Archive for January, 2008

500 years of women in Western art

January 31, 2008

This is really quite beautiful.


And the winner is —

January 30, 2008


During my seven-year run as a magazine editor, I fell in love with the look and lore of typefaces: the graceful serifed fonts, with their subtle visual curls and cues, contrasted against the blocky honesty of sans-serifed fonts. I loved writing text and then swapping among fonts, just to see what the typeface would add to the content. While I had a brief infatuation with the calligraphic fonts and some of the ultra-moderns, I always kept coming back to the old standards: Helvetica, Courier, Palatino, Bodoni. They were safe, unobtrusive, trustworthy.

The Boston Globe is picking candidates based on the typography of their logos. “If we were to predict the results based on typography and design,” say the editors, “we would pick McCain and Obama.”

Obama’s type is contemporary, fresh, very polished and professional. The serifs are sharp and pointed; clean pen strokes evoke a well-pressed Armani suit… This typography is young and cool. Clearly not the old standards of years past.

And poor Hillary?

The Hillary type palette is far from fresh and colorful; it is begging for legitimacy instead of demanding respect. It projects recycled establishment. The type has a tired feeling, as if the ink has been soaking into the page too long.

(Why, I wondered, with the other candidates making such good use of their last names in their logos, would Hillary use only her first name — Oh, wait a minute. Yeah, right.)

While the Globe editors had mixed feelings on Romney’s look (good use of caps, but a weak symbol), they ended with a flourish on McCain:

McCain uses type that is a perfect compromise between a sans and a serif, what type geeks call a “flared sans.” Not quite sans and not quite serif, sort of in between, moderate, not too far in either direction… The military star centered and shadowed is a not-so-subtle touch. And McCain just says “President,” as if to say he’s already been elected. Everything about this logo says you can buy a car from this man.

I disagree. McCain’s logo bores the crap out of me. It’s old and stodgy and more black than blue, and it’s probably the reason why he won Florida — you could easily see it at 500 yards, with or without your bifocals. Based on the typeface, I’d probably go for Obama.

Mad about magazines

January 28, 2008

tiger beatSome of the best education I received came, not in school, but on the floor in front of the magazine rack in my father’s drug store, where I started waiting on customers when I was eight. (I learned to add and subtract by making change from the cash register. I was darn good at it.) I started out with comic books, but by age 10, I was ready for something more grounded in real life. Even Super Girl and Wonder Woman have their limitations.

The local magazine distributor wasn’t very discriminating, and the magazines we stocked were definitely second-tier. (A few years later, I’d have to go across the street to the Safeway to get my Seventeen fix.) Once a woman came up to my father and announced that we had “the dirtiest magazine collection in town!” For a time after that, he’d glance through the titles when they arrived and pull out one or two, but eventually he lost interest and the purience of our stash was again guaranteed. Thus, I had all sorts of areas to explore: True Crime, Modern Romance, Stag, Screenplay, Tiger Beat, Western Adventures, and the most coveted of all, Mad Magazine. (Some wag claims that girls couldn’t possibly appreciate Alfred E. Newman and his friends, but I inhaled them all: Spy versus Spy, Horrifying Cliches and those wicked movie parodies, especially “The Poopsidedown Adventure” and “Star Blecch,” all of it!)

I would usually wait until Sunday afternoons after church when the store was closed and my parents were napping to drown myself in pulp fiction. I’d grab a stack of magazines and a Coke from the water-filled cooler, hunker down on the cold tile floor behind the American Greetings card display rack and explore the adult world until my little cheeks were numb.

My pubescent 12-year-old self (with my 15 extra pounds and early-onset acne) particularly ate up the romance magazines. I remember one thrilling account of a girl who, after a long crush on a particular boy, finally ended up locking lips with him until “celestial chords of music rang in her head.” Two paragraphs later, she realizes she is pregnant. I was puzzled. Is that how it worked? What part did the chords of music play in her getting knocked up? Was there an effective birth control against such chords? This was much more interesting than comic books. Read the rest of this entry »


January 25, 2008

I like Meghan Daum, so much so that I ordered her essay collections and subscribed to her weekly column. Now a columnist with the LA Times, she is perhaps best known for a startling essay published in The New Yorker in 1999 where she outlined how completely impossible it is for a normal person to afford to live in New York City. She retreated to the financial obscurity of Nebraska for a time before ending up in LA.

Her latest column has been nagging at me ever since it showed up Monday. A fairly attractive woman, Daum describes a visit to a dermatologist to take care of an “inconsequential” scar on her knee:

Without looking at my chart, the porcelain-skinned, flawlessly made-up “laser spa technician” led me into the treatment room, gestured toward a hulking machine worthy of the Starship Enterprise, glanced up at me and asked, “Just your face today?”

At that moment, the era of not worrying about my face came to a screeching halt. My adolescence and early adulthood had been marked by a low-grade dissatisfaction with just about every other aspect of my appearance (there was so much to hate about my hair and body that a little blotchiness and acne seemed like lint on my shirt by comparison), but now I was officially at war with my face.

Granted, Daum nows lives in SoCal, where agonizing over the encroachments of age has become a religion, but for the technician to assume she was ready to grapple in mortal combat with her face made me squirm. She goes on to make the case that high-definition television, which has the ability to magnify every enlarged pore to the size of a quarter, isn’t going to go away. HD camcorders will bring our personal hard truths to our own televisions, and we’re all going to be judged by an increasingly high standard. Read the rest of this entry »

Pig wrestlin’ on the campaign trail

January 24, 2008

The Salt Lake Tribune, in its never-ending quest to bring justice and reason to the Intermountain West, picked up a New York Times story today that claims Mitt Romney is, well, not very well-liked by his Republican opponents:

“Never get into a wrestling match with a pig,” Senator John McCain said in New Hampshire this month after reporters asked him about Mr. Romney. “You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”   

The Romney camp, not surprisingly, is nonplussed:

A spokesman for the Romney campaign, Kevin Madden, said, “I think it’s largely driven by the fact that everybody’s taught to tackle the guy on the field with the ball.”   

The pundits are having so much fun with the ongoing shouting match between Clinton and Obama that they probably want to bait the Republicans into a similar fight. Both McCain and Huckabee seem willing, especially considering, at the moment, Romney and McCain are running cheek by jowl in two primaries.

Here’s hoping they all keep their ties and jackets on and stay focused on the real issues—like, oh, I don’t know, maybe the ECONOMY?

(And for an interesting take on Hillary by one of her constituents, check this.)  

Early Austen

January 23, 2008

poster_northangerabbey_play.jpgNorthanger Abbey, which was entirely new to me, is a mere bauble compared to Jane Austen’s later works. In her intro to the PBS adaptation Sunday, a thoroughly Anglified Jillian Anderson pointed to its being Austen’s first novel, written at 23 and sold to a publisher for ten pounds — and promptly put on a shelf.

Austen seemed to intend it to be a send-up of the overwrought Gothic novels that were so popular in her day (and that she undoubtedly read). But it so clearly establishes the themes of Austen’s later works: romantic love, duty to one’s family, class structure and the myriad entanglements of money. Young Catherine may be confused about everyone’s motives, but we aren’t, or shouldn’t be: Income is all.

As Stephanie Cootnz reminds us here, romantic love as a basis for marriage is a recent phenomenon:

Marriage became the main way that the upper classes consolidated wealth, forged military coalitions, finalized peace treaties, and bolstered claims to social status or political authority. Getting “well-connected” in-laws was a preoccupation of the middle classes as well, while the dowry a man received at marriage was often the biggest economic stake he would acquire before his parents died…Until the late 18th century, parents took for granted their right to arrange their children’s marriages and even, in many regions, to dissolve a marriage made without their permission.

I used to accuse my mother of paying my husband to marry me. (They both denied it.) Two hundred years ago, it wouldn’t have been very strange.

The Times discovers the Fatosphere

January 23, 2008

I can’t believe the New York Times thinks this is news. I’ve been reading fat-acceptance websites and blogs for years, and I think NAAFA goes back a decade or more:

Blogs written by fat people — and it’s fine to use the word, they say — have multiplied in recent months, filling a virtual soapbox known as the fatosphere, where bloggers calling for fat acceptance challenge just about everything conventional medical wisdom has to say about obesity.

Smart, sassy and irreverent, bloggers with names like Big Fat Deal, FatChicksRule and Fatgrrl (“Now with 50 percent more fat!”) buck anti-obesity sentiment. They celebrate their full figures and call on readers to accept their bodies, quit dieting and get on with life.

The message from the fatosphere is not just that big is beautiful. Many of the bloggers dismiss the “obesity epidemic” as hysteria. They argue that Americans are not that much larger than they used to be and that being fat in and of itself is not necessarily bad for you.

And they reject a core belief that many Americans, including overweight ones, hold dear: that all a fat person needs to do to be thin is exercise more and eat less.

The mainstream media and the fatphobic public HATE this kind of talk. We people of any-size-but-a-size-six must be made accountable, must see the error of our carbo-licious ways, must toe that thin line. Well, that’s just JUNK. Read the rest of this entry »

A novel future?

January 22, 2008

According to this in the NYTimes, the Japanese may be pointing the way for the evolution of the novel: the cellphone novel, a largely feminine phenomenon:

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere…

Here’s how it works:

One such star, a 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors… After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007…

I wonder what it says about our attention spans? And if the authors hew to the minimalism used by most texters, the novels would be positively Hemingwayesque. (And the spelling!) Read the rest of this entry »

Literary wallpaper

January 17, 2008

I’m crazy about this decorating idea. (Via) I have an office at home (complete with a nameplate swiped from a previous job). Almost as soon as I got it all set up, the goons camped out in there and claimed the computer for several years. I’d come home and find the small room draped with hulking, hairy young men in cargo shorts and flip flops screaming at the screen. But they’ve all graduated and moved on, so it’s mine again — although I’m still pulling out tracts from World of Warcraft from every possible niche. I have my office back, but I miss the noise.


January 16, 2008

persuasion.jpgIt’s bitter cold here, but I am warmed at the prospect of a Jane Austen overload, which began Sunday on PBS with the first of a series of Austen adaptations, Persuasion.It is interesting that the producers chose to begin the series with Austen’s final novel, which speaks of a change in the British caste system brought about by the realm’s success in the Napoleonic wars. After earning his reputation and fortune at sea, Ann’s Captain Wentworth could finally thought to be worthy of her — although we and Ann knew he was all along. 

 I love this story, and I loved this setting of it. It speaks of second chances and the unchanging nature of love and hope. “The one claim I shall make for my own sex,” Ann tells Captain Benwick, “is that we love longest, when all hope is gone.” 

That Ann, beyond all hope at 27, could break through the selfishness of the people surrounding her to find and claim her future is so compelling. Perhaps it speaks of Austen’s state of mind as she moved into her late 30s and on to her death at 41. Always hope — for something better, for a resolution, for the knitting up of loose ends. The film was all muted colors and misty British air, dim closeted rooms and pale faces.

While I liked the 1995 film version (especially the brooding Ciarán Hinds as Wentworth), I hated its portrayal of Ann’s family as slap-stick caricatures. In the PBS version, they were cloying, narcissistic snobs, which is probably more of what Austen had in mind. (And we wonder why she hated Bath…) 

I chose this novel for my turn at our Jane Austen Book Club.  Up next on PBS: Northanger Abbey.