Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Seen on a San Francisco Muni Bus: Imagine No Religion

What a secret underground base really looks like

People always forget that you have to have entrances, and ventilation shafts. There also can be problems when the climate changes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Party In The U.S.A. by Miley Cyrus

Here is a video for Party In The U.S.A. by Miley Cyrus. Thoughts?

  1. Can I have a Best of Doctor Luke compilation album please?
  2. It is brilliant even though you know that her branding people spent ages deciding whether to mention Jay-Z before or after Britney.
  3. Miley Cyrus is 16, isn't this a little young to be transitioning out of the teen star persona?
  4. Jay-Z couldn't kill auto-tune but maybe this will?
  5. Pop Music is great

Edited to add: fixed the video now the record company has its official version up... I think this actually a somewhat different video.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PostWar and a spectacularly original long-playing record

I am reading PostWar by Tony Judt and enjoying it immensely. I don't don't know much history so I implicitly believe what he says. But I just came across a puzzling quote:

the European Sixties were always Eurocentric. Even the 'Hippy Revolution' never quite crossed the Atlantic. At most it washed up on the shores of Great Britain and Holland, leaving behind some sedimentary evidence in the form of a more developed drug culture than elsewhere -- and one spectacularly original long-playing record.
What is he talking about? I googled and found that other people were puzzled by the same thing and had emailed Mr. Judt. He replied that he meant Sergeant Pepper. I know this was a huge critical and commercial success at the time, but, if we look back from our current vantage point we can see that Revolver was better. Now of course I no longer trust anything Tony Judt says. And I haven't even got to the bits about Thatcher yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which fantasy writer are you?

This is the result from a quiz I took a few months ago. Usually these things are so simplistic that the answer is unsatisfying but in this case I was not familiar with the resulting author. I was intrigued and felt like I had to wait until I had read at least one book before posting. Finally I have read Across the Nightingale Floor, which I did enjoy. Curiously it is marketed as an adult book in the US but in the UK it seems to be Young Adult.

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...

Lian Hearn (b. 1942)

-21 High-Brow, 7 Violent, 15 Experimental and 13 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are Low-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Lian Hearn is the pen name used by Australian author Gillian Rubinstein when writing theTale of the Otori series, beginning with Across the Nightingale Floor (2002). The trilogy (which has spawned a sequel and a prequel) was a great success, becoming bestsellers world-wide and being published in more than thirty countries. Part of the reason for the series' success is probably that it is traditional fantasy but with a twist: The books are set in a country resembling feudal Japan, rather than some vaguely European environment. This setting gives Hearn a great opportunity to explore themes such as war, revenge, power hunger and clashes between cultures, all of which makes for an occasionally very violent tale, where nothing is ever coated in sugar. The books also feature at least one strong and very believable female character. While there have been japanese-style fantasy written by Westerners earlier (such as the Book of Years series by Peter Morwood), Hearn uses the brilliant technique of describing her world from inside, calling typical japanese phenomena by generic names rather than exoticising Japanese terms. Thus, swords are called swords, not katanas, we hear of wrestlers and realize that they are sumo wrestlers, characters eat bean curd rather than tofu, etc. All in all, Hearn has succesfully expanded the borders of what can be done within the genre, while still writing for a mass audience!

You are also a lot like C S Lewis.

If you want something more gentle, try Orson Scott Card.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Susan Cooper.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received -21 points, making you more Low-Brow than High-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, while a typical low-brow would favour the best-selling kind. At their best, low-brows are honest enough to read what they like, regardless of what "experts" and academics say is good for them. At their worst, they are more likely to read what their neighbours like than what they would choose themselves.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received 7 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don't hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.

Experimental vs. Traditional

You received 15 points, making you more Experimental than Traditional. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, experimental people are the ones who show humanity the way forward. At their worst, they provoke for the sake of provocation only.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 13 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

Author picture from http://www.lianhearn.com, used by kind permission.

Take Which fantasy writer are you? at HelloQuizzy

Taylor Swift on the Front Page of USA Today.

Taylor Swift is supposedly a country singer, but there is more guitar on this song than on most rock music made before 1985. I like Taylor Swift even if she was genetically engineered to be a pop star and grown in a vat unlike the way Brit pop stars shamble towards success.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What were they doing to the Bay Bridge?

They closed the Bay Bridge for four days to do this. Watch the stop motion video below.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Notes from The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton

In this book Dutton tries to identify what we think of as art, and to trace its origins in human evolution. He specifies some criteria for what art is as follows:

  1. Direct pleasure. The art object is valued as a source of immediate experiential pleasure in itself, often said to be "for its own sake."
  2. Skill and virtuosity. The making of the object requires and demonstrates the exercise of specialized skills. The demonstration of skill is one of the most deeply moving and pleasurable aspects of art.
  3. Style. Works of art are made in recognizable styles, rules that govern form, composition, or expression. Style provides a stable, predictable, "normal" background against which artists may create novelty and expressive surprise.
  4. Novelty and creativity. Art is valued for its novelty, creativity, originality, and capacity to surprise its audience. This includes both the attention-grabbing function of art and the artist’s less jolting capacity to explore the deeper possibilities of a medium or theme.
  5. Criticism. Wherever artistic forms are found, they exist alongside some kind of critical language of judgment and appreciation.
  6. Representation. Art objects, including sculptures, paintings, and fictional narratives, represent or imitate real and imaginary experiences of the world.
  7. Special focus. Works of art and artistic performances tend to be bracketed off from ordinary life, made a separate and dramatic focus of experience.
  8. Expressive individuality. The potential to express individual personality is generally latent in art practices, whether or not it is fully achieved.
  9. Emotional saturation. In varying degrees, the experience of works of art is shot through with emotion.
  10. Intellectual challenge. Works of art tend to be designed to utilize a combined variety of human perceptual and intellectual capacities to a full extent; indeed the best works stretch them beyond ordinary limits.
  11. Art traditions and institutions. Art objects and performances, as much in small-scale oral cultures as in literate civilizations, are created and to a degree given significance by their place in the history and traditions of their art.
  12. Imaginative experience. Art objects essentially provide an imaginative experience for both producers and audiences. Art happens in a make-believe world, in the theater of the imagination.

Four assertions about the arts:

  1. The arts are not essentially social.
  2. The arts are not just crafts. (The craftsman knows in advance what the end product will look like)
  3. The arts are not essentially religious or moral or political.
  4. High-art traditions demand individuality.

Four requirements for greatness in the arts:

  1. Complexity
  2. Serious Content
  3. Purpose
  4. Distance

Kitsch shows you notihng genuinely new, changes nothing in your bright shining soul; to the contrary, it congratulates you for being exactly the refined person you already are.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Problem of U2

Rock on the Tyne 1981

Ian wrote about U2 recently and I replied that the problem with obtaining the new U2 album was the opportunity cost of not listening to something else more exciting. Having written that I was curious about what U2 were up to. I downloaded a concert they did in Sheffield on their current tour which is all over the internet. And guess what, I liked it.

What then are the problems with U2?

  • They are rubbish. They're not you know. The Edge is a great guitarist. I remember my punky college roommate Bun used to go on and on about how he wished he'd though of the simple riff for I will Follow.
  • Bono is Sanctimonious and Annoying. There is of course some truth to this, but I was moved when Bono talked about Aung San Suu Kyi in the Sheffield concert. And the alternative is what? To just relax and be rich?
  • They only play stadiums. I saw U2 in 1981 at the Rock on the Tyne festival, back in the days when I was willing to stand in the sun for hours. So I can't see them in person any more, but I can download concerts.
  • Lots of people like them. This is the real problem for the music snob. Get over it. And yes, lots of people don't really listen and will have One played at their weddings. That's their problem.
  • Their new songs aren't as good as the old ones. This is true for all bands. But Vertigo is surely as good a song as any they have done.
  • Their lyrics are vague. It is true that they aren't very specific, but they aren't as bad as Coldplay.
  • Their fans think they can do no wrong. This is unfortunately true of all bands. We need a new punk invasion to come and wash everything away.
  • Those old vinyl records I have are not worth a fortune. I bought 11 O'Clock Tick Tock when it came out but I understand it is not worth much. The fact that it was produced by Martin Hannett probably influenced my purchase. It is weird to think of U2 as once being contemporaries of the Factory bands.
Did I miss anything out?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009