Photograph of Charles Foster Kane pointing to poster of himself.
If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.
All the Web that's fit to blog.
Price: Free
24 March 2017
Morning Sedition

The Sultan’s Turret

NYC skyline looking east over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing west)

After the Christo & Jeanne-Claude signing at the Guggenheim, I walked east across Central Park to meet a friend for dinner on the UES near Columbia. (I never would have never dare do this ten years ago after dark; not everything Giuliani did was bad.) I was struck by the night sky and took these shots — without a tripod — by bracing my arms against a fence.

NYC skyline looking south over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing south)

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

— Omar Khayaam, Rubaiyyat

(Khayaam wrote about dawn, but it seemed to me that the night sky had also encircled the buildings in light.)

12 Feet Tall And 20 Tons

Nautilus Snow Sculpture 2005

Nautilus, Gold Medal Winner, 2005

Question: What's 12-feet tall and weighs 20-tons? Answer: The blocks of snow at the International Snow Sculpture Championships, held in Breckenridge, Colorado last month. Teams from around the world competed. Each team has sixty-five hours over five days to shape — using only hand tools like chisels and scrapers — these blocks into works of art. The nautilus piece took the gold medal.

Team Tennessee - USA won Gold at this year's International Snow Sculpture Championship with an intricate rendition of "The Nautilus". The nautilus, as Klamann explains, is a relative of the octopus and is the only cephalopod to have an external shell. The asymmetrical shell, a true "natural beauty", has fascinated naturalists, mathematicians and physicists for centuries with its perfectly proportioned spiraled shell. The team set out to emulate its beauty if only for a fleeting moment in snow - and they succeeded. *They were also awarded Artists Choice Award.

Go Breckenridge

Molds For Raw Snow Blocks

Making those huge blocks requires just about what you'd think, as this video shows. My favorite part acknowledges the ephemeral nature of art:

Sculptures will remain on display through Febuary 6, weather permitting.

Go Breckenridge

Raw Snow Blocks

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Day-By-Day Sculpting in 2001
  2. Breckenridge Contest — 2001 Entries
  3. Breckridge Contest — 2003
  4. Breckridge Contest — 2005
  5. Breckridge Contest — 2003
  6. Breckridge Contest — 2002
  7. Breckridge Contest — 2001
  8. Breckridge Contest — 2000
  9. Breckridge Contest — 1998

The Face of Erectile Dysfunction?

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

I was watching some male bicyclists rubbing their nether regions after a ride and thought two things: (1) cycling is turning into baseball, and (2) someday a lot of lawyers are going to make a pile of money off this problem. No, not the public self-fondling issue, silly. The perineal numbness and erectile dysfunction issue inherent in the defective design of bicycle seats. (I can also see the Viagara/Cialis ads featuring Lance Armstrong: this is the face of erectile dysfunction.) Anyway, here's a concise statement of the problem:

Bicycling and the Male Anatomy

Before we discuss the findings of the MMAS, a brief anatomy review should help explain how bicycling can contribute to or cause sexual dysfunction. When humans sit, they bear their weight on the ischial tuberosities, or what we have come to refer to as the "sit bones." The ischial tuberosities have no organs attached to them and no nerves or arteries; they are surrounded by the fat and muscle of the buttocks. This area is very well vascularized and allows humans to sit comfortably and safely for hours.

Unfortunately, most bicyclists bear their body weight on a bicycle seat that is not wide enough to support the ischial tuberosities. As a result, they wind up straddling the bike and, in effect, sitting on the internal part of their genitals.

"Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus

Cast of Pelvis on Bicycle Seat

This makes sense when you consider how the pelvis fit with a bicycle seat. But not to worry — engineering comes to the rescue!

BACKGROUND: Perineal numbness and erectile dysfunction are emerging as health concerns among bicyclists. Three studies indicate that between 7% and 21% of male cyclists experience genital area numbness after prolonged riding.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effect of an experimental seat design on perineal numbness.

DESIGN: Fifteen experienced male cyclists exercised for 1 hour on a stationary spin cycle using either an experimental or standard bicycle seat. Several days later they repeated the trial using the other seat type. Before and after each 1-hour exercise session, perineal sensation was tested using the Weinstein Enhanced Sensory Testing (WEST)-hand esthesiometer. Cyclists were also asked to report their perception of numbness after each exercise bout.

RESULTS: Cyclists reported more numbness with the standard seat than with the experimental seat (79% vs 14%; P=0.009). Similarly, sensory testing at all perineal sites yielded greater hypoesthesia with the standard seat than with the experimental seat (P=0.05). This difference was most marked at the dorsal penis (P=0.04).

CONCLUSION: The experimental bicycle seat produced significantly less subjective and objective numbness than the standard cycle seat in 1 hour of stationary cycling. Bicycle seat design and innovation may decrease or eliminate perineal numbness.

"Using an Experimental Bicycle Seat to Reduce Perineal Numbness" by Kenneth S. Taylor, MD; Allen Richburg, MD; David Wallis, MD; Mark Bracker, MD, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, V30, No. 5, May 2002

Not surprisingly, it turns out that the effects of putting pressure on the region is a long-standing, no pun intended, problem:

As for the Scythians, however, who identified horseback riding as a possible cause of male impotence in the ninth century BCE, the relationship between bicycle riding and ED has become a matter of concern.

"Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus

So, for all the male cyclists who read this, get yourself a sensible seat before you're hanging out with the Bob Dole crowd.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Using an Experimental Bicycle Seat to Reduce Perineal Numbness" by Kenneth S. Taylor, MD; Allen Richburg, MD; David Wallis, MD; Mark Bracker, MD, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, V30, No. 5, May 2002
  2. "Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus
  3. Spongy Wonder (anti-compression seat)
  4. Hobson Seats (anti-compression seat)
  5. Specialized Saddles (anti-compression seat)
  6. Aero Saddle (anti-compression seat)
  7. Cheeko90 (anti-compression seat)

Nice Rack, I Mean, Uh, Nice Pigeons

Pigeon Vest

Template for Maidenform Pigeon Vest, Maidenform Co., 1944

The Maidenform brassiere is so familiar it needs no explanation. During World War II, however, the company manufactured a very different type of support garment: the "US Army Pigeon Vest" (PG-106/CB) . The name is a slight misnomer; it wasn't worn by the pigeon, but by a soldier who would release it to carry a message from the field back to headquarters. Hard to believe, but reliable, and portable, communications are a relatively recent invention. It really wasn't until the Korean war that portable radios became lightweight and trustworthy enough to become commonplace. Long before electronics, or reliable telegraph, carrier pigeons were used to carry messages during wartime.

Pigeon Vest

"US Army Pigeon Vest" (PG-106/CB)

Pigeon Vest

Pigeon in Harness

I wonder who thought that the company's traditional product line lent itself to paratrooper vests.

Pigeon Vest

Patent drawing of Maidenform brassiere, by William Rosenthal and Charles M. Sachs, Maidenform Co., 1938

During World War II, Maidenform embraced a less buxom market: carrier pigeons. These pattern pieces were used to cut cloth for a pigeon vest, which, when complete, was wrapped and laced around a bird’s body and feet, leaving its head and tail feathers exposed. Attached by a strap to paratroopers parachuting behind enemy lines, the vests protected the birds during their descent from plane to earth. After landing, the birds flew back to home base to deliver word of the paratroopers’ safe arrival.

Maidenform also made a more conventional contribution to the war effort by manufacturing silk parachutes.

The United States Army Signal Center has a list of standard-issue pigeon equipment during World War II:

Lofts: transportable, for housing large number of birds
PG-46: prefabricated sectional housing for fixed use.
PG-68/TB: a combat loft, collapsible and easily transported by a truck or trailer.
Pigeon equipment: including containers for carrying a few birds
PG-60, 10w/CB, 103/CB and 105/CB: portable, carrying two to four birds, for combat troops.
PG-100/CB and 101/CB: four-and eight-bird containers respectively, with parachutes for dropping to paratroops or isolated ground forces.
Message holders: to fasten to the legs of the birds
PG-14: aluminum holders.
PG-52, 53, 54 and 67: plastic substitutes for the PG-14.
Pigeon vest, PG-106/CB: retaining a single bird, to be worn by paratrooper.

Pigeon Communication, United States Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, GA

The "interBUG Homing Pigeon Information" Website has plenty of photographs of pigeon equipment from World War II.

"Bro's no good. Too ethnic."
"You got something better?"
"How about the Mansiere?"
"Mansiere."
"That's right. A brassiere for a man."

— Frank Costanza and Cosmo Kramer, "The Doorman", Seinfeld

"Pink is my favorite crayon"

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

Crayola Raw Materials Tests
Binney & Smith Inc., circa 1970s

Engineering documents can be amazing pieces of art. Just consider these test sheets for the lowly crayon. They may be made by a machine, but there are a lot of contemporary artists who could learn a lot about technique from them.

In 1885, Edwin Binney (1866-1934) and C. Harold Smith (1860-1931) formed Binney & Smith Inc. The duo began producing Crayola Crayons in 1903.

This data sheet was used in developing a new formula for the orange crayon. The objectives of the test were to improve the crayon quality - better color and marking properties - while reducing the cost of production. The list of criteria on the left side of the color sample shows the range of tests for each crayon formula.

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

Crayola "Crayon Testing Machine " test,
Binney & Smith Inc., circa 1970s

After World War II, Binney & Smith established a Research and Development Department to test and improve their crayons and other products. The Crayon Testing Machine (CTM) test measured a crayon’s ability to lay down color smoothly and evenly. Crayons were subjected to a number of different surfaces and coloring styles to assure their versatility and durability.

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

"Art is Something Subversive"

Pablo shook his head. "Kahnweiler's right," he said. "The point is, art is something subversive. It's something that should not be free. Art and liberty, like the fire of Prometheus, are things one must steal, to be used against the established order. Once art becomes official and open to everyone, then it becomes the new academicism." He tossed the cablegram down onto the table. "How can I support an idea like that? If art is ever given the keys to the city, it will be because it's been so watered down, rendered so impotent, that it's not worth fighting for."

I reminded him that Malherbe had said a poet is of no more use to the state than a man who spends his time playing ninepins. "Of course," Pablo said. "And why did Plato say poets should be chased out of the republic? Precisely because every poet and every artist is an antisocial being. He's not that way because he wants to be; he can't be any other way. Of course the state has the right to chase him away — from its point of view — and if he is really an artist it is in his nature not to want to be admitted, because if he is admitted it can only mean lie is doing something which is understood, approved, and therefore old hat-worthless. Anything new, anything worth doing, can't be recognized. People just don't have that much vision."

Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, 1964

Midnight on the Coast Highway by HST

"Dr. Gonzo" by Ralph Steadman

"Dr. Gonzo" by Ralph Steadman

Midnight on the Coast Highway
Hunter S. Thompson, San Francisco, 1965

"All my life my heart has sought a thing I cannot name."

Months later, when I rarely saw the Angels, I still had the legacy of the big machine - four hundred pounds of chrome and deep red noise to take out on the coast highway and cut loose at three in the morning, when all the cops were lurking over on 101. My first crash had wrecked the bike completely and it took several months to have it rebuilt. After that I decided to ride it differently: I would stop pushing my luck on curves, always wear a helmet, and try to keep within range of the nearest speed limit ... my insurance policy had been cancelled and my driver's license was hanging by a thread.

So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head, but in a matter of minutes I'd be out at the beach with the sound of the engine in my ears, the surf booming up on the sea wall and a fine empty road stretching all the way down to Santa Cruz ... not even a gas station in the whole seventy miles; the only public light along the way is an all night diner down around Rockaway Beach.

There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. The momentary freedom of the park was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon. I would come out of the park near the soccer field and pause for a moment at the stop sign, wondering if I knew anyone parked out there on the midnight humping strip.

Then into first gear, forgetting the cars and letting the beast wind out .. . thirty-five, forty-five ... then into second and wailing through the light at Lincoln Way, not worried about green or red signals but only some other werewolf loony who might be pulling out, too slowly, to start his own run. Not many of those - and with three lanes on a wide curve, a bike coming hard has plenty of room to get around almost anything - then into third, the boomer gear, pushing seventy-five and the beginning of a windscream in the ears, a pressure on the eyeballs like diving into water off a highboard.

Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind. Tail-lights far up ahead coming closer, faster, and suddenly - zaaapppp - going past and leaning down for a curve near the zoo, where the road swings out to sea.

The dunes are flatter here, and on windy days sand blows across the highway, piling up in thick drifts as deadly as any oil slick ... instant loss of control, a crashing, a cartwheeling slide and maybe one of those two inch notices in the paper the next day: "An unidentified motor-cyclist was killed last night when he failed to negotiate a turn on Highway 1."

Indeed ... but no sand this time, so the lever goes up into fourth, and now there is no sound except wind. Screw it all the way over, reach through the handlebars to raise the headlight beam, the needle leans down on a hundred, and wind burned eyeballs strain to see down the centerline, trying to provide a margin for the reflexes.

But with the throttle screwed on there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right ... and thats when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at one hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporise before they get to your ears. The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it ... howling though a turn to your right, then to the left and down the long hill to the Pacifica ... letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge... . The Edge... . There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others - the living - are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to chose between Now or Later.

But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

The Gates From Spaaaaaaace

The Gates seen from satellite

Portion of The Gates as seen from the Ikonos Satellite
(On the full-sized image, scroll the browser over about two-thirds and down about one-third to find central park.)

Space Imaging, a commercial venture selling satellite photographs of the earth, has a photograph of The Gates as seen from space. (The Ikonos goes down to 1 meter — which scares the shit out of DOD to the point that there are restrictions on what Ikonos can photograph — but this looks like it was shot at something higher, maybe two.)

You can also access the image from their main page through a Flash interface, with pan and zoom, but this is very cumbersome and it doesn't give any more detail than the direct link with a decent photo viewer. The photo above is excerpted from the huge image of the entire park. This is the aerial companion shot to the one I took across the lawn.

One Pill Makes You Larger…

Montage of ecstasy pills

Are you a veteran with PTSD? Have a pill you can't identify? Think it might be MDMA? Wait! Before you go popping them into your mouth like Hunter S. Thompson and going on a five-hundred mile road trip through Barstow, you might want to see what they actually are, instead of being a human guinea pig. (I know I have this problem all the time.) That's why Dance Safe does the hard work of tracking the myriad of different Ecstasy pills.

Now, I had no idea they came in so many shapes and colors, with so many different markers, colors, and shapes. (I clearly need to get out more and spend more time with teenagers waving lightsticks.)

Caution: Just because you have a pill that looks like one of the ones shown here does not mean it contains the same ingredients. There are often many versions of the same logo going around. Measuring the height and width of your pill with a pair of calipers like the ones shown here (available at any hardware store) can help you determine whether your pill is from the same batch as one we have tested. It is also helpful to test your pills with an Ecstasy testing kit and compare the color-change with the descriptions in the last column of the chart.

Laboratory Testing by Dance Safe

I think my favorite brand in the photograph has to be the "Think Different". (Third row, fourth pill from left.)

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are those goddamn animals?"

— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Yeah, I'm still bummed about HST.

The Agony and the… Ecstasy?

Ecstacy Pills

There's an old saying about letting not the left hand knoweth what the right doeth. That seems to be an adage well understood by the United States Government. The Guardian reports that ecstasy (MDMA) — that's right, the drug that the goverment tells us causes irreparable damage with a single dose — is now being investigated as a treatment for US soldiers with PTSD from Iraq and Afghanistan:

American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: "It's looking very promising. It's too early to draw any conclusions but in these treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging.

"Ecstasy Trials for Combat Stress" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

Now, this can't be explained just as yet another aspect of the crappy health care that der Fuherer gives to the soldiers mutilated in his illegal wars. MDMA might work, and it is just one of a number of severely controlled or illicit substances being investigated for legitimate medical uses by reputable doctors:

The South Carolina study marks a resurgence of interest in the use of controlled psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs. Several studies in the US are planned or are under way to investigate whether MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can treat conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

"Ecstasy Trials for Combat Stress" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

Why use MDMA? Simple:

"It's really tough doing psychotherapy with people who have anxiety disorders because when you get to the heart of the matter it causes a panic attack. For somebody who has a particularly gruesome time trying to talk about important end-of-life issues it bubbles into anxiety and nothing gets achieved," Halpern says.

"MDMA may be potentially useful in that it doesn't induce that reaction. We want to see if that can translate into decreased anxiety and meaningful increases in the quality of life for these people."

The alternative, he says, is heavy doses of sedatives such as Valium. "At the moment these people have a choice of being over-sedated and not having anxiety or being alert and suffering panic attacks."

Patients volunteering for the trial will receive up to 125mg of MDMA over two experimental sessions several hours apart - about the same or a little more than in a typical ecstasy tablet. They will also receive more conventional help during several non-drug sessions. Psychologists will assess their mental state before and after the trial to judge whether the drug has helped.

Rick Doblin, the founder and head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds the Harvard research, says the study could bring one step closer his goal of making MDMA a prescription medicine.

"Treating Agony With Ecstasy" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

I find it interesting that the FDA has approved this clinical trial given the "official" government view on MDMA:

MDMA is toxic to the human nervous system. Scientific studies, with both animal and human subjects, found that MDMA use produces long-lasting, perhaps permanent, damage to the neurons that release serotonin, and consequent memory loss. Because MDMA affects the serotonin system, which regulates mood as well as body temperature, use can result in a marked increase in body temperature (malignant hyperthermia) leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure. The biggest short-term threat of MDMA is its ability to overload the heart, precipitating heart attacks or strokes, depending on the age of the user.

Moreover, MDMA use can result in mental confusion, anxiety and panic attacks, depression and paranoia. We now know that it leads to significant impairments in visual and verbal memory and may lead to impairments in other cognitive functions, such as the ability to reason or sustain attention. In a recent study, primates exposed to MDMA for four days experienced brain damage still present seven years later. Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of NIDA, explains, “[P]eople who take MDMA, even just a few times, will likely have long-term, perhaps permanent, problems with learning and memory.” An English study demonstrated preliminary proof that MDMA use during pregnancy causes serious birth defects.

America at Risk: The Ecstasy Threat, Donald Vereen, Deputy Director Office of National Drug Control Policy, Testimony before Senate Drug Caucus, 21 March 2001

Yet the deputy director admits that MDMA is safer than other problem drugs like cocaine or heroine. (I can't believe anyone goes to an emergy room with a marijuana overdose. "Like, doc, ya gotta help me, man, I, like, ate an entire pizza and then watched reruns of the, like, Brady Bunch and Family Feud all evening, man. Then I, like, totally ate a pint of Haagen-Daaz all by myself and took a nap.")

Nevertheless, emergency room mentions of MDMA are rare, compared to those of cocaine (168,763 mentions in 1999), marijuana/hashish (87,150 mentions in 1999), and heroin/morphine (84, 409 mentions in 1999). While the number of deaths reportedly related to MDMA use remains small (41 deaths in 1999 based on the Drug Abuse Warning Network, Medical Examiner Data), we should not underestimate the public health threat posed by this substance.

Ecstasy: Underestimating the Threat, Donald Vereen, Deputy Director Office of National Drug Control Policy, Testimony before Senate Drug Caucus, 25 July 2000

Omitted from their list is a drug that mutilates and kills staggering numbers of Americans each day: alcohol.

Alcohol Impaired Driving Statistics
Total Fatalities / Fatality Rates

1. 250,000 people have died in alcohol related accidents in the past 10 years.
2. Presently 25,000 people are killed each year in alcohol related accidents.
3. 500 people are killed each week in alcohol related accidents.
4. 71 people are killed each day in alcohol related accidents.
5. One American life is lost every 20 minutes in alcohol related auto crashes.
6. It is estimated that one out of every two Americans will be involved in an alcohol related accident in his or her lifetime.
7. In 1994, New Hampshire had 119 total highway fatalities, 42 were alcohol related (or 35.3% of the total). New Hampshire leads the nation with one of the lowest percentages of alcohol related fatalities.

Community Alcohol Information Program (CAIP), New Hampshire

So the next time some bible-thumping moron from red-state America rants about how ecstasy is killing people, explain that alcohol murders one American every twenty minutes. If terrorists, let alone illegal handguns used by criminals, killed seventy-one Americans a day, you can bet that just about everyone would be screaming for the government to do something. But alcohol? Naah. All the public says is, make mine a double.

Somethin 'bout those little pills
unreal the thrills they yield
until they kill a million brain cells

Now I need to go, who's gonna give me a ride to the after show (me!)
I hope that I have enough change so I can make my brain rearrange
I'm going down to La La Land
I hope to see ya soon in La La Land

— "La La Land" Green Velvet

Mmmmmm. Good Cracker!

Cracker on bridge from The Crackers

The Crackers

Chris and Jane Cunniffe have created The Crackers, an impromptu art installation set against the backdrop of The Gates.

Gift to the City — is it Art or for the Birds?

"The Crackers" is as much a public happening as it is a tasty snack, defying the domino theory. Peanut butter or cheddar cheese. They poured their hearts and souls into the project for over 26 minutes. It required three dozen crackers and spanned over nearly 23 inches along a footbridge in the park at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of $2.50. Is it art? You decide. The installation was completed with no permits or bureaucracy, and fed to the ducks after about a half hour. "The Crackers" is entirely for profit.

Atist's statement, "The Crackers" by Chris and Jane Cunniffe, Pleasantville, NY, created 17 February 2005

They even received a bit of NY Times coverage. (Guess I should have sent my pictures of oranges to the NY Times. Damn! Who knew?)

Another heir to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates" has just hit the Internet. Meet Chris and Jane, creators of "The Crackers," an installation of orange cheddar-cheese-and-peanut-butter crackers poised like dominoes on a Central Park footbridge. On their Web site, www.smilinggoat.com/crackers.html, Chris Cunniffe, 34, who works in publishing, and Jane Hanstein Cunniffe, 44, an advertising copywriter for Verizon, say, " 'The Crackers' is as much a public happening as it is a tasty snack." For more than 26 minutes on Thursday during lunch hour, they "poured their hearts and souls into the project," assembling some three dozen crackers over nearly 23 inches. Jane took pictures, posted them and fed the installation to the ducks.

A Crackery Gift to New York, New York Times, 19 February 2005

Taking a page from Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Crackers are completely recycled, with no environmental impact. Beyond orange duck poop, of course.

Recycling "The Crackers"

Recycling "The Crackers"

The Only Reason to Visit Somerville Massachusetts

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon, a photographer in Somerville, Massachusetts, has created "The Somerville Gates". Unveiled on 14 February 2005, they are certain to astound. (Well, if not astound at least amuse.)

Often Hargo's "The Somerville Gates" has been compared with Christo's "The Gates", Central Park, New York City. These comparisons have been unfair; sometimes the media has exaggerated — even lied — about the similarities. Differences abound, and some of the most overlooked are listed below.

The gates are not for sale. Neither is the cat.

And don't let anybody sell you tickets to these gates: it is free!

The Somerville Gates by Lee Hargadon, unveiled 14 February 2005

See it before all of your friends, but best view it fast! Like Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "The Gates", Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" are only available for a limited time period — "until the cleaning lady comes."

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on Stairway

Torii! Torii! Torii!

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Frantisek Staud's photograph of a huge torii gate

I came across a one-line reference comparing Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates to the "torii" gates in Kyoto, Japan. Vaguely recollecting this term from the days I studied eastern philosophy, I was intrigued and did some digging. What I turned up as very interesting and, I think, sheds some additional light on the artistic meaning behind The Gates.

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Masumi Abe's picture of torii gates over stairs

In Japan, the entrace to a sacred area is symbolically marked with a gate called a "torii" through which visitors walk. The literal translation of torii is "where the birds perch", since there are no doors and the area is open. The gate itself demarcates "profane space" from "sacred space". The Fushimi Inari shrine outside of Kyoto is filled with so many of these gates that they form tunnels through which people walk.

Tom Plant's photo of a torii tunnel

Tom Plant's photograph of a torii gate tunnel

These gates are, at the same time, remarkably similar to the Central Park ones yet totally different. (See the links at the end for numerous variations in styles; the color is similar to the orange used for the New York City installation.) Christo and Jean-Claude would, in all likelihood, be familiar with torii gates at Fushimi Inaria. (Their Umbrellas installation, for example, had two simultaneous sites, one in the United States and one in Japan; setting this up required extensive visits to Japan.) The Gates in Central Park, however, are — at least to me — very different, indeed, from torii gates, in that the Central Park gates are augmented with fabric. As a result, the paths are framed and accentuated in ways that are impossible with torii gates, and the fabric dances in the wind as if alive, eliminating the passive aspect and giving the whole project movement. This movement simply is not present in the Japanese version, which is more sedate and contemplative. Beyond that, The Gates are widely spaced so they are not confining and do not separate the visitor from nature; instead, they accentuate and enhance the natural beauty of the park by giving contrast. It's almost like how a printed design floats off the page until anchored with some containers.

I wish I had recalled the torii gates when I could have asked the Japanese visitors I photographed on Saturday — the ones with the art-installation made with oranges — what their thoughts were. In any event, the deeper meaning of torii gates may have some bearing on the Central Park installation:

Torii gates are symbolic markers indicating the boundary between two kinds of space: profane space and sacred space. They are located at the entrances to shrines and temples, cemeteries, gardens, mountains and forests, harbors, villages, city wards, imperial residences and private homes. They are not really "gates" at all, as they rarely stand within a fence or wall and have no doors to open or close. But they represent invisible barriers between an inner world that is clean, pure, and bright and an outer world that is spiritually polluted and morally uncertain. As such, torii gates are powerful symbols of the way that Japanese organize the world, associating the inner with the sacred and the outer with the profane. The "inner" is peaceful, spontaneous, healthy, natural, simple and good; the "outer" is troubled, dirty, chaotic, ill, false and bad.

Torii gates are most often found at the entrances to shrines (jinja). Shinto shrines are sacred by definition, as they are habitations of the gods (kami). Kami, as mythic deities, ancestors, and spirits of nature, sanctify space by virtue of their physical presence, which is noted by symbols of demarcation: torii gates, corded ropes, cleared spaces, temples and altars. As simple as a stand of trees or a clearing in the woods, as ornate as a vast temple complex, Shinto shrines are sanctuaries from the pollution of the outside world. Their purity is ritually acknowledged through the performance of sacred dances, the recitation of mythic poetry, and the exorcistic activities of priests and shamans. The physical indication of the presence of kami gives Shinto its distinctively spatial dimensionality.

At many shrines, notably the Fushimi Inari jinja in Kyoto, the site is marked by a progression of torii gates, sometimes placed so closely together that they create a tunnel-like effect. Passing through these gates, there is a magical sense of deepening spirituality: a cleansing of outer pollution and a growing awareness of inner purity.

Dimensions of Sacred Space in Japanese Popular Culture, by Randall L. Nadeau, Trinity University

Except where does one go in New York City to find something sacred? Oh yeah. Maybe the place that sells Leonidis chocolate. Some women might consider that sacred. But definitely Katz's Deli. Their pastrami has just gotta be sacred to every New Yorker who isn't a vegetarian.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Dimensions of Sacred Space in Japanese Popular Culture, by Randall L. Nadeau, Trinity University
  2. Torii Gate in Tunnel Fashion
  3. Frantisek Staud's photograph of a huge torii gate
  4. Masumi Abe's picture of torii gates over stairs
  5. Line of Torii Gates
  6. My Kind of Kyoto, Torii Gates
  7. Tom Plant's photograph of a torii gate tunnel
  8. Savage Pencil's Photographs

The Fourth Man

I'm taking a break from putting photos of The Gates online. When I got back from the signing of New York Magazine by Christo and Jeanne-Claude — I'll blog that in a day or so — I was listening to the mess going on in Syria. (I generally try to avoid politics since the idiotic comments of der Fuhrer really annoy me.) Anyway, I was reminded of a poem by Constantine Cavafy, who is one of my favorite poets. This is not, perhaps, his best work, but it was appropriate given the day's events in Syria.

Oh, and I am often reminded of the poem's closing comment about employment. It seems I ended up getting similar employment choices, too.

They Should Have Provided

I have almost been reduced to a homeless pauper.
This fatal city, Antioch,
has consumed all my money;
this fatal city with its expensive life.

But I am young and in excellent health.
My command of Greek is superb
(I know all there is about Aristotle, Plato;
orators, poets, you name it.)
I have an idea of military affairs,
and have friends among the mercenary chiefs.
I am on the inside of administration as well.
Last year I spent six months in Alexandria;
I have some knowledge (and this is useful) of affairs there:
intentions of the Malefactor, and villainies, et cetera.

Therefore I believe that I am fully
qualified to serve this country,
my beloved homeland Syria.

In whatever capacity they place me I shall strive
to be useful to the country. This is my intent.
Then again, if they thwart me with their methods —
we know those able people: need we talk about it now?
if they thwart me, I am not to blame.

First, I shall apply to Zabinas,
and if this moron does not appreciate me,
I shall go to his rival Grypos.
And if this idiot does not hire me,
I shall go straight to Hyrcanos.

One of the three will want me however.

And my conscience is not troubled
about not worrying about my choice.
All three harm Syria equally.

But, a ruined man, why is it my fault.
Wretched man, I am trying to make ends meet.
The almighty gods should have provided
and created a fourth, good man.
Gladly would I have joined him.

"They Should Have Provided", Constantine P. Cavafy, 1930

Notes:

The Malefactor was the nickname for Ptolemy VII Euergetes, officially known "the Benefactor" who ruled Egypt from 145 to 116 BC with extreme cruelty.

Alexander II Zabinas, a nickname meaning "the bought one", had been an heir to the throne backed by the exiled Egyptian king Ptolemaios VIII Gryphon. After he defeated Demetrius Nicator he ruled parts of Syria from 129 to 123 BC, until killed by Antiochus VIII, nicknamed "Grypos" or "hooknose", who then ruled from 125 to 96 BC.

Ioannes Hyrcanos I, the son of Simon Maccabaeus, was the king and high priest of the Jewish empire from 134 to 104 BC. He fought the Greeks.

The Thin Orange Line

The Gates: curving line

The Gates: Curving Line

The Gates: west gate

The Gates: West Gate

Aeolus At The Gates

The Gates in wind

The Gates in wind

View of The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

The Gates in wind from underneath

With Gated Breath

View of The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

View of The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

View of The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

The Gates from across the lawn, facing west

Artists, Not Barbarians, at "The Gates"

Photo of Japanese couple arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese man arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese couple with oranges at The Gates

"The Gates" really can't be appreciated without a high vantage point, so I climbed a huge granite outcrop near the skating rink. As I was eyeballing for angles and framing the scene, I noticed a Japanese couple removing large oranges from a bag and carefully arranging them.

I'd seen them walking to and fro on the rock, and realized they had been hunting for a location, a complex task given the number of people milling about. Moving to the rock's very edge finally yielded a spot to their liking.

In one photo you'll see the woman rearranging what the man had previously placed; the aesthetics were important to both, and the placement of each orange took time, accompanied by much deliberation on position and orientation.

The Japanese endow oranges with great meaning; to them, an orange is a symbol of the sun, and a means to bring good luck when presented as a gift for the New Year. Buddhist monks wear orange robes. Then there was the component of how the Japanese intertwine food and art; think sushi. So, I was, naturally, intrigued and inquired about their project.

They were happy for my interest, and explained the oranges themselves had no significance, but that they felt the color of the fruit matched the color of The Gates, and that they were personalizing their experience of the event by making an impromptu art installation using the larger installation of The Gates as a backdrop.

Seeing them taking turns photographing each other, I took several pictures of them together using their digital camera. (The shots here were taken with mine; in retrospect I should have used film, but who knew?) Their camera was a tiny model with an interesting center-swivel display — no viewfinder — that I've never seen elsewhere. Must be a Japan-only model.

Afterwards, the artists thanked me for taking the pictures of them, retrieved their oranges, and melted back into the faceless crowd; I don't even know their names.

Druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy…

Seal of the President of the United States of America

I'm not endorsing drug use, especially since I don't partake myself, but I truly don't care what people do in private as long as I don't have to watch it, pay for it, listen to it, or deal with the consequences of it. As far as I'm concerned, as long as the item sold was exactly as advertised and the purchaser was over the age of consent, drug use, illegal or otherwise, is purely a medical problem and never a legal one. Legalize it and tax the crap out of it to fund rehab, and stop burning taxpayer dollars on locking up people for longer sentences than rape and murder.

Having been a stodgy, grumpy old man and said that, I found the Drug Enforcement Agency's drug tips to be remarkably educational and deeply amusing. All their materials are, like the parts allegedly purchased by Iraq, "dual use".

When I were a lad, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, we were subjected to drug education. Over and over. It started in sixth grade when we were yelled at — by a rather large, angry man who coached sports — that if anyone offered us some "schoolboy" that we had to tell him immediately. And when Mr. Arnold said immediately, well, it was immediately.

The only problem with his admonition was that heroin probably hadn't been called "schoolboy" since he was in high school. And maybe not even then. I did remember the story, however, because having an authority figure, not matter how pathetic it seems now, screaming about it for an hour does tend to make an impression.

Now if you don't want to be some hipster doofus and get your terminology wrong — for example, it's not "doobers" anymore, it's now "trees" — you need to get your vernacular down and get with the program, dude. Or just step off. So check out the handy guide the Whitehouse has prepared so you can order what you want without sounding like the five-oh.

The Street Terms database contains over 2,300 street terms that refer to specific drug types or drug activity. The database is used by police officers, parents, treatment providers and others who require a better understanding of drug culture.

White House Drug Policy Guide to Street Drugs

You can also download a printable version (PDF) of "Street Terms". The printable version isn't pocketsized, though, so those who need information while mobile will have to find another option.

Yeah, I know. Our tax dollars at work. (Why can't my tax dollars fix mass transit?)

California is druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy
Druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy
Druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy

Down by law, right from the core
Down by law, right from the core
Down-down by-by law-law, right-right from-from the-the core-core

California is druggy, druggy, druggy, druggy...

"Kalifornia", You've Come A Long Way, Baby, Fatboy Slim

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

Shotgun Shack of blues musician John Adam "Sleepy John" Estes

Shotgun shack owned by blues musician John Adam "Sleepy John" Estes

I was listening to "Once In A Lifetime" by the Talking Heads and was again struck by the line, "And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack." Now, I knew what a "shotgun shack" was, but the origins of the phrase intrigued me. And after yesterday's entry on William S. Burroughs creating art with a shotgun, well, it seemed somehow appropriate. First, an explanation of the shack itself:

The shotgun house, a folk architectural form is, prototypically, long and narrow with a gable-ended entrance, one-room wide, and two or three rooms deep. Some say the shotgun house is so named because one can fire a shotgun through the front door with all the shot exiting through the back door without ever having touched a wall.

From Mobile to Huntsville, there are literally thousands of shotgun houses scattered throughout Alabama. It is found in both rural and urban areas of Alabama, often in African-American communities and neighborhoods.

"Folk House Has African Roots" by Henry Willett, Alabama Arts, December 1994

Now, this is about the cheapest housing one could build which is why the Heads used it as the metaphor for poverty. (In New York this design is called railroad apartments.) The rural south is riddled with such homes; Elvis Presley was born in one. (The picture below is of the Presley ancestral home refurbished and transported to nicer location.)

Shotgun shack that musician Elvis Presley was born in

Shotgun shack that musician Elvis Presley was born in

Not all shotgun shacks were made from wood. Some were made from brick or scavenged materials; whatevever the poor owner could beg, borrow, buy, or steal.

Southeast shotgun house made from brick

Southeast shotgun house made from brick

The name makes no sense from a ballistics standpoint: shotgun blasts spread during travel unlike rifle rounds. (Excepting the sabot round, of course. The name of this shell derives from the French "sabot" meaning shoe. A solid shell instead of shot, it packs a serious whallop; this explains why it is commonly used by SWAT teams to blow the hinges off doors.) Now, one could put a choke on the shotgun to keep the spread tight — as one would do when hunting birds — but it still doesn't make any sense. Aside from the Menendez brothers and Steven Segal, who fires shotguns in homes? A rifle would be the more logical firearm to reference if one wanted to talk about straight lines. So why a shotgun?

As with a fair bit of etymology, the origin of "shotgun shack" is likely the corruption of a foreign word:

Most fascinating of all, the name of the house type, "shotgun," may be a corruption of "togun," the African Yoruba word for "house."

"Folk House Has African Roots" by Henry Willett, Alabama Arts, December 1994

So there you have it.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, 'Well... How did I get here?'

Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime", Remain in Light, 1980

And Burroughs Said, Snick, Snick…Bang!
And there was art.

After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it.

— William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs with shotgun

William S. Burroughs with Shotgun

10 Gauge City by William S. Burroughs

"10 Gauge City" by William S. Burroughs

In addition to being an avante garde writer, William S. Burroughs was also an avante garde artist:

Using a variety of tools like spatulas, Ouija board pieces, and even a .45 Smith and Wesson handgun, William S. Burroughs was always creating art.

...

Nelson said her favorite pieces in the exhibition are "Something New Has Been Added," the Steadman and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" artist, lithograph. Burroughs shot the lithograph six times with a .45 long colt Smith and Wesson handgun and then signed it.

Words, Guns and Art, by Tony Herrman, Kansas State Collegian, 18 September 2003

The discovery of the shotgun's potential as a paintbrush was purely accidental. But, then again, knowing how Burroughs lived, one could say his whole life was one creative accident, and that any day nobody died in the name of art was a good one. Anyway, Burroughs says he was shooting his shotgun — he loved guns, despite having killed his wife in a William-Tell style "accident" — at plywood. Finding the damage to be an intricate and attractive type of abstract art, he began loading shooting paint into shotgun shells and firing them into plywood and agumenting the splatters. Here's the actual process from someone who heard Burroughs describe it:

The gallery directors said something in French and then in English, and then Burroughs answered questions:

With a shotgun, yes.

Twelve-gauge.

No, you take the buckshot out, for god’s sake. You put the paint in the shells.

No, I only keep the good ones. I throw the others out.

Yes, you select the right part. You choose.

No, it’s not random.

Yes, the process is random. You can’t tell what you’ll see until you pull the trigger.

Well, no, you choose the right one. It’s not random. I choose the pictures I like. You have to do a lot before you get to the good ones.

Yes, it’s art.

Because I choose among them. Aren’t you listening? Every artist chooses. You choose all the time. That’s what art is.

Yes, I sign them. Jesus. No more questions.

"One Blow Job Away" by Michel Basilières, Maisonneuve Magazine, Issue 10, July 2004

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

The artist David Goodrich has an amusing anecdote about making shotgun art with Burroughs.

A bit later Burroughs gave me a call. He said that he’d done some experiments with shooting through magazine pages mounted to panels, and he liked the results. Therefore, he had decided, he would like to shoot my painting after all. I was elated. And so it was on Easter Sunday of ‘87 that he phoned and said he was in the mood to go shooting, and invited me along.

At his place we had to wait for Bill Rich to arrive. They had a shortage of shotgun shells, and, being Easter, there would be no place open to buy any. Therefore we stopped by the house of James Grauerholz on our way out of town, where I showed my painting to James, Michael, and some young girl that was there. We got our shells and went on to the Outhouse, a place outside of town, a small brick building, which, at the time, was a punk rock venue run by Bill Rich, I believe. They kept bails of hay there, which were used by Burroughs to lean panels against to accept the shot. He had a piece of his own to shoot, one of those 3-d postcards that he had attached to a panel. He shot this several times, once or twice with a splatter of paint. He had forgotten his staple gun, and so we had to beat nails into the panel with a rock we found to hold these baggies in place. Once he was happy with his project he offered to shoot mine, and so I pulled it from the trunk of my car. We beat a baggie of yellow paint onto the spot that I wanted shot, leaned it against the hay, and I stood back while the old guy put a hole right through it. He walked up to it, took a close look at the splatter he’d made, and said “It looks like an owl.”

We shot a few more things and I took a few photos, then we cleaned up our mess and I dropped him back at his place. Now I was happy. It had worked out just as I’d wanted.

David Goodrich's anecdote about making shotgun paintings with William S. Burroughs

Painting 'Something New Has Been Added' by Ralph Steadman

"Something New Has Been Added" by Ralph Steadman, 1995
Serigraph on paper with shotgun holes by WSB

Burrough's collaboration with the famed gonzo artist Ralph Steadman seems, at the same time, both obvious and peculiar.

In the late 1980s this life-long interest in visual art flared up in a series of surprisingly colourful, accessible and only-slightly-evening-classy paintings by Burroughs himself. Some consisted of painted plywood doors with jagged gunshot holes in them ... "The shotgun blast releases the little spirits compacted into the layers of wood, releases the colours of the paints to splash them out in unforseen images and patterns," he wrote. It is also, perhaps not irrelevantly, just about the most violent thing you can do to a painted surface without incinerating it completely.

...

The collaboration with Burroughs is a new way of nourishing his American roots. It was Steadman's idea. "I wanted to do a print with his express pleasure in mind," he says. He had met Burroughs only twice before, very briefly each time, but had long been a fan of his writing and also admired the shot-through doors which Burroughs exhibited in London in the 1980s. "My idea was that I make the print and he shoots the hell out of it and we sign it together."

Burroughs okayed the project, and the key meeting took place last May [1995] in Burroughs' clapboard house in the nondescript college town of Lawrence, Kansas, where he has lived for some 15 years. Meetings between celebrated artists must often be like this: swarms of assistants, acolytes, relatives, parasites, somebody taping the whole thing on video, another person with a Leica, flunkies, tripping over each other. Burroughs, bent double as he is, retains a jerky, relentless vigour, riffling through the prints Steadman has brought along, pulling revolvers out of his pocket and demonstrating the workings of the safety mechanisms, steadily chugging on a long beaker of vodka and Coke that is regularly replenished.

Bill and Ralph's Excellent Adventure by Peter Popham, The Sunday Review, 3 March 1996

Traveler on the Yellow Wave by William S. Burroughs

"Traveler on the Yellow Wave" by William S. Burroughs, 1982
Paint on Plywood with Shotgun holes.

But is it art? Is it acceptible to use tools to generate art? Of course it is; why wouldn't it be? There's a long tradition in using random processes to make art:

The first use of randomization in the arts that I am aware of is an invention by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart provides 176 measures of prepared music and a grid that maps the throw of a pair of dice, and a sequence number (first throw, second throw, etc) into the numbers 1 through 176. The player creates a composition by making a sequence of random dice throws, and assembling the corresponding measures in a sequential score. Perhaps Mozart knew intuitively that purely random music isn’t terribly interesting because he found a primitive way to mix order and disorder. The short pre-composed measures provide order, and the throw of the dice provide disorder.

Randomization in the arts came into its own primarily in the 20th century. As a young artist Elsworth Kelly used inexpensive materials such as children’s construction paper along with chance methods to create colorful collages. He was inspired to do this after observing the random patchworks that would develop in the repair of cabana tents on the French Rivera.

The writer William Burroughs famously used his Dada inspired “cut-up” technique to randomize creative writing. Less well known are Burroughs experiments in visual art using shotgun blasts to randomly scatter paint on, and partially destroy, plywood supports.

Occasionally Carl Andre would use a random spill technique rather than his more typical highly ordered assembly system.

Certainly one of the most famous advocates for the random selection of sounds in music was John Cage.

In the era of computer-generated art the use of pseudo-random number generators becomes perhaps the most popular digital generative technique.

"What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory" by Philip Galanter

Generative art can be used to attack these fundamental points head on. First, generative artists can explore form as something other than arbitrary social convention. Using complex systems artists can create form that emerges as the result of naturally occurring processes beyond the influence of culture and man.

Second, having done this, generative artists can demonstrate by compelling example reasons to maintain faith in our ability to understand our world. The generative artist can remind us that the universe itself is a generative system. And through generative art we can regain our sense of place and participation in that universe.

"What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory" by Philip Galanter

Cover for Seven Deadly Sins book

TitleThe Seven Deadly Sins
AuthorWilliam S. Burroughs
ISBN0934953368
PublisherWater Row Books

Color plates, each illustrating one of the seven deadly sins, with accompanying text. Art was produced using a twelve-gauge shotgun technique on mylar and wood blocks.

TitleConcrete & Buckshot: William S. Burroughs Paintings 1987-1996
AuthorTimothy Leary and Benjamin Weissman
ISBN1889195014
PublisherSmart Art Press

This catalogue focuses on Burroughs’s achievement as a painter and includes concrete poetry written by legendary twentieth-century philosopher cum pop-culture guru Timothy Leary shortly before his death. Adding meat to this Burroughs/Leary sandwich is artist and writer Benjamin Weissman’s "Sad but Happy," a Burroughs-esque literary adventure into the dark side.

Smart Art Press caption for Concrete and Buckshot

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Bill and Ralph's Excellent Adventure by Peter Popham, The Sunday Review, 3 March 1996
  2. What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory by Philip Galanter
  3. Words, Guns and Art, by Tony Herrman, Kansas State Collegian, 18 September 2003
  4. Smart Art Press caption for Concrete and Buckshot
  5. Concrete & Buckshot: William S. Burroughs Paintings 1987-1996 by Timothy Leary and Benjamin Weissman
  6. The Seven Deadly Sins by William S. Burroughs

Yes, it’s art. Because I choose among them. Aren’t you listening? Every artist chooses. You choose all the time. That’s what art is.

William S. Burroughs, "One Blow Job Away" by Michel Basilières, Maisonneuve Magazine, Issue 10, July 2004

How Many Lawyers Does it Take…
To File Frivolous Charges?

Of all the places that you would cherish freedom of speech, surely one is in the shadow of a courthouse.

— Ron Kuby, constitutional attorney

Last month I blogged how two men were arrested for telling lawyer jokes. Well — surprise, surprise — the grand jury nobilled it.

A sidewalk comedian won over his toughest crowd yet on Monday when a grand jury declined to indict him on charges filed after he and a friend told lawyer jokes outside a courthouse, his lawyer said.

The man, Harvey Kash, and the friend, Carl Lanzisera, were doing their routine last month while waiting in line outside Nassau County's First District Court in Hempstead when one bystander, who identified himself as a lawyer, complained. Court officers, who were also not amused, clapped handcuffs on the amateur comics and charged them with disorderly conduct.

The men complained that their constitutional right to make fun of lawyers was being violated, and the case drew international attention.

Punch Line for Jokester: No Indictment by Grand Jury, by Bruce Lambert, New York Times, 8 February 2004

Just in case you're reading this after the NY Times article expires out of their free section — when will these idiots realize that micropayments are the answer instead of huge per-article fees — here's the Newsday version:

A grand jury delivered the punchline for a senior citizen charged with disorderly conduct after telling lawyer jokes outside a Long Island courthouse: charge dismissed. No kidding.

Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said Tuesday that a grand jury considered the evidence in the case and voted to dismiss.

Man who told lawyer joke gets last laugh as grand jury dismisses case, by Pat Milton, Newsday, 8 February 2005

After I blogged the original arrest then the lawyers chimed in. (What planet do these reptiles live on?)

It is, of course, the constitutional right of every American citizen to laugh at the law and, in the case of these two activists, even ridicule officers of the court. But to protect the integrity of the court, one needs to do any guffawing outside the courthouse. There is a legal imperative to create an environment that provides a fair, solemn and impartial forum from which to decide the fate of individuals and institutions. History reminds us what can happen when courtrooms become circuses, or worse.

...

But no one should shout "fire" in a crowded theater to proclaim one's right to freedom of speech. Mocking the legal system in a courthouse can be a corrosive force to jurisprudence. If permitted, it would attack the very fabric of our democracy by creating a judicial environment that ridicules and derides those who not just serve the courts but, far more important, those citizens who seek justice. Ultimately, scornful, derisive behavior inside our courthouses would threaten the very laughter that is so crucial to who we are as a free and open society.

Lois Carter Schlissel, Esquire, managing partner of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein

Anyone who has participated in the legal process, or been on the receiving end of it, knows that the crooked racket judges and attorneys run for their own benefit is the real joke. Except that joke just ain't funny.

Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line he doesn't really mean to cross — it just happens — and if you cross it enough times, it disappears forever, and then you're nothing but another lawyer joke...

— Rudy Baylor, "The Rainmaker" by John Grisham

Idiots, Imbeciles, and Morons (Oh my!)

We live in a world populated by idiots, morons, and imbeciles. So much so that it seems a wonder the world doesn't grind to a halt. From time to time the question comes up about which is worse; an idiot, a moron, or an imbecile. We certainly use them often enough that correct usage matters. Very little remains of my years of study of French — beyond a deep appreciation for the art of kissing and the role of butter in brown sauces — but I do remember the insults "Espece d'idiot!" and "Imbecile!". Since proper usage matters, here's the inside scoop.

Photograph of George W. Bush

Idiot

idiot — A person of profound mental retardation having a mental age below three years and generally being unable to learn connected speech or guard against common dangers.

American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Photograph of Howard "I Have a Scream" Dean

Imbecile

imbecile — A person of moderate to severe mental retardation having a mental age of from three to seven years and generally being capable of some degree of communication and performance of simple tasks under supervision.

American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Photograph of John Kerry

Moron

moron — A person of mild mental retardation having a mental age of from 7 to 12 years and generally having communication and social skills enabling some degree of academic or vocational education.

American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Imbecile comes from Old French meaning weak or feeble, which is derived from the Latin "imbcillus" meaning staff or rod. (Perhaps because of using a cane or staff due to physical weakness.) Moron is dervied from Greek "mron" meaning stupid or foolish. Idiot is derived from the Old French "idiote" which comes from the Latin "idita", which, in turn, comes from the Greek "idits" meaning private person. (Idios versus koinos for those of you who remember your Greek.)

So there you have it: idiot (mental age < 3 years), imbecile (3 years < mental age < 7 years), and moron (7 years < mental age < 12 years). The relative positions can be remembered using alphabetical order. These terms must never, of course, be applied to developmentally disabled people, with one exception: the current President of the United States of America. Oh yeah, and that moron who picked the wrong running mate and lost the election.

Movies So Bad You Need Cheap Sunglasses

When you get up in the morning
and the light is hurt your head
The first thing you do when you get up out of bed
Is hit that streets a-runnin’ and try to beat the masses
And go get yourself some cheap sunglasses
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

Cheap Sunglasses by ZZ Top

Fancier 3D red/blue glasses

Fancier 3D Red/Blue Glasses

A few days ago I blogged about man-eating lions of Tsavo, and the film Bwana Devil based on their exploits. The interesting thing about Bwana Devil is that it was a 3D film shot using anaglyphic technology. That's a fancy way of saying if you wore special glasses with red/blue filter you could see a three-dimensional movie. Anyway, I thought the technology needed an explanation since it is so widespread yet nobody every thinks about how it works.

Audience watching Bwana Devil

Audience Watching Bwana Devil

3D glasses used for Bwana Devil

3D Glasses Used for Bwana Devil

The word "sterographic" has its root in the Greek "stereo" or "solid". There are two techniques for making stereoscopic images: stereograms, which have two separate images, one for each eye, and anaglyphs, which combine the two separate images into one image using different colors for the left and right images and with special glasses to ensure that each eye only sees the appropriate image (left or right).

But why does all this work? Simple. Because our eyes are about 2.5 inches apart they receive separate, but similar, scenes. In normal viewing, our brain to construct a 3D image by using the eyes as two separate cameras. The slight difference in viewing angle allows the hardware in the brain to extrapolate where the edges are in three-space. Wow — that was a really lousy explanation. Let's try it again.

The red lens over the left eye masks out the right channel in red (colored filters remove all light of that color), so the left eye only sees the background image and the blue image superimposed on it. Similarly, the blue lens over the right eye masks out the right channel in blue (just as with red, blue removes all light of that color), so the right eye only sees the background image and the red image superimposed on top of it. The background image is the same; the only difference are slightly shifted left and right highlights. Here's a more technical discussion.

What is an anaglyph?

Anaglyphic stereograms (anaglyphs) are stereo pairs of images in which each image is shown using a different color. The two images are overlapped and then viewed using red/green or red/blue glasses (depending on the colors used). This means that the color channel is used for the stereo separation and therefore the perception of anaglyphs is monochrome (black and white), although color anaglyphs can be made.

The word anaglyph comes from the Greek anagluphos, meaning "wrought in low relief"; this comes from the word anagluphein, which means "to carve in relief" (ana = up + gluphein = to carve).

Who invented the anaglyph?

The discovery of anaglyphic 3D came in the 1850s as the result of experiments by the Frenchmen Joseph D’Almeida and Louis Du Hauron. In 1858 D’Almeida projected 3D magic lantern slide shows in which color separation took place using red and blue filters, and the audience wore red and blue goggles. Louis Du Hauron created the first printed anaglyphs using early color printing and photography techniques.

Anaglyphs FAQ

Viewing anaglyphs requires special glasses. Printed images, as opposed to those on computer monitors, can be viewed through colored lenses. These are the cardboard glasses familiar to anyone who's been to a 3D movie or seen 3D comics. The largest supplier of glasses seems to be American Paper Optics in Bartlett, TN; it claims to have shipped over 500,000,000 — that's five hundred million folks — 3D glasses. That's enough for just about everyone in America and Europe to have a pair. Hang on just a minute. ... Yup. I have one of them in my collection of detritus. How about that. Anyway, American Paper Optics will send you a free pair of 3D anaglyphic (red/cyan) glasses if you ask. (Details at the end of this entry.)

Tightrope Walkers from 1915

Tight Rope Walkers in the Air
Free Entertainment on the "Zone", 1915

This is far from being a new technique:

In 1915 the city of San Francisco invited the world to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal with a world's fair, known as the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The occasion was also a celebration of the city's recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fire. The Exploratorium is housed in the last remnant of the Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts. Without the media of today, its promoters had to find other ways to publicize the event. Thanks to the Keystone Company, people all over the world were able to experience a day at the fair by looking at the stereograph pictures through special viewers that created the 3-D effect.

Panama Pacific International Exposition in 3D

Anaglyph of Mars Orbiter

Anaglyph of Mars Odyssey Orbiter

Ok, so much for how it works and the history of it. In the days of videogames and DVDs does anyone care about cheezy 3D effects using colored glasses? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding yes. There are a number of anaglphys on the JPL Mars and the European Space Agency Websites. Many microscopists use anaglyphs to give depth to otherwise flat scenes, enhancing the ability to spot interesting features. You can even get a version of the first-person shooter game Quake with anaglyphic functionality.

Anaglyph of sand dune from mars lander

Sand Dunes of Nili Patera Taken By Mars Lander

Oh, and bet you thought I forgot about the free 3D glasses offer. Well, I didn't. For your totally free 3D glasses follow these instructions:

Order one free sample of anaglyphic (red/cyan) glasses by sending an unsealed SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with $0.37 postage to address at the bottom of this page

American Paper Optics, Inc.
3080 Bartlett Corporate Drive
Bartlett, TN 38133

American Paper Optics

Sources and Further Reading

  1. 3D Photograph (photos and tutorials)
  2. Yahoo Groups: Anaglyph
  3. Anaglyph Stereo Quake (first-person shooter game)
  4. Panama Pacific International Exposition in 3D
  5. Sand Dunes of Nili Patera Taken By Mars Lander
  6. Anaglyphs from JPL Mars Mission
  7. Anaglyph of Mars Odyssey Orbiter
  8. Anaglyphs from European Space Agency

Baozhang (Exploding Sticks)

The guns of the big events rumble through our pages, but the tiny firecrackers are constantly hissing and popping there as well; it appears that much of my life as a journalist has been devoted to sedulously setting off firecrackers.

— Brendan Gill (American critic, author, and journalist, 1914-1997)

Firecracker label with shotgun

Firecracker label with alligator

Given that the Chinese New Year is upon us, I was thinking about firecrackers, and the creativity that goes into the packaging. Some collect the labels from the packages:

Thanks for checking out my site. I have over 400 labels available for you to enjoy. Most are from my personal collection, although some have been loaned to me so that I could share them.

Cracker Packs

Firecracker label with anchor

Firecracker label with atomic blast

Firecracker label with camel

Collectors have a fairly large set to choose from:

Did you know that there are nearly 1000 Known Brands of Firecrackers! They come in thousands of sizes and variations. Chinese firecrackers first began to appear near the end of the 19th century and they are still being produced today. Although you can still buy a pack of firecrackers for fifty cents today, there are some rare, older Packs and Labels that have Auctioned off for Hundreds of Dollars!

Originally the designs on the packaging were very plain and written in Chinese. As factories in China and Macau began to produce more and more firecrackers for the U.S. Market, new designs were created with varying themes and brand names. The art work became very colorful and highly detailed. Animals of all types used to be favorite subjects and as time went on the brands sometimes reflected events occurring in our society. Currently these designs have become quite plain again with little detail or color. The value has also declined with the quality.

Cracker Packs

Firecracker label with mobster

Firecracker label with rocket

King Philip Came Over For Good Sex

The other day a question about species taxonomy came up. (I wasn't hanging out with evolutionary biologists this time; it was related to a crossword puzzle entry.) The question had to do with subdivisions, and I trotted out the handy mnemonics to remember them:

King Philip Came Over For Good Sex
King Philip Came Over For Good Soup
King Philip, Come Out For Goodness Sake
Kindly Pay Cash Or Furnish Good Security

The letters specify: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

Another variant is:

Kindly Place Cover On Fresh, Green, Spicy Vegetables

Since the "Vegetables" adds "V" for variety, a subdivision of species. Except I don't think kings, like children, eat their vegetables, spicy or otherwise.

Of course, now that the biologists went and added "domain" it doesn't work anymore. We now have: domain archea for peculiar — and evolutionarily ancient — bacteria, like thermophiles; domain eukarya for cells with a nucleus (Protista, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia); and domain eubacteria for true bacteria. Damn biologists! Well, it's easily fixed:

Demented King Philip Came Over For Good Sex

Works for me. Except who has sex with demented kings? Oh, right. Everyone. It's good to be the king.

Year of the Rooster

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

The Chinese New Year is again upon us and Chinatown will again be filled with the Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Fireworks Ceremony. (Sixth year!) Be sure to refrain from violating any taboos lest your good fortune for the coming year vanish.

The entire house should be cleaned before New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day, the floors may be swept. Beginning at the door, the dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the parlor, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family away. Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no har

Chinese New Year Taboos

But beyond the traditional superstitions is one likely to have serious impact for anyone in the wedding business. This year's lunar cycle begins on February 9th which means it does not include lichun, the auspicious day beginning spring. (It falls on February 4.) What does this have to do with nuptials? Well, because this year is missing lichun, it is called a "widow year", and nobody wants to get married in a widow year. (Bad for the bride, bad for the groom.)

Couples across China are rushing to get married in the next few days before the Year of the Rooster, chickening out of what they believe to be a jinxed time to tie the knot.

This year the lunar cycle begins relatively late, on Feb. 9, which means it will not contain "lichun", the auspicious day that marks the start of spring, earning it the dubious distinction of being a "widow year", or unlucky for wedlock.

Chinese media have reported that marriage registrations are soaring around the country as people scramble to get hitched in the last days of the Year of the Monkey.

"Business is normally low for us this time of year, but this year, in keeping with traditional Chinese beliefs, many people want to get married before the spring festival and we have lots of customers," said Ms. Wang, manager of Beijing's Luowei wedding photo studio.

The phenomenon normally occurs on average about every nine years. The last "widow" year came in 2002 and sparked a similar marriage rush.

"Though the 'widow year' is nonsense, the fact that people try to avoid it reflects their strong desire for a happy marriage," Zhang Youde, a sociologist at Shanghai University, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Chinese avoid weddings in Year of Rooster

The origins of the New Year celebration itself are interesting:

The Chinese New Year is now popularly known as the Spring Festival because it starts from the Begining of Spring (the first of the twenty-four terms in coodination with the changes of Nature). Its origin is too old to be traced. Several explanations are hanging around. All agree, however, that the word Nian, which in modern Chinese solely means "year", was originally the name of a monster beast that started to prey on people the night before the beginning of a new year (Do not lose track here: we are talking about the new year in terms of the Chinese calendar).

One legend goes that the beast Nian had a very big mouth that would swallow a great many people with one bite. People were very scared. One day, an old man came to their rescue, offering to subdue Nian. To Nian he said, "I hear say that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts of prey on earth instead of people who are by no means of your worthy opponents?" So, swollow it did many of the beasts of prey on earth that also harrassed people and their domestic animals from time to time.

After that, the old man disappeared riding the beast Nian. He turned out to be an immortal god. Now that Nian is gone and other beasts of prey are also scared into forests, people begin to enjoy their peaceful life. Before the old man left, he had told people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year's end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the color the beast feared the most.

From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation. The term "Guo Nian", which may mean "Survive the Nian" becomes today "Celebrate the (New) Year" as the word "guo" in Chinese having both the meaning of "pass-over" and "observe". The custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is still around. However, people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this, except that they feel the color and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration.

Origins of the Chinese New Year

So take a trip on the subway and see the demons chased away and look at the costumes. It's likely a bad day to eat in Chinatown unless you get there early.

Chinatown Lunar New Year Firecracker Ceremony
Date: Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Time: 11AM - 5PM
Location: Mott St. & Bayard St., Firecrackers at noon
Market St. & E. Broadway, Firecrackers at 2PM
Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival
Date: Sunday, February 13, 2005
Time: 1PM - 5PM
Location: Major streets of Chinatown (Mott, Canal, Bowery, East Broadway, Chatham Square, East Broadway, Forsyth, Division, Worth)

Sources and Further Reading

  1. 6th Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Fireworks Ceremony
  2. Chinese Culture Cente, San Francisco
  3. Chinese New Year Taboos
  4. MTA's Map of Chinatown and Subways
  5. "Explore Chinatown"'s Map of Chinatown and Subways (Simpler than MTA map)

The Artist the Art World Couldn’t See

Imagination without skill gives us contemporary art.

— Tom Stoppard, "Artist Descending a Staircase"

Once art served society rather than biting at its heels. Once, under a banner of beauty and order, art was a rich and meaningful embellishment of life, embracing - not desecrating - its ideals.

— Frederick Hart, Washington Post Op-Ed page, 1989

Photograph of Frederick Hart

Frederick Hart, Sculptor

Frederick Hart (1943-1999) is one of the greatest realist sculptors ever. Not just this century, mind; but ever. Now, I must point out that I actively dislike a lot of Hart's work; art glorifying religion — art has nothing in common with religion — never makes me especially happy. Beyond that, I think a lot of his work is just, well, crap that's on the level of what Hummel or Lladro sell. (Sales of Hart's artwork made him an estimated $150 million during his life. The only reason there weren't Franklin Mint editions is it would cheapen his brand.) But what I do like, I like very much; the man could turn clay into amazingly realistic works. His level of talent endows otherwise unmoving statues with life and spirit, and allows them to deliver complex and intense messages.

But first, a little bit about Hart who almost didn't end up a sculptor at all. Although a high-school dropout, he was admitted to the University of South Carolina based on impressive test scores — 35 out of 36 on the ACT, a score equivalent to a 1560 on the SAT. At this point he became the lone white protestor among 250 black students at a civil rights march. Before the local KKK affiliate could show its appreciation for his actions, Hart high-tailed it out of town for Washington, DC. This is where serendipity, or blind luck, intervened.

In Washington he managed to get a job as a clerk at the Washington National Cathedral, a stupendous stone structure built in the Middle English Gothic style. The cathedral employed a crew of Italian masons full time, and Hart became intrigued with their skill at stone carving. Several times he asked the master carver, an Italian named Roger Morigi, to take him on as an apprentice but got nowhere. There was no one on the job but experienced Italians. By and by, Hart got to know the crew and took to borrowing tools and having a go at discarded pieces of stone. Morigi was so surprised by his aptitude, he made him an apprentice after all, and soon began urging him to become a sculptor. Hart turned out to have Giotto's seemingly God-given genius -- Giotto was a sculptor as well as a painter -- for pulling perfectly formed human figures out of stone and clay at will and rapidly.

In 1971, Hart learned that the cathedral was holding an international competition to find a sculptor to adorn the building's west facade with a vast and elaborate spread of deep bas reliefs and statuary on the theme of the Creation. Morigi urged Hart to enter. He entered and won. A working-class boy nobody had ever heard of, an apprentice stone carver, had won what would turn out to be the biggest and most prestigious commission for religious sculpture in America in the 20th century.

The Artist the Art World Couldn't See By Tom Wolfe, The New York Times Magazine, 2 January 2000

That entry was Ex Nihilo.

Ex Nihilo

Ex Nihilo

From his conception of "Ex Nihilo," as he called the centerpiece of his huge Creation design (literally, "out of nothing"; figuratively, out of the chaos that preceded Creation), to the first small-scale clay model, through to the final carving of the stone -- all this took 11 years.

In 1982, "Ex Nihilo" was unveiled in a dedication ceremony. The next day, Hart scanned the newspapers for reviews . . . The Washington Post . . . The New York Times . . . nothing . . . nothing the next day, either . . . nor the next week . . . nor the week after that. The one mention of any sort was an obiter dictum in The Post's Style (read: Women's) section indicating that the west facade of the cathedral now had some new but earnestly traditional (read: old-fashioned) decoration. So Hart started monitoring the art magazines. Months went by . . . nothing. It reached the point that he began yearning for a single paragraph by an art critic who would say how much he loathed "Ex Nihilo" . . . anything, anything at all! . . . to prove there was someone out there in the art world who in some way, however slightly or rudely, cared.

The truth was, no one did, not in the least. "Ex Nihilo" never got ex nihilo simply because art worldlings refused to see it.

Hart had become so absorbed in his "triumph" that he had next to no comprehension of the American art world as it existed in the 1980's. In fact, the art world was strictly the New York art world, and it was scarcely a world, if world was meant to connote a great many people. In the one sociological study of the subject, "The Painted Word," the author estimated that the entire art "world" consisted of some 3,000 curators, dealers, collectors, scholars, critics and artists in New York. Art critics, even in the most remote outbacks of the heartland, were perfectly content to be obedient couriers of the word as received from New York. And the word was that school-of-Renaissance sculpture like Hart's was nonart. Art worldlings just couldn't see it.

The art magazines opened Hart's eyes until they were bleary with bafflement. Classical statues were "pictures in the air." They used a devious means -- skill -- to fool the eye into believing that bronze or stone had turned into human flesh. Therefore, they were artificial, false, meretricious. By 1982, no ambitious artist was going to display skill, even if he had it. The great sculptors of the time did things like have unionized elves put arrangements of rocks and bricks flat on the ground, objects they, the artists, hadn't laid a finger on (Carl Andre), or prop up slabs of Cor-Ten steel straight from the foundry, edgewise (Richard Serra); or they took G.E. fluorescent light tubes straight out of the box from the hardware store and arranged them this way and that (Dan Flavin); or they welded I-beams and scraps of metal together (Anthony Caro). This expressed the material's true nature, its "gravity" (no stone pictures floating in the air), its "objectness."

The Artist the Art World Couldn't See By Tom Wolfe, The New York Times Magazine, 2 January 2000

Ex Nihilo from Left, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Left, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Right, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Right, Closeup

Ex Nihilo in Devil's Advocate

Ex Nihilo in Movie "Devil's Advocate"

The only recognition Ex Nihilo received was as a result of it being copied in the movie " Devil's Advocate" and the resulting lawsuit for copyright infringement. (Artists do have a right to be compensated for their work, and the use in the movie clearly was did not fall under the "fair use" exemption in copyright law.)

After the film's initial release, sculptor Frederick Hart sued Warner Bros. claiming that a large sculpture prominently featured in the film (on the wall of Al Pacino's penthouse apartment) is an unauthorized copy of his work "Ex Nihilo", displayed at the entrance of Washington's Episcopal National Cathedral. According to a court settlement reached in February 1998, Warner has been authorized to release an initial run of 475,000 copies of the video of the film for rental, but will have to remove or re-edit over 20 minutes of scenes where the sculpture can be seen before releasing any further video or television versions.

IMDB entry for Revised "Devil's Advocate"

Hart's Sculpture at Vietnam Memorial

Hart's Sculpture at Vietnam Memorial

From the recognition-less Ex Nihilo, Hart moved on to a project that should have delivered significant recognition:

By 1982, he was already involved in another competition for a huge piece of public sculpture in Washington. A group of Vietnam veterans had just obtained Congressional approval for a memorial that would pay long-delayed tribute to those who had fought in Vietnam with honor and courage in a lost and highly unpopular cause. They had chosen a jury of architects and art worldlings to make a blind selection in an open competition; that is, anyone could enter, and no one could put his name on his entry. Every proposal had to include something -- a wall, a plinth, a column -- on which a hired engraver could inscribe the names of all 57,000-plus members of the American military who had died in Vietnam. Nine of the top 10 choices were abstract designs that could be executed without resorting to that devious and accursed bit of trickery: skill. Only the No. 3 choice was representational. Up on one end of a semicircular wall bearing the 57,000 names was an infantryman on his knees beside a fallen comrade, looking about for help. At the other end, a third infantryman had begun to run along the top of the wall toward them. The sculptor was Frederick Hart.

The Artist the Art World Couldn't See By Tom Wolfe, The New York Times Magazine, 2 January 2000

The above photo is from Hart's contribution to the Vietnam Memorial. Consider the raw emotion in the soldier's faces, the weariness and suffering etched into them, and then pay attention to the figure's overall detail. Their equipment, their boots, the dog-tags woven into the laces, the stubble on their faces and the musculature and veins in their arms; all are incredibly detailed and lifelike. So much so it looks like actual soldiers sprayed with a clay-colored makeup. Hart even manages to make the laces and aglets look real, and he did this without using castings.

Closeup of equipment on belts of clay models

Closeup of equipment on belts of clay models

Closeup of boot of clay model

Closeup of boot of clay model

Closeup of dogtag on boot of clay model

Closeup of dogtag on boot of clay model

Were it not for their bronze patina, one might think they had just walked out of the jungle mist in Southeast Asia. Now consider the reaction of Maya Lin, whom I've never considered to have any talent. (Remember, Hart's original proposal also included a wall with names; all the proposals were required to have a list of names, so her "creation" is hardly so amazing given that it was in the rules.)

Hart Sculpting a Marine from Life

Hart sculpting soldier using Marine Corporal James Connell as model

The problem was that Hart didn't win:

The winning entry was by a young Yale undergraduate architectural student named Maya Lin. Her proposal was a V-shaped wall, period, a wall of polished black granite inscribed only with the names; no mention of honor, courage or gratitude; not even a flag. Absolutely skillproof, it was.

Many veterans were furious. They regarded her wall as a gigantic pitiless tombstone that said, "Your so-called service was an absolutely pointless disaster." They made so much noise that a compromise was struck. An American flag and statue would be added to the site. Hart was chosen to do the statue. He came up with a group of three soldiers, realistic down to the aglets of their boot strings, who appear to have just emerged from the jungle into a clearing, where they are startled to see Lin's V-shaped black wall bearing the names of their dead comrades.

Naturally enough, Lin was miffed at the intrusion, and so a make-peace get-together was arranged in Plainview, N.Y., where the foundry had just completed casting the soldiers. Doing her best to play the part, Lin asked Hart -- as Hart recounted it -- if the young men used as models for the three soldiers had complained of any pain when the plaster casts were removed from their faces and arms. Hart couldn't imagine what she was talking about. Then it dawned on him. She assumed that he had followed the lead of the ingenious art worldling George Segal, who had contrived a way of sculpturing the human figure without any skill whatsoever: by covering the model's body in wet plaster and removing it when it began to harden. No artist of her generation (she was 21) could even conceive of a sculptor starting out solely with a picture in his head, a stylus, a brick of moist clay and some armature wire. No artist of her generation dared even speculate about... skill.

The Artist the Art World Couldn't See By Tom Wolfe, The New York Times Magazine, 2 January 2000

Book cover for Frederick Hart: Sculptor

TitleFrederick Hart: Sculptor
AuthorTom Wolfe, J. Carter Brown, Homan Potterton, Frederick Hart
ISBN1555951201
PublisherHudson Hills Press

TitleFrederick Hart
AuthorDebra Mancoff, Frederick Turner, Frederick Hart, Michael Novak
ISBN155595233X
PublisherHudson Hills Press

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Frederick Hart Official Website
  2. Mary Ann Sullivan's photographs of Hart's Vietname Memorial
  3. Frederick Hart, Obituary from The American Society of Classical Realism
  4. Overview of Hart's copyright-infringment lawsuit against Universal Studios for "Devil's Advocate"
  5. Washington National Cathedral Sculpture by Frederick Hart
  6. IMDB entry for "Devil's Advocate"
  7. IMDB entry for "Devil's Advocate" Revised for removal of Ex Nihilo
  8. Frederick Hart: Sculptor by Tom Wolfe, J. Carter Brown, Homan Potterton, Frederick Hart
  9. Frederick Hart by Debra Mancoff, Frederick Turner, Frederick Hart, Michael Novak

We are really composing our reflections of the great beauty and the majesty of creation itself and as such, it’s only natural that your craft and the honing of your craft is something that you do to the signal purpose of trying to be as faithful to that reflection and as honest in your response to that reflection as you are humanly capable.

— Frederick Hart, Obituary from The American Society of Classical Realism

"A Slow Moving, Bipedal Source of Protein"
(Miaow! Crunch! Slurp! Purrrr…)

Field Museum diorama with Tsavo man-eating lions

Tsavo man-eating lions in diorama at The Field Museum

People remain fascinated with man-eating cats, likely because the closest we come is when a furry monster chews on our ears to wake us up for food. Ok, ok. It's because there are few creatures able to prey on man and, as the top of the food chain, we naturally have a primal fascination with them. The famous case of the man-eating Tsavo lions — reputed to have eaten over a hundred railway workers — was traditionally explained by the belief that "injured" lions attack humans because of an inability to hunt other prey. That view turns out to be wrong; they hunt us because humans are tasty:

First, the Tsavo lions were not 'aberrant'. Lions and other big cats have repeatedly turned to man-eating in the face of certain conditions, many of which are manmade. Furthermore, man-eating by lions continues today.

"For most of their history, extinct and living humans, have represented little more than a vulnerable, slow moving, bipedal source of protein for big cats," says Julian Kerbis Peterhans, associate professor of Natural Science at Roosevelt University, Field Museum adjunct curator and co-author of a study on man-eating by lions recently published in the Journal of East African Natural History

Legend has it that in 1898, two Tsavo lions killed at least 135 workers constructing a bridge in Kenya, temporarily stopping the construction of a railroad linking Lake Victoria with the port of Mombasa. Lt. Col. John Patterson eventually killed the lions, which are now on exhibit at The Field Museum, Chicago.

...

In a few well-documented, localized incidents, man-eating appears to be a learned behavior. Once lions establish a pattern and begin to prey regularly on humans, they can pass it on to their offspring, along with sophisticated strategies and techniques, such as never returning to the same place two days in a row.

"Lions are a social species, capable of transmitting a behavioural tradition from one generation to the next," Kerbis says. "The fact that they can be born and raised to hunt and eat humans means that an outbreak of man-eating usually does not stop until all the responsible lions and their offspring are eliminated."

Further supporting this view is the fact that man-eating incidents in Tsavo did not begin with the arrival of railway crews, nor did they end with the destruction of the notorious lion coalition. The authors document killings by lions in Tsavo for several years prior to the arrival of Col. Patterson. Killings continued regularly through WWI when soldiers were picked off on patrol. All of this points to a man-eating culture among Tsavo lions, a phenomenon rarely documented.

Field Museum uncovers evidence behind man-eating; revises legend of its infamous man-eating lions

But back to 1898. The problem of midnight snacking on the railway workers because so severe that a big-game hunter was called in to take care of the situation. The real issue wasn't dead workers, but the delay in the schedule, or shed-ule as the British pronounce it. (The outsourced Indian workers were highly affordable, and there was a large supply of new ones to replace those designated as appetizers by lions.) Colonel Patterson was the man selected for the job; he later wrote a book about his experience:

UNFORTUNATELY this happy state of affairs did not continue for long, and our work was soon interrupted in a rude and startling manner. Two most voracious and insatiable man-eating lions appeared upon the scene, and for over nine months waged an intermittent warfare against the railway and all those connected with it in the vicinity of Tsavo. This culminated in a perfect reign of terror in December, 1898, when they actually succeeded in bringing the railway works to a complete standstill for about three weeks. At first they were not always successful in their efforts to carry off a victim, but as time went on they stopped at nothing and indeed braved any danger in order to obtain their favourite food. Their methods then became so uncanny, and their man-stalking so well-timed and so certain of success, that the workmen firmly believed that they were not real animals at all, but devils in lions' shape. Many a time the coolies solemnly assured me that it was absolutely useless to attempt to shoot them. They were quite convinced that the angry spirits of two departed native chiefs had taken this form in order to protest against a railway being made through their country, and by stopping its progress to avenge the insult thus shown to them.

...

I had only been a few days at Tsavo when I first heard that these brutes had been seen in the neighbourhood. Shortly afterwards one or two coolies mysteriously disappeared, and I was told that they had been carried off by night from their tents and devoured by lions. At the time I did not credit this story, and was more inclined to believe that the unfortunate men had been the victims of foul play at the hands of some of their comrades. They were, as it happened, very good workmen, and had each saved a fair number of rupees, so I thought it quite likely that some scoundrels from the gangs had murdered them for the sake of their money. This suspicion, however, was very soon dispelled. About three weeks after my arrival, I was roused one morning about daybreak and told that one of my jemadars, a fine powerful Sikh named Ungan Singh, had been seized in his tent during the night, and dragged off and eaten.

Naturally I lost no time in making an examination of the place, and was soon convinced that the man had indeed been carried off by a lion, as its "pug" marks were plainly visible in the sand, while the furrows made by the heels of the victim showed the direction in which he had been dragged away. Moreover, the jemadar shared his tent with half a dozen other workmen, and one of his bedfellows had actually witnessed the occurrence. He graphically described how, at about midnight, the lion suddenly put its head in at the open tent door and seized Ungan Singh -- who happened to be nearest the opening -- by the throat. The unfortunate fellow cried out "Choro" ("Let go"), and threw his arms up round the lion's neck. The next moment he was gone, and his panic-stricken companions lay helpless, forced to listen to the terrible struggle which took place outside. Poor Ungan Singh must have died hard; but what chance had he? As a coolie gravely remarked, "Was he not fighting with a lion?"

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O., Chapter 2 Without Images
With Images

Colonel Patterson with dead lion

Lt. Col. John Patterson with dead lion

As expected, the lion proved no match for a high-powered rifle in the hands of an expert marksman. The story was filled with such drama — cowed dark-skinned natives, fearless white hunter, vicious lions — that Hollywood couldn't resist. The result was the first 3D movie — Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack.

Movie poster for Bwana Devil

Movie Poster for Bwana Devil

The movie was, well, not very good. It certainly has not stood the test of time. Here's one of the kinder comments about it:

Bwana Devil is reputedly the first major studio, full length feature filmed entirely in the 3D process. Supposedly producer Oboler went to Africa to shoot a different movie, but after hearing the tale of two man-eating lions, terrorizing railway builders, decided on this one. It's a good story too, almost Hemmingway-like; fear, redemption, the great white hunter and all. It's the telling of the story that seems to drag, almost as though filming in the new process was too weighty for the crew. The action scenes are stiff, almost too staged. But these technical problems appear small in light of the film's dramatic conclusion.

Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) is a remake of Bwana Devil starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer as lion hunters. I've seen both movies and I think the 1996 remake is the better movie, even if it isn't strictly true to the story.

The lions ended up at The Field Museum where there is an online exhibit. Notice how the lions lack manes but Hollywood added them.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. The Tsavo Man-Eaters
  2. Tsavo Maneater Resources or The Ghost and the Darkness, the true story!
  3. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  4. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  5. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Russell Smith
  6. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Navigation

This Month

February 2005
S M T W T F S
« Jan   Mar »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728  

Weather

  • Central Park, NYC
    • Weather data not available

Wall Street

Google

  • Price: 817.58
  • Change: -12.01

DJIA

  • Price: N/A
  • Volume: N/A

S&P 500

  • Price: 2,345.96
  • Change: -2.49

Nikkei 225

  • Price: 19,262.53
  • Change: +177.22

Dollar vs. Euro (€)

  • $1 buys €0.9272

Dollar vs. Pound (£)

  • $1 buys £0.8008

Dollar vs. Yen (¥)

  • $1 buys ¥111.3050

Dollar vs. Yuan (元)

  • $1 buys 元6.8920

RSS Feeds

Entries
Comments

Login/Register

Validate CSS/HTML

Validate XHTML
Validate CSS