Monday, April 27, 2009


It is important to always remember that at any time you think of it there are people being kept in buildings when they want to go outside.

—from My Abandonment by Peter Rock.
I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 24, 2009


The esteemed archivist and champion of artistic re-use Rick Prelinger came and gave a talk here a couple months back. If you don't already know about the Prelinger Archives, check it out. Prelinger and his people collect and save and offer for free public use more than 60,000 (and growing) archival films, from advertisements to instructional films to public service announcements. The reels of vintage television commercials are totally absorbing.

Next time I go to San Francisco I am excited to visit this place in person.

Here's my notes from the PowerPoint presentation Rick gave.


1. Why add to the population of orphaned works?
"We're in the world capital of ephemera," says Prelinger. And: "We cling to the absurd idea that products of our mind become property the instant they're born."
2. We assume the new is better than the old.
3. Honor our ancestors by recycling their wisdom.
"I don't like eternalizing the present," he says, because we don't know now what will be meaningful later.

4. The ideology of originality is arrogant and wasteful.
And here he inserts a graphic of the hydrologic cycle.
5. Dregs are the sweetest drink

6. And leftovers were spared for a reason.
The library he runs is "a library filled with bad ideas... I like to joke that it's 98 percent false consciousness." And this is important, he says: "You can't judge the past only at its best--you need to confront the contradictions" and what didn't work. He compares it to the finding that farm kids suffer fewer allergies, possibly due their exposure to manure and dirt, and that rooting around in the archive can have a similar effect, building up your immunity to bad ideas.

7. Actors don't get a fair shake the first time around, let's give them another.
What he calls "reincarnation through reuse." He says: "We should use copyright homeopathically, not as a tool of shock and awe." (That's right, U2. Leave Negativland alone.)

8. The pleasure of recognition warms us on cold nights and cools us in hot summers.
"Rivers are like information--they route around obstacles, and rivers are most exciting at their bends."

9. We reach the future by typically roundabout means.
"Storytelling as we know it is not an absolute." Rather, we're conditioned to favor a particular kind of storytelling, character-based with a certain narrative arc that in documentaries in particular depends on a predictable formula of character with a problem --> character surmounts problem in second half. "We value it for wrapping new skins on old skeletons." And the dominance of this template is "tyrannical."

10. We hope the future is listening, and the past hopes we are too.

11. What's gone is irretrievable, but it might also predict the future.
This was the part that really stuck with me. Here he talked about those old films from the 1950s that are about behavior and manufacturing etc. and how there was a wave of fascination and interest in them in the '80s (and into the '90s too, judging from my own college experience.)

The problem, he says, is that people tended to see these old filmstrips as purely funny or kitschy, or be caught up with the style, the color, the voice, the funny rigidity of the mannerisms. But, he urges, "Don't see them as antiquated but as predictive"--and points out with frightening accuracy that all those movies of perfect controlled schoolchildren in the 1950s did not actually reflect the free-roaming ways of kids then, but in fact looks a lot more like today's suburban children, who are far more restricted and controlled in their movements than children anytime in the 20th century.

12. Access to what's already happened may be easier to get than access to to what's happening now.

13. Use justifies archives.

14. Make a quilt, not an advertisement.
"Quilting is an early form of sampling."

Here's a sample from the archives: "Are You Popular?" (1948), "a scream and a sobering document of postwar conformity" (and it features an actress named Bunny Catcher!)

• "Perversion for Profit" (1965), produced by Citizens for Decent Literature


As social networking becomes more an intrinsic part of real life, I have a couple suggestions to make it even more like real life. 

1) Twitter should introduce the option: "Pretend To Follow This User." 
Maintains the socially comfortable illusion of mutuality while liberating you from [tedious Twitter peeve of your choice].

2) Here are some other responses Facebook could add to its comment options. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I can't believe how long it's been since I last posted selections from The Park Rapids Enterprise's incident report. Here are some recent happenings.
A male party was reported passed out in a truck in Arago Township, First Response arrived on the scene to learn he was taking a nap while waiting for a tow; A Rockwood Township caller reported her 18-year-old daugher is "out of control"; A Park Rapids caller reported being assaulted outside a Park Rapids bar, but the responding officer says the reporting party (RP) does not recall the assault and the manager is now calling about the RP being loud; A car eastbound on Hwy 34 was reported to be turning headlights on and off; "A lot of shooting" was reported in a sand pit in Rockwood township, caller found a considerable amount of litter when he arrived; A Fern Township caller reported neighbors dumping garbage in his driveway; A Farden Township caller reported "her uncle is drunk and out of control," he grabbed a knife, went to the back bedroom then outside; A Todd Township caller reported receiving harassing text messages from her children's father's new girlfriend; A Henrietta Township caller complained of a flashing light on a radio tower; A Park Rapids caller reported four small children in the backseat of a Neon, concerned with lack of carseats and seatbelts; A Park Rapids caller reported someone broke into her apartment while she was in jail; A Todd Township caller reported being slapped by his girlfriend, she left on foot, headed towards Park Rapids; A Park Rapids caller states "neighbor's footprints are in his mom's yard"; All the mailboxes on CSAH 32 to Highway 71 were open in Arago Township; Footprints were reported circling a Park Rapids yard, party appears to have been looking in windows; A Park Rapids caller reported a group of kids in the store are staggering, seem to be intoxicated; A Park Rapids caller reported someone breaking into their home, could hear scratching and pounding and saw hands; A trophy was stolen from an Arago Township residence, caller believes her ex-husband stole it; A little blue car "coming in from the west" was reported traveling at a high rate of speed; Gunshots were heard at the old Deer Town; A Park Rapids caller reported someone put something in her mailbox, would like to speak to an officer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


My dog has taken a deep scholarly interest in squirrels. Our walks have become characterized by the pause, paw lifted and ears pricked, followed by full-throttle barreling toward some distant tree, where he then rises on his hind legs, one paw resting on the bark, and gazes longingly upward at his chattering, taunting quarry.

But nothing thrills him more than these guys, a long lineage of whom inhabit the town square.

The albino squirrels here are leisure squirrels, well-fed and publicly adored. With Emmett as their main threat, they can look forward to long and happy lives.

Most albino and leucistic (another white-skin condition) animals are not so lucky. In the wild, they're vulnerable to sunburn (!) and easier for predators to target. Hunters are the worst of all--strange how humans place an enormous monetary value on a white animal ($60,000 for the chance to shoot a white tiger) that is less about the animal and more about the thrill of killing it.

Paradoxically the animal is much rarer alive than it is dead. The population of skinned and stuffed albinos surely outnumbers the living (and continues to grow).

Astutely put: "It is an incredibly Victorian attitude that if something is unusual your response is to kill it."

That's right, little guy. Beat your retreat.

By the way, a Google image search of albino animals yields a pretty mind-blowing gallery. Gorillas, kangaroos, peacocks, giraffes, moose, pink dolphins...

Monday, April 13, 2009


Swearing at the Friday night meat raffle in Nevis (population 400) made the front page of a recent Park Rapids Enterprise. Wild times!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


In the last couple of weeks I have been feeling pinned and wriggling, and what it makes me crave more than anything is live music. I want to plunge into a loose crowd in a dark room and feel only the sound and the moment.

It touches the little ache of longing I feel lately for my other life, my Portland life, where I associate shows with bear hugs and shouting greetings and cheering on friends. I also just need the relief of seeing other people making their art, live and in the moment.

Last week the Mountain Goats came, in solo form. There's a little student nightclub here that's actually a great venue, dark and intimate with good sightlines and a sprawling beer list--in my youth I saw countless bands here, the 90s playbook (Guided by Voices, Tortoise, Velocity Girl, Tsunami, Shellac, Come, Gaunt, Cibo Matto, Labradford, the Jesus Lizard, Run On, Ui, Tribe 8, and many more fallen through the memory gap.) The kids packed the place for the Mountain Goats, sitting adoringly on the sides of the stage and singing along loudly and fervently as a tent revival.

John Darnielle is a great performer. Of course he is funny and energetic and a gifted songwriter, but also he is not afraid to be weird, ugly, strident, hit a curdled note, make strange faces, double over, sweat, pull his glasses off and put them on again a second later. It's good to remember: you have to be embarrassing and awkward in the service of art. It's part of the process. It's real.

A couple of nights ago Des Ark came through, also solo, and played to maybe fifty people. The intimacy suited her stripped-down songs and aching voice. She played mostly newer material--no "Subtleties of Chores and Unlocked Doors," my favorite--but closed with an encore of "Lord of the Rings and His Fascist Timekeepers," where she broke before the last verse to resituate herself on the steps of the stage, unmiked, inches away from us, taking it to the next level of close.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


New ThunderAnt, with my favorite guest stars yet.

For the record, no one has punched me in the face. (Yet.)