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27 May 2017
Morning Sedition

Down Hill Derby
Getting Ready

This Costume Won Best In Show

This Costume Won Best In Show

Racetrack is All Clear

Racetrack is All Clear

The Goal

The Goal

Down Hill Derby
Just Wrap It!

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Down Hill Derby
Getting Screwed

Last Minute Prep; Don't Need No Screws Falling Out

Last Minute Prep; Don't Need No Screws Falling Out

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

The Down Hill Derby

Intersection at Finish Line

The Down Hill Derby was held on Saturday, the 14th of May, at 3pm. The rules were simple: build a vehicle with least three wheels; beyond that, anything goes. Trophies were to be awarded for best car and best failure.

Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

The race ran from Columbia Heights and Cranberry to Old Fulton street in Brooklyn. Those of you unfamiliar with the finer points of Brooklyn geography — you were likely unaware that Columbia Heights is Brooklyn's steepest hill. (Such as it is, of course. It doesn't hold a candle to some of the hilly parts around the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park, or Fort George Hill.) But back to the derby.

Closeup of Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

Anyway, I decided to drag myself off to Brooklyn, and it wasn't an auspicious start. (Next time I consult some entrails.) The problem came because I was helping a friend seal a hole where the roaches got in and kept her mind from wandering. (Seeing roaches the size of poodles will do that. You have to get them before they colonize, like chitinous squatters the courts are powerless to evict.) We went out for a quick bite to eat before picking up some polyurethane sealant to pack the hole tighter than something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Well, she managed to lock her keys inside her apartment, and it delayed me over an hour which meant the clock was creeping up on the start time. So I grabbed a cab instead of taking the (cheap) subway.

I was prepared with detailed maps from Google Maps so I knew exactly where to go. The cabbie, however, didn't quite understand the concept of directions — he arrogantly told me he knew how to get to Brooklyn — and proceeded to get lost. I finally got him to listen to me. After he'd made a turn in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Ahhh, but this isn't a problem because we were in New York City. The cabbie solved the problem by backing up about three blocks on a busy street with angry honking cars and dropped me where I needed to go. I was, on the one hand, white-knuckled from the ride, but, on the other, very impressed with his technique: suicidally efficient. Turns out I had plenty of time to spare.

The race was sparsely attended, both by participants and voyeurs, which was a shame. I went because Jeff Stark had endorsed it and I mistakenly thought it was a Madagascar Institute event; those are always worth going to. But it wasn't, so the publicity was bad and last minute, which meant that only the organizers and a very small circule knew about it in advance. It would have been lots better if more carts had been entered, especially by the types who entered the Idiotarod. Anyway, it was still fun to watch, even if there weren't a lot of entries.

So here, without further commentary, are some of the photographs I took.

Another Reason to Hate the French

Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot

Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot

There is a crater on the moon named for Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot. Were he alive today, many people would like to send him there.

"Gypsy Moths & Bt: A Double Scourge" by Arthur Pearson, Chicago Wilderness Magazine, Summer 2002 (NB: The crater is actually on Mars, not the Moon. — CitizenArcane)

Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot is a man most Americans should hate with a passion, and for reasons beyond his simply being French.

Trouvelot made a living as an artist, painting mostly portraits, but he had an amateur interest in entomology. His main interest was in identifying native silkworms that might be used for silk production. (L. Trouvelot(1867) The American Silk Worm. American Naturalist, Vol. 1, No. 1., pp.30-38) The exact reasons or circumstances are unknown, but in the late 1860's he returned from a trip to France with some gypsy moth egg masses. He was apparently culturing them on trees in back of his house when some of the larvae escaped. Trouvelot understood the potential magnitude of this accident and notified local entomologists but no action was taken.

After this accident, Trouvelot apparently lost interest in entomology and became interested in Astronomy. He became famous for his illustrations of astronomical details of the sun and of Venus and was eventually given a faculty position at Harvard University in Astronomy. A crater on the moon was named in honor of Trouvelot and he won the French Academy's Valz prize for his astronomical research.

In 1882 Trouvelot returned to live in France; the timing of this move coincided with the appearance of the first gypsy moth outbreak on his street. Trouvelot Died in 1895.

As the outbreak on Trouvelot's street continued to grow in size, residents of the Boston area became increasingly alarmed about the gypsy moth problem. In 1889 the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture began a campaign to eradicate the gypsy moth. The methods used during the program ranged from manual removal of egg masses, burning infested forests and application of primitive insecticides. Despite the expenditure of considerable money and effort, the gypsy moth infestation continued to expand in size and by 1900 the effort to eradicate this insect was abandoned.

Trouvelot and Gypsy Moths

"The Planet Mars. Observed September 3, 1877" by E. L. Trouvelot

"The Planet Mars. Observed September 3, 1877, at 11h. 55m. P.M." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

"The planet Jupiter. Observed November 1, 1880" by E. L. Trouvelot

"The Planet Jupiter. Observed November 1, 1880, at 9h. 30m. P.M." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

"Mare Humorum. From a study made in 1875." by E. L. Trouvelot

"Mare Humorum. From a study made in 1875." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

His paper on gypsy moths fails to anticipate the magnitude of the evil he was about to perpetrate. What's ironic is how his second career also had a component of deforestation, albeit in a much more noble arena:

When astronomers at Harvard saw the quality and detail in these drawings, they invited him to join the staff and use their telescopes for observation and making drawings of celestial objects. In 1875 the U. S. Naval Observatory invited him to Washington to use the 26 inch refractor, at that time the world's largest refractor. Through the years he made more than 7,000 drawings which were highly regarded by astronomers who saw them, especially for the fine detail of the drawings. Trouvelet wanted to publish a portfolio of some of the best drawings and approached Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers in New York. The 15 drawings he chose were produced as chromolithographs, and the set was published in 1881 selling at $125. Very few complete sets remain in institutions today, and one set sold at auction within the last few years for many times the original price.

"Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, 19th Century Artist and Astronomer," HAD III: Biography of 19th and 20th Century Astronomers, AAS 201st Meeting, January 2003

"Group of sun spots and veiled spots. Observed on June 17th 1875" by E. L. Trouvelot

"Group of Sun Spots and Veiled Spots. Observed on June 17th 1875 at 7 h. 30 m. A.M." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

The New York Public Library has an exhibit contrasting the Trouvelot drawings with 19th century photographs and then 20th century satellite images.

" Aurora Borealis. As observed March 1, 1872" by E. L. Trouvelot

"Aurora Borealis. As Observed March 1, 1872, at 9h. 25m. P.M." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

And the gypsy moths? Well, now that's a really serious problem:

Now established throughout the Northeast &38212; from Ontario, Canada, to North Carolina, and well into several midwestern states &38212; gypsy moths defoliate upwards of two million acres of hardwood forests every year. Gypsy moth larvae (caterpillars) cause the damage, not the adult moths. The caterpillars are polyphagous, which means they eat almost anything. They feast on three hundred different species of trees and shrubs, although their hardwood of choice is any kind of oak tree.

During the 1980s, severe outbreaks in the Northeast resulted in vast tracts of defoliation, particularly in oak-dominated forests. Chris Bactel, Director of Collections and Grounds at the Morton Arboretum, recalls driving for fifty miles through a forested area near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1986 and seeing not a single leaf except those on black walnut and tulip trees, two of the few species distasteful to gypsy moth caterpillars.

"Gypsy Moths & Bt: A Double Scourge" by Arthur Pearson, Chicago Wilderness Magazine, Summer 2002

"Great Comet of 1881. Observed on the Night of June 25-26" by E. L. Trouvelot

"The Great Comet of 1881. Observed on the Night of June 25-26 at 1h. 30m. A.M." by E. L. Trouvelot, Chromolithograph

I'm the Gypsy - the acid Queen.
Pay before we start.
I'm the Gypsy - The acid queen.
I'll tear your soul apart.

— "Acid Queen" by Pete Townsend, The Who

Federal Bureau of Intimidation

Upside-Down Flag With Swastikas

Recreation of a flag I saw at an anti-Bush rally in Union Square prior to the 2004 election. (An upside-down flag is the international signal for distress. The swastikas, well, you do the math.)

The FBI visited me this morning for violating the UnPatriotic Act. I'm going to try to sell this story and will put this entry up at some point in the future.

The UnPatriotic Act — one nation, under surveillance, with oppression and terror for all.

— CitizenArcane

Screeeech!

Fran Drescher: The Only Sound Worse than Fingernails on a Chalkboard

Fran Drescher: The Only Sound More Irritating than Fingernails on a Chalkboard

Marry,
And I am glad of it with all my heart:
I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers;
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree;
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry:
'Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.

— Hotspur, Henry IV, Part I, Act III, William Shakespeare

Bad poetry is up there, but it can't compare with fingernails on a chalkboard for sheer obnoxiousness. I've seen various explanations — such as how the sound is similar to that of a child in distress or the cry of a macacque monkey which preyed on our primate ancestors — but none of them were particularly convincing. Then I came across this one.

In "Psychoacoustics of a Chilling Sound," the authors describe their study using two dozen adults served as guinea pigs for rating sounds on a pleasantness scale. My personal favorite has to be how they created a standard — much like how there are standards for the meter, liter, second, etc. against which unknown quantities are compared — for the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. (Just thinking about it makes me cringe.) They constructed a "True Value Pacemaker" using a three-pronged garden tool dragged over a slate surface. (Aieeeeee!)

Macaque

Macaque (Not a member of the Bush Administration)

Now that's what they should have used to get Noriega out of that church he was holed up in, instead of Barry Manilow. (Then again, I think I'd much rather listen to nails on a chalkboard, or even Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music than Barry Manilow. Hell, I'd even rather listen to Fran Drescher's donkey-bray laugh than to Barry Manilow.) It's really amazing what researchers can get funding for, isn't it? Anyway, here's a summary of the whole issue from the Straight Dope.

In the aforementioned scientific paper (which appeared in a publication sternly entitled Perception & Psychophysics, and is not to be confused with a vulgar and sensationalized, if entertaining, article that appeared subsequently in Psychology Today), the authors note the antiquity of human curiosity on this subject. No less an authority than Aristotle acknowledged the "aversive quality" of scraping sounds. Our heroes even dug up the archaic English verb gride, which means to make godawful noises by means of scraping or cutting.

Getting down to business, Halpern and friends subjected 24 adult volunteers to various noises with a view to determining whether blackboard scraping was really as excruciating as it was made out to be. Generally speaking, they found, it was. (For purposes of reproducibility, the scraping was conducted not with fingernails but with a three-pronged garden tool, solemnly described as a "True Value Pacemaker model.") Interestingly, "rubbing two pieces of styrofoam together," the sound that results when you pry two styrofoam cups apart, came in second.

Next, by means of the magic of high tech, the researchers filtered out the most high-pitched portion of the scraping sound. To their great surprise, what remained was as unpleasant as ever. However, when they filtered out just the lower frequencies (particularly 3.0 to 6.0 kilohertz, for you weens), they found that what was left was relatively bearable--"quaint" or "tinkly," in Blake's description. In other words, it was the low-to-middle frequencies, not the high ones, that really set people's nerves on edge.

"Why is the sound of fingernails scraping a blackboard so annoying?," The Straight Dope

I tried to track down the original Halpern paper online, but didn't have any luck. It was, after all, published in 1986 when dinosaurs walked the earth. (Perception & Psychophysics doesn't have issues this old online yet.) I did, however, find a nice summary, even if it is one giant paragraph (I guess whitespace costs more in the Netherlands. Must be some Euro or VAT thing.):

Halpern et al. (1986) examined the unpleasantness of a chilling sound. Although this study investigated the unpleasantness of a sound instead of the human ability to perceive properties of the sound source, it is included because of the very similarmethod and unexpected results. In a first experiment, subjects had to judge the unpleasantness for a number of different sounds, such as jingling keys, a blender motor, and scraping metal. The sounds were matched in duration (3 s) and amplitude (equal maximum value). The results showed agreement between subjects regarding the unpleasantness of the sounds. The sound judged to be most unpleasant was that produced by slowly scraping a three-pronged garden tool over a slate surface, a sound very similar to the sound of fingernails scratching across a blackboard. The spectrogram of this chilling sound revealed several prominent harmonics, the lowest at 2.8 kHz. The amplitude waveform showed an aperiodic temporal structure with a rapidly fluctuating amplitude envelope. To investigate the contribution of spectral content to the sound’s unpleasant character, the authors removed energy from different frequency regions by either highpass or lowpass filtering. The sounds were matched in amplitude by equalizing their RMS value. Subjects had to rate the unpleasantness of the filtered sounds and were told how the stimuli were created before listening. Results showed that decreasing the lowpass filter cutoff frequency from 8 to 3 kHz had no effect on the unpleasantness ratings. Increasing the highpass filter cutoff frequency from 2 to 6 kHz, the sound lost some of its unpleasantness, with a large drop in unpleasantness between 3 and 4 kHz. Apparently, removal of lower frequencies, not of the highest ones, lessened the sound’s unpleasantness. In this experiment the sounds were matched by their level, but still may be perceived as not equally loud. A third experiment tested the possibility that unpleasantness had been confounded with loudness. Subjects listened to a selection of stimuli from the previous experiment, presented at two sound pressure levels 10 dB apart, and had to judge the loudness. An intensity decrease of 10 dB resulted in an estimated loudness drop between 41% and 50%, confirming that subjects were estimating the loudness. Sounds presented at the same sound pressure level showed no difference in the estimated loudness, indicating that loudness differences could not have influenced the unpleasantness ratings. In a final experiment, the contribution of temporal fine structure was evaluated by presenting subjects with four different stimuli: the original sound, a demodulated version of the original (the original sound divided by its temporal envelope contour), an unmodulated synthesized sound (sum of three sinusoids corresponding to the first three prominent harmonics of the original sound), and a modulated synthesized sound (the sum of three sinusoids multiplied by the temporal envelope contour of the original sound). The subjects’ unpleasantness ratings of the original sounds were much higher than those of the synthesized sounds, indicating that the latter did not mimic the original chilling sound very well. No differences were found between the original and demodulated original sounds and between the unmodulated synthesized and modulated synthesized sounds, indicating that temporal envelope structure did not contribute to the unpleasantness of the sounds. It is still unclear why this sound is so unpleasant for human listeners. The authors wonder “whether it mimics some naturally occurring, innately aversive event” (p. 80), and think of warning cries or vocalizations of some predator. But, “regardless of this auditory event’s original functional significance, the human brain obviously still registers a strong vestigial response to this chilling sound” (p. 80).

"The sound of rolling objects: Perception of size and speed" by Mark Mathieu and Jeanny Houben

The ranking for sounds from most pleasant to least pleasant is rather intriguing:

  • Chimes
  • Spinning Bicycle Tire
  • Running Water
  • Jingling Keys
  • Pure Tone
  • Pencil Sharpener
  • Shaking Metal Parts
  • White Noise
  • Compressed Air
  • Blender Motor
  • Dragged Stool
  • Metal Drawer Opening
  • Scraping Wood
  • Scraping Metal
  • Rubbing Styrofoam Pieces Together
  • Scraping Slate with Garden Tool (fingernail/chalkboard)

I never found styrofoam rubbing together to be particularly grating, no pun intended, though. Conspicuously omitted from the list, however, is the sound of MTA subway screeching. Now that's a sound that just about rips out one's spinal column and skull ala Predator.

Anyway, the interesting observation is that application of a low-frequency filter drops the annoyance factor measurably, demonstrating that lower frequencies are more annoying than higher ones. (I always found the higher tones in Fran Drescher's voice to be the most annoying, but I don't get paid to do psychoacoustic research, so what do I know?) I guess someone should ask William Tager about annoying frequencies. (Hint: he's the one who attacked Dan Rather for beaming thought waves at him, and this inspired "What's the Frequency Kenneth" from REM.)

But why should lower frequences be more annoying than higher ones? The answer seems to lie in the physiology of the human ear:

Having recently done some work on the pleasantness/unpleasantness of sounds (JASA 110(1), 380-390, 2001) I was somewhat curious to read that it was the low frequencies that produced the effect, since most of the literature I am aware of (e.g. see review in Vitz (1973) P&P, 11, 84-88) suggests the opposite. However, having got hold of a copy of the Halpern et al. paper I note that sound in question has a fairly strong harmonic structure with a fundamental at about 1.4 kHz. The fundamental is very weak and most of the energy is in harmonics 2,3,4 and 5, starting at 2.8 kHz. By most standards this sound would be considered to be quite high. So the term "low" should be considered in relative terms. Nevertheless, application of a high-pass filter to this sound suggested that it was frequencies less than 2-3 kHz which were predominant in the effect, and by implication the fundamental and possibly the 2nd harmonic, i.e. sounds between about 1 - 2 kHz. In the previous literature and my own work, sounds less than 1 kHz were considered to be least annoying or most pleasant. So why do sounds with frequencies between 1-2 kHz cause the effect? My guess is that the effect is produced by activation of various myogenic reflex responses including the stapedius response, the post-auricular response and responses of other muscles innervated by the facial nerve (and possibly the trigeminal nerve). It so happens that the tuning curves of stapedius motorneurons have their best frequencies between 1-2 kHz with a threshold of about 75 dB in the cat (see Kobler et al. (1992), J. Neurophysiol. 68, 807-817). (These should be distinguished from myogenic vestibular responses mediated by the accessory nerve, which responds to frequencies less than 1 kHz.) In order for this to work then the scraping sound would have to be above about 75 dB, but it's not clear from Halpern et al. what intensity they presented the sounds to the subjects. However, the proposed mechanism would account for why the effect appears to be reflexive. It can't be very pleasant having all those muscles twitching away!

"Re: finger nails on blackboard" by Neil Todd, todd(at)FS4 dot PSY dot MAN dot AC dot UK

Ok, let's put that into English. The stapedius is a muscle in the inner ear that acts to protect the ear from loud noise, including the sound of our own voice (Fox newscasters must have an overactive one to stave off deafness) and mastication (eating). Certain sounds in the 1-2KHz range have the effect of causing spasms in the stapedius. The exact mechanism is unknown, but may have to do with higher frequency harmonics arising out of the lower tones, perhaps because of the resonant frequency of the ear bones. The effect of certain frequencies is to cause pain in the stapedius which makes us cringe.

So how plausible is this? Well, consider that the distaste for screeching does not seem to be be universal among primates, which it really should be if the mechanism for distaste is one of avoidance of a predator. Tamarin monkeys, for example, don't seem to mind it much:

As a second test of whether tamarins might have acoustic preferences based on something other than amplitude or behavioral relevance, we attempted to generate two nonmusical stimuli with similar amplitudes that were expected to produce a large preference in humans. We began by generating a stimulus that is highly aversive to most humans—the sound of fingernails on a blackboard (Halpern, Blake, & Hillenbrand, 1986). The relationship between the responses that humans have to this stimulus and to musical stimuli is unclear, but it seemed conceivable that nonhuman animals might respond aversively to such a stimulus despite the lack of preference for consonance over dissonance.

...

When tested on the screech and control stimuli, however, the tamarins showed no evidence of a preference. We ran the tamarins for several consecutive sessions (NZ37 sessions) to see if a preference would emerge over time. As shown in Fig. 5b, there was no preference (t[36]Z0.89; pZ0.15). In contrast with humans, who show a pronounced preference for white noise over the screeching sound, tamarins do not exhibit a preference.

"Are consonant intervals music to their ears? Spontaneous acoustic preferences in a nonhuman primate" by Josh McDermotta and Marc Hauserb, Cognition, 94 (2004)

Now, just when you start to believe that it's all in the ear, I'll throw this into the mix:

Seth Horowitz is a neuroscientist who uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of the brain to find how different sounds can trigger activity in the brain. Now he is working with a musician to create music incorporating sounds, in the hopes of triggering specific emotional responses.

...

Horowitz began to study whether sounds could trigger emotional states. For example, the sound of fingernails on a blackboard is an effective way to cause many people to feel uneasy. So Horowitz broke down the sound of fingernails on a blackboard to isolate exactly the sounds responsible for triggering uneasy feelings. He calls those sounds neuro-sensory algorithms, or NSAs. Then he analyzed sounds that trigger activity in the same region of the brain. He did the same for sounds that make people feel calm or happy or stimulated. By combing through the data, Horowitz was able to come up with dozens of different sounds that triggered emotional responses in the correct regions of the brain. NSAs all sound different. Some can be a very brief sound that immediately triggers activity in a certain part of the brain. Others can be complicated mixes of sound that last up to 30 seconds and trigger activity in different parts of the brain simultaneously.

"Mood Music" The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network), 26 January 2005

Anyway, the next time some brain-dead creationist tells you that the human body is an example of intelligent design, I suggest you scrape your fingernails across a chalkboard. (Or a piece of slate with a gardening tool.) Get them to explain the "intelligent design" behind that for you.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Psychoacoustics of a chilling sound." by D. Lynn Halpern, Randy Blake, Jim Hillenbrand, Perception and Psychophysics, Vol. 39 No. 2, February 1986, Pages 77-80
  2. "Why is the sound of fingernails scraping a blackboard so annoying?," The Straight Dope
  3. "The sound of rolling objects: Perception of size and speed" by Mark Mathieu and Jeanny Houben
  4. "Re: finger nails on blackboard" by Neil Todd
  5. "M109: Reflexes and/or associations" (more discussion on Neil Todd's comments)
  6. "Are consonant intervals music to their ears? Spontaneous acoustic preferences in a nonhuman primate" by Josh McDermotta and Marc Hauserb, Cognition, 94 (2004)
  7. "Mood Music" The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network), 26 January 2005

Cartoon About Fingernails on Blackboard versus Celene Dion

It’s Still an Open Container

Grolsch Blikbeugel

Grolsch Blikbeugel

I've only been in love with a beer bottle and a mirror.

— Sid Vicious

Grolsch has announced its Blikbeugel in time for koninginnedag. (As a man who doesn't drink beer, I seem to be posting a lot in the zymurgy category.) For those of us who don't speak Dutch, this means they've come out with a gizmo that snaps onto a can turning it into a bottle. Here's the translation, such as it is, of their announcement, courtesy of Babelfish:

Grolsch Blikbeugel

Grolsch introduce the Grolsch Blikbeugel in the week for koninginnedag. With this innovative gadget you make a clamp of your can with one click!

The Grolsch Blikbeugel have been developed from the idea that blikje are indeed more compact and you it more easily take along, but drinks less nicely than a flask. With the Grolsch Blikbeugel you and there become the drinkgenot of a bottle preserve the ease of use of the blikje to added. The set-up piece clicks you on the blikje and the blikje drink now as a clamp bottle. The can clamp can be hung for the ring, as a result of which you rather have yourself hands for other activities. The can clamp can be used several times.

In the week for koninginnedag (as from Monday 25 April) the Grolsch Blikbeugel available in hypermarket and slijterij are. The can clamp is provided in an action packing from 11 blikjes Grolsch?3 cl existing for 8.49 euro (recommended retail price). The Grolsch Blikbeugel are an one-off action and in a restricted oplage are brought out.

Babelfish Translation of Golsch Press Release
Golsch Press Release (Dutch)

Bottle It

Bottle It Spout for Canned Beverages

This isn't an original idea, however:

Why Didn't I think of that?

Bottle It™ Turns Any Beverage Can into a Longneck Bottle

AUSTIN, Texas (BUSINESS WIRE) - ImageMark, Inc., a Texas-based marketing company, recently launched its newest product, Bottle It™, a plastic "bottleneck" that snaps onto any beverage can, immediately converting it to a longneck bottle.

The product is currently being distributed to retailers and sports facilities.

Bottle It™ was designed and patented in the early nineties. The idea for the plastic longneck was born when the inventor experienced a run-in with the law while drinking from a glass bottle on the beach. Since glass is prohibited on beaches, the police confiscated his entire ice chest full of glass-bottle longnecks. Because he found aluminum cans distasteful, the inventor set about designing a way to turn an ordinary beverage can into a longneck and, of course, one that could be used on the beach.

The Bottle It™ unit is reusable, leak proof, easy to use, and completely eliminates the aluminum can taste. It comes in eight different colors and fits 12 ounce and 16 ounce cans. Retailers have reported that it has already had tremendous appeal among sports enthusiasts, beach-goers, golfers and boaters. It has also been successful with corporations and university organizations since it can be imprinted with company logos, fraternity/sorority letters, etc."

INVENTUS - September 1999 Newsletter

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

Bottle It was created by Imagemark, a design house specializing in branded products.

As our tagline clearly states, "We don't BRAND your merchandise. We Merchandise your BRAND." Imagemark's main object with this solution is to leave our client's mark, or brand on their customers mind...

"Solutions" by Imagemark

Assuming you didn't get one from a company promoting its brand, you can order one from Promo Place or Add Your Imprint.

If you get one of these, especially from Grolsch, be sure to avoid the open-container laws:

New York City Administrative Code, Section 10-125, Consumption of Alcohol in Public
b. No person shall drink or consume an alcoholic beverage, or possess, with intent to drink or consume, an open container containing an alcoholic beverage in any public place except at a block party, feast or similar function for which a permit has been obtained.
c. Possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage by any person shall create a rebuttable presumption that such person did intend to consume the contents thereof in violation of this section.

New York City Administrative Code, Section 10-125, Consumption of Alcohol in Public

Black Tie Optional

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

"Black Tie." "Dinner Jacket." Even the — dare we say it? — vernacular "Tuxedo." (The exceedinly vulgar and low-class name "tux" — I cringe as I even think it — will never pass these unsullied lips.) All refer to a short jacket every man needs for formal evening wear. Unlike James Bond, Rick Blaine, or (shudder) Jackie Chan, however, I actually don't own a tuxedo. Never have. Really. I almost, just a hair this side of not quite, bought an incredibly elegant one about fifteen years ago when it was being closed out by a store emptying its stock in a desperate attempt to save off bankruptcy.

Originally priced at almost a thousand dollars, which was real money in those days, it was a perfect fit, both in terms of fabric (wool, not synthetics), tailoring (fit like it was custom made) and eminently attractive closeout pricing ($125). There was one small hitch which prevented me from buying it: I realized I had never, not once in my entire life, had the occasion (or need) to wear a tuxedo and would likely not find one before the fashion changed. So I didn't buy it, and have never lived to regret it. (Not having bought that Italian silk suit the same habadasher had, however, is one of my eternal regrets.) But how is it that a short jacket and pants with a satin stripe became the "must wear" outfit? It is, after all, a trifle, well, silly looking. (Except that I really do like the white version shown below.)

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

The story goes that the Tuxedo was created by twenty-two year old Griswold Lorillard, who cut the tails off a formal jacket in order to shake up the town of Tuxedo Park, NY. (The town of Tuxedo Park had passed into the hands of the Griswold family in payment of a debt, and Lorillard — of the eponymous cancer-stick fortune — was one of their descendents.) This canard has been repeated so often that many don't realize its lack of veracity:

When we seek the origin of the dinner jacket - or Tuxedo as it is now known - we constantly come across a story about its introduction to this century by Griswold Lorillard at the first Tuxedo Autumn Ball in 1886.

The trouble with this story is that it is based entirely on a quotation from a society journal called Town Topics. According to an October 1886 issue of the journal, young Griswold Lorillard appeared (at the Ball) in a tailless dress coat, and waistcoat of scarlet satin, looking for all the world like a royal footman. There were several others of the abbreviated coats worn, which suggested to the onlookers that the boys ought to have been put in straight-jackets long ago.

Taken literally, this quotation seems quite plausible but, unfortunately, it has been misinterpreted. A tailless dress coat has been taken to mean a dinner jacket and, as a result, we have a story which is hard to believe, Griswold, or Grizzy as his friends called him, may very well have worn a tailless dress coat as a lark but this does not mean that he introduced the dinner jacket. Such an assumption is wrong for several reasons.

First of all, Grizzy’s tailless dress coat was much too short to be a dinner jacket. A dress coat, which is a tailor’s term for an evening tail coat, is cut above the waist, open in front, and tight fitting. A dinner jacket, on the other hand, is cut well below the waist, buttons in front, and fits more loosely. Grizzy’s dress coat - without its tails - was so short that it resembled a mess jacket, and it is no wonder that Town Topics thought he looked for all the world like a royal footman.

Secondly, Grizzy would have been far too young to introduce a new fashion to his elders at the Ball. He was only 22 and the second son of Pierre Lorillard, distinguished founder of Tuxedo Park. His older brother, Pierre Lorillard, Jr., was one of the governors of the Tuxedo Club. The other governors were all prominent New Yorkers, while the members of the Club and their guests were for the most part leading members of New York Society. It is hard to imagine, therefore, a young man introducing a new fashion to such a sophisticated gathering.

Finally, a formal ball would not have been the right occasion to introduce what was then an informal dinner fashion. We should remember that the dinner jacket, when it was first adopted, was worn only at informal dinner parties and it was not considered, as it is now, formal evening dress. If, therefore, Grizzy had been able to introduce the dinner jacket, he probably would have done so at a dinner party and not at a ball.

"Grizzy's Lark and a Legend," Village of Tuxedo Park - Grizzy's Lark And A Legend

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Fifty years ago, when I was a senior in college, Grenville Kane, last of the founders of the Tuxedo Club left alive, told me several times the following story.

In the summer of 1886, the year Pierre Lorillard founded Tuxedo Park, James Brown Potter, one of its first residents, and Cora Potter, his beautiful wife from the South, went to England and met the Prince of Wales - later Edward VII - at a court ball. The Prince, who was fond of pretty women, asked the Potters to come to Sandringham for the weekend. The Potters of course accepted, and before going, Mr. Potter asked the Prince what he should bring to wear. The Prince told Mr. Potter that he had adopted a short jacket in the place of a tail coat for dinner in the country, and that if Mr. Potter went to his tailors in London, he could get a similar jacket make. This Mr. Potter did and apparently he and Mrs. Potter had a pleasant weekend while Bertie, as he was called, undoubtedly enjoyed looking across the table at the beautiful Cora.

When the Potters returned to Tuxedo that fall, Pierre Lorillard, Grenville Kane, and other members of the Club were not only impressed by the Potters’ visit to Sandringham, but also found the jacket Mr. Potter brought back more appropriate than tails for informal dinners, and then had it copied. Eventually, after wearing the new jacket for dinner in Tuxedo, some of the early members were bold enough to wear it one evening at a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s, the only place in New York where gentlemen dined in public at that time. Needless to say, the other diners at Del’s were astonished, and when they asked what it was the men in short coats had on, they were told, Oh that is what they wear for dinner up in Tuxedo. Hearing Tuxedo mentioned, the curious diners quite naturally starting calling the new jacket by that name.

And so due to the Prince of Wales’ interest in the beautiful Mrs. Potter, the dinner jacket was brought to this country by Mr. Potter and, when first seen in public, was called a Tuxedo."

"The Prince and the Potter" Village of Tuxedo Park - The History of the Tuxedo

Cora Potter

Cora Potter

She first came to England in the summer of 1886 in the company of her husband and was introduced to the Prince of Wales (Edward VII to be) at a court ball. Taken with her beauty, the Prince invited the Brown-Potters to Sandringham for the weekend and they duly obliged. When James asked the prince what he should bring to wear, the Prince referred him to his tailors recommending a short jacket that he himself preferred to a full tailcoat for informal dinners. James followed the Prince's advice, and when he returned to the USA he wore the jacket at his club in Tuxedo, where other members admired the practicality and began to copy it. A little while later some members of the caused quite a stir in New York wearing the jacket to dinner at Delmonico's. Other diners were informed that this was what was worn to dinner in Tuxedo these days. The fashion caught on as did the name and that, as the story goes, is how the American Tuxedo was born.

Cora Urquhart Brown Potter

Now, if you didn't believe that the relationship was purely platonic — prices and kings usually restrict themselves to dalliances with married women, since any offspring would be considered to be the result of congress with the husband and thus not eligable for the throne or able to cause embarrassment — Ms. Potter remained in Britain when her husband returned to the states. (She became an actress. Simply scandalous!) Anyway, that's how the jacket ended up being a fashion statement in America.

The color of the duke's jacket, by the way, was midnight blue, not black. The reason is that under the artificial light of the day — probably limelight — blue appears black while black appears greenish. (This is why graphic designers often overlay a dead black with a deep midnight blue to get an extra richness. Ooops. Day job. Not gonna talk about that here.) The lapels on the original were never notched; that mutilation was perpetrated by suit manufacturers wishing to use the same patterns used for ordinary suits. A true tuxedo — excuse me, dinner jacket — uses a smooth shawl collar.

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Typically being a solid black, the jacket is worn either with a colored vest or a waistband called a "cummerbund," usually with a matching bowtie — how cute is that? — to add a bit of color. (The word cummerbund comes to us from the Hindi word "kamarband," adopted into English in 1616. Kamarband is, in turn, composed of two persion words, "kamar" from "waist" and "band" meaning "tie or encircling fabric sash." It was actually a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist several times and tied; Indian men still wear it for dressy occasions, and Sikhs wear it every day.)

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbunds come in all sorts of colors and patterns, even Scottish clan colors:

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

But some take this opportunity to be a sartorial showoff just a smidgen too far. For example, consider the Hawaiian vest below, complete with tropical foliage and parrots or the above Welsh dragon design. Both are just a wee bit too bold — ok, tacky! — for me.

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

But speaking of too bold, some people take their dinner jackets places they were never meant to go. Like this one, worthy of a dinner party held by, oh, say, Poseidon:

Green Dinner Jacket

This is a rich, elegant and fancy 1972 vintage formal tuxedo or dinner jacket with a brocade design of filigree leaves black on deep emerald green. Fabric on this is a satiny blend of either rayon or rayon and silk, it has notched lapels and button trimmed tab front pockets at each. "— Smokydiva's Vintage Clothing"

Oh, and the name tuxedo as in "Tuxedo Park"? It is supposedly derived from an Algonquian word "tuksit" or "p'tuksit" used to refer to the Wolf tribe in the area. It means "round foot" because the Wolf tribe tended to fall over and surrender easily. But who knows how true any of this is.

Party Invitation With Formal Wear

Party Invitation Featuring Tuxedo and Formal Gown

There are even special cummerbunds appropriate for troops serving in Iraq:

Bulletproof Cummerbund

Hard Plate Carrier with Cummerbund

Not only will it accept armor inserts, both hard and soft, but it comes in a variety of evening-wear colors: smoke green, woodland, desert tan, coyote brown, and the ever-versatile body-bag black. It's what the well-dressed cannon fodder is wearing this year.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca, in white dinner jacket and black tie

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Grizzy's Lark and a Legend," Village of Tuxedo Park - Grizzy's Lark And A Legend
  2. "The Prince and the Potter" Village of Tuxedo Park - The History of the Tuxedo
  3. Cora Urquhart Brown Potter
  4. CitizenArcane on the Origin of the Blazer
  5. CitizenArcane on the Origin of Seersucker

Clean shirt, new shoes
And I don't know where I am goin' to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don't need a reason why.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Gold watch, diamond ring,
I ain't missin' a single thing.
And cufflinks, stick pin,
When I step out I'm gonna do you in.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Top coat, top hat,
I don't worry coz my wallet's fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
Lookin' sharp and lookin' for love.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

"Sharp Dressed Man," ZZ Top, Eliminator, 1983

Leather Lanyard or Marble Madness?

Cover of Boondoggle Book

If we can "boondoggle" ourselves out of this depression, that word is going to be enshrined in the hearts of the American people for years to come.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech, 18 January 1936, to the New Jersey State Emergency Council

The word "boondoggle" refers to any fraudulent or dishonest undertaking, usually associated with wasting huge amounts of money on an enterprise of dubious value, typically as a result of political patronage. (This is the third political term we've dissected, the first being filibuster and the second red tape.) But where did it come from? It turns out the etymology of boondoggle is still unknown, it apparantly having become common circa 1935 to describe the money spent by Roosevelt's New Deal alphabet programs (CCC, FDIC, FERA, NRA, SEC, TVA, WPA, etc.) The quote above is Roosevelt's response to his critics. But first, a short skip to the origins.

The term "boondoggle" existed with the boyscouts long before it was used to describe Roosevelt's programs, supposedly being coined in 1927 by Robert H. Link, a scoutmaster, to describe the braided leather lanyards made by boyscouts to fritter away time at the campfire, and then worn as decoration. Link died in 1957, so nobody can ask him where he picked up the term. (Neither can anyone ask him if he used those amazingly strong braided cords for nefarious purposes.) Evidence, however, suggests the term may have been in use before Link; so much for "Scout's Honor." (Then again, how much "scouts honor" is there in persecuting gays, lesbians, and atheists or in raping young scouts? I mean, this is about the same amount of honor as one would find in the Roman Catholic Church...)

Now, the word came to prominence on 4 April 1935 when The New York Times ran a story about how jobless workers were being paid by the government to make lanyards from leather, rope, and canvas:

Boondoggle burst into the world with something of a bang, becoming an attack term immediately after its first recorded appearance in print. This occurred on April 4, 1935, in an account in The New York Times of an investigation into public-relief expenditures. Testifying the previous day before a committee of the Board of Aldermen (predecessors of today’s gender-neutral City Council), a Robert Marshall of Brooklyn said that he had been paid to teach “boon doggles.” Asked what he meant by this, he explained that “boon doggles is simply a term applied back in pioneer days to what we call gadgets today… . They may be making belts in leather, or maybe belts by weaving ropes, or it might be belts by working with canvas, maybe a tent or a sleeping bag.”

Mr. Marshall’s testimony, together with that of other witnesses who told of teaching tap dancing, manipulating shadow puppets, and building “A Temple of Time” (a watch and clock collection) for New York University, inspired the story’s headline, which began: $3,187,000 RELIEF IS SPENT TO TEACH JOBLESS TO PLAY, with the subhead, “BOON DOGGLES” made.

The word was off and running. In the next presidential election, in 1936, boondoggle was employed widely as both a noun and a verb by Republican critics of New Deal relief agencies. Boondoggling became a general term for what the GOP perceived as governmental wastefulness, and the responsible administrators were boondogglers. Nor could President Roosevelt pass this one up. He turned the word back upon the Republicans, describing international loans made under the GOP as foreign boondoggling.

"Why Do We Say That? 'Boondoggle'" Hugh Rawson, American Heritage

The big question, however, is where Link got the word or the idea for it. Another potential etymology is from Scottish, where boondoggle refers to winning a marble without any effort or receiving it as an outright gift. This has some plausibility, since "doggle" or "dogle" is the slang term for a marble, and it could easily have been combined with "boon" meaning gift or favor. The only problem is that the OED doesn't have any evidence the word was compounded in this fashion.

Some claim the word is drived to the Tagalog (Phillipine) word "bundok" for mountain, which was picked up by US soldiers during World War II and morphed into "boondocks" meaning any remote or wild area isolated from civilization. (Like, say, New Jersey.) The sense is allegedly that money was spent in remote areas according to the whims of the Roosevelt administration. The problem is that boondocks didn't show up in common parlance until about eight years after boondoggle. So this etymology shouldn't be given any credence.

The ultimate answer is that nobody really knows where the word originated. The only way Congress would fund a study of this boondoggle is if a congresscritter had an institute for etymology in his district. And, given the boondoggles Congress has funded, this one isn't so farfetched.

"Baton Courtesy, Service With A Smile"

Cop With Baton

Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn't there to 'create' disorder; the policeman is there to 'preserve' disorder.

— Mayor Richard Daley, 1968 Democratic Convention

I bet you didn't know it, but a beating at the hands of the police is supposed to involve science and medicine. Yeah, true, the cops do know to do soft tissue work so it doesn't show up on x-rays. (Military interrogators have refined this to high art.) But baton work is still a mystery to many law enforcement officers. So the wonderful people over at Monadnock Lifetime Products, a vendor of police batons, put together two charts for the 5-0 to determine where to beat a suspect and what level of aggression is appropriate. (Isn't this so helpful?) Monadnock has also created a description of various techniques, including grip and how to retain a baton when faced with an agressive suspect, like, oh, say, the Critical Mass bikerider whose bicycle is being illegally stolen by the cops.

The inherent difficulty with the question of force is the fact that though DEADLY FORCE issues are fairly clear, an officer can use deadly force to "protect his/her life or the life of another person against threats of serious bodily harm or death." The laws are not as clear when less-than-deadly force is acceptable to make an arrest, and this is the very area that gives law enforcement officers the most problems. This also leaves you in a precarious position. As a street officer, you are never quite sure just how much force is going to be required because each situation presents its own new and completely different set of circumstances. Though there is no way to completely insulate yourself from allegations of excessive force or wrongdoing, there are precautions you can take to lessen the chance of being accused of excessive use of force or wrongdoing including:

1. Be familiar with your department's policy on the use of force, as well as appropriate federal and state statutes dealing with the use of force. One example of federal statute you should be aware of is the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983). This statute is commonly used by a person alleging a violation of their civil rights by a police officer via excessive use of force during an arrest.

"Every person who, under color of law or any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any state or territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceedings for redress."

This statute, along with other companion federal statutes, guarantees our civil rights against excess or abuse from public officials. What constitutes a violation? The court has stated conduct that shocks the conscience of a reasonable and prudent man. Examples of conduct that "shocks the conscience" can be found in a number of court decisions, but its precise meaning is not always clear or constant. However, it is important to mention in any use of force discussion.

2. Your report must justify the "need" to use force to control or restrain a person who is breaking the law or resisting a lawful arrest. Simply, you should use progressively stronger techniques to bring about compliance and stop when you have gained and can maintain control over the person being arrested. This approach gives a person ample opportunity to comply before being subjected to stronger control techniques or the possibility of being injured.

"What is Use of Force," Use of Force, Chapter 1, Monadnock Lifetime Products

The first step in beating a suspect is to ascertain exactly what level of beating is required. That's where the "Resistance-Response Model" model comes in. After all, if an officer uses too much force they might lose their job and their pension. So here's how cops are supposed to decide how much of a beating someone deserves:

Actions-Response Chart

Actions-Response Chart (larger version available)

Resistance-Response Model

The Use of Force by an officer should be directly related to the amount of resistance being offered by a subject. With this theory in mind, an agency can represent their Use of Force policy in a simple chart, called the Resistance-Response Model.

The Resistance-Response Model can be helpful in teaching and illustrating a department's Use of Force Policy. The model's concise format makes it a very simple but useful training aid in teaching students what level of response is a appropriate. Thus it can not only help protect the officers in your department from harm but it also protects them and the agency from liability.

The model also helps explain to students how a police baton, along with its other various defensive and subject-control options, functions within their agency's Use of Force guidelines.

"Resistance-Response Model," Use of Force, Chapter 2, Monadnock Lifetime Products

Bet you didn't know it had been distilled down to such a science.

Now, once the level of beating has been decided, it's time for the cops to decide where to administer it. And, once again, the wonderful people over at Monadnock have made this phase just as easy as the first:

Monadnock Striking Chart

Monadnock Striking Chart (larger version available)

Escalation and De-Escalation of Trauma

The concept of Green, Yellow and Red Target Areas of the Monadnock Baton Chart was developed to assist officers in assessing the probability of injury to subjects. When time allows, officers' use of force should take into consideration escalating and de-escalating options based on threat assessment, officer/subject factors and the probable severity of injury.

The Concept in Action

Green Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is resisting an officer or another. Yellow Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is assaulting an officer or another, or when force applied to a Green Target Area fails to overcome resistance or does not correspond with the threat level. Red Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is attempting to cause serious bodily injury to an officer or another; or situations where force to lower level target areas fail to overcome the resistance and end the confrontation. Physical force directed at Red Target Areas pose a greater risk of injury to the subject and in certain areas may constitute deadly force because of the probability of causing death.

"The Monadnock Baton Chart," Use of Force, Chapter 3, Monadnock Lifetime Products

Red light, green light. It's one game that's a whole lot less fun when the police play it.

Battalions of riot police,
With rubber bullet kisses,
Baton courtesy,
Service with a smile.

"Deer Dance" by System Of A Down

Guns Don’t Make Art
Artists Make Art

Tree of Life at Sunset

Tree of Life at Sunset
As the sun sets, children play beneath the Tree of Life after its first public outing in Maputo’s Peace Park. Says Hilario, ‘We artists want to turn the situation around, change the story. Changing these instruments of death into hope, life and prosperity.

Welding the Tree of Life

Welding the Tree of Life

Weapons Turned In for Destruction

Weapons Turned In for Destruction

Mozambique is a place most Americans can't find on a map. It doesn't have any oil. It doesn't have any gold. It doesn't have any diamonds. It doesn't have anything at all that the west wants. It's just a miserable hunk of land where people butchered each other in a bloody civil war that lasted for sixteen years — from 1975 to 1994 — because, to be blunt, nobody in the first world cared about black-on-black violence in Africa unless natural resources were involved. (Don't get me started on the Sudan, where Muslims militias are killing, raping, looting, and enslaving the animists and Christians. Oh, and destroying their villages, too. It's just a wonderful orgy of the Koran.) Anyway, when the civil war finally ended the people of Mozambique had a problem: what to do with all the weapons.

Seated Man

Crocodile

They couldn't leave them in the hands of the people, lest the war be rekindled. But they couldn't buy them back and then let them go into neighboring countries, either. Rather than just round up all the weapons, cut them up, and melt them down, the country disabled them and turn them over to Nucleo de Arte, an artists collective:

Fiel dos Santos, 32, is a member of Nucleo de Arte, an artists collective in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.

Q: You grew up against a backdrop of bloody civil war in your home country. How has this experience coloured your work?

A: Where I live, 14km outside of Maputo, it wasn’t in the centre of the fighting. But when I was 15 my brother was captured near our home by the Renamo [the anti-government resistance movement] and kept for six years. So of course the war affected me and my work.

'My objective is to communicate how it is possible to create a civilisation for peace, and that it is possible to live in a world without war'

My art is very personal. I try to express feelings I have had and talk about things that have happened. So at first it was very difficult to work with the weapons because it brought back a lot of memories. It was hard to ignore that these things had been used to kill.

Q: What is it that you are trying to say with your Transforming Arms into Tools pieces, and are you happy that your message comes across clearly?

My objective is to communicate how it is possible to create a civilisation for peace, and that it is possible to live in a world without war.

The material I have worked with here speaks for itself – I try to make it say something different. So I have turned them into birds, flowers and animals. Step by step, I try to introduce themes that make people think about peace and not about war.

"Fiel dos Santos" by Matt Cunningham, 9 February 2005

Destroying a Rifle With A Grinder

Destroying a Rifle With A Grinder

Fiel dos Santos With His Bird

Fiel dos Santos With His Bird

The sculptor Fiel dos Santos runs his fingers over the silent rifles and deactivated grenades and remembers the machine gun blasts that shook his neighborhood and his childhood. But then he pulls on his goggles and fires his welding machine, and the guns buckle, change, transform.

"There are times when I start thinking, 'This killed, this killed, this killed,' and then the weapons are difficult to touch," said Mr. dos Santos, 27. "But by creating this art, I'm destroying these weapons," he added. "I'm creating something new, something that will make people think differently of the war."

Seven years after the fighting ended, young artists here in the capital are turning weapons of destruction into sculpture that celebrates everyday life in Mozambique's postwar society. Using machine guns, rocket launchers and land mines given up by former combatants, the artists are creating whimsical images and transforming the deadly instruments that devastated their country.

"Arts Abroad: Swords Into Whimsy Instead of Plowshares" by Rachel L. Swarns, New York Today, 29 December 1999

Chariot

Chariot

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Nucleo de Arte
  2. "Mozambique Turns Arms Into Art", BBC News, 17 January, 2002
  3. "The Tree of Life", Pressureworks (gallery of Tree of Life)
  4. Cascon Case MOZ: Mozambique Civil War 1975-94

The Ombibulous Soviet Union

Russian Tax Stamp 1890

Russian Alcohol Tax Stamps 1890

My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.

— Winston Churchill, on dining with the abstinent King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia

The The Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters has a number of posters from the Soviet Union created to stem the rising tide of alcoholism. While the Website doesn't make it clear, I believe these posters date to the 1986-1988 period when the newly-appointed Mikhail Gorbachev launched his reform campaign. In addition to his extensive efforts in glasnost (openness in public life) and perestroika (political and economic restructuring), Gorbachev wanted people to be healthier:

In early 1985, Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko, who is believed to have died from cirrhosis. The campaign, although identified by many commentators with Mikhail Gorbachev, is now thought to have owed rather more to others. His wife, Raisa, who had direct experience of the effects of alcoholism in her family, may have played a major part, but the prime movers are now known to have been two members of the Politburo, Yegor Ligachev and Michael Solomentsev (White, 1996; Service, 1997). They were able to gain acceptance of the policy despite opposition from many other senior politicians. Gorbachev has also suggested that his daughter, Irina Mikhailovna Virginskaya who is a medical doctor, played an important role in convincing him (Gorbachev, 1996).

Gorbachev launched the anti-alcohol campaign in May 1985 (Ivanets and Lukomskaya, 1990; Tarchys, 1993; White, 1996). All organs of the state were exhorted to develop strategies to reduce alcohol consumption. One of the most visible manifestations of this, to foreigners, was that alcohol was banned at official functions, but also party officials and managers who drank heavily were to be dismissed, outlets were to be reduced radically, and many other actions were to be taken by, for example, trade unions and the media. In particular, an attempt to mobilize society in the campaign for temperance led to the creation of the All-Union Voluntary Society for the Struggle for Sobriety in September 1985. This society claimed 12 million members after 1 year.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Several points about the campaign should be noted. The May launch was an advance announcement of future action. The first rules restricting access to alcohol came into effect on 1 June 1985. These were important, as they included a series of actions that could be enforced at once and where the impact of enforcement was highly visible, such as banning drinking of alcohol at all workplaces, including formerly legal bars, such as those in higher education establishments; banning sales before 2 p.m.; restricting alcohol sales to off-licences; and banning sales on trains (including dining-cars) and similar establishments.

In August 1985 prices increased by 25%, with another increase in August 1986. Subsequently there was a series of further measures to restrict access, with cuts in production leading to massive shortages.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

The irony is that the campaign actually worked. Why was this a problem? {In Russian voice} Well, comrade, in Soviet Union people own means of production. So when people not buy alcohol state not make money. {Back to American voice.} Coupled with a decline in oil exports, the state ended up seriously short of money. Yeah, Russians drank a lot in those days. While I'm certain this is no surprise to you, the amounts they drank may be:

A key contributing factor in the major causes of death, particularly among the male population, was the high level of alcoholism--a long-standing problem, especially among the Slavic peoples (Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian). Alcoholism was often referred to as the "third disease," after cardiovascular illness and cancer. Soviet health organizations and police records put the total number of alcoholics at over 4.5 million, but Western experts contended that this number applied only to those at the most advanced stage of alcoholism and that in 1987 the real number of alcoholics was at least 20 million.

Soon after coming to power, Gorbachev launched the most massive antialcohol campaign in Soviet history and voiced his concern not only about the health problems stemming from alcohol abuse but also about the losses in labor productivity (up to 15 percent) and the increased divorce rate. The drive appeared to have an almost immediate effect on the incidence of diseases directly related to alcohol: for example, cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol poisoning decreased from 47.3 per 1,000 in 1984 to 23.3 per 1,000 in 1986. The biggest declines were in the Russian and Ukrainian republics, where the problem was the most widespread. Some attributed the modest rise in male life expectancy between 1985 and 1986 to success in the battle against the "green snake," a popular Russian term for vodka. But to counter the major cut in government production of alcohol, people distilled their own alcoholic beverages at home. One-third of illicit alcohol reportedly was produced using government agricultural facilities.

Soviety Union: Declining Health Care in the 1970s and 1980s

There is now compelling evidence that alcohol has been a major factor in recent widespread changes in mortality in Russia and in other countries of the former Soviet Union. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, the newly appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, instituted a large-scale anti-alcohol campaign. Within a few years, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the campaign faltered and eventually gave way to a rapid rise in consumption, fuelled by widespread illicit production, on a massive scale. These changes were accompanied by large fluctuations in mortality. Between 1985 and 1986, male life expectancy at birth increased by 2 years and between 1992 and 1993 it fell by 3 years. The change in life expectancy was due, almost entirely, to differences in mortality among the young and middle aged (Leon et al., 1997). Changes on this scale are unprecedented anywhere in the world in peacetime (Ryan, 1995).

We have previously shown that these changes were real rather than due to data artefact, and that alcohol has played a major role, with the largest relative fluctuations from alcohol-related deaths, injuries and cardiovascular diseases, while mortality from cancers remained stable (Leon et al., 1997).

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Rich Inner Substance

Rich Inner Substance

The history of alcohol consumption in the USSR shows an absolutely prodigious consumption: not only did alcohol cosume 15-20% of household income but it accounted for 15% of all retail sales:

Widespread and excessive alcohol consumption was tolerated, or even encouraged, because of its scope for raising revenue. From the 1540s, Ivan IV began to establish kabaks (where spirits were produced and sold) in all major towns, with revenues going directly to the royal treasury. These gained monopoly status in 1649 and continued, through periods in which they were effectively franchised to local merchants, until the revolution. By the early twentieth century, income from alcohol constituted at least a third of all government revenue. It has also been argued, especially by Marxist historians, that heavy consumption of alcohol was also used as a means of reducing political dissent (White, 1996).

The first Bolshevik government reduced alcohol production (Sheregi, 1986) but by about 1921 consumption had returned to very high levels, in particular spirits distilled illicitly. By 1925, all the restrictions imposed after the revolution were rescinded, after which alcohol-related deaths exceeded their pre-war level, in some cities, such as Moscow, by as much as 15-fold. This decision, together with that to re-establish a state monopoly, was taken, quite explicitly, by Stalin, to raise money and thus avoid the necessity of seeking foreign investment capital. By the 1970s, receipts from alcohol were again constituting a third of government revenues.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Potentially more reliable figures have been generated outside the USSR by, for example, surveys of emigrants, especially to Israel, although these are problematic as there is evidence that Soviet Jews drank rather less than their Slavic neighbours. Nonetheless, one of the most rigorous studies, although again likely to be an underestimate because it did not include that large volume of alcohol now known to be stolen each year, suggests that consumption more than doubled between 1955 and 1979 to 15.2 litres per person (Treml, 1975). This figure is higher than that recorded for any OECD country (France was highest at 12.7 litres in 1990, although most other countries were in the range 5–9 litres), where data are largely derived from validated surveys of consumption (World Drink Trends, 1992). Of course, this figure relates to the entire USSR and, for religious and other reasons, there are marked regional variations so levels in the Russian heartland are likely to have been much higher. Other studies of emigré families suggested that alcohol consumption accounted for 15–20% of disposable household incomes. Studies by dissidents and others supported the impression that alcohol consumption was increasing at alarming levels, suggesting, for example, that alcohol accounted for 15% of total retail trade (Krasikov, 1981).

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

The title is from a comment by H.L. Mencken about his drinking:

I'm ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all.

— H.L. Mencken

"133t5p33k" or "!337$p34k"

Leet Keyboard

Microsoft has disocvered Leetspeak and the risk it poses to children:

Key points for interpreting leetspeek

• Numbers are often used as letters. The term "leet" could be written as "1337," with "1" replacing the letter L, "3" posing as a backwards letter E, and "7" resembling the letter T. Others include "8" replacing the letter B, "9" used as a G, "0" (zero) in lieu of O, and so on.

• Non-alphabet characters can be used to replace the letters they resemble. For example, "5" or even "$" can replace the letter S. Applying this style, the word "leetspeek" can be written as "133t5p33k" or even "!337$p34k," with "4" replacing the letter A.

• Letters can be substituted for other letters that may sound alike. Using "Z" for a final letter S, and "X" for words ending in the letters C or K is common. For example, leetspeekers might refer to their computer "5x1llz" (skills).

• Rules of grammar are rarely obeyed. Some leetspeekers will capitalize every letter except for vowels (LiKe THiS) and otherwise reject conventional English style and grammar, or drop vowels from words (such as converting very to "vry").

• Mistakes are often left uncorrected. Common typing misspellings (typos) such as "teh" instead of the are left uncorrected or sometimes adopted to replace the correct spelling.

• Non-alphanumeric characters may be combined to form letters. For example, using slashes to create "//" can substitute for the letter M, and two pipes combined with a hyphen to form "|-|" is often used in place of the letter H. Thus, the word ham could be written as "|-|4//."

• The suffix "0rz" is often appended to words for emphasis or to make them plural. For example, "h4xx0rz," "sk1llz0rz," and "pwnz0rz," are plural or emphasized versions (or both) of hacks, skills, and owns.

"A Parent's Primer to Computer Slang: Understand how your kids communicate online to help protect them" by Microsoft Corporation

And here's a set of kewl words that Microsoft says you should be on the lookout for:

Leet words of concern or indicating possible illegal activity:

• "warez" or "w4r3z": Illegally copied software available for download.

• "h4x": Read as "hacks," or what a malicious computer hacker does.

• "pr0n": An anagram of "porn," possibly indicating the use of pornography.

• "sploitz" (short for exploits): Vulnerabilities in computer software used by hackers.

• "pwn": A typo-deliberate version of own, a slang term often used to express superiority over others that can be used maliciously, depending on the situation. This could also be spelled "0//n3d" or "pwn3d," among other variations. Online video game bullies or "griefers" often use this term.

"A Parent's Primer to Computer Slang: Understand how your kids communicate online to help protect them" by Microsoft Corporation

Remember, kids, if someone offers you some "pron" just say, "Thanks, Dude!". Or, more properly, "10x d00d!"

Leet Cereal

"The Flowering of Geometry"

Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Columns

No architecture is so haughty as that which is simple.

— John Ruskin

I found myself walking through lower Manhattan reflecting upon neo-classical architecture, specifically the different types of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

The famous Roman architect Vitruvius, the inspiration behind da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, is credited with naming the three main types of Roman columns and entablature (horizontal piece running across the tops of columns). The differences between them are ones of proportion, symbolism, and opulence.

Greek Stamp with Doric Column

Doric is the oldest and most spartan; it represents a man. (I use the word spartan in terms of being undecorated, not in terms of being from Sparta, which it wasn't.) The column notably has no base but has triglyphs and metopes. (A metope is the space between triglyphs.) This style is from the Greek mainland.

Greek Stamp with Ionic Column

Ionic is far less solid than Doric, being based on the proportions of a mature woman. (The Greeks valued slenderness in their women, including small breasts and hips.) Also unlike Doric, it has a column base but no triglyphs. The volutes are the key flourish of note. (Volutes are the scrollwork patterns in the capital.) This style is from the eastern Aegean.

Greek Stamp with Corinthian Column

Corinthian is the latest and most stylizied; some might say opulent. It is based on the dimensions of a young maiden and is capped with a circular belle formed from rows of acanthus leaves and volutes. (Corinthian was very popular for neo-classical architecture, particularly in Washington, DC.) Acanthus is an ornamental plant with spiny leaves; the reason for its inclusion in the Corinthian style have to do with the legend of its origin.

9. It is related that the original discovery of this form of capital was as follows. A freeborn maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attacked by an illness and passed away. After her burial, her nurse, collecting a few little things which used to give the girl pleasure while she was alive, put them in a basket, carried it to the tomb, and laid it on top thereof, covering it with a roof-tile so that the things might last longer in the open air. This basket happened to be placed just above the root of an acanthus. The acanthus root, pressed down meanwhile though it was by the weight, when springtime came round put forth leaves and stalks in the middle, and the stalks, growing up along the sides of the basket, and pressed out by the corners of the tile through the compulsion of its weight, were forced to bend into volutes at the outer edges.

10. Just then Callimachus, whom the Athenians called katatêxitechnos for the refinement and delicacy of his artistic work, passed by this tomb and observed the basket with the tender young leaves growing round it. Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians, determined their symmetrical proportions, and established from that time forth the rules to be followed in finished works of the Corinthian order.

"The Origins of the Three Orders, and the Proportions of the Corinthian Capital" Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books on Architecture, Chapter I, Book IV

Greek architecture is the flowering of geometry.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Communication Breakdown"

Captain, Road Prison 36

Captain, Road Prison 36 (Strother Martin)

What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men.

— Captain, Road Prison 36

Everyone knows the famous line, "What we have here is failure to communicate." (You can listen to it here.) Men quote it all the time. Most know it appears in Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 movie starring Paul Newman as a man sent to a work farm for cutting the heads off parking meters, even though they may have not seen the movie. Some know the actor delivering the line is Strother Martin. But just about everyone who uses it, however, misquotes it by saying "...a failure to..." or elides the remainder after "failure to communicate." It likely ranks up there with "You talking to me?" from Taxi Driver and "Funny How?" from Goodfellas in terms of being butchered by the masses. Yeah, I heard it totally knackered the other day and was inspired to write it up.

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

And the title line? It's from "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin:

Communication breakdown,
It’s always the same,
I’m having a nervous breakdown,
Drive me insane!

"Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, 1969

"Pop is Instant Art."

Robert Indiana's LOVE Statue in Manhattan

Pop is instant art.

— Robert Indiana

At the corner of Sixth Avenue and 55th Street is Robert Indiana's LOVE statue. I was walking by about two months ago on a Saturday afternoon and took this photograph with a point-and-shoot digital. The teenager who'd climbed on top of the statue was having a great time while her friends were yelling at her that she was going to get arrested. Most passersby just ignored her; hey, it's New York and this sort of thing happens all the time, right? The statue is commonly used as a place to sit or eat lunch, as can be seen from the people on the left side, who remain undisturbed by her antics.

But it got me thinking about the statue and how little I know about the artist, Robert Indiana. And so I decided to do a little reading. Born in 1928, his work is among the most famous of the pop artists, although he never achieved even a fraction of the recognition that Andy Warhold did. Educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Indiana focused on simple, and rather bold, words and numbers; he is most famous for "LOVE" with the off-kilter "O", which he created in 1964.

The origins of the sculpture and its personal meaning to Indiana are interesting:

LOVE has been a fixture in the art of Robert Indiana. Its form and structure have changed significantly throughout the years from 1958-1966 and even through to today. The iconography first appeared in a series of poems originally written in 1958, in which Indiana stacked LO and VE on top of one another. The first LOVE sculpture was carved out of a solid block of aluminum, highly unpolished, that the pop artist had made for a show at the Stable Gallery in 1966. The idea for the sculptural piece originated from a visit to a Christian Science church in Indianapolis, where Robert was taken by an adorned banner that read "GOD is LOVE." He then created a painting for an exhibition held in what was formerly a Christian Science church. It depicted the reverse of the previous banner, stating "LOVE is GOD."

"Love by Robert Indiana"

Mr. Indiana says autobiographical elements appear in all his work. The Love color combination, for example, was inspired by the signature colors of Phillips 66, a nationwide chain of gas stations for which Mr. Indiana's father worked in the 1930s.

"That sign was very important in my life," he said. "It led to the reason that the Loves are red, blue, and green. It led to the Christmas card that I did for the Museum of Modern Art, which became the most popular card that they had ever published, and then, of course, it went on and on and on. The loves have never stopped. They are spreading across the world. It is a dream that I would love to see a Love in every city of the world." Mr. Indiana first created the Love design in the mid-1960s. But he neglected to copyright the original work and it spread like wildfire, appearing on coffee cups, key chains and sweat shirts."

"Creator of Love Symbol Celebrates 75th Birthday", OpenHere Arts & Entertainment, 12 May 2004

LOVE has, in some sense, overshadowed the artist:

Artist Robert Indiana managed to create one of the most popular images of all time - the immediately recognizable:

LO
VE.

But until recently, it was one of the most ripped off images of all time.

"Unfortunately, due to my ignorance of copyright things," says Indiana, "most people know about 'Love,' and don't even know that Robert Indiana did 'Love.'"

Indiana, at 76, is determined to reclaim his place among America's major artists. He's painfully aware that love is not all you need.

"Artist Trapped By 'Love'", CBS News, 24 October 2004

Born in New Castle, Indiana as Robert Clark, he moved to New York and changed his name. The rest, as they say, is history:

In 1954, at the age of 26, he arrived in New York dedicated to fulfilling her prophecy.

He was so poor he scrounged whatever he could to work.

He stole wood to paint on when he didn't have money for canvas.

Robert Clark decided he had to do something to be noticed, so he called himself Robert Indiana after his home state.

"The best thing I ever did was change my name," he says. "Robert Clark really wasn't a terribly interesting person at all," he says. "He who assumes another name, it simply removes him from his early identity and he becomes a new person."

Equipped with his new name and a stencil he found in his loft, Robert Indiana was suddenly a pop artist, who, like Andy Warhol was inspired by popular culture.

Words fascinated Robert Indiana, the words on the signs that cover the American landscape.

"I feel that I am a sign painter. I mean, I make paintings that are signs, but as far as I'm concerned important signs, signs that say something, that have very meaningful messages, warnings, celebrations, things of that nature."

"The 'Love' of course has altered my life - it was a major sidetrack," he says.

A sidetrack because nobody paid any attention to his other work - particularly his American Dream paintings, which he believes are his most important. And also because, Indiana says, the art in-crowd turned on him. They thought he was a sell-out, getting rich on all those love rip-offs, which he wasn't.

Bitter and broke, in 1978, he exiled himself to Vinal Haven, to live the life of a recluse.

"Artist Trapped By 'Love'", CBS News, 24 October 2004

"Indiana's own legacy seems to be on his mind. As reclusive as he is, the very fact that Robert Indiana is showing his work again is a sign he doesn't want his epitaph to read, "The most famous artist you didn't know you knew," even though his most famous image has taken on a life of its own.

"There's now a 12-foot 'Love' in Singapore. There's a 12-foot 'Love' in Indianapolis... and there's a 12-foot 'Love' in Tokyo. There's a 12-foot 'Love' in Italy. There's a 12-foot 'Ahavar' in Jerusalem. Slowly, they're spreading across the face of the Earth. I have to face it, I know where I am stuck, it's going to be Indiana and 'Love' for the rest of time...."

He says it's not such a bad thing. "No I'm very pleased."

Not only that, his dealers is now aggressively going after anybody who rips him off. Robert Indiana is finally making his peace with "Love.""

"Artist Trapped By 'Love'", CBS News, 24 October 2004

Indiana also achieved a little fame by appearing, along with his cat, in Andy Warhol's black & white silent film, "Eat" (1964):

Robert Indiana also constructed a flashing electric Eat sign on the outside of the New York State Pavilion at the New York World's fair which opened on April 15, 1964. The sign had to be turned off, however, because it attacted too many hungry tourists looking for a place to eat. (FAW13)

The night before appearing in Warhol's film, Indiana had seen the film Tom Jones. Inspired by the movie's "orgiastic eating scene," he had starved himself before the filming, bringing along a large amount of fruits and vegetables to eat. Instead, Andy asked him to slowly eat just one mushroom. Andy shot nine 3 minute rolls of film which he assembled out of sequence so that there is no direct relation between the time spent eating the mushroom and how much of it is left. The film is about watching somebody eating. How much is actually eaten at any one point of time is irrelevant. The focus is on the image and not the narrative.

Eat by Andy Warhol

LOVE is famous; it has appeared in sculpture all over the world, in gift shops, and even made it onto a US stamp in 1973, inaugerating a line of stamps on that theme. Yet the artist never made much money for his work. That's a damn shame.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Artist Trapped By 'Love'", CBS News, 24 October 2004
  2. "Creator of Love Symbol Celebrates 75th Birthday", OpenHere Arts & Entertainment, 12 May 2004
  3. "Love by Robert Indiana"
  4. Eat by Andy Warhol

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

"All You Need Is Love," Yellow Submarine, Beatles (Lenon/McCartney)

You Won’t Scream For This Ice Cream

Street View of Cones (Ice Cream Artisans)

Street View of Cones (Ice Cream Artisans)

Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.

— Don Kardong, 1976 United States Olympic Marathoner

A few weeks ago I found myself in the West Village with some time to kill while my takeout was being made. Since life is always uncertain, I decided to eat dessert first. Across the street was Cones, a purported purveyor of delicacy ice cream and sorbet. (Yeah, you know where this review is going.)

The shop was opened in 1988 by two Argentinean brothers who apparently wanted to create delicious sorbet and ice cream. Or so said the reviews hanging in the window. Consider, for example, this glowing review from the Village Voice:

The current best ice in the city is found at Cones (272 Bleecker Street, 414-1795), that elite purveyor of the city's most expensive frozen treats. The sparkling and alarmingly acidic grapefruit is the only one that's worth the whopping $9 per pint, and I blush to admit my pint-a-week habit.

"Summer in the City Food & Drinks" by Robert Sietsema, Village Voice, 25 May 2002

I walked in and discovered that the floors had just been mopped, with a deliciously strong odor of porn-shop disinfectant. I was lost in reverie for a moment, thinking of my fond memories of the deuce before Adolf Screwliani disneyfied it. Anyway, the glowing reviews overcame the stench, which, it turns out, was a mistake.

Now, I said earlier that Cones "apparently wanted to create" a quality product because that's what the reviews in the window proclaimed; my experience say they were trying to create something not as good as Hagen Daaz at a whoppingly huge premium the better to sucker people in the West Village with more money than taste. But, back to the sorbet. I chose raspberry and lemon. The raspberry was not particularly flavorful and was loaded with seeds. Seeds! The lemon wasn't flavorful and had no lemon zest. Yeah, it was better than the cheap artifical crap you'll get from most restaurants, but only marginally so. Service was perfunctory. I wasn't impressed overall, and it cost me around five bucks for two small scoops. (Ahhh, the sacrifices and depredations I endure so that you, the loyal reader, can get accurate reviews.)

Business Card for Cones

Name: Cones
Location: 272 Bleecker Street
between Morton and Jones Street)
Manhattan
Phone: 212.414.1795
Taste: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Decor: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Service: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Value: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

If you want quality sorbet from a store, you gotta go to NYC ICY in the East Village; over twice the quality at about half the price. (I'll write them up presently. The only advantage Cones has is they'll do flavor mixing, which is a strict no-no at NYC ICY.) But for real quality you have to get yourself an ice cream maker and brew up your own. I've done this, and let me tell you, it's truly awesome. I made raspberry sorbet using a pack of frozen berries and sugar, and it was intensely flavorful and, overall, simply amazing. But, suppose, for the sake of argument, you don't want to walk to the East Village and you don't have the time or motivation to prepare you own. Then I suggest you go to your local supermarket and buy a premium brand commercial sorbet. You'll get a whole pint for the price of two small scoops and you'll enjoy it a whole lot more.

Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridated water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream?

— General Jack D. Ripper, Dr. Strangelove

Is That a Machete In Your Pocket…
or Are You Just Glad To See Me?

Logo for Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Logo for Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has put out an amazingly useful guide to concealed weapons:

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, airline hijackings the FIREARMS AND TOOLMARKS UNIT of the FBI LABORATORY has started a collection of small and easily concealed knives. This is the first installment of a continuing effort to collect and distribute information on knives that otherwise may be dismissed as non threatening items. Many of the knives in this collection were commercially purchased and typically can be bought for less than $20. Some of these knives are common items found in most homes and offices. You will notice also that some are made of a plastic material, making them less likely to be considered a weapon. Each of these tools was designed to cut and is fully functional in that respect. Whether used to cut paper, cardboard, or other material, these knives should be treated as potentially dangerous weapons. Each knife is shown with an accompanying scale for size reference and many include an X-ray photograph to show how these weapons might appear if placed in luggage and passed through a scanning device.

Guide to Concealable Weapons, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003

Guide to Concealable Weapons 2003

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 airline highjackings, the Firearms and Toolmarks unit of the FBI Laboratory started to compile information on small and easily concealed knives. This is the first installment of a continuing effort to collect and distribute information on knives that otherwise may be dismissed as nonthreatening items.

Guide to Concealable Weapons, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003

Not only will they show you were to conceal the weapons:

Locations for Concealed Weapons

But they'll show you what weapons you could conceal. It's a virtual shopping catalog, albeit missing Website URLs and prices. You get to see each weapon closed, open, and even an x-ray view. When a weapon is made from ceramic or plastic, and thus immune to magnetometer screening, the guide will tell you. Now, this isn't anything you couldn't get from the catalogs or online, mind, so there's no great secret here. The advantage is that the FBI has collected it for you in one handy place.

Crucifix Knife

Crucifix Knife
(Who Would Jesus Stab?)

Coin Knife

Coin Knife
(Brother, Can You Slice Me Up With a Dime?)

Pen Knives in Shirt Pocket

Pen Knives In Shirt Pocket
(The Ultimate Pocket Protector)
(When The Pen is As Mighty as the Sword)

If Google Answered CraigsList’s Personal Ad

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

The wonderful thing about all the services Google is creating is how clever people leverage them by adding content from disparate sources to create new services totally unimagined by Google or anyone else.

For example, imaging merging Google Maps with, say, real estate offerings on CraigsList. That way one could navigate by map, looking only at the interesting locations, instead of having to read every single ad to visually extract the particulars. Oh, and having the listings filtered by price, as well.

Well, imagine no more; it's been done by Paul Rademacher.

The result is impressive: it's a fast, easy, and convenient way to discover that one really can't afford to live in any desirable area, and even most of the undesirable ones, either.

The street finds its own uses for things.

"Burning Chrome" by William S. Gibson

Do You Take Milk & Sugar With Your Clothing?

Seersucker Jacket

He walked into the ocean [wearing a seersucker suit], took it off and let it dry and wore it to a party that night. It made Haspel suits famous.

— Laurie Lipsey Aronson quoted in "Haspel Suits Have Been Popular with Presidents and in Hollywood" by Karen Martin, 2 The Advocate, 4 April 2005

The name "seersucker" comes to us from the Hindi sirsaker, derived from the Persian shiroshakar or shroshakar, meaning "milk and sugar". The word shakar, meaning sugar, comes from the Sanskrit arkar, while the shr is Persian for milk. The term is a figurative one, referring to the different textures — smooth and rough,— just as how smooth milk and rough sugar have different texture. (Don't blame me; I don't name these things.)

Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

Seersucker Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

A lightweight weave, either plain or crepe, the puckers arise from tightening and slackening some threads during weaving. The loom is a twin-beam with two warps (vertical); one with loose threads the other with tight. It took skill for the weaver to create a uniform appearance; nowadays, the work is done by soulless weaving machines:

When the ground weave of the fabric is all plain weave, two warp beams are necessary. The bottom beam used for the plain cloth is usually made from single yarns and woven with regular tension from the warp. The top beam which is used for the seersucker stripe, can be made from either single or ply yarns. When made from single yarns the threads are doubled in the harnesses and crowded in the reed. When made from plied yarns they are not usually doubled, unless fine yarns are used. As the plain weave is used for both ground fabric and seersucker stripe, four harness shafts can be used. It is advisable to operate the seersucker on separate harness shafts and not on the same shafts as the ground threads. The number of shafts used will depend on the construction of the fabric. If the heddles or the harness eyes are crowded on the shafts, more shafts should be used. The reeding of the fabric for the plain ground is usually two single threads per dent and for the seersucker stripe is usually two double threads in a dent.

There are several methods by which the seersucker effect can be produced. The first method is done by having the top seersucker warp beam weaving comparatively slack. In this method the regulation of the weight on the beam is made according to the effect to be produced in the fabric. This slack weaving of the warp, together with the crowding of the threads in the reed, creates the crimp of the cloth.

In the second method the warp beam for the seersucker stripe is woven tight, as in regular warp regulation. The seersucker yarn passes around an easer rod. As the lay comes to the fell of the cloth, the easer rod is pulled forward, slackening the yarn. This slackening on every pick affords a good crimp. Adjusting the collar as to give more or less movement to the easer rod can regulate the motion.

In the third method a cam is used on the crankshaft to operate the easer rod, thereby slackening the yarn on each pick. The cam must be set to ease the yarn when the reed is close to the fell of the cloth. The tension on the beam for the seersucker stripe should be set so that the pull of the yarn will be away from the weight of the spring.

Another kind of seersucker is often called “serpentine” crêpe, which is done by a chemical treatment. In this method certain parts of the fabric are treated with caustic soda which causes the fabric to shrink in those areas and gives a puckered effect.

Technical Methods of weaving a Seersucker

The crinkly-textured fabric had been used in India for centuries, but it only attained worldwide notice when the British Raj began to wear silk nightshirts and pajamas made from it. The first recorded English use of the phrase is in 1722, as "Sea Sucker".

Seersucker Colors

Seersucker Fabric Color Variations

Seersucker suits became popular in the south during the jazz era (mid-1920s) because the fabric was cool and humidity would take the creases out of any suit. (The argument that the wrinkles gave the wearer some appeal because, after all, if you rich you had the right to look like you'd slept in your clothes, doesn't hold water. Rich southern men were all about style and looking good.) The north was less receptive because the fashion there was elegant, and razor-sharp, creases, not comfort.

The fabric really took off when clothier Joseph Haspel popularized the wash-and-wear suit:

In 1907, New Orleanian Joseph Haspel seized on the cotton and set out to create a suit whose primary selling point would be wash-and-wearability.

"My great-grandfather was known for starting the wash-and-wear suit," said Laurie Aaronson, president and co-owner of the Haspel clothing company. "In one of his ad campaigns there is a picture of him wearing a seersucker suit and he walks into the Atlantic Ocean. Then he wrings it out, hangs it up and when he puts it back on he goes straight to a cocktail party that night."

The lightweight nature of the material and lack of creases also appealed to him because of the weather in which he found himself. Suit creases fall in New Orleans' humidity.

It is said that the low cost and rumpled state of the often-pinstriped garment made the cognoscenti initially look down on it. But soon after World War I, presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, as well as movie stars Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, were seen wearing not just seersucker, but Haspel seersucker.

"Gregory Peck wore a Haspel seersucker suit in 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' " Aaronson recounts.

"Stripes Are Solid" by Karen Sommer Shalett, Times Picayune, 23 July 2004

Haspel was an ambitious, and clever, man, and his PR ploy with swim-and-wear suits worked wonders for his company's reputation. I don't know if this was paid placement — and it wouldn't surprise me, given how Hollywood popularized diamonds — but seersucker started showing up in movies like A Lion in the Streets (James Cagney), The Seven Year Itch (Tom Ewell) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Gregory Peck). I remember the seersucker suit from the movie, because it looked so rumpled. Haspel remains a big men's clothing company.

CAD Software Configuration for Weaving Seersucker

MonarchCAD Textile Software for Weaving Seersucker

Today's seersucker is available in all sorts of colors and materials, including the ever-versatile polyester, harvested by hand from the finest sacred polyester lambs in the Andes. (I myself am too profane to allow polyester to touch my skin, and restrict myself to 100% natural fabrics that breathe. But what do I know?) The weaving, however, is virtually always done by machine.

"This is the Law of the Yukon"

Robert W. Service

Robert William Service

This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.

"The Law of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service

Robert William Service (1874-1958) is one of those poets, like Edwin Arlington Robinson, whom is known by his work, but not by his name. His most famous poem, "The Law of the Yukon," is likely familiar, if, for nothing else, for the lines quoted above. Or maybe you know "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", which made him over half a million dollars. Service was, in a word, prolific: he penned over 2,000 poems, of which about 1,200 have been published. Many were written for friends and family.

Service was famous enough for just about anyone, let alone for a poet. When Charles Lindberg first flew across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St Louis he carried a book of Service's poems. So where did Service come from? Now, that's a tale. Robert W. Service (he didn't use his middle name much) was born in Preston, Lancashire, Scotland on 16 January 1874, which is a rather substantial walk from the Yukon Territory.

His father was a bank clerk, so it is understandable that Service, at the age of 15, started working in banking. (T.S. Eliot is the only other banker turned poet I can think of offhand.) The work bored him terribly — what a surprise — and he jumped at the chance to go to Canada and become a ranch hand in 1896. The only problem was that Service's view of the romantic cowboy lifestyle was pure fantasy, and after slogging it out for 18 months in British Columbia, and even a short stint in California, he decided, in 1902, it was better to be banker and explore the wilderness in his off-hours. A very sensible decision.

Service became known for reciting poetry by other poets, but one day the local newspaper asked him for something with local color. And so he created "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". That piece became so famous it ultimately earned him a half million dollars over the course of his life, a staggering fortune in the twenties and thirties.

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger's face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.

...

"The Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

Service wrote more poems and made even more money, so much that he quit his bank job and moved to a log cabin with a view of the Yukon valley. (But he notably did not write "The Face on the Barroom Floor" which is often attributed to him; that poem was penned by Hugh Antoine d'Arcy in the 1870's.) Service wasn't a hermit, though, and tooled around Europe, meeting and marrying a German woman in 1913. He left Canada because he decided he just didn't like Canadians all that much. (Damn Canadians! Always up to no good, ramming their damned poutine down our throats!) Service liked the French Rivera because he felt he could do whatever he wanted there without his neighbors passing judgment.

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

Although originally from Scotland, and thus a speaker of Gaelic, Service also spoke English, French, and Italian. While his French would have been expected to be, if not good, at least tolerable — he moved to France and lived there until he died — it turned out it was good enough that he even wrote poetry in it. I haven't seen it, so I don't know how good it was. (But back to his European travels.) Too old — he was 41 — to fight in World War I — varicose veins were the official reason his enlistment was rejected — he became a war correspondent and ambulance driver. (Shades of Hemmingway.) After the war he lived in France, but spent the duration of World War II in the US. Afterwards, he went back to France, dying there in 1958.

Service remained popular long after his death:

Ten years ago, when I was twenty-one, I spent some months in the company of disgruntled U.S. Viet Nam war vets at sea and in fishing towns on the Alaska coast. I was never out of the company of someone who could recite a poem of Robert Service, and his complete works in verse were for sale by the cash register in every place where you could buy anything at all. When we were lined up to pay for our liquor once on shore, my friend Stan--sorry, we didn't really use last names--saw the book and started to recite Service poems I had never heard.

"Life of Service," by Dan Duffy

So why was he so popular? There are a few reasons:

The reason of the popularity of this poetry may be summed up almost in a word–it pictures human life. For, after all, nature worship or classic lore, ethics or abstruse philosophy, grow stale and flat when used continually as the basis of literary emotions, but every human being, who has not become a conventionalized fossil, always will be moved by the passions and moods of the surging, restless, primitive, even animal spirit of humanity that permeates Service's poems. . . . These poems must not be regarded as typically Canadian–they crystallize a phase of Canadian life, but it is a phase which has become Canadian by accident of circumstances. . . . . The rhythm of the poems has an irresistible sweep; no training in the technique of versification is necessary to catch the movement–it carries one away; and the plain, forcible language grips the attention and holds it, while short, vivid, insistent epithets hammer themselves deeply into one's mind.

— Donald G. French, Globe Magazine

A great poet died last week in Lancieux, France, at the age of 84.

He was not a poet's poet. Fancy-Dan dilettantes will dispute the description "great." He was a people's poet. To the people he was great. They understood him, and knew that any verse carrying the by-line of Robert W. Service would be a lilting thing, clear, clean and power-packed, beating out a story with a dramatic intensity that made the nerves tingle. And he was no poor, garret-type poet, either. His stuff made money hand over fist. One piece alone, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, rolled up half a million dollars for him. He lived it up well and also gave a great deal to help others.

"The only society I like," he once said, "is that which is rough and tough - and the tougher the better. That's where you get down to bedrock and meet human people." He found that kind of society in the Yukon gold rush, and he immortalized it.

Obituary, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 16 September 1958

But, enough about Service the man. Let's consider two of his more famous works:

The Law of the Yukon

This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons;
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat;
But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again.

...

"The Law of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

...

"The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service

It is unlikely you know Service by way of the saucy Violet De Vere:

Violet De Vere

You've heard of Violet de Vere, strip-teaser of renown,
Whose sitting-base out-faired the face of any girl in town;
Well, she was haled before the Bench for breachin' of the Peace,
Which signifies araisin' Cain, an' beatin' up the police.

...

"Violet De Vere" by Robert W. Service

You can read more of his poems here or over at Gutenberg.org (see further reading).

Sources and Further Reading

  1. PoemHunter's Collection of Poems by Robert W. Service
  2. International War Veteran's Poetry Archives Collection of War Poems by Robert W. Service
  3. Rhymes of a Rolling Stone by Robert W. Service
  4. The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses by Robert W. Service
  5. Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert W. Service
  6. Ballads of a Bohemian by Robert W. Service
  7. Ballads of a Cheechako by Robert W. Service
  8. The Spell of the Yukon by Robert W. Service (collected poems)
  9. Yukon Valley in British Columbia
  10. "Life of Service," by Dan Duffy

"Take this tape back to those
Scotch bosses of yours…"

Scotch Tape ad from 1945 created by Ruskin "Russ" Williams

Scotch Tape ad from 1945 created by Ruskin "Russ" Williams

Scotch Tape is an amazing invention. While one can't make a wallet from it like one can with duct tape, it does not yellow like other tapes and sticks reasonably well. Created by Richard Drew — the man who spent two years inventing the first masking tape in 1925 — it started life in a most unusual way.

Richard Drew

Richard Drew

Drew was a banjo player hired by 3M to be a lab technician because they were impressed with his drive and ambition. Pretty soon they were trusting him to take new products to client sites for testing. And that's where the serendipity comes in:

Back then, 3M was a struggling sandpaper manufacturer. Drew spent his first two years checking raw materials and running tests. In 1923, 3M developed the first sandpaper that was waterproof. Drew was asked to take trial batches of the new stuff to a local auto body shop for testing. Thus, he happened to witness the auto painter's fateful show of temper.

Two-tone paint finishes on cars had just been introduced and become all the rage. Too late, however, auto manufacturers discovered that they had created a monstrous hassle for themselves.

During the spray painting of the cars, there was no effective way to keep one color masked from the other. Painters would improvise with newspapers, butcher paper, various glues, surgical adhesive tape and other unsuitable products. That day in the auto body shop, Drew watched as the painter removed gummed Kraft paper from a shining new Packard, stripping the paint away with it.

Inspired, evidently, by sympathy — for he knew little about adhesives — Drew vowed to the furious painter right then and there that he would develop a tape to make two-tone paint application easy.

By happy coincidence, 3M management was searching for a way to diversify the company.

They gave Drew the time and financial backing to conduct some experiments.

"Scotch Brand Tape Sticking Strong at 70 — From banjo player to kitchen cook"

After some experiments — can you imagine any company today allowing a lab technician/sales representative to engage in product research and development, no matter how smart? — Drew had a version he was ready to try out with a customer. He took his roll of masking tape — a two-inch wide paper strip backed with adhesive — out for a field test:

He brought a prototype roll to a St. Paul auto painter. The painter carefully applied the masking tape along the edge of the color already painted and was just about to spray on the second color when the tape fell off. The annoyed painter examined the 2-inch wide tape and saw that it had adhesive only along its outer edges, but not in the middle.

Annoyed, the painter said to Drew, "Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!"

The name — like the improved tape it inspired — stuck.

"Who Put The "Scotch" Into Scotch Brand Tape? How A Brand Name Was Born" by 3M

And that's where the Scotch brand came from. (I doubt anyone today would get away with suggesting a brand be named after the "frugal" nature of a people. It would be like, oh, naming a heart defibrillator "The Welsher" because it refuses to pay death its due.) Anyway, while Drew was working on masking tape he had a serendipitious enounter that changed the world:

While Drew was pursuing his research, he spoke with a fellow 3M researcher who was considering packaging 3M masking tape rolls in cellophane, a new moisture-proof wrap created by DuPont. Why, Drew wondered, couldn't cellophane be coated with adhesive and used as a sealing tape for the insulation batts?

In June 1929, Drew ordered 100 yards of cellophane with which to conduct experiments. He soon devised a tape product sample that he showed to the St. Paul insulation firm. Unfortunately, the sample didn't adequately solve that particular customer's problem. But the sample definitely showed promise as an aid to packaging other types of products.

Drew kept working. It took over a year for him to solve the many problems posed by his materials. Cellophane could indeed work as a backing for pressure-sensitive tape. But it was difficult to apply adhesive evenly upon it. Also, cellophane split easily in the process of machine coating. But for each such challenge, Drew found an answer. He discovered that if a primer coat was applied to cellophane, the adhesive would coat evenly. As for splitting, special machinery solved that problem. Finally, Drew developed virtually colorless adhesives to improve the aesthetics of the tape.

On Sept. 8, 1930, the first roll of Scotch™ Cellophane Tape was sent to a prospective customer. That customer wrote back with the following sound advice for 3M: "You should have no hesitancy in equipping yourself to put this product on the market economically. There will be a sufficient volume of sales to justify the expenditure."

"Fascinating facts about the invention of Scotch Cellophane Tape by Dick Drew in 1930."

Five years later, in 1930, Drew conceived the product that would bring 3M worldwide fame.

Like masking tape, this innovation was inspired by customer need.

A St. Paul firm had an order to insulate hundreds of refrigerated railroad cars. There was a problem: The insulation would have to be protected from the moisture of the refrigeration. It could be wrapped in waterproof material, but the wrap would need a waterproof seal.

The insulation firm consulted 3M, and Drew, now resident pressure-adhesives expert, began mulling over the challenge of inventing a waterproof tape.

In the meantime, while Drew was experimenting with new tape "recipes," DuPont came out with a revolutionary packaging material called cellophane. It was an immediate hit with food distributors, especially when it was made moisture proof.

When another 3M researcher showed Drew the new, filmy, transparent material, Drew had a flash of inspiration: Why not coat the stuff with adhesive? It already was waterproof.

By the time Drew came up with a prototype product, the insulation firm no longer was interested in waterproof tape. But many other companies were. The bakers, meat packers, confectioners, grocers and chewing gum manufacturers that had adopted cellophane food wrap all were clamoring for a moisture-proof, attractive way to seal their new packaging. But if the market was ready, the product was not. Moving the cellophane tape from the prototype stage to salability took Drew and his colleagues a year. It was a grueling period. Cellophane, it turned out, as a backing for adhesive, posed hideous difficulties. It curled near heat, split when machine-coated and wouldn't take the adhesive evenly. At the end of each day, a truck was needed to cart away the stacks of spoiled cellophane.

One by one, however, the 3M researchers solved the production problems. They discovered that if a primer coat was applied to the cellophane, the adhesive would hold evenly. They designed new coating machinery that protected the cellophane from splitting. And they stopped using the standard masking tape adhesive. Instead, they developed a new, almost colorless adhesive to preserve the transparency of the cellophane.

"Scotch Brand Tape Sticking Strong at 70 — Wanted: waterproof tape"

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

This, the world's first transparent tape, added a nearly invisible adhesive, made from rubber, oils and resins, to a coated cellophane backing. The adhesive was waterproof and withstood a wide range of temperature and humidity, because it was designed to seal cellophane food-wrap. But the public, forced by the Great Depression to be thrifty, found hundreds of uses for it at work and at home, from sealing packages to mending clothes to preserving cracked eggs.

Drew's creativity not only brought great financial success, it helped transform 3M into an R&D-driven company. His tape was helped along by the first tape dispenser (1935), and was perfected in Scotch (TM) Brand Magic (TM) Transparent Tape (1961), which never discolors or leaks, and can be written on while remaining invisible itself.

"Richard Drew (1899-1980) Transparent adhesive tape"

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

Although the tape itself was invented in 1930 (patent 1,760,820), it took two years for the tape dispenser to be invented by John Borden, a 3M sales manager. (Shades of the chicken-and-egg problem posed by tinned foods and the can opener.) The invisible matte finish tape that we know and love was not invented until 1961. 3M's history talks about shortages of the tape during World War II:

By World War II, the product had become such a ubiquitous part of American life. 3M felt compelled to run advertisements apologizing to homemakers for the scarcity of the tape in stores across the country; available supplies of the product had been diverted to the front for the war effort. 3M promised "when victory comes 'Scotch' cellulose tape will be back again in your home and office."

"Scotch Brand Tape Sticking Strong at 70 — Wanted: waterproof tape"

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

But what the company doesn't mention in its wartime history is a use that the Department of Homeland Insecurity would find all too apppropriate: preventing injuries from poison gas. Yes, that's right boys and girls, sixty years ago, during World War II, soldiers — or at least those back home — were being sold on the proposition that Scotch tape and cellophane — the day's equivalents to duct tape and polyethylene sheeting — would save the day against the evil hun:

If War Gas falls from the sky...

HE’LL BE READY!

Months ago, foresighted Chemical Warfare Service and Quartermaster Corps engineers designed a protective covering to guard our soldiers against blister gas. It’s a tent-like cloak big enough to completely cover its wearer, pack, rifle and all. Made of special gas-proof cellophane, it stops the searing splash of deadly vapors which burn through ordinary clothing, shoes, and skin. Even its seams are gas-proof — they’re sealed with your old friend "Scotch" Tape.

Stopping penetration of destructive chemicals, man-made or natural, is one of "Scotch" Tape’s commonest war jobs. It is used as a gas-proof, water-proof seal on scores of vital supply cartons used by our armed forces.

Naturally war needs have first call on "Scotch" Tape for the duration. We hope that if you miss its convenient help around the house, you’ll remember it’s still working for you wherever it is. When these war jobs are done, "Scotch" Tape will be available again for home use…better and handier than ever before.

I think the advantage of this outfit is that it doubles as a body bag after the soldier dies from exposure to toxic agents. I bought a copy of this ad from a dealer in vintage ads and have it in my marketing and advertising collection. (Day job. Don't ask.) I always keep a few rolls of Scotch tape at home, just in case I need to construct an emergency shelter against terrorist gas attacks. (The story that I'm using it for mundane tasks — like wrapping gifts, repairing torn paper, and building weapons of mass destruction — is just a canard.)

Sources and Further Reading

  1. History of Scotch Tape
  2. "Scotch Brand Tape Sticking Strong at 70 — From banjo player to kitchen cook"
  3. "Who Put The "Scotch" Into Scotch Brand Tape? How A Brand Name Was Born" by 3M
  4. Scotch brand
  5. "Fascinating facts about the invention of Scotch Cellophane Tape by Dick Drew in 1930."
  6. "Scotch Brand Tape Sticking Strong at 70 — Wanted: waterproof tape"
  7. "Richard Drew (1899-1980) Transparent adhesive tape"

"Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine"

Record Albums

When I were a lad, and humans hadn't yet evolved opposable thumbs, we listened to music on eight-tracks and vinyl. Sad, but true. Now, one of the interesting things you can do with vinyl that you can't do with a CD is play it backwards, ruining both vinyl and needle in the process. (Ok, ok. One can now buy scratch CD players which allow you to do this, but Joe Sixpack doesn't have this specialized gear.) There was what amounted to a cult following for which albums contained secret messages only audible to the faithful. Mostly idiotic mumblage about how Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a robot, or how various songs really were tributes to Satan. As anyone who doesn't live in red-state America knows, these alleged "messages" are really nothing more than artifacts created by our brains:

The human brain with all of its capabilites and control has difficulty with one thing: time. It can only understand it when it goes in one single direction. To us it's forward; to other particles in the universe it's sideways, or tangential, or even crooked. When we are presented with something where time has been changed more than just slightly - reversed, for example - it seems nothing but completely foreign and incomprehensible. Only in the past 50 years has man even been able to hear sounds in reverse. These new sounds are not based in our reality, and to the uninitiated, quite scary. It's no wonder reversing of sound in popular culture has been linked with Satan or other devilish conduct - that's how most cultures deal with things they can't comprehend.

Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed

The technique of laying down reversed audio on top of a normal piece of music is called "backward masking". This is a different technique than choosing words that will sound out the proper message when played in reverse. The latter is much more interesting — and harder — than the former. The key to a message audible only in reverse is picking the proper forward phonemes — phonemes are the discrete sounds making up each spoken word — so that the reverse phonemes yield the desired message:

The combination of reversed phonemes in English results in yet more complication. In most cases the end result cannot be estimated from the initial sounds, because of many factors.

1. Slang - in most English phrases, words are strung together for ease of speaking. Certain consonants are lost, vowels shortened, etc. Phonetic analysis of the word as it is properly spoken usually has very little in comparison to how it is spoken in real life, and can even depend upon how the word is used in the phrase itself.

2. Pitch - The English language uses pitch to designate ends of phrases, emphasized words, etc. When these are reversed, the whole sense of the phrase is misdirected - the emphasis goes to a certain syllable (or combination of phonemes) which when reversed adds to its unusual rhythm.

3. Human experience - the most undefinable of the result of combined reversed phonemes is how they are combined in the human mind to form something discernable. Correlations with known slang words, changing vowels, and numerous other things are added or removed in order to interpret the vocal sound to something understandable. As we will see, this factor plays almost the biggest role in 'secret message' finding...

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

Ok, so what does this mean in practice? Let's consider a famous example:

The simplest of examples (and one of the most popular) comes from The Beatles' "Revolution 9". Throughout the piece is a spoken phrase repeating "number nine" in a slight British accent:

nUXmbUXnAOIHnUX

Note the removal of the 'r' in number , the deep swell in vowels in 'nine', from 'au' to 'i' sounding more like 'nauighn', and the addition of the vowel sound at the end. The pitch of the voice is very important as well - the note stays nearly the same throughout 'number', but rises quickly in 'nine', and ends on a high pitch for the final vowel sound.

When reversed at the phonetic level, the result is:

UXnIHAOnUXbmUXn

The heavy pitch drop at the beginning stretches out the first vowels, which come across as two words because of the different vowel sounds from the British accent, and the reversed consonants in 'number' separate the words as well:

UXn IH AOn UXb mUXn

...which has been loosely translated in the English language to "Turn me on dead man".

By loosely I mean that many of the consonants are dropped (which is usual for this phrase in slang): the starting "t" is dropped, the "r" is dropped (normal for British accents), the "m" is dropped, the first "d" in "dead" is dropped (usually combined with the preceding consonant anyway), the "b" changes to "d" (a very close relation as well), and the vowel sound for "man" changes from "AE" to the lazy-sounding "UX".

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

Turntable With Hand

So who's used this technique? Just about everyone.

Led Zeppelin's epic "Stairway To Heaven" creates possibly the most amazing phoenetic accidents known in popular music. To further the mystery around the song, a little background is necessary.

Led Zeppelin had it's popularity in the 1970s mostly in the grass-roots rock and roll community. Influences for the band included J.R.R. Tolkien books, mystical folks stories, and the like - most of which had paganistic overtones, easily interpreted by the public as closely satanic. The growth of Led Zeppelin seemed mystical in itself - though minimal promotion was done by the group's record company Atlantic Records, the group's popularity spread by word of mouth, something not usually expected or calculated.

The song "Stairway To Heaven" became a legendary song in rock and roll music culture. Stranger than the fact that it was the most-played track in radio history, stranger than the fact that the song's length was nearly 8:00 (most radio stations played nothing over 4:00), stranger than the fact that it is a staple of rock and roll guitar players everywhere, was the way the lyrics were written. Robert Plant, the lead singer and lyric writer described it: "I just sat down next to Pagey (Jimmy Page, guitarist) while he was playing it through. It was done very quickly. It took a little working out, but it was a very fluid, unnaturally easy track. It was almost as if - uh-oh - it just had to be gotten out at that time. There was something pushing it, saying 'you guys are okay, but if you want to do something timeless, here's a wedding song for you."

What makes this song truly amazing on another level is that in a stretch of nearly one minute, you could find 7 different consecutive phonetically reversed "phrases" seeming to refer to the same subject: Satan. Never in the history of popular music has this happened before or since.

Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

There are many examples in Frank Zappa's musical output that were recorded at higher or lower speeds or backwards. In addition, there are many examples of conceptual continuity where musical themes in one piece can be found in another context somewhere else. The purpose of this Web page is to decode some of some of these puzzle pieces using some of the frightening little techniques science has made available. What was sped up is slowed down. What was recorded backwards is reversed. Themes that are found in entirely different musical contexts are recorded side by side -- version one on the left channel and version two on the right.

Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed

Another One Bites the Dust
Queen, The Game

Rumor: When played backward, the lyrics say, "It's fun to smoke marijuana."

Findings: There is something that sounds like "It's fun to smoke marijuana" in the reversed music. It is repeated over and over. It might be rendered no less faithfully, however, as "sfun to scout mare wanna." This "message" is the reversal of the song title, which is repeated a a line in the song.

Big Secrets by William Poundstone, 1983

But that's just a few of the many examples. Other bands claimed to use backwards masking include Jefferson Starship. Electric Light Orchestra, The Cars, Pink Floyd, etc.

Digital Voiceprint

Religious fundamendalists then mounted a campaign to label every album with backward masking to protect children:

Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act of 1982 - Makes it unlawful for any packager, labeler, or distributor to distribute in commerce phonograph records containing "backward masking" without a label bearing a specified warning.

Defines "backward masking" to mean an impression upon a phonograph record which makes an audible verbal statement when the record is played backward.

Makes any violation an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

H.R.6363, "A bill to require that jackets in which phonograph records containing backward masking are packaged bear a label warning consumers of such backward masking.", Sponsored by Representative Robert K. Dornan (CA), 12 May 1982

Which the Congress wisely referred to the "Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation and Tourism" where it was allowed to die a peaceful, and unreported, death. But groups other than fundamentalists were fascinated, as well. The lunatic fringe weighed in, saying the wonders of the universe are contained in backwards music and speech:

The pioneer and 20 year veteran of this field, Australian David John Oates, describes Reverse Speech as another form of human communication. He states that language is bi-level, forward and reverse. As the human brain constructs the sounds of speech, it forms those sounds in such a way that two messages are delivered simultaneously. One forwards, which is the conscious mind speaking, and the other in reverse, which is the unconscious mind speaking.

The applications of this discovery are exciting. On the surface level, it can act as a sort of Truth Detector as Reverse Speech will usually correct the inconsistencies of forward speech. If a lie is spoken forwards, the truth may be communicated in reverse. If pertinent facts are left out of forward speech these may also be spoken in reverse. It can reveal hidden motive and agenda and other conscious thought processes. At deeper levels, Reverse Speech can reveal thought patterns that are unconscious, including reasons behind behaviour and disease. This information can be used to greatly enhance the therapeutic and healing processes.

TalkBackwards.com - Backmasking & Reverse Speech

Yeah, I know. They are at least forty cards shy of a full deck. Who could make this nonsense up? Anyway, if Geraldo or Jerry Springer aren't satisfying your need for satanic messages, you can make your own. That's right, boys and girls, the lunatics over at TalkBackwards.com have a page where you can upload a .wav file and have it reversed:

Upload an audio file to our server, wait a few seconds for it to be reversed, and then you will hear it played backwards. No download or special software required.

Talk Backwards

And if you claim to hear secret Satanic messages in speeches from Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld, well, all I can say is, I hear those same evil messages when their words aren't reversed.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Ev: Audio Reversal In Popular Culture (includes audible example)
  2. Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed (includes audible examples)
  3. Talk Backwards
  4. Excerpts from Big Secrets by William Poundstone, 1983

The Red Badge of Bureaucracy

Red Tape

Our English red tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles...

"Frauds on the Fairies" by Charles Dickens, 1 October 1853

Red Tape. Some say it is the greatest gift of the Constitution's framers since its inefficiency prevents tyranny, or at least slows it down. But what is the origin of "red tape?" The earliest use is in Britain in 1736, referring to the ribbon used to tie official documents into bundles. (The ribbon was not sticky.)

There was something about it that quickened an instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded red tape, that tied up the package, with the sense that a treasure would here be brought to light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment cover, I found it to be a commission, under the hand and seal of Governor Shirley, in favor of one Jonathan Pue, as Surveyor of his Majesty’s Customs for the port of Salem, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

The Scarlet Letter, The Custom-House, Introduction, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850.

Safflower

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

The color of the ribbon was derived from the natural red dye present in the safflower (Carthamus tinctorius):

Non-wood forest products for rural income and sustainable forestry - MAJOR COLOURANTS AND DYESTUFFS 6

"Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is an annual herb which is well adapted to semi-arid conditions in the tropics and sub-tropics. It is a thistle-like plant with a deep taproot, growing up to 120 cm high, with a branched stem and a flower head at the end of each branch.

The florets contain three major pigments, all of which are present as chalcone glucosides: the water-insoluble scarlet-red carthamin and the water-soluble "safflor yellow" A and B. The latter pigments are deliberately removed by water washing in the traditional primary processing of the florets in order to provide the desired, red raw material for dyeing/colourant usage.

Safflower was formerly employed, as its synonym "dyer's saffron" implies, as an inexpensive substitute for saffron in textile dyeing. The term "red tape" originates from the use of safflower to impart a pink-red colour to the tape employed to bind legal documents. The colour tone can be varied according to the mordant used through pink, red, rose, crimson to scarlet."

"Safflower: Summary of Basic Information," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

In any event, doing any sort of official business involving records required much tying and untying to locate desired documents. Hence being tied up in red tape or going through red tape. Charles Dickens is reported to have popularized it as indicative of governmental inefficiency:

I have tamed that savage stenographic mystery. I make a respectable income by it. I am in high repute for my accomplishment in all pertaining to the art, and am joined with eleven others in reporting the debates in Parliament for a Morning Newspaper. Night after night, I record predictions that never come to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that are only meant to mystify. I wallow in words. Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape. I am sufficiently behind the scenes to know the worth of political life. I am quite an Infidel about it, and shall never be converted.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Chapter 18, 1917

Prior to Dickens, however, was Thomas Carlyle's efforts in popularizing the term as one of opprobrium. (Dickens dedicated Hard Times to Carlyle as a way of recognizing latter's ceaseless waging of war on the cruelty of government bureaucracy.) Carlyle pulled no punches when it came to red tape:

Is it such a blessedness to have clerks forever pestering you with bundles of papers in red tape?

Thomas Caryle, "The Hero As King", On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, Chapter 18, Section III

From all corners of the wide British Dominion there rises one complaint against the ineffectuality of what are nicknamed our "red-tape" establishments, our Government Offices, Colonial Office, Foreign Office and the others, in Downing Street and the neighborhood. To me individually these branches of human business are little known; but every British citizen and reflective passer-by has occasion to wonder much, and inquire earnestly, concerning them. To all men it is evident that the social interests of one hundred and fifty Millions of us depend on the mysterious industry there carried on; and likewise that the dissatisfaction with it is great, universal, and continually increasing in intensity,--in fact, mounting, we might say, to the pitch of settled despair.

Every colony, every agent for a matter colonial, has his tragic tale to tell you of his sad experiences in the Colonial Office; what blind obstructions, fatal indolences, pedantries, stupidities, on the right and on the left, he had to do battle with; what a world-wide jungle of red-tape, inhabited by doleful creatures, deaf or nearly so to human reason or entreaty, he had entered on; and how he paused in amazement, almost in despair; passionately appealed now to this doleful creature, now to that, and to the dead red-tape jungle, and to the living Universe itself, and to the Voices and to the Silences;--and, on the whole, found that it was an adventure, in sorrowful fact, equal to the fabulous ones by old knights-errant against dragons and wizards in enchanted wildernesses and waste howling solitudes; not achievable except by nearly superhuman exercise of all the four cardinal virtues, and unexpected favor of the special blessing of Heaven. His adventure achieved or found unachievable, he has returned with experiences new to him in the affairs of men. What this Colonial Office, inhabiting the head of Downing Street, really was, and had to do, or try doing, in God's practical Earth, he could not by any means precisely get to know; believes that it does not itself in the least precisely know. Believes that nobody knows;--that it is a mystery, a kind of Heathen myth; and stranger than any piece of the old mythological Pantheon; for it practically presides over the destinies of many millions of living men.

Thomas Caryle, "Latter Day Pamphlets - No. 3 Downing Street", 1 April 1850

And now we the poor grandchildren find that it will not stick together on these terms any longer; that our sad, dangerous and sore task is to discover some government for this big world which has been conquered to us; that the red-tape Offices in Downing Street are near the end of their rope; that if we can get nothing better, in the way of government, it is all over with our world and us. How the Downing-Street Offices originated, and what the meaning of them was or is, let Dryasdust, when in some lucid moment the whim takes him, instruct us. Enough for us to know and see clearly, with urgent practical inference derived from such insight, That they were not made for us or for our objects at all; that the devouring Irish Giant is here, and that he cannot be fed with red-tape, and will eat us if we cannot feed him.

Thomas Caryle, "Latter Day Pamphlets - No. 3 Downing Street", 1 April 1850

Decades before Carlyle used it in a derogatory fashion, it was used descriptively by Sir Walter Scott:

The Bailie, whom this reference regarded, and who had all this while shifted from one foot to another with great impatience, ‘like a hen,’ as he afterwards said, ‘upon a het girdle’; and chuckling, he might have added, like the said hen in all the glory of laying an egg, now pushed forward. ‘That I can, that I can, your honour,’ drawing from his pocket a budget of papers, and untying the red tape with a hand trembling with eagerness. ‘Here is the disposition and assignation by Malcolm Bradwardine of Inch-Grabbit, regularly signed and tested in terms of the statute, whereby, for a certain sum of sterling money presently contented and paid to him, he has disponed, alienated, and conveyed the whole estate and barony of Bradwardine, Tully–Veolan, and others, with the fortalice and manor-place — ’

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott, Chapter 17, (1814)
Red tape isn't a uniquely British or American problem, however. Other countries, like Singapore and Canada have undertaken efforts to make government more accessible to citizens:

The Ontario government consulted with hundreds of businesses, institutions and individuals to identify ways to improve the business environment. It found that people wanted government to be more responsive to consumers and businesses and to provide more effective and efficient customer service.

The government created the Red Tape Secretariat to help eliminate existing red tape and prevent unnecessary rules and regulations from being created in the future.

The Secretariat reviews proposed Cabinet policies and regulatory measures that affect business and institutions, and intervenes on behalf of business, institutions and members of the public seeking assistance with provincial red tape problems.

The Whitney Block The Secretariat reviews and reports on ministries’ annual red tape reduction plans. It also coordinates legislation that reduces barriers to business, investment and job creation."

Red Tape Commission, Ontario Government, Canada

While Singapore may not cane bureaucrats who impede the public's access, this would certainly be a good first step.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Red Tape Commission, Ontario Government, Canada
  2. Waverley by Sir Walter Scott, Chapter 17, (1814)
  3. Thomas Caryle, "Latter Day Pamphlets - No. 3 Downing Street", 1 April 1850
  4. Thomas Caryle, "The Hero As King", On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, Chapter 18, Section III
  5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Chapter 18, 1917
  6. "Safflower: Summary of Basic Information," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  7. The Scarlet Letter, The Custom-House, Introduction, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850.

A Pre-Prandial Stroll Whets the Appetite

Vampire Bat Locomotion

Montage of Vampire Bat Locomotion

It turns out that Republicans aren't the only bloodsucking species capable of two-legged locomotion:

Vampire bats' thirst for blood has driven them to evolve an unexpected sprinting ability. Most bats are awkward on the ground, but the common vampire bat can bound along at more than 1 metre per second."

"Vampire Bats Have a Clear Run" by Narelle Towie, Nature, 16 March 2005

The video (QuickTime) — also available from the author's Website at Cornell — illustrates their remarkable gait:

Not only are vampire bats unusual because they run, but also in the way that they power their gait. "Unlike most animals which use their hind legs as a source of power, these exceptional creatures power their run with their forelimbs," Hermanson explains. Getting most of the push from their long forelimbs -- actually their wings and therefore very strong -- the bats run more like a small gorilla than a comparable four-legged creature like a mouse. They run up to about 2.5 miles per hour. Although many of the 1,100 species of bats are known to walk, the common vampire is the only one so far to pass Riskin and Hermanson's treadmill test and break into a running gait.

With the introduction of large herds of livestock into their native environments of Central and South America, these bats don't need to hurry to catch the cattle from which they extract perhaps a tablespoon of blood at a time for sustenance. They feed while their prey are sleeping, spending perhaps 10 minutes drinking from the small cuts they make. However, running may help them avoid being stepped on, Riskin suggests. More likely, the researchers say, the ability to run evolved long ago, when vampire bats had to prey on faster South American athletes such as the agouti, a rodent about the size of a hare, which might wake up and take a swipe at the nocturnal visitor. It remains unclear exactly what the native prey were before the introduction of cattle, he adds.

"Unlike other bats, vampire bats keep out of trouble by running, Cornell researchers find" Cornell University News Service, 17 March 2005

How did this behavior evolve? Well, it reduces the energy needed to feed:

In the wild, vampire bats feed on the blood of large animals such as cattle, horses and pigs. They sneak up over the ground and make small incisions in the skin (usually the heel) of sleeping prey.

"Bats take a long time to feed," explains Colin Catto of the London-based Bat Conservation Trust. "If they were trying to hover for all that time they would expend an awful lot of energy."

The bats are most likely to run when moving between animals, and may have acquired the skill before the arrival of domestic livestock, at which point dinner became an easier meal.

Riskin believes that the top speed of these nimble creatures could be even more impressive than demonstrated. "If they weren't in the tight confines of a cage, the bats would run faster as they would be able to jump higher," he says.

Coupled with being agile and deft, Riskin's bats were also quick learners. After one short walk on the treadmill the bats mastered both the dynamics of the machine and recognized the purr of the motor. "Vampire bats are ridiculously smart," Riskin says. "As smart as a dog."

"Vampire Bats Have a Clear Run" by Narelle Towie, Nature, 16 March 2005

Now, what's also interesting is that while vampire bats are a plague if you ranch cattle, they may be a lifesaver to ordinary people. Like the anticoagulants secreted by leeches, medicine is starting to harness the clot busters produced by the vampire bat to keep the host's blood from clotting at the wound site:

A potent clot-busting substance originally extracted from the saliva of vampire bats may be used up to three times longer than the current stroke treatment window – without increasing the risk for additional brain damage, according to research reported in today’s rapid access issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The vampire bat saliva-derived clot buster is called Desmodus rotundus salivary plasminogen activator (DSPA) or desmoteplase. DSPA targets and destroys fibrin, the structural scaffold of blood clots, says senior author Robert Medcalf, Ph.D. NH & MRC senior research fellow at Monash University Department of Medicine at Box Hill Hospital in Victoria, Australia.

“When the vampire bat bites its victim, it secretes this powerful clot-dissolving (fibrinolytic) substance so that the victim’s blood will keep flowing, allowing the bat to feed,” Medcalf explains.

In the mid-1980s, Wolf-Dieter Schleuning, M.D., Ph.D., now chief scientific officer of the German biotechnological company PAION GmbH, found that the vampire bat enzyme was genetically related to the clot buster tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) but was more potent. Medcalf and Schleuning were pioneers in the cloning and the study of gene expression of t-PA and were among the first scientists to spot its potential use for heart attack."

"Vampire bat bite packs potent clot-busting potential for strokes", American Heart Association, 10 January 2005

I'm particularly impressed by their intelligence: "Vampire bats are ridiculously smart, as smart as a dog." That's a whole lot smarter than your average red-state American, and they suck a whole lot less blood out of us blue-staters.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Vampire Bats Have a Clear Run" by Narelle Towie, Nature, 16 March 2005
  2. "Unlike other bats, vampire bats keep out of trouble by running, Cornell researchers find" Cornell University News Service, 17 March 2005
  3. "Biomechanics: Independent Evolution of Running in Vampire Bats", by Daniel K. Riskin and John W. Hermanson, Nature, 434, 292, 17 March 2005
  4. "Vampire bat bite packs potent clot-busting potential for strokes", American Heart Association, 10 January 2005
  5. "Vampire Bat Salivary Plasminogen Activator (Desmoteplase) Inhibits Tissue-Type Plasminogen Activator-Induced Potentiation of Excitotoxic Injury", Reddrop et al., Stroke, 2005;36:1241

Drunker than Cooter Brown

Cooter or Turtle

Cooter (Not Drunk)

People who grew up in the south often use a variety of expressions to describe intoxication or drug-induced befuddlement. One of them is "Drunk(High) as Cooter Brown" or "Drunk(High) as Cooty Brown":

Drunk as Cooter Brown; drunker than Cooter Brown -- Very drunk indeed. Who the proverbial Cooter Brown is no one seems to know, but this may have originally been a black expression from the Carolinas. 'In Texas we'd call him drunker than Cooter Brown.'

Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions by Robert Hendrickson

DRUNK AS COOTER BROWN - adj. phrase. Also "drunk as Cooter, ~ Cooty Brown. Chiefly South. Very intoxicated. "This is a Black expression very familiar to the informant, who is from New Jersey. She says it is current and, so far as she knows, it 'came up with the Blacks from the Carolinas.' She thinks it probably derives from some proverbial drunkard."

Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume 1 by Frederic G. Cassidy

A peculiar expression, indeed. Wherever could it have originated? One confabulated explanation has it that during the Civil War, a man named Cooter Brown had family on both sides. Not wanted to fight for either North or South he stayed drunk for the entire war. This is, of course, ludicrous as he would have been drafted by the first side to find him and thrown in the brig for a few days to sober up.

A more likely derivation is from "cooter," the slang term for a turtle. Another spelling is "coota." The derivation seems to be the West African words "kuta," "nkuda," or "kuts," all meaning a turtle. (I wrote up a similar influence of West African language on southern slang in my entry on the origins of the phrase shotgun shack.)

Now, what does it mean to be as drunk as a turtle? Slow, lumbering, unable to perform any complicated task. It may not make a lot of sense, but it's the best explanation I've seen.

The Þ in My Eye

Photograph of a Thorn

Language, sooner or later, proves to be a thorn in the flesh of all who govern, whether at the national or local level.

David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1987, page 164

Hardly a day goes by without hearing or seeing that bastardized word "ye" used as an olde tyme spelling for "the." So what's ye olde problemo here? Quite simply, there is no such word as "ye" in the English language and never has been. None. Nil. Nada. Zip. It's all the fault of printers. (Every time I get a job printed I say that printers belong in Dante's seventh circle, with liars, thieves, and betrayers. But that's part of my day job and I don't want to talk about it now.)

The word "ye" comes about, in a tangled way, from the Anglo-Saxon runic characters þ (thorn) and ð (eth) characters. Old English is replete with them. (You're not going to make me write this as Olde English, are you? No? Good.) Both of these chararacters represented the "th" sound, as in "the". Thus, writing "þe" meant "the". The "e" was sometimes raised up slightly from the thorn. (Ð had largely faded away by the time of Old English.) Ok, so far so good. Now comes along that evil printing press. (Trivia tidbit: it is believed that the first thing Johannes Gutenberg printed was not the bible, but pornography. But that's another story entirely.)

Of the four Old English letters, only thorn [...] continued to be much used throughout the Middle English period, eventually being replaced by "th". However, scribal practice altered during that time, and the symbol took on a new shape [...], becoming so like a "y" that some writers actually added a dot above the symbol to help distinguish it. [...] The writing of "þe" 'the' as "ye" continued in some manuscript styles until the 19th century, by which time people had long forgotten the original letter shape and the 'th' sound it once represented. They saw the letter as a "y" [...].

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language

The problem is that the printing press was invented in Germany, land of schlag and sauerbrauten. Why is this a problem? Because the German character set, filled with peculiar characters — like umlauts, eszets and scharfes (oh my!) — lacks the Anglo-Saxon runic characters in Old English. So this meant that the typesetter had no way to print the þ and ð characters. This wasn't a problem for the Germans, but it was a problem for the English when the printing press was imported from Europe by William Caxton, the first printer in England.

The obvious solution would have been to cut special type. After all, until the advent of computers type designers made a living doing this, and type foundries sold all manner of fonts and special symbols. But this is a long time ago before there were many font options. Well, that idiot Caxton likely decided that the þ looked a lot like a letter "y" and he'd just make a simple substitution until there was a real þ character. Yeah, you see where this is going.

So words like "þe" became "ye". Over time, "ye" became "the". And the rest, as they say, is bad grammar.

One more thing. The letter þ is called "thurs" in Icelandic; the meaning is "ogre", or "monster". That about sums it up, as far as I'm concerned.

Just sign me, Ye Annoyed Blogger. (Or, more properly, Þe Annoyed Blogger.)

"It Was the Stubble that Gave it Away."

Album artwork for "Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Part One"

Album artwork for "Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Part One"

"Lola" by the Kinks is a song so overplayed that probably shouldn't be allowed on the radio again for at least a decade. But it's interesting that the vast mass of people don't know it's a lovesong about a man and the transvestite he met in a club. (I wonder if it would have been fourteen weeks on the charts in 1970 if they had.) Ray Davies apparantly penned Lola about his experiences dating Candy Darling, the famous — or, more precisely, infamous — transsexual associated with Warhol's factory.

Yeah, I can you saying. Riiiiiight. But it's all absolutely true! Don't believe me? Consider the evidence from the lyrics:

Lola

I met her in a club down in old Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-cola
C-o-c-a cola
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola
L-o-l-a Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

Well I’m not the world’s most physical guy
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

Well we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
And said dear boy won’t you come home with me
Well I’m not the world’s most passionate guy
But when I looked in her eyes well I almost fell for my Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

I pushed her away
I walked to the door
I fell to the floor
I got down on my knees
Then I looked at her and she at me

Well that’s the way that I want it to stay
And I always want it to be that way for my Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

Well I left home just a week before
And I’d never ever kissed a woman before
But Lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said dear boy I’m gonna make you a man

Well I’m not the world’s most masculine man
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
And so is Lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

"Lola", Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Part One, The Kinks, 1970

Now, here are some specific lines in song to examine:

  1. in a dark brown voice she said Lola
  2. when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
  3. she walked like a woman and talked like a man
  4. She picked me up and sat me on her knee
  5. And said dear boy won’t you come home with me
  6. Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
  7. And said dear boy I’m gonna make you a man
  8. I’m glad I’m a man / And so is Lola

The last one is, of course, a clever double entendre. Still don't believe me? Here's what Rolling Stone had to say:

The real Lola? Perhaps transvestite Candy Darling, whom Davies dated. "It was the stubble that gave it away," Ray said."

Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, 422 Lola, The Kinks, 1970

Candy Darling photographed by Gerard Malanga, circa 1971

Candy Darling photographed by Gerard Malanga, circa 1971

Here's some more about Candy Darling:

Candy's first "drag" name was Hope Slattery. According to Bob Collacello, Candy adopted this name sometime in 1963/64 after she started going to gay bars in Manhattan as well as making visits to a doctor on Fifth Avenue for hormone injections. (BC79) Jackie Curtis had told Andy that Candy had got the name Hope from a girl named Hope Stansbury who Candy lived with for a few months in an apartment behind the Caffe Cino so that Candy could "study" her. (POP244) According to Holly Woodlawn, Candy was first Hope Dahl, then Candy Dahl, and then Candy Cane. In her autobiography, Holly Woodlawn recalled that Candy had adopted the last name of Darling because a transvestite friend of hers named Taffy Tits Sarcastic "used to drag Candy all over the West Village and say, 'Come on, let's go, Candy, darling.' And Taffy called Candy 'darling' so often that it finally stuck." (HW68) According Candy's friend Jeremiah Newton, she adopted the first name of Candy because of her "love for sweets" (CD12)

Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar

You've encountered Candy before, even if you don't remember it. (Trust me, the girl got around.) Lou Reed's 1972 song, "Walk on the Wild Side", is all about the transvestites and hustlers at the Warhol factory:

Candy came from out on the island
in the backroom she was everybody's darling
But she never lost her head
even when she was givin' head

"Walk on the Wild Side", Transformer, Lou Reed, 1972

The "out on the island" refers to Candy's living in Long Island with her parents. The "backroom" refers to the back room of the nightclub Max's Kansas City, frequented by Warhol and friends:

In the Back Room Warhol presided at the famous Round Table, vastly different from the one Dorothy Parker's crowd had traded jibes over at the Algonquin, while superstars, speed freaks, and transvestites vied for attention, drenched in the blood red of Dan Flavin's fluorescent light sculpture. "Showtime" - Andrea Whips (Andrea Feldman) singing on the tabletops - was a regular, yet spontaneous, exhibition. The gossip circulated violently, but sometimes words failed. "I met Iggy Pop at max's kansas city in 1970 or 1971," recalled David Bowie. "Me, Iggy, and Lou Reed at one table with absolutely nothing to say to each other, just looking at each other's eye makeup."

Andrea Feldman Other than the waitresses, who are now among max's greatest chroniclers, the women were dicey; some were real and some were fake, and sometimes it made no difference. As Zsa Zsa Gabor said of transvestite Candy Darling, "She was one of the world's most beautiful women." Yet max's really was a macho scene. Here, in the back room, producers recruited the extras for the film Midnight Cowboy. Here, Andy Warhol met his match in the butch Valerie Solanis, who later shot him.

Max's Kansas City Web Site

Interestingly enough, "Walk on the Wild Side" wasn't banned by the radio censors because they didn't know what "givin' head" meant. (Go figure.) They did force Lou Reed to change the line "And the colored girls go..." to "All the girls go..." (Again, go figure.) If you care about the rest of the song, there is an annotated version. I remember hearing this when I were a lad and it first came out; I had no idea what the lyrics meant, but I really didn't like the slow, trippy beat.

Another trivia bit. The name "Coca Cola" on Lola had to be changed to "Cherry Cola" because the BBC's censors decided this pop culture reference was advertising and its censors refused to allow the song to be played. Nowadays, Coca Cola would pay for that placement and the radio stations would be getting bribed to play the song. (How times have changed.) And by the time the BBC or US censors realized what the song was about it was too late; they had a hit on their hands. Funny how that works.

Avast Matey, No Vote Today!

Pirate Flag

With all this longwinded talk of busting the filibuster, the question arises: where did this word originate?

But, first, here's the definition:

Filibuster: A time-delaying tactic associated with the Senate and used by a minority in an effort to prevent a vote on a bill or amendment that probably would pass if voted on directly. The most common method is to take advantage of the Senate's rules permitting unlimited debate, but other forms of parliamentary maneuvering may be used. The stricter rules used by the House make filibusters more difficult, but delaying tactics are employed occasionally through various procedural devices allowed by House rules.

Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989

It turns out that filibuster is derived from the Spanish "flibuster" or "flibustero," which are, in turn, corrupted version of "freebooter," meaning "pirate":

A lawless military adventurer, especially one in quest of plunder; a freebooter; — originally applied to buccaneers infesting the Spanish American coasts, but introduced into common English to designate the followers of Lopez in his expedition to Cuba in 1851, and those of Walker in his expedition to Nicaragua, in 1855.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

But the question still remains, where did the word freebooter come from? Well, we have to Dutch to blame for that. The Dutch word for "pirate" is "vrijbuiter," derived from "vrij" meaning free and "buiter" meaning plunderer. (The word "booty" also comes from buiter, or plunder; think about that in terms of a "booty call" or the slang term for a woman's generous hindquarters.) The French adopted the term as "flibustier" or "fribustier", while the English used "flee-booter" or "freebooter."

The question remains, however, why do we use this word to describe a leglislative delaying tactic? Well, that's because back in the 1800s, John Randolph, a senator from Virginia, prevent votes on items related to reconstruction in the South by making incredibly longwinded, and irrelevant, speeches. Randolph so annoyed his fellow senators that they even came to blows over not being able to vote. So, in 1872, Vice President Schuyler Colfax — you'll recall that the vice president's sole responsibility of any importance is presiding over the senate, since someone has to keep the rabble in line — ruled that a senator could not be restrained in making speeches about an issue being debated. The opponents of this practice decried it as being akin to piracy, or filibustering.

And there you have it.

"The Master is Dead."

Nosferatu Coming up the Stairs

...and it was in 1443 that the first Nosferatu was born. That name rings like the cry of a bird of prey. Never speak it aloud... Men do not always recognize the dangers that beasts can sense at certain times.

Script for Nosferatu

Nosferatu. The name itself is enough to induce an excrement hemorrhage in anyone who watched this movie on PBS during their childhood. (Yeah, it scared me, too.) I mean, those fingernails! (He, clearly, isn't a metrosexual getting regular manicures.) Brrrrr! And Nosferatu did the Kojak look long before it was trendy. Overall, it's one fine piece of cinema. Retrocrush named it the 18th scariest movie of all time.

From the diary of Johann Cavallius, able historican of his native city of Bremen: Nosferatu! That name alone can chill the blood! Nosferatu! Was it he who brought the plaque to Bremen in 1838? I have long sought the causes of that terrible epidemic, and found at its origin and its climax the innocent figures of Jonathon Harker and his young wife Nina.

Script for Nosferatu

The full title is "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens." As you've no doubt surmised, Nosferatu was directed by a German. In this case, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, one of the big three filmakers in the Weimar republic, between the World Wars. Here is some background on the film and its name, director, and story:

Contrary to popular opinion, the word "nosferatu" does not mean "vampire," "undead", or anything else like that. The term originally came from the old Slavonic word "*nosufur-atu", which itself was derived from the Greek "nosophoros". "Nosophoros", in the original Greek, stands for "plague carrier". This derviation makes sense when one considers that amongst western European nations, vampires were regarded as the carriers of many diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases, TB, etc.

Silent Movie Monsters on Nosferatu

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau is one of the most important filmmakers of the cinema's first thirty-five years. He is often grouped with Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst as the "big three" directors of Weimar Germany. He finished his career in Hollywood and died at a young age in an automobile accident. Three of his films routinely appear on "The Greatest Films" lists of critics and film groups. He is one of the few filmmakers to whom the label "poet" can inarguably be applied. And yet there seems to be little written about him, little that gives his work and career the notice it deserves.

Sloppy Films writeup on Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Nosferatu is the story of Dracula, of a vampire moving from his secluded castle to real estate he has purchased in the city of Bremen, where he will find a constant source of victims. Although the vampire is a creature of the night, Murnau has made his film in daylight. He has left the studio and the set to make his vampire story in mountains and in the sun-drenched streets of a fantasy city. Murnau's vampire stands with curling fingernails under a clear sky on the deck of a boat, whose rigging curls like Orlock's nails.

Sloppy Films writeup on Nosferatu

Nosferatu Onboard Ship

The film stars the aptly named Max Shreck as the vampire. Schreck, in case you weren't aware of it, is the German word meaning "fear". (How cool is that?) Shreck was a Stanislovsky method actor, which meant that he immersed himself fully in the character. (And you thought this was a recent invention by Harvey Keitel?) He was so effective that some on the set of Nosferatue believed that Shreck might actually be a vampire. (This conceit was later used in "Shadow of the Vampire", a 2000 release starring John Malkovich as Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck, a vampire pretending to be an actor.)

What's interesting is how the world almost lost the chance to see Nosferatu at all:

Unfortunately for Prana, this film [being an unlicensed version of Dracula] was too thinly veiled, and Florence Stoker, widow of the late Bram Stoker proceeded to join the British Incorporated Society of Authors, whose lawyers then took up the case for her. Stoker was seeking restitution since Prana neither asked permission to adapt Dracula, nor paid her any money for it. However, Stoker and the BISA were not the only people persuing Prana-Films: Prana was a financial sinking ship and was being hunted down by creditors as well. Just as the BISA sued Prana, it went into receivership and all materials and debts were taken over by the Deutsch-Amerikansch Film Union. The BISA then persued the Film Union and demanded that all copies of Nosferatu be handed over to Florence Stoker for destruction. In July 1925, the issue was settled and all known copies of Nosferatu were handed over to Stoker, and destroyed.

Or so Stoker thought. In October of that year, the Film Society in England asked her to endorse a classic film festival, and first on the list was the infamous Nosferatu. Stoker was furious and demanded that the Society give her their copy so that she could destroy it as well. The Film Society refused and the legalities followed. By 1928, Universal Pictures owned the copyright for Dracula, and therefore, all adaptations of it, including Nosferatu. Initially, Universal allowed the Film Society to keep the print, but after pressure from Florence Stoker, they aquired the print and it joined its kin in 1929. Then came a sudden spurt of American copies of the film, under the name Nosferatu the Vampire, but Universal had them all destroyed in 1930. It finally seemed as though this pesky film had met its end.

This was not the case though. Following Florence Stoker's death in 1937, various copies of the film cropped up. Nosferatu truely regained its popularity in 1960 due to the program Silents Please, which showed a condensed version of the film under the title Dracula. This version was re-released on video by Entertainment Films as Terror of Dracula. In 1972, Blackhawk Films released the uncut original to the collector's market as Nosferatu the Vampire, and the condensed version to the general as Dracula.

Silent Movie Monsters on Nosferatu

You can download it and watch it free at Archive.org. A restored version is commercially available on DVD:

"Nosferatu - Special Edition" from Image Entertainment features a stunning restored picture, a Dolby Digital 5.0 score by Silent Orchestra and a Tim Howard organ score.

Nosferatu — Special Edition

Nosferatu Being Destroyed by Sunlight

Oh, and the title line? It's from the movies's end.

Only a woman can break his frightful spell—a woman pure in heart—who will offer her blood freely to Nosferatu and will keep the vampire by her side until after the cock has crowed.

Script for Nosferatu

Sources and Further Reading

  1. IMDB entry for "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens"
  2. IMDB entry for "Shadow of the Vampire"
  3. Freely Downloadable Copy of Nosferatu at Archive.org
  4. Script for Nosferatu
  5. Nosferatu — Special Edition DVD
  6. Retrocrush writeup as 18th scariest movie of all time
  7. Silent Movie Monsters on Nosferatu
  8. Sloppy Films writeup on Nosferatu

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