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

Mermaid Parade
Tricked-Out Bikes

Tricked Out Bikes - Green Bike

Just about everything at the Mermaid Parade is dressed up, even the bikes.

Tricked Out Bikes - Red Bike

Tricked Out Bikes - Yellow Bike

And this concludes my photos from last year's Mermaid Parade. I'll put up this year's photos when they come back from developing.

Mermaid Parade
Foot Fetish

Mermaid on Stilts

Continuing excerpts from my photos taken at last year's Mermaid Parade.

Some costumes had pretty fancy footwear. The woman below is wearing, if not PowerSkip shoes, something amazingly close. These spring-loaded leg extensions amplifying the human ability to run, hop, and skip. (I'm amazed the Mexican Government isn't giving these to its citizens to more easily cross into the United States in violation of our immigration laws. Hey, if Mexico's government is publishing a guide on how to cross the border, it's fair game for political commentary like this.)

Mermaid With Spring Walker

Neither works well on sand, though.

Mermaid Parade
Pharoah Ratner

Shark of the Covenant

Some Brooklyn residents created their "Shark of the Covenant" political piece to call attention to Bruce Ratner's plan to raze a large Brooklyn neighborhood — isn't eminent domain wonderful when it benefits private interests? — in order to build, at public expense, a basketball stadium for the Nets. (And you thought Bloomberg's stadium for the Jets was unique in the annals of New York City corruption?)

Shark of the Covenant - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Legalize Sea Weed

Legalize Sea Weed

Another political statement from someone who clearly remembers Sigmund the Sea Monster. It isn't easy, smoking green.

Mermaid Parade
Octopus’s Garden

Octopus Costume - Front

Not all women went as mermaids, though. This one is an octopus. (Not gonna say it. I'm not gonna say it.)

Octopus Costume - Back

Ok, I couldn't help myself. Here's the obligatory octopus comment, but done slightly more cleverly than quoting from a James Bond movie (would you expect any less?):

I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade

I'd ask my friends to come and see
An octopus' garden with me
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade.

"Octopus's Garden," The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969

Mermaid Parade
King George’s Booty

Many of the costumes had political themes, such as Enron or how King George Bush II was corrupt. (When it comes to booty, I much prefer the mermaid variety.)

King George's Booty

King George's Booty - Closeup Left

King George's Booty - Closeup Center

King George's Booty - Closeup Right

Mermaid Parade
Burning Rubber

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Start

This entry continues photos from last year's parade.

I don't know what it is about muscle cars, but the owners feel continually obliged to prove they've got something in their pants, I mean, under the hood, by destroying tires and innundating bystanders with the heady perfume of incinerated petroleum products. Mmmmmm. Burning tire! The official cologne of testosterone and machismo. (Or, as Troma Films so succinctly put it, "Macheesmo: real cheese for real men.") But, in all fairness, it is in keeping with muscle car etiquette. How else can one show off a huge, throbbing, uh, engine.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Getting There

The Mermaid Parade is, of course, no different. Here's a purple monster proving that, yes, if you stand on the brake, pop the clutch, and floor it that the wheels will, indeed, spin. Once spinning, our friend friction does the rest.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Heavy

And the crowd is obscured by the proof that $1.87 per gallon gasoline is no barrier to fun. I don't know why Officer Friendly has his hand on his gun, but it may be related to proving that he, too, has a penis substitute.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Smells Bad

Mermaid Parade
2005 Parade

Mermaid Parade Route

Today is the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Pictures from last year's parade resume tomorrow.

Mermaid Parade
Flexing a Little Muscle

Muscle Cars - Lined Up

You can get to the beach via the subway, but Americans do love their cars. Especially muscle cars. And they were well represented, including just about every gas guzzling, unsafe hunk of Detroit iron designed to go fast and corner like a brick. (Well, I don't know if engineers intended these land yachts to be about as maneuverable as a Mack truck, but that's the way they turned out.)

All lovingly restored, painted, polished, and chromed like a tunnel bunny advertising her wares. These cars were created for one purpose only: to go fast and pick up loose women. These are not cars you drive to the market to pick up a quart of milk. Certainly not at the mileage they get...

Muscle Cars - Lined Up - Closeup

Of course, if this is what the Coney Island Correction Facility is staffed by, it's no wonder people get in trouble at the parade:

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility Closeup

Mermaid Parade
Genderbending

And then there are the merboys who want to be mergirls...

Merman - La Sirena on Boardwalk

Merman - La Sirena - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Avast Matey

No sea event would be complete without... pirates! Especially ones making political statements. (Remember, this was before the 2004 presidential election.)

Pirates - Enron

This set requires an explanation. A father encouraged his son to go up to a pirate to have his picture taken. The pirate, alas, had other ideas, and not only grabbed the boy but had him in the air at one point. I wasn't fast enough to capture the grab but I did get some of the escape. While the lad looks terrified, he had a huge grin on his face afterwards. In the last picture you can just catch a glimpse of his leg as he makes his getaway. (Don't mess with pirates, laddie!)

Pirate and Boy - Grab

Pirate and Boy - Grab Closeup

Pirate and Boy - Getaway

Samsara
(Circle of Things Lost and Found)

Grate Fisherman

Samsara
(Circle of Things Lost and Found)

(This image graces the covers of the hand-made, limited-edition greeting cards I made for the Summer Solstice, which happens to be today. I thought that both it and the accompanying text were equally appropriate to share, so I'm reproducing the card.)

Solstice is Latin for "sun stands still." For the few days surrounding each solstice the sun’s noontime elevation appears unchanged. The summer solstice pairs the year’s longest day with its shortest night; afterwards, the bright, warm summer of nature’s abundance inexorably yields to the return of the dark, cold winter of nature’s withholding. In Zen, this endless cycle of balance is called samsara.

About the Photograph

I took this in Manhattan about five years ago with a film point-and-shoot. I saw a man clad in white against the blazingly bright—and scorchingly hot—July sun, carrying but two things: a milk jug thinly layered with coins, earrings, and indeterminate small objects, and a long cotton cord tied to a weight capped with a blob of sticky gum. He was, in short, a fisherman, casting his line for lost valuables in the vast urban sea of subway grates.

He had little English, I no Spanish. Asked how the fish were biting he gestured to the jug, smiled, and shrugged. He never knew what he would find, yet he knew the world’s abundance would always make his expedition worthwhile.

When asked if I could photograph him he seemed oddly pleased and posed before resuming his inland fishing. The entire time he uttered not even a single word, lest the crafty and vigilant fish he pursued be frightened away.

He that hopes to be a good angler, must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit, but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience, and a love and propensity to the art itself; but having once got, and practiced it, then doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant, that it will prove to be, like virtue, a reward to itself.

— Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653

Tell me how you are searching and I will tell you what you are searching for.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.

— Louis Pasteur

Best Wishes for the Summer Solstice,

Citizen Arcane

Mermaid Parade
Mermen

And then there are the mermen...

Merman - Elvis

Merman - Green With Net

Merman - Parrot

Mermaid Parade
Catch of the Day

Some fisherman take mermaids home to make into sushi. Or maybe bouillabaisse. I think I read somewhere that mermaids are the chicken of the sea. Or was that sea turtle...

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Back

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Side

Mermaid Parade
Anatomical Issues

I always wondered a few things about mermaids. One of them is how they, uh, walk. I guess some of them can't.

Mermaid Who Can't Walk in Chair

I think every man has fantasies about conjoined mermaids. Well, ok, maybe just about these two. This phenomenon is very rare; it seems to have occurred only once in a almost a thousand mermaids. I don't know what the frequency in the wild is, though...

Siamese Mermaids

Mermaid Parade
Mermaid Costumes

Blue Mermaid

My mother always told me if I went to bed with strange mermaids I'd wake up with crabs.

Mermaid with Crab Bra

Mermaid Parade
Millinery Finery

Fish Head Hat on Barrel

Hats were everywhere, and not just backwards-turned baseball caps. Real hats. Ones that took work to create. Ones that were heavy to wear and light to wear. (I'm not sure the hammerheads qualify as hats, but I don't know what else to call them.) Even ones that make the wearer crosseyed...

Hammerhead Hats

Shark Hat With Bait

Mermaid Parade
Iconic Images

What sums up Coney Island better than the Cyclone and the annual Nathan's Hotdog-Eating Contest? This sign tells you how many days until you can again witness a scrawny Japanese fellow wolf down a prodigious number of hotdogs, beating out men who outweigh him twice over. Isn't America the greatest country in the world?

Cyclone

Nathan's Hotdog-Eating Contest Countdown

Mermaid Parade
Keep Back!

There were barricades set up along the street. When I got there they were sparsely populated, at least for Coney Island on a big day. By the time the parade started there were people absolutely everywhere. You can see how the street filled in very quickly.

Barricade by Sideshows by the Seashore

People Lined up for Parade

Baricades and People

Mermaid Parade
Initial Impressions

When I walked out of the subway I saw a few costumes. This fellow had a fake handlebar moustache, and was impressed that mine was real. I should have posed next to him.

Frenchman with Fake Handlebar Moustache

These were the first mermaids I saw. They were going for the Mardis Gras look.

Mermaids In Gowns and Beads

And no ocean-themed event would be complete without a deep-sea diver, complete with air hose.

Diver Costume - Back View

Diver Costume - Front View

Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade Poster

Subway Sign for Q Train

This year's Coney Island Mermaid Parade is on Saturday, 25 June 2005. Here are some pictures I shot, on film, at last year's parade on Saturday, 26 June 2004.

Sign - People and Push Things

What identifies Coney Island more than Surf Avenue and Nathan's hotdogs? Mmmmmm. Meat by-products in intestines, steamed and covered in condiments to cover up the taste of cancer-causing nitrosamines, and bundled with tastless carbs. Yum!

Surf Avenue and Nathan's Hot Dogs

"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

Side View

Progress! It's an ironic symbol of progress. The penny farthing bicycle represents a simpler age. We live in an era where science is advancing so quickly, you don't even have time to learn about the latest innovations before something new arises.

Patrick McGoohan, creator and star of The Prisoner, interview, New Video Magazine, 1985

One of the things I like about New York City is the different kinds of bicycles. I'm not just talking about totally tricked-out bikes, either, but the abundance of variety. (Alfred Russel Wallace — the man from whom Darwin stole the theory of evolution — would have loved modern bicycles.) Anyway, there's one type of bicycle I've never seen on the streets of NYC: the "penny farthing."

Axle Assembly

Also known as boneshakers or high-wheels, for obvious reasons, these bikes first appeared in Victorian England in 1870. The reason for the huge front wheel is that these bicycles didn't have gears. That's right, it used a direct-drive system, and the huge circumference multiplied the speed of the rider's pedaling. The height was typically the same as the rider's inseam, which is basically the ankle-to-crotch pants length. Lacking brakes, these bicycles were stopped by backpedalling — pedaling backwards. (A technique familiar to the anyone who watches politics.)

The penny farthing essentially vanished when the "safety bicycle" — what we know as the modern bicycle with front and rear tires of the same size — was invented around 1890. The only place you're likely to have seen on is on The Prisoner. (Ahhhh, now the entry's title makes sense!) The only place I've seen them is in history books and on HBO's Deadwood. Well, TallBike.com has taken steps to remedy this disappearance, making what appear to be faithful reproductions of the original for $500:

We are now having many parts cast in SS and the black fork head shown in photos will be replaced by a polished SS one on the bikes sold. Bike has a 50" wheel in front and 16" in rear. The weight is a bit high at 46 lbs. The front wheel with tire, cranks and pedals is 20 lbs and the backbone with front end and rear tire attached is 26 lbs.

Our Bikes - R2 Repro Penny Farthing Bicycle - Tall Bike Rudge Reproduction

What impresses me most is the extensive security feature designed to stand up to tough environments like NYC. Just imagine the sheer frustration of a bike thief faced with this security system:

Bike Security

It's even tougher to remove than the legendary Kryptonite lock. (Which proved that the pen is mightier than the lock.)

Not that I was ever a huge Prisoner fan, but Patrick McGoohan's comment about the penny farthing as a symbol of progress really does work.

"Where am I?"
"...In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Information."
"Whose side are you on?"
"...That would be telling... we want information... information...information"
"You won't get it!"
"By hook or by crook, we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new number two."
"Who is number one?"
"You are number six."
"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

The Prisoner, 1969

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

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

"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

"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)

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)

"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.

"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

Danger! Falling Lawsuit!

Sign for "Falling Debris"

Sign from Building at Intersection at Washington and Laight Streets

I shot this a few years ago near the Holland Tunnel (one block south of Canal and two blocks west of Hudson Street) where a long-empty building was being converted into housing for rich people. The sign had been painted on the wall years ago, and every time I saw it I wondered why the city allowed the risk of debris which could destroy property, injure, or kill, and why no ambulance-chaser lawyer had solved this safety issue through the effective application of litigation. (Use only as directed.) The sign — and building — are long gone. Soon the building will be finished, and the falling debris will have been replaced with wealthy republicans. You tell me which is more dangerous...

"A gang of villains profoundly skilled
in Pneumatic Chemistry."

Sign for "Air Loom Tomato"

I shot this last summer at the Union Square Greenmarket. (You Say Tomato, I say Tomahto... but Dan Quayle Says "Air Loom Tomato." Or, more accurately, "Air Loom Tomatoe.")

Bedlam means "mad confusion." Dating to 1667, the word is eponymous, being the vernacular's corruption of "Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem", a lunatic asylum in London. (St. Mary's is one of the oldest, having been founded in 1247 as a priory, used to a hospital circa 1330, and then converted into a lunatic asylum — the original British term — in 1402. The state assumed control over it in 1547. The original, and archaic, bastardization was "Bedlem", which later morphed into "Bedlam".) This wasn't a nice place to be sent to, especially if you were being victimized by the Air Loom Gang:

His patient's name was James Tilly Matthews, and his view of the world had by this point become one of the strangest ever recorded in the annals of psychiatry. Haslam's account is still acknowledged as the first example in history of the now-familiar notion of mind control by an 'influencing machine'. For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through fillings, mysterious implants or TV sets, or via hi-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero.

Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an 'Air Loom', of which Matthews was able to draw immaculate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. It incorporated keys, levers, barrels, batteries, sails, brass retorts and magnetic fluid, and worked by directing and modulating magnetically charged air currents, rather as the stops of an organ modulate its tones. It ran on a mixture of foul substances, including 'spermatic-animal-seminal rays', 'effluvia of dogs' and 'putrid human breath', and its discharges of magnetic fluid were focused to deliver thoughts, feelings and sensations directly into Matthews' brain. There were many of these mind-control settings, all classified by vivid names: 'fluid locking', 'stone making', 'thigh talking', 'lobster-cracking', 'bomb-bursting', and the dreaded 'brain-saying', whereby thoughts were forced into his brain against his will. To facilitate this process, the gang had implanted a magnet into his head. As a result of the Air Loom, Matthews was tormented constantly by delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head. No wonder some people thought he was mad.

"The Air Loom Gang: James Tilly Matthews and his Visionary Madness" by Mike Jay, Strangeness, 3 July 2003

And in the plus ca change category:

On the basis of this testimony [that he was not mad, that his symptoms were those of a man wrongfully confined, and that he posed no threat to others], Matthews' family brought a writ of Habeas Corpus against Bedlam, forcing the governors to state their precise legal reasons for holding him. They produced a stack of affidavits from other doctors contradicting Clutterbuck and Birkbeck's testimony, but the case eventually turned on a letter from Lord Liverpool, who insisted that Matthews was a dangerous lunatic who should be confined in perpetuity. So the writ failed, but on grounds which suggested that Matthews' alleged lunacy was irrelevant: he was effectively, though apparently unconstitutionally, being confined as a state prisoner.

"The Air Loom Gang: James Tilly Matthews and his Visionary Madness" by Mike Jay, Strangeness, 3 July 2003
TitleThe Air Loom Gang: The Strange and True Story of James Tilly Matthews and His Visionary Madness
AuthorMike Jay
ISBN1568582978
PublisherFour Walls Eight Windows

Cover for "Air Loom Gang"

In some apartment near London Wall, there is a gang of villains profoundly skilled in Pneumatic Chemistry.

— John Haslam, Illustrations of Madness, 1810, Page 1

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "The Air Loom Gang" talk by Mike Jay, Isle of Wight Fortean Society, 29 July 2004
  2. "The Air Loom Gang" Mike Jay, Four Walls Eight Windows (publisher)
  3. "Genius Of Bedlam" by Paul Collins, review in Village Voice, 5 April 2004

Move. Click! Move. Click! Move. Click!

Banner Image for EatPES.com

I learned a great deal of patience—that was important in stop-motion.

— Ray Harryhausen, Stop-Motion Animator

PES may not be Ray Harryhausen, but he still does damn fine work. So, before you check out the films, here's a very brief bio:

PES studied printmaking and literature at the University of Virginia and film at New York University. His work has been featured internationally in film festivals and on TV and has amassed a cult following through the Internet.

Square Footage Films (NYC Independent Animation)

Informative, wasn't it? Anyway, here are a few of the animations I liked. There are plenty more on PES's Website.

"Roof Sex" by PES

"Roof Sex" by PES

What can I say about "Roof Sex", other than that I fully support it as long as all the participants are attractive and stay fully visible to me while they are doing it. Oh, wait a minute. Sorry about that. Wrong question. Let's just say that you'll like "Roof Sex", too. Unless you're a cat. (Watch it and see why.)

"Roof Sex" required 20 shooting days over the course of 2 1/2 months to complete principal animation. Absolute blue skies were necessary to ensure consistent exposure. The Gold Chair immortalized in the film was the hiding place for PES's family's money throughout his entire childhood. "Roof Sex" is PES's first film and first animation.

Square Footage Films (NYC Independent Animation)

"Coinstar" by PES

"Coinstar" by PES

PES created an ad for Coinstar, the company that has machines in supermarkets converting change dumped into them into cash, while taking a cut. (Hey, the mob always gets the vig, and the bookie always gets his cut, right?) The PES ad is entertaining and clever; AdWeek called it "TiVo-Proof". It was shot on 35mm — very expensive! — and took multiple animators four days to shoot:

The battle scene with 1,000 coins racing toward the table took four hours, and we used every frame of it. I don't shoot much fat. In animation it is too costly to shoot film you won't use. This is one of the reasons I stay involved through the editing. I have to put the jigsaw puzzle together.

"If you can't find him, check the lost and found", 6th Annual Firstboards Awards

"Missing" by PES

"Missing" by PES

The "Missing" piece asks us "Are We Missing Anything?". This was one of the brilliant ads created for MoveOn's campaign to educate people about why it was time to vote out the republicans. (Except they hadn't been voted in the first time, except by one vote of the Supreme Court. Too bad Rhenquist didn't have throat cancer then; maybe it would have been 4-4 and we would have learned what really happened in Florida...)

"Beasty Boy" by PES

"Beasty Boy" by PES

As far as "Beasty Boy" goes, well, all I can do is quote the piece's tagline: "What are your kids learning?". What indeed? (This piece isn't stop motion, by the way.)

"Wild Horses Redux" by PES

"Wild Horses Redux" by PES

The "Wild Horses Redux" piece was done, on spec — on spec! — for Nike.

Miniature football figurines motor along mink coat landscapes and through T-bone mountain passes all to the soundtrack of Nike's aural pleasure-ride "Wild Horses Redux".

Director PES says the spot began as an "electric footbal epic short film" which is still in production. Remembering last year's Silver Lion-winning spot he says, "I just said, 'What the hell, let me just cut the first 30 seconds of my film as a whacked-out version of the original Nike spot, and get it out there for peole to chew on'."

While the spec was not approved by Nike - "I'm definitely not above appropriating" - he was the first to bring it to their attention, and gives due props to the original creatives Mike Byrne and Monica Taylor at the end of this clip.

The spot was in to way sanctioned by Wieden + Kennedy. They had no clue till last week when I sent it to them and said, "Hey, run this on the Superbowl!!!"

"SPEC: Wild Horses Redux" by Rae Ann Fera, Boards Online, 14 August 2003

Anyway, these were the ones I liked; check out PES's Website for more. As always, YMMV.

Too Small, Too Cramped, and Just Right

Churhill Inspecting Damage to Parliament After its Destruction in 1941

Churhill Inspecting Damage to Parliament After its Destruction in May of 1941

I used this Churchill quote in my entry about Soviet Architecture:

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

— Sir Winston Churchill, speech 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords) regarding the rebuilding of Parliament after its destruction by the Germans

Architects love this quote. But taking it out of context eliminates much of it's true power. Here is the full quote:

On the night of May 10, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again,and how, and when. We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than forty years in the late Chamber, and having derived very great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, should like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.

— Sir Winston Churchill, speech 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords for obvious reasons)

But, first, an aside. It should be pointed out that the scale of the German's 10 May 1941 raid on London was enormous: 550 bombers dropped more than 700 tons of bombs and thousands of incendiaries. The fires did more damage than the bombs, as was the case throughout the Battle of Britain. This raid seriously injured 1,800 and killed almost 1,500. Many buildings, including the House of Commons, were destroyed. This was the last major attack on Britain until the Germans started using the V1 and V2 rockets. Ok, enough history of World War II. Back to Churchill.

By urging that the House of Commons be rebuilt as it was, Churchill wanted it to be too small to hold all the members, with no private desks "giving each member a desk to sit at and a lid to bang." But why would he propose replacing a building that was too small with another inadequate in size? Years later, in his memoirs, he explained his reasoning:

Finally, on October 28 (1943) there was the rebuilding of the House of Commons to consider. One unlucky bomb had blown to fragments the chamber in which I had passed so much of my life. I was determined to have it rebuilt at the earliest moment that our struggle would allow. I had the power at this moment to shape things in a way that would last. Supported by my colleagues, mostly old Parliamentarians, and with Mr. Attlee's cordial aid, I sought to re-establish for what may well be a long period the two great principles on which the British House of Commons stands in its physical aspect. The first is that it must be oblong, and not semicircular, and the second that it must only be big enough to give seats to about two-thirds of its Members. As this argument has long surprised foreigners, I record it here.

There are two main characteristics of the House of Commons which will command the approval and the support of reflective and experienced Members. The first is that its shape should be oblong and not semicircular. Here is a very potent factor in our political life. The semicircular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. I am a convinced supporter of the party system in preference to the group system. I have seen many earnest and ardent Parliaments destroyed by the group system. The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of chamber. It is easy for an individual to move through those insensible gradations from left to right, but the act of crossing the Floor is one which requires serious attention. I am well informed on this matter for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once, but twice. Logic is a poor guide compared with custom. Logic, which has created in so many countries semicircular assemblies with buildings that give to every member not only a seat to sit in, but often a desk to write at, with a lid to bang, has proved fatal to Parliamentary government as we know it here in its home and in the land of its birth.

The second characteristic of a chamber formed on the lines of the House of Commons is that it should not be big enough to contain all its members at once without overcrowding, and that there should be no question of every member having a separate seat reserved for him. The reason for this has long been a puzzle to uninstructed outsiders, and has frequently excited the curiosity and even the criticism of new Members. Yet it is not so difficult to understand if you look at it from the practical point of view. If the House is big enough to contain all its members nine-tenths of its debates will be conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half-empty chamber. The essence of good House of Commons speaking is the conversational style, the facility for quick, informal interruptions and interchange. Harangues from a rostrum would be a bad substitute for the conversational style in which so much of our business is done. But the conversational style requires a small space, and there should be on great occasions a sense of crowd and urgency. There should be a sense of the importance of much that is said, and a sense that great matters are being decided, there and then, by the House.

This anyhow was settled as I wished.

Winston S. Churchill, Closing the Ring, Volume 5 of The Second World War, Chapter 9.

The argument against debates "conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half-empty chamber" replayed decades later, but in a totally different circumstance and across the pond. The United States Congress rules allows members, during a few hour-long period each day, to give speeches on whatever they wish. These speeches are called "special orders":

Please explain "special order speeches." What is their purpose and why do Members bother giving them to an empty House? Helena, MT - 5/10/00

"Special order speeches allow Members of the House of Representatives to speak on any topic they wish for periods of time reserved in advance, anywhere from 5 up to 60 minutes in length. They occur routinely at the end of a day's legislative work. It is true that most Members have left the House floor by the time special orders begin. However, the chief target for these speeches is the C-SPAN audience, most notably constituents, and not other Members."

The origin of the term "special order speech" dates back to the 1930's when it was first used to mean a floor speech given outside of the regular order by the unanimous consent of all those present. Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) began recognizing Members for special order speeches as a regular practice in the 1940's.

Special order speeches are not a procedural right, but a privilege granted by daily unanimous consent. Since House rules do not permit speaking on subjects other than pending legislative business, "non-legislative debate" can occur only when no one objects. Whenever the House steps outside of its "regular" order of procedure, it needs a "special" order to proceed, hence the shorthand reference to "special orders" when describing these speeches.

C-SPAN's Capitol Questions

The problem is that the members act as if the televised special-order speeches are genuine ones, gesturing to the cameras, turning from side to side as if addressing colleagues on a particular point, when the reality is that the chamber is empty. The whole thing is just bad political theatre designed to hoodwink constituents, but the viewers might not realize it.

But first, some history. When the democrats controlled congress — yes, this was actually the case for decades — they shut down the republican minority cold and did what they wanted. (Payback, as the saying goes, is highly upleasant.) Newt Gingrich got the bright idea of using C-SPAN coverage of special orders as a way to make inflammatory and antidemocratic (against the democrats but also against democracy as well) speeches as if he were doing this, uncontested, in front the full House. He got away with his antics for a while, until he made the mistake, in 1984, of going after House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. Now, that was playing with fire. Unfortunately, it was O'Neill who ended up with third-degree burns in the ensuing firestorm, not Gingrich.

Here's the official take:

"In May 1984, Speaker O'Neill asserted his control over the House cameras, provoking cries of protest from House Republicans and leading to a disruption on the House floor. In the process, the way that television covers the House underwent permanent change.

On May 10, 1984, the speaker ordered House cameras to break with precedent and provide a full view of the empty House chamber during Special Orders speeches. With Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania) on the floor, the camera for the first time showed a representative gesturing and talking to a chamber of empty seats.

Minority whip Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), watching in his office, dropped what he was doing and raced to the floor to denounce the surprise camera angle as "an underhanded, sneaky, politically motivated change." The press picked up on the story immediately and gave it the name of "Camscam"; Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called it a "knockabout slugfest" and wrote that "the brouhaha over control of the cameras has ignited the House and in the process served to dramatize again the huge presence television has in the political process."

"Camscam" came to a head on May 15, when harsh words flew on the House floor between Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Speaker O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill called a Gingrich speech `'the lowest thing I have ever seen in my 32 years in Congress"--a remark that the House parliamentarian ruled out of order. The speaker's words were taken down and the phrase was struck from the official congressional record, the first such rebuke to a House speaker in this century.

In time, "Camscam" died down, but today the cameras continue to show the whole chamber during Special Orders, giving audiences a fuller view of the post-legislative business proceedings. Later, in response to an initiative by the Republican leadership, cameras also started showing varied shots of the House members during votes. Slowly, the early restrictions on what the viewing audience could see through television were easing. "

Thanking C-SPAN for its Service on the 25th Anniversary of its First Coverage of Processings of House, House Resolution 551, Committee on House Administration 18 March 2004

And the unofficial view from the left:

Last May, U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich stood in the well of the House to rebut charges made by Speaker Tip O'Neill. For months, Gingrich had been harassing the Democrats in evening speeches broadcast over C-Span, the cable channel that carries House sessions. He called them "blind to communism"; he threatened to "file charges" against ten Democrats for a letter they wrote to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega; he accused one Democrat of placing "communist propaganda" in the Speaker's lobby. In retaliation, O'Neill ordered the C-Span cameras to sweep the floor every few minutes to show the world that Gingrich and friends were declaiming before empty seats. And on May 14, he attacked Gingrich for questioning the patriotism of members of Congress.

Now the showdown was at hand. The chamber was full, the hubbub audible. Cocksure and articulate, Gingrich repeated his attack on Democratic foreign policy. O'Neill's words, he said, came "all too close to resembling a McCarthyism of the Left." He had accused no one of being un-American, he insisted: "It is perfectly American to be wrong." When Democrats rose to challenge him, he deflected their criticisms, ignored the tough questions, pounced on the easy ones, and demonstrated all the techniques of a master debater.

Finally O'Neill took the floor, repeatedly interrupting Gingrich. Back and forth they went, the brash young Republican from Georgia and the indignant white-maned Democrat from Massachusetts. "My personal opinion is this," O'Neill roared at last, shaking his finger at Gingrich. "You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House, and challenged these people, and challenged their patriotism, and it is the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress."

Immediately, Minority Whip Trent Lott rose and asked that the Speaker's words be ruled out of order and stricken from the record. in the House, normally a bastion of civility, members are forbidden from making personal attacks on one another. After five minutes of nervous consultation, the chair ruled in Lott's favor. That night, the confrontation between Gingrich and O'Neill made all three network news programs. The third-term Republican from Georgia had arrived.

Newt Gingrich: Shining Knight of the Post-Reagan Right by David Osborne, 1 November 1984

It was the first time a Speaker had been rebuked that way since the 1790s, and gleeful Republicans had television ads on the air within days. With that smirk that still drives the Democrats crazy, Gingrich announced: "I am now a famous person."

Master of the House, by Nancy Gibbs and Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine, 1995
or Master of the House, by Nancy Gibbs and Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine, 1995

And that, boys and girls, is why C-SPAN, for a brief time, panned around the empty room showing that these are not serious speeches given in the course of legislative debate. But only for a while, mind. After both sides realized that it was worse to have the phoniness and emptiness of the whole process televised, it decided to change the camera rules to require a fix on the speaker or the rostrum. Anyway, back to Churchill.

Biker Tony's Photograph of Parliament at night

Biker Tony's photograph of Parliament at Night

So, Churchill got his goal of having a building be filled beyond capacity, overflowing into the aisles with members, a vast sea of humanity all gathered for the purpose to argue and vote. Passion compressed to a small space, breathing life into democracy, like voting to support Bush in an illegal war. To bad Churchill never realized that their whole structure — lords, commoners, and a monarch — was the antithesis of democracy. The American system is far superior; we have three branches of government — lords, more lords, and even more lords — and a fuhrer to lead them to victory and us into slavery. Much better!

Oh, yeah. And the outcome of that famous shot of the empty chamber to which House members had been so pompously and fatuously opining? Well, even C-SPAN's founder has no idea what the effect was:

Ms. HILLGREN: What is the greatest impact C-SPAN has had on the political culture of the United States? Did Republicans exploit it to spread their philosophy by droning on to an empty chamber?

Mr. LAMB: I have absolutely no idea what our impact has been. But I hope Republicans have exploited it and I hope Democrats have exploited it and I hope Perotistas have exploited it. What is it about us that we all think we should not argue? I think we should argue all the time. I think that's part of getting to a decision. Exploit the living daylights out of us. It's up to us, like the call-in lines, to not be overly exploited by anybody. And that's the beauty of the system. We have 17,000 hours a year to fill. And we're not in a hurry. We don't have ratings. We don't have to fuss over all this stuff. It's an oasis. That's what makes it so much fun. So exploit us, have at us, all of you.

Brian Lamb, C-SPAN Chairman and CEO, in Interview at the National Press Club, 6 January 1997

Architecture Fit for an Emperor
Errr, I mean, Fit for a Comrade!

Russian Seal

The Soviet Union — this is more properly pronounced "Stalin" — decided to completely redo Moscow in the image of a people's paradise. (We all know what happened to anyone who voiced doubts about the wisdom of destroying the city's architectural heritage to build monstrous buildings.) And, since this was a people's paradise, the people were invited to contribute entires. Well, architects were invited, at any rate.

One of those entires proposed building the tallest building in the world. Just to show the bourgouise capitalists how it was done, of course. At 1572 feet (415 meters) the building would be taller than the Empire State building (highest at 1250 feet, 381 meters) and Eiffel Tower (second highest at 984 feet, 300 meters, excluding the transmitting tower at the top.) Hard to imagine a time when the (now) relatively puny Empire State building was seen as competition. But that's because we're spoiled; every decade the ante gets upped by some country eager to make a name for itself by building towers that are difficult to use. (Who wants a ten minute elevator ride to get lunch?) The latest project scraping the heavens, Burj Dubai, is going to be 2,275 to 2,925 feet or (700 to 900 meters) tall. But back to Russia.

Many of the grand — one might even say grandiose — plans have an architecture that one cannot help but be impressed by. This is the sort of architecture at which Albert Speer excelled. (Or, say, the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. If that isn't an edifice worthy of Triumph of the Will, I don't know what is.) Anyway, I found the entries interesting, overall, from both architectural and historical contexts. Two of them were particularly interesting; one because of its sheer mass and height and the other because it reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of some of the rounded, yet boxy, glass buildings being built in the city today.

Among the far-reaching projections of the first stalinist "five year plans", the 1935 General plan for the reconstruction of Moscow overshadowed all others. According to this plan, Moscow was to become, in the shortest possible time, the showpiece capital of the world's first socialist state. The General plan envisaged the development of the city as a unified system of highways, squares and embankments with unique buildings, embodying the ideas and achievements of socialism. This plan contained a number of major flaws, especially in connection with the preservation of the historical heritage of the city. The specific nature of the architectural process of this period was determined wholly by ambitious government schemes. In order to realize them, extensive architectural contests were held and architects of diverse orientations and schools of thought were invited to tender their projects.

"Architecture of Moscow From the 1930s to the Early 1950s (Unrealised Projects)"

"Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)" B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov, 1946

Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)
B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov
1946

The Palace of Soviets was planned to be the largest building in the world. Its height was to reach 415 metres - higher than the tallest buildings of the time, the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, The building-postament was to be topped by a 100 metre statue of Lenin. The constuction of the Palace of Soviets developed into an independent economic and scientific field. This system included special laboratories dealing with optics and acoustics, for the development of special construction materials such as "D.S. steel" and "D.S. brick", mechanical and ceramic-concrete works, The building site was serviced by its own railway branch. By special decrees of the Soviet of People's Commissars and the Council for Labour and Defence, the construction of the Palace of Soviets was designate a priority project in 1934, and by 1939 the foundations of the upper part were completed. Construction was suspended in 1941 because of the war and never resumed. However, work on the Palace of Soviets project continued until the end of the 1940s.

"Palace of Soviets (Dom Sovetov)" B.Iofan, V.Gelfreikh, Ya.Belopolsky, V.Pelevin, Sculptor S.Merkulov, 1946

"The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry", A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko, 1934

The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry
A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko.
1934

Four towers, up to a height of 160 metres, on a stylobate which harmonizes with the Kremlin wall. A rhythmical construction, expressed in four vertical elements and the colonnade of the stylobate, creating a visual extension, essential to the longitudinal framing of the Square and responding to the Kremlin wall. The vertical divisions correspond to the four divisions of the Kremlin tower and are necessary for the inclusion of the building into the overall ensemble. The project envisages a single vestibule the length of Red Square.

"The Building of the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry", A.Vesnin, V.Vesnin, S.Lyaschenko, 1934

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

— Sir Winston Churchill, speech 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords) about the rebuilding of the House of Commons which had burnt down in a fire started by the Nazis.

"Moping Melancholy, and Moon-Struck Madness."

"Melencholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

"Melencholia I", Albrecht Dürer, 1514, 9 1/2 x 7 3/8 inches (24 x 18.5 cm) (various museums)

I hold that the perfection of form and beauty is contained in the sum of all men.

— Albrecht Dürer, Four Books on Human Proportions, 1528

I first encountered Albrecht Dürer's "Melencolia I" twenty-five years ago, when I was in high school. (I remember seeing it in Science, not the JAAS journal, which I also leafed through, but in their magazine designed to compete with Scientific American.) Since then, I've thought about it from time to time, but never dug into exactly what all the symbolism meant.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about Dürer again — he was a very smart and accomplished fellow, and his accomplishments include inventing etching (hey, baby, want to come up and see my etchings?), making numerous advances in art, and creating a mechanical device for accurately drawing perspective — and was inspired to again dig out Melencolia I for a look. That led me to some searches for the symbolism — an option that was not easy twenty-five years ago — and after doing so I was inspired to write it up.

I spent a bit of time digging out Webpages and papers on Melencolia I, and have only included the ones with detailed analysis, and those not in the realm of the delusional, spiritual, or occult. The "The Melencolia Code" by David Finkelstein, a physics professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, has the best writeup of the lot, so I'll be quoting extensively from him. This isn't to say he's correct, just that he summed up the arguments cogently and succinctly. I won't write up all of the symbolism, just enough to give you a flavor for the piece.

The Melencolia I (1514) of Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) might be the most studied engraving ever made, and it influenced European art for centuries. It represents science well before Newton. Many riddlers have tried to decode it. The art historian Erwin Panofsky saw in it Durer’s own melancholy frustration at the gap between artistic and divine creation. Frances Yates, historian of the Hermetic tradition, took its melancholia to be an inspired creative fever, not sadness at all, and read the engraving as a declaration of the harmony between microcosm and macrocosm. The art historian Patrick Doorly sees it as an illustration for Plato’s Greater Hippias, a dialogue on beauty; the angelic melancholy represents the inability to define absolute beauty. Long before I heard of their studies, I saw in it a feeling about science that I could not quite read. Was the angel truly melancholy? If so, was it for knowing too little? Or too much? Is the angel dreaming of a Final Theory? Isn’t she actually smiling slightly? What is the joke?

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 3

The Name and the Bat

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

To unscramble it [the name Melencolia I] I proceeded as follows. Since so many Durers, father, mother, and repeated son, already hide in the engraving, I guessed that the motto might hide another. This amounts to a prediction. To test it I went to Durer’s coat of arms to see how he might depict himself. There I found if I did not invent the caelo rebus by which Durer represents his art. CAELO indeed fits into MELENCOLIA. The leftover letters quickly arrange themmselves into the common noun LIMEN, commonly meaning gateway, doorway, threshold, lintel, walls, house, home, boundary path, and limit, according to context. MELENCOLIA then decodes to LIMEN CAELO, gateway in heaven. This describes the Durer coat of arms itself quite accurately, fulfilling the prediction that the anagram hid a name for Durer. It indirectly supports the rebus theory of the coat of arms. It also applies well to the dim archway in the heavens that frames it, and will acquire further meaning as we go.

The speed with which this prediction checked out suggested that I read Durer correctly. The proposition before us is that Durer constructed the motto MELENCOLIA I from the covert one LIMEN CAELO I, put melancholic elements and the mooonbow to fit them, and added the hell-bat to signal that the cover message was ironic.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 11

The Solid

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

There are observations about the geometrical figure to the right of Melencolia. Geometrically, the polyhedron is simply a cube or rhombohedron which has been truncated at the upper vertex. Somebody has proposed that the shape is a very elaborate optical illusion. It is made to appear as though it is a truncated cube, with 90 degree angles, but in reality, it has no 90 degree angles at all. Panofsky describes it simply as a "truncated rhomboid." It is possible to proportion it so that the vertices project onto a 4-by-4 square grid like that of the magic square (T. Lynch, "The geometric body in Durer's engraving Melancholia I," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Inst., pp. 226-232, 1982.). Schreiber (P. Schreiber, "A New Hypothesis on Durer's Enigmatic Polyhedron in His Copper Engraving 'Melencholia I'," Historia Mathematica, 26, pp. 369-377, 1999. ) proposes that it comes from a rhombohedron with 72-degree face angles, which has been truncated so it can be inscribed in a sphere....and on and on.

"Dürer's Polyhedra" by George Hart

Dürer's solid is the 8-faced solid depicted in an engraving entitled Melancholia I by Albrecht Dürer (The British Museum, Burton 1989, Gellert et al. 1989), the same engraving in which Dürer's magic square appears, which depicts a disorganized jumble of scientific equipment lying unused while an intellectual sits absorbed in thought. Although Dürer does not specify how his solid is constructed, Schreiber (1999) has noted that it appears to consist of a distorted cube which is first stretched to give rhombic faces with angles of 72°, and then truncated on top and bottom to yield bounding triangular faces whose vertices lie on the circumsphere of the azimuthal cube vertices.

"Dürer's Solid" Mathworld

What triggered my own new interest in Melencolia I and Durer were two faces that I found hiding in the polyhedron in April 2004. Anyone who steps back several paces from a good print and focuses on the shading of the front face of the polyhedron patiently for a minute or so, will soon find or construct a face, either a man with his head cocked to the right or a woman with her head erect. Both are there, at di erent angles and scales, apparently waiting to be seen for centuries. Some viewers see the man first and some the woman; one cannot see both at once. Both disappear if we come too close. Digitizing and reducing the engraving for the internet sometimes outlines one of the faces crisply, bringing it completely out of hiding. That is how I found the woman by chance and was drawn into this study. Absent such electronic aids, the faces emerge from the polyhedron slowly the first time but are inescapable thereafter. They are subtle and draw much on our own perceptive process, so that as we see them taking shape, we are not entirely clear whether they are really there or are our own projections. One can resolve these doubts to some extent. We may note that we cannot find such faces in all of Durer’s shadings. We can verify the faces we see with other viewers. We may assume that Durer’s vision was more sensitive to variations of shade than most, and infer that if we see these faces then so did Durer, and therefore they are part of his intention.

In 1604, long after popular demand had worn out Durer’s original copper plate, the Dutch engraver Jan Wierix (ca. 1553-1619) produced a new engraving of Melencolia I from scratch, so to speak. In order to distinguish his copy from the original he left out a flourish between “Melencolia” and “I” in the motto. Less publicly, he also systematically changed both hidden faces to hidden devil’s masks. By this change he left a secret sign that he saw the hidden faces and rejected what they stood for. This convinces me that they are not of my creation. And later they will lead us to the function of the polyhedron.

...

One can read the surface of the polyhedron in three ways: as blank, as a woman’s face, or as a man’s face. This is the only such triple image I find in Durer’s work. The two hidden faces resemble somewhat Durer’s last portraits of his mother and father, and have the same poses. Durer’s father died in 1507 at the age of 75 and a Durer portrait shows him beardless at 70, but five years is enough for the small beard on the hidden face of the man. Durer did his last portrait of his mother two months before her death and Melencolia I soon after. There is not enough detail in the hidden faces for positive recognition but since the ages, poses, and general features match, and the picture has already been recognized as autobiographical, perhaps they represent his mother and father. They have another function that I will point out later. They are part of a joke that Durer is playing on us.

I am less certain of a third hidden face. The black axle-hole in its center of the millstone might pass for a silhouette profile of a lean young man, presumably Albrecht again. Unlike the two parental ghosts, this hidden face reverses figure and ground, a common way to hide faces at the time.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pages 5-6

The Magic Square

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

We need not look far [to find the meaning of the magic square]. The sum of the whole table is 136. Pursuing the autobiographical hypothesis, I computed the Latin gematria for “Albrecht Durer,” ignoring the non-Latin umlaut. The sum is 135. Since there is no “u” in the Latin alphabet, the name should really be “Albrecht Dvrer, ” but this would not change the sum, since “v” would then replace “u” as letter 21 of the alphabet. There is a significant discrepancy of 1 between 135 and 136. One must separate the 1 from the rest of the table to make the sum “Albrecht Durer.” This amounts to a prediction: that Durer did so. Returning to the engraving to check this prediction, we see that he made the 1 unmistakably taller than all the other numerals, as I did in transcribing the Durer Table above. This again di erentiates the Durer Table from the Jupiter Table. In addition, one wing of the angel brushes the 1 in the table, and only that numeral, verifying it divinity.

By splitting the sum into 136= 1 +135 Durer again puts himself into his own Table, next to God. The magic square provides two more Durer signatures within a symbol of the divinity of mathematics.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 9

The Comet

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

The great comet 1471Y1 was first seen on Christmas Day in Durer’s birth year, and Durer wrote of seeing a comet in 1503. The physical natures of meteors and comets were not yet known in 1514. Even Galileo would still believe that comets were formed from atmospheric vapors leaving the Earth. But da Vinci already mocked the idea that events in the sky foretold events on Earth, and so did Durer.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 21

The Balance (Scales)

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

The balance is one of the few scientific instruments in the picture. They all hang on the wall and the artisan tools litter the yard, as the experimental philosopher is sanctified above the craftsman. The scales hang on the side wall between the angel and the putto, level and balanced. One dish touches the putto, the other the angel. There is a balance between putto and angel, first literally, there it hangs between them, and then metaphorically, they have equal weight in some sense; perhaps equal divinity. The putto-angel equation seems to be a literally central message of the engraving. This fully supports Yate’s interpretation of the triumphant artist and of a balance between the Intellectual and Terrestrial spheres represented by the angel and the putto.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pages 14-15

The Angel

"Melancholia I" by Albrecht Dürer

If she had melancholia, it would have to be the creative form of the humor, not the depressive. In fact she is visibly not creating. Her compasses are held in a way that puts them out of service. Her book is sealed. The unresolved tension between her positive expression and attitude and the apparently negative legend is part of the hold that the engraving has on us.

She looks at nothing in the scene. The polyhedron, the putto, and the dog are directly to her right, and the globe is beneath her line of sight. She looks up out of the frame, right past what is going on in the sky behind her, meteor, hell-bat, moonbow and all. This is consistent with her representing the faculty of Contemplation that connects its user to the Intellectual Sphere of Forms and angels. What the angel is doing is remarkable. She is doing nothing.

I propose that her main function in this engraving is that of the knight between Death and the Devil: to ignore evil. She sees nothing and does nothing. She is unlike the putto, who studies the dog intentlly and draws it. But neither see the bizarre night sky.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 14

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Dürer's Solid" Mathworld
  2. "The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology
  3. "The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology (CitizenArcane copy)
  4. "Dürer's Polyhedra" by George Hart
  5. Melencholia I, Albrecht Dürer, 1514, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Oh, and since I know you were wondering, the title line is from Paradise Lost, by John Milton, (book XI, l, 485). I'll leave you with one more thought:

Gone is the mystical mathetic vision of absolute truth, the perspective of infinity, but also the self-deification and the gloom. Both halves of the picture live on Earth. Knowledge, with all its limits, is no longer a light in the night sky but a record of actual experience.

"The Melencolia Code" by David R. Finkelstein, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Page 22

"The one who gives gifts
goes naked and does without."

"The Three Graces", circa 323-146 B.C.

"The Three Graces", circa 323-146 B.C. (Louvre, Paris)

The other day I saw a reproduction of the Louvre's Three Graces relief, and it reminded me of all the mythology I used to read when I were a lad. (As opposed to all the mythology I read today in the New York Times; Fox News isn't mythology, of course, it's pure Lovecraftian horror.) Anyway, I remember the three graces and have thought that the message they carry is a nice one. So I wrote it up.

"The Three Graces", Fragment of Wall Frieze, Pompeii

"The Three Graces", Wall Frieze, Pompeii, circa 60 AD

The three graces, all sisters, are the daughters of Zeus and Euryeome or Hera. (Zeus, as you'll recall, had a serious problem keeping it under his toga.) As the attendent goddesses to Aphrodite — the goddess of love — the three were all that is grace and beauty personified. Each represents a different facet of the goddess: Aglaca, splendor; Euphrosyne, joyfulness; and Thalia, abundance.

"The Three Graces" by Raphael, 1504

"The Three Graces" by Raphael, 1504 (Musee Conde, Chantilly)

Artists and writers have been influenced by the three graces through the ages; the Greeks painted vases and made sculptures, the Romans made friezes at Pompeii, and painters like Rubens and Raphael memorialized them forever. They are typically depicted as two figures facing us and one facing away, with the two outer figures looking in different directions from the center one. They have their hands on each other's shoulders, as if in dance. Without the graces, there can be neither pleasure nor dancing.

In addition to the artists who were inspired, was Andrea Alciato, a sixteenth century writer:

The three Graces attend Venus, and follow their mistress, and so prepare delights and things to eat. Euphrosyne brings happiness, Aglaia, glorious radiance, and Pitho is Persuasion herself, winsome and pleasing of speech.

Why are they naked?

Because loveliness resides in honesty of mind and pleases through its utter simplicity.

Is it because the ungrateful give nothing back that the Graces' casket is always empty?

The one who gives gifts goes naked and does without.

Why have their feet been recently attired with winged sandals?

The one who gives quickly, gives twice; generosity that is slow to appear is almost worthless.

Why does one turn with the others' arms around her?

Giving graciously makes interest. When one is let go, two remain to the giver.

Jupiter is father to them all. From heavnly seed Eurynome brought forth the divine creatures, dear to all.

Emblematum Liber (Book of Emblems) by Andrea Alciato, 1531

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum liber or Book of Emblems had enormous influence and popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a collection of 212 Latin emblem poems, each consisting of a motto (a proverb or other short enigmatic expression), a picture, and an epigrammatic text. Alciato's book was first published in 1531, and was expanded in various editions during the author's lifetime. It began a craze for emblem poetry that lasted for several centuries.

Emblematum Liber (Book of Emblems) by Andrea Alciato, 1531

"The Three Graces" by Peter Paul Rubens, 1639

"The Three Graces" by Peter Paul Rubens, 1639 (Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)

Photograph of "The Three Graces", a Victorian Cameo

"The Three Graces", Victorian Cameo

Of course, not everyone has the same take on the same concept:

Photograph of "Bachelor and Three Graces" (tree grouping)

"Bachelor and Three Graces" (tree grouping) by Marlene Bruce, a photograph of three trees with the same name in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park

"Composition VII: The Three Graces" by Theo van Doesburg (1917)

"Composition VII: The Three Graces" by Theo van Doesburg (1917), (Gallery of Art, Washington University In St. Louis)

"Labour Isn’t Working"

"Labour Isn't Working" Billboard

Billboard for 1979 Tory Campaign, "Labour Isn't Working (Britain's Better Off With the Conservatives)"

It became the benchmark for political advertising. It has influenced all political advertising since and effectiveness is measured against it.

— Martyn Walsh, creator of "Labour Isn't Working" Campaign

In my tax day entry about the IRS and what a joyous day April 15th is, I mentioned how the Wilson's labour government led to the election of Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, in 1979. The real force behind her campaign was the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi. It created the "Labour Isn't Working" advertising campaign that is widely credited as winning the election. This is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant ad campaigns ever. (What's interesting is that Charles Saatchi, who gets credit for designing it, apparently didn't create it and was initially skeptical about it.)

"The Conservative party's 1978 poster of a snaking line of people queuing for the unemployment office under the slogan "Labour isn't working" has been voted the poster advertisement of the century.

Created by the Saatchi brothers, the poster is cited as instrumental in the downfall of James Callaghan's Labour administration in the 1979 election and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, partly because he rose to the jibe and complained. It also marked a sea-change in political advertising as, aiming at traditional Labour supporters who feared for their jobs, it was the first to adopt the aggressive marketing tactics which characterise modern elections.

Judged the poster of the century by a jury of advertising creative staff for the trade magazine Campaign, Labour Isn't Working beat a first world war recruitment poster into second place."

"Tory Advert Rated Poster of the Century" by Janine Gibson, Guardian, 16 October 1999

Now, there's nothing like mixing advertising and politics. On the one hand you have a cesspool of lies and on the other you have... Wait just one minute! I can't tell them apart! The best part of the "Labour Isn't Working" campaign is the lies it portrays as fact. First, consider the sanitized, and self-serving Saatchi & Satchi version of their political work:

In 1979 Saatchi & Saatchi London became the first agency to be appointed by a British political party to help them win an election. The Conservative Party did precisely that, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. Indeed, the Conservatives won an unprecedented four consecutive terms in office. This didn’t go unnoticed by Boris Yeltsin. With some help from Saatchi & Saatchi, he went on to become Russia’s first democratically elected President.

"Who We Are" by Saatchi & Saatchi

Now, some truth from the BBC:

A new form of political advertising was created for the election campaign which was original, slick and a benchmark for the future.

The now infamous slogan 'Labour Isn't Working' was borne from it and is credited with helping the Tories to power in May 1979.

Labour had postponed the election until May 1979 by which time the 'Winter of Discontent' was in full swing and campaigning for voters took place against a back drop of strike action.

Saatchi & Saatchi later developed the slogan 'Labour Still Isn't Working' but it caused controversy when it was revealed its depiction of people queuing at the dole office was actually of actors.

Many were Tory workers and their images had been superimposed to give the illusion of hundreds of people, although in reality there were only about 20.

"On this Day 1978: Tories Recruit Advertisers to Win Votes", BBC, 30 March 1978

And the difficulty in making the ad — in the days before computer graphic programs like Photoshop or (my favorite) PhotoPaint made this trivial — is interesting:

"Immediately there was a problem. Instead of the 100 volunteers promised to the ad's designer, Martyn Walsh of Saatchi and Saatchi, fewer than 20 turned up - far too few to create the desired effect.

"It was a problem," Walsh remembers. "At one point I though briefly about calling it all off. But the deadline was very tight and it was a case of 'it's now or never - we've got to do it today'."

Rope trick

Walsh then hit upon the idea of photographing the same group of people over and over and then striping the photos together back in his studio.

A long rope was used to mark out the shape of the queue and the volunteers, over a period of hours, had to move along it in a tight group.

"Because of budget we could not use a lot of extras," Walsh remembers.

"And we could not use the real unemployed. They might have objected to appearing in Tory publicity. We wanted people who would not object - which is why we used the Young Tories. But we still made them sign a form to say they wouldn't sue us if they didn't like the result."

Bottom of the pile

The end result, after the pictures had been superimposed on each other, gave the impression of far more than one hundred people standing in a queue."

"'Epoch-making' poster was clever fake" BBC News Online, 16 March 2001

Amazing, isn't it? Advertising people lie! Shocking! This campaign was so famous and so ingrained in British thought that the Labour Party co-opted the concept a few years back for Tony Blair — a Labour Party candidate:

"The Labour Party has rehashed Saatchi & Saatchi's highly successful "Labour isn't working" poster campaign which helped Margaret Thatcher's pre-election bid in 1979.

Labour is running a colourful poster and ad campaign proclaiming the reverse - "Britain is working" under Tony Blair."

"Labour in Cheeky Rehash of Tory Ad Campaign" Politics.co.uk, 30 November 2004

Ad Campaign for "Britain is Working" Under Blair

It's a pretty lousy ad, though, since it really says nothing about who deserves credit and why. (Way too subtle.) Meantime, the Tories decided they needed to repeat their earlier success by going after Blair in a big way. (Make the big, bad labour monster go away, mommy!) Unfortunately, the new campaign has no heart at all, as you can see.

Ad Campaign for "New Labour, New Danger"

The real genius — and I don't use that term lightly — behind Saatchi & Saatchi was Charles Saatchi. (The firm was started by two brothers, Charles and Maurice. Charles was the creative talent and Maurice the businessman. Together they built an advertising powerhouse. After huge excesses in the eighties and nineties, leading to a loss of about a hundred million dollars (tough to spin that), they were forced out of the company that bears their name. They started M & C Saatchi right down the street and there was a massive lawsuit when their old clients deserted the now-braindead Saatchi & Saatchi for M & C Saatchi. (But that's a story that probably only interests advertising people.) Anyway, you know Charles; he's the man behind Sensation, an art exhibit he paid a million dollar bribe to the Brooklyn Museum to host. This rather boring art exhibit was marketed as "offensive" in order to drum up interest and thereby inflate the values of the pieces, all so that Saatchi could liquidate his collection, which was long past its freshness date. Too cynical? Mmmmm-hmmmm.

Between Chris Ofili's "Dung Madonna" and Damien Hirst's readymade shark, the furor appears to have been carefully scripted to inflate the value of worthless "art" so Saatchi could sell it (unlikely) or donate it (likely). This is part of how rich people shelter income; they take a fundamentally worthless piece of "art" purchased for relatively little, get a huge valuation slapped on it by curators with an incentive to enhance their own importance (or maybe bribed), donate it to a museum eager to have a "valuable" work (or possibly bribed), write off the fake valuation on their taxes, and get 40% of the "value" back as a refund in dead presidents. What a great deal! Like Leona says, only little people pay taxes.

There was no feeling that we were making history. In a way it was a pretty routine job. A question of we've got to whistle something up quickly.

— Martyn Walsh, creator of "Labour Isn't Working" Campaign

Vitruvian’s the Name. Vitruvian Man.

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1492

The "Vitruvian Man" is an image that everbody — at least anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of history and art — knows, and yet whose name seems to be unknown by everybody. Circa 1492, while the Spanish were funding what would become the systematic rape, pillage, and looting of the New World — and the return of virulent syphilis; I think the native peoples didn't give as good as they got, but it was a nice thank-you present to the Europeans — Leonardo da Vinci was exploring the relationship between architecture and the human body's proportions.

The outgrowth of that exploration was "Vitruvian Man"; the name originates with the Roman architect Vitruvius, who was one of the first to argue in De Architectura (original latin and English translation), written between 27 and 23 BC, that human proportions should be the basis for architecture. (Vitruvius also argued that the job of the architect was to design useful and aesthetically pleasing buildings, a lesson that Frank Gehry would do well to learn.) But, back to Vitruvian Man.

Da Vinci was certain to have read Vitruvius' treatise on role of the human body's proportions in temple architecture:

1. The design of Temples depends on symmetry, the rules of which Architects should be most careful to observe. Symmetry arises from proportion, which the Greeks call a)nalogi/a. Proportion is a due adjustment of the size of the different parts to each other and to the whole; on this proper adjustment symmetry depends. Hence no building can be said to be well designed which wants symmetry and proportion. In truth they are as necessary to the beauty of a building as to that of a well formed human figure,

2. which nature has so fashioned, that in the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead, or to the roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the height of the whole body. From the chin to the crown of the head is an eighth part of the whole height, and from the nape of the neck to the crown of the head the same. From the upper part of the breast to the roots of the hair a sixth; to the crown of the head a fourth. A third part of the height of the face is equal to that from the chin to under side of the nostrils, and thence to the middle of the eyebrows the same; from the last to the roots of the hair, where the forehead ends, the remaining third part. The length of the foot is a sixth part of the height of the body. The fore-arm a fourth part. The width of the breast a fourth part. Similarly have other members their due proportions, by attention to which the ancient Painters and Sculptors obtained so much reputation.

3. Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.Link to the editor's note at the bottom of this page

4. If Nature, therefore, has made the human body so that the different members of it are measures of the whole, so the ancients have, with great propriety, determined that in all perfect works, each part should be some aliquot part of the whole; and since they direct, that this be observed in all works, it must be most strictly attended to in temples of the gods, wherein the faults as well as the beauties remain to the end of time."

De Architectura by Vitruvius, Book III, Chapter 1 (original latin and English translation)

Notice the key portion:

It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

De Architectura by Vitruvius, Book III, Chapter 1 (original latin and English translation)

Now, this starts to possibly explain why da Vinci drew the figure the way he did. While it might be that he was simply following Vitruvius' instructions, there may be another explanation rooted in mathematics. Da Vinci may actually have been attempting to solve the famous mathematical problem of "squaring the circle".

The secret concerns a geometric algorithm in human form. In this unity, Leonardo saw the solution to the problem known as squaring the circle.Leonardo‘s man is an algorithm! Squaring the circle is an ancient geometrical problem whereby of a pair of compasses and a ruler are used in an attempt to construct a circle and square of equal area.

In the 19th century it was proven beyond doubt that this is not possible in a finite number of constructional steps. Solutions do exist in infinite numbers of steps, however. The algorithm in the Vitruvian Man is based on an approach in-volving a continuation into infinity.

For the first time, the reconstruction of the algorithm provides an insight into the unique and bold image of man which Leonardo da Vinci has bequeathed to us in the form of this mystery. The Vitruvian Man may not be the sole mystery of this type. You can now witness the unfolding of the mystery with the aid of computer animations.

"The Secret of the Vitruvian Man" by Klaus Schroeer

This seems cumbersome and forced, however. It may simply be that da Vincia was following Vitruvius' lead in delighting in the joy of the human body's proportions. Vitruvian Man might, therefore, be just an exploration of human geometry. There are, of course, other explanations, involving everything from sacred mathematics to alchemical imagery. Consider this one — the massive geometry lesson not being quoted — blending geometry with alchemy:

The most fundamental composition consists of a circle, a square, and a triangle, a sigillum known to magicians and alchemist, sometimes called the Universal Seal of Light or the Seal of Hermes. The compositional triangle on this drawing is concealed, even though that it outlines important segments. It is drawn in the circle within the square and it coincides with the progression of squares as depicted on the illustration.

The main proportional lines come from the progression of squares, every second square is half the size of the original, and the measures thus obtained are the same as described by Vitruvius.

Distinguished is also the triangle with the size of a square and apex in the navel.

It seems that the drawing, or better the original design as explained by Vitruvius, contains many layers of geometry and symbolism that concord in one single image delineating the proportions of the human body. This idea of 'reason' governing 'form' was the fundamental theme of the Renaissance and is traceable in best architecture and art in general. It would not be odd if Leonardo had a close contact with scholars that spread the source of the Renaissance thought which didn't distinguish between art, science, and magick in terms of conflicting or opposing discourses as is the case today.

"Vitruvian Man: On Planning of Temples" by Morphvs

Regardless of its purpose, we can always appreciate the drawing as pure art. You can see the original at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, Italy, in the unlikely event you ever end up there.

And, lest I forget to mention it, yesterday (15 April) was da Vinci's birthday. (Tax day, too.) Google, of course, observed it with a special logo (replicated here for after it vanishes):

Google Logo for Da Vinci's Birthday

Sources and Further Reading

  1. De Architectura by Vitruvius (original latin)
  2. De Architectura by Vitruvius (English translation)
  3. "Vitruvian Man: On Planning of Temples" by Morphvs
  4. "The Secret of the Vitruvian Man" by Klaus Schroeer

Porn Is Also Great and Would Suffice

Sign in Beacon Hill, MA saying "Porn Is Great"

"If State’s 'porn' Sign Won’t Slow Down Drivers, Nothing Will" by O’Ryan Johnson, Boston Herald 11 April 2005

Seems someone in Boston decided that the city should take a break from flashing empty, mindless, fear-inspiring messages like "If You See Something, Say Something," "Homeleand Insecurity Is Job #1," "Don't Let the Terrorist Win!," and "Your Tax Dollars at Work":

An electronic road sign on Cambridge Street flashed "EXPECT DELAYS" and "ROAD WORK AHEAD" but also alerted drivers that "PORN IS GREAT."

It's the second time such a message has appeared along the delay-plagued stretch of roadwork in Beacon Hill, but state officials aren't laughing.

"Obviously the message is unacceptable and will be taken down (Sunday) tonight," said Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the state's Executive Office of Transportation.

He said while there are some electronic signs that can be hacked into remotely, someone broke through a locked panel to change the flashing message on this one.

"That's pretty clever," said Chris Hickey, 27, of Boston while walking by the sign yesterday.

But her friend, Andrew D'Agostino, said he would have aimed for something more original.

"Of course it's (porn) great, tell me something I don't know," he said.

"If State’s 'porn' Sign Won’t Slow Down Drivers, Nothing Will" by O’Ryan Johnson, Boston Herald 11 April 2005

Finally, a message from the government that I can actually say I fully endorse. It just proves that in an infinite universe all things are possible, just not equally probable. Besides, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (The government being the stopped clock, of course, and not me.)

Oh, and the title line? It's an allusion to a poem by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost, 1920

I found the balance between desire (eros, lust) and hate (puritanism, censorship) particularly apt here.

Your Petrodollars at Work

Burj Dubai

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Petrodollars from the West have to go somewhere. Some countries, like, oh, say, Saudi Arabia, use them to fund vicious terrorist attacks upon the hand that feeds them — 9-11 was a Saudi operation, and they pay for most of the attacks by Muslims upon the West — and to indoctrinate vulnerable population segments worldwide in the hopes of inciting a civil war between those who favor the rule of law and those blinded to all but the cruel, death- and suffering-oriented laws of Allah. (Just working hard for a better, more peaceful world.) Others, like Dubai (part of the United Arab Emirates), erect the most amazing buildings as a testament to their financial success. (After Saudi Arabia, Dubai is the Persian Gulf's largest oil and gas producer.)

Most of the money the UAE gets from the West goes into building buildings instead of killing people, blowing things up, and promoting strife worldwide. Well, much of the money, at any rate. Remember, this a country so hardcore Muslim it has Islamic law and keeps its chattel women in potato sacks; they aren't the good guys by any stretch of the imagination. And they buy — yes, slavery is alive and well in the UAE — four year olds to be jockeys for their camel races. But, damn, if this isn't a beautiful building, even if it was paid for by those who would destroy every freedom we in the West hold dear. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill clearly did a fine job of design. But the real credit goes to Samsung the (Western) firm that will erect the building.

Anyway, a few days ago I saw another drawing of their latest effort and decided to write it up. When completed, Burj Dubai will be the world's tallest building; estimates range from 2,275 feet or 700 meters to 2,925 feet or 900 meters. The cost? Well, that ranges anywhere from one to two billion dollars. Yup. That's with a B, folks.

Whatever the final height, it will be roughtly half a mile of building. Think about this: half a mile of building. That's big. Really big. Enough to easily dominate the Petronas Towers in Malaysia (1483 feet, 452 meters) the miniscule 442 meter-tall Chicago's Sears Tower, or the current king of the hill, Taipei 101 (1667 feet, 508 meters). It will also outrank the unbuilt, and hideously ugly, Freedom Tower (1776 feet, 541 meters).

Burj Dubai

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Building something that tall isn't easy. Far from it:

Early designs placed the massive residential and hotel tower well above 2,000 feet. At that height, "vortex shedding" — eddies of wind, like the wake behind a boat — develops at a building’s top stories. As air whips around the tower at speeds reaching 120 mph, low- pressure zones occur on one side, then the other, setting up vibrations, known as resonant frequencies, that can literally shake the structure to death—which is what happened to Washington State’s infamous Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940, when high winds snapped a cable and sent the third longest suspension bridge in the world crashing into Puget Sound. Older skyscrapers like the Empire State Building are immune because they are built out of heavy steel. But to erect a tower more than twice as high requires a construction with even greater damping qualities. The Burj will be made of poured concrete that contains blast furnace slag and microsilicates—a material that’s almost as strong as cast iron, yet more resistant to damage due to vibrations because the natural cracking in concrete dissipates the energy.

The taller a building is, though, the more it flexes, increasing its likelihood of flexing to its breaking point. Abetted by extensive computer and wind-tunnel testing, SOM designed a building with numerous setbacks and wings to scatter the wind. "The wind sees 18 different sections," says Baker, "each with a different vortex-shedding frequency. If we didn’t do that, the building would just fall down sideways.”

Keeping the building standing is only the first of a complex series of problems in a tower so high. The Burj’s relatively small footprint requires a single 11,000-voltage power line routed through a series of transformers throughout the building; Dubai’s burning sunlight necessitates coating the windows with special glazing; water pressure must be enhanced with a series of zoned pumping stations; and, to minimize commuting time, the elevators will zoom at 3,600 feet per minute. Going up, that is. "Coming down has to be a lot slower," says Raymond J. Clark, SOM’s partner in charge of mechanical and electrical engineering, "or else you’d blow out people’s ears."

"Burj Dubai: The world's tallest building", by Carl Hoffman, Popular Science, April 2004

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Burj Dubai's Official Website
  2. Archnet Images of Burj Dubai
  3. "Burj Dubai: The world's tallest building", by Carl Hoffman, Popular Science, April 2004
  4. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (Flash site, so direct linking to the project is impossible)
  5. "Child camel jockeys in the UAE", Anti-Slavery International
  6. "The trafficking of child camel jockeys to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)", Anti-Slavery International

TORA! TORA! TORA!

DVD Cover for Tora! Tora! Tora!

In chatting about The Gates, I mentioned Kyoto's torii gates and again made my comment, "Torii! Torii! Torii!" (What's the point of coming up with clever things like this if you you can only use them once?) I got a blank look; guess everyone hasn't seen the movie or read my blog entry. (Hard to believe, isn't it?) Anyway, here's the explanation of "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

The official version is that the message indicating a successful attack on Pearl Harbor was a repeated "to ra", this being the Japanese word for "tiger":

7:49 a.m.

Air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida, looking down on Pearl Harbor, sees no aircraft carriers, which the Japanese hoped to destroy and thus thwart U.S. retaliation. He orders his telegraph operator to tap out to, to, to: attack. Then other taps: to ra, to ra, to ra: attack, surprise achieved. Though not meant to have a double meaning, to ra is read by some Japanese pilots as tora — tiger. According to a Japanese saying, "A tiger goes out 1,000 ri (2,000 miles) and returns without fail."

"Pearl Harbor: Plus Sixty Years", Honolulu Advertiser

Nice story and even nicer metaphor, full of animal imagery of the bold tiger hunting its prey. Too bad it was constructed after the fact and isn't at all true:

Most articles and books on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, note that the Japanese codeword for a successful surprise attack radioed back to their carrier was "TORA, TORA, TORA." However, on Dec. 7, 1991, the 50th anniversary of the event, Japanese historians at symposia being held both at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and at CAF Headquarters in Midland, Texas, revealed that the actual codes were individual syllables, not the word "TORA." The first code, "To," indicated that the attack had begun, and the second, "Ra," that success had been achieved.

When these transmissions were heard by the American radio operators in the heat of the attack, they were translated as a single word, the "To, To, To—Ra, Ra, Ra" becoming "TORA, TORA, TORA", the Japanese word for "Tiger."

What's TORA?

So, there you have it. Go forth and impress people with your newfound knowledge. Ok, ok. At least rent the movie and get some cultural literacy.

Knives Not Included

Voodoo Knife Rack By Raffaele Iannello

This knife rack, in sumptuous red plastic, designed by Raffaele Iannello is just too cool for words. Viceversa carries it; there aren't any ViceVersa distributors in the US that I could find. The closest is Canada.

"You have to be fucking kidding!"

The Velvet Underground, 1966

The Velvet Underground, 1966, by Lisa Law

When I were a lad, growing up in New Jersey suburbia, I first heard the Velvet Underground on an album my brother bought. I don't know how he found out about them. (I think he still has that 33 tucked away somewhere.) What made it particularly interesting was the bit of folklore that the VU had played a gig at the local high school the year I was born. Now hold that thought for a moment while we flash forward to today.

And so earlier this year, with flickering expectation, Warren Hill picked through some old records at a yard sale in Chelsea, New York. They seemed out of place compared with the rest the junk, like a box that had been forgotten in the attic and left untouched by a string of disinterested tenants. He pulled out a soggy copy of the Modern Lovers' first LP and then he saw it, a record with no sleeve and only a few hand-written words on the label: "Velvet Underground... 4/25/66... N. Dolph." He bought it for $0.75.

...

On a single day in April, [Columbia Records sales executive Norman] Dolph sat behind Scepter's mixing boards as the band recorded what they thought would be their first record. Dolph had an acetate (a metallic "master" record) pressed after-hours at Columbia and sent it to the executives at the label. He still has the handwritten response he received when the acetate was returned, one he has paraphrased as, "You have to be fucking kidding!"

After the initial rejection, the band would enlist another "ghost" producer, Tom Wilson, re-recording some of the songs and adding others. Eventually, all the master tapes would be re-mixed by Wilson and the final product would be released as The Velvet Underground and Nico.

...

Hill tracked down the phone number for Norman Dolph and, after verifying the serial number, the former producer confirmed that it was the record he had pressed for Columbia executives. Because the original master tapes of the Scepter session have been lost or destroyed, it remains as a one-of-a-kind testament to the band's first studio session, containing "lost" versions of "Venus in Furs," "I'm Waiting for the Man," and "Heroin." The last time Dolph saw the record, it was collecting dust in Warhol's estate. How it ended up in a Chelsea attic remains a mystery, as does its future.

"We're petrified and don't really know how to sell it" says Isaacson. "We got an offer right away for $10,000, but we turned it down."

Not bad for a $0.75 investment. It now seems likely that the record will become the most expensive ever sold, exceeding the sale of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde acetate and topping $40,000. Like finding the U.S. Constitution behind a painting, it's the kind of event that will drive yard sale attendance for years to come.

"The Velvet Underground Play Portland", by Ryan Dirks, The Portland Mercury, Volume 5, Number 26, 25 November - 1 December 2004

Now we return to the past. It turns out that the first VU gig was not at Governor Livingston, but one town over, at Summit High School on 11 Dececember 1965. (We never liked Summit; pretentious, wealthy, and very stuck up. For years there was a fellow, somewhat potty, who walked around the town holding his nose because "Summit stinks.") The VU made $75 which, even in those days, wasn't enough to lure anyone to New Jersey without a very good reason. But, lured they were, and the story of their performance is amusing. Just picture all the shocked Wall Street and other professionals as you read this:

Towards the end of 1965 there was a lot of good music on the airwaves. But for us kids, High School was a real drag and life in our little suburban town (ONLY thirty miles west of Greenwich Village) wasn't too exciting. Except for one thing: a local band called the Myddle Class! To us, they were as good as the Rolling Stones ANY day and their concerts were the most exciting ones we'd ever seen. They were managed by a man who lived in our town -- Al Aronowitz. My friend Judy was the Aronowitz's babysitter and she would tell us the most amazing stories about the people who would call for Al or come home from New York with him to hide out in the suburbs: people like Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Carole King, who wrote songs for everyone including the Myddle Class. We would hide outside Al's house for hours at a time just to catch a glimpse of those stars. Al usually hired other local bands to open for the Myddle Class but for the December 11th concert at Summit High, he hired (for $80) a NY band called the Velvet Underground. Judy told us that the band was feeling low because they had just been fired from the Cafe Wha for being undanceable, so we were not expecting too much from them.

Nothing could have prepared the kids and parents assembled in the auditorium for what they were about to experience that night. Our only clue was the small crowd of strange-looking people hanging around in front of the stage. When the curtain went up, nobody could believe their eyes! There stood the Velvet Underground -- all tall and dressed mostly in black; two of them were wearing sunglasses. One of the guys with the shades had VERY long hair and was wearing silver jewelry. He was holding a large violin. The drummer had a Beatle haircut and was standing at a small oddly arranger drumkit. was it a boy or a girl? Before we could take it all in, everyone was hit by a screeching surge of sound, with a pounding beat louder than anything we had ever heard. About a minute into the second song, which the singer introduced as "Heroin", the music began to get even more intense. It swelled and accelerated like a giant tidal wave which was threatening to engulf us all. At this point, most of the audience retreated in horror for the safety of their homes, thoroughly convinced of the dangers of rock & roll music. My friends and I moved a little closer to the stage, knowing that something special was happening.

Backstage after their set, the viola player was seen apologizing profusely to an outraged Myddle Class entourage for scaring away half the audience. Al Aronowitz was philosophical about it, though, "at least you've given them a night to remember" and invited everyone to a party at his house after the show.

"I Was a Velveteen" by Rob Norris, 1979

There is another funny story about that performance. Turns out that Angus MacLise quit after being told the rules of the gig:

You mean we start when they tell us to start and we have to end when they tell us to? I can't work that way.

— Angus MacLise

So why the story about the Governor Livingston gig? Turns out that Al Aronowitz lived in Berkeley Heights — until he turned full-time manager for rock & roll groups and ended up losing his house in the process — so people just assumed that's where the infamous "suburban New Jersey gig" was held.

So there you have it.

Oh, and in the course of doing research for this entry, I found this commentary on Nico:

Now, at this time I have been crazy about Nico ever since we spent a night together in a motel stoned out of our gourds on LSD. She had just arrived from Europe with a bottle of the stuff, which she picked up in a Swiss lab. While sticking our pinkies into the bottle and sucking the LSD off each other's pinky, we decided to drive to the Delaware Water Gap. It was very romantic but after she took off her clothes and got into the motel bed, she wouldn't give me any. That's the night she told me she likes her lovers half-dead.

So, like a schmuck, I still had eyes for her, but she has been using my head for a doorknob. She keeps turning it any way she wants. Except there's one way she can't turn it. She wants me to manage her but I tell her I can't stand her singing. Not only does her singing sound like a harmonium stuck on one note, but her songs are so morbid she ought to be an undertaker. Still, she is one of the most gorgeous creatures ever conceived and I have had the privilege of seeing her naked. And would like to see her naked again.

— Al Aronowitz, The Blacklisted Journalist, Column 80, 1 December 2002

One final note. I'm not a really big VU fan. (I'm not a big Lou Reed fan either, my entry on Metal Machine Music notwithstanding.) I was just interested in finding out if the old story about the VU and GL was actually true.

"You Talkin’ Ta Me?"

Travis Bickle in Taxi

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

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

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

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

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

Travis Bickle in Taxi

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

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

Spoken like a true New Yorker.

A Whisp of Smoke or a Raging Conflagration?

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

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

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

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

Google Logo for Vang Gogh's Birthday

Google Logo for Van Gogh's Birthday

"The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

"The Starry Night", Vincent van Gogh, 1889

When Ya Got Money Ta Burn!

Hell Bank Note #1

Burning Hell Money

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

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

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

"Of course," the woman replied.

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

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

Wads and Wads of Hell Money

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

Bank of Hell Checkbook

Ian Whitney's travel photos of Bank of Hell checkbook

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

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

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

Hell Bank Notes (Hell Money)

Hell Bank Note #2

Special furnace for burning Hell Money

Special furnace for burning Hell Money.

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

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

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

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

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

Couple burning Hell Money

Couple on the street burning Hell Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell Bank Note #3

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

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

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

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

Hell Bank Note #4

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

"I Am Evidently His Idea of a Character."

William S. Burroughs Takes Aim at the World Trade Center

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

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

"Art is Anything You Can Get Away With."

Cover for The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan

Art is anything you can get away with.

— Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, 1967

Art is Anything You Can Get Away With

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

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

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

— Marshall McLuhan, Art News, May 1966

Cover for Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan

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

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

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

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

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

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

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

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

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

— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

God Save The Queen!

Lucien Freud's Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun calls the portrait "a travesty".

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

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

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

Tinman Gallery's Collection of Queen Elizabeth II photographs

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

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

— Lucian Freud, quoted by Michael Kimmelman

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

Spitting Image Puppet for Queen Elizabeth II

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

"Freud Royal Portrait Divides Critics" 21 December 2001

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

O-Higan
(Transcendence of Opposites)

Butterfly Girl

O-Higan
(Transcendence of Opposites)

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

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

About the Photograph

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

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

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

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

— Chuang Chou

Best Wishes for the Vernal Equinox,

Citizen Arcane

"A Jack Hammer Riveting Into Your Skull"

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

— Andy Whitman

Album Cover for Metal Machine Music (front)

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

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

...

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

...

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

...

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

Joe Castleman

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (front)

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (front)

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

Stylus Magazine

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (back)

8-Track Tape for Metal Machine Music (back)

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

David J. Opdyke

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

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

— David J. Opdyke

A Plank, A Rope, And Thou?

Fractal Circles Crop Circle

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

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

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

In their own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circlemakers by Rob Irving

Wavy Line and Concentric Circles Crop Circle

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

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

Equipment

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

Circlemakers guide to making crop circles

Windmill Crop Circle

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

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

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

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

Myth Men By Rod Dickinson

Sparsholt Crop Circle

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

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

Circlemakers: Top of the Crops 2002

Star Pattern Crop Circle

Patience and Fortitude

Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Library Lions: Patience and Fortitude

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

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

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

What was done?

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

Restored Library Lions Unveiled, 19 November 2004

High Fidelity. Errr… "High-Tide Phidelity"

Double-Weave Design

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

How do you get it so perfect?

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

What does it mean?

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

Where do you get your designs from?

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

Why do you do it?

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

Isn't hard to leave the designs behind?

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

How long does it take?

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

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

We are all free-lance artists.

Phidelity

Raking Sand

Cleopatra Versus The Masons

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

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

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

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

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

Central Park Conservancy

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

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

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

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

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, United States Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at NYCRR Race (unretouched)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Das Ist Der Nadle

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates

Cleopatra's Needle and Gates

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

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates Reflected

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

Like Ants Under A Magnifying Glass

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

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

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

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

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

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

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

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

Solar Furnace at Odeillo, France

Solar Furnace at Odeillo, France

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

Worst. Architect. Ever!

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve

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

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve with Icicles

Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve with Icicles

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

Sushi or Maki, But No Sashimi

Salmon Roll Pillow

Salmon Roll Pillow

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

Salmon Roll Pillow

California Roll Pillow

You Catch More Flies With Kerosene…

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

Electro-Mechanical Fly Catcher

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

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

Doodles, Drafts & Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

The diagram explains the workings:

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

Doodles, Drafts & Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

Flycatcher, Flycatcher, Catch Me A Fly

Mechanical Fly Catcher

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

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

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

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

Mechanical Fly Catcher

Tourists Say The Damndest Things!

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

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

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

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

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

NYPD Tactical Response Team

NYPD Tactical Response Team

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

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

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

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

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

Puh-leaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sultan’s Turret

NYC skyline looking east over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing west)

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

NYC skyline looking south over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing south)

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

— Omar Khayaam, Rubaiyyat

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

12 Feet Tall And 20 Tons

Nautilus Snow Sculpture 2005

Nautilus, Gold Medal Winner, 2005

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Molds For Raw Snow Blocks

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Raw Snow Blocks

Sources and Further Reading

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

Nice Rack, I Mean, Uh, Nice Pigeons

Pigeon Vest

Template for Maidenform Pigeon Vest, Maidenform Co., 1944

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

Pigeon Vest

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

Pigeon Vest

Pigeon in Harness

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

Pigeon Vest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Pink is my favorite crayon"

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

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

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

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

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

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

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

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

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

"Art is Something Subversive"

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

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

Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, 1964

The Gates From Spaaaaaaace

The Gates seen from satellite

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

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

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

One Pill Makes You Larger…

Montage of ecstasy pills

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

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

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

Laboratory Testing by Dance Safe

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

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

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

Yeah, I'm still bummed about HST.

Mmmmmm. Good Cracker!

Cracker on bridge from The Crackers

The Crackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recycling "The Crackers"

Recycling "The Crackers"

The Only Reason to Visit Somerville Massachusetts

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

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

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

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

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

The Somerville Gates by Lee Hargadon, unveiled 14 February 2005

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

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on Stairway

Torii! Torii! Torii!

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Frantisek Staud's photograph of a huge torii gate

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

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Masumi Abe's picture of torii gates over stairs

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

Tom Plant's photo of a torii tunnel

Tom Plant's photograph of a torii gate tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Thin Orange Line

The Gates: curving line

The Gates: Curving Line

The Gates: west gate

The Gates: West Gate

Aeolus At The Gates

The Gates in wind

The Gates in wind

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

The Gates in wind from underneath

With Gated Breath

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

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

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

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

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

The Gates from across the lawn, facing west

Artists, Not Barbarians, at "The Gates"

Photo of Japanese couple arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese man arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese couple with oranges at The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shotgun shack that musician Elvis Presley was born in

Shotgun shack that musician Elvis Presley was born in

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

Southeast shotgun house made from brick

Southeast shotgun house made from brick

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

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

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

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

So there you have it.

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

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

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

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

— William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs with shotgun

William S. Burroughs with Shotgun

10 Gauge City by William S. Burroughs

"10 Gauge City" by William S. Burroughs

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

With a shotgun, yes.

Twelve-gauge.

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

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

Yes, you select the right part. You choose.

No, it’s not random.

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

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

Yes, it’s art.

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

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

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

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

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

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

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

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

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

Painting 'Something New Has Been Added' by Ralph Steadman

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

Traveler on the Yellow Wave by William S. Burroughs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover for Seven Deadly Sins book

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

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

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

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

Smart Art Press caption for Concrete and Buckshot

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

Movies So Bad You Need Cheap Sunglasses

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

Cheap Sunglasses by ZZ Top

Fancier 3D red/blue glasses

Fancier 3D Red/Blue Glasses

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

Audience watching Bwana Devil

Audience Watching Bwana Devil

3D glasses used for Bwana Devil

3D Glasses Used for Bwana Devil

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

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

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

What is an anaglyph?

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

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

Who invented the anaglyph?

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

Anaglyphs FAQ

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

Tightrope Walkers from 1915

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

This is far from being a new technique:

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

Panama Pacific International Exposition in 3D

Anaglyph of Mars Orbiter

Anaglyph of Mars Odyssey Orbiter

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

Anaglyph of sand dune from mars lander

Sand Dunes of Nili Patera Taken By Mars Lander

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

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

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

American Paper Optics

Sources and Further Reading

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

Baozhang (Exploding Sticks)

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

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

Firecracker label with shotgun

Firecracker label with alligator

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

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

Cracker Packs

Firecracker label with anchor

Firecracker label with atomic blast

Firecracker label with camel

Collectors have a fairly large set to choose from:

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

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

Cracker Packs

Firecracker label with mobster

Firecracker label with rocket

The Artist the Art World Couldn’t See

Imagination without skill gives us contemporary art.

— Tom Stoppard, "Artist Descending a Staircase"

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

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

Photograph of Frederick Hart

Frederick Hart, Sculptor

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

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

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

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

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

That entry was Ex Nihilo.

Ex Nihilo

Ex Nihilo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ex Nihilo from Left, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Left, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Right, Closeup

Ex Nihilo from Right, Closeup

Ex Nihilo in Devil's Advocate

Ex Nihilo in Movie "Devil's Advocate"

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

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

IMDB entry for Revised "Devil's Advocate"

Hart's Sculpture at Vietnam Memorial

Hart's Sculpture at Vietnam Memorial

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

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

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

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

Closeup of equipment on belts of clay models

Closeup of equipment on belts of clay models

Closeup of boot of clay model

Closeup of boot of clay model

Closeup of dogtag on boot of clay model

Closeup of dogtag on boot of clay model

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

Hart Sculpting a Marine from Life

Hart sculpting soldier using Marine Corporal James Connell as model

The problem was that Hart didn't win:

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

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

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

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

Book cover for Frederick Hart: Sculptor

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

Art Paid For By Bandaids

Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe

"Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe" by Edouard Manet

Seward Johnson's Dejeuner Deja Vous

"Dejeuner Deja Vous" by J. Seward Johnson

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

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

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

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

Are there real clothes on the sculptures?

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

...

How does he get the unusual colors?

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

Seward Johnson Sculpture

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

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

Seward Johnson's Marilyn Monroe on Subway Grate

Johnson's reinterpreted Marilyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction Process

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

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

...

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

Diversionary Tactics by Glenn Dixon

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

Book Cover for Beyond the Frame

TitleBeyond the Frame
AuthorJ. Seward Johnson
ISBN0821228781
PublisherBulfinch

Sources and Further Reading

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

That’s Utter Bosch!

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (tryptichon)

Garden of Earthy Delights (tryptich) by Bosch

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

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

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (Hell)

Garden of Earthy Delights (Hell) by Bosch

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

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

...

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

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

Garden of Earthy Delights (detail) by Bosch

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

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

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

Bosch's Bird With Letter

Bird with Letter

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

Bird with Letter

Bosch's Helmeted Bird Monster

Helmeted Bird Monster

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

Helmeted Bird Monster

Bosch's Egg Monster

Egg monster

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

Egg monster

Sources and Further Reading

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

Whatever Turns Your Crank

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

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

Colnago Chainwheel

Colnago Chainwheel

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

Joel Metz's chainwheel tattoos

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

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

Joel Metz's Chainwheel Tattoo Project

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

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

— Shelly Berman

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly board

Early Parker Brother's Monopoly Board

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

T-Shirt with parod of Monopoly showing Microsoft

Microsoft Monopoly Parody

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

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

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

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

History of Monopoly, Hasbro

New York version of Monopoly

New York Version

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

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

National Public Radio report on Monopoly

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

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

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

BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman by Bertell Ollman

New York version of Monopoly

Original "Get Out of Jail Free" Card

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

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

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

Adena's History of Monopoly

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

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

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

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

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

Adena's History of Monopoly

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

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

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

How Parker Bros. Created Monopoly Mania, by Philip Orbanes

New York version of Monopoly

Redesign of Monopoly money ala US Currency to prevent counterfeiting

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Lots of Green, Leafy… Sea Dragons

ALT

Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus equus)

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

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

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

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

Dive Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

MarineBio.org

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

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

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

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

Aquarium of Western Australia

Sources and Further Reading

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

Where Death Delights to Help the Living

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

— Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Nutshell Studies book cover

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

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

Boston Saloon

Killing at a Boston Saloon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you might not want your dolls to live there.

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

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

Bellwether Gallery

Nutshell Study Number 7: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 2: Three-Room Dwelling

Nutshell Study Number 2
Three-Room Dwelling

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

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

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

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

Francis Lee Glessner at work

Francis Lee Glessner Making Crime-Scene Dioramas

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

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 6: The Blue Bedroom

Nutshell Study Number 6
The Blue Bedroom

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

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

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

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

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— John Maynard Keynes

Chair made from a champagne cork by Jan Santos

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Jan Santos

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

Chair made from a champagne cork by Rick Ebbers

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Rick Ebbers

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

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

...

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

Contest Rules

Chair made from a champagne cork by Striblen Fabien

Champagne-Cork Chair made by Striblen Fabien

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

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

Confessions of a Photographer Criminal

New York/New Jersey sign in the Holland tunnel

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

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

Article I

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

Bill of Rights, United States Constitution

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

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

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

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

— Geto Boys

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

Koolhaas Design, Distance View

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Distance View)

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

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

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

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

Le Centre Pompidou

Le Centre Pompidou at Les Halles

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

Current View of Les Halles

Current View of Les Halles

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

Koolhaas Design, Above Ground

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Above Ground)

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

Koolhaas Design, Cutaway View

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Cutaway View)

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

Koolhaas Design, Interior

Koolhaas Design for Les Halles (Interior)

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

Building Buildings Like Blowing Bubbles

Outside View of Watercube

Outside View of Watercube

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

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

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

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Outside View of Watercube

Inside View of Watercube

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

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

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

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

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

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

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

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

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

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

Navigation

This Month

May 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jul    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Weather

  • Central Park, NYC
    • Weather data not available

Wall Street

Google

  • Price: 949.21
  • Change: +7.35

DJIA

  • Price: N/A
  • Volume: N/A

S&P 500

  • Price: 2,397.04
  • Change: +3.02

Nikkei 225

  • Price: 19,613.28
  • Change: -65.00

Dollar vs. Euro (€)

  • $1 buys €0.8903

Dollar vs. Pound (£)

  • $1 buys £0.7703

Dollar vs. Yen (¥)

  • $1 buys ¥111.0850

Dollar vs. Yuan (元)

  • $1 buys 元6.8888

RSS Feeds

Entries
Comments

Login/Register

Validate CSS/HTML

Validate XHTML
Validate CSS