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24 June 2017
Morning 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

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

Down Hill Derby
Who Among Us Remembers
What Happened Here Today?

Best in Show Heading Home, Into the Sunset

Best in Show Heading Home, Into the Sunset

Unwrapped Bubblewrap; Funny How Much Bigger the Roll is When in a Heap

Unwrapped Bubblewrap; Funny How Much Bigger the Roll is When in a Heap

Down Hill Derby
And So It Ends

This Costume and Vehicle Won Best In Show

This Headpiece and Vehicle Won Best In Show

Participants After the Race

Participants After the Race

Down Hill Derby
Can I Put this on my Resume?

Vehicles at Finish Line

Vehicles at Finish Line

Awarding Best In Show

Awarding Best In Show

Down Hill Derby
Lucky Men Who Made the Grade

Best in Show Crossing Finish Line

Best in Show Crossing Finish Line

Ohhhhh, That's Gotta Hurt!

Ohhhhh, That's Gotta Hurt!

Anything that Does Not Kill Me Only Serves to Make Me Stronger

Anything that Does Not Kill Me Only Serves to Make Me Stronger

Behold, the Conquering Hero!

Behold, the Conquering Hero! (Except he came in second)

Down Hill Derby
Spirit Is Something No One Destroys

My Vehicle is Dead, But I Saw Cool Runnings

My Vehicle is Dead, But I Saw Cool Runnings

The Journey of Lugging a Dead Derby Car a Thousand Miles to the Finish Line Begins With A Single Step

The Journey of Lugging a Dead Derby Car a Thousand Miles to the Finish Line Begins With A Single Step

What Matters is Crossing the Finish Line, Not How You Get There

What Matters is Crossing the Finish Line, Not How You Get There

Down Hill Derby
Disaster Strikes!

My Vehicle Is Wounded, But I Shall Repair It

My Vehicle Is Wounded, But I Shall Repair It

Closeup of Broken Vehicle Being Fixed With Hose Clamps

Closeup of Broken Vehicle Being Fixed With Hose Clamps

Pesky Pneumatics! Solid Tires Might Have Been A Better Choice

Pesky Pneumatics! Solid Tires Might Have Been A Better Choice

Down Hill Derby
Remember, Aim Here

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 1)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 1)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 2)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 2)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 3)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 3)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 4)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 5)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 5)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 6)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 6)

Down Hill Derby
And So It Begins

Setting Up At Starting Line

Setting Up At Starting Line

Last Minute Discussions for Starting Flag

Last Minute Discussions for Starting Flag

And They're Off!

And They're Off!

Down Hill Derby
Getting Ready

This Costume Won Best In Show

This Costume Won Best In Show

Racetrack is All Clear

Racetrack is All Clear

The Goal

The Goal

Down Hill Derby
Just Wrap It!

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Down Hill Derby
Getting Screwed

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

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

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

The Down Hill Derby

Intersection at Finish Line

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

Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

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

Closeup of Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

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

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

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

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

It’s Still an Open Container

Grolsch Blikbeugel

Grolsch Blikbeugel

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

— Sid Vicious

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

Grolsch Blikbeugel

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

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

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

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

Bottle It

Bottle It Spout for Canned Beverages

This isn't an original idea, however:

Why Didn't I think of that?

Bottle It™ Turns Any Beverage Can into a Longneck Bottle

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

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

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

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

INVENTUS - September 1999 Newsletter

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

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

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

"Solutions" by Imagemark

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

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

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

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

Black Tie Optional

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

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

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

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

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

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

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

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

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

Cora Potter

Cora Potter

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

Cora Urquhart Brown Potter

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

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

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

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

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbund Montage

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

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

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

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

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

Green Dinner Jacket

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

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

Party Invitation With Formal Wear

Party Invitation Featuring Tuxedo and Formal Gown

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

Bulletproof Cummerbund

Hard Plate Carrier with Cummerbund

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

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

"Baton Courtesy, Service With A Smile"

Cop With Baton

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

— Mayor Richard Daley, 1968 Democratic Convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actions-Response Chart

Actions-Response Chart (larger version available)

Resistance-Response Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monadnock Striking Chart

Monadnock Striking Chart (larger version available)

Escalation and De-Escalation of Trauma

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

The Concept in Action

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

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

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

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

"Deer Dance" by System Of A Down

Guns Don’t Make Art
Artists Make Art

Tree of Life at Sunset

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

Welding the Tree of Life

Welding the Tree of Life

Weapons Turned In for Destruction

Weapons Turned In for Destruction

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

Seated Man

Crocodile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destroying a Rifle With A Grinder

Destroying a Rifle With A Grinder

Fiel dos Santos With His Bird

Fiel dos Santos With His Bird

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

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

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

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

Chariot

Chariot

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Ombibulous Soviet Union

Russian Tax Stamp 1890

Russian Alcohol Tax Stamps 1890

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Inner Substance

Rich Inner Substance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

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

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

— H.L. Mencken

"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)

If Google Answered CraigsList’s Personal Ad

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

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

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

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

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

The street finds its own uses for things.

"Burning Chrome" by William S. Gibson

Do You Take Milk & Sugar With Your Clothing?

Seersucker Jacket

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

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

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

Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

Seersucker Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Methods of weaving a Seersucker

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

Seersucker Colors

Seersucker Fabric Color Variations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAD Software Configuration for Weaving Seersucker

MonarchCAD Textile Software for Weaving Seersucker

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Drew

Richard Drew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

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

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

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

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

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

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

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

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

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

If War Gas falls from the sky...

HE’LL BE READY!

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

A Pre-Prandial Stroll Whets the Appetite

Vampire Bat Locomotion

Montage of Vampire Bat Locomotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Þ in My Eye

Photograph of a Thorn

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

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

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

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

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

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language

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

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

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

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

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

The Jacket You Wear to the Big Dance

Traditional Navy Blazer

Traditional Navy Blazer

When I opened my mail this morning I found a question from a friend: "do you know what the difference between a blazer and a sportcoat is?" Hardly a surprising question given my renown both as a clotheshorse and as a collector of trivia, fashion and otherwise. I replied, "Yes, I do. The question I think you wanted to ask is, 'what is the difference between a blazer and a sportcoat?'" Here's the difference.

A blazer generally refers to a single-breasted sportcoat (typically) in a solid color, usually bright — blue, red, yellow, green — but not always; there are blazers in blue, black, pastel, wine, etc. These days, a blazer is always solid, but the originals often had stripes. Some blazers have a crest on the pocket for a school logo or, for a while, a trendy fashion designer's logo. Naval officers, current and former, often wear their ship's crest. (Each ship of the line had a different crest.) While the origin is often claimed to be from "blaze" meaning bright, allegedly derived from the Cambridge crew team's bright red jackets, this explanation is quite wrong.

Blue-Striped School Blazer

Blue-Striped School Blazer
(Original In Picture Frame)

The name comes from a visit by Queen Victoria to the shop of the line HMS Blazer in 1837. At the time, sailors were a rather scruffy lot, as there were no uniforms or dress codes, and the Blazer's captain wanted to make a good impression. (It was, after all, the queen.) So he had short jackets made for his crew using a blue serge with brass buttons with the naval insignia.

Crest for HMS Blazer

Crest for HMS Blazer

The queen was so impressed with the sailors sartorial splendor that the jacket spread to other ships and then to the general public. This is why we still talk about "navy blue" blazers, and why for many years the slang term for a sailor was a "blue jacket." (The navy also invented bell-bottom trousers because they could be rolled up for sojourns among the rigging.)

Blue, by the way, comes from indigo dyes, the first natural dye that was reasonably color fast. Indigo was really the only option for stable dyes until Perkin, while searching for a means to synthesize quinine, synthesized mauve from coal tar and ended up a very, very, very wealthy man.

1970's Polyester Blazer

1970's Polyester Blazer

I'll spare you the gory details about pocket styles, lapel widths, fabrics, double versus single breasted, etc.

Red-Striped Blazer

Red-Striped Lounge Blazer

A sportcoat is any jacket that isn't part of a suit or formal wear. A morning coat or frock coat, for example, is not a suit component, but it is most certainly not a sportcoat. I don't know if a Nehru jacket would be called a sportcoat; I would call it a total fashion disaster.

I'm sure this was more than you wanted to know.

So, the short answer to the question is: All blazers are sportcoats, but not all sportcoats are blazers.

You gotta wear the blue blazer when you go to the big dance.

— Al McGuire, coach of Marquette, 1977 NCAA Basketball Champs, in response to reporter's inquiry if he would be wearing his lucky blazer. This is how the NCAA Tournament received the name the "Big Dance."

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

"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

Haggis, Tatties & Neeps (Oh My!)

Wallace Sword - Full Length

Och, laddies and lassies, ya dinna ken tha Tartan Day celebration is a happenin' in New York? Whot kind a Scotsman, are ye? (I actually think it's a lot like St. Patrick's day when everyone gets to be honorary Irish, at least for the corned beef sandwiches and pub crawl part.) As part of the Tartan Week celebration, which culminated in a rained-out parade on Saturday, William Wallace's sword was at the Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central for the celebrations. (2nd to the 10th, 11am until 8pm.) This is the first time the sword has left Scotland in more than 700 years — ever since the British murdered Wallace. (No Geneva convention back then. Oh, wait. No Geneva convention now! Bush repealed it. Forgot!)

I had been looking forward to the parade filled with bagpipes and hearing claidheamhmor pronounced with that delightful burr. (I picked up a taste for bagpipes in highschool since we had a Scottish marching band. Nothing like the sound of a cat being squeezed in ways it doesn't like.)

Anyway, the torrential rains dissuaded me from going to the parade since it seemed that not much was going to happen. I did go to Grand Central see the Wallace sword — I'm not going to Scotland anytime soon — where I met several Scotsman — in kilts with delightful burrs! — who told me there was a tiny parade segment during a lull in the rain followed by celebrations with single malts at pubs. (You can see some of the pictures of participants in whatever the Scots call ponchos over at Campbell's NYC. Frame site, so I can't link directly. Just pick "Photos->Tartan Day 2005->Tartan Day Parade.) They told me that the parade is always short, so if you plan to attend next year don't believe the Website that says it runs from 2-4 pm; the true time is more like 2-2:30 pm. When I commented that they'd come a long way for such bad weather they said, "Oh, we live here. In Queens." (Who knew?)

Wallace Sword - Pommel

The sword wasn't worth a trip from anywhere, unless you're a military buff or someone who really hates the English. Or maybe if you are a huge fan of Braveheart. (Isn't everyone off Gibson films ever since The Passion?) I'm none of these, but odd bits of history interest me. One of the docents told me that the leather handle is an Englishman's face killed by Wallace in battle. I spent a bit of time with your friend and mine Google, but I couldn't verify this. Closest I came was that Wallace reportedly had an opponent's skin tanned and made into a belt. But who knows how true any 700 year old story really is, anyway.

The blade is very thin and weighs around five pounds. Swords had to be easy to wield, lest their owner be killed by a more agile adversary. Hard to believe that wars hinged upon, and so many men died, at the hands of such wispy, insubstantial blades nearly as big as their owners. (Remember, people were short because of poor nutrition.) The blades are frightfully sharp, though.

Wallace Sword - Guard

I've read that the cleighdemornach is not a weapon requiring much finesse. One landed blow would amputate limbs or cause such blood loss that death was guaranteed. It's also sharp enough to chop down a spear, which was the only weapon other than a sword posing a threat in hand-to-hand.

I'm a little bummed that it poured and I didn't get to hear bagpipes, but not at all bummed that I didn't eat any haggis. (Tastes offal!) Or tatties or neeps.

For those of you unfamiliar with the delights of Scottish "cooking" — I think there's a reason Scots were so eager to paint themselves blue and run buck naked into battle; they were fleeing dinner — Haggis is meat scraps, offal (lungs, heart, and liver), and ground oatmeal cooked in a sheep's stomach; Neeps are boiled, mashed, buttered and sugared turnips; and Tatties, well, those are mashed potatoes with milk (sometimes with nutmeg); and, finally, Orkney Clapshot which is Neeps, Tatties, and cheese, together in perfect disharmony. Yum! (Sometimes nutmeg is added to the potatoes and allspice to the turnips, and sometimes both are browned on the stove like hash; I have no idea if any of this tinkering could possibly be considered an improvement, but, after all, how could it make it worse?)

Oh, and for all of you vegetarians? There is a vegan haggis. (I mean, ok, but why would you want to make something that tasted like the original?)

So, for your Robbie Burns Day celebration, you might have a hard time finding a haggis here in the States (it's difficult to get them imported too; I understand that the USDA has declared them "unfit for human consumption" ...). Now you can make haggis yourself!

Our Beloved Haggis! The National Dish of Scotland

Unfit for human consumption? I think that's an understatement.

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

Better to Burn Out Than it is to Rust

It's better to burn out, than it is to rust...

— Neil Young, "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", Rust Never Sleeps

Corroding Aluminum I-Beam

"The Amazing Rusting Aluminum", by Theodore Gray, Popular Science

Aluminum is rusty; that's what makes it useful. Really. There is a fine surface coat of aluminum oxide — rust — that protects the rest of the metal from oxidation. Without that layer, aluminum would be useless, because it would corrode (oxidize) while we watched. Copper is similar, which is why it was used for roofing. (That very same green coating on copper roofs is identical to the oxide coating the Statue of Liberty.)

Iron is quite different, because its oxide coating flakes off instead of tightly adhering to the surface. This means that new, unreacted iron is constantly being made available to oxygen's deadly embrace. Aluminum, to contrast, always has a hard layer of aluminum oxide (Al2O3) on the surface. To give you an idea how hard it is, this same molecule is the building block for abrasives and gemstones like corundum, alumina, sapphire, and ruby.

I found it interesting that the delicate oxide coat can be disrupted by mercury. Once this happens, the protective oxide layer fails to form and the aluminum literally crumbles before our eyes. This photograph shows what happens when an I-beam comes in contact with mercury; it corrodes as the seconds tick by. The photo above was taken after only an hour after mercury was applied. The problem is not just in the lab; it exists for any critical structure that might come into contact with mercury. Like, oh, say, airplanes. Yup, airplanes. Boeing's maintenance manual for the 747 specifically sets forth the risks:

The spillage of mercury or a mercury compound, within an airplane, requires immediate action for its isolationg and recovery to prevent possible corrosion damage to and possible embrittlement of aluminum alloy structural components. C. All metallic aircraft structure which is wetted by elemental mercury suffers severe degradation in strength. The rate of diffusion of mercury into a metal is dependent on the specific metal contacted and the protective finish applied; however, once diffusion has started it cannot be stopped.

Boeing 747 Maintenance Manual Guidelines for Mercury Spills

The problem was recently written up by Popular Science, with some hype about terrorists. I've come across stories from the 1970s, during the peak of the terrorist-hijacking epidemic, about professors who were more worried about mercury being applied to aircraft than they were about bombs.

Unless you are a representative of a national meteorological bureau licensed to carry a barometer (and odds are you’re not), bringing mercury onboard an airplane is strictly forbidden. Why? If it got loose, it could rust the plane to pieces before it had a chance to land. You see, airplanes are made of aluminum, and aluminum is highly unstable.

...

Applied to aluminum’s surface, mercury will infiltrate the metal and disrupt its protective coating, allowing it to “rust” (in the more destructive sense) continuously by preventing a new layer of oxide from forming. The aluminum I-beam below rusted half away in a few hours, something that would have taken an iron beam years.

I’ve heard that during World War II, commandos were sent deep into German territory to smear mercury paste on aircraft to make them inexplicably fall apart. Whether the story is true or not, the sabotage would have worked. The few-micron-thick layer of aluminum oxide is the only thing holding an airplane together. Think about that the next time you’re flying. Or maybe it’s better if you don’t.

"The Amazing Rusting Aluminum", by Theodore Gray, Popular Science

This is not news; there's an old magic trick called "hypno heat" which involves taking a piece of aluminum foil, typically from a stick of gum a cigarette pack, and reacting it with HgCl2 (mercury bichloride) which used to be widely available as an antiseptic. (Before people realized that getting mercury into the body was very, very bad.) The aluminum oxidizes, giving off heat, which is attributed to the abilities of the magician. Viking Magic, to my amazement, still sells it by special request:

Question: I have a document created by you in 1989, and revised in 1995 titled: "Hypno heat/hot & cold-The tin foil trick". I was given hypno heat by an old friend in both solid pellet, and liquid form, but cannot find any suppliers in the UK. Could you tell me if you, or anyone you know supplies it please. Thank you in advance.

Answer: Hypno-Heat is a mercury by-product as as such can be dangerous if mishandled. I have been using HH for my own use for over 40 years with no adverse affects but then I am cautious and I know how to handle it. This item is not available to the general public any more but if you write me directly, I can put you in touch with it: NOSPAMhaenchen@msn.NOSPAM.com Do NOT use the liquid form. This is very dangerous as it is absorbed into the skin on contact. As with all chemmicals, keep this out of the hands of children or anyone not professional enough to handle it.

Viking Magic FAQ

One has to be really, really, really stupid to handle any mercury compound, even if you aren't on an aircraft.

It's better to burn out, 'cause rust never sleeps...

— Neil Young, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)", Rust Never Sleeps

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.

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

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

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

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

— Carl Zwanzig

Duct Tape Wallet

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

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

Duct Tape Workshop: Make a Duct-Tape Wallet

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

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

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

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

History of Duct Tape

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at NYCRR Race (unretouched)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet…

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

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

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

What is Lorem Ipsum?

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

Why do we use it

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

Lipsum.com

So there you have it.

Sources and Further Reading

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

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?"

12 Feet Tall And 20 Tons

Nautilus Snow Sculpture 2005

Nautilus, Gold Medal Winner, 2005

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Molds For Raw Snow Blocks

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Raw Snow Blocks

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Face of Erectile Dysfunction?

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

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

Bicycling and the Male Anatomy

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

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

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

Cast of Pelvis on Bicycle Seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Nice Rack, I Mean, Uh, Nice Pigeons

Pigeon Vest

Template for Maidenform Pigeon Vest, Maidenform Co., 1944

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

Pigeon Vest

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

Pigeon Vest

Pigeon in Harness

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

Pigeon Vest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Pink is my favorite crayon"

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

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

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

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

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

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

Crayola Raw Materials Tests, Orange Test Sheet

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

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

Crayola Raw Materials Tests

"Art is Something Subversive"

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

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

Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, 1964

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

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

Idiotarod 2004

2004 Idiotarod

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

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

That’s Utter Bosch!

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (tryptichon)

Garden of Earthy Delights (tryptich) by Bosch

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

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

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (Hell)

Garden of Earthy Delights (Hell) by Bosch

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

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

...

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

The World of Bosch by Stanley Meisler

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

Garden of Earthy Delights (detail) by Bosch

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

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

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

Bosch's Bird With Letter

Bird with Letter

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

Bird with Letter

Bosch's Helmeted Bird Monster

Helmeted Bird Monster

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

Helmeted Bird Monster

Bosch's Egg Monster

Egg monster

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

Egg monster

Sources and Further Reading

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

Design That’s Stark. Errr, Starck.

Philippe Starck's package design for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's Package Design for Kronenbourg Beer

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

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

OBJECTS by, the online store of Philippe Starck

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Philippe Starck

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

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

Beverage Daily

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

Mayan Calendar Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

Calendars Through the Ages

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

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

AAS Meeting January 2004

Professor Richard Henry

Professor Richard Henry

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

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

Bob McClenon's Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various Sources

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

The Julian Calendar

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

The Gregorian Calendar

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

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

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

NASA History of Calendars

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

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

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

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

Henry's Calendar Reform Proposal

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Whatever Turns Your Crank

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

Schwinn Paramount Chainwheel

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

Colnago Chainwheel

Colnago Chainwheel

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

Joel Metz's chainwheel tattoos

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

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

Joel Metz's Chainwheel Tattoo Project

The Greatest Statistical Graph, Ever

ALT

Minard's Chart of Napoleon's 1812 Russian Campaign

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

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

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

Edward Tufte

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

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

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

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

Minard was able to do this because the chart is:

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

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

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

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

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

Re-Visions of Minard By Michael Friendly

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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.

Keeping an Eye on Creationism

Prosthetic Eyes for Taxidermy

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

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

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

The Selfish Gene

Diagram of Human Eye

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

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

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

Where d'you get those peepers

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

Read The Story

The Kind of Hummer Nobody Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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