Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: art (page 2 of 6)

Cyrillic meets Roman

It’s funny when people try to use Cyrillic letters as Roman ones. I understand why they do it — for English speakers, Russian has acquired connotations of militarism and toughness. And people have been tossing in the odd Cyrillic character for a long time.

(cue music)

But when you actually know how to read Cyrillic script, it’s a little jarring. Here’s a movie poster that sidled up next to me at a traffic light this morning.

More like ‘the dorkest hour’, amirite?

See, the Д that they have standing in for an ‘A’ is actually a /d/ sound, and the Я is a vowel that sounds like ‘ya’. Also, that Ц covering for the ‘U’ is the sound of /ts/ in ‘tsar’.

So really, the movie’s title should be pronounced ‘The Ddyakest Hotsr’. Or ‘Notsr’ if the ‘H’ has an /n/ sound, as Cyrillic Н does.

But let’s not be pedantic. We’re stuck with it now. We’ll be seeing posters, ads, and maybe even action figures in Toys ‘Ya’ Us.

Heaven’s gape

Religious people are posting this image on their walls and pages unironically as an inspirational photo.

What they’re missing is that the pic (‘shopped, natch) is actually a reference to the infamous and incomprehensibly gross ‘goatse’ image. If you don’t know what that is, don’t look it up. Just check out the Snopes page, or use your imagination: Instead of hands stretching a hole in the clouds, think ‘giant gaping rectum’.

I think the ‘goatse cloud’ image might be a perfect analogy (sorry) for religion in general. Some people find inspiration in it, but it’s just something that someone made up. There’s nobody in the sky, but if there were, he’d be a huge asshole.

The atheist temple

The big news in atheism this week: Alain de Botton wants to build an atheist temple. Which seems strange — atheism isn’t a religion, so why would it need to borrow religion’s trappings? I think de Botton tipped his hand, though, in this pronouncement:

The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre tower to celebrate a ”new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Richard Dawkins’s ”aggressive” and ”destructive” approach to non-belief.

Rather than attack religion, Mr de Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

”Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha but you can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good,” he said. ”That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective … Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, atheism has become known as a destructive force.

Destructive force? For me, Dawkins and Hitchens are two guys who have come to epitomise well-tempered reason, intelligence, and courage in the face of mortality, so de Botton’s criticism doesn’t ring true for me. I’d like to suggest a little test which I’ll call the S.E. Cupp test: When someone says they’re an atheist, do they spend more time promoting atheism, or castigating other atheists because of their tone? If the latter, then what’s the difference between them and a theist?

Dawkins has called the project a waste of funds, PZ says it’s a monument to hubris.

Me? I say it’s redundant. We already have a temple. I was there earlier this month. Or, at least, at one of them.

The atheist temple I went to was the Temple of Knowledge, and it’s better known as the New York Public Library.

It gots lions.

Why would I call it an atheist temple? Because it’s filled with the work of people. People; not gods. People (and you can see them there every day) engaged in the process of gathering knowledge and combining it to make new knowledge. This is the goal of science, which is an atheistic form of reasoning.

I walked along its halls of solid marble, where generations of humans have come to read and learn.

No gothic arches, these. How could you help but be in awe of not just the building, but the building’s purpose?

Like a temple, the magnificent Reading Room prompts a hush. 

And the people who built this place — yeah, they were tycoons who made their money from the skins of small furry animals. But they wanted to build a place where the knowledge of the world could be preserved, and they cared enough to make it amazing. And they inscribed this on the walls, in letters big enough for anyone to read:

“On the diffusion of education
among the people
rest the preservation
and perpetuation
of our free institutions.”

I read that, and I think, you know, they got it. They really got it! Even back then. Our society depends on education. Our freedom depends on it. You can’t preserve freedom in a population of ignoramuses; they’ll just tear it down again the instant they feel afraid. It’s such an alien concept in this age, when one political party has dedicated itself to the destruction of the Department of Education, and (through homeschooling) constantly works to undermine the public school system so that children will be protected from education. It seems like a quaint and noble sentiment, but we need to relearn this thinking that came from better minds than ours. Just as we need another quaint and antiquated notion symbolised by libraries: the public good.

But that’s not all I saw. There were treasures.

Holy shit! It’s a Gutenburg Fucking Bible! One of only 40 perfect ones left. Yes, it’s a bible because for some reason, people thought the Bible was important back then. But what this book did was make reading and publishing commonplace. That’s much more important than the book’s rather poor contents.

And check this out: it’s Christopher Robin’s toys! That’s not just Winnie a Pooh — it’s Winnie THE Pooh. And the others! It was great to see them there, even though it made me think of Toy Story 2. I look at Tigger and realise that Ernest Shepard really nailed it.

These are clay tokens with cuneiform on them, some of the earliest writing that people ever used. That made it possible for people to transmit knowledge over generations.

And while I was in this Library, I felt so connected to people in other ages and to the future. It was a feeling that I can only describe as spiritual, even though I don’t like that word. But it was the same feeling that I felt in the old religion but more intense and meaningful.

You can keep your paltry theist cathedrals. Do not copy Mormon temples — they are monuments to superstition and foolishness. Let St Patrick’s fall. Instead, build a library, Mr de Botton, or an observatory, or a university, or a museum. They’re the only temples that atheists have any business building.

Actually, St. Patrick’s will make a very nice reading room in about 100 years.

Still a wonderful life

Last night I sat down with the boys and Miss Perfect, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. It may not be my favourite Christmas movie (that would be Brazil), but I find it lives up to its feel-good status.

And what’s not to feel good about? George Bailey is a heroic everyman who’s not out to gouge the people who borrow from him. Mr Potter is an old-school plutocrat.

Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!

Remember when wealthy “fat cat” bankers were villains in movies, instead of being held up as paragons of virtue and job creation? And when George is down and money goes missing from the bank, the 99% step in and save his building-and-loan from closure and him from arrest. Thanks goodness these themes are becoming relevant again.

For me, though, the peak is George’s new-found elation at being alive, his joy for life, even with its unmet ambitions and frustrations. Okay, so there’s a warning for religious themes (what the hell was Zuzu’s teacher thinking, telling schoolkids that?), but all that aside, it’s still worth a watch if you haven’t seen it for a few years.

Shape Type

The makers of Kerntype have made another typographic game: Shape Type.

When you’re making a font in a digital program like Fontographer, you spend a lot of time pulling the handles of Bézier control points around, trying to massage curves into a plausible letter shape. So can you drag the big pink circles to make a letter that looks good?

This one’s a bit harder than Kerntype — I managed an 86. Beat that, I dares ya.

Prayer

Sandra points me to this episode of Dinosaur Comics.

Click on the image to go to the whole cartoon.

It reminds me of something George Carlin said about prayer:

If you insist on praying, what you need is a Magical Wishing Ferret. You can ask him for anything you want. He works by the power of confirmation bias, so if you don’t get what you want, you’ll never notice.

Reasonably Good Performances

The Mormons had Gordon Jump and Mike Farrell doing their films in the 70s and 80s (remember Gordon as the Apostle Peter? probably not), but the Seventh-Day Adventists had a young Russell Crowe plugging their ministry programme at Avondale College in New South Wales.

I have to say, young Russell brings a certain believability to the role, with his grudging yet growing acceptance of ‘the call’.

Markov Everything!

Someone on Twitter has created Markov Bible.

We’ve had fun with Markov chains on the blog before. They’re really quite simple: just take a big file full of text, and pick any two adjacent words at random (let’s say it’s ‘in the’). Then, find every occurrence of the words ‘in the’, and make a list of every word that occurs right after them. Pick one of those at random, and that’s word number 3. Now repeat with your word number 2 and 3 to get a word 4, and so on for as long as you want.

It’s fun to mess around with the Bible, but my favourite thing is to do mashups. Here’s the Bible combined with George Orwell’s 1984.

They say unto you, Ye shall worship at his saying, and nipped off to Canada like cattle. They could do nothing against the children of the same: but the one end of three years old when he would have cast upon a pole, and it was too late–no such thought occurred to me, and on the north corner, he made windows of agates, and thy master’s son? And Ziba said unto Onan, Go in this book.

That last part is funnier if you know who Onan is.

And here’s some of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, mixed in with Franz Kafka’s The Penal Colony.

CHAPTER XI Who Stole the Tarts? The King laid his head and, feeling behind him with his face to the Bed. First, I’ll describe the apparatus to you.” The Traveller acted as if a dish or kettle had been asked to attend the execution of a bottle. They all came different!’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the execution is a very grave voice, ‘until all the players, except the King, who had been sleeping on duty. For his task is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of ‘There goes Bill!’ then the other, and making quite a long time together.’ ‘Which is just the case might be, if he had neglected to look down and appeared peaceful. The Soldier showed the Traveller and laid his head sadly. ‘Do I look like one, but it is.’

The longer the sentence, the less likely it is to be coherent, since Markov chaining doesn’t preserve the long-range structure of a sentence. But still, it’s surprising when it works.

Harold and Maude: A personal barometer

I’m in love with Maude again.

Do people still know about ‘Harold and Maude‘? I hope so. It’s a movie that I come back to every once in a while. Let me give you the rundown.

Harold is a dour and lugubrious young man. If he were around today, he’d be a goth or some kind of proto-emo, but in his time his gloom didn’t have the benefit of a social group. He’s obsessed with death. He performs elaborate mock suicides to alarm his domineering mother, and he attends funerals for fun.

At one such funeral he meets Maude, a sprightly and unconventional near-octogenarian, and the two form an unlikely friendship. She loves funerals, too, not because she treasures death, but because death is a part of life, which she also treasures. Yet she doesn’t cling to life — or indeed anything. When Harold gives her a keepsake, she throws it into the river (“So I’ll always know where it is,” she says). She blithely (and somehow innocently) steals cars if she needs a lift, and digs up a public tree to replant in the forest. She ‘replants’ Harold, too, helping him to grow outside of his sterile and affluent home. She’s a nurturer, a revolutionary, an artist at living.

I’ve found that Maude is a barometer for where I am in my life. At times, I’ve thought she’s great — a free spirit who has some wonderful insights about how to live. At other times, her character has grated on me — she’s a silly person who ought to know better. And I’ve noticed that the times when I’ve been least able to tolerate Maude are the times when I’ve been the most uptight, the most ‘churchy’. It’s all very well, I’ve thought, for her to talk about life and death and the cosmic dance, but she doesn’t have a knowledge of the Gospel! Or: She has insights about life, but seems so unserious about living. Or: That’s the kind of thing people get over after their teens. Or even: New age hippy fruit basket. And other such unkind things, depending on how eager I was to conform to adult conventions, which Maude of course isn’t.

Now I think she’s great again. She’s successfully carved out a meaning to her life, which is, after all, the big business of one’s life. And while her way of being seems unusual and contradictory, it’s a way that wouldn’t occur to most people, and I respect that. So I guess that means I’m less uptight, and more of a free spirit myself. Having deconverted from a religion (and thereby defying a major convention in my former society), I can now see the value in colouring outside the lines, as Maude does. As the soundtrack says, there’s a million ways to be. You know that there are.

Scary logos, explained

Have corporate logos ever raised tremors for you? You’ll know what I mean if your sedate suburban childhood was marred by them. There we were, innocently watching afternoon television, and then at the end of a show, there would be a seven-second bumper clip showing the name of the production company. They were often done on a Scanimate, which was kind of a precursor to modern CG animation.

And these clips freaked a lot of kids out. Here’s the most infamous — the Screen Gems logo, also known as ‘The S from Hell’.

The Viacom ‘V of Doom’ clip has stained its share of sheets (even getting sent up in Family Guy).


Look out — here it comes!

And the Paramount clip. This one was known as the ‘Closet Killer’ version because of the music.


Seriously, what sort of maniac would unleash this evil so indiscriminately upon an uncomprehending television audience?

Inevitably, in online discussions about scary logos, someone will say “I don’t get it! Why do people find these scary? I don’t find these even mildly creepy!” Well, no, you don’t, you thirty-plus well-adjusted adult. But perhaps if you were instead a person of a certain age and a certain disposition, things would be different. So, as a formerly timorous child, I am going to try and explain why scary logos can be scary.

I should point out that my childhood was for the most part happy and secure, and I was not overly neurotic. But there were some parts of my house, especially one part of the downstairs hallway which, in the dark of night, would require a little steeling of the will before hurriedly passing by.

My house had a garage, with a back door that opened to the outside. To get in, I would have to open the door, reach into the musty blackness, and turn on the light. I could never reach for the light switch without imagining someone with a large axe chopping my hand off. For some irrational reason, I associated this image with the song “Judy in Disguise With Glasses”, which my sister used to listen to. It’s a great song, but it has a sickly sitar ending that seemed, to a child about to go into a dark garage, to be highly suggestive of the stump of a wrist, dripping blood.

These memories are among the most vivid of my childhood, even as I’m aware they make no sense to others — people who have never felt nightfear, or who had actual scary things to cope with in their childhood without making up silly things to frighten themselves with.

Childhood is a frightening and vulnerable time. The line between the real and the imaginary, the threatening and the comforting, is not fixed. Big people are kind and solicitous mostly, but they can shout or act unpredictably, and they are very big and complicated. Knowledge is power, and a child, having naturally less knowledge, is powerless even in a home where they are provided and cared for. And as memory and cognition develops, we experience an emerging consciousness. Maybe in the process of turning the cascade of input we get into the knowledge we’re going to have, some information gets processed the wrong way, like swallowing some water the wrong way, and it turns into a coil of tentacle instead of a flower in a garden. A shirt draped over a chair in a dark room takes on the appearance of lurking. You are awakened by dreams that turn on you.

And sometimes in bed, in the dark of night, the desire to get up for a drink would be subdued by the possibility that something would grab an ankle, if an ankle were to venture out. Or not even that specific — that under the blankets, one was safe, but that by projecting an arm out from under the covers, one was venturing into some unknown, and it would be best to stay covered. And in this suggestible state, the soundtrack in one’s mind is all the tumult of noise from the day before, including — possibly — a thunderous seven-second fanfare from earlier in the afternoon.

For me, this is the one that kept me pinned in bed.

If you’ve forgotten the vulnerability of childhood, you may not understand how these attention-catching production clips can miss, and catch the breath instead. But if you’re someone who still closes the closet doors tightly at night to make sure the things inside stay inside, then you will understand, and perhaps even nurture, this liminal territory of childish anxiety.

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