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23 February 2017
Morning Sedition

Just Zip It

Cartoon of a man with a zipper across his mouth

A few weeks ago I blogged about Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist and his war on free speech and individual rights. Before that I'd blogged about the Freedom to Not Listen and the origins of the First Amendment in the John Peter Zenger case. So when I saw the results of the two-year, one million dollar study comissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on awareness of the First Ammendment among students and teachers, it was understandable that I'd be interested. Turns out that I'd also be appalled.

First, it must be pointed out that the foundation was not started by right-wing or left-wing ideologues, but journalists:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was established in 1950 as a private foundation independent of the Knight brothers' newspaper enterprises. It is dedicated to furthering their ideals of service to community, to the highest standards of journalistic excellence and to the defense of a free press.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Having established their bona fides, here are the details about the participants:

A national study commissoned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut says that America's high schools are leaving the First Amendment behind. Educators are not giving high school students an appreciation of free speech and free press, according to the study researchers, who questioned more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 principals and administrators.

Press Release

The "Future of First Amendment" Report itself is highly disturbing:

The words of the First Amendment - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances - do not change, but how we interpret them does. In recent years, in fact, annual surveys of adult Americans conducted by The Freedom Forum show that public support for the First Amendment is neither universal nor stable: it rises and falls during times of national crisis. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation was almost evenly split on the question of whether or not the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.’’ Not until 2004 did America’s support for the First Amendment return to pre 9-11 levels, when it received support from only about two-thirds of the population. Even in the best of times, 30 percent of Americans feel that the First Amendment, the centuries-old cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, “goes too far.’’

Administrators say student learning about the First Amendment is a priority, but not a high priority.

"Future of First Amendment" Report

Sure. You know what is a priority to these "educators"? Football. Here are some of the key findings guaranteed to give you the willies:

1. High school students tend to express little appreciation for the First Amendment. Nearly threefourths say either they don’t know how they feel about it or take it for granted.

2. Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

3. Students lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment. Seventy-five percent incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal. Nearly half erroneously believe the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.

4. Students who do not participate in any media-related activities are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn or deface the American flag. Students who have taken more media and/or First Amendment classes are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.

Study

The actual numbers are even more frightening:

  • Only 50% of students believe "newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories"
  • Only 83% of students believe "People should be allowed to express unpopular opinions"
  • Only 70% of students believe "Musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics others may find offensive"
  • Only 25% of students believe "Americans have the legal right to burn the American flag as a means of political protest"

Welcome to Red-State America where the only speech you get is what the government says you need.

Photograph of a pistol on a computer laptop keyboard

You can have my First Amendment when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. (As the saying goes, the Second Amendment guarantees all the others.)

Sources and Further Reading

  1. John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release
  2. "Future of First Amendment" Report

Art Paid For By Bandaids

Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe

"Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe" by Edouard Manet

Seward Johnson's Dejeuner Deja Vous

"Dejeuner Deja Vous" by J. Seward Johnson

Blogging the Bosch models got me thinking about how a variety of artists are reinterpreting earlier works into three-dimensional versions. Seward Johnson — among the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune — is one of them. For some time, he's been rendering figures from famous paintings as three-dimensional outdoor sculptures.

In Beyond the Frame, Impressionism Revisited, Johnson takes 19th-century masterpieces and transforms them into three-dimensional tableaux. Johnson's interpretations are life-size scenes beckoning you to explore. Each piece has a "sweet spot," marked by a pair of footprints, allowing viewers to see a close estimation of the original painting in three dimensions. Move from that spot, and the works are sheer Johnson invention. With the help of a team of artists, he has continued the sculptures beyond the borders of the framed paintings, imagining the scenery and details that might have surrounded the original artwork.

Unframed: A 3-D leap at the Corcoran by Meghan Keane

One of the problems he faced was finding a foundry to cast his works. Unlike ordinary artists, however, that is a problem he was able to easily solve. (Massive personal wealth often works that way.) In 1974 he founded the Digital Atelier and Sculpture Foundation Studios as a sort of foundry for sculptors. You can see one of his works progress here as well as a large variety of figures on his official Website. The results are quite realistic:

Are there real clothes on the sculptures?

No. Surprisingly each sculpture is entirely bronze. The realism of the textures and details is the hallmark of Johnson's art, and this detailing is achieved with hours and hours of intense labor. Seward Johnson begins each bronze with a l2 inch tall "sketch" in clay, and then enlarges this to life scale in clay. Often delicate textures, such as the skin, can be made more real with fabrics pressed into the clay at this stage. Sometimes articles of clothing are stiffened with a resin and used in the mold process, but there in no clothing on top of, or under the bronze, in the sculpture that you see today. Other times clay clothing is sculpted onto the figure by the artist using wooden and metal tools with very fine points and edges. As the figures are sawed into many parts for the casting process, there are dozens of roughly welded areas when the parts are reassembled in bronze. At this stage, the artist must replace many of the fine textures; a corduroy, a tweed, a cable knit sweater pattern, with an electric tool that is much like a fine dentist's drill. This is the most time consuming part of creating these bronzes. It takes between one and two years to create one sculpture.

...

How does he get the unusual colors?

Seward Johnson has been developing unique chemistry for the colors of his sculptures for years. In an effort to better fool the eye, and allow the pieces to blend successfully into our colorful world, he began to add colors about ten years ago. The skin on the pieces remains a traditional bronze patina, and the current opaque colors are achieved using the type of paints that are the most advanced technical pigments used on airplanes. They are quite resistant to climate conditions, and each sculpture is also coated with a thin film of incrylac and a final coating of wax for added protection.

Seward Johnson Sculpture

Poster of Marilyn Monroe on Subway Grate from The Seven Year Itch

Movie Poster for Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch"

Seward Johnson's Marilyn Monroe on Subway Grate

Johnson's reinterpreted Marilyn

The construction process from model to figure is quite interesting. Too bad there aren't any pictures of it.

Seward Johnson uses a maquette (small clay model) to fashion the gesture and pose of a figure,which will take up to two years to reach completion.

Once the pose is final and the age, narrative, and facial expression are established, the artist selects a live model to come to the studio to pose. Apprentices at the foundry enlarge the maquette to a life-size nude clay and plastecine figure. Johnson then poses the live model and sculpts the face and the exact stance.

After Johnson selects appropriate clothing for the narrative, each item must be disassembled and sewn onto the nude figure, which has been converted to plaster form. Resin is applied to stiffen all the fabrics, and Johsnon then arranges the folds into proper motion shapes, pumping air into folds and pockets for a lifelike quality. The sculpture dries for two days and is then carved into sections.

The true foundry process now begins. The pieces are transferred from plaster to wax by making a rubber mold of each plaster section.

The wax is carefully chased, that is, all imperfections are corrected using tools similar in their precision to dentist drills. The wax is then given a ceramic shell by a repetitive dipping into a slurry solution. This slurry is made of increasingly fine grains of silica flours and an aqueous slilica solution that hardens in layers. The wax is then burned out at a high temperature, leaving only the ceramic shell with a precise image of the original; formed by the silica layers. This is called the lost-wax method of casting.

The pouring of molten bronze is the next phase of the foundry process. With the bronze reaching a temperature of 2,000 degrees F, it appears almost as poured light. Again, as in the wax stage, extensive chasing assures that all the textural details of the original will be preserved. The pieces are once more joined to for a full figure, and all welds and seams are chased. Items such as pencils and eyeglasses are modeled in bronze and attached to the figure at this time.

The final stage is patination, or the chemical coloring of the surface of the bronze. The unique colors of Seward Johnson's sculpture were developed specifically for his work by the Johnson Atelier. They are a combination of traditional patina chemicals and tinted lacquers. The bronze surface is heated with a hand-held acetylene torch flame, and the specific chemicals are brush applied. The flame then "burns" the chemical color into the bronze. A thin film of incralac, a protective coating, is applied to guard against paint or scratches. The entire sculpture is then waxed, as an additional protection from climatic changes. The Johnson sculpture is now complete.

Construction Process

While I find the work whimsical and clever — who else but Johnson would conceive of rendering Van Gogh's "The Bedroom" as a three-dimensional piece — not everyone, however, is a fan.

But what Levy fails to understand is that Johnson has so far remained unknown for the same reason that I can't recall the makers of any of the other ugly lumps that have discolored my workdays: People who like his street sculpture don't really think all that much about it, and people who don't like it would just as soon never think of it again. With both admirers and detractors, there's a threshold to be met, and things such as Sasakawa's Tomorrow simply don't reach it.

...

The sculpture, alas, is graceless crap: clumsy, swollen and unrefined -- poorly conceived and poorly finished. The digitally crafted backdrops are blurry messes. Slathered-on color causes the figures to evoke less those in the original paintings than the rusticated menu-board butlers you find outside the sort of restaurant that is nestled beside an antique mall in a converted mill.

Diversionary Tactics by Glenn Dixon

The Grounds for Sculpture in southern New Jersey is an outdoor museum in New Jersey that has a number of Johnson's pieces. Those of you who stay out of New Jersey — wisely, I might add — should find Johnson's book an interesting alternative to a visit to the land of the Kallikaks.

Book Cover for Beyond the Frame

TitleBeyond the Frame
AuthorJ. Seward Johnson
ISBN0821228781
PublisherBulfinch

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Seward Johnson's Official Website
  2. Grounds for Sculpture
  3. Seward Johnson pieces at Grounds for Sculpture
  4. Unframed: A 3-D leap at the Corcoran by Meghan Keane
  5. Digital Atelier and Sculpture Foundation Studios
  6. Diversionary Tactics by Glenn Dixon

Anomie and Anarchy
Living Together in Dysfunctionality

The word anomie comes from the Greek anamos, meaning "without law". It means a lack of social or ethical standards in an individual or group. This is what people mean when they talk about "anarchy". Think downtown Iraq or anything inside the Washington Beltway and you'll get the general idea. The key element of anomie is that it is an unraveling of the social contract and the rules of society, and not in a way that promotes freedom or individuality. Rather, it is the endless rise of entropy, the enemy of civilization.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labour in Society, published in 1893. He used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. This meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviours) are confused, unclear or not present. It is normlessness, Durkheim felt, that led to deviant behaviour. In 1897, Durkheim used the term again in his study on Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition. Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. He best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.

Durkheim's Anomie

The word anarchy comes from the Greek anarkhia, meaning "without rulers". The vernacular uses it to mean lawlessness or a state of chaos, such as accompanies rioting or looting; the true meaning, however is quite different: a lack of rulers, not a lack of rules. (Measuring devices still exist under anarchy, so do not despair.) So comments like, "Anarchy - it's not the law, it's just a good idea." are structurally incorrect, no matter how clever they may be. The famous case of Sacco and Vanzetti springs to mind whenever anyone mentions anarchists. (Well, that and the WTO meeting in Seattle.) The specifics of the case aren't particularly relevant for the definition here, but some of the words of Sacco and Vanzetti serve to illustrate the distinction between anarchy and anomie:

Oh friend, the anarchism is as beauty as a woman for me, perhaps even more, since it include all the rest and me and her. Calm, serene, honest, natural, vivid, muddy and celestial at once, austere, heroic, fearless, fatal, generous and implacable-all these and more it is.

Nicola Sacco, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

I am and will be until the last instant (unless I should discover that I am in error) an anarchist communist, because I believe that communism is the most humane form of social contract, because I know that only with liberty can man rise, become noble, and complete.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

Oh, and as long as we're on words that start with "a" and concern lawlessness, here's another good one: amok. This one comes to us from the Malysian, where it means a brooding despair punctuated by frenzied, uncontrolled violence. Sort of like what happens when England loses a soccer match to, oh, say, Pakistan.

The cbs [culture-bound syndrome] of "amok" has been known for many centuries in the Malaysian culture (Knecht, 1999). The syndrome has been defined as an episode of dissociation (Suryani & Jensen, 1993) and is often characterized by "a sudden rampage, usually including homicide, ending in exhaustion and amnesia" (Hatta, 1996). Typically seen as a Malaysian cbs, "amok" has been further documented in India, New Guinea, North America and Britain (Kon, 1994). Hawaii has been seen as the melting pot of the pacific with many cultures merging and yet remaining distinct. The legal defense of "amok" was utilized for a Filipino-American that had killed five people and injured three others. Orlando Ganal Sr. (Honolulu Advertiser, 1991) was enraged by his wife’s reported relationship with another man, shot and killed his wife’s parents and wounded his own wife and son. Ganal continued to firebomb the home of the other man’s brother, Michael Touchette, killing Michael, Michael’s two children and badly burning his wife, Wendy Touchette. Ganal was seen as a mild mannered man, until the stress grew and he finally "ran amok."

International Society for the Study of Dissociation

No dogs, no sled, no snow.
Just five idiots and a shopping cart.

Idiotarod 2004

2004 Idiotarod

I spent Saturday at the second annual Idiotarod. (I took the photograph above at last year's race; this year's photos are still being developed.) The Idiotarod is just like the Iditarod but with two important differences: first, it has an extra "o" and second, the Idiotarod uses humans instead of dogs and shopping cards instead of sleds. Oh, one more thing. Make that three important differences — the Idiotarod has alcohol consumption throughout the race instead of just at the end and the, uh, dogs get booze too.

It was loads of fun. As soon as the pictures come back I will put some of them up.

That’s Utter Bosch!

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (tryptichon)

Garden of Earthy Delights (tryptich) by Bosch

The fifteenth century painter Hieronymus Bosch is one of those artists whom you either love or hate. His work is complex, and filled with monsters and mankind, angels and demons, signs and symbols. All concern the inherent corruption in humanity and the punishment to be meted out. Redemption is, alas, not an available option. (Guess he needed to get out a little more. Or maybe he got out too much...)

A half-millennium ago when Europe was moving out of the Middle Ages, Hieronymus Bosch, a prosperous painter and landowner in the duchy of Brabant in what is now the Netherlands, was widely admired as one of the cleverest, most pious, most perceptive, most apocalyptic masters of his times. He then slipped into several hundred years of obscurity. The symbolism and message of his terrifying masterpieces seemed bizarre and unsavory and even heretical. But he has been rediscovered in the 20th century. American tourists, who have little Bosch at home, now crowd through the museums of Europe to be awed by his great triptychs or to track down his smaller masterpieces.

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (Hell)

Garden of Earthy Delights (Hell) by Bosch

Bosch's personal background, or at least what is know of it, apparently had a lot of influence in his work:

Hieronymus Bosch was born around 1450 (the exact date was not recorded) in the duchy of Brabant, which was then the realm of the dukes of Burgundy. He lived during unsettled and anxious times. The old medieval order imposed by the Church was straining and cracking under the onslaught of the growth of cities, the new vigor of commerce and capitalism, the rise of national states, the demands for religious reform and the beginnings of science. Minds were growing curious, analytical, adventurous. During Bosch's lifetime, the Dutch humanist Erasmus wrote Praise of Folly, the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed that the sun was at the center of our solar system, and Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. In 1517, a year after Bosch died, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Historians point to these events as the beginnings of the modern world.

...

Bosch was among the pessimists. A member of a lay religious fraternity, he witnessed the corruption in the medieval Church and the sins of his townspeople, and cried out his warning of a wrathful retribution. The idea of an impending punishment was not new, of course, for it came directly out of the teachings of the Church. But Bosch issued his message with an imagery so fierce it could astound and chill his contemporaries and still fascinate his admirers 500 years later.

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

Garden of Earthy Delights (detail) by Bosch

Everything is a symbol in Bosch's work: eggs represent sexual creation and alchemy; birds are unbelievers or carrion eaters representing death or decaying flesh; knives are punishment meted out for evil; the funnel hat is hypocrisy or deceit, intemperance, or an imposter doctor or alchemist. The number of symbols is quite large, but scholars have made compelling arguments for their value in decoding otherwise hidden messages.

But what is interesting is how artists are reinterpreting Bosh's work into three-dimensional versions. 3D Mouseion has a large collection of figures from paintings, including those by Bosch and other artists, rendered in 3D.

Here are some of the Bosch action figures. The "Bird with Letter" is from the tryptichon The Temptation of Saint Anthony; it is probably the most famous of the Bosch figures.

Bosch's Bird With Letter

Bird with Letter

The inscription on this note in the beak of this birdlike monster on skates could throw a light on the contemplated symbolism. Unfortunately, this text, which is difficult to read, is open to various interpretations, but none of them are proven to be accurate. The postman-like freak is perhaps delivering a letter to the conspiring figures in the hole under the bridge. The funnel on this curious bird’s head gives him a preposterous appearance. This headwear is referred to elsewhere as wisdom or absent-mindedness, but that symbolism seems unsuitable here.

Bird with Letter

Bosch's Helmeted Bird Monster

Helmeted Bird Monster

This helmeted bird monster is carrying a pencil box and an inkpot in its beak, in which the nun, decaying into a pig, is dipping her pen. A severed foot is swinging from the bird's helmet referring to the horrible corporal punishments which could be expected in hell. The pig, indeed an indictment against the decay of clergy life, is tempting the man who is sitting beside him and it appears that he is drawing up a contract. Is the man possibly selling his soul?

Helmeted Bird Monster

Bosch's Egg Monster

Egg monster

Amidst the many unlucky ones who are speared, ripped open, strangled or even fried, the monster in the egg that has been shot by an arrow, steps jovially into the middle panel. He appears to be detached from his entourage. Meanwhile, his fellow monsters are painstakingly going about their core-business: carrying out the merciless delivery of the final punishment, for us sinners, in a most inventive manner.

Egg monster

Sources and Further Reading

  1. The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler
  2. Bosch figures
  3. Ibiblio page on Bosch

Third Rails Other Than Socialist Insecurity

License Plate with 'Third Rail' on it

Why not? Anything that gets the adrenalin moving like a 440 volt blast in a copper bathtub is good for the reflexes and keeps the veins free of cholesterol... but too many adrenalin rushes in any given time span has the same bad effect on the nervous system as too many electro-shock treatments are said to have on the brain: after a while you start burning out the circuits.

Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail '72, page 17

I was listening to the news and again heard the comment that Socialist Insecurity is the "third rail" of American politics. So I said to myself — yes, I'm back to talking to myself since I ran out of meds — and nobody ever wants to piss on that third rail either. Which got me thinking about the endless debate is it or isn't it an urban legend that doing so is fatal.

But first, what is this "third rail", anyway? Well, for those of you who live in Red State America where there are no underground trains, the subways have a third track running parallel to the rails that the train rests on. This rail is used only to deliver 625 volts (DC) to the subway cars through a collecting shoe. Sounds like a dumb idea? Well, it's pretty much the only way to distribute power if you don't want the overhead transfer approach used by most trains:

There were numerous methods of conducting electricity to car motors. Street railways relied on overhead trolleys and underground conduits of various designs. During the last two years of the nineteenth century the elevated railways, unfettered by crowded street conditions, began to adopt third rail conduction.

Design and Construction of the IRT: Electrical Engineering

But back to our topic of dumb things to urinate on. Third-rail injuries are, fortunately, rare. A paper by doctors at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, reports on a mere sixteen injuries over a fifteen-year period:

BACKGROUND: Railway and subway-associated electrical trauma is rare and typically involves high voltage (> 20,000) arc injuries. Not all rail systems utilize such high voltage. We report 16 cases of electrical trauma due to 600 V direct contact with subway 'third' rails. METHODS: A case series of injured patients presenting to Shriners Burns Institute, Boston or Massachusetts General Hospital between 1970 and 1995 was retrospectively analyzed. RESULTS: A total of 16 cases was identified. Among seven subway workers, the mechanism of rail contact was unintentional by a tool, a hand or by falling; no deaths occurred. Among nine non-occupational victims, injuries involved suicide attempts, unintentional falls, or risk-taking behavior. This group suffered greater burn severity, operative procedures, and complications; three deaths occurred.

"Electrical injury from subway third rails: serious injury associated with intermediate voltage contact." Burns, 1997 Sep;23(6):515-8

Ok. So has anyone died from urinating on the tracks? The short answer is, well, a strong maybe to a weak yes. But we are going to make you sit through the details uncovered on our quest for the truth. We quickly turned up an intriguing first possibility which is, at best, inconclusive and potentially erroneous.

The case of Lee v. Chicago Transit authority is often cited as demonstrating a need for legal reform:

On October 21, 1977, the morning preceding the accident, the decedent informed plaintiff that he planned to attend a party in the evening. Decedent apparently left the party after dark. He proceeded up Kedzie Avenue, a north/south street which intersected with the northwest-bound Ravenswood rapid transit line. At this point, he apparently proceeded into the CTA's right-of-way in order to urinate. In the process of doing so, he came into contact with the third rail, and suffered fatal injuries.

Brief filed by Estate of Sang Yeul Lee (deceased) vs. Chicago Transit Authority, Supreme Court of Illinois, Case No. 71304

In addition to the signing, sharp triangular shaped boards had been installed between the sidewalk and the third rail to make it extremely difficult and awkward for a person to walk up the tracks. Nonetheless, the decedent walked up the tracks approximately 6 1/2 feet to the point where the third rail began. There, attempting to urinate, he was electrocuted.

Decision, Estate of Sang Yeul Lee (deceased) vs. Chicago Transit Authority, Supreme Court of Illinois, Case No. 71304, 22 October 1992

The problem with Lee v. CTA is that nowhere in the briefs or decision does it actually cite direct contact of urine and the third rail as the cause of death. The closest the legal papers come to addressing the issue is the vague, "In the process of doing so, he came into contact with the third rail, and suffered fatal injuries." What were those fatal injuries? How were they obtained? Did he fall onto the third rail? Trip over it? Inquiring minds want to know!

So let's turn back to Gotham, which is what we care about, anyway, where we have the curious case of Joseph Patrick O'Malley:

Marshall Houta's [sic] Where Death Delights contains the sad story of one Joseph Patrick O'Malley, a man with two unfortunate habits: heavy drinking and wandering through subway tunnels.

One morning, O'Malley's mangled body was found in a tunnel 50 yards from the nearest station. He had apparently been struck and killed by a train.

But an autopsy turned up another cause: "The burns on the head of the penis and on the thumb and forefinger were obviously electrical burns....The stream of urine had come into contact with the 600 volts of the third rail. The current had coursed up the stream to cause the burns on his body as the electricity entered it.

"In all probability, he was dead from electrocution before the train ever hit his body."

Straight Dope

Ok, so that's the story. (By the way: the book is by Marshall Houts, not Houta, and the title is Where Death Delights: The Story of Dr. Milton Helpern and Forensic Medicine. Mistakes like these make me doubt the rest of Cecil Adam's — ok, Ed Zotti and staff's — work.) But would electricity really race up a stream of urine in practice? Can a stream of urine arc almost ten feet long and be continuous enough to electrocute someone? Can this story actually be true? Maybe:

The combination of water and electricity is notoriously volatile--so much so that there might be a built-in safety factor, i.e., the shock would be great enough to knock you down. This would spoil your aim and cut off the current before the electricity could do its lethal work on your heart muscles.

Straight Dope

I'm not buying it, but because of the distances involved, not the conduction factor. Remember, air insulates at about a thousand volts per millimeter, so the 625 volts of the subway can't jump the multi-millimeter gaps. (Urinating onto high-tension lines, however, is probably a bad idea.) Having said that, I recently watched the Mythbusters episode on this very myth where Adam urinates on an electric fence in the name of science. (Not to worry, paramedics were standing by. Kids, don't try this at home.) Adam, fortunately, does not have a shy bladder so he was able to perform on camera. (A career in fetish porn clearly awaits.) The question Mythbusters asked was:

Is it really that dangerous to answer the call of nature on the electrified third rail of a train track?

Episode 3: Barrel of Bricks, Pissing on the Third Rail, Eel Skin Wallet

The answer? Well, after Adam complained, "I've been painted gold and anal probed for you today... What else do you want?" the experiment proceeded forthwith. The conclusion was no, it doesn't, mostly because the stream of urine breaks up too much to conduct electricity. (Which seems to be confirmed by the sites listed at the end of this entry. But I'm getting ahead of myself.) I'm not sure that stream breakup is the sole reason. Yes, there is the air gap problem. (See above.) But my take was that the experiment is faulty: Adam simply wasn't grounded enough.

I've heard stories from people who grew up in farm country who'd apparantly heard stories about close encounters of a urinating kind with electric fences, mostly involving dogs that quickly learned to not do this. (Dogs make a lot of sense as the primary victims of electric fences because, like Wall Street bankers, they're always marking their territory and with four paws on the ground they are thoroughly grounded, completing the circuit.) But, once again, who knows how true those stories really are? And how, exactly, do they relate to the subways?

Ok. Let's get the data from the people who really do know. Years ago I read Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William R. Maples which relates the finding by New York City Medical Examiner Milton Helprin that a man didn't commit suicide by leaping onto the subway tracks but was rather electrocuted when he answered a call of nature on the third rail. (Burns on the thumb, index finger, and glans clinched it. Ouch!) But I can't find the details of that online. (Dead trees are so hard to search!).

I was able to locate the relevant bit from Marshall Houts' book online, but don't know how accurate it is. (I haven't seen my copy of Where Death Delights or Dead Men Do Tell Tales in a long time. Both, like the thousands of other volumes in my library, are boxed up pending finding sufficient space.) So here's what Houts allegedly wrote about it:

Milton Heprin, longtime chief medical examiner in New York City, used to tell the story of a young Irishman seen standing on the far reaches of a subway platform by several witnesses. At a certain point he suddenly and silently pitched forward right in front of an oncoming train. He was found dead beneath the wheels, horribly mangles. But his family was Catholic and did not readily accept the initial conclusion of suicide. They were quite certain that their son had no reason to commit suicide, and in the end they were proved right. Helprin reexamined the mangled body and noticed tiny burn marks on the right thumb, index finger, and the tip of the penis. He was able to reassure the family their son had died accidentally. He had been urinating on the subway tracks, and the stream had accidentally reached the third rail. The arc of falling water, rich with salts favoring conduction, instantly became an arc of lethal electricity. The lad was probably dead before he hit the tracks.

Darwin Digest, quoting from Where Death Delights: The Story of Dr. Milton Helpern and Forensic Medicine by Marshall Houts

And now, the piece de la resistance:

It was surely one of the most bizarre deaths in the annals of New York history, let alone its medical history. An unidentified man was traveling the subways one day when he felt the urgent call of nature. Unable or unwilling to seek out a public toilet, he proceeded to relieve himself on the subway tracks. But alas, relief was not forthcoming. The arc of the man's urine hit the third rail, conducting a high-voltage electrical current back to his body and killing him instantly.

Newsday, 28 January 1988, Part II, page 3

But I can't fully confirm that, either. Finally, one more tidbit:

Just did an interview with Bob Lobenstein... the General Superintendent, power Operations, Traction Power Historian, Maintenance of Way - Electrical systems and all round good guy of the New York City Transit Department. NYCT are the guys who power the third Rail in NYC.

He claims that he has not only heard of the pissing on the third rail myth... he thinks it's true. From the day he began with NYCT his trainers and supervisors told him the story... although when asked he could not produce any names or paperwork. This seems to back our case that there are no cases on Medical record.

He gave us a demonstration at full power 625 Volts... 10,000 amps. with a squeeze bottle on a curcuit.. filled with saline water.

USENET Posting by Peter Rees, 14 July 2003

So where were we... ah yes... the third rail experiment... well he managed to get a connection up to three feet from the rail. Unfortunately I think he hadn't taken into consideration the fact that his squeeze bottle... under pressure from two hands... was capable of producing a far higher pressure urine stream that is feasible for the average human. We measured a urine stream and noted that on average a male produces around 200ml in 14 - 18 seconds. At this rate the stream breaks up in a little over six inches.

By the way I had a message from Danny Burstein that I though you giys might be interested in hearing. Danny, I hope you don't mind.

Danny said that he had heard of a charred member.. the product of third rail pissing... in the collection of the NYC medical examiners office. We dutifully made the calls and to date have not received a conclusive answer. The NYCMEO claims that their collection was transferred to the Smithsonian some years ago. They had no recollection of the charred member.

USENET Posting by Peter Rees, 20 July 2003

So there you have it. Urinating onto the third rail may or may not kill you if you do it in the subway. It will, however, destroy your career if you do it in Washington DC.

After all, Social Security has been called the third rail of American politics, but the President has grabbed onto this rail and insisted that it be discussed.

Dr. N. Gregory Mankiw, Chairman Council of Economic Advisers, Annual Meeting of the National Association of Business Economists, 15 September 2003

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Electrical injury from subway third rails: serious injury associated with intermediate voltage contact." Burns, 1997 Sep;23(6):515-8
  2. Straight Dope
  3. Darwin Digest
  4. Design and Construction of the IRT: Electrical Engineering
  5. Brief filed by Estate of Sang Yeul Lee (deceased) vs. Chicago Transit Authority, Supreme Court of Illinois, Case No. 71304
  6. Decision, Estate of Sang Yeul Lee (deceased) vs. Chicago Transit Authority, Supreme Court of Illinois, Case No. 71304, 22 October 1992
  7. USENET Posting by Peter Rees, 14 July 2003
  8. USENET Posting by Peter Rees, 20 July 2003
  9. Dead Men Do Tell Tales; The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Antrhopologist by William R. Maples, 1994
  10. Where Death Delights: The Story of Dr. Milton Helpern and Forensic Medicine by Marshall Houts, 1967
  11. Autopsy: The Memoirs of Milton Helpern, The World's Greatest Medical Detective by Milton Helpern, 1977

Books That Won’t Give You Indigestion

Graphic of the human digestive tract

The Guardian UK would be laudable if it did nothing more than just present better reporting about what goes on in America than do the NY Times or Washington Post. But beyond more political reporting that's either boring or upsetting, lies a valuable resource: the digested read. As the Guardian puts it, "Too busy to read the hot books? Let us read them for you". What this means is that it delivers "The must-read books in 400 words", but while retaining the author's style present in the original work. (Now, you're saying, if Citizen Arcane were shorter I'd have the time to read these books. To which I say, well, yeah, sure. How do you think I feel? I'm the one who actually writes all this verbiage...)

Anyway, one of my favorite digest reads is the version of Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour. (BTW: I quite liked Bourdain's early work; after a while it got repetitious, but it's still interesting even if you aren't a chef, amateur or professional.) If you're a vegetarian, you'd best skip these excerpts. (It's for your own good. Trust me.) This is such a good parody of Bourdain that as I read it I heard his voice narrating.

Yo, motherfuckers. I'm sitting in the bush with Charlie, deep in the Mekong Delta, drinking hooch. My hosts, VC war heroes, pass me the duck. I chomp through its bill, before cracking open the skull and scooping the brains out...

When you've just had a big score with an obnoxious and over-testosteroned account of your life, your publishers tend to fall for any dumbass plan. So when I told them I wanted to go round the world eating all sorts of scary food in a search for the perfect meal, they just said, "Where do we sign?"

Y'know, most of us in the west have lost contact with the food we eat. It comes merchandised and homogenised. The same goes for chefs. Cooking isn't about knocking up a few wussy monkfish terrines out of fillets that have been delivered to the kitchen door; it's about badass guys going deep into their souls and looking their ingredients in the eye.

Which is why I am in Portugal, outside the barn while Jose and Francisco restrain several hundredweight of screaming pig. I unsheathe my knife, bury it deep into the neck and draw it firmly towards me. The pig looks at me in surprise and fury. I lick the blood from my arms, make another incision and rip out the guts. The women pan-fry the spleen. It's indescribably good.

Digested Read for A Cook's Tour.

Design That’s Stark. Errr, Starck.

Philippe Starck's package design for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's Package Design for Kronenbourg Beer

The designer Philippe Starck has created a very clever beer bottle for Kronenbourg:

For his new collaboration with Kronenbourg, Philippe Starck has designed this new bottle of french premium beer. His goal was to put elegance in drinking to the bottle. For this, he choosed the champain glass shape. The transparency of the glass was to show the beer, good and healthy product with nothing to hide. The other new idea was to add a cork to the bottle the way to keep it, if needed. This bottle is only available in a selection of hype bars, restaurants and hotels.

OBJECTS by, the online store of Philippe Starck

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

The package features a special ink, since image and presentation are more important, of course, than the underlying quality of the beer:

The can is decorated with a new ink developed by Crown specifically for the project. The silver ink creates a 'pearl-like' quality when rotated under light. The resulting effect adds a luxury appeal to the already successful brand. "We adopted a promotional can with a crisp, modern look to reflect the high-quality of beer inside the package. The elegant visual appeal of our new can effectively reinforces the premium brand image of Kronenbourg 1664," explained the marketing manager at Brasseries Kronenbourg.

"Promo Lager Can's Pearl-Like Ink" in Packtalk

While Starck created a simple, clean package, he may have been picked for reasons other than pure design skills:

I venture that plenty of people are likely to buy his products purely for the Starck brand - itself a useful marketing tool.

"What can I do?" he protests. "I am concerned. But I hope that my tribe is a smart tribe. I want to be the last barometer of the product. If people buy just because of my name, I regret it."

Starck adds that he works for both extremes of the monetary spectrum, and that his work for "wealthy clients" allows him greater freedom to design for the masses.

But this formula hasn't always proved successful. Starck's affordable collection for US discount retailer Target was discontinued after a season.Target has been vague about its demise. Starck claims that design was "not in their DNA".

Nonetheless,the Starck brand is growing at a phenomenal pace. The designer claims that studies have shown that when the word `Starck' is slapped on a product, its sales rise by 45 per cent.

Interview with Philippe Starck

But if you want one for your collection, best act fast:

The promotional cans will be available in supermarkets throughout France until the end of the year. The group has not announced any plans to use the new can beyond that time.

Beverage Daily

If Writers Weren’t Paid by the Word

Still from "The Incredible Shrinking Man", 1957

Still from The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957

Glyn Hughes has done the world a service by squashing books; that is, distilling the essense from the major works in philosophy to make them far more accessible and easier to read. (No, we're not adopting that philosophy for Citizen Arcane. So sorry. Actually, so not sorry.)

The author explains the project's laudable purpose:

Unfortunately, life is rather short, the little storeroom of the brain doesn't have extensible walls and the greatest of thinkers seem to also be among the worst, and the lengthiest, of writers. So, most knowledge of Plato or Hume or Aristotle tends to come second-hand, unfortunately too often through masters more filled with pompous pleasure in their own mastery of complexity than with knowledge of their subject. Which is a pity, because your Prince, whether they call themselves President or King or Prime Minister, has almost certainly read Machiavelli. Your therapist is steeped in Freud, your divines in Augustine. Lawmakers take their cues still from Paine, Rousseau and Hobbes. Science looks yet to Bacon, Copernicus and Darwin.

So, here are the most used, most quoted, the most given, sources of the West. The books that have defined the way the West thinks now, in their author's own words, but condensed and abridged into something readable.

I'd like to say that the selection was far from arbitrary; that thousands of papers and essays and articles were scanned to find which great works were most commonly cited, which prescribed to students, which have the most published editions. The shades of these authors were invoked no less than 588 times in the last decade in the British parliament. Plato's Republic, and assorted commentaries, has 1722 editions, and that's just in English, and just in print at the moment. Machiavelli gets mention in just over a quarter of a million websites. Thomas Paine's name has appeared 186,526 times to the US House of Representatives. And so on. It is true that all this research has been done, but, the choice has, ultimately, to be a personal one.

...

And there's something more. By compressing these books to a tenth or so of their original size it becomes possible to read the whole thing as a single narrative, as the story of Western Thought, the story of how we got where we are now, the last chapter still waiting to be written. Is it cheating? Perhaps, but if it is, then so is reading Plato in anything other than unical Attic on papyrus.

Glyn Hughes Squashed Philosophers

As I leafed read through the squashed Tractatus Logico Philosophicus — I adore Wittgenstein, which probably comes as no surprise to you, dear reader — I again encountered one of my favorite quotes: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." Ahhh, yes, how true, how true. (I, of course, never paid attention to it.) I closed my Master's thesis with this very quote. Again, no surprise to those who know me. But I wouldn't want to slight another observation of Wittgenstein:

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Proposition 6.522

Try To Remember, The Days of, uh, Kankin?

Mayan Calendar Stone

Mayan Calendar Stone (Sunstone) depicting the four cycles of creation and destruction. The skull is the god Tonatiuh, the fifth sun.

I was looking at my dead Seiko Kinetic — the storage cells in these electrically-powered self-winding watches are known to have serious manufacturing defects causing them to die after a few years but Seiko refuses to repair them — and was thinking about timekeeping. (I was also thinking I'm going to take Seiko to small claims court over this piece of junk, but that's another issue for another entry.) Anyway, it got me thinking about calendars.

Calendars are a useful thing beyond remembering your special someone's birthday. Without them governments can't collect taxes, farmers can't plant crops, and landlords can't collect the rent. (The last one has some special significance which will become clear later.) Which is why just about every culture has created a calendar of one sort or another. While most are based on the dating of some religious event, or a revolution, all tend to have, in rough terms, the traditional number of months and days, with some rejiggering as needed to account for minor errors.

Compare the oldest, and most complex, calendars with one of the newest yields an interesting juxtaposition. We'll start with the Mayan calendar.

The Maya calendar uses three different dating systems in parallel, the Long Count, the Tzolkin (divine calendar), and the Haab (civil calendar). Of these, only the Haab has a direct relationship to the length of the year. A typical Mayan date looks like this: 12.18.16.2.6, 3 Cimi 4 Zotz.

12.18.16.2.6 is the Long Count date.
3 Cimi is the Tzolkin date.
4 Zotz is the Haab date.

...

As the named week is 20 days and the smallest Long Count digit is 20 days, there is synchrony between the two; if, for example, the last digit of today's Long Count is 0, today must be Ahau; if it is 6, it must be Cimi. Since the numbered and the named week were both "weeks," each of their name/number change daily; therefore, the day after 3 Cimi is not 4 Cimi, but 4 Manik, and the day after that, 5 Lamat. The next time Cimi rolls around, 20 days later, it will be 10 Cimi instead of 3 Cimi. The next 3 Cimi will not occur until 260 (or 13 x 20) days have passed. This 260-day cycle also had good-luck or bad-luck associations connected with each day, and for this reason, it became known as the "divinatory year."

Calendars Through the Ages

This is so complicated it makes my brain hurt. (Sensible people use a program or library routines to do these conversions.) So let's go from the frightfully complex to the dirt simple. At last year's American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, Richard Henry, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University, resurrected an old proposal to create a new, and simpler, calendar:

The world's presently-used Gregorian calendar is extremely clumsy, because the Gregorian calendar repeats only after 400 years (Seidelman 1961), and therefore organizations, including the AAS, have to re-work their calendar each and every year. This work is totally unnecessary. I propose that the American Astronomical Society advocate the world-wide adoption of the CCC&T calendar, which is an adaptation of Bob McClenon's Calendar, a brilliant fix which results in the calendar being identical every year. This calendar is far superior to previously suggested reformed calendars, in that it does not break the cycle of the days of the week, ever! Pragmatic (and more than adequate) synchronization with the seasons is achieved by the introduction of an extra week-long "month" every four or five years at the end of June; I propose that this seven-day month be called Newton. The target for adoption is 2006 Jan 1, and at the same time, universal use of universal time should be adopted, making the date and time identical everywhere on Earth. Time zones remain as "hours of work" zones, EST for example becoming "14 o'clock to 22 o'clock" for a "nine-to-five" job. The economic benefit that astronomers could provide the world through shepherding this simple reform would easily and indeed more than repay all that the world has kindly spent on astronomical research.

AAS Meeting January 2004

Professor Richard Henry

Professor Richard Henry

Henry's proposal is based on Bob McClenon's "Reformed Weekly Calendar". (The original proposal and revised proposal have details.) McClenon's issues with the current calendar are shared by most of us:

The Gregorian calendar has two obvious disadvantages. First, the weekday of a date in a month varies from year to year and is difficult to predict. One cannot quickly determine whether a future day will be a day of work or a day of rest without consulting a perpetual calendar. Second, the months are of variable length with no particular pattern.

Bob McClenon's Proposal

The whole business is so complicated we need mnemonics to keep it all straight:

Thirti Dayes hath Nouembir
Thirti dayes hath Nouembir,
April, June, and Septembir;
Of xxviijti is but oon,
And all the remenaunt xxxti and j.
Author unknown, circa 1300 — 1450

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.
M.S. Stevins, circa 1555
Also attributed to Richard Grafton, "Chronicles of England", 1568

Thirty dayes hath Nouember,
Aprill, Iune and September;
Twentie and eyght hath February alone,
And all the rest thirty and one,
But in the leape you must adde one.
William Harrison, Description of Britain, prefixed to Holinshed's "Chronicle", 1577

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November,
February has twenty-eight alone,
All the rest have thirty-one;
Excepting leap year, — that's the time
When February’s days are twenty-nine.
John Day, "The Return from Parnassus" 1601

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,
Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.
New England Saying

Fourth, eleventh, ninth, and sixth,
Thirty days to each affix;
Every other thirty-one
Except the second month alone.
The Friends, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Various Sources

So how did we get into this mess? Consider some calendar history:

The Julian Calendar

In ancient Rome the lunar calendar was constantly being adjusted, adding days here and there to bring the seasons back into sync. Some corrupt politicians and officials even added days to the calendar to lengthen their stay in office, or for financial gain. Then in 45 B.C. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar decreed that a new calendar, called the Julian calendar, would be adopted. The astronomer Sosigenes designed the calendar to strictly follow the seasons, not the moon. Each year had 365 days, with an extra "leap" day added every 4 years. This made the length of a Julian year 365.25 days, not far from the actual value of 365.2422 days.

The Gregorian Calendar

But the average length of the Julian year was a bit too long, by some 11 minutes. Slowly the first day of spring shifted to earlier and earlier dates, at the rate of about eight days every thousand years. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII, advised by the astronomer Christopher Clavius, decreed that the date of the vernal equinox, which had crept forward to March 11, should revert to March 21, its date at the time of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. It was at the Council of Nicaea that the church decided Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. By bringing the calendar back into sync, Easter would be celebrated closer to its original date.

The only way to make such a change was to skip ten days; and so in Catholic countries the day after October 4, 1582, was October 15, 1582. Many non-Catholic nations, however, did not go along with this jump. England and the British colonies held out until 1752 when September 2nd was followed by September 14th. Many citizens thought they were being cheated out of 11 days of life and in the resultant riots a number of people were killed!

The change brought the first day of spring back to March 21st, but it was necessary to prevent future date-jumping. So the new Gregorian calendar was shortened a tiny amount. A leap day was still added every four years, but with a special rule about century-end years: only century-end years divisible by 400 would be leap years. Therefore, the years 1800, 1900, and 2100 have no February 29th, but 2000 and 2400 do. This makes the average length of the Gregorian year 365.2524 days, less than half a minute off each year. This will produce an error of only one day every 3000 years.

NASA History of Calendars

NASA, however, has one item dead wrong. (That's why I picked their explanation.) People were not rioting because "they were being cheated out of 11 days of life" but because at the time of calendar transition the landlords were charging tenants for a full month's rent, instead of pro-rating for a month eleven days shorter than the full month. (Remember when I said in the introduction that calendars were important to landlords?)

But back to Henry's proposal. It has an interesting characteristic: days of the week in his calendar always stay the same, year after year. July 4, for example, will always be a Wednesday; Christmas, a Sunday. (Thus clearly gaining the support of both Christians and patriots. Ok, just kidding about the patriots. True patriots know that July 4 should always be a Friday so we get a long weekend. Some things should only be tinkered with for the better.)

Henry assures us that there are impressive benefits to switching calendars, beyond dumping a fortune into retooling so much software it would make the Y2K upgrades look simple:

1.) Why fool with the calendar?
There are enormous economic advantages to the proposed calendar. These benefits come because the new calendar is identical every year... except that, every five or six years, there is a one-week long "Mini-Month," called "Newton," between June and July. "Newton Week" brings the calendar into sync with the seasonal change as the Earth circles the Sun. How much needless work do institutions, such as companies and colleges, put into arranging their calendars for every coming year? From 2006 on, they do it once ... and it is done forevermore.

Henry's Calendar Reform Proposal

Yeah, right. I don't think anyone needs Jimmy the Greek to give odds on this happening.

Oh, and that title line? It's an allusion to a song. The "Kankin" is the Mayan month approximately where September would be. (See where this is going? No? Oh, well. I am not Citizen Arcane for nothing.) I couldn't find the lyrics online. Best I could turn up was: "Try to remember, the days of September, when life was sweet and oh so mellow...". As far as I can determine, the song is from the musical The Fantasticks. But I'm certain Harry Belafonte sang the version I recall.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Calendars Through the Ages
  2. Mayan Calendar
  3. Henry's Calendar Reform Proposal
  4. Henry's Calendar Reform Presentation at AAS Meeting January 2004
  5. Bob McClenon's "Reformed Weekly Calendar" proposal (original)
  6. Bob McClenon's "Reformed Weekly Calendar" proposal (revised)

Whatever Turns Your Crank

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

Virtually all bicycles use a chain and wheel combination to transfer power from the pedal crank to the wheel. There are alternative mechanisms to transfer power, of course, but these are not widely used. The chainwheel, also called a chainring, is a type of sprocket, or toothed wheel. (Remember Spacely Sprockets from the Jetsons?) I see all sorts of bicycles as I go walkabout in the city and many are highly customized. (Few, however, approach what the Black Label Bike Club and the other NYC bicycle clubs do. If you've seen the tall bikes around, you know what I mean.)

Colnago Chainwheel

Colnago Chainwheel

What I find so interesting is the artistic creativity shown in the numerous chainwheel and chainring variations. There is, of course, a whole continuum of design tradeoffs, including weight, strength, cost, and safety. My interest, however, is simply in the elegance of design and mechanical items as art. Having seen these collections I find myself sated. For some, however, interest changes into, well, a borderline obsession.

Joel Metz's chainwheel tattoos

Joel Metz just can't get enough of chainwheels, whether they are the silhouettes he collects on paper or on his very skin:

i havent yet decided what the plan is once my arm is entirely filled with as many black chainwheel silhouettes as it can hold without overlap. granted, this is a good ways off, but... i have considered a background of some kind - perhaps a second layer of silhouettes, in deep red, "underneath" the black ones... or i may come up with something else, or even just leave it as is. a lot will depend on how the sleeve looks once its all filled, and theres no more room for further chainwheels in black - i doubt ill be able to decide what to do next until that point.

Joel Metz's Chainwheel Tattoo Project

Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle

Pepsi-Cola sign saying "Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle"

Trying to wrap one's head around the buying power of a dollar in different time periods is never easy:

Determining the relative value of an amount of money in one year compared to another is more complicated than it seems at first. There is no single "correct" measure, and economic historians use one or more different series depending on the context of the question.

Most indices are measured as the price of a "bundle" of goods and services that a representative group buys or earns. Over time the bundle changes; for example, carriages are replaced with automobiles, and new goods and services are created such as cellular phones and heart transplants.

These considerations do not stop the fascination with these comparisons or even the necessity for them. For example, such comparisons may be critical to determine appropriate levels of compensation in a legal case that has been deferred. The context of the question, however, may lead to a preferable measure and that measure may not be the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used far too often without thought to its consequences.

The example below of what Babe Ruth's salary was "worth" can demonstrate this point. His earnings had a "purchasing power" in today's price of a million dollars, but he could not purchase any effective cure for cancer. However, if the question was how to compare his salary with that of a current super star such as Tiger Woods or Barry Bonds, using Ruth's wage compared to an unskilled worker, the average income or the percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) he earned gives comparable numbers.

"What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services

So let's put it in context by considering one of the most famous ad jingles (listen) of all time. That would be the 1939 ad from Pepsi-Cola touting the benefits of their "superior" formulation of sugar water:

At about the same time Pepsi-Cola launched what was to become one of the most famous jingles ever written. "Nickle, Nickle" (later known as "Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot") was written by Alan Bradley Kent and Austen Herbert Croom-Johnson.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot
Twice as much for a nickle, too
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

This little jingle would go on to be recorded in 55 different languages, over 1 million records containing this jingle were produced, and it was the first jingle ever played from coast to coast on network radio. It is hard to convey just how big this jingle was, but it was very popular for nearly a decade and was even described as "immortal." How many people decided to give Pepsi a try because of this jingle can not be over estimated. The jingle was first written as a standard commercial with the jingle at the end but Mack insisted that only the jingle be aired. It was played so often that 50 years later there are still people who remember the words.

The History of Pepsi-Cola, Soda Museum

Now, let's consider what the "Twice as much for a nickle, too" means in today's dollars: (BTW: the "twice as much" referred to Pepsi-Cola's twelve ounces versus Coca Cola's six.)

In 2003, $0.05 from 1940 is worth:

$0.65 using the Consumer Price Index
$0.54 using the GDP deflator
$1.39 using the unskilled wage
$2.46 using the GDP per capita
$5.42 using the relative share of GDP

5 cents scaled from 1940 dollars to 2003 dollars

And $0.65 is just about what it would cost you to buy a soda today at a supermarket. (Not quantity one in a bodega, of course.) Notice how the CPI is spot on. Yet not everthing scales so nicely. Consider today's value for a home purchased for $50,000 in 1970:

In 2003, $50,000.00 from 1970 is worth:

$237,137.93 using the Consumer Price Index
$191,863.42 using the GDP deflator
$248,964.68 using the unskilled wage
$373,282.77 using the GDP per capita
$528,834.86 using the relative share of GDP

$50,000 scaled from 1970 dollars to 2003 dollars

Inflation in real estate better tracks the change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita than it does changes in the CPI or wages. That's why a home that was affordable in 1970 requires three salaries to pay for in 2005. That's likely because commodities benefit from improvements in supply and manufacturing not to forget competition, which keep the price down. Real commodities, however, tend to be priced according to the owner's share in the American Dream, aka GDP. What? Your share of GDP hasn't kept pace? Well, that's all the fault of the tax-and-spend Democrats; all the "fiscally-conservative" Republicans got their share of GDP, now didn't they.

Buy land, 'cause they ain't makin' it no more.

— Will Rogers

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services
  2. "How Much is That" from the Economic History Services

The Greatest Statistical Graph, Ever

ALT

Minard's Chart of Napoleon's 1812 Russian Campaign

Charles Joseph Minard (27 March 1781 — 24 October 1870) was a brilliant engineer and graphic designer, and is famous for many things. Yet one single piece of work stands above all the others, and has achieved widespread fame. That work is his chart depicting the fate of Napoleon's Grand Army during the truly disastrous 1812 Russian campaign. (Be sure to look at the large version.)

The chart (see above) is 22 inches by 15 inches and uses two colors. Edward Tufte, the undisputed maestro of chart design, called it "Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn." I think that observation is spot on. As Tufte explains:

Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.

Edward Tufte

The beauty of this chart is how it conveys the whole sense of the doomed campaign, from it's utter futility to the death of the soldiers, but explaining where the losses ocurred and, to some extent, the reasons why. It is, literally, ten pounds of information in a one-pound box.

Here he uses the same proportional line to track Napoleon's Grand Armee as it made its was across the Russian plains toward Moscow. We see a fraction of the troops splitting off from the main group and pausing at Polotzk (known in English as Polotsk in the modern country of Belarus). Although the thickness of Napoleon's army diminished somewhat by the time it arrived at Moscow, it was still formidable. Unfortunately for Napoleon and his troops, Czar Alexander I and the residents of Moscow had fled and burned the city, leaving little for Napoleon to conquer. Up to this point, Minard's map bears many of the same qualities as the Hannibal map. But an additional, tragic chapter of the campaign enabled Minard to add even more depth to his already incredible map.

Like a scorned groom whose bride never showed up at the altar, a frustrated Napoleon had little choice but to return back to the part of Europe he controlled for food, shelter, and supplies. Minard now traces the remnants of the Grande Armee as it makes its way back toward the Neiman River. In doing so, the parallel tracks of the advancing and retreating army are set next to one another, making the continuing deterioration of the army all the more visible and heartwrenching. As the army slowly made its way across barren earth (the Russians had burned food along this path while blocking other escape paths), one of the worst winters in recent memory set in. Minard tracks the plummeting temperature against this trek on a horizontal axis at the bottom of the page, even more profoundly capturing the dire straits that the retreating army found itself in. Not surprisingly, the pitiful band of troops that returned from Russia marked the onset of the collapse of Napoleon's Continental Empire.

Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon's March, 1861. By John Corbett

Minard was able to do this because the chart is:

[A] narrative graphic of time and space which illustrates how multivariate complexity can be subtly integrated so that viewers are hardly aware that they are looking into a world of four or five dimensions.

Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

But it is so much more than that; it is also a magnificent testament to the folly of war.

Together, the maps of these two campaigns provide a visual lesson to historians and generals, which might have been subtitled, “Some things to avoid in planning a military campaign.” In fact, I believe there is a more personal and more emotive meaning, as an anti-war statement by an engineer who had witnessed the horrors of war in his youth and who, in his final year, was forced to flee his home.

Chevallier (1871, p. 18) says, “Finally, as if he could sense the terrible disaster that was about to disrupt the country, he illustrated the loss of lives that had been caused by Hannibal and Napoleon. The graphical representation is gripping; it inspires bitter reflections on the human cost of the thirst for military glory.” It may well be, for this reason, that Minard’s most famous graphic defied the pen of the historian.

Re-Visions of Minard By Michael Friendly

A beautiful poster — printed on heavy archival stock — is available from Edward Tufte for $14. (A framed copy of these prints, purchased from Tufte, has adorned on my wall for nearly two decades.) No, I don't get a kickback; I just think Tufte sells quality products.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Tufte, E. R. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1983.
  2. Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon's March, 1861
  3. Geovisualization Illustrated by Menno-Jan Kraak
  4. Re-Visions of Minard By Michael Friendly

Some Days I Really Hate Apache

The great thing about mod_rewrite is it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail. The downside to mod_rewrite is that it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail.

Brian Behlendorf, Apache Group

Instead of creating an entry for today, I spent it wrestling with Apache's URL rewrite rules. The documentation says, "Welcome to mod_rewrite, the Swiss Army Knife of URL manipulation!" but knives aren't useful if they keep amputating body parts of the user. Anyway, the results of a days work are, as they say, mixed. Archives sort of work, but only if the path includes index.php. This isn't especially interesting, but it's why there isn't an entry for today.

Despite the tons of examples and docs, mod_rewrite is voodoo. Damned cool voodoo, but still voodoo.

Brian Moore

Buy Land, ‘Cause They Ain’t Making it No More

Monopoly evokes a unique emotion, the surge of thrill you get when you know you've wiped out a friend.

— Shelly Berman

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly board

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly Board

The board game Monopoly is an institution. It is available in in many variants (link, link link, and link) and even some parodies (Ghettopoly and Anti-monopoly). Versions exist for most major cities, and even for such specialized areas as football, the military, and the space program. Even the Franklin Mint has a version. (You know something has hit the bigtime when the Franklin Mint has an edition.) All teach the joys of unfettered capitalism and world domination, not to mention a little math, too. (I can picture how none of the other children wanted to play monopoly with a young Bill Gates.)

T-Shirt with parod of Monopoly showing Microsoft

Microsoft Monopoly Parody

The "official" origins of Monopoly are on the Hasbro Website, but these are, to be blunt, absolute lies. And therein lies a tale. First, consider the official, and fraudulent, version of the origins:

Today, it's the best-selling board game in the world, sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages including Croatian. But where did the game come from? How did this phenomenal pastime get its start? tells the legend best.

It was 1934, the height of the Depression, when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, showed what he called the MONOPOLY game to the executives at Parker Brothers. Can you believe it, they rejected the game due to "52 design errors"! But Mr. Darrow wasn't daunted. Like many other Americans, he was unemployed at the time, and the game's exciting promise of fame and fortune inspired him to produce it on his own.

With help from a friend who was a printer, Mr. Darrow sold 5,000 handmade sets of the game to a Philadelphia department store. People loved it! But as demand grew, he couldn't keep up with all the orders and came back to talk to

History of Monopoly, Hasbro

New York version of Monopoly

New York Version

Parker Brother has always asserted that the inventor of Monopoloy was Charles Darrow. He does, in fact, hold United States Patent number 2,026,082 for it, and the rights to the patent were sold to Parker Brothers. The fact is that Parker Brothers invented a nostalgic history to cover up a fraud. First, the history:

His is a nice little story, with an appropriately capitalist theme. An unemployed Depression-era radiator repairman invents a game in which down-on-their-luck Americans trade pricey properties and connive their way to fantastic riches. The game catches on with a cash-starved public looking for cheap entertainment. The unemployed repairman fills his pockets with wads of real money.

National Public Radio report on Monopoly

The fact is that Darrow had nothing to do with Monopoly, as it is based on an earlier game called the "Landlord's Game" by a Quaker named Elizabeth Magie; she even holds the 1904 United States Patent on the game. (How could Darrow invent a game that had been patented 31 years earlier?) Magie's goal was not entertainment; it was education:

It was from Ralph Anspach, the inventor of Anti-Monopoly, that I learned that Monopoly itself had begun as a critique of the very system it has done so much to promote. The official history of Monopoly, recorded in endless Reader's Digest-like articles, holds that Charles Darrow, an unemployed Philadelphia worker, invented the game in 1933, and sold it to Parker Brothers, who in turn have sold Darrow's pro-business inspiration to the world. Anspach's research shows that the real inventor of Monopoly was Elizabeth Magie, a Quaker follower of the Single Tax economist Henry George. She invented the game in 1903 and called it the Landlord Game; Its squares carried such inspired names as "Lord Blueblood's Estate" and "The Soakum Lighting Co."

A 1925 version of her game, by now called Monopoly, which was made by Louis Thun, states in its Introduction, "Monopoly is designed to show the evil resulting from the institution of private property. At the start of the game, every player is provided with the same chance of success as every other player. The game ends with one person in possession of all the money. What accounts for the failure of the rest, and what one factor can be singled out to explain the obviously ill-adjusted distribution of the community's wealth, which this situation represents? Those who win will answer 'skill'. Those who lose will answer 'luck'. But maybe there will be some, and these, while admitting the element of skill and luck, will answer with Scott Nearing [a socialist writer of the time] 'private property.'"

BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman by Bertell Ollman

New York version of Monopoly

Original "Get Out of Jail Free" Card

Magie's version is surprisingly similar to the game we know today:

The board for Lizzie Magie's game bears a striking resemblance to the one now labeled "Monopoly", except that names, drawings, colors and the like are different. It is painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (land rent $50), "Easy Street" (land rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " ("no trespassing - go to jail"). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing on that) and the "PDQ Railroad" ("fare $100"). And of course there is the well known "Jail" block.

The properties on Lizzie Magie's board were for rent only, not acquisition. Otherwise, the game was played much like the Monopoly of today.

Adena's History of Monopoly

When a Quaker from Indianapolis moved to Atlantic City in New Jersey, she customized Magie's version for her new surroundings. Players typically manufactured their own boards, pieces, and cards, so customizing was only a minor step beyond copying. It makes sense that when he went to Parker Brothers he would claim that the Atlantic City variant — the only one he'd seen — was his creation.

Since the game was being played in Atlantic City, it no longer made any sense to have properties named after places in Indianapolis or parts of Pennsylvania.

The discussion came up that the names were for the most part unknown to us ... Why not use Atlantic City names? ... We named them out in honor of people who belonged to our group. For instance, well, Boardwalk was first. Everybody knows that, Boardwalk. But the Joneses were living on Park Place and the Claridge was being built across the street and the Marlborough Blenheim was right there. That was obviously a very expensive part of the town and one that we wanted to honor.

"We were living on Pennsylvania Avenue ... The Copes lived on Virginia Avenue at the Morton Hotel ... So it developed gradually.

"... I know that there were the utilities and I know that the four railroads were there ... We had 'Free Parking' and we had 'Go to Jail' and we had tickets to get out of jail and you got $200 as you passed 'Go'."

Adena's History of Monopoly

What's interesting about Monopoly is how it was a boon for both Darrow's and Parker Brothers' fortunes. Darrow ended up a millionaire and Parker Brothers continues to reap huge rewards, even though their patent and copyrights have long expired. All from a game they didn't invent. But much of the success is due to George Parker's considerable business acumen:

In accordance with his ninth principle—bet heavily when the odds are long in your favor—George Parker urged [Parker Brothers President Robert] Barton to put all the company's resources behind the Monopoly game and forget making other games. It was better to apply everything Parker Brothers owned to maximize Monopoly shipments given the marketplace's insatiable appetite for the game. He was convinced that every dollar wagered would return a windfall. Unlike his vacillation with Mah-Jongg, this time he would not hesitate and give his opponents a chance to compete. He would redeem himself.

The "flood" began after New Year's Day. The post-Christmas trickle of orders for the Monopoly game turned into a torrent. It seemed that every Monopoly game purchased for Christmas had been played by many people—all of whom wanted their own copy, no matter what their financial plight. So many orders for the Monopoly game arrived in the mail and by telegraph that the firm had to store them in wicker laundry baskets in the hallways. All the workers sent home in December were quickly rehired.

How Parker Bros. Created Monopoly Mania, by Philip Orbanes

New York version of Monopoly

Redesign of Monopoly money ala US Currency to prevent counterfeiting

Not everyone, however is a fan. Not only does the game encourage bad behavior, but it presents a distorted view of how economies function:

The problem is that the game seriously misrepresents how an actual market economy operates. To review, in the free market, Mises wrote, "Neither the entrepreneurs nor the farmers nor the capitalists determine what has to be produced. The consumers do that. . . . Their buying and their abstention from buying decides who should own and run the plants and the farms. They make poor people rich and rich people poor. They determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities. They are merciless bosses, full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable."

That’s the real world. In the game Monopoly, owners of land and houses and hotels, through acquiring their possessions by luck, are flattered into believing they are masters of the universe, extracting profits from anyone who passes their way. There is no consumer choice and no consumer sovereignty. This is not a small detail. The entire raison d’etre of the market is missing, and thus the real goal and the guide of all production in a market economy.

Consumer choice is replaced by a roll of the dice. The player then becomes passive. Landing on property owned by another person creates not a mutual gain but a loss. In this way, trade is portrayed as "zero-sum." The elimination of consumer choice leads to the belief that businesses profit only at the consumers’ expense.

...

Monopoly may be fun to play but it leaves us with two unpleasant choices. The game either misrepresents the nature of trade in a market economy, or if slightly reinterpreted it glorifies rent seeking by making it the object of the game.

Monopoly: Parker Brothers Gets It Wrong, by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Detailed History of Monopoly
  2. History of Monopoly
  3. All things Monopoly
  4. National Public Radio report on Monopoly
  5. Collectable Variants
  6. Collectable Variants (large collection)
  7. Collectable Variants (large collection)
  8. Collectable Variants (older games)
  9. Ghettopoly
  10. Anti-monopoly
  11. Probability Analysis for Each Property
  12. Straight Dope piece on variants of official rules
  13. Animated Probability Analysis for Each Property
  14. Redesign of money ala US Currency

Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist

"Money you have expended without limits, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers--these are your only trophies."

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Sounds like someone commenting on the Iraq war, doesn't it? Except this was written during the Civil War. And during the Civil War, making statements like these got you arrested and banished from the country. Wait just one minute, you say. The First Ammendment and the Constitution — yeah, right. Didn't play in those days and it may not play here soon. Don't believe me? Think about how many morons defend the loss of our liberties saying, "ok, but we are at war...".

President Abraham Lincoln realized early on that his illegal war against the south depended on suppression of all speech critical of it. For if people were free to say they did not want their children, brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins drafted, mutilated, and slaughtered, the war would become unsustainable. And that's exactly what got Ohio congressman Clement Larid Vallandigham in such trouble: he did nothing more than speak out against the war.

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Clement Laird Vallandigham

When Lincoln was asked how he could persecute Vallandigham for speaking out against the Civil War, he replied with an analogy:

Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death… Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting and there working on his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning, 12 June 1863

Suppression of the First Ammendment and freedom of speech rights of Vallandigham was swift, brutal and effective: the United States government banished one of its citizens, forbidding him to set foot on US soil for the duration of the war. Really!

On 13 Apr. 1863, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, Commmander of the Department Of The Ohio, had issued General Order No. 38, forbidding expression of sympathy for the enemy. On 30 Apr. Vallandigham addressed a large audience in Columbus, made derogatory references to the president and the war effort, then hoped that he would be arrested under Burnside's order, thus gaining popular sympathy. Arrested at his home at 2 a.m., 5 May, by a company of troops, he was taken to Burnside's Cincinnati headquarters, tried by a military court 6-7 May, denied a writ of habeas corpus, and sentenced to 2 years' confinement in a military prison. Following a 19 May cabinet meeting, President Lincoln commuted Vallandigham's sentence to banishment to the Confederacy. On 26 May the Ohioan was taken to Confederates south of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and there entered Southern lines. Outraged at his treatment, by a vote of 411 -11 state Democrats nominated Vallandigham for governor at their 11 June convention.

Vallandigham was escorted to Wilmington, N.C., and shipped out to, Bermuda, arriving there 17 June. He traveled to Canada, arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario, 5 July, and from there and Windsor, Ontario, conducted his campaign for the governorship. Candidate for lieutenant governor George Pugh represented Vallandigham's views at rallies and in the press. Lincoln interested himself in the election, endorsed Republican candidate John Brough, downplayed the illegalities of a civilian's arrest and trial by military authorities, and claimed that a vote for the Democratic contender was "a discredit to the country." In the election of 13 Oct. 1863, Brough defeated Vallandigham 288,000 - 187,000.

Civial War Home article on Vallandigham

The famous short story "The Man Without a Country", was written by Edward Everett Hale in 1863 after he learned of Lincoln's persecution of Vallandigham.

When Vallandigham sought relief in the courts, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.) on the grounds that civilian courts had no jurisdiction over their military counterparts:

[T]here is no original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum to review or reverse its proceedings, or the writ of certiorari to revise the proceedings of a military commission.

Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.)

Yup, the Bush administration argued the same thing about its policy of indefinite incarceration without trial. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But the wrath of Lincoln and the war on free speech wasn't restricted to congressmen opposing the war. Newspapers quickly learned that to speak out against the war was to brutal censorship and oppression.

Suppression of these editors began early in the war. For example, in August of 1861, the Christian Observer was closed by the U.S. marshal in Philadelphia. At the same time, a federal grand jury in New York cited the Journal of Commerce, the Daily News, the Day-Book, the weekly Freeman's Journal, and the Brooklyn Eagle for the "frequent practice of encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government." This was followed by an order from the Postmaster General forbidding the mailing of these newspapers.

Similarly, other newspapers were forbidden to circulate and sell. General Palmer temporarily prohibited the distribution of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chicago Times within Kentucky. In New Haven, Connecticut the circulation of the New York Daily News was prohibited. General Burnside took similar action in excluding the New York World from Ohio. This action was taken on the grounds of suspected disloyalty, and was intended as a partial measure for press control.

On February 23, 1863, the Davenport Daily Gazette in Iowa reported that some seventy-five convalescent soldiers from a near-by military hospital entered the office of the Keokuk, IowaConstitution, wrecked the presses and dumped the type out the window. In the spring of 1863, the Crisis and the Marietta, Ohio Republican, a Democratic paper, suffered damages at the hands of a mob of soldiers. The next year a number of other newspapers in the Midwest, including the Mahoning, Ohio Sentinel, Lancaster, Ohio Eagle, Dayton Empire, Fremont Messenger, and the Chester, Illinois Picket Guard experienced similar visitations.

Along with suppression came the arrest of some editors. In October, 1861 the editor of the Marion, Ohio Mirror was arrested on charges of membership in a secret anti-war organization. In Illinois, a number of men were taken into custody including the editors of the Paris Democratic Standard, M. Mehaffey and F. Odell. These men were imprisoned without trial in Fort Lafayette, Fort Delaware or the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. In other Midwestern states those arrested, usually on charges of interfering with enlistment or similar activities, included Dennis Mahoney, editor of the Dubuque Herald, and Dana Sheward, editor of the Fairfield Constitution and Union. In Philadelphia the Evening Journal was suppressed by military order in January, 1863, and Albert D. Boileau, its editor, confined to Fort McHenry for a few days until he wrote an apology and promised to reform.

Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith

So the next time someone tells you that the Republican party is the party of Lincoln, well, you can agree with them.

Oh, and Vallandigham? Well, his political career was just getting started when he met an untimely end:

Following the Civil War, Vallandigham emerged as a leader of Ohio's Democratic Party. He served as the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Convention in 1865. He also encouraged the Democrats to adopt his "new departure" resolutions. Vallandigham came to believe that the Democratic Party had to support slavery's end and equal rights for African Americans with whites if the party was ever to regain power from the Republicans. His political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871. While preparing the defense of an accused murder, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, mortally wounding Vallandigham.

History of Clement Vallandigham

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Transcript of Trial
  2. History of Clement Vallandigham
  3. Ex Parte Vallandigham
  4. Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith
  5. History of Clement Laird Vallandigham

"The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was."

Campaign slogan coined by Clement Larid Vallandigham, May 1862

First Thing, We Gag All the Lawyers

When lawyer jokes become the basis for prejudice and bigotry, a line has been crossed which can lead to dangerous situations. Lawyer-bashing is hate speech that is as heinous as all other forms of bigotry. Crimes of violence against attorneys should be covered by hate-crime laws.

Harvey I. Saferstein, President of the California State Bar Association
quoted in "He Must Be Joking", The Oregonian, 8 July 1993, Page B8

Following on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that the First Ammendment is not advisory, we have this story:

"How do you tell when a lawyer is lying?" Harvey Kash, 69, of Bethpage, said to Carl Lanzisera, 65, of Huntington, as the queue wound into the court. "His lips are moving," they said in unison, completing one of what may be thousands of standard lawyer jokes.

But while that rib and several others on barristers got some giggles from the crowd, the attorney standing in line about five people ahead wasn't laughing.

" 'Shut up,' the man shouted," Lanzisera said. "'I'm a lawyer.'"

The attorney reported Kash and Lanzisera to court personnel, who arrested the men and charged them with engaging in disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

"They put the handcuffs on us, brought us into a room, frisked us, sat us down and checked our driver's licenses to see if there were any warrants out for our arrest," Lanzisera said yesterday. "They were very nasty, extremely nasty."

The men are founders of Americans for Legal Reform, a group of outspoken advocates who use confrontational tactics to push for greater access to courts for the public and to monitor how well courts serve the public. One tactic is driving a truck around the Huntington area emblazoned with the slogan "Stop The Lawyer Disease." They said their rights to free speech were violated Monday.

NY Newsday

And lawyers wonder why they have a bad reputation? So bad that people are always quoting that that line from Shakespeare. You know the one. The one people always say is about how eliminating lawyers is the key to destabilizing society and seizing power: "First thing, we kill all the lawyers." Well, that interpretation is just plain wrong and is nothing more than wishful thinking, if not downright lying, on the part of lawyers.

The line comes from Henry VI, Part II. The context is fairly simple. Jack Cade, a notorious thug and vicious criminal, is a pretender to the throne, and is talking about all the wonderous things that will transpire upon his coronation. Dick The Butcher is a member of his gang.

JACK CADE: Be brave, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king, as king I will be —

ALL FOLLOWERS: God save your majesty!

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people — there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK THE BUTCHER: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

JACK CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is this not a lamentable thing that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings, but I say ’tis the bee’s wax. For I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.

Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2 by William Shakespeare

So the quote is not about how lawyers prevent revolution by keeping society orderly. It is not about how lawyers are key to ensuring that government is not disrupted by criminals. It is just about a bunch of semi-drunken criminials talking about what would constitute utopia. And given how lawyers treat the rest of us, is there really much doubt that eliminating many of those two-legged reptiles would bring about, if not utopia, at least a better world?

Ooops! Hate crime! Anyone know a good bail bondsman?

The Freedom to Not Listen

In Russia is freedom of speech.
In America is also freedom after speech.

—Yakov Smirnoff

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 2

Free speech is not supposed to be inoffensive. Not only that, but it is, in fact, guaranteed to be inherently offensive to someone. That is, after all, the whole point of being able to say whatever is on your mind, no matter how distasteful someone will find it. It doesn't matter if we agree with the ideas or even like them: the rights of those who espouse Nazi or KKK dogma are just as protected as those touting kittens and puppies or the truly wonderful job Bush is doing for America by liberating Iraq and exporting jobs to China.

Free speech allows the Ayn Rand foundation to condemn tsunami relief efforts using government funds (aka tax dollars) just as it allows us to label their ideas as "typical callous and cruel Randroid claptrap". (No, I am so not making this up. Read their apology if you don't believe me; they — wisely — yanked their original editoral.) Free and open discourse is an essential to freedom, no matter how repugnant we may find it at times.

That's really the whole point: we don't have to all just get along. We don't have to spout ideas that everyone likes. We don't have to say only those things that the government gives us permission to say. Communism, to use a famous example, is a truly idiotic ideology; that does not, however, give the government the right to spy on and persecute those who believe in it.

You probably were not aware that the American fascist dictator Abraham Lincoln — yes, that Lincoln — suspended freedom of the press during the Civil War, suspended habeas corpus, suspended the Constitution, and actually imprisoned those who criticized the war, either verbally or in print. People could be arrested and incarcerated for the duration of the war on mere suspicion or even rumor of advocating peace. (The Republican party truly is the party of Lincoln.) Ezra Pound spent thirteen years institutionalized because he espoused repugnant political views. Is this right? No, it isn't.

The best way to deal with abhorrent ideas is to get them out in public where the santizing light of day can illuminate them for what they are. During the Civil War, my explaining the crimes of Lincoln, for example, would have had me imprisoned or banished. (I'll be writing more about that in a few days.)

The origins of the First Ammendment can be found in the John Peter Zenger trial.

No country values free expression more highly than ours, and no case in our history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German printer named John Peter Zenger. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors, inspired by the eloquence of the best lawyer of the period, Andrew Hamilton, ignored the instructions of the Governor's hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels." The Zenger trial is a remarkable story of a divided Colony, the beginnings of a free press, and the stubborn independence of American jurors.

John Peter Zenger Trial

The case, in a nutshell, is that way back in 1731, a newspaper publisher named Zenger published an article critical of New York's governor, and the governor retaliated by having Zenger arrested for sedition and libel, and then imprisoned for ten months before trial when Zenger couldn't meet the £800 bail. (This was a truly staggering sum in those days.)

The trial opened on August 4 on the main floor of New York's City Hall with Attorney General Bradley's reading of the information filed against Zenger. Bradley told jurors that Zenger, "being a seditious person and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels" had "wickedly and maliciously" devised to "traduce, scandalize, and vilify" Governor Cosby and his ministers. Bradley said that "Libeling has always been discouraged as a thing that tends to create differences among men, ill blood among the people, and oftentimes great bloodshed between the party libeling and the party libeled."

John Peter Zenger

Andrew Hamilton Summation

Andrew Hamilton's Summation at Trial

Nowadays this would be an open-and-shut case. But there was no First Ammendment back then. Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, had travelled all the way from Philadelphia to represent him. (This may well be the origin of the advice, "Get yourself a Philadelphia lawyer".) Hamilton argued that the jury could only convict if what Zenger wrote was false; the judge ordered the jury to convict, saying that Zenger had no defense. Well, the jury refused to convict and the case achieved such renown that Thomas Jefferson added the right to speak one's mind to the Bill of Rights.

Andrew Hamilton: The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, is not of small nor private concern nor is it the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone. No, it may affect every Freeman to deny the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.

Alexander Hamilton
Summation,August 4th, 1735

Ok, enough with the history lesson. What bearing does this have on the news? Well, it seems that the The United States Supreme Court just declined to hear Rahn v. Robb, Case 04-629, a case important to all believers in free speech. For those of you who don't track the Supremes' docket like a Yankee fanatic tracking Billy Martin's ups and downs, this was the case involving the Ku Klux Klan wanting to adopt a section of the Missouri highway. (Can you imagine? The Ku Kluxers have hobbies other than lynching and cross-burning. Who knew?)

Now, we all know that the KKK isn't doing this out of civic mindedness, and giving back to the communty. Far from it. This is a potent propaganda opportunity to say that the KKK is still alive and well in Missouri, given that the state will put up a sign saying that litter is being picked up by them. This sign is, of course, offensive. But, then again, so is seeing signs from churches, other bigoted groups (like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), political groups (Republicans and Democrats), and even the local funeral director. It's all bigotry, politics, advertising, or some combination thereof, and I don't like it or want to see it. But the First Ammendment says, too bad. And that's good.

The state of Missouri, like most states, encourages groups to adopt a section of highway and keep it free of litter. Everyone wins: the group gets some free, and very public advertising; the taxpayers save millions in cleanup costs; and the public gets a clean stretch of road. (So the prisoners who used to do this job don't get their dose of fresh air and exercise anymore; too bad.) Anyway, when the KKK filed papers to adopt a stretch of highway the state refused. Litigation ensued, and the 8th Circuit Court of the United States ordered Missouri to honor free speech and let the KKK have its segment of highway. While the Missouri appeal was pending, however, state officials showed they had a sense of humor: the stretch of highway was renamed the "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway". No, this is not an urban legend.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today honored a pioneer of the civil rights movement by dedicating a one-mile section of I-55 south of downtown St. Louis, MO as the Rosa Parks Highway.

"Forty-five years ago, Mrs. Rosa Parks’quiet defiance greatly contributed to the civil rights movement, said Secretary Slater. "Today’s naming of the Rosa Parks Highway reminds individuals that transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It’s about people and empowering citizens to fulfill their dreams."

During the 2000 legislative session, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill, sponsored by State Senator William Clay and State Representative Russell Gunn, to name a 1.13-mile stretch of Interstate 55 from one mile south of Lindbergh Boulevard to Butler Hill Road the "Rosa Parks Highway." Former Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law on May 30, 2000.

Missouri, Department of Transportion

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 1

What's most amusing is that neither the United States Department of Transportation nor the Missouri Department of Transporation managed to mention exactly why Rosa Parks was being so "honored". (Another bit of trivia: John Ashcroft ran against Governor Mel Carnahan. When Carnahan died in a plane crash right before the election, Missouri voters elected the dead man over Ashcroft. After the dead man won, Republicans challenged the vote on the grounds that Carnahan was not, strictly speaking, a resident of the state on election day. They lost and sent Ashcroft to Washington. Guess who got the better end of that deal.)

Anyway, here's the story:

For the second time in four years, the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Ku Klux Klan to participate in Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The high court on Monday declined to hear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling siding with the Klan, meaning that picking up litter along Missouri 21 heading into Potosi can remain the responsibility of the Klan.

...

Missouri began its Adopt-A-Highway program in 1987. About 3,400 groups care for about 5,000 miles of Missouri roads, according to the MODOT Web site. The program saves the state about $1.5 million a year, the Web site said.

Such programs are popular nationally; every state but Vermont has one.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court supporting Missouri's position, the Texas solicitor general warned that states could cancel their Adopt-A-Highway programs if they are forced to allow the Klan to participate.

Kansas City Star
Courtesy of BugMeNot.com
Login: icantkick@mailinator.com
Password: oregon1

I think the real question here is when are Americans going to wake up and realize that individuals must make decisions about what is or is not appropriate speech for themselves and that we must defend to the death the right to offend others. To do otherwise is to create world where a committee determines what we can say or hear, and that road, my friends, leads to fascism.

Oh, I have one more real question: how do klansmen keep those white outfits so spiffily starched and free of grass and dirt stains while picking up the trash in the hot sun?

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Kansas City Star Story (Login: icantkick@mailinator.com, Password: oregon1)
  2. Snopes confirmation of "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway" story as fact
  3. Seattle Post Intelligencer
  4. John Peter Zenger

Lots of Green, Leafy… Sea Dragons

ALT

Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus equus)

The Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus equus) is a relative of sea horse and pipe fish. It is found only in the southern waters of South Australia, where it lives in sea grass. These are fairly small, as ocean creatures go, typically growing to between 9 and 23 inches (20cm to 50cm) in about two to four years.

Evolution has equipped them with a body resembling seaweed, rendering them virtually invisible as they move among the sea grass on the ocean's floor. Notice the tiny fins on the back and head; these provide the propulsion, while the tail acts as a rudder, steering it. Their movement is normally dainty, but when threatened their fins are flapped as the body undulates like a dolphin. You can see their normal movement in a video (12 MB) at Dive Gallery, which has wonderful pictures and videos. (Far better than the Australian aquariums.)

Although they lack teeth or a stomach, the leafy sea dragon is a voracious predator. If you're a tiny food source, that is. Their main food source are the tiny mysid shrimps, colloquially called so-called "sea lice" or "brine shrimp". When born, they subsist upon the yolk in their egg sack until large enough to hunt rotifers and copepods, eventually graduating to the small shrimp. Their voracious appetite makes them an expensive species for an aquarium.

Sea Dragons are arguably the most spectacular and mysterious of all ocean fish. Though close relatives of sea horses, sea dragons have larger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as and small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids ("sea lice"), sucking up their prey in their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on the red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.

Dive Gallery

The leafy sea dragon's reproductive life is quite interesting. Like seahorses, the female lays eggs under the male's tail; from this point forward the male cares for the egs, for about two months, until they hatch. But that's the short version, and the full version conveys this creature's peculiar evolution:

Unlike seahorses, sea dragons do not have a pouch for rearing the young. Instead, the male carries the eggs fixed to the underside of his tail from where they eventually hatch. When male sea dragons are ready to receive eggs from the female, the lower half of the tail on the male appears wrinkled.

During mating, the female lays 100-250 eggs onto a special 'brood patch' on the underside of the male's tail, where they are attached and fertilized. This brood patch, consisting of cups of blood-rich tissue each holding one egg, and is specifically developed by the male for use during the breeding season of August-March. The bright pink eggs become embedded in the cups of the brood patch, receiving oxygen via the cups' blood vessels.

During each breeding season, male Leafy sea dragons will hatch two batches of eggs. After a period of about 4-6 weeks from conception, the male 'gives birth' to miniature juvenile versions of sea dragons. As soon as a baby sea dragon leaves the safety of its father's tail, it is independent and receives no further help from its parents. For 2-3 days after birth, the baby sea dragons are sustained by their yolk sac. After this, they hunt small zooplankton, such as copepods and rotifers, until large enough to hunt juvenile mysids.

Sea dragons grow to a length of 20 cm after one year, reaching their mature length at two years. In the wild, young sea dragons are preyed upon by other fish, crustaceans and evn sea anemones. Young sea dragons look more delicate, and are often differently colored than adults, and may hide in different types of seaweeds.

MarineBio.org

The species, however, has been threated with extinction through a combination of factors: The biggest are pollution (fertilizer runoff), collecting for home aquariums or idiotic "alternative medicine" and storms that move them between water pressures, rupturing their swim bladders.

Unique to the southern waters of WA and South Australia, the leafy sea-dragon's home is inshore areas of seagrass. Unfortunately these are under increasing threat from pollution and excessive fertiliser run-off.

This is not the only danger faced by the sea-dragon. Although having no known predators amongst the marine world, it has become the target of unscrupulous 'collectors' who have denuded the more accessible seagrass areas of this amazing creature.

In 1991, the Department of Fisheries, concerned by the rapidly decreasing numbers of the leafy sea-dragon, declared it a totally protected species.

Aquarium of Western Australia

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Dive Gallery's Pictures and Video (gorgeous!)
  2. Melbourne Aquarium
  3. Aquarium of Western Australia
  4. MarineBio.org

Where Death Delights to Help the Living

Convict the guilty, clear the innocent and find the truth in a nutshell.

— Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Nutshell Studies book cover

TitleThe Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
AuthorCorinne May Botz
ISBN1580931456
PublisherMonacelli Press

We take forensic pathology for granted, nowadays. While Sherlock Holmes' pithy observations might have been profound in an earlier time — protestations of how it was merely "elementary" to the contrary — they are so commonplace today as to be the subject of banal television dramas. But even as recently as the 1940s police procedure was an utter mess, and crime scene analysis was little better than the Victorian days when photographs of a victim's retinas were taken in a pointless effort to identify a killer. (Despite never having a single success, for obvious reasons, the Victorians earnestly believed that the eye was a camera.)

Boston Saloon

Killing at a Boston Saloon

Modern forensics owes a debt to Frances Glessner Lee, a volunteer police officer, who devoted her life, and fortune, to improving police work.

It was back in the 1880s that murder and medicine first began to thrill the gentle, pigtailed Frances Glessner, who became today's powerful, iron-willed matriarch. For murder and medicine were the interests of George Burgess Magrath, her brother's studious chum who always appeared at "The Rocks" when the Glessner family arrived from Chicago for a summer vaction in the White Mountains.

For hours on end, Frances would listen to George's latest tales of unpunished or undetectable crimes; of unexpected clues that turned up in the autopsy room at medical school; of amateur coroners and old-fashioned police officers who knew little about crime-hunting; and about his own plans for a great career as a medical crime detective.

From one summer vacation to another, France's interest in murder and medicine grew, paralleling George's rise in his self-chosen profession. The promising young medical student became the brilliant young teacher of medicine, the famous professor of pathology, and eventually "America's real-life Sherlock Holmes," a pioneer of legal medicine.

But for Frances there was always the sobering return to the stodgy social routine of Chicago's upper set. Marriage, children and even grandchildren did not change her father's unwritten law that "a Glessner" could not possibly think of nurturing interest in a subject like crime. Thus, Mrs. Lee was well over 50 years old when her long-frustrated career in crime-detection began.

She was ill in Boston for months; and almost every night Magrath came to see her. He talked "cases" as enthusiastically as ever. But through all his stories ran a gnawing fear: what was to become of his young science of "crime doctoring" when he died? One day, Mrs. Lee asked what she could do to perpetuate his work. "Make it possible for Harvard to teach legal medicine," was his answer, "and to spread its use through education."

Mrs. Lee lost no more time: she went ahead. Magrath, who died in 1938, lived to build up the Harvard department which Mrs. Lee financed; to enjoy the use of the most modern equipment American industry could supply; to witness his name being given to the world's biggest library of Legal Medicine, collected by Mrs. Lee in years of searching at home and abroad; and to see the department permanently endowed by her.

"Grandma Knows Her Murders" by George Oswald, Coronet, December 1949

In order to educate and train police, she created dollhouses of death; miniature crime scenes, complete with victims and clues, ideally suited for instruction:

Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress, provided for just about every creature comfort when she fashioned 19 dollhouse rooms during the 1940s. She stocked the larders with canned goods and placed half-peeled potatoes by the kitchen sink. Over a crib, she pasted pink striped wallpaper.

But you might not want your dolls to live there.

Miniature corpses -- bitten, hanged, shot, stabbed and poisoned -- are slumped everywhere. The furnishings show signs of struggles and dissolute lives; liquor bottles and chairs have been overturned; ashtrays overflow.

Lee, a volunteer police officer with an honorary captain's rank whose father was a founder of the International Harvester Co., used her ghoulish scenes to teach police recruits the art of observation.

Bellwether Gallery

Nutshell Study Number 7: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom

The text accompanying "Nutshell Study Number 7" provides a typical set of clues for the student:

Mrs. Rose Fishman, a widow, was found dead by Samuel Wiess, a janitor. He was questioned and gave the following statement: Several tenants complained of an odor and on March 30, he began looking for the source of the odor. Mrs. Fishman didn't answer her bell when he rang it, and when checking with other tenants he found that she had not been seen recently. Therefore, he looked into her mailbox and found that her mail had accumulated for several days. He entered Mrs. Fishman's apartment and found it in order but the odor was very strong. The bathroom door was closed, when he tried to open the door, he could only get it opened a little way, the odor was much stronger. He immediately went downstairs and climbed the fire escape to enter the bathroom through the window. He could not remember if he found the window opened or closed. The model however shows the premises as he found them.

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom
Based on an actual crime from March 31, 1942

Nutshell Study Number 2: Three-Room Dwelling

Nutshell Study Number 2
Three-Room Dwelling

The school soon became a mecca for those interested in learning proper policework:

Accounts by witnesses were typed and attached to each model. Each student was assigned two "nutshell studies" to review. The student's task was to search out the clues that were cleverly hidden in each model and prepare a detailed report of how the deaths occurred. Enrollment at the seminars was limited to two dozen students and police officials as far away as Scotland Yard jockeyed to be included on the list.

To have graduated from a seminar and thereby become a member of the Harvard Associates in Police Science was "a high honor in police circles." Erle Stanley Gardner, famed creator of the Perry Mason detective stories wrote that "invitations to the seminars were as sought after in police circles as bids to Hollywood by girls who aspire to be actresses."

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Francis Lee Glessner at work

Francis Lee Glessner Making Crime-Scene Dioramas

As shown in the photographs, the level of detail in the construction and the accuracy were simply amazing:

According to Alton Mosher, a local man who assisted in the construction of the models over a ten year period, Frances' reputation as a perfectionist was well deserved.

He recalls being instructed by Frances to "scale down" pieces of siding from a 100 year old barn to authenticate the detail of a crime scene. "She demanded precision in all phases of her work," recalls Mosher. Even the clothing made for the dolls in the models was fashioned to scale, knitted by Frances using common pins and unraveled thread.

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Nutshell Study Number 6: The Blue Bedroom

Nutshell Study Number 6
The Blue Bedroom

While not intended as such, Lee's "blood-splattered dioramas" are delightful art:

Not surprisingly, John Waters, a Baltimore native, is an admirer of the sometimes blood-splattered dioramas. "When I saw these miniature crime scenes," he said recently, "I felt breathless over the devotion that went into their creation. Even the most depraved Barbie Doll collector couldn't top this."

"Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Frances Glessner Lee died in 1962, aged 83, long before Dick Wolf turned forensics into entertainment. After her death these wonderful models were almost destroyed by neglect:

Harvard lost interest in forensics after her death and shuttered the department. A former professor there, Dr. Russell Fisher, became Maryland's chief medical examiner and brought the Nutshells with him. Participants in police science seminars have been poring over the models ever since.

By 1992, Lee's creations were disintegrating, and the Maryland Medical-Legal Foundation donated $50,000 for their restoration. Despite the dated decor and narratives, criminologists still swear by the Nutshells. "People take them as seriously as any other crime scene," said Dr. David R. Fowler, the current chief medical examiner for Maryland. "I've never seen anybody make jokes because of the degree of intricacy and detail. The quality is stunning. I have never seen any computer-generated programs that even come close."

"Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle

Sources and further reading:

  1. "Murder downsized" by Eve Khan, New York Times (Warning - JPEG; see the San Francisco Chronicle or San Diego Union-Tribune stories for text versions)
  2. "Grandma Knows Her Murders" by George Oswald, Coronet, December 1949
  3. "Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine
  4. "Murder in the Dollhouse", by Jennifer Schuessler, Boston Globe
  5. "CSI in a Doll's House and the Contagion of Obsessiveness" by Vince Aletti, Village Voice
  6. "Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle (from NY Times)
  7. "Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune (from NY Times)

Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus.
Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

Let conversations cease. Let laughter flee.
This is the place where death delights to help the living.

— Autopsy room motto of Dr. Milton Helpern, Medical Examiner of New York City in 1960s

A Suitcase Full of Dead Presidents

Hundred-thousand dollar bill with Woodrow Wilson

"A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable."

William Bryk

The briefcase full of money is a movie cliche familiar to all. But exactly how much money fits into a briefcase? Would a million dollars really fit? Consider this famous story told about Frank Sinatra:

Another story that made the rounds, then and now, and later portrayed in the film, The Godfather, was that Rocco Fischetti had several travel bags stuffed with two million dollars, the proceeds from dope sales that was owed to Lucky Luciano. Fearing that he was being tailed by narcotics agents, which he was, and terrified that he would be stopped and searched as he left the United States, Fischetti had brought Sinatra along to carry the bags into Cuba because Fischetti knew that, traditionally, starstruck customs agents didn't check celebrities' baggage.

None of it was true. The money in the suitcase story was spread by a writer named Lee Mortimer who disliked Sinatra intensely and at one time the dispute brought the two men to blows. Years later the FBI expanded on Mortimore's story who said that Sinatra carried the money to Lansky in one briefcase.

For decades Sinatra denied the story saying, "If you can show me how to get two million dollars into a briefcase, I'll give you the two million dollars."

The Short Return of Charlie Lucifer

Hundred dollar bill with Ben Franklin

Ok, so the game is on. Can a million bucks fit into a suitcase? Packing a suitcase full of enough bucks to buy an election used to be a lot easier. Until 14 July 1969, specifically, when the Federal Reserve announced that the "$500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 would be discontinued immediately due to lack of use." Mmmm-hmmm. I think we all know the real reason: density. It's a lot harder to lug around multiple suitcases of $500 bills without being noticed. (I doubt criminals would want to use larger bills; how would you change them or use them to pay a bar tab?) But back to our question: what about the suitcase full of retirement money?

Actually, a million dollars’ worth of $100 bills weighs a lot less. A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable.

Still, it would have been easier half a century ago, when the United States still looked beyond the Benjamin. Imagine peeling off a $500, $1000 or $5000 bill. Today we might refer colloquially to $500 bills as "Williams" (for William McKinley), to $1000 bills as "Grovers" (Grover Cleveland) and to $5000 bills as "Jameses" (James Madison). There was also a $10,000 bill we would have had to call "a Salmon" (after Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln). The last of these was printed in 1945, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Treasury Dept. agency charged with engraving Federal Reserve notes (and White House invitations, incidentally). They were withdrawn from circulation in 1969, supposedly due to declining demand.

At one time, the United States issued a note in an even higher denomination: a Series 1934 gold certificate, bearing a portrait of Woodrow Wilson, for $100,000.

Bills: Big Money by William Bryk

Stack of Bills

Rather than just do gedanken experiments this fellow did the math:

The largest U.S. bill in circulation is the hundred dollar bill, and it takes 10,000 of those to make one million dollars. Ten thousand bills. That is the smallest size you can get a million dollars in cash.

...

Next I visited Kinko's copies, where they have an industrial paper-cutting machine. I asked them to cut the 8?x11 sheets of paper into bill-sized mini-sheets. They asked about my intentions, and when they found out about my counterfeiting plans, they reminded me that I would not be able to pay for the cutting service with fake bills.

...

After separating the paper, I designed and printed some paper bands for my counterfeit cash. The bank teller had told me that hundreds are wrapped with purple bands. She asked me about my intentions, and when she found out about my counterfeiting plans, she reminded me that I would not be able to deposit fake bills.

How Much is Inside a Million Dollars

So, to answer the question: "can you cram a million bucks into a briefcase?" Yup, you can if you use a reasonably-sized briefcase. If this turns out to be of practical use to you, pop a few dead presidents over to me.

Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Goodfellas, uhh

— Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins"

I’ll take "Chairs You Can’t Sit In" for $500

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne."

— John Maynard Keynes

Chair made from a champagne cork by Jan Santos

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Jan Santos

For the second year in a row, Design Within Reach, a retailer of designer home-decor furnishings, has run its contest for the best-designed miniature chairs built from a champagne bottle, including the cork, wire, foil, and glass. An impressive number of entries were submitted this year: "Ultimately, we received more than 400 tiny, handcrafted chairs in a deluge of small packages that arrived between Christmas and the New Year."

Chair made from a champagne cork by Rick Ebbers

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Rick Ebbers

As this is an exercise in pure, unbridled creativity the contest's rules are dirt simple:

The idea presented a unique design challenge, with entrants allowed to use only the cork, wire, foil and glass of a champagne bottle to construct their creations.

...

People like the contest because it's a project that can be completed in one evening. Sophisticated software, CNC routers and master's degrees are of little help. All you need are a few bottles of champagne, some friends, a couple of hours, and maybe a pair of needlenose pliers and some wire clippers. As for anything more technical than that, a glue gun is about as sophisticated a piece of equipment as you're allowed.

Contest Rules

Chair made from a champagne cork by Striblen Fabien

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Striblen Fabien

The results are quite impressive. (Details can be seen here and here.)

A poster of last year's entries is available for $20.

Confessions of a Photographer Criminal

New York/New Jersey sign in the Holland tunnel

Taking this picture was a crime. (No, not because it has some glare, either.)

The tunnels in New York are now festooned with signs saying, "Camera Use Prohibited". (I have a shot of the sign, but it is on film which hasn't yet been developed. I used film and a telephoto, instead of the point-and-shoot digital, because I didn't want to tempt Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis by taking it up close and personal, what with the cops having a car parked right underneath the sign.) Such a prohibition is, of course, a blatant and egregious violation of the First Amendment and I hope someone takes the city to court over it.

Article I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Bill of Rights, United States Constitution

Illegal restrictions will, of course, do nothing to stop anyone with a van outfitted with a combination of video cameras and still cameras who really wants that footage for some nefarious purpose. And if there is anything we know about terrorists, it is that they can be particularly meticulous and patient. Given that traffic moves at a crawl during rush hour, anyone who really cared could obtain footage of every inch of the tunnel without too many passes and without ever being spotted.

Anyway, being a stubborn troublemaker, I make it a point to snap pictures inside the tunnel whenever I can. These are not easy shots to take; far from it: I must hold the camera in my left hand — right hand on the wheel — and take the shot without aiming or, in the case of film, focusing. (I prefocus before entering the tunnel.) Oh, and I do all this at forty-five miles per hour, guessing when the sign will appear. Not to worry, my eyes are on the road and I'm plenty far back from the car in front, but putting safety first means I miss a bunch of shots.

This may not be my finest work, but given the awkward circumstances of its birth, I'm quite proud of it; framed and focused is half the battle. When camera use is a crime, only criminals will have cameras.

"And, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta."

— Geto Boys

Keeping an Eye on Creationism

Prosthetic Eyes for Taxidermy

As Eric Cartman so eloquently stated, "Creationists piss me off." (Ok, ok, so he didn't say it; I did.) Creationists always trot out ridiculous arguments for their faith-based delusions, such as how the human eye is somehow "proof" of "intelligent design". To which I always say, if humans are the work of an intelligent being, that being must be an engineer, for only an engineer would run sewer lines through a recreational area.

Before I get to today's story, some background. About twenty years ago I read Richard Dawkin's book The Selfish Gene. In it he set forth the proposition with how humans are nothing more than meat machines created to reproduce the information viruses we call "genes". Over millions of years genes have tinkered with us to create ever more impressive structures to react to the environment and reproduce them, since they cannot act in real-time. The Selfish Gene remains one of the most amazing books I have ever read, and it truly altered the way I think about people and the world.

Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior. However, as we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish goals best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals. 'Special' and 'limited' are important words in the last sentence. Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense.

The Selfish Gene

Diagram of Human Eye

About a decade ago Richard Dawkin's wrote a cogent, sensible, systematic, and somewhat definitive deconstruction of the creationists' arguments about how the the eye proves intelligent design. When I again stumbled across it today I thought it worthy of sharing.

Thus the creationist's favourite question "What is the use of half an eye?" Actually, this is a lightweight question, a doddle to answer. Half an eye is just 1 per cent better than 49 per cent of an eye, which is already better than 48 per cent, and the difference is significant.

When one says "the" eye, by the way, one implicitly means the vertebrate eye, but serviceable image-forming eyes have evolved between 40 and 60 times, independently from scratch, in many different invertebrate groups. Among these 40-plus independent evolutions, at least nine distinct design principles have been discovered, including pinhole eyes, two kinds of camera-lens eyes, curved-reflector ("satellite dish") eyes, and several kinds of compound eyes. Nilsson and Pelger have concentrated on camera eyes with lenses, such as are well developed in vertebrates and octopuses.

Where d'you get those peepers

These writeups on the eye from Paul Patton at the University of Illinois and Kenneth Miller at Brown may help explain things more. In addition, there is an interesting exploration of the aesthetic arguments raised by Dawkins with respect to the retina's design.

Read The Story

No Cocktails, Please – We’re Prudish

Microphotograph of crystalized 'Sex on the Beach' Cocktail

Microphotograph of Crystalized "Sex on the Beach" Cocktail

While I don't approve of marketing drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to children, I'm amazed that a drink that can be ordered by name with impunity in a bar is subject to severe regulation in the commercial sphere because it is "objectionable". The Carrie Nation mindset clearly is alive and well, even in Britain.

Lord Condon, who chairs the independent panel that assesses complaints about the marketing of alcoholic drinks, said the "sexualisation" of prepackaged drinks such as Quickie cocktails and Stiffy's Shots had been "the theme of the year" in 2004.

...

Shotz (Spencers Drinks Ltd) "The panel ... concluded that the flavour names Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm and Sex on the Beach contained either a direct or indirect association with sexual success."

Love Potion (Marks & Spencer)

"The panel considered that the heart-shaped bottle together with its pink contents strongly resembled a perfume bottle and was likely to cause confusion ... [and that] the product was clearly associated with romantic love."

Guardian

The full set of complaints makes for interesting reading. Oh, and in case you were wondering, here are some recipes for the cited drinks: Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm, and Sex on the Beach.

The Kind of Hummer Nobody Needs

Freeway sign: 'Real soldiers are dying in their hummers.  So you can play soldier in yours.  Ten mpg, two soldiers a day.'

"Real soldiers are dying in their hummers.
So you can play soldier in yours.
10mpg, 2 soldiers a day."

My piece about Hummers a few days ago reminded me about the rich idiots who buy the civilian versions. That reminded me of an anti-hummer banner above.

A few years ago in California, people realized that CalTrans was particularly lax about removing political banners affixed to freeway overpasses. So those with a message to get out started making banners and plastering them all over the freeways knowing that the captive market crawling through rush-hour at 3mph would having nothing better to do than stare at the messages. (Well, aside from those reading the paper, typing on laptops, or watching videos. Yes, I've seen drivers do all of those things and worse. Don't get me started on idiots who pair fellatio and driving at 75mph.)

And, of course, don't forget to read some pithy commentary about civilian hummers and the losers who drive those 10mpg gas-guzzling monstrosities.

Last Exit for Number of the Beast

Route 666 Sign

Sign for US Route 666

Speaking of highway naming conventions, I was reminded how the Book of Revelations led to the removal of this highway number for U.S. 666 in summer of 2003; it is now known by the catchy name of U.S. 491. (Bar codes will clearly be next. I think I'll write that up next.) The Federal Highway Commission — your tax dollars at work — has a page devoted to U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?. (I couldn't make this nonsense up if I tried.)

Running through the southeastern corner of Utah, US 666 is nothing more than a spur off US 66 running from Arizona to Monticello, Utah; like all spurs, it takes a number based on main highway. The big problem with the number was twofold: religious fanatics and theft. The fanatics, both Christian and Native American, mostly just wrote letters and telephoned; the thieves removed the signs from the highway where they had to be replaced. (It is possible the thefts were by those who thought the signs were evil, and not just cool; we'll likely never know.) Arizona's Department of Transportation routinely replaced missing signs, but the problem was getting out of hand. Since US 66 had been removed from the system in the late eighties, Arizona chose US 191 as the new name for the state's portion of the spur between I-10 and I-40.

Map of Route 666 in New Mexico

Map of US 666 in New Mexico

Three other states — New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah — left the US 666 number alone until Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, made it an issue on religious grounds. (He claimed that the highway signs were somehow preventing development in the area.) He had enough clout to get Colorado and Utah to join together with New Mexico in a joint resolution:

WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and

WHEREAS, the number "666" carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and

HEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; and

WHEREAS, the economy in the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult.

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

This convinced the right people in the federal government to change the name, and the final chapter on US 666 was written:

They chose 393, which was not in use in any of the three States. The problem was that the number implied that the highway was a branch of U.S. 93 (Port of Roosville, Montana, to Wickenburg, Arizona) even though neither U.S. 666 nor U.S. 191 intersected U.S. 93. Moreover, U.S. 93 did not have any branches; if AASHTO were to number branches of U.S. 93 in sequence, the first would be U.S. 193, not 393.

At the suggestion of AASHTO, the States agreed to renumber the route as a spur of U.S. 191, with "491" chosen to avoid duplicating State route numbers. After AASHTO's Standing Committee on Highways approved the change, it became official on Saturday, May 31.

As S. U. Mahesh of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department told the Albuquerque Journal, which number ended up on the highway was not important. "As long as it's not 666 and it's nothing satanic, that's OK."

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

Their Way For the Highway

Did you ever wonder how highway designers number interstate highways? (Ok, so maybe I need to get out a little more.) The Department of Transportation has a writeup explaining that the madness to their method:

The Interstate route marker is a red, white, and blue shield, carrying the word "Interstate", the State name, and the route number. Officials of AASHTO developed the procedure for numbering the routes. Major Interstate routes are designated by one- or two-digit numbers. Routes with odd numbers run north and south, while even numbered run east and west. For north-south routes, the lowest numbers begin in the west, while the lowest numbered east-west routes are in the south. By this method, Interstate Route 5 (I-5) runs north-south along the west coast, while I-10 lies east-west along the southern border.

...

To prevent duplication within a State, a progression of prefixes is used for the three-digit numbers. For example, if I-80 runs through three cities in a State, circumferential routes around these cities would be numbered as I-280, I-480, and I-680. The same system would be used for spur routes into the three cities, with routes being numbered I-180, I-380, and I-580, respectively. This system is not carried across State lines. As a result, several cities in different States along I-80 may each have circumferential beltways numbered as I-280 or spur routes numbered as I-180.

United States Department of Transportation

Read The Story

The Functioning Core versus the Non-Integrating Gap

Thomas Barnett's analysis of the modern world, the future of globalism, the industrialized nations versus the non-industrialized disconnected ones, etc. is guaranteed to make you think about the world in a totally different way. He is a war strategist — formerly a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island until his successful book forced him to change careers — who distills down the future of commerce and war into very comprehensible terms.

Thomas Barnett

Thomas Barnett

His book, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, offers a new perspective on why the political and economic worlds looks the way they do.

Thomas Barnett

Cover for The Pentagon's New Map book

Even if you don't have time for his book — these days, I don't, either — spend a little time reading the excerpts here, or listen to the video or audio of his presentations. Here are some excerpts that will give you the salient arguments, at least enough to impress people at cocktail parties. ( I'd say "core arguments" to impress people with a knowledge "gap" except that would be a bad pun given the subject matter, and I'd never stoop to such depths.) :

Q:The Pentagon's New Map basically divides the world into two groups: a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap. What are the main hallmarks of these two groups?

A:The Functioning Core consists of basically those states or regions that have already integrated themselves deeply into the global economy or are currently working to do so. By my way of thinking, that includes North America, Europe (both old and new), Russia under Putin's "dictatorship of the law" (yes, with some recent slippage), India, China, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and the ABCs of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). My Core therefore includes not just the West, but a host of emerging markets that have joined globalization over the past twenty years. That collection accounts for roughly two-thirds of the global population.

Contrasting the Functioning Core of globalization are those regions I categorize as falling into its Non-Integrating Gap. These regions include the Caribbean rim of Central and South America, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization's "ozone hole" or "bald spot," where connectivity - no matter how you measure it (trade, people movement, communications) - is relatively thin and, in many cases, getting thinner over time. These countries either reject globalization because of its content flows, or new ideas (think of the ruling Muslim clerics in Iran) or are losing out to its advance because they simply cannot attract the foreign direct investment that ultimately leads to economic integration.

What's crucial about this global breakdown is this: virtually all of the U.S. military crisis response activity (or overseas military interventions) since the end of the Cold War have occurred inside the Gap. So either we shrink the Gap and eliminate those endemic conflicts and diminished expectations that give rise to transnational terrorism or America had better be prepared to retreat from the world dramatically and let globalization possibly suffer the same fate it did in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Frankly, those are the historical stakes we face today. Either we make globalization truly global or we condemn one-third of humanity to long-term violence and suffering that will inevitably intrude upon our "good life" on a regular basis. This isn't about charity or any religious-inspired crusade. It all comes down logically to acting in our own best interest while making the world a better place over the long run.

Interview With Thomas Barnett

Now consider this in the context of China and the terrorist attacks upon the West by Islamic fundamentalists:

Understanding that the line between the Core and Gap is constantly shifting, let me suggest that the direction of change is more critical than the degree. So, yes, Beijing is still ruled by a — Communist party — whose ideological formula is 30 percent Marxist-Leninist and 70 percent Sopranos, but China just signed on to the World Trade Organization, and over the long run, that is far more important in securing the country's permanent Core status. Why? Because it forces China to harmonize its internal rule set with that of globalization — banking, tariffs, copyright protection, environmental standards.

...

Think about it: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are pure products of the Gap — in effect, its most violent feedback to the Core. They tell us how we are doing in exporting security to these lawless areas (not very well) and which states they would like to take "off line" from globalization and return to some seventh-century definition of the good life (any Gap state with a sizable Muslim population, especially Saudi Arabia).

If you take this message from Osama and combine it with our military-intervention record of the last decade, a simple security rule set emerges: A country's potential to warrant a U.S. military response is inversely related to its globalization connectivity. There is a good reason why Al Qaeda was based first in Sudan and then later in Afghanistan: These are two of the most disconnected countries in the world. Look at the other places U.S. Special Operations Forces have recently zeroed in on: northwestern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. We are talking about the ends of the earth as far as globalization is concerned.

Article in Esquire

A short Q&A with Barnett is available on World Changing.

C-SPAN has a fascinating video of a 90 minute talk by Barnett. The video is available directly if you have a streamripper that can download it to your hard drive. (C-SPAN doesn't archive forever.) I listened to part of this and was very intrigued. (But my streamripper, alas, crashes before it gets more than 15% of the way done. Sigh.)

IT Conversations has an MP3 of an interview with Barnett which is perfect for your portable player. I haven't had the time to listen to this yet.

That ought to hold you for a while.

Kool in da House. Err, Koolhaas, that is.

Koolhaas Design, Distance View

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Distance View)

This continues our "Modern Architecture We Like" entry of a few days ago. I noticed in today's New York Times that a final design has been chosen for the Les Halles project. The final design is, like anything picked by a committee, truly horrid, but one of the four finalists was very interesting. But first, some history of Les Halle and then the interesting modern architecture design.

In 1135. King Louis VI, also known as "Louis the Fat" (who knew they had made guys back then?) moved the markets of Paris on the Place de Greve, near city hall, to Les Halles. The area was known as the "belly of Paris" because it sold foodstuffs — meat and vegetables, both wholesale and retail — and also had numerous restaurants serving the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But it also had a variety of non-food merchants, including those selling textiles and shoes. In the 1850s huge iron halls were constructed, and Les Halles became famous for these.

The markets remained in the same location for over eight hundred and fifty years until 1969, when the French government decided it was time for some urban renewal, and just up and razed most of it. (Some Parisians regard this as a sacrilege as being as bad as the destruction of Penn Station. Uh, yeah, sure.) The markets were relocated to Rungis, in the outskirts south of Paris, to eliminate complaints about traffic in the city proper caused by delivery trucks.

The goal of the then mayor of Paris, one Jacque Chirac (yes, that Chirac) was to create Europe's largest shopping mall and an underground rail hub. He envisioned a bustling tourist attraction as his legacy, but it didn't work out as planned. Not even close. His new approach created an above-ground area for the shopping mall and a below-ground area for the bazaars of old. Today, the underground area is overrun with vagrants, drug dealers, muggers, and violent criminals. (Let's just say that most Parisians aren't thrilled about it.) Even the above-ground portion is not a place Parisians happily venture after dark. Most of the 800,000 commuters who pass through the rail hub don't linger.

Le Centre Pompidou

Le Centre Pompidou at Les Halles

The famed Centre Pompidou was built on part of the land, and finished in 1978. It has been described as an "oil refinery" since it is in inverted building; the insides, including support girders, are all on the outside and are color coded: electricity conduits are yellow, water pipes are green, air-conditioning ducts are blue, escalators are red, ventilation shafts are white. See for yourself, in the original French or in badly translated English. (Four years of studying French and I've forgotten so much that I need to use the translation to jog my memory of the idioms. And to think that I once could read Le Monde and technical documents en Francais. Sigh.)

Current View of Les Halles

Current View of Les Halles

Now the French government wants to revitalize the area — leaving 17 acres of prime real estate fallow is a waste of taxable land — by building a new Les Halles And so, in the grand tradition, they solicited designs likely knowing full well whom would win.

Koolhaas Design, Above Ground

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Above Ground)

One of four finalist designers was Rem Koolhaas, who created, among other projects, a very interesting store for Prada in Manhattan and an attractive, but utterly nonfunctional, library for Portland. (When I was doing system architecture in another life, I always told people that the architect's job was to find the most harmonious mean between the materials available and the required functions to be performed such that the solution had as much elegance, beauty, and quality as possible. Too bad more architects don't put the client before showboating or winning awards for "innovation"; if they did, we'd have more usable, attractive buildings.)

Koolhaas Design, Cutaway View

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Cutaway View)

Anyway, Koolhaas envisoned a totally new look based on brightly colored glass towers 120 feet high, bringing light into a new, underground mall. Supporters call the towers "perfume bottles"; detractors deride them as "popsicles". Personally, I like them, and find the design airy, inviting, interesting, innovative, and attractive. Needless to say, the French didn't ask me, and Koolhaas didn't win. Some awful design did. I don't like this design. At all. More modern architecture crap. Bleh.

Koolhaas Design, Interior

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Interior)

The problem is that Koolhaas's Website at Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) uses Flash so it is impossible to link into. (And impossible to use effectively, but that's a topic for a rant on why I hate Flash.) If you want to hunt for images and a description there, feel free.

Gooooood Morrrrrrrning, Vietnam!

Damaged Humvee in Iraq

Damaged Humvee in Iraq

Ok, so it's not Southeast Asia; at least there the United States could declare victory, withdraw, and move on since the region was not of any military or economic importance. Iraq is, as anyone with two neurons to rub together knows, a far, far more critical mess. Especially if you're a soldier getting blown up in your Humvee:

The Pentagon says that more than 10,000 US military personnel have been wounded in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003. Newly published figures show that more than 5,000 of the wounded have been unable to return to duty. Many have been left with serious injuries such as lost limbs and sight, mostly as a result of the blast effects of roadside bombs. More than 1,300 US troops have been killed.

BBC

What is apalling is how most of those horrific injuries were totally unnecessary. (I'll ignore the issues about whether the war should have been fought at all or should have been implemented by a UN-backed coalition.) The fact remains that America has again sent an insufficient number of troops into battle without adequate supplies, equipment, or protection against what the military euphemistically calls "Improvised Explosive Devices" or IEDs. We should call them booby-traps and homemade bombs, because that's really what they are.

Rumsfeld lied when told the troops "It's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it." But that's just the lie that Bush and the Republicans wants propagated. The fact remains that the issue here is a callous lack of caring about the troops and their families that moves into the realm of the criminal.

Did you know that an armored Humvee costs $180,000 but the naked one — you know the one with canvas doors, vulnerable to any kid with a BB gun — costs half that at $90,000 per? Yup, that's right: the issue is saving money. Oh, wait, you say. Rumsfeld told us that it was "physics" and "production" and "capability". That's not just dissembling and spin, that's outright lying. Back in March of last year, the Wall Street Journal covered the problems that unarmored Humvees posed for soldiers:

A decade ago, the Army began producing an armored Humvee capable of providing protection from many roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

Like most soldiers in Iraq, Capt. Cameron Birge hasn't set foot in one of those vehicles. Instead, he leads convoys through one of the country's most violent regions in a Humvee — the modern successor to the Jeep — with a sheet-metal skin that can't even stop bullets from a small-caliber handgun. To shield himself, Capt. Birge removed his Humvee's canvas doors and welded on slabs of scrap metal. He spread Kevlar blankets over the seats and stacked sandbags on the floor.

...

"I don't know what the Army has planned for me next," he wrote in an e-mail from Iraq in early March. "But it's definitely time to stop ordering the Humvees with the canvas doors."

Greg Jaffe, Cold-War Thinking Prevented Vital Vehicle From Reaching Iraq
The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2004

After Rumsfeld's lies became public, reporters spoke with the Humvee armor manufacturers. The result? About what you'd expect: the armorers have the ability and capacity to turn out far more vehicles than are currently being produced, but Bush and the Pentagon simply aren't interested in allocating the funds to buy them:

The manufacturer of Humvees for the U.S. military and the company that adds armor to the utility vehicles are not running near production capacity and are making all that the Pentagon has requested, spokesmen for both companies said.

"If they call and say, 'You know, we really want more,' we'll get it done," said Lee Woodward, a spokesman for AM General, the Indiana company that makes Humvees and the civilian Hummer versions.

At O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the Ohio firm that turns specially designed Humvees into fully armored vehicles at a cost of about $70,000 each, spokesman Michael Fox said they, too, can provide more if the government wants them. Seattle Seattle Post-Intelligencer

But even if the official manufacturers couldn't meet the demand, others could easily do so. (Isn't this what outsourcing is all about? Oh, wait a minute. Halliburton doesn't have a unit that armors Humvees. Too bad; fewer soldiers would be mutilated or killed if it did.) Texas Armoring Corporation is just one of many after-market firms creating armored vehicles for the mideast market. Their homepage has a photo of an armored humvee. How good is it? According to Trent Kimball, the owner of TAC, its "armoring materials will defeat any bullet short of a 50mm round and would protect passengers from most improvised explosive devices".

"We have armored the Hummer H-1, the military style Humvee," Ron Kimball said. "And we could make a Humvee armoring kit per day starting today and make 30 with the material we have on hand." But after repeatedly submitting price quotes, the Kimballs said no one from the Defense Department has even bothered to call.

Sanantonio.com
Login: stuffforflorence@yahoo.com
Password: bugmenot
Courtesy of www.BugMeNot.com

That's bad enough, but then then I read things like this, about how desperate soldiers are creating "hillbilly armor" because the military won't provide the explosive-resistant vehicles they need:

In the process Rocco's unit gets hit regularly with small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and even suicide car bombs. He displays reddish pockmarks and scar tissue up his right arm, the effects of an IED from last May. "I really can't close my right hand," he says. And Rocco's Humvee is, today, equipped with "Gypsy racks" — steel-plated cages around the gunner — and other add-on, improvised hardware, known as "hillbilly armor." "It's Mel Gibson 'Road Warrior' stuff," says Capt. John Pinter, the battalion's maintenance officer. "We're not shooting for pretty over here."

MSNBC

This really makes me angry. Then I read about the crippled and mutilated soldiers coming home without rehab, without counseling, without every reasonable effort being made to acknowledge their sacrifice and try to do something, anything, to mitigate the damage, and it positively makes my blood boil. The military is not a toy, and the ten thousand casualties are human beings being needlessly killed and mutilated to save a trifling sum of money in a badly-bungled war.

All those idiotic red-state Americans who plaster their SUVs with moronic "support our troops" ribbons need to ask, as did National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson and as do millions of troop-supporting blue-state Americans, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?". Why indeed. Why indeed.

Help! I’ve Glued My Fingers Together! Intentionally!

Packages of Commercial Cyanacrylate Glue

Common Cyanoacrylate Glues

I've been using cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) — commonly referred to as Krazy Glue, even though this is a trademark of Borden — for years to glue small cuts together, particularly paper cuts and the, fortunately rare, minor kitchen accidents. (I've read that mountain climbers use superglue to repair the rips and tears in their hands, and that windsurfers and sailors use it to repair ripped-off callouses and blisters; didn't they ever hear of gloves?)

Using it for unintended purposes like injury repair is easy: just hold the edges of the wound together, apply a dab with a toothpick and forget about it. (Disclaimer: do this at your own risk. If you manage to glue your hand to your genitalia, that's you with the problem, not me. If you slather it all over your fingers and stuff it in your nose, well, all I can say is: that'll teach you. So if you ruin your life, that's too bad. I ain't payin' you, or your lawyer, for it. As with anything in life, don't be stupid and talk to a doctor or someone with a brain before doing anything risky. Back to our story.) The result heals faster than doing nothing, and with fewer complications. Anyway, I was having a discussion about this with a friend who said that Krazy Glue wasn't the same as surgical glues like Dermabond. And so I set out to see if it was the same, as I steadfastly maintain.

The history of cyanoacrylate glues is interesting, even if you aren't a chemist or a jilted lover. (Gluing together body parts of the unfaithful is an urban legend.) During World War II, Harry Coover was trying to make a clear plastic for gunsights, since it had cost and weight advantages over glass. (Coover is an interesting fellow; he ended up with 460 patents.) His experiments turned up less than ideal results: "I was working with some acrylate monomers that showed promise. But everything they touched stuck to everything else. It was a severe pain."

Coover, Discoverer of Cyanacrylate Glue

Harry Coover
Discoverer of Cyanacrylate Glue

Coover didn't return to cyanoacrylates until nine years later, while attempting to create a heat-resistant polymer for the canopies on high-speed jets. One of the students working on the project accidentally glued together some very expensive — at the time $700, which was probably a month's pay for an Ph.D. engineer — optical prisms. Waving off the student's apologies, Coover excitedly started gluing together everything in sight, because he realized that, unlike other adhesives, this one rapidly bonded without pressure, heat, curing activators, or special preparation. Both properties turned out to be particularly useful in medicine, especially on the battlefield. (Ever watch a surgeon try to sew a piece of liver or lung tissue back together?).

Coover was also the first to recognize and patent cyanoacrylates as human tissue adhesives. These cyanolate adhesives are used in many sutureless surgeries such as the rejoining of veins, arteries, and intestines, ophthalmic surgeries, dental surgeries, uncontrollable bleeding and the repair of soft organs such as the liver and spleen. Coover's adhesive was first used in the Vietnam War to temporarily patch the internal organs of badly injured soldiers until conventional surgery could be performed. Since the 1970's, tissue adhesives have been used for a variety of surgical applications including middle ear surgery, bone and cartilage grafts, repair of cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and skin closure.

Hobard and William Smith colleges

Cyanoacrylate adhesives are formed from monomers (short building blocks) which are kept in a slightly acidic solution which prevents them from polymerizing, or linking together, into long, linear chains. All they need to cure is a weak base, like the microscopic amounts of moisture present on virtually every surface. Some items to be bonded, like wood, are naturally acidic which slows down curing, so special activators are used to start the process.

The cyanide (CN) groups on the molecule are highly polar, which means they enthusiastically grab onto things like skin. Polyethylene, which is what they make the bottles from, doesn't have any polar groups, for obvious reasons. (If you have a glue that sticks to everything, what do you keep it in?) Interestingly enough, the cyanoacrylate adhesives are made by making the cured (polymer) version and then cracking into pieces (monomer), while keeping it in an acidic solution so it can't recure (repolymerize). This is why acetone removes the cured adhesive — it breaks the bonds in the polymer. But, enough chemistry. (You still with us?) Back to the question: can cyanoacrylate glues be used instead of surgical glue? Ok, ok, we'll get to that right now!

The big difference between glue for objects (Krazy Glue) and glue for people (Dermabond) are:

  • Dermabond is monomeric 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, a weaker bonding agent than superglue which is typically ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate.
  • Dermabond comes in a sterile, single-use container.
  • Dermabond is colored with D&C Violet No. 2 to make it easier to see after it has been applied. (Normal superglue is clear.).
  • Superglue costs about $2 per tube; Dermabond is over $20. (Plus the hospital markup which can push it close to $70 per tube.)

Aside from the color, price, and single-use issues — bacteria don't live in cyanoacrylate — what does the formulation difference really mean? For starters, superglue is stiffer and liberates more heat when applied. This isn't an issue for "paper cuts", of course; I've never felt any heat at all. The formulation is basically safe but the surgical variant does have slightly different properties. So, the answer? Well, let's look at the history and the FDA's perspective. (I said I'd answer the question, ok?)

Although cyanoacrylate glues were useful on the battlefield, the FDA was reluctant to approve them for civilian use. In part, this was due to a tendency of the early compounds (made from "methyl-2-cyanoacrylate") to irritate the skin as the glue reacted with water and cured in the skin, releasing cyanoacetate and formaldehyde. A compound called "butyl-2-cyanoacrylate" was developed to reduce toxicity, but suffered from brittleness and cracking a few days after application. Finally an improved cyanoacrylate glue was developed for medical applications called "2-octyl-cyanoacrylate." This compound causes less skin irritation and has improved flexibility and strength — at least three times the strength of the butyl-based compound.

The Straight Dope

So, there you have it. The compounds are different, yet similar. The word on the street is that for small cuts the two are equivalent, but if you are repairing a lacerated liver or closing a large incision, the medical version is likely superior. (That's the one-line conclusion that you cared about, right?) The Straight Dope has a nice writeup of cyanoacrylates as surgical glues.

Mega Tsunami: Coming Soon to a City Near You!

Speaking of tsunamis, the really worrisome issue is these things happen with alarming regularity, and that the one hitting Asia may be more of a runt of the litter than the supersized version. Back in September of 2001 — it was a busy month for everyone involved in apocalyptic events — warnings were issued about the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma.

When it lets loose it will cause a mega tsunami so huge it almost defies description — a wall of water hundreds of feet high, reducing to waves a mere sixty to a hundred-fifty feet high after crossing the Altantic; more than sufficient to obliterate North and South America's entire eastern seaboard up to ten miles inland, potentially killing hundreds of millions of people. Yikes! Run for the hills!

Photograph of volanic island La Palma in the Canary Islands

La Palma in the Canary Islands

Experts describe the resulting tsunami as being impressively large:

The tsunami have been modelled by Steve Ward of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Simon Day of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre (currently at Santa Cruz). In the worst case scenario (for a 500 cubic km collapse), this envisages an initial bulge of water 900 m high. This subsides to form waves in excess of 100 m in height that strike neighbouring islands. After an hour waves 50 - 100 m high hit the NW African coast, while Spain and the UK experience waves 7 - 10 m high two to five hours after collapse. After nine hours, the Florida coastline can expect to face around a dozen waves between 20 and 25 m high.

Cumbre Vieja Q&A (PDF)

Three hundred feet is about twenty stories, give or take. But it takes a little creative writing to put that into perspective:

Fortunately the nearest coast to the Canary Islands, where the waves will be around 300 feet (100 metres) high when they hit, is lightly populated Western Sahara. Few people living in the coastal plains of Morocco, south-western Spain and Portugal will survive either, but the waves will drop in height as they travel. The coasts of southern Ireland and south-western England will also take a beating, but by then the wave height will be down to about 30 feet (10 metres).

The real carnage will be on the western side of the Atlantic, from Newfoundland all the way down the east coast of Canada and the United States to Cuba, Hispaniola, the Lesser Antilles and north-eastern Brazil. With a clear run across the Atlantic, the wall of water will still be between 60 and 150 feet (20 and 50 metres) high when it hits the eastern seaboard of North America, and it will keep coming for ten to fifteen minutes.

Worst hit will be harbours and estuaries that funnel the waves inland: goodbye Halifax, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Miami and Havana go under almost entirely, as do low-lying islands like the Bahamas and Barbados. Likely death toll, if there is no mass evacuation beforehand? A hundred million people, give or take fifty million.

Gwenne Dyer

Path of Tsunami After Six Hours

Tsunami Hits North/South America After Six Hours

The US government's advice on How to Survive a Tsunami doesn't seem particularly useful in such circumstances. This dire event is, fortunately, not likely to happen next week. (Guess I'll have to put a check in the mail for the car insurance and the phone bill, after all.)

It is unlikely, however, that the collapse is imminent. ... Furthermore, although we cannot say whether the volcano will fail in its next near-summit eruption (like that in 1949; a small eruption in 1971 at the very southern end of the island seems to have had relatively little effect, probably because the magma did not rise so high in the volcano) or only after several more eruptions have progressively weakened it, since eruptions of the Cumbre Vieja occur at intervals of a few decades to as much as a few centuries the year-to-year probability of failure is relatively low. The "half-life-to-failure" of the volcano, if things continue as they are, might be as much as 5000 years - but could be much less.

Benfield Hazard Research Centre Report

In the meantime, buying tsunami insurance might not be the best way to spend your money. Neither is waiting for the tsunami to make Manhattan rents — or Brooklyn for that matter — affordable again.

Building Buildings Like Blowing Bubbles

Outside View of Watercube

Outside View of Watercube

I was talking with a friend about how most modern architecture is basically self-indulgent crap designed to win awards but not be attractive or functional. (Bold statement, but never lead with a dead-fish punch.) You don't, after all, need to read a book by Tom Wolfe to know this is true, either. (Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of everything is crap, but Gehry, Johnson and the other frauds run at the 100% level. Unworkable, unliveable, unbuildable, and unattractive. Who needs that in a building?)

Anyway, I was asked to come up with some examples that weren't awful. One that came to mind was PTW's design for the 2008 Olympic swimming pool, called the "Watercube". True, this is only an artist's conception so it might be hopelessly flawed in practice, but it looks really interesting at the design stage.

Theoretical physicists know they are being taken seriously when someone builds an experiment to check their predictions. These experiments can be small, so-called table-top affairs, or they can be enormous enterprises involving miles of underground tunnels. However, construction engineers in Beijing are currently building a very different monument to theoretical physics - the National Swimming Centre for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The architects who designed the futuristic aquatic venue drew their inspiration from theoretical research into the structure of foams carried out by two physicists at Trinity College in Dublin.

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Outside View of Watercube

Inside View of Watercube

PTW's inspiration came from a refinement of Lord Kelvin's analysis of the best way to partition a space using equal-sized subdivisions. His solution was basically soap-bubbles since they have minimal surface area, and remained the optimal solution one until two mathematicans recently found a slightly better one.

This article provides a decent backgrounder for the layman on foams and honeycombs, for those of you who wonder about the peculiar lattice structures formed in your lattes or when you make salad dressing from oil and vinegar. (I can picture a movie where an older man calls a recent graduate aside and says, "Foams. That's the future: foams.")

So what attracted a group of architects hoping to design an Olympic sports venue to something that people might think is arcane physics research? "It is an ever-increasing issue for all architects to find inspiration and the basis for design solutions," says Kurt Wagner of PTW, "and often our imagination is just not enough."

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa has always been among my favorite works by Hokusai. I first encountered it decades ago in a hybrid of analog and digital, moving from the original to a wireframe, which led me to the original piece. When I first learned of the recent Asian tsunami I was again reminded how earthquake-induced waves of water have been a problem throughout recorded history.

Many people don't realize that Hokusai was inspired by a huge tsunami — about fifteen feet (five meters) high — that ocurred on 26 January 1700 after a magnitude-nine earthquake in the Pacific Northwest (cascadia subduction zone). Hokusai wouldn't be born for another sixty years, but the event made quite an impression, no pun intended, on Japan.

The painter and woodcut maker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was born in Edo (Tokyo), Japan. He is famed for the literally tens of thousands, possibly as many as thirty thousand, wood-block prints, silkscreens, and paintings he made. His inspiration was typically drawn from the lives of ordinary people, from traditional mythology, and from the world he saw around him.

Hokusai is most famous for his series of prints, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (circa 1826-33) created when he was between sixty-six and seventy-seven years old.

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worth of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every line will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

A "Milli Vanilli" President

During the debates, and shortly thereafter, numerous sites reported on the peculiar bulge seen in the center of Bush's back. Now, if you'll recall, the Bush camp created rules of engagement specifically prohibiting cameras from showing either candidate from the back. This reasoning behind this peculiar restriction now becomes clear.

The general view, at least among non-Republicans who saw the video, was that the bulge was a radio receiver, allowing Bush's advisors to supplement his demonstrably meager intellect. See, for example, www.IsBushWired.com, Salon (Bush's Mystery Bulge, The Bulge Returns, Getting to the Bottom of the Bulge, NASA Photo Aanalyst: Bush Wore a Device During Debate), Mother Jones (Was Bush Wired? Sure Looks Like It), and even the New York Daily News (Bush's Back is Front & Center).

The "official" explanations were that the bulge was simply bad tailoring or a bullet-proof vest. Both "explanations" were later disavowed; after all, it clearly wasn't a selectively-bulky vest and his bespoke tailors are not so incompetent. (George de Paris knows, after all, how to make an excellent suit or clients wouldn't pay five grand — and up — for one.) (Besides, Bush doesn't wear a vest to debates or inside the Whitehouse, and every one of his suits can't have singularly bad tailoring.) In any event, the bulge also shows up in numerous official photos on the Whitehouse.gov Website.

In the Whitehouse

Tooling Around Crawford

While the major media has killed the story, the generally accepted view — prior to now, that is — that Bush uses a miniature radio receiver in his ear to receive instructions from trusted aides. This perfectly explains the "let me finish" comment Bush made during the debates when nobody the audience could hear was interrupting him, and his occasional ability to recite facts and figures in a manner totally his usual rambling, incoherent, off-the-cuff self. The obvious proof was the bulge in his back.

The initial discussion focused on proving that the bulge wasn't a clothing or lighting artifact. That's easily done; digitally-enhanced images created by a former NASA expert show that Bush is clearly wearing something under his suit, and it probably isn't from Victoria's Secret.

Image-Enhanced Debate Photograph

Wireless earphones are widely available for public speakers, news anchors, etc. One common receiver is the "Receive-A-Cue". (In Bush's case it should be "Receive-a-Clue".)

Receive-A-Cue Receiver

Throughout this whole story two things has never made any sense to me: why is the receiver so large and why is it affixed to the center of his upper back. Why not stash it at the waist, the same way the Secret Service do? Now the truth is coming out: Bush has a life-threatening heart arythmia which might very well have derailed his stealing the election. The bulge is now believed to be a defibrillator. This may be the truth behind the alleged "choking on a pretzel" incident; it wasn't a pretzel, it was his bum ticker.

The outline of the bulge perfectly matches the outline of the LIFECOR Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator; compare the two and see if you aren't convinced. Then factor in that Bush didn't have a medical exam until after the election and tell me I'm hallucinating or in need of an aluminum-foil helmet.

Now, the original story about the bulge being a radio receiver makes me wonder if someone might have been nosing around too close to the truth and so, in a style of disinformatzia familiar to the follower of Soviet history, Karl Rove leaked the radio-receiver story to cover up the bigger story.

Naaah. That's too paranoid, even for me. (And smart as Rove is, he isn't that smart.) But this still is one serious rabbit hole to go down...

Read The Story

First Thing, We Kill All The Tourists

The Union Square Greenmarket is normally a bustling place on Saturdays, typically so crowded one must weave through the crowd, dodging the errant elbow or umbrella. (And they aren't all tourists, either!) Unless that Saturday is New Year's Day, that is.

I shot these at about noon; this area would normally be so filled with vendors on either side and customers that a photo would show only a sea of bodies. Not today, however; there is only one lone vendor holding down the fort. (The yellow truck and the red-awning in the upper right of the view looking north.) He said, in what must be the understatement of the day, that business was much slower than usual, but that he hoped it would pick up.

Union Square Facing North

Union Square, Looking North

Union Square Facing East

Union Square, Looking East

Welcome to Citizen Arcane
(The Words of a Blind Man Describing the Sun)

Zen Enso

Enso
(All is flux; nothing abides.)

(This image graces the covers of the hand-made, limited-edition greeting cards I made for the Winter Solstice, and I thought that both it and the accompanying text were equally appropriate here as the inaugural posting. So I have included the card's contents as the first posting.)

I took this at the Vomitorium 2005, an outdoor theatre performance in New York City's East Village drawing parallels between the Roman Empire's insatiable consumption and George W. Bush's America. Complete with excessive food ingestion and induced vomiting, just like the Romans. (Hey, it's New York.)

Intermission featured dancers swinging pots of fire.

Given the low light levels and a recalcitrant flash, I shot using a combination of manual and automatic. When the flash failed to go off for this shot, the shutter speed dropped like a stone; as a result the film was exposed for well over a second.

Believing the shot ruined, I was pleasantly surprised, both by the result and by the steadiness of my hands.

Since the sixth century, Zen has been represented by a circle. The wheel variant of enso says that life revolves in circles yet everything is mutable. We find ourselves at the same spot this time every year, yet things are always changeable, if we choose to act.

A scholar named Wang
laughed at my poems.
The accents are wrong,
he said,
too many beats;
the meter is poor,
the wording impulsive.

I laugh at his poems,
as he laughs at mine.
They read like
the words of a blind man
describing the sun.

— Han Shan

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