Wednesday, March 31, 2004

open wide

Pietro Longhi - The Tooth Puller (1746)

I love Pietro Longhi. this is such a blatantly iconoclastic image - masked Venetian aristocrats slumming for their entertainment in the shadow of the Doge's palace. the composition a deliberate echo of the hackneyed religious set-piece. Christ as Dentist. behold the tooth. I suspect that seated figure bottom left is a self-portrait. looks a damn sight too knowing for his own good. and why is that height-challenged person making the warding-off-the-evil-eye sign at him? wonderful painting.
I've always had a low opinion of dentists. I regard them as jumped-up fairground performers. their basic skills have remained unchanged and only slightly improved in five hundred years - they just charge more now.
'my' dentist (I use the term ironically - he's just the latest in a long, long, similarly face-masked line who have variously drilled and filled and pulled with more or less successful efforts at anaesthesia since forever) has just installed a 'dental hygiene advisor' (as opposed to a hygienist). good, you might think. about time. I wish one of you faceless charlatans had shown me how to look after my teeth properly forty years ago. except that this pink-suited over-makeovered madam is transparently a sales rep, done a qualifying course in dental hygiene for dummies, installed in rotation in several related surgeries with the same charts and posters and disturbing pink-and-white models of dislocated jaws, touting various hilarious dental devices including a tongue-scraper(!) she 'advised' me today (almost inevitably, this post is getting heavy on irony-signifiers) that I might prefer to 'work with' another dentist since I was declining their 'advice' that I purchase, not only this pathetic £30 goodie-bag of dinky implements, but a £5 mouthwash which, on examination, proved to contain saccharine as well as a fluoride and a chloride. this after taking a swab of my mouth and projecting its magnified bacterial liveliness on a computer screen - ooh! germs! scream! - and trying to persuade me that this somehow constituted 'scientific proof' that my gingivitis would turn into rampant periodontal leprosy unless I availed myself of her expensive advice. my attempts to engage her in a meaningful debate about the pros and cons of fluoride, and to assert my preference, nay, my right to choose not to ingest one of the most toxic substances known to man, met with more resistance than I had bargained for:

she: well, this is a pro-fluoride practice. perhaps you'd be happier with another dentist. you're free to choose.

me: so are you seriously telling me that either I buy this mouthwash and this 'starter pack' or I won't be eligible for further treatment here?

she: we respect your views, of course, Mr Roylance - everyone's entitled to their own opinion. but unless you're prepared to co-operate with us we really can't be expected to help you.

me: so although I'm registered as a National Health patient you're saying that either I go along with this or I'll be refused treatment?

she: we're both free to choose.

me: what are you saying?

she: this is a business, not a social security (sic). I came into this business for the money, not as a social service. we're free to choose our clients just the same as you're free to choose another dentist, and it seems to me that you'd probably be happier with another dentist.

except - as full well the bitch knows - finding an NHS dentist around here is like searching for an honest man or woman in Westminster (OK - Clare Short maybe - the jury's still out). our wonderful, embattled National Health Service - the jewel in the crown of the postwar social and economic reconstruction programme - the model for an equitable and universally accessible, free health service, the source of worldwide envy for the last fifty years - has almost completely failed to incorporate dentistry under its aegis, entirely due to the dentists' greed, facilitated by several generations of Whitehall ineptitude and party-political tug-of-warring - which goes without saying. there's a whole generation of the worst-off whose only access to dentistry now is the same as it always used to be for the poor - emergency extraction. and the dentists continue to operate these fabulously lucrative cartels.
apparently, amongst the so-called 'professions', the top of the bell-curve depicting the incidence of suicide is the tooth-pullers.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Empirical data on file-sharing's effect on album sales (...'five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale...high selling albums actually benefit from file sharing...') yet again exposes the sheer stupidity and ill-disguised venality behind this so-called anti-piracy 'war.'

(via boing boing)
The purpose of propaganda isn't to _convince_ the other guy of your argument, but to make him _doubt_ his own argument. It's different from advertising in that not only do I have to get you to 'buy' something (eventually) but also to get you to 'un-buy' something. Just like advertising though, repetition really, really helps.

(Jason/Atomgrid via Spitting Image)

Saturday, March 27, 2004

failed delivery

the latest cute trick that some penis-compromised bum-fluffed cretin from Poughkeepsie's thought up is to make a worm that comes from the fraudulent address, MAILER-DAEMON, subject-line FAILED DELIVERY. This is the domain that Hotmail legitimately returns failed deliveries from, so it's almost inevitable, if you've had returned mail through MAILER-DAEMON before, that the first time you receive this you'll thoughtlessly click on the attachment, which purports to contain the original e-mail, in order to check who it is you can't get through to, and, by so doing, release this bastard worm into your hard-drive, where it's going to home in on your e-mail client, root through your address-book and send itself on to everyone in it, replacing the 'from' with that bloody 'MAILER-DAEMON' message (mac users exempt, of course, as always), all in less time than it takes to say ‘wha…’.
I mean - who are these guys?
you try to relax, breathe deep, and practice zen-acceptance and buddhist compassion here, but you keep wondering, what are people like this for? what niche of the ecosphere do they occupy that requires that they exist?
because this is not a side-issue of the arguably semi-legitimate hackers endless guerilla war with microsoft - these incontinent losers are targeting the whole world, in a completely indiscriminate manner. it's a relatively benign manifestation of the Washington sniper syndrome.
does it help, does it somehow, in some damp bleak recess of their under-developed lizard's cortex register as a score, therefore a form of satisfaction, therefore a momentary release from the need to do it again, knowing that they have had some effect on the world, albeit akin to the three-year-old's playing with his willie in front of the relatives? or is it just another junkie thing, another inevitable manifestation of social inequity and capitalism? or is it something else entirely, something as incomprehensibly alien to the received conventions of morality and ethics as Columbine?
destroying stuff is fun, sure - why else do people get glued to the war-porn footage – and I can imagine there’s a great sense of pride in the utterly misplaced creativity required to write some of this code, but I can't really imagine these kind of guys manifesting 'enjoyment' in any way identifiable as a human characteristic. do they meet and swap stories over a few beers at each others houses, rooms, nests, burrows, whatever, about how they did this and infected that, and laugh about it and slap each other on the back? And does the atmosphere ripple with the sound of infectious laughter, and do their girlfriends raise their eyebrows and surreptitiously swap Linkin Park for Stereolab on the cd player and hope they’ll be too engaged in the boasting battles to notice?
Or do they snigger alone, sharing out particles of their secrets only via hardened security protocols in specialist chatrooms where no-one knows anyone’s real name, meanwhile reassuring their worried parent, knocking timidly at their bedrom door, that they’re just doing their homework?

Opportunity to die for

Monday, March 15, 2004

mobile brain-scramblers

Researchers at Sweden's Lund University say these rat-brain cross-sections show first-ever evidence of brain damage from cellphone radiation. While the controls (example, top) appear healthy, the test subjects (bottom), which were exposed to a 2-hour dose of cellphone radiation of varying intensities, are heavily spotted with proteins (dark patches) leaked from surrounding blood vessels, and show signs of significant neuronal damage.

story here

Sunday, March 14, 2004

uncensored mail

shame on every man and woman involved in this obscene display of mass thuggery.

Friday, March 12, 2004

 (click on image for slide show)

(this is the follow-up to the story of The Accident)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

alias: the recruiting officer

"I'm Jennifer Garner. I play a CIA officer on the ABC TV series Alias. In the real world, the CIA serves as our county's first line of defense in the ongoing war against international terrorism. CIA's mission is clear and direct: safeguard America and its people. And it takes smart people with wide-ranging talents and diverse backgrounds to carry out this mission...people with integrity, common sense, patriotism and courage. The kind of people who have always worked for the agency. But since the tragic events of 9/11, the CIA has an even stronger need for creative, innovative, flexible men and women from diverse backgrounds and a broad range of perspective. Right now, the CIA has important, exciting jobs for US citizens...especially those with foreign language skills. Today, the collection of foreign intelligence has never been more vital for national security. If you're an American citizen and seek a challenging, rewarding career where you can make a difference in the world and here at home, contact the agency at Thank you."

(via spitting image)

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


here we go again.
an exhibition of photographs by the American artist Betsy Schneider has been closed pending police investigations into complaints from members of the public that it contains obscene images of a child. (story here.)
the child in question is the artist's five-year-old daughter, whom she photographed, naked, at three periods of her life - at nine weeks, at two years, and at five years.
what a moral minefield, this business of children and innocence!
this is the question: how do I feel, as a parent, about someone acquiring pictures of my children and wanking to them?
short answer: disgust.
longer answer: provided that they never come into physical contact with my children (at which point they forfeit their balls) - disgust tinged with reluctant compassion. growing up is hard - for some people more than for others. there are a few who make a terrible mess of it, and that mess is a life sentence.
a question of my own: what is the difference between the way the moral guardian gazes upon his or her beloved's lovely body and the way that gaze is directed upon another human being?
short (sarcastic) answer: the former, safely sanctioned by law and (most probably) God, is good, whereas the latter is bad.
longer (bombastic) answer: hypocrisy being the modus vivendi of the moral guardians of this earth, the specious absolutism of the authorial voice that purports to represent goodness and decency can only ever be repudiated with an equivalent specious absolutism: the moral guardian is always - always - concealing a secret agenda predicated on guilt (at their own perceived badnesses), shame (at their perceived weakness in failing to curb those badnesses), envy (of those whom they perceive to be able to live without the burden of either guilt or shame at their obvious badnesses), and hatred (because they seem to be able to get away with it).
some bad behaviour is so bad that it needs to be stopped.
some bad behaviour is so sad that it needs to be ignored.
sad-bad doesn't necessarily lead to bad-bad, but there are times when it needs to be monitored, for everyone's sake.
so - back to the children.
all parents love their children's bodies - the sight, the smell, the touch, the taste of them - they're just the most delicious thing in the world.
question: what is the difference between the way a parent gazes upon his or her child's naked body and the way that same person gazes upon someone else's child's naked body?
short answer: sheer pride. mine are soooooooo much more beautiful!
longer answer: it depends. it always depends. if, for example, we're at the beach with some friends with kids of the same age, then that represents a safe social arena in which everyone can gaze with equal delight at each other's kids gorgeous bodies. if, on the other hand, I (a male) am having a bath in those same friends' house and their naked child (female) walks in, I need to be fairly confident that my friends are really my friends before letting her climb into the bath with me, and, actually, I'd rather someone else were there, please.
one of the things we know, we parents, that we keep secret from the rest of the world, is that kids start playing with themselves almost as soon as they are able to get a hold of the bits that feel good to play with. personally, I confess I was a bit surprised at my first experience of a boy's baby-boner, springing perkily to erection as I rubbed in the sudocrem and manoeuvred him into a new nappy, but there it is - arousal happens in the cradle (and continues, hopefully, to the grave).
question (to the moral guardians who have kids): did you choose to ignore this? did you try to discourage it? is a baby's erection 'innocent'? is this the start of badness? sorry, am I embarassing you?
I ditched my Penguin Freud a long time ago (sad old perv, really, I've come to believe - thanks for the unconscious, though), but, if I were psychoanalytically inclined, I'd lay odds that the way our parents reacted to those primitive crypto-sexual manifestations was a major - perhaps the major determinant in the subsequent formulation of our own individual sexual attitudes. I can think as shameless as I please, but my conditioning won't allow it, not really, not where it counts.
step forward (drum-roll) Fine Art.
where angels fear to tread - there needs must Art dig and delve and burrow and probe until it undermines these monumental constructions of hypocritical denial.
historically, the incorporation of children into mainstream western art images has been as avatars of innocence - from the cheeky putti of the baroque to the tender portraiture of Mary Cassat via the sugary confections of the like of Bouguereau et al.
there have been a few, bolder artists - like Caravaggio and the pre-Raphaelites - who have dared to suggest otherwise, but, by and large, child-imagery has never been much elevated beyond the kitsch.
the rise of photography - and the internet - has vastly accelerated the modification of that image (of passive innocence) into something much more complex, and considerably more disturbing. the free market of web-surfing exposed an appetite that has probably always been present, but has forever been unadmitted and inadmissible (except to the very wealthy, of course - but wasn't it ever thus?). reaction to the first surge of that fearful wave of un-dammed prurience was a moral panic-attack and desperate scrabble to screw the dam-doors back shut: a poor and hopelessly belated effort resulting only in an ongoing paranoia about images of children per se that reflects very poorly indeed on our capacity, as a society, to discriminate between what does and doesn't matter in terms of our gradually easing our collective children into their own sexual mantles.

Sally Mann - Shiva at Whistle Creek, 1992

it's hardly a surprise to discover that Betsy Schneider worked for two years as assistant to the one photographic artist who dared more than most to challenge the comfortable assumptions - Sally Mann's own conflicts with the moral guardians over the depictions of her own children's development are infamous. I happen to believe that Sally Mann is an artist whereas someone like David Hamilton is not, nor ever has been, and that Jock Sturges occupies a grey hinterland that operates by a set of rules peculiar to the fine art world, but that none of these photographers is really bad in the moral guardian sense. if someone wants to pay $2,600 for a typical Jock Sturges photograph that has been taken with the complete agreement both of the model and her parents, then where's the harm?
from the little I've seen of Schneider's work, I don't think very much of it as art; to record a child's development by taking a regular photograph in the same place over a period of time works like any time-lapse study - it's fascinating, but hardly revealing of anything more profound or interesting than that children grow. period. to prevent her from exhibiting that work, however, on the grounds that, in the fastidious phraseology of the English law she's fallen foul of, it's 'liable to deprave and corrupt', is just so not grownup as to be puerile - in the really obvious sense.

further reading:
nerve magazine interview with Sally Mann.
a magnificently sane and academically impeccable summary of this very challenging subject by Elisabeth Stoney of the University of Melbourne.
an equally important, and very helpfully annotated paper arguing that the work of Jock Sturges is a little less innocent than he protests by Ashley Whamond of the University of Newcastle.

more chernobyl pics by
Andreas Gefeller.

(via conscientious)

Sunday, March 07, 2004

chernobyl biker chick

"People had to leave everything, from photos of their grandparents to cars. Their clothes, cash and passports has been changed by state authorities. This is incredible, people lived, had homes, country houses, garages, motorcyles, cars, money, friends and relatives, people had their life, each in own niche and then in a matter of hours this world fall in pieces and everything goes to dogs and after few hours trip with some army vehicle one stands under some shower, washing away radiation and then step in a new life, naked with no home, no friends, no money, no past and with very doubtful future."

(update : march 10th : this dead link was to a rather primitively constructed site containing images of the ghost town that chernobyl has become taken by a young Russian woman who lives 130km off and enjoys riding there on her kawasaki 1100 - apparently the interest in her site has freaked out her local server, and she's reworking it - hopefully she'll get it back up soon.)

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Women Hizbollah supporters walk in a procession through Beirut's southern suburbs to mark the Shi'ite Ashura ceremony March 2, 2004. Shi'ite muslims have been marking Ashura, the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram, when according to tradition Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was killed in battle more than 13 centuries ago.

Monday, March 01, 2004

rate your music nerdiness
the music nerd test
(I just scraped a Casual Music Nerd ranking - which is something of a relief)