Thursday, September 30, 2010
I live two blocks from the beach. Not too close to be inhaling ocean scent all the time, but less than three minutes away. It's a good distance. This requires sunsets.
Perhaps it's not coincidence that orange and blue are my favorite colors. It probably is for most people. At least, while they're watching a sunset.
Ocean sunsets are different from mountain or plain sunsets. Growing up in an ocean-way I tend to prefer them to the others. There are more than subjective aesthetic differences, though.
Horizons have been a big thing for me, all of my life. When in Vermont I consistently looked to the hills in the distance, wanting to trek through them and find the neighboring kingdom.
Dusk gives us that power: imagination begins to seep increasingly into the realm of reality. Night is a different feel, a different story. Except Halloween and some other rare occasions.
You know what I mean.
Dusk, like horizon, means something of possibility. Another day due. A moment of primal curiosity for the morrow. The setting sun reminds us of the terrestrial position we occupy. The reflective, what-is-my-place feeling.
There were more people on the beach than usual. Couples, especially, were prolific, reenacting a romantic tradition hundreds of years old. We all looked out to the Pacific, the horizon, and sun's vanishing reminder of possibility.
Beyond the Pacific lies my future: a job in a foreign land. Working in a country whose sunset alights on thoughts of Africa. For the others on the beach the horizon was wistful. For me it was a looming reminder that I was in a transitional place, and soon would be on the other side.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I wish to note a similar correlation to mating rituals. The less well-educated the people, the more primitive their mating rituals.
Take college parties, for example.
Alcohol is always a key factor, and often drugs. I pass no moral judgment on these activities. I don't partake, but so long as you don't bother me or hurt people, have a blast.
Actually, that last statement is a pretty good litmus test for the law.
Anyways, alcohol is necessary for college parties. These are, for the uninitiated, dance parties. Now, occasionally, someone will set up a dance party without alcohol. This experience is very different from the aforementioned. In this scenario the dance party will have a slightly hokey, ironic, or silly feeling about it. There is a reason why clubs are half dance floor, half bar. Most of us need liquoring up to get out and dance.
College kids, especially, need alcohol. Parties are just asking for drama. You'll see these people again, and you're smarter than the average bear (most of the time). It's kind of embarrassing to be majoring in Post-Colonial Feminist Studies and have a guy all grinding up in your biz.
So. Alcohol. Let's college kids do things that they'd never due in ordinary circumstances. That's why, in the non-Jack Daniels lubricated dance party, there's always some awkward laughter when folks grind: and they must do it very extravagantly, to prove that its all in good fun, and not at all serious.
It's kind of sad to watch, really.
As Shaw's Pygmalion pointed out, there are many incidental indicators of lacking status. When I see a group of folks, my age, whose language doesn't mirror English with but a passing interest, I can guess. If they're smokers, they're suspect. If their clothes are emblazoned with Raiders symbology, with drooping pants and Mickey Dees in their hands...
Profiling? Sure. These are badges and hallmarks, some unintentional and some proud, of their status. So I've recently been watching their mating habits.
In every discussion about the challenges of high school education there is a quest to find causes for the ills. This is a regressive game. If the ill-equipped students had a better middle-school teacher. A better elementary school teacher. Kindergarten and pre-school. Family life at home.
It always end with socio-economic status. (There's that word 'status' again.) Here's the truth: poor students do worse. Only once in a rare while does a poor student succeed. They have ridiculous odds to overcome, and need an incredible alignment of good fortune, opportunity, and perseverance for it to work. Of course, when a teacher goes out of their way for one student it means that they are turning their back on others.
Once/if these kids get through high school college is not pursued. They will make wages from $0 - $30 thousand a year, most likely. The experience of life is fundamentally of obstacles and challenges, rather than opportunities and 'life experiences'.
Many of the pleasurable pastimes of the better-off are not made available to these people. They don't have the luxury of being foodies. Zoo tickets are expensive, along with museums, and concerts, travel, and books. As George Orwell pointed out, the latter is not true relevant to something like cigarettes. I've heard this story as well, a dozen times: “I went to their home, a trailer, and they had a big screen tv! I couldn't believe it.” The seemingly obvious contradiction is not-so-glaring to them.
Priorities are different. For those in lower income brackets, entertainment is important, and that tv serves as a release (like cigarettes) and even as babysitter. Working with African American teens with a required income deficiency I saw a teacher once turn on a student: “Why do you buy those sneakers? How much were they? $100? Sure, they'd look nice walking into a nice house with a fence and a lawn. But where you live they're just going to get gutter muck on them and shit from the street. Be dirty in a week.” This phenomenon, sneakers, tvs, whatever, is more pronounced in lower economic brackets. Only the most recent, desperate, newcomers to the middle class feel the same pressure to keep up with the Jones'.
Barbecues are very different affairs, depending on your social status. When the wealthy barbecue it is backyard. Food is obviously a cut above. The age-old alcoholic distinction comes out: wine is classy, beer is cheap.
Lower on the pay scale it scales back, and gets rowdier. It moves to the front yard, and gets louder. Soft and quiet are the property of the better off. Rough and ready is the realm of the rowdies. Picture these two scenarios: a group of upper-middle class doctors and lawyers hooting and hollering, knocking back beers and generally causing a neighborhood ruckus. Now picture a group of lower class clerks and construction workers taking in a symphony.
The possible incongruity of these images is due to many things. But the rowdy barbecue is a great location to observe the mating rituals of the participants. Part of this may be do to the dress code. Richies don't go to a barbecue shirtless, showing off their pecks. Cocktail dresses are sported rather than tank tops and jean shorts. The more flesh on display, the more carnal the thought process.
Language is less inhibited. This means more jokes at each other's expense perhaps, and more direct flirting. Of course we can easily picture the upper-crust having a laugh at so-and-so's recent gaffe and some polite flirtation. But the consequences of sneaking upstairs are also far more mortifying for these well-off people. There are links between young mothers and poverty.
You know what's fun and free? Sex.
When, in the 1700s, the wealthy of Europe, the nouveau riche, started throwing mansion up all over the countryside they made private bedrooms. Secluded inner chambers for secluded acts. This was vastly different from the poorer folk, who shared rooms, and often shared beds. Sex was more open and less reserved in these cottages. As refinement progressed these ideas turned into 'modesty' and 'decency', which have always tarred the 'softer' classes.
Sex is fun and free. Until quite recently you only needed a willing partner and an ease of decorum. Sex, itself, is seen as being somewhat base. This baseness is a boon to those whom revel in their base attributes and ambitions. In a way, perhaps, it's as though this is their revenge: they have menial jobs, lousy salaries, stresses and problems we're free from. But since we point out their unrefined habits and qualities they have a means of getting back: taking pride in their rowdy, loud, uncouth, unrefined, sexy, low-down natures.
For the upper brackets PDA is defiant. It is an expression that you don't care who knows it, you love him or her without restraint. PDA is defiant for the lower classes too: it unapologetically reminds the world of their existence.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
He didn't publish much, book-wise. But, unfortunately, he was one of the intellectuals who stuck around longer than he should have during the Third Reich.
Having studied Nazism a good bit, as well a philosophy, I think the 'traces' of Hitler-esque ideology some claim to find in the book are illusory. I did not detect them.
Being and Time does, however, provide one of the most coherent explanations of modern life. He sets forth examples of how we think, interact, and exist that, for me, are more relatable to than Sartre, Hume, Aristotle or anyone else, really.
To take an example, think of your socks.
Now, before reading 'socks' you likely weren't thinking of them. You might've been thinking about books, Nazism, me, or a slew of things the words before 'socks' conjured up. By the time you read 'socks' you may have just been politely skimming, thoughts in divers places I could not possibly know.
These sock moments tell us much about how we think, and act. More over, they tell us a fair bit about how we process space and time. I know, when I stop and think about it, what Professor Derby taught me about Einstein's spacetime. I could make you a Minkowski spacetime diagram, or the shadow of a hypercube.
No one, I suspect, goes about process the world in this way, though. Not even Einstein.
So while I was walking my mind was 'far away', as they say. (Stop and consider the philosophical connotations of such a phrase, in relation, as it usually is given, to one's mind. That's Heidegger.) My thoughts were pleasantly fantastical at the moment in question. A middle-aged Asian fellow walked briskly past me, requiring me to shift on the sidewalk, and pay attention to my footing.
I was peeved. I had been thinking fun thoughts, and this fellow had forced me to stop and think about my legs and feet! I was upset at him. Then my mind turned from feet not to my previous thoughts, but to Heidegger. Then I was pissed.
Monday, September 27, 2010
The Far Side was the best single panel comic ever. Larson knew how to blend economy of prose and image. Visual simplicity allowed for weird humor.
4. Ronald Searle
Searle was not really a newspaper comic. He is an exception, but he is also exceptional. Searle was one of the ink and paper masters. His style is an affront to the sharp line, the smooth, or straight. So, too, his humor.
3. Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes. The fine blend of artistic backgrounds, endearing characters, and wonderful laughs. Thought-provoking, silly, weird and serious Calvin and Hobbes, for many, was the epitome of newspaper comics.
2. Gus Arriola
Arriola's Gordo was brilliant. It got away with incredible visuals. The characters were some of the best to grace newspapers. The stories and writing was a cut above, along with much else. Gordo had a nice multi-decade run, but now is more or less forgotten. Pity.
1. Winsor McCay
Near the end of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson used to complain that comics in newspapers no longer got respect, like the good ol' days. Then you could have a full-page per comic. McCay's Little Nemo took full advantage of this. It was the grand-daddy of them all: for layout, visuals, characters, story-telling, everything. McCay showed the way, given room to spread that only now some webcomics are starting to take advantage of in their newest incarnation of the newspaper comic.
The Boondocks is now more well-known as a cartoon than its original format: a comic. Its appearance on the comics page was akin to Public Enemy showing up on your doorstep. McGruder's layouts and characters were great, with enough artistic muscle to back the message.
9. George Herriman
Krazy Kat is a landmark. The use of dialect, the surreal backgrounds, the odd plot. Yet Herriman crafted such fine characters that readers embraced the visually peculiar. The love trianlge set in an allegorical world where ink reigns supreme.
8. Aaron Diaz
Visually, Diaz is king of the webcomic world. Dresden Codak, as a result, is a very infrequent comic. The amount of time is worth the wait, though. Tackling subjects the Garfield crowd can't handle, with visual layouts that are far above par, Codak proves itself time and again.
7. Dan Piraro
Piraro's Bizarro is a one-punch affair. The economy of a retort, a one-liner, or a Paul Lynde rejoiner. Single panel comics have different rules, and Piraro has taken advantage of this. Personally, my doodling style is more influenced by Bizarro than anything else.
6. Berkley Breathed
Bloom County, then Outland, and then just Opus. The penguin with weird friends and odd backdrops has come far. Put Pogo in a blender with Bizarro and you'd get an idea of the comic. Besides visuals Breathed great talent lay in dialogue.
For all of Trudeau's efforts, Kelly had brought politics into the funnies years earlier. Under the guise of woodland predators characters like McCarthy were taking their beatings. Kelly's style is very cartoon-y, but his characters are all multi-dimensional. In the classic Disney style these simple drawings stand out against lush backgrounds.
14. Jeph Jacques
Part of the appeal of Questionable Content is the quality of product produced with such regularity. Few daily webcomics are as polished. While visually subtle the writing it always fine. Stylistically his characters keep evolving.
13. Bill Griffith
I've always had a soft spot for the comic Zippy the Pinhead. There it was, at the bottom of the page, cowering with a cream pie behind its back. Here's a factoid: the phrase "Are we having fun yet?" was invented by Zippy. It gives you an idea of the humor. The art, too, is a well-done microcosm.
12. Patrick McDonell
Mutts is a case for simplicity. The pastel, almost Zen world of Mutts is not trying for laughs. Reflective and gentle, the idealized Mutts land recalls an element of nostalgia and an older, Gasoline Alley-days, funny page.
11. Pat Oliphant
Oliphant is the only living political cartoonist a la Thomas Nash. His classical, Pulitzer Prize-winning style has no equal on the newspaper page. Publishing a few a week for a few decades many see him as the last of the past masters.
I'm not, here, going to delve into the latter. Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and the rest will have to wait. As for comic books, they were not a part of my childhood. Nor adolescence. I still don't read them now. The world of Marvel and DC are very far from my mind.
But I read newspaper comics a-plenty. There were whole bookcases full of newspaper comic anthologies. The following list, with one exception, consists of newspaper comics, and their digital equivalent, webcomics.
20. Bill Amend
Foxtrot was a big part of my growing up. Objectively I can't argue for it too much. I could try and defend it's simplicity, it's characters, it's design. Really, the best thing it has going for it is writing. My family still quotes it often. I stopped reading it years ago, when it began a serious decline. But its golden years, in the mid-1990s, proved to be consistently humerous and well done.
19. Vaughn Bode
The lecherous lizards of Bode's world are odd, to say the least. In pigin English they ruminate on all levels, from deep to dumb. Stylistically Bode has many imitators. As an underground artist he was able to blend in healthy amounts of erotica and other taboo elements into his work.
When I first discovered Kazu's Copper it was updating pretty regularly. The site how now gone dormant, leaving a small portfolio of brilliant little comics. Copper took advantage of the webcomic format, but without gimmicks. It couldn't be squeezed onto a newspaper, and uses this space for time: creating long pauses and reflective moments that punchline comics rarely allow.
Doonesbury brought politics of the editorial page and into the funny pages. Now millions of readers are greeted by liberal Doonesbury and conservative counters like Mallard Fillmore. C'est la vie. Yet Doonesbury is stylistically better than average, and makes its points sharp and focused.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
You are going to design me a scale model of a building.
I want the people to be about an inch = 6'. I have some rough sketches accompanying to get you started. You're going to take it pro bono.
But, you might ask, why would we do such a thing?
Here's how it goes down:
We're doomed. I don't mean in terms of global warming. I don't mean fossil fuels. I don't even mean molemen.
All civilizations fall. Take your long-runners, like Egypt. Egypt was essentially unparalleled for 3,000 years as a united empire. China, with some major gaps, was an empire for roughly the same length.
But we must mind the gaps. Some of those gaps were centuries-long. I'm not saying that America is going away for ever; but we are going to go away for a while. This is particularly interesting since we live in a time, the first moments of human history, when we are, in fact, a global civilization.
You know what's going to happen when the U.S. falls. Hoping that nukes aren't involved it won't be the stone age. It's not going to be Mad Max. There'll be population fluctuation, fighting, and, I predict, a sort of enlightened patchwork of princedoms.
It's going to happen fast, so the past won't be lost this time. Americans are too proud of their individual cultures and states to stay unified during such a disaster. There will be war as some inevitably try and take over. They won't succeed. Without modern states in place there's no way to hold such territory. Much less acquire it grass-roots when your neighbor is as strong as you.
When I think of enlightened monarchies my mind always goes to Spain of al-Andalus. The gardens, libraries, craftsmen, and learned princes ruling increasingly small territories.
That's what I picture: a modern al-Andalus. There will still be electricity (solar private generators and batteries) there will still be most of the background stabilizing ideals: egalitarianism, free speech, tolerance. Given that it is a kingdom, though, I predict some conservatism that's been dormant will arise.
These will be small, feudal, communities. Palaces built with modern designs. The reintroduction of the long-forgotten haggle in the market places.
When this goes down, in our lifetime (oh you betcha!) I want to be on top. I have every intention of holding one of these communes as a leader. And so that is what you are going to design for me: my palace.
Given the Sultanate quality of the world, and in my part to help stabilize the population after a severe loss, the palace works as a sort of John Dewey-inspired harem. There is the head lady, and I figure 24 other ladies who besides being mistresses will double as staff. In the spirit of enlightenment each lady gets their own studio suite. This is the bulk of the house, naturally.
If I know you, and I think I do, you're interested. You want to see this building as much as I do. It does occur to me however that you're probably busy. You have other projects.
Forget them. They're not as important as this. If you go down in history as the architect of this place it'll all be worth it. At least put the other stuff on the back burner.
It's a challenge. I want it to look finished, detailed, and structurally sound. When is the next time a job like this will fall into your lap?
I'll be in New York the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'll expect my model to have been started, if not completed.
Richard S. Johnson
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
I've been very lucky. I've seen some of the most interesting and inspiring things in the world. I've been to five countries outside my own! Of 28 wonders of the world I've seen 10. That's pretty awesome. (GG Bridge, Empire State Building, Aurora Borealis, Temple of Artemis, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Hagia Sophia, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Stonehenge, and the Colosseum.)
Here are places I'd like to go/things I'd like to see.
Egypt - Pyramids, Historic sites of Alexandria and Cairo, The Nile and Abu Simbel
China - The Great Wall, The Qin Mausoleum, Lushang National Park, Defeng and the Longmen Grottoes, Beijing (Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, National Museum, Imperial Tombs, Zoo), Nanjing (Temple of Confucius, Nanjing Museum, City Wall and Stone Town, Linggu Temple)
Brazil - Harbor and Sugarloaf in Rio, The Central Amazon forest and river, Itaipu Dam, Baia
Japan - Himeji, Okayama and Kanazawa Castles, Itsukushima, Hiroshima, Kyoto (Kiyomizu, Golden Temple, To-Ji, Jodo Shinsu Temples), Tokyo (Mt. Fuji, National Museum, Imperial Palace)
Australia - Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Tasmanian Wilderness, Sydney (Opera House, Luna Park, Blue Mountains)
India - Agra Fort and Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Mahabodhi Temple, Sarnath, Kushinagar, Sundarbans National Park, Kolkata (Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Dakshineswar, Jorasanko Thakur Bari), Mumbai (Elephanta Caves, Victoria Terminus, Hanging Gardens, Sanjay Gandhi National Park)
Mexico - Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec sites of La Venta, Palenque, Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, and Calakmul, Mexico City (National Museum, Metropolitan Cathedral, Xochimilco)
France - Chartres, Mont St. Michel, Chunnel, Versailles and Fontainbleau, Paris (Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre and D'Orsay, Tuileries, Notre Dame)
Iran - Bam, Persepolis, Cyrus' Tomb, Tehran (National Museum and Golestan Palace)
Indonesia - Bali, Komodo, Sumatra (Gunung Leuser), Borneo (Gunung Palung), Java (Borobudur and Prambanan)
Spain - Alhambra, Cordoba
Nepal - Lumbini, Everest
Cambodia - Angkor Wat
Mali - Timbuktu
Russia - Historic Novgorod, Moscow (Red Square, Trinity of Lavra), St. Petersburg (Peterhof, Winter Palace, Hermitage)
Saudi Arabia - Mecca and Medina
Panama - Canal
Canada - L'Anse Aux, CN Tower, Banff National Park
Iraq - Historic sites of Baghdad, Babylon and Ur
Chile - Easter Island
Tanzania - Olduvai, Great Migration
Jordan - Petra
Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, Zanzibar
Peru - Machu Pichu
Netherlands - Modern protection works, Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum, Royal Palace)
Israel - Historic Jerusalem
Ecuador - Galapagos
Tertiary Sites (Places I'd need to go back to):
Italy: Last Supper
Turkey: Troy, Cappadocia, Pamukkale
UK: Canterbury, London Science Museum
Places in the US to go to:
Monticello and Mt. Vernon, Falling Water, Amish Country and Gettysburg, Everglades, Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, Ellis Island and the Staue of Liberty, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, New Orleans, Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains, Grand Canyon, Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, and Hawaii.
Places in the U.S. I've already seen:
Arcadia, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Arches, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Gunnison, Capitol Reef, Lassen Volcanic, Kings Canyon, Redwood, Sequoia, and Rocky Mountain Parks, Independence Hall, NYC (Guggenheim, MoMA, Natural History Museum, MET, Central Park), Boston (Faneuil Hall, Trinity Church, adjacent Quincy and Salem, MA), Newport mansions, Hearst Castle, LA (Getty, La Brea tarpits, Disneyland, Griffith Park and Grauman's Chinese Theatre), Seattle's Space Needle, The Capitol and White House, Lincoln, Vietnam and Jefferson Memorials, and San Francisco (everything is cool).
Cool Places elsewhere I've already seen:
The 9 wonders listed above
Monte Verde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica
Delphi, Mycenae and the Acropolis in Greece
Grand Bazaar, Topkapi, Blue and Suleymanie Mosques, Cagaloglu Hammam and Ephesus in Turkey
The Giant's Causeway, Historic Liverpool, Bath, and York, Oxford, British Museum, Tower of London, National Gallery, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye, Avebury, Tintern Abbey, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and Leeds in the UK
Sunday, September 5, 2010
All still classics.
Sound difficult? It is. Here are two examples of how it can be done.
00s City of God - Brazilian Thriller: Meirelles and Lund
90s Chungking Express - Chinese Romance: Kar-Wai
80s Cinema Paradiso - Italian Drama: Tornatore
70s Solaris - Soviet Sci-Fi: Tarkovsky
60s Yojimbo - Japanese Action: Kurosawa
50s Smiles of a Summer Night - Swedish Comedy: Bergman
40s Fantasia - American Animation: Disney
30s Olympia - German Documentary: Riefenstahl
20s The Passion of Joan of Arc - French Biopic: Dreyer
00s Paprika - Japanese Animation: Kon
90s Farewell My Concubine - Chinese Epic: Kaige
80s Wings of Desire - German Romance: Wenders
70s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - French Comedy: Bunuel
60s 8 1/2 - Italian Drama: Fellini
50s The Apu Trilogy - Indian Biopic: Ray
40s The Third Man - British Thriller: Reed
30s The Wizard of Oz - American Musical: Fleming
20s Man With a Movie Camera - Soviet Documentary: Vertov