Category Archives: Thoughts and ideas

Musings, critiques, responses, theories, innovations etc. of running eye bloggers.

On Niche Annoyances and Traffic Circle Fountains

Fountain Circle by Seth Lemmons. CC 2.0 License.

What’s the Big Deal? (Fountain Circle by Seth Lemmons. CC 2.0 License)

My favourite crossword blogger, Rex Parker, recently went on a rant about how crossword puzzles depicted in film and television are often completely spurious. Fictitious grids are written into scripts and rarely respect the rules of crossword or clue construction. As result, something that escapes the notice of the vast majority of observers incites disdain and outrage from the devoted few who care about such things.

I find these sort of niche annoyances fascinating because they are a window onto foreign worlds of passion and knowledge. This is why I was so tickled when my friend, the water artist Pierre Luu, went on a tirade against the placement of fountains in traffic circles. Personally, I’d liked to see water spouting about as I drove past. What could be the problem? Continue reading

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One Another

© Alisa Resnik

© Alisa Resnik

Books have always been comfortable camouflage for me. A novel in your pocket is a superpower; pull it out and you’re transformed from awkward misfit to contented savant. The same goes for a notebook and pen and don’t get me started on the glorious refuge of a host’s bookshelf while waiting for the third glass of wine to kick in at a party.

I’d always thought this façade was unique to book people, or perhaps artists too, who could shield themselves in their sketch pads. But then I met my friend Alisa Resnik. She started carrying a camera not so much out of a love for photography (although that was there, profoundly) but because it was so deeply agonizing for her to interact with humanity. The camera calmed her social neuroses and was a way to connect. “I would never describe myself as a photographer,” she wrote to me. “I just see the camera as an instrument that lets me communicate with people.”

Continue reading

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My clocks is wrong

dali_thepersistenceofmemory_325PH was staying with his daughter when he remarked she should, ‘Get a decent telly — one where the sound and programme are synchronised.’ He wandered through into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, and looking up at the tv on the wall there, noticed that that one was out of sync too. ‘Hey you’ve got two tvs that need sorting!’ he called to her. She came through.

‘There’s nothing wrong with the tv, Dad,’ she said.

Watching her speak, PH realised her lips were out of sync with her voice. He started to answer, but he was out of sync too. He could hear his words coming out before he’d started to move his mouth … Continue reading

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Big breasts, little breasts, and EDAR370A

Han dynasty silk painting from China; Julio Romero de Torres painting from Spain

A team of geneticists at the Broad Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts is investigating how DNA differs among human genomes from around the world. Over the course of human history, naturally, different mutations have sprung up in different regions, and became prevalent or not depending on local conditions. Having identified region-specific pieces of DNA, the interesting part is then trying to figure out what those pieces of DNA do.

An example under current investigation is the EDAR370A gene, which is found in Asian people, and is thought to have arisen in China 30,000 years ago. To determine EDAR370A’s thing, the experimenters snipped it out, pasted it into mouse embryos, and waited to see how the mice turned out. They grew up to have Continue reading

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Did I Say The Wrong Thing?

It’s hard not to admire a good simile. They make literature more evocative: ‘Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.’ (Nabakov from Lolita.) They add venom to political bite: ‘He looks like a female llama surprised in the bath.’ (Churchill on De Gaulle.) And they help etch the cry for social justice into a nation’s memory: ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream.)

Inspired wordcraft such as this is enough to leave you dizzy. But, alas, this is not the time to praise good similes but to bemoan the bad ones.

Anybody who’s spent time in front of a gaping white page knows that expressing oneself in a clear, original, and incisive manner is Herculean chore requiring both persistence and wit. Similes are a particular gamble because a good one can invigorate your work, while a bad one can leave readers unmoved, or worse, wincing. (Would students across America be memorizing King’s speech if he spoke of justice rolling down like a stray tennis ball on a uneven court?) Continue reading

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anything

This is a graph showing global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels over the years 1990-2011 (published in last week’s New Scientist). The curve shows a meandering upwards over the course of the ’90s, gathering in force and momentum along the way, and really carving a groove up through the last decade. Around 2008 there was a small hiccup following the financial crisis, but otherwise, the story is largely one of not only rising emissions, but of rising rates of rising emissions. Which is funny, because all this time, the talk — and in ever increasing volumes — has been about Continue reading

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The Good Analyst

The Good Analyst

good analyst noun 1. a person who analyses social or environmental good, 2 viagra in frankreich rezeptfrei. a person who is good at doing this, 3. an analyst who is a force for good (cf. good Samaritan, good witch)

The Good Analyst is a new book about how a better understanding of social value can create a new set of relationships between society, money, and people’s access to an ok life. Money can be difficult to move around in society — getting stuck sometimes in the wrong places, or being imagined to be somewhere where it turns out later it’s not (or not any more). In the social sector these difficulties are often compounded by money not really knowing where to go, or how to be effective. But there is a potential lead. As the sector is really about impact — meaning the social or environmental good that comes from somebody doing something — by looking at impact, it is possible to send signals to money as to how to move. And so put more distinctly, the book is about how analysing social impact can inform and guide the flow of capital through the social-purpose universe to the places where it can do most good.

The Good Analyst presents Continue reading

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Why Tiger Woods Sucks At Golf

All or nothing for Tiger Woods?

Tiger Woods has long been one of the most dominant figures in all of sport. He’s won 71 PGA golf tournaments and an astonishing 14 majors. And thanks to his golfing prowess, he’s earned more than $1 billion in combined prize money and endorsements.

But, as those of you who follow the scandal sheets know, Tiger has suffered a spell of personal trouble. Despite marketing himself as a loving family man, Tiger was actually a raging horndog who had affairs with a sordid collection of women. When the seamy mess became public, Tiger’s marriage imploded and he took a leave from professional golf.

What’s now truly stunning is how poorly Tiger has played since returning to the pro golf tour in April 2010. He’s gone from being the top player in the game to a mundane also-ran. He hasn’t won a single tournament in the past 17 months and he’s even missed the cut a handful of times, something that was unheard of for pre-scandal Tiger. His poor form has golf pundits abuzz: Is it residual anxiety from the marriage break-up? Lingering effects of an old knee injury? A change in caddies? Or simply a question of age?

Well, based on the theories of Roy Baumeister, there may be another explanation: Tiger is expending so much mental energy resisting the urge to horn it up with skanks that he can no longer focus on the golf course. Continue reading

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Khamsin Coming: Arab Spring to London Bloom

The seriousness of the recent riots across England has inspired a period of serious reflection. The search for the reasons why has looked instinctively to deep-level problems, with heavy-faced politicians and commentators alike theorising over social deprivation, financial exclusion, latent criminality, pervasive greed, moral atrophy, heinous influences, bad grammar, poor parenting, the enervation of authority, the erosion of community, unemployment, recession, and the all-encompassing concept of a broken society. While these represent various political and ideological positions, what is striking is that almost all the explanations on offer are characterised by a brooding introspection (that the problem must be within us), and a focus on long-term issues. The sense is that, be it through poverty or the corrupting touch of welfare, Britain has been grinding darkly year after year toward this dire and profoundly inevitable conclusion. Fittingly this is to be met, as we are beginning to see in the court results coming through, with the handing out of equally grinding and long-term custodial sentences.

The most natural response to something extremely surprising, as the rioting indeed was, is to declare immediately that it was always going to happen and a long time coming. It’s an emotional, if rather irrational way to recapture our balance after taking a destabilising hit. We feel we need to reinstate big causal links, and so start drawing them out from the richness of history. Continue reading

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On Miró, or, On Us On Miró

Miró's The Escape Ladder

There’s a big Miró retrospective on at the Tate at the moment. It’s a fun exhibition, and clearly popular with kids. The paintings are arranged chronologically. The first room and a half works through the typical progression of a young artist trying on a series of different painting hats (“should I be a cubist, or what about a post-impressionist landscape, or if I …”), before he figures out the essentials of what a “Miró” is somewhere in his thirties. Miró then gets going painting Mirós, which he does very effectively for the rest of his life. Passing through the show you find the same core vocabulary of shapes — thorn-like triangles, slits with tendrils, a particular kind of squiggle, blobs and ladders running upwards — being continuously moved around on shifting backgrounds of colour. Sometimes they’re used in a doodley figurative way (the shapes have figurative roots in teeth, penises, vaginas, eyes etc.), and sometimes Miró just cuts them loose to float around by themselves. Generally he’s enjoying himself, which is nice to see.

Alongside this, the curator as you go from room to room is working like a demented ant to explain how, decade by decade, the paintings are a profound expression of each of the major events of the twentieth century. And so Miró’s shape-configurations variously speak movingly of Continue reading

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