strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

backbeats are the new iambic pentameter

I was thinking about why literary heavy-hitters like Shakespeare and Pushkin prefer to write in iambic instead of trochee, but I suppose before I go on to speculate why, I should explain what iambic and trochee are.

You know how when you say a word, some parts of it are louder than others? Like the word “vehicle”–the “ve-” is a hair more emphasized than “-hicle.” Try saying “veHIcle,” or “vehiCLE.” It won’t sound right.

Each of these word parts is called a “syllable.” The correct pronunciation of a word means that you have to pronounce each word with the right amount of volume. The technical term for a loud syllable is “stressed.” A quieter syllable is “unstressed.”

Iambic is a type of syllable stressing pattern. It’s one unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed one. Weirdly, each unstressed-stressed combo is called a “foot.” Here’s an example from Shakespeare:

“but SOFT, what LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS.”

This is much more interesting than writing in iambic’s opposite, trochee, which is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Here’s some trochee:

“JACK and JILL went UP the HILL”

This is the kind of thing that gets accused of being “sing-song.” How unfair to trochee, relegated to the stuff of nursery rhymes, while iambic is immortalized by the Bard. They seem so similar, but they sound so different. Why?

And here’s my bullshit speculation. Stress patterns convey an enormous of information, including the pronunciation of the word, the speaker’s emotional state, and telegraphing natural breaks in the information being conveyed to the listener. With trochee, the strong first syllable always coincides with the introduction of a new thought. This is great for, shall we say, less sophisticated consumers of language, but too obvious and therefore boring to those with a little more taste.

Writing in iambic, whenever Shakespeare starts a sentence, the very first syllable is unstressed, even though we know that syllable marks the beginning of a new sentence, a new thought. This contrast sets up a pleasant dissonance between the stress pattern and the semantic pattern. A lifetime of conversation has set you up to expect some respect for the beginning of a sentence, and here comes iambic to trash that expectation.

The same goes for backbeats. You could put on a song with a backbeat starting halfway through, and listeners would be able to tell whether the hits are on the 2 and 4 instead of the 1 and 3. It’s the same principle at work. The melody line clues you in as to where the beginning of each musical phrase is, i.e. where the 1 is, and the backbeat plays against your expectation that the 1 is the beginning of each phrase and therefore important, by hitting the 2 and 4.

Anyway, this is just one little thought on how deeply music and language are intertwined. And a small example of how art works in general–first the setting up of a formal expectation, and then the playful dashing of it.


george orwell, woke dude

It is popular in many circles to deride political correctness as a form of oppression. Here is what the Man Himself, George Orwell, had to say on the subject:

As I Please 2
Tribune, 10 December 1943

“The coloured worker cannot be blamed for feeling no solidarity with his white comrades. The gap between their standard of living and his own is so vast that it makes any differences which may exist in the West seem negligible. In Asiatic eyes the European class struggle is a sham. The Socialist movement has never gained a real foothold in Asia or Africa, or even among the American Negroes: it is everywhere side-tracked by nationalism and race-hatred. Hence the spectacle of thoughtful Negroes getting ready to vote for Dewey, and Indian Congressmen preferring their own capitalists to the British Labour Party. There is no solution until the living-standards of the thousand million people who are not ‘white’ can be forced up to the same level as our own. But as this might mean temporarily _lowering_ our own standards the subject is systematically avoided by Left and Right alike.

“Is there anything that one can do about this, as an individual? One can at least remember that the colour problem exists. And there is one small precaution which is not much trouble, and which can perhaps do a little to mitigate the horrors of the colour war. That is to avoid using insulting nicknames. It is an astonishing thing that few journalists, even in the Left-wing press, bother to find out which names and which are not resented by members of other races. The word ‘native,’ which makes any Asiatic boil with rage, and which has been dropped even by British officials in India these ten years past, is flung about all over the place. ‘Negro’ is habitually printed with a small n, a thing most Negroes resent. One’s information about these matters needs to be kept up to date. I have just been carefully going through the proofs of a reprinted book of mine, cutting out the word ‘Chinaman’ wherever it occurred and substituting ‘Chinese.’ The book was written less than a dozen years ago, but in the intervening time ‘Chinaman’ has become a deadly insult. Even ‘Mahomedan’ is now beginning to be resented: one should say ‘Moslem.’ These things are childish, but then nationalism is childish. And after all we ourselves do not actually like being called ‘Limeys’ or ‘Britishers.'”

There you go. If the guy who took a fascist bullet in the throat, and invented Big Brother and doublethink and Newspeak and all the rest, thought political correctness was a good idea, it IS a good idea.

to write about the planet

Climate change news has become a bigger vice for me than even crappy genre fiction, and in celebration of Earth Day, I’d like to note a longstanding issue I have with these stories.

For some scientifically literate people with a good imagination, it’s enough to know that major disruptions to the mild and stable climate we’ve enjoyed for the past ten thousand years would be disastrous, without needing to know the exact form such disasters would take–but that’s not most people. And there’s precious little in the news that really brings home what the actual lived consequences might be like. Take, for example, the Earth Day article Vox released, the big above-the-fold listicle. Item number one is about the size of the plastic pollution problem. It’s gotten to the point where most drinking water contains microscopically small plastic fibers. Well, so what? Presumably you, and I, and countless others have been drinking it for years without visible side effects. I had to do more googling to find that these contaminants can be carcinogens. And even now that I’ve done this, it’s hard to keep myself from thinking, so what? Doesn’t everything give you cancer? I guess I could keep researching and find the numbers somewhere on exactly how cancer rates have been impacted, but I’m on vacation.

Item number two is a reminder that the last male Northern White Rhino is dead. It then goes on to say that there are Southern White Rhinos left, and the northern one was a mere subspecies. Also, the planet is now short a bat species, a kind of gecko, and two kinds of skinks. I feel vaguely that these must be terrible things, but it sounds like we have more rhinos on the backburner, and I don’t know what a skink is.

Item three is about the ecological recovery of a handful of species, and the discovery of some brand-new ones. Once again, nothing that an actual human’s day-to-day might be impacted by.

Item four is about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and how it will raise sea levels by twenty feet, but most people who are alive now will be dead by the time that happens.

Item five is about seagrass bouncing back. Whoop de doo, I don’t know what that is either.

Item six is about Hurricane Maria and the devastation it unleashed on Puerto Rico, which is definitely good as an example of the kinds of consequences actual humans might have to live with.

Item seven is about the search for new planets, which to me feels like a sad abdication of responsibility to our current planet, but I suppose could be construed as uplifting to other people.

It is a little unfair of me to crap on these journalists too much, because part of the problem is the reticence of scientists themselves. Their job is to be absolutely correct, and they can’t know with any great confidence the behavior of big, complex systems like the planet and the global society supported by it. With that said, a few things are well-established enough that I think journalists could focus on these to encourage people to actually care, particularly feckless Americans:

1. Climate-driven migration. If you’re an American who dislikes Mexican immigrants, boy have I got some news for you! From “In fact, climate change may lead to a 40 to 70 percent decline in Mexico’s current cropland suitability by 
2030. Worse, this could soar to an 80 to 100 percent decline by the end of this century. We’re talking about Mexico potentially losing over half its workable farms in less than 12 years – and all of them by 2100.” Where are people going to go? Probably here. I’d like to think that America will recognize that its profligate and disproportionate guzzling of fossil fuels is ultimately what’s responsible for Mexican climate migrants fleeing north in search of cooler temperatures, and that it will therefore react in a humane and rational manner, but I’m not stupid.

2. Decreased crop yields. From “Analysing data for US annual harvests of corn, soybeans and wheat, the study finds that yields were approximately 2%, 4% and 4% lower, respectively, in “warm” Arctic years compared to “cold” years.” (Of course, that figure will only get worse as time goes by, and it will be far, far worse for the more southern parts of the globe.) Percentages are such dry things. But hydrating them into stories that can convey what it’s actually going to be like to live in a world defined by those percentages is the kind of thing that journalists can excel at. Not being a journalist, my best guess, alas, is that I won’t get to live in a world where I can continue to have matcha pancakes with lavender syrup for brunch.

3. Disruptions to global supply chains. I have actually never even seen an article about this, and I read a lot. But I’d like to see someone write about this. Is a highly complex, highly interconnected global society that’s getting its ass kicked by climate change going to still have iPhones, or raspberries imported from Chile? Suppose Shenzhen, home to many an iPhone factory, is hit by a massive, climate-change-supercharged storm one year. (As it will be, since it’s a coastal city.) Are the dudes at Apple even thinking about this?

4. What an actually sustainable civilization would look like. What the hell does this look like? Will we still be able to have streaming services like Netflix? I actually think we might not, since the manufacture of electronics and maintenance of data centers are both so carbon-intensive. Probably we won’t be able to travel as much, drive as much, or move as much. There might not be any more flights across country to visit family for the holidays. Certain parts of the country just might become uninhabitable, because the cost of keeping on the AC or the heat will be too high. How would the kinds of homes we build change, how would our urban planning have to change? What will commutes look like? What will happen to art, music, and fashion, when everything becomes more expensive? I think that your average well-meaning liberal thinks that they’ll get to live the exact same lifestyle, but they’ll have to remember to bring their own shopping bags to the store, and everyone will have solar panels. I suspect–I know–an honest examination of this question is going to piss off a lot of people. You can already see this in the battles between young environmentalists who want to build denser housing, and their older counterparts who still think of a single-family home and two cars as the American Dream.

It seems to be de rigueur at the end of most professionally written climate stories to end on a note of optimism, to talk about how there are still rhinos left, or how new technology is imminent, but I’m not a journalist, so I won’t.

bike camping as a savage practice

I had always hated travel, and assumed that people only did it as some kind of status symbol. How pleased I was when I had a miserable time in Italy. You can run, but you take yourself with you, and therefore all travel is ultimately self-refuting, I said to myself. And that’s how I expected it to go when I planned to ride my bike from San Francisco to Seattle–an unenlightening experience notable only for the intense misery I was about to bring upon myself, and subsequent bragging rights. Mostly, the bragging rights.

And so, with a kind of lighthearted contempt for the adventure of it all, I packed my panniers and rolled out from San Francisco on September 5, 2016.

I’m not going to tell you that I had a lifechanging moment of enlightenment, or even that I changed my mind about travel. I did, however, answer one question to my personal satisfaction–why is every single bike camper so boring when talking about their trip? Every ride journal I’ve seen has been tedious. “68 miles today. 2500 feet of climbing. Good weather.” “72 miles today. Ate bacon for breakfast, yummy. Had a nice descent of about five miles right before camp.” “55 miles today. Fierce headwind. Stopped in town and bought a steak and cooked it on the campfire, yummy. Kinda cold tonight. So glad I packed a down jacket.”

I knew most people weren’t practiced writers, but even that was an insufficient explanation. This extended to in-person conversations too. No matter how enthusiastic you are about bike camping, or how skillfully you pry, the most you can ever get out of anyone who’s ever done this kind of thing is that it was “awesome.” And I didn’t think it was because bike camping is 90% pedaling. *Something* always happens on a long enough trip, and yet, nobody mentioned those stories either.

And now, please allow me to share my bullshit theory why. But first, I have to describe what bike camping is like.

Here’s a typical day: wake with the sun at 7AM or so, stay huddled in the sleeping bag until the world warms up enough that it’s safe to emerge, which is usually 9AM, eat a dry and demoralizing breakfast of beef jerky wrapped in a crumbly tortilla, put on wet clothes that I had hoped would dry on the bushes the night before but didn’t, take two hours to pack because I’m moving slowly because it’s still cold even at 10AM, hit the road finally at noon, pedal slowly for the handful of hours that I am in motion. Get distracted by shitty gas station ice cream, realize that I’ve been riding for only a couple hours and the sun is dropping. Ride into camp in time for the sunset, at 7PM. Set up camp. Promise myself that tomorrow, I’ll wake up earlier, pedal faster and longer, and not race the sun to camp, but instead, arrive at camp a leisurely hour before sunset. Shower, if possible, wash clothes, if possible, find a bush to hang them on. Eat, in the dark, often alone, usually more beef jerky wrapped in tortillas. Go to sleep. This day repeated itself for a month.

Was any of this awesome, or even fun? Sometimes, something objectively awesome would happen. One day, as I was riding by Defoe Bay, I saw a pile of people sitting on a grassy knoll by the sea, and it turned out that they were watching humpback whales. I spent half an hour watching the whales, and I hadn’t even known that whale-watching was something you could do in the Pacific Northwest. Another day, I saw the signs for an oyster farm, rode over, and ate a delicious raw dozen in the sun, with lemon juice, all by myself. But those days were far from the majority. Every moment of serendipitous joy was balanced out by a thousand painful ones. I spent a lot of time quite nauseated, either because I hadn’t slept enough, or because of how hard cardio makes me lightheaded. One fine morning, I moved my head too quickly and I vomited into my mouth.

And yet, I never doubted that I would rather be there on Highway 1, praying that a logging truck wasn’t about to drive me into a ditch, than anywhere else. That’s saying a lot for a nerd like me, who prefers to speak in caveats, exemptions, and qualifiers.

I chewed on this problem a lot, whether or not I was having fun. Consumption of food and entertainment is the usual way people have fun, so was this trip one long act of consumption? I had had to buy a lot of gear before I left, and that seemed like consumption. But I know what true consumption looks like, and consumption this wasn’t. How did I know that? When you’re consuming, the architect of the experience was someone else, not you. (And now you owe them money.) That’s why consumption is a passive activity, even for the most advanced and critically engaged connoisseur. You may consume a gourmet meal, but you were not the chef. You consume a movie, but you weren’t the studio. You wear clothes, but you didn’t stitch them. On the road, nobody else was there but me, deciding when to wake, when to pack up, what to eat, when to stop, when to sleep. I had total control over this experience.

Then if not consumption, was it the opposite: was I producing something? I wanted to believe that I was, because production is held up as a superior activity to consumption.  It’s active, not passive. It seems more admirable to cook your own food, direct your own movie, or to make your own clothes, than to merely buy them. It is perhaps considered more morally worthwhile than consumption because of the greater expenditure of energy, and I was expending a great deal of energy every day. I lost four pounds in that month of riding. It seemed plausible to say that I was producing a lot of muscle. But though I desired to feel morally superior to all the couch potatoes, I had to admit that I was not productive, because of the reverse logic. To produce means that you’ve created something that someone not you can now experience. I moved north, and I left no trace–nothing anyone could consume, no book, no poem, no painting, no buildings–nothing except a little bit more carbon dioxide and waste heat.

I was feeling orthogonal to the two halves of capitalism, and not in the usual “Marx was right, eat the rich” kind of way. And here’s why. To be a member of a capitalist civilization is to be forever wrestling with time. You have to save for retirement, you have to schedule going to the gym, the doctor, the grocery store. You arrive at work and leave at the exact same time every day. You are forever marking time, trying to save it, and use it efficiently. To be a solid, middle-class citizen is to treat time as any other monetary asset. It is to give up on improvisation. The more responsible you are, the more you give up on your chances to live fully in the present. To be civilized is to be constantly in your head, outside of time.

Bike camping, on the other hand, is nothing like that. Once I’d picked my points A and B, I did not need to plot out anything in between. I no longer lived by alarm clocks, but by sunrises and sunsets. I did not know where I was going to be sleeping each night. I would look at my paper map every night, and pick out a campsite that lay a respectable number of miles farther north, but often if I was feeling tired that day, I would make camp earlier. And somehow, despite the enormous quantities of time afforded for thinking, riding outdoors day after day was not conducive to introspection. It wasn’t that I had zero thoughts, but I only had them at a pitiful rate, a new one maybe once every three days. Going into my head was useless, even dangerous on roads with high traffic, so I didn’t do it.

I stopped being civilized, and for the first time in my life, I had to admit that Buddhists had a point about identity being some kind of illusion. The best analogue I can think of to the mental state I was in is bilingualism. I can feel that part of my brain shuts down and another part wakes up when I think in Shanghainese, rather than English. Some part of me went to sleep on that trip and did not wake up until I returned to civilization. Living inside of time is the end of self-consciousness, and the elimination of any need for analytical thinking. I felt as though I were in a long meditation that persisted through states both waking and sleeping. I went on a trip into a different state of mind altogether, a trip that was therefore as hard to describe as a dream, and impossible to convey as a story.

I might as well give in to the difficulty of the problem, and stick to saying that bike camping is awesome.

the impossible burger–a lukewarm review

The Impossible Burger is the most high-tech attempt yet to create a vegetarian meat substitute that might appeal to meat-eaters. The creators analyzed the various chemicals in beef that give it its distinctive flavor, and concluded that the most important one to duplicate was hemoglobin, a complex protein which you may already know of due to its role in oxygenating blood. Hemoglobin is why blood is red.

Instead of hemoglobin, the Impossible Burger contains a plant analogue with the painfully un-mellifluous name leghemoglobin, which is harvested from genetically modified yeast.

It pains me to say this, because I’m a weepy environmentalist, but the Impossible Burger isn’t quite there yet. The texture is really loose and the flavor sort of one-note. It’s intensely umami at first, as if it’s trying to overcompensate for the lack of whatever other billion proteins give beef its flavor. If you’d told me that it was a real meat burger, I would have believed you, but I also would have said, what kind of shitty burger is this, and the next time we hang out, can it not be here? You could trick me into thinking it was real meat, but only by taking advantage of our friendship.

Sadly, this is not yet an impossible burger. More like an improbable burger. But it’s definitely the best meat substitute I’ve tried so far.

the witches of eastwick–a bad review with style

China Mieville has a favorite quote that says, in essence, that writers ought not to be too proud of themselves. That the kind of self-conscious observation they engage in is in reality done by everyone, and that writers are alone in thinking that these mundane observations are of such importance that they ought to be committed to paper. This is, in my mind, uncharitable to good writers, who do not merely set their boring observations down on paper, but go on to synthesize something interesting out of them. They record the noise, and draw out the essence that is the signal. But John Updike demonstrated no writing talent in The Witches of Eastwick, and ought to take this stricture to heart.

The Witches of Eastwick is not a good novel because it sets down the observations, but does not go on to make anything out of them. Updike is clever and observant and has a way with words, but a failure to conceive of the characters in anything like a truly lifelike manner means that the book is just a string of scenes disrupted by interminably long purple passages. This is probably because John Updike, for all his celebrated imagination, can only conceive of women in terms of their sexual differences from men–that they give birth and that they like fucking men. They have little personality beyond those differences.

This, for example, is what John Updike thinks a liberated woman thinks about for a nearly page-long paragraph right before she enjoys a good hot tub orgy with her two best friends and the tall, dark, but not handsome, stranger who’s just moved into town:

“…she was reminded now of her four babies, how as they came one by one it was the female infants suckling that tugged at her insides more poignantly, the boys already a bit like men, that aggressive vacuum, the hurt of the sudden suction, the oblong blue skulls bulging and bullying above the clusters of frowning muscles where their masculine eyebrows would someday sprout. The girls were daintier, even those first days, such hopeful thirsty sweet clinging sugar-sacks destined to become beauties and slaves…”

This book is written the way a white guy dances–no beat, no rhythm. Too in love with his own cleverness to ask any bigger questions, to see that something logical links scene to scene. He had a few interesting thoughts about babies while writing this orgy scene, and he just jammed them in without considering the context. Who the fuck thinks about babies right before an orgy starts? Who would want to go back for seconds with that person? Updike characters, apparently.

It’s all even worse when you consider that the book is set during the Vietnam War. The two characters who care about the unjustness of the war are a man branded as effeminate, and a woman branded as a shrieking harpy, whose husband literally murders her in an effort to get some peace and quiet. That’s what passes for moral complexity in Updike’s world–sure, it might be bad that a great superpower invaded a weaker country and massacred its citizens for no good reason, but have you considered that the people who think this is bad are really annoying?

As satire, this is just shit. Satire is supposed to be clever criticism. Equating the deaths of Vietnamese and Americans with annoyingness displays a sad and stupid lack of perspective that is no doubt also responsible for how unsexy the orgy scene is.

I still can’t get over how bad the orgy scene was. I bet even Burning Man has better orgies than this.

I suppose now I should finally say a word about the premise. The book is about a triumvirate of witches who are divorced or widowed, and their inescapable magnetic attraction to a rich new guy who moves into town. And they have a lot of sex with him even though he is very annoying. Unbelievably, this is supposed to be a feminist book. As far as I can tell, Updike is the kind of guy who sees feminism, and thinks it means it’ll be easier for average-looking guys like him to get laid. An important observation, but one that misses the point, which explains why this book doesn’t have one.


The day I drank goat blood

So here’s the Tanzanian countryside.


Tanzanian friends reading this, please forgive me for what I’m about to say, but as an outsider, it looked depressing, sere, sterile. It was paralyzingly hot, so hot the air became thick against the skin. The soil was so dry it was sublimating into dust. In short, not nice.

One fine Sunday, most of our hostel piled into a van, and we drove through this for an hour and a half to arrive here.


A true oasis, this hot spring was the result of water seeping up from the ground. What a miracle. And certainly it was the most bountiful, clear, and gorgeous source of water for miles around, so when five Maasai led a string of goats by us, I didn’t take it seriously when my friends Katy and Crystal speculated that they were going to kill the goats. So convinced was I that the Maasai had only brought their goats for a drink that I got up and found our tour guide, Rufano.

“Yo, Rufano. They’re not going to kill the goats, are they?” (I don’t think Rufano even knew my name yet at this point. I’m a direct kind of person, especially when there’s something I really want to know.)

“They are, actually. They’re going to do it over there so they don’t upset you mzungus.” (“Mzungu” means “foreigner” in Swahili.)

Damn it, I was going to have to go back and tell Katy and Crystal that they were right.

“Do you want to go see them kill the goats?” Rufano asked.

I weighed the chances of being judged cruel to animals against the certainty of the pleasure of a new experience. Certainty won. It usually wins.

We walked through tall grass and low trees to a clearing. We’d missed the start of the killing. Both goats were on the ground, throats cut, but one had already stopped moving. The remaining goat’s legs were jerking, and its body thrashed out small arcs through the dirt. One man was kneeling at the dying goat’s throat, and catching the blood in the kind of cheap white bowl I would have expected to see at Ikea. He was drinking it. I knew that the Maasai, when they are thirsty, would cut the vein of a living goat and have a drink when they were thirsty, but it’s one thing to read about it on Wikipedia, and another to see it live. The first reaction I had was to wonder, how could drinking blood possibly make you less thirsty? Blood is salty, after all.

The second reaction was deep satisfaction that I had managed to see something that most tourists wouldn’t have seen.

The third was pride that I was not averting my eyes.

The man at the goat’s throat was refilling the bowl for another drink. Rufano said, “Would you like to drink it?” He had a teasing sort of look on his face.

Later, I would tell everyone that I had felt peer-pressured into it. The Maasai had looked so thrilled that a mzungu would join them in one of their customs. There were big, big grins all around, brilliant against their dark skin, and a happy, festive feeling in the air. The Maasai to my immediate right had even pulled his phone out and was filming the whole thing, and for some reason, keeping the flash on. In the glare of that tiny limelight, how could I not want to make them happy? But the truth was, if Rufano hadn’t offered, I would have asked.

The goat blood was bright red, the same color I’d seen any time I had cut myself. There was only a little in the bowl, perhaps a tablespoon. The goat had been mostly dead–mostly drained–by the time I’d arrived. I put the bowl to my lips, and drank it all. The taste was not salty. In fact, I would describe it as tasting like a goat soup made by an inexpert cook who had forgotten to put salt in. With the addition of some chopped chives, and salt, I believe that most people might enjoy the taste.

But I don’t really want to encourage you to drink the goat blood. Because the more mzungus do it, the less special I will feel. But fortunately, I have a feeling that even if I were to try to persuade you to drink it, you still wouldn’t.

Lisbon partnered dance report

I can’t recommend it. With the exception of one swing night, there’s nothing to do but kizomba. If you’re not a fan of close embrace right off the bat, like me, there’s little to do here. At Barrio Latino, at least, it’s too crowded to do anything but close embrace, which cuts off a lot of interesting vocabulary.

There have been only two times in my life where someone walked out of a dance with me halfway through, and I’m sorry to say that Barrio Latino, Lisbon, was the site of the second time. This is the rudest thing you can do to someone, short of insulting them outright.

I asked another guy there what the deal was, and he just said that the Portuguese were very arrogant. Considering he was French, that’s saying quite a bit.

I don’t know why the other dance reports I read online were so glowing, but my AirBnB host said that gentrification has proceeded at a mind-boggling pace. The price of rent in Lisbon doubled within a year, which makes San Francisco look sane in comparison. So maybe the Portuguese have gotten more unfriendly in the last couple years.

Why is modern art so damn boring?

I made the mistake of going to a modern art museum today. I stood before a big yellow triangle that invited me to contemplate its massiveness, its yellowness, and its angliness. And nothing else. I attempted to let my mind fill with yellow, to consider the purity of the three straight lines. And I just couldn’t do it. I got bored and left after ten seconds.

Why is modern art so damn boring? It’s too reductive. Deriving meaning from some colored shape relies on seeing its relationships with other colored shapes. Trying to appreciate a giant installation that’s nothing but a big vertical stripe feels wrongheaded for the same reasons that attempting to derive Newton’s laws from studying a single point mass would be. The most interesting truths lie in the studying of interactions. You would never learn about gravity from studying a closed system with a single point mass, and any experience of yellowness that you get from looking at a big yellow triangle will be similarly stunted. It’s too cerebral, too pure, too sterile.

You can tell all this abstract art is a failure to communicate when you have to, have to, read the informational placard that comes with it. This, even if you are already familiar with several centuries’ worth of art history, and have years of experience studying drawing. A piece of visual art should speak for itself. It shouldn’t need help from a completely different medium. I’ve become accustomed to seeing exhibits and considering the artwork and its accompanying placard together as a single piece of work. I rather doubt that this is what any of the original artists ever intended.

It’s not that abstract art is hard to get. It’s that there’s too little to get. You get it, you absorb it, and then you think, damn, is this all there was? Sadly, the answer is yes.

The Rainbow Fish: a searing review

this book if one can use the term is HORRIBLE in sum it is about a poor misunderstood gorgeous fish that must MUTILATE himself simply to attain acceptance from the swimming mediocrities thats right BODILY MUTILATION for the sake of SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE what kind of message does that send to kids i ask you no kind of message at all i say much better that the kiddos read some ayn rand