Finally!, You Might Say
I updated the navigation sidebar today. It's been a long time since it was current,
and considering that some people actually search my archives, it makes sense
to give them a way to access older posts.
My archive navigation is implemented as an include file. Until I can figure
out a way to script it, the formatting requires that I manually code the HTML.
That's actually not particularly difficult — Blogger generates a raw set of
archive links that I can copy and paste from, and Transmit has
a text editor built into it.
I open the nav file right on the server, edit, and save. I usually have to
fix a typo or two after that, and I'm done. So, the only issue is making it
a habit to update the nav... Apologies for being so erratic. I can hear my
friend Chris saying I should script the thing (more like use someone's already-built
widget) and be done with it.
Well, I may just do that, but right now I've got other fish to pan fry. I
throw back the little ones.
A few weeks ago, I'd never heard the term metonymy. On my last visit to Barnes &
Noble, I nearly tripped over Denise
Green's book Metonymy
in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm. Green talks about the concept
of metonymic thinking, which was developed by the late A.
K. Ramanujan and
which she applies in her practice of art. While the book is largely about painting,
I suspect that it could apply very powerfully to photography.
I recently mentioned that we often use metaphors, but they're invisible as
metaphors to us. The Daily Show had a lot of fun with Ted Stevens' metaphorical
argument about how the internet carries information: It's not a big truck,
he says, it's a series of tubes. In one segment, John
Hodgman illuminates a number of the metaphors at play.
Michael Reddy has distinguished a Conduit Metaphor:
- Ideas are objects
- Linguistic expressions are containers
- Communication is shipping
I remember once having a conversation with someone about whether a mechanical
send/receive model was really the best way to think about how communication
works. We'd bumped right into the metaphor, but I don't think either of us
were really recognizing it as such. The other aspect worth noting is how seductive
the metaphor is. Neither of us could even propose an alternate model for communication.
But the shipping model really does fall short of what happens in actual communication.
Miscommunication happens all the time. ‘Natural language’ computing efforts
have largely failed, because of complex problems in linguistic representation.
In the simplest conversation, the speaker generates a verbal representation of
the idea (perhaps itself a representation...) they want to convey. As soon
as the speaker starts talking, the listener begins to construct a representation
of that representation, spontaneously adding and subtracting from it as the
speaker continues. One could say that successful communication happens when
there is a high correlation between the resultant representations in the minds
of the speaker and the listener. The more complex the idea, the more complicated
the communication. Listeners get distracted, speakers have trouble ‘finding
the right words,’ and both parties begin with sometimes conflicting assumptions.
So maybe shipping isn't such a good metaphor for communication. Perhaps it's
better represented as a kind of asynchronous collaborative construction.
There is debate over whether synecdoche [si-nek-duh-kee]
is a sub-class of metonymy, or its own class of representation. Common substitutions
in synecdoche are:
- Part for whole: get your butt over here, two heads are better than one
- Whole for part: I fought the law and the law won
- Species for genus: e.g. using ‘bread’ to mean ‘food’
- Genus for species: I'm having some problems with my machine [computer]
I tried to think of a synecdoche using the word ‘Schenectady,’
but all I came up with were metonyms.
Browser Wars Redux?
About a week ago, I made a little Flash movie, and embedded it into a page
using Dreamweaver. When I checked the page in Safari, I couldn't see the
Flash. I checked my settings, and everything looked right. When I looked
at the HTML used to embed the .swf in the page, I started to get a whiff
of something odd. For starters, the <object> tag
was nestled inside a <noscript> tag. Next came some fairly opaque script
code. Moving the <object> code outside the <noscript> caused two copies of
the movie to show up... WTF????
I went back to Flash, and published a basic HTML page along with the .swf
— I figured I'd made some sort of mistake when I embedded the .swf, and this
would give me cleaner code to check. I got a surprise when I opened that HTML
file in Dreamweaver: a message appeared saying that the script might not work
with the latest version of Internet Explorer.
If I click Yes and allow the
script to be updated, I get the same broken code that I get directly in Dreamweaver.
If I click No, the page works fine in Safari.
has explained the change — it's in response to an interface
change implemented by Microsoft.
The code is supposed to get around having users click on the Flash object to get it to play
in IE. Great, except the script apparently has some browser-specific flaws...
I haven't tested to see if this is only a Safari problem. I wonder if the resolution
will be with Dreamweaver or Safari.
a project that Richard Branson (Virgin Airways, etc.) helped set up. It uses
a blimp and ground-penetrating radar to map minefields at about 1000x the
speed of previous methods. The sobering news is that even with this technology,
Mineseeker's website says that the problem can be fixed ‘within our lifetime.’
That's still a long time. The problem breaks down this way:
- There are over 100 million land mines on or beneath the surface of this
- They kill or maim someone every 20 minutes, usually women and children.
- They render over 800 thousand square kilometres of land useless.
- The cost to human life is horrific and the economic effect is devastating.
- It is a man made disaster
that is bigger — in terms of lives lost, civil disruption and economic
deprivation — than the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or the Pakistan earthquake.
- Using current technology and strategies, the UN has estimated that it
could take up to 600 years to rid the planet of these devices.
It takes a mine clearance operative one day to clear 40 sq meters. However,
a new technology is now available, developed by the British Ministry of Defence
and licensed to Mineseeker: A ground penetrating radar that, when carried on
a stable aerial platform, can scan the ground at 100 meters per second, detecting
all mines-plastic and metal.
Mineseeker deployed the system in ravaged Kosovo and proved it in live conditions.
Mineseeker's aim is to raise sufficient funds from Governments, commercial
concerns and funding agencies to survey and map mine-affected
through its "The Sole of Africa" initiative, to return
liberated land back to food production.
A pretty worthy set of objectives. The land mine issue came back into the
spotlight recently, when it was reported that Israel used US-made cluster bombs
in populated areas of Lebanon. These bombs can scatter hundreds of unexploded
grenade-sized ordinance over a large area. Unwitting civilians are often maimed
or killed long after the ‘cessation of hostilities,’ as is the case with land
Mineseeker is not fully funded. Hopefully, it will be. This project deserves
a lot more publicity.
I got a report showing that someone had searched this blog recently, and it reminded
me of how I'd had problems with the automatic indexing feature a while ago:
I'd sign into my account, set it to automatically index once a week, do an
immediate update for good measure, and find some time later that my automatic
settings didn't stick. A quick check of my account showed that indeed, my index
hadn't been updated in a long time, so the person who did the search probably
came up empty.
I tried to rebuild the index, and got an error — apparently, the spider doesn't
like being redirected. I fixed the problem, and about a minute and a half later,
the new index was done.
In case you're wondering, I originally signed up for
Atomz search; Atomz having been acquired by WebSideStory some time ago. My
search tool has now become WebSideStory
Express Search. I like it when it works. It's completely customizable,
and pretty simple to use. I'll let you know if I still have indexing problems
The next automatic update is scheduled for Sunday at midnight. I'll check
back Monday to see if it worked.
I just heard a newscaster on CNN talking about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania
on 9/11/01. He described a ‘heroic struggle, of course, where some of the passengers
brought the plane down.’
The problem is that cockpit recordings from that flight make it clear that
the passengers never made it inside the cockpit — the official story is that
the terrorists themselves cratered the plane. The reporter may simply be
extending the supposition that the pilot felt compelled to crash the plane
for fear of being overpowered by the ‘heroic’ passengers, or he may simply
be fudging (or lazy).
I expect more from the ‘most trusted name in news.’
It's funny, because I was re-reading my last post, and thinking about another
part of the Semiotics book that I hadn't discussed: Semiotics rejects the possibility
that we can neutrally represent things ‘the way they are.’ While I think that
statement speaks mainly to the transmission loss inherent in representation,
it also acknowledges that subjectivity and the motives of the speaker further
cloud the issue.
Though many of us readily dismissed Fox News' pretensions to being ‘fair and
balanced,’ the controversy illuminated the bigger lie of the entire news industry:
there is no such thing as neutral.
Sometimes, it seems like even the milk is talking to you.
I only watched a tiny bit of the CNN ‘minute by minute’ coverage this morning.
It's hardly a rebroadcast of footage from 9/11/01. It's more a series of heavily
commented clips, with call-outs to the precise moments when the towers were
struck, the towers collapsed, United Airlines grounded all their planes, The
Pentagon was hit... etc. All of the ads are current ads. The CNN promos made
a big deal about how the coverage would be unedited. It's perhaps more accurate
to say that anything that wasn't edited away will be aired intact, but it
looks like a CNN anchors' greatest hits thing to me.
Five years on, they're still quibbling over how and what to build on the site
of the trade towers. I think I heard them say on TV
that a marine who was recently killed in Iraq was an impressionable thirteen
years old when the WTC came down. It's reported that witnessing that destruction
was what motivated him to become a Marine. As of today, nearly as many
military personnel have died in Iraq as died in the towers, and while terrorism
seems no less a threat than before, the threat of terrorism has certainly become
a choice football of our political system.
‘Political football’ is a kind of trope — a metaphorical expression. Another
example: ‘Experience is a great school, but the tuition is steep.’ Foucault argued that the dominant tropes of a given historical period determine what
can be known. In Semiotics:
Daniel Chandler goes on to point out that certain metaphors (e.g. ‘terrorists?’)
have become naturalized, and we do not tend to notice the ways that they can
channel our thinking, giving rise to taken-for-granted ways of looking at things.
Have you ever noticed
how exercised some of the talking heads on TV get over who gets to declare
whom a terrorist? Ever notice how many of the same people will not engage
in a discussion of precisely what is meant by ‘terrorism?’ It's often dismissed
as ‘semantics’ — one of the default put-downs for discussion deemed out of
Perhaps it is simply semantics, but then, too, it could be semiotics;
and rather than being beside the point, it could well be the main point. After all, if language
shapes our perceptions, the people who frame what can be talked-about [and how it
can be talked-about] are in essence making our minds up for us. You hear the
pundits on TV almost saying as much when they acknowledge that the two parties
are battling to ‘frame the issue.’ Have you ever heard someone say ‘well, when
you look at it that way...?’ It's a demonstration of how important context
is, and context is built out of tropes.
That begins to explain how forty-some-odd percent of people polled last week
could think that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the World Trade Center
attack of 2001. I use the word ‘think’ loosely. It's more like ‘feel’ or ‘believe.’
So much of this operates at a gut level (another metaphor), without any critical
thinking brought to bear.
There's a more intriguing trope: metonymy. It works by connection, association,
or substitution. Examples of metonyms:
- The White House => the presidential administration (substituting
place for institution)
- plastic => credit card (substituting material for form)
- ‘Don't get hot under the collar’ => don't get angry (substituting effect
- Plumbers often advertise with an illustration of a wrench (substituting
one tool for an entire trade)
You can see that saying ‘September eleventh’ or ‘9-11’ implies 9/11/01 which
in turn connotes the attack on the WTC, which opens up a can of worms to use
a well-worn metaphor... The mechanism is a classic metonymic substitution of
date for event, and event for something much larger.
Photography and television/film can be used to create visual metonyms. Rather
than depicting the thing itself, a related object is depicted. The nature of
depiction in photographic media also makes the photograph/film/video itself
a metonym for the things represented: ‘Ceci
n'est pas une pipe,’ indeed.
An example of metonymy in advertising
imagery: a woman in a sexy outfit (perhaps even looking a bit aroused) is
shown holding a glass, with a superimposed image of a bottle of some alcoholic
beverage. The viewer connects the drink depicted to sex, which is not depicted.
In many (a majority of?) ads, the image of the woman herself
is used as a metonym for sex. If you live in New York, you can see the phenomenon
‘outed’ by graffiti makers on subway posters all around the city. Next time
you ride somewhere, take note of the common ways that images of women are, uh, embellished:
nipples and pubic hair are often drawn in, but far more often, a drawing of
a penis is placed near the mouth or the crotch.
Metonyms are powerful, because they go down easily. The metaphor
draws attention to itself, while the metonym focuses on the subject, often
suppressing aspects that are inconsistent with the metonym. With a metaphor,
you actually have to engage in a form of translation: the political football
example is pretty straightforward, but what do the two
roads and the yellow wood or the
of snow from the crow's wing stand for in Robert Frost's poems?
Because realism in imagery
is highly reliant on metonymy, it becomes very problematic when the viewer
is sensitized to the presence of props in an image. Knowing that a prop is
present in the image destroys
the illusion of realism, because every representation of the image – direct
or indirect – becomes suspect. Consider the photo from the recent Lebanese conflict
where smoke was added to make it more dramatic, or where it was reported that
Bush was photographed in a mess hall in Iraq carrying a plastic turkey. We don't think of news as being manufactured until artifices such as these turn up. When that happens, news-making becomes news.
One could consider every presidential photo-op an exercise in metonymy. The
images are crafted to sell a particular idea about the president. In that context,
it becomes clear why so much spin arises around these events.
This brings us full-circle to the milk carton in my refrigerator. An imprint
that's supposed to be an indicator of freshness instead becomes a pointer to
a network of complex problems that will challenge several generations to come. How refreshing is that?
a Cajun highlander from Rapides Parish in central Louisiana, was an older, single gentleman who was born and raised a Baptist, living in South Louisiana.
Each Friday night after work, he would fire up his outdoor grill and cook
a venison steak. Now, all of Boudreaux's neighbors were Catholic ... and since it was Lent they were forbidden from eating meat on Fridays. The delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest.
The priest came to visit Boudreaux, and suggested that Boudreaux convert to Catholicism.
After several classes and much study, Boudreaux attended Mass and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, "You were born a Baptist
and raised a Baptist, but now you are Catholic."
Boudreaux's neighbors were greatly relieved, until Friday night arrived and once again the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.
The priest was called immediately by the neighbors and, as he rushed into Boudreaux's yard clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped in his
tracks and watched in amazement.
There stood Boudreaux clutching a small bottle of water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat and chanted: "You wuz born a deer and
you wuz raised a deer, but now you a catfish."
— Thanks, Warren!
In case you're wondering, I just tossed-in the sketch I did of Taz. It's got nothing to do with the joke.
News cycles differ dramatically. A couple weeks after the Tour de France, Landis
had pretty much faded from television coverage. It'll be interesting to see
how he's spoken of a year from now, but he's more or less invisible to the
broadcast media right now. It was striking to see how much slower the news
response is for monthly cycling magazines.
A little more than a week ago, I was browsing
Barnes & Noble, and came upon three cycling magazines. Velo
a sober-faced Floyd with the headline ‘Dark Days: Landis case compounds cycling's
woes.’ Pro Cycling was completely out of touch, showing a smiling
Landis on a bike. The cover proclaimed ‘It's Floyd! Landis wins the Tour of
Anarchy.’ How fitting that they used the word anarchy. Cycling Sport
America ran a big portrait of Floyd with the question ‘Guilty?’ for a
headline. The cover montage was completed with a smaller background image of
Oscar Pereiro on a bike and the caption ‘Tour Winner?’
At least Velo News seemed to be covering the bigger picture, which gives them
the opportunity to present more than the raw data of daily developments served
up so efficiently by the 24-hour and weekly news outlets. I wonder how the
other two publications could even begin to assert that they were offering anything
we haven't heard already.