Why I hate meetings — half the time

Why I hate meetings -- half the time

As a writer who needs to freelance in order to pay the bills, I’ve developed two distinct (opposite, in fact) modes of working.

One is the “manager” mode that recently got an “out of memory” error on my 4gig laptop–I was running with 50 Adobe documents open, 50 Excel documents, most with multiple sheets, 140 tabs on Firefox, 19 Word documents, one very long Power Point slide show, and a bunch of other stuff open, all with my son running in and out showing me the good guy beating the bad guy, informing me that “Dad, these superheroes saved the day!” and asking the names of odd colours, like fuchsia. I told him to ask his mother, she’s a painter, she paints with colours. He said, “And you’re a writer? So you know what’s right?”

Continue reading Why I hate meetings — half the time

Among the things the 3rd world does far better than the West…

Among the things the 3rd world does far better than the West...

Reuters is reporting that “Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.”

Continue reading Among the things the 3rd world does far better than the West…



Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, June 2009.

If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day—go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month—get married.
If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime—help someone else.

—Chinese proverb

First, lift your cheeks, as though you were winking with them. Then raise the ends of your lips obliquely while at the same time pulling the corners down. This may stretch your lips to the point where your teeth are visible. Deepen your nasolabial furrow by lifting your upper lip laterally, slightly raising and widening your nostrils while flattening the skin on your chin boss and lower lip, and producing crows feet at your eye corners and slight bags below your lower eyelid. Finally, pull your scalp back, as though you were wiggling your ears. Now you’re happy.

Continue reading Happiness

The World Wide Web of Word of Mouth

Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, March 2009.

“Today I met with a sjoshua-allen-harris-centaur-trash-bags-47m-x-25m-2008-photo-courtesy-of-the-artist-smallubliminal advertising executive for just a second.”

– Steven Wright

Heroin needle vans are hard to find. I tried once in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was illegal for University Health Services to sell me needles directly, so they suggested the van and made several phone calls on my behalf trying, and failing, to find out on what corner it stopped, when, and for how long. Eventually, I got my free needles–after a week of research–but remember thinking that the HIV-prevention program must be a complete failure. If it was that difficult for a Harvard Law student planning a trip to Africa to find the van, what chance did a junked-up heroin addict who injected six times a day have?

Continue reading The World Wide Web of Word of Mouth

Motorcycles and Authenticity

Motorcycles and Authenticity

A response of sorts to Stanley Fish’s column, Fathers, Sons and Motorcycles.

I have never in my life had a sentimental attachment to an object — I’ve never spent more than four years of my life in one city, and leave objects behind constantly. But then I bought my motorcycle.


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Fear was NOT a reasonable response to 9/11.

Fear was NOT a reasonable response to 9/11.

With the senators of Montana suddenly terrified over the prospect of terrorists being housed in maximum-security prisons within their borders, with Cheney going into fear-generation overdrive, and with John Podhortez at Commentary asserting that “Fear was an entirely responsible response to September 11,” I think it’s time to take a step back and ask, “Is it really?”

Even with statistical spikes like 9/11, over the past fifty years the same number of Americans have been killed by lightning as by terrorism, both of which are dwarfed by deaths from food allergies, drowning in your own bathtub, or even lying in bed doing nothing and getting killed by, say, a collapsing roof. There would have to be one 9/11 per month in order for terrorism to equal the risk of driving even on the world’s safest roads (rural highways in the West), and two per week in order to equal the risk of driving in India.

Continue reading Fear was NOT a reasonable response to 9/11.

The Age of Big Partner

The Age of Big Partner

You know that the age of big brother, or big spouse, is truly here when no-fee and no-registration websites spring up for the purpose of tracking your partner. I’m not going to embed this link, because the URL says it all: http://www.trackapartner.com/

Continue reading The Age of Big Partner

Even zero thinks it’s a number

Even zero thinks it's a number

North Dakota, always the cutting-edge of enlightened thinking, just passed a law that would punish parents criminally if their children skip school.

The legislation allows for a fine of up to $500 against parents who allow their children to miss class. Repeat offenders could get 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Continue reading Even zero thinks it’s a number

An anarchist solution to the banking crisis

An anarchist solution to the banking crisis

Ortega y Gasset wrote that society, like every collective, is a great soulless entity. It is humanity that has been mechanized, almost mineralized.  And that, in a nutshell, is exactly what went wrong with the housing bubble. Continue reading An anarchist solution to the banking crisis

Was Bush good for the rule of Law?

Was Bush good for the rule of Law?

The origins of modern Law stem from the Holy Roman Emperor, who in the 12th century sought a way to define his power for all to see, but without giving the role to the Pope because he feared that that would define the Pope as a greater power. So he declared that the right to define an Emperor’s power belonged only to the Law, which was in the keeping of a community of Masters who studied the principles of reason in an Ivory Tower in Bologna. The Emperor declared these scholars to be independent of his own power. In exchange, they announced that, according to Rationality and the Law, the Emperor was the only true representative of the only true Law, so whatever pleases the Emperor is the Law. And the Pope was left out. Continue reading Was Bush good for the rule of Law?

Candid Camera — Indonesian version

Candid Camera -- Indonesian version

The Indonesian version of Candid Camera recently did two skits back to back that showed the two sides of living here.

In the first skit, fifty men ran down the road and grabbed an unsuspecting stranger walking alone down the street in Jakarta. They picked him up, jiggled him around, carried him for a block, and then put him down. A few of the “victims” tried to fight at first, but all gave in very quickly. Candid Camera Indonesia did this skit five times with five different men. When they were put back down, four out of the five joined the mob and ran amok with it to find new victims, having no idea that it was all a joke. Continue reading Candid Camera — Indonesian version

Gross negligence

Gross negligence

So David Bennett lost his 77lb bag of lizard poop. “To some people it might have been just a bag of lizard shit, but to me it represented seven years of painstaking work searching the rainforest with a team of reformed poachers to find the faeces of one of the world’s largest, rarest and most mysterious lizards.” Continue reading Gross negligence

Obama meets Odd

Obama meets Odd

I saw the types of people who became president of the Harvard Law Review. Sometimes, very late at night, the whole lot would pass by, in and out of whitewashed little Gannet House, on skinny pale legs permanently damaged by a year of subciting — Hieronymous Bosch figurines amputated by Odd Nerdrum. They were not the type of people who knew how to throw a punch. Continue reading Obama meets Odd

Bucket o’ Quotes

I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound; if I can remember any of the damn things.
–Dorothy Parker

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Ethics, Morals and International Law in EJIL (Oxford)

EJIL 1999


Ethics, Morals and
International Law

Alexander Boldizar* and Outi Korhonen**


In April 1998 a large interdisciplinary conference on ‘The Turn to Ethics’ took place at Harvard University. The conference investigated such phenomena as the recent establish-ment of courses in ethics in numerous academic institutions, the explosion of literature on the subject, and the use of the rhetoric of ethics in public life at large. Our aim in this article is to bring the international legal discipline into contact with this overall phenomenon and to relate the interdisciplinary discussion reflecting on it to international law. To start, we offer a broad sense of the critical views on ethics that enliven the contemporary discussion. We then apply these views to international legal scholarly trends, revisiting formalist, idealist and what we call strategic stances towards international legal work. In the third part, we illustrate in two case studies how legal opinions of the ICJ and of individual judges can be understood in the light of this discussion. In concluding we suggest what a turn to ethics may and may not mean for the international lawyer and how the various ‘turns’ may be negotiated.

Continue reading Ethics, Morals and International Law in EJIL (Oxford)

Ode to ogling

Ode to ogling

Just found out that “more attention to breasts builds long-term bonds through a cocktail of ancient neuropeptides.” And this after years of being told “I’m up here,” after conforming to the weird cultural taboo that said looking at the ocular regions was morally superior to looking at mammary regions.

It has always seemed a weird religious leftover to judge the face as more “me” than other body parts — stunted leftovers from Neoplatonism via the Scholastics and Descartes (basically everyone who twisted philosophy in the service of religion) and all the other mind-body dualists. Sure, the face deserves some attention — it has a higher sensory density than most other body parts. But so do the hands and genitals. Continue reading Ode to ogling

The drawbacks of atheism

The drawbacks of atheism

So far I’ve found three downsides to atheism besides the obvious, if cynical, problems with being on the losing end of Pascal’s wager:

1. Nobody to talk to during sex.

Continue reading The drawbacks of atheism



I’ve counted 14 colonies of ants attacking simultaneously. Tens of thousands have died, but they keep coming. Continue reading Ants!

Bludgeoning Buddha

Bludgeoning Buddha

I was at the gym a few days ago, and a man came up to me out of the blue with perhaps the one sentence, of all possible sentences, that I was expecting to hear least: “You look like you’d make a good Buddha.”

A few days later, a different man told me, “You look like you’ve bludgeoned a few people.” It started to make me wonder whether — are the two mutually exclusive?

Continue reading Bludgeoning Buddha

Porters, Rebellion and Regicide

Reprinted from The Globe and Mail (June 2001), where it appeared as Red Flag Rising over Nepal.

Six centuries of smoldering antagonism exploded into flames Saturday nigh, says Canadian writer Alexander Boldizar in Bali.

Continue reading Porters, Rebellion and Regicide

Dinosaurs on the Roof

gmdino150“Ice.” Shiatie Taget’s voice came in faintly, stretched and delayed by its trip from Pond Inlet to the Iridium satellite high above the North Pole, then back to our frostbitten group of polar paleontologists. “From Greenland,” he added.

We were trapped on Nunavut’s Bylot Island by 100 km/h winds, August snow and ever-shifting ice floes. The voice delay made Shiatie, our boatman and eventual rescuer, sound as though he were speaking through jaws stiff from cold. In reality, he was probably only lifting his cheekbones gently in the Inuit version of a shrug, and speaking without moving his lips. A minimum of wasted movement, like lifting eyebrows to say ‘yes,’ smiling ‘hello,’ or crinkling the nose instead of ‘no.’ Shiatie had spent the day locked within the grinding, popping, gurgling ice-cakes in a failed attempt to pick us up. He had floated for hours through Eclipse Sound before managing to break free. But not through.

Continue reading Dinosaurs on the Roof

Earthquake in the Himalayas

Earthquake in the Himalayas: Rebellion and Regicide in Nepal, in Shambhala Sun (March 2002)

Earthquake in the Himalayas: Rebellion and Regicide in Nepal, in Shambhala Sun (March 2002)

Reprinted from Shambhala Sun (March 2002), where it appeared as Earthquake in the Himalayas: Rebellion and Regicide in Nepal

Just a little after nine in the evening on Friday, June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra, His Majesty the King of Nepal’s oldest son, staggered drunk into the royal dining room, a cap pulled low over his face. He shot one bullet into the ceiling. His family stared at him from the dinner table as he lowered an M-16 and shot his father, King Birendra. He shot him first in the neck and then in the stomach.

Crown Prince Dipendra walked out of the room, then back in. He fired again, shooting family member after family member. He left the room and returned, over and over, each time shooting more wildly.

Dipendra’s mother, Queen Aishwarya, and his younger brother, Prince Nirajan, so far had survived. When Dipendra walked out of the room one last time, into the Royal Garden, Queen Aishwarya followed him. Perhaps she thought she could reason with her son. Prince Nirajan tried to stop her, then followed his mother and interposed his body between hers and Dipendra’s. Dipendra shot and killed them both, then turned the gun on himself.

This is what the press reported about the tragic events, but it is not what Nepali kerosene porters believe. Not then and not now.

Continue reading Earthquake in the Himalayas

Memahami Seni Filippo Sciascia

Reprinted from Harper’s Bazzar (March 2007).

Review of Filippo Sciascia, in Indonesian.

Continue reading Memahami Seni Filippo Sciascia

A proper hamburger

A proper hamburger

My favourite hamburger when I was in law school was called “The Heart Attack” at a little 4-stool dive called The Tasty run by a sour Iraqi man, with oil dripping and spritzing everywhere. But the Iraqi man didn’t have good legs and the burger didn’t have 8,000 calories and I can no longer pretend that The Tasty was the Platonic ideal of the hamburger joint. This man just has everything right, right down to his denigration of lettuce. Not many would remember to denigrate the lettuce. Continue reading A proper hamburger

15 Cemeti Artists

Reprinted from Gaya Art News (June 2008)

Continue reading 15 Cemeti Artists

11 Totems

gayamustica150Reprinted from Gaya Art News (July 2008).

“We must arrive at a dynamic conception of forms, we must face the fact that all human forms are in a constant state of transformation,” Asger Jorn wrote in 1954. “Architecture is always the ultimate achievement of intellectual and artistic evolution. It is the final point in the achievement of any artistic endeavour because the creation of architecture implies the construction of an environment and the establishment of a way of life.”

Few artists have devoted as much energy as Nino Mustica to this sort of research into the evolving power of transformations. Though his roots are solidly within painting – and, if you had to choose one aspect, within the emotive impact of colour – Mustica’s natural sensibility is one of constant change, constant growth, constant evolution. He is a painter, but without the limitations of canvas or delineations between sign, gesture, colour, material – or volume.

Continue reading 11 Totems

Yellow, But Not The Sun (Gaya Art News)

Reprinted from Gaya Art News (October 2008).

Review of Michelle Swayne’s show, Yellow, But Not The Sun.

Continue reading Yellow, But Not The Sun (Gaya Art News)

Sisi Puitik Pada Seni Rupa Michelle Swayne

Reprinted from Suardi Magazine (October 2007).

In Indonesian, pseudonymous.

Continue reading Sisi Puitik Pada Seni Rupa Michelle Swayne

From Tennesse to Indonesia

Balayem, Michelle Swayne, acrylic on canvas, 2004

Balayem, Michelle Swayne, acrylic on canvas, 2004

Tom Wolfe, in The Painted Word, joked that “art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” In her exhibition at Gaya Art Space, titled Yellow, But Not The Sun, New York artist Michelle Swayne subtly undermines the forces described by Wolfe. Through poetic titles that themselves read like paintings, a solid grounding in both conceptual and academic art, and most of all through the ineffable touch of the art itself — uncannily ambiguous work filled with tonal angularities and tensions — Swayne reclaims enough space for the viewer to see her paintings and sculptures as visual objects married to visual ideas, resistant to easy textual parsing.

But her decision to give up her studio in Williamsburg, New York ¾ an area with the world’s highest concentration of artists ¾ to live in Bali and paint alongside rice farmers (her studio is literally open to a ricefield on one side) is, in part, a reflection of those forces. And she is not the only artist to trade New York for Bali: the painter Ashley Bickerton once lived two blocks away in Williamsburg.

Discussing Matisse and Picasso, Swayne once wrote that there are two kinds of artists — those who are filled up and pour out and those who gather and re-negotiate; those who blindly go to discover and those who specify what is found. Swayne works more in a quiet “pulling” mode than the analytic “poising” mode, and she has found something in Indonesia that New York lacks.

Continue reading From Tennesse to Indonesia

Indonesian Art and the Primordial Androgyne


Ugo Untoro, Swimmer, oil on canvas, 98x78cm, 2001

“The best things cannot be told, the second best are misunderstood. After that comes civilized conversation; after that, mass indoctrination; after that, intercultural exchange.” — Joseph Campbell

On the 62nd anniversary of Indonesian independence, I sat, hungry and a little impatient to see the work, listening to a series of speakers introducing an exhibit of Modern Indonesian Masters. The oddest name on the roster, ex ante, was the former Balinese Chief of Police and current head of the narcotics department of the Indonesian police, Made Mangku Pastika. I expected a moral lecture on how art is a way to develop character and fight drugs, or something similar. I did not expect Mr. Mangku Pastika to completely change the way I viewed art in Indonesia.

The essence of his speech was that there are three levels of humanity: at the lowest level are those people who understand only logic, good and bad, right and wrong; at the middle level are artists who create meaning; and at the highest level are artists whose work reaches into the spiritual dimension.

This was disorienting: the act of placing spiritual art at the highest level is the sort of rhetorical flourish that would be possible from any art lover in the West – though an art-loving policeman would already be unusual – but no western cop would ever describe people who “only” understood right and wrong at the bottom of anything. This was no flourish.

There is a two-thousand-year-old story by Ashvagosha about Buddha’s life that describes how Buddha searched for the point where the world didn’t spin like a wheel but stayed steady as the centrepoint of an axle. He found this (psychological) omphalos on the eastern side of a Bodhi tree. There, he was attacked by Mara, the lord of illusion. Mara first sent what both Freud and Jung would much later identify as the two primary motivations of all human behaviour – pleasure and fear. When neither of these worked, Mara ordered Buddha, with the voice of authority, to return to the law and order of society and religion. The Buddha, who had dissolved in his mind the concept of self, ignored Mara. He had moved past the created world, past all dualities, to moksa, the release from delusion. The earth shook with delight, and all the deities and demons and creatures of the world, including Mara, came to celebrate.

And here was the former Chief of Police recognizing, in a way that was so natural as to be almost careless, that pleasure, fear, and obedience (or in Hindu terms, the trivarga of kama, artha and dharma) are all obstacles to this fourth and final goal. The true line of all great work, the only proper space for the creating self, are between these three and moksa. Several of the Balinese speakers who followed echoes this theme.

Cafés in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, art schools across the West, places that artists congregate, are full of conversations about what is art, the role of art, and so on. Each artist will give you a different answer. Was it possible that here there was a consensus? I wondered whether I’d just been given a key to understanding a fundamental distinction between eastern and western art.

Continue reading Indonesian Art and the Primordial Androgyne