The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

August 11, 2005

The Scar of Progress, Los Angeles

Or: the origin of sprawl and the Iraq War.

The Red Cars, an electric railway system, characterized Los Angeles early
on. It was later dismantled. The system led to LA's rapid/rabid expansion.
There was money to be made by busline replacement, even though buses have
to compete with traffic, are noisy, polluting, slow, and dangerous, and
run few and far between.

I lived years ago at the corner of Spaulding and Fountain in L.A.-West
Hollywood. The ghosts of the Red Car line were everywhere. I noticed a
diagonal swath cut across Hollywood/West Hollywood - a scar of past public
transportation. WorldWind brought this to the foreground; you can see the
results below. This was a passenger-only line. The land was immediately
reclaimed by developers, etc., and the corridor has disappeared.

Electric railways were extremely common in the United States, say from the
10s through the 40s. (The Red Cars ran from 1901-1961.) Even my home town
of Wilkes-Barre had one connecting it with Scranton. The automobile wiped
them out, as did corruption and short-sighted politicians (are there any
other kind?). The result is the oil crisis and the mess in this gluttonous
country that consumes something like 25% of the world's resources. (See
the Wikipedia article below.)


Pacific Electric Railway (from Wikipedia):

The Pacific Electric Railway (AAR reporting mark PE), also known as the
Red Car system, was a mass transit system in Southern California using
streetcars, light rail and buses. At its greatest extent, the system
connected cities in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and the Inland

The system was divided into three districts:

     * Northern District: Pasadena, San Gabriel Valley, San Bernardino.
     * Southern District: Long Beach, Newport, San Pedro, Santa Ana.
     * Western District: Hollywood, Burbank/Glendale, San Fernando Valley,
Santa Monica.

The Pacific Electric Railway was established by Henry Huntington in 1901.
Henry's uncle, Collis Huntington, was one of the founders of the Southern
Pacific railroad and had bequeathed Henry a huge fortune upon his death.
Only a few years after the company's formation, most of Pacific Electric's
stock was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which Henry
Huntington had tried and failed to gain control of a decade earlier. In
1911, Southern Pacific bought out Huntington completely and also purchased
several other passenger railway operators in the Los Angeles area,
including the Los Angeles Pacific, resulting in the "Great Merger" of
1911. At this point the Pacific Electric became the largest operator of
interurban electric railway passenger service in the world, with over
1,000 miles of track. Henry Huntington then purchased the company which
provided local streetcar service in central Los Angeles and nearby
communities, the Los Angeles Railway (LARy). These were known as the
"Yellow Cars," and actually carried more passengers than the PE's "Red

Pacific Electric passenger service was sold off in 1953 to a company known
as Metropolitan Coach Lines, whose intention was to convert all rail
service to bus service as quickly as possible. Many of the Pacific
Electric passenger lines were shut down in 1954, but the California state
government would not allow the most popular lines to be discontinued. In
1958, Metropolitan Coach Lines relinquished control of the remaining rail
lines to a government agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
which also took over the remaining streetcar lines of the successor of the
Los Angeles Railway, the Los Angeles Transit Lines. Only a handful of
electric train lines remained operating at that time and the conventional
wisdom held that their days were numbered. The last passenger line of the
Pacific Electric, the line from Los Angeles to Long Beach, continued until
April 9, 1961. With the closure of the Long Beach line, the final link in
the system as well as the PE's first line some sixty years prior, was
eliminated. The PE's freight service was continued by the Southern Pacific
Railroad and operated under the Pacific Electric name through 1964. The
few remaining former Los Angeles Railway streetcar lines were removed in

Reviews of some recent books and then some -

These are texts relevant to net art. Some I have found personally more
useful than others; this is the result of my own predilection of course.
They are review copies. In some cases, I've failed the te(x)(s)t.

Digital Video Hacks, Tips and Tools for Shooting, Editing, and Sharing,
Joshua Paul, O'Reilly, 2005. I've mentioned this book before. I swear by
it. There are very few digital media books I can wholeheartedly recommend
- this is one of them. The book covers, in the usual 100 'hacks,' every-
thing from writing filters for Movie Maker to distributing DVDs, codecs,
converting PAL to NTSC, "See Through Walls" (obvious but very useful),
logging, "making your own weather report," Quicktime Pro filters, and
ASCII movies. If nothing else, the book has helped me organize things so I
can work faster, something always of concern.

Lara Croft, Cyber Heroine, Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Minnesota, 2005. More
and more work needs to be done, not on cyborgs (although this references
Haraway, etc.), but on the re/mediations, mediations, projectivities,
introjectivities, phenomenologies, histories, and mechanics, of avatars as
they enter and enhance/entrance consciousness, singly or multiply. This
book covers the game, movie, creation, continuation, of Croft in a mere 89
pages (not including notes and index). It's brilliant and a beginning. My
only quibble, and that's all it is, is that virtual idols such as Diki or
Kyoko Date (I've written on both, so I have a stake in this) aren't men-
tioned; it's as if gaming and its emissions existed outside the apparatus
of popular music. A second quibble is the expense - $17.95. On the other
hand, this slim text sets a foundation like none other. Chapters include
The Phenomenon of Lara Croft, A Duplicitous Gift, The Origins of a
Cultural Icon, The market and the Hardware, Medial Origins and Sexual
Grounds, Virtual Reality, The Interactive Movie, The Loss of Surface, The
Medialization of the Body, The Universal Medium, Tomb Raider: The Movie,
The Question of Sexual Difference, and Afterplay: The Next Generation.
This is wonderful!

Web Mapping Illustrated, Tyler Mitchell, O'Reilly, 2005, Using Open Source
GIS Toolkits. If you are working in locative media, GET THIS BOOK! The
chapters include Introduction to Digital Mapping, Digital Mapping Tasks
and Tools, Converting and Viewing Maps, Installing MapServer, Acquiring
Map Data, Analyzing Map Data, Converting Map Data, Visualizing Mapping
Data in a Desktop Program, Create and Edit Personal Map Data, Creating
Static Maps, Publishing Interactive Maps on the Web, Accessing Maps
Through Web Services, Managing a Spatial Database, Custom Programming with
MapServer's MapScript, and two appendices, one on map projections, and a
MapServer Reference Guide for Vector Data Access. This is heavy on GIS;
Google and WorldWind are not mentioned. I've only read this book; I'm not
in a position to apply it (I use an inexpensive GPS, that's about it,
please, if you have a better one, send it to me!), but it's absolutely
clear that it provides a framework for any sort of positional work - not
only that, but a framework which goes a long way towards making WorldWind
(which is of course open source) useful as a GUI for artists! Mapping is
increasingly moving into the forefront of web graphics; this takes you way
beyond the surface. The book uses a webpage for auxiliary downloads,
taking the user step-by-step through the chapters.

Current unix fortune: !07/11 PDP a ni deppart m'I  !pleH

Start Your Engines, Developing Driving and Racing Games, Jim Parker,
Paraglyph, 2005. I'm not interested in creating driving games (although
there are downloadable and modifiable files at the website accompanying
the book, that make for a very interesting beginning), but I am interested
in the physics, interfaces, and phenomenologies of them. This book
provides these in abundance; I can't think (at least for me, with my
limited knowledge) of a better introduction to a kind of gaming that is
based on the physics of world-creation (i.e. little or no story required,
but all the makings and packagings of a planet). Chapters include:
Starting Your Engines - Basic Design Elements, Game Architecture for
Driving and Racing Games, Basic Graphics for Driving and Racing Games,
Building a Basic 3D Driving Game, Game AI and Collision Detection,
Incorporating Intelligent Opponents, Audio for Driving and Racing Games,
Using Ambient Traffic, Physics for Driving and Racing Games, Simulating
Continuous Time, Cinematography for Driving and Racing Games, Creating
Terrains, Designing the Manic Mars Racer Games, Coding the Manic Mars Racer
Game, The Bonus Game--Charged!, refs and resources, a math tutorial, and
more. The graphics work through polygons. The book takes nothing but
programming for granted. (For intermediate to advanced levels.) I'm
fascinated by such things as the need to create continuity, designing
collision detection routines - all these things that are of course taken
for granted in the 'real.' Terrains are constructed from random functions
by the way - the programs can be applied elsewhere. The book demonstrates
what goes into perception and the relationship of perception to coding.
The games are clearly phenomenology writ large, Husserl's Logical
Investigations inverted into the construct of mediations among subject,
real, codons. I recommend this for anyone interested in gaming, whether or
not they're practicing such. It's expensive ($39.99 or as we like to say
$40), so I wouldn't purchase it unless you're going to really use it, in
which case it's cheap at the price.

Home Networking, The Missing Manual, Pogue, O'Reilly, Scott Lowe, 2005.
Okay, I'm stupid about a number of things, including putting things
together so that they fit. This goes a long way towards helping me. How to
hook up PCs to a router to wireless to each other and possibly to a Mac
using something called Dave? It's all here. The Missing Manual series is
pretty good in general, giving you the basics that aren't readily
available elsewhere. The next step would be the hacks. In any case there
are chapters are outlining your home networking plan (if it's not just
random cables as mine tends to be), through ethernet, wireless, and
powerline, onto various PC/Mac connections, then to the road, various,
etc. etc. I need books like this. I'm tired a lot. They tell me what to do
and generally they don't make mistakes. Recommended.

The Souls of Cyberfolk, Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory, Thomas Foster,
Minnesota, 2005. I have read into this work, repeatedly, and at this point
I don't feel I'm the right person to review it. So consider this an aside
before going on to the book. I an increasingly finding theory impoverished
/ machinic - I can 'do' multiculturalism, postmodernism, postmodernity,
poststructural, postoffice, various gendering theories, psychoanalytics,
and so forth, and for the most part this doing doesn't take; I'm not
learning more than I knew and what I find I need to know is often on the
practical side of things. Lara Croft (above) strikes a good balance; this
book is strong on theory and I've been having trouble getting through it.
Some of the material is stunning, for example a section on The Discourse
of Trauma (in the chapter "Replaying the L.A. Riots, Cyborg Narratives and
National Traumas). The chapter on "The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic"
relates well to both Kyoko Date and Lara Croft, and there is a discussion
of Turing's description of the Turing test and its relation to gender
("Instead he takes a detour through another 'imitation game,' based on
gender. In this game a man and a woman are concealed from a questioner,
who attempts to determine which of the two is the man and which is the
woman. Turing suggests that the man try to deceive the interrogator about
his gender, while the woman tries to convince the interrogator that she is
in fact a woman. Turing then asks, 'what will happen when a machine takes
the part of [the man] in this game? Will the interpretor decide wrongly
just as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game
is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original,
"Can machines think?"'" Foster then relates (potentially) Turing to queer
theory. Moments like these are absolutely wonderful, and I find myself
constantly reading into the book, rather than following it chapter by
chapter. The chapters are: Introduction: Cyberpunk's Posthuman Afterlife,
1. The Legacies of Cyberpunk Fiction: New Cultural Formations and the
Emergence of the posthuman, 2. Meat Puppets or Robopaths: The Question of
(Dis)Embodiment in Neuromancer, 3. The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic:
Posthuman Narratives and the Construction of Desire, 4. Trapped by the
body: Telepresence Technologies and Transgendered performance; 5. The
Souls of Cyberfolk: Performativity, Virtual Embodiment, and Racial
Histories, 6. Replaying the La. Riots: Cyborg Narratives and National
Traumas, 7. Franchise Nationalisms: Globalization, Consumer Culture, and
New Ethnicities, and Conclusion: The Antinomies of Posthuman Thought.
(From a distance I question the 'posthuman,' just as I question 'cyborg,'
'manifesto,' 'theory.' I find myself tending more towards Penrose and Bohm
on one hand, Noh and Buddhism on the other, reconfiguring histories of
industrialization from source materials, thinking through early history of
untamed radio. I still go back to Kittler perhaps. Language tends to
short-circuit otherwise in me, tread paths which appear, but probably
aren't, already too familiar. It's not clear whether philosophy is dead or
not or even what 'philosophy' and 'dead' mean, but it's clear that
philosophic machines, ideological algorithms, deconstructive mechanisms,
have already been set into motion, doing the {therapeutic} work for us.
The work that needs to be done, might be, most likely is, entirely else-
where. I've been thinking about chaparral, avoiding Iran and NK's nuclear
arsenals-in-the-making, Bush's and others' fundamentalist ultraviolence.
What is the relation of theory to any of these? Does it return, resonate
internally, shackled with yet another machinic analysis? This is of course
not the case with Foster - parts of the book, for me, are spell-binding,
but the project of the book has raised these questions (unfairly, I know)
in relation to my own attempts to make sense of the world. For I think,
no, know, the world is deeply senseless, causal chains 'hold' only some of
the time, and it's not language but randomness which conceals and congeals
the violent. In any case, there I am, and apologize for this review. I do
say, however, that Lara Croft and The Souls of Cyberfolk are the beginning
of a kind of analysis which both has to break the shackles of current
theory and tend towards a sort of realism that remains all too absent as
long as the 'real' (like 'nature' or 'wilderness') remains in quotation
marks. We don't have time for this! We are too small in the cosmos and too
strong and greedy in our own befouled nest. Let freedom ring.)


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