danvk.org » reviews http://www.danvk.org/wp Keepin' static like wool fabric since 2006 Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:59:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Happy People: A Year in the Taiga http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-02-12/happy-people-a-year-in-the-taiga/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2012-02-12/happy-people-a-year-in-the-taiga/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2012 05:06:42 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=832 Last fall, I was excited to read about Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov’s new film, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

I bought tickets for its one-night premiere at the IFC. Raven and I raced from our dinner to catch the 9 PM show… only to find out that it had been the night before. A tragic mistake for a one-night only show!

I recently found a full copy of the film on YouTube and we watched it. (Pro tip: the volume is a little low in the YouTube video. You can visit saveyoutube.com to download it to your hard drive. Then watch it in a desktop player like VLC with the volume turned up past the max.)

Herzog and Vasyukov glamorize life in the Taiga. The fur trappers’ existence is simple. They have few material possessions which they do not make themselves. A rifle, snowmobile and outboard motor are the lone exceptions. There’s something immensely satisfying about seeing the hunter making skis and a canoe in the fall, then using them in the winter. They are nearly completely cut off from the modern world. The only intrusion it makes into the film is when a Siberian politician visits on a boat, a curiosity to which the villagers pay little regard.

The men live for the winter hunt, and this is clearly the part of their lives which the filmmakers found most interesting. We hear more about their hunting dogs than we do about their wives or children. The only time we see real emotion from a hunter is when he describes watching a bear kill his favorite dog. Less pleasant things are talked of only briefly: the native people have been largely displaced by ethnic Russians, and those who remain are alcoholics. The protagonist of the movie was brought to Bakhta by helicopter thirty years ago to trap for the communist government. They had few supplies. Another man came with him, but he was “not up to the task” of survival.

This is a beautiful film which offers a glimpse into an increasingly rare way of life. Herzog and Vasyukov portray it as simple and remote, but I think is more due to their editing than to the reality of life in Bakhta. What about the women, who never speak in this film? Or the natives? Happy People leaves you respecting the people who live in the Taiga, but wanting to know more about them.

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Guns, Germs, and Steel http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-10-27/guns-germs-and-steel/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2009-10-27/guns-germs-and-steel/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2009 15:50:13 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=600

I recently picked up a copy of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, a self-described “short history about everyone for the last 13,000 years.” This book should have been right up my alley: it’s all about history, specifically early human history, which I don’t know much about.

Diamond’s goal is to explain why civilizations on the “Eurasian” continent developed to a much greater extent than they did in Africa, Australia or the Americas. Why did Europeans conquer the Americas and not the other way around? He wants to do this by looking for ultimate causes, not proximate ones like “Europeans had guns, while Americans didn’t.” He wants to explain this with environmental factors, not genetic ones. This seems like a nobel goal and an interesting subject for a book.

After about fifty pages, I was growing increasingly skeptical. He would make a point, present a very specious argument against it, then counter this argument. The old Straw man!

Then came the snippet that did this book in:

On the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected…

Moriori and Maori history constitutes a brief, small-scale natural experiment that tests how environments affect human societies. Before you read a whole book examining environmental effects on a very large scale—effects on human societies around the world for the last 13,000 years—you might reasonably want assurance, from smaller tests, that such effects really are significant…

He’s holding this up as a small-scale example of how environmental factors can take two civilizations in different directions. The Maori (of New Zealand) and the Moriori (of the Chathams) were only separated around AD 1500. But by 1835, the Maori conquered the Moriori using disproportionate force! Diamond argues that they were able to do this because they were a stratified, agricultural society while the Moriori were loosely-organized hunter-gatherers. Such a short time-span! No western influences! Such a clean sociological experiment!

But this is incredibly misleading. The giveaway should have been “armed with guns”. The Maori did not develop guns independently. But I skimmed over this. The bit that did jump out at me was “November 19, 1835″ and “December 5″. How do we have such precise dates for an interaction between native peoples? It was enough to send me racing to the Wikipedia article on The Chathams.

Those 500 Maori came to the Chathams on a British whaling ship. They were armed with British guns. They were told of the existence of the Chathams by the sailors on the same whaling vessel. There are no hints of ultimate causes here. If the British had armed the Moriori instead, things would have turned out very differently.

I try to retain a healthy sense of skepticism when reading any non-fiction book that presents a thesis. But it stops being fun when you know that the author is willing to deliberately mislead.

I’m curious how this book won a Pulitzer Prize. Did any of the reviewers actually read it?

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PBS FRONTLINE http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-02-27/pbs-frontline/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-02-27/pbs-frontline/#comments Thu, 28 Feb 2008 03:00:53 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-02-27/pbs-frontline/ frontline.gifFRONTLINE on PBS, the documentary series that takes on the tough, complicated issues and finds them… tough and complicated.

It’s rare for me to watch a documentary and conclude that it undereditorialized, but that’s exactly the reaction I’ve had to the first few episodes of this season.

medicated.pngFirst we had The Medicated Child, which looked at the rapid increase in drug prescriptions for ADHD and Bipolar disorder in children. Frontline’s approach was to follow several families that had either put their children on drugs or decided not to. Each family had widely varying reactions. One family felt that the drugs prevented their child from committing suicide. Another felt that the drugs had led directly to their child committing suicide. And so on. I doubt that these cases are typical, but with only a few stories in the show, it’s difficult to get any sense of proportion. The issue of what’s caused the increase in prescriptions, the issue I found most interesting going into the show, was hardly touched.

online.pngThen there was Growing Up Online, which purports to look at the increasingly prominent role of the internet in the lives of kids. I was really excited about this one since, unlike with most documentaries I see, I have very direct, personal experience with this issue. I was left with the distinct impression that I knew more about growing up online than the producers did. Once again, they followed a few extreme examples. One girl created an entire online world revolving around erotic, gothic pictures of herself. Another boy was driven to suicide by cyberbullying. These are interesting cases, but again, they are so rare that they throw off all sense of balance in the episode. The show was not without its strengths, however. Some of the kids had interesting perspectives on the role of the internet that I was able to relate to. And most interestingly, it showed me how growing up online has shifted since I did it. We had AIM and email when I was a kid, but most people didn’t have blogs and there was no Facebook. We had dialup. Going online was a decision. Nowadays kids have laptops, cable and wireless connections that are always on. Being online is no longer an experience, it’s just a given.

haditha.pngFinally we have Rules of Engagement, which looks at the incident in Haditha, Iraq. I was inspired to watch this by an interview with the director on On The Media, one of my favorite podcasts. Haditha is an especially thorny issue, even by FRONTLINE standards. The Marines say one thing. The Iraqi’s say something completely different. Several Marines have changed their stories, but only after being offered immunity to testify against one another. There’s essentially no physical evidence. It’s just one man’s word against another’s. I certainly feel as though I understand the Haditha situation better after watching this documentary, but I have no idea who to believe.

I guess this is a problem inherent to the documentary. Is a mere data dump valuable? Is it possible? Is it better to editorialize explicitly and make an argument, or is it better not to take sides and only incidentally present a skewed or unbalanced view.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I do know that FRONTLINE has left me wanting unqualified statements of fact. Maybe I’ll go read some math books…

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Favorite Albums of 2007 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-04/favorite-albums-of-2007/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-04/favorite-albums-of-2007/#comments Fri, 04 Jan 2008 20:45:31 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=270 (See also podcasts, TV shows, books and movies)

This is the last post in this series before we resume our regularly scheduled programming. I still discover most of my music through Pitchfork’s lists, so I’ve included links to those lists where appropriate. You may also want to check out my Favorite Albums of 2006.

Silent Shout
(The Knife – 2006; PF #1 album of 2006)
Pitchfork’s fave album of 2006 is one of my fave albums of 2007. The opening beat/song really pull you in, and the first nine tracks are all good, with “Marble House” and “Like a Pen” being standouts. The last two tracks are just miserable though, I mean “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” bad. This was the only album that I discovered through the 2006 list that I really enjoyed.

In Rainbows
(Radiohead – 2007; PF #4 album of 2007)
With its innovative “pay what you want” online distribution, it’s a good thing Radiohead made such a great album. It sounded nondescript the first time I listened to it, but quickly grew on me. Favorite tracks include “Bodysnatchers”, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place”.

Hip Hop Is Dead
(Nas – 2006)
I’ve already reviewed this album before, so it should come as no surprise that I liked it! It’s too bad that every Nas album gets compared to his first. Maybe he wishes he pulled a Radiohead instead.

Music for 18 Musicians
(Steve Reich – 1974; PF #53 album of the 1970′s)
It’s on the PF list, but The Rest Is Noise inspired me to listen to it. I enjoyed it the first time through, but couldn’t say I was really inspired. Then I started hearing those bass clarinets everywhere: the sound of a bus engine, the rhythm of a toothbrush across my teeth. For bonus points, try picking out the 18 musicians. (I think this would be really hard!)

Midnight Marauders
(A Tribe Called Quest – 1993; PF #75 album of the 1990′s)
I could do without the interludes, but the main tracks are fantastic grooves, combining jazz, funk and hip-hop. Favorite tracks include “8 Million Stories”, “Sucka Nigga”, and “Midnight”.

(Joni Mitchell – 1972; PF #86 album of the 1970′s)
I first heard Joni Mitchell in high school but was nonplussed. Then I heard a CD of songs whose names all contained the word “California” on it about two years ago. Joni Mitchell’s “California” made an appearance right after Tupac’s “California Love”. It’s certainly a ridiculous sequence, but I’m been torn on whether it’s also a good one. It’s tough to follow “California Love”, so maybe you should just go for something as different as possible. Once you get used to her voice, this is a really enjoyable album.

FutureSex/Love Sounds
(Justin Timberlake – 2006; PF #25 album of 2006)
As a friend of mine explained, we should all be thanking JT: “I didn’t even know sexy was gone, but he’s bringing Sexyback!” I was also really impressed by his concert at Madison Square Garden, which I saw on TV. You can watch clips of it here.

(Jeff Buckley – 1994; PF #69 album of the 1990′s)
The most famous accidental drowning of the last 15 years. I prefer the harder rock songs to the more down-tempo ones like “Lilac Wine” and “Hallelujah”. Faves are “Last Goodbye” and “Eternal Life”.

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Favorite Movies of 2007 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-03/favorite-movies-of-2007/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-03/favorite-movies-of-2007/#comments Fri, 04 Jan 2008 05:12:12 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=262 (See also podcasts, TV shows and books)

In case it hasn’t been clear from the previous posts, these are movies that I enjoyed in 2007, rather than movies that came out in 2007. I couldn’t hold myself to five movies this year, so I went with seven. Several of these came from “best of 2006″ lists like the Oscars. A few others came from the BAFTAs.

My Summer of Love
(Pawel Pawlikowski – 2004)
With only three real characters, this is a very simple, tightly-constructed movie. There’s nothing excessive about it. It’s carried by its strong themes: class, adventure, deception. The fact that the story revolves around a lesbian relationship is never mentioned — its light treatment here makes films like Brokeback Mountain seem very heavy-handed in comparison. I liked Pawel’s explanation of the film:

If you wanted to make a film about British teenagers it would be… well, it wouldn’t interest me, let’s put it like that. They’d be listening to music I hate, watching TV all the time, and talking about Big Brother. I needed to remove it, to get to the essence of adolescence without the paraphernalia of today. In a way I am arrested in my adolescent emotions, like most of us I think are, so [the film is] very personal, funnily enough, despite it being about two girls.

Touching the Void
(Kevin Macdonald – 2003)
Another BAFTA winner, this is a documentary about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ mountaineering expedition in the Andes. They’re both extremely down to earth, which makes it possible to relate to the extraordinary experience they went through. Simpson has dealt more directly with the prospect of his own death than just about anyone else, and his night in the crevasse is at the heart of this movie. His reaction isn’t heroic, but it’s very genuine.

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
(Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – 2006)
I saw two excellent German movies this year, both featuring Ulrich Mühe (the other being Zwartboek, technically a Dutch movie). Ironically, Mühe died a few weeks after I saw this movie. It follows a writer in Eastern Germany and a Stasi agent (Mühe) assigned to observe him. I don’t want to say too much, but the ending is absolutely perfect. It couldn’t have been done any better.

Pan’s Labyrinth
(Guillermo del Toro – 2006)
The combination of Spanish Civil War and a child’s fantastical imagination is strange, but it works surprisingly well. Innocence and Experience would be the themes here. An interesting side note: by 1944 the Spanish Civil War was almost entirely over. These really were the last holdouts.

The Fog of War
(Errol Morris – 2004)
An extended conversation with Robert McNamara, one of the more interesting and controversial Secretaries of Defense in the 20th century. I can only imagine how interesting it must be for someone who lived through the Vietnam War to hear what was going on behind the scenes like this. I can see why he was so hated during that war. He was a statistician during World War II managing bomber runs, and this kind of analytical approach to people informed everything else he did in his life. He views everything in a very detached way, always looking at the numbers. An interesting look at an interesting life.

The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy
(Israel – 2002)
A documentary about break-dancing, or “breaking” as the dancers prefer to call it. I learned a lot about the history of hip-hop from this movie, but if you don’t care about that, there are worse things you could do than watch a few hours of break-dancing. Highly recommended if you’re curious what the difference between “rap” and “hip-hop” is.

The Room
(Tommy Wiseau – 2003)
Tommy’s a genius, what more can I say? Oh right, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”

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Favorite Books of 2007 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-01/favorite-books-of-2007/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2008-01-01/favorite-books-of-2007/#comments Wed, 02 Jan 2008 02:55:23 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=259 (See also podcasts and TV shows)

While podcasts are great for the daily commute, books work pretty well, too. That 2+ hour daily commute translates into a huge number of pages. Most of these are books I read in the latter half of the year.

I’m too lazy to include images this time, but I included two bonus faves at the end to make up for it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Michael Pollan
This book really opened my eyes to how agriculture and the food industry in the United States work. Pollan follows four “food chains” from bottom to top: garden-variety industrial, organic, local and “hunter-gathered”, meeting unforgettable characters along the way. I’ve been reminded many times this year just how much I learned from this book.

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
It’s almost impossible to believe that I read this book in High School, given how little (i.e. major plot points) I remembered a second time around. I enjoyed the book much more this time around. This is mostly because I’ve had more experiences in my life now than I’d had ten years ago. Having had relationships and having moved from home into the unknown, I found it easy to relate to Pip’s changing fortunes. Estella is the most memorable character. “He calls the knaves Jacks, he does!”

King Leopold’s Ghost
Adam Hochschild
I’d heard “the race for Africa” referenced before reading this book, but never fully understood why it was such a catastrophe. This is an in-depth look at one aspect of it, the exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold’s Belgium for ivory and rubber. This was an extremely educational book for me. It’s a great look into how the world worked in the Guilded Age, as it helped me understand some of Africa’s problems today. One nit, though: Hochschild is inconsistent in whether he judges people by the norms of their own day versus our own. He finds the racism of many of his heroes understandable for its time, but Leopold is always presented as a modern man scheming to exploit the Congolese.

A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway
I heard about this at a Hemingway-themed party and greatly enjoyed it. Though it was published after his death, it recounts Hemingway’s time in Paris in the 1920′s. He has great stories to tell about all the famous writers and groups of the time, and his style works perfectly for this short read.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Malcolm X lived one of the seminal lives of the 20th century: his father was murdered by the KKK (it was ruled a suicide), he led a colorful life of crime during the Harlem Renaissance, became an influential leader of the Nation of Islam and was assassinated. If you’re not up for reading the book, the Spike Lee movieis fantastic.

OK, now the bonuses! Here are two articles I’ve enjoyed this year that you can read online:

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Favorite TV shows of 2007 (Plus a Bonus) http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-25/favorite-tv-shows-of-2007-plus-a-bonus/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-25/favorite-tv-shows-of-2007-plus-a-bonus/#comments Wed, 26 Dec 2007 06:28:04 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=254 (See also my favorite podcasts of 2007)

I’m not usually much of a TV watcher, but with shows increasingly going online, a one-hour episode can nicely fill up a shuttle ride. Without further ado, my favorite TV shows of 2007 (the bonus comes at the end):

I Love New York
Quick question: what’s the most commented-on post on danvk.org? It’s this one by a mile, with 74 comments and counting. Clearly danvk.org should become a Reality TV blog. After some digging, I realized that this was where all the visitors were coming from. New York was a completely hilarious show, hitting its stride about halfway through as the antics of Chance, Mr. Boston and the Stallionaires developed. I haven’t seen much of season two, but I have high hopes.

(FOX, Monday nights and online)
Sometime last year Gray’s Anatomy decided that medicine wasn’t interesting anymore and I started looking for a new show. Hugh Laurie could make just about anything entertaining, and the show comes up with some fun cases as well. Major style points for the Massive Attack theme song.

(PBS, WGBH Boston)
Frontline won my affections by putting their Endgame" actually made me understand The Surge in Iraq. Almost all episodes are great, but "Hand of God", "A Hidden Life", "e;Tank Man" and "The Age of Aids" are particular favorites.

planet_earth.jpgPlanet Earth
(BBC and Discovery Channel)
The prettiest show you’ll ever see, this was produced to help push new HDTV’s. One of my friends bought one this year, and this series was simply breathtaking on it. The first episode, “Pole to Pole”, “Caves” and “Jungles” are my faves.

Favorite Hip-Hopera of 2007
There’s just no contest in this post’s special bonus category.

closet.jpegTrapped in the Closet
(R. Kelly)
I’m afraid the first five or six scenes of this ‘hopera will squelch this genre with their greatness. R. Kelly just can’t keep up the intensity, and the later episodes are just too complicated. But man are those first few scenes great! Here they are on YouTube. The South Park spoof only adds to the magic.

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Best Podcasts of 2007 http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-24/best-podcasts-of-2007/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-24/best-podcasts-of-2007/#comments Tue, 25 Dec 2007 06:29:51 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=247 (So begins a series of “Favorite X of 2007″ posts. Feel free to add your own faves or otherwise pillory me in the comments.)

Sometime after purchasing an iPod and gaining a two-hour daily commute, I discovered the wonderful world of podcasting. Podcasts are essentially perfect for bus rides. You can listen to them while waiting for my shuttle to come. It takes no effort to pack and unpack my iPod when I get on/off the bus (compare to a book or laptop). Raining? Lights not working on the bus? Laptop low on batteries? No problem.

The podcasting universe as I know it is split between existing shows (from NPR, etc) using a new distribution method and new shows made exclusively as podcasts. The beauty of podcasts is that they allow intrepid amateurs to exploit the long tail of people’s interests. The very best are surprisingly well-produced shows on a particular topic by someone who cares deeply about it. My favorite podcasts of 2007 are split between these two kinds.

this_american_life_logo.gifThis American Life
(WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, updated weekly)
Who doesn’t like this show? Ira Glass and friends find interesting stories from all around the country and bring them to you each week. Almost any episode is interesting but some of my favorites include “Act V”, “Habeas Schmabeas” and “My Reputation”.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

byzantine_emperors.jpgTwelve Byzantine Emperors
(Lars Brownworth, sporadically)
Lars is a retired high school history teacher who happens to have a passion for the Byzantine empire and an excellent delivery. Lars finds a way to make each episode entertaining, and you’ll wind up learning a lot about a pretty obscure period that bridges the ancient and modern worlds. Sound too obscure? Think again, this is one of iTunes’ top fifty podcasts.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

on_the_media.jpgOn the Media
(WNYC — New York Public Radio, Friday evenings)
This is meta-news: reporters reporting on what reporters reported the previous week. And that can often be more interesting and informative than the story itself. In three months of listening to this show, there’s only been one episode I didn’t enjoy. New OTM episodes pop up on iTunes around 6 or 7 Friday evening and, I’ll admit, I’ve stuck around work until then just so I could listen to the new episode on the shuttle.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

(Richard Miller, sporadically)
One part of “the long tail of people’s interests” is local flavor. Sparkletack is the San Francisco History podcast. Richard is a graphic designer who loves his home town, and his podcast has turned him into an amateur historian. Early episodes are short and hit a wide range of topics, then sometime early this year they started to become more professional: longer, more in depth, and better researched. Some of Richard’s mannerisms can be a bit much, but his episodes are generally excellent and give me perspective on my new home. About halfway through one episode, I realized that all the events were taking place at a park just a few blocks from my house! I doubt that many cities have a local history podcast, but if yours does, give it a shot.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

meet_the_press.jpgMeet the Press
(NBC, Sunday mornings)
I’ve always liked Meet the Press, but I could never listen to it in the past, either because I was asleep or in Church on Sunday morning. Podcasting solves that problem. I usually enjoy the analysis more than the interviews with newsmakers.
Subscribe: iTMS or RSS

What are your favorites? I’m always looking for new podcasts, and would love to hear suggestions.

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Never buy a D-Link WBR-1310 Wireless Router http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-17/never-buy-a-d-link-wbr-1310-wireless-router/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-12-17/never-buy-a-d-link-wbr-1310-wireless-router/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2007 17:25:58 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=242 I bought one from Fry’s a few months ago because it was the cheapest option and I assumed all wireless routers were more or less the same. Not so. You’d think the D-Link QA people would have discovered that this thing can’t maintain a connection for more than five minutes before it went to market. Here’s a smattering of reviews:

  • Strengths: the lights are really pretty with the rest of the blinking lights that make up my computer setup.
    Weaknesses: how about holding a connection for more then 2 minutes”
  • “Mistakenly, I didn’t check any reviews before buying it, but if you look, you’ll see the same thing over and over. The WBR-1310 drops its wireless signals, without fail, every 5-15 minutes. Not once, in the entire time I owned it (which was only 2 weeks untill I finally got fed up enough to return it) did it hold a signal for over 15 minutes.”

So do your research before you buy a wireless router! I bought a Linksys WRT54G to replace the D-Link, and have been happy with it in the past two days of use. The Wiki article says that this was the first wireless router to have its firmware open-sourced. As my roommate pointed out, that speaks volumes about Cisco’s confidence in this product.

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A Sculptural Salute http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-09-05/a-sculptural-salute/ http://www.danvk.org/wp/2007-09-05/a-sculptural-salute/#comments Thu, 06 Sep 2007 05:43:09 +0000 http://www.danvk.org/wp/?p=204 I took a walk around the San Jose State University campus yesterday, and stumbled upon this statue:


It’s based on the famous photograph of the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics:


Although less controversial now than it was at the time, I was still surprised to see this moment memorialized as a statue. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

First of all, why were the figures standing back to back? That’s not how medalists usually pose.

Second, and more important, my favorite part of that image was missing. Where’s that random white guy who’s in hopelessly over his head? Inexplicably, he’s been excised from the scene entirely. Where he would be standing, there’s an empty spot on the podium, as though he’s an embarrassment to the artistry of the moment. That’s never how I’ve seen the image. With the random white guy, it’s real life, which never works out quite so perfectly as you’d planned. Without him, it’s pure iconography.

Somewhat disgusted, I came home and researched the statue and the salute itself. I quickly learned that both of my concerns were largely misplaced.

Firstly, the positioning. Although it’s hard to tell from the canonical photograph above, Smith and Carlos are standing back to back. They didn’t make their famous gesture until everyone had turned to the American flag during the playing of the national anthem. This image, taken from a different angle, shows that the statue has the positioning exactly correct, even down to the bend in Smith’s legs.


The detailed story frustrated me even more at the omission of Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist. Far from being the innocent bystander I’d read into the picture, Norman was an integral part. When Carlos forgot his black gloves, Norman suggested that he take Smith's left glove. What’s more, he wore a civil rights badge as a gesture of solidarity. He was ostracized for his actions in Australia, and was left off their 1972 Olympic team for his actions. There can be no doubt that he was part of this moment. He took a stand and paid the price. Leaving Peter Norman out of the scene was an enormous insult.

And so I felt until I read this fabulous review. Norman’s omission was the single most controversial element of the piece. But it had its purpose. His spot on the podium was left empty so that visitors could stand there to pose for pictures or to lead rallies. And so the imagery comes full cycle. Smith and Carlos created an iconic moment for the cameras. The sculptor turns this moment on its head, making it lend that iconic feel to countless future moments on future cameras.

If Peter Norman attended the dedication and gave it his OK, then who am I to criticize? The sculpture is part of the Speed City exhibit in downtown San Jose, which runs through November. It was created by Rico23, a Portuguese artist.

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