Monday, August 30, 2004

Observations


On food & pronunciation:

He: “What are you eating?”

Me: “Orrives”

He: “Eh?”

Me: “Orrives”

He: “WHAT?”

Me: “ORRIVES!” (brandishing bowl)

He: “Oh, olives

…as if I were one of those slow children who still said things like ‘excape’ instead of ‘escape’. I don’t need help with pronunciation, it’s just that you *can’t* say the word ‘olives’ with olives in your mouth.


On coding:

It’s addictive.

Little by little, I change things in my blog. As soon as one change is successfully made, I look to something else I can do. Something else to tweak or fiddle with.

The projects are becoming bigger, badder and braver. I am rather loathe to imagine where it will all end, but if pressed I envisage a blog that will make my readers a cup of coffee and spit out a biscuit (or a cookie for the Americans) depending on which radio button (chocolate chip, ginger nut, low carb) is clicked.


On music to code by:

Start with the Tomb Raider soundtrack – this gives you enough impetus to keep going when your newbiness gets you in a whole world of trouble.

Refine the code with Rory’s music. Channel his abilities. Become mellow* and at one with the geeky universe.

Admire your creation in silence. Start wondering what people with smaller screens are going to see. Drop your resolution back to 640x480. Almost fall off chair. Say ‘*&^% it’ and decide that people who really love you will upgrade their monitors.


* But not so mellow as not to notice that there are only TWO songs. Two really good songs. Two songs that get under the skin and leave you wondering where the rest of the CD is.


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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Shattering the myth...

...of the overnight success.

'Ice Scribe' (No, I'm not allowed to reveal her name to the world - else her hellhounds will come, chew on my achilles tendons, scrap around in my herb garden and lay waste to the sanctum sanctorum - my office) describes exactly what it takes to become proficient at something - in this case, ice skating. No surprises to anyone who has achieved anything that it's damned hard and diligent work.

I'm really, really impressed - kudos to you, girl :)

M

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War on pleasure

I’ve been reading a little Montaigne lately – a French layman philosopher whose ideas are espoused in a handful of very interesting essays.

A theme running through some of his writings – all the more curious for his being such a religious man – is the morality of pursuing and enjoying pleasurable things:

“All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers[e] means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end?” – Montaigne

…most of the Christian world in following the terribly influential doctrines of St Augustine, actually.

Montaigne understood the thought that had come before and knew that he was disagreeing with some influential thinkers, nevertheless he understood what was at the core of all human action:

“Let the philosophers say what they will, the main thing at which we all aim, even in virtue itself, is pleasure.” - Montaigne

It inspired me to think about how far we’ve come since his writing in the late 1500’s and was struck with the fact that we haven’t embraced the pursuit of pleasure at all. Although we are often accused by other societies to be pleasure-seeking materialists, we are constantly hampered either by guilt or by legislation in this most natural of pursuits.

We are, in effect, embroiled in a longstanding war on pleasure, exacerbated by the fact that we have given over so much of our decision making power to the state.

So, of course, when I realised I was mulling over it for days - I wrote about it:

_______


I still remember being impatient to grow up. Everything past the arbitrary demarcation point of ‘formal education’ seemed to be a frontier promising freedom, exploration, self-determination and experience beyond even my wild imagination.

Gradually, though, I began to realise that not everyone held the same wide-eyed curiosity about the world as I did. For many, the world was full of dangers that leapt out of dark corners and potholes that derailed the otherwise sedate journey of life. Where I saw opportunity and railed at every state-imposed shackle, many saw potential peril and looked to the state to impose some arbitrary order to ease the fear. The potentiality for crime became as evil a thing as crime itself.

This attempt at making the world a ‘safer’, more homogenous place therefore went beyond simply protecting citizens against the use of force or occurrences of fraud. It was deemed necessary to ‘protect’ the populace against the vices or peculiarities of others – even where that behavior had no direct impact on any non-consenting human – because it was those vices and peculiarities that could, in theory, at any moment erupt into crime.

Since the move toward homogenization had no basis in rationality in the first place, it wasn’t too much of a leap to look to the Judeo-Christian model of virtue and vice on which to base the legal system to carry it out – and if there’s one thing the church despises, it is pleasure.

I saw that pleasure of all sorts was something to be ashamed of. The root of human pleasure was some vague ‘evil’ (or, as St Augustine would have you believe, ‘carnal will’) and battling these pleasures was a twisted pleasure in and of itself by the self-appointed guardians of public morality. Inevitably, they would seek to legislate that which they found abhorrent.

Everywhere I turned, I found that the very things we innately enjoy as humans were insanely regulated and relegated to the guilt pile.

First it was sex. The world’s oldest profession must be the most reviled by law in history. Prostitutes are looked down upon and ushered away from our view of the everyday, as if not seeing them walking along a street will erase the reality that some people do pay for sex. Certain countries allow the selling but not the buying of sex, some allow the trade but decree that managers or madams are somehow breaking the law.

Why a legal, consensual, pleasurable act between two human beings can suddenly become illegal with the introduction of currency is beyond me – as it is beyond innumerable others that have written about it.

When technology allowed sex to be captured visually and distributed, the government was there too. Certain magazines were judged to lack taste and were banned from certain jurisdictions. To this day, if the nanny state happens to be vacuuming in your room and finds your stash under the bed, you can find yourself grounded for a long time for hoarding non-sanctioned erotica.

What was once the realm of magazines has recently moved to the Internet, a most efficient pornography delivery vehicle. The Internet is viewed suspiciously by maladroit parents and overeager social workers as a veritable digital Satan, simply waiting to unload filth into the unsuspecting and untrained minds of the world’s youth.

The idea that bringing children up is a damned difficult and responsible task for individual parents, families and carers seems to escape these people. Foisting their progeny on society, they demand that an adult world conform to the needs of as-yet-undeveloped humans. A world created by and for adults has therefore been dumbed-down into a sanitized, childproof playpen rather than the exciting, diverse and sometimes dangerous place that it should be. The idea is that I shouldn’t (read: at some point it will be legislated so that I can’t) have access to pornography for my own pleasure because there is some chance that a child will also have access to it.

So paid pleasure with others and paying to watch others gain pleasure is out. Surely then, pleasure on one’s own could be left alone? No, the government had to step in here too.

Drugs are naturally an enemy of this profligate state – recreational drugs’ sole reason for existence being to mimic, heighten or prolong various forms of pleasure naturally generated by our own brain chemistry. The fact that the act of using a drug harms no-one bar the user is swept aside as the do-gooders bleat about drug use being a precursor to crime.

If a crime is committed to obtain funds for drug purchase, then that crime stands on its own. Its motivator does not matter – the force or fraud was committed, whether it be for Aunt Gertrude’s hip replacement or a better high this Saturday night. If drug use leads to the neglect of contracted (or natural, ie: child raising) duties, then it is this reneging of contract that is the evil – not its precursor.

Conveniently tying the availability of drugs to crime, however, gives the state all the excuses it needs to regularly wage ‘war’, trampling citizen’s rights in the process.

The fact that prohibition of anything increases it’s market value astronomically and leads to only organized criminal gangs peddling it is a concept and a historical lesson that is regularly forgotten. Reading history is, after all, the occupation of bespectacled, wooly-jumpered old codgers and women who need to discover hair product. No sleekly styled politico-type would be caught dead dusting off something obscure and insightful to learn and reflect from the long-ago-committed mistakes of his own kind.

Soft drugs aren’t left alone either. When health care is funded by the government, it is in the government’s interest to ensure that bodies stay healthy and cost less to maintain. To this effect, cigarettes and alcohol (both consumed – you guessed it – purely for pleasure) are the new enemies to be battled with a blizzard of useless and patronizing advertising. Alcohol consumption is tightly reigned in by age, geographical area and time served. In the case of cigarettes, legislation has been used to curb private property rights and ‘protect’ employees, patrons and the unsuspecting from the as-yet-unproven effects of second hand smoke. Manufacturers are forced to print warnings against consumption of their own product on their product label. Both products are taxed at exorbitant rates – a case of the consumer paying for the privilege of being told he is an idiot to do what he does.

The state therefore has a long history of doing battle with anything that humans enjoy.

It comes as no surprise to me, then, that the latest attack is on the pleasure of eating food. Running out of the traditional Big Bad Things to attack, they’ve started on the little ones.

Food is such an elementary pleasure, an enjoyment so very easily seen to be advantageous to a human that it is amazing to me that it can be attacked with so little public outcry. Unlike the other pleasures mentioned, it is actually a basic physiological need for survival.

Never satisfied with the way nature hands things to us, we humans have modified natural crops and processed their output into foods that are not just nutritious, but enjoyable to eat. Sometimes, the foods we consume have no nutritional value at all – they exist only for the pleasure that they give in their consumption.

Some people, however, value the pleasure that food gives them above its nutritional content. Above, even, their long term health. They consume a disproportionate amount of poor-value food and become unwell or obese because of their actions. All well and good, really – actions have consequences and these are the consequences of eating incorrectly.

Unfortunately, where the state pays for the maintenance of citizen’s bodies, the state will try to minimize the expense by controlling what those bodies get up to. The state isn’t acting irrationally – it’s doing a damn logical thing, given that we have told it to safeguard our health and empowered it to do what it must to complete the task.

So it will look at root causes. It will legislate against fats, sugars and salts first by forcing producers to lower those ingredients in their products then (inevitably) by turning legislation on consumers for daring to sully their state-owned bodies with a super sized Big Mac meal. This isn’t some runaway fantasy of mine, it’s beginning to happen as we speak.

The point is that, yet again, the self-directed follies of some will lead to legislation impinging on the rights of others.

So who is to blame for this ever-escalating war on pleasure?

Well…we are. We’ve asked for the state to step in where our parents left off. We’ve asked for things far beyond the scope of legitimate state function. We’ve given the state the power to tax us, harass us, berate us and jail us to achieve those goals… in doing so, the freedom of some has been sacrificed for the comfort of others…and now we wonder why we are so constricted.

The only way to win this war is to rethink the legitimate scope of a state – should it be involved in, for example, health and welfare? As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, the resounding answer I would give is ‘No!’. When it is no longer responsible for our quality of life, it no longer has the right to dictate our every action that contributes to that quality of life.

Something else that needs to be done is on an individual and philosophical level – we need to reclaim pleasure as a legitimate and desirable goal of a human being. We need to purge religion – or any other kind of mystical twaddle – from the way we think about the world. The right philosophy, incidentally, will look at what a human is and support his rights to gain maximum benefit from the use of his body and mind.

Surely if even a religious man like Montaigne could see it:

“Philosophy does not do battle against such pleasures as are natural; provided that temperance accompanies them . . . she teaches moderation in such things not avoidance.” - Montaigne.

We can too.


M


Let me just add the fact that not everyone is silently complicit to the new war on food - David Carr did a splendid job on BBC4 a while back stating that the state's grubby paws should most definitely be kept off our waistlines.

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Friday, August 27, 2004

Gmail down

For some reason, my main gmail account is on the fritz, even though my secondary is just fine.

For those few of you who have my gmail account and would like to communicate with me today (tomorrow? next week? who knows how long this is going to go on) simply...here's the cryptic clue:

"Take the part past the point to it's natural conclusion."

You think about that and apply it to my old address, it's really quite simple to figure from there.

And while we're at it:

"The pigeon flies at 6 o'clock"
"My mother's scarf is blue"
and
"The well was parched, not dry"

Which, for those in the know is secret agent speak for:

"A brainfood post is on it's way"
"I have a lot on my plate"
and
"InDesign is slowly driving me to a point closer to 'homicidal maniac' than I would ever have wanted or imagined"

That's it, really. Pick up your microdot on the way out.

M

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pipped at the post

Sometimes, you've just got to realise that someone's done a better job than you. As such, my post on technological augmentation of humans is scrapped in favour of this one in Reason magazine.

M


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A quick observation

I did a variation on my usual run today - the one that I take when I leave things a little late and it's getting dark. It takes me past many residences and up a major high street rather than around a large forest (preferred, scenic, insane to do in the dark).

In 40 minutes, I saw one other runner and innumerable people in their lounge rooms through the large, open bay windows that Victorian terraces offer to bored, bouncing snoops like me.

So there I was, propelling myself along a road noting what people were doing. With few exceptions, they were sitting on their lounge suites watching TV. Watching, may I add, the Olympics. One woman happened to look up as I ran past and looked a little surprised to see an actual flesh-and-blood runner.

I really found this to be amusing. Sport has now become something for specialists to do and display on TV. A regular diet of football, cricket, rugby, tennis etc. broken every four years with the all-singing, all-dancing, all-corrputing spectacle of the Olympics.

As a rule, I don't like watching sport for any length of time (read: anything over 10ish minutes), I much prefer to participate. The only exceptions to this are figure skating, dance (which I like to do as well as watch) and ice hockey - which must surely be the most amusing excuse for a dozen men to don a lot of clothing and beat the living bejeezus out of each other. I especially like the moments when the puck...ostensibly the central object of the whole game...is left in some desolate corner as teams systematically test the integrity of the perspex shield with opponent's bodies.

What I want to know is - what's the appeal? I can't see the point in watching some sport again and again. These people aren't looking for professional tips on how to improve their own performances (unless Armchair Hurdles is some new Olympic category I haven't heard of) and I can imagine that the awe of seeing a human perform in a sport wears off after the first few hours of watching. So what is it?


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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Learning Curve

“If you want to learn something,” my father would say “teach it to someone else.”

I was really looking forward to today’s regular training after the weekend seminar, thinking it was rather fortunate that the days ran onto each other, allowing me to be immersed in some damned fine teaching for the duration. How fortunate, also, that the man around which the entire weekend seminar was based would be joining us in our dojo for the afternoon. I envisaged some extension of the seminar, an opportunity to learn more from such a distinguished guest.

M and I arrived, noticing two complete newcomers to the class and I thought no more of it, other than that they were female – which is quite unusual.

So when training started and my Sensei, Peter King, shuffled me off to a corner with the two new students with some announcement of a ‘girls group’, my heart sank. Firstly, I don’t like being paired with women for training…but being relegated to a group of complete newbie girlies seemed to be the worst torture in the world, especially with Ed Lomax teaching the rest of the class not a couple of meters away.

It soon emerged that my fears were unfounded. I wasn’t there to train with them – I was there to train them.

New fears emerged – me? Train someone else in Bujin? Egads, the martial art has been a simultaneous love and bane of my existence for years. Not having done any sports as a child, my ability to watch a physical activity and emulate it isn’t well honed. In fact, the two hours every week leave me utterly exhausted, mentally much more than physically. It has long been my belief that I’m pretty darned awful at it. Training in a dojo like Peter King’s does nothing for my confidence either – I’m surrounded by excellent practitioners and almost always feel like a klutz.

So now I was supposed to teach someone else something that I was pretty sure I didn’t know. They looked up at me eagerly, expectantly. “Christ,” I thought “what’s Peter thinking?”

Probably something rather incisive, the darned clever sod :)

Ask me anything about today’s lesson…I still have it in my mind…I could teach you – easily. It’s printed indelibly in my mind – because my mind was so active in grasping, assimilating, essentialising, breaking down and communicating each move.

I taught the girls things I hadn’t realized I actually knew. I corrected them when they made mistakes that I usually make. I picked them up on teensy little things I didn’t even know I could notice in another person.

Ed kept the lesson at a reasonable pace and suddenly I had to grasp the move well enough to teach it to two people who hadn’t done a day of martial arts in their lives. He did a three part move and I had to teach each element separately for the first time…then how to put it all together without looking like a wally. All in the time that the others were just grasping and practicing the move.

To the girl’s credit they did amazingly well. I pushed them very hard – every time they just barely grasped something, I would refine it and correct it to the next level. After an hour or so, I was mighty impressed and being hurled to the ground with spectacular precision and in dizzying succession. When they started to quote me back to myself about not using strength, I had to chuckle. When they corrected me in a move, I broke out into an all-out grin.

Two hours went by and felt like 30 minutes.

Toward the end, I realized that rather than having had something taken away from me today, I think I got the best lesson in the class. I ended up getting a wonderful feel for the moves. I had Peter and Ed coming up and teaching me how to teach.

After changing, I came up and thanked Peter for the opportunity to teach. I was shocked when he told me that he and Ed were both surprised at my proficiency in teaching and had commented about it to each other.

Am I blowing my own horn? Fuck, yes.* Hope you’re hearing it over there. What the hell else is there to celebrate bar one’s own and other’s achievements?

Point is that teaching is one of the best forms of learning out there. Your mind is forced to remain active – you’re responsible for someone else’s grasp of information so you order that information in a logical way in your own mind. A little like having the accountant over for an audit - y ou quickly ensure that all your papers are filed in the right places.


…ummm, when I say ‘tonight’ I mean yesterday. It could possibly maybe be 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday. It could be, that is, unless you’re reading this and you are M or C – in which case, I got to bed at a reasonable time.


M

(*No, this isn't a new direction for my writing. I'm working on something sanitary and lovely that can be read out to children over dinner as a lesson in life (as I know all my writing is used) . This post, however, was all about martial arts training. You know, where people come together to learn how to hurt or kill bad guys. It doesn't really lend itself to a Lingua Rococco treatment.)

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Monday, August 23, 2004

Blogging has been/will be light

Have spent the weekend here:



...and have training again tonight.

Apologies - although a trawl through the archives will net a *lot* of writing for the curious.

M

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Friday, August 20, 2004

Firefly's glowing

Remember the Firefly review I posted a little while back?

Well, it's now a Feature Article on the Atlasphere, a site for the admirers of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

The review is slightly amended and extended but still saying the same thing: "Go see it, it's wonderful!"

I just love to share good art with people and Firefly is exceptionally good.



So very, very shiny.


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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

FrightFest fare

It seems that M and C aren’t too interested in the offerings of FrightFest 2004. All I got was a pair of wrinkled noses when I uttered the words: ‘Horror’, ‘Psychological Thriller’ and ‘Suspense’.

Instead, I was told:

C: “Why don’t you ask THEM”

Me: (puzzled) “Who?”

C: “You know,” (gesturing to the computer with casual, practiced, mock distaste) “your fans.”

-The blog has a history of being somewhat of a persona non gratis in the household because it makes me sit at a screen for hours on end holding up my end of a conversation with half-muttered and occasionally inappropriate ‘uh huh’s. -

Me: “Ummm, that’s a little weird. Interesting, though.”

C: “You could run a competition…Win A Date With…”

Me: (interjecting) “…ahhhhh yeeeees, I see your point but I don’t really think that people are going to enter a competition to sit next to me at a cinema.”

M: (seemingly from nowhere) “You never know.”

Sweet. I suppose that’s why he’s my husband – he actually thinks going to the movies with me is like a prize. Unless, of course, it’s a horror flick, in which case wrestling with some Linux flavour named after a hat is a damn sight more interesting. I suspect, therefore, that I'll be going alone.

So why see a dark, malevolent, violent movie? Firstly, the good guy sometimes does win. Secondly, I like movies that make me think. Hollywood fare is becoming barer and barer when it comes to story and more and more full of cheap laughs, cheap shots and cheap shock.

These films are usually made by directors who bring the tapestry of their own culture to bear on the storytelling. The ensemble cast is also usually international in flavour - something that gives characters more facets than (again) standard Hollywood fare.

It's also rarely a boy-meets-girl flick. Why is it that every movie nowadays has to have some romantic storyline woven in where it patently doesn't belong? Sometimes a film is just all about action or a concept or a time or a place. Yes, people meet and are attracted to each other in all kinds of absurd situations...but why must it always be the male and female lead?

I'm counting on the fact that these films won't be predictable, that I'll be remembering elements for a long time to come (whether good or bad) and that they'll be visually stunning (especially 'Casshern').

So these are the ones I'm considering:



Casshern - "Based on a 35-epsiode Japanese anime series from 1973 (Casshan: Robot Hunter), top music video director Kazuaki Kiriya's visually arresting epic science fiction odyssey"



Oldboy - "Taking the revenge movie to a whole new surreal and sadistic level, the Cannes 2004 sensation from South Korean director Chan Wook Park will blow you away stylistically, emotionally and intellectually. 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' was only an appetizer for this breathtaking example of how edgily provocative, aesthetically nihilistic and utterly original new Asian cinema can be."



The Tesserract - "An ace solo effort from Oxide Pang, who directed the FrightFest favourites The Eye and its sequel with twin brother Danny, The Tesseract is a quite stunning adaptation of Alex (The Beach) Garland's labyrinth film noir book about colliding destinies."

This last one is a bit of a maybe - has anyone seen these films already?

Should any of you be in London, be at the (one and only) screening of any of these movies, be looking across a crowded foyer and spot someone that looks faintly like me...come up and say 'hi'.

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InTrouble with InDesign

I've had to learn the graphic design & layout program Adobe InDesign all by my lonesome from scratch...no mean feat as it's a professional level piece of software from a different industry to mine.

Anyhow, I'm used to figuring things out for myself and so far have been able to produce a very complex publication for print. So far, so froody.

Unfortunately, with a deadline beginning to whoosh past, something is very, very wrong. Three of the eight chapters in the 'book' simply refuse to be converted to .pdf - crashing the program instead.

Not a happy Monica, as you can imagine.

I need to get them to my printing company sharpish...and barring redoing the entire design of those chapters (yep, I'm at that point of troubleshooting) I'm at a complete loss.

Question: Has anyone had these kinds of issues with InDesign? ...specifically with preflight checks drawing attention to duplicate spot colours and images using RGB colour space? Anyone?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just go back to banging my head against a wall ever so softly.

M

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Science Friction

My favorite memories of growing up center around the books my father would read to me and that I would later read for myself as I began to grasp the mechanics of language. The man is a voracious bibliophile – he taught himself to read as a toddler by gazing at his father’s newspapers and asking pertinent questions. Much to his family’s amazement, he could soon read things out perfectly without quite understanding what it was he was saying.

I am eternally thankful for his taste in literature. He has a great love of history (particularly that of the Roman Empire), non-fiction works of all kinds, astronomical and scientific periodicals and science fiction. It is the latter that would keep me quietly enthralled bedtime after bedtime, begging for ‘just one more page’ before I would be relegated to the relative barrenness of my own fledgling imagination and the dark.

My love of and resonance with the genre is proof that little girls don’t necessarily need to have female fictional role models on which to base their ideas of the heroic. There are very few female heroes in your vintage Sci-Fi and I wasn’t the worse off for it.

I would still drift off, imagining that I was the pilot of a sleek little getabout, dapper shimmering silver one-piece jumpsuit clinging to my frame and deadly laser gun strapped to my side. So deadly, in fact, that it made the air zing most satisfyingly when I used it to vaporize the inevitable bad guys that would make it onto my bridge. The bad guys, of course, would have dismal aim. I would get them first time – every time.

I had a crew, I had a mission, I could feel the rumble of the engines under my feet and for some inexplicable reason, the list of my ship as we shimmied around the Universe saving it from unmentionable evils and becoming very wealthy in the process.

To this day, Sci-Fi entertains me in all its forms, be it books, TV shows or movies. It is a celebration of what man can dream of achieving and one of the few forms of art that is unshackled from the concrete reality in which we live.

Imaginative though Jane Austen was, I can’t see that she would allow Darcy to travel back in time through a warp rift in order to stop himself delivering that dreadful letter to Elizabeth. Sci-Fi has no such constrictions, it gives good authors unparalleled freedoms in their narratives and bad authors a helluvalot of dangerous rope in which to become tangled.

The name itself – Science Fiction – is now so commonplace as a moniker that it’s easy to overlook its simple English meaning. It is fiction based on or influenced by science. Fiction that leads the reader to a world created by an author inspired by an imagined life-altering technological progress.

It’s very nature requires quite a lot from the reader. The reader must actively construct their own images of worlds and phenomena that have no grounding in the things they see every day. These aren’t ancient forests that we have seen in documentaries. This isn’t Antarctica or some lost South American civilization to be pieced together from scrawl and pottery.

These are whole new planets, new gadgets and devices, new ways of moving and dressing, communicating and eating, new colours, sounds, shapes and ways that matter, time and space interact. All these things demand to be seen in the mind’s eye and demand that the mind create something new to represent them. It is little wonder that few Sci-Fi films live up to fan’s expectations, so much of each novel is so very individually constructed, experienced and loved that it’s comparison to someone else’s vision and limited CG budget rarely withstands scrutiny.

Central to all good Sci-Fi is the backdrop - some invention, discovery or technology that has fundamentally changed the way we humans live. Whether it be Roddenberry’s warp drive allowing long distance travel and contact with other beings, Asimov’s robots posing difficult questions about consciousness and slavery or even the casually technologically advanced world of Heinlein allowing men to live on the moon and have interchangeable limbs – the scene is set for an interesting story. It is the human story, though, that must be engaging first and foremost. The technology is generally the icing, engaging though it may be.

Some writers stretch the genre a little further. Greg Egan’s ‘Diaspora’ is an elegant description of humanity moving toward living as acorporeal entities inside machines. The science in the fiction becomes an integral part of the morality tale as the very heroes through which we see the proposed world experience norms and mores outside of our own understanding. Their consciousnesses are melded in with machines, their sense organs are external hardware, their perception of time is altered as is their concept of value, property and enjoyment. It’s still an interesting story, though, and still one any human can latch on to with ease.

This kind of fiction tends to change the way in which we see the world. Sometimes it acts as a parallel world, casting our own common conflicts on another race of beings or another planet of humans to show them up for the sillinesses that they are. Sometimes it pushes the boundaries of what we think is possible until the currently improbable becomes the ‘perhaps’ of tomorrow.

Subsequently, conversations with my father would center around the ‘what if’s of the future. What was coming? What would humanity look like 1000 years from today? Would Asimov’s predictions of an all-encompassing state come true? Would we be cyborgs? If we were cyborgs, could we stand up to my mother and possibly not have to fish leaves out of the pool every weekend?

The planets also didn’t seem quite so far away. To this day I think that space travel and colonization is simply a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. I look up to the sky as an early human would the sea. It isn’t unconquerable, we just don’t have very good boats yet.

The professional literati like to scoff at Science Fiction, pointing to it’s aficionados as those who never grew up. The poison pen is never guaranteed of such agreement as when it is aimed at those attending Star Trek conventions.

Well, if growing up means abandoning the desire and ability to dream of possibilities beyond what we grasp today then I’ll be a child forever. I simply refuse to don the chill, sarcastic ‘seriousness’ of adults today.

In fact, I very much plan to attend a Trekkie convention when I visit America and if my legs are showable at the time, you can bet I’ll be wearing a Space Cheerleader uniform to boot.

Update: It seems that Monsigneur Blyth and I were on the same wavelength during last night's posting sessions.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Cheeeese!

There are some things you just don’t believe about yourself – and then you see proof. I would say I have a ‘mild tendency’ to boss people around. M would snort at such a benign description and tell you that I would tell the pope how to perform mass.

Today, I needed some new headshots for something and M kindly agreed (was told to) do them.

When I downloaded them, I realised that…umm…roughly 40% had me mid-order, mid-suggestion or mid-boss.


“Hey Matthew, how about we stand up, these sitting down ones are probably going to look silly” (No, I have no idea how they will look. I can’t see them. I just…know.)


“Just move over there like that. Uh huh. Then stand on one foot. Yeah. Then rotate a little to the left so that you’re shooting from profile. You’re about 3 degrees too far North…”


“What? WHAT? Whaaat? I don’t know what you’re on about – I AM keeping my mouth shut long enough for you to take a photo. Here, I’ll prove it.”


“Omigod…I can’t, I just can’t. I have an idea. Maybe if I just hold back and wait. Yes, that’s it. No-one will be able to tell that I’m dying to say something.”


“What? I ruined that one too? Yeesh….sorry. Ok, Ok, I’ll just learn to shut this part of my anatomy. This part right here.”


“Maybe if I don’t look at you I won’t try to interfere…ooop, nope, still got those ideas coming.”


“Oh, I give up!”

And there you have it, in between those were some useful shots, some pretty nice ones actually. I also learnt that…umm…perhaps I’m a little obnoxious sometimes:)

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

The pits

There's something about passionate writing that I can't resist. Sometimes it makes me think, sometimes it makes me snort tea out my nose. This piece did both:

"The current British government is the worst collection of snoops, voyeurs, and Peeping Tonys in history. If their cold, damp, wriggling noses aren't right up your ass-crack, they don't think they're doing their job, which, judging from appearances, is to undo every great achievement in history of which the British people might otherwise be proud.

Not content with merely obliterating Mankind's most productive and progressive exercise in private capitalism and letting the socialism they gave as a substitute destroy what was once arguably the greatest civilization in the world, they now wish to establish their particular brand of ninnyhood all over the planet. The most recent place they've chosen to leave their vile slimetrails is the former paradise called Pitcairn. ...."

Rest of article...

I consider the freedom to own and carry guns (and knives and shuriken and swords and slightly sharpened spoons for that matter...) to be such a fundamental one that it always comes as a surprise to see the vehemence with which nanny staters oppose it.

Perhaps they know that an armed populace would be far less prone to surrendering other fundamental freedoms daily - as we do now. Perhaps they know we wouldn't be content with wars of words anymore.

Interestingly enough, Machiavelli himself understood the need to allow the populace arms:

"But a prince who disarms his subjects will at once offend them, by thus showing that he has no confidence in them, but that he suspects them either of cowardice or of want of loyalty, and this will cause them to hate him." (The Prince)

In the end, this just means our politicians don't understand the fundamental art of statesmanship. A rope they will eventually dangle from.

Related story in The NewZealand Herald.

Hat tip to Russell Whitaker for the links.

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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Go for bold

C just sent me an email alerting me to a beautifully written story in the Times by Simon Barnes.

"Let us take Svetlana Khorkina. She is a Russian gymnast and a diva of the tenth dan. At 5ft 5in, she is a giant in the land of pixies. With her build, with her nature, gymnastics becomes an all-or-nothing venture. She lacks the advantages of the midgets, who can somersault almost without leaving the ground. Khorkina has no margin for error: her height exaggerates every small imperfection. But when she pulls off a move, her build and her nature give her a languorous grace and startling perfection that the four-foot-tenners can’t begin to dream of."

...

"Swimmers lack the head-turning, muscle-popping physique of the sprinters on the track, and are the more pleasing because of this. The bodies, of both sexes, are sleekly purposeful. Their thrilling, near-naked perfection is wonderful, yet the swimmers have no thought of it in those tense seconds before the start. The unselfconscious nature of this physical beauty is, in itself, not without a whiff of Tabasco. "


Hmmm, let me see...tickets to the diving comps are only €210...

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Rebuffed by a builder

Being back isn’t enough. I need to be back with something for you to read, don’t I?

An interesting and thought provoking article is being worked on.

In the meantime, in the blog tradition of: ‘Today I walked the dog and ate a tin of peaches’, here’s a tidbit from my day:

The tradesman came this morning. Ostensibly to paint the window frames of my Victorian terrace house. I knew though, that his object was going to be (once again) to trample the garden, break tiles, move neighbor’s satellite dishes, make trees slant at funny angles and drip black paint onto the freshly painted white sections of the window. Such is the man’s bubble of reality and I think he just takes it from place to place, wreaking havoc in suburbia and giving housewives something to talk about.

This guy is so used to being here (for one reason or another…so many things need fixing) that he just opens the door and hollers ‘hello’ – hoping, I suppose, that I’m actually dressed. Today I was unusually tired (probably from outlining my views on humanity last night at Samizdata HQ) and in a dressing gown. This unnerved him a little…but not quite as much as the music.

I usually have music playing, he’s used to it. He’s varnished to Vivaldi, drilled to David Gray and sanded to Danielle Spencer (where I prefer to alliterate to ABBA…boom, boom). So far, my choice of music has been fine – even though Tubular Bells III made him spookily reflective – I listen to that with headphones on now.

Anyhow, as I said, I was tired this morning and decided I needed something harder to wake me. I chose coffee and the soundtrack of the movie Spawn (one of the few films that actually understood the noire element of its founding comic). As my hapless little man walked in, Marilyn Manson was doing his best to explain exactly how difficult life and love was.

He looked at me. I looked at him. Marilyn seemingly gargled the intestines of a small animal to the beat. He just stood on the stairs looking. I decided to smile. This didn’t seem to make him feel any better.

I suppose he had thought me a refined lady up to that point. I gave him little leaf shaped biscuits with his tea. I worked at a computer all day. I usually dressed with some care. I came as close to refinement as possible in his eyes without actually doing the twinset-and-pearls thing.

This morning, I may as well have just draped myself in an animal skin and greeted him with a raised club. My aura was gone, I was just one of those young punks that listened to incomprehensible music.

At this point, though, I really don’t care. It wouldn’t be possible for him to do a worse job unless he strapped a paintbrush to the left hand of a chimp and stapled said chimp to the top of his ladder with written instructions for painting frames. In Hebrew.

I’m at the end of my coffee and feeling much better. Besides, how could you possibly complain about an album that teams Moby with the Butthole Surfers?

:)

M

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

So, where was I?

Uh huh, this blog dissappeared for a couple of days. Where was it? Did I take my copy of the Hitchiker's Guide and decide that a couple of days of Pan-Galactic-Gargle-Blasting in some godforsaken corner of the Universe would be a good idea? If so, why did I take my blog with me?

No, sorry. I really wish the last couple of days were that damned exciting. Instead, they revolved around the blog...just...dissappearing.

First there was panic.
Then there was an email to Blogger support.
Then there was hope.
Then there was no reply.
Lots of sessions of copying the HTML from old posts (which were still available to me somehow) to Word and saving them in case they dissappeared too.
Still no reply. Time to send another email, right?
Then there was simmering resentment.
Then I realised I had nowhere to vent said resentment.
Then, discovery of TypePad.
An idea germinating.
Looking through this blog's control panel...discovering something interesting, my template code looked different...for one, all my agonisingly hand-coded additions were gone.
A clue as to what went wrong was forming.
More saving of old posts. One by one. This was tedious.
And now...today's experiment...plonk a new template on.

The blog is fixed.
My relationship with Blogger is as shaky as a Vegas chapel wedding in the cold morning light.

So the blog may move in the near future. Probably by the end of the week. Gorram it.

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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Parlance, perchance?

Language is such a beautiful thing. Though we use it every day merely in its strictest functional sense – to communicate the bare essentials – it can delight, amuse, incite, inspire, incense and challenge as well as transport us to worlds we have never nor will ever see.

The joy of a quote is its ability to succinctly describe a complex thought. With few words, clearly an unerringly, it heads toward its point and shines a light for us to see, share and revel in the portrayed idea. When the statement is from a truly gifted orator or writer, the quote can be wrapped in a wry humor that doubles the construction’s capacity to delight.

The joy of a novel is unsurpassed to me – with the exception of VERY few films and shows*. The level of detail afforded, the insight into character’s thought processes and the ability to trigger visuals in my mind that no special effects studio could match simply propels the medium of the written word far beyond any other to deliver an engaging story. Add to this the inherent uniqueness of the worlds that I create from the stimulus of the book and there’s an ‘ownership’ of characters and scenarios that’s intensely personal.

*(yes, yes, Firefly is there…it HAS to be there. I am now a certified, raving Firefly lunatic. Ask anyone who has spoken to me in the last few months. In fact, ask the guest who was strapped to a chair and forced to watch the pilot tonight.)

The joy of a non fiction book is knowledge condensed and organised in a way that is conducive to another human reading it and learning a new skill from it. Be it a textbook drier than your palate on a Sunday morning after an unmentionable Saturday night, or a slightly more readable (if a little bubblegummy) pop-management offering, there’s something wonderful about being a more knowledgeable human when you put the book down than when you picked it up.

All of these rely on the author’s clear use of language to convey important messages, be they of fact or of feeling. Isn’t it just fascinating that, like Lego, the same basic words can be used either in a paragraph describing an economic idea or one describing the flight of a silver dragon into battle? It always fascinates me. It tells me that the essence of communication is not the 80% of words that are filler, but the 20% that are integral to that one, unique, communication.

…which is why I don’t understand people’s insistence on just sleepwalking through a sentence – filling it with platitudes and words used simply because of tradition rather than function or suitability.

Here are a couple of examples that have made me stop recently and reassess why on earth they are used in their modern-day contexts:

“Bear with me” – Used constantly in the UK to mean ‘please wait, please be patient with the time it will take me to perform this task’, it is a complete contradiction. Take a look at it – it’s an instruction, a call to action. ‘Bear down with me’, it says, ‘help me bear the load’. If you really wanted it to mean ‘deal with the fact that I’m going to take some time with this.’, then shouldn't it be “Bear me” as in, ‘put up with me’?

“Threshold” – traditionally, houses didn’t have solid floors. No, really, I’m not kidding. Poor inhabitants of the English isles didn’t just pack the mule and head to IKEA for some cheap laminate flooring, they packed the dwelling’s floor with hard dirt. This had a tendency to be rather dirty and smelly, so straw strewn with herbs was used to keep things fresh – straw that had a tendency to sneak out the door as people moved in and out. The door had a raised area called a ‘thresh hold’ to keep the stuff in. When you walked over the threshold, you literally walked over the ‘thresh hold’. You carried your bride over it too, lest she snag the family lace on a splintery ‘thresh hold’ on the way. Why in blazes do we still use the term? Isn’t ‘doorway’ functional enough? Personally, I’m waiting for the door to become obsolete and Star-Trek-like swooshy doors to be standard. Then we can say we walked through the ‘swooshway’. If anyone mentions ‘thresholds’, they will be humiliated with a game of Musical Airlocks. Mine is an amusing and unusual future, I think you’ll agree.

There’s another subtle perversion of language that I’m not sure I completely agree with, and that is the encroachment of English terms into other languages.

Going to Poland and shopping at the ‘supermarkety’1 for ‘komputery’2 and ‘dzynsy’3 just seems silly. I’m sure that there are ways of creating a new word in the language for ‘computer’ – it is, after all, just a derivation of the English term ‘to compute’.

1 – supermarkets, 2 – computers, 3 - jeans

Much as having uniform terms in English would make life easier, I think it will corrupt many languages and rob them of their uniqueness.

In fact, one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of the EU (besides the fact that it’s a fascist state set to blanket everything from Glasgow to Gdansk in regulations so absurd that only Sir Humphrey Appleby could possibly approve) is that I think it will be the beginning of the end of the wonderful individuality of each of it’s member states. At the moment, Europe is a patchwork of cultures, peoples, languages and architecture. It’s what makes Europe a geographical area with many NATION states, not many states – such as America. Uniform beaurospeak, uniform regulations and…well…general borg-like uniformity will probably begin to meld these into a mutant bastard child of everyone and no-one.

Part of the individuality in countries is always the native tongue. I love to walk the streets in countries where I have NO idea what’s being said. Where I can simply listen to the musicality and tone, where I can do my best to guess and honestly never know if I’m right.

At the same time, I love to visit countries where I can speak one of my other languages. The subtle shift in the order of sentence (and therefore coherent thought) creation gives me a good mental workout. I’ve already written about how much I love the sensuality of Russian. I also love the humor possible with the Polish language – there’s a wry, quick wit that I haven’t heard anywhere else…and then there’s the way that Italians describe their food – half the time I’m willing to eat just about anything when an Italian waiter rolls the name of it off his tongue.

There is a great enjoyment in using one’s native language well. It’s not just easier to communicate a concept, it’s not just easier to convey the EXACT shade of meaning desired – it’s also easier to appreciate someone else’s mastery. Easier to sit back and be taken for a journey with little effort and maximum pleasure. It’s also great fun to play with words, as anyone who has been subject to our household’s frequent games of Pun Pong will attest.

At the same time there is also a wonderful joy in the very different-ness of other languages. Much as I love English, I would hate to lose that treasure trove of sounds, descriptions and words that can be found elsewhere.

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Friday, August 06, 2004

Changing tack

My music collection feels somewhat like a jewel box. Selecting what I want to listen to, my gaze rests on different artist’s names and I begin a leisurely perusal that always seems to be a little decadent. I experience a small sample of a mood or emotion that I know each artist or track will evoke in me and I choose the one that I want. Sometimes I will choose a piece because it’s the most effective to help me work or something to help slap me out of a lethargy. Sometimes, I’ll just put something on for the sake of having something to fill a silence. Either way, I always know what I want and what I’ll be getting. I know my need will be satisfied.

I’m currently appreciating David Gray’s ‘A New Day at Midnight’ - slightly grizzled guitar, strong percussion and voice smoothed by soft piano. I always feel as if I’m alone at one end of a room and he’s at the other, playing live for me – yet somehow I can hear every nuance in his voice as if he’s leaning over my shoulder and singing the lyrics right in my ear. There’s an overall mood of melancholy longing from the abstract lyrics that doesn’t seem malevolent, it just is the way it is. It’s a reflection of certain things in life without glossing over them. The kind of music that would play in the background to some inspired gazing-at-the-horizon pondering on a Sunday afternoon, it calms me and seems to bring on the alpha brain waves I need to think most clearly.

I know this is what David Gray does to me, I know he’s good at this kind of music, I know that when he comes out with something new in that genre that sounds just as good, it will be happily nestled next to it’s brethren in my musical jewel box.

I also like The Crystal Method. Quite a lot, actually. Especially if I’m driving. (Mmmm, driving – one of the things I miss in London.)

Thing is – much as I like the type of music that The Crystal Method creates and much as I appreciate the artistry that David Gray seems to possess – I’d be highly suspicious of David Gray’s attempt at producing Crystal-Method-style music.

This might seem a rather obvious point to make (if it isn’t, follow the links and note the disparity in their styles), however it’s a mistake that I see many artists making.

Artistry is still a profession that relies heavily on the opinion of the art’s consumer, on reputation. In that way, it’s one of the few professions that still conform to the rules of a one-man business. One doesn’t have to hold a license to produce an album or a book, so it really is a case of sink or swim based on what you’ve done and what you continue doing rather than attaining a certain allegiance or certificate and coasting on that for the rest of your career (Accountancy, medicine, law….etc.).

The temptation, therefore, is to be consumer-driven. To look at what the marketplace wants and to give it to them – not just in packaging and delivery, but in the contents of the art itself. It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to figure out that a Britney Spears will sell more than a David Grey – so where’s the harm in kicking off your artistic career with the fluffiest populist tripe possible then switching to what you really love mid-stream?

Because switching mid-stream is a nasty business.

Firstly, there’s the fact that your hard-won audience associates your name and reputation with the first thing you are successful at. Transferring can be awkward. Would you buy IBM orange juice? Would you buy Honda breakfast cereal? Would you buy Kellogg’s lawnmowers? Moving from classical to R&B is like moving to a completely different market segment, you’re not likely to take your audience with you.

So you have to build an audience all over again. And those that listen to the genre that you’re now creating for haven’t heard of you…or (even worse) can’t stand your work of old. A case of not just building a new reputation from scratch but perhaps having to undo damage from the old reputation.

Can’t you use your built up name from one genre to push your product in another? - I hear the alert readers cry. (Or it’s my imagination. Hard to know where the voices come from sometimes.)

Well, those that liked your initial offerings may be curious about what you’re up to now, but if the new stuff’s not their bag (baby), then they won’t stick around. You name will only carry you so far, if you’re not selling what your fan base wants to buy, watch your fan base disintegrate.

Then there’s the fact that you are entirely geared toward producing your first style of output. Whether it be music or writing or sculpture or drawing – that time that you spent producing something that didn’t resonate with you was wasted. If you look at the development of any artistic skills, you would have been honing entirely the wrong thing and may have let your true talent stagnate.

The solution? Obvious, really. Produce the kind of art that you love, create the kinds of products you want to create in the first place – don’t take the shortcut of going for the largest market at any cost. If you do, you’ll find you may have to stay there to survive…and that’s not a pretty future.

It’s not all cupcakes and caviar, don’t get me wrong. If you go out on a limb and create something unique notoriety will likely be slow in coming, it may be hard to pay the bills - but when you sit down to create or stand up to perform you will still have that glorious feeling of loving what you do for a crust. Few things tickle the soul like well-earned pride.

Your fan base may be smaller – but they’ll be a fan base to be proud of. When someone writes to you to tell you they like something you created, they’ll ‘get it’ and they’ll know what on earth you’ve tried to say. There’s rarely something more gratifying.

You won’t get that if you chase the dollars to the exclusion of chasing artistic mastery and you won’t likely be able to attain it by switching mid stream.

I suppose what made me reflect on this was the fact that:

a – U2’s ‘All I Want is You’ is playing. That song just does something to me.

b – I was thinking about all the wonderful emails I’ve received, all the positive reviews/links and all the worthwhile comments I’ve garnered in the last few months here. I suppose I got a tiny taste of what it’s like to have people express an opinion on something deeply personal that you create. I realised that, although there isn’t an army of you out there, I wouldn’t swap even one of you for a stadium load of indifferent, inane Britney fans.

Thanks for reading.

M

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Turtle soup

It seems that I am lately fixated on art - good art, bad art, mediocre art. The last category doesn't get a write up here - apathy just doesn't motivate as well as other emotions.

As an aside - I really wonder what the world would look like if Glaxo came up with some sort of drug that would help people harness their apathy to some end. I think we'd find a frightening array of completed home improvement jobs.

I imagine consultants storming the city armed with only a bottle of Indiffrolex(tm) and a bill.

Anyhow - the point of this post is the following:



Aref-Adib asked his readers which was made by a turtle and which by the artist Willem de Kooning.

The answer? Oh come on, does it really matter?

What I think a lot of people don't get is the fact that the uncanny similarity between these two daubings doesn't drag the turtle up to the level of a prodigy, it drags the artists down to the level of a turtle.

No?

Well then, have it as you like. The turtle is a maestro of the slick flipper. It's only a matter of time before you'll find him at this season's finest parties.

Cod liver oil martini clutched to one side, leaning at a jaunty angle against an aquarium he will regale his adoring audience with tales of his new loft apartment and girlfriend (model and actress 'Gazelle')



Be sure you don't invite me, though. I hear turtle is yummy.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Bienvue

There are some interesting stages in getting to know people. One of the litmus tests is how you’re introduced to others.

When you’re new, there’s almost always some justification for your presence or existence outside of being…just…well…you.

For example – “Hey guys, this is Gavin – he’s an engineer.”
Or – “Meet Cynthia, she works with Frank.”

…as if saying “There’s a really good reason this person is here, we don’t just ask random people on trains to dinner.”

You know you’ve really made it in a group when the justification has gone. When you’re just introduced as Tom or Frank or Monica.

Just an observation. Carry on.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A good day gets better

It's difficult to have one overriding perception of London. There are beautiful areas, ugly areas, prosperous and frightening areas, places where even the sky seems to be made of ugly 60's concrete...and places like this:



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This area is literally a 10 minute meander or a 5 minute walk from my front door. I live 20 minutes from the heart of London. The contrast couldn't be greater and I have to admit I come here often to recharge.



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It's easy to forget that you're in the middle of a city. Easy to forget you're in the middle of this century in fact in such a timeless setting. I find my mind freely wandering to all kinds of places and my neck muscles unknotting as I step over tree roots and scare ducks into waddling away from me in that silly way they do. Geese fly overhead in strict V formations and swans glide across the lake with seeming effortlessness, sharing it rather disdainfully with wobbling boats and dipping oars. The people that come to the lake are calm and quiet - they even smile at you when you walk past. Children seem to be mesmerised by this place and don't shriek overly loudly. The lake is one of the reasons I really do love where I live.

Today was so beautiful that I made M, C and our visiting Aussie Lizzie promise to be home at a reasonable time so that dinner could be a picnic on the lake.



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We ate wonderful food, exchanged gossip over wine and wandered around the lake until the sky turned violet and a refreshing breeze came over the fields to tell us it was time to go home.



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I told you I was having a good day.

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A good day

I'm having a good blogosphere browsing day.

Today, I found that a minister in Georgia finally gets the whole "freedom from tyrrany and government legislation will allow your country to thrive and prosper" meme.

I was so impressed that I immediately had a look for tours of the country. This is a beautiful site that is tempting me to start planning my journey.

I'm not even daunted by the fact that the Lonely Planet dangers list for the country include "landmines and a high incidence of kidnapping". Bah. I want to ride a tax-free mule across the plains, feel the unregulated-for-emissions wind in my hair and sample the produce from an OHS-less factory. If I can hire a gun for the week to strap to my thigh, all the better. I like to unwrap the cotton wool once in a while and remember what life really should be like.

I also have my faith in human ingenuity bolstered by Rory's ingenious plan to create the 'Seedless Chihuaha'.

Yes indeedy, a good day so far.

M

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Vettriano

Last week, I went to the Jack Vettriano exhibition at the Portland Gallery in London. I scrawled notes of such incomprehensibility that it’s taken me a week of painful reconstruction to figure out what on earth I was trying to say.

Now, I’m no art critic and my education in art is simply to have been dragged to galleries as a child – more and more willingly as time progressed – to listen to my mother’s (art specialist by profession) commentary on pieces. Eventually, I came to see the great satisfaction in seeing good art without sulking and kicking car tires first.

Nowadays, going to a gallery is a treat at home and a must every time I travel to a new city. I think I’m one of the only people my age that rates the Rijksmuseum as the highlight of their stay in Amsterdam.

Anyhow, on to my post and what I was thinking when I saw the exhibition.

Jack Vettriano isn’t popular with the art establishment, particularly the female subset who make vapid noises about the way women are portrayed sexually in his art. What better recommendation, then, could one have to go and see an exhibition?

There are two Vettrianos, though. The nice, light, romantic ‘Dance me to the end of Love’ Vettriano and the darkly sexual Vettriano. It was the latter on display at the Portland Galleries this time including some that are almost impossible to see outside of his live exhibitions.




"Dance Me To The End Of Love"



I think the impact was interesting for me because I (as a female) got to look through the eyes and step into the desires of an unashamedly sexual man. Vettriano is a singularly talented narrative painter; it’s very easy to be transported to his scenarios and even easier to become involved in them.

His talent, I think, is to bring movement to an inherently still medium. The same canvas and paint that could show the calm, frozen time of a still-life instead shows a great deal of movement – movement about to happen, movement suppressed, freedom of movement captured lightheartedly and perfectly. It’s almost painful for me to watch these characters, half expecting them to continue their paused movement at any moment to do what it’s so evident they’re about to do.

You won’t get the same feeling from these thumbnails, unfortunately. Don’t try for it in the reprints either. As with most oil paintings, the originals are so good because of the way that light interacts with the suspended particles in the paint – you have a richness and a glow that gives depth. That’s why serious collectors will buy an original – they really are getting something that no-one else can have, no matter how good their copy.

As I mentioned, this exhibition was dominated by the ‘darker’ Vettriano. I’m quite glad for it, as it seemed that his breezy beach paintings (well composed though they are) were just him warming up. Getting used to the human form, getting used to space and colour, getting used to movement.

This is not to say that he now uses the crisp, photographic form of the Renaissance painter. He seems to borrow a little of his style from the early impressionists, many brush strokes are obvious and you are under no illusion that this is oil on canvas. I think it aids in conveying the movement inherent in his compositions.

The evident brushstrokes also serve to give the hint of structure that you must fill in for yourself. The form is there, the detail is occasionally ambiguous, the intent and emotion behind the pose is all important.

So what is the intent? The scenes in this exhibition were split between portraits of his favorite models engaged in a solitary activity such as walking or gazing out a window and those of sexual tension and sexual encounters.

Now - if you think that sex should always be a gentle confluence of souls with lots of talking about feelings before and after (sometimes during) then I’m afraid you’re not going to like these Vettrianos. These poses are all about clandestine, forbidden, passionate sensuality. He openly admits that these couplings are doomed from the start and that he portrays people who just can’t help themselves when it comes to temptation.




"The Embrace of the Spider"

What you see, though, is not the ugly portrayal of sex which is evident in so many contemporary artists. These are not confrontational scenes of rape, the nudity is not incidental. At the same time, each painting is blatantly honest about what it is portraying.






"Passion Overflow"





Because there’s no attempt to hide the sexuality, there is no need for the audience to draw it out from insinuations in the images. It’s all there and it’s definitely unapologetic for its chosen theme – you have the time to focus on the sensuality of the pieces instead. To put it another way – you get over the fact that you’re seeing a garter belt very quickly and become far more interested in the positioning of the bodies and the expressions on faces than seeing a peek of something that is traditionally forbidden.

The focus seems to be on WHAT is happening far more than HOW it is happening. It’s why the subjects are in that situation in the first place and the relationship between them that is emphasized.




"Along Came A Spider"

Interestingly enough, unlike the artist that idealizes the virginal, the untouched, the woman before she is sullied with the taint of sex, Vettriano seems to show his women with the familiarity of an established lover. These women have ‘fallen’ into ‘sin’ already – yet don’t seem to be any less desirable for that fact. Rather than wanting to find and pluck something new, he seems to hunger for more of the same and venerate those women he knows can give it to him. This is where, I think, the evident appreciation for his models comes through in the painting and why the art is so sexually charged. It’s not a work of contempt – it’s a work of understanding and appreciation.

There is no contempt for the human form either. Although not sculpting his male or female forms to the fashion magazine ideal of today – there is no mistaking that both are rather attractive and both are DISTINCTLY posed and dressed for their gender. As he puts it:

"I’ve always loved women who dress as women, you know, pure femininity." ... "When you know a woman’s wearing stockings there’s no sort of question about it, and I love that world where there’s a strict division between men and women. If you were painting contemporary life now, man and woman, from the back, you can’t tell the difference.”

If the women are ultra feminine, then the men are ultra masculine. Far removed from the pretty-boy Beckhams, DiCaprios and Pitts, these creatures radiate masculinity, poise and strength.

The power play between the sexes is clearly shown. We don’t have two sexually androgynous humans coming together for a night of sensitive-to-each-other’s-emotional-needs lovemaking interspersed with tea, basket weaving and psychotherapy. There is a man who evidently dominates the woman physically – there is no shying away from who will be doing what to whom.



"Pincer Movement"

Equally powerful (although in a completely different way) is the woman, who is sure of her power over the man and is wielding it unflinchingly.

In fact, in the introduction to “Lovers and Other Strangers”, Anthony Quinn says of the brunette used in most of Vettriano’s paintings:

“..she looked like a woman to whom a pledge of eternal love might provoke her to stab you with a stiletto.”

Vettriano himself says:

“I portray women wielding sexual power.”


Clearly, these are not damsels in distress.

What I think I see in equal measure is the man surrendering himself to what he perceives as his basest desires whilst at the same time physically dominating the female in the piece. It’s rather a clichéd juxtaposition and one that relies on considering the longing for sex to be something other than honorable.

Although I don’t really agree with this dim view on humans as flawed due to their desire to copulate, I must applaud his mastery at perfectly conveying this idea.

Other paintings, those with a person alone, show a strong individual lost in a reverie – completely unaware of the viewer. Even when the subject is a very strong woman in serious and contemplative repose, there is a hint of femininity and sexuality through exposure of a piece of the traditional accoutrements of the feminine seductive arsenal – a hint of stocking, a little piece of bra showing, a very high stiletto heel, even just a beautifully tailored dress. There is no dichotomy between femininity and purposefulness - they coexist naturally and beautifully.



"Baby Bye, Bye"



"Edinburgh Afternoon"

The men he portrays alone are somewhat of a mystery to me. I get a sense of stoic, practiced isolation from them and am not sure if I’m misreading his intentions. Many are straight self-portraits, which I tend to find difficult to unravel at the best of times.

What I do know is that Vettriano is almost uncannily popular. In a world where it seems the public consistently opts for the worst creative compositions available, the fact that I had to crane around people to see what I considered very good art was somewhat gratifying.

Of course, he comes under fire for this very popularity and comments:

"Well you know, you run the risk of the wrath of the establishment by being popular, but at the same time why shouldn’t people have an image for £10 when they don’t have a lot of money to spend? And anyway, I own the copyright of my work until 75 years after my death and then it’s a free for all and you think - well why shouldn’t I benefit from it now?

"What would Van Gogh have done, what would Monet have done if they had had the opportunity? Instead of that what you get is, the marketplace is flooded with their stuff and they’re not earning a penny from it."


Happily, he’s earning far more than pennies. Annoying the establishment may be a faux pas – but what a profitable one.



"Reach out and Touch"


Vettriano quote source - interview

All paintings in exhibition

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