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23 May 2017
Afternoon Sedition

"You Talkin’ Ta Me?"

Travis Bickle in Taxi

You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here. Who do the fuck do you think you're talking to? Oh, yeah? Ok. {whips out sleeve gun} Huh?

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

A few years ago a friend of mine had a visit from her friends from Italy. She said that her guests asked — nay insisted, no make that demanded — to visit Times Square. Not understanding why anyone would want to go to that unseemly den of Disneyfied crap, she kept saying "you won't like it." But, they insisted and she relented. When they all got there the Italians were angry and demanded to see Times Square. "But this is Times Square," she said, pointing to the sign. Her visitors replied, "No it isn't; we've seen Taxi Driver!".

Ahhhh, yes. Taxi Driver. One of the all-time great films, capable of inspiring men to great heights, like shooting Reagan. (Although there are some who insist that the close ties between George Bush I, then vice-president, and the Hinckleys were rather suspicious.) The movie documents a street culture that no longer, thankfully, exists. (Although I did so dearly love the ambiance of all those porn shops on the Deuce. So much more, well, authentic than those chain stores flogging overpriced cartoon memorabilia, branded clothing, and athletic shoes.)

Which brings us to Mark Allen, who decided to retrace the Taxi Driver scenes shot on 13th Street between Second and Third Avenues. His then and now comparisons don't really capture how bad that area was. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was a real shithole for a long, long time. Today, there's a fancy apartment building with a bustling restaurant where there was a boarded up building with only a porn shop storefront to keep out the squatters. A few blocks over, near where the Village Voice had its headquarters, is the Virgin Megastore and the movie theatre. Ahhh, the joys of gentrification.

Travis Bickle in Taxi

I think someone should just take this city and just... just flush it down the fuckin' toilet.

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

Spoken like a true New Yorker.

A Whisp of Smoke or a Raging Conflagration?

"Self-Portrait in a Grey Felt Hatt" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887

"Self-Portrait in a Grey Felt Hat", Vincent van Gogh, 1887

Vincent Van Gogh was born today in 1853. Here are some of his observations that bear thinking about.

One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a whisp of smoke rising from the chimney and continue on their way.

— Vincent Van Gogh

I do not know myself how I paint it. I sit down with a white board before the spot that strikes me. I look at what is before my eyes, and say to myself, that white board must become something.

— Vincent Van Gogh

Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility. You do not know how paralyzing it is, that staring of a blank canvas which says to the painter: you don't know anything.

— Vincent Van Gogh

Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.

— Vincent Van Gogh

The painter of the future will be a colorist in a way no one has been before.

— Vincent Van Gogh

What am I in most people's eyes? A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man... I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody.

— Vincent Van Gogh

Your profession is not what brings home your paycheck. Your profession is what you were put on earth to do. With such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.

— Vincent Van Gogh

Google marked today by creating a special logo. It will be up for one day only, so I've reproduced it below along with the painting inspiring it.

Google Logo for Vang Gogh's Birthday

Google Logo for Van Gogh's Birthday

"The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

"The Starry Night", Vincent van Gogh, 1889

"Cigarson"

Art Deco Cigar Ad

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

— Sigmund Freud, attributed

I heard a story and instantly knew it for what it was; it took only a few minutes with Google to confirm my first impressions. To begin, here's the jist of the story:

A man bought several boxes of cigars and had them insured against fire. When he had smoked them, he put in a claim against the insurance company that they had been destroyed by fire.

The company refused to pay, and the man sued. The judge ruled that the company had given the man a policy protecting against fire, and must pay.

As soon as the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested on a charge of arson.

"Cigarson", Snopes.com

This is, of course, an urban legend that's been debunked:

Insurance policies are generally written so that deliberate actions on the part of the policyholders cannot trigger payouts. Furthermore, destroying your own property isn't arson, as long as the act isn't intended to defraud anyone. If a court had already ruled that the insurance company was required to pay, then obviously no fraud was committed, and thus the burning could not be considered arson.

"Cigarson", Snopes.com

Sometimes an urban legend is just an urban legend.

"ET Phone Home"

William Edward Ayrton

Professor William Edward Ayrton (1847-1908)

I was thinking about the ubiquity of cell phones and the price of being reachable anytime, anywhere, for any reason, no matter how trivial. And then I remembered the words of William Ayrton — a professor, scientist, engineer, and Fellow of the Royal Society — about the future of telecommuniations. (Keep in mind he said this in 1897.)

There is no doubt that the day will come, maybe when you and I are forgotten, when copper wires, gutta-percha coverings, and iron sheathings will be relegated to the Museum of Antiquities. Then, when a person wants to telegraph to a friend, he knows not where, he will call an electromagnetic voice, which will be heard loud by him who has the electromagnetic ear, but will be silent to everyone else. He will call "Where are you?" and the reply will come, "I am at the bottom of the coal-mine" or "Crossing the Andes" or "In the middle of the Pacific"; or perhaps no reply will come at all, and he may then conclude that his friend is dead.

— Professor W. E. Ayrton, lecture at the Imperial Institute, 1897

I, fortunately, haven't had anyone conclude that I'm dead when I don't answer my cell. There are, of course, times when I won't answer it; I'm not, after all, Paris Hilton.

When Ya Got Money Ta Burn!

Hell Bank Note #1

Burning Hell Money

There’s always a particular smell of burning incense when one walks through the gates of a Buddhist temple. The smoke looms around in a mist-like form. The air is difficult to breathe and some of the people’s eyes burn from the ashes around. The faithful continue to add more to the already huge amount of incense of all shapes and sizes — the little flames on the top of the incense glows through the misty smoke. Before these incense lays the deities, to whom some ask for divine guidance for their cause.

Today, a girl was burning something else in the temple. I looked down at what she was burning — some form of paper money? It appeared so. She was dropping them into the flames one by one. I had seen something like this before — somewhere in a Chinese movie, a man was dropping paper money in a makeshift grill for his brother who had died. Curiously, I approached the girl.

"May I see one of those?" I asked.

"Of course," the woman replied.

I looked at what the paper money said. "Hell money," it read on the bottom.

"Hell Money", The Anthropology of Money in Southern California, by Alex Adair, Joanne Choi, Ceasor Dennis, Clara Lin, Lambert Yuen

Wads and Wads of Hell Money

Wads and wads of Hell Money waiting to be purchased and burned.

Bank of Hell Checkbook

Ian Whitney's travel photos of Bank of Hell checkbook

So, what the Hell — no pun intended — is this stuff, anyway?

When i was child, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, a friend of mine's family ran a grocery store. They were Chinese, and although almost everything in their store was exactly like the stuff in all the other small groceries in Berkeley, they also carried a few Chinese specialty items up by the counter. One of these was Hell Money. The word Hell was introduced to China, my friend's parents told me, by Christian missionaries who claimed that non-converted Chinese folks were all "going to Hell" when they died -- and the Chinese, thinking "Hell" was the proper English term for the afterlife, adopted the word. Thus, Hell Bank Notes are simply Afterlife Monetary Offerings or Spirit Money.

As they explained it to me, when people die, their spirits or ghosts go to an afterlife where they continue to live on, doing the same sort of things why did while alive, eating, drinking, wearing clothes, playing with their children, and so forth. In order to ensure that they have lots of good things in the afterlife, their relatives send them presents, and one of the best things to send them is Hell Bank Notes -- money to spend in the afterworld. In addition to Hell Bank Notes, some Chinese grocery stores also sell elaborately-made and multi-coloured paper watches, clothes, cars, Hell Credit Cards, and even refrigerators for the purpose of burning in the belief that doing so sends their essence to the afterlife world, where the recipient will be glad to receive such material goods.

Hell Bank Notes (Hell Money)

Hell Bank Note #2

Special furnace for burning Hell Money

Special furnace for burning Hell Money.

The question I have is what can you buy with fake money? (In the United States, the answer is quite a lot. That's why the Secret Service takes counterfeiting so seriously.) And what about inflation? Does burning more money make your ancestors richer, even if it makes you poorer? Anyway, this is no joke for the Chinese; they take this very seriously:

According to Chinese folklore, there is an increase in the incidence of accidents and deaths during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, an occurrence attributed to underworld spirits visiting the earth during this time. During Ghost Month, people prepare big feasts to indulge the many roaming ghosts.

Festivities to stop the troublemaking ghosts from disturbing the living were held island-wide yesterday, although the rituals have been attacked for polluting the environment.

Tables of offerings and urns of burning ghost money blocked many sidewalks in Taipei yesterday. An estimated 220,000 tons of ghost money is burned every year around Taiwan.

"Ghost Month Rites Calm Scientists' Consciences" The China Post, 15 August 15, 2000

Couple burning Hell Money

Couple on the street burning Hell Money

Wow! Did you catch this part: "220,000 tons of ghost money is burned every year around Taiwan." Just imagine if that were, say, old newspaper. How much air pollution would it cause? A lot, it turns out. So much that the government came up with a solution: (I'm quoting more of the article since their Website may not always be available.)

With the arrival of the arrival of the traditional Ghost Month, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) again urged urban residents to burn spirit money at municipal waste incinerators to prevent air pollution.

Yesterday in Kaohsiung City, an unusual ceremony was held at a newly cleaned municipal waste incinerator in Sanmin District.

In an address to the souls of the dead, Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Yao Kao-chiao (???) sincerely informed roaming ghosts that the incinerator would be the best place for them to "withdraw" spirit money this year.

"We hope residents cooperate to burn all spirit money at the incinerator on the 29th day of the seventh lunar month," Yao said.

Kaohsiung City environmental officials said that last year 109 communities supported central-ized burning, and that 28 tonnes of money paper were burned in the incinerator. They estimated the move prevented about 3 tonnes of air pollutants from being released in the city.

Officials said that the participation of 408 communities in the program this year might boost the amount of centrally burned spirit money to 100 tonnes. A free service is available to deliver spirit money to the incinerator until the scheduled burning date.

Officials said that burning spirit money outdoors causes a substantial amount of air pollution and could result in fines ranging from NT$5,000 to NT$100,000 for residents and NT$100,000 to NT$1 million for factories and companies.

To attract more residents to use the service, officials have arranged for eminent Buddhist masters to be in charge of the month-end burning ceremony, ensuring a successfully delivery of people's respects to the gods.

"UNSEEN AUDIENCE: Kaohsiung officials invited spirits to `withdraw' spirit money offered for them at incinerators, where the smoke can be scrubbed for human lungs" by Chiu Yu-Tzu, Taipei Times, 16 August 2004

Hell Bank Note #3

But I like this description better than the "official" one:

The first report comes from Taiwan, where people traditionally burn paper "ghost money," which somehow reaches their dead ancestors, providing them with spending money in Heaven. But thanks to our huge balance of trade deficit, the Taiwanese apparently have so much money to burn that it is causing an air pollution problem.

So the city officials of Taipei came up with a brilliant alternative to ghost money. No doubt taking a cue from us Americans, who are experts in using credit cards to send our money up in smoke, they are now offering citizens a flammable "Kingdom of the Dead" credit card, which burns without creating pollution. A spokesman explained, "Like people, ghosts will find credit very convenient." Yes, they can now order their sheets direct from the Home Shopping Network! Frankly, when I heard about a government issuing a credit card that provides total security for your dead ancestors, I was incredulous. I couldn't believe that the Clintons hadn't thought of it first.

"The Skeptic&quot: The Newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics" Volume 7, Number 12, December 1993

Hell Bank Note #4

Most of the money images seen above comes from Randall van der Woning's blog.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Hell Bank Notes for Sale
  2. "Ghost Month Rites Calm Scientists' Consciences" The China Post, 15 August 15, 2000
  3. "UNSEEN AUDIENCE: Kaohsiung officials invited spirits to `withdraw' spirit money offered for them at incinerators, where the smoke can be scrubbed for human lungs" by Chiu Yu-Tzu, Taipei Times, 16 August 2004
  4. Randall van der Woning's blog entry on Hell Money

"Why a Duck?"

Rubber Canard

I was talking with someone and when I described something as being a "canard" I received a puzzled look. The word, as those of us subjected to years of French lessons know, is French for "duck". (The edible, quacking variety not the imperative.) Canard has two common meanings. The first is a knowingly misleading fabrication or confabulation. The second is from aeronautics, where it refers to placing a horizontal control or trim surfaces in front of the main lifting surface, like a wing. In airplanes, a canard is commonly used to stabilize a small craft because it prevents stalls -- disrupted airflow over the wings -- by providing lift. So we're all clear on why it means a deliberate fabrication? No? I didn't think it would be.

Aircraft Canard

The origins of the polite alternative to the vernacular "lie" are interesting. (At least they are to an etymological freak like me.)

Canard.

A hoax. Cornelissen, to try the gullibility of the public, reported in the papers that he had twenty ducks, one of which he cut up and threw to the nineteen, who devoured it greedily. He then cut up another, then a third, and so on till nineteen were cut up; and as the nineteenth was gobbled up by the surviving duck, it followed that this one duck actually ate nineteen ducks — a wonderful proof of duck voracity. This tale had the run of all the papers, and gave a new word to the language. (French, cane, a duck.) (Quetelet.)

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1898.

While this sounds like a good way to spread prions, it isn't telling the whole story. Cornelissen supposedly raised ducks in Provence, France around 1850. (Although he had a name that could pass for French, he was actually a Swede. This doesn't figure in the story, though.) He sold his ducks as the most delicious and tender to be found in all of Europe. (And you thought advertising puffery was a recent problem?) Cornelissen priced his ducks accordingly, at about five times that for the "ordinary" variety. In order to justify his huge premium, he was claiming that because each duck had eaten twenty other ducks his price was a bargain.

But, again, this may not be the whole story, since there is, to borrow a phrase from patents, prior art. There is an old Middle French phrase dating to 1584, "bailler un canard à moitié" (also as "vendre des canards a moitie") which means to half-sell a duck. It is also seen as "bailler le lièvre à l'oreille", or to give a hare (wild rabbit) by the ear. These expressions, in the vernacular of the time, meant to deceive someone since half-selling something is to not sell it at all. (Don't blame me if it sounds stupid; I don't make up these phrases.) But, this is still a peculiar expression. So where did it come from?

Cover of "Make Way For Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey

There is an old German word "ente", or "duck", which was used to mean "lie". It dates back to the time of Luther, far older than Cornelissen. The speculation among etymologists about the linkage between ducks and falsehoods is that ducks have erratic and unreliable reproduction, and thus "lie" about whether or not there will be ducklings.

I think that's the most sensible explanation I've heard. And that's no canard, either.

(Oh, and the title line? It's from a very unfunny sketch by the Marx Brothers — I never found them at all amusing — in "A Night At The Opera". But I thought it fit the subject rather well.)

"I Am Evidently His Idea of a Character."

William S. Burroughs Takes Aim at the World Trade Center

William S. Burroughs Takes Aim at the World Trade Center, 1978

Following up on my entry about William S. Burroughs making art with a shotgun comes this photograph taken from the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time this was taken, Burroughs was living on the Bowery, three blocks from CBGB (Manhattan's Lower East Side) in an old YMCA gym's raquetball court. Because it was made of cement and had no windows, Burroughs called it "The Bunker". (You can see it in the 1985 documentary "Burroughs".) I can only imagine how many police tactical units would descend if anyone tried to take a photograph like this today. (The title line, by the way, is from Naked Lunch.)

"Art is Anything You Can Get Away With."

Cover for The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan

Art is anything you can get away with.

— Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, 1967

Art is Anything You Can Get Away With

Someday when I have some time, I'll have to write up why Marshall McLuhan not only continues to matter, but matters more now than ever. In the meantime, I thought I would share some of my readings into McLuhan's views on art, a subject near and dear to my heart. I'll start with his view on pop art:

When the industrial and mechanical environment first enveloped the old agrarian world, Nature became an art form for the first time. So did all the old crafts, the yokel, and even savage. The parallel, earlier, was the uplifting of the hunter to a snobbish, aristocratic status when the agrarian world took over as environment and the old hunting grounds became the "content" of new technology. When the industrial and mechanical age became environmental, the arts and crafts acquired a new snobbish, amateurish quality. They became the content of the mechanical age and were accorded the usual upgrading of status. When the electric technology enveloped the mechanical one, we were plunged into the world of machine as art form. Abstract art and functional architecture took over as mimetic repeats of old environment. Pop-Art is part of the same technological fugue.

The message and impact of the new environment is quite at variance with the content of new technology. The content is always the old technology, just as the novel was the content of the film when it was new. Now as film is processed by TV, the story line of the book form tends to disappear. The movie form now begins to acquire the nonnarrative structure of a Symbolist poem of a century before. There is thus no direct means of environmental awareness to be won from the consumer approach to such "art" activity. Indirectly, it is possible to construct the characteristic bias of the new environment from the current stock responses...

— Marshall McLuhan, Art News, May 1966

Cover for Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan then advanced into the art as a means to understand technology's impact upon society:

If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they all become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one's psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

The artist can correct the sense ratios before the blow of new technology has numbed conscious procedures. He can correct them before numbuess and subliminal groping and reaction begin. If this is true, how is it possible to present the matter to those who are in a position to do something about it? If there were even a remote likelihood of this analysis being true, it would warrant a global armistice and period of stock- taking. If it is true that the artist possesses the means of anticipating and avoiding the consequences of technological trauma, then what are we to think of the world and bureaucracy of "art appreciation"? Would it not seem suddenly to be a conspiracy to make the arust a frill, a fribble, or a Milltown? If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they all become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one's psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties. Would we, then, cease to look at works of art as an explorer might regard the gold and gems used as the ornaments of simple nonliterates?

At any rate, in experimental art, men are given the exact specifications of coming violence to their own psyches from their own counter- irritants or technology. For those parts of our selves that we thrust out in the form of new invention are attempts to counter or neutralize collective pressures and irritations. But the counter- irritant usually proves a greater plague than the initial irritant, like a drug habit. And it is here that the artist can show us how to "ride with the punch," instead of "taking it on the chin." It can only be repeated that human history is a record of "taking it on the chin."

Emile Durkheim long ago expressed the idea that the specialized task always escaped the action of the social conscience. In this regard, it would appear that the artist is the social conscience and is treated accordingly! "We have no art," say the Balinese; "we do everything as well as possible."

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

The reference to Emile Durkheim is particularly telling. Durkheim was a 19th century sociologist who wrote about such topics as the effects of industrialization upon society, including the division of labor upon the nature of meaningful and rewarding work and how a lack of meaning led to suicide. (I covered his concept of "anomie" in an earlier entry.) Without going into too much detail here, Durkheim labelled the values and behavior accepted by society as "normal" as the "collective conscience". (Jung reformulated this for his conception of the "collective unconscious." Which is where the NYC group Unconscience:Collective got its name.) I believe McLuhan is paraphrasing the concept into "social conscience." Anyway, occupations, according to Durkheim, falls into two types: homogenous (low skilled and generic) and heterogenous (specialized professionals). In this case McLuhan seems to be saying that artists define the social conscience, which, at first, appears to be outrageous. After all, just about every avante garde artist is labelled as deviant. And yet, without a short time, their work is mainstream. Go figure.

I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

God Save The Queen!

Lucien Freud's Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

It makes her look like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke.

Robert Simon, Editor, British Art Journal, quoted in "Freud Royal Portrait Divides Critics" 21 December 2001

The portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II of England done by Lucien Freud has apparantly vanished from public display. Hardly surprising, given how unflattering it is.

The newspaper concedes that the Queen "is no longer the heart-breakingly beautiful young woman she was", but maintains she is still "easy on the eye".

Yet the Telegraph adds Freud has captured the Queen's strong sense of duty and Hanoverian roots, and concludes that the work is "thought provoking" and "every bit as good" as previous efforts.

The chief art critic of The Times, Richard Cork, describes the image as "painful, brave, honest, stoical and, above all, clear sighted".

But in the same paper, Richard Morrison says: "The chin has what can only be described as a six-o'clock shadow, and the neck would not disgrace a rugby prop forward.

"The expression is of a sovereign who has endured not one annus horribilis but an entire reign of them. The Merry Monarch it isn't."

The Sun calls the portrait "a travesty".

The paper's royal photographer, Arthur Edwards, says: "They should hang it in the kharzi.

"Freud should be locked in the Tower for this."

Robert Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, tells the newspaper: "It makes her look like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke."

Tinman Gallery's Collection of Queen Elizabeth II photographs

It's not like this should have been a surprise to anyone. Despite being England's most famous painter, Lucien Freud — brother of Clement, a very talented writer and restaurateur, and grandson of Sigmund — paints exceedingly unflattering portraits that make the subject look lumpy and misshapen. (Ok, Leigh Bowery was lumpy and misshapen, but Freud does this with everyone.) He is famous for not doing commissions; why anyone would want to look like lumpy sausage is beyond me, but there's no accounting for taste. Freud claims he wants to render the face as a body part. (If that's a body part, it needs liposuction.)

Normally I underplay facial expression when painting the figure, because I want expression to emerge through the body. I used to do only heads, but came to feel that I relied too much on the face. I want the head, as it were, to be more like another limb.

— Lucian Freud, quoted by Michael Kimmelman

Anyway, the painting is now on private display in Windsor Castle. I bet. Probably already destroyed in a "tragic accident".

Spitting Image Puppet for Queen Elizabeth II

The Mirror says Freud could have saved the Queen the trouble of sitting for him by copying her Spitting Image puppet.

"Freud Royal Portrait Divides Critics" 21 December 2001

The Spitting Image puppeteers created exceedingly unflattering puppets for political satire. Their queen puppet is ever so more attractive than Freud's portrait, which ought to say something about Freud. The man can paint — his early work is very representational — so he's clearly got an agenda in making people, attractive or not, look repulsive. Either that, or he needs a really good opthomologist.

God save the Queen
the fascist regime,
they made you a moron
a potential H-bomb.

God save the Queen
she ain't no human being.
There is no future
in England's dreaming

...

God save the Queen
we mean it man
we love our queen
God saves

God save the Queen
'cos tourists are money
and our figurehead
is not what she seems

"God Save The Queen" by J. Rotten, G. Matlock, S. Jones, P. Cook, The Sex Pistols

Malt Does More Than Milton Can…

Zymurgy Magazine

Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

— A.E. Houseman, "A Shropshire Lad"

My comment on Marmite being the first legitimate zymurgy posting resulted in a few queries about the zymurgy category and why I have one. (But none about why I have an "aardvark" category. Go figure.) Anyway, here's what the OED has to say:

zymurgy (noun) Chem Biochem the branch of applied chemistry dealing with the use of fermentation in brewing etc. Etymology: Greek zume leaven, on the pattern of metallurgy.

Oxford English Dictionary

And, no, in case you were wondering, I don't do homebrewing and never liked beer. (I just like showing off.) I've seen the Houseman quote butchered on t-shirts on St. Marks that say, "Beer does more than Milton can, To justify God's ways to man." You'll find them between the "Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck" and "Do I Look Like A Fucking People Person?" shirts.

O-Higan
(Transcendence of Opposites)

Butterfly Girl

O-Higan
(Transcendence of Opposites)

(This image graces the covers of the hand-made, limited-edition greeting cards I made for the Vernal Equinox, which is today. I thought that both it and the accompanying text were equally appropriate tos hare, so I'm reproducing the card.)

The Vernal Equinox demarcates equality between night and day; afterwards, light banishes darkness, and life again returns to the land. We celebrate this shift in the balance of light and dark, cold and warm, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. In Zen, the equilibrium of the equinoxes is named o-higan.

About the Photograph

I shot this, on film, at Wigstock 2004, NYC’s annual drag-queen festival in Tompkins Square Park. It was a miserable, rainy, gray day, and those backstage (I had a pass) crowded under a small tent to stay dry.

I love photographing drag queens, transsexuals, and transvestites because—beyond their life force, gender fluidity, and tromp l’oeil nature—they just adore the camera like nobody else, honey. During a brief lull in the rain I saw the butterfly girl. I smiled and gestured with my camera; she smiled back and posed. I had time only for a few shots before the crowd surged in again and made photography impossible.

Who better to embody the equality of masculine and feminine; the season’s transformation from drab, dormant chrysalis to brightly-decorated butterfly; and the conundrum underlying Chou’s question?

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

— Chuang Chou

Best Wishes for the Vernal Equinox,

Citizen Arcane

Marmite, Vegemite & Promite (Oh My!)

Marmite Fan

Buying bread from a man in brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

"Down Under", Men At Work

Marmite is a disgusting, noxious blend of yeast residue left over after fermenation, salt, and vegetable flavors. (No, I am so not making this up.) It tastes, well, like salty chemical waste. As a skilled chef, I am absolutely befuddled that people will eat Marmite when they could eat actual food. Besides the British who created Marmite, nobody eats this stuff except for the Australians. They like it so much they created two homegrown alternatives: Promite and Vegemite. Comparisons may show the products have a slightly different taste, but I doubt this matters except to fans.

Marmite Jar (front)

People simply binned the by-products of brewing before they knew any better.

History of Marmite, Marmite.com

Uh, no, they binned it because they knew it wasn't food. Even Marmite's manufacturer admits not everyone likes this glop:

Ever taken a good look at engine grease? Like a real up-close look? Ever compared the two? A pot of Marmite and a thick scraping of burnt oil? Exactly.

Birth of Marmite, Marmite.com

Marmite Jar (back)

But that's not the best part. It seems that Marmite is running television ads — what better way to attract people to eat axle grease that tastes like it's made from ebola cadavers — that cause children to need therapy:

LONDON (Reuters) - A Marmite advert that parodied 1950's science fiction film "The Blob" has been banned from all childrens' programmes in Britain after leaving kids too scared to watch television, the advertising watchdog has said.

Two Marmite adverts featured a giant brown blob rolling along a crowded street, terrifying some people who tried to flee while others ran towards it with delight.

The advert ended with Marmite's slogan: "You either love it or hate it".

"Marmite blob ad 'terrified' children", Reuters, 16 March 2005

Oh, and this posting is a historic occasion; it is the first legitimate posting in the zymurgy category. (What a truly frabjous day this is!) I'll leave it as an exercise to debate whether or not that was why I posted it. Ok, I won't leave it as an exercise. It wasn't. I just noticed it when I was checking off categories, that's all. (And, technically, it isn't the first legitimate one. The Starck beer package was really the first, but it was borderline.)

"A Jack Hammer Riveting Into Your Skull"

For those of you wavering on the question of Miles' sanity, this clinches it. Metal Machine Music is an hour's worth of the equivalent of a dentist's drill drilling into an infected tooth, a jack hammer riveting into your skull. Except it's perhaps less melodic than that. Miles has officially gone over the edge. You know the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? This is worse -- a lot worse.

— Andy Whitman

Album Cover for Metal Machine Music (front)

I was passing by a bar around lunchtime and heard what could only be described as pure noise. But it wasn't just noise; something was hauntingly familiar. Then I realized what it was: Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. (I think the only drink they serve at that bar must be EverClear straight up with an Oxycontin chaser.) If you haven't ever heard this album you're missing... well, absolutely nothing. Yeah, I know, there are those who swear by it, but they use jackhammers by day and say "what?" by night. This is music that could be used to torture Iraqi detainees. In all fairness, however, it isn't pure noise and it did take some creativity to introduce that feedback. Reed obviously did all of this in a studio using instruments, and not actual machinery. So it is an exercise in creativity, but that doesn't mean I want to listen to it. (If you don't believe me, you should listen to some short snippets.) Anyway, here's some commentary on Metal Machine Music:

The album was a two-record set titled Metal Machine Music and was met with much derision from the record-buying public, who went back to their respective record stores in droves and demanded refunds, claiming the album was "defective."

...

Along with Igor Stravinsky's La Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), which caused a riot at its 1913 debut, Metal Machine Music is one of a handful of compositions to elicit an almost universally negative response from the public.

...

But the idea that Lou Reed then left the studio is false --- or, at the very least, if Lou Reed did leave, then somebody stuck around --- because there is a lot happening on this album. It sounds like Lou took some basic recordings of feedback and subjected them to all sorts of electronic manipulation [...]

...

In other words, as Harry Dean Stanton put it in the film Twister [a film from ca. 1990, not the more recent blockbuster]: "I suppose you can acquire a taste for anything, but why do it?" Or something like that.

Joe Castleman

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (front)

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (front)

The waves of distortion are a bit to get through, and by the time that the record has ended you know that you have completed quite a task. Your ears, if the piece is turned up loud, feel as though they have been through a war.

Stylus Magazine

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (back)

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (back)

Except to add, "I think my ear canals are bleeding...", what can I say about Metal Machine Music Part III (16:13) that hasn't already been said; it's densely scrawled in the same violent frenzy as the rest.

David J. Opdyke

I bet if you need it for your 8-track collection you can find it on eBay.

At the end of the finishing assault, Metal Machine Music Part IV, Reed had engineers create a locked groove so that the record literally wouldn't stop playing its final wrenching seconds until someone manually lifted the needle (or pulled the plug).

— David J. Opdyke

You Say "Duck Tape", I say "Duct Tape"…

Duct tape is like the force: It has a dark side and a light side and it holds the universe together.

— Carl Zwanzig

Duct Tape Wallet

I'm sure you remember how The Department of Homeland Insecurity wowed us with its recommendation that every home have duct tape, plastic bags, and a change of clothes. (Isn't this the contents of every serial rapist's overnight bag?) Now that you ran out and bought all that duct tape for the non-existent attack, you're probably wondering what to do with it. Well, wonder no more! You can take what little remains of your precious cash after that shopping expedition, and having your job outsourced to China, and make a {drumroll} duct-tape wallet!

Most people agree that Duct Tape can save you money on costly repair bills but did you know that you could create a wallet to hold all of the money you’ve saved? It’s not as difficult as it sounds and in just a few simple steps, you could be the proud owner of this year’s most important fashion statement.

Duct Tape Workshop: Make a Duct-Tape Wallet

Now wasn't that much more fun than doing "DUCK!...and cover!" drills? Oh, and about the name?

Adhesive tape (specifically masking tape) was invented in the 1920's by Richard Drew of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, Co. (3M). Duct tape (the WWII military version) was first created and manufactured in 1942 (approximate date) by the Johnson and Johnson Permacel Division. Its closest predecessor was medical tape.

The original use was to keep moisture out of the ammunition cases. Because it was waterproof, people referred to the tape as "Duck Tape." Also, the tape was made using cotton duck - similar to what was used in their cloth medical tapes. Military personnel quickly discovered that the tape was very versatile and used it to fix their guns, jeeps, aircraft, etc. After the war, the tape was used in the booming housing industry to connect heating and air conditioning duct work together.

Soon, the color was changed from Army green to silver to match the ductwork and people started to refer to duck tape as "Duct Tape." Things changed during the 1970s, when the partners at Manco, Inc. placed rolls of duct tape in shrink wrap, making it easier for retailers to stack the sticky rolls. Different grades and colors of duct tape weren´t far behind. Soon, duct tape became the most versatile tool in the household.

History of Duct Tape

Sources and Further Reading

  1. RPI Guide on How to Make a Duct Tape Wallet
  2. Sean's Duct Tape Wallet - The Sequel
  3. The Duct Tape Guy's Guide to "How to make a simple duct tape wallet!"
  4. History of Duct Tape

What Song Is It You Wanna Hear?

Album cover for "Pronounced leh-nerd skin-erd"

If this were the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and you were going to die in 20 minutes — just long enough to play 'Freebird' — we still wouldn't play it.

— Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock quoted in "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater" by Jason Fry, Wall Street Journal, 17 March 2005, page A1

There were a few superbands when I was growing up, but none held a candle to Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Hard to believe I was eight when this was released, and twelve when the plane crashed. Man do I feel old.) Just in case you've been living in a cave for the past thirty years, here's the official word on Freebird:

A towering rock anthem crowned with the mother of all guitar solos, Freebird almost never got made at all. When guitarist Allen Collins first brought it into rehearsals, volatile singer Ronnie Van Zandt was unenthusiastic, claiming it had too many chords. Eventually he relented, writing a lyric paying tribute to the late Duane Allman. Opening with a gospel-like organ flourish which flows majestically into Collin’s sweeping slide guitar hook, Van Zandt sings with sensitivity at odds with his band’s redneck image. The climatic guitar duel was added late in the day, but soon became a centrepiece of the band’s live shows. Freebird became the template for a certain style of southern rock showstopper – witness Green Grass and High Tides by The Outlaws or Highway Song by Blackfoot for songs with similar dynamics – and assumed even greater poignancy when Van Zandt was killed along with two other band members in a plane crash in 1977. When Skynyrd reformed in the late 80s it was performed as an instrumental, with an empty mic stand centre stage adorned with Ronnie’s trademark cowboy hat. To this day it continues to live on as a rock radio staple matched only by Stairway to Heaven.

BBC Top 100 - Number 33 - Freebird

Yeah, what he said. Anyway, Freebird has achieved what few songs ever do: it has become a meme.

One recent Tuesday night at New York's Bowery Ballroom, the Crimea had just finished its second song. The Welsh quintet's first song had gone over fairly well, the second less so, and singer/guitarist Davey MacManus looked out at the still-gathering crowd.

Then, from somewhere in the darkness came the cry, "Freebird!"

It made this night like so many other rock 'n' roll nights in America.

...

Yelling "Freebird!" has been a rock cliché for years, guaranteed to elicit laughs from drunks and scorn from music fans who have long since tired of the joke. And it has spread beyond music, prompting the Chicago White Sox organist to add the song to her repertoire and inspiring a greeting card in which a drunk holding a lighter hollers "Freebird!" at wedding musicians.

Bands mostly just ignore the taunt. But one common retort is: "I've got your 'free bird' right here." That's accompanied by a middle finger. It's a strategy Dash Rip Rock's former bassist Ned Hickel used. According to fans' accounts of shows, so have Jewel and Hot Tuna's Jack Casady. Jewel declines to comment. Mr. Casady says that's "usually not my response to those kind of things."

...

So what do the members of Skynyrd think of the tradition? Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's brother and the band's singer since 1987, says "it's not an insult at all -- I think it's kind of cool. It's fun, and people are doing it in a fun way. That's what music's supposed to be about."

Besides, Mr. Van Zant has a confession: His wife persuaded him to see Cher in Jacksonville a couple of years ago, and he couldn't resist yelling "Freebird!" himself. "My wife is going, 'Stop! Stop!' " he recalls, laughing. "I embarrassed the hell out of her."

"Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater" by Jason Fry, Wall Street Journal, 17 March 2005, page A1

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
’cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
’cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.

Bye, bye, it’s been a sweet love.
Though this feeling I can’t change.
But please don’t take it badly,
’cause lord knows I’m to blame.
But, if I stayed here with you girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you’ll never change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.
Lord help me, I can’t change.

"Freebird" by Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant, Pronounced leh-nerd skin-erd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1973

"I Was a Racketeer, a Gangster For Capitalism"

There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

There is an old saying in philosophy, cui bonum; literally, "who benefits?". The point is to ask, for any situation, who benefits from it. Asking that question about war is, to some extent, pointless, because we know who benefits: the military-industrial-political complex. It never met an armed conflict it didn't like. Today's blog entry contains words from a military man who understood the evils of war. Although his words are seventy years old, they are just as applicable today, if not more so.

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler was not a coward. A coward would not have received not one, but two medals of honor for acts of bravery during wartime, and would not have been widely respected and honored for his courage and valor. Neither was he a pacifist who favored appeasement at all costs. Such men do not serve in a variety of conflicts, nor do they rise to the rank of Major General, nor do they publically criticize fascists like Mussolini. General Butler was a soldier who came to loathe and despise war because he felt it served only to enrich the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the ordinary people: workers, families, and soldiers.

The United States Marine Corp's writeup on General Butler certainly establishes his bona fides to comment on the evils of war:

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, one of the most colorful officers in the Marine Corps' long history, was one of the two Marines who received two Medals of Honor for separate acts of outstanding heroism.

He was not yet 20 when the citizens of his native West Chester, Pennsylvania, presented him with a sword on his return from the Boxer Rebellion in China. Some 50 years later that trophy was presented to the Marine Corps for permanent custody.

General Butler, later known to thousands of Marines as "Ol' Gimlet Eye," was born 30 July 1881. He was still in his teens when, on 20 May 1898, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps for the War with Spain.

Following a brief period of instruction at Washington, D.C., he served with the Marine Battalion, North Atlantic Squadron, until 11 February 1899, when he was ordered to his home and honorably discharged on 16 February 1899.

He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 8 April 1899; promoted to captain, 23 July 1900; to major, 13 May 1908; to lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1916; to colonel (temporary), 1 July 1918; to brigadier general (temporary), 7 October 1918; to colonel (permanent), 9 March 1919; to brigadier general (permanent), 4 June 1920; and to major general, 5 July 1929.

...

His first Medal of Honor was presented following action at Vera Cruz, Mexico, 21 and 22 April 1914, where he commanded the Marines who landed and occupied the city. General Butler (then a major) "was eminent and conspicuous in command of his Battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22d and in the final occupation of the city."

The following year, he was awarded the second Medal of Honor for bravery and forceful leadership as Commanding Officer of detachments of Marines and seamen of the USS Connecticut in repulsing Caco resistance on Fort Riviere, Haiti, 17 November 1915.

During World War I, he commanded the 13th Regiment in France. For exceptionally meritorious service, he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star. When he returned to the United States in 1919, he became Commanding General of the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, and served in this capacity until January 1924, when he was granted leave of absence to accept the post of Director of Public Safety of the City of Philadelphia. In February 1926, he assumed command of the Marine Corps Base at San Diego, California. In March 1927, he returned to China for duty with the 3d Marine Brigade. From April to 31 October he again commanded the Marine Barracks at Quantico. On 1 October 1931, he was retired upon his own application after completion of 33 years' service in the Marine Corps.

United States Marine Corp, History Division

Now it is time to consider what he said about war and who profits from it. This is excerpted from a speech he gave in 1933 before he had written his book, War is a Racket:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

He went on to expand these ideas into a book. Here is the opening part. It is worth reading, even if it is similar to the speech because it could very well be describing the Iraq war:

War Is A Racket

It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

His conclusions are as valid today as they were in 1935:

To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.

1. We must take the profit out of war.

2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.

3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

Sources and Further Reading

  1. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  2. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  3. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  4. "War is a Racket" speech by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, 1933 (note: this is not the same as the previous links to books)

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

A Plank, A Rope, And Thou?

Fractal Circles Crop Circle

On a moonless night in July 1990 I found myself in the middle of a Wiltshire field with a plank, a rope, and... well, you can guess the rest.

— Mike J. quoted in "I Was A Teenage Plasma Vortex"

In yesterday's entry about sand circles, I said that the Circlemakers had, as far as I knew, used the technique first. This induced me to write up their more famous work: crop circles. No matter what the UFOlogists say, crop circles are the work of humans. And most of them were the work of the bad boys of circle making over at Circlemakers.org. (Sorry to suck all the mystery out of the world. Well, not really. I mean the being sorry part, not about the removing the mystery part.) A few years ago I saw a documentary on the Discovery Channel about how they wield their talents and it is both amazing and beautiful. All that sacred geometry comes from using lengths of rope to do the measuring. Who knew?

In their own words:

Doug Bower, assisted by his pal Dave, made his first circle in a Hampshire wheat field sometime during the summer of 1978. They made it on their hands and knees with a four-foot metal bar normally used to secure the back-door of Doug's Southampton studio.

"I'd always been interested in UFOs and flying saucers", he remembers, "...so I thought I'd make it look like one had landed." Whatever initially inspired him - divine guidance, the 1966 circle in a Queensland reed-bed, close to where Doug lived at the time, or simple ale-induced prankishness - the leap from provincial trampler to extraterrestrial super-force was swift.

Doug's daytime work-bench doodles transmogrified by night into gleaming sun-blessed articles of faith. This genius - fast-possessing others - couldn't be re-bottled.

Thousands of circles have since appeared world-wide in wheat, barley, oil-seed rape... grass, oats, linseed, peas, maize, mustard and rye... Gradually, inevitably, the circles grew appendages; curled scrolls unravelled into straw-perfect aisles; simple circles' sets became cathedral-like floor-plans - vast temporary sacred sites morphogenised the Gaiaic cry of nautili, whales, serpents, snails, scorpions, and spider's webs.

Equally spectral were the people who studied them; a veritable zoo of new-scientists, cerealogists, ufologists, vicar's-voiced dowsers, orgone revivalists, channellers, and myriad mystics, all seeking phenomenal genuineness in one form or another.

That genuineness proved elusive. Once wrapped in darkness with the warblers and the rabbits, cold air hitting the throat like mint as they raced around and around and around in decreasing spirals; dew-soaked wheat whooshing and splaying under skidding rollers, crunching under planks; ever-widening swaths laid flat as a mat in their path; Doug, and his many imitators, have since retired unseen.

The Circlemakers by Rob Irving

Wavy Line and Concentric Circles Crop Circle

Want to make your own? It isn't hard.

Although the circles have appeared worldwide in wheat, oats, spinach, grass, peas, rice, linseed, maize, oil-seed rape, sunflowers, mustard, barley, sugar-beet, rye, and a multitude of other crops, most cereal artists prefer to concentrate upon just three. These are grown and harvested in a smooth, overlapping progression; oil-seed rape in April through May, barley throughout May and June, and wheat from June until early September. In this guide we will give you all the information you will need to work with these plants, and eventually, with a little practice, produce genuine, dowsable, scientifically proven un-hoaxable circles patterns.

Equipment

The tools you will need are relatively unsophisticated; a 30 metre surveyors tape - this is preferable to string which tends to tangle easily... a 1-2 metre board or plank with a rope attached to each end to form a loop - this is known as a stalk-stomper... dowsing rods - these should be made of copper, and purchased from an expensive new age shop, or, in an emergency, a couple of bent coat-hangers will do... and a plastic garden roller (available from reputable garden centres, or, if only for occasional use, these may be rented from tool-hire shops for about £2 a night). A luminous watch is also useful as a summer night can be surprisingly brief.

Circlemakers guide to making crop circles

Windmill Crop Circle

The Windmill Hill formation is often cited as being too complicated to have been made by humans. Well, they've got a nice rebuttal to that argument:

According to Silva these formations were tiny - a sixth and tenth of the size respectively compared to the Windmill Hill formation, which he states "dwarfs man made attempts".

The Windmill Hill formation was 375ft across, (It was measured by researcher Paul Vigay, amongst others who created a very accurate scale diagram from his measurements) though it is often inaccuarately cited as being nearly 1000ft across.

Our formation was 200ft across (made by three of us in 2.5 hrs). Matthew Williams' formation was a respectable 218ft across, made in only 2hrs by two people. Not the minute size that Silva alleges.

Myth Men By Rod Dickinson

Sparsholt Crop Circle

The Sparsholt formation is often cited as "proof" that aliens were making crop circles. Who else, after all, would combine a portrait of an "alien" with "DNA" evidence. (Nobody ever asks why the aliens don't just land on the Whitehouse lawn. Didn't anyone ever see "The Day The Earth Stood Still"?)

It's a massive ring which houses what looks like a 360 degree three-dimensional representation of a twisting DNA strand! According to reports there are 1296 squares that make up the grid that the DNA is laid out on and the formations stretched for over 200ft. Interestingly, the formations center is located between tram lines in standing crop, as you can see from the aerial photos there is no trace in the crop, now how did THEY do that?

Circlemakers: Top of the Crops 2002

Star Pattern Crop Circle

Patience and Fortitude

Patience

Yes, Virginia, the lions at New York Public do have names. Following on the heels of my reference about "things New Yorkers need to know", I'm writing up the origin of their names, and a little history. You may not know, for example, that they are made of marble that was selected for it's close resemblance to concrete.

The world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic Beaux-Arts building of The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan have captured the imagination and affection of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world since the Library was dedicated on May 23, 1911.

According to Henry Hope Reed in his book The New York Public Library, the sculptor Edward Clark Potter obtained the commission for the lions on the recommendation of August Saint-Gaudens, one of America's foremost sculptors. Potter was paid $8,000 for the modelling, and Piccirilli Brothers executed the carving for $5,000, using pink Tennessee marble.

The Lions have witnessed countless parades and pageants. They have been adorned with holly wreaths during the winter holidays and magnificent floral wreaths in springtime. They have been decked in tri-cornered hats and graduation caps. They have been photographed alongside countless tourists, replicated as bookends, caricatured in cartoons, and illustrated in numerous books. One even served as the hiding place for the cowardly lion in the motion picture The Wiz.

Their nicknames have changed over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (even though they are both male lions). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library's steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.

As a tribute to the Lions' popularity and all that they stand for, the Library adopted these figures as its mascots. They are trademarked by the Library, represented in its logo, and featured at major occasions.

The Library Lions: Patience and Fortitude

In 2004 the lions were restored. Unlike the butchery done to poor George Washington over at Washington Square Park — thank you Henry Stern for sandblasting his face after being warned what would happen — this job was done right.

"Like many New Yorkers who take a respite from the city, Patience and Fortitude have returned from a brief time of seclusion looking wonderfully refreshed, but not noticeably altered," remarked Dr. LeClerc. "The lions were showing the inevitable signs of sitting outside for 93 years. They are such powerful and beloved symbols of this city, the Library wished to preserve, improve and stabilize their integrity before any significant deterioration occurs, so they may start their second century of sitting guard in top form."

The Bresnan report determined that the lions were in structurally sound condition but were showing the visual effects of surface weathering, caused primarily by 10 decades of exposure to the elements and exacerbated by pollutants, people climbing on them (which is prohibited), and the rare act of vandalism. This surface damage appears as a roughness of the marble grain, a slight loss of detail in the carving, and several hairline cracks. Fortitude (the north lion) has also sustained two larger cracks on each side of its mane and is showing the edges and pins of the marble patches -- called dutchmen -- that were installed to correct a design flaw at the time of the sculpture's carving in 1911.

What was done?

The hairline cracks on each lion were injected with grout to stabilize the progress of the cracking. Gypsum deposits were removed by micro-abrasion to deter water and soil retention. General soil cleaning was performed by water misting. Stainless steel pins were installed to secure the two larger cracks, which were finished with a compatible patching material. The perimeter of the dutchmen were repointed and the existing pin holes filled. The Milford Pink granite pedestals on which the lions rest were repointed with a new compatible mortar.

Restored Library Lions Unveiled, 19 November 2004

High Fidelity. Errr… "High-Tide Phidelity"

Double-Weave Design

Kris Northern a "designer, musician, and information architect (amongst other things)" has been creating sand circles. These are like crop circles, but are made using beach sand. It's an interesting, and attractive, medium for art, but the Circlemakers did it first.

How do you get it so perfect?

It is through a combination of being meticulous, sacred geometry and working with the cycles of nature in mind (ie the ebb and flow of the tides). We use a simple tool-kit of string, a couple hand rakes and a smoothing trowel.

What does it mean?

Each piece might have its own personal meaning to the creator but the common thread between all the designs is self similarity, harmony, balance and pleasing design. Each piece should have its own unique meaning to each person viewing it.

Where do you get your designs from?

We design them all from scratch... this isn't to say that we are the first to create them. Sometimes we stumble upon a design that many others before us have discovered. Generally we use Adobe Illustrator to create a prototype of the design so that we dont get lost in the maze of lines when we are inside of it.

Why do you do it?

Primarily because it is fun for us; we love geometry and design so to see these designs on a staggering scale is a real thrill. We use the work as a chance to practice mindfulness and really relax and put our full attention into it. Also if given the choice between sitting in front of a computer and learning this or a fully interactive experience with our friends on the beautiful tidal flats of ocean beach I dont think there's much of weighing of options.

Isn't hard to leave the designs behind?

While I can't speak for everyone else involved I have no attachments to the pieces. Their impermance is probably one of my favorite aspects of them, it's not something that can be taken for granted, it's not something a person can come back later and check it out when they have more time, they either enjoy it in the moment or they dont, and that is one of the most valuable lessons Ive learned in life.

How long does it take?

We spend anywhere from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours on a piece on the beach, though creating the initial design on our computers might be the better part of a night trying different combinations and techniques.

What do you guys do when you arent making crop circles?

We are all free-lance artists.

Phidelity

Raking Sand

Cleopatra Versus The Masons

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates, 2005

"A great way to open the harbor and the hearts of New York would be for Your Highness to present America with an Egyptian obelisk. After all, both London and Paris have been so honored."

"There is no insurmountable obstacle to preclude such a gift. Have you a particular obelisk in mind?"

"Forgive the pun, Your Highness — but any old obelisk will do. There's one hanging over the seawall in Alexandria for instance. It could readily be moved."

"Ah yes. The so-called Cleopatra's Needle. Yes — I think it might be arranged."

"An Obelisk for Central Park" by Edmund S. Whitman, Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1975, Volume 26, Number 4

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

I was explaining the photos I took of The Gates set against Cleopatra's Needle and was asked, "where is that?". Seems that not every New Yorker knows there is an ancient Egyptial obelisk from the 15th century BC smack dab in the middle of Manhattan. (I know, it's hard to believe but, hey, there are people who don't know the names for the lions outside the New York Public Library. Some of them don't know that the lions have names. Really!) Anyway, I put together a little writeup on it.

The oldest manmade object in Central Park, by a long shot, is the Obelisk, located directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nicknamed "Cleopatra's Needle," the dedication of the obelisk in fact has nothing to do with Cleopatra, but was a self-commissioned tribute to Egypt's Thutmosis III (an accurate attribution, but clearly without the popular appeal of the Queen of the Nile). The obelisk was erected in Heliopolis around 1500 BC, moved to Alexandria, and from there to the United States in 1879. The Khedive of Egypt (who governed as a viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey between 1879 and 1914) offered it to the United States in the hope of stimulating economic development in his country.

Moving the obelisk from Alexandria, Egypt, to Central Park was a feat second only to its original construction. Imagine moving a 71 foot, 244 ton granite needle, first from vertical to horizontal, then into the hold of a ship, across the Mediterranean Sea, and over the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean without breakage. It took four months just to bring it from the banks of the Hudson River to the Park! The final leg of the journey was made across a specially built trestle bridge from Fifth Avenue to its new home on Greywacke Knoll. The site, just across the drive from the then newly-built Metropolitan Museum of Art, was quietly chosen over such other worthy competitors as Columbus Circle and Union Square.

You only realize the massive scale of the obelisk when you stand right at its base, supported at each corner by bronze replicas of sea crabs crafted by the Romans (and on display in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum); one crab alone weighs approximately 900 pounds. A recently-restored plaza around the obelisk has benches for admiring the obelisk's design, manufacture, and inscription. Surrounding the plaza are Japanese yews, magnolias, and crab apples. Visitors can sit on the surrounding benches and ponder the passing of history or simply enjoying the passing of the seasons.

Central Park Conservancy

This may not tell the entire history. The Masons have always loved all things Egyptian. If there is any doubt, just look at the Washington Monument; that great phallus is so Masonic there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Cleopatra's Needle being in Central Park is not by accident or coincidence.

This history of Cleopatra's Needle goes back to the fifteenth century BC:

The "needle" — a modern term for obelisks apparently deriving from the shape — had its genesis in the 15th century B.C. when Thothmes III dispatched a 120,000-man contingent 600 miles up the Nile to the Aswan quarry with instructions to provide him with a pair of red granite obelisks for the great Temple of Tum. As was customary, all the quarrying, carving and polishing was done right on location and the finished product — 69 feet 6 inches high and weighing 224 tons — was barged down the Nile to Heliopolis and erected. But first the obelisk was sheathed in electrum — one part silver to four parts gold — so that its facets would catch the sun's rays and reflect them like a heliograph. It is said that the Pharaoh had his only son lashed to the point, there to remain until the needle was safely in place. His workers knew full well what would befall them should the monument — and the son — fall.

"An Obelisk for Central Park" by Edmund S. Whitman, Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1975, Volume 26, Number 4

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, United States Navy

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, USN (ret.)

The obelisk was moved from Egypt to Central Park by Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe who, while he accomplished the task spectacularly well, did not have an easy time of it.

In New York there were further troubles. Gorringe got the 50-ton pedestal ashore where, slung on chains and hauled by 32 horses, it was moved to Central Park. But before he could offload the obelisk, functionaries in Manhattan imposed so many restrictions that Gorringe had to move the Dessoug to Staten Island for unloading. There, the ship's bow was lifted, the hole in the bow was reopened and the obelisk was raised, turned and eased onto a wooden landing stage built on piles. Afterwards it was rolled ashore, first, and ingeniously, on steel cannon balls and then, when the pressure became too great, on rollers mounted on top of flat steel bars.

On wooden pontoons the monument was then floated across the river from Staten Island to a slip at West 96th Street, hoisted to the dock and moved two miles by block and tackle to Central Park. In the park the obelisk and the pedestal were mounted on a bed with rollers and moved across a huge wooden trestle to a knoll chosen by city authorities as the site. To budge the massive weight of stone, Gorringe mounted a donkey engine behind the bed, anchored a rope some distance ahead on the trestle and then reeled in the rope on a drum attached to the donkey engine. As the load inched forward, the rollers over which it had passed were moved to the front and used over and over again. Altogether it took 112 days to move the obelisk from the river to the site.

While all this was going on, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was casting replicas of the original four bronze crabs and foundation stones aggregating 87 ½ tons were being laid in Central Park—in the exact arrangement and position and with the same orientation to the sun, as in Alexandria. Gorringe also arranged to leave a space between the foundation stones to serve as a time capsule into which he placed lead boxes containing documents, records, obelisk data, coins and medals, the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, a dictionary and samples of various tools in common use.

All was in readiness then for the erection and on Jan. 22, 1881 it was swung into place.

"An Obelisk for Central Park" by Edmund S. Whitman, Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1975, Volume 26, Number 4

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Some obligatory triva. The word "obelisk" comes to us from the Greek for "meat skewer". While this obelisk is called Cleopatra's Needle, she had nothing whatsoever to do with it's creation or journey to Central Park. Inside the pedestal are a variety of items, including documents and records for the obelisk itself, 1880 proof coins, the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, a dictionary, samples of various tools in common use, and — this is what you've been waiting for — a metal box filled with sacred Masonic items placed there by Mr. William Henry Hubert, the Grand Master of the Masons. Some say that Jesse B. Anthony, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York, presided. To this day nobody knows what those items are. No matter who laid the cornerstone, over nine thousand Masons were reported to have paraded up Fifth Avenue from 14th Street to 82nd Street to see the event.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "An Obelisk for Central Park" by Edmund S. Whitman, Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1975, Volume 26, Number 4
  2. Central Park Conservancy on Cleopatra's Needle
  3. Overview of accomplishments of Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe

As for the obelisk it soon faded into obscurity and its lovely hieroglyphics, ravaged by New York's corrosive fumes, eventually vanished almost as completely as the civilization they represented for nearly 35 centuries.

"An Obelisk for Central Park" by Edmund S. Whitman, Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1975, Volume 26, Number 4

"Color Me Orange"
(How About Green For Envy?)

New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at NYCRR Race (unretouched)

Ok, it's a little late to be timely, in that The Gates are long gone, but I found the pissy commentary by Henry Stern — former New York City parks commissioner, loathed and reviled by many New Yorkers — to be funny nonetheless. (The photo above is unretouched. Honest! I was going to make him orange to match the gates, but while looking for photos found this perfect readymade. Duchamp would have been so proud of me...)

Color Me Orange
by Henry J. Stern
New York Sun
15 February 2005

Judged by the standards of Cecil B. DeMille, the event must be considered a great success. No one before has ever seen over seven thousand schmatas hanging from orange crossbars over park paths, and, presumably, such a sight will not reappear in our lifetime. Even if you think the gates are ugly, or a machine-made derogation of real art, or that the display is inappropriate in a natural area, or that Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (his wife, business manager, and muse) are shameless self-promoters, there is still much to appreciate in the colorful spectacle, including the fact that it was built, in the plain view of millions of people. It is no tragedy to do such a thing once, to amuse, enlighten, and provoke people, as long as no harm is done to the park. Perhaps the sight of the gates will teach us to be watchful about monkeying with the park's natural landscape in order to suit the caprice of artists with deep pockets.

Color Me Orange by Henry J. Stern, submitted to New York Sun (original, unpublished version as submitted)

Color Me Orange by Henry J. Stern, New York Sun, 15 February 2005 (shorter, published version)

Come on, Henry. Tell us how you really feel about someone using what you always considered to be your personal fiefdom...

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet…

While I used to see it a lot more, many Websites are still riddled with "Lorem Ipsum" placeholder text. (Just do a search on Google.) Some use it until the real content can be added, while others use it as a bit of copyright-free text to demonstrate differences between fonts, point sizes, justification rules, etc. So where did this bit of fake Latin come from?

Years ago I came across the origin and largely forgot about it except to the extent it crops up in conversation. (I clearly hang out with too many writers and artists.) Anyway, it came up in conversation and so I decided to write it up.

Lorem Ipsum, in brief, is derived from "Finibus Bonorum et Malorum" (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, an ethics book written in 45 BC. The literal translation is, "There is no one who loves pain itself, searches for it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain." Typesetters have been using this as dummy text since the 1500s. Much of the modern popularity seems to stem from Aldus which included a Lorem Ipsum generator in PageMaker. The best source is Lipsum.com which has an excellent explanation and even includes a generator to spew out placeholder text so you too can have a Website that is clearly still in the throes of design.

What is Lorem Ipsum?

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Why do we use it

It is a long established fact that a reader will be distracted by the readable content of a page when looking at its layout. The point of using Lorem Ipsum is that it has a more-or-less normal distribution of letters, as opposed to using 'Content here, content here', making it look like readable English. Many desktop publishing packages and web page editors now use Lorem Ipsum as their default model text, and a search for 'lorem ipsum' will uncover many web sites still in their infancy. Various versions have evolved over the years, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose (injected humour and the like).

Lipsum.com

So there you have it.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Straight Dope Column (less informative)
  2. Google Search for "Lorem Ipsum"
  3. Lipsum.com, includes generator
  4. Lorem-ipsum.info
  5. Text Generator

When The Going Gets Weird…

Hunter S. Thompson with Cigarette

Rolling Stone has a few tribute pieces on Hunter S. Thompson. I've linked to them directly with an excerpt from each. Some of them aren't great, but they're all we got. (And, yes, I'm still bummed. But thanks for asking.)

He liked to work against a crisis, and if there wasn't a legitimate one, he made one.

My Brother in Arms, by Jann S. Wenner

There was nothing hippieish about him. With a skull pipe clenched in his teeth, he looked — and sounded — strangely like Douglas MacArthur on amphetamines.

The Final Days at Owl Farm by Douglas Brinkley

Thompson eventually determined that the right drugs, in balance with the right amounts of alcohol, would help him churn out an increasingly prodigious — and for a time, an amazingly inspired — amount of writing.

The Last Outlaw by Mikal Gilmore

"Buy the ticket, take the ride." These are the words that echo in my skull. The words that our Good Doctor lived by and, by God, died by. He dictated, created, commanded, demanded, manipulated, manhandled and snatched life up by the short hairs and only relinquished his powerful grasp when he was ready.

A Pair of Deviant Bookends by Johnny Depp

Henceforth, anyone caught with narcotics, crazy pills or other stupor inducing agents will be dragged down to the basement and have his scrotum torn off.....and, conversely, any offender without a scrotum will have one permanently attached to her.

Memo From the Sports Desk by Raoul Duke

Das Ist Der Nadle

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates

Cleopatra's Needle and Gates

I've been going through the mountain of photographs I took of The Gates and found a few more worth sharing. This above shot is of Cleopatra's Needle with a gate; it took me a dozen shots before the wind cooperated and placed the fabric just so. The one below was taken of the back side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is all glass. It reflected the Gates perfectly. (This is where I heard the "Who's Christo?" comment.)

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates Reflected

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates Reflected in Metropolitan Museum Glass

Like Ants Under A Magnifying Glass

We feel like ants under a magnifying glass.
—Sheila Nixon

"Disney Concert Hall to Lose Some Luster" by Jack Leonard and Natasha Lee, Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2005,

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Here's another example of Frank Gehry's non-functional buildings are a hazard to the public:

Officials decided today to make the Walt Disney Concert Hall a little duller.

Construction crews are set to take a hand sander to some of the shimmering stainless steel panels that have wowed tourists and architecture lovers but have baked neighbors living in condominiums across the street.

Beams of sunlight reflected from the hall have roasted the sidewalk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt plastic and cause serious sunburn to people standing on the street, according to a report from a consultant hired by the county.

"Disney Concert Hall to Lose Some Luster" by Jack Leonard and Natasha Lee, Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2005,

Solar Furnace at Odeillo, France

Solar Furnace at Odeillo, France

Compare Gehry's design with the one megawatt solar furnace at Odeillo, France that delivers up to 3800°C per cm^2. This isn't the first time that Gehry has screwed up; his building at Case Western Reserve has a similar problem, though nowhere near as intense because Cleveland sunlight doesn't match's LA's intensity.

Worst. Architect. Ever!

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve

I make no bones about absolutely loathing Frank Gehry's entire opus. I can't think of anything the man has done that isn't, well, total self-indulgent, non-functional crap. How much creativity does it take to make wax models, heat them to the point of deformation, and then decree that one has created a new organic fluidity? Ok, so he uses a computer instead of wax, but the idea is the same. Gehry's curvilinear interiors have no relation to a building's structure, form, or purpose. His work is more Richard Serra, in that it's all about making people aware of space and sculpting with buildings. That's all well and good, but buildings are supposed to be attractive and functional, and his clearly fail. I don't like the melted-wax buildings of Bilbao, or the spastic twisted proposal for another Guggenheim — as if we need to lose more public space for a unsightly business — in NYC that is more reminiscent of a structure in the orgasmic throes of the Loiseaux's Controlled Demolition Inc. than of a usable structure.

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve with Icicles

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve with Icicles

The pantheon of Gehry abortions that lived is large, and, unfortunately, ever growing. Today I'll talk about the Case Western Reserve building with sweeping curves dumping ice water and snow on visitors, and whose non-linear hallways allowed a gunman to fight it out with SWAT teams unable to get a clear shot around curves. (Not that buildings should be designed for SWAT teams, of course.) Tomorrow I'll talk about the Disney Concert Hall, another monstrosity.

The shiny, swirling $62 million building that houses the business school at Case Western Reserve University is a marvel to behold. But it is sometimes best admired from afar.

In its first winter, snow and ice have been sliding off the long, sloping, stainless-steel roof, bombarding the sidewalk below. And in bright sun, the glint off the steel tiles is so powerful that standing next to the building is like lying on a beach with a tanning mirror.

The peculiar Peter B. Lewis Building was designed by Frank Gehry, the internationally renowned architect who also created the titanium-covered Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain.

"You might have to walk on the road to make sure you don't get hit by ice," said Adam Searl, a junior at Case Western's Weatherhead School of Management. "Maybe they should have thought about it before they had built the building. It's Cleveland. We get ice. We get snow. We get rain."

...

The university ordered barricades erected on the sidewalk to keep pedestrians away after the first big snow of the season produced something like an avalanche off the roof, said J.B. Silvers, associate dean for resource management and planning.

No one has been hurt, he said, but "I asked for the sidewalk barricades so we wouldn't have people getting snow inadvertently dumped on their heads."

CNN: Case Western takes precautions with Gehry's sloping roof

You might have to walk on the road to make sure you don't get hit by ice. Maybe they should have thought about it before they had built the building. It's Cleveland. We get ice. We get snow. We get rain.

— Adam Searl
CNN: Case Western takes precautions with Gehry's sloping roof

Sushi or Maki, But No Sashimi

Salmon Roll Pillow

Salmon Roll Pillow

There's nothing like a huge plate of sushi to make you sleepy. (Must be all the carbs.) Now, there's the perfect pillow to use for your after-sushi nap.

Salmon Roll Pillow

California Roll Pillow

You Catch More Flies With Kerosene…

Yesterday's mechanical fly catcher inspired me to see what other devices inventors had created to rid ourselves of the pesky scourge. The idea, it turns out, is an old one.

Electro-Mechanical Fly Catcher

Electro-mechanical fly catcher, by Everett Huckel Bickley, 1943

Everett Huckel Bickley (1888-1972), a Philadelphia-area inventor and entrepreneur, was responsible for dozens of inventions, some more marketable than others. His financial success came with the development of a bean-sorting machine that could, by use of photoelectric cell, sort good beans from bad. The sorter was the only invention from which Bickley ever made any considerable money, but it never dulled his enthusiasm for developing new ideas. At times he had up to nine active patent applications in the works, for such items as a nutcracker, a snow shovel, a slide mount, a faucet, and a photographic exposure meter.

Doodles, Drafts & Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

The diagram explains the workings:

1. Flies attracted by the bait light on cylinder.
2. Cylinder rotates carrying fly inside screen.
3. Fly eventually falls into kerosene and dies.

Doodles, Drafts & Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

Flycatcher, Flycatcher, Catch Me A Fly

Mechanical Fly Catcher

This mechanical fly catcher is an interesting device based on the venus flytrap:

The fly catcher is an electronic fly-swatting device based on the idea of the Venus fly trap. The Fly Catcher is not just a talking point, it actually does the job.

A non-toxic bait based at the bottom of the jaws lures the insect inside. As the insect crawls into the mouth of the trap, two sensors detect the insect causing the mouth to shut, swatting the insect dead.

As the jaws open for the next victim Fly Catcher emits a loud burp, indicating satisfaction from catching a juicy bug. Nice one!!

Mechanical Fly Catcher

Tourists Say The Damndest Things!

Wandering around Central Park taking pictures of The Gates I heard some funny comments.

A tourist is talking to a Gatekeeper: "After Central Park, what city do The Gates go to next?"

A couple is photographing themselves on the platform at the great lawn's west end next to a long line of gates. The man says, "Don't put a lot of gates in the background."

A man and his daughter are talking about The Gates. He sees my camera and asks me, "Do these go to museums now or do they get sold?" I explained about how all the gates will be recycled and what I've read of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude's thoughts on how museums live in the past. The man listens, looks puzzled, and then asks, "Who's Christo?"

Art Event Wear:
Black Jacket, Black Tie, Black MP5

NYPD Tactical Response Team

NYPD Tactical Response Team

On Friday I was almost arrested and "interrogated" (normally I expect dinner and a kiss first) by an NYPD tactical unit, in full regalia, guarding Christo & Jeanne-Claude for their signing at the Guggenheim. Seems I pointed a deadly weapon at the cops: my camera.

You surely know that only "terrorists" take pictures of NYPD units. Gee, Officer UnFriendly, when I see six humans so large they make football players look puny, armed with more firepower than an entire third-world nation's army and with trigger fingers at the ready, I tend to think, "hmmm, this is a somewhat unusual situation; might be a photo op".

The were guarding the Guggenheim against destruction by terrorists. (Personally, if the terrorists want to remove that piece of urban and art blight I'll send them fifty bucks to help cover their costs.) The idea that we live in a society so dangerous that anyone rich, famous, or powerful needs to be guarded against attack is a highly corrosive one. It teaches people to be fearful so they can be easily controlled.

Anyway, they gave me attitude about photographing them so I gave some back. I was polite, but I told them I had an absolute First Amendment right to photograph and they could call the editor of the news desk at the NY Times if they wanted someone to vouch for me. Yeah, I know. Whatever part of my brain is devoted to self-preservation — particularly when it comes to soldiers toting automatic weapons capable of turning me into something resembling bloody swiss cheese, in an eyeblink, no less — is clearly damaged beyond all hope of redemption. Either that or I've turned into a one of those lunatic photographers I keep reading about.

They blew a gasket at this point and told me that unless I could produce photo ID so I could prove I wasn't a "terrorist agent" who was "working for the other side" that they'd lock me up and interrogate me about my activities for four hours. Because I sooooo clearly look like a terrorist.

Puh-leaze.

Their big issue is that by photographing them I allow terrorists to identify them, and then kill their entire families because that's what terrorists do. (Yeah, this is happening all the time in America, right?) Then one of them deluged me with a tirade about how liberals don't support troops in Iraq and are training schoolchildren to write letters to soldiers calling them baby-killers, and how this aids the terrorists, how I need to respect the police as human beings because they protect me from being blown up, and how right this VERY MINUTE terrorists are plotting to destroy my way of life. All of this was pretty offensive; I don't know a single American who doesn't support the troops and who doesn't want them back home alive ASAP, and I don't know anyone who supports attacks on Americans, other than Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky. I can understand that they're angry because they believe all the Fox News lies about American's lack of support for soldiers, but still, their response was way over the line. (Their job is to tote a gun and protect people, which means they have certain responsibilities and obligations to be rational. Or, at least they should have those responsibilities and obligations.)

Some of the gems were: "Look downtown! YOU SEE ANY TOWERS? That's because WE ARE AT WAR!". And "Don't lecture me about the constitution and the first amendment. You have the rights I say you have." Oh, and "You gonna call the New York Times next time there's a terrorist attack? You think they'll keep you safe?" Their favorite phrase was, "You don't realize that WE ARE AT WAR ", which was repeated a lot. Well, officer, technically not, because only congress can declare war... (No, I didn't say this. Even I have shreds of rationality, sometimes.) And, beyond that, the Bush administration knew about 9-11 and bin Laden but didn't care. (No, I didn't say that either.)

I eventually managed to calm them down and walked away, after a handshake, with my photos intact. How did I do it? Easy: I let my inner fascist come out and play for a while. As I'll tell anyone who'll listen — republican or democrat, deranged neocon or delusional bleeding heart — the war in the mideast isn't about fighting Islamic terrorism. If it were, the US would have arrested, tried, and executed the entire Saudi royal family for financing 9-11 and other attacks, including Madrid. I wouldn't have outsourced finding bin Laden to the Pakistanis who actually put the Taliban into power and supported them. Then I told them about how Bush doesn't support the troops because they don't get their combat pay, they get forced to reup, they don't get Humvee armor they desperately need, and they don't get rehab after suffering horrific injuries because of multiple failures in command beyond just failure to provide Humvee armor or secure confiscated explosives. And then I started in on about how our borders leak like sieves, and how real security starts at the ports. (Yeah, they just listened. Pretty respectfully, actually, given the circumstances. I guess the novelty of a citizen talking back to them was too much of a shock.) Anyway, after I told the NYPD my thoughts on terrorism and the war — all true, by the way — and they decided I was an American and not one of "them".

Afterwards, I was reminded of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's observation waaaaaaay back in 1968 that, "The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder."

I think this is what's really wrong with America. The constitution isn't some toy that Americans get to take out of the box when we're good boys and girls, and it isn't something that presidents can suspend because the nation is allegedly "at war". Anyway, I got my shots and they look, well, terrible. Oh well. Shit happens. I was opened waaaaaaay up to burn out the sky and make the dark blue uniforms and guns show up, but it just needed a flash. Oh well. Better luck next time. (Except if I'd used a flash they woulda shot me, for sure.)

But, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. Or a photographer. Or a terrorist... Whatever. All seems to be the same difference to the NYPD.

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