Category Archives: Fun

Santa Crisis

A blog gives you visibility, allowing people from all over with views akin to yours getting in touch. That’s what happened a couple of months ago with conceptual artist, Little Shiva asking: “What about a common project?” I told her of a possible allegory for the crisis, a symbol that you could copy here and there, whose name would be Santa Crisis.

After some going back and forth, here he is: a jolly old elf!

Make him known: that’s the idea. Just inform where he was born: here and there.

Click to enhance.

Galactic Report XYZ 00098887


I need to report to you what might be a case of acute poisoning while on mission on planet Terra.

Yesterday, in the course of my duty, I happened to hold very tight for a couple of minutes a human female (from now on HF). Today, as a consequence of this I developed disturbing symptoms. Repeatedly during the day, and for no apparent reason, my train of thought was brought back to holding the HF tight. Each time the memory occurred my body was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling reminiscent of the influence of a toxic substance. The feeling started as a swirling motion in the abdominal region that rapidly spread until it involved the whole body. The sensation is difficult to define as it feels simultaneously as a warmth and a glow and is accompanied by a great weakness of the body, so great sometimes that I felt ready to faint. My description may not convey that despite (or maybe because of?) the great weakness, the feeling is utterly pleasurable. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the inhabitants of Terra have developed an addiction for the experience.

There is a huge database accessible to the inhabitants of this planet, called “Internet”. I sought for an explanation of the phenomenon and found a number of reports with relevant information. The phenomenon is called “love.” Supposedly, it has nothing to do with poisoning. Apparently there is no known explanation, although authors agree that – despite no role being played by substances – it is still a question of “chemistry”. From what I understand, the HF is likely to have gone through the same difficulties as I have encountered today. Her denying that this is the case should be ignored, say the texts, as it is common for HF to claim that “love” has no power on them. The effect may recede rapidly but it has been documented that it can remain just as potent for dozens of years.

Human culture apparently claims that anything done under the influence of “love” is automatically right. I find this very difficult to admit as the phenomenon, as I already said, puts you in a state very close to intoxication, with the body very feeble, and judgment very much obscured.

To be complete, I need to add that during the day, I also felt the sudden urge to build a house for the HF. Such odd effect is not mentioned in the reports I read on “love” and may not be related to the phenomenon described here.

I believed it my duty, Sir, to report on my worrying experience on planet Terra.

Galactic Explorer Joe Ryon

PS: Any letter written under the influence of “love” is supposed to be regarded as a “love letter”. I imagine that this applies therefore to the present one too.

Logic and semantics in Woody Allen’s “The UFO Menace”

We read in Woody Allen’s “The UFO Menace” (*) that:

“Professor Leon Speciman postulates a civilization in outer space that is more advanced than ours by approximately fifteen minutes. This, he feels gives them a great advantage over us, since they needn’t rush to get to appointments.”

With due respect to the Nobel Prize laureate I would like to inform him that, had he been familiar with the work of the Mohist logicians (4th and 3rd Centuries B.C.) and with the Mo-tzu in particular, he wouldn’t have come up with such flawed reasoning. Indeed, that a civilization in outer space is more advanced than ours by approximately fifteen minutes does not entail that every one of the representatives of that civilization will himself or herself be advanced by fifteen minutes and will, for instance, avoid such embarrassment as running late at the dentist.

The Hsiao Ch’ü provides numerous examples of valid and invalid inferences that could have served as templates to Professor Speciman:

“If you inhabit somewhere in a state, you are deemed to inhabit the state; if you own one house in the state, you are not deemed to own the state. If this horse’s eyes are blind, we deem this horse blind; if this horse’s eyes are big, we do not say that this horse is big. If these oxen’s hairs are yellow, we say that these oxen are yellow; if these oxen’s hairs are many, we do not say that these oxen are many” (Hansen 1983: 136-137).

“Why is it”, do the Mohists ask, “that if I say ‘This oxen is yellow’, I can infer from that that all his hair is yellow but not that every one of his eyes is yellow?” The answer is of course that the “yellowness” of an oxen derives from the collectively attained color of its individual hair but not from the color of his eyes. The same reasoning is easily transposed to the case of an outer space civilization: its being more advanced than ours by fifteen minutes does not derive from the collective outcome of each of its members being individually more advanced by fifteen minutes in everyday pursuits but by another of its features, e.g. in the present case, its technology being more advanced by fifteen minutes.

That such inferences need to be solved on a case by case basis underlines that their application does not derive from logic which can be formalized in a symbolic language, but from semantics. The incontrovertible presence of regularities in pattern turn out here to be deceptive. Attempts at formalizing these have been made for the last fifty years by Professor Noam Chomsky and explain why he has devoted recently an increasing portion of his time to questions of a political nature rather than linguistic.

A final point on Professor Speciman’s argument: is it worth paying much attention to a civilization more advanced than ours by a mere fifteen minutes? Professor Speciman’s research is no doubt supported by taxpayers’ money; isn’t it any taxpayer’s duty to remind him that the minimum advancement between an outer space civilization and ours worth retaining attention should be a couple of years at the least?

(*) Woody Allen, The Insanity Defense, The Complete Prose, New York: Random House, 2007: 230-237

(**) Chad Hansen, Language and Logic in Ancient China, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1983

What may happen to you because you live in LA

A couple of weeks ago we had a lazy summer Sunday much unlike our habitual boogie boarding or being on the lookout for some new budding talent of the LA pictorial underground: we acted in a video clip for My Ruin.

We had attended the concert in East Hollywood on July 17th; I didn’t mind Heavy Metal forty years ago so why would I have changed my mind? Here’s a picture taken that night.
Tairrie B. - July 17, 2007
A tall guy asked me why I was there as my age was making the average shoot up by twenty years; I told him Adriana knows Tairrie B.; my answer reassured him and he didn’t call the police. Here unmistakable evidence that they indeed know each other. Adriana is on the left-hand side.
Adriana and Tairrie B.
The studio lies at the precise location where North Hollywood turns into sand and brush. Logically, because she’s got the right degree, Adriana should have been the doctor but as I look much much more doctoral, I got the part.
An anonymous blogger, Tairrie B. and Adriana
Being the nurse wasn’t too bad either: the part meant more time spent under the spotlight.
After the accident I
After the accident II
We like the beach; we like the weather and honestly, we don’t mind being stars! We love LA!
My Ruin + Adriana

Toons in contemporary LA underground iconography

Since Roy Lichtenstein made a lasting impression on the fine arts’ scene by turning individual frames of comic strips – or at least a likeness of them – into paintings, expanding to their new scale the standard pointilliste techniques for representing shading on newspaper-quality paper, a point of transit has been established between the exclusive world of fine arts and the prosaic one of comic strips.

Of course the reversed connection has a much better established ancestry as ambitious comic strips authors have found in the fine arts inspiration for their individual styles. Most notorious of course, the influence of the Japanese print makers on the Belgo-French “Ligne claire” (clean-line) school, characterized by a narrow and evenly wide black contour for every object, as well as primary colors and sparing use of shading. Among its main early representatives: Hergé (Georges Remi), Jacques Martin, Edgar P. Jacobs, Willy van der Steen and, in more recent years, Ted Benoît, André Juillard, Jean Pleyers and most prominently, Jean Giraud, in that part of his graphic oeuvre where he signs as “Moebius”. Influences traveled full circle when the “Ligne claire” became in its turn the defining style of Japanese manga; the seminal work of Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of “Akira” (1982-1986), needs to be mentioned in that respect.

The quotation is a major ingredient of art as “conceptual art,” as it represents the most elementary form of de-contextualisation: the abstraction of an element from its context and transportation into a new one. Within its new “artistic” context, the quotation is bound to contrast with whatever has been similarly summoned into that framework and more often than not, to deliberately clash with it. Such is the principle underlying Debord’s “détournement” as when in 1968, Puvis de Chavannes’ French historical figures on La Sorbonne’s murals were offered balloons to express situationist slogans. Some will also remember the 1960’s spoof of Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs where the Disney toons indulged in adult forms of entertainment.

The fine arts school referred to as “contemporary LA underground” adds a new element to the dialogue between the world of comics and painting by featuring toons within an otherwise more classical environment. The goal doesn’t seem here ironical but to serve two purposes: taking advantage of the familiarity and ease of immediate interpretation of comic-type characters and importing into the fine arts the innovations in graphic expression that have originated in the comic strip and in the animated cartoon.
‘I could eat you up - Gary Baseman (2005)
In Gary Baseman’s “I could eat you up” (2005), a cat-like young lady transports a dead Toby, reminiscent of Goya’s “Saturn devouring one of his children.” Jerome Bosch is one of Baseman’s more common sources of inspiration.
Squirrels love treats from sweety sweets - Lola (2006)
In Lola’s “Squirrels love treats from sweety sweets” (2006), one of her typical toon-like characters is depicted within a landscape the palette whereof reminds of early seventeenth century Flemish masters.
Untitled - Thomas Han (2005)
In Thomas Han’s untitled (2005), toons cavort within intentionally garishly colored surroundings.

The miracle that never was

I was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway on the morning lap of my daily commute and was listening to the classical music program broadcast from the University of South California and I was thinking to myself “This is great, this is what we like to hear on a classical music station: something different. What is this ? A piece by Béla Bartok unknown to me? Or is it perhaps a later twentieth century composition? That beat, like with the Ghanaian tom-tom from my adventurous days; the beat that Trance music (130 to 160 beats per minute) has put to an equally good use?”
So I was there with my enthusiasm rising crescendo, keenly awaiting the verdict, praising the blessed radio station for being so boldly innovative. And then the speaker’s voice disannounced: “We just heard five of Mozart’s ‘German dances’.” Rats! He had done it again. Wolfgang Amadeus, you dirty scoundrel!

California salivating

What we did last Saturday was a bit over the top: we drove 200 miles to have dinner. We’re bound to have eaten too little on Friday night as we woke up the following morning wondering where to have dinner. We ruled out our default solution, the zero degree of our imagination, Gladstone’s in Pacific Palisades (1): it’s close, it’s simple, it’s good and it has the beachy atmosphere. But I guess we wanted to move away from that zero degree. For just one second we envisaged two of our other favorite hang-outs before pushing them aside for being too easy as each in only a five minute drive away: Ocean (2): excellent seafood and cozy surroundings and the akin I Cugini (3) where we spent our most recent and most enjoyable (fine band) New Year’s Eve. Then one of us felt like cracking a joke: Grasing’s in Carmel (4). Carmel, the pearl of the Central Coast was fine when we lived in San Francisco but would be a crazy five hour drive from Santa Monica. But Carmel had set the tone: on that particular Saturday we meant to be adventuresome. Then we concurred: “Chad’s” in Santa Barbara!

Santa Barbara meant staying overnight. So I started looking for a hotel room. We gave a couple of unsuccessful phone calls before searching the web. I found a room at a spa resort for a mere $1,199 but the wallpaper on the room’s website picture didn’t strike my fancy. So we were back to square one, looking for a place where to dine in LA. So we said to ourselves “Why not Café Pierre in Manhattan Beach (5)?” And that was also a great idea (as long as you don’t take too much in earnest the “beach” in “Manhattan Beach” as one person in our party once realized when his shorts and sandals were sneered at). Last time we were there I had sweetbreads in an Atkins-compatible melted butter sauce, which – believe it or not – is not so commonly found on an LA restaurant menu.

But lo! Five minutes later we sank back into our adventuresome mood and ten minutes later we were driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, heading for Malibu, then Ventura County and at the end of the road, glowing in the West: Santa Barbara.

For some reason (depressing school years’ memories?), we dislike restaurants reminiscent of cafeterias. Being located within the precincts of a proper house helps a lot, like with Jeanty (6) in San Francisco, charming with its confined but multiple floors or the stately MacCallum House in Mendocino (7). Chad’s (8) is in a Victorian house and you eat according to your taste in the dining room or in the lounge, or in the drawing room or even in the courtyard.

We sampled Syrahs and quickly settled for a velvety Beckmen 2000. In my line of business, none of the things you call “half-baked” are very good at all but the oysters Rockefeller we shared as a starter were so to perfection: not chewy in any way, basking in a decadently Pernod-enhanced hollandaise. (Did you know that oysters Rockefeller were initially a simple transpose, with snails replaced by oysters, and that the spinach is a pure misconception – based on color only – by some inept counterfeiter, about the parsley in the original French recipe?)

Adriana chose the braised boar shank, an audacious adaptation of Chad’s renowned eight-hour braised lamb shank, and did not live to regret it. I went for the “baseball,” a 16 ounce piece of sirloin shaped as the referred-to sport appliance and coated with a brandy-peppercorn reduction. Words are failing me!
The braised boar shank at Chad’s
Before being given any opportunity for reflecting upon the subject of desserts we were offered a complimentary chocolate Jack Daniel’s soufflé. We were unsure whether the house had run out of any other desserts and was determined to pre-empt our choosing or whether some patron who had initially ordered it (twenty minutes wait) had a last-minute change of heart and had rushed to get instead scrumptious seafood at Brophy’s (9) on the pier – who could blame them? Whatever the case, we didn’t mind at all.

We drove back into the night, replete, content and fully satisfied.

(1) Gladstone’s, 17300 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; (310) 459-9734
(2) Ocean Avenue Seafood, 1401 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 394-5669
(3) I Cugini, 1501 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 451-4595
(4) Grasing’s, 6th St & Mission, Carmel CA; (831) 624-6562
(5) Café Pierre, 317 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266; (310) 545-5252
(6) Jeanty At Jack’s, 615 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94111, (415) 693-0941
(7) MacCallum House, 45020 Albion Street, Mendocino, CA 95460, 800-609-0492
(8) Chad’s, 625 Chapala St, Santa Barbara CA 93101, (805) 568-1876
(9) Brophy Brothers, 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109; (805) 966-4418

An experiment in Wikiology

I marvel at Wikipedia. There is hardly a day when I don’t go and check their site, looking up some concept, often mathematical, sometimes financial, or finding out about any other question I happen to be asking myself, about Joachim Pateniers or the bodhisattva.

In the beginning, I would only fix the typos I was coming across. Until one fateful day I got so frustrated that there was no entry for “amortizing loan” that I chose to write it up myself. The dynamics of that collective project appeal to me. I remember a science-fiction story about planet Earth being threatened by some menace from outer-space and every puny little soul that the human race counts aggregating into a single giant one. Wikipedia is a venture of that type.

What pricked my ears initially was when googling one time my own name I noticed that an entry had been created for me in the French Wikipedia. The article was skillfully written, having borrowed material from both my website and the blurb on one of my books. I looked up the author, suspecting that one of my children had been carried away by overzealous filial piety but no: not even a friend or an acquaintance, no one I knew even remotely. The person in question had authored several other entries, all about arcane technical topics like “interferential pigment” or “micro-encapsulation.” Nothing indeed I could really relate to; I felt honored though to be the only human being whom my unknown creator had cared to write about. By now there are two entries, one in English and one in French and they live their own idiosyncratic little lives: people touch them up and chat to each other about the wisdom of their touch-ups.
I was reading recently about a project of a book under a Wiki format. I checked it out and was disappointed to see it was hardly more than painting by numbers: chapter titles were already there, and sub-chapter titles had been cast in iron with blanks just waiting to be filled in. I found the whole concept disingenuous: it seemed like the publisher was trying to pinch a book out of simple-minded aspiring authors while sparing himself the trouble and costs of having to pay any writer royalties. That led me to wonder what a true experiment in Wikiology would look like. Giving it some thoughts I believe I have come up with a plausible case. Here it is.


I own that painting. I had a hunch about who had painted it. A year ago or so, I approached the gallery representing that artist. They said they would present her with the slide. Some time later they e-mailed me back; she had seen it and, no: it wasn’t hers. I was back to square one. The experiment in Wikiology is the following: I start an entry for the painting that will be updated with your comments to this blog as they come in. Major and minor progress will be versioned as, for instance, “Dolls 2.3.” There will be a prize for the winner, i.e. the person making a convincing case for authorship and date. A final hint: the back of the canvas as well as a piece of attached newspaper suggest the work was painted within the 1955 to 1965 time frame. Good luck to all!

Dolls 0.0
[Dolls] (32” x 37”) was painted by [X] in [19XX]. Born in [19XX] in [XXX], [X] studied fine arts at [XXX] under the masterful direction of [Y]….

Beijing’s Food Palace

The girl who was taking us to the opera asked where we intended to have dinner and we told her we would be going for the third time in a row to the Golden Tripod Attic. There was some sneer in her voice when she said “But that’s a normal place!” And she was right: the Golden Tripod Attic is a “normal” Beijing place, nothing like the fancy schmantzy Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant where we had some fun eating the all-duck set menu – despite the European couple at the neighboring table keeping a permanently lit cigarette close at hand to puff from between every other mouthful.

Yes, the Golden Tripod Attic is a perfectly normal place where normal Beijing people come for a mildly-priced excellent meal (we paid $25 to $30 for a feast of a meal for the two of us).

We had had our count of the lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and hot and sour soup that our travel agency imagined was as much as we could take – we were even offered (decent, I need to add) French fries at the Friendship Restaurant on our way to the Great Wall, but it was an utmost relief to find something different, like beef tripe, goose intestine or kidney, that we’ve learned to get so much starved of in the US.
Tripe or “maw”
We ate there last night, today for lunch and tonight for dinner again. When yesterday night we first glimpsed at the restaurant’s gloriously neon-lit façade, we baptized it the “Food Palace” and that’s the way it will remain in our minds, despite the intriguing poetry of its actual name: the “Golden Tripod Attic.”

The attic on the 3d floor is where we had our first meal: no open space for tables, but private alcoves separated by screen-like wooden walls reminding – for all I know – of the opium eateries of yore.
The glossy menu at the Golden Tripode Attic
None of the hyper-active young crew knows as much as broken English but don’t worry, the menu is of the glitzy glossy magazine type with full illustrations and comments in English – don’t go too far in trusting those: the “leek” of the “kidney and leek” look uncannily like cilantro and it is the latter that you’ll get in your plate. The wine list however has not been translated from the Chinese and so we stuck unadventurously with beer and tea that we could pinpoint on neighboring tables.

Don’t expect that asking for a non-smoking table will get you anything more than a smoke-free six-feet radius from the place you sit: this remains China after all. Requests for doggie-bags or even doggie-cups are welcome: Adriana had to ask for one to take back to the hotel some of the delicious ‘shark fin and abalone soup’ she had ordered as soups come in the size fit to serve an entire platoon.

The Golden Tripod Attic is open around the clock. It is located across from another four star attraction: the Lama temple.