for about a year before the Austrian dynasty of
the Hapsburg family got wind of the reformation plan and disapproved of
Frederick’s kingship, quickly dispatching an army to lay siege to the kingdom of
Bohemia and Frederick’s court. After a brief period of fighting Frederick was
defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain on November 8th, 1620, and the
Bohemian hopes of establishing an alchemical religious state were destroyed.
While the bulk of alchemical knowledge was lost to Western civilization after
this time, the intellectual threads of this esoteric philosophy can still be
found in the modern world.

As McKenna points out, this attempted reformation was not entirely dissimilar
to what happened in the social climate of America in the 1960’s with the
re-introduction of sacred plants into Western culture and the social upheaval
that occurred simultaneously. McKenna describes the drug revival of the 60’s as
a sort of “failed alchemy” whose ideal was to transform the human spirit, but
wound up as a splintered and marginalized movement, similar to alchemy. However,
although alchemy was lost to Western civilization for a few centuries, some of
the basic ideas can still be found scattered here and there in some esoteric
religious practices, mystical writings, transpersonal psychology and art history
books: themes of creativity, diversity, synchronicity, unions of opposites, and
personal psycho-spiritual exploration which were all an essential part of the
alchemical endeavor.

So while the dream of European alchemy may have apparently died in the 16th
century, the underlying motivation of the alchemists – a desire for innovative
and genuine spiritual experience – is a fundamental human characteristic that
can be traced through many different cultures and time periods. As an example of
this, at the end of The Alchemical Dream, McKenna makes an interesting
historical footnote about a young solider named Rene Descartes who was part of
the invading Hapsburg army which defeated the Bohemian kingdom. Shortly after
this time, Descartes was visited in a dream by an angelic apparition who
instructed him with a piece of advice which would fundamentally alter our world.
The angel said to him, “The conquest of nature is to be achieved through
measures and numbers.” Descartes would go on to become one of the most
influential scientists and philosophers of his day. For McKenna, this is a
perfect example of how the spirit of alchemy (the spirit of inner human
creativity) will continuously reappear at opportune moments and direct the
course of human events in mysterious ways which we can only begin to understand.

A trailer for the film is available on Google video. 

For more information or to request a screening, visit Sacred Mysteries.

via Reality
Sandwich | Tristan Gulliford

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