the bastard-child of functionality

vans and the places they were” may be the only website I’ve ever seen that makes good, intentional use of horizontal scrolling.  What could have been one-trick, internet gag fare (that is, shots of custom vans) is tied together in an engaging way by its sideways-sliding gallery.  Though the shots portray stillness, the scrolling imparts on them a semblance of their natural motion, and invites the viewer to dwell in the differences between the images–not just differences of space and design, but of color and feeling.

BoingBoing makes an interesting argument about these shots as ephemeral art–that is, the placement of the vans in their respective environments is inherently fleeting (none of these fellas are up on blocks, rotting away), making the appreciation of their juxtaposition keyed to a limited period of time.  One might argue, of course, that photography–especially photography posted on the internet–is the opposite of ephemeral, in that it takes a passing moment and makes it (relatively) permanent.  The artist himself adds another dimension to the conversation:

Over the course of the project the vans themselves have become more and more of a rarity. The reasons are as simple as rust and changing tastes; and as complex as government “cash for clunkers” initiatives encouraging more fuel-efficient transportation. Notably, at the same time these vans have been disappearing from our roads – film photography as a visual medium has also begun it’s slow death. Consequently the goal of the project is to one day shoot the last remaining van on the final frame of photographic film in existence. Then the project will be finished.

What, then, of horizontal scrolling, the bastard-child of functionality?  If the conversion van and the film camera are technologies that are fading away to make room for the new, horizontal scrolling is a technology which, despite its irritating near-uselessness, is unavoidably here to stay, necessary in order to preserve the integrity of web-design, but never (well, almost never) used with artistry or intention.  Is this a sad tale of neglected dimensions?  Or a heartwarming yarn about the potential of the underdog?  Scroll to the right to find out.


republican values OR how to use web design to look like a jerk

While doing research for my previous post, I happened to visit the websites of our nation’s two dominant political parties.  I took a couple snapshots, so that we could compare them.  I think what we’ll see will reveal something about the state of American politics right now:


Democratic site: clean, simple, dignified.  Not sure I’d want my head put up real big on my website, but I guess if you’ve only got one popular kid at your table, you play the hand you’re dealt.


Republican site:  Well, let’s see here, we’re ridiculing a respected colleague and elected official, we’re trying to swell our friend list, we’re being sassy about voter fraud…  Oh and look!  We’re hiring!  Wonder why?

Also, here’s some samples from that Welcome Memo Generator:

This is change that makes sense. Welcome to the Democrats. I look forward to working together to borrow more money from China and the Middle East. Worry not, the next generation won’t even miss college.

(from “The White House Teleprompter”)

Now that you have officially joined the spend, tax and borrow Democrats, I can get you some sweet, free flights on military planes!

(from “Speaker Nancy”)

Senator Specter: Too bad you won’t be on the GOP ballot in Pennsylvania. I know you didn’t want Republican voters determining your future in the Senate. Enjoy the Democrats.

(from “You”)

Hm.  I can’t imagine why Specter wouldn’t want to ally himself with the keen intellects and razor wits that came up with this crap.  I wouldn’t want those people determining my future, either.  Not only is it pure snark, it’s Grade D Industrial Snark, the kind of stuff they’ll be scraping off the bottom of Jon Stewart’s chair six hundred years in the future, when planetary catastrophe has reduced the human race to a humorless assemblage of nomads who use the remnants of our civilization’s comedy to power their jury-rigged roadsters.  Maybe once the Republican leadership graduates from the ninth grade, they’ll have some time and attention to devote to building a decent platform and giving the Democrats a run for their money.

arlen specter: democracy at work

File:Arlen Specter, official Senate photo portrait.jpg

As I’m sure you all know, Senator Arlen Specter recently announced his withdrawal from the Republican Party, in favor of having one of those stylish little “D“s next to his name.  Specter makes no bone about the reason for his change:  he can no longer get elected as a Republican.  Certainly he makes a good talk about how the party is changing, moving away from his values, etc., but the crux is, he can’t win a Republican primary in the current environment.  He even goes so far as to say:

I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

(Specter’s full statement)


It’s easy to characterize Specter’s decision as an act of pure self-interest (and boy, people are happy to do so), but his move is actually (or additionally) a shining example of representative democracy at work. One of the points of having elected officials is that they are answerable to their constituency, and will to an extent modify their behavior to please that constituency.  Self-interest is one of the things the Founders counted on to maintain accountability.  The Senator sees not only that the party is moving away from him, but also that the state of Pennsylvania is moving away from the party, in droves (I believe there are numbers that support this, but I can’t for the life of me get a hold of them).  Whether he means to or not, Specter is not just saving his own hide–he’s bowing to the will of his constituency.  It’s political evolution at work.

Here he is:

P.S.  Hey, Arlen:  next time, if you don’t want to sound like such an opportunistic ass, try something like:

“My job is to represent the people of the State of Pennsylvania.  However, the Republican Party is no longer interested in supporting the kind of moderate voices which the State clearly wants in office.  As such, I am regretfully leaving the Republican Party, in favor of a party which is more in line with my values, and the values of the voters of my state.”

See that?  I just made that up.  Three minutes.

i can make this world as happy as i want it

Like most generations, mine is broadly linked and defined by some pretty large things: the end of the Cold War, the advent of the internet, Star Wars…  but there are other, smaller cultural connections which, while they don’t loom so heavily over us, are nonetheless present–often forgotten, until a passing conversation brings them to mind.

It is hard to find someone of my generation who does not know Bob Ross.  We don’t think of the public TV painter every day, we’re not reminded by every happy little tree of his soothing voice–but we all know him.  Even though he was clearly a product of an earlier era, the kind of inoffensive, wholesome television host meant to entertain our parents, there was always something entrancing about him.  Hey, here he is:

(Neatorama points us to a new Joy of Painting channel at

I think maybe a bit of Ross’s laid back demeanor, his commitment to creativity and individuality, and his ability to pull something out of nothing may have stuck with my cynical and often jaded generation.  Ross showed us a safe, focused mental space–one which was not unconscious or unaware, but connected, creative, and centered–which helps us cope with a world growing ever louder and angrier.

That we remember him fondly is a sign of his influence on us.  We grew up distrustful of wholesomeness, but Ross was a different animal, a man with the natural eye of Thoreau and the open heart of Whitman, both withdrawn and connected, who believed in both the power and the accessibility of art.

the 12 values at

As promised, there’s another installment of The Poetry of Glenn Beck over at Salon.

I must take a moment to apologize to Mr. Beck:  I spent the whole of the previous post spelling his name wrong.  Clearly, just one ‘n’ is just not enough to contain Glenn Beck.

meatballs from the furniture store

I’m always wary of Salon–politically, I’m generally in synch with them, but I find nearly eighty percent of their content infuriating (and, as regards the other twenty percent, I always make the mistake of looking at the comments, which are invariably nauseating).  It’s like a bad relationship, really:  I just keep going back, and I keep getting hurt.

Happily, the always-wonderful Kyrie O’Connor went and spotted The Poetry of Glen Beck (arranged by Hart Seely and Tom Peyer) for us, and it really makes up for months of heartbreak.  Beck is a total nutcase, and he represents pretty much the worst America has to offer, but laid out on the page, his words create an almost-lovely portrait of American right-wing paranoia, and it’s immensely more palatable than actually listening to him.

It (the Poetry, not the lunacy) reminds of me Anna Deavere Smith’sTwilight: Los Angeles project, in which she interviewed a couple dozen Angelenos about the 1992 LA Riots and their aftermath.  Word for word, she built their responses into poetic monologues, and then took them on tour as a one-woman show, as well as making a film version.  Like “The Poetry of Glen Beck”, Twilight turns a collection of unstructured human thoughts and words into a poetically coherent, readable and enjoyable portrait of a nation struggling with its own cultural dysfunction.

I like Beck better this way.  He’s a much better accidental poet than he is a pundit.  Salon promises more tomorrow, I’ll let you know if it’s as good as the first batch.


(* Yes, she’s also President Bartlet’s National Security Advisor.)