29 julho 2010

Ursula K. Le Guin on José Saramago's Elephant, and so much more... :)


"The past is an immense area of stony ground that many people would like to drive across as if it were a motorway, while others move patiently from stone to stone, lifting each one because they need to know what lies beneath. Sometimes scorpions crawl out or centipedes, fat white caterpillars or ripe chrysalises, but it's not impossible that, at least once, an elephant might appear. . ."

When he died last month, the man who wrote those words in The Elephant's Journey, José Saramago, was an old man, 87 years old. His preoccupations and politics and passions might seem to belong to a past age: a diehard communist impatient of dictators, subversive of orthodoxies, disrespectful of international corporations, peasant-born in a marginal country and identifying himself always with the powerless, a radical who lived on into an age when even liberals are spoken of as leftist . . . But the still more intransigent radicalism of his art makes it impossible to dismiss him from the busy chatrooms of the present. He got ahead of us; he is ahead of us. His work belongs to our future. I take comfort in this. As we patiently lift stones in the endless fields of modern literature, we must expect scorpions and grubs, but it is now certain that, at least once, an elephant has appeared.

Acceptance of a Nobel prize is an almost irresistible invitation to one of Shelley's unacknowledged legislators to do a bit of legislating. Saramago's Nobel speech in 1998 was characteristic in its stubborn self-reference and limitation. He talked about himself and his works. He talked, however, with a hard-won simplicity that allowed him to say large things quietly. He sounded like a thoughtful, serious man talking to a friend. Having spoken of his grandparents, Portuguese peasant villagers, and of characters in his early novels, he went on to say: "It was with such men and women risen from the ground, real people first, figures of fiction later, that I learned how to be patient, to trust and to confide in time, that same time that simultaneously builds and destroys us in order to build and once more to destroy us. The only thing I am not sure of having assimilated satisfactorily is something that the hardship of those experiences turned into virtues in those women and men: a naturally austere attitude towards life. Having in mind, however, that the lesson learned still after more than twenty years remains intact in my memory, that every day I feel its presence in my spirit like a persistent summons, I haven't lost, not yet at least, the hope of meriting a little more the greatness of those examples of dignity proposed to me in the vast immensity of the plains of Alentejo."

And, calling himself "the apprentice", he said of perhaps his most powerful book: "Blind. The apprentice thought, 'We are blind', and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures."

In the last phrase of this eloquent sentence, Saramago doesn't say fellow-men, but fellow-creatures. To him "man" is not the sole subject of human interest, in whom all value and meaning inheres, but a member of a large household. Saramago's reminder to us that we aren't the be-all and end-all of creation is, usually, a dog. I developed a simple ranking system for his fiction: the books with a dog are better than the ones with no dog; the more important the dog, the better the book.

In The Elephant's Journey his reminder of the importance of the nonhuman is on a far larger scale. So it isn't surprising that I rank it very high in his work, and that it immediately, with no effort at all, joined the more forbidding novels that I have come to love best – The Stone Raft, Blindness, The Cave.

History attests that in 1551, an elephant made the journey from Lisbon to Vienna, escorted first by officers of King João III of Portugal, then by officers of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Solomon the elephant and his mahout had already made a long sea voyage from Goa and spent a couple of years standing about in a pen in Lisbon, before setting off for Valladolid as a present from the king to the archduke, who travelled with him to Italy by ship and across the Alps to Vienna. In the novel, Solomon and his mahout Subhro (whom the archduke renames, with true Habsburg infelicity, Fritz) proceed through various landscapes at an unhurried pace, attended by various functionaries and military men, and meeting along the way with villagers and townsfolk who variously interpret the sudden enigma of an elephant entering their lives. And that's the story.

It is extremely funny. Old Saramago writes with a masterfully light hand, and the humour is tender, a mockery so tempered by patience and pity that the sting is gone though the wit remains vital.

The episode that begins with the mahout discussing religion with the Portuguese captain is particularly endearing. Having explained that he is a Christian, more or less, Subhro undertakes to tell the soldiers about Ganesh. You obviously know a good deal about Hinduism, says the captain. More or less, sir, more or less, says the mahout, and goes on to explain how Shiva cut off his son Ganesh's head and replaced it with an elephant's head. "Fairy tales," says a soldier, and the mahout says: "Like the one about the man who, having died, rose on the third day." Peasants from the nearby village are listening with interest. They have agreed: "There's not much to an elephant, really, when you've walked round him once, you've seen all there is to see." But the religious discussion arouses them and they wake up their priest to inform him of the important news: "God is an elephant, father."

The priest sagely replies: "God is in all his creatures." The spokesman retorts: "But none of them is god." "That's all we'd need," says the priest. The peasants argue till the priest settles it by promising to go and exorcise the elephant: "Together," he tells them, "we will fight for our holy religion, and just remember, the people united will never be defeated." Next day he pretends to perform an exorcism, but he cheats, using pig-Latin and unblessed water; and the elephant punishes him for it; or at any rate, for whatever reason, though usually a polite animal, it kicks him, though gently. The whole episode is a series of contained miracles of absurdity, quiet laughter rising out of a profound, resigned, affectionate wisdom.

In his understanding of people Saramago brings us something very rare – a disillusion that allows affection and admiration, a clear-sighted forgiveness. He doesn't expect too much of us. He is perhaps closer in spirit and in humour to our first great novelist, Cervantes, than any novelist since. When the dream of reason and the hope of justice are endlessly disappointed, cynicism is the easy way out; but Saramago the stubborn peasant will not take the easy way out.

Of course he was no peasant; he was a cultivated and sophisticated man, an editor and journalist, for years a city-dweller; he loved Lisbon, and he deals in many novels with the issues of urban/industrial life. Yet he looks on that life from a place outside the city, a place where people make their own living with their own hands. He offers no idyllic pastoral regression, but a realistic sense of where and how common people genuinely connect with what is left of our common world.

In the Nobel talk, he said: "As I could not and did not aspire to venture beyond my little plot of cultivated land, all I had left was the possibility of digging down, underneath, towards the roots. My own but also the world's, if I can be allowed such an immoderate ambition." That hard, patient digging is what gives so light and delightful a book as this its depth and weight. It is no mere fable, as the story of an elephant's journey through the follies and superstitions of 16th-century Europe might well be. It has no moral. There is no happy ending. The elephant Solomon will get to Vienna, yes; and then two years later he will die. But his footprints will remain in the reader's mind: deep, round impressions in the dirt, not leading to the Austrian imperial court or anywhere else yet known, but indicating, perhaps, a more permanently rewarding direction to be followed.

27 julho 2010

The Tempest, a photo of Djimon's Caliban ;)

The Venice International Film Festival announced Monday morning that Julie Taymor’s The Tempest will close the fest, which runs September 1 through 11th. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is the opener.
The $20-million indie-funded Miramax pick-up is finally coming out in December via Disney’s Touchstone label, which is fine with Taymor. At Cannes she said that the film wasn’t ready in May (Icon screened it in the Cannes market, though not for press) and would play the fall fest circuit. No matter how commercial Taymor’s latest Shakespeare adaptation turns out to be, with Helen Mirren as Prospera, Ben Whishaw as Ariel and Djiman Hounsou as Caliban, costumes (Oscar-winner Sandy Powell), cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh), production design (Mark Friedberg) and score (Elliot Goldenthal) should be factors in the Oscar mix. L.A. rocker Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker in Taymor’s Broadway musical adaptation of Spider-Man, stars in The Tempest as young Prince Ferdinand.

TOH!

Portugal is burning

A whole Telegraph Gallery

The sun is clouded by smoke from a forest fire raging near the village of Santa Maria da Feira

If your Mac is the Apple of your Eye :)

26 julho 2010

The Ghibli Museum, courtesy of Mark Frauenfelder

Check it on BoingBoing :)

And yes, the Ghibli zoetrope, in dire need of a decent video on YouTube, Vimeo, anywhere...


I watched this with my best friend, ages ago, it seems ;)

In Lisbon, no less :-[ )

"No, it wasn't scary at all," the girl said as she chatted to her friend on her mobile. "The old horror films are so funny." Much of the packed house at Hackney Empire thought the same of Tod Browning's 1931 movie Dracula, screened to a live performance by the Kronos Quartet of Philip Glass's score. There were no gasps of shock or horror (though one can imagine a 1930s audience recoiling at the more gruesome implications), only knowing chuckles and the occasional laugh out loud.
Vampire films, through countless reincarnations right up to the current Twilight craze, have made the conventions of the Dracula legend – crucifixes, mirror tricks and stakes through the heart – all too familiar.
But that becomes irrelevant when you experience this Dracula, an early talkie with no music, with Philip Glass's score. The live soundtrack gives the movie, nicely projected on a big screen above the musicians, instant gravitas.
Written in 1998, Glass's score – all fast arpeggios and slow melodies, in a surprisingly chromatic, shifting version of his usual musical language – makes the grainy images float free of time and genre. The misty, cobweb-covered sets make it oddly placeless, too (despite captions reading "Whitby" and "London"), but the music keeps us in the here and now. The Kronos Quartet give a faultless performance of this fastidious yet emotional piece, augmented by conductor Michael Riesman and the composer himself on keyboards. The amplified strings and electronic pianos create a rich ensemble sound that enhances the ebb and flow of the movie's melodrama.
The dialogue is not always clear, but it hardly matters. The combination of expressionist overacting with Glass's hypnotic music makes Dracula a wordless opera; Bela Lugosi, in the title role, is most effective when glaring, his face filling the screen, one eye slightly larger than the other.

The Guardian about the  Hackney Empire screening, London
Images by The Gowanus Lounge from a New York screening

24 julho 2010

Literature's complicated relationship with Technology

Author Tom McCarthy for The Guardian:

There's a scene in Don Quixote where the deluded would-be knight is listening to fulling mills. This is not the famous windmill scene: in that one, the machines are clearly visible; this one, by contrast, takes place in pitch-black night. Quixote, struck by the mills' rhythmic metallic clankings, persuades himself that they are the half-articulated groans and snarls of monsters. He's wrong, of course: they're mills. But then again, perhaps, in the way madmen sometimes are, he's right. Just maybe, in the looping chains of broken syllables, the clashing metre of compounded phonemes, he's picking up a message, a weak signal slowly forming in time's static: an announcement, for those astute enough to hear, of a monstrous age of mechanised industry lurking in the night of the future.

For centuries, literature has been haunted by technology. When Blake shudders in fearful awe before the tiger, don't be fooled into thinking that he's contemplating nature. What the animal, a product of "hammer", "chain", "furnace" and "anvil", really represents is the industrial revolution. Blake, like Quixote, grappled with dark satanic mills. His contemporary Mary Shelley also created monsters from machines: her Frankenstein, our culture's most enduring parable of technology gone haywire, was written largely in response to the replacement of human textile workers with automated looms, and the subsequent torching of cotton mills by Luddite armies of the newly unemployed. Mills again: perhaps it's no coincidence that they crop up so often. Arising at the intersection where the elements (wind, water) are harnessed by man's toolbox and plugged straight into his grid, they present themselves to the literary mind as symbols of technology in its most concentrated form: its birth, its architecture, its entire logic. Let's call it a technologics.

Melville wrote a whole story about a mill: "The Tartarus of Maids". Its narrator, a seed-trader in need of a good envelope-supplier, visits a paper mill and gazes in "strange dread" at the wheels and cylinders of the "inflexible iron animal", shocked by "the metallic necessity, the unbudging fatality which governed it . . . the autocratic cunning of the machine". In the marriage of humanity and industrial apparatuses, it's clear who wears the trousers:

Machinery – that vaunted slave of humanity – here stood menially served by human beings, who served mutely and cringingly as the slave serves the Sultan. The girls did not so much seem accessory wheels to the general machinery as mere cogs to the wheels.

It's clear, too, that Melville isn't simply pondering the rise of machine culture in society at large. Etching his way on his horse, Black, across the snow-white valley where the mill lies, and wondering at the range of lawyers' briefs, doctors' prescriptions, pastors' sermons and so on that will be scrawled in ink on the reams of blank paper he's watching cascade off the rollers, the narrator is a carrier of a more self-reflective anxiety, one that concerns itself with the very act of writing. If man's autocracy, his genius, his powers of generation, have all passed to the machine, and if the pulpy, material base for the refined and abstract thoughts and emotions that we read in books has been revealed to us, then how can we understand poetry or prose as the sublime self-expression of autonomous and elevated individuals? Melville's answer is as implicit as his question: we can't, not any more.

If this technologics is already stirring in Cervantes, swelling in Blake and Shelley and coming to a head in Melville, then the moment that it fully breaks and floods the whole aesthetic landscape can be dated to the very day. On 20 February 1909, Filippo Tommaso MBlakearinetti published on the front page of Le Figaro his incendiary "Founding and Manifesto of Futurism". Wrapped in an account of a car crash that Marinetti in fact experienced (and which he celebrates here, in proto-Ballardian manner, as an episode of almost transcendent metallic beauty), the manifesto announces the new, superior aesthetic of the machine. "A racing car," reads the manifesto's fourth paragraph, "whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot – is more beautiful than The Victory of Samothrace." While the diagnostic move – acknowledging the machine's ascendency in art as well as industry – may be the same as Melville's, the attitude could not be more different: where Melville's narrator shivers with revulsion from beginning to end of "The Tartarus of Maids", Marinetti vibrates in his manifesto with a fiery enthusiasm that approaches ecstasy. "We will sing," reads paragraph 11, "of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd."

His technologics thus declared, Marinetti gathered around him an array of painters, poets and dramaturges, producing manifesto after manifesto as his movement gained momentum. Choreographers, he announces in "The Manifesto of Futurist Dance", shouldn't confine themselves to celebrating the muscular possibilities of the poor human body, but should imitate instead the sublime movements of pistons and levers as they emulate "the multiplied body of the motor". Orators, he decides in "Dynamic and Synoptic Declamation", should dehumanise themselves in similar fashion: the futurist declaimer must "metallise, liquefy, vegetalise, petrify and electrify his voice" and "gesticulate geometrically, thereby giving his arms the sharp rigidity of semaphore signals and lighthouse rays, to indicate the direction of forces, or of pistons and wheels". Painting, he declares in his "Manifesto of Aeropainting", is best done from an aeroplane: that way, the constraints of perspective are overcome, sky and landscape superimposed and jolted into motion, their elastic crescendos and diminuendos engendering new progressions of forms and colours. Half-way through that particular manifesto, he more or less leaves off considering what painting from a plane might look like, realising that the very fact of being in a plane itself constitutes a radical, dynamic form of art, an "aerosculpture" formed through a "harmonious and signifying composition of coloured smokes offered to the brushes of dawn and dusk, and long vibrant beams of electric light".

Painting – or writing. Again, as with the trajectory of Melville's Black across the white page of the snow, what Marinetti is really interested in here is the process of mark-making, of inscribing a blank sheet of sky. Despite issuing directives to followers in all mediums, the founder and manifestor of futurism remained a writer – and it's perhaps on this subject that his exhortations are most interesting. Explaining his conception of "words in freedom", he invokes the "lyric initiative" of electricity:

Nothing is more beautiful than a great humming central electric station that holds the hydraulic pressure of a mountain chain and the electric power of a vast horizon, synthesised in marble distribution panels bristling with dials, keyboards and shining communicators. These panels are our only models for the writing of poetry.

Here we could be back on the hillside with Quixote, listening to his monsters – for what is a power station if not a 20th-century mill, whose clanks have modulated into a continuous and seductive hum? Here, as in Cervantes, we have the literary sensibility and the machine thrown up against each other – only here in Marinetti, the machine has emerged from the darkness to scintillate in all its fine-tuned, networked, nuanced potentiality. It, and not the human who observes it, most embodies the possibility of literature. It is, in all senses of the word, a generator.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Marinetti's writing is not so much the range of poems, paintings and performances it produced in his immediate cohorts, but rather the way it names a tendency that shaped the work of writers who would never have considered themselves "futurists". Take Kafka: in his novels and short stories he reveals himself to be obsessed with what, by now, we should see as a three-way stand-off, or ménage à trois, between man, technology and writing. "In the Penal Colony", an account of a cruel punishment ritual in some (perhaps not so) far-away land, sees a condemned man strapped into a giant mechanical apparatus that, with an incising harrow guided by a scrolling punchcard-script, inscribes the law into his very skin. In the unfinished book America, we get a lavish description of Karl's writing desk, a large machine as complex as the penal torture apparatus: it has a "regulator" dial that sets its parts in motion, making some panels rise and others sink, reminding Karl of the mechanical Christmas displays he watched as a child. Karl later takes a job in a hotel which functions as a huge information-relay contraption, with boys scurrying from one floor to another carrying messages that have been dictated over phone-lines, written down, crossed-checked with ledgers to and from which other boys constantly dart – in short, a metaphorical cross between a computer and a novel-in-progress. Given the task of manning the lift, Karl realises sadly that he'll never fully understand its workings: the other lift-boy, despite six months in his post, "had never seen with his own eyes either the dynamo in the cellar or the inner mechanism of the lift, although, as he said himself, it would have delighted him".

Technology in Kafka is (like writing itself) positively gnostic: always on the verge of revealing some great, universal wonder – yet always withholding this revelation even as it seems to offer it. Look at this stunning passage from The Castle, in which K, confined to his humble inn, presses his ear to a telephone connecting him to a switchboard inside the castle to which he so yearns for ingress:

It was like the hum of countless children's voices – but yet not a hum, the echo rather of voices singing at an infinite distance – blended by sheer impossibility into one high but resonant sound which vibrated on the ear as if it were trying to penetrate beyond mere hearing.

Here again – humming, zinging, resonating on the edge of song and of intelligibility – is Marinetti's poetry machine. But this time, Marinetti's jubilation has given way to a sense of melancholy. K, of course, will never be admitted to the castle; and technology, by turns both beautiful and menacing, becomes above all the very shape and circuitry of what he lacks.

Technology and melancholia: an odd coupling, you might think. Yet it's one that has deep conceptual roots. For Freud, all technology is a prosthesis: the telephone (originally conceived as a hearing aid) an artificial ear, the camera an artificial eye, and so on. Strapping his prosthetic organs on, as Freud writes in Civilisation and its Discontents, man becomes magnificent, "a kind of god with artificial limbs" – "but" (he continues) "those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times". To put it another way: each technological appendage, to a large degree, embodies an absence, a loss. As the literary critic Laurence Rickels paraphrases it, laying particular emphasis (as Kafka does) on communication technology: "every point of contact between a body and its media extension marks the site of some secret burial".

For Rickels, the link between technology and mourning isn't merely Freudian and speculative, but also solidly historically grounded. In his excellent book Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts, he points to the advent in the west of recording devices such as phonographs and gramophones before infant mortality rates had been reduced by mass inoculation, even among the better off. Many middle-class parents, following the fad for recording their children's voices, found themselves bereaved, and the plate or roll on which little Augustus's or Matilda's voice outlived him or her thus became a kind of tomb. "Dead children," Rickels writes, "inhabit vaults of the technical media which create them." Bereavement becomes the core of technologics; what communication technology inaugurates is, in effect, a cult of mourning – indeed, Rickels even suggests replacing the word "mourning" with the phrase "the audio and video broadcasts of improper burial". And the literature that emerges in the age of communications technologies – modernist literature – is this cult's expression, its record, its holy script.

Researching my own novel C, which takes place during precisely this period of emergence, I found evidence everywhere to support Rickels's claim. The telephone, it turns out, owes its invention to more than simply hearing-aid experiments. Alexander Bell, who grew up playing with mechanical speech devices (his father ran a school for deaf children), lost a brother in adolescence. As a result of this, he made a pact with his remaining brother: if a second one of them should die, the survivor would try to invent a device capable of receiving transmissions from beyond the grave – if such transmissions turned out to exist. Then the second brother did die; and Alexander, of course, invented the telephone. He probably would have invented it anyway, and in fact remained a sceptic and a rationalist throughout his life – but only because his brothers never called: the desire was there, wired right into the handset, which makes the phone itself a haunted apparatus.

A similar, if more collective, story goes for radio. Little more, in the first decade of the 20th century, than an obscure ship-to-shore relay mechanism eavesdropped on by a handful of teenage "wireless bugs", the medium burst into the public consciousness with the Titanic disaster. The ship had managed to send out an SOS before it went down, with the result that hundreds of passengers were rescued – indeed, many early newspaper reports emphasised this fact more than the loss of life. The inventor of wireless, Guglielmo Marconi, who was himself in mid-Atlantic passage at the time, was feted on his arrival in New York as a great saviour, while the share-price of his company shot through the roof. Yet as another literary critic, Jeffrey Sconce, points out in his book Haunted Media, as a result of this catastrophe-and-miracle-rolled-into-one, Marconi's device would henceforth be inextricably linked to "the image of unfortunate souls spread across the icy void of the Atlantic". When, a few years later, radio found a role in the first world war, the link was reinforced. As Sconce writes: "Orchestrated and reported by wireless, the appalling spectacle of trench warfare implicated the medium in another void of modernity, the barren expanses of what came to be called No Man's Land. There's even a novel from the period, by Grace Duffie Boylan, called Thy Son Liveth, in which a fallen radio operator transmits from the ether to (and here the family association rears its head once more) his mother.

Boylan's book may be fanciful, but the belief that the airwaves crackled with the dead was widespread, even among rationalists. If, as we moderns now knew, our "soul" – what animates us – is a set of electric impulses, does it not make sense that these should pass into the air and be detectable, "receivable" by wireless? Oliver Lodge, distinguished physicist and frequent lecturer at the Royal Institution – no crackpot outfit, but the very seat of British scientific research – thought so. He wrote a whole book about "communications" he'd had, via psychic "operators", with his own son Raymond, who'd died in the war. Séances grew exponentially in popularity (millions had, after all, lost their own Raymonds) and "upgraded" their vocabulary: where 19th-century mediums had used a rhetoric of "spirits", new ones talked of "frequencies", "signals" and "reception".

C takes place, specifically, between 1898 and 1922. The dates aren't accidental: they mark the period between Marconi's early short-distance radio experiments and the founding of that centralised state broadcaster of entertainment, news and propaganda that we still know as the BBC. In 1922, Britain was erecting, in its colonial territory Egypt, the first long-distance pylons of its proposed imperial wireless chain – and as it went about this, it lost Egypt, which gained independence in February of that year. For ancient Egyptians, "pylons" were gateways to the underworld: these modern ones came to symbolise bereavement on a national scale. In November, also in Egypt, Howard Carter disinterred what would become the most famous family crypt of all time. 1922 was also modernism's annus mirabilis, seeing the publication of The Waste Land, in which voices, dialogues and even weather reports drift in and out of audibility as its author-operator fiddles with his literary dial – and Ulysses, a huge textual switchboard in which the themes of death and media are plugged into each other time and again. As Leopold Bloom drifts from telegraph to post office, past advertising billboards to a newspaper printshop, he attends a funeral and ponders the possibility of placing gramophones in graves so that the dead might be revived in sound:

Put on poor old greatgrandfather. Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeagain hellohello amawf krpthsth . . .

Bloom himself has lost a son, in childhood. Whether in literature or life, a melancholy technologics runs through the whole period, and these couplings – pylon-tombs, dead voices crackling in the ether or scored into the grooves of records – crop up with a persistence verging on the obsessive.

The pinnacle of literary modernism, its most sophisticated and extreme achievement, is Joyce's final novel, Finnegans Wake, published 17 years after Ulysses as the world stood on the brink of a new orgy of technology and death. Impossible to summarise in a sentence, the Wake has been variously interpreted as the babble running through a dreamer's head, a disquisition on the history of the world, ditto that of literature, a prophetic set of runes for our age, and a scatological tract so obscene that it had to be written in code to escape the censorship that had befallen Joyce's previous novel. But whichever way you read it, two things are certain: first, that (as the word "Wake" would suggest) it's a Book of the Dead, dotted with tombs and rites of mourning; and second, that the technological media people it at every level – telephones and gramophones, films and television and, above all, radio. We have "loftly marconimasts from Clifden" beaming "open tireless secrets . . . to Nova Scotia's listing sisterwands"; we have a "contact bridge of . . . sixty radiolumin lines . . . where GPO is zentrum" (the post office was the site of Radio Eireann); we have "that lionroar in the air again, the zoohoohoom of Felin make Call"; we even have disembodied voices shouting to each other to "get off my air!" According to the Joyce scholar and poet Jane Lewty, co-editor of Broadcasting Modernism, "the Wake can best be understood as a long radio-séance, with the hero tuning into voices of the dead via a radio set at his bedside, or, perhaps, inside his head." Perhaps, she concedes when I push the point with her, the "hero" might even be the radio set itself.

Listening to deathly voices in the dark, from Quixote's moment on the hillside onwards, technologics has suggested, to those who want to listen to its broadcasts, a new, dynamic way of understanding literature – that is, of understanding what it is to write, who (or what) writes, and how to read it. Where the liberal-humanist sensibility has always held the literary work to be a form of self-expression, a meticulous sculpting of the thoughts and feelings of an isolated individual who has mastered his or her poetic craft, a technologically savvy sensibility might see it completely differently: as a set of transmissions, filtered through subjects whom technology and the live word have ruptured, broken open, made receptive. I know which side I'm on: the more books I write, the more convinced I become that what we encounter in a novel is not selves, but networks; that what we hear in poems is (to use the language of communications technology) not signal but noise. The German poet Rilke had a word for it: Geräusch, the crackle of the universe, angels dancing in the static.

Absolutely Amazing: If only I had pretty handwriting :|

22 julho 2010

Lapham's Quarterly - Sports throughout History Map - Laurels to you!

The Observer Food Monthly Vegetarian Special :-9

The Timeline of Sci Fi History

The Women who invented the twentieth century

From the TLS:
Sheila Rowbotham’s adventurous dreamers had marvellous names: Voltairine de Cleyre, Elsie Clews Parsons, Storm Jameson, Maggie Lena Walker, and Clementina Black. More familiar to most readers and writers of feminist histories are Frances E. Willard, Jane Addams, Mary Church Terrell, Octavia Hill and Henrietta Barnett. Rowbotham’s contribution is to demonstrate how both prominent and obscure women in the United States and Britain created new ways of being women. Between the 1880s and the 1920s, they challenged prevailing expectations about sexuality, living arrangements, paid work and motherhood.
The American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre, whose father named her after the Enlightenment philosopher, was an ardent proponent of free love. One should “never allow love to be vulgarized by the common indecencies of continuous close communication”, she maintained, nor was she keen on children, mocking the maternal instinct and defending the childless. Then there was the British author Margaret Storm Jameson who wrote forty-five novels before dying at the age of ninety-five. And Elsie Clews Parsons, an American, who wrote articles about sex before anyone discussed it in polite company. The British social reformer Clementina Black declared that the bicycle “was doing more for the independence of women than anything expressly designed to that end”; noting that chaperones and maids could be left behind on cycling trips. Frances E. Willard, president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), agreed. She was so thrilled with her bicycle that she named it Gladys and wrote a book entitled How I Learned To Ride the Bicycle. In fact, Willard took lessons because it gave her a sense of mastery over a machine, and because her friends thought she was too old to learn. She was fifty-three at the time. Like the other remarkable women in this story, Willard believed life could be better.
Rowbotham has mined periodicals, novels, association pamphlets and correspondence for evidence of the utopian vision shared by women from different political, socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. United by their desire to put radical ideas about womanhood into practice, some took inspiration from the promise of an efficient industrialized future predicted by Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888). Others were committed to the creative expression and communal life promoted by William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement. Bellamy foresaw a strong role for State regulation, while Morris and his disciples wished away the state entirely. These women, though, were not a cohesive group. They differed and asserted their independence on a variety of issues: reform vs revolution; regulation vs liberation; and religious vs secular motivations. Rowbotham’s accomplishment is to have discovered the common thread that connected them.
Differences were often multidimensional. The African Americans Mary Church Terrell and Maggie Lena Walker, for example, came from opposite ends of the social class spectrum. Highly educated and married to a judge, Terrell was a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women (1896) and a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1890). She used her extensive organizational skills to spotlight racial violence and to campaign for the vote. Walker, on the other hand, was a former washerwoman from Richmond, Virginia, who promoted economic empowerment for blacks. Her goal was to redirect black spending from white-owned establishments to black businesses. She formed a Penny Savings Bank in 1903 with the savings from poor black women; it eventually grew into the black-owned Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, of which she was president. Walker also founded a female insurance company and a department store to create jobs for African American women. Among the black elite W. E. B. Du Bois called the Talented Tenth, Terrell occupied the national stage. Walker, practising the economic self-sufficiency promoted by Booker T. Washington, was a strong presence on the local scene. Richmond has honoured Walker by declaring her home a National Historic Site.
A few women travelled in both British and American radical circles. The Socialist feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman recommended the British publication Englishwoman to her readers, for example, and her magazine, the Forerunner, had a British audience. The famous American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, maintained close connections with progressive Fabian friends in Britain after returning to the United States. Following a trip to Toynbee Hall in London, Jane Addams established Hull House in Chicago, one of the first American settlement houses. Addams, in turn, hosted Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, the founders of Toynbee Hall, when they visited America.
Henrietta Barnett was also affiliated with a lesser-known settlement. She and the housing reformer Octavia Hill opened the Women’s University Settlement in 1887 to train women in methods of property management. Hill’s ideas on limited-dividend housing investments travelled to America, where the Octavia Hill Association in Philadelphia wholeheartedly adopted her techniques. Rowbotham’s careful attention to international influences makes this volume the ideal complement to Daniel T. Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings: Social politics in a progressive age (1998).
I am surprised that Rowbotham has outed Jane Addams, by referring to Ellen Gates Starr as her lover. Two recent biographies are ambiguous about Addams’s sexuality and identify Starr (and later Mary Roget Smith) as her companions or close friends. In Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (2002), Jean Bethke Elshtain implies that Addams lived a celibate life, but not a lonely one. The “saving grace” for Addams was the fellowship she found at Hull House. It was her home, providing comfort, but also a place from which to speak and act. Louise W. Knight, author of Citizen: Jane Addams and the struggle for democracy (2005), believes Addams shared an emotional and physical intimacy with Smith that was not explicitly sexual. I’ve never understood why it matters if Addams was a lesbian. Her private life was much less interesting than her significant public accomplishments.
Regardless of sexual orientation or how famous they might be, all women at the turn of the twentieth century who wanted to change the world usually started by loosening their clothes. Long skirts, constricting corsets, even hats and gloves limited women’s mobility. The Rational Dress Society (1881) encouraged comfortable and healthy clothing based on reason, usefulness and simplicity. The Healthy and Artistic Dress Union (1901), inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, favoured flowing Grecian robes to enhance creativity. Famously, the dancer Isadora Duncan adopted the style with dreadful consequences. In 1927 her long scarf caught in the rear axle of the car she was driving and broke her neck.
Less dramatically, dress style could help or hinder women’s pursuit of independence. Clothing that drew too much attention to their feminine figures made women publicly vulnerable. With the shirtwaist and tie that became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, women signalled they were sexually unavailable. Women who went even further by dressing as men and cutting their hair short were unlikely to be molested when they walked through the city. Masculine styles, according to Rowbotham, were “the badge of geographic mobility” that marked the arrival of adventurous women in “men’s zones”.
The book is organized primarily by subject (sex, motherhood, housework, consumption, and paid employment), and loosely chronologically within subject. Although women’s lives revolve around the same concerns today, one aspect has changed greatly. Women now have more control over the consequences of their sexual activity. The strongest inducement to chastity at the turn of the twentieth century was the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. One of Rowbotham’s dreamers who saw an alternative to women’s lack of reproductive rights was Margaret Sanger, the moving force behind the invention of oral contraceptives. (As long as I have been reading about birth control, this is the first time I learned that Sanger created the term “birth control” as a counterpart to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) slogan “workers’ control”). Sanger illegally dispensed information about birth control and as a result was to go on trial in 1914. Instead, she fled to Europe, where she joined up with the British sex psychologist Havelock Ellis. Sanger later returned to the United States to continue her campaign against unwanted pregnancies. Here the reader may encounter some confusion. Rowbotham reports that Sanger evaded trial, but the photograph on page 92 shows Sanger with her sister Ethel Bryne in court in 1916. Sanger and Bryne were arrested that year for opening a Brooklyn clinic to distribute birth control information. According to Linda Gordon’s Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: Birth control in America (1974), one of the women they saw was working undercover for the police. Sanger and her sister were sentenced to, and served, thirty days on Blackwell’s Island. The photograph on page 92 is most likely from that incident.
Rowbotham does an excellent job of reminding the reader of the historical context of these women’s lives. Clearly, the impetus for changing women’s everyday experiences came from unprecedented developments in technology and communications, momentous scientific discoveries, iconoclastic art, and growing urbanity. Pessimists undoubtedly bemoaned the changes and wished for the old order. Optimistic dreamers could see the promise of a new day. Although it is somewhat bold to conclude that the pioneers portrayed here invented the twentieth century, they certainly invented the twentieth-century woman. 

The author at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, a personal favourite of mine ;)

The Cracked Guide to FONTS!

Just The Facts


  1. A true graphic designer will be able to tell you the names of all the fonts used in the above image.
  2. A true graphic designer will have over 10 types of Helvetica available on their computer.
  3. In fact, a true graphic designer will have about 20 fonts on their computer that will be indiscernably different

Cracked on Fonts

In this modern day and age, a person's choice of font is as important as their dress-sense, their taste in music or their level of pendantry. It is a rare thing now that a person can reach the age of 21 without an acute sense of the appropriatness and application of fonts.


Fonting Guidelines

1. Never mix serif and sans serif in a single document. Serifs are the little added bits of 'decoration' to a character - so Arial has practically no serifs, while Excalibur consists of little else. Mixing these two fundamental distinctions in a document is akin to dressing as RoboCop at a Renaissance fair. It looks dumb and makes no fucking sense.

2. The vast majority of fonts should not be used, ever. It's not that they are all terrible, it's just that unless you're making a Cracked Topic page, there is very little call for them. If you do find yourself in the position where you need various and interesting fonts, don't use the ones that are available by default. Everybody knows what fonts are default and your effort at being creative will end up generating the opposite impression.

3. Don't use too many fonts on one page.

4. Don't ever use Comic Sans Serif. It was a font introduced by Microsoft in 1995 who imagined (as only Microsoft can) that having a comic-y font like that will make those Powerpoint presentations slightly less narcoleptic-y.

This is either the worst case of commercial prostitution since Michael Bay's Transformers, or a place where Heidi Montag clones are bred for blood sport.

You may think that this article is attempting to derive humour by treating something as silly as fonts as something rather grave. You'd be wrong. Fonts are a big deal.

Fonts that Inexplicably Cause Joy

These fonts are those that are highly favoured in the font world, fonts that are prefered to other fonts but are to most people exactly the same.

There are people who'd spit on their own grandma than use Times New Roman, but will swear by the majestic beauty of Georgia. Univers was once the golden boy of typefaces, being used on everything from General Electric products to Apple PowerBooks (remember those?) Many a post-grad has lost sleep over which font to use on his resume - Tahoma or Verdana? Calibri is used by people who actually quite like Arial, but are too afraid to admit it. It's sad, but we at Cracked know that everyone reading this has a favourite font. Wingdings doesn't count.

Fonts that Cause Disproportionate Rage

These are fonts that are either (a) overused (b) badly used (c) just annoying in the first place and (d) all of the above.
This font is acceptable only if used to announce First School plays. We all know they've got shitty computers and that their teachers wanted to be anything else. There is no known reason this is called Algerian.
The name of the font says it itself. Adored by Myspace dwelling Emos who think Vampires sparkle and started listening to Greenday once American Idiot came out.
This font makes the list simply because it is the chosen font for lolcats, memes and other types of writing super-imposed onto a picture. Out of the million of these memes produced everyday, only some are funny and for that reason, it makes this list.
This font has made thousands of girls question the sincerity behind a Valentine's Day card, simply because the script gives the impression of just not giving a shit. It's the Comic Sans of handwriting fonts. It says "this card was bought at a petrol garage". Plus, it will forever be associated with shitty poems telling you that their love (or whatever) will never die.
It's annoying when an 8 year old girl uses this font on her homework. But when a high-street hairdresser uses it to advertise a sale, you'd better develop a passion for hats before taking up their offer.

Prepare youself - here's a picture of the only kind of place you should expect to see these fonts:

Count how many fundamental rules have been broken here
What's so beautiful about this is its predictability. We found this on page two of a Google image search for 'church newsletter'. Just look at that monstrosity. Just look at it. It's like their font change function was speaking in tongues.

The 9 Circles of Hell

From Lapham's Quarterly, unmissable ;)



20 julho 2010

Tattoos are going mainstream



The modern twin-coil electromagnetic tattoo needle was patented in 1891 by one Samuel O'Riley (sometimes known as O'Reilly), an Irish-American tattooist working out of a barber's shop on Chatham Square in New York.
It worked – and, for that matter, still works – essentially like a doorbell, with two coils of wire wrapped around an iron core, two points, and a bar across the top that plunges down when power is applied to the coils, breaking the circuit, then springs back up again to recommence the cycle.

Imagine a sewing machine, without the thread.
What this means now for Will Wright, a 30-year-old landscape gardener flat on his back on a reclining chair in a handsome brick building on High Wycombe high street, is that three fine steel needles are puncturing his skin roughly 150 times a second. That's just for the initial scratch outline of the red kite Wright is having across his stomach. Later, it'll be a pack of nine needles, to darken the line; later still, a spade-shaped array of as many as 15 needles, a magnum, shading the bird's wings and underbelly.
Will doesn't feel much like chatting.

"It does hurt," he says. "I do it because it looks cool, full stop. No deep inner meanings or anything. But it does hurt. Some are worse than than others; it's worst where there's not much flesh, close to the bone. But basically, it all hurts. I really wish it didn't, but it does."

It can't hurt that much, though, because Sean "Woody" Wood, Jammes and Jay, three of the four tattooists in Woody's Tattoo Studio, have full diaries today (Woody and Jammes, in fact, are booked up until January). The fourth, Lee, who's taking care of the walk-ins, has already had to turn two people away. In a bright, white, unthreatening interior, all gleaming surfaces, comfy armchairs and select samples of tasteful tattoo art lining the walls, those machines are buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. "So," Woody tells Will, gravely. "You are about to suffer for my art. Are you ready, sir?"

Behind the counter, jovial Alison in reception is busy doling out good advice: "That Cheryl Cole thing on the side of the hand? Trust me, love, everyone's got one. Everyone. Same for Rihanna's star. And don't even mention Jordan's bow."
Tattoos, suddenly, are everywhere. According to one survey this month, a fifth of all British adults have now been inked (as contemporary usage has it). Among 16- to 44-year-olds, both men and women, the figure rises to 29%. Only 9% of over 60s have one, according to a survey of 1,000 adults by the Ask Jeeves website, but 16% of people aged between 30 and 44 have two. The survey, while not entirely scientific, is in line with a 2008 US study showing that 36% of Americans aged 18-25, 40% of those aged 26-40 and 10% of those aged 41-64 have a tattoo. America, Woody reckons, is "probably about a decade ahead in terms of popularity".

The celebs, of course, are there in force: Wayne Rooney has Just Enough Education to Perform (the title of a Stereophonics album), his wife Coleen's name and a Celtic motif on his right arm, a flag of St George and "English and Proud" on his left, and a pair of clasped palms and angel wings across his back. David Beckham has – at last count – that winged angel, his son's name and Victoria (in Hindi, spelled wrongly). Robbie Williams has several, including a lion, his grandad's name and a Maori tribal piece on his shoulder. Amy Winehouse has many more. Angelina Jolie has the coordinates of her children's birthplaces, "Know your rights" in English and Latin, a tiger, a shelf-load of quotations and a black cross, plus the names of her two divorced husbands (now covered over with new tattoos).

Once, this was a class thing: tattoos were for soldiers, sailors, bikers and criminals. Borderline deviant behaviour. Now the prime minister's wife has one (a dolphin, just below the ankle). According to the Tatler, Clifton Wrottesley, the 6th Lord Wrottesley, has the family crest tattooed on his posterior, which is also where the terribly well bred Emma Parker Bowles opted to have her kitten. Martha Swire, the Cathay Pacific heiress, has a shark on her foot. The artist Rachel Feinstein has "a vagina in her armpit, with ants emerging out of it killing a dragonfly on her shoulder". Although she did confide to Vogue that she rather regretted that.

All sorts of unlikely people have them. Some 14% of teachers are now tattooed, which is more than the 9% of servicemen and women who'll own up to one. Bank clerks, university lecturers, nuclear engineers. Tattooing has become a respectable high-street business. A decade ago, there were 300 tattoo parlours in Britain; now the estimate is 1,500-plus. There's even one in Selfridges. "When I was first setting up professionally, 17 or 18 years ago, the bank refused to lend to me," Woody says. "When I was doing this place up – it used to be the Conservative Club, which I like – the bank manager came back with me. He saw we had customers hanging from the rafters, and asked me how much I wanted and when I needed it by."

The whole business has plainly gone mainstream. The celebs, says the eloquent, prize-winning Mr Wood – who has been tattooing for 20 years and specialises in a sub-genre called Comic Book Biomechanical with special emphasis on Victorian-style Steam Punk – have helped, but they're "just as much symptom as cause". (The principal genres, should you be wondering, are Old-style, which is swallows and ships and roses and Gypsy girls; Tribal, which is Celtic, Chinese, Maori, Polynesian and Native American designs; Japanese, which is koi carp, geisha girls, ocean waves and the rest; and Custom, which is whatever the hell you want.)

For this is, Woody reckons, about much more than mere fashion. Tattooing is a genuine popular artform, and people are only now beginning to realise what it can bring to their lives. "A tattoo gives you something to live for," he says. "Why do you get up in the morning? To wear grey, to have your life ruled by train timetables? A tattoo offers you something personal and fun and exciting in a world that can be drab and grey. People's souls are crying out for that. Tattoos are great for finding out more about yourself, for meeting people, for getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror and thinking: look at that! A work of art, in progress."

Because the other thing that's changed about tatts, Woody says, is that these days people no longer talk about "'getting a tattoo' – a meaningless motif in the middle of nowhere, drifting and directionless. They talk about 'tattooing': a themed, long-term, coherent piece of artwork on their bodies. Something with direction. Something that's been thought about." Lee downstairs is a good example, Woody says: "He used to have the lot, British bulldog, union jack, TVR logo, the skulls, the dragon. Now that's all been replaced by a colourful marine scene. Tropical fish, corals. Over two sleeves, one integrated scene. Totally different story."

Likewise Stephen Burge, a gentle 31-year-old British Gas engineer, in to discuss his next piece of work. He has two spectacular sleeves, one a parade of English patriotic figures including a cavalier, a soldier from Wellington's army at Waterloo, and a second world war flying ace with goggles and cup of tea. "It is," he says, "the most addictive thing in the world. But if people ask me what to start with, I always say: something you can add to. Something that's the start of something." Steve reckons he's spent around £5,000 on ink over the last four or five years: "Less than if I'd smoked 20 a day."

Consequently, your entry-level tattooist these days is as likely to be a fine-arts graduate as a reformed teen tearaway like Lee (there aren't many artistic endeavours, Woody notes, that make you good money from the start). Downstairs, working on a pair of ravens for Fraser "Spike" Hall, a chef, Lee confesses: he got his first tattoo when he was 15 (under the little-known Tattooing of Minors Act 1969, the tattooing of a person under 18, even with parental permission, is an offence. Alison spends a lot of time checking and photocopying young customers' ID). "I've had most of the old stuff lasered off," Lee says. "You don't know what you want when you're 15, do you? Nor really when you're 18, for that matter. Personally, I think they should probably raise the age limit."

Tattoos, of course, go back a long way. Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Ötz valley in Austria, had 57 carbon tattoos – mostly simple dots and lines – and he lived 5,300 years ago. Julius Caesar was impressed by the elaborate tattoos of the Picts. More recently, 18th-century explorers such as James Cook brought back tales (and drawings) of the Polynesian islanders' spectacular inks, known as "tatau" and intended to ward off evil spirits. In common with increasing numbers of sailors, the mutineers on the Bounty had some fine work done; Fletcher Christian's buttocks were, apparently, a sight to behold.

Tattooing then underwent a brief wave of popularity among Europe's aristocracy: as a young prince, the future King George V had a large dragon tattooed on his arm on a visit to Japan in 1882, and Winston Churchill's mother, Clementine, had a discreet snake on her wrist. But it was the lower end of the market that really got the craze for ink: by the late 1800s, 90% of the British navy was tattooed. A complex iconography developed: a turtle meant you'd crossed the equator, an anchor the Atlantic, a dragon that you'd served on a China station. Bikers, and criminal gang members, followed suit.

Spike, 29, is wincing. He's having a couple of crows done on his back. "They're the Celtic guardian of love," he explains. "There's also a crane, which is long life and wisdom, and a phoenix, which is self explanatory. I got that one after my divorce, when I started to feel myself again. My tattoos tell the story of my life. I had the little thistle on my 18th, and my friends designed the tribals for my 21st. They're the story of me, really."

Jay's working on Tom and Susannah, 36 and 33, who teach in the Middle East and don't want their names known. They're having "Tom and Susannah" tattoed on their insteps, in Arabic. Carina Mehns, 28, from Germany, is a restaurant manager; she wants to record each of the countries where she's worked in an intricate floral theme going on down the length of her back. She's drawn it herself: a protea for South Africa, a cornflower for her native Germany, a moon orchid for Indonesia and a fern for New Zealand.
They'll willingly do the Rihanna star or the Rooney Celtic cross if they're asked to, but Woody's tattooists tend, in general, to prefer the customers in their late 20s, 30s and 40s: people who've given the matter a bit of thought. "Although," says Jay, "even that's changing: I had a lad come in a few weeks ago who booked a full day for his 18th birthday. He wanted to start work on a full sleeve. You'd never have seen that 10 years ago, or even five."
Thinking about it – about not just what you want, but whether you really want it at all, and why – would certainly prevent the extra pain of laser removal or reduction treatment, which is booming, business-wise, almost as much as tattooing itself.
Woody has a £60,000 Q-switched laser machine in an upstairs room, and both it and its operator, Sharon, are booked pretty much solid too. Lasering, which works best on darker tattoos, breaks down the ink particles under your skin. It's long (up to 15 10-30 minute sessions, at eight- or 10-week intervals), it hurts (those who have had it say it feels, at best, like someone repeatedly pinging your bare flesh fast and hard with a thick rubber band), and it costs money (starting at £30 per session). Even Woody describes the process as "like cooking sausages in a microwave". And then you'll probably only have reduced the tattoo enough to have another, more artistic one applied over the top – not removed it altogether. But lasering, too, is hugely popular: some 23% of British adults say they now regret the their tattoos. Jay is one of those: he once tattooed the name of a former girlfriend on a very personal part of his anatomy, then had to get it lasered off. Ouch.
Another is Cesc Martos Martinez, 38, who works in customer services at RBS. He was 17 when he got "a big tiger" tattoed on his upper forearm, badly. Then he got some tribal stuff done around it, to try to get the whole thing covered up, which went disastrously wrong. So now he's having laser work, which hurts like hell, but also starting work on a full sleeve, taking in lower and upper forearms and most of his underarm. A glutton for punishment? "I'm having a beautiful blue girl, surrounded by flowers," he says. "And in two stages, she's going to turn into a robot." Why, exactly? "It will look really, really nice."
Because Cesc's tattoo experiences have been so unhappy, Woody spends a couple of hours with him, probing, discussing options. He does the same with most customers, he says (in theory, Woody charges £80 an hour but works, mostly, by the day; his full sleeve or major back pieces can take up to six full-day sessions, once a month: perhaps 30 hours of tattooing). "It's a delicate negotiation, a very psychological business," he says. "You have to save the customer from himself, but also save yourself from heartache. The customer has to feel in control, that it's his idea; but you have to feel what you're doing is worthwhile. Tattooing still has a lot of maturing to do, and one of the things holding it back most at the moment is tattooists doing what customers want, without thinking, without creating."
After much redrafting, Woody transfers the finished drawing to a stencil and applies it to Cesc's lower forearm. The working surface is disinfected and sealed with clingfilm, the single-use needles taken out and slotted into the machine, the ink is in miniature plastic cups. Woody flexes his foot on the pedal, and the machine buzzes. "Ready?" he asks. "Let's start." The blood, tiny pin-points of it, seeps from Cesc, who smiles. "It's going to look really nice," he says.

Because for me Tim Commerford's are some of the best I've ever seen ;)


Elephant



New program can translate ancient Biblical script

A new computer program has quickly deciphered a written language last used in Biblical times—possibly opening the door to "resurrecting" ancient texts that are no longer understood, scientists announced last week.
Created by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program automatically translates written Ugaritic, which consists of dots and wedge-shaped stylus marks on clay tablets. The script was last used around 1200 B.C. in western Syria.
Written examples of this "lost language" were discovered by archaeologists excavating the port city of Ugarit in the late 1920s. It took until 1932 for language specialists to decode the writing. Since then, the script has helped shed light on ancient Israelite culture and Biblical texts.
Using no more computing power than that of a high-end laptop, the new program compared symbol and word frequencies and patterns in Ugaritic with those of a known language, in this case, the closely related Hebrew.
Through repeated analysis, the program linked letters and words to map nearly all Ugaritic symbols to their Hebrew equivalents in a matter of hours.
The program also correctly identified Ugaritic and Hebrew words with shared roots 60 percent of the time. Shared roots are when words in different languages spring from the same source, such as the French homme and Spanish hombre, which share the Latin root for "man."
Led by computer science professor Regina Barzilay, the team may be the first to show that a computer approach to dead scripts can be effective, despite claims that machines lack the necessary intuition.
"Traditionally, decipherment has been viewed as a sort of scholarly detective game, and computers weren't thought to be of much use," Barzilay said.
"Our aim is to bring to bear the full power of modern machine learning and statistics to this problem."
Not Always a "Rosetta Stone"
The next step should be to see whether the program can help crack the handful of ancient scripts that remain largely incomprehensible.
Etruscan, for example, is a script that was used in northern and central Italy around 700 B.C. but was displaced by Latin by about A.D. 100. Few written examples of Etruscan survive, and the language has no known relations, so it continues to baffle archaeologists.
"In the case [of Ugaritic], you're dealing with a small and simple writing system, and there are closely related languages," noted Richard Sproat, an Oregon Health and Science University computational linguist who was not involved in the new work.
"It's not always going to be the case that there are closely related languages that one can use" for Rosetta Stone-like comparisons.
But study leader Barzilay thinks the decoding program can overcome this hurdle by scanning multiple languages at once and taking contextual information into account—improvements that could uncover unexpected similarities or links to known languages.
A paper describing the new computer program was presented last week at the 48th annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Uppsala, Sweden.