Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crash








I found this sequence showing a Porsche 356A crashing at a race on the famous Nürburgring racetrack in Germany in 1981. It reminded me of my little crash in a '74 Mini Cooper last fall: Everyone walked away. Photos from Willhoit Auto Restoration, a Long Beach, California-based Porsche 356 specialist.




As movie buffs, racing fans, and those who've read J.G. Ballard's Crash know, James Dean died in 1955 when he crashed his Porsche, a 550 Spyder which was "kustomized" by George Barris, the famous car customizer responsible for the batmobile. Dean was driving with his mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich, along a California highway when 23-year-old Donald Turnupseed, driving a 1950 Ford Tudor, crossed into Dean's lane, hitting the Porsche head on.

Legend has it, Dean's last words were: "That guy's got to stop... He'll see us." The mechanic was thrown from the car, and survived.

It was recently proven that Dean wasn't actually speeding as was thought at the time, and that Dean (and not his mechanic) was driving, thought the latter is still disputed by some.

Less than a week before the crash, Alec Guinness, who you may know as Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi, told Dean the car looked dangerous, and that he'd probably die within a week. Which he did. Jedi powers have always been mysterious.

In David Cronenberg's 1996 film version of J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, Crash, some auto accident fetishists recreate Dean's crash. The photo below is of the real thing.

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The Masticator's Conservative Coverage

As I was writing that last post, the one about Conservapedia, I realized that our wacky, adorable right-wing brethren and their antics were a couple of my favorite blogging topics. So I've gone back and created a category listing. Now, with one click, you can read all of The Masticator's coverage of Barry Goldwater, Rush Limbaugh's Nobel Peace Prize bid, the comical efforts to keep Minnesota Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison from turning America into a caliphate, the plight of Godless conservatives, Virginia Postrel's celebration of chain stores, the usually articulate Roger Scruton's inarticulate attack on Noam Chomsky, and more!

It's all here, or on the sidebar right under "cars."

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Heathen Fornicators and America-Haters Made Wikipedia; Home Schoolers Fight Back

I desperately wanted to believe this was a hoax: Conservapedia, a conservative alternative to Wikipedia, that notoriously liberal online encyclopedia.

At first one might think that something called Conservapedia would be a conservative guide, that is, a guide to all things conservative. Alas, it's actually something else altogether -- "Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America," says the website. There's more:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance.
The website has a page of examples of bias in Wikipedia, which include, oddly, complaints about British spellings in definitions, like Habsburg for Hapsburg, and labour, favour, and specialisation. Who cares? Their number one bias example: "Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception." Sound a little shrill?

There's another problem here. The whole point of Wikipedia is for the public to edit definitions. That means conservatives, too. Conservapedia's remedy for liberal bias? Equal and opposite bias in a ghetto (read: bad real estate in a poor part of the Web) version of the real thing.

Conservapedia's most valid complaint about Wikipedia may be its accusations of gossip mongering, but the example given doesn't really fit the bill.

The idea of an encyclopedia edited by angry conservatives who feel left out of mainstream culture should horrify all of us, right and left. If Wikipedia's dubious experiment in collective (ooh, sounds like communism, don't it?) editing is ever going to work, both liberals and conservatives must work to temper each other's worst tendencies. Apparently, some conservatives have given up the fight and decided to invent their own bizarro universe in which America is at the very center and non-Christians have no opinions.

Conservapedia was started by -- Andy Schlafly, the son of arch conservative Phyllis Schlafly (an "antifeminist," according to Wikipedia -- gasp!). With a little help from 58 New Jersey home school kids. At least according to Mediabistro, which is probably liberal and therefore not to be trusted.

Gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, who now works for the left-leaning Atlantic Monthly, calls it a "Christianist version of Wikipedia," and proposes a contest to find its most ridiculous definition.

Matt Weaver, blogging for the U.K.'s Guardian, wrote: "Despite suspicions that it is a parody, the site is apparently deadly serious. It has become the laughing stock of the internet, as bloggers compete to find the most ludicrous entries." Damn those anti-American Brits! Bobbie Johnson, blogging for the Guardian's Technology Blog today wondered if Conservapedia had been taken down in shame. Founder Andy Schlafly wrote in to say they were forced to upgrade their systems, presumably from all the traffic.

So what's Conservapedia like? No Walter Mondale entry, that's for sure. But then there's no Barry Goldwater entry, either. Maybe it's because Christian zealotry freaked him out -- at least according to Wikipedia. So who knows, right? There is, praise Jesus, an entry for Ronald Reagan ("Considered by many to be the greatest American President"). When I searched for "Jesus Christ," I kept getting an error message.

It's all a wash anyway. Want to know what liberals think of Wikipedia? Read The Onion's article "Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence". Here's a sample:
"On July 25, 1256, delegates gathered at Comerica Park to sign the Declaration Of Independence, which rejected the rule of the British over its 15 coastal North American colonies," reads an excerpt from the entry. "Little did such founding fathers as George Washington, George Jefferson, and ***ERIC IS A FAG*** know that their small, querulous republic would later become the most powerful and prosperous nation in history, the Unified States Of America."

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Monday, February 26, 2007




My mind is reeling: I've just discovered that Harry Hamlin, David Keith, and Robert Wuhl are not one person.

The Wisdom of Bertie Wooster

I'm reading one of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books right now, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. I've also been watching a bit of the television series starring Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as his gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves.

I was struck by one passage in The Code of the Woosters (1938) in which Bertie says to his cousin Stiffy, "There are certain females whom one respects, admires, reveres, but only from a distance. If they show any signs of attempting to come closer, one is prepared to fight them off with a blackjack."

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Armory Show

As I walked down 55th Street toward the West Side Highway and Pier 94 where this year's Armory Show is being held, I passed a traffic jam of yellow cabs, black limos, and a white stretch Hummer. We were all going to see some art, but not all of us were going to buy some.

The Armory Show started in 1994 as a much smaller art fair with 30 galleries exhibiting in the Gramercy Park Hotel. In 1999 it moved to the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington and 26th, the site of the celebrated 1913 Armory Show, an event that is said to have introduced America to modern art. It included Van Goghs, Picassos, Matisses -- 1,300 works in all. Sharing this location once is the only connection the current annual Armory Show has to the 1913 show. In 2000 the show moved to the Jacob Javits Convention Center with 90 galleries showing, and in 2001 it grew to 170 galleries and moved again to Piers 88 and 90 on the West Side. This year it occupies one pier and shrank to the manageable size of 148 galleries.

The contemporary Armory Show consists mostly of contemporary art. Other shows, like the much bigger 300-gallery Art Basel in Switzerland, or its American spin-off, Art Basel Miami Beach (also bigger; 200 galleries), will exhibit some Twentieth-century modern art by recognizable names. The Armory show will typically display pieces by working artists who may have had to scramble to make something new that they didn't show at Art Basel Miami in December.

A single artist may have pieces in more than one gallery at the show. I saw Thomas Hirschhorn's brown packing tape sculptures (like the packing tape cave he had at the Walker in Minneapolis last December) at two galleries.

The galleries were from all over the world. I saw galleries from Germany (lots of them), Sweden, South Korea, Israel, Japan, Scotland, India, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Even Romania and Turkey. The show's first African exhibitor, the Michael Stevenson Gallery, came from Cape Town, South Africa. Absent were any from Russia or South America.

The Crowd

At 2pm there were rows of Disney World-length lines of people waiting to get in. Fortunately, I got in at 11 with a MoMA group, and got to enjoy a relatively open floor until noon when the fair opened to the public. Some of the early arrivals included lap dogs and double-wide strollers, which made the aisles seem a little more crowded than they actually were.

This led me to a new theory of rich people, of which there are two kinds: Liberals, who have no idea how much space they take up, who are totally oblivious to the fact that their cackling brat is about to knock over a pedestal or try to eat part of a sculpture. And then the Conservatives, who are very aware of their dominance of the immediate area, who glare at you unapologetically when you get wound up in their Welsh Corgi's leash.

I wasn't sure at first if photography was allowed -- at the Outsider Art Fair in January, gallerists let me use my camera only after I assured them I wasn't a fellow art dealer gathering intelligence on my competition. No one raised a fuss here. It seemed too big, too frenzied and commercial to control the cameras at the Armory Show.

I was impressed how many visitors were, like me, taking notes. When Cereal Art's sales director, Deborah Mangel, saw me scribbling feverishly in front of her counter, she smiled and handed me a stapled price list with thumbnail photos. Not everyone was so friendly, but no one was rude. They just won't always engage you unless you approach them.

That's because not all of us are their to buy. As Lowell Pettit, an art advisor who led a small tour of the floor noted, the show is an excellent place to see contemporary art before it's snatched up by private collectors, art from all over the world, and artist's pieces that normally wouldn't be in one place until that artist had a retrospective. In short, many of us were there to use the show as a museum.

The Art

After reading about the infamous $160,000 pack of smokes on a string that passed for art at Art Basel Miami, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of art at the Armory Show. Unlike the art at the irksome Whitney Biennial, I found very little irrelevant and embarrassing art at the Armory Show.

Sure, there were some low points. There was the occasional pile of refuse (literally) or the creepy tableau with mannequins and a yodeling soundtrack (seriously). Lothar Hempel's giant photo of a 1977 Iggy Pop album cover seemed just an attempt to capitalize on someone else's work, or a last minute effort to put something in the show. And Christian Dior fashion designer Hedi Slimane's wall-sized photography looked like ... a Christian Dior ad.

Mostly, the art was beautiful, or at least engaging. I liked the tied-off trash bag carved out of black granite at Taxter & Spengemann (New York), probably by Lars Fisk -- the gallery coyly hid any attribution. I kept coming back to Michal Budny's small cardboard sculpture "Untitled from Origami (02)" at Cologne, Germany's Johnen/Schöttle. It's smooth, matte grey, and it looks like it could be sheet metal. It evoked both Alexander Calder's Stabiles and unfinished or abstract origami.

I was also impressed with Ellen Harvey's Invisible Self-Portraits at Galerie Gebr. Lehmann (Dresden, Germany). They are small paintings of a photographer reflected in a mirror, her face hidden behind the flash. Harvey once roamed New York City creating small oil paintings on public and private property, illegally, graffiti-style, calling it the "New York Beautification Project."

And I really liked the exploded moose antlers by Michael Joo (Anton Kern Gallery, New York).

Uta Barth's three photographs of a pair of flower vases, which get progressively abstracted, stood out for me. Her work was at Stockholm, Sweden's Andréhn-Schiptjenko.



The Galleries

One prominently-located gallery booth, that of David Zwirner, was virtually full of noteworthy art, including some photographs of projects by the late Gordon Matta-Clark, whose retrospective is now at the Whitney Museum. Matta-Clark was famous for cutting up buildings in the 70s. In 1975 he cut a giant cone shaped hole out of a building in Paris, intersecting walls and floors. In 1974 he cut a New Jersey house in half down the middle.

The Zwirner gallery also showed some R. Crumb drawings, which I noticed were rendered in "ink and corrective fluid" -- maybe a first for art.

I was puzzled by the attention the James Cohan Gallery was getting -- the booth was consistently mobbed with people. Maybe it was because photos of Folkert de Jong's hideous statues appeared in the New York Times.

The Prices

I saw an older gentleman asking a gallerist about a huge, blank-looking canvas. "One hundred and twenty thousand dollars," the gallerist said loudly. Sounded like a good deal. The gentleman looked incredulous.

Most art didn't have prices attached. Show-goers either had to flip through price lists or ask.

True, although it's impossible to get out of the show with an original work for less than some thousands of dollars, one can leave with a multiple for about $35. Philadelphia's Cereal Art is an organization that helps artists create and distribute works, usually sculptural, in large editions. They feature a quote by the artist Joseph Beuys on all of their promotional material: "The idea of multiples is the distribution of ideas".

With these multiples, the fact that the art is produced in large quantities is part of the art, not a mere attempt to sell more stuff. Although it is that, too; like printmaking, producing objects in large editions is a more democratic version of art.

Allan McCollum's THANKS, for example, are 3-and-3/4-inch-long tablets with the word "thanks" carved into them. These resin-cast objects, part of McCollum's Visible Markers series, are sold in packs of five for $35. They are intended as a physical manifestation of an exchange. And they are the cheapest art in the show.

Is It Art, Or ... Something Else?

After seeing some scary mannequins, it amused me to look at some of my fellow art enthusiasts, only to wonder if they weren't part of a gallery display. Sometimes you had to look twice.

And more than once I stopped at a space between galleries, wondering if I was looking at, say, a vacuum cleaner some janitor had stowed, or a piece of art. After Duchamp's 1917 Fountain, it's a fair question. One can feel like I often do in clothing stores: am I in the men's section or the women's section? I don't want to embarrass myself publicly, but I'm just not sure what I'm looking at.

True, the definition of art can be stretched to mean "a way of looking at things," but no one wants to be bamboozled. Often we want our art to do something for us -- to have a message or a meaning. As a modest and amateur collector, I find I look for art that will simply look nice on my wall, something that I can get pleasure out of looking at again and again. If I want to call attention to a vacuum cleaner's place in modern culture, or its very vacuum cleaner-ness, I would do better displaying my own in a prominent way than buying one from an artist who exhibited his that way.

In that case, the artiness is created by the mode of display, not the magic touch the artist lends by thinking up the idea to display it. For this reason, I have a very hard time accepting idea-based art as commodities. Still, I wondered as I looked at the vacuum at the Armory Show, would anyone there sell it to me? Who would I have to ask? Would the janitorial staff hasten to tell me that it wasn't art, or would they smile and quote me an exorbitant figure?

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I enjoyed a pleasant luncheon at a McDonald's near Columbus Circle yesterday. My noshing was soothed by the mellow tinklings of this gentleman, who played in spite of a sign on the adjacent trash receptacle that read: "UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO PLAY THE PIANO."

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Why Are Models So Thin?

A list of possible reasons for the trend of life-threateningly thin runway models in today's fashion world, gleaned from Emily Nussbaum's New York Magazine article "The Incredible Shrinking Model".
  • The "Aspirational Theory": we all -- but especially those who would buy the expensive clothes modelled on runways -- want to be thinner. Ultra-thin models are that peak we all strive for.

  • The "Blank Canvas Theory": clothes look better on a body that doesn't bulge anywhere, a body that the clothes can overpower. "And the better the clothes are, the more extreme the skinniness must be," writes Nussbaum, of this theory.

  • The "Hanger Theory": a variation on the blank canvas, this theory says that since clothes hangers cannot walk, the women should be more like clothes hangers -- just a frame to hold the garment up.

  • The "Cycles of Fashion Theory": every possible body type will one day be in vogue because fashion, like everything else, needs change to show people something new. "The Gibson girl gives way to the flapper, then to the big-shouldered forties girl and her busty fifties counterpart, and on to Twiggy, the eighties Amazons, Kate Moss, the waifs, and heroin chic ..."

  • The "Anti-Obesity Theory": Americans are really fat these days, and the fashion world is striking back. Fat = Poor, Unsophisicated, and Out-of-Control. Skinny is the opposite.

  • The "Tautology Theory": As Nussbaum writes, "The clothes are on very thin girls, so clothes must look best on very thin girls."

  • The "Anexoria Nervosa Theory": Models aren't thin. What are you talking about?

  • The "Supermodel Backlash Theory": this is the inevitable reaction to the 80s and 90s era of highly paid, statuesque, Amazonian supermodels -- the Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer era. The industry is merely correcting itself by making models less famous, less highly-paid, and, naturally, less there at all They are literally smaller and thinner to compensate for the over-sized public images of their famous predecessors.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Quote of the Day: Misquotes

"Sherlock Holmes never said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in ‘Casablanca’ says ‘Play it again, Sam’; Leo Durocher did not say ‘Nice guys finish last’; Vince Lombardi did say ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’ quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words ‘War is hell’; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said ‘Go west, young man.’ Marie Antoinette did not say ‘Let them eat cake’; Hermann Göring did not say ‘When I hear the word "culture," I reach for my gun’; and Muhammad Ali did not say ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger.’ Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in ‘Wall Street,’ does not say ‘Greed is good’; James Cagney never says ‘You dirty rat’ in any of his films; and no movie actor, including Charles Boyer, ever said ‘Come with me to the Casbah.’ Many of the phrases for which Winston Churchill is famous he adapted from the phrases of other people, and when Yogi Berra said ‘I didn’t really say everything I said’ he was correct.'"
--Louis Menand, from an article in the current New Yorker called ‘Notable Quotables,’ a review of the Yale Book of Quotations.

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Downtown Miami from the 21st floor of the Hyatt.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quote of the Day: George Orwell

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."

--George Orwell, from the 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language".

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Finally: Freemasons Sponsor a Race Car

It's about time, isn't it? The Scottish Rite division of the ancient international Masonic conspiracy has entered the 21st century: they've sponsored a car for NASCAR.
Slate's Seth Stevenson reports.

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The Dallas Assassination Window

According to the BBC and the Dallas Morning News a certain Dallas book depository window from which Lee Harvey Oswald may have shot our beloved 35th president has been sold for $3 million on an eBay auction.

Apparently the window was removed from the building by the owner to keep treasure seekers from dismantling it. Caruth Byrd, whose family owns the building, is the seller of the window. To aid authentication, Byrd added a link on his auction to MSNBC's report, which includes video with NBC's Brian Williams.

Of course, not everyone believes it's the real thing.

The Ballardian Response

Others, including devotees of the fiction of the British writer J.G. Ballard, were all atwitter. Writes a blogger at the BLDGBLOG:
Perhaps we could even re-assemble all these into a complete, if eclectic and quite controversial, new building – add the JFK window as the coup de grâce – and you've got a 21st century version of Sir John Soane's Museum in London.

But, of course, archaeology is full of such acts of structural burglary. Whole temples and friezes and doorways and rooms have been removed and transported elsewhere. Just ask Lord Elgin – or, for that matter, ask the Getty.

In light of all this, then, are we witnessing some new Lord Elgin of the 21st century, raised on the novels of J.G. Ballard, as he or she begins a new quest to collect pieces of architectural morbidity?

The sale of JFK's window would thus be the opening salvo in this death-obsessed archaeology of tomorrow.

Simon Sellars, custodian of the superb blog Ballardian, compiled some of the Ballard-related chatter about the JFK assassination window in a post called "Structural Burglary". He included this choice quote from Ballard's infamous book The Atrocity Exhibition:
Abraham Zapruder was a tourist in Dealey Plaza whose amateur cine-film captured the President’s tragic death. The Warren Commission concluded that frame 210 recorded the first rifle shot, which wounded Kennedy in the neck, and that frame 313 recorded the fatal head wound. I forget the significance of frame 230.

The Warren Commission’s Report is a remarkable document, especially if considered as a work of fiction (which many experts deem it largely to be). The chapters covering the exact geometric relationships between the cardboard boxes on the seventh floor of the Book Depository (a tour de force in the style of Robbe-Grillet), the bullet trajectories and speed of the Presidential limo, and the bizarre chapter titles — ‘The Subsequent Bullet That Hit,’ ‘The Curtain Rod Story,’ ‘The Long and Bulky Package’ — together suggest a type of obsessional fiction that links science and pornography.”
[Also -- read the Ballardian's commentary on the crazed astronaut stalker. Blogger Simon Sellars quotes Ballard wondering about the unknown psychological affects of space travel. In related news, someone is trying to sell a NASA-issue diaper on eBay.]

The Value of Ephemera

So who bought the window? Who paid $3 million for a dubious piece of an American tragedy? And what will they do with it? When we put such amazing and stratospheric value on objects touched by fame and infamy -- a killer window, a stained t-shirt worn by a dead actor, an adult diaper stamped NASA, a cigarette pack on a string, an unsigned credit card -- we get further away, ironically, from the things themselves.

What result is in the mind of a millionaire who buys an ordinary window, one he or she is assured may be the window the man who may have shot JFK may have shot from?

At best, it connects the owner to the event. This happened here, and now I own it. The new owner can insert him or herself in history (even if historians do not). But this sensation is entirely external. It has nothing to do with the object itself. The credit card issued to Steve McQueen that he never signed, sold at auction for $8,500, is just like any other Mastercard issued by Wells Fargo at the time. Except for the name stamped on it. Value is made up of two things here: first, what we all agree upon, and second, what any given person will pay at any given time. Consensus is a much better measure than the caprices of rich folk.

I call this ephemera, a word that means "objects of short-term relevance." Its value is in its association with a person or an event, not in its unique construction or physical characteristics.

Real art has a different effect. I never thought much of Vermeer's much-praised seventeenth-century painting "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" -- until I saw the real thing. It's at the Mauritshuis Dutch Royal Picture Gallery in the Hague, and although it's small, it's a stunningly beautiful painting -- much more captivating than in any reproduction. I was converted. Isn't this the we chase when we look for the "real thing"?

This is the big joke Marcel Duchamp levelled on the art world with his Fountain, the common urinal he entered into a 1917 juried art exhibition. There is nothing arty about this particular urinal. One is as good as any other -- it's the way of looking at the urinal that makes it art. But it's just that which makes it worthless. Unless you subscribe to the idea that its value is in Duchamp's connection to it and its physical presence in the making of art history. In that sense it's just like the JFK assassination window.

John Armstrong, in his book Move Closer: An Intimate Philosophy of Art, says that when we get too attached to the facts about art, we're being led away from our actual perception of the art:
This influences the character of perception not by making it more acute, but by bringing in a completely new concern which yields satisfaction -- a satisfaction which is then fed back into the perceptual experience. The satisfaction of owning a Picasso -- or seeing the highest-rated facade in Rome -- is felt as if it were a satisfaction generated by the look of the object, but in fact it derives from a completely different source.
It's that "completely different source" Armstrong talks about that actually created the assassination window as a valuable, collectable object in the first place. When we're dealing with an object like the assassination window instead of a well-designed Roman church or a Picasso drawing, we're veering even further from perception still. The irony is that the object is an actual window, removed from its building, its context -- it may as well be an empty picture frame: there is no greater understanding of, or connection to Kennedy's assassination to be had by looking here.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Album Cover Art

One of the more creative album cover designs I've seen lately. Swayzak is two DJs -- James Taylor and David "Brun" Brown -- and their music is "minimal house." This album is okay, if you're into this sort of thing, but the cover art is much more satisfying. It's those little plastic things that hold bags of bread closed -- like twist ties, only with a space to display the expiration date.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

A Stainless Steel Scholar Rock

This is a modern take on the thousand-year-old art of Chinese scholar rocks. It's a stainless steel version done in an edition of eight by the artist Zhan Wang (born Beijing, 1962). This particular rock was purchased for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection last year, and is displayed in the same galleries as a number of "real" scholar rocks from the celebrated Richard Rosenblum Collection.

Traditional rocks, called Gongshi, have been appreciated by Chinese intellectuals since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). They are simply rocks, collected for their novel shapes, and displayed on stands (usually carved of wood) as objects for contemplation.

Also pictured, another rock by Wang from the Red Mansion Foundation gallery.

For an amazing collection of scholar rocks that are actually on sale, visit the sale section of Boston gallerist Kemin Hu's very informative website www.spirit-stones.com. She also has books.

In Minneapolis, visit the Sun Gallery at 4760 Grand Ave S. (612-822-6388).

And see my previous posts here and here.

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Quote of the Day: Spiro Agnew

"A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."

Muttered by Spiros Anagnostopoulos, also known as Spiro Angew, Vice President under Richard Nixon. He resigned in October 1973 after allegations of tax evasion. He was talking about that damn liberal media, circa 1969.

[via Bartleby.com.]

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Top One Hundred Best Restaurants in Saint Paul

My friend Mr. Christopher pointed me to Dara Moskowitz's lukewarm review of the new Selby Avenue spot, Il Vesco Vino Bar Napoletano, in the City Pages. Il Vesco Vino is a new St. Paul restaurant, and she found that as much as she wanted to review it well, too many things went wrong. In the review, she defends her neglecting St. Paul's finer dining spots in her best of 2006 picks, and I think it illustrates the same sort of thing that art critic Jerry Saltz was trying to say (when he was defending himself against an angry gallery owner who told him if he couldn't write something nice, he should keep quiet. I blogged it here). Here's Moskowitz:
I visited all of the best restaurants in St. Paul last year -- Zander, Au Rebours, Heartland, Frost, et al., and none of the meals I had were the top ten meals of the year. Are they great restaurants? Yes. Did I hit them on bad days? Yes. Would I give them a negative review based on a single visit? Never. Am I going to lie and shoehorn one into my top ten? Not this year I'm not.
The problem, she writes, is that critics and public alike judge restaurants on a different scale depending on where they are.
There's an implicit grading on the curve that all of us local food writers do for St. Paul and the suburbs, and I'm kind of sick of it. I picture two imaginary geographical points in Minnesota, one on top of the IDS building, the other atop the Uptown Theatre, and the farther you get from either of those two points, the gentler and easier the curve you're graded on gets. At this point I could name five ritzy suburbs in which if you put a plate of pasta on the table without falling into it or poisoning anyone, you'll get a rave review in half of the local rags. Of course, you readers are not idiots, and so to compensate for these fuzzy raves, many savvy restaurant-goers have learned to discount praise for all suburban, and most St. Paul restaurants. Meanwhile, people who want to believe that the restaurant they've been to twice in the last decade which is near their lovely house is master-class have the critical ink to back it up. Eventually, it all snowballs, and here we are: drowning in a murky world of insider-relativism and the soft condescension of low expectations.
It's true, if you don't hold one thing to the same standards as you would the next, it diminishes both of them.

Likewise praising 100 albums as the best of a single year, as the City Pages' Britt Robson did last December. How can any writer respect him or herself after creating such a list? This is where a conservative would start harping on how liberals don't stand for anything and how they think everything is relative, everything has merit.

What didn't Britt include? Lists like this do exactly what Saltz warned against with never writing bad reviews, and exactly what Moskowitz is afraid of when we judge everything on an ever-changing scale. It's like putting an evolutionary biologist on television next to a backwater country preacher. It ain't a fair comparison. It makes everything good just as good as everything bad.

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Steve McQueen's Personal Collection

Last November, there was an auction of the late actor Steve McQueen's estate. The auction, held at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles by Bonhams and Butterfields, consisted mostly of vintage motorcycles. But there was a bit of ephemera, too. This Mastercard, unsigned by Mr. McQueen, was sold for $8,500. Other such items sold included a Suzuki Service Card (sold for $650), a Pan Am luggage tag ($1,700), a Rolls Royce Owner ID card ($4,000), a "mailgram regarding John Wayne" ($1,600), and a "collection of miscellaneous paperwork Various Sizes" ($3,250).

There were personal items, too. A pair of McQueen's sunglasses sold for $60,000 and what looked like a ripped and stained t-shirt (with the Stunts Unlimited logo) sold for $3,250.

Jerry Saltz on Art Criticism

Jerry Saltz, the art critic for the Village Voice had a pithy description of his lack of theory in art criticism, where he said: "Knowing where you're coming from means knowing what you like before you like it and hating what you hate before you hate it. This takes all the life out of art. Theory is about understanding. Art is about experience. Theory is neat. Art is not."

I like that. It's from one of his columns. He's not pretending that art criticism is a science. It's subjective. But he also recognizes his duty, as a critic, to his audience. His explanation of what a critic ought to be doing (from the same column) is very satisfying to me:
My only position is to let the reader in on my feelings; try to write in straightforward, jargon-free language; not oversimplify or dumb down my responses; aim to have an idea, a judgment or a description in every sentence; not take too much for granted; explain how artists might be original or derivative and how they use techniques and materials; observe whether they're developing or standing still; provide context; and make judgments that hopefully amount to something more than just my opinion. To do this requires more than a position or a theory. It requires something else. This something else is what art, and criticism, are all about.
This sort of transparency is especially important in art writing, but I think it carries over to literature, music, and film criticism as well.

I really like how he handled the plea of a gallery owner to avoid writing about art he didn't like:
"You mean all reviews should be positive?" I asked. "Yes," she replied unreservedly. "If you don't like the work, don't write about it." I know there's a lot at stake when a dealer shows an artist, but basically the art world was a micro-society to this gallerist -- a country club or a pleasure cruise where everyone was to observe certain rules and just be nice. A review is now little more than spin control or a marketing device to tweak sales. As criticism is directly tied to shopping, anything that erodes brand identity is frowned upon. While the gallerist continued, I realized that she saw herself as something of an evangelist: someone who sells art, nurtures artists, and spreads the word. I wanted to be what Peter Plagens calls a "goalie," someone who in essence says, "It's going to have to be pretty good to get by me." Finally, I blurted, "Praising everything an artist does reduces everything to drivel." At which point she removed her arm from around my shoulder and I fled.
Read the rest of his article here -- it's very enlightening.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Christie's Modern and Impressionists Auction

Christie's, one of the two preëminent auction houses, had the pleasure of my company yesterday. It was for a preview of their Valentine's Day Modern and Impressionsists auction, scheduled a day before Sotheby's auction in the same category.

I'd been to galleries before, but never an auction house. And certainly never among a crowd that could afford such things. It looked like any MoMA gallery, only with price tags -- generally in the $20,000-$30,000 range. Which, if you're familiar with today's art market, is alarmingly modest.

I was pleased to see a few Impressionists I recognized -- a mediocre early painting by Monet (1858, expected to sell for between $15,000 and $20,000), a rather nice watercolor by Renoir (c. 1896, bidding at between $60,000 and $80,000), and a blue crayon drawing by Gustav Klimt (c. 1900-07, bidding at around $25,000-35,000), which was being sold by a Pittsburgh university.

That Klimt is notable because of the untold story -- why is Park Point University getting rid of it, and how did they acquire it? -- and because Klimts are fetching astronomical prices right now -- Ronald Lauder (of Estee Lauder cosmetics fame) recently paid $135,000,000 for a Klimt painting, a 1905 portrait of a Vienna industrialist's wife, Adele Bloch-Bauer. That's the highest (at least for the short term) price ever paid for a painting. Lauder bought it for the Neue Galerie, a small but lavish Austrian and German art museum down the street from the Met. But if I'm reading Christie's's (can I do that with apostrophes?) auction notes right, the little blue crayon study fetched a mere $24,000.

But then, can we trust these notes? A Hannah Höch painting (that, to be fair, Christie's was hyping) that was estimated at $8,000-$12,000 sold for ... $824,000? I must be reading this wrong. There must be other paintings in the lot.

But what caught my eye was a Renoir. It was a hideous thing. A portrait of a young girl framed in an oval the size of a deck of cards. Her eyes and facial features were blurred, as they often are in Renoir's paintings, but here they were obscured to the point of desecration. This little painting was ugly. And it was estimated at $30,000-$40,000. As I stood and gawked at it, a well-dressed but dusty-looking little old man shuffled over with his wife, an equally tiny person in a slightly less-worn outfit of a black and white hound's tooth pattern. Expecting to hear some learned wisdom from this diminutive collector, I pricked up my ears.

I didn't catch the first thing he mumbled to his wife about the painting, but I caught the important bit clearly: "She looks stupid," he spit, ambling between me and the painting. In a gallery full of millionaires, this pleased me.

And speaking of those millionaires, I was impressed with the way these people dressed. I saw all sorts of stereotypes -- the cultivated version of Paris Hilton, tall and lean with patterned stockings; a pair of gay hedge funders, wide-eyed and campy but very smartly appointed; and a tall, eccentricly-dressed old man in a fur hat who was either an aging modern painter, or was playing the part very well. I saw women who looked like they were trying to show off recent implants, and one who looked like she was trying to hide her natural endowments. What I didn't see was evidence that I was among anyone like myself, a salaryman.

Later, when I was getting ready to leave, I passed the little old man and his wife again -- the ones who admired the Renoir with me. In the lobby, they made their way by a few modern pieces that looked like outsider art. One painting depicted a stone building in a cobblestone courtyard, tediously painted with the same grid pattern for both the building and the street. "Stupid!" Proclaimed the old man.

I could see I was among connoisseurs.

[The top photo shows Christie's lobby, featuring a wall painting (1999) by Sol Lewitt.]

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bertrand Russell's Alphabet

This is a page from a book called The Good Citizen's Alphabet that the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1953. The illustrations were by Franciszka Themerson and the book was published by her husband Stefan Themerson, who ran the Gaberbocchus Press.

The Design Observer has the whole story, including a slide show with 23 other pages from the Alphabet.

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The Blessed Virgin Mary Appears in Como Park

That's right. The Holy Virgin Mary. In St. Paul. My mother, who isn't a Catholic, spotted the miracle on a walk. She enlisted my brother to record the Blessed sign with his camera. Look closely and you can see that Mary is holding the Baby Jesus.

This sort of stuff happens to my family all the time. A few years ago I found a tomato that looked exactly like Jesus Christ -- as a fetus.

Coincidentally, the New York Times has a story today explaining why human beings see faces in the surface of Mars, the grilled cheese in the pan, and the tree in the park. Apparently we identify faces in much the same way a computer would:
When [M.I.T.'s Dr. Pawan Sinha] presented human subjects with blurry face images, containing only 12 by 14 pixels’ worth of visual information, they performed similarly well, recognizing 75 percent of the face images accurately. This suggests that like the computer, the human brain processes faces holistically, like coherent landscapes, rather than one feature at a time.
And Boston University's Takeo Watanabe, a neuroscientist, thinks part of it is the number of faces people see per day that makes us see faces when they aren't actually there. Don't let that make you think that we aren't seeing the Virgin Mary in that tree. God wouldn't screw with us like that.

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Quote of the Day: H.L. Mencken

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Henry Louis Mencken, first published in The Smart Set, December 1921. [via Bartleby.com]

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Corn Whiskey

I'm a big fan of Eric Asimov's blog The Pour. Asimov is the New York Times' wine critic, and when he runs out of space in his column, or when he wants to explore something in more depth, he writes about it on The Pour.

In an entry from last week titled "Going With the Grain," Asimov tackles Bourbon and Corn Whiskey. He mentions Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey, which I reviewed back in May of last year. Asimov says it ain't half bad. I was stuck on it being a marketing gimmick (which I fell for). A reviewer at Straight Bourbon.com describes it a bit more harshly. Here's how he characterized the nose:
Ugh! Nasty cardboard with light hints of boiled cabbage and brussel sprouts. An immediate put-off. Smells like B.O.! The words "rancid" and "musty" come to mind. There are some plummy notes struggling to be heard, but there is nothing light or flowery in there, at least none that I can sense.
Defenders of the brand say it's not supposed to be good -- it's supposed to be like moonshine.

And speaking of moonshine, Asimov told a great story about sampling some illegal brew in Philadelphia of all places:
I remembered a restaurant in Philadelphia that I used to visit. The proprietor, who I won’t identify in case the revenooers are reading this, affected a backwoods persona and used to enjoy sending out a little homebrewed moonshine in teacups to customers whom he knew might be interested. Once he sent me out two teacups and asked which I liked better. One was kind of neutral, with maybe a slight vanilla overlay to it. It didn’t get me excited. "Aged three months in an oak barrel," he told me. But the other one was delicious! It was pure, intense corn, with an aroma that made me think of fresh-squeezed corn oil. It was hard to imagine this coming from some backwoods still.

"Aged 30 days in a plastic garbage bag," he said triumphantly.
Ah, home brew. The fundamental difference between corn whiskey and bourbon is that the latter is aged in oak, and the former is not. But there's no substitute for aged-in-plastic in the basement where the law can't find it moonshine.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SHAME: What Happened to Your Pants?

When I read Kay S. Hymowitz's Wall Street Journal commentary on the recent rash of celebrity exhibitionism, I turned to my friend Kat for what I knew would be a nice counterweight.

Hymowitz is disappointed in American women, starting with Britney Spears. All young -- and old -- women who would bare themselves physically or emotionally for an eager public perplex Hymowitz, a fellow at a conservative public policy thinktank called the Manhattan Institute.

Does Hymowitz veer too far into the judgmental? Do stars like Britney and Lindsay know what they're doing when they get caught sans underpants by paparazzi? Here's what Kat thought:
I think most people are running around this U.S. of A. deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves. As well they should be. In my case, I am ashamed of the (recently realized) fact that I need people to tell me what to do.

Like Sir H. Masticator, for example, who lovingly bestowed this writing assignment on me. And the reason I need people to tell me what to do is because if left to my own Pavlovian, naturally-selected devices, I spend my working day obsessively clicking and re-clicking approximately thirty bookmarked internet sites like a mental retard, stuffing the inner emptiness with celebrity gossip and reality television blogs. I spend my leisure time watching Extreme Makeover re-runs (which are culturally important) or American Idol (which I hate myself for) or Top Chef (which I love myself for) until it occurs to me that I’m wasting my life. So I take two Tylenol PM to hastily escape this uncomfortable state of zombie-shame.

But then I dream. I dream about hanging out with Paris, and we’re both auditioning for American Idol and I get pissed off because I notice that she’s taking performance-enhancing drugs (along with her Valtrex) which just isn’t fair. So I tattle on her to Simon and Paula and Randy, who are super supportive about it all, and then Simon and I end up going out on a date at Liquor Lyle’s where we get 2-4-1 Summits and it’s very romantic. Then I realize that Simon is not really Simon but my former superhot super who likes to visit me in my dreams with his mechanic’s jumpsuit and dreamy, crazed face and it just feels so right. At least until a certain Girls Gone Wild googly-eyed monster pops out from behind the bar yelling “Show me your tits!!” and shoving shots of Sour Apple Pucker in my face. Paris is dancing on the bar sans underpants, undulating and intermittently revealing her oddly misshapen buttocks – which are visible from the front – creating a jarring visual experience indeed.

Because this is what it’s all about. Surreptitious peeks of Tits and Oddly-Misshapen Buttocks and Camel Toes and Vaginas. They pervade the sick yet titillating, pathetic yet addictive, tongue-in-cheek yet sinister visual universe of celebrity gossip blogs. It was Ms. Brit’s recently exposed vagina bits, however, that instigated a wave of popular cultural criticism from pretty much everybody. It was “the last straw” apparently, for lots of folks including the mastermind behind one of her top fan Websites who shut it down in response to the public baring.

And somebody named Kay S. Hymowitz who got all hot and bothered and decided to take action by writing an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. [read it here.] More on her issues later.

So Ms. Brit was out clubbin’ and the paparazzi captured an up-the-skirt shot of her bare cooch while she’s squirming around in the back of a limo. And everybody freaked out because she wasn’t wearing underpants, which provided ironclad proof that she’s a dirty whore and a bad mother and an out-of-control lunatic and probably an alcoholic and drug addict. And maybe she is some or all of these things. But the fact that it was the no underpants that instigated the discourse of moralistic judgments on all manner of her wayward ways is a bit disturbing to me. I started to feel like I was in a courtroom watching Jody Foster be interrogated for wearing clothing suggestive of wanting to be gang-raped.

Obviously I have my own fiery opinions on things. I also happen to honestly believe that her vag flash was accidental. Which is weird coming from a cynical jerk like myself. Some of Brit’s critics didn’t seem to care either way because the no underpants of it all was enough. And others – i.e. Ms. Hymowitz – simply assumed it was intentional. And indeed many gossip authorities, including the internet gossip queen Perez Hilton, have said that certain cases of celebrity nudity are likely intentional – especially when the mishap seems to happen repeatedly (Lindsay Lohan’s crotch).

To that, I say: How the hell does he know? Has he not worn underpants under a mini skirt and tried to exit a limo hundreds of time surrounded by throngs of “stalkerazzi” with cameras directed up his skirt? I’ll even take it a step further and say that if I were a celeb who suffered an originally accidental flash, I might later claim the flash as my own doing. And I’d do this because: a) nobody wants to be made a fool and b) claiming the act provides some sense of empowerment which is an attractive option compared to being a humiliated victim of the paparazzi. So there.

And this relates to all of this “sex tape” stuff as well. For example, when your sleazy ex-boyfriend is going to shop around his home-made videotape of him fucking you from behind and there’s nothing you can do about it then what else can you do but try to act cool and make some money off of it?

But I digress. Luckily I don’t believe in sex tapes of any kind. And I’d bet that Kay Hymowitz doesn’t either. In her WSJ opinion piece, Hymowitz lambastes what she sees as an exhibitionist trend among young ladies in Hollywood who “stage their own wardrobe malfunctions.” The freeballin’ antics of these naive gals, she contends, further reinforces the “first rule of contemporary American girlhood” which is “to show that you are liberated, take it off: liberty means responsibility ... to disrobe.”

She throws Brit – along with a host of other girl celebs including Courtney Love, Lindsay Lohan, and Tara Reid – into one big, simmering pot of misguided girl-power stew. My prob with this is that obviously each incident and context and person is unique and I find the ASSumption that all of these acts were intentional a little hard to believe, as mentioned previously. For example, if you were privy to the Tara Reid red dress “Frankenboob” mishap, you would also seriously doubt that she would have purposefully showcased her freshly scarred and distorted areola to the world – all the while smiling like a discombobulated idiot.

But what pisses me off the most about Ms. Hymo is that she assumes that these gals are not only doing these things on purpose, but they are all doing it for the same reason (as though Courtney Love and Lindsay Lohan belong to the same book club). She says these girls are naive (Courtney Love?) and suffering from false consciousness. She tells us (and them) that by flashing their privates they are making some kind of misguided quasi-feminist gesture of sexual liberation. She cites the infamous Girls Gone Wild girls as well, which is interesting, too, given the class-action suit filed by a number of girls who claim to have been drunkenly coerced into shedding their clothing and even engaging in sexual acts by sick pervs like Joe Coke-eyes.

Of course the other side of the female agency coin is female victimization; and it’s not right to flatten anybody’s subjectivity or agency or intent into an either/or mold: I don’t doubt that some of the GGW girls took great pleasure in their exhibitionism. And some might have gotten off on it at the time, and then later regretted it. The point is that there are not only two choices here: girl power! ☺ or victimization ☹. God knows there is all kinds of gray in that diode.

I may sound like I’m trying to sell you a slice of pro-victim pie here, but that’s only because the flavor of all the hubub has been so overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. Sure celebs manipulate the media, but the media also manipulates them and each instance of manipulation needs to be considered in context and with respect to social power. And in this case: gender and social power. Just because celebs are insanely wealthy and get to tell everybody what to do and get whatever they want doesn’t mean that they are somehow immune to culture by being exempt from cultural conditions of being a young woman. And if Hymowitz had any understanding of third-wave feminist theory whatsoever, she would have known that feminist agency is not an either/or proposition and thus she would not have not written such a stupid, infuriating piece. (SNAP!).

She says Brit “underestimates the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violates the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age.” Interesting that she should mention privacy – given the “stalkarazzi” pretty much are up in these people’s grills 24-7 with big phallic lenses poised and ready for a glint of nip or an exposed thong or an unattractive facial gesture or an opened mouth full of McDonald's fries or some unsightly cellulite. Shouldn’t the paparazzi be front-and-center in this discussion? Get out of the bushes, ragazzi! And then shouldn’t we talk about the origins of the voracious cultural demand for these kinds of images in the first place?

Maybe it’s the remaining cultural fall-out from our beloved Janet Jackson’s SuperBowl boob shuffle that has hardened all of our hearts so. Maybe it is because we now really, really hate celebrities as more charisma-less, unattractive idiots get to be rich and famous for no reason at all. Or maybe we really are genuinely disappointed with Britney. Maybe we’re disappointed that she isn’t grateful for her fame and fortune by acting like a classy starlet should. Maybe we’re disappointed that she no longer attempts to conform herself to a superficial celebrity image/brand/icon, a beautiful size 0, smiling and poised and grateful and nice.

Britney’s naughty behavior disturbs our own rags-to-riches dreams by destroying the illusion of celebrity as a cultural ideal: an achievement that allows people to transcend the messiness and material constraints most of us deal with in everyday life. We’re disappointed in Britney because she’s not ashamed of herself: she’s not ashamed of showing her messy, base working-class roots. And the appearance of her vagina evokes our outrage because the vagina continues to symbolize the epitomy of feminine shame: sexual depravity, impurity and sin. We need to keep our vaginas concealed, hidden, politely ignored. Much like class, y’all.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Recent Bus Plunges

From the news, three bus plunge stories, lovingly extracted from Internet news sources and whittled down to their most essential parts, and then rendered as poetry by way of stanzas:

A school bus carrying 43 students

Plunged 40 feet off the side of a highway overpass

In Huntsville, Alabama

Killing at least three students.
[from CNN.]

Thirteen were killed and 40 injured

In Indian Kashmir when

A bus plunged into a river

On the way to the city of Doda from Kishtwar.
[from the BBC.]

In China’s Hunan Province

A kindergarten bus flipped into a ditch

Killing the driver and

Six children;

The teacher couldn’t be found.

The same day

In the same county

A three-story building collapsed

Killing two children and four parents

Who rented space in the building for school

Because it was closer to home.
[from Shanghai Daily]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Don't Disconnect Your Smoke Detector

In a rambunctiously written article in last month's Psychology Today, Kaja Perina discusses the mating strategies of H. sapiens, noting that some scientists see a benefit in women assuming "all men are pigs." The opposite is true for men, or course: Assume all women are mating material. An error for a man is missing out on a willing woman. An error for a woman is a man who isn't going to stick around. Or so the scientists tell us:
Martie Haselton of UCLA and David Buss of the University of Texas, Austin, have empirically demonstrated the existence of these error-management strategies in men and women. Haselton likens a biased decision pathway to a smoke alarm that can make one of two errors. It can go off in the absence of fire -- a false positive: irritating, but far from lethal. The more dangerous error is the false negative, which fails to signal a real fire. "Engineers can't minimize both errors, because there's a trade-off," explains Haselton. "If you lower the threshold for noting fires, you're going to have more false alarms. Natural selection created decision-making adaptations not to maximize accuracy but to minimize the more costly error." Faced with uncertainty about people and predators throughout human history, we again and again took the safe road.
In other words, be wary of your instincts; just assume he's a jerk who wants only one thing.

The smoke alarm analogy reminded me of a scene in the movie Garden State, in which Carol (Jean Smart) tells her son Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and his friend Andrew (Zach Braff) that they shouldn't stay in the house because she took the batteries out of the carbon monoxide detector: "It was beeping all night, driving me crazy," she tells them.

Does this not take the analogy to a brilliant new height? What a sick, beautiful metaphor.

Quotes of the Day: Never Explain Yourself

A flurry of quotes from The Columbia World of Quotations via Bartleby.com:
"Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyhow."
Elbert Hubbard, 1921.

"It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them."
P.G. Wodehouse, from the 1914 short story "The Man Upstairs."

"Never complain and never explain."
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, from John Morley's Life of Gladstone, vol. 1, 1903.
A shame no one subscribes to such wisdom in our own time, isn't it?

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Jeff Koons' New Eiffel Tower

The artist Jeff Koons has proposed a giant sculpture for the grounds of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- a crane suspending a steaming locomotive. Museum director Michael Govan told the New York Times that he envisions the piece, which would be 161 feet tall, as a sort of Eiffel Tower for L.A.

Koons is known for his kitschy art, and may be most famous for a life-sized porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson lounging with a chimp named Bubbles. In an online slideshow called "Making Sense of Modern Art," the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art explains the sculpture thus:
"Michael Jackson and Bubbles" is made out of porcelain, a fine ceramic material typically used for China and other fragile collectibles. In 18th-century France, elaborately decorated porcelains were displayed as a sign of wealth. In contemporary Western culture, such collecting has been taken up by the middle class in the form of Hummel figurines. Koons clearly based "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" on Hummel figurines, but he made his version extremely large-scale. In this imposing new form, they attain high art status after being suitably marketed to a community of curators and art collectors.
It's important to remember that this was made in 1988, at the pinnacle of Jackson's career. SFMoMA curator Thelma Golden compares the sculpture to Catholic saint iconography, in a secular, cotemporary form.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Quote of the Day

"'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"


G.K. Chesterton, from The Defendant, p. 166 (1901, reprinted 1972).

[From Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989) via Bartleby.com]

And check out Joanne Barkan's essay "My Mother, Drunk or Sober" from the Winter 2003 issue of Dissent, in which she reconsiders Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" (1945) after 9/11 and wrestles with the difference between a nationalist and a patriot.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nomad, Alaskan Mike's snow hound, on the tundra.

Allen Shawn's Insecurities

A list of composer Allen Shawn's innumerable phobias from his new memoir (as quoted in the New York Times):
"I don't like heights. I don't like being on the water. I am upset by walking across parking lots or open fields where there are no buildings. I tend to avoid bridges, unless they are on a small scale. I respond poorly to stretches of vastness but I do equally poorly when I am closed in, as I am severely claustrophobic. When I go to a theater, I sit on the aisle. I am petrified of tunnels, making most train travel as well as many drives difficult. I don't take subways. I avoid elevators as much as possible. I experience glassed-in spaces as toxic, and I find it very difficult to adjust to being buildings in which the windows don't open. ... I am afraid both of closed and of open spaces, and I am afraid, in a sense, of any form of isolation."
The Times' book critic Michiko Kakutani gives Shawn's book, Wish I Could Be There, one of her rare positive reviews. What seems to be so remarkable about Mr. Shawn is that through all the absurd fears, he's highly aware of how they control -- and weaken -- his life. Still, Shawn (5'2") was stable enough to sustain a marriage to the writer Jamaica Kincaid (six-feet-tall) for 25 years.

Allen Shawn is the son of the great New Yorker editor William Shawn, and brother to the actor and playwright Wallace Shawn (also known as the Grand Nagus on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Vizzini in The Princess Bride).

And read William F. Buckley's strange but affectionate obituary for the New Yorker's William Shawn here.

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New Features

I've added a couple new features to the blog. One is a CATEGORIES section in the sidebar -- you'll see it below the ARCHIVES. Realizing that there are a number of subjects that I write about frequently, I have begun to label my posts with simple terms like "art," "cars," and "books." clicking on these links will bring you to a page of all of the posts I've labelled under these headings. I've begun going back through my 300 or so posts to label the old ones.

The other new feature is a world map counter. Check it out -- it's below everything else on the sidebar on the right. It tracks the locations of all the visitors to this blog and maps them. It's amazing. If you click on the map you can see a larger version. It tells me some of what I already know -- that I have readers in the Twin Cities, New York, and London -- but also some things I didn't know: who are my readers in what looks like it might be Kansas, Tennessee, and Toronto? And wait a minute, is that really London? It looks more like Amsterdam judging by the position on the map.

And I'm seeing some locations missing -- some friends aren't reading. They will be dealt with. The Masticator is watching.

Monday, February 05, 2007

An architectural model.
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