Friday, September 14, 2007

"Nothing but blue skies" -- Big Brother explains the fine points of the Forever War

"Nothing But Blue Skies" -- Big Brother Explains the Forever War
Blue days
All of them gone
Nothing but blue skies
From now on

-- Irving Berlin
It's working. The war is working. The surge is working. They will still be working a year from now. Big Brother explained it all.

OK, it was a bit hard to follow all the arrows. For example, Anbar was the big example of how it's all working so well. But the sheik he just visited with in Anbar was assassinated just before his presidential address:
Iraqi and American officials were caught off guard by the assassination, which came just hours before Mr. Bush addressed the American people about his plans for Iraq. But they said it would not derail the collaboration of the alliance of Sunni clans, known as the Anbar Awakening Council, and groups in other provinces.

In his speech, Mr. Bush acknowledged the killing. “Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against Al Qaeda was murdered,” he said. “In response, a fellow Sunni leader declared: ‘We are determined to strike back and continue our work.’ And as they do, they can count on the continued support of the United States.”
If you're confused, just follow the arrows. Soon it will all make sense.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The clean, cool icon of modernism, or the sleek, sinister accomplice of hegemonic globalization?

Love it or hate it, there's no denying that Helvetica is everywhere, as a random screenshot from Google Image suggests. The type font is 50 years old this year, an anniversary that's marked by a documentary that opened in New York this week, named eponymously, "Helvetica."

It made the rounds at film festivals earlier, and the Toronto Star ran a thoughtful essay on both the film and the typeface, which was created in 1957 by the Haas Type Foundry.
Edouard Hoffmann, the foundry's director, asked Max Miedinger to update Akzidenz Grotesk, a popular typeface created in 1896. The result was Neue Haas Grotesk, which debuted to little fanfare in 1957. Swiss-school design emphasized order and linearity, a mandate compatible with Helvetica's austere look and feel.

Four years later, at the behest of Mergenthaler Linotype (Haas's parent company), the name was changed to Helvetica (Helvetia is Latin for Switzerland) as part of a marketing plan to sell the typeface internationally. The new name was meant to leverage the growing popularity of Swiss design, and it worked. Ad agencies, and anyone else seeking to imbue their posters or products with 1960s cosmopolitanism, used the typeface, and by the 1980s it was everywhere, thanks in part to the fact that Helvetica came bundled with the first Macintosh computers.
It seems ironic that Helvetica, known for its cosmopolitan elegance and look of linear rationalism, caught on during the stoned decade of the sixties, when linear thinking was not exactly universally admired. From the beginning, Helvetica has been associated with corporate communications and international business. You might call it the typeface of globalization. What are the prospects for its next 50 years?
Perhaps the most relevant benchmark of typographic success is sheer perseverance. Will Helvetica survive another 50 years? Maybe. Frutiger is starting to replace Helvetica in many business contexts. And designers are hardly unanimous about its appeal. In Muller's Helvetica, Wolfgang Weingart describes the typeface as "the epitome of ugliness," while Keith Godard suggests, "like a beautiful person, it often lacks personality." Rick Poyner, meanwhile, complains of its "bloodless neutrality," a rather fitting comment to be making about a Swiss typeface.

Regardless of its future, Helvetica has left its marks on modernity.

"I think it's changed the world, but probably in a very subtle way that most people wouldn't realize or even care about, frankly," explains filmmaker Hustwit. "When you're parking your car, and you want to know whether you can park in a certain spot or not, you just want to get that information quickly and clearly."
As for me, if I have to use a sans serif font, I'll stick to Arial on my computer, Frutiger in print. There is something just a little too clean and bland and smug about Helvetica, though if you put it on a diet, some of the condensed fonts aren't too bad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Force Reduction/Mission Shift staircase leads us to something called Overwatch

This is the last of the PowerPoint slides used by General David Petraeus in his report. Although he is a four-star general, he was apparently given permission to deploy an extra star, for a total of five, in his concluding slide. The stars certainly did add a certain snap, crackle and pop. So why do I get the feeling that Edward Tufte would not be impressed? Although Tufte did not immediately provide a critique, commenters on this Matt Yglesias post did a great job of standing in for him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Beauty, unfathomable loss and the beginning of the Forever War

Beauty, Unfathomable Loss and the Beginning of the Forever War
I'm sitting here thinking about the World Trade Center, the events of 9/11, what we lost then, and our continuing losses in the years since. I've been working on adapting the image from a now faded color photograph I took at twilight from the Staten Island Ferry in the Bicentennial summer of 1976. My color photo was pretty, but pretty is not what I think of today when I think of the World Trade Center. The twin towers haunt us now, and I was trying to evoke some of that, along with a sense of the way they both loomed and glowed in the night sky over Manhattan, two dark obelisks draped in pearls.

They were not much loved by New Yorkers when they first went up. When T and I lived there in the sixties, the towers were just a dream in the minds of the Rockefeller brothers, and that's what New Yorkers mockingly called them at first -- David and Nelson. We were unhappy about the construction, too -- T had worked not far from there, and she mourned the thriving neighborhood near her former office that was demolished to build these monuments to Rockefeller pride. But by the time of our Bicentennial visit, the transformation was well under way, aided by the tightrope poetry of Philippe Petit and the embattled city's quest for civic pride in the "Ford to New York City: Drop Dead" years of financial crisis. I wrote about it a year ago in " Philippe Petit's walk as symbol for what we lost", reflecting on Petit's walk as a symbol of both the New York spirit and all that we have lost since 9/11.

The World Trade Center was the last place in the city T and I and our daughter visited during another trip in 1980. We took those amazing elevators -- which it's impossible to recall now without thinking of what they became later -- to the rooftop observation deck, where we watched the sun set on on one of the world's great cities, lights twinkling in the lengthening shadows far below. We ate dinner at the other Windows on the World, the less expensive one in the basement, adjacent to the subway arcade, before driving out through the Holland Tunnel on the first leg of our drive back to Madison.

Six years ago, I was about to leave on a business trip to Milwaukee with several coworkers. I had heard something about a commuter plane crashing into one of the towers on the radio and called T to tell her to turn on the TV. She did, and at that moment the second plane hit. She saw the towers fall in real time, while I saw them in my mind's eye, driving through the Wisconsin countryside. I'll never forget how supernaturally beautiful it was that morning. We passed what I thought were several white swans drifting lazily in a farm pond, though perhaps they were only domestic geese -- and at that moment the woman on the radio who was providing a running narrative off the news wire started sobbing as she described the collapse of the first tower unfolding before her eyes on a studio monitor. She couldn't believe her eyes, and we couldn't believe our ears. It didn't seem possible. We arrived stunned at our meeting, and everyone sat and watched the towers collapsing, over and over.

Now, looking back, I don't know which I find the more unbelievable -- the events of 9/11, or the events since then. In the aftermath of the attack on the WTC, there was a vast, worldwide outpouring of goodwill toward America. "We are all Americans now," wrote Le Monde. We squandered that. We took our eye off the ball, let Osama Bin Laden escape and started a war in Iraq that looks as if it will go on forever, or close to it, despite last fall's election, in which the American people clearly said "Enough!" It's a hard act to follow. What do we do for an encore? Iran?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Sunday bike ride crossed the path of the 2007 Ironman Wisconsin bicycle competition

Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon
Our Sunday morning bike ride intersected briefly with the route of the 2007 Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon, and we stopped to watch some of the leading racers in the bicycle competition, at the point where -- to a great clanging of cowbells -- they turned into the Wingra Creek Bike Path about a mile from the finish line. By then they had already swum 2.4 miles, bicycled nearly 112, and still faced running a full marathon. I can't imagine subjcting myself to such an ordeal, but admire anyone who can. Congratulations to all who took part.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that this is not a news photo. It violates all the rules of photojournalism. It's a fake, or more politely, a composite. I liked the spectators, but that shot didn't have a bike in the right position. My best bike shot didn't have any spectators. The only way to recreate the feeling of the moment was to combine them. But in reality, by the time the rider in back reached the point shown in the photo, the one in front had nearly reached the finish line. But who knows? Maybe the second one was a better runner.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Why we're in Iraq, and why Bush and Cheney want to make sure we stay there

Why We're in Iraq, and Why Bush and Cheney Wants to Make Sure We Don't Leave Anytime Soon
As the sun sets on the fossil fuel era, U.S. foreign policy is still all about oil. It seems to go something like this: Alternative fuels? Screw 'em! We're all about oil, all the time -- 100%. Global warming? Sure it's happening, but it's gonna be someone else's problem, so why worry about it -- we'll be long gone. Until then, we'll do everything we can to try to control the supply and the price of of this black gold, even if none of it works. That's not the point. We'll still make our record profits. And if thousands of Americans and countless Iraqis die in the process, well, that's their problem, isn't it? If they were smart they would have become politicians.