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23 May 2017
Afternoon Sedition

Mermaid Parade
Tricked-Out Bikes

Tricked Out Bikes - Green Bike

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

Tricked Out Bikes - Red Bike

Tricked Out Bikes - Yellow Bike

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

Mermaid Parade
Foot Fetish

Mermaid on Stilts

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

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

Mermaid With Spring Walker

Neither works well on sand, though.

Mermaid Parade
Pharoah Ratner

Shark of the Covenant

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

Shark of the Covenant - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Legalize Sea Weed

Legalize Sea Weed

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

Mermaid Parade
Octopus’s Garden

Octopus Costume - Front

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

Octopus Costume - Back

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

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

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

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

Mermaid Parade
King George’s Booty

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

King George's Booty

King George's Booty - Closeup Left

King George's Booty - Closeup Center

King George's Booty - Closeup Right

Mermaid Parade
Burning Rubber

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Start

This entry continues photos from last year's parade.

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Getting There

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Heavy

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Smells Bad

Mermaid Parade
2005 Parade

Mermaid Parade Route

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

Mermaid Parade
Flexing a Little Muscle

Muscle Cars - Lined Up

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

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

Muscle Cars - Lined Up - Closeup

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

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility Closeup

Mermaid Parade
Genderbending

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

Merman - La Sirena on Boardwalk

Merman - La Sirena - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Avast Matey

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

Pirates - Enron

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

Pirate and Boy - Grab

Pirate and Boy - Grab Closeup

Pirate and Boy - Getaway

Samsara
(Circle of Things Lost and Found)

Grate Fisherman

Samsara
(Circle of Things Lost and Found)

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

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

About the Photograph

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

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

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

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

— Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653

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

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

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

— Louis Pasteur

Best Wishes for the Summer Solstice,

Citizen Arcane

Mermaid Parade
Mermen

And then there are the mermen...

Merman - Elvis

Merman - Green With Net

Merman - Parrot

Mermaid Parade
Catch of the Day

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

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Back

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Side

Mermaid Parade
Anatomical Issues

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

Mermaid Who Can't Walk in Chair

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

Siamese Mermaids

Mermaid Parade
Mermaid Costumes

Blue Mermaid

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

Mermaid with Crab Bra

Mermaid Parade
Millinery Finery

Fish Head Hat on Barrel

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

Hammerhead Hats

Shark Hat With Bait

Mermaid Parade
Iconic Images

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

Cyclone

Nathan's Hotdog-Eating Contest Countdown

Mermaid Parade
Keep Back!

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

Barricade by Sideshows by the Seashore

People Lined up for Parade

Baricades and People

Mermaid Parade
Initial Impressions

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

Frenchman with Fake Handlebar Moustache

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

Mermaids In Gowns and Beads

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

Diver Costume - Back View

Diver Costume - Front View

Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade Poster

Subway Sign for Q Train

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

Sign - People and Push Things

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

Surf Avenue and Nathan's Hot Dogs

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

Best in Show Heading Home, Into the Sunset

Best in Show Heading Home, Into the Sunset

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

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

Down Hill Derby
And So It Ends

This Costume and Vehicle Won Best In Show

This Headpiece and Vehicle Won Best In Show

Participants After the Race

Participants After the Race

Down Hill Derby
Can I Put this on my Resume?

Vehicles at Finish Line

Vehicles at Finish Line

Awarding Best In Show

Awarding Best In Show

Down Hill Derby
Lucky Men Who Made the Grade

Best in Show Crossing Finish Line

Best in Show Crossing Finish Line

Ohhhhh, That's Gotta Hurt!

Ohhhhh, That's Gotta Hurt!

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

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

Behold, the Conquering Hero!

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

Down Hill Derby
Spirit Is Something No One Destroys

My Vehicle is Dead, But I Saw Cool Runnings

My Vehicle is Dead, But I Saw Cool Runnings

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

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

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

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

Down Hill Derby
Disaster Strikes!

My Vehicle Is Wounded, But I Shall Repair It

My Vehicle Is Wounded, But I Shall Repair It

Closeup of Broken Vehicle Being Fixed With Hose Clamps

Closeup of Broken Vehicle Being Fixed With Hose Clamps

Pesky Pneumatics! Solid Tires Might Have Been A Better Choice

Pesky Pneumatics! Solid Tires Might Have Been A Better Choice

Down Hill Derby
Remember, Aim Here

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 1)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 1)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 2)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 2)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 3)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 3)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 4)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 5)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 5)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 6)

Finish Line Unfurling (Stage 6)

Down Hill Derby
And So It Begins

Setting Up At Starting Line

Setting Up At Starting Line

Last Minute Discussions for Starting Flag

Last Minute Discussions for Starting Flag

And They're Off!

And They're Off!

Down Hill Derby
Getting Ready

This Costume Won Best In Show

This Costume Won Best In Show

Racetrack is All Clear

Racetrack is All Clear

The Goal

The Goal

Down Hill Derby
Just Wrap It!

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Wrapping the Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

Is this a Manufacturer-Approved Use of Bubblewrap?

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

First Complete Circuit of Finish Line With Bubble Wrap

Down Hill Derby
Getting Screwed

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

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

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

Last Minute Prep; Yeah, They're Really Tight

The Down Hill Derby

Intersection at Finish Line

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

Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

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

Closeup of Map of Columbia and Fulton Street

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

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

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

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

Federal Bureau of Intimidation

Upside-Down Flag With Swastikas

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

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

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

— CitizenArcane

"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)

A Pre-Prandial Stroll Whets the Appetite

Vampire Bat Locomotion

Montage of Vampire Bat Locomotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Danger! Falling Lawsuit!

Sign for "Falling Debris"

Sign from Building at Intersection at Washington and Laight Streets

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

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

Sign for "Air Loom Tomato"

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

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

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

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

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

And in the plus ca change category:

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

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

Cover for "Air Loom Gang"

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

Banner Image for EatPES.com

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

— Ray Harryhausen, Stop-Motion Animator

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

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

Square Footage Films (NYC Independent Animation)

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

"Roof Sex" by PES

"Roof Sex" by PES

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

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

Square Footage Films (NYC Independent Animation)

"Coinstar" by PES

"Coinstar" by PES

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

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

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

"Missing" by PES

"Missing" by PES

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

"Beasty Boy" by PES

"Beasty Boy" by PES

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

"Wild Horses Redux" by PES

"Wild Horses Redux" by PES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law…"

Camera Use Prohibited

I must have a real problem with authority. (Yeah, I know, realizing this was a shock to me, too.) Whenever I see a sign saying "no cameras" I, of course, feel obliged to take pictures. When the police harass me, I quote the First Amendment as if it were some ur-document of holy writ. (For some reason they have not been impressed by my recitations.)

I've been taking pictures in the Holland Tunnel for some time; most don't come out, because it is difficult to take a shot one handed, without looking, at 45 miles per hour. But I've lusted after the "Camera Use Prohibited" sign outside the Holland Tunnel for ages. Why? Not just because it sums up everything that's wrong with the post-9-11 view that the citizens are cattle to be herded from illegal war to illegal tax cut. That's a lot of it, true. But the biggest reason is that the area is crawling with cops, so it's a hard shot to get without being arrested. And the intersection is usually so packed with cars that I can't get a clear line of sight to it.

But it was a torrentially rainy day with flood-watch warnings, so the area was empty enough for a shot, even if it was overcast. I took this one almost perpindicular to the sign, and through my windshield, though. Sometimes discretion is the better part of not having your day ruined by jackbooted thugs.

Breaking The Law

You don’t know what it’s like,
you don’t have a clue
If you did you’d find yourselves
doing the same thing too

Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law

"Breaking The Law", Judas Priest, British Steel, 1980

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.

Haggis, Tatties & Neeps (Oh My!)

Wallace Sword - Full Length

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

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

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

Wallace Sword - Pommel

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

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

Wallace Sword - Guard

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

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

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

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

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

Our Beloved Haggis! The National Dish of Scotland

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

"You Talkin’ Ta Me?"

Travis Bickle in Taxi

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

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

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

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

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

Travis Bickle in Taxi

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

— Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976

Spoken like a true New Yorker.

"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.)

A Plank, A Rope, And Thou?

Fractal Circles Crop Circle

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

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

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

In their own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circlemakers by Rob Irving

Wavy Line and Concentric Circles Crop Circle

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

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

Equipment

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

Circlemakers guide to making crop circles

Windmill Crop Circle

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

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

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

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

Myth Men By Rod Dickinson

Sparsholt Crop Circle

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

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

Circlemakers: Top of the Crops 2002

Star Pattern Crop Circle

Patience and Fortitude

Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Library Lions: Patience and Fortitude

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

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

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

What was done?

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

Restored Library Lions Unveiled, 19 November 2004

High Fidelity. Errr… "High-Tide Phidelity"

Double-Weave Design

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

How do you get it so perfect?

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

What does it mean?

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

Where do you get your designs from?

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

Why do you do it?

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

Isn't hard to leave the designs behind?

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

How long does it take?

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

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

We are all free-lance artists.

Phidelity

Raking Sand

Cleopatra Versus The Masons

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

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

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

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

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

Central Park Conservancy

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

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

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

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

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, United States Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

Das Ist Der Nadle

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates

Cleopatra's Needle and Gates

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

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates Reflected

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

Tourists Say The Damndest Things!

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

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

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

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

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

NYPD Tactical Response Team

NYPD Tactical Response Team

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

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

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

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

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

Puh-leaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sultan’s Turret

NYC skyline looking east over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing west)

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

NYC skyline looking south over reservoir

NYC Skyline from Central Park Reservoir (facing south)

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

— Omar Khayaam, Rubaiyyat

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

12 Feet Tall And 20 Tons

Nautilus Snow Sculpture 2005

Nautilus, Gold Medal Winner, 2005

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Molds For Raw Snow Blocks

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

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

Go Breckenridge

Raw Snow Blocks

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Gates From Spaaaaaaace

The Gates seen from satellite

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

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

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

Mmmmmm. Good Cracker!

Cracker on bridge from The Crackers

The Crackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recycling "The Crackers"

Recycling "The Crackers"

The Only Reason to Visit Somerville Massachusetts

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

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

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

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

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

The Somerville Gates by Lee Hargadon, unveiled 14 February 2005

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

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on table

Lee Hargadon's "The Somerville Gates" on Stairway

Torii! Torii! Torii!

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Frantisek Staud's photograph of a huge torii gate

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

Torii gates at Fushimi Inaria

Masumi Abe's picture of torii gates over stairs

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

Tom Plant's photo of a torii tunnel

Tom Plant's photograph of a torii gate tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

The Thin Orange Line

The Gates: curving line

The Gates: Curving Line

The Gates: west gate

The Gates: West Gate

Aeolus At The Gates

The Gates in wind

The Gates in wind

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

The Gates in wind from underneath

With Gated Breath

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

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

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

The Gates at south end of Central Park, facing west

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

The Gates from across the lawn, facing west

Artists, Not Barbarians, at "The Gates"

Photo of Japanese couple arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese man arranging oranges at The Gates

Photo of Japanese couple with oranges at The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movies So Bad You Need Cheap Sunglasses

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

Cheap Sunglasses by ZZ Top

Fancier 3D red/blue glasses

Fancier 3D Red/Blue Glasses

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

Audience watching Bwana Devil

Audience Watching Bwana Devil

3D glasses used for Bwana Devil

3D Glasses Used for Bwana Devil

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

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

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

What is an anaglyph?

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

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

Who invented the anaglyph?

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

Anaglyphs FAQ

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

Tightrope Walkers from 1915

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

This is far from being a new technique:

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

Panama Pacific International Exposition in 3D

Anaglyph of Mars Orbiter

Anaglyph of Mars Odyssey Orbiter

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

Anaglyph of sand dune from mars lander

Sand Dunes of Nili Patera Taken By Mars Lander

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

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

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

American Paper Optics

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

Idiotarod 2004

2004 Idiotarod

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

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

Lots of Green, Leafy… Sea Dragons

ALT

Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus equus)

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

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

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

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

Dive Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

MarineBio.org

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

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

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

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

Aquarium of Western Australia

Sources and Further Reading

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

Where Death Delights to Help the Living

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

— Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Nutshell Studies book cover

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

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

Boston Saloon

Killing at a Boston Saloon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you might not want your dolls to live there.

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

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

Bellwether Gallery

Nutshell Study Number 7: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 2: Three-Room Dwelling

Nutshell Study Number 2
Three-Room Dwelling

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

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

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

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

Francis Lee Glessner at work

Francis Lee Glessner Making Crime-Scene Dioramas

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

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 6: The Blue Bedroom

Nutshell Study Number 6
The Blue Bedroom

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

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

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

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

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

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

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

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a Photographer Criminal

New York/New Jersey sign in the Holland tunnel

Taking this picture was a crime. (No, not because it has some glare, either.)

The tunnels in New York are now festooned with signs saying, "Camera Use Prohibited". (I have a shot of the sign, but it is on film which hasn't yet been developed. I used film and a telephoto, instead of the point-and-shoot digital, because I didn't want to tempt Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis by taking it up close and personal, what with the cops having a car parked right underneath the sign.) Such a prohibition is, of course, a blatant and egregious violation of the First Amendment and I hope someone takes the city to court over it.

Article I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Bill of Rights, United States Constitution

Illegal restrictions will, of course, do nothing to stop anyone with a van outfitted with a combination of video cameras and still cameras who really wants that footage for some nefarious purpose. And if there is anything we know about terrorists, it is that they can be particularly meticulous and patient. Given that traffic moves at a crawl during rush hour, anyone who really cared could obtain footage of every inch of the tunnel without too many passes and without ever being spotted.

Anyway, being a stubborn troublemaker, I make it a point to snap pictures inside the tunnel whenever I can. These are not easy shots to take; far from it: I must hold the camera in my left hand — right hand on the wheel — and take the shot without aiming or, in the case of film, focusing. (I prefocus before entering the tunnel.) Oh, and I do all this at forty-five miles per hour, guessing when the sign will appear. Not to worry, my eyes are on the road and I'm plenty far back from the car in front, but putting safety first means I miss a bunch of shots.

This may not be my finest work, but given the awkward circumstances of its birth, I'm quite proud of it; framed and focused is half the battle. When camera use is a crime, only criminals will have cameras.

"And, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta."

— Geto Boys

First Thing, We Kill All The Tourists

The Union Square Greenmarket is normally a bustling place on Saturdays, typically so crowded one must weave through the crowd, dodging the errant elbow or umbrella. (And they aren't all tourists, either!) Unless that Saturday is New Year's Day, that is.

I shot these at about noon; this area would normally be so filled with vendors on either side and customers that a photo would show only a sea of bodies. Not today, however; there is only one lone vendor holding down the fort. (The yellow truck and the red-awning in the upper right of the view looking north.) He said, in what must be the understatement of the day, that business was much slower than usual, but that he hoped it would pick up.

Union Square Facing North

Union Square, Looking North

Union Square Facing East

Union Square, Looking East

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