Stare.
 
2000 Notebook: Transition XIX
 
   
2 June 2000
Martians
I know something that only seventy-one other people on this planet know: there really is life on Mars. Intelligent life. Really intelligent life.

My sister, Sarah, is crypto expert with the GRYA, and she tells me more than she really should. In 1996, she was the first person to ever decipher a transmission from Mars. The first extraterrestrial message wasn’t very interesting; it was an advertisement. Interplanetary (intergalactic?) junk mail. (The ad wasn’t intended for earthlings; it was an offer for some sort of irrelevant personal hygiene product related to an orifice only a handful of people have even seen.)

Four years ago, Sarah’s brilliant work led the U.S. president to come up with his unconvincing “life on Mars” story, which he claimed was based on bacterial evidence from meteorites. This small lie, unlike his other little lies, was accepted, uncritically. After all, who’d have believed that he learned about Martians from intercepted junk mail?

3 June 2000
The Fortune-Telling Fish
I was fascinated by the news that my young pseudo-niece Siobhan won a pencil and a fortune-telling fish in a school contest.

“That’s great,” I said. “Tell me, how does it work?”

Siobhan looked at me with a combination of pity and contempt. She tossed me the pencil, and said, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” I didn’t take it personally; the fortune-telling fish must have warned her that she’d meet a moron.

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4 June 2000
Professor Walhberg’s Curse
Today, Professor Walhberg loaned me his new camera, a generous gesture that I’m sure he regarded as a favor. Maybe. Professor Walhberg and his lovely laboratory colleague have showered me with many favors, but his loan of the latest technology was not one of them.

Professor Walhberg gave me a relatively inexpensive digital camera that does ninety-some percent of everything I want my cameras to do. I took a photograph, then made a thirty by twenty centimeter print of one of my laboratory’s disguised missile silos. I ended up with as lovely an image as I could expect from my Leicas, Nikons, Hasselblads, Rolleis, and Sinars.

Oh dear.

Now that I’ve discovered that a simple camera can do almost everything my other cameras can do, I’m on the verge of losing my identity as a consumer. Now that all I need is a cheap Japanese gizmo, what do I do with all my old toys? I couldn’t possibly sell them, but I can’t imagine using them regularly.

A digital pox upon you too, Professor Walhberg!

5 June 2000
The Opposite of Scientist Collection
I recently saw something that’s usually regarded as an oxymoron, an interesting piece of video art. The work in question is Rob Craigie’s The Opposite of Scientist Collection (33 pieces: 1 Hour). One of the reasons Craigie’s collection worked was the brevity of each piece: just under one hundred and ten seconds each, on average. When I saw something I didn’t like, I knew there’d be something different to see in a couple of minutes. What a great idea!

After a dozen or so pieces, though, I decided that even one hundred and ten seconds was longer than the attention span of most viewers, or at least longer than mine. When and if I ever make video art, I think I’ll try to make works that are thirty seconds long. I figure that’s about the length of time it would take an average person to read these two paragraphs. I could say more, but today’s thirty seconds are gone.

6 June 2000
The Shipping Forecast
I think unintentional art is frequently the best. And when it comes to unintentional art, one of my favorite pieces is the British government’s shipping forecast. The British Broadcasting Company issues the report several times a day, and it’s always a treat. No two broadcasts are exactly alike, even though they’re all the same.

The report seems relatively unintelligible, but that’s probably because I’m not a mariner or a meteorologist. A newsreader with perfect diction announces the prediction in a steady, surreal monotone. S/he never sounds worried when a gale threatens seafarers’ lives; s/he never expresses relief when the outlook changes to “moderate becoming good.”

And now (that’s the BBC’s standard segue), here’s today’s forecast, republished through the involuntary courtesy of the British Broadcasting Company:

“And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office At 0015 on Tuesday 06 June 2000.

The General Synopsis At 1900

    High 200 miles Northeast of Faeroes 1027 moving slowly northeast and declining 1024 by 1900 Tuesday. Atlantic high 1030 moving quickly east, expected 100 miles west of Finisterre 1032 by same time.

The Area Forecasts For The Next 24 Hours

Viking North Utsire South Utsire Forties

    North or northeast 3 or 4, becoming variable 3 or less. Mainly fair. Good.

Cromarty Forth Tyne
    East veering south 3 or 4 then veering west 4 or 5 later. Rain later. Good becoming moderate.

Dogger
    North backing south 3 or 4 veering west 4 or 5 later. Rain later. Good becoming moderate.

Fisher
    Northeast becoming variable 3 or 4. Rain later. Good becoming moderate.

German Bight
    North or northeast 3 backing northwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Rain or drizzle. Mainly moderate.

Humber Thames
    Northwest, backing southwest for a time, 3 or 4, occasionally 5. Occasional rain. Moderate or good.

Dover Wight Portland Plymouth
    West or northwest 3 or 4, occasionally 5. Showers. Mainly good.

Biscay
    Northwesterly 3 or 4, becoming variable 3 in south. Fair. Mainly good.

Trafalgar
    North 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Fair. Good.

Finisterre
    Variable becoming north or northeast 3 or 4, but 5 or 6 near Cape Finisterre. Fair. Moderate or good.

Sole
    Southwest veering northwest 4 or 5, becoming variable 3. Occasional drizzle. Moderate or good.

Lundy Fastnet
    Southwest veering northwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Rain then showers. Moderate becoming good.

Irish Sea
    South 3, veering west 4 or 5. Rain then showers. Moderate becoming good.

Shannon
    West 5 or 6 backing southwest 4. Rain then showers. Moderate or good.

Rockall
    West 5 or 6 but southeast 4 or 5 in northeast at first. Rain then showers. Moderate or good.

Malin Hebrides
    Southeast veering west 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Rain then showers. Moderate becoming good.

Bailey
    Southeast 5 or 6 veering southwest 3 or 4. Rain then showers. Moderate becoming good.

Fair Isle
    East 4 or 5 veering south 3. Fair. Good.

Faeroes Southeast Iceland
    East or southeast 5 or 6. Mainly fair. Good.”

Good, indeed.

7 June 2000
Brand Name Ice
Alicia can taste an ice cube, then announce with almost certain accuracy what brand of freezer or refrigerator froze the water in question.

It’s an amazing skill, a talent that’s almost as amazing as it is useless. It would be a great party game, except that there’s rarely ice from more than one refrigerator at any given party.

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8 June 2000
Shoe Bullies in a Parallel Universe
Sometimes I believe human beings live in parallel universes that sometimes overlap. Everywhere I go, I see pairs of shoes hanging from telephone and electrical wires, but I’ve never seen anyone throw them up there, and I don’t know anyone who has seen someone else toss them over a cable, either. Similarly, my footwear has never ended up high above a city street, and I’ve never heard of it happening to any of my friends.

Empirical evidence suggests that the imbeciles who toss shoes onto utility lines inhabit a separate, parallel universe. It’s a good place for them.

9 June 2000
Poker Probabilities
For some reason, I’ve never been interested in card games. Almost none of my other friends play cards, which is probably why I don’t either. Having said that, a number of my collaborators have independently suggested that we play “a friendly game of poker.” I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect that it’s another excuse to drink whiskey or martinis. As if any excuse were needed.

We’ve never played poker, though, primarily because none of us know the rules. With that in mind, I picked up a volume I saw at a lodge, The Penguin Book of Card Games. I’m very glad I did, because the author, David Parlett, came up with a lovely line that’s as relevant to art as it is to poker: “Chance enters into the picture, but only as a servant—not as a master.”

He didn’t stop there, although he could have. He went on to list the hierarchy of hands, complete with the probably of receiving each one.

    straight flush .0015%
    four of a kind .024%
    full house .44%
    flush .1956%
    straight .392%
    three of a kind 2.13%
    two pair 4.75%
    one pair 42.2%
    nothing 50.1%

So that’s how it works! I’m in!

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10 June 2000
Meat Logic
It’s summer, and William is celebrating by roasting fairly large pieces of unfortunate animals on his grill. I should have known better than to even bring up the subject of dietary ethics, but I couldn’t resist asking William if he had any moral reservations about eating his fellow mammals.

“Nah,” he replied, “it’s completely natural to eat animals. That’s why they’re all made out of meat.”

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart