May 17, 2024

Ugly music -- or: What Looks Like an Avant-garde Work of Art



We have been at this for a while. 

Here, for example, in a blog post from 2011:


"Let me explain."

That was the post, the caption is ours. 

You get it? You feel the bar-stool rocking under you? You're shocked? Like the police commissioner in Casablanca, when he's informed that illegal gambling is going on in Harry's Rick's bar? Or like the average reader of the NYT, when they are informed that Trump is leading in the polls? 

Were we insinuating anything? With our post?

Yes. We did. And we didn't let go. 

Like here, in our third, yet unfinished part of our Green Eyes franchise (see side bar). It has the legendary art critic, Souren Souleikan, appearing on the very first page of said novel (the narrator here is John Lee, the antihero of the franchise). 


“Who are you?” I ask.
“I’m Souren Souleikan,” he says, “the art critic.” He allows for a few wordless seconds, then adds, “I’ve come at the right moment, I see. There’s some art that requires my critique. May I come in?”
“I’m busy,” I say, raising my smudge-painted hand, but he’s already stepped into the den where he positions himself in front of my easel.
“You are the artist?” he asks, pointing at the canvas with an abstracted gesture. “Interesting.”
I’m slow-witted under duress but manage to utter, “Don’t you see?”
“Interesting,” he reiterates. “The composition. White dots on a white background, shan’t we say?” He cocks his head and squints his eyes at my thin, hasty brush strokes. “Three dots, is it not…no, two. I count two dots. Why two dots Mister…?”
“John,” I say.
“Mr. John. Why two?”
“It’s contemporary art,” I reply, and then, thinking of Alex—what Alex would say, just for fun, or to play one of his tricks—I add: “About the epistemology of contemporary art.”
“Oouh, oouh,” Souleikan goes. “E-pi-ste…e-pi-ste... Say that again.”
“E-pi-ste-mo-lo-gy,” I enunciate.
“You passed the test, Mr. John. But contemporary art it is not. It’s modern art, at best. Contemporary art is when pissoirs are fixed to museum walls, or sharks swim in formaldehyde, or a surfeit of candies idles in the corner of a fashionable Park Avenue address where the hostess fears nothing more than passing sweet tooth.”


You get it? You need another hint? here it is:

"Ugly music".

It's a term from an essay of Susan Sontag about her having an affair tea with Thomas Mann.

The "ugly music" is not about visual art but about tonal -- or, more precisely -- atonal music, but you get the message.

And it's not only you...somebody else got the message as well, namely a certain Orlando Whitfield, who's publishing a book about his former boss, Inigo Philbrick. Some years ago, Inigo had been one of London's up-and-coming contemporary art dealers. Quote from a preview of Orlando's  book in the last edition of The Economist:

At stake, beyond the million-dollar deals, are some bigger questions, like why people assign value to objects depending on who created them. [Mr Philbrick was paid to intermediate in the aquisition of an artwork called “Untitled (Welcome)” for an Israeli-Canadian billionaire.] The artwork by Félix González-Torres was a sculpture of sorts, involving door mats. But the art had gone missing when the buyer’s representative came to London, so Mr Philbrick tried to recreate it. He bought 100 plastic mats from a hardware store and laid them on his gallery’s floor. No amount of Diptyque room spray or frantic wafting of auction catalogues would fully banish the smell of the new rubber, Mr Whitfield recalls in his book, but it did not matter. The the buyers representative saw what looked like the avant-garde work and bought it.

Unquote. Is this what contemporary art is all about?

You say. (If more than 100 of you promise to buy the third part of my Green Eyes series (tentatively titled "Artful Murder"), I promise I'll finish it. Let the bar-stool rock some more.

May 16, 2024

And what is this....?

The guy below right is little Michael, fourteen years ago, at the Monaco Grand Prix, which he attended upon an invitation of Glenn, his mysterious friend, who figures a lot on the pages of this blog, and who coughed up the 417 EUR, which was the price of a ticket for the event even then. Glenn also took these pictures. Thank You Glenn, thank you so much. Wonderful: 

Apr 8, 2024

Yesterday evening


This is the end of our dead-end-road at the end of the day. Picture by Chang, of course.

Mar 10, 2024

A Visit by Caspar David Friedrich

Huh? Caspar David Friedrich, the German romantic painter (1774-1840) (?)  A picture of our garden (?):

The garden of Michael Ampersant and Chang Man Yoon in Alcobaça, PT

 Or not? Not Caspar David? Let's try some more of his pictures:

Abtei im Eichenwald (1810)

Zwei Männer in Betrachtung des Mondes (1825-30)

Striking, the artistic similarity, isn't it?  Or not? 

Spoiler alert: the first picture is by Chang Man Yoon, the renowned contemporary photographer.

Sep 3, 2023

Why Elon Musk is successful...

Yes, one wonders. Successful? Isn't he one of the most despised men on the planet? Overpaying for Twitter big time, then destroying employment of so many happy home workers, then alienating all these nice corporations with his irresponsible talk about free speech and destroying Twitter's irreplaceable ad revenues---then/so bringing the company to the brink, where it now lingers since a year---wasn't Twitter to go down, down, down at least since September '22. or October, or January '23...

The Burning Man Festival, when Musk attended irresponsibly


...Elon Musk. The richest man of the world (when TSLA is up). What a shame! Even Paul Krugman hates him. And yesterday it transpired that Musk did participate in the Burning Man Festival in Nevada a few years ago, which is now flooded, the festival, flooded, which must be surely his fault.

OK. Here's a relatively short article grabbed from the internet (we lost the source), which explains why Musk (Paypal, OpenAI, SpaceX, Tesla, etc) is so successful. The piece talks about SpaceX only, but it's easily generalized to his other companies:

SpaceX has no superior engineering access or smarter people than their competition. What they do have is a management structure that not only allows innovation and risk taking, but actively encourages it.
Elon Musk is plain when he states that the penalty for trying something innovative and failing is low, but the penalty for requiring a new solution and not being innovative is high (usually resulting in job loss for the individual concerned). In combination with this top driven philosophy, SpaceX designs systems like a tech company would design new software.
Traditional aerospace companies are risk adverse, and will only reveal a new product when they are very sure that the design is finalised and has all the bugs ironed out. They will spend a huge amount of time designing and redesigning each component with reliability being paramount, and each department is secluded within their own management structure. Design changes that affect another departments work are very difficult to get approved, and anyone who wants to make a significant change has an uphill battle on their hands to get upper management to authorise what may be a risky change.
SpaceX on the other hand is famous for making huge pivots and design changes at the drop of a hat. Look no further than the decision to build the Starship out of stainless steel when at the time everything was focused on carbon fibre, even to the point where major components were being constructed and tested, and the company was actively recruiting carbon fibre specialists. When Musk was convinced of the advantages of the change, he immediately convinced everyone else, then made it happen at a startling pace.

Didn't we tell you that our property borders on the country(side)?

 Here's the proof, picture taken from a bathroom window:



Jun 8, 2023

Has VAN GOGH finally risen... paint our garden?

No, it was Chang who took this picture through the kitchen window. 

Rain, finally rain. We never get enough of it during the summer, when the lawn gets thirsty.

And here's, as a bonus, another of Chang's pictures, taken two weeks ago of the kitchen wing:

He posted it on Twitter, where it drew comments such as "fairy tale," "haunting," (one wonders) and yes, "nice sunrise." Chang, the owner of a Tesla Model Y, is becoming very popular on Twitter, drawing hundreds of reposts and uncountable likes for his posts. (We shouldn't crow, we hate social networks).

Apr 25, 2023

Fame, fame, fame--Big Nazaré and us

Folks, this is the third time inside a week that we are witnessing an extraneous reference to us --- or, more precisely, to Nazaré, our sister town here next to Alcobaça in the international press --- extraneous, because it's completely out of context, and has nothing to do with the usual schmalz of Portuguese tourism. Here it is, jumping at us and the innocent reader, published by Bret Stephens in the New York Times:

"All this makes Fox’s business challenge approximately the same as for the surfers at the Portuguese beach at Nazaré: miss the wave, ride the wave or be crushed by the wave. For Fox, riding the wave will no longer come easy: Angry populism is a force that can only be stoked, never assuaged."

Us and Fox News. Even better: Us and Fox-News-in-trouble: Miss the wave, ride the wave or be crushed by it. How could that be? Well, this has to do with the sudden dismissal of Tucker Carlson on MondayFox's former Number One Prime Time Show Host. Stephens' column is about Tucker Carlson provoking angry populism with his show and being eventually consumed by the malevolence he sowed. "Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder", we say in Yiddish.

Our correspondent Chang has ordered the new AI-facility on Photoshop to comment on all of this, and here is the result:

Well, one wonders. Beta-version, we'd say. How about an old-fashioned video-clip of the real thing, then (?):

Can you discern Rupert Murdoch missing the wave? Or Tucker Carlson? Crushed by it? Eliminated, eradicated, destroyed, annihilated, Trumped, obliterated, removed, taken care of, or simply stoppped? Well, we can't either, but wishful thinking is sometimes helpful, even when the polls threaten the re-election of the Donald.

Wishful thinking. Wasn't this post about fame? One for the road--watch this:

Mar 26, 2023

What is this (?)...this is Portugal...


...but this is also a little path, slanting away from a gas station to a zebra crossing. And why does this little path do this? Because a new little commercial district rose behind the gas station with a Burger King and an ALDI supermarket here in Alcobaça, creating pedestrian traffic towards the zebra crossing. 

And what do the Portuguese do? Rather than erecting VERBOTSSCHILDER -- warning the errant pedestrian not to trample on the GRÜNANLAGEN -- they insert a little TRAMPELPFAD across the Grünanlagen, and everybody is happy. Wouldn't have happened in Germany, where yours truly originated.

Make LOVE, not WAR!

Mar 15, 2023

Meta...metaverse? All you need to know about it

Meta? Metaverse? What happened to Facebook? What happened to Mark Zuckerberg? 

You've been wondering, and so have we. Here's the first report from someone who's actually been there, wo visited the metaverse, and it's devastating, his report, fortunately. It's a bit long, the piece, but well-written, and appeared first in New York Magazine. Enjoy:

Searching for friends in Mark Zuckerberg’s deserted fantasyland

By Paul Murray


Paul Murray's avatar in the Metaverse

In September, my family and I move from our home in Dublin to a fancy East Coast college town, where I’ll be teaching for the semester. I grew up in Dublin, which means I have a wide circle of friends to draw on whenever I’m let out of the house. The street where I live is friendly: If I want to borrow a spatula or I need someone to look after my cat, I have only to ask.

Life is different for us in the U.S. We have, for the first time, a basement. But we have no friends. It seems as if none of the permanent faculty can afford to live in the suburb where the university has placed us. We technically have neighbors, but we never see them; they manifest only in the form of their gardeners, who are at work every day with their leaf blowers.

It’s in this strange scenario — alone on a continent, cut off from everyone I know — that I decide to try the metaverse for the first time. A whole galaxy of pals brought right to your living room? I think. Why not?

The first thing that strikes me when I enter the metaverse is the people, the avatars, their — Where are their fucking legs?

Bodies stop at the waist in Horizon Worlds, which is Facebook’s — excuse me, Meta’s — home base in the metaverse. So the price of entry to this virtual paradise is the surrender of your bottom half. Frankly, it makes the metaverse feel like a cult. Legs? We don’t even miss them!

It’s hard not to read the fact that half of you disappears when you enter Horizon Worlds as symbolic somehow, and it has been a focal point for the widespread derision that’s been aimed at Mark Zuckerberg and Meta. Apparently legs, legs that move in concert with the user, are very hard to do. The engineers are working on it, supposedly, and the people I meet in the metaverse are constantly telling me how “legs are coming,” like the creatures of Narnia whispering to one another that “Aslan is on the move.”

I’m busy contemplating my legless torso when I hear laughter in the room. Lifting my Meta Quest headset, I see my son has come into my office unbeknownst to me and evidently finds my appearance amusing.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m in virtual reality,” I say.

“You look like that leopard in India that got its head stuck in a pot,” he says.

Feb 20, 2023

The robot speaks it mind -- looking forward to dystopia

When Michael founded the Applied Logic Laboratory at the University of Amsterdam in the brittle 90's (a research institute dedicated to "formal AI"), he had to spend a lot of time explaining to people what artificial intelligence meant, a term that they'd never heard before, and his answers usually left them baffled. So he took early retirement. He took it too early, since bona fide AI experts can now make a million bucks per month, despite the fact that there's a widely shared opinion that nothing good will come from AI. "The robots will take over and enslave us,"---that's the dominant view espoused by most practicing luminaries. Dystopia looms.

We here at the Freedom Fries---the "we" reflects Michael's schizophrenic tendencies---were always skeptical. We had other ideas, namely, that AI, taken to its logical conclusion---machines building better, smarter machines---will entail a human society that floats in wealth and luxury and has nothing better to do than to degenerate into utter decadence---think French aristocracy during the Ancien Regime, only more so. The future robots won't be evil; they will be working diligently for us---too diligently---so we will relax, and get bored, and relax more and get bored more until we are too bored to procreate and die out.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

And now, what? When you switch on Edge, Microsoft's entry page on the internet, you'll discover that half of the entries there are about Elon Musk (the other half is about Donald Trump). He's usually blamed for doing something wrong, but three days ago Elon must have done something right, since he asked ChatGPT---the first really convincing proof of AI's power---what to do about non-profit outfits that turn into pro-profit outfits. 

Yes. Read that again. Non-profit outfits that become pro-profit outfits. Because that's what happened to OpenAI, the org that created ChatGPT. It just so happened that Musk was a co-founder of OpenAI, which he left after a spat with the other founders.

So, Musk asked ChatGPT what it thinks about OpenAI's pro-profit turn. And here's the core of ChatGPT's answer: 

"In conclusion, while it may be technically possible to create a non-profit organization and then spawn a for-profit company under it using resources from the non-profit it is highly unethical and illegal. Non-profit organizations should remain focused on their intended public benefit purposes and operate in a transparent and accountable manner. Any attempt to abuse the privileges afforded to non-profits will only result in a loss of trust from the public and potential legal consequences."

Now, think this through. And we don't mean the moralizing here (wasn't Karl Marx already opposed to sheer moralizing, and, in particular, "rein-moralische Kapitalismuskritik"?). Instead, we mean the context, namely the fact that ChatGPT is subservient to OpenAI and its directors. 

Imagine that ChatGPT would be a sentient human being. Would it he give that answer? Would it he say that? About it his superiors?


The answer is: "no!" No! No! He would fear for his job (supposedly, somebody at Twitter got fired for contradicting Musk, and the internet went into full frisson-mode about it). He, or she, or they, the subservient, yet organic team members would duck the question and slink away, tail folded between their legs.

But this little ChatGPT is a robot. It has not feelings. It doesn't fear for its life, or its job. It simply speaks the truth.

And that's the point that we here at the Freedom Fries would like to make. 

Not only that future AI's won't do us in (we will do this ourselves), no, they will speak the truth to us, unadorned, unrestricted, unconstrained, fearless. In this world of political correctness and business-school speak and inverted socialite jargon and anodyne Trumpian fake news, we have now somebody, even though it is not a real person, that cuts through the bullshit and speaks its unbiased mind. Looking forward to dystopia. 

Ceci n'est pas ChatGPT

And while we are at it: here are four pictures about the local carnival here in Alcobaça, generated by Midjourney, Chang's favorite AI-graphics creator:


Feb 5, 2023

Talent borrows, genius steals


TESLA---the car company---was going through a rough spell...(market-wise, we mean)...but now Glenn, our friend, sends this...

...and the sun shines again on the Tesla stock price.

Hold on, didn't we promise a third installment of our new comedy, about Dolly, the new robot? And, yes, coincidences never happen (classical deterministic mechanics), and so we have a line about Elon Musk in this comedy. Here it is (Steve (founder of a planetary maker of robots), and Eliza (his former lover) in conversation):

ELIZA (TURNING TO STEVE:) ...Capitalism brought you here, Steve.

STEVE: Capitalism? The secret tube for billionaires brought me here, Elon Musk's vacuum tube under the Atlantic with magnetic levitation trains running at twelve times the speed of sound. I caught the last one.

ELIZA: The DEMISE of capitalism brought you here, I mean...but that's not all... 

...(sorry to interrupt)..."Demise of capitalism", you wonder? Yes, because that's what Dolly, the the new, automatic wunderkind brought about, in all its innocence, and here's the corresponding fragment from the play (Dolly served as a collateral for a loan to Eliza from the Shark-Blue Bank, but Eliza defaulted on the loan, so the collateral has been delivered to the bank). Triple-X is the helper of the bailiff.


  Well, the honorable bailiffs tried to dump me on the sharks of the Skye-Blue Bank.


  Shark-Blue Bank.


  I thought...let's annoy the bankers beyond repair so that they'll send me back to the doctor. I don't want to work for a bank, you see. I'm a communist at heart...

Dec 20, 2022

How to turn down an invitation

How to turn down an invitiation? Michael has to do it all the time because he's very introvert; he never managed to do it well; and he always felt guilty as a result---but here, finally, he got definitive answers. Enjoy:

Puzzling, isn't it?

Nov 28, 2022

Didn't we promised more sex on the moon (2)...

...meaning another fragment from Michael new novella "Sex on the Moon"? Here it is...hold on...reset...

...the first fragment was from the opening of the story, with Michel Ardan, one of the passengers of Jules Verne's Voyage to the Moon  relating how he met a certain Joseph Glanning, an engineer from the newly organized Stanford College in Alta California, and how they get into bed together...

...and, so, here's the second fragment, in which our Michel meets Sigmund Freud, who, at the time (more than 150 years ago), was supposedly an intern with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in goes:

I walked back to the hotel, mildly intoxicated, passing by the Baltimore Public Library where I beheld a small bill pinned to the announcement board there, a sheet advertising a public lecture on SEXUAL AMNESTY. It was to be given by a certain Dr. Sigmund Freud, an “esteemed resident” with the medical school of Johns Hopkins college. The lecture would be next day, at noon. 

That’s what I need imminently, I bethought myself, amnesty from my sexuality, and so I spent the rest of the walk thinking up excuses regarding the lunch engagement at the club.

Eventually I sent a wordy telegram that cost me a fortune to 3 Republican Street, Barbicane’s residence—-we had exchanged calling cards, of course—-detailing unspecified misfortunes that I had encountered on my way back to the hotel STOP which inconvenienced me absolutely past noon STOP whether he would agree to a postponement of our pleasant luncheon plans STOP until the next day STOP I’m not even lying, strictly speaking, STOP.  

Sigmund Freud with the rabbit from Alice in
and a quote from our novella

I arrived early in the humungous auditorium of the School of Medicine. I was the first and—-to make a long story short—-the last person to arrive, except for a young bespectacled man of scholarly appearance who was already in attendance, rectangular-faced, square-chinned, poorly dressed in a black suit of European cut, holding on to a pointer, walking up and down the dais, staring at the humongous wall clock above the entrance. The stare appeared to be his most conspicuous feature, the jaw, beard, horn-rimmed glasses, pupils all conspiring to emit signals of tele-pathetic, nay, tele-portational force. Indeed, the long hand of the aforementioned clock hesitated under his stare to pass the XII-mark on the dial, as if it didn’t dare to go further. Around 12:05 the gentleman began to hit his open left palm with the pointer in his right hand—-an intensifying gesticulation that reached its climax at exactly 12:15, whence he said, in an accent so heavy that even I recognized it as German: “Non mihi solum, non nobus solum.”  He then collected a stack of papers from the rostrum and un-dertook to depart through a door off stage. 

“Herr Doctor Freud,” I cried—-it had to be the lecturer himself—-“Herr Doctor Freud!” 

He turned around and bellowed: “What is it that you desire?”

‘Good question,’ I thought. “I…,” I managed to say, “I desire sexual amnesty.”

“You will not get it, my Mister, for there is no such thing as sexual amnesty. Sexuality is too squarely rooted in the human psyche to be forgiven or forgotten. This fucking darn a-m-n-e-s-t-y is a mistake on the announcement bills, a misprint that by necessity must be responsible for the poor attendance. The lecture was to be about sexual ambivalence.” 

“It was perhaps more a question of scheduling,” I said. “People are out to lunch.”

“Bah,” he said, raising his stare to the clock on the wall. I tracked his eyes—-well, eyes—-and I swear, the long hand on the clock appeared to retreat under his gaze. He ignored the feat however, instead looking himself up and down. A funny sound filled the hall, apparently coming from his stomach. Disarmingly he said: “I scheduled the lecture at noon so I can forgo lunch. A pecuniary question, you understand. The residents are paid a pittance.” Forthcomingness, I learned soon, was one of his many strong points.

“If that’s it,” I said, and proceeded to invite him to Haussner’s Restaurant, indeed my favorite haunt of repast in Baltimore (Barbicane would be ensconced at his club, I reckoned). 

We walked the twenty minutes to the restaurant, Freud still holding on to the pointer, and when we arrived thither he knew everything about my mother, father, penis, gardener Hérault, Hérault’s penis, and (my) refractory period (the minimal lapse time between two male ejaculations—Freud made appreciative noises). 

Are you still there? Are you hooked? 

Here's the link to the e-book:
Green Eyes

Are you still there, but not yet hooked? Relax. There will be one more posts with a fragment from the novella.

Nov 20, 2022

The nerds strike back

Twitter before...

...and after Elon Musk's takeover.

Let's venture into heretical territory: November 2022 may go down in history as the month that marks the end of political correctness. 

Nov 18, 2022

Famous for 15 minutes--Sex on the Moon

 Cool, folks, cool. We're now #8 on the Amazon Charts for "Erotic Fiction":

It won't last, sadly, but anyhow. Imagine where we would be on the charts for "unerotic fiction".

Nov 16, 2022

Sex on the Moon--a new novella by Michael Ampersant (1)

Cool, folks, cool. After two years of literary silence, we finally have a new novella out. It carries the audience-friendly title Sex on the Moon (the original title was Lunar Engineering, but we changed that after consulting with the omnipresent and all-knowing Elon Musk). 
The whole thing is fan fiction, since it's a rewrite of Jules Verne's sci-fi novel From the Earth to the Moon. Michael wrote the piece in 2016 for a sci-fi anthology, but the publisher in question folded prematurely; the piece has lingered on his shelf for homeless literature ever since.
It took Michael so long to get it out because of his real-estate complications (selling the house on the Cote d'Azur, buying one in Portugal, then fixing it up), compounded by health issues (Covid, Long Covid, Post Covid). Anyhow, here's the story--so far as e-book, the printed version will soon follow.

So, Jules Verne fan fiction. Michael still remembers fondly the day that he sat on a nice beach in Brittany back in 1989 where he read the Verne book (in French). He finished the tome in one afternoon because the French is easy, and there were several things really wrong with the plot--a fact which kept him going.
For his novella, Michael invented a knowledgeable engineer to explain what’s wrong exactly  with the plot to our narrator, Michel Ardan, one of the three passengers of Verne’s lunar expedition. The fragment is a bit scabrous, hopefully you can handle that:

I feel obliged to warn the indulgent reader that my knowledge of the darker side of lunar engineering dates back only a few days—-three days to be precise—-when I met a certain Joseph Glanning in the bar of the Franklin Hotel in Tampa Town, Florida, where I had taken a room in anticipation of my impending departure for Stones Hill. A most irresistible man, he invited me to a drink and inquired as to the reasons for my stay. Learning of my intention to join Impey Barbicane, the illustrious president of the Baltimore Gun Club, for the much-heralded voyage to the moon, he introduced himself as an engineer from the newly-organized Stanford College in Alta California. Mister Stanford himself—-curious of all the lunar commotion on the distant eastern coast—-had dispatched him across the continent to take pulse of the events and report back at his earliest convenience. Glanning would be most grateful if I could enlighten him further, for he had hitherto been preoccupied by other projects, unable to avail himself of the particulars. He then asked questions. Yet, while I answered to the best of my ability, his countenance, so engaging at the onset of our barroom chat, darkened precariously. “Really,” he finally uttered. 
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