Airplanes as Art

There’s a nice article in Salon today. It’s the latest installment of my favourite Salon column, in fact: Ask the Pilot. I was sad when this column moved into Salon’s premium section. Hey, I like Salon, but I don’t actually want to pay for it. But the new daypass feature means everyone can read it, as long as you’re willing to sit though a 30-second commercial for the Mazda 6. And you know, as much as I hate popups and the like, this type of advertising doesn’t bother me for some reason. And, I can read my email while the ad plays. It’s a win-win: bravo, Salon!

But I digress. Ask the Pilot is a wonderful column, written with wit and insight by an ex-Pilot. Now, for some reason I don’t quite understand I have a deep-seated (and, many would say, macabre (see my book on airline crash black box transcripts for example) interest in the airline industry) so I just love the little anecdotes that Patrick comes up with. See his story about an encounter with an exploding loo at 30,000 feet for a good chuckle.

This article is about the aesthetics of the various airline liveries, rather than the usual technical or process-oriented fare. A nice comparison of the domestic carrier’s paintjobs, and a rather scathing assessment of Landor’s work (were you involved in any of these, Jay?). I was disappointed Qantas didn’t get a mention (they’ve stuck with the flying kangaroo logo as long as I’ve been alive and almost certainly longer), and I quite liked the old British Airways “World Image” look, although I can see the point about it being more like a wallpaper catalogue. But an interesting article nonetheless, well worth a read.

Snobs Unite!

Yeah, I suppose it’s the Yalie in me coming out–that is, the inherent Yalie, the one who knew she was going to be an Eli from about 3rd grade on–but I really like this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Some things really are better than others, and if believing that it’s just a sin to waste perfectly good calories on say, pasteurized brie or Hershey’s chocolate instead of Valrhona, makes me an elitist, then I suppose I’ll wear the Scarlet E.

So proud of my Pulitzer pal

My freshman year resident advisor from Yale has just won a Pulitzer for her study of genocide, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Marti called last week to tell me the news and The Judy tipped me off about this great USA Todayinterview. As you can see from the picture, she is as brilliant as she is gorgeous.

For those of you well-versed in my Yale misadventures, this is the very same RA who (with the help of smelly suitemate Ben) half-dragged me to undergraduate health after my very first weekend at Yale erupted into something dangerously close to alcohol poisoning. (This is a longer story that probably merits its own post, as it was not altogether my fault and, in retrospect, a pretty hilarious affair.)

But anyway, I’m so proud. I have been meaning to buy this book–I mean, 384 pp. on genocide will make you want to drink Hull Clean, no doubt–and now I’m gonna.

That’s to you, good sir

A British blogger named Phil Gyford has launched a weblog serialization of Pepys’ Diary. If you are not familiar with Pepys, you’re missing out on some serious London intrigue circa 1660– not to mention a work that bears eloquent witness to the birth of modern subjectivity during the Enlightenment. It is amazing how fluidly content from a few centuries ago works as a weblog. It’s enough to make you wonder which of us bloggers will be revealed as indispensible to future generations– assuming any of our evanescent digital musings survive.

Credit to Slashdot for the write-up and BBCNews for the full backstory.

Analysis of A.I.’s ending

Speilberg’s A.I. is one of my favourite films, but it got a bad rap for its apparently hokey ending. I’ve always felt it was a great film (and with one of the most innovative viral marketing campaigns ever, to boot). In particular, I always liked the ending, but I was never sure why. I recently stumbled upon this analysis of the ending of A.I. which provides a great interpretation which fits perfectly into the Kubrickean themes of the film. Now I’ll have to go and watch it again.

“Obsessing About Obsession”

Spike Jonze’s new film Adaptation is getting an awful lot of attention, including this breathless review by the NYT’s A.O. Scott. It goes beyond standard pomo self-referentiality to a world where author, subject, and fictional selves seem hopelessly jumbled.

This all sounds interesting, but it is hardly new territory. Few writers have explored this territory more expertly than my personal literary goddess, Joan Didion. She figures, to vertiginous effect, as a character in her 1984 novel Democracy. As I wrote in my 1995 senior essay,

Mary McCarthy reportedly spent many unsettled hours with Who’s Who trying in vain to discover whom Didion was really discussing. Responses like McCarthy’s were common. The American Spectator printed a scathing review, including this statement on Didion’s postmodern presence:

Democracy is, by the author’s admission, a failure. It got written when Didion detoured from the novel she intended to write about Inez’s family in Hawaii…. This is fair enough, but why an author who was in the past written with ethical brilliance about cutting one’s losses and burying one’s dead chooses to advertise her failure in this awful old-hat nouveau way is mysterious and sad. Didion even decorates the failure with her own supposed presence in her character’s lives…. There’s a sort of desperation to the device, and as this unholy marriage of author’s biography and the characters’ non-lives proceeds, the reader winces, and, finally, wearies.

A central narrative refrain of Democracy is “This is a hard book to write.” It is, however, an easy novel to read, as Didion’s gorgeous prose, brilliant eye for detail, and elegant plotting move the reader through a book that operates as both family drama and political thriller. She covers this ground again in 1997’s The Last Thing He Wanted, and appears as both narrator and friend of the protagonist. The effect is less shocking, because by the time of the novel’s late ’80s setting, this kind of boundary-crossing had become commonplace.

So a technique that was once groundbreaking in its mere conception can now dazzle only in scale and scope. Jonze’s easy postmodern mindbending (in Being John Malkovitch and now, apparently, in Adaptation) is satisfying not because it is new but because it is (among a certain audience) expected. French literary theorist Jean-Francois Lyotard (whose theories comport amazingly with Didion’s literary practice) put it this way:

If the painter and novelist do not want to be, in their turn, apologists for what exists (and minor ones at that), they must… question the rules of the art of painting and narration as learned and received from their predecessors…. An unprecedented split occurs in both painting and literature. Those who refuse to examine the rules of art will make careers in mass conformism, using “correct rules” to bring the endemic desire for reality into communication with objects and situations capable of satisfying it. Pornography is the use of photographs and film to this end. It becomes a general model for those pictoral and narrative arts that have not risen to the challenge of the mass media.

As for artists and writers who agree to question the rules of the plastic and narrative arts… they are destined to lack credibility in the eyes of devoted adherents of reality and identity, to find themselves without a guaranteed audience.

So in 1984, Didion was attacked for her active authorial presence in novel. By 2002, Jonze is lauded for making a movie about a screenwriter who can’t get himself out of his screenplay. I’m interested in seeing the movie, and I’m completely open to the prospect of enjoying it as much as I enjoyed Being John Malkovitch. But I won’t confuse his popularization for true pioneering, and I will wonder if his chief success is not as a pomo pornographer for the masses.

true state of education

so, i’m in arizona. for thanksgiving with the folks and all. and what happens at every holiday gathering? right, family games. so, it’s trivial pursuit with the parents and their friends. for as much complaining as i hear from them that the “younger generation” has their head up their ass (okay, i’ll conceed that to be partially true) you think they’d be better at the game. more life equals more experiences which should equal more answers right? well, this part of the “younger generation” has served them a nice big fat slice of shut the fuck up pie. winning answers scored by me are; abby hoffman, stephen hawking’s “a brief history in time”, dr.who, mars (as in what was the last planet that nasa has landed on), and hell, even maxim magazine. my friends, the pop culture revolution has begun. wicked.

Introduction to Australian Heritage

You may not be aware of this, but I am an Australian. In the spirit of international cultural outreach, I offer the reader this introduction to Australian heritage. This classic text is required reading in all Australian primary (elementary) schools. Read this and be the conversational vedette at your next cocktail party with all you need to know about Australian historical figures, events, and cultural locations.

Lorem Ipsum

OK, so I lied. Our first four test contributors are having a busy week, so I am going to start shoveling content up to get things going. This one comes courtesy of memepool, my second-favorite blog.

What more appropriate space-filler than info about “Lorem Ipsum,” that most famous of “greek” (not Greek) text strings? And it has its very own web site, Lorem Ipsum – All the facts – Lipsum generator.

The full Latin text, from Cicero’s “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil), reads thus: “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…”

I know some people (naming no names here) who would take issue with this statement, which renders in English as “There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain….”

Leaving aside Cicero’s ignorance of the booming Roman S/M scene, his commentary is as usual quite sage– it’s an argument against asceticism and anti-pleasure moralism. The Republic could use a little more of that now, to counter the Bennetts and Borks afoot in the Forum.

Next time you need to fill space, just specify exactly how much of Cicero you need (in paragraphs, words, or bytes) and Lipsum will create a custom remix for you.

I may even post a few chunks here…