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

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

"Pop is Instant Art."

Robert Indiana's LOVE Statue in Manhattan

Pop is instant art.

— Robert Indiana

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

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

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

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

"Love by Robert Indiana"

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

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

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

LOVE has, in some sense, overshadowed the artist:

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

LO
VE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat by Andy Warhol

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

"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"

"It Was the Stubble that Gave it Away."

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

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

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

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

Lola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candy Darling photographed by Gerard Malanga, circa 1971

Candy Darling photographed by Gerard Malanga, circa 1971

Here's some more about Candy Darling:

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

Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max's Kansas City Web Site

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

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

"Creative Genius Destroyed
by Neglect and Misunderstanding"

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

Well, it isn't a perfect poem, but it is certainly a remarkable one.

— John Lucas on "Richard Corey"

I often run into people who either aren't familiar with the work of Edwin Arlington Robinson or who are passingly familiar with it but either don't know the whole piece or the author. Fewer still know that Robinson moved from Maine to 28 MacDougal Street in New York City's Greenwich Village — holding such jobs as time checker for construction of the IRT subway and as a clerk in New York City custom's house (he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, who liked his poetry) — where he spent the last twenty-five years of his life, largely solitary, until his death on 6 April 1935.

A Maine poet whose numerous volumes of verse explore the repressive life of small-town American, Edwin Arlington Robinson drew inspiration for his portraits and tales from the tortured lives of his family and acquaintances. Transforming autobiography into myth, he set these stories in the fictitious Tilbury Town, the poet's emblem of the American dream gone awry, a place where creative genius is destroyed by neglect and misunderstanding.

Reared in Gardiner, ME, and educated at Harvard, Robinson's philosophical perspective came to combine the idealism of the waning Romantic Age with the dark pessimism of the dawning century. While he believed ardently in the divine spark within all man and nature, he inevitably found that spark clouded with what he called "the black and awful chaos of the night." Given the bleak history of Robinson's own life--poetic neglect, unrequited passion, and family problems with alcohol-- his view is not surprising; what is more amazing is the stoicism with which he persevered, ultimately winning national recognition for his long Arthurian poem, TRISTRAM, in 1928.

Robinson claimed to have experienced his poetic vocation as an epiphany when, at age seventeen, he became "violently excited over the structure of English blank verse." An admirer of Robert Browning's dramatic monologues, he set about to cloak his own poetic persona in a series of masks, creating a gallery of characters, who were at once thinly veiled incarnations of his relatives and townsfolk and subtle manifestations of his own psyche.

"I Hear America Singing", Public Broadcasting Service

Robinson was born the third son of a family whose hearts were so set on having a daughter this time that they had made no provisions for the name of an unwanted son. For more than six months the boy remained unnamed, until strangers at a summer resort, feeling that he ought to be granted an identity beyond that of simply "the baby," put slips of paper with male first names written on them into a hat and chose someone to draw one out. The man who drew out the slip with "Edwin" written on it happened to live in Arlington, Massachusetts, which seemed to provide the easiest choice for a second name; and so by an "accident of fate," we have a poet named Edwin Arlington Robinson. Robinson hated the name and thought of himself as a child of scorn--and he had reasons.

American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present by Hyatt H. Waggoner

Robinson's most famous poem is likely "Richard Corey":

Richard Corey

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

A few notes. Robinson's brother Hennan drank himself to death. It may not have been as quick as a bullet, but it was just as certain.

Here we have a man's life-story distilled into sixteen lines. A dramatist would have been under the necessity of justifying the suicide by some train of events in which Richard Cory's character would have inevitably betrayed him. A novelist would have dissected the psychological effects of these events upon Richard Cory. The poet, with a more profound grasp of life than either, shows us only what life itself would show us; we know Richard Cory only through the effect of his personality upon those who were familiar with him, and we take both the character and the motive for granted as equally inevitable. Therein lies the ironic touch, which is intensified by the simplicity of the poetic form in which this tragedy is given expression.

The Poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson: An Essay in Appreciation, by Lloyd Morris, 1923

While "Richard Corey" is likely his most famous poem, "Miniver Cheevy" runs a close second:

Miniver Cheevy

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would send him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam's neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing:
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1907

Some Notes. The khaki suit refers to the brown military uniform, common until after World War I. The Medicis ruled renaissance Florence, and combined a love of knowledge, art, and scholarship with naked brutality when it came to remaining in power. Priam was king of Troy and killed during the Trojan war. Thebes was a Greek city in Egypt, on the Nile. Camelot, of course, was the mythical home of King Arthur's court. The line "He mourned Romance, now on the town," is tied to the meaning of "on the town" as being unable to support onesself and thus dependent upon the town's charity. The poem has some relation to Robinson's life, given that he felt unwanted as a child. (See the biography above.)

Oh, one more thing. The title line is from "I Hear America Singing", Public Broadcasting Service. It referred to Tilbury Town, but it summed up many things about Robinson and, indeed, about the world in general.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson (contains "Richard Corey")
  2. The Man against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson
  3. The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson
  4. "Edwin Arlington Robinson", The Academy of American Poets
  5. "On Richard Corey," Modern American Poets
  6. "On Miniver Cheevy," Modern American Poets
  7. "I Hear America Singing", Public Broadcasting Service

"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

Cellphonus Interruptus
(Just a Moment, Dear. I Have a Cell Call.)

Paris Hilton Cell Phone

When I read this story I immediately thought of my entry a few weeks back about William Ayrton's comment from 1897 that someday phones would be wireless and portable, and if one's friend didn't answer when called, well, then, the friend was dead. I made the comment that there were some times I didn't answer the phone because I wasn't Paris Hilton. (Have you see the infamous sex tape? The point where she answers her cell phone in the middle of the action, much to the well-vocalized consternation of her companion, is really funny. It's the only watchable part.) Well, it turns out that a lot of people, unfortunately, have remarkably similar behavior:

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device, Ad Age reported.

The highest incidence of cellular interruptus was found in Germany and Spain, where 22 percent of users interrupted sex to answer their cell phones; the lowest was in Italy, where only 7 percent reported doing so. In the U.S., the figure was 15 percent, the magazine said, citing a study conducted by BBDO Worldwide and Proximity Worldwide.

"Cell Phone Users Interrupt Sex for Phone Calls" Consumer Affairs, 11 April 2005

I wonder how the meme that a cell phone call is more important than anything else managed to spread so far and wide. The study, however, did not report the percentages of those answering the phone getting laid again by the partner put, ahem, on hold, shall we say. I think that's the really interesting number.

Cujo, Whitefang, or Just Spot?

Police With Dog in Grand Central

When I was at Grand Central looking at William Wallace's sword I noticed the substantial police presence, complete with bomb-sniffing dogs. It disturbs me that such things used to be anomolies worthy of remark; now they are all too routine. Anyway, two women were all over that dog, and he was so happy to have the attention. They asked the policeman if he put the dog in a kennel at night and he seemed much taken aback by that. "No," he replied, "he comes home with me." "Does he sleep on the bed?" the women asked with a smile? The policeman was scandalized. "No," he said, rather emphatically, with a shake of the head, "he's not allowed on the bed."

I asked if I could take a picture and nobody had any objections. The women started to back out of the frame and I told them they were the reason I wanted to take the shot. The whole situation, I think, reflects the basic futility of the police presence throughut the city. No terrorists, no threat, just a few bored cops, some friendly women with time to spare, a police dog happy to get some attention, and a slice of NYC life.

This was very different from my last interaction with the police.

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

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

"I Am Evidently His Idea of a Character."

William S. Burroughs Takes Aim at the World Trade Center

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

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

God Save The Queen!

Lucien Freud's Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun calls the portrait "a travesty".

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

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

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

Tinman Gallery's Collection of Queen Elizabeth II photographs

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

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

— Lucian Freud, quoted by Michael Kimmelman

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

Spitting Image Puppet for Queen Elizabeth II

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

"Freud Royal Portrait Divides Critics" 21 December 2001

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

"I Was a Racketeer, a Gangster For Capitalism"

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

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

United States Marine Corp, History Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

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

War Is A Racket

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

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

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

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

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

And what is this bill?

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

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

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

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

1. We must take the profit out of war.

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

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

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

When The Going Gets Weird…

Hunter S. Thompson with Cigarette

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

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

My Brother in Arms, by Jann S. Wenner

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

The Final Days at Owl Farm by Douglas Brinkley

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

The Last Outlaw by Mikal Gilmore

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

A Pair of Deviant Bookends by Johnny Depp

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

Memo From the Sports Desk by Raoul Duke

Midnight on the Coast Highway by HST

"Dr. Gonzo" by Ralph Steadman

"Dr. Gonzo" by Ralph Steadman

Midnight on the Coast Highway
Hunter S. Thompson, San Francisco, 1965

"All my life my heart has sought a thing I cannot name."

Months later, when I rarely saw the Angels, I still had the legacy of the big machine - four hundred pounds of chrome and deep red noise to take out on the coast highway and cut loose at three in the morning, when all the cops were lurking over on 101. My first crash had wrecked the bike completely and it took several months to have it rebuilt. After that I decided to ride it differently: I would stop pushing my luck on curves, always wear a helmet, and try to keep within range of the nearest speed limit ... my insurance policy had been cancelled and my driver's license was hanging by a thread.

So it was always at night, like a werewolf, that I would take the thing out for an honest run down the coast. I would start in Golden Gate Park, thinking only to run a few long curves to clear my head, but in a matter of minutes I'd be out at the beach with the sound of the engine in my ears, the surf booming up on the sea wall and a fine empty road stretching all the way down to Santa Cruz ... not even a gas station in the whole seventy miles; the only public light along the way is an all night diner down around Rockaway Beach.

There was no helmet on those nights, no speed limit, and no cooling it down on the curves. The momentary freedom of the park was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon. I would come out of the park near the soccer field and pause for a moment at the stop sign, wondering if I knew anyone parked out there on the midnight humping strip.

Then into first gear, forgetting the cars and letting the beast wind out .. . thirty-five, forty-five ... then into second and wailing through the light at Lincoln Way, not worried about green or red signals but only some other werewolf loony who might be pulling out, too slowly, to start his own run. Not many of those - and with three lanes on a wide curve, a bike coming hard has plenty of room to get around almost anything - then into third, the boomer gear, pushing seventy-five and the beginning of a windscream in the ears, a pressure on the eyeballs like diving into water off a highboard.

Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind. Tail-lights far up ahead coming closer, faster, and suddenly - zaaapppp - going past and leaning down for a curve near the zoo, where the road swings out to sea.

The dunes are flatter here, and on windy days sand blows across the highway, piling up in thick drifts as deadly as any oil slick ... instant loss of control, a crashing, a cartwheeling slide and maybe one of those two inch notices in the paper the next day: "An unidentified motor-cyclist was killed last night when he failed to negotiate a turn on Highway 1."

Indeed ... but no sand this time, so the lever goes up into fourth, and now there is no sound except wind. Screw it all the way over, reach through the handlebars to raise the headlight beam, the needle leans down on a hundred, and wind burned eyeballs strain to see down the centerline, trying to provide a margin for the reflexes.

But with the throttle screwed on there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right ... and thats when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at one hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporise before they get to your ears. The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it ... howling though a turn to your right, then to the left and down the long hill to the Pacifica ... letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge... . The Edge... . There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others - the living - are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to chose between Now or Later.

But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

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

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

— William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs with shotgun

William S. Burroughs with Shotgun

10 Gauge City by William S. Burroughs

"10 Gauge City" by William S. Burroughs

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

With a shotgun, yes.

Twelve-gauge.

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

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

Yes, you select the right part. You choose.

No, it’s not random.

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

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

Yes, it’s art.

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

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

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

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

William S. Burroughs and David Goodrich

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

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

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

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

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

Painting 'Something New Has Been Added' by Ralph Steadman

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

Traveler on the Yellow Wave by William S. Burroughs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover for Seven Deadly Sins book

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

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

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

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

Smart Art Press caption for Concrete and Buckshot

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

"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)

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

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

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

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

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

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

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

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

Navigation

This Month

March 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jul    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Weather

  • Central Park, NYC
    • Weather data not available

Wall Street

Google

  • Price: 814.43
  • Change: -3.15

DJIA

  • Price: N/A
  • Volume: N/A

S&P 500

  • Price: 2,343.98
  • Change: -1.98

Nikkei 225

  • Price: 19,262.53
  • Change: +177.22

Dollar vs. Euro (€)

  • $1 buys €0.9258

Dollar vs. Pound (£)

  • $1 buys £0.8018

Dollar vs. Yen (¥)

  • $1 buys ¥111.3290

Dollar vs. Yuan (元)

  • $1 buys 元6.8802

RSS Feeds

Entries
Comments

Login/Register

Validate CSS/HTML

Validate XHTML
Validate CSS