Monday, July 29, 2013

More Irony

The blind lead the blind, the unfollowable disavow the unelectable.

Eliot Spitzer, former good guy, former governor of New York, refuses to support Anthony Weiner in his bid for mayor of New York City, and even went so far as to say he would fire anyone who behaved like Weiner.  You gotta admit, in consideration of everything else, that takes some chutzpah.  Wow, Eliot.  That's one of the most hypocritical things I've heard in a while.

Here's why: Spitzer, you may recall, fell from grace in a prostitution scandal.  And lately none of us seem to be able to forget what Anthony Weiner is up to, because he keeps tweeting pictures of it.  Stop that, Tony.  We don't want to see it.  Put it away.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Irony in the News

Anthony Weiner

I almost don't need to add anything after that.  Weiner's name by itself is entirely too perfect for a guy, a political candidate, who can't seem to stop posting pictures of his insufficiently-clad self online and sexting people.

Now here's a thing: there's nothing strictly illegal - except there is - about what he's doing.  Things like this going on between adults is pretty much blameless assuming everyone is of age and consenting.  But Weiner is married, an adult who is supposed to be capable of making smart decisions, and a former politician who lost his seat in the heat of a scandal that formed around this very behavior.  These other considerations throw his current behavior into a much less flattering light.

I'm a little confused why it's illegal to willingly send images of yourself over the phone to a willing recipient, but all manner of hardcore porn continues to travel over the same networks for Internet consumption.  That's another of those places where technology and law collide and grind.

Déclassé, tacky, amoral, unbecoming of a government official, yes.  And the fact that he's just flat-out lying when he says he isn't sexting people anymore, well.  He's doing that on camera, for the record.  That ought to tell you something about the guy's character.  How is it he hasn't dropped out of the New York mayoral race yet?

He says he isn't addicted.  I disagree.  Someone who isn't addicted would stop.

Amanda Bynes might actually be crazy

I've talked about Ms. Bynes at some length in these pages and if you'll recall, I pointed out my concerns that she is probably not entirely on the same plane as the rest of us.  Now, in the aftermath of setting some stuff on fire on a stranger's driveway, accidentally dousing her dog with gasoline and stripping off her pants to chase it down (!?), Amanda has had her freedom temporarily curtailed so the state of her sanity can be assessed.

I also asked the question, where were her parents.  As it turns out, they weren't clueless.  Amanda's parents are seeking conservatorship over her so they can, hopefully, put the brakes on the train before Amanda wrecks it completely.  Good job, folks.  I just wish you'd stepped up before things got this bad.  Then again, considering Amanda is an adult with plenty of her own money (aka power and autonomy), it would be hard to take conservatorship over her if she wanted to fight it.  And as combative as Amanda has been on Twitter lately, I would imagine she would fight it pretty hard.  The advent of the 5150 hold has given her parents a lot more leverage, and maybe we'll see Amanda get her head on straight.  Let's hope.

Speaking of train wrecks...

The driver of the high-speed train that went off the rails in Spain had posted boasting remarks on Facebook of passing police cars and setting off their radar guns.  The curve where the train derailed is posted for 50mph and the train was travelilng at over 100 mph.  Whether that would be sufficient to derail the train on that curve isn't clear at this time.  There's also a puff of smoke from about halfway back along the length of the train immediately before the derailment, and it is currently unknown whether that was associated with a proximate cause of the derailment, or the result of the chain of events of the derailment, some of which was undoubtedly taking place in such a way that the surveillance camera that captured the accident couldn't record it.

Whether or not the speed was the direct cause of the wreck, you know it can't possibly have made things any better.  78 people are dead in that accident; if the driver had been adhering to the posted speed limit of the curve, the deaths would most likely have been radically fewer.

Kidnapper behind bars

How this guy didn't get the death penalty is almost beyond belief.  I would be strongly inclined to send him for a fast ride on Old Sparky regardless of however he pleaded.  I reckon that's a good reason for me to not seek a career in law enforcement or justice.

A sentence of "Life plus 1000 years" is an unequivocal death sentence...eventually.  He will die in prison.  No chance of parole.  In fact if you wanted to very strictly adhere to the terms of the sentence, he would die in prison and then be buried under the prison exercise yard.

Now, this is just me: since we're committed to him dying in prison, why not skip the intervening expensive 30-50 years of food, shelter and health care and just get rid of him?  It takes thousands and thousands of dollars per year to keep a prisoner alive, and there is clearly no intent to ever let him back into society.  Why not just kill him, save the community hundreds of thousands of dollars, and be done with him?

Please note: I hate the death penalty and everything about it.  That doesn't preclude the fact that there are a lot of people who shouldn't be permitted to continue living.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paula Deen: Damned?

There is a general impression that to be relegated to eternal suffering in hell is irrevocable.  Once you're in, you're in.

Popular science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, in their revisitation of Dante's Inferno version of Hell, explore the possibility that Hell is, in fact, the last possible chance for redemption.  I don't know where Niven and Pournelle stand on God or religion in general, but I think I like this version of Hell better than most.  If we accept that God is a loving god and wants only what is best for us, that all souls are actually His from the beginning, then it stands to reason that He would be reluctant to ever declare a soul completely and utterly beyond redemption.  As an infinite God, He's ready to offer infinite opportunity to find the right path.

Paula Deen, answering honestly in a court deposition regarding a discrimination suit against her brother, not against Deen herself, admits to dropping N-bombs in anger when held at gunpoint during a bank robbery.  She goes on to say that she doesn't consider it an offensive term when used in a non-derogatory manner.  More on that in a moment.

Now let's look at some things:

Robbery took place in 1986.  That's 27 years ago.  If this were a legal matter, the statute of limitations would likely have run out by now.  In an armed robbery, emotions tend to run pretty high - when was the last time you were furious?  And did you say some things in the heat of that moment that you wouldn't say otherwise?  I bet you did.  I do.  We can call that "mitigating circumstances."

Speaking very bluntly I think Paula Deen has been getting, for lack of a better term, screwed.  She's been a proponent of very rich food for a long time, cheerfully slathering butter on everything.  She sells her name and likeness to anyone who wants it, so there's Paula Deen cookware, food ingredients, magazines and possibly even clothes.  I haven't checked that last bit.

But then she disclosed that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago, an announcement that coincided with her association with Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that specializes in diabetes treatment.  That's got to look pretty hypocritical, after years and years of cheerfully selling fatty cookbooks and describing a gigantic hamburger that uses a Krispy Kreme doughnut instead of a bun and adding bacon to way more foods than you ever thought possible, to sign on with one of the most visible major diabetes medicine providers.  Had she disclosed the illness at the time of diagnosis - which she is not required to do, of course - it wouldn't be hypocritical then.  It's just that the timing is so cynical.  She knew she was sick but didn't mention it...until the fact of the illness could be leveraged into making her name and likeness more relevant for yet another celebrity endorsement.  You have a reputation for rich foods, so continue banking on that, until it's time to bank on something else, something the rich foods may have contributed to.

It's worth pointing out that several other prominent chefs have expressed displeasure at Deen's enthusiasm for foods we shouldn't have, at least not in such quantities.  The US is one of the more obese countries in the world, pushing cheesecake for breakfast isn't helping that at all.  It doesn't make much of a difference to Deen herself, she's been raking in the bucks and of course all those people out there are supposed to be monitoring their own food intakes.  That's their jobs, not hers.

But the timing, Paula.  The timing.  It was so cynical to play those cards that way.  The backlash was pretty strong, and then we heard reports of Deen being nonplussed at the lack of support from people when they found out she was diabetic.  Well, first of all diabetes isn't the big deal it used to be.  Secondly, the way we found out is just bad.  "Hey y'all - y'got sugar diebeetus?  Novo Nordisk kin help!"  Or something like that.

So already Deen's image had suffered some tarnishing in the media and public opinion.  But the fact of dropping N-bombs is, in my opinion, not that big a deal.  When mainstream rappers do it on the radio, nobody calls them out.  Deen says she's using such words in the context of describing conversations between black people, and of course the robbery.

I had a conversation about this with a black friend at work, and we came to the conclusion that younger people using such language wouldn't relate with our experiences.  I told him, "when I was a kid, it didn't matter what color you were.  If anybody of any color said that word to anybody else of any color, he got punched."

And he replied, "Damn right."  We concluded that rap culture is what brought the word back to prominence, and as long as there are people who can make money off a population that continues to feel oppressed, bad words like that will have power and utility - marketplace utility, which equals money.  But that's not part of today's point.

My point is that Paula Deen is being punished for having committed the crimes of opportunism and having been angry.  It's cynical and hypocritical as hell to hold the fact of an illness to yourself for your own reasons, only to disclose it publicly when you've made a deal with a sponsor who provides medicine for that illness.  But it isn't illegal.  I don't think it's immoral.  Cynicism isn't immoral.  It just doesn't look good.

Words aren't illegal.    Anger isn't wrong.  Deen's use of certain words in an emotionally charged situation shouldn't be held against her, and describing how people speak in a derogatory fashion to each other shouldn't be held against her.  That she spoke frankly, honestly, about these things when she didn't really need to is, I think, more an expression of an absence of wrongdoing than anything else I've heard from her.

All those companies that dropped her, I think, have made a big mistake.  Having done nothing wrong, Paula admits to having done things that, while not wrong, are less than stellar.  Embarrassing.  And who hasn't done that?  Who are we, the public, to punish endlessly for an absence of wrongdoing, to punish for embarrassment?  That's a little harsh, don't you think?

Who are we to put Paula Deen in hell?  And isn't it about time we let her back out?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Justice for Trayvon?

It's a news item today that there are over 100 "Justice for Trayvon" rallies going on around the country.  Those people are foolishly wasting their time.  Here's why:

1) There can be no justice for Trayvon.  Trayvon Martin is dead.  Nothing living people do can affect him, and will have little effect on his family.  What all these people are rallying for is in fact their displeasure at the court's ruling that didn't reflect their own opinion.  They may express "support for the family" and a desire for the "spirit of the law" to be upheld, but really what they are is a mob trying to rule.

2) The law has no spirit.  The law is as it is written and must be interpreted by the courts to ensure the original framers' intent for the law's scope and power to be brought to bear.  If these people are dissatisfied with how the law was interpreted and enforced, a rally isn't going to have much effect on that.  When dissatisfied with laws, get yourself elected and start working on improving the laws.  That's how the system works.  Holding up signs and shouting doesn't work.  Ask any number of students in Tiananmen Square.

3) There are a remarkably small number of people directly accountable for how the Trayvon Martin case has shaken out: George Zimmerman - and I would certainly hate to be Zimmerman right now - the judge and jury, and Martin himself.  And of course, Martin has gone to where questioning, evidence and human justice do not matter.

Even with the trial now over, and I watched a very short postgame assessment by none other than former President Jimmy Carter that suggested a possible criminal retrial was not possible, Zimmerman isn't out of the woods yet.  There could be such a thing as a civil trial that comes back to chew Zimmerman up, and hard.  That's what happened to OJ Simpson in the aftermath of his troubles: did he kill his ex-wife?  No one knows for sure, but in the civil trial the bereaved family managed to convince a jury that Simpson was culpable, and hammered him with, as I recall, a $30M damages charge.  I wonder how big a bill the family will try to lay on Zimmerman.

It's gotta suck to be George Zimmerman right now.  He even said, in so many words, "I'm truly sorry."  In the racially-charged aftermath of this controversy, former leader of the NAACP CL Bryant has singled out such mouthpieces as Jesse Jackson (whom I have met) and Al Sharpton (whom I will not) as "race hustlers," leaping onto Martin's dead coattails to raise their own profile.  He might be right.  My take on that is this: if you're not directly involved, hush.

And that goes for me, too.  I'm done.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thinking About Cars: Hybrids

I've already written about that most iconic of the modern hybrids, the Prius.  But since then I've bought a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, and can speak a little more on the subject, having a bit more firsthand experience than just driving one at work a few miles at a time.

Firstly, while I was shopping I tried a few Prii.  I drove a first-gen Prius and liked it well enough, and the second-gen model was even better.  But for some strange reason all the Prii at the dealer where I was shopping had suffered a sort of sandblasting treatment, so that the paint of their hoods was peppered with chips in the paint.  Only one hadn't experienced that treatment and we were ready to deal on it, but the bank didn't like the price vs. the Kelley Blue Book valuation, so we stepped away from it.  In fact, body damage of one sort or another was a defining factor of the cars at that dealer, so I've decided I'm not keen on them, though the prices they ask are really quite low otherwise.  If you can repair paint or bump dents, you could have a cheap ride in return for a little weekend bodywork.

My '03 Civic brings home a few features I hold dear: it has a cruise control.  That's pretty important to me.  I like the cruise control because when I set the speed to my specification, I can then freely ignore tailgaters.  It becomes so much easier when an automatic control dictates my speed, and not the looming grille in my rearview mirror.  I try to ignore the looming grilles, but sometimes they feel awfully aggressive, and it becomes difficult.  The cruise control, however, will not be cowed.

My Civic has a manual transmission.  I have already written at length about my preference for manny trannies, and I cannot help but laugh at the fact that car thefts and even car jackings have been thwarted by that third pedal on the floor.  On top of being mechanically simpler and more efficient, my car is safer from criminal activity, by virtue of the fact of that simplicity.  On top of that, Honda didn't build many of these with the manual.  The vast majority of Americans purchase only automatic transmissions, but there's still a hard core of us who prefer to stir the gears for ourselves, and Honda is one of the few manufacturers that still caters to us.  Interestingly, in the bread-and-butter midsize market, Ford offers a manual transmission in the Fusion, but Chevrolet does not in the Malibu.

It's a four-door.  The Civic is one of the most variable of vehicles, available at various points in its history as a coupé, a four door sedan, a four door hatch, a tall wagon, with front and all wheel drive, slowing growing through the years from a subcompact to a surprisingly roomy compact.  It's almost amazing to realize that there's another 15 cubic feet of interior space to go before my car reaches the space of a midsize.  But with four doors, a compact is comfortable enough for all four of us, including two of us at 5'10 and 6'0, to spend an hour or more just cruising around, getting our shopping done and having plenty of room for everyone.

It has air conditioning.  Now, my truck never had air conditioning and I have called that out as a plus.  But I'm old enough and earn well enough to afford air conditioning, and I don't intend to go without if I don't have to.  East Tennessee's heat won't kill you, but the humidity might make you wish it would.  When it just gets too steamy, I like being able to turn the AC on for a few miles.  Having AC in the Civic and our Subaru, neither Sweetie nor I will just turn it on and leave it.  Generally we turn it on for downhills, and off again for uphills.  It only gets left on nonstop when all four of us are riding together.

Plus, I don't think you can own a Civic built in the last 20 years without AC, so there's that.

Honda was caught napping when the Prius was introduced, and wound up rolling out their show car the JV-X in 1997 even as the Prius was already available to Japanese buyers. They didn't dawdle too long, however, as they got the Insight onto the Japanese market in December 1999, and beat the Prius to the North American market by over six months.  So while we were hearing faint rumblings from across the Pacific about a car that was sometimes gas, sometimes electric, we suddenly found, tooling about in our urban traffic, this tiny little two-seater runabout that got ridiculous mileage and made no sound whatsoever when paused at stoplights.  I had been reading about them and remember stopping to watch one go by one day, grinning from ear to ear as I listened and heard nothing but the faint crackle of the tires.  Its engine was off even as it was going 25 miles per hour.

In just a few years Honda got a lot better with hybrid drivetrains and increased their output to drive a bigger car, like the Civic.  That caught on in a big way with people who wanted hybrid thrift without having to drive hybrid looks.  Nobody would mistake the Prius or, for that matter, the Insight for anything else.  But the Civic Hybrid looks exactly look contemporary conventional Civics.  The only outwardly identifying feature is the Hybrid badge on the rear.

Hybrid cars aren't new technology, not by any means.  Back in 1898 - the late Cretaceous of automobile history - Ferdinand Porsche built a series hybrid, a vehicle with an internal combustion engine driving a generator, and the generator powered four hub motors.

This, by the way, is how really big machines are driven, when there just aren't clutches and transmissions that can take the load.  You drive a big genny and power several motors with the electricity.  Works for trains, works for especially large earth movers, ships, submarines.  Turns out it scales down and works for cars, too.

As early as 1916 parallel hybrids, vehicles in which the electric drive and IC drive can work together, were available.  Top speed was poor at 35mph, but the fuel efficiency - 48mpg - was comparable to my Civic right now.  And in nearly 90 years of development, the fuel economy hasn't changed.  Shameful.  At least, having plummeted to dreadful, nearly single-digit performance, it's on its way back up.

In 1979 the magazine Mother Earth News talked to a guy who had built his own series hybrid using a tiny gas engine, decided his results sounded too good to be true and built their own using a larger compact diesel engine.  The engine ran at nearly constant speed to keep topping up the batteries as necessary, while the batteries provided surge power and extra current as required for higher speed travel.  Mother's diesel version whistled up, as I recall, about 84 miles per gallon.  That's pretty good no matter how you slice it.  And their results were better than the original example, more power, bigger car, better mileage.  This isn't a unique result, Toyota got the same with their Prius.  Funny how it works out.

Knowing that all these efforts are so old, it's amazing that it has taken so long for hybrids to gain such prominence in the marketplace.  Well anyway, here we are at last.

I'm a participant at the hypermiling website,  More than just hypermiling - driving with high fuel economy in mind -  the participants at ecomodder also modify their vehicles to improve their fuel mileage.  I've done a couple of little things to my truck, which can be reasonably expected to get 22mpg combined.  It is currently averaging just a little under 32mpg, which is pretty good even for a new truck.  So far my Honda has only one fill under its belt - a single fill lasts an awful lot longer than I'm used to, and the tank is even smaller than anything else I drive, so I haven't had to fill it up but once at this writing - but that fill yielded a little better than 47mpg.  Since the Honda is supposed to deliver about 40 in combined driving, I'm doing pretty well.

But I bet I can do better.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Let Go The Undying

In ancient Egypt, only the Pharaoh had a shot at becoming a god, at being reborn into an undying state of eternal joy and power.  His assorted wives and concubines and many many slaves and indeed his cats could accompany him, but they would be born again into a state of eternal subordination.  Just like in life.  His life would be remembered on the walls of his many memorials and the tomb, and even speculation of his future in the afterlife would be put up for all to see.

Now more than ever before, lives are chronicled in such a way that anyone might know of the people who lived them.  In the aftermath of 9/11, many people held on to their old cell phones long after the contract had lapsed, to preserve the recorded voices of loved ones, sending voice messages from within the doomed towers.  Facebook has a small but significant population of ghosts, pages belonging to people who have died, and occasionally a message from loved ones will show up on the page, keeping it current.

Youtube is especially poignant in that it preserves the moving image of people.  That's what video is, and even though we are all very accustomed to pictures of people who are no longer with us, it brings a whole different dimension to the experience when the pictures talk and move about.  You can find recordings of people going about their daily lives, mundane things.  People will post almost anything on YouTube.  But a video of someone going about his daily life is a more wrenching memorial than some cold stone in a field somewhere.

I don't like cemeteries, not least for the grim reminder they provide.  I don't like thinking about the fact that I have to die someday, who would?  And I'm not thrilled about tying up all that prime cropland with dead bodies, either.  That's a waste, all those bodies are doing is lying there, while the living still need to eat.  Cremation is, I think, the much better solution.  But enough about that.  And I've never made sense of the practice of going to a cemetery to "visit" someone's grave.  Why do that?  All that's there is immaculate lawn as far as the eye can see, and cold, square stones.  Bleah.

When I want to remember someone, I get out the photo albums and look them up.  Lots of shots are posed and are good to remind me of how someone looked, but better are the shots from when we were doing things.  Playing Frisbee™ or jumping into a river or standing at the kitchen sink, these are the moments of life that are easier to bring back to memory with a photo, much easier than a posed sitting.  Even posing on the back porch doesn't come to mind as quickly as sitting around the dining table, everyone looking for the puzzle piece with the bit of white picket fence.  Posing is when you set life aside for a moment, everybody laughing out loud while Gramma insists that she's just going to watch - while doggedly gathering up the picket fence bits so she can work that part of the puzzle - is a slice of life that is a moment set aside for preservation.  That is a better memorial than any stone, no matter how deeply you might engrave a name or date.

A name and date can tell you how long the life lasted, but it can't tell you how the life was lived.

I was startled to hear of Cory Monteith's death.  I am an unabashed fan of Glee, I've said so in these pages before.  I was never especially fond of Monteith's character "Finn Hudson," in fact I'm not especially fond of any of the characters at all, with the possible exception of the lovably daft Brittany Pierce.  But the dynamic between all the characters makes it an eminently watchable show, and in the show as in life, when someone dies I'm left wondering, now what do I do?

When my grandfathers died, I wondered, now what do I do?  It was an odd question to ask of myself, since I would go months or even years at a time without even talking to either of them, and now they were gone.  In neither case was it a surprise, but still it rattled me.  Not bad, but a rattle.

So here I am, wasting time worrying about a pretend world with pretend people, asking myself, now what do I do?  Obviously I can do nothing whatsoever since my involvement with the show begins and ends with the word "customer" and I can choose to buy the next season or not.  But I'm already in a weird place.

I watch everything on DVD.  There isn't a cable connection to my house - though my experience with AT&T as an internet provider may change that - nor even a TV antenna.  If it isn't on a DVD, I don't watch it.  As a direct result of that, all of my TV viewing experience is seriously time-shifted.  I have to wait for a season to come out on DVD before I can see it.  I won't watch it online, though Sweetie will with certain PBS and BBC shows.  So I've finished Season Three of Glee, but have yet to receive Season Four.  It hasn't been released yet.

When Season Four gets here, every time Finn Hudson is on the screen, a small voice in the back of my head is going to remind me, "that guy's dead now."  Like YouTube videos of loved ones long gone, here he is, walking around onscreen, talking, laughing.  It's Glee, so: singing and dancing, too, in that decidedly stiff Finn Hudson way.

In a large way for the celebrities of the modern era, and to a lesser but still significant degree for the rest of us, the ongoing memorial is available to us.  The Information Age can keep a greater representation of us burning brighter in memory than the old grainy Super-8 home movies and fading sepia photographs ever could.  And I have to wonder if that's a good thing.

It's good to be remembered.  When I've shuffled off this mortal coil I won't care one way or the other what's going on, but it's nice to think right now that someone then will remember me, remember what my contributions were.  But you want to only be remembered, not clung to.  I think the Facebook pages and cherished voice messages, while sweet in the moment and poignant to hear about, are ultimately stifling.  They give the bereaved a stronger icon to cling to, one that is more brightly renewed with each time it's replayed.  It invites the bereaved to continue to live in that captured slice of life, rather than just remember it and move on.  It doesn't do to dwell on the past, not even the good times.  They're past.  I know right now that I don't want anyone to get caught up in missing me that they become fixated on recordings of me, of pictures or videos or even a handwritten note that we need to buy eggs.  If I'm gone, I'm gone...but other people aren't.  Be in the same world as they are, the one that is still real.  It's a better world than one glimpsed through a window into the past, where nothing ever changes.

Remember your loved ones.  Remember your favorite movie stars, artists, friends, pets.  Remember enemies and furniture.  Remember a scary storm or a quiet evening.  They made an impression on your life and all of them had an impact on how you became what you are now.  But only remember them.  You can delete the Facebook pages and erase the YouTube videos, and let your memories be just that.
A simple stone in the ground might suffice after all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Google, Rembrandt, and Missing the Point

Today, if you haven't noticed, is Rembrandt van Rijn's 407th birthday.

There's a better than even chance that you did notice.  Google celebrated the famous artist's anniversary with a Doodle, a little bit of stylized art that embellishes the usual colorful Google name and logo at the center of the homepage.

Today, instead of the usual colorful Google greeting us, we found the darker, brooding style of Rembrandt's usual art.  And where the Google name appeared, instead of the usual particolor style we found a dark, narrow style that fades away behind an image of the painter himself.

It caught my eye but I didn't think too much about it until I found this little tidbit in the news.  And I can safely say that he has gotten the interpretation 100% wrong.

The very good news here is that I can safely say it because it is my opinion.  My opinion is only that, an opinion.  It is not a statement of fact, just of interpretation.

But if you read the fellow's article, you see that he is less than impressed with Google's homage to Rembrandt because it isn't impressive.

Well, of course it isn't.  It's not Rembrandt, it's an homage.  It's a quick bit of art equipped with a hotlink to throw you to a page of links that will give you a big slice of Rembrandt, a big thick slice that will cut through the layers of his life and give you the chance to really appreciate not just the artist, but the man.  But even here we haven't come to the main reason why Jones is wrong.

Here's the main reason:

Google is not obligated to do anything whatsoever.  You could have clicked your internet connection this morning and been met by the usual white background, colorful letters and the search box.  And you would have gone about your business with no problems...just like right now.  Even with its Doodle, Google continues to function as you expect.  It doesn't detract from your experience, it doesn't require you click on a tiny hidden x to make the image go away.  It's just there.  Explore or don't, it's up to you.

The point of art is to make you think, to convey an idea, to raise awareness.  It isn't merely putting a word on a page but an attempt to capture a moment in time or a thought.  Any fool can write.  I can write.  Jonathan Jones can write.  But I cannot paint and neither, I suspect, can Jones.  What Jones can do is criticize, which unfortunately places him in the sights of no less a philosopher than George Burns.  I'd like to point out that George Burns was a lot more of a contemporary of Rembrandt than Jones will ever be, so perhaps we should consider George's wisdom with more than just a chuckle.

At least a few people now know a lot more about Rembrandt, today, than they did yesterday.  They know what they know because they had their curiosity piqued by Google's Doodle, clicked some links and made some discoveries.  And unfortunately now we have this classist, this overeducated, snobbish nob who thinks that just because he's some sort of authority - we won't clarify exactly what sort - that his opinion is right and others' are wrong.  It's more important to remember that what he's spewing is OPINION.  It isn't factual.

If you clicked the Doodle and learned some things, great!  More power to you.  If you are a painter, much more power to you and I hope you cast a deaf ear on the critics.  Do what moves you, not what moves them.  Not unless you're doing a commission, in which case do whatever it takes to earn the bucks so you can afford to do what moves you.  That is what art is about.  Self expression, not repression.  So thanks to you, Google, for providing what no one asked, for reaching beyond when no one expected.  And Mr. Jones, shut your mouth and let the teachers teach, if you don't have anything helpful to add.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Justin Bieber, Again

I said at one time that I didn't understand the rampant hate for Justin Bieber.  The kid, as I said back then, has some talent.

I still say he has some talent.  His musical product has moved in a direction that I don't care for, but that's a matter of taste.  It sounds like hiphop, and I don't like hiphop at all.  That isn't going to change, but I can admit it takes but skill and art to create, even in a style I don't like, so that's the end of that part of the statement.  But two years ago I said I liked Justin Bieber, and that has changed.

Bieber appears to have accumulated wealth and influence before he developed the intelligence and wisdom to know how to handle them responsibly.  And now he appears to be making the possibly fatal error of mistaking wealth and influence for rights and privileges.

Interesting side note: the origin of the word "privilege" means "private law," as in rules that apply only to those who can afford them.  It's also worth noting that in the United States, there isn't supposed to be any private law.  If you live here, you are affected by and expected to abide by the same laws as everyone else, every time, all the time.  Also interesting: "privilege" in its original definition could also mean a law that acted against one person in particular.  Funny how some meanings fall away.

Anyway, Bieber is in the news again.  He's been in the news quite a bit over the past year: annoying his neighbors by racing his brand-new Ferrari up and down the quiet residential streets of his rich suburb, playing loud music to also annoy those same neighbors, and now he's peeing into a mop bucket at a restaurant.

There have been reports of drugs on the tour bus, walking out on entertainment bills worth hundreds of dollars, being amazingly, densely self-absorbed in the visitors' log at the Anne Frank Museum and while taking a pee break in the janitor's closet, for some reason shouting F-bombs at Bill Clinton.  I just have to marvel at that last, I mean...really?  The guy wrapped up his presidency when you were still in nappies, Justin.  And last I heard, you were still a Canadian citizen, wouldn't you rather shout imprecations about Stephen Harper?  Or at least Pauline Marois.  In any case I strongly suspect Bieber isn't aware enough of the political world to be shouting F-bombs at anybody.  If he's gonna drop F-bombs, he might lob a few at the guys driving his Ferrari while intoxicated.  Getting your Maranello special impounded is worth a few choice swear words.

So here, I think, we have a case of rising too far too fast.  Like what I said about child actors, there is such a thing is losing the opportunity to develop wisdom and context while you're young and subject to the vectors that shape responsible behavior.  Bieber first got famous at the age of 13, when most other kids are still in sixth grade.  Generally you don't worry about stuff like demo tapes when you're in sixth grade, you worry about your English homework (or in Bieber's case, your French) and a pickup soccer game after school.  Irresponsible behavior yields bad grades, rudeness gets your nose bloodied, and afterward you come away from the experience with your pride appropriately shrunk to a manageable size and a better understanding of the rights of others and when you need to step up and deliver what is expected of you.

What began as a likeable kid with a good voice has become an obnoxious young adult with a good voice.  From one end to the other he has had legions of screaming fans and even now they still scream, but I think that's going to start changing within the next three to five years.  Firstly it'll change because he won't have the very young good looks of the kid he was but instead will begin to look more like a man.  That will kill most of his appeal with the very young teenybopper crowd.  While he has a distinctive sound and is pretty good with it, he's no Justin Timberlake.  Timberlake is Bieber's (too many Justins for this post) strongest musical competition, a white R&B singer who, besides being ridiculously successful, has managed to grow up as a responsible person in spite of his success at a young age.  Of course there's room in the firmament for more than one of this type of star, but I suspect that Bieber's may be on the edge of burning out.

Bieber appears to be going down the path that leads to Off The Rails.  Like Lohan, like Bynes, his behavior seems to be devolving into something ever more self-destructive.  Yeah, he's an adult now and technically responsible for his own actions.  That doesn't mean somebody shouldn't grab hold of him and try to steer him into something more positive.

Right now I predict about a 30% chance Bieber will be dead by his own actions within ten years. Drugs, car crash, or suicide after his career comes to a screeching collapse.

I just hope I'm wrong.