Thursday, May 31, 2007

Russel Kraus

This article is several years old but gives some background on this great video. Take the time to watch it.

clipped from www.stltoday.comBy David Bonetti

Russell Kraus: Midwestern Modernist
Post-Dispatch Visual Arts Critic

What can you say when the hottest debut in town is an 87-year-old artist? Young has nothing to do with age, everything with attitude.

Debut might not be a totally accurate word here: Much of the commercial work of Russell Kraus has been seen before, if anonymously, and his stained-glass windows and mosaics continue to embellish many churches in the Midwest and the South. But his paintings, his private work, have not been shown in decades, if ever. Indeed, the most exciting works on view - 18 of the 30 paintings of children he made for his despondent wife in the 1980s - have never been shown publicly.
The retrospective is an education in itself, reprising through the career of one artist much of the history of 20th-century American art.

Kraus' early paintings are social realist. His "Farm Boy" and "Joe," images of a barefoot, freckle-faced farm boy in a straw head and a nattily dressed African-American boy, respectively, are highly competent examples of a painting steeped in representation of the lives of common people.

Later, Kraus made excursions through a hard-edged representational abstraction that owes much to Stuart Davis and a Magrittean surrealism into a kind of hokey magic realism, a movement that needs to be looked at critically by contemporary art historians.

At the same time, Kraus was making his living as a commercial artist, and the work from that part of his career shows that he operated at a high level. His posters for the war effort made under the auspices of the WPA possess the stripped-to-the-bone aesthetic of a nation engaged in life-or-death struggle. No St. Louis war-industry worker who saw his "The Enemy Is Listening" poster would easily let any secret pass his or her lips in the local tavern.

Most impressive among Kraus' commercial illustrations are the two advertisements he made in 1959 for Warren's Lithographic Papers. Both display his skill at precisionist rendering, and, in one, the composition of tools arranged at 90-degree angles betrays a modernist sensibility.

Kraus' stained-glass work is represented by a slide show, and appropriately so, since both projected imagery and stained glass are brought to life by light. And his jewelry designs, represented by examples of the actual works, primarily in elegant ebony and silver, exhibit a sophisticated understanding of art deco simplicity.

The highlight of the show is the 18 paintings of children. It might be easy to dismiss these representations of large-eyed waifs as kitsch, the memory of Margaret Keane too powerful to expunge, but that would be missing the point. The paintings seem to come from a deep place that easily transcends kitsch's superficial appeal. The suppressed feeling expressed is almost frightening. The banal images seem to function as attempted exorcisms of an intolerable situation.

Each of the portraits features a head-and-shoulders, nearly life-size image of a child. Each of the slightly too-perfect faces looks forward toward the viewer inexpressively, a handful tentatively attempting a smile. Many come with props. One girl holds two large stuffed rabbits, their heads the same size as hers, the interiors of their large ears Pepto-Bismol pink. An unsmiling girl with braids holds a large Raggedy Ann doll similarly braided. One of the few boys appears with rows of toy soldiers. An older girl with hair piled on her head in tight coils holds a hysterically smiling clown doll with wild red-yarn hair.

Most of these fastidiously rendered faces appear against brightly colored patterned grounds, op, pop and hard-edged in style. The paintings are vibrantly colored, and, although painted in the '80s, they capture '60s and '70s styles with cast-to-the-wind freedom.
Also striking are the nine small self-portraits Kraus painted between 1942 and 1960. Most are done in the same precisionist style that finds a renewed resonance today. It is fascinating to see the same stolid Midwest face, broad and full, with blond hair, progress through time, the face slipping with the call of gravity, the hair thinning and fading.

Although they are little known, Kraus' paintings of children and his self-portraits strike me as works that belong in major museum collections, especially locally. This show, admirably mounted by Des Lee Gallery director Philip Slein, might be the first step to the fuller appreciation as an artist that Kraus deserves. Washington University's School of Art, which administers the gallery, should be admonished, however, for failing to produce a catalog or at the least a brochure of the exhibition.
This is the Frank Lloyd Wright house that Russell and his wife Ruth lived in in St. Louis. It is now owned by the St. Louis County Parks Department, which maintains the 10.5 acre grounds as Ebsworth Park. House and Park are open to the public.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


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Bumped Fliers and No Plan B

Checking in at the US Airways counter in Phoenix for a flight to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There were enough no-shows that no one was bumped.

PHOENIX — The summer travel season is under way, and so many planes are expected to be full that, if you are bumped, you could end up waiting days for a seat on another flight to the same destination.

The number of fliers bumped against their will is expected to reach a high for the decade this year.

True, those travelers — about 56,000 of them — still represent only a small fraction of all passengers. But the increasing difficulty of rebooking bumped passengers has made the experience more maddening for fliers, and for the airline workers who deliver the bad news.

Overbooking is one of many airline practices that are complicated by crowded planes. Airlines are running closer to capacity than at any point during the jet age — an expected 85 percent or so full this summer, which means all the seats on popular routes will be taken.

Airlines, of course, overbook to avoid losing billions of dollars because of empty seats. Inevitably, though, they guess wrong on some flights and too many people arrive at the gate.

Vouchers for free flights have long been used to convince enough passengers to stand aside and wait for the next flight. But now, more people are refusing the voucher — which can vary from a small dollar amount to a round-trip ticket anywhere an airline flies (people who are involuntarily bumped get up to $400 for their troubles).

The reason is that fliers have figured out that with flights full, there are fewer and fewer seats to be bumped to.

The number of people bumped involuntarily — those refusing the voucher — rose 23 percent last year and kept rising in the first quarter of this year.

The ranks of all bumped passengers last year, 676,408, was small — unless you were one of them — compared with the 555 million total airline passengers.

Airline workers, of course, do not like bumping, either.

"It's embarrassing," said Brigid Mullin, a gate agent for US Airways here. On one or two flights a day, Ms. Mullin is left to explain to passengers that US Airways sold more tickets than it has seats on the plane.

"People are going to yell," Ms. Mullin said.

Mr. Beall, the US Airways official, said, "Employees call in sick because they don't want to deal with overbookings."

At an employee meeting just after the merger, Mr. Parker was confronted about the issue by John Martino, then a gate agent in Boston. "You know you're going to be yelled and screamed at to the point you have to call the police," he said.

Mr. Parker replied: "Why do we do so much of it? We will overbook as long as we allow people to no-show for flights; 7 to 8 percent of our customers are no-shows."

At some airlines, the no-show rate is higher, as passengers take advantage of refundable tickets, which include those bought by business travelers at the last minute.

The potential impact is huge. US Airways had revenue of $11.56 billion last year and would have lost out on $1 billion or more of that had it not overbooked, the company said.

And with profit of just $304 million for the year, and with other airlines operating on similarly slim margins, "we'd probably all go bankrupt" without overbooking, Mr. Trenga said.

That said, Mr. Trenga acknowledged, "People view overbooking as something not on the up-and-up."

So, while he tells his neighbors that he oversees pricing at US Airways, "I conveniently forget to mention the overbooking part." US Airways rates in the middle of the industry pack on bumping passengers.

Of course, airlines could end no-shows and the need for overbooking by selling only nonrefundable tickets. JetBlue Airways does that, and no-shows lose the value of their ticket.

But business travelers, who pay the most, want refundable tickets and even JetBlue is considering offering them.

The revenue lost by leaving a seat empty — a spoiled seat, in industry parlance — typically exceeds the cost of compensating a bumped passenger. Only fear of angering people keeps airlines from overbooking more.

No-show rates used to be much higher — 20 percent or more for many airlines. Many travel agent reservations were unreliable. Other bookings were duplicates.

At US Airways, into the late 1990s, the no-show rate was about 14 percent, Mr. Beall said, and its ability to overbook accurately suffered. "We were stuck in an overbooking quagmire," he said. "We had scant credibility" with gate agents.

But even after cleaning up its reservations and reducing no-shows to 7 percent to 8 percent, no-shows still vary widely among flights.

Waiting for the grizzly

Poem: "In the Park" by Maxine Kumin, from Nurture. © Viking Penguin, 1989.

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
–you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park. He laid on me not doing anything. I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.

Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them. For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels. Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there is a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot. In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

Ground Zero

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 2002 that city workers held a wordless ceremony marking the end of the recovery and cleanup at Ground Zero in New York City.

The cleanup crew had consisted of more than 7000 firefighters, policemen, construction workers, and volunteers. The site covered 17 acres and rose 150 feet above the street. Some of the steel columns pulled from the piles glowed red. The workers eventually removed 1 1/2 million tons of debris in more than 100,000 truckloads.

The ceremony on this day in 2002 took place at 10:29 a.m., the precise time at which the second of the twin towers collapsed. A New York City firefighter struck a bell 20 times, the traditional ceremony for a fallen firefighter. The New York City Fire Department had lost 343 firefighters on September 11th.

A group of firefighters and police officers played bagpipes and drums as a flatbed truck carried away the last steel beam to be removed from the site. Many of the workers had written their names on the beam. Most of the 200,000 tons of steel recovered from the site were cut down into three-foot sections and sold primarily to Asian scrap metal companies, to be recycled for use in cars and appliances and all manner of ordinary objects and machines.

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Ensuring Progress at Ground Zero

Published: May 26, 2007

Visitors to the former World Trade Center site last year witnessed the idle construction equipment and saw only the faintest of markings where the twin towers once stood. Ground zero was a sad place made even sadder by a lack of progress.

Now, as thousands of today's tourists can attest, there are construction workers and cranes and the first signs of new steel beams going in the ground, welcome signs that restoration is under way. What got this work started was an agreement about a year ago between Larry Silverstein, who held the lease on the twin towers, and the governors of New York and New Jersey and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But there was always one big missing piece — the insurance money owed by those companies who carried policies on the twin towers.

This week, most of those insurers finally agreed to what may be the largest insurance payout in history — $4.55 billion. The agreement means that Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the two main developers of the site, can now proceed to get additional financing to build the entire $9 billion complex.

Although numerous politicians were lining up to grab credit for ending this particularly acrimonious legal dispute, it is really Eric Dinallo, New York's new insurance superintendent, who deserves the applause. Mr. Dinallo did what former Gov. George Pataki and his own insurance appointee should have done long ago. He finally called all the warring parties into one room and prodded them to settle their differences.

The insurance agreement does not completely clear the way for the complicated reconstruction work that needs to be done at ground zero. Plans for building and leasing the Freedom Tower, the tallest skyscraper on the site, are still shaky. The old Deutsche Bank building, which was set to be demolished three years ago to make way for one of the towers, is still there, its deconstruction proving more costly and difficult by the day.

The unraveling of the insurance mess, however, has provided new hope. Instead of a grim silence around ground zero, the noise of rebuilding sounds the revival of Lower Manhattan.

If there is progress in the reconstruction, news about how 9/11 affected people's health only gets worse. For the first time, New York's chief medical examiner, Dr. Charles Hirsch, has linked the death of a lawyer who worked near the trade center to the cloud of dust that enveloped her that day.

Felicia Dunn-Jones, who ran from the area as the towers disintegrated, developed sarcoidosis, a rare lung disease, and died five months later. The medical examiner's decision could expand the number of people with claims that they were injured by the destruction of the towers. The seriousness of the health problems, and the growing number of people who appear to have been affected, make it clear that the price tag will be in the billions of dollars. New Yorkers alone cannot, and should not, have to pay for the care that is needed. Congress will have to do that. Sept. 11 was an attack on America, and America should care for its victims.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Salix integra (dappled willow) Hakura Nishiki

This beautiful small tree in our neighborhood has been in leaf for the past month. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

More neighborhood photos.

Portland Pearl District Snaps

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Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki'
Dappled Willow

Description: A real show stopper! Bright pink shoots which open to creamy white and green variegated leaves. Heavy fertilization will maintain it's color. This shrub can also be trained into a small tree and can usually be found in shrub and tree form. Catkins bloom on the stems of this plant in early April. Grows 12-18" per year. (tree form shown below ↓) Bloom Color: Yellow Bloom Time: Spring Foliage Color: Green, silvery and variegated; yellow fall color Height: 10-15' Spread: 15-20'

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Dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki')

The plant: This deciduous shrub produces foliage with green, pink and creamy-white variegation. The delicate catkins that appear in spring are followed by bright pink shoots which open to mottled leaves. In winter the bare stems are reddish. 'Hakuro-nishiki' is sometimes grafted onto a single stem to form a standard (tree form). Most often, the cultivar is sold as a shrub. The solid green Salix integra is native to Japan and is a shrub with pendulous shoots. 'Hakuro-nishiki' should reach a height of five feet with a spread of four feet and is hardy to USDA Zone 5. In Jarvis' garden, this lovely willow has grown into a huge plant, at least twice or three times as large as advertised.
How to use it: Plant as a specimen (by itself) or in a shrub border. A dark evergreen backdrop would show off the winter color and the bright foliage of late spring. Jarvis has planted 'Hakuro-nishiki' on the bank of his lotus pond.
Cultivation: Site in full sun. Cut back in early spring to encourage good foliage color.
Source: Joy Creek Nursery


Memoir: She is No Lady

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Dear Garrison,

In your most recent Old Scout column, you mentioned an 80-year old friend of yours who has written a memoir. Did she write it for publication? I'd like to read it, if so. I love to sit and listen (and read) to the life stories of the seasoned. And, I'll sit and look at anyone's old photographs, whether I know them or not.

I think that's because my parents hardly took any photos of me (an only child). It just didn't occur to them. A friend of mine recently sent me a picture of her, her sister and me when we were about 8 or 9 years old. It was early spring or summertime, maybe just after supper—I am squinting at the sun, and we are wearing the pedal-pushers of the early 60's. Her mother had found it at the bottom of an old box of pictures. There was a part of my life I could hold in my hands, not just try to reach back and try to remember. I cried for an hour.

It's good to listen and look at another person's life and experience. It's one way to learn. Sometimes, I've found that all of our lives really aren't so different. And then sometimes, they are, and then, it's pure entertainment.

Let me know, if you can, and thanks.

Angela C.
Genoa, IL

An 80-year-old woman I know, who never had literary aspirations that I was aware of, has written a beautiful memoir.
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The friend is Arvonne Fraser who has been a big player in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party of Minnesota for more than fifty years. She started out working for Hubert Humphrey when he was starting out, and then married Donald Fraser and ran his campaigns for Congress — he was elected to many terms from Minneapolis, later was mayor of Minneapolis — and she and Don have always represented the basic decency and patriotism of most people in politics, Democrats or Republicans. Her memoir is entitled She Is No Lady and it's coming out in the fall and I find it quite an astonishing book for its frankness and its wit and its sheer grasp of detail. The woman has a clear mind. It's the best political autobiography I've read in many years and I'm just proud of her.

Try this if you're obsessive compulsive

Poem: "Advice to Myself" by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tiny, tinier, tiniest

This is an excerpt from the essay. To read the entire essay click here
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A Minor History of / Miniature Writing
Joshua Foer

2060 B.C.E.

The earliest known example of miniature writing appears on a Sumerian cuneiform clay tablet measuring 1 5/16 inches by 1 5/8 inches. (Courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)

1877 C.E.
Sixty years after the publication of James Parkinson's landmark "Essay on the Shaking Palsy," French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot first recognizes micrographia, or increasingly miniaturized handwriting, as a clinical symptom of Parkinson's disease.

1884 C.E.
The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris becomes the first library in the world to use microfilm to condense texts.

1894 C.E.

Miniature book collector George Salomon of Paris disperses his seven-hundred-title collection, a library that reportedly "could be carried in a moderate-sized portmanteau." His spirit lives on today in the Miniature Book Society, an organization whose interests extend only to printed works three inches or smaller. (Pocket Library of Lilliputian Folio Books, London, 1801. Courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)

2003 C.E.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Pawan Sinha and Pamela Lipson, a husband-and-wife team of vision researchers, along with psychology professor Keith Kluender, for creating the world's smallest book. While napping during an academic conference, Sinha, a Hindu, dreamt of inscribing the entire Bhagavad Gita on a grain of rice. When he awoke, he realized the Gita was too short to pose much of a challenge and instead conspired with his wife (a Jew) to develop software to print the 180,568-word New Testament in twenty-four-karat gold on a silicon chip. Each letter is the size of a red blood cell [Check this out!] The entire book fits on a five-square-millimeter tablet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let's hear it for Hallie Ford

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Art college gets a $15 million gift

Hallie E. Ford's gift to the Pacific Northwest College of Art will bring world-class artists to Portland for residencies

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hallie E. Ford, a 102-year-old philanthropist, is giving the Pacific Northwest College of Art $15 million, the largest single donation to an Oregon cultural group.

The gift signals an important turnaround at the once-struggling art school and marks its growing role as a hub for the city's creative economy.

The college will use most of the money to create an ambitious program that will bring world-class artists, performers and designers to live and teach in Portland. Under the program, the college's 3,000 full-time and continuing education art students will be able to study painting, design, computer graphics and the like, with the artists.

"To endow a program that brings important artists to this community will change everything," says architect Brad Cloepfil, an internationally known Portland architect and one of a small group of creative executives who have been advising PNCA on its future. "It changes not only the school but this city."

The gift reflects Ford's desire "to see a globally recognized center for visual art and design education located in Oregon," she said in a written statement.

The gift dwarfs PNCA's largest previous gift, $530,000, from late artist and PNCA faculty member Gordon Gilkey. The college's budget this year is $7.5 million.

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The Ford Family Foundation, which Ford and her husband founded in 1957, confines its gifts primarily to rural and southern Oregon communities, though Ford herself has been the major benefactor of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, among other cultural institutions.

In February, the college and Allyn Ford, CEO of Roseburg Forest Products and son of Hallie and Kenneth Ford, began direct conversations that culminated in the $15 million gift. Christine D'Arcy of the Oregon Arts Commission confirms is the largest such donation made in Oregon.

Recent momentum

For PNCA, the gift punctuates an extraordinary administrative turnaround. Four years ago, the college was struggling with issues regarding its financial health, faculty and staff morale. The future of its Pearl District campus, owned by the family of the late Edith Goodman, was uncertain.

But since taking over in 2003, Manley, who came to Portland after a stint as a fundraiser at the Claremont Colleges in California, has helped stabilize the college. It's now debt-free. Staff morale has turned sharply positive, and the college has just begun its first master of fine arts program.

Above all, Manley aggressively pushed the college to pursue relationships with several of Portland's world-class creative figures and companies, such as Cloepfil of Allied Works; Sohrab Vossoughi, founder of the design firm Ziba Design; and John Jay, a partner in the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.

Those networking principles were the foundation of the new institute, which will be called the Ford Institute for Visual Education, and the ambitious artist-in-residence program. The college hasn't developed a short list of prospective visiting artists or even a launch date for the program. But it envisions bringing five to seven world-class artists, designers and performers to live and teach students in Portland for residencies lasting from six months to three years. Ford's gift, $10 million of which is designated for the institute, would pay for the artists' extended housing as well as a generous living stipend.

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The influence and presence of these artists would not be restricted to the PNCA campus, according to Manley and Cloepfil. Those visiting teachers, in turn, likely would collaborate with Oregon artists, arts institutions and businesses, creating a wave of activity in Portland, PNCA officials say. The artists-in-residence would also bring their own network of contacts to visit and interact with Portlanders.

After contemplating the possibility of moving to another part of the city, possibly Old Town, the college now wants to stay in its Pearl District site, where it would continue to be just blocks from Ziba, Wieden+Kennedy and other creative companies.

"We don't want to be isolated or feel we are on an island," says Manley. "We want to be integrated in the River District."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

RAPSU's Youngest (Honorary) Member: Thomas Lauderdale

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Martini with international twist

Portland's Pink Martini continues its suave, worldly ways in its third CD, "Hey Eugene," out today

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pink Martini's particular confection of multi-culti cocktail pop has been familiar to the local chic set since the band started in 1994 by playing political fundraisers.

Its retro-suave, jazzy sound caught on quickly (the band's particularly popular in France) and boosted sales of its first two albums past the 1 million mark. Its blend of global influences from Latin America to Japan also has earned it a name for elegance and urbanity.

To the surprise of likely no one, the band's third and newest album, "Hey Eugene!" -- it hits store shelves today -- is as sophisticated and worldly as the band's prior work, including its first album "Sympathique" and its stellar follow-up "Hang on Little Tomato," which featured songs in languages from French to Croatian.

Once again, Portland's biggest little orchestra presents songs in several languages (sometimes within the same song, as with the combination of Russian, Italian and English in the sprightly "Dosvedanya Mio Bombino"), skipping from inflections of bossa nova to torch songs and beyond.

Singer China Forbes' voice particularly stands out here. It's a flexible instrument that carries everything from the staunch unforgiveness of the Portuguese-language "Tempo Perdido" (a Carmen Miranda song in which a woman refuses to take back her lover-done-wrong despite his tears) to the whimsical title song, which paints a more narrative picture than most of the rest of the album: It's about a man Forbes once met at a party who asked for her number but then never called.

On "Syracuse" she's a smoky chanteuse; on the Japanese-language "Taya Tan" she coos convincingly; and on "Cante E Dance" she pulls back into a lighter, breathier voice that gives the song -- one of the album's best, written by bassist Phil Baker and with additional vocals by Timothy Nishimoto -- grace and buoyancy.

Thomas Lauderdale, the band's pianist and artistic director, helps Pink Martini keep a coherent aesthetic despite the multitude of influences. The rhythm section in particular helps in this, laying down a solid foundation that maintains enough commonality through the course of the album to tie all the songs together. Lauderdale's classical training and discipline serve both him and the band well.

While the album's accomplishment is clear, though, so are its flaws. Pink Martini's sound is so well-established by now that there are few surprises for listeners to their previous two albums (although many, in fairness, will see that as a positive). A few songs don't measure up to the high bar the album sets. Among them is the title track (a fan favorite in the band's live shows), which feels like it wants to cut loose but never quite gets there.

Forbes, for all her obvious talent, at times veers into more of a musical-theater sound, as on the opener, "Everywhere," which, with its touch of saccharine, sounds a little too Disneyesque.

And the band's aggressive internationalism can feel forced, as on the Arabic-language song "Bukra Wba'do." Forbes deserves credit for learning so many songs phonetically and still infusing them with feeling, but she's undeniably better in the languages she actually speaks (as on the sultry "City of Night").

Still, if "Hey Eugene!" isn't quite as delectable as the startlingly beautiful "Hang on Little Tomato," the album doesn't go splat, either. There's enough here that's tasty to satisfy the appetite -- and maybe keep it just a little whetted for whatever Pink Martini whips up in the future.

Friday, May 11, 2007

RAPSU Member in today's Oregonian

Russell and Joan Kirsch spoke at the RAPSU meeting of 2/8/07.
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The man who taught computers to see

Personal Tech: The world's first digital image
Friday, May 11, 2007

Russell Kirsch admits it: Inventing square pixels was a bad idea.

Square dots made pictures fuzzy.

"I started out with a bad idea," Kirsch says, "and that bad idea survived."

Few, however, think of the Portland resident's creation of the pixel itself. Instead, they stand in awe of what those first pixels produced, 50 years ago:

The world's first digital image.

Measuring 176 pixels on each side, the image was a photocopy of Kirsch's infant son, an achievement that Life chronicled in its book "100 Photographs That Changed the World."

That image -- a ghostly, 2-by-2-inch, black-and-white picture of a baby with haunting dark eyes -- spawned a revolution that has yielded one modern miracle after another: CT scanners, satellite imaging, bar-code scanners, desktop publishing, blood-cell analyzers and digital photography, among others.

The revolution was born in a moment of inspiration, when Kirsch asked himself a profound question: "What would happen if a computer could look at the world?"

Now that revolution has reached into the arcana of art. Kirsch and his wife, Joan, an art historian, are using computers to reveal the hidden structures of paintings and the artistic processes of the artists who created them.

Today, Kirsch's original digital image hangs in the Portland Art Museum, 31/2 miles downhill from the comfy West Hills home where Kirsch keeps his office. A copy of the image hangs near his downstairs desk.

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Next to the image is another photo: an older Russell Kirsch with his now-50-year-old son Walden Kirsch. Walden, one of four children, is well-known in the Portland area, having spent 17 years as a general-assignment reporter for KGW-TV.

Walden Kirsch now helps run Intel's worldwide internal news organization out of Hillsboro, where the original photo of himself in his father's arms is wallpaper on his computer screen. (When the photo was scanned into a computer 50 years ago, Russell Kirsch was cropped out.)

"I am delighted that he chose to use for that first photo a real, living, tiny, drooling, pink human being (who happened to be me) instead of, say, a test chart or something," Walden e-mailed this week from Malaysia, where he is traveling on business.

One recent morning, dressed casually in a red shirt, beige suspenders, comfortable slacks and sensible shoes, 77-year-old Russell Kirsch looked more like a mischievous college professor than a world-changing scientist. He spoke with impeccable diction, right down to the subordinate clauses, yet with the joviality of a favorite uncle. He leaned over one of his two Apple MacBooks, calling up Google videos he has made about the early history of computers.

In 1957, Kirsch was a computer programmer -- a job category that, at the time, must have seemed closer to magician than to engineer. Kirsch and an elite team worked with SEAC, the Standards Electronic Automatic Computer, the federal government's first electronic programmable computer.

He had joined the SEAC team in 1951, a year after the National Bureau of Standards finished building the computer. The team used SEAC to solve government problems in fields as diverse as meteorology, navigation and office automation.

But as Kirsch told an oral historian for the National Museum of American History in 1970, he was among a "fortunate happy few" who also had access to the computer for their own private "speculative" experiments, such as artificial intelligence and image processing.

"Sometimes I can confess to having stolen machine time from purportedly more useful products like the thermonuclear weapons calculations and things of this sort," Kirsch told the historian.

In fact, Kirsch said, people with access to computers have a history of using them in unauthorized ways to try interesting experiments that cost-conscious organizations probably wouldn't approve of.

"This, I think, has been a powerful influence on the development of new uses of computers," Kirsch told the historian.

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He cited his own unauthorized work in acoustic signal generation, which led to work by others in speech synthesis.

Kirsch's work also jump-started the brand-new fields of digital imaging, syntactic pattern recognition and chemical structure searching. He was one of the earliest researchers in artificial intelligence. And he and Joan are among the few experts in the use of computers to study fine arts and ancient petroglyphs.

More than 40 years ago, Kirsch became fascinated with the work linguists were doing to detect "grammars" -- the underlying structures of language.

"I thought, 'I bet you can write grammars for pictures,' " he said.

Joan studied the 140-plus paintings in the "Ocean Park" series by 20th-century American painter Richard Diebenkorn, who was born in Portland. She and Russell, with the help of computers, developed about 42 grammar rules that described the kinds of artistic choices Diebenkorn made in creating his geometrical works.

They generated some "original" Diebenkorns, which were shown to the artist.

"To my amazement," Russell says, "he said he recognized them as some of his compositions."

Diebenkorn phrased it differently in a 1986 interview with Science News: "I looked and felt immediate recognition, and yet it clearly wasn't my work."

Nevertheless, it was the first example of an art historian's ability to document an artistic style with a computer.

Kirsch notes that computers are now being used to create new art, but points out that the past 36,000 years of existing art are still waiting to be discovered anew through computers.

On his MacBook, Kirsch pulls up an image of a sixth-century mosaic made in Ravenna, Italy. The artist had created a sharply delineated picture of a crane, using glass pieces chosen according to color and shape.

Then he pulls up another image of the same crane, this time using the same square pixels he created 50 years ago. The image looks out of focus.

"I did not learn from the smart people in Ravenna 1,500 years ago," he says.

If he had learned, he would have borrowed techniques from the Ravenna mosaicists, instead of using square pixels. And if later computer scientists had learned from Kirsch's mistake, they would not have perpetuated an inferior imaging technique.

"Our desire for the latest thing limits our learning from the past," Kirsch says. "There's so much to be learned from the past, but we're so preoccupied with the future."

Steve Woodward: 503-294-5134; stevewoodward@