1/27/2012 3:33:23 PM
Forget the global warming crisis; pay no mind to unabated fundamentalism smeared across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and American heartland; don’t worry about withering civil rights under Bush and Obama. No, America, we have a much more pressing concern: mucus.
Saliva. Phlegm. Big, slimy loogies. Spit.
The world can be an ugly place, so might as well not be forced to shuffle through it stepping on each other’s snot. That’s why John Metcalfe wrote a breezy defense of anti-spitting laws for the urban planning and design blog The Atlantic Cities.
Archaic spitting laws that restrict the public discharge of fluids from your face, many passed in the “tuberculosis-ridden 1800s,” are still on the books across the country—and even enforced. “After seeing the 18-year-old discharge a glob of saliva onto the street,” Metcalfe summarizes a recent Florida news story, “a pair of local cops took him to jail and stuck him with a $100 fine.” But that’s not quite satisfying for Metcalfe, who claims he would “personally rather run across an angry drug addict peeing on a dumpster than one more man launching a snot rocket over the subway tracks.”
The Florida adolescent didn’t even receive the maximum penalty for spitting. According to Metcalfe, “Violators can incur fines of up to $500 and a 60-day jail sentence, where presumably they can spit their hearts out into a metal toilet.”
Other places already impose and police spitting bans—for example golf courses, Singapore, and the fictional planet Arrakis—to great effect. Their reasons are unique to the place, but all send the same message: “Don’t be gross, people.”
The article might have been merely an excuse for Metcalfe to write a bunch of gross puns and cringe-worthy anecdotes. (You might also argue that that’s why I wrote a post about it, too.) He doesn’t step into the discussion of whether or not it’s the proper place for government in our personal lives, which is probably good, because that could only lead to a black hole of comment flaming. But I largely agree with his opinion that spitting doesn’t do much to encourage polite social interaction.
Source: The Atlantic Cities
Image by peretzp, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/17/2012 3:02:46 PM
This is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on
When Google launched Street View in 2007, it was the company’s intent to map and document every street in the United States. Cars were dispatched into every city to drive every street and back road, using nine directional cameras mounted on the roofs of special cars. These cameras give us 360° movable views at a height of about 8.2 feet. There are also GPS units for positioning and three laser-range scanners designed for measuring up to 50 meters 180° in the front of the vehicle. [Artist Doug] Rickard analyzed tens or hundreds of thousands of Street Views in his search for perfect pictures, something he describes as containing an “apocalyptic-like brokenness.” Indeed, the height of the camera at 8.2 feet, while creating an aesthetic cohesion and uniformity of vision, adds a distinct feeling of “alienation” that Rickard employs. Unlike the making of street photos in the traditional sense, with Street View there is an oblivious-ness to the camera as it goes about its job with no feeling or emotion. In spite of this anonymity of machine, his images are—perhaps surprisingly—layered with empathy.
Rickard has amassed several terabytes of Street View images—nearly 15,000 shots captured, labeled, and stored. From that massive stash, he selected only about 80 images for “A New American Picture,” of which a selection is on view at MoMA. To give you an idea of the voracity of Rickard’s Street View search, he has virtually explored almost every neighborhood in the “broken” portions of Atlanta, New Orleans, Jersey City, Durham, Houston, Watts (in Los Angeles) and Camden. He has also explored, inch by inch, the smaller towns of America with names like Lovington, Waco, Artesia, Dothan and Macon. What he looks for are images that carry what he calls a certain “poetry” of subject matter, color, and story—a story described in part by him as “the inverse of the American Dream.” And if the image isn’t “perfect” according to the elements of Rickard’s demands, it’s a no-go. Everything in the image has to be composed, via the camera motion of Street View, to his very subjective, personal, and exacting standards.
Rickard’s exhibition at MoMA opened last September and closes on January 16, 2012. The show is aptly entitled “New Photography 2011,” and includes the work of five other photographers: Moyra Davey, George Georgiou, Deana Lawson, Viviane Sassen and Zhang Dali.
Doug Rickard is a modern-day photographer not unlike those who went before him. His imagery can be compared to the banal and mysterious cityscapes of painter Edward Hopper, or the great documentary photographers like Ben Shahn, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, all of whom shone a light on the shadows and made known the “invisible”—the disenfranchised and forgotten communities of America. Just as WPA photographers like Dorothea Lange combed America to document the great American Depression, so has Doug Rickard with his new camera: Google Street View.
Images courtesy of Doug Rickard and Observatory.
1/9/2012 5:17:57 PM
“In 2012,” writes Greg Beato for The Smart Set, “Ronald McDonald is essentially a clown without a country.” Beato is referring to the rapid modernization of the McDonald’s fast food restaurant chain, which has abandoned the primary-colored, dine-n-ditch, gee-whiz simplicity of its past and embraced chic aesthetics, comfortable ambiance, and more sophisticated flavors. As a symbol of McDonald’s garish past, Ronald is being left by the wayside. Quips Beato, “Amidst the sleek walnut paneling and modernist dining chairs, however, the chain’s longtime mascot looks less like a crown prince than a red-headed stepchild.”
Ronald McDonald’s “job” at the restaurant chain best show’s the company’s changing relationship with its diners. Beato explains Ronald’s career path from burger slinger to what amounts to a community outreach volunteer:
Demoted upwards to Chief Happiness Officer, Ronald has roughly the same job duties as First Lady Michelle Obama. He serves as the public face of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides housing to the families of hospitalized children. He promotes literacy. He engages in brief bouts of highly publicized physical activity. But his position with McDonald’s is equally defined by what he’s not allowed to do on behalf of the chain he helped turn into an international superpower. “He does not hawk food,” Jim Skinner insisted at the 2010 shareholder’s meeting. “He never does a hard sell,” reiterated Marlena Peleo-Lazar in [a] USA Today piece.
That only scratches the surface. Beato’s description of Ronald’s history at McDonald’s is well-sourced and extensive—all of it fascinating.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by Valerie Everett, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/4/2012 5:01:54 PM
In the run-up to the holiday season, a disproportionate number of well-known public figures died. Firebrand author Christopher Hitchens, Czech playwright and politician Václav Havel, and North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, to name a few. But for all the press that the deaths of those three garnered, Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora’s silent passing seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Sad and fitting, you might say, for someone from a republic speckled off the west coast of Africa like so much wind-blown Saharan sand.
Cape Verde comprises a small, 10-island archipelago off the coast of Senegal. “Cape Verdeans are a small people,” writes Janine de Novais—a Cape Verdean living in Massachussetts—in an obituary-cum-mini-memoir for the Paris Review, “a million split evenly between the islands and the diaspora.” Part of their relative invisibility and hardship, both common topics in Évora’s music, stems from a nebulous cultural identity in a big, globalized world.
De Novais recounts her own hesitancy to explain where she’s from while growing up in Belgium, a task that often “required cutting the air in the shape of Africa and picking a spot somewhere in the middle of an imagined ocean. There—that’s where I’m from. I might as well have said, Nowhere.” When Évora became a globally-known diva, however, de Novais found she could mention her birthplace without meeting blank stares. “You’re Cape Verdean? Oh, Cesária Évora!” people would say in response.
But for de Novais, Évora was more than a touchstone, she was a symbol for the home she had so much trouble explaining. “[Évora] encompassed all I wanted to say about home” she writes, “her voice was the easy pace, the maritime air, the raspy beauty, and the full sound of the port city of Mindelo, her hometown and mine.”
Another obituary written for British magazine The Independent remembers how Évora’s somber singing-style—part blues, part African Creole folk, and part soul—enchanted the world’s heart. “The genre she specialized in, the sad, poetic morna, is distinctive and atmospheric and Évora’s voice, mellow and simple, was perhaps its loveliest vehicle.” The Independent explains the genre just as well as I could:
Sodade is the morna’s key emotional basis, Cape Verdean Creole for the Portuguese saudade, or nostalgia and longing—for home, often, because Cape Verdeans are great departers. One of Évora’s most celebrated songs, called simply “Sodade,” encapsulates this world with its hauntingly matter-of-fact lyric, “You write to me, I’ll write to you/ You forget me, I’ll forget you.”
As my own coda, I’ll leave you with the video to “Sodade”:
Sources: The Independent, Paris Review
Image by Expansão Cultural, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/3/2012 4:11:15 PM
This article originally appeared at Places.
My grandmother’s highest compliment for a natural landscape was to say that it was “pretty as a picture.” Even as a kid I remember thinking that this aesthetic was somehow upside-down, that the beauty of art should be judged according to the inimitable standard of natural beauty rather than the other way around. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, well-heeled European travelers toured the countryside looking for views that would be as pretty as a picture — or, to be more precise, as pretty as a painting. And because they had a certain kind of painting in mind as embodying their standard of natural beauty, these early ecotourists often carried with them a small, convex, tinted mirror known as a “Claude glass,” after the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. When a picturesque landscape was encountered — say, the snow-capped Alps — the tourists would turn their backs to the mountains and whip out their Claude glass, holding it up to frame the mountains, which were not only reflected but also color-shifted to a tonal range that made them appear more painterly. And voila! The rugged Alps become not only pretty as a picture, but become a picture, as the pleased ecotourists admired not the mountains but rather the image they had created. But must we turn our backs on the land to see it as aesthetically pleasing? Why do we so often love our representations of the world more dearly than we love the world itself?
You might say that the Claude glass of the 19th century was photography, and that the 20th-century Claude glass was film. These technologies have profoundly conditioned our landscape aesthetics; they have, in effect, allowed us to frame the world. Certainly cinema’s stylized, controlled and color-corrected representations of nature have thoroughly mediated our relationship to the physical world, not only shaping our environmental aesthetics but also implying that a representation of nature may be an improvement upon nature itself. Film has the power to show us landscape in remarkably dramatic fashion; but to see the land in film we must first turn our back on the land itself. To climb up into the bright mountains of the screen, we must first descend into the dark cave of the theater.
From an early age I’ve held the unwavering conviction that musicals — especially movie musicals — constitute the most intolerable and misguided aesthetic form in the checkered history of human civilization. Besides being uniformly hokey and boring, musicals are also cloying and saccharine. I make it a policy never to trust a person who would spontaneously break into song, especially when they’re about to begin a knife fight (West Side Story), adopt an orphan as a publicity stunt (Annie), or confess their unwanted pregnancy (Grease). Clearly the world would be a better place if this upswelling, confessional, tuneful emoting could be soundly squelched.
If I sound testy, I have good reason. As the father of two young daughters, I have in the past several years been subjected to musicals too numerous and nauseating to be enumerated. The most frequently repeated of these abominations is the much-beloved The Sound of Music, whose perennial popularity confirms every curmudgeonly thing I’ve ever said or written about my fellow human beings. Indeed, the National Association of Misanthropes might consider screening this “timeless classic” at its annual convention, if only to reassure members that they really are on the right track. But despite my personal aversion, The Sound of Music, released in 1965, not only bailed out a sinking 20th Century Fox but, adjusted for inflation, has gone on to make over a billion dollars. That’s “billion” with a “B,” as in "Blockbuster," or "Banal" or "Bullshit."
Read the rest of this essay at
Photo by the author.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!