Thursday, August 24, 2006

The case of the car manufacturer(s) and the missing 'n'(s)

I have long since reconciled myself to the Mazda Millenia. "Why not", I'm sure people said to themselves, "buy a car with a misspelt name, seeing as the world will end at the turn of the [ahem] millennium anyway?" However, it now appears that, if one gives an industry an inch (or, say, a missing letter), they will take a mile (or, say, the same missing letter again). I have just discovered that GMC makes a car called the 'Savana'. Setting aside the issue, which I will put down to personal taste, of that final 'h', are 'n's suddenly so precious that we cannot afford to use them in profusion? I noticed at a showing of An Inconvenient Truth last night (capsule summary: The world would be in deep shit, if not for Al Gore, and it nearly is anyway, despite Al Gore!) that the first 'N' on the marquee was a 'Z' on its side and the third 'N' was (apparently) an 'I' followed by a rather tipsy 'V' -- but I thought this just evidence of poor alphabet-budgeting, not the tip of a worldwide 'N' drought.

P.S. Yes, even with US mileage standards and the state of the domestic automobile industry being what they are, I am really choosing to get worked up over spelling. You got a problem with that?

Friday, August 11, 2006


Wondermark hits the nail on the head today. Somehow, topical humour is immeasurably enriched when it is delivered by denizens of archaic clip-art.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Things That Sound Dirty but (Probably) Aren't #469

"This is a service course, and I'd just like to know how we're supposed to be servicing these people."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time Machine in Leopard

I have a startling revelation. Wait for it, wait for it -- Steve Jobs engages in hyperbole! Specifically, here's a quote from
As you make changes, Time Machine only backs up what changes, all the while maintaining a comprehensive layout of your system. That way, Time Machine minimizes the space required on your backup device. Since backups are stored on your device by date, you can browse through your entire system as it appeared on any date. And that’s what makes Time Machine different from any backup application you’ve ever tried.
Of course it's easy to miss the fine print:
... different from any backup application except rsync.

Monday, August 07, 2006

More graffiti

The walls of the men's bathroom in Rendezvous Café here in Ann Arbor are a rich source of graffiti. Today I saw one which clearly belongs in any respectable collection. It is a three-part epic, which I will now relate.

La première partie: I wish I was angry.

La deuxième partie: It's "were", you fucking cock muncher. Use the correct subjunctive mood. You live in America, where we go to school. Learn something, you ignorant twatwaffle.

La troisième partie: Thanks! :-)

It reminds me of another one, from the same Toronto restaurant in which I saw the "It looked so nice out ..." graffito related earlier:

Insult me, please.

Damn, now I can't.

UPDATE 11 August 2006: I was back at the Rendezvous Café today, and noticed to my regret that, apparently, the second and third parts of the three-part quote related above were actually written by the same person. Naturally, this makes the exchange much less funny. Oh, well.

The press does what?

The current administration evidently not being frightened by An Inconvenient Truth, one wonders what would be the plot of a horror movie which would frighten them. Setting aside any such juvenile speculation as whether they would be horrified by a movie about gay marriage, or would rather watch it under the covers with the lights off 1, one can only imagine that perhaps the most terrifying plot they can imagine is one concerning the reporter who wouldn't stop asking questions. A recent Metafilter thread on persistent reporters pointed to a collection of examples of the species -- but the examples had been put together by someone who appeared to have a considerable ideological axe to grind, and the thread derailed into a discussion of the rightness or wrongness of the ideology, as opposed to the adulation with which we should shower diligent members of the press. Fortunately, though, someone gave a link to a more appropriate example in the ensuing comments.

The first clip linked featured my new hero Jeremy Paxman asking a reluctant guest the same question twelve times; of this I have little to say aside from -- aaah.

The second clip showed what happens when Jeremy meets Ann, and I was a little disappointed with it -- much as I hated, even beyond her ideology, the simpering sneer with which she met any questions, I thought Ann Coulter had a valid point: Aside from hoping to shame her by forcing her to stand up in public to the things she wrote in her books, what is the point of reading her passages she wrote (or at least cared enough to copy) and asking her if she agrees with, or believes in, them? Not for me this clip -- Ann Coulter is so ridiculous, and has been demolished so many times without seeming even to realise it, that I despair of either reason or vitriol having any final effect on her (which, nonetheless, doesn't stop me from eagerly watching clips like this in the hope that this time, surely ...). What I found interesting, though, was this snippet which occurred 4:26 into the linked video:

[Children] are baptised in the religion of liberalism for 6 hours a day 2, 12 days a week.
Those liberals -- not content with ruining the country, they're ruining our calendars, too!

UPDATE 11 August 2006: Apparently, the world (England especially -- no surprise, I suppose) hungers for discussion, any discussion, of Jeremy Paxman and Ann Coulter. About 40% of my hits since writing this entry have been visits just to it, most of them coming from Technorati searches. Welcome, folks! -- and while you're here, why not visit the stunning panoply which is the other twenty-some posts on this blog? (Please, don't answer that.) Maybe I'll even go back and watch the video to see if I can say anything intelligent about it, as opposed to snarking at slips of the tongue.

1 I know this is a phrase better suited to describing illicit book-reading than illicit movie-watching, but, in this time of portable DVD players, it is certainly possible.
2 My school days were 7 hours long. Maybe she considers that kids are safe from being baptised in the religion of liberalism for 1 hour around the time they say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Friday, August 04, 2006

La condition humaine

I recently (well, not so recently now -- it can sometimes take me a long time to finish up one of these entries) went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and enjoyed myself much more than I expected to do.

The West Building (the one with -- I suppose one says -- "classical art", as opposed to the East Building, successfully to navigate which one needs to be able to identify what is "modern art" and what is "contemporary art") did not interest me much, and nor did I expect it to do, for reasons which I will attempt now to describe. Two of my wife's favourite pieces of art are van Gogh's Starry night and Monet's Waterlilies (charmingly, and repeatedly, called 'Waterlillies' on a print we picked up somewhere -- making one, or at least me, wonder if there's a market for misfit prints as there is for misprint stamps). The former has actually grown on me (although I still wouldn't call myself a fan of van Gogh's work), but the latter, as does most impressionism, leaves me cold. In fact, while I wandered through the seemingly endless halls of the West Building, I saw next to nothing which stirred my imagination (aside from a bizarre statue of Diana having her thigh licked by a limber-tongued dog 1), and I began to wonder why. I do recognise, after all, on some intellectual level, that these are works of great skill and distinction; and while it's fair for me to say that merely painting very well need not be enough to secure my interest, I often find that I can maintain a steady interest in a piece of writing whose content doesn't especially interest me simply because of the excellence of the style. While not really explaining why such a double standard is reasonable, I did finally settle on a simple criterion which seems to me to sum up my likes and dislikes to date -- I want a painting (or sculpture, or drawing, or photograph) to surprise me. This means that a painter who executes a stunningly rendered, but predictable, picture of his or her sponsor, or of the view along a promenade, or whatever, will not win my favour (poor fellow), whereas even a less skilled artist who takes the time to envision an unusual scene has a good chance of doing so -- for example, though (exposing myself to ridicule) I didn't find Giacometti's Hands holding the void an especially skilful-seeming sculpture, all the same it caught and held my attention. On the other hand, I do advisedly say 'surprise' rather than 'shock'; the crudity of many surrealists and of most "abstract art" (including, much to my shame as a worshipper of Cortazar, Mondrian's) also leaves me cold. To draw an analogy with movies (because I don't know the proper language for art), any horror movie director can (and usually does) pull out from his bag of tricks a fright face or a sudden musical sting to scare the audience, but it takes true skill (such as that demonstrated by Kubrick in The shining) to build up an atmosphere of fright and dread without them (I can think of few scenes in any movie which scare me as much as that bizarre "teddy-bear party" on which Wendy stumbles as she's fleeing from Jack).

That, anyway, was (aside from a brief digression at the end) the West Building; now I would like to discuss the East Building, specifically the "contemporary art" exhibit, which (small though it was) captivated me; and, more specifically still, two paintings over which I lingered for a long time. Before I do that, I would like just briefly to mention, lest any one of my legion of readers (according to StatCounter, eight visits since 28 July, only two of them from me!) want to tell me more about them in the comments, three works which I enjoyed very much and which were new to me:

  • Giacometti's Hands holding the void, as I have already mentioned, at which I stared for some time, entranced by the figure's hands and puzzled by its eyes;
  • Weber's Interior of the fourth dimension, which was intriguing but which I didn't really understand; and
  • Feininger's Zirchow VII, which flirted dangerously with sliding so far into the abstract that I didn't like it, but which, again, intrigued me -- mostly because it seemed to me from across the room to suggest a subway train in motion.

Now on to the two paintings of which I wished to speak in some detail. The first was Picasso's The tragedy: As I have said, I am looking for a painting to surprise me, and, ashamed as I am of my pretentiousness, I can't make up my mind about this one until I know a bit more about it. It seems to me it could be either a rather mysterious painting -- wherein we are forced to wonder for ourselves what is the tragedy afflicting these three -- or a very mundane one. I will explain what I mean by the latter. If one believes that these three are looking at roughly the same thing -- it's a bit hard to tell, because, aside from the child, their eyes are lowered and half-shaded -- then it seems to be whatever the woman is holding in her arms, close to her chest. In thinking of what a woman might hold close to her chest, one thinks immediately of an infant; and it is not hard to imagine tragedies that might be connected to an infant. I do not, I think, belittle these tragedies when I say that to paint them is mundane -- in the sense, that is, that to do so depicts the world as it is, rather than as it might be. (This is another way to express what I look for in a painting, or indeed any art -- that it envision a world different from the one I know. I have planned a later post on literature in which I will elaborate on this point.) What I mean by calling myself pretentious is that, even though it is the same painting regardless of the artist's intent (or anyone else's interpretation), I find my enjoyment of it hinges on this question -- are we meant to understand in this painting some nameless tragedy, or some predictable and mundane one of the type I have mentioned?

This was the (relatively) lofty thought that first struck me as I looked at this painting. It was followed by a much more plebeian one, namely: "My God, that man's foot is hideous-looking!" (In fact, after a quick detour to find whatever naked feet I could in the gallery, I formulated the opinion that, despite centuries of evolution of art, people still aren't very good at painting feet.) After looking a bit closer, I realised that the problem goes deeper than that: Not only is one of the man's feet ugly and misshapen, the other one is at least half gone, disappearing after it goes behind the child's leg! This reminds me very much of a bit in A Far Side prehistory wherein Larson points out that, in one of his early cartoons, a man sitting at a table (in a courtroom, if I recall correctly) has a perfectly normal head and torso, but, curiously, no legs. The idea that Picasso ran into the same artistic trouble as a fledgling cartoonist cheered me very much.

The second painting was the one by Magritte to which the title of this entry subtly alludes. This was (to my disappointment, for he is by far my favourite artist) the only Magritte painting in the exhibit, and I almost passed over it -- for, as I have said, I look in a painting for some surprise; but I have by now seen this one, and its variants, so many times that they begin to seem (to my disappointment) almost banal. After I noticed the curious feet of the fellow in Picasso's painting, though, it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to see, up close, on a large scale, a painting which I had previously seen almost exclusively in scaled-down reproductions in books, and that I might as well take the opportunity to see if this different perspective offered anything new. I reproduce the picture below. The interesting thing to me is that the canvas itself casts no shadow. Since the shadows of the legs are also unusually short, I'm not sure what to make of this, but it excites me to find something new in this familiar setting.

1 It strikes me that that sentence is likely to lead some unlucky Googlers to a very different page from what they expect.