Pictograms taking care of business

 The other day, Ingrid Piller’s “Language on the Move” blog showed a number of signs that are posted in restrooms in Australia.  The purpose of these signs is to explain, without text, how to use a Western toilet.  This is a harder task than those of us who are accustomed to such devices might assume.  The international symbols for “Men,” “Women,” and “Wheelchair Accessible” that often mark public restrooms appear on these signs in a variety of non-self-explanatory positions.     

I’ve always been intrigued by these international symbols, or pictograms.  I’m not the only one.  Here‘s a “Flickr Hive Mind” thing of images of the “Wheelchair Accessible” pictogram.  For example, here‘s the wheelchair pictogram carrying a flower; here is the same pictogram some distance from a family group; here are two of them, apparently in an embrace; here are two about to go their separate ways, though still facing the same direction.  Also on Flickr, we can see a sign that appears to invite women accompanied by tiny people using wheelchairs, and one that appears to invite men accompanied by tiny people using wheelchairs.

I’ve found the same pictogram having still other adventures.  For example, here‘s the accessibility symbol shouting through a megaphone:

Here‘s the international symbol for falling out of your wheelchair:

If it bothers you that the accessibility pictogram is unisex, you might like to see this on the Paris Metro:

The other pictograms are livelier than you might think, as well. 

Here‘s an argument against unisex restrooms:

Here, Mr & Mrs Pictogram put on some clothes.  If this is a fair representation of their fashion sense, I can see why we are usually shown only their silhouettes:

This picture has a similar esthetic to the one above, but makes its statement more bluntly:

Perhaps these “branded” women could benefit from the sort of sisterhood illustrated in this image

Here‘s a crowd of men’s symbols:

I wonder which direction they’re facing.

This fellow seems to be in trouble:

Perhaps he’d envy this kinsman of his:

This one seems to be having a better time:

Here, a mosaic of international symbols makes up a giant face:

This is the international symbol for Muslim prayer room.  I think it needs work.  The woman’s headscarf looks like a device that’s keeping her head taped to her shoulders:

We will rigorously observe the laws, but only the ones we make up as we go

This issue of The Nation includes a review of a recent exhibition of photographs by Miroslav Tichý .  Tichý was a reclusive man whose major body of work consists of photographs he took without the consent, or in many cases the knowledge, of the women he was photographing.  This project might have been tolerable if Tichý had confined himself to views available in the public spaces of his hometown, Kyjov in the Czech Republic.  This, however, he did not do.  Tichý’s favorite subject was a woman’s exposed backside.  Since these are rarely seen in public spaces, Tichý seems to have made a habit of trespassing into the homes of the women of Kyjov to catch them as they came and went to the bath, changed clothes, etc.  The Nation‘s reviewer takes stern exception not only to Tichý’s activities, but also to the exhibit, protesting that the museum has presented the photographs without fully explaining how Tichý came to capture those images of those particular women.  The reviewer surmises that this was done in hopes that patrons would not ask that question, that they would behave as though the women of Kyjov were Tichý’s to do with as he liked. 

While Tichý’s treatment of his neighbors showed no regard for the laws of Czechoslovakia or for those of common decency, he did invent certain laws for himself and followed them rigorously in his work.  To quote a few remarks from the review to this effect:

If we disregard the few remarks about his original intentions that Tichy made some forty years after the fact–most of which are self-deprecating and puncture meaningfulness whenever it seems to bubble up–his work routine appears remarkably disciplined, even rigorous, and indifferent to the claims of his subjects…


A few rare shots record glances cast directly at the photographer–the women generally not looking pleased. They seem to have had a hunch about where they stood in this transaction. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed,” Susan Sontag wrote. “It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge–and, therefore, like power.” This dynamic may explain why backsides so predominate in Tichy’s oeuvre: besides having a clear preference for the angle, he probably found it easier to photograph women when they weren’t facing him…


In other words, nearly all of Tichy’s photographs bypass what has been, from the medium’s first decades, central to its nature: a moment of recognition. We generally expect photographs of people to record a glance, however fleeting, between the person behind the camera and whoever is in front of it; in a random lineup of major twentieth-century photographs, you could probably identify who took many of them by the expressions on their subjects’ faces… In most of his photographs, it’s the absence of exchange that grants the subjects distinction and dignity–an autonomy that, by the same stroke, Tichy denies by taking their picture without their consent.

Tichý’s habit of following laws he invented for himself and disregarding those that might protect other people from his abuse links this review to a piece on The Nation‘s website about the Obama administration’s recently revealed decision to order the assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.  While most prominent members of the Democratic Party have deferred to Mr O’s judgment in this matter, Congressman Dennis Kucinich has spoken out against this order in particular and against the use of assassination as a tactic in the USA’s antiterrorism efforts generally:

“In the real world, things don’t work out quite so neatly as they seem to in the heads of the CIA,” says Kucinich. “There’s always the possibility of blowback, which could endanger high-ranking US officials. There’s the inevitable licensing of rogue groups that comes about from policies that are not strictly controlled and that get sloppy–so you have zero accountability. And that’s not even to get into an over-arching issue of the morality of assassination policies, which are extra-constitutional, extra-judicial. It’s very dangerous from every possible perspective.”

He added: “The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one. That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life.”

Kucinich says the case of al-Awlaki is an attempt to make “a short-cut around the Constitution,” saying, “Short-cuts often belie the deep and underlying questions around which nations rise and fall. We are really putting our nation in jeopardy by pursuing this kind of policy.”

Mr O doesn’t really seem all that different from Miroslav Tichý, nor does the Democratic Party’s acquiescence in its titular leader’s practice of “targeted killings” seem all that different from the museum’s attempt to gloss over the more troubling aspects of Tichý’s method.  In each case, a man marketed as new and fresh, an outsider who challenges a repressive status quo, imitates some of the most repressive practices of that status quo.  As the outsider artist Tichy emulates the Czechoslovakian secret police’s practice of intruding on citizens and photographing them without their consent, perpetuating this practice even after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, so the “outsider candidate” Mr O becomes a president who perpetuates Bush and Cheney’s most bloodthirsty policies.

Less chilling than the lecherous Tichý and of course far less chilling than the homicidal Obama administration was Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-2003.)  Onetti was, technically speaking, a political novelist; his work was sufficiently engagé that Uruguay’s ham-fisted dictator Juan María Bordaberry thought him worth imprisoning in 1974.  If the description of Onetti’s work in this issue’s essay is accurate, however, Onetti can hardly have represented a direct threat to Bordaberry’s regime.   His approach was so esoteric that the thought his novels might be published seemed self-evidently absurd to Onetti’s friends.  The rules Onetti followed as he composed his work were so different from those known elsewhere in literature that readers had to grope through the most disparate extremes of twentieth century prose to find parallels to them.  Eccentric as his methods may have been, Onetti’s influence on Latin American writers of the generation after him has been widespread and intense.

More Veiled Women

Hijabi Barbie

Years ago, LeFalcon posted a few stray remarks here about women’s dress in Islam.  Last year, Cymast posted a news item about Nicolas Sarkozy’s push to ban the burqa in France.  Months ago, I posted some images of veiled Muslim women.  That’s a rather slim selection of material, and yet every day search terms such as “burqa,” “hijab,” “chador,” “abaya,” and “niqab” send people to this blog.  As a service to those readers, here are some links to images of veiled women.   

  1. Indonesian Women Preparing to Pray. A dynamic study in white and red.
  2. Niqabi Riding an Escalator.   An airport scene.    
  3. Two Women With Soft Drinks. One heavily veiled, the other in Western dress.
  4. Two Women Riding the London Tube.  One in a chador, the other in Western dress.
  5. Veiled Catwalk Model.  The veil looks strange to most Westerners; this shot brings out the strangeness of a custom many of those same Westerners take for granted, the model’s catwalk.   
  6. A Partly Veiled Catwalk Model.  Recognizably Middle Eastern dress, though nothing especially “Islamic” about it
  7. The Outfit is Advertised as “Modest”  The model’s attire is quite modest, but her pose suggests a prostitute waiting for customers.  
  8. Warhol-style Hijabi.   I’m sure she’s somebody famous, but I can’t place her.  The picture appeared with this news story about the play The Hijabi Monologues
  9. Simpsons Character in Hijab.  Apparently sometime after I stopped watching The Simpsons, they introduced some Muslim characters.
  10. Punk Hijabi” She’s very clever, I’d recommend taking a moment to study her outfit. 
  11. On the Internet, No One Knows You’re Wearing a Niqab.  In the USA, the two women in this photo would probably be separated by a sheet of bulletproof glass. 
  12. Her face is covered by the colors of the American flag,  the rest of her is covered by a chador
  13. The Iranian women’s volleyball team in action.  Their opponents seem distracted by their outfits. 
  14. Academic Robes and Face Veil.  I rather wish the angle were wider.  The expression on the face of the graduate behind her makes me suspect there was a sort of contest to see who could be the most modest. 
  15. Women Holding a Sign that Reads “Hijab is My Choice, Not Compulsion”

Also worth a look is a site called “The Hijablog,” fashion commentary addressed to the conservative Muslim woman.

J. C. Boyle’s Saluting Device, US Patent # 556,248

Via Old Magazine Articles, a device that will raise and lower a man’s hat for him as he bows.  I fully expect to see these on the heads of the steampunk crowd soon. 

Where Volkswagens Come From

Via Weirdomatic:

Yin and Yang

Georgia O’Keeffe Paintings

I was introduced to Georgia O’Keeffe’s work during my undergraduate work.  I was totally fascinated by her paintings of the insides of flowers. 

Her skeleton paintings use to seem haunting to me.  Now I think they have a certain strength to them.  This one looks like a hawk. 

This painting is completely new to me.  I love her bold use of color here. 

I really enjoy looking at her close up paintings of flowers.  They inspired me to take close up photos of flowers, and some of those turned out really well. 

This painting is new to me as well.  I particularly enjoy the shape of the house

Legendary Aussie Band MEN AT WORK Targeted by Music Troll

Insane judge rewards gluttonous scumbag.

Colin Newman; The Residents; Vinnie-P

Planimals Exist!


I always knew planimals were real, now everybody else will know!

Underground homes

To some, the idea of an underground house will suggest the early Stone Age.  To others, it will suggest James Bond attacking a bunch of guys in jumpsuits.  To some, however, it suggests a great deal more than that, as Alexandra documents at Weirdomatic.