More Exciting News About Colors Of Things

The other day I tossed off this joke about the Pantone Laboratories. And figured that was enough of a joke at the time, what with the merriment and giggling that pair of words provoked in every living creature exposed to them, including our pet rabbit and the succulents on the windowsill. But then I went and spoiled myself by wondering if there are Pantone Laboratories. I mean, it’s a company that does … color … things. There’s probably something they do that involves having a beaker or a spectroscope or something, right?

So anyway Wikipedia didn’t leave me with any idea whether there is a Pantone Laboratories, but it did make me aware that since 2000 Pantone has declared a “Color of the Year”. And that twice a year they gather “representatives from various nations’ color standards groups” and spend two days presenting and debating candidates for the color of the year. There are people whose jobs include occasionally going to “a European capital” for a secret meeting where they decide, oh, is this more of a “turquoise”, a “blue turquoise”, or an “emerald” year? The debates must be furious. I’m surprised any of the participants emerge alive, although, Wikipedia does not actually claim there are survivors.

Me, I’m just glad we’ve not yet had a chartreuse year, because that color is not what I would think chartreuse was.

When Time Came To New Jersey

New Sweden was established in the Delaware River valley, in what is now southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania and the Twelve Mile Circle of Delaware, by exactly the nation you’d imagine, in 1638. It carried itself along for just under two decades. In 1655 the colony was conquered by, and absorbed into, the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands. But this expanded New Netherlands, with outposts along what they termed the North River (the Hudson) and the South River (the Delaware), would stay in Dutch control for barely a dozen years. In 1667 the whole colony was conquered by the English, New Amsterdam famously surrendering without firing a shot. History moves on: in 1673 the colony would be reconquered by the Dutch, New York less-famously surrendering without firing a shot. But they would be returned to England a year later, in the peace treaty which concluded the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The settlement would be exchanged for various East Indies spice islands, including Run, the legendary fount of nutmeg.

The many states of Europe adopted Pope Gregory’s reformed calendar — our modern calendar — at different times, mostly based on the religious politics of the state. Sweden held fast to the Julian calendar until 1700, when it made an attempt to switch over which went so wrong they had to create a February 30th to clean up the mess. (They would finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar successfully in 1753.) The states of the Netherlands switched to the Gregorian calendar or stuck, ten days behind, with the Julian calendar, depending on the religious preferences of the state. The colony of the New Netherlands was settled by the West Indies Company. The company was organized in the Catholic state of Holland, and so would be on the Gregorian calendar. England stuck it out on the Julian calendar through 1752 while telling itself it was so Protestant that the other Protestant nations couldn’t even see its Protestant-ness from where they were.

Presumably at least some part of the conquest of territories by new powers is to adjust the calendar for the residents. The courts, the tax assessors, all the business of government will naturally cling to the time which the regent keeps. North America may be far from Europe, and farther in the 17th century, but it would be intolerable to have European outposts not even agree what day the 21st of April is.

Therefore a resident of New Sweden should have seen her calendar switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar sometime after the Dutch conquest in 1655, losing ten days but getting a spring that actually starts in mid-March. And then she would have to see ten days stuffed back into the calendar somehow in 1667, with the English conquest. Possibly the Dutch would take the ten days back out again in 1673, if they didn’t have bigger problems to tend to what with being at war with both the English and the Anglos. If they did, then the resident had to stuff ten days back into her calendar as it switched back again a year later.

This surely annoyed and baffled the locals. It was confusing and frustrating enough in Europe where the calendar standards were fairly well-established and known for the whole 17th century. On what they regarded as the frontier these standards must have been even more whimsical and arbitrary. And yet I’ve never heard of any incidents involving the alternating calendars. I don’t even know when New Sweden’s calendars were changed, or New Netherland’s, or whether it changed for the Dutch interregnum. I know about the annoyances of 1752, since that’s renowned in calendar studies. It’s like hearing about the Beatles; if you haven’t, you just don’t know the subject at all. Of course, 1752 I know from the British perspective and people talking about William Hogarth paintings and whatnot. It’s just assumed that the North American colonies went along, things unfolding about the way they did in London. Or at least Sheffield.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the history of New Jersey or the surrounding states. I doubt I own more than ten histories of New Jersey, and fewer than half of them are academic texts. But I don’t remember it ever getting a single line of mention ever. The dates must have changed, but when, and how was it done? And what did the people living with the change think of it all? How much of a hassle was it, and what were people saying about the trouble, especially when it kept coming up over and over again? They must have told at least some jokes about the absurdity of this all; what were they?

So with this to ponder, I think you’ll agree I was right not to do a lick of work today, and I appreciate your understanding, boss. I can’t make promises for tomorrow either. But if you do have any contacts with the New Jersey Historical Society we just might be able to come to some arrangement. Isn’t that everything you could ask for?

What Is Art?

What is art? Is this some of it, and if it isn’t, then what is it? Is a painting of leaves art? Is a football game art? What about teams of men repairing asphalt? If not them, how about people going around painting asphalt? Can you artistically endure a snowstorm? If not, can you endure building a snowman? Is parking next to the university library? How can it be, if no one has ever managed to do it? Are hamsters art? If not, can they be part of art? And what of noise? In short, can we define art any more precisely than “I don’t know what that is but I know I don’t like it”?

These are questions which have plagued humanity since 1878, when the governments of western European nations found that art could serve a role in defining their national cultures, by telling the nations that they had a culture. With new forms of attempted art, some in fixed installations and some in public performances, people just got generally more confused and irritated. For example, cartooning looked promising, but it flopped when people discovered that there are about four poses total that don’t make the human body look ungainly and awkward and weird when drawn. Those four poses have since been fully explored and nobody can be bothered to look at them anymore. Some folks carry on drawing, because what else is there to do, and people still try standing around or sitting or lounging in the hopes of finding another pose in which they look attractive.

Initially this was seen as a good thing, as many public opinion makers were worried that the public wasn’t confused enough anymore, given the rise in literacy and the adoption of standardized time zones. However, now people began to wonder if this thing which was annoying them was some manner of art or whether, worse, these might be protest rallies from people trying to rally support to the idea that society could be made a little less horribly brutal in some fashion.

Some order was restored by the United States Commerce Department which in a series of meetings between 1925 and 1928 adopted a standardized definition of artwork which became as good as universal. According to this, art was officially standardized as “the stuff that was kept in museums where nobody had to look at it or have opinions about it through to 1925”. New art might be admitted if it fell into one of two accepted categories: watercolor paintings of sailing ships, or bronze statues of generals on horseback. These were adequate for most of the remaining 1920s, as people had not yet fully learned what exactly sailing ships looked like, and while there wasn’t all that much bronze to go around nobody really wanted to commemorate the generals of the most recent war anyway.

These standards are still in place, with the only major revision being a ruling in 1946 that the statues countries had put up to remember the horrors of World War I absolutely had to be repaired so as not to show any damage they sustained in the battles of World War II. But the old standards show their age: today it’s difficult to find anyone who didn’t know what a sailing ship looks like, and while the generals-on-horseback style was revitalized sculptors got fairly bored and tried horses-on-generalback and then the backs of horse generals before deciding they didn’t much like bronze anyway.

Meanwhile, municipalities started seeing their public spaces decorated with sculptures consisting of oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal painted international warning signal orange, which serve as emblems of the way municipalities naturally form oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal and how artists have a lot of international warning signal orange paint. These are generally harmless, with a few getting exorbitant price tags, good for a little scandal about the city council spending money for those times when there isn’t any real news to worry about.

Given this, plus two other examples I couldn’t think up right now, it’s best to fall back on the pragmatic definition of art. According to this, art is anything you see that it annoys you someone else gets to do. The definition isn’t perfect and it can be vexed by things you’re confident your niece and/or turtle could do better, but it will do until a new standard can be defined.

On The New Blogging Standards

I’m sure everyone’s heard by now that the International Organization for Standardization — the group that’s brought us best-selling hits like ISO 9000, ISO 9001, ISO 2000, and their mashup, ISO 9001-2000 — is proposing a change to the fundamental unit of blogging as set out in ISO 764 (“Horology: Magnetic Resistant Watches”). Naturally I’m torn about this and I’m surprised more people aren’t bewailing them. I grant that the old unit of blogging — making fun of the Superfriends — is tired, and not just because I’ve been desperately trying to think of anything fresh I could possibly say about the episode where the Wonder Twins are so wholly overwhelmed by a roller coaster with defective brakes they need the help of an actual superhero. But it’s been the style for a good long while, and it’s shaped how we think about blogging, and goodness knows, what if they change it to something like “pointing out Animaniacs episodes that don’t have jokes, just a big pile of pop culture references draped over each other” instead? I need to know what they’re changing things to before I can vehemently oppose the change correctly.

A Standard Scheme

The easiest way to attract endless angry grumbling is to prepare your very own set of Usage Guidelines and insist on someone else following them. The United States is the world’s greatest exporter of Usage Guidelines, averaging over 48,660,000 new policies promulgated annually to cover everything from how many spaces to put after the period ending sentences to how many little paper cups of Horsey Sauce to take at Arby’s at one time. These policies are instantly resented by everyone they are applied against, and compliance rises to as high as nearly 0.296 people per year.

So I’m leaping into the Usage Guideline racket: there’s no better way to express my idealistic hopes that the world can be perfected by enacting a few trivially easy changes in the ways people do things, there’s no surer way of making myself embittered than watching everyone carry on in their un-enlightened fashion, and in the meanwhile I can sell nearly more than fourteen copies of books explaining the guidelines to members of the adoring public who thought they were buying sarcastic atlases instead.

Don’t worry. Before long I’ll have comment forms in place so you can suggest new standards for me to consider, provided you do submit them in the correct way.