bureaucracy

Bureaucracy in Pure Form

Photo by mamamusings

"Tetris was invented exactly when and where you would expect — in a Soviet computer lab in 1984 — and its game play reflects this origin.

The enemy in Tetris is not some identifiable villain (Donkey Kong, Mike Tyson, Carmen Sandiego) but a faceless, ceaseless, reasonless force that threatens constantly to overwhelm you, a churning production of blocks against which your only defense is a repetitive, meaningless sorting.

It is bureaucracy in pure form, busywork with no aim or end, impossible to avoid or escape. And the game’s final insult is that it annihilates free will.

Despite its obvious futility, somehow we can’t make ourselves stop rotating blocks. Tetris, like all the stupid games it spawned, forces us to choose to punish ourselves."

~ Sam Anderson, from "Just One More Game..." The New York Times Magazine,  April 8 2012 

 

 

Hear also: Steve Zimmer recounts the time when he and his co-workers become obsessed with Tetris, The Moth Podcast, Jan. 23, 2012  

Willing to Think Little

Excerpt from Think Little by Wendell Berry from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural (1972):

Wendell Berry For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work. Thinking Big has led us to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. The lotus-eaters of this era are in Washington, D.C., Thinking Big. Somebody comes up with a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly, has been the persistence of the problem, and the enlargement and enrichment of the government.

But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is "studying" and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it — he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world's future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

Missing Something Personal

Excerpt from “Post-Minimal to the Max,” by Roberta Smith, New York Times (Feb. 14, 2010):

David Bates's "Lower End Boat Dock II"  (Photo: DC Moore Gallery, New York)

After 40 years in which we’ve come to understand that dominant styles like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop are at best gross simplifications of their periods, it often feels as though an agreed-upon master narrative is back in place.

What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned….

…Museum curators need to think less about an artist’s career, its breakthroughs and its place in the big picture and more in terms of an artist’s life’s work pursued over time with increasing concentration and singularity.

They have a responsibility to their public and to history to be more ecumenical, to do things that seem to come from left field. They owe it to the public to present a balanced menu that involves painting as well as video and photography and sculpture. They need to think outside the hive-mind, both distancing themselves from their personal feelings to consider what’s being wrongly omitted and tapping into their own subjectivity to show us what they really love.

These things should be understood by now: The present is diverse beyond knowing, history is never completely on anyone’s side, and what we ignore today will be excavated later and held against us the way we hold previous oversights against past generations.

The Bureaucracy of Mass Murder

From Holocaust archive tells many new stories (Arthur Max, Associated Press):

Half a dozen buildings in Bad Arolsen, a German spa town, houses an immense archive of the victims of Nazi persecution. The documents are maintained by the International Tracing Service which is connected to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The fifty million pages of files include “scraps of paper, transport lists, registration books, labor documents, medical and death registers make reference to 17.5 million individuals caught up in the machinery of persecution, displacement, and death."

To operate history's greatest slaughter, the Nazis created a bureaucracy that meticulously recorded the arrest, movement and death of each victim. What documents survived Nazi attempts to destroy them were collected by the Allies to help people find missing relatives. The first documents were sent in 1946 to Bad Arolsen, and the administration was handed over to the Red Cross in 1955."

Anne Frank is listed among the names of Jews picked up from Amsterdam and transported to concentration camps.

“But most of the lives recorded in Bad Arolsen are known to none but their families. They are people like Cornelis Marinus Brouwenstijn, a Dutchman who vanished into the Nazi gulag at age 22 for illegally possessing a radio. In a plain manila envelope are his photo, a wallet, some snapshots, and a naughty typewritten joke about women in the army.”


"Over the years, the International Tracing Service has answered 11 million requests to locate family members or provide certificates supporting pension claims or reparations. It says it has a 56 percent rate of success in tracing the requested name. But the workload has been overwhelming. Two years ago it had a backlog of nearly half a million unanswered queries. Director Blondel says the number was whittled down to 155,000 this summer and will disappear by the spring of 2008. New queries have slowed to just 700 a month."

“Compounding the delay in releasing the files is the cumbrous makeup of the governing committee. Any decision on their future requires the assent of all 11 member nations — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States.”

Archivist Sabine Stein: "Former inmates and their families want to see some tangible part of their history; they want to tell their stories. What I find most frustrating is that they have all these documents and they are just sitting on them."

Paul Shapiro, of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington:"What victims of these crimes fear the most is that when they disappear — and it's happening very fast now — no one will remember the names of the families they lost.”

PS This post has been conjuring up images of Anselm Kiefer's lead books (Zweistromland, Buch mit Flügeln).