One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Baby Doom

I like these:

More from A Softer World

It's one damned thing after another.

"History is written by the victors", says the slogan. In fact, in the case of the Vietnam, it has now been re-written by the losers - as evidenced in George Bush's speech to US veterans yesterday.

In fairness, it didn't start with Dubya. There is a current of popular mythology that says that the war could have been won if the US hadn't soft-pedalled to appease the lefty peaceniks (and if the draft dodgers had done there part...oops better not mention that). Bush is playing on this when he talks about the US 'withdrawal' from Vietnam. That's 'withdrawal' as in 'kicked out.' The US were licked fair and square. Despite their overwhelming advantages in firepower and logistics they had no choice but to 'withdraw'.

Nevertheless, they shouldn't make the mistake of withdrawing again. Last time, we're told, that led to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge killing fields. He has a point there. The US left the region in a shocking state. Part of the mess was the power vacuum created in Cambodia, in large measure due to 'Operation Breakfast' and 'Operation Menu', the covert carpet-bombing of Cambodia which Kissinger used to destroy peace talks and to suppress Viet Minh elements that were in opposition to Pol Pot's faction of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia and Laos were to be sacrificed to buy time in Vietnam. In so doing, the US shares a large part of the blame for creating a monster.

And who was it who sorted out the mess? In 1968, Cambodia was liberated by Vietnam.
Tip o' the hat to this guy for his photo title.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Looks a scream, hang him on your wa-a-all.

Last week I visited the Andy Warhol exhibition, showing at the National Galleries of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Festival (loyal readers will recall that last year's blockbuster was Ron Mueck).

I didn't have too much interest in Warhol previously...some good ideas, sure, but I'd got the idea. Or so I thought. In fact, we weren't going to go in at first (we were headed for the Picasso ceramics at the Museum for Scotland), but the queue was short and it was a spur of the moment thing.

I was blown away! I got more out of it than I have from an exhibition in many a year. here's some ramblings.

Warhol was the master of praxis. Just do something, and work out what it is afterwards. Keep churning out repeated images and new ideas will emerge. Say a starlet is terrific and It Shall Be So. Portray yourself as an artistic genius and things will happen. Repetition was obviously his Famous Big idea, but he did all sorts of exciting things with it:

  • The Brillo pads and soup cans - in an industrialised, mass-market era, artifice has no value. The artefact becomes art. The trick is to continue to make art at a detached distance from the product.

  • Jackie O. (This sort of thing - except with the images more mixed up). It took a while to realise that there were only three separate images, combined in various enlargements. What he's done here is added a time dimension - cf Picasso's 4-dimensional paintings. But he's added a televisual element for the media age: it's not a linear portrait, but a series of snatched glimpes of a public persona beamed intensively into living rooms over a period of intense interest. So it also adds multiple perspectives - the same image of a fixed event, viewed repeatedly by different people and/or the same person, over time - a blurring of time and viewpoints.

  • His death paintings - stunning use of silk screen and silver nitrate photography to add noise to images, making the viewer work to draw out the content. In a version of this one (scroll down to Green Car Crash) it comes as a shock that the impaled victim is not the first thing we notice. A version of this has the image repeated, in one repetition with a lot of visual noise. The shock comes when one realises that a faint blur in the corner is the falling figure. (And again - it says something about time: Before and After). In another, one gradually realises that a hospital scene shows a baby being delivered by Caeserean section.

  • Skull Paintings. Screen print on heavily impasto'd paint, lending subtle variations to each reproduction and making each one fresh.

  • Screen tests. Films to be viewed as portraits. What is a film but a stream of still photos? (I had my own screen test done).

  • Stitched photos. He's take four identical B&W photos and stitch them together (he left the the ends of the thread visible). When you look at them, you realise that you're focusing on something different in each repetition. It also turns out that he was a master of composition.

I could go on - but better not. I'll leave you with some children playing with his iconic 'Silver Clouds'.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Capitalism 101

A few words on the Mattel toy recall.

There seems to be a lot of criticism of Chineses safety standards. But is it entirely fair to lay the blame on Chinese subcontractors?

Here's how Capitalism works. Corporations are more or less obliged to constantly find ways of cutting their margins. This is how they maintain a compatitive market position, allowing them to stay in business and re-pay their investors. Those in favour of 'Free Marketeers', who are in favour of unbridled criticism, constantly rail against 'regulation' which imposes non-negotiable costs on companies. (eg John Redwood's call for de-facto tax cuts).

Regulation includes things like financial probity, workers' pay and conditions and product safety. These are the responsibility of national governments and are put into place in response to democratic agreement. In effect, the electorate says "We'd rather not have lead in children's toys, thank you." One way for companies to avoid the costs associated with local regulations is to shop around for laxer regimes - ie to source products from markets where labour is cheaper and less money is spent on product safety.

So...say you're a toy supplier placing subcontracts in a competitive market. Your priority is going to be the bottom line...isn't it? Because that's the impersonal law of The Market. The subcontractor offering the best deal is quite likely to be the one who's paying workers pennies and cutting corners on safety (and environmental impact...etc. etc. etc.).

We know this. Right?

So whose job is it to check whether subcontractors are meting our minimum standards? And whose job is it to ensure that companies supplying into our country do not place contracts on subcontractors whose business model relies on terms and conditions for their workers that we would deem unacceptable? At present, we recall poisonous toys. We don't recall garments made by sweated child labour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Way We Live Now

I've got a new phone - and, more's to the point, a new supplier. My old provider's Loyalty Department didn't come up with the I was disloyal. Slut!

My new supplier is these people. They are slightly unusual in mobile telecoms terms in that their business model is based around the sale of 3G content. Their handsets are set up with shortcuts to their content portals - some of it free (eg. news - albeit mostly tittle-tattle about people I've never heard of) , but mainly paid-for content (TV; empeethrees; games).

It hardly needs saying that mobile telecommunications have changed our lives within a very short space of time. It's hard to imagine how we did without our phones. Example: I was (re)watching one of my favourite films, Gregory's Girl recently. The scene where he's stood up by Dorothy at the clock in the plaza...that would never happen nowadays. We no longer have to make elaborate arrangements to meet people and hand around waiting in anticipation; we can make arrangements on the fly. And I'm sure we've all got stories about life/sanity-saving incidents.

But that's not all. I was browsing through the various 3G offerings, and discovered that I am twelve or so twitches of the thumb away from pornography. Here's a thing; High Street shops all over the UK are openly selling devices which give easy, discrete access to commercial sex product, menu choices including gay, lesbian, MILF, gonzo, anal...etc. I don't wish to moralise about this (although debate always welcome), but merely to highlight it as a a societal change. Gone are the days when images of erections were only available (if at all!) through scary backstreet emporiums.

It's a well cool phone, incidentally. Who'dathunk I'd be carrying not one but 2 video cameras around in my pocket (and a much better camera than on my last phone!). I've got this photo as my wallpaper, my ringtone is The White Stripes' 'I Think I Smell a Rat' and for the alarm, in tribute to Brian Wilson who woke his family up with it every day, The Ronettes' 'Be My Baby'