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26 July 2017
Morning Sedition

"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

Sixteen Tons… of Lies

Company Store in Mining Town

Company Store in Mining Town

Just about everyone knows the song "Sixteen Tons." It's about an angry coal miner railing about how no matter how hard he works he can't get ahead. (You can listen to it here.) The most famous part is:

I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

"Sixteen Tons" by George Davis

The phrase "company store" comes from the practice of mining companies of setting up towns that were owned lock, stock, and barrel by the mining company. Workers were paid in "scrip" basically monopoly money created by the mining company and spendable only at the company-owned stores, which could charge whatever they wanted. This allowed the mine owner to pay the workers with one hand and take it back with the other, an effective tool in controlling profits, and thus, prices:

Miners resented the company store for three reasons: prices were much higher than those charged by independent retail stores, their grocery and supply bills were checked off their earnings even before they received their pay, and trading was compulsory. It hurt the miner's pride to know that he was being robbed in the "pluck-me,'' his term for the company store. Responsibility for budgeting family income was shifted from the housewife, where it was in normal households, to the company store manager. Moreover, the debts which a miner piled up in the store bound him as securely to his employer as miners were bound to feudal barons in medieval Scotland....

Many coal corporations issued their own money, which for all purposes took the place of United States currency. This phony money, called scrip, took various forms such as pasteboards, coupon books, paper bills called shinplasters, brass checks, and metal discs with holes through them like Turkish piasters.... In states where the law barred the issuance of scrip, coal companies distributed wage advances or store orders, but the miners regarded them as just another form of scrip.... Chronic layoffs, part-time work, and low wages made the ground fertile for scrip as its purpose was to tide over the miner from one payday to another.

When an operator was unable to expand his mining capacity or the volume of his sales, he would increase the number of his miners. This would so cut each man's working time and earnings that it left no surplus to spend outside the camp. Because of monopoly, there was no limit to the height to which a company store could hike its prices. John McBride, president of the United Mine Workers of America (1892-1894), related how an Ohio coal operator of his acquaintance worked two mines for thirteen months and made a profit of only $287. During the same period his store, which without the mines would have been worth nothing, earned him a net profit of $22,000.

An unscrupulous store-keeping coal operator who sought to undersell the market could do so simply by cutting the price of coal below cost and making up his operating losses out of company-store receipts. It was a competitive device often resorted to, especially in the South, where non-union operators thereby were enabled to take business away from Northern operators.

"Coal Dust on the Fiddle," by George Korson 1965, pp. 72-73

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

So much for the song's meaning, which most people sort of know. Fewer know, however, that the song was allegedly (yeah, you've spotted the direction of this entry) written by Merle Travis, a record company employee, in August of 1946:

In August, 1946, Cliffie Stone, then an assistant producer and talent scout for Capitol Records, called Merle Travis (a Capitol hitmaker at that time) about recording a 78 rpm album (four discs in a binder) of folk songs. Capitol, seeing the success of a Burl Ives album, wanted their own folk music album. Merle told Cliffie he figured, "Ives has sung every folk song." Stone suggested Travis write some new songs that sounded folky, and to do so quickly; the first four-song session was scheduled for the next day. Travis recalled the traditional Nine Pound Hammer and wrote three songs that night about life in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky's coal mines, where his father worked. One was Dark As A Dungeon, the other, Sixteen Tons.

The song's chorus came from a letter Merle received from his brother lamenting the death of World War II journalist Ernie Pyle, killed while covering combat in the Pacific in 1945. John Travis wrote, "It's like working in the coal mines. You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt." Merle also recalled a remark his father would make to neighbors when asked how he was doing: "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store. " This referred to coal-company owned stores where miners bought food and supplies with money advanced by the company, called "scrip"."

"Sixteen Tons - The Story Behind The Legend" on ErnieFord.com

Travis apparently ran into trouble with the FBI because any song promoting workers rights must be promoting communism. And so the good boys working for Jane Edgar Hoover told radio stations to not play the song; that's a difficult thing to do with a hit, and many ignored the directive. Here are Travis' lyrics:

Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood, skin and bones...
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

(Repeat Chorus)

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store (Repeat Chorus)

(Repeat Chorus)

I was born one mornin' and the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal and
the straw boss said, "well bless my soul!"
.....you loaded...

(Repeat Chorus)

I was born one mornin' it was drizzlin' rain
fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in a cane-brake by an old mama lion
can't no high-toned woman make me walk no line

(Repeat Chorus)

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't get you, then the left one will

(Repeat Chorus)

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

— "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis

I put together some notes explaining the lyrics:

  • A "straw boss," according to Wentworth & Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang, is "the boss attended to the grain going into the thresher; the second-man watched after the straw coming out and hence had little to do."
  • The term "script" or "scrip" refers to a piece of paper printed by employer and used to pay its workers in lieu of money. The script is, naturally, only good at the company's stores, allowing it to charge whatever it wants.
  • The term "cane-brake" is derived from the term "brake," for bracken swamps, that surrounded cane fields. (This is why the crotalus horridus atricaudatus rattlesnake is often called a "cane breaks;" it lives in these lowland swamps.)
  • The term "number nine coal" was a little trickier to track down. "For some time, miners had followed the custom of naming the main pay zones of minerals, and numbering the splits, as in "Pocahontas Number Nine Coal" or "the Great Gossan Lead" for example. This method seemed to allow more flexibility, so it worked its way into use by the scientific community, and is now known as the Geological Time Scale." (Friends of Roan Mountain Newsletter, Volume 5, No. 1, Winter 2001) All sorts of coal gradations exist.

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Once allegedly written by Travis, it became popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford as a B side. What's interesting is that nobody remembers the A side, and "Sixteen Tons" became the best-selling single in the country. The famous finger snapping at the beginning was a happy accident:

It had a good solid beat to begin with. In addition, I snapped my fingers all through it. Sometimes I set my own tempo during rehearsal by doing that. The orchestra leader asks me, "What tempo do you want, Ernie?'' I say, "About like this,'' and I begin to snap my third finger and thumb together. After I was through rehearsing that song, Lee Gillette, who was in charge of the recording session for Capitol Records, screamed through the telephone from the control room, "Tell Ernie to leave that finger snapping in when you do the final waxing.''

Interview with Tennessee Ernie Ford by Pete Martin, Saturday Evening Post, 28 September 1957

George Davis

George Davis

There's one tiny problem here. Travis didn't write the song. He stole it from George Davis, a man known all over Kentucky for singing songs about mining, who wrote it circa 1930. The real lyrics are:

I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

(Chorus)

I was born one morning, was a drizzling rain
A fussing and fighting ain't my middle name.
Well they raised me in a corner by a Mammy hound
I'm as mean as a dog but I'm as gentle as a lamb.

(Chorus)

Well I got up one morning, the sun didn't shine,
I picked up my shovel and I went to the mine,
I loaded sixteen ton of that number four coal
The face boss said, ''Well bless my soul!"

(Chorus)

I loaded sixteen tons, I tried to get ahead,
Got deeper and deeper in debt instead.
Well they got what I made, and they wanted some more,
And now I owe my soul at the company store.

(Chorus)

Well I went to the office to draw some script
The man, he told me -- was a wreck in the dip.
To clear the tracks would be a week or more
But your credit's still good at our company store.

(Chorus)

If you see me coming, step aside.
A lot of men didn't and a lot of men died
I got a fist of iron, I got a fist of steel,
The left one don't get you then the right one will.

— George Davis, circa 1930

Here's the real story behind the song:

When I first met him [George Davis] at the Hazard radio station in 1959, he was very hesitant about doing any recording because of his previous bad experience with the records business. He claims to have composed "Sixteen Tons" during the 1930s, and feels that Merle Travis and Tennessee Ernie Ford capitalized on his song through changing the chords somewhat. George's original version is on this record....

According to George Davis, this song was first called "Nine-to-Ten-Tons,'' and he wrote it in reference to "this particular mine (which) had what is known as a Clean-up System. This was before the days of the UMW. In a clean-up system you either cleaned up your place every day, or brought your tools out (quit ? ). An old expression the operator used then was, 'We've got a barefooted man waiting for your job.' Here's the catch -- each place would make nine or 10 tons, but where you loaded this coal was very low; most of them had water in them -- as much as three or four inches -- and they had no pumps. On top of this you might have a cut of draw rock from 8 to 12 inches thick, 14 feet wide, and up to 9 feet long. All the coal, rock, and anything like wrecks, tore up track. All that was 'dead work' and it always had to be cleaned up, even if it took you 18 or 19 hours to do it.

John Cohen, liner notes for "When Kentucky Had No Mining Men," 1967

This is the key point: the mining company, like many large corporations today, forced workers to work off the timeclock for no pay. Americans, in some sense, still work for the company store, except now it's made from plastic and charges workers 18%, compounded daily.

Another Reason to Hate the French

Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot

Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouvelot and Gypsy Moths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— "Acid Queen" by Pete Townsend, The Who

Black Tie Optional

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

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

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

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

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

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

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

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

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

Cora Potter

Cora Potter

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

Cora Urquhart Brown Potter

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

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

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

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

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbund Montage

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

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

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

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

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

Green Dinner Jacket

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

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

Party Invitation With Formal Wear

Party Invitation Featuring Tuxedo and Formal Gown

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

Bulletproof Cummerbund

Hard Plate Carrier with Cummerbund

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

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Leather Lanyard or Marble Madness?

Cover of Boondoggle Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Take Milk & Sugar With Your Clothing?

Seersucker Jacket

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

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

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

Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

Seersucker Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Methods of weaving a Seersucker

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

Seersucker Colors

Seersucker Fabric Color Variations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAD Software Configuration for Weaving Seersucker

MonarchCAD Textile Software for Weaving Seersucker

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

"This is the Law of the Yukon"

Robert W. Service

Robert William Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

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

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

...

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

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

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

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

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

Service remained popular long after his death:

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

"Life of Service," by Dan Duffy

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

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

— Donald G. French, Globe Magazine

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

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

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

Obituary, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 16 September 1958

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

The Law of the Yukon

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

...

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

The Cremation of Sam McGee

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

...

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

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

Violet De Vere

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

...

"Violet De Vere" by Robert W. Service

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Drew

Richard Drew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

Scotch Cellulose Tape Tin circa 1930s

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

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

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

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

Novelty Scotch Tape Dispenser

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

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

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

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

World War II Ad Showing Anti-Chemical Warfare Body Bag

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

If War Gas falls from the sky...

HE’LL BE READY!

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Red Badge of Bureaucracy

Red Tape

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

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

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

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

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

Safflower

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Chapter 18, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Tape Commission, Ontario Government, Canada

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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.)

Avast Matey, No Vote Today!

Pirate Flag

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

But, first, here's the definition:

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

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

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

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

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

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

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

And there you have it.

"The Master is Dead."

Nosferatu Coming up the Stairs

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

Script for Nosferatu

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

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

Script for Nosferatu

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

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

Silent Movie Monsters on Nosferatu

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

Sloppy Films writeup on Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

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

Sloppy Films writeup on Nosferatu

Nosferatu Onboard Ship

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

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

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

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

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

Silent Movie Monsters on Nosferatu

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

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

Nosferatu — Special Edition

Nosferatu Being Destroyed by Sunlight

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

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

Script for Nosferatu

Sources and Further Reading

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

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."

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

Sign for "Air Loom Tomato"

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

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

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

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

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

And in the plus ca change category:

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

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

Cover for "Air Loom Gang"

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

"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.

Fugu! Oh yeah? Fugu, you too, ya zombie!

DVD Coverfor Night of the Living Dead

Dennis Allen: What do you want?
Dargent Peytraud: I want to hear you scream, Doctor Allen.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988

We talk about zombies all the time. For example, today I was saying that if one connects a machine to the Internet without a firewall, either hardware or software, it takes about 2.5 minutes before the machine is colonized and turned into a zombie to perform such tasks as deliver spam or initiate denial-of-service attacks. We also talk about how the Democrats have been turned into zombies that do the Republican's bidding. But, mommy, where do zombies come from? Well, that's an interesting question.

The word itself comes from the Bantu language Kimbundu, in northern Angola, and means ghost of the dead. (Various interpretations say it is an evil ghost or an ancestral ghost; my poor fluency in Kimbundu makes it difficult for me to know for sure.) As for the flesh-eating zombies, well, Virginia, these horrible creatures come from the red states and they suck up blue-state blood, I mean, money. An alternative explanation has them coming from Haiti where they are "manufactured" by witch doctors. (But we in the blue states know the truth!) And what is a zombie like? Well, it aint' pretty, folks. In 1927, William Seabrook, a journalist, wrote about Haitian zombies:

They were plodding like brutes. The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. . . . For the flash of a second I had a sickening, almost panicky lapse in which I thought, or rather felt, "Great God, maybe this stuff is really true.". . . Then suddenly I remembered-and my mind seized the memory as a man sinking in water clutches a solid plank- the face of a dog I had once seen in the histological laboratory at Columbia. Its entire front brain had been removed in an experimental operation weeks before..."

William B. Seabrook, 1927, quoted in "Voodoo Research Topic Study Guide" (warning: you have to pay to read more than this)

There are a few hypotheses regarding the origins, but I'll start with the most famous one.

Wade Davis, a graduate student in ethnobotany at Harvard, was sent to Haiti at the request of his advisor to investigate a zombie story:

Davis was still working toward his Ph.D. when, in 1982, commissioned by a group including the psychiatrist Nathan Kline (a pioneer in the use of drugs for treatment of mental disorders) and the theatrical producer David Merrick, he traveled to Haiti to investigate legends of a "zombi poison." The so-called poison was supposedly made from human bones and parts of lizards, poisonous toads, sea worms, puffer fish, and other items; it was said to lower the metabolism of anyone who swallowed it and paralyze his or her vital functions, leaving the individual in a condition that could easily be mistaken for death. Davis's supporters believed that the drug might have important applications for anesthesiology and artificial hibernation (the latter considered potentially useful for controlling neurological diseases). Voodoo priests were rumored to use the drug on individuals during certain rituals; after burying the people alive, they would later "magically" revive them. This process was called zombification. (Voodoo is commonly thought of as a kind of black magic or sorcery; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as a "religion that is derived from African polytheism and ancestor worship and is practiced chiefly in Haiti.") "I think [voodoo sorcerers] probably see this poison as a support for what is essentially a magical belief," Davis told Carla Hall. "[A Haitian] is not made a zombie by a poison. He's made a zombie by a [voodoo priest's] capturing his soul."

Wade Davis, Current Biography Monthly Magazine, January 2003

It makes sense that pharmaceutical companies — and politicians — would be interested in any drug that turns someone into a mindless slave. Ok, ok, and any drug that might be a good anaesthetic. Now, the big case in zombies, and the one that attracted the interest of Davis' patrons, is Clairvius Narcisse:

When Clairvius Narcisse entered the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he appeared to be suffering from malnutrition, high fever, and aches throughout his body. His condition deteriorated rapidly as he developed respiratory problems, became unresponsive, and then slipped into a coma. Two days later, on May 2, 1962, he was declared dead by two attending physicians. His sister, Angelina, identified the body, and another sister, Marie Claire, authenticated the death certificate by placing her fingerprint on it. The next day Angelina, Marie Claire, and the rest of the family buried Clairvius in a small cemetery near their village of l’Estere. Here the saga of Clairvius Narcisse should have ended, but 18 years later, in 1980, a shuffling, vacant-eyed man approached Angelina in the village marketplace and identified himself as her brother, Clairvius. His family and many villagers recognized him immediately, and he told them a fantastic tale of being dug up from his grave, beaten to his senses, and led away to work as a slave on a remote sugar plantation. Though surprised, the villagers accepted his story because they believed that the power of voodoo magic made such things possible. It was clear to then that Clairvius Narcisse had been a member of the living dead—a zombie.

"The Zombie Poison" by Clair G. Wood ChemMatters, October 1987

The problem is that nobody has ever verified that the "returned" Narcisse was actually whom he claimed to be, and his poorly-investigated story is the only one that gets trotted out as "proof" of zombies. But, back to Davis:

Davis claims there is a poisoned powder which causes the target person to fall into a death-like trance. It was to seek this drug that originally got Davis the assignment to track down the zombie poison. His sponsors reasoned that such a drug must exist, and if they could find it might have valuable pharmacological possibilities as an alternative to currently popular but unsafe anesthetics.

The great controversy which Davis' book has caused is mainly connected to his claim that the chemical tetrodotoxin, gotten from the puffer fish, is the primary active ingredient in this "zombie powder."

However, what seems to be universally missed by Davis' critics, or simply ignored, is his claim that the powder alone cannot adequately account for nor make a zombie. Davis describes the "set and setting" which is required for the powder to work. "...set, in these terms, is the individual's expectation of what the drug will do to him or her; setting is the environment--both physical and, in this case, social--in which the drug is taken." (p. 181.)

Thus the poison in the powder, which is a psycho-active drug (one whose effect is related to specific personal psychological factors), will have different effects depending on who one is, what one's socialization and expectations are. In the case of Haitian members of the Bizango sect, they have been socialized to recognize the possibility and process of zombification and are psychologically attuned to the appropriate effects of the drug, i.e. zombification.

Davis' book presents a strong hypothesis concerning the why of zombification. In a country so drastically poor as Haiti, with labor costs for farm hands only being about $1.00 a day, one cannot account for zombification on the grounds of seeking cheap labor. One might imagine zombification as a way to get at enemies, but the violence of Haiti's history suggests much simpler ways of solving that problem. Davis' hypothesis is perhaps attractive simply because it is so grand! He tells the story of a long history of secret societies stretching back into the earliest days of slavery. Escaped slaves, the maroons, living deep in the mountains, created an alternative society, more African than Western. These societies brought with them the remembered lore of Africa, including knowledge of the use of local poisons. The poisons were used as tools of social control within the maroon communities. After independence and the radical split between the life in the rural areas and the cities, these maroon social organizations became the secret Bizango societies, and zombification is, effectively, their death sentence for serious violations of the code of conduct required in Bizango.

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

Fugu Sushi

Fugu (Pufferfish) Sushi Being Prepared

Now, the active ingredient here is tetrodotoxin, a toxin produced by puffer fish. (Heard of fugu? That's pufferfish sushi and it has enough of the toxin left to give diners a tingling sensation on their lips and tongue. Yeah, playing with neurotoxins is fun, fun, FUN!) Anyway, tetrodotoxin is bad stuff. Really, really, really bad stuff. (Fortunately, it isn't being used as a bioweapon yet. I'm glad Homeland Insecurity is keeping us safe from badly prepared sushi.)

"The first symptom of intoxication is a slight numbness of the lips and tongue, appearing between 20 minutes to three hours after eating poisonous pufferfish. The next symptom is increasing paraesthesia in the face and extremities, which may be followed by sensations of lightness or floating. Headache, epigastric pain, nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting may occur. Occasionally, some reeling or difficulty in walking may occur. The second stage of the intoxication is increasing paralysis. Many victims are unable to move; even sitting may be difficult. There is increasing respiratory distress. Speech is affected, and the victim usually exhibits dyspnea, cyanosis, and hypotension. Paralysis increases and convulsions, mental impairment, and cardiac arrhythmia may occur. The victim, although completely paralyzed, may be conscious and in some cases completely lucid until shortly before death. Death usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of about 20 minutes to 8 hours."

FDA/CFSAN Bad Bug Book Tetrodotoxin

Cover for the Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

TitleThe Serpent and the Rainbow
AuthorWade Davis
ISBN0684839296
PublisherSimon & Schuster

Having discovered the "recipe", Davis returned to the US and wrote a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, about his alleged experiences in Haiti allegedly learning about the alleged creation of alleged zombies. (I say "alleged" based on criticisms. More on that in a bit.) The book was made into a truly atrocious movie, which isn't worth the price of a rental, nor the hour and a half out of your life. Davis and others claim that his findings regarding tetrodotoxin have been confirmed:

A powder prepared by Haitian voodoo sorcerers for the making of zombis was extracted with acetic acid, the extract concentrated and applied to a small cation exchange column followed by elution with water and then acetic acid. The water and acetic acid eluents were analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The analyses indicated the presence of an alkaline degradation product of tetrodotoxin, namely 2-amino-6-hydroxymethyl-8-hydroxyquinazoline, after base treatment, and of tetrodotoxin and an isomer on direct thermospray mass spectral activity.

Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification. by C. Benedek, L. Rivier, Toxicon., 1989;27(4):473-80

But all of this may just be a combination of gullability, naivete, and confabulation, perhaps mixed with a healthy dollop of outright scientific fraud.

Davis tells of providing samples of zombie powder to pathologist Leon Roizin, who tested them on rats. Roizin told him the animals became completely immobilized and unresponsive, though heartbeat and brainwaves were still detectable. After 24 hours the rats recovered, apparently without lingering effects. Davis never actually saw the creation of a zombie and concedes there is much about Haitian society he doesn't understand. But one might conclude that tetrodotoxin was the drug used to create zombies.

It ain't necessarily so. Davis's hypothesis has been bitterly disputed by other scientists. Two experts on tetrodotoxin, C.Y. Kao and Takeshi Yasumoto, tested two of his samples and found they contained only a minute amount of it, too little to have any pharmacological effect. They also condemned Davis for his involvement in grave robbing. According to an account of the controversy in the journal Science, Davis himself fed zombie powder to rats without result, a fact not cited in his books. Roizin never repeated his experiments, published his results, or determined what was in the samples he was given. In the Science article he was quoted as saying he was "embarrassed" by his involvement in the affair.

How do I go about creating a zombie?, Straight Dope, 21 May 1999

Cover for Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

TitlePassage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie
AuthorWade Davis
ISBN0807842109
PublisherUniversity of North Caroline Press

Davis subsequently wrote a second book on Haiti and zombies, Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, which didn't clarify things at all. The basic problem here is not only may the voodoo powder be fictional, but so, Virginia, may be zombies themselves:

Belief in zombis is widespread in Haiti and in many communities there are individuals who are considered to be zombis not only by their neighbours but even their families. Indeed the phenomenon is taken so seriously the Haitian Penal Code considers making someone into a zombi as a form of murder.

But in a paper in this week's The Lancet, two researchers, professor Roland Littlewood of the department of anthropology and psychiatry at London's University College and Dr. Chavannes Douyon of the Polyclinique Medica in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, conclude many so-called zombies may in fact be individuals with psychiatric disorders or brain damage.

In their study, the researchers report on three individuals who were considered to be zombis by their families and neighbours. They found the first individual appeared to have a severe psychiatric condition called catatonic schizophrenia, which can make a person mute and immobile; the second to have brain damage and epilepsy, perhaps due to an episode of oxygen starvation of the brain; and the third individual, a severe learning disability, perhaps due to fetal-alcohol syndrome.

Zombis May Not Be What They're Reputed To Be

Haiti: Serpent and Rainbow and Passage and Ethnobiology of Haitian Zombie

"The most recent writing on zombies is a curious mixture of sensationalism and scholarship--and much of the scholarship is questionable. As a doctoral student in botany at Harvard University, Wade Davis investigated the ethnobotany of zombification in Haiti. Although he spent relatively little time there and spoke no Creole, Davis had the apparent good fortunate to come across some informants who give him information on the potions used by Voodoo sorcerers to poison people. Davis thought that he had discovered the active ingredient in the poison, tetrodotoxin, and wrote an academic article on his findings in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1983, as well as a Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University--with some of his conclusions written before the laboratory results were in.

Not everyone, however, accepted these conclusions. In fact, C. Y. Kao, a pharmacologist at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center and an authority on tetrodotoxin, is quoted on page 7 of the January 1989 issue of Discover characterizing Davis's research as "a carefully planned, premeditated case of scientific fraud." An article by Kao and his associate Takashi Yasumoto in a 1986 issue of the journal Toxicon pointed out that the amounts of tetrodotoxin in the zombie portions is insignificant.

As if his pharmacological conclusions were not controversial enough, Davis wrote a overheated and fictionalized book about his time in Haiti that reads like the first draft for a Hollywood movie with Davis himself as an Indiana-Jones-type hero. This book, titled The Serpent and the Rainbow, did, indeed, become the basis for the latest Hollywood insult to Haiti, a movie of the same title released to theaters on February 5, 1988, and appropriately made by the director of "A Nightmare on Elm Street.""

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

"In June, 1989 I attended a seminar in Port-au-Prince on zombification. During the discussion I raised the question to the 40 or so people in attendance, had any one of them every seen a zombie "bab pou bab," the Haitian equivalent of face to face. Everyone had. So I randomly questioned one person about her experience. It turned out it wasn't she herself who had seen the zombie, but her first cousin. The next person hadn't actually met a zombie, but his aunt had. Someone else's father, another's best friend and so on around the room. In the end not one single person was able to tell a tale of having actually, personally been face to face with a zombie.

Are there really zombies in Haiti? Wade Davis devotes two long sections to this question. He first looks at the popular views and then explores cases where there have been some attempts to carefully and more scientifically determine the status of suspected cases. His key candidate for zombiehood is Clairvius Narcisse. In spring, 1962 Narcisse "died" at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. His death was verified by the hospital staff. 18 years later Narcisse turned up alive and well, and claimed to be an escaped zombie."

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

My personal take on all this is that Davis is either delusional or lying. Tetrodotoxin has been thoroughly studied, especially in cases of fugu poisoning, and it's effects do not vary according to one's "cultural background". Survival is also dependent on modern hospital technique, not leaving people comatose in a crushed-in coffin after being buried alive.

After reading all that, if you were still inclined to have some fugu here are some guidelines.

* Always call the restaurant in advance and make a reservation; a skilled itamae who knows how to prepare fugu is hard to find, and may come to the restaurant just to prepare the fugu for you.

* Beware of a restaurant that will prepare fugu for you without a reservation unless you're a regular patron.

...

* Can you feel your tongue? No? Stop eating immediately and call the ambulance.

...

* Tip the itamae generously. You will notice that he is much older (and presumably experienced) than other sushi chefs you might have run into. In fact, avoid eating fugu from a itamae who looks younger than forty. Experience is a friend of caution in this case.

Sushi-Eating HowTo by Eugene Ciurana

Think about that, boys and girls, the next time you feel you are being daring by ordering white-tuna sushi. Oh, and if you want to get fugu, there are places in the city offering it. (They don't advertise, though, and you may have to be Japanese to get in.) Be careful with the tetrodotoxin, though — it's a killer.

Lest you go away thinking that CitizenArcane has debunked all the mystery in the world, or is not educational, here's how you can make your very own zombie:

Ingredients

Creme de Almond: 0.5 oz.
Rum (Light): 1 oz.
Rum (Overproof/151 Proof): 0.5 oz.
Triple Sec: 0.5 oz.
Orange Juice: 1.5 oz.
Sour Mix: 1.5 oz.
Cherries/Maraschinos: 1 whole
Glass to Use: Collins glass

Mixing Instructions

Shake everything except the 151 rum in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a collins glass over ice and float the 151 on top. Garnish with a cherry.

Drink Nations' Guide to Making Zombies

Zombie Glass for Drinks

Oh, and you'll have to get your own skull mug if you want it to be authentic, though.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Wade Davis, Current Biography Monthly Magazine, January 2003
  2. Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis
  3. Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis
  4. FDA/CFSAN Bad Bug Book Tetrodotoxin
  5. How do I go about creating a zombie?, Straight Dope, 21 May 1999
  6. Zombis May Not Be What They're Reputed To Be
  7. Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification. by C. Benedek, L. Rivier, Toxicon., 1989;27(4):473-80
  8. Sushi-Eating HowTo by Eugene Ciurana
  9. Drink Nations' Guide to Making Zombies

TORA! TORA! TORA!

DVD Cover for Tora! Tora! Tora!

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

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

7:49 a.m.

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

"Pearl Harbor: Plus Sixty Years", Honolulu Advertiser

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

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

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

What's TORA?

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

"You have to be fucking kidding!"

The Velvet Underground, 1966

The Velvet Underground, 1966, by Lisa Law

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

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

...

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I Was a Velveteen" by Rob Norris, 1979

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

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

— Angus MacLise

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

So there you have it.

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

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

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

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

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

A Whisp of Smoke or a Raging Conflagration?

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

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

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

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

— Vincent Van Gogh

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

Google Logo for Vang Gogh's Birthday

Google Logo for Van Gogh's Birthday

"The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

"The Starry Night", Vincent van Gogh, 1889

"ET Phone Home"

William Edward Ayrton

Professor William Edward Ayrton (1847-1908)

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra Versus The Masons

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

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

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

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

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

Central Park Conservancy

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

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

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

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

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, United States Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

Year of the Rooster

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

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

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

Chinese New Year Taboos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese avoid weddings in Year of Rooster

The origins of the New Year celebration itself are interesting:

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

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

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

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

Origins of the Chinese New Year

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

Field Museum diorama with Tsavo man-eating lions

Tsavo man-eating lions in diorama at The Field Museum

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

Colonel Patterson with dead lion

Lt. Col. John Patterson with dead lion

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

Movie poster for Bwana Devil

Movie Poster for Bwana Devil

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

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

Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Anomie and Anarchy
Living Together in Dysfunctionality

The word anomie comes from the Greek anamos, meaning "without law". It means a lack of social or ethical standards in an individual or group. This is what people mean when they talk about "anarchy". Think downtown Iraq or anything inside the Washington Beltway and you'll get the general idea. The key element of anomie is that it is an unraveling of the social contract and the rules of society, and not in a way that promotes freedom or individuality. Rather, it is the endless rise of entropy, the enemy of civilization.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labour in Society, published in 1893. He used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. This meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviours) are confused, unclear or not present. It is normlessness, Durkheim felt, that led to deviant behaviour. In 1897, Durkheim used the term again in his study on Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition. Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. He best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.

Durkheim's Anomie

The word anarchy comes from the Greek anarkhia, meaning "without rulers". The vernacular uses it to mean lawlessness or a state of chaos, such as accompanies rioting or looting; the true meaning, however is quite different: a lack of rulers, not a lack of rules. (Measuring devices still exist under anarchy, so do not despair.) So comments like, "Anarchy - it's not the law, it's just a good idea." are structurally incorrect, no matter how clever they may be. The famous case of Sacco and Vanzetti springs to mind whenever anyone mentions anarchists. (Well, that and the WTO meeting in Seattle.) The specifics of the case aren't particularly relevant for the definition here, but some of the words of Sacco and Vanzetti serve to illustrate the distinction between anarchy and anomie:

Oh friend, the anarchism is as beauty as a woman for me, perhaps even more, since it include all the rest and me and her. Calm, serene, honest, natural, vivid, muddy and celestial at once, austere, heroic, fearless, fatal, generous and implacable-all these and more it is.

Nicola Sacco, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

I am and will be until the last instant (unless I should discover that I am in error) an anarchist communist, because I believe that communism is the most humane form of social contract, because I know that only with liberty can man rise, become noble, and complete.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

Oh, and as long as we're on words that start with "a" and concern lawlessness, here's another good one: amok. This one comes to us from the Malysian, where it means a brooding despair punctuated by frenzied, uncontrolled violence. Sort of like what happens when England loses a soccer match to, oh, say, Pakistan.

The cbs [culture-bound syndrome] of "amok" has been known for many centuries in the Malaysian culture (Knecht, 1999). The syndrome has been defined as an episode of dissociation (Suryani & Jensen, 1993) and is often characterized by "a sudden rampage, usually including homicide, ending in exhaustion and amnesia" (Hatta, 1996). Typically seen as a Malaysian cbs, "amok" has been further documented in India, New Guinea, North America and Britain (Kon, 1994). Hawaii has been seen as the melting pot of the pacific with many cultures merging and yet remaining distinct. The legal defense of "amok" was utilized for a Filipino-American that had killed five people and injured three others. Orlando Ganal Sr. (Honolulu Advertiser, 1991) was enraged by his wife’s reported relationship with another man, shot and killed his wife’s parents and wounded his own wife and son. Ganal continued to firebomb the home of the other man’s brother, Michael Touchette, killing Michael, Michael’s two children and badly burning his wife, Wendy Touchette. Ganal was seen as a mild mannered man, until the stress grew and he finally "ran amok."

International Society for the Study of Dissociation

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

Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle

Pepsi-Cola sign saying "Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle"

Trying to wrap one's head around the buying power of a dollar in different time periods is never easy:

Determining the relative value of an amount of money in one year compared to another is more complicated than it seems at first. There is no single "correct" measure, and economic historians use one or more different series depending on the context of the question.

Most indices are measured as the price of a "bundle" of goods and services that a representative group buys or earns. Over time the bundle changes; for example, carriages are replaced with automobiles, and new goods and services are created such as cellular phones and heart transplants.

These considerations do not stop the fascination with these comparisons or even the necessity for them. For example, such comparisons may be critical to determine appropriate levels of compensation in a legal case that has been deferred. The context of the question, however, may lead to a preferable measure and that measure may not be the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used far too often without thought to its consequences.

The example below of what Babe Ruth's salary was "worth" can demonstrate this point. His earnings had a "purchasing power" in today's price of a million dollars, but he could not purchase any effective cure for cancer. However, if the question was how to compare his salary with that of a current super star such as Tiger Woods or Barry Bonds, using Ruth's wage compared to an unskilled worker, the average income or the percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) he earned gives comparable numbers.

"What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services

So let's put it in context by considering one of the most famous ad jingles (listen) of all time. That would be the 1939 ad from Pepsi-Cola touting the benefits of their "superior" formulation of sugar water:

At about the same time Pepsi-Cola launched what was to become one of the most famous jingles ever written. "Nickle, Nickle" (later known as "Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot") was written by Alan Bradley Kent and Austen Herbert Croom-Johnson.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot
Twice as much for a nickle, too
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

This little jingle would go on to be recorded in 55 different languages, over 1 million records containing this jingle were produced, and it was the first jingle ever played from coast to coast on network radio. It is hard to convey just how big this jingle was, but it was very popular for nearly a decade and was even described as "immortal." How many people decided to give Pepsi a try because of this jingle can not be over estimated. The jingle was first written as a standard commercial with the jingle at the end but Mack insisted that only the jingle be aired. It was played so often that 50 years later there are still people who remember the words.

The History of Pepsi-Cola, Soda Museum

Now, let's consider what the "Twice as much for a nickle, too" means in today's dollars: (BTW: the "twice as much" referred to Pepsi-Cola's twelve ounces versus Coca Cola's six.)

In 2003, $0.05 from 1940 is worth:

$0.65 using the Consumer Price Index
$0.54 using the GDP deflator
$1.39 using the unskilled wage
$2.46 using the GDP per capita
$5.42 using the relative share of GDP

5 cents scaled from 1940 dollars to 2003 dollars

And $0.65 is just about what it would cost you to buy a soda today at a supermarket. (Not quantity one in a bodega, of course.) Notice how the CPI is spot on. Yet not everthing scales so nicely. Consider today's value for a home purchased for $50,000 in 1970:

In 2003, $50,000.00 from 1970 is worth:

$237,137.93 using the Consumer Price Index
$191,863.42 using the GDP deflator
$248,964.68 using the unskilled wage
$373,282.77 using the GDP per capita
$528,834.86 using the relative share of GDP

$50,000 scaled from 1970 dollars to 2003 dollars

Inflation in real estate better tracks the change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita than it does changes in the CPI or wages. That's why a home that was affordable in 1970 requires three salaries to pay for in 2005. That's likely because commodities benefit from improvements in supply and manufacturing not to forget competition, which keep the price down. Real commodities, however, tend to be priced according to the owner's share in the American Dream, aka GDP. What? Your share of GDP hasn't kept pace? Well, that's all the fault of the tax-and-spend Democrats; all the "fiscally-conservative" Republicans got their share of GDP, now didn't they.

Buy land, 'cause they ain't makin' it no more.

— Will Rogers

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services
  2. "How Much is That" from the Economic History Services

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

Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist

"Money you have expended without limits, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers--these are your only trophies."

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Sounds like someone commenting on the Iraq war, doesn't it? Except this was written during the Civil War. And during the Civil War, making statements like these got you arrested and banished from the country. Wait just one minute, you say. The First Ammendment and the Constitution — yeah, right. Didn't play in those days and it may not play here soon. Don't believe me? Think about how many morons defend the loss of our liberties saying, "ok, but we are at war...".

President Abraham Lincoln realized early on that his illegal war against the south depended on suppression of all speech critical of it. For if people were free to say they did not want their children, brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins drafted, mutilated, and slaughtered, the war would become unsustainable. And that's exactly what got Ohio congressman Clement Larid Vallandigham in such trouble: he did nothing more than speak out against the war.

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Clement Laird Vallandigham

When Lincoln was asked how he could persecute Vallandigham for speaking out against the Civil War, he replied with an analogy:

Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death… Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting and there working on his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning, 12 June 1863

Suppression of the First Ammendment and freedom of speech rights of Vallandigham was swift, brutal and effective: the United States government banished one of its citizens, forbidding him to set foot on US soil for the duration of the war. Really!

On 13 Apr. 1863, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, Commmander of the Department Of The Ohio, had issued General Order No. 38, forbidding expression of sympathy for the enemy. On 30 Apr. Vallandigham addressed a large audience in Columbus, made derogatory references to the president and the war effort, then hoped that he would be arrested under Burnside's order, thus gaining popular sympathy. Arrested at his home at 2 a.m., 5 May, by a company of troops, he was taken to Burnside's Cincinnati headquarters, tried by a military court 6-7 May, denied a writ of habeas corpus, and sentenced to 2 years' confinement in a military prison. Following a 19 May cabinet meeting, President Lincoln commuted Vallandigham's sentence to banishment to the Confederacy. On 26 May the Ohioan was taken to Confederates south of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and there entered Southern lines. Outraged at his treatment, by a vote of 411 -11 state Democrats nominated Vallandigham for governor at their 11 June convention.

Vallandigham was escorted to Wilmington, N.C., and shipped out to, Bermuda, arriving there 17 June. He traveled to Canada, arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario, 5 July, and from there and Windsor, Ontario, conducted his campaign for the governorship. Candidate for lieutenant governor George Pugh represented Vallandigham's views at rallies and in the press. Lincoln interested himself in the election, endorsed Republican candidate John Brough, downplayed the illegalities of a civilian's arrest and trial by military authorities, and claimed that a vote for the Democratic contender was "a discredit to the country." In the election of 13 Oct. 1863, Brough defeated Vallandigham 288,000 - 187,000.

Civial War Home article on Vallandigham

The famous short story "The Man Without a Country", was written by Edward Everett Hale in 1863 after he learned of Lincoln's persecution of Vallandigham.

When Vallandigham sought relief in the courts, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.) on the grounds that civilian courts had no jurisdiction over their military counterparts:

[T]here is no original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum to review or reverse its proceedings, or the writ of certiorari to revise the proceedings of a military commission.

Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.)

Yup, the Bush administration argued the same thing about its policy of indefinite incarceration without trial. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But the wrath of Lincoln and the war on free speech wasn't restricted to congressmen opposing the war. Newspapers quickly learned that to speak out against the war was to brutal censorship and oppression.

Suppression of these editors began early in the war. For example, in August of 1861, the Christian Observer was closed by the U.S. marshal in Philadelphia. At the same time, a federal grand jury in New York cited the Journal of Commerce, the Daily News, the Day-Book, the weekly Freeman's Journal, and the Brooklyn Eagle for the "frequent practice of encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government." This was followed by an order from the Postmaster General forbidding the mailing of these newspapers.

Similarly, other newspapers were forbidden to circulate and sell. General Palmer temporarily prohibited the distribution of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chicago Times within Kentucky. In New Haven, Connecticut the circulation of the New York Daily News was prohibited. General Burnside took similar action in excluding the New York World from Ohio. This action was taken on the grounds of suspected disloyalty, and was intended as a partial measure for press control.

On February 23, 1863, the Davenport Daily Gazette in Iowa reported that some seventy-five convalescent soldiers from a near-by military hospital entered the office of the Keokuk, IowaConstitution, wrecked the presses and dumped the type out the window. In the spring of 1863, the Crisis and the Marietta, Ohio Republican, a Democratic paper, suffered damages at the hands of a mob of soldiers. The next year a number of other newspapers in the Midwest, including the Mahoning, Ohio Sentinel, Lancaster, Ohio Eagle, Dayton Empire, Fremont Messenger, and the Chester, Illinois Picket Guard experienced similar visitations.

Along with suppression came the arrest of some editors. In October, 1861 the editor of the Marion, Ohio Mirror was arrested on charges of membership in a secret anti-war organization. In Illinois, a number of men were taken into custody including the editors of the Paris Democratic Standard, M. Mehaffey and F. Odell. These men were imprisoned without trial in Fort Lafayette, Fort Delaware or the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. In other Midwestern states those arrested, usually on charges of interfering with enlistment or similar activities, included Dennis Mahoney, editor of the Dubuque Herald, and Dana Sheward, editor of the Fairfield Constitution and Union. In Philadelphia the Evening Journal was suppressed by military order in January, 1863, and Albert D. Boileau, its editor, confined to Fort McHenry for a few days until he wrote an apology and promised to reform.

Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith

So the next time someone tells you that the Republican party is the party of Lincoln, well, you can agree with them.

Oh, and Vallandigham? Well, his political career was just getting started when he met an untimely end:

Following the Civil War, Vallandigham emerged as a leader of Ohio's Democratic Party. He served as the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Convention in 1865. He also encouraged the Democrats to adopt his "new departure" resolutions. Vallandigham came to believe that the Democratic Party had to support slavery's end and equal rights for African Americans with whites if the party was ever to regain power from the Republicans. His political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871. While preparing the defense of an accused murder, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, mortally wounding Vallandigham.

History of Clement Vallandigham

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Transcript of Trial
  2. History of Clement Vallandigham
  3. Ex Parte Vallandigham
  4. Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith
  5. History of Clement Laird Vallandigham

"The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was."

Campaign slogan coined by Clement Larid Vallandigham, May 1862

The Freedom to Not Listen

In Russia is freedom of speech.
In America is also freedom after speech.

—Yakov Smirnoff

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 2

Free speech is not supposed to be inoffensive. Not only that, but it is, in fact, guaranteed to be inherently offensive to someone. That is, after all, the whole point of being able to say whatever is on your mind, no matter how distasteful someone will find it. It doesn't matter if we agree with the ideas or even like them: the rights of those who espouse Nazi or KKK dogma are just as protected as those touting kittens and puppies or the truly wonderful job Bush is doing for America by liberating Iraq and exporting jobs to China.

Free speech allows the Ayn Rand foundation to condemn tsunami relief efforts using government funds (aka tax dollars) just as it allows us to label their ideas as "typical callous and cruel Randroid claptrap". (No, I am so not making this up. Read their apology if you don't believe me; they — wisely — yanked their original editoral.) Free and open discourse is an essential to freedom, no matter how repugnant we may find it at times.

That's really the whole point: we don't have to all just get along. We don't have to spout ideas that everyone likes. We don't have to say only those things that the government gives us permission to say. Communism, to use a famous example, is a truly idiotic ideology; that does not, however, give the government the right to spy on and persecute those who believe in it.

You probably were not aware that the American fascist dictator Abraham Lincoln — yes, that Lincoln — suspended freedom of the press during the Civil War, suspended habeas corpus, suspended the Constitution, and actually imprisoned those who criticized the war, either verbally or in print. People could be arrested and incarcerated for the duration of the war on mere suspicion or even rumor of advocating peace. (The Republican party truly is the party of Lincoln.) Ezra Pound spent thirteen years institutionalized because he espoused repugnant political views. Is this right? No, it isn't.

The best way to deal with abhorrent ideas is to get them out in public where the santizing light of day can illuminate them for what they are. During the Civil War, my explaining the crimes of Lincoln, for example, would have had me imprisoned or banished. (I'll be writing more about that in a few days.)

The origins of the First Ammendment can be found in the John Peter Zenger trial.

No country values free expression more highly than ours, and no case in our history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German printer named John Peter Zenger. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors, inspired by the eloquence of the best lawyer of the period, Andrew Hamilton, ignored the instructions of the Governor's hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels." The Zenger trial is a remarkable story of a divided Colony, the beginnings of a free press, and the stubborn independence of American jurors.

John Peter Zenger Trial

The case, in a nutshell, is that way back in 1731, a newspaper publisher named Zenger published an article critical of New York's governor, and the governor retaliated by having Zenger arrested for sedition and libel, and then imprisoned for ten months before trial when Zenger couldn't meet the £800 bail. (This was a truly staggering sum in those days.)

The trial opened on August 4 on the main floor of New York's City Hall with Attorney General Bradley's reading of the information filed against Zenger. Bradley told jurors that Zenger, "being a seditious person and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels" had "wickedly and maliciously" devised to "traduce, scandalize, and vilify" Governor Cosby and his ministers. Bradley said that "Libeling has always been discouraged as a thing that tends to create differences among men, ill blood among the people, and oftentimes great bloodshed between the party libeling and the party libeled."

John Peter Zenger

Andrew Hamilton Summation

Andrew Hamilton's Summation at Trial

Nowadays this would be an open-and-shut case. But there was no First Ammendment back then. Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, had travelled all the way from Philadelphia to represent him. (This may well be the origin of the advice, "Get yourself a Philadelphia lawyer".) Hamilton argued that the jury could only convict if what Zenger wrote was false; the judge ordered the jury to convict, saying that Zenger had no defense. Well, the jury refused to convict and the case achieved such renown that Thomas Jefferson added the right to speak one's mind to the Bill of Rights.

Andrew Hamilton: The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, is not of small nor private concern nor is it the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone. No, it may affect every Freeman to deny the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.

Alexander Hamilton
Summation,August 4th, 1735

Ok, enough with the history lesson. What bearing does this have on the news? Well, it seems that the The United States Supreme Court just declined to hear Rahn v. Robb, Case 04-629, a case important to all believers in free speech. For those of you who don't track the Supremes' docket like a Yankee fanatic tracking Billy Martin's ups and downs, this was the case involving the Ku Klux Klan wanting to adopt a section of the Missouri highway. (Can you imagine? The Ku Kluxers have hobbies other than lynching and cross-burning. Who knew?)

Now, we all know that the KKK isn't doing this out of civic mindedness, and giving back to the communty. Far from it. This is a potent propaganda opportunity to say that the KKK is still alive and well in Missouri, given that the state will put up a sign saying that litter is being picked up by them. This sign is, of course, offensive. But, then again, so is seeing signs from churches, other bigoted groups (like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), political groups (Republicans and Democrats), and even the local funeral director. It's all bigotry, politics, advertising, or some combination thereof, and I don't like it or want to see it. But the First Ammendment says, too bad. And that's good.

The state of Missouri, like most states, encourages groups to adopt a section of highway and keep it free of litter. Everyone wins: the group gets some free, and very public advertising; the taxpayers save millions in cleanup costs; and the public gets a clean stretch of road. (So the prisoners who used to do this job don't get their dose of fresh air and exercise anymore; too bad.) Anyway, when the KKK filed papers to adopt a stretch of highway the state refused. Litigation ensued, and the 8th Circuit Court of the United States ordered Missouri to honor free speech and let the KKK have its segment of highway. While the Missouri appeal was pending, however, state officials showed they had a sense of humor: the stretch of highway was renamed the "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway". No, this is not an urban legend.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today honored a pioneer of the civil rights movement by dedicating a one-mile section of I-55 south of downtown St. Louis, MO as the Rosa Parks Highway.

"Forty-five years ago, Mrs. Rosa Parks’quiet defiance greatly contributed to the civil rights movement, said Secretary Slater. "Today’s naming of the Rosa Parks Highway reminds individuals that transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It’s about people and empowering citizens to fulfill their dreams."

During the 2000 legislative session, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill, sponsored by State Senator William Clay and State Representative Russell Gunn, to name a 1.13-mile stretch of Interstate 55 from one mile south of Lindbergh Boulevard to Butler Hill Road the "Rosa Parks Highway." Former Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law on May 30, 2000.

Missouri, Department of Transportion

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 1

What's most amusing is that neither the United States Department of Transportation nor the Missouri Department of Transporation managed to mention exactly why Rosa Parks was being so "honored". (Another bit of trivia: John Ashcroft ran against Governor Mel Carnahan. When Carnahan died in a plane crash right before the election, Missouri voters elected the dead man over Ashcroft. After the dead man won, Republicans challenged the vote on the grounds that Carnahan was not, strictly speaking, a resident of the state on election day. They lost and sent Ashcroft to Washington. Guess who got the better end of that deal.)

Anyway, here's the story:

For the second time in four years, the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Ku Klux Klan to participate in Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The high court on Monday declined to hear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling siding with the Klan, meaning that picking up litter along Missouri 21 heading into Potosi can remain the responsibility of the Klan.

...

Missouri began its Adopt-A-Highway program in 1987. About 3,400 groups care for about 5,000 miles of Missouri roads, according to the MODOT Web site. The program saves the state about $1.5 million a year, the Web site said.

Such programs are popular nationally; every state but Vermont has one.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court supporting Missouri's position, the Texas solicitor general warned that states could cancel their Adopt-A-Highway programs if they are forced to allow the Klan to participate.

Kansas City Star
Courtesy of BugMeNot.com
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I think the real question here is when are Americans going to wake up and realize that individuals must make decisions about what is or is not appropriate speech for themselves and that we must defend to the death the right to offend others. To do otherwise is to create world where a committee determines what we can say or hear, and that road, my friends, leads to fascism.

Oh, I have one more real question: how do klansmen keep those white outfits so spiffily starched and free of grass and dirt stains while picking up the trash in the hot sun?

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Kansas City Star Story (Login: icantkick@mailinator.com, Password: oregon1)
  2. Snopes confirmation of "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway" story as fact
  3. Seattle Post Intelligencer
  4. John Peter Zenger

Where Death Delights to Help the Living

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

— Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Nutshell Studies book cover

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

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

Boston Saloon

Killing at a Boston Saloon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you might not want your dolls to live there.

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

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

Bellwether Gallery

Nutshell Study Number 7: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 2: Three-Room Dwelling

Nutshell Study Number 2
Three-Room Dwelling

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

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

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

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Francis Lee Glessner at work

Francis Lee Glessner Making Crime-Scene Dioramas

As shown in the photographs, the level of detail in the construction and the accuracy were simply amazing:

According to Alton Mosher, a local man who assisted in the construction of the models over a ten year period, Frances' reputation as a perfectionist was well deserved.

He recalls being instructed by Frances to "scale down" pieces of siding from a 100 year old barn to authenticate the detail of a crime scene. "She demanded precision in all phases of her work," recalls Mosher. Even the clothing made for the dolls in the models was fashioned to scale, knitted by Frances using common pins and unraveled thread.

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Nutshell Study Number 6: The Blue Bedroom

Nutshell Study Number 6
The Blue Bedroom

While not intended as such, Lee's "blood-splattered dioramas" are delightful art:

Not surprisingly, John Waters, a Baltimore native, is an admirer of the sometimes blood-splattered dioramas. "When I saw these miniature crime scenes," he said recently, "I felt breathless over the devotion that went into their creation. Even the most depraved Barbie Doll collector couldn't top this."

"Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Frances Glessner Lee died in 1962, aged 83, long before Dick Wolf turned forensics into entertainment. After her death these wonderful models were almost destroyed by neglect:

Harvard lost interest in forensics after her death and shuttered the department. A former professor there, Dr. Russell Fisher, became Maryland's chief medical examiner and brought the Nutshells with him. Participants in police science seminars have been poring over the models ever since.

By 1992, Lee's creations were disintegrating, and the Maryland Medical-Legal Foundation donated $50,000 for their restoration. Despite the dated decor and narratives, criminologists still swear by the Nutshells. "People take them as seriously as any other crime scene," said Dr. David R. Fowler, the current chief medical examiner for Maryland. "I've never seen anybody make jokes because of the degree of intricacy and detail. The quality is stunning. I have never seen any computer-generated programs that even come close."

"Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle

Sources and further reading:

  1. "Murder downsized" by Eve Khan, New York Times (Warning - JPEG; see the San Francisco Chronicle or San Diego Union-Tribune stories for text versions)
  2. "Grandma Knows Her Murders" by George Oswald, Coronet, December 1949
  3. "Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine
  4. "Murder in the Dollhouse", by Jennifer Schuessler, Boston Globe
  5. "CSI in a Doll's House and the Contagion of Obsessiveness" by Vince Aletti, Village Voice
  6. "Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle (from NY Times)
  7. "Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune (from NY Times)

Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus.
Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

Let conversations cease. Let laughter flee.
This is the place where death delights to help the living.

— Autopsy room motto of Dr. Milton Helpern, Medical Examiner of New York City in 1960s

Last Exit for Number of the Beast

Route 666 Sign

Sign for US Route 666

Speaking of highway naming conventions, I was reminded how the Book of Revelations led to the removal of this highway number for U.S. 666 in summer of 2003; it is now known by the catchy name of U.S. 491. (Bar codes will clearly be next. I think I'll write that up next.) The Federal Highway Commission — your tax dollars at work — has a page devoted to U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?. (I couldn't make this nonsense up if I tried.)

Running through the southeastern corner of Utah, US 666 is nothing more than a spur off US 66 running from Arizona to Monticello, Utah; like all spurs, it takes a number based on main highway. The big problem with the number was twofold: religious fanatics and theft. The fanatics, both Christian and Native American, mostly just wrote letters and telephoned; the thieves removed the signs from the highway where they had to be replaced. (It is possible the thefts were by those who thought the signs were evil, and not just cool; we'll likely never know.) Arizona's Department of Transportation routinely replaced missing signs, but the problem was getting out of hand. Since US 66 had been removed from the system in the late eighties, Arizona chose US 191 as the new name for the state's portion of the spur between I-10 and I-40.

Map of Route 666 in New Mexico

Map of US 666 in New Mexico

Three other states — New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah — left the US 666 number alone until Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, made it an issue on religious grounds. (He claimed that the highway signs were somehow preventing development in the area.) He had enough clout to get Colorado and Utah to join together with New Mexico in a joint resolution:

WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and

WHEREAS, the number "666" carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and

HEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; and

WHEREAS, the economy in the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult.

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

This convinced the right people in the federal government to change the name, and the final chapter on US 666 was written:

They chose 393, which was not in use in any of the three States. The problem was that the number implied that the highway was a branch of U.S. 93 (Port of Roosville, Montana, to Wickenburg, Arizona) even though neither U.S. 666 nor U.S. 191 intersected U.S. 93. Moreover, U.S. 93 did not have any branches; if AASHTO were to number branches of U.S. 93 in sequence, the first would be U.S. 193, not 393.

At the suggestion of AASHTO, the States agreed to renumber the route as a spur of U.S. 191, with "491" chosen to avoid duplicating State route numbers. After AASHTO's Standing Committee on Highways approved the change, it became official on Saturday, May 31.

As S. U. Mahesh of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department told the Albuquerque Journal, which number ended up on the highway was not important. "As long as it's not 666 and it's nothing satanic, that's OK."

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

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.

Mega Tsunami: Coming Soon to a City Near You!

Speaking of tsunamis, the really worrisome issue is these things happen with alarming regularity, and that the one hitting Asia may be more of a runt of the litter than the supersized version. Back in September of 2001 — it was a busy month for everyone involved in apocalyptic events — warnings were issued about the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma.

When it lets loose it will cause a mega tsunami so huge it almost defies description — a wall of water hundreds of feet high, reducing to waves a mere sixty to a hundred-fifty feet high after crossing the Altantic; more than sufficient to obliterate North and South America's entire eastern seaboard up to ten miles inland, potentially killing hundreds of millions of people. Yikes! Run for the hills!

Photograph of volanic island La Palma in the Canary Islands

La Palma in the Canary Islands

Experts describe the resulting tsunami as being impressively large:

The tsunami have been modelled by Steve Ward of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Simon Day of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre (currently at Santa Cruz). In the worst case scenario (for a 500 cubic km collapse), this envisages an initial bulge of water 900 m high. This subsides to form waves in excess of 100 m in height that strike neighbouring islands. After an hour waves 50 - 100 m high hit the NW African coast, while Spain and the UK experience waves 7 - 10 m high two to five hours after collapse. After nine hours, the Florida coastline can expect to face around a dozen waves between 20 and 25 m high.

Cumbre Vieja Q&A (PDF)

Three hundred feet is about twenty stories, give or take. But it takes a little creative writing to put that into perspective:

Fortunately the nearest coast to the Canary Islands, where the waves will be around 300 feet (100 metres) high when they hit, is lightly populated Western Sahara. Few people living in the coastal plains of Morocco, south-western Spain and Portugal will survive either, but the waves will drop in height as they travel. The coasts of southern Ireland and south-western England will also take a beating, but by then the wave height will be down to about 30 feet (10 metres).

The real carnage will be on the western side of the Atlantic, from Newfoundland all the way down the east coast of Canada and the United States to Cuba, Hispaniola, the Lesser Antilles and north-eastern Brazil. With a clear run across the Atlantic, the wall of water will still be between 60 and 150 feet (20 and 50 metres) high when it hits the eastern seaboard of North America, and it will keep coming for ten to fifteen minutes.

Worst hit will be harbours and estuaries that funnel the waves inland: goodbye Halifax, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Miami and Havana go under almost entirely, as do low-lying islands like the Bahamas and Barbados. Likely death toll, if there is no mass evacuation beforehand? A hundred million people, give or take fifty million.

Gwenne Dyer

Path of Tsunami After Six Hours

Tsunami Hits North/South America After Six Hours

The US government's advice on How to Survive a Tsunami doesn't seem particularly useful in such circumstances. This dire event is, fortunately, not likely to happen next week. (Guess I'll have to put a check in the mail for the car insurance and the phone bill, after all.)

It is unlikely, however, that the collapse is imminent. ... Furthermore, although we cannot say whether the volcano will fail in its next near-summit eruption (like that in 1949; a small eruption in 1971 at the very southern end of the island seems to have had relatively little effect, probably because the magma did not rise so high in the volcano) or only after several more eruptions have progressively weakened it, since eruptions of the Cumbre Vieja occur at intervals of a few decades to as much as a few centuries the year-to-year probability of failure is relatively low. The "half-life-to-failure" of the volcano, if things continue as they are, might be as much as 5000 years - but could be much less.

Benfield Hazard Research Centre Report

In the meantime, buying tsunami insurance might not be the best way to spend your money. Neither is waiting for the tsunami to make Manhattan rents — or Brooklyn for that matter — affordable again.

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa has always been among my favorite works by Hokusai. I first encountered it decades ago in a hybrid of analog and digital, moving from the original to a wireframe, which led me to the original piece. When I first learned of the recent Asian tsunami I was again reminded how earthquake-induced waves of water have been a problem throughout recorded history.

Many people don't realize that Hokusai was inspired by a huge tsunami — about fifteen feet (five meters) high — that ocurred on 26 January 1700 after a magnitude-nine earthquake in the Pacific Northwest (cascadia subduction zone). Hokusai wouldn't be born for another sixty years, but the event made quite an impression, no pun intended, on Japan.

The painter and woodcut maker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was born in Edo (Tokyo), Japan. He is famed for the literally tens of thousands, possibly as many as thirty thousand, wood-block prints, silkscreens, and paintings he made. His inspiration was typically drawn from the lives of ordinary people, from traditional mythology, and from the world he saw around him.

Hokusai is most famous for his series of prints, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (circa 1826-33) created when he was between sixty-six and seventy-seven years old.

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worth of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every line will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

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