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26 July 2017
Morning Sedition

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
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

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

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)

The Þ in My Eye

Photograph of a Thorn

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

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

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

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

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

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language

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

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

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

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

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

Danger! Falling Lawsuit!

Sign for "Falling Debris"

Sign from Building at Intersection at Washington and Laight Streets

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

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

Sign for "Air Loom Tomato"

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

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

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

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

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

And in the plus ca change category:

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

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

Cover for "Air Loom Gang"

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

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

Sources and Further Reading

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

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.

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