Tuesday 11 July 2006

When I count to three, you'll have a PhD

This is Mr Paul McKenna. You may know him from such classic books as Easy Weight Loss and Quit Smoking Now. He is currently engaged in a libel action with the Daily Mirror over claims that he is a fraud. In a series of articles by Mr Victor Lewis-Smith, it was claimed that Mr McKenna bought a PhD from the venerable Lasalle University in the US of A (it's in Louisiana, in case you're passing, or flying over it). You might think that it's a cut and dried affair. Either he has a PhD or he doesn't. Lasalle University's founder actually made up the accreditation body for the awarding of its degrees. Em. Yes. You heard correctly. He set up the Council for post-secondary Christian Education (and nobody thought that sounded dodgy...), and had his university award degrees accredited by it. Mr McKenna claims that he was simply one of the many 'unsuspecting' students duped by this Mr Kirk. Except that it means his PhD has not been accredited. But Mr McKenna claims that the essense of his defamation has been that he bought his degree. As Mr Lewis-Smith wrote: "I discovered that anybody could be fully doctored by Lasalle within months (no previous qualifications needed), just so long as they could answer the following question correctly: 'Do you have $2,615, sir?'
In his evidence today, Mr McKenna insisted that he submitted a thesis of 50,000 words, and had spent over 500 hours of work on it. He has earned this degree.

Now that got me thinking. Let's say that he worked 6 hours per day, a rather low estimate I admit for one to be engaged in the type of research adequate to the level of the degree of PhD. Let's call it the benefit of the doubt. Let's say that he did not work weekends. In fact, let's say that he worked a four-day-week on his research, another low estimate for one to work on one's research I admit. But let's call it the benefit of the doubt.

That means that he finished his PhD in 20 weeks. This is clearly a man who values his timely rather highly.

Saturday 8 July 2006

Simone dei Crocefissi, National Gallery London

Just back from a couple of days in London at the British Library, a bit of book shopping, and a trip to the National Gallery. The shopping was good: I picked up Skeat's own copy of Furnivall's edition of Harl. 7334 published for the Chaucer Society in 1885. Very pleased, and for a fiver; a bargain I rather think. I was very pleased to go to see one the National Gallery's newest pieces, on loan from the Soc. of Antiquaries. It is a small panel painting entitled 'Dream of the Virgin' by a Bolognese artist called Simone dei Crocefissi (c.1330-1399). He is famous for four large crucifixes in Bologna (at the Palazzo Comunale, S. Giacomo Maggiore, at the Museo S. Stefano, and at S. Giuseppe) which gave him his nickname. He worked mainly in Bologna and became one of the city's most prolific artists during the period.

This painting, dating c.1370-80, shows Simone's use of striking and unusual devotional imagery. The Virgin is shown asleep, being read to by a female companion seated at the end of the bed. Out of the Virgin's side springs a piece of wood upon which hangs Jesus, although a cross is not actually represented. The usual interpretation is that it represents the lignum vitae, the Tree of Life. The composition might be divided between the upper section and lower section divided by the horizontally-placed Virgin. Thus she is the connection between Christ's death on the cross and Man's redemption. The blood of Christ is often represented in altar-pieces as flowing out of his side (sometimes being collected in cups by angels), but this is nicely mirrored by the Virgin having her own side wound out of which comes the suffering of her son on the cross. Christ's redemption is depicted by a hand that protrudes from the dream space to help Adam and Eve out of Hell. She sleeps with her head resting on one hand and her other arm by her side. The pose is very natural and rather delicately done. She is sleeping on a colourful duvet cover that looks very modern, really. Notice how the whole scene is framed with architectural imagery, towers and roofs that are all very reminiscent of Bologna itself. The piece is not of the very highest quality, and this is only too evident when you turn right around and look at the Wilton Diptych behind you. This beautiful gem never fails to impress me, no matter how many times I see it. But if Simone's work is not of the highest artistic quality it is at least unorthodox in a way the Wilton Diptych certainly is not, and surely betrays an intellectually lively audience striving for devotional expression.

For those who wish to read more I recommend Robert Gibbs, Grove Dictionary of Art, s.v.; ibid, 'Two Families of Painters at Bologna in the Later Fourteenth Century', Burlington Mag. CXXI (1979), 560-68; ibid., 'Bolognese Trecento Painting', Burl. Mag. CXX (1978), 237-8; Victoria Markova, 'The Annunciation from the Collection of Moscow's Pushkin Museum and Certain Aspects of Simone dei Crocefissi's Later Works', Burl. Mag. CXX (1978), 4-6. See also Massimo Ferretti, Rappresentazione dei Magi: il gruppo ligneo di S. Stefano e Simone dei Crocefissi (Bologna: ALFA, 1981)[Exh. Cat.].

Monday 3 July 2006

Thank You For Smoking, dir. Jason Reitman (2005)

This is a very funny satire ripping the proverbial out of the Smoking debate in the US. The story is told through the eyes of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a media spokesperson for Big Tobacco. His job is make sure the public is informed about all those things the anti-smoking campaign cannot prove, and when that does not fail, throw money at the problem. His nemesis is a Senator Finisterre (William H. Macy), who is sponsoring anti-smoking bills in the Senate. The whole movie revolves around the idea of spin, spin by the people for and against smoking. Naylor goes to Hollywood to convince an uber-cool exec (Jeff Magall, played by Rob Lowe) there to make a movie where the stars smoke. The result is a very funny scene where they work out the ridiculous storyline: smoking in space, the final frontier. Meanwhile a journalist, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) is writing a piece on Nick and sleeps with him hoping he will talk off the record. He does, and the result is a very funny "exposé". His recovery is even funnier.
This is a very enjoyable, clever, and funny film, poking fun at the complete humbug we are subjected to by big business and politicians and political correctness.


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