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26 July 2017
Morning Sedition

Mermaid Parade
Tricked-Out Bikes

Tricked Out Bikes - Green Bike

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

Tricked Out Bikes - Red Bike

Tricked Out Bikes - Yellow Bike

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

Mermaid Parade
Foot Fetish

Mermaid on Stilts

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

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

Mermaid With Spring Walker

Neither works well on sand, though.

Mermaid Parade
Pharoah Ratner

Shark of the Covenant

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

Shark of the Covenant - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Legalize Sea Weed

Legalize Sea Weed

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

Mermaid Parade
Octopus’s Garden

Octopus Costume - Front

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

Octopus Costume - Back

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

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

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

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

Mermaid Parade
King George’s Booty

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

King George's Booty

King George's Booty - Closeup Left

King George's Booty - Closeup Center

King George's Booty - Closeup Right

Mermaid Parade
Burning Rubber

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Start

This entry continues photos from last year's parade.

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Getting There

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Heavy

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

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Smells Bad

Mermaid Parade
2005 Parade

Mermaid Parade Route

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

Mermaid Parade
Flexing a Little Muscle

Muscle Cars - Lined Up

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

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

Muscle Cars - Lined Up - Closeup

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

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility

Muscle Cars - Correctional Facility Closeup

Mermaid Parade
Genderbending

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

Merman - La Sirena on Boardwalk

Merman - La Sirena - Side View

Mermaid Parade
Avast Matey

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

Pirates - Enron

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

Pirate and Boy - Grab

Pirate and Boy - Grab Closeup

Pirate and Boy - Getaway

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
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)

If Google Answered CraigsList’s Personal Ad

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

Google Map for New York Housing from CraigsList

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

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

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

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

The street finds its own uses for things.

"Burning Chrome" by William S. Gibson

"This is the Law of the Yukon"

Robert W. Service

Robert William Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

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

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

...

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

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

Robert W. Service's Cabin in the Yukon Valley

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

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

Robert W. Service Working in His Yukon Cabin

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

Service remained popular long after his death:

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

"Life of Service," by Dan Duffy

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

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

— Donald G. French, Globe Magazine

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

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

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

Obituary, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 16 September 1958

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

The Law of the Yukon

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

...

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

The Cremation of Sam McGee

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

...

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

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

Violet De Vere

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

...

"Violet De Vere" by Robert W. Service

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

Porn Is Also Great and Would Suffice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire and Ice

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

Robert Frost, 1920

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

Your Petrodollars at Work

Burj Dubai

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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

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

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

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

Burj Dubai

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

DVD Coverfor Night of the Living Dead

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

The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wade Davis, Current Biography Monthly Magazine, January 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fugu Sushi

Fugu (Pufferfish) Sushi Being Prepared

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

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

FDA/CFSAN Bad Bug Book Tetrodotoxin

Cover for the Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

TitleThe Serpent and the Rainbow
AuthorWade Davis
ISBN0684839296
PublisherSimon & Schuster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombis May Not Be What They're Reputed To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

...

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

Sushi-Eating HowTo by Eugene Ciurana

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

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

Ingredients

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

Mixing Instructions

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

Drink Nations' Guide to Making Zombies

Zombie Glass for Drinks

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

A Plank, A Rope, And Thou?

Fractal Circles Crop Circle

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

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

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

In their own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circlemakers by Rob Irving

Wavy Line and Concentric Circles Crop Circle

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

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

Equipment

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

Circlemakers guide to making crop circles

Windmill Crop Circle

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

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

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

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

Myth Men By Rod Dickinson

Sparsholt Crop Circle

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

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

Circlemakers: Top of the Crops 2002

Star Pattern Crop Circle

High Fidelity. Errr… "High-Tide Phidelity"

Double-Weave Design

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

How do you get it so perfect?

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

What does it mean?

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

Where do you get your designs from?

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

Why do you do it?

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

Isn't hard to leave the designs behind?

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

How long does it take?

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

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

We are all free-lance artists.

Phidelity

Raking Sand

Cleopatra Versus The Masons

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park in 1881

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park with The Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

Removal of Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt

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

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

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

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

Central Park Conservancy

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

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

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

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

Lt. Commander Henry Honychurch Gorringe, United States Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved on Pier

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle Moved to Central Park

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at NYCRR Race (unretouched)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Das Ist Der Nadle

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates

Cleopatra's Needle and Gates

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

Cleopatra's Needle and The Gates Reflected

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

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"

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.

Year of the Rooster

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

Rooster Stamp From Hong Kong

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

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

Chinese New Year Taboos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese avoid weddings in Year of Rooster

The origins of the New Year celebration itself are interesting:

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

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

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

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

Origins of the Chinese New Year

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

Field Museum diorama with Tsavo man-eating lions

Tsavo man-eating lions in diorama at The Field Museum

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

Colonel Patterson with dead lion

Lt. Col. John Patterson with dead lion

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

Movie poster for Bwana Devil

Movie Poster for Bwana Devil

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

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

Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

The Kind of Hummer Nobody Needs

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

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

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

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

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

Last Exit for Number of the Beast

Route 666 Sign

Sign for US Route 666

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

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

Map of Route 666 in New Mexico

Map of US 666 in New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

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

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

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

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

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

Their Way For the Highway

Did you ever wonder how highway designers number interstate highways? (Ok, so maybe I need to get out a little more.) The Department of Transportation has a writeup explaining that the madness to their method:

The Interstate route marker is a red, white, and blue shield, carrying the word "Interstate", the State name, and the route number. Officials of AASHTO developed the procedure for numbering the routes. Major Interstate routes are designated by one- or two-digit numbers. Routes with odd numbers run north and south, while even numbered run east and west. For north-south routes, the lowest numbers begin in the west, while the lowest numbered east-west routes are in the south. By this method, Interstate Route 5 (I-5) runs north-south along the west coast, while I-10 lies east-west along the southern border.

...

To prevent duplication within a State, a progression of prefixes is used for the three-digit numbers. For example, if I-80 runs through three cities in a State, circumferential routes around these cities would be numbered as I-280, I-480, and I-680. The same system would be used for spur routes into the three cities, with routes being numbered I-180, I-380, and I-580, respectively. This system is not carried across State lines. As a result, several cities in different States along I-80 may each have circumferential beltways numbered as I-280 or spur routes numbered as I-180.

United States Department of Transportation

Read The Story

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

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

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

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

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

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

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

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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