January 2005 Archives

So I'm just browsing one of the sites in my blogroll and I innocently click on a link and suddenly WHAT IS THAT STENCH? The foulness, the odor, the bad air! Where is it coming from? OMG! It's coming from the baaaaaasssseement!

That's right, don't hold back any of those ugly feelings about bloggers. They'll only fester and you'll wind up with a nasty skin condition or something.

Carson the Magnificent


Steve Martin has written a tribute to Johnny Carson that's personal yet also speaks to his general importance in U.S. culture: "You gave each guest the benefit of the doubt, and in this way you exemplified an American ideal: you're nuts but you're welcome here."

For me, and I expect this is true for others of my generation, Carson's death signals the end of an era. "The Tonight Show" represented a time of common currency in U.S. popular culture, when it was taken for granted that we all shared certain experiences through television. One of my strongest associations with the "Tonight Show" is of seeing, from a passing car late at night, the blue glow of a television set shining out from the window of someone's home and recognizing Carson's outline against the curtain. Of course, they were watching "The Tonight Show."

Carson's reign on "The Tonight Show"also brings strongly to mind the entertainers of the period. Carson was an outstanding interviewer, a fact that seems clearer in hindsight. Some of my favorite guest regulars: Tiny Tim, Shelly Winters, David Brenner, and the strange butch/femme duo of Burt Reynolds and Charles Nelson Reilly, who often appeared together.

I miss it all: the jokes, the acts, the guests, the pencil, the theme song, the conversation, the ALPO commercials and Ed's laugh. I miss Johnny.

Best State Quarter Design


I just caught my first glimpse of the Wisconsin state-designed quarter and it has become my new favorite in the state quarter series. Just looking at the cow makes me happy enough, but then there's that cheese wheel and the husk of corn and that makes it even better. It's like a miniature state fair right there on the coin.

I also really love that their state motto is simply "Forward." That has such a wonderful retro feel to it--like that's going to solve everything. Forward.

Fun in the new world

I just finished reading Colonia: Islands and Anomalies, which collects the first several issues of the Colonia comic book by Jeff Nicholson. I wanted to read this title because of all the positive things other comics bloggers were saying about it, but getting a copy of Colonia turned out to be harder than I expected. After several trips to local comic shops turned up nothing, I wound up placing a special order for the book.

The cover of Colonia shows a humanoid creature with a fish for head, hands and feet. Curiosity about this strange creature first attracted me to the book, which places a fantasy-adventure story in what appears to be a colonial time period. Although I found the story slow to get started, all of the characters grew on me, especially Lucy, the talking duck. Nicholson's enthusiasm for colonial history also really shows in the material and makes it fun to read.

Since I am not a parent, I rarely think about how kids would view something I'm reading. But after reading Colonia I found myself wanting to put the book in a kid's hands. It reminded me of classic adventure titles I read when I was young, like Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson. Colonia, though, is both easier to read and more contemporary in spirit; for instance, there are women pirates captaining the ship, and the author gently debunks some of the nationalist legends found in the history of "discovery."

The book also makes Nicholson's creative process transparent in a way that is quite cool. At the end of the book, Nicholson reviews some of the titles he used as source material for his drawings and his story. He includes some essays where he describes finding inspiration in wandering around an old period boat and in picking up outdated but still-useful reference books in used book stores. His lack of pretension about creating comic books added to my experience of Colonia.

Sequential Streets

I was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently and went to see a retrospective exhibit of work by photographer Robbert Flick. I had seen some of his work before and was curious about its visual resemblance to comic book or story board layouts.

According to the curator's notes, Flick found single image photographs to be dissatisfying and started to develop different techniques to illustrate context through multiple images. As I walked through the show, it was interesting to view the chronological development of Flick's worlds.

An early selection of photos was called "Sequential Views," and showed how Flick used the urban street grid to develop a path for taking multiple photographs of an area from different vantage points. Having mapped his path, he would then follow it, taking photographs at given geographic and temporal points.

A colorful street in L.A. seen in sequential shots.Los Angeles is the subject of many of Flick's photographs. I liked his colorful images of downtown Los Angeles, as seen in this small selection from a series of photos taken along Central Avenue.

Interestingly, the same technique applied to a rural setting has a completely different effect. In work documenting waves hitting a beach, in one instance, and a long stretch of empty highway in another, the consecutive photographs convey temporal steadiness or repetition. However, in the L.A. series, the images give a sense of constant motion and activity.

Commenting changes

In upgrading my Movable Type system, I've encountered some difficulties in getting comments to work correctly. If you've tried to comment recently, you may have found that the forms didn't work properly. I think the forms work alright now, however, they don't look that great. So I expect to do some more tweaking in the coming days and weeks.

Over the holidays, it seems many bloggers--including myself--were especially hard hit by spammers. It's an ongoing struggle to deal with this issue on the backend. Readers will notice a few changes as I've taken steps to reduce the level of spam on this blog. I've closed comments on older entries, stopped using pop-up windows for comments, and all comments are now moderated, which means they won't show up immediately after you've posted a comment.

Regarding Sontag's Essays

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Susan Sontag was known for her essays, where she often embraced ideas and art that were considered "difficult." Her essays can be intimidating, so I am going to suggest an entry point for those who have not read them before.

Regarding the Pain of Others is a fairly recent book, and one which should be of interest to nearly everyone. It is in fact very timely, because it deals with the topics of war and human suffering.

Regarding the Pain of Others is in some ways an update on views expressed in Sontag's earlier award-winning book, On Photography. Regarding the Pain of Others however, is not a book about art, as her previous book was. It is about our endless exposure to scenes of horror, disaster, pain, war and torture through the medium of photography.

In the past week, I have spoken with many friends about how difficult it is to comprehend the tsunami disaster in Asia. We see the images on television, one picture of terrible loss after another, until the mind goes numb. We do not want to look, yet we can't stop looking. Sontag writes about such images of suffering with great fervor and sensitivity, drawing on many tragic events in recent history that will be familiar to the average reader.

Regarding the Pain of Others struggles to understand what it means to bear witness to horrible things that are happening to other people--whether the events are accidents of nature, like the tsunami, or inflicted by others, as in war.

More Sontag

The Guardian has two nice pieces on Susan Sontag, a profile and an obituary. A blogger that knew her offers a personal remembrance as well as a striking photo.

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