Twisted

So I’m reading the newspaper (Daily Mail, of course) when all of a sudden, I experience a RCOB (Red Curtain Of Blood, for my New Readers) which falls over my eyes, and I start cursing uncontrollably. Why? Because of this:

Mother-of-two ‘drowned’ in paint after boyfriend poured it down her throat, battered her with an iron and burned her alive

The little bastard has been put in jail for life — amazingly, this being in Britain, he wasn’t just given a severe scolding by a judge and sent home for tea with his mum — but if ever there’s a kind of crime which screams out for the death penalty, it’s this one. (Last night I asked Doc Russia why this maniac shouldn’t be executed. After about a minute’s silence, he said simply, “I got nothing.”)

When someone acts with such sustained psychopathic  violence, explain to me why his life shouldn’t just be snuffed out like a candle. Explain to me why he should be allowed to live, to even have a chance of parole. Explain why he deserves to be part of any society, even in prison. Explain why taxpayer money should be spent on his food, his clothing, his shelter and his healthcare, when he quite evidently deserves none of them.

I bet that you, too, have nothing.

And by the way, people who throw acid into other people’s faces deserve to be thrown in jail for life, and scourged daily. Perhaps then we can try to return our society to normalcy, with animals like this out of circulation for good.

I don’t want to hear about “cruel and unusual” punishment, when these raving psychopaths kill, maim and disfigure their victims so cruelly and unusually. We need to go all Old Testament on them and start meting out “eye for an eye”-style punishments. Maybe that will make them think twice; and if not, we give them exactly what they deserve.

 

 

Of Passing Interest Only

As one who quit watching network TV shows in about 1990 and has barely watched anything since, I’m not really qualified to pass comment on many of the shows that have been renewed / canceled for the upcoming season. Nevertheless, while The Mrs. was going through her invalid stage she did watch some shows, and as I was generally in the room with her, some stray bits of video have stuck in my brain and allowed me to make at least a few superficial judgments on the ones of which I do remember seeing the occasional snippet. In no specific order, here they are.

Grey’s Anatomy lost my interest in about the third episode of its first season, when it became clear that it was a combination of Black- and female wet dreams (unsurprisingly, as the show’s writer is — ta-da! — a Black woman). I know that most entertainment requires a suspension of disbelief, but seriously? A hospital in Seattle with a Black chief surgeon (as opposed to Jewish or, even more likely, Chinese)? Ha ha ha ha… considering that in just about every hospital in the United States, the highest Black executive is generally someone like the Benefits Administrator, HR Director or some similar bureaucratic fonctionnaire, the Anatomy Hospital is such an unrealistic construct that it might as well be on Mars. Ditto the various couplings and characters: McSteamy and McDreamy? One can only imagine the furor had the main female characters been nicknamed McTitty and McVaggie by the male cast. What a load of shit. And a final comment: in the episode where a disgruntled man takes a gun and starts systematically shooting doctors, was I the only one who made a mental promise never to go unarmed into a hospital again? (On a personal note: Ellen Pompeo is a dead ringer for one of my long-ago girlfriends — coincidentally, a nurse — which made watching the show an interesting experience for me, to say the least.)

Bones: I think Emily Deschanel is one of the most beautiful women ever to be on TV (despite being a liberal vegan nutcase in real life), and her character was wonderful: the outspoken and nearly autistic brilliant forensic scientist whose unbending logic made her paradoxically all the more human. Also, the same logic made her a gun owner — I have no idea how that little quirk made it through the network’s GFW (gun-fearing wussy, for my New Readers) editorial committees. The real mistake came when the male and female stars got married — the same mistake made in Castle and Moonlighting — which took away all the sexual tension of the show.

Grimm remains the only modern TV show I’ve ever stayed home to watch. As any fule kno, I detest the fantasy genre whether books, movies or whatever, but the premise of Grimm, plus its brilliant cinematography completely captured me. I did lose interest when the show created a grand story arc involving Austrian princes and such — the weekly episodes of catching various (and wonderfully-named) monsters was more than enough for me — so I lost interest after about the third season, something which I find myself doing for just about every TV show, incidentally, when the show’s premise is generally fulfilled and the writers have to jump the shark to keep it interesting.

I’m glad that Blue Bloods has been renewed, even though I don’t watch it anymore (another casualty of Kim’s Season Three syndrome). The conservative, religious and pro-law enforcement slant of the show makes a refreshing change from the usual liberal crap.

The renewal of Law & Order: SVU keeps the exquisite Mariska Hargitay on TV (she’s Emily Deschanel’s only real competition, beauty-wise), which is just fine by me even though I haven’t watched the show in years. The only other Law & Order show I watched — and that, compulsively — was the series which featured the brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio as the tortured, driven detective who eventually falls apart because of the continuous horrors of his job. Absolute genius, both the writing and D’Onofrio’s performance.

Finally, just to prove how irredeemably out-of-touch I am with modern culture as it pertains to TV: I’ve never watched a single episode of The Simpsons all the way through, ditto South Park (the latter because I can’t understand a single word the characters say).

I have watched every episode of the espionage satire Archer, however, because I love all the characters, and especially Sterling Archer himself. Archer‘s very first episode nearly caused me to pee my pants, I was laughing so hard, and the shows since have seldom faltered in that regard. No other TV cartoon show has ever featured characters and scenes such as the samples below:

,..and let it henceforth be known that I have a massive crush on Sterling’s mother, Mallory Archer:

One last thought: please don’t recommend any of your favorite TV shows to me: watching TV is so peripheral and inconsequential an activity in my life that I probably won’t take you up on it. If I’m going to watch any TV at all, it’ll be Formula 1 Grand Prix, English football (Chelsea wins the league!), international cricket and the occasional major golf tournament. Oh, and the Men’s Championship match at Wimbledon. Other than those, you’re more likely catch me at the range instead.

The Pursuit Of Happiness

The problem with “happiness” is not just that it’s a personal issue: it’s largely an unresolved personal issue. As individuals, if asked whether we’re happy, we might just say “Yes” without really thinking about it. Then we think about it — not always a Good Thing, by the way — and might realize that we’re not really happy, because someone else seems happier than we are, therefore we’re not as happy as we could be.

Worse still, we think we’re somehow entitled to happiness. We aren’t. Here’s writer Tom Utley:

“If you think of life as a series of duties — and of happiness as an undeserved blessing, rather than a right — you are likely to be much happier than if you think happiness is yours by right.”

He’s absolutely correct. If we think about it — this time, a Good Thing — we can come to realize that performance of that series of duties brings its own happiness: not the joyous ecstasy kind of happiness (which I think too many people seek, thinking it’s the ideal), but the quiet contentment of a job done to the best of one’s ability.

Raising children is an excellent example of one kind of duty which, when performed properly, brings to the parents not just satisfaction of a job well done, but a profound sense of contentment, nay even joy.

Yet we live in times when almost all the leaders of Western Europe are childless, and have never experienced that joy. When they have never held their own child in their arms, watched them walk unsteadily across the room, or marveled as that child does something remarkable, is it any wonder that such people are beset with inner conflict and ignorance of what most people need to be happy?

I’m not suggesting that bearing children is the sine qua non of happiness, of course; yet it would be foolish to ignore that fact that as procreation and survival of the species are so deeply ingrained in the genetic code, that the individual’s success in the accomplishment of so basic, so elemental a need must surely bring at least a foundation of happiness to a man or woman?

And that’s just one of the “series of duties” of which Utley speaks. There are many more — a man’s duty to provide for his family, a woman’s duty to look after her children, a duty to protect the family from harm, a duty to protect one’s community from harm, a duty to provide support to one’s true friends… the list goes on and on, and the beauty of all these duties is that they are largely self-generated, and the fulfillment thereof creates a different happiness for each individual.

There is no universal definition of happiness. Happiness is how each individual defines it and where he chooses to find it. I would take this even further: that when we are unhappy, it’s often because we have allowed other people to define the terms of our happiness, and allowed them to dictate where we may find it.

To end this little thought, take a look at this picture:

It’s a very old one of a family picnic, taken in a simpler era — sometime in the early 1950s, I think —  but as simple as the activity is portrayed, I defy anyone to deny that at this particular moment, every single person in that picnic is unbearably happy. It may not last, and probably won’t: the father may have problems at work the next day, the wife may have some household accident, one of the little girls may get bullied at school the next day, whatever. But at this particular moment in time, there is happiness. Moreover, it is happiness that hasn’t been mandated or defined by any authority or even by society; it is happiness that didn’t need to be pursued, only found.

May your happiness, may all your happinesses be that simple, and enjoyable.

Not Your Normal Portraits

If you’ve ever wandered through the Louvre in Paris or through any of the great houses in Britain, you’d have come across portraits of royalty and the nobility and good grief, how boring they are. Most, of course, were painted in times when there were no photography, and to preserve any memory at all of King Louis the Umpteenth or His Grace The Duke of  Marmalade-Hyphen-Dogsbottom, a portrait artist was summoned and told, “Paint me.” Needless to say, of course, the painter would take great pains to hide His Majesty’s facial pox marks or the Earl’s syphilis sores, and the result was one of uniform blandness, generations and generations upon generations thereof. If the painter was really good, and not just some fashionable hack that all the Society Knobs were using at the time (yes, that happened then just as it does today), he’d maybe capture a spark of spirit in the eyes, or a dimple in a smile, but mostly they all looked like waxwork figures, with about as much life.

Then came Boldini.

Giovanni Boldini is definitely my favorite portraitist of all time, and indeed he’s in my top ten list of all artists, period. I’m not going to write a potted biography of the man (here’s a decent one on the website bearing his name); rather, I want to highlight just a few of my favorites of his works.

When heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895, one of the things she brought to the marriage, other than a gazillion of her father’s dollars, was a very American attitude towards one’s own children. In contrast to the other noble families of the time, who looked on their male children as “heirs and spares” and wasted no time in shipping them off to boarding school, thence to the Army/Navy or public service, Consuelo adored both her sons, and especially the younger, Ivor Spencer-Churchill.

Enter Boldini. By this time, he was one of the most sought-after portraitists in Europe — indeed, he made so much money through his portraits that in his later years he’d quit painting them and only painted what he wanted to paint (which we’ll look at down the page). Boldini spent some time with Lady Marlborough, and discovered the close relationship between her and her younger son. Then he painted this portrait of the two of them:

The portrait actually scandalized what was known then as “polite” society (even though it was anything but), because instead of having young Ivor standing stiffly at her side in the prevailing fashion, he had the boy lounging against his mother in a pose which, to the swells, looked more like that of a lover than a child, nestled up to her bosom and his hand possessively on her leg. Of course, Consuelo cared not a fig for the whispers — as one of the wealthiest women in the world, and married into one of the oldest and most storied noble families in Britain (or anywhere else) withal, she could tell them all to take a hike, and she did. So the portrait survives to this day at Blenheim Palace, and you can see it for yourself if you do one of the tours (unless the painting is being exhibited elsewhere). I think it’s absolutely incredible: Boldini captured the relationship between mother and son as well as Consuelo’s considerable beauty and elegance, and it remains one of the great family portraits of all time.

Even Boldini’s “ordinary” portraits are anything but. Here’s one of Lady Colin Campbell, a society beauty of the late nineteenth century:

…and I don’t know if there’s a sultrier, sexier portrait of its kind anywhere.

As I said, Boldini gave up portrait painting after a while and started to do works that interested him. Mostly, as his biography notes, they were of women — but instead of the realistic style of the portraits, they began to lean towards late Impressionism. (Whether that’s because of his failing eyesight or just because he liked the style is probably a moot issue. Myself, I love almost every one of his later works.) Here’s a sample. First, the “Spanish Dancer At The Moulin Rouge”:

Now let’s look at something a little (okay, a lot) racier, his “Reclining Nude III”:

Hmmm… maybe I should have put up the usual NSFW warning, but hey, it’s Saturday and you shouldn’t be at work anyway. Finally, here’s my favorite of all Boldini’s paintings, an earlier one entitled “The Hammock”:

In a word, it’s exquisite: the soft springtime lighting and the dense background of bushes, trees and flowers which surround the slight form of the girl sleeping in the hammock. It’s a view which is chaste (the long soft material conceals almost everything except her face) and yet intimate (the stockinged leg falling carelessly off the hammock and out from under the dress). It’s voyeuristic, but innocently so — and I think if Boldini had only ever painted this single work, it would still be considered a masterpiece.

Now you can go and look at his other works, here. No doubt you’ll find one or two that you prefer over my choices, and you won’t hear a word of disagreement from me, ever. That’s how highly I regard this artist.

Enjoy, and if you want to buy a print of one of Boldini’s works (on canvas or paper, in varying sizes), you can do so at the Art Renewal Museum.

 

Camera Work

When getting a new smartphone or camera, the natural instinct is to take photos of people and things almost nonstop. However, care should be exercised, and people should take time to get practiced with features such as “focus” and “zoom” — and especially “zoom”. Take these two scenarios, for instance. In the first, our photographer wanted to capture this romantic picture of a couple kissing on London’s Tube, and share it with her friends.

What she wanted to send:

What actually arrived:

The second situation was a freshman coed who wanted to show her mother a cute picture of herself and her new roomie coming home from a sorority party, somewhat the worse for wear.

What she wanted to send:

What actually arrived:

Like I said: we really need to know how to work the technology…

Synchronicity

I think it was Jung who coined that word to describe a sequence of seemingly-unrelated events which concatenate and produce what seems an almost inevitable, unstoppable outcome. When it’s only two events, of course, we call it “coincidence”.

So after yesterday’s post about expensive watches, I opened the Daily Mail to be greeted with this headline: “Why the new arm candy’s on your WRIST“…

Vanessa Redgrave recently admitted hers is one of her most treasured possessions. Nicole Kidman’s, meanwhile, is so rare there are only a handful in the world.
Exclusive designer handbags dangling from the arms of A-listers are no longer catching our eye — they’ve been forgotten in favour of something rather more sparkly, not to mention elitist: a luxury watch.
Now that almost everyone is walking around with smartphones, and their built-in clocks, watches may not be the everyday essential they once were.
But with price-tags stretching to £250,000, straps of gold and alligator skin and diamond-crusted faces, these tickers are more status symbols than timepieces.
‘Watches have become much more of a statement than handbags because of their elitist prices,’ says Gabrielle Teare, a celebrity personal shopper and stylist based in London.

For the celebrities, meanwhile, a truly showstopping piece offers them the chance to show off their status — and how much top brands want to dress them — without looking as fussy and overdone as they would dripping in diamonds.
You wouldn’t wear £50,000 of jewellery on a trip to the shops, but you can easily get away with a watch that costs just as much and still look dressed down. It’s a sure way for celebs to raise their profile, particularly if the brand in question decides to return the favour by publicising the star’s allegiance to its famous name.

That’s me, all right: right at the spear point of fashion (for the first time in my life).

Oh gawd… just when I thought it was safe to wear a decent watch on one’s wrist… the fucking celebrities and luvvies have taken it over. Gah. It’s enough to make one wear a frigging Timex, or a discreet “pocket” (okay, belt-) watch like this one of mine, quite easily the unsexiest watch ever made:

Anything to avoid being trendy…