Stare.
 
2009 Notebook: Weak VII
 
   
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12 February 2009
No. 657 (cartoon)
How do you think of me?

I don’t.

13 February 2009
Overcoming Paraskavedekatriaphobia
The sedate but rigorous Dutch statisticians are at it again!

As I often do on a quiet Friday afternoon, I was leafing through a copy of Verzekerd magazine, when, predictably, I came across an interesting article. Researchers at the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that Fridays that fall on the thirteenth day of the month are actually safer than other days.

“I find it hard to believe that it is because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home,” reported Alex Hoen, “but statistically speaking, driving is a little bit safer on Friday thirteenth.”

As Rex Stout noted, “There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up, and the kind you make up.” I’m not sure which flavor the Dutch analysts used, but it doesn’t matter; there’s no point in applying any scientific method to superstition.

14 February 2009
Violent, Insane, Delusive, and Transient Passions
Today is Valentine’s Day, a hollowday which one is expected to observe with chocolates full of rat feces and roses grown by child labors in impoverished countries. Oh well, at least the champagne is always tasty!

And speaking of love, I’ve always appreciated George Bernard Shaw’s perspective.

“When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

If that’s not amore, then I don’t know what is!

15 February 2009
Pencil-Sharpening Music
I was skulking around Mills College the other day when I stumbled across an unusual sight. (Actually, I was merely meandering through the campus, but “skulking” sounds much more interesting.) I was walking down a long hallway in the music building and spotted a single alcove housing a single object: a pencil sharpener.

Imagine that, a pencil sharpener! In 2009!

I couldn’t be sure, but it appeared to be the same model I used in elementary school decades ago. I took it apart to examine the pencil shavings. The shredded wood was old, odorless, and very different than the smell of freshly-hewn trees I still remember from my distant youth.

The moral of this story is that this story has no moral. Pencil sharpeners have nothing to do with music, unless they’re used to make grindy sounds. Mills appears to be one of those staid institutions cautiously testing the waters of twentieth-century music, which may or may not be why no one there seems to appreciate a perfectly good pencil sharpener in a dedicated alcove.

16 February 2009
bigal
Big Al is called Big Al for one or two obvious reasons: he’s a big guy named Al. Nevertheless, there’s always room for ambiguity.

Al uses “bigal” in his email address; that’s where the miscommunication started. His employer reported that this epithet led to an embarrassing exchange with a client, who asked if he might meet with “bi[sexual] gal” with whom he’d been corresponding over the Internet.

I forget how that story ends, but that’s irrelevant: a good story needs no conclusion.

17 February 2009
Sausages and The Americans
When I discovered photography, I was influenced by two schools: formal photographs made with tripods, and spontaneous, handheld shots. For me, the former approach was exemplified by Eugène Atget and Edward Weston, the latter by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank.

Like several million other photographers, I was impressed by Frank’s book, The Americans. I still am; it’s still solid after fifty years. After learning how the publication was made, though, I’m looking at it in a different light.

Frank ran seven hundred and sixty-seven rolls of film through his camera to make some twenty-seven thousand photographs for The Americans. He used eighty-three of them; couldn’t anyone make a publishable photograph once in every three hundred and twenty-five exposures? I’m thinking of my distant associate Koko, a gorilla whose fine self-portrait graced the cover of National Geographic magazine.

After thinking about numbers for a while, I realized that I was viewing the work in the context of the photographic culture I embraced as a teenager. Great photographers don’t crop; the corollary is that really great photographers needn’t edit much. Like a number of other teenaged observations, those weren’t very smart, or relevant.

A million apes with a million Leicas and seven hundred and sixty-seven million rolls of film couldn’t have made The Americans. The book exists because of Frank’s vision as both a photographer and an editor; whether he used a dozen or seven hundred and sixty-seven rolls of film to come up with the final work is irrelevant.

Having said that, I think works of art are like Bismark’s sausages; it’s best if one doesn’t know how they’re made.

18 February 2009
Hairline
I haven’t cut my hair in quite a while; it’s longer than it’s been in years. Some of my friends have asked if I’m trying to affect the appearance of a mad scientist, but that’s not the case. I’ve simply achieved a new height (or depth?) of slothfulness; I just can’t seem to tear myself away from any of my myriad time-wasting activities long enough to chop off my locks.

And so, I was chuffed to discover that a single human hair can support three kilograms of weight. I don’t know much about physics or engineering, but I suspect that I could make a very strong fishing line by weaving my long hairs together. That could be very handy on my upcoming trip to Oregon; I haven’t caught many fish that weighed over three kilograms.

I doubt that I’ll ever test my theory, since I can a hundred meters of environmentally-destructive monofilament fishing line for a dollar or two.

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19 February 2009
Secure Colander and Skillet
Katia makes great pasta, so I was happy to go to her place for dinner tonight. I was surprised to see that she’d handcuffed her colander and skillet to a railing in the kitchen, so I asked about the extraordinary security.

“I threw a huge party a couple of months ago,” she explained, “and some scumbag walked off with my favorite Flaundaire frying pan.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, “but it still seems that handcuffs are a bit excessive.”

“You wouldn’t say that if someone stole one of your favorite implements,” she replied.

I didn’t want to know any more about the handcuffs, so I changed the subject.

Handcuffs in the kitchen?!

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©2009 David Glenn Rinehart