2009 Notebook: Weak XXV
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18 June 2009
No. 6,448 (cartoon)
I don’t like your tone.

More magenta? Too much cyan?

19 June 2009
Airport Insecurity
I’m flying to Frankfurt today, an ordeal that inevitably means dealing with the bureaucratic nincompoops hired to prevent me taking a bottle of water on the plane. The stooges have tried to put a nice facade on their operation; one of them posted a handwritten sign, “Thank you for participating insecurity.”

Insecurity indeed.

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20 June 2009
Private Bar on United Airlines Flight 900
It’s been years since I’ve flown to Europe, and things in the skies have become predictably worse. Specifically, the airlines no longer offer free drinks on transoceanic flights.


I made some simple calculations, and determined that for the cost of three overpriced airline drinks I could but a liter of duty-free Scotch. So I did. I set up a private bar in one of the toilets, where I could stretch out, relax, and sip enough whisky to make the ten-hour flight bearable. Since air travel is becoming intolerable for anyone with a modicum of consciousness, I did my part to avoid that unpleasant situation.

21 June 2009
In Madeira
Once a year a coalition of alleged environmentalists pays me to travel to another country to crank out propaganda at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. What I do makes absolutely no difference in the outcome of these deliberations, but I don’t care; the whales are big enough to take care of themselves. I imagine all the whales outside of zoos will become extinct, but their demise will be caused by pollution and habitat destruction, not harpoons. Again, I don’t care; I’m here because I get paid well for a modest amount of work.

And so, here I am in Madeira, an island in the Atlantic. It’s technically part of Portugal, having been discovered by João Gonçalves Zarco in 1419 or 1421 or thereabouts. (Take that, Columbus, who certainly didn’t “discover” America seventy years later.) I haven’t done my homework, as usual, but I believe that was the first time humans landed—or at least stayed—on this rather large island. I wonder if there were any other uninhabited land masses—except Antarctica—back then? I wonder, but not enough to do any research.

I’ve never been conscious of it before, but I’ve always been vaguely aware that other countries I’ve visited all had a history of indigenous peoples living there once upon a time. This is probably my imagination, but the lack of history seems manifest in Madeira today in the generic European culture here. I’m not sure how long this has been going on, but the island seems to be colonized by tourists. There are so many Brits here that everyone speaks English; all signs and menus have English translations included. It’s easy to be an ugly American here; I address everyone in English and they reply using one of the most difficult languages in the world. Crazy, daddio. There are also hordes of Germans, gaggles of French, and, to judge by the signage, a smattering of Russians buying real estate. The atmosphere here is generic upscale seaside resort; I could be in Monaco or Hawaii.

I was worried before coming here that the place would be overrun by British lager louts, but I needn’t have: the place is full of cauliflowers. (“Cauliflowers” is a travel agent term for one of their most lucrative demographics, little old ladies with puffy white hair.) Sitting with a hundred other people in the breakfast room of my hotel, I’m unnerved that, except for the staff, I’m the youngest person in the place.

I should have known better than to have let money dictate my itinerary.

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22 June 2009
After Atget
Madeira’s a nondescript island, so I’m having a hard time coming up with an art project to do here. I photographed a mannequin, but stopped after making one image. Mannequins behind glass are so easy to photograph—which Eugène Atget did so very well—that there’s no point in wasting time on an unchallenging activity.

I am reminded of an apocryphal tale, which, like all of my stories, may or may not be true. Jean Cocteau said the best advice he ever received came from Salvador Dali, of all people.

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”


23 June 2009
Where Did All the Journalists Go?
I haven’t watched television in ages; I’m amazed at how the people working in that pathetic medium continue to plumb new depths—or is it heights?—of mediocrity.

I’m thinking of the “news” coverage of recent events in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the recent election with combination of crude vote-rigging and violent intimidation. (That raises an interesting philosophical question: is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the George Walker Bush of Iran, or is Bush is the Ahmadinejad of the United States?)

What’s so funny is that none of the Iranian reportage I’ve seen involves journalists; they were all fired to make the television networks more profitable. And so I’m watching people in distant television studios with nice clothes, expensive haircuts, and very white teeth announce that they’re showing a crude video they pulled off the Internet, or reading excerpts from emails viewers have sent. At least they acknowledge that they don’t know what they’re talking about, since there’s no way of knowing who’s supplying the information and how factual is it.

Lots of people have discussed this medium versus that medium, the future of print, digital versus analog broadcasting, that sort of thing. I haven’t heard too much discussion about the absence of journalists, though. I wonder if that’s because there are no journalists around to report on their eradication?

24 June 2009
I Saw a Whale
At breakfast this morning, the alleged environmentalists with whom I shared a table asked me if I wanted to go whalewatching with them. I declined; I explained that I already saw one of the beasts—more than one, actually—in 1983. Whales are very large and not at all difficult to spot, whether they’re flopping about in the briny deep or cut up in one-meter cubes on a Siberian beach.

They looked gobsmacked; I guess none of them could imagine that a worthless artist like myself would have seen a whale a quarter of a century before they did. I wasn’t surprised; dogooders are about the most self-centered and ignorant people I know.

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25 June 2009
Twenty-Nine Madeiran Crosses
Late last night I was walking back to the liquor store when it hit me: the sidewalk!

I don’t think I explained that very well. The sidewalk didn’t literally hit me or vice-versa; that’s never happened to me, at least not in connection with a trip to or from the liquor store. I meant to say that I finally realized that the Madeiran sidewalks were the only thing that differentiated this place from any other seaside resort town.

That realization was all I needed to make Twenty-Nine Madeiran Crosses, the rest was just fabrication. It wasn’t until I completed the project—which only took a few hours—that the piece reminded me of something I made a year ago, Eleven Chilean Circles. I don’t think I was plagiarizing myself, and, even if I was, I did so unconsciously. As long as I can fool myself, nothing else really matters, at least when it comes to circles and crosses.

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©2009 David Glenn Rinehart