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8 July 2009

July 4th Afterparty Improvisation: McNamara vs. Eisenhower vs. Ornette

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It’s interesting to live through death at this still-quite-close to the fin de si├Ęcle moment. Every major passing of a 20th century figure is an opportunity to reconsider that over-mediated century in its entirety — especially the passing of individuals whose reputations have come into doubt since the 20th century passed into the 21st, ones whose fame has curdled into infamy

Two days after the fourth of July, Robert Strange McNamara, well, he died. And two days after that, I found myself thinking a bit about him in relation to another man, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, someone I think of as his philosophical counter.

Photographically speaking these two men have quite a lot in common.

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Otherwise, they were quite different. Eisenhower was the last commander-in-chief with real and intimate knowledge of the American military which our presidents’ so famously and erratically command. He is a man who, I suspect, would be suspicious of aphorisms, yet one of his has grown quite famous: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

This strikes me as strong advocacy for the benefits & powers of improvisation. Wise advise from a general used to working in the field.

By contrast, McNamara was a technocrat, detached from the day-to-day workings of the ideas which he developed and deployed into the world. He was a famed advocate and innovator of systems analysis, which developed into the discipline known as policy analysis, all of which are sometimes called operations research, all of which have their own entries on Wikipedia, but all of which I’d discourage you from trying to understand too deeply because of my abiding suspicion that all of it is gobbledygook.

McNamara was suspicious of improvisation. And by that I do not mean the music of Ornette Coleman:

Rather, I am speaking of a suspicion of flexible thinking. Of change. Of diverging from the plan.

Huh, maybe I am talking about Ornette Coleman?

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G*d bless America, and forgive her her trespass(es). Et. al.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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7 May 2009

Every Flickering Light is a Star, or “It makes me want to fuck & kill which is illegal, even in pornography.”

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30 April 2009

Lives in Pictures

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(All photographs in this post via The Sartorialist)

I saw a this blog post the other day that seemed to summarize three abiding interests of mine all at once — death, style, and the inability to articulate important things. It opens:

    My Father passed away last week.

I won’t try to write about what he meant to me, because I am not a good enough writer to express that level of sentiment.

This appeared on The Sartorialist, a blog about fashionable people captured in situ on various city streets — in Melbourne, Milan, Paris, New York. Not the first place you’d expect to read about death but there it was.

I have been thinking about dead fathers a lot recently — as well as about elder parents in general, the difficulty of losing these people. My friends & I are all getting to that age or, rather, the people who raised us are. And then The Call comes. With stunning regularity nowadays. Without rhyme or reason. “It’s not like they were 80.” “But she was fine just last week.” “You saw what in the hospital?”

But the thing is, that’s not what is said in these circumstances. I backtrack. “Was it unexpected?” I check in. “Are you okay?” I struggle. “— — —“ As if anything will help…

How are we supposed to talk about these things?

I appreciate how the post I quoted opens with a powerfully inarticulate one-two punch. It’s a tough thing to acknowledge that you don’t really know what to say, and it is a brave and revealing thing to say it artlessly. I’m reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein…

    What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

Wittgenstein puts everything in such poetic terms. But even better is the courage to stumble, then try to say something anyway. It’s more vulnerable, more human, less self-conscious, and I appreciated that.

Of course, also, there was the simple nostalgic act of posting old pictures. (Accompanying the post is a series of images from 1964-65 of the author’s dad — a writer/producer/director for television — on location, in many of the same cities where The Sartorialist finds his subjects.) They’re well curated, of course. And the context add depth to the entire enterprise. It turned the blogger’s obsession with style into a kind of reflection on where he came from.

This is how I got here.

I won’t claim to say I noticed a difference in the pictures that have come in the aftermath. But that’s not how we benefit from experience is it? It’s not an all-at-once thing. The skill of seeing things, really seeing things, accretes over time, like lines around the eyes. The Sartorialist is a casual master at showing how pictures can speak more clearly than language ever does.

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