The passing of Steve Jobs understandably prompted a chorus of grief and eulogy among his fans, along with refrains of the usual hyperboles voiced during his lifetime in praise of his genius and technological vision. Although I admire the evident courage he exhibited during his final years as he struggled with his health, I have never much appreciated his or Apple's work. Like Charlie the Tuna, Apple tries to pass as the embodiment of good taste, when what I want is an Apple that tastes good, namely, a computer that works when you plug it in, turn it on, and try to make it do things. One day, probably not in my lifetime, the self-proclaimed revolutionaries will stride victorious beyond that distant milestone. Call me an idealist. Until then, I must settle for the available pretend versions, a laFisher-Price.
Yet it's clear that many avid fans of Apple gear experience it as life-changing and itself the stuff of radiant beauty and fine design. Still more regard the Internet and the ubiquity of computing technology as cultural developments not only affording high utility but nearly biblically proportioned salvation. Pondering my own discontent with the trajectory of these tools and my disconnection with popular demand for them, it occurred to me that the gadgetry of technology now assumes the aura once regarded as imbuing the unique work of high art, a radiance formerly acknowledged even by those who had no personal appreciation for the work. This formulation is, of course, an adaptation of Walter Benjamin's famous essay examining the fate of art in the face of increasingly easy reproduction and dissemination. Benjamin doesn't signal such an adaptation, which is merely clever, but riddling the essay are numerous proclamations, typical of his oracular style, that speak pertinently to our own times before and after Jobs. For example, he attributes the "withering" of the aura to:
the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.
It's easy to recognize this dynamic at work in the advance of social networking technologies. Reading Twitter streams from participants at an unfolding event in real time is a safe proxy for being there. But Benjamin was writing about art, and some proponents of digital technologies believe they promise opportunitites for new varieties of artistic creativity, facilitated by the rapid manipulation of readily available material into new configurations. Thus, for example, the mash-up or the remix, genres that dispense with coy Eliotic allusion in favor of flagrant copying. Their point is to restructure the familiar without disguising it. They are instances, for better or worse, of "free culture."
I guess that is not a very nice thing to say in a birthday greeting, at least not if you still want people to remain interested in your enterprise. Every year on October 19th, the anniversary musings come with sweet as well as bitter sweet reckonings about the health of the blog. It is increasingly evident that we are now in a completely different state of blogging regarding enthusiasm, frequency and readership volume from the heydays of just a couple of years ago.
There is nothing terribly interesting to say this year about traffic, new authors or sensational links that created a lot of interest. The past twelve months have seen a real dip in new writings and naturally, in traffic. Of the dozen authors listed on our roster less than 50% have contributed on a regular basis in the past year. Often short links (something I don’t like very much) have filled up the space on the front page in lieu of substantive commentary. We have pivoted away from political blogging for the most part, current political events specifically, have not received much attention.
Time, as Sujatha pointed out in her anniversary post last year is a major obstacle to blogging for most authors. But that is not the only reason. As I once speculated and Sujatha pointed out, crowded and more interactive social media too have played a role in the reduction of readership and postings.
My thanks to Sujatha, Norm and Omar for blogging here with some regularity on varied topics and to Dean for keeping the comment threads lively. I also appreciate the contributions of other authors (Dean, Prasad, Jesse and Cyrus) who have posted when time has permitted. Joe, Anna and Andrew have not been seen here for a long time. The former became busy with his new job and the latter two with their new baby. My own rate of blogging has fallen precipitously. I noted in a comment on Sujatha’s anniversary post last year that a lack of enthusiasm for the political scene is one of the many reasons why my blogging spirits have flagged considerably. Some of us think that is not necessarily a bad thing. Now with a messy election season coming up, our attention may once again turn to politics. Who knows, the urge to hold forth publicly on issues that matter to us may pick up once again.
Many thanks also to some regular readers who continue to drop by despite the paucity of new material and reduced frequency of posting. Some, like my friend Elatia, are invariably supportive and add to the discussion with their interesting and thoughtful observations. Despite the anemic condition, Accidental Blogger remains a comfortable zone for some of us to share our thoughts and talk to each other. Do continue to check us out.
Several times in the past whenever I felt (sometimes mistakenly) that the blog was in the doldrums, I used to weigh the option of closing down Accidental Blogger. Joe always said that he didn’t believe I would ever do that. He was right. I do not want to lose a huge and interesting archive of material contributed by many different authors and commenters who put in a lot of thought and effort in adding to the discussions. The contents of the blog will be maintained as they are whether or not blogging ceases altogether here. I have decided that TypePad is as good a venue as any other on the web to maintain the blog in its original format. A.B. therefore will remain available to its authors and readers for the foreseeable future.
To add some color to the bland musings, let me share a painting of mine with you. The composition is a bit stark and bare. Perhaps the solitary musician is not entirely unsuited for the mood of this post. We are not quite whistling past the graveyard but sometimes it feels a lot like singing in the wilderness.
Mallory and Irvine: Should we solve Everest's mystery? (Norman Costa)
By Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine, 3 October 2011
As a tale of doomed, romantic endeavour, it has endured for decades.
It is also Everest's most persistent mystery - did George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine make it to the top in 1924, almost 30 years before it was officially conquered?
The pair, equipped with primitive climbing gear, were last sighted a few hundred metres away from the summit before bad weather closed in around them.
Wearing Burberry gabardine jackets and hobnail boots, and carrying a rudimentary oxygen supply, their gear was a far cry from the hi-tech protective clothing worn by modern mountaineers.
And historians have long argued whether or not they made it to the peak before succumbing to the freezing conditions.
A forthcoming expedition to Everest aiming to establish what exactly happened is just the latest in a series of attempts to solve the puzzle. But despite the continued speculation, many of those with a stake in the mystery hope it will never be resolved, fearing the prosaic truth could never match the legend.
"...[O]nce a year, the skies over...central Wisconsin ...roar with the sound of the world’s largest air show, the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture....[T]his year’s show ...feature[d] th...debut of Boeing’s... 787 Dreamliner, the ...successor to the aging 767 design...Txchnologist presents ...highlights of recent years."
Watch the F-22 Raptor defy gravity.
An Airbus A-380 makes a rough landing in a cross wind, with wings flexing off their center. Terrific piloting. Or is it terrific computering?
See the carrier-borne upgrade of the famous RAF Spitfire with a 2,000 HP Rolls-Royce engine. The original is still the more elegant and beautiful design.
Your grandchildren may start their vacation on Mars from a descendant of the Virgin Galactic VMS Eve. Aeronautical engineer, architect, and designer Burt Rutan genius will get you there.
Treat yourself to five minutes of 'fly by' with dozens of historic, classic, modern, and experimental flying machines. And let's not forget the pilots that just love to fly.
This political cartoon by Clay Jones is one of the best I've seen. And "No," it is not an old cartoon.
"Meet Clay Jones
"Clay Jones was often sent to the principal's office as a child for making fun of his classmates. He discovered at a young age that he had a knack for poking fun at the flaws of others, and he decided later to make it a career. He went from drawing simple Crayola caricatures of his friends to full-sized comic books by the time he was in high school."
Why do we watch food shows on TV? For a variety of reasons, as varied as the different offerings on the likes of The Food Network and The Learning Channel, analyzed to exhaustion by Akim Reinhardt on 3QD.
I've come to the conclusion that I hate cooking, and would be entirely happy if I never had to lift a finger in the kitchen. Why then does my remote-clicking finger seep into paralysis when it reaches the Food Network?
There's no dearth of gorgeous, tastefully arranged plates of food, faux drama, foodie discussions with lines read straight off the teleprompter. These are all actors purveying a story and concept to the TV audience. "You too can get off the couches and start cooking like the Great Chefs, or the Bounteous Babushkas, or the Bulimic Bombshells."
It's less of Buon Appetito, and more of the triumph of Mindless over Matter.
Jackson Pollock may have been a secret physicist, judging by a recent scientific analysis of his techniques and works. Or not.
How many times do we do things without stopping to examine the underlying physical principles? I'm sure that many a cake may have been put together Amelia Bedelia-style, "A pinch of this, a toss of that", and the end result is sometimes better, though quirkier than the perfectly adhered-to recipe.
It makes for fun to know that we do what we do, but doesn't make the outcome palpably better. But the exploration of those principles can make for fascinating stuff.
Pollock's works have alway been the subject of both awe and derision. Whether it was lauded as a 'liberation from value- political, esthetic, moral' or derided as 'a joke in bad taste', the paintings themselves, remain to this day, widely popular and iconic in status as the years pass.
From the Wired.com article:
"Now, Boston College art historian Claude Cernuschi, Harvard mathematicians Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan and Herczynski have turned the tools of physics on Pollock’s painting process. In what they believe is the first quantitative analysis of drip painting, the researchers derived an equation for how Pollock spread paint.
The team focused on the painting Untitled 48-49, which features wiggling lines and curlicues of red paint. Those loops formed through a fluid instability called coiling, in which thick fluids fold onto themselves like coils of rope.
“People thought perhaps Pollock created this effect by wiggling his hand in a sinusoidal way, but he didn’t,” Herczynski said.
There is even an interesting video that illustrates the principle of the fluid mechanics behind some of the curlicues that show up in detailed view the Pollock painting.
Now you know what to do on a rainy day with food coloring/paint/flour and paper. Experiment away and make mini-Pollock style masterpieces of your own. You don't need to understand the Physics behind it to enjoy it. Maybe that was partly what Pollock's painting was all about, more about the enjoyment of the moment of creation, and less about understanding the phenomenon behind it.
A friend sent me the link to this interesting web game and I am pretty impressed with the results. I have played it a few times and I can see that it can become quite an addictive distraction. The batting average of the Akinator in my hands is pretty impressive so far. Here are some of the "characters" it identified for me and the number of questions it asked to find the correct answers.
Rabindranath Tagore - 18 Jawaharlal Nehru - 13 Aung San Suu Kyi -18 Emperor Akbar - 19 Shah of Iran - 18 Friedrich Nietzsche -20 Aristotle - 10 Obama - 7 Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren - 8 each
I played the game on the American site. It is quite natural that Asian figures took a bit longer than a recent American president and popular western film stars. (I haven't tried Indian movie stars or fictional characters yet) Also, it is not terribly surprising that Nietzsche needed double the number of questions than did Aristotle. Even the couple of mistakes it made were not illogical - Ferdinand Magellan for Vasco da Gama and Guru Gobind Singh for Shivaji. The accuracy of the Akinator of course depends on the depth of our own knowledge of the character we want it to identify. What amazed me somewhat is the totally random and superficial nature of the questions it asks and comes up with the correct answer.
Ask the Akinator and tell me how your real and fictional "characters" do in its hands. Just remember that they have to be somewhat well known.
About $22 Billion In Gold, Diamonds, Jewels Found In Indian Temple
"In Southern India a story that sounds like the plot line of a Hollywood adventure is unfolding. Over the past week, on orders from the country's Supreme Court, a panel has found a treasure estimated to be worth $22 billion in the underground vaults of a Hindu temple in Trivandrum, India."
"The vaults had not been opened in about 150 years and the treasure spans some 500 years. India's Supreme Court ordered that the vaults of the temple be inventoried after a man filed a suit that worried about how the trust was caring for the riches."
A long time ago, in a coffee shop far, far away (a now defunct Diedrich's in Brea, CA), I had the good fortune of befriending one of the baristas, a young Chapman University film student and musician. Steve had taken an interest in a music magazine I was reading. (I still subscribe to the magazine, Cadence, which will publish its last issue at the end of this year, a circumstance worthy of a separate post.) Steve had heard of some of the performers featured on occasion in the magazine: Nels Cline, the folks in Sonic Youth, etc. But being an OC rocker, one of whose bands, The Autumns, managed to do pretty well in Europe, he was largely unaware of the vastness of the world of kindred musicians, the network of improvisers and noise makers who constellate the magazine's reviews and interviews. So I invited him over to spin records. Steve shared that he had been working on a movie to complete his degree, a profile of guitarist Nels Cline, whom he had filmed in action and interviewed already several times in and around Los Angeles.
My family and I moved to the Bay Area. After graduation Steve continued filming and refining his idea. He visited and we played more records. He contacted more musicians: Bob Ostertag, Miya Masaoka, and others whom he'd first encountered at our evenings of record playing. Before I knew it, his Nels Cline movie had become an account of the impulse to improvise, a cinematic analog to Cadence. He traveled the world filming and interviewing musicians and performances. At some point, for a period of two or three years I lost touch with him, until a little over a year ago, when he again visited with an entirely revamped film, dubbed The Reach of Resonance. Instead of cataloging a dozen or more oddball improvisers, he'd decided to focus on four musicians whose work combined composition, improvisation, technology, and one way or another an explicit link to the natural and political world in which they work. He let me view it on his laptop the night he stayed with us. It was stunning. As film, as an expression of a maturing idea about how music engages us, as a radical transformation of what began as a tribute to performers he admired into an original thesis about art and life, Steve's work is inimitable.
Steve Elkins's dedication and ambition, his genuine humility and sturdy self-confidence, his cinematic and musical intellect utterly inspire me. I've seen him work, filming, photographing, interviewing, and I believe he's as close as it comes to being a natural. He works hard, but without pretension. He's receptive to all ideas, but driven by a personal vision. His movie deserves a wider audience than the Cadence readership. This past Monday night, Steve took an important step toward attracting that audience. The movie premiered at Montreal's International Festival of Films on Art. I really hope readers of AB will take time to view the trailer and some of the movie's excerpts and interviews linked from the RoR site. Even if the music, or whatever you call it, isn't your cup of tea, I know you'll admire Steve's craft and find intriguing the peculiar work of the artists he explores.
The Trial of Shylock – Jew 0, Christians -1 (Norman Costa)
Here are my thoughts on a vexing play by William Shakespeare - The Merchant of Venice, a comedy. I will not be providing a summary of the entire play or the Acts to which I refer.
Among the things that are vexing in The Merchant of Venice, is divining what is really being said about Jews and Christians. Also, how are the messages being delivered? Let us take a look at how the play ends.
There are two endings in Merchant. One has to do with the disposition of Shylock at his trial, in Act IV. The other ending is Act V when true love is blessed in marriage - or marriages, in this case.
The punishment of Shylock is very interesting in terms of the progression of the specific acts of retribution. Yielding to the caricature of “A Jew and his money,” one might think that in depriving the Jew of his wealth, the greatest insult is accomplished. Thus, the first of his penalties, confiscating all his assets, may seem the harshest cut of all.
When we look at all the penalties, and grade each by its gravity of insult and humiliation, money is the least of the Jew's problems. In fact, with the levy of each successive punishment, the humiliation is greater still. The sequence of retributions ends in the greatest degradation of all: The Jew must become a Christian, and he finances his Christian son-in-law. Nothing worse could befall him.
It is not an accident that Shakespeare presented the penalties in a cascading fall of ever greater severity. The insult at the end, however, is delivered upon the Christians. Here is the sequence of penalties:
From time to time I write about artists, writers and other interesting personalities I come across in real life either by chance or by design. In late 2008 I presented Mimi Radhakrishnan and her work on our blog. After all the depressing news from Tucson and Pakistan that we have been discussing here for a while, this may be a good time to introduce the other half of the creative couple, the accomplished sculptor and Mimi's husband, K.S. Radhakrishnan. (Be sure to check out the excellent website)
I have met Radhakrishnan and although we did talk about his art, I did not actually "interview" him as I did Mimi. In fact, I saw samples of Radha's sculpture for the first time when I was in the basement of their home to see Mimi's paintings. The following piece is an excerpt from a lengthier profile of the artist written by my sister Mandira Mitra for another publication.
As a young boy growing up in a village in Kerala, K.S Radhakrishnan, the noted Indian sculptor,came across a piece on Shantiniketanin a school textbook in Malayalam. It evoked in his mind a vision of another village in far away Bengal where art and education were being pursued in a non-commercial manner, a place that was described as an ashram. A seed of curiosity about the place was planted in the young boy’s mind but he continued to pursue his studies in Kerala right up to college. During his college days he learnt more about Tagore and his university and when he decided to study art he chose to go to Shantiniketan. For young Radhakrishnan, it was a journey from one village to another and he was quite oblivious of the geographical distance between the two. In his mind an intimacy already existed between the place he started from and where he was going.
In 1974, Radhakrishnan interviewed at Kala Bhavan, the art school in Shantiniketan; he was confident that he would be admitted. The admission test included still life drawing and a creative composition. When the results were announced, Radhakrishnan’s name was not on the list of successful candidates. Disappointed, as he walked out of the office building, a person emerged from the building waving a sheet of paper in each hand. Pointing to them, he asked Radhakrishnan if they were his. As it happened, they were. The stranger informed the aspiring student that he would in fact be admitted in the Fine Arts course at Kala Bhavan. The person was none other than Professor Somnath Hore a noted artist and sculptor. To this day Radhakrishnan recalls the image of Hore walking out with his arms extended, as a Jesus like figure coming to rescue his artistic future.
Radhakrishnan had reached his destination but his journey continued. At the time, Shantiniketan had no formal boundary; it was an open space with no defined beginning or end to the university campus which was a continuum interspersed with various institutes, villages and rural market places. The atmosphere was relaxed and very informal. Everyone sat on the floor whether in class or in the common grounds. The presence of a large number of girls on campus was also a new experience. (In Shantiniketan fifty percent of the seats were reserved for female students.) During meals in the general kitchen students from different disciplines interacted with each other. For Radhakrishnan, the experience of Shantiniketan as a whole was far more overwhelming than being just a student of Kala Bhavan.
I had mentioned in my previous post that had I access to Rabindrasangeet recordings earlier on, I might have been able to appreciate them better.The example of lovely singing that I linked to was a rendition of a song by two of the Rabindrasangeet Trinity, so to speak - Kanika Banerji and Suchitra Mitra. Of the two, Suchitra's voice was the one that intrigued me more. It had an edgier tone, combined with clarity of rendition that led me to click on more than one suggested link with her name attached.
During my recent trip to India, I was able to visit two art / history museums of interest. One was Tagore's ancestral home in the Jorasanko (Twin Bridges) area of Kolkata, the place of the poet's birth as well as his death. The other was the wonderful National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi which I had last seen many, many decades ago. A third equally delightful encounter did not include a museum but it too was tangentially related to art and history, albeit of a more personal nature.
During my yearly trips to New Delhi I mostly spend time with family. If time permits and contact information is available, I also try to meet up with old school and college friends. Most of my friends are scattered over India and the world. Some of us have renewed connection virtually, thanks to Facebook. But real world, face to face meetings are few and far between. This time, due to the efforts of a dear friend with whom I have been in fairly regular touch over the years, I was able to meet two other very good school friends whom I had not seen for some forty years. When we came together, we were able to take up from where we had left without missing a beat. The four of us met for a leisurely lunch in a lovely restaurant in New Delhi's Khan Market. The meal lasted for nearly four hours. There was much to talk about the intervening years but mostly we talked about our boisterous teenage days. Reminiscences of school, our teachers and friends, came fast and furious. Seated in the middle of the restaurant, our loud laughter and conversation attracted the attention of other customers and the restaurant staff, I am sure. But we kept ordering food, so no one asked us to leave. Needless to say, we had a fabulous time.
One of the friends at the meeting was Madhavi Mudgal. A science student like me in school, after a short stint as a student of architecture in college, Madhavi chose a career in classical dance and went on to become an Odissi dancer and teacher of considerable repute. Ever since I had known Madhavi, she was a talented dancer. But when I knew her, she was learning and performing Kathak andBharat Natyam. That she successfully changed over to yet another classical dance tradition later in life is not surprising for an artist as gifted and disciplined as Madhavi. Here is more on her background and accomplishments. (And yes, she is still dancing and performing publicly.)
Madhavi Mudgal epitomizes the elegance and sophistication that are the result of blending modern sensibilities with the ancient ethos of eastern India to create the highly lyrical dance art of Odissi. Born into a family deeply involved in propagating the classical arts, Madhavi was immersed in music and dance from a very young age. With every opportunity to learn the arts, Madhavi trained in Bharata Natyam and Kathak under great gurus and performed these dance styles to acclaim.
Later she turned to Odissi which she adopted as her preferred medium. Her introduction to Odissi took place under Guru Hare Krishna Bahera who trained her in the fundamentals. Later she came under the tutelage of the renowned Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra.
Madhavi's command over the nritta or purely ornamental aspect of Odissi is striking. Her delicate postures and strong rhythmic footwork combine in an appealing flow of sculpturesque movements. Her subtle abhinaya (the expressional aspect of dance), musical knowledge and aesthetic sense add to the highly distinctive character of her recitals.
Through teaching, performing and conducting workshops, Madhavi has been actively involved in propagating the art of Odissi in New Delhi and other parts of India as well as the world. She has trained a number of accomplished students who are performers in their own right. In nineteen eighty five she organized a seminar and festival, Angahaar, a first of its kind event in New Delhi when gurus, scholars and dancers met to revisit the origins of Odissi and think about the future trends of the dance form. She also directed and produced a short audio-visual documentary that was screened at the festival.
Madhavi's father, the late Professor Vinay Chandra Maudgalya was the founder of the famous Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi's first and most highly reputed institution for the teaching of Hindustani music and classical dance. Madhavi has been teaching Odissi at this institute for many years.
For her contribution to the art, Madhavi Mudgal received the Sanskriti Award and the President of India's award, the Padmashri besides the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her contribution to the world of Indian Dance.
Madhavi will be in Washington D.C. next March to participate in the Maximum India festival at the Kennedy Center. Let me see if I can make it there to see my friend dance after a gap of many, many years. Meanwhile here are a couple of video links to Madhavi's performances, one solo and the other with a group of dancers.
No joke! I misread the text of an article which contained an image of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' painting, L'Odalisque à l'esclave. The article referred to a gift made to John Kenneth Galbraith by the country of India. The generous gift was bestowed upon Galbraith, father of James K. Galbraith, after his service as U.S. Ambassador to India.
The gift was a collection of 18th century minatures. I assumed, mistakenly, that the gift included L'Odalisque à l'esclave.
I am sorry for the mistake and diverting your mental energies to solving an unsolvable puzzle. In small recompense, I am including a link to a very good quality high resolution image of the painting. The image is in the public domain, so click HERE to call up the Hi-Res file and save it to your computer.
See more information on Ingres' fascination with the Odalisque throughout many years of his career, below.
Odalisque and Slave
This drawing represents the artist's return to his famous Odalisque and Slave canvas of 1839 and to an 1842 work with a landscape background. The choice of subject points up Ingres's interest in Orientalism, already visible in his Grande Odalisque and at its apogee in the famous Turkish Bath of 1862, now in the Louvre.
Exoticism and a taste for detail
Here Ingres portrays a languorous odalisque in a harem, listening to the music of a slave girl. The young woman complacently adopts one of the languid poses familiar in Ingres's work, her body undulating in a near-musical way, as if she were dancing in a reclining position. The details - crown, fan, nargileh - are treated with a quasi-hyperrealist precision. The enclosed space gives rise to an ambiguous relationship between the two women, and the presence of the black eunuch in the background heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere.
Many years later
As he so often did, Ingres returns in this drawing to an earlier painting: an odalisque commissioned by his friend Charles Marcotte (1773-1864) - Marcotte d'Argenteuil, as he was known - and now in the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The painting dates from 1839, when Ingres was director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome. In 1842 he painted a second version, with a background of a garden and an Oriental niche (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). The woman's pose, however, comes from the much earlier Sleeping Woman, painted in 1814 and now lost.
The triumph of Orientalism
Artists' growing fondness for trips to the Orient, the influence of travel books, and the taste for the exotic were the main contributing factors to the rise and enduring popularity of Orientalism in European painting in the 19th century. But unlike Delacroix, for example, Ingres never went East, drawing on engravings and Persian miniatures to make his décors as exotic as possible. Here the oriental atmosphere owes less to the use of color than to the voluptuous arabesques. At one point, Ingres considered titling this work Sultana Resting.
When a Detroit minister named Mayowa Lisa Reynolds went to her City Council last summer to complain about malt liquor advertising, she came prepared.The minister had conducted a survey in which she found a Colt .45 billboard in every square mile of the city. She looked in the nearby, majority white suburbs of Plymouth and Royal Oak.There were none.
Still, the Colt .45 billboards were relatively inoffensive by the traditional standards of malt liquor advertising.In one notorious 1986 print spot for Midnight Dragon, a voluptuous woman grasped a squat 40 ounce bottle above the tagline “I could suck on this all night.”In the 90s, charismatic gangster rappers incorporated 40s into their tales of murder and drug-dealing, driving malt liquor sales to all-time highs. In contrast, the 2009 Colt .45 ads merely featured a cartoon drawing of longtime spokesman Billy Dee Williams dressed in mauve and beige evening wear, accompanied by the slogan, “Works Every Time.”
Reynolds needn’t have worried. Several council members went ballistic at her findings. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, who created a “Denounce the 40 Ounce Campaign” in the 90s to reduce alcohol consumption in Detroit, fumed that “every 20 years we have to start this fight again.” Reynolds pondered the meaning of “works every time.” “If women drink it, ladies will lose their virginity?” she asked. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson brought out the heaviest rhetorical guns: “This is killing our community. It’s an issue of racism and perversity.” (David Josar, "Detroit council takes aim at Billy Dee Williams malt liquor ads," The Detroit News, July 7, 2009).
For someone who knew nothing about the history of malt liquor, such strong denunciations might seem excessive. Racism and perversity? The Colt .45 billboards in Detroit are hardly more outlandish than other kinds of beer advertising.
But the anger from Tinsley-Talabi and Watson are not atypical.In the summer of 2008, at a Philadelphia bike shop called Jay’s Pedal Power, community protests forced the painting-over of a different graffitti-style billboard of young partiers drinking Colt .45.In June 2009, Colt .45 bus-shelter ads in St. Louis brought protests that the company was seducing young African-Americans into a life of alcoholism."If you look at the black community, the only thing that's advertised is cigarettes and alcohol. Period," alderman Charles Quincy Troupe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's nothing that's advertised that puts forth any wellness."
Malt liquor clearly bears a stigma with African-Americans.But with the current “reboot” of an aging and stigmatized brand, Colt .45 is also trying to sell to a different demographic group, a group of people that sometimes appears to lack historical memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday: hipsters.
Like an earnest Mom trying to connect with her teenagers by using the latest slang, Colt .45 is communicating with the kids in a language that they will understand.And some of the efforts are impressive.The company has dialed-in promoters putting on parties and concerts in New York and L.A. with hot bands of the moment, like Das Racist, War Tapes, and the Rapture – with Colt .45 served on the house.Whatever your principles, it’s hard to turn down free booze and music, especially in the middle of a brutal recession.
Some of the other tactics are less auspicious.There’s the bizarre schwag, like special edition brown bags or a Colt .45 unisex robe (available now for just 30 dollars).And some painfully unclever cartoons, as when a young man seduces a total stranger, who has just had a terrible fight with her boyfriend, merely by knocking on her door and giving her a can of malt liquor. (Unless your taste runs to poverty-stricken alcoholics, courtship tends to be a bit more complicated than that, even in these informal times).In a different cartoon scenario with vague echoes of Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, a group of partygoers discover that they have run out of Colt .45 – until noticing that one resourceful drunk has squirreled away a dozen cans in his Afro.They’re forced to attack him to get their fair share.
The humorous portrayals of problem drinking are the work of a young white graphic artist named Jim Mahfood, who hails from the macrobrewery company town of St. Louis.On a promotional video produced by Colt .45’s ad agency Cole & Weber United, Mahfood explains the concept behind the campaign:
"The general vibe, of like, Colt .45, or even drinking 40s?…It just reminds me of being at art school, and people having like, a spontaneous party on the campus lawn, and just people drinking 40s and listening to a ghetto-blaster…When I was able to tell all my friends, especially my friends I went to art school with, that I was doing this campaign? And my comic book label was called "40 Ounce Comics?" I feel like I've been rewarded for all those years of drinking malt liquor." (Cole & Weber United website, accessed October 1, 2009)
The artist's life turns out to be not so tough -- so long as you jettison any pretensions to originality or having something to say.
Companies are not always so ham-handed when it comes to marketing products to hipsters. The journalist Christian Lorentzen may have concluded that “hipsters” don’t actually exist, but Madison Avenue certainly thinks that they do. That's not praise, so much as an observation – advertisers are clearly targeting hipsters, a group loosely defined as young people with relative pop cultural sophistication, a surface detachment from middle-class values, and a love of kitsch and retro styles.
The resuscitation of Pabst Blue Ribbon offers the best example of how subtle the Don Drapers of today can be. P.B.R. went from a beer known for being cheap and bland and in seeming terminal decline in 2001, to a brand known for being cheap and bland that has increased sales by over 25% since 2008, in spite of raising prices in the middle of a recession.That’s on top of a roughly 60% increase in sales between 2001 and 2006, due to a stealth marketing campaign astutely analyzed by Rob Walker in his book Buying In.
As Walker shows, P.B.R. grew precisely because of the lack of overt marketing. A group of bike messengers, skaters, punks, and others who identified with P.B.R.’s low price and vaguely blue-collar image were also attracted by the fact that the beer’s corporate parent didn’t seem to care enough about it to run endless T.V. ads or miles of billboards.(Never mind that the actual owners were uniformly white-collar, having summarily fired 250 Milwaukee brewery workers and outsourced production to Miller in 2001 – PBR is a “virtual” brand that exists only as a marketing and distribution entity).When Kid Rock’s lawyer noticed the young, hard edged drinkers drawn to P.B.R., and thought that that his client might make an excellent spokesman, the company rebuffed his overtures. Instead, P.B.R. continued its unobtrusive promotions, like skateboard movie screenings, art gallery openings, indie publishing events, and the "West Side Invite,” where Portland messengers drank beer and played “bike polo” together – but without pushing the brand using ostentatious posters or signs.
Alex Wipperfürth, who consulted for P.B.R. during those years and has written a book that draws on his findings, describes P.B.R. customers as engaging in “lifestyle as dissent” and “consumption as protest” – embracing this seemingly forlorn beer as a kind of expression of “no future” solidarity. P.B.R. succeeded by willfully keeping its marketing efforts as neutral as possible, to perpetuate the beer’s underdog image.
Buying P. B. R. is not much of a form of dissent, in comparison with, say, marching across the bridge at Selma or smuggling in food to Anne Frank, but it is dissent nevertheless. As Walker observes, buying the P.B.R. beer brand, owned by a large holding company, is hardly a way to strike back against corporations – but it is a way to protest against the phony hilarity and brand saturation of conventional marketing. Incredibly, Pabst marketing whiz Neal Stewart shaped his unconventional campaign by reading Naomi Klein’s 2000 book No Logo. After finishing Klein’s impassioned protest against the pervasiveness of corporate brands, Stewart concluded, "Hey, there are all these people out there who hate marketing – and we should sell to them."
Though Pabst is in the same family of brands as Colt .45, the patronizing cartoons and that silly bathrobe suggest that Cole & Weber United hasn’t learned the lessons of subtlety in selling to young people who loathe pandering advertising campaigns.The central conceit of the hipster is that his bullshit-detector and cultural awareness render him too much of a special snowflake to be targeted by some agency’s dorky creative team.But even were Cole and Weber to replicate some of P.B.R.’s clever moves, it would be hard for it to replicate their results.Colt. 45 is not just another beer, as Watson’s accusation of “racism and perversity” suggests.
Instead of the vaguely blue-collar but essentially blank canvas on which hipsters can project a “no future” image, Colt .45 and malt liquor offer a very particular history.Originally invented during the Depression as a way to make a potent brew cheaply, by replacing some of the expensive malt used in conventional beer with less expensive dextrose, and using heartier yeast strains that result in more alcohol and less flavor, malt liquor has been eclipsed by its marketing.In the 1980s and 90s, malt liquor became a way for brewers to bottle black stereotypes and sell them, in a pomo echo of the minstrel tradition.
Another one of Stanley Fish's superior sounding fatuous essays appeared in the NYT's Opinionator blog. It is Law & Order he is criticizing this time. And why? For having a "law and order" agenda and for being unkind to the rich and the exceptional. Heck, the characters that Jack McCoy and his band of justice seekers go after are scoff-laws. Whether rich or poor, smart or dim, brilliantly succesful or abject failures, they are in the show because they broke the law. So, naturally Law & Order doesn't like them. Duh. For Stanley Fish to make the show into a leftist commentary against successful, brilliant people reflects Fish's own snit against the "heartless, by-the-law" liberal society. Amidst the smog of his own superiority, Fish fails to appreciate that the wonderful TV crime series was often against the unjust sense of entitlement of many wealthy and successful criminals and not against wealth and success per se. And unlike many other shows, and as in real life, justice was not always served.
Nothing personal. But now that Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” has called it a day — or rather a 20-year run — it is time to notice what may be its most remarkable feature; not the brilliant formula that offers both the comfort of predictability and the promise of constant surprise (an episode almost never ends up where it seems to be going at the beginning), not the ability of the show to survive major cast changes without missing a beat, not the considerable accomplishment of making the arcane vocabulary of the law ( “fruit of the poisoned tree,” “asked and answered,” “prejudicial,” “allocute,” “goes to relevance”) as familiar to TV viewers as the jargon of sports, but the extraordinarily long list of professions, classes and category of persons it doesn’t like.
Begin with rich people. “Law & Order” hates rich people; they are arrogant, they are condescending, they consume conspicuously, and, worst of all, they believe they are above the law. In one episode, the head of a foundation is informed of a $400,000 problem. She retorts, “$400, 000 is less than I spend on sweatpants.” In another episode (“Venom”), a 64-year old woman who is bent on protecting her 27-year old husband says to one of the district attorneys: “You have no idea of what a woman in my position can do.” Actually they have a very good idea. Time and again wealthy people manipulate the system by getting well connected friends to intervene in cases or by hiring high-priced lawyers who know how to put up procedural roadblocks forever. ... (blah, blah and more blah!)
.....From episode to episode “Law & Order” is engaged in a staying action against the forces that threaten its ideals, forces that live and have their being in the walks of life that afford the time and the resources to pursue nefarious, self-serving, agendas. The only way to be O.K. in Dick Wolf’s world is to have a job that is steady but doesn’t pay very much, to drive a five year old car you’re still paying off, to live in a small house with a large mortgage, to have an education that helps you get by but doesn’t give you any fancy ideas, to attend a house of worship that is the center of your social life, and to have almost no leisure time. Unless you fit that profile, “Law & Order” probably doesn’t like you.
Oh dear! Fish managed to be passive-aggressive and a noodge in the same breath!
The past one month has been an embarrassment of riches for sports fans
who love soccer and tennis. Being one of them, I have been majorly
distracted lately, mostly by the fast, furious and elegant action on the soccer
fields of South
Africa. In fact, my favorite tennis tournament at Wimbledon went by without
my paying too much attention to the earlier matches. (The tournament ended
satisfactorily with two of my favorite players winning the men's and the
It is soccer which has been on my mind mostly. The first World Cup Soccer event
in the continent of Africa has been full of drama, defined mostly by upsets.
Several top teams have been toppled unexpectedly. Of the last four teams standing, three are
from Europe and just one from South America where soccer is only next in line
to the Vatican as an institution of influence. The only Latin American team
still in contention is neither the fabled Brazil nor the flamboyant Argentina.
It is Uruguay who will go up against the Netherlands in the first semi-final
match today. This is the same Uruguay who beat the valiant Ghana team in a rather
questionable way. (Why do the "hand of god" fouls always seem tofavor South American teams?)
I am rooting for Germany, now that many other teams I
felt kindly towards (US, Japan, Ghana ) have been ousted. Brazil's unceremonious defeat against the Netherlands was a bit of a shock, of course, but the Dutch squad is powerful. Normally I don't like most European teams and was very happy to see France, Italy and England make early
exits (France, very early). However, Germany has earned my respect as the tournament has progressed. It
is a young, diverse and disciplined team which actually plays like a
"team" in seamless unison, which is why both their defense and offense have been
impressive. They are also not carrying any baggage from previous tournaments.
Consequently, they were unafraid of Argentina's formidable reputation
and showed that in the one sided 4:0 whacking of Maradona's famed boys in blue and white. The bookies are giving better odds to Spain and the Netherlands. But I am sticking with Germany even though one of their best players got a
second yellow card in the last game and will miss the semi-final against
Spain. We'll see.
My partiality to a German win is actually rooted in a bit of self serving superstition. I didn't
have much of a favorite going into the World Cup this year. When the games had barely begun, during a casual exchange with a friend about teams and predictions, I said that the 2010 World Cup would be won by "whoever beats Argentina." Now that Germany has handed Argentina a convincing drubbing, I am making that a serious prediction. We will soon find out if I have prophetic powers. But one thing I am dreading is that if Germany is the eventual champion, we are going to hear a barrage of WWII analogies of military precision, the Wehrmacht, the blitzkrieg and so on. Ugh!
I usually keep an eye on any interesting exhibitions that come to town. But I very nearly missed the fabulous Alice Neel - Painted Truths that was showing at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts since March. Fortunately someone on Facebook brought it to my attention a few days ago. Even then I was hard pressed to find time since I was busy getting ready for a trip last week. I got back home on the 12th. The exhibition closed at 7pm on Sunday, the 13th of June. I managed to get to the MFAH yesterday at 6 and was able to catch the show in the last hour of the last day. The extensive retrospective was spectacular indeed. Unfortunately there was no time for a second round past the paintings.
From the MFAH write up on Alice Neel:
One of the great American painters of the 20th century, Alice Neel (1900-1984) is best known for her psychologically acute portraits. Intimate, casual, direct and personal, satirical at times, they chronicle the social and economic diversity of mid-20th-century American life.
Having consciously set out to chronicle the zeitgeist of her time, Neel painted friends and family, as well as the celebrated artists and writers of her day, such as Andy Warhol, Frank O´Hara, and Meyer Shapiro.
Alice Neel: Painted Truths both traces the evolution of Neel´s style and examines themes that she revisited throughout her career, including her social and political commitment, her stylistic evolution, and her reversal of the typical artist/model gender roles, maternity, and old age.
Alice Neel is most famous for the people she drew and is therefore often classified as a portrait artist. The advent of photography made portrait painting a redundant art, in some people's opinion. But an artist like Neel can shift the conversation about portraiture to a startling level of insight and creativity - no skillful photography could have made her work redundant. Her work was the result of a detached yet incisive eye - a commentary on the emotional inner life of her subject, yet unerringly correct in capturing their physical likeness. (see # 3 below - Neel's depiction of Andy Warhol) She also showed a wicked touch in assessing some of her sitters. A pair of portraits of a woman named Ellie Poindexter shows one flattering image meant for the consumption of the subject and another representing what Neel "really" thought of Poindexter. I cannot find the former anywhere on the web but you can see the "honest" version (# 4 in the line up) among the images below.
For a description of Alice Neel's turbulent life see here and for a large sampling of her work, see the gallery here. Am I correct in getting the distinct impression that the artist was kinder to her male subjects than she was to the women she painted?
Believe it (or in it) or not. That's the name of a scientific
paper published in a journal on the validity of the famed 'Mozart Effect'. I
love the name, more so that a scientist dared to use it in the actual
title of his paper.
"The transient enhancement of performance on spatial tasks
in standardized tests after exposure to the first movement “allegro
con spirito” of the Mozart sonata for two pianos in D major (KV
448) is referred to as the Mozart effect since its first observation by
Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993). These
findings turned out to be amazingly hard to replicate, thus leading to
an abundance of conflicting results. Sixteen years after initial
publication we conduct the so far largest, most comprehensive, and
up-to-date meta-analysis (nearly 40 studies, over 3000 subjects),
including a diversity of unpublished research papers to finally clarify
the scientific record about whether or not a specific Mozart effect
" On the whole, there is little evidence left for a
specific, performance-enhancing Mozart effect."
So much for
the tinkling sounds of Mozart's lullaby that played whenever I turned
the key of my kid's musical mobile, and then when the keys of his play gym
were pressed, playing the opening strains of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Or
the ubiquitous Baby Einstein videos playing variants of Mozart in
millions of homes where anxious parents rushed to enhance their babies'
spatial skill abilities.
Regarding the role of music in general to enhance learning, this
recent study indicates it makes very little difference:
"Verbal learning during the exposure to different background
music varying in tempo and consonance did not influence learning of
verbal material. There was neither an enhancing nor a detrimental
effect on verbal learning performance. The EEG data suggest that the
different acoustic background conditions evoke different cortical
activations. The reason for these different cortical activations is
unclear. The most plausible reason is that when background music draws
more attention verbal learning performance is kept constant by the
recruitment of compensatory mechanisms."
account for the effects of my listening to old Bollywood tunes on the
late night radio show. For a while, it contributed to lack of attention
to my studies and more to the music, as I tried to figure out the
lyrics. I took to noting them down in a blue diary. Once I was done, it
was relegated to the background the next time I heard it. I don't know
if it helped me in my exam preparations, but I was one of the "Most
Wanted" members of the class team for a game based on the starting lines of Hindi songs, since I had so many obscure lines memorized.
Check out the hilarious comments on this article. It looks like more people are terrified of the loss of Mozart as the easy method to IQ enhancement than are delighted by the results of this study. Oh the humanity! Kids have to learn to play music, rather than merely listening to it, to get brighter!
Another famous saying from outer space turns out to be not quite what we think it was. "Houston, we have a problem," is a catchall phrase for SNAFUs that happen even outside of Houston but that is not exactly what the Apollo 13 astronauts actually said when they heard a bang aboard the spaceship. In this case, we know what the original words were without having to resort to an audio analysis decades later.
Moments after Apollo 13 crew members heard a sharp bang, the phrase that Space City can't seem to shake entered the atmosphere: “Houston, we've had a problem.”
Forty years ago today, a loud bang and vibration transformed a smooth flight to the moon into one of NASA's most successful failures. We remember the sentence that captured that catastrophe as “Houston, we have a problem,” but the correct version uses the past tense.
Presumably, some people knew and even used the phrase in the years after the Apollo 13 crew members miraculously — and heroically — made their way back to Earth.
But it was Ron Howard's 1995 film, Apollo 13, that cemented the misquoted version in our minds.
“The movie simplified the sentence for dramatic purposes,” says Charles Dove, director of Rice Cinema and a film lecturer at Rice University. “Most of the big 20th century phrases come from film.”
Indeed, “Houston, we have a problem” is No. 50 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movie quotes, behind other catch phrases we like even better: “Here's looking at you, kid” (No. 5); “Go ahead, make my day” (No. 6); and “You talking to me?” (No. 10).
Mother of all chichés
In real-life, the space scene went something like this: Jack Swigert — played by Kevin Bacon in the movie — saw a warning light that accompanied the sharp bang and said, “Houston, we've had a problem here.” When Houston base asked for clarification, Jim Lovell — played by Tom Hanks in the movie — repeated, “Houston, we've had a problem.” [emphasis mine]