Housekeeping tip

I’m happy to report from first-hand experience that if you stick a yellow highlighter in your back pocket, forget, sit on it such that the cap falls off and wind up with a huge shimmering neon stain on your ass, the ink mysteriously disappears almost entirely from jeans after an interval of about 30 hours. Just hang ’em up in a ventilated area and await the magic!

Dutch fugue


My apologies for not posting much lately. I’m trying to finish the design for a 350 page book that started out as a 120 page book at the beginning of the summer and catastrophically mushroomed from there. Meanwhile, Krafty is ensconced in a Las Vegas hotel called ‘The Golden Nugget’ (no, I’m not making that up), preparing 20 hours a day for an upcoming trial. Hence, tumbleweeds. I do, however, have the following to say:

If you google the term “Dutch Fugue”, the second result that comes back defines it as

A temporary psychotic state of mindless agression. Named for “Dirty” Dutch Coldrell who killed 19 men (including his friend “Cool Hand” McCabe) and wounded 79 others during a 27 hour berserk rage during the Great Outdoor Fight of 1877.

Now, anything involving someone called “‘Dirty’ Dutch” (i.e. as if Dutch isn’t nickname-y enough) and something called ‘The Great Outdoor Fight” sounds pretty made-up. But I do like the whole ring of this nonetheless. Given all the phrases we have involving the Dutch that stem from mindless 17th century British prejudice – ‘going Dutch’, ‘double Dutch’, ‘Dutch oven’ – it would be nice to have a refreshingly American entry that has nothing actually to do with those seafaring dam-builders of the lowlands.

Meanwhile, the only other three results for ‘Dutch fugue’ produce (at #1:) a Tourette’s-like spew of broken web code; (#3:) a confusing message board apparently populated with obsessive fans of a comic book called Achewood; (#4:) another spew of broken code. Actually, I’m starting to get the feeling that this whole ‘Dutch fugue’ thing is a fiction associated with result #3, but I like to pretend otherwise.

Hair. Big Hair.

BibliOdyssey has up a boggling array of satirical giant hair illustrations from the 1770s. Apparently, there was a reactionary wave of mockery in English and French presses to the ever-growing size of women’s hair styles at the time:





These are so otherworldly. I feel like there’s a “Hair-onymus Bosch” joke in here someplace.

This illustration presents the typical man and typical woman of the time spliced together to accentuate the ridiculousness of women’s fashion:


Head on over to BibliOdyssey for more images and source list.



I was delighted to read the New Yorker profile (subscription required) of Bryan and Bryan, the identical twin doubles tennis stars. I’ve long been fascinated with Bryan and Bryan, although I have to say that it’s the same sort of ambiguous fascination that I have with the music of Perry Como where I’m legitimately uncertain to what extent I really appreciate them and to what extent I find them fascinatingly corny, where the dividing line lies between these feelings, and whether that dividing line is actually real or meaningful in the first place. It’s all somewhat confusing. On the plus side, they seem like legitimately nice guys, they’ve almost double-handedly kept doubles tennis alive as a sport, plus they have the cool twin E.S.P. thing going on where they make the same moves on the court at the same time without knowing they’re doing it and defeat more individually-talented tandems of singles stars through their single-organism style of play.

On the other hand, there’s just something about them that exudes a sense of all-American ham. Perhaps this feeling has its roots in the observation of their clean-cut twinny appearance, or in their boring names (‘Mike’ and ‘Bob’). But, whatever its origin, your suspicion feels well-founded by the time you read the New Yorker’s commentary on their musical activities: ‘… the twins ran through one of their own, tennis-themed power ballads– “I can’t be broken again. I’ve got to hold on now.”‘ Yikes. That’s up their with Dirk Diggler and Chest Rockwell’s fledgling recording career in Boogie Nights.

The real thing that mesmerized me about Bryan and Bryan in the first place was their signature on-court chestbump celebration, a quirk that marries both their lovable exuberance and harder-to-take-seriously sides together in one glorious, goofy expression. [Grammatical note: ‘Chest bump’ is officially spelled as two words, but I’m putting them together for editorial effect, to make it seem like a familiar part of our cultural landscape.] Part of the magic of the chestbump is that they seem to launch into it via the same twin E.S.P.– it’s not like they exchange a knowing glance and go into it, or like one brother leans towards the other suggestively to initiate it. It’s more like, they win a point  and suddenly – bang! – chests are bumping.

As an homage to Bryan and Bryan, my friend Patrick and I adopted the chestbump as a legitimately-enjoyable-but-also-basically-just-goofing-around move during a trip we took to Portugal a few years ago. We tried to develop the same chestbump-E.S.P. that the Bryans’ display. But mostly, it was just fun to gratuitously celebrate things that don’t really merit celebration during our trip. Our top 3 dumb chestbumps, in reverse order:

3. Getting completely lost on steep, remote hills in the Portugese countryside and then finding the path back to safety just as we were entirely running out of energy… chestbump!

2. When our on-flight drink service arrived after we were belted into our seats. Nothing is sillier than doing a chestbump when you’re physically restrained around the waist.

1. A chestbump (I can’t remember the provocation) executed in a doorway, causing Patrick to smash his head into the doorjamb. Rank amateurism, I know.

To summarize: the chestbump is a physically exhilarating gesture that promotes camaraderie, and I highly recommend it. You can’t let yourself be restrained by social self-consciousness from executing it in public. That’s just society telling you what you can’t do, man.

Mysteries of Czech language: Pirate talk

mcescher2(Part of an ongoing series. Previous installments begin here).

Last night, my wife and I passed a billboard ad for a local aquarium-type thing here called Mořsky Svět (Sea World). I joked that given the land-locked nature of the Czech Republic, they could probably just display a giant tank filled with salt water and people would rush in to gape at it and take photos nevertheless. As a wise man once told me, never shell out big bucks to go see an aquarium exhibit in a country that doesn’t have its own word for ‘ocean’ but instead borrows its word from French/English.

Given the non-seafaring nature of Czechs, it’s a goofy peculiarity that the informal Czech way of saying hello is ‘ahoy!’ (spelled ahoj), as though we were all hanging out on the deck of the SS Pinafore together. This seemed totally unfathomable (no sea pun intended) until someone explained to me that it started as a greeting among hobos a century or so ago as a shorthand acronym for the Latin phrase “Ad Honorem Jesu”. Mystery solved! I like the idea of an array of slang phrases all formed out of acronymized Latin.

Short attention span theater


One of the things I like about design is that you wind up doing a lot of different types of work for a lot of different clients. In this sense, the job acts as a kind of zany docent of the world, leading you into various different realms of human enterprise and giving you fleeting examples of the types of people, attitudes, jargon, attitudes, attire etc. that populate each. One week, you’re doing a project for a box factory; the next week, a clown college; and so on. This is nice gimmick in terms of incorporating a constant (if superficial) level of variety to the job… you’re never exactly doing the same thing every day (unless you decide take a job for that box factory as their creative director, in which case you most definitely are).

One memorable realization of this perk happened for me in March of 2005, when I was working with a studio that had taken on an identity and packaging job for a new line of soaps and scrubs to be called Pomegranate Body. On our first day of work, I was sent off on my bike with a camera and two tasks: (1) buy a real pomegranate; (2) take photos of competing bath and body products in the nearby branch of Sephora, the hideous chain cosmetics store. Task 1 proved to be absolutely impossible in the middle of March (apparently the antithesis of pomegranate season); task 2 became imperiled when a beefy security guy told me that it’s prohibited to take product photos in Sephora stores. Being a somewhat lazy and passive person, I’m generally inclined to comply with such orders, but in this specific case is struck me that I had no need to go back to Sephora for the rest of my life, and that I had a very real and substantial need to get product shots. So, I continued taking photos for a few minutes in surreptitious ‘spy mode’, nonchalantly snapping very poor, blurry shots while keeping the camera out of eyeshot and pretending to be conscientiously shopping. Inevitably,  the security guy caught on and marched me (firmly, but civilly, I must say) out of the store to the curiosity of other patrons. Once I jumped on my bike, it occurred to me that I’d spent an few hours ‘on the clock’ shopping for a nonexistent fruit of ill-repute and getting thrown out of a perfume store. Beats workin’!

From time to time, my experiences give me a renewed appreciation for these random, short-attention-span-theater aspects of the designer’s job. Consider the juxtaposition of meetings I’ve had in the last 24 hours: yesterday, a middle-aged Chinese couple who market canned pork products to Central European countries; today, former supermodel Tereza Maxova’s charity foundation. Vive la difference!

(Photo credit: Tereza Maxova, by Flickr user Neon / 24)

PK and ERNIE (Psychokinesis and Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment)


Ever find yourself in a conversation with, say, 10 or so people where somebody brings up astrology? This happened during my recent trip to Poland and I noted how the group reaction is always pretty much the same (so long as you’re among a reasonably average cross-section of people and not, say, hanging out at a Renaissance fair): there are always 1 or 2 kindred spirits who brighten up and immediately join in the astrologizing, and then 2 or 3 people who seem palpably disgusted and even seem to feel sort of personally implicated by the topic, like Oh no: I was enjoying this discussion and now they’re talking about THIS… does that make me an idiot too? The rest become completely neutral and blank and wait for the conversation to fade into another topic (which it must be said takes a long time when astrology is involved, something I guess you have to hold against it slightly).

I count myself in the blank group: on the one hand, I find the personality archetypes astrology describes – be they true or fictional – to be really interesting and persuasive as character descriptions, and have observed enough anecdotal evidence (mainly, an astrology-obsessed friend who can guess random celebrities’ birth months with eerie precision) to believe that there’s something going on. On the other hand, it’s all pretty tiresome, self-absorbed and annoyingly deterministic, such that I get depressed if I try to imagine someone who actually treats it as a predicative science and allows it to influence their feelings about who they’re dating or whatever. In short, I’m maddeningly agnostic, a personality trait that I’m also aware of whenever I talk with somebody who swears they saw a ghost or describes some other kind of supernatural experience first-hand: I often find myself simultaneously believing them and not believing in a way that seems like it should be impossible to experience at the same time.

Where this issue gets really maddening is when you read about the attempts of scientists to either prove or disprove paranormal things one way or the other and find that such paranormal things basically refuse to either (a) quietly go away and be proven non-existent or (b) manifest themselves in a way that’s strong enough to justify adjusting your world view taking them seriously. Consider, for example, one phenomenon that’s been observed over and over: if you take a random binary number generator that spits out 0s and 1s and place a subject in front of it and ask the subject to will it to produce a certain number, over time you will observe a tiny but statistically-significant effect. Think about this: person… concentrating on box… statistically-significant effect, over and over again.

The first tests done along these lines were conducted in the 1930s with dice throws and a subject who tried to will a certain roll to come up. The ‘father of Parapsychology’, J.B. Rhine, conducted an experiment over several years that involved 651,216 rolls and produced an effect that he calculated would have a 1 in 10,115 chance of occurring by coincidence. Still, there were many problems with the methodology, mostly associated with the vagaries of rolling dice– first, special rolling cups and, later, electronic dice-rollers had to be introduced to rule out the possibility of cheating. Later, ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) was brought in to spit out 1s and 0s. While this controls for the problem of cheating, I wonder if it didn’t introduce another possible methodological flaw: APATHY. How do you rest assured that subjects aren’t just zoning out and not trying, given that you’ve given them the task of staring at a box and willing it to produce more 1s than 0s (or vice versa). Another problem that is both more serious and extremely silly is the problem of differentiating between psychokinesis (controlling objects through your mind) versus precognition (predicting the future). If you allow that both skills could exist, then how do you know that the subject isn’t psychically anticipating the number that is going to come up more often rather than willing it to come up? You can get around this by having the experimenter indicate the number that the subject is supposed to will to come up… but then what if the experimenter is exhibiting precognition in his or her choice of number?

I guess I don’t have a concluding point except to say that all of this psychokinesis business seems too silly and obscure to merit serious study, and yet too striking and weirdly probable to ignore altogether. Have a nice day!

Oafish state-sponsored art

The New York Times profile of David Černy that Krafty posted does a nice job of framing our understanding of Cerny’s crazy-ass work as a reaction against the state-sponsored propaganda-style public art that was commonplace under socialism. I was interested to find out that there was direct link between the two: a traumatizing experience Cerny had as a child when he unwittingly repeated a negative comment his father made about a new Lenin statue to his schoolmates and wound up getting labeled as a young subversive by school authorities. As an homage to What David Cerny Hated, let’s look at a few notably oafish, condescending or poorly-conceived examples of socialist public art:


1. Soviet Liberation Statue

Location: Prague, in seedy park by main train station.

Status: still exists, minus explanatory plaque that’s been torn off

Defining characteristics: patronizing, vaguely sexually undermining

This was built to commemorate the Soviet liberation of Prague, which is all well and good. It depicts a Czech solider joyously hugging a Russian soldier as the latter victoriously stomps into Prague, which is… a bit more questionable in terms of good taste, but still acceptable.  The problem is that the Czech solider is outrageously girly and limp-wristed, whereas the Russian solider is a solid hunk of manliness. At some point, the statue’s plaque was torn off, leaving it in a decontextualized condition where it reads like a celebration of gay love in the military.

(photo credit: my former Prague College co-instructor Rory Wilmer).


2. Stalin’s Monument

Location: looming over Prague from Letna park.

Status: dynamited to smithereens in 1962

Defining characteristics: ill-conceived; giant, politically awkward eyesore; drove its creator to suicide; generally bad mojo all around

The Czech government spent over 5 years building the world’s largest statue of Stalin and unveiled it to the public in May, 1955. They had about nine months to enjoy their work before Kruschev promptly revealed the crimes of Stalin in the 20th Congress in February of 1956. Oops. Meanwhile, the sculptor, Otakar Švec, who had been receiving threats from the secret police on one side and hate mail from disgusted Czech citizens on the other, decided to call it quits and killed himself three weeks after the unveiling. 1n 1962, the Czech authorities finally blew up the statue, which has since been replaced by a giant metronome that is both quite cool-looking and symbolically mysterious.


3. Soviet War Memorial

Location: Treptow Park, Berlin

Status: still exists as mirthful tourist attraction

Defining characteristics: megalomaniacal, overconfident

After the Red Army reached Berlin and effectively ended WWII in Europe, the Soviet authorities – never the most subtle of propagandists – decided to build  a massive memorial in the conquered German capital basically celebrating their own kicking-of-Nazi-ass and winning-of-the-War. Which is pretty much as unsubtle as you can get, although you have to appreciate the sheer chest-beating chutzpah of the decision. One of my favorite weirdo things in Berlin, the memorial is executed in the massive, symmetrical power-art style typical of Soviet public art and concludes with a giant statue of a Soviet solider stomping on a shattered swastika. Fuck yeah! There’s actually something a bit touching about the place, when you consider that the authorities in charge no doubt felt that Soviet-style socialism was just getting started and would easily reign for a few more centuries. Instead, their commemoration of Communism-over-Fascism has already become a tourist curiosity for snickering Western tourists a scant 45 years later.