Van Gogh's "Wheatfield"

I have to send more spam for work today. Some more styles we’re trying to get rid of. The last time, just for fun, I put the pictures of the outfits we’re hawking in front of a Renoir landscape… and people liked it… they made our clothes look sunnier, classier…

I thought I’d try that again, but this time with a Van Gogh.

Renoir probably hummed a happy tune, picked up his easel when he was done, and went home and did happy things. Who knows. I don’t know anything about him.

I know a lot about Van Gogh, and it’s there in every one of his pieces. Even this one; a wheat field, just past noon on a breezy, warm summer day. You can tell all this from looking at the painting; you can feel the breeze, very lightly moving the stalks around. A perfect, summer day.

But then, clawing around the edges, in the bold blacks used for shadows, shadows darker than you would ever see on such a summery day, despair. On the most beautiful days – and I’ve read by those who’ve seen the originals, positively glowing with new paints never before available so that the brights are brighter and more vibrant than can be seen on a screen – blackness. In his later landscapes, the blackness becomes more overtly menacing, but it’s here, everywhere he looked. He couldn’t see the light without the darkness beneath it.

I despair of a world where we would cure Vincent of his madness as a child, where he would become a Ritalin-doped farmer, never seeing any shadows and never telling the world about them. And yet, looking at these masterpieces, feeling his pain, I just want to help him and make him better, so he can have some peace and happiness.

Stephen King wrote a short story, “The Langoliers“. Langoliers were creatures that followed just behind the present, eating the useless past. All the present could do was keep running ahead of the voracious beasts who left only nothingness behind.

Van Gogh saw each bright moment chased by darkness.

Just got a call from the sales manager. She thinks the background draws too much attention from the clothes, and maybe she should look over what I send before I send things.

Well, I think the clothes look boring without something to look at. Clothes on mannequins is so… static, and (deliberately) without context. Anyway, I guess my Fine Arts (With Clothes) experiment ends here.

And aren’t I happy nobody from work knows about this blog. I hope.

The Da Vinci Code

Being sick has been a great opportunity to catch up on my reading. And I’ve been wanting to get into Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” for a long time. For one thing, he’s from my home state of New Hampshire, so that puts him right up there with my other favorite New Hampshire novelists, like John Irving, ____, ____, and ummm _____… okay I can’t think of any others.

And, of course, it’s sold a zillion copies and is going to be a megasmash hit this summer in theaters.

Now, when my friend Teresa was staying with us, she was totally into thrillers, and I’d get them after she read them. So I am pretty conversant with them… and I have to admit, Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” characters are the worst kind of hackneyed, cardboard-flat characters I’ve seen. Not one of them was believable. They are not worth ever mentioning again.

The plot serves only to move the characters to the places Brown has researched, so he can describe them and their history… and here’s the strength of the book, the reason it is worth reading at all.

Though the plot is strained and the characters runny, the research is wonderful. Lots of interesting and useful details; as if you were going around Paris with France’s most knowledgeable tour guide. If I were ever going to visit Paris; I would bring this book. Especially if I was headed to the Louvre.

It doesn’t deserve all the attention it’s gotten. The huge amount of research, right there on the page, can’t make up for the lack of plot or interesting characters (I guess we’re supposed to think of the seven-foot tall albino self-flagellating Opus Dei assassin as a realistic villain).

Those in search of somewhat better characterizations would probably enjoy James Patterson; I really liked his “Women’s Murder Club” series. And for those craving the religious connection “The Jester” concerns the discovery in the First Crusade of a bit of the True Cross and the Spear of Loginus.

That spear has gotten quite a workout. I first remembered hearing about it in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where they were using its power to (you’ve all seen this series, right, so I’m not spoiling anything) dissolve humanity into one big world-mind, until they decided to go ahead and kill an Angel with it. Was that EVA really Shinji’s mom? Or was it little cloned Rey that was the living legacy of his mom’s “Work > All” ethic? Can I spoil any more of the series for you?

Now that I am thoroughly outcast by the Roman Catholic Church for having read The Da Vinci Code, I suppose making an Oblivion mod that gave me a Spear of Longinus as a weapon and True Cross arrows couldn’t get me in any worse trouble.

In a NyQuil Nightmare ™ last night, I dreamed of a happy world. My neighbor ran a burger restaurant (he specialized in “Double-Wide Steakburgers”), and I forget what I did. But I was married. I had a pet furry creature who had the bad habit of turning into water if people weren’t paying attention to him. So you might find this glass of water and start to drink it, but then it turns into a furry creature and runs off.

I was married and we had a good life, but I couldn’t remember the birthdays of my several children, and then I couldn’t even remember their names. My youngest son’s name started with an ‘M’ – ‘Mark’, I think, and he knew what was going on, but I didn’t. And then time shifted and I was earlier in my life, and I knew more of my life, but the future would be screwed up, unless I made sure my neighbor made “Double Wides” in a restaurant, and if I could keep the furry thing from being drunk or dumped. Time shifted a couple more times; I now remembered everything about my children, but they didn’t remember me at all and thought I was crazy, the furry thing was gone/killed, and my neighbor didn’t cook at all.

On the other hand, I looked better in my dream than I do in real life.

So that’s something.

"The Golden Man"

The next movie based on a Philip K. Dick story is to be called… “Next”. I haven’t read this story (or don’t remember it), about a mutant product of a radioactive war who is gold-colored, sexually irresistable, impossible to kill and a Threat To Humanity.

I wonder how the presumeably soon-to-be-released animated “A Scanner Darkly” is coming along. I loved the book when I first read it, long ago, but couldn’t get through it on a recent re-reading.

The odds don’t look good for “Next”. Movies based on Dick’s works have rarely been brilliant.

Blade Runner. Hardly anything at all like the book (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”); but a great movie. I love the movie, love the book… It’s a decent retelling of some of the book’s themes. They cut out his humdrum domestic, pathetic home life and made Deckard far more of a heroic action figure. But it’s a good movie.

Total Recall, based on the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. Almost entirely unlike the short story. The movie was okay. The original story was a one-trick pony, but I suppose that’s why it was a short story.

Screamers, based on “Second Variety”. Somewhat the same as the short story. They tried to flesh it out somewhat. The original story was creepy; the movie wasn’t that great. The themes, though, pop up again and again. The new Battlestar Galactica series has that as one of its main themes – done very well.

“Paycheck”. Ally and I saw the previews for this, and immediately thought it must be based on Dick’s story. It was, but it dumbed the story down and gave it more action hero gloss. The device in the story was a time scoop; let you take things from the past or future. Which made the final bit in the book a lot of fun. Since the movie just had a time VIEWER, the bit with all the objects no longer made any sense. Also: Isn’t it handy that time viewers, or any viewer (like Star Trek – infamous example), always focus on print newspaper headlines? You’d think sooner or later, they’ll go to websites… Movie stunk. Story was fun.

Minority Report – bears little relation to the short story. Excellent movie, but it is so far removed from the story that it’s impossible to compare them. I didn’t really like the story… when it was written, I saw a lot of similar stories in the SF literature. The spectre of crime prevention by some SF-nal means or other (mind reading, future viewing, what not) as a means of writing about the loss of privacy in the name of the public good was a mainstay of the 70s. Fat lot good it did, given today’s assaults on freedom in the name of safety.

Shaking Hands with Aliens

So you’re meeting some Japanese friends for the first time. And you want to make a good impression and show you are aware of other cultures. Do you shake their hands, or bow and exchange business cards?

This bugs me when I watch movies. In the SF Channel version of “Dune”, when William Hurt meets the Fremen leader for the first time, he uses the Fremen gesture, but later pretends not to understand the water-sharing ritual. Who had power in this scene? Who was taking it, and who was giving it away?

In Star Trek: First Contact, when Cochrane is meeting the Vulcans for the first time, the Vulcan uses the four-finger salute on him, and he responds with a handshake. Greeting as equals!

Well, let’s look at the options. You normally do greeting A, you’re meeting someone who normally does greeting B.

You->A, Them->A. Okay, they’re using your greeting. Does this mean they acknowledge you as the greater, or are they showing off the influence of their better research into you, or do they just not want to give anything of themselves away? I would be very suspicious of the motives of anyone who used my greeting on their own turf. On your turf, it is essentially neutral, motives unclear. In neutral turf, this is either a surrender or an insult, but it would not be a neutral gesture.

You->A, Them->B. Both parties use their greeting – this is the First Contact version. You meet as equals, but then you have to back that up. It’s a bold statement to make. This would definitely be the way if you were meeting on neutral ground. If you did this on their turf, I would imagine it could be construed as insulting, or a power play. On YOUR turf, you might take insult that the other party did not use yours.

You->B, Them->A. Each uses the other greeting. This would be embarassing. Both parties would be wondering if they should have used the other greeting. Work this kind of stuff out in advance. Are both parties giving precedence to the other? Who then takes the lead in further negotiations? Everyone is confused. You pay your handlers money, why didn’t they warn you!? The only reason to EVER use this is to negotiate a peace on neutral turf.

You->B, Them->B. Both of you use the other greeting. Here, you’re in the driver’s seat. On your turf, you give nothing away. You claim better knowledge of their customs than they of yours. On their turf, you give them honor by doing so. On neutral turf, though, this is a surrender. Dangerous.

Lesson learned here is to let your underlings arrange the meeting with their underlings, and agree ahead of time on the protocol.

Zephraim Cochrane’s PR people must have been mortified when he stood up and shook hands like that (maybe he just couldn’t do the four-finger salute). Meeting foreign visitors on his own turf; they the obvious superiors but still, making himself an equal. Maybe that’s why the Vulcans liked us.

So back to Dune. It’s a book about politics and religion. The Atreides handlers would have talked to the Fremen handlers. Duke Leto was on his home turf, so by using the Fremen gesture, he was giving nothing away of himself, but clearly trying to accord the Fremen some honor. Did he give away a little bit of power? Should he have relied upon Paul to do the Fremen gesture while he used the Imperial one? Best of both worlds, there, and given that he used Paul in this role elsewhere (later that same meeting with the water sharing ceremony, and earlier with the stillsuit adjustment with the planetary ecologist).

Meeting someone new is always an awkward moment. Especially so when you can’t even decide what greeting to use.