Friday, August 31, 2007

The man who planted trees: The Story of Elzéard Bouffier.

The Man Who Planted Trees (French title L'homme qui plantait des arbres), also known as "The Story of Elzéard Bouffier"; "The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met"; and "The Man who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness" is an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giono, published in 1953.
It tells the story of one shepherd's long and successful singlehanded effort to re-forest a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps near Provence throughout the first half of the 20th century.

The tale is narrated by a twenty-year-old man who remains anonymous throughout (although it has been suggested the narrator may perhaps be the author Jean Giono, there is no evidence for this). The story begins in the year 1910 when this young man is undertaking a lone hiking trip through Provence, France, and into the Alps, enjoying the relatively unspoiled wilderness.
The narrator runs out of water in a treeless, desolate valley where only wild lavender grows and there is no trace of civilization except old, empty crumbling buildings. The narrator finds only a dried up well, but is saved by a middle-aged shepherd who takes him to a spring he knows of.
Curious about this man, and why he has chosen such a lonely life, the narrator stays with him for a time. The shepherd, after being widowed, has decided to restore the ruined ecosystem of the isolated and largely abandoned valley by single-handedly cultivating a forest, tree by tree. The shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, makes holes in the ground with his curling pole and drops into the holes acorns that he has collected from many miles away.
The narrator leaves the shepherd and returns home, and later fights in the First World War. In 1915, shell-shocked and depressed after the war, the man returns. He is surprised to see young saplings of all forms taking root in the valley, and new streams running through it where the shepherd has made natural dams higher up in the mountain. The narrator makes a full recovery in the peace and beauty of the regrowing valley, and continues to visit Elzéard Bouffier every year. Elzéard Bouffier is no longer a shepherd because he is worried about the sheep affecting his young trees, and has taken up a new profession. He is now a bee keeper.
Over four decades, Elzéard Bouffier continues to plant trees and the valley is turned into a kind of Garden of Eden. By the end of the story, the valley has a vibrant ecosystem and is peacefully settled. The valley receives official protection after the Second World War (of course the authorities mistakenly believe that the rapid growth of this forest is a bizarre natural phenomenon as they are unaware of Bouffier's selfless deeds) and more than 10,000 people move there, all of them unknowingly owing their happiness to Elzéard Bouffier. The narrator tells one of his friends in the government the truth about the natural forest, and the friend also helps protect the forest.
The narrator visits the now very old Elzéard Bouffier one last time in 1945, at the end of World War II. In a hospice in Banon, in 1947 the man who planted trees peacefully passes away.

A true story?

The story itself is so touching that many readers have believed that Elzéard Bouffier was a genuine historical figure and that the narrator of the story was a young Jean Giono himself, and that so the tale is part autobiographical. Certainly, Jean Giono lived during this time. While he was alive, Giono enjoyed allowing people to believe that the story was real, and considered it as a tribute to his skill. His daughter, Aline Giono, described it as "a family story for a long time". However, Giono himself explained in a 1957 letter to an official of the city of Digne:
Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable
In the letter, he describes how the book was translated in a multitude of languages, distributed freely, and therefore was a success. He adds that, although "[i]t does not bring me a cent", it is one of the texts of which he is most proud.

Some people claim that this story is true, and that people in other countries have produced similar effects. For example, a man called Abdul Karim had apparently created a forest out of "nothing" over 19 years, using the same method as Bouffier. [1] An organization called "Trees for the Future" claimed to have assisted more than 170,000 families, in 6,800 villages of Asia, Africa and the Americas, to plant over 35 million trees. [2] The character of Bouffier also has some similarity to the legendary early 19th century American tree planter Johnny Appleseed. Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, founded the Greenbelt Movement which planted 30 million trees to restore the Kenyan environment.

An animated adaptation of the story was produced by Frédéric Back in 1987.[4] This 30 minute short film is narrated by Christopher Plummer (English version, also available with a French narrator) and produced by Radio-Canada. It won the Academy Award for best animated short film, as well as several other awards that year. It is available on a Region 1 (American) DVD, either on its own or with other animated films directed by Frédéric Back.

The film has for a long time been topping IMDb's top short list, and therefore recognized by many as the best short film ever created (Yuriy Norshteyn's Tale of Tales, twice voted by a large international panel to be the world's best animated film, does not have enough votes on IMDB to qualify for the list).
In 1994 it was voted #44 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.
In 2006 it was adapted for the stage and puppets by Richard Medrington of Puppet State Theatre Company in Edinburgh, Scotland. The show has been performed over 160 times since July 2006, including a sell out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Tall Tale That's Not a Tall Tale: Potsdamer Riesengarde

Friedrich Wilhelm I: small man, big fantasies

From Wikipedia:

The Potsdam Giants was a Prussian infantry regiment composed of taller-than-average soldiers. Its founder was the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688-1740). The unit was known as the "Potsdamer Riesengarde" ("giant guard of Potsdam") in German, but the Prussian population quickly nicknamed them the "Lange Kerls" ("Long guys").

When Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia ascended to the throne in 1713 he proceeded to decrease expenses of the court and strengthen his military. He let Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau improve the drill and weapons of his army and hired 40,000 foreign mercenaries. He believed in harsh discipline.

The Potsdam Giants was based on the king's personal regiment that his father had given him to play with. He had already begun to recruit taller soldiers for it. Official name of the regiment was the 'Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam' or 'Potsdam Grenadiers' for short. However, when the number of tall soldiers increased, the regiment earned its nickname 'Potsdam Giants'. Their uniform was a red hat, blue jacket with gold trim, scarlet trousers, white stockings, and black shoes. Their weapons were muskets, white bandoleers, and daggers. The soldiers wore a hat without a brim in order to be able to throw their heavy grenades with ease.

The original required height was 1.8 meters (5 ft 11 in), then well above average. The tallest soldiers were reportedly 2.17 meters (about 7 feet) in height. The king — who was 1.5 meters (4'11" feet) himself — needed several hundred more recruits each year. He tried to obtain them by any means, and once confided to the French ambassador that "The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers--they are my weakness." He gave bonuses to fathers of tall sons and landowners who gave up their tallest farm workers to join the regiment. He recruited tall soldiers from the armies of other European countries. Foreign rulers like the Emperor of Austria, Russian Tsar Peter the Great and even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sent tall soldiers to him in order to encourage friendly relations. Once, Peter the Great retracted his annual gift of 40 soldiers to the regiment, and following that action, Friedrich Wilhelm refused to speak to the Russian ambassador until they were returned.

If the man concerned was not interested, the king resorted to forced recruitment and kidnapping — his agents kidnapped tall priests, monks, innkeepers, etc, from all over Europe. Once they even tried to abduct an Austrian diplomat. He even forced tall women to marry tall soldiers so they could breed more tall boys. If some regimental commander failed to inform the king of a potential tall recruit under his own command, he faced royal displeasure.

Pay was high but not all giants were content, especially if they were forcibly recruited. They attempted desertion or suicide. The king's idea to stretch his troopers to make them taller was met with open rebellion.

The king never risked the Giants in battle. (Fortunately, since many of the men suffered from disabilities related to their gigantism and were unfit for combat.) He trained and drilled them every day. He liked to paint their portraits from memory. He tried to show them to foreign visitors and dignitaries to impress them. At times he would try to cheer himself up by ordering them to march before him, even if he was in his sickbed. This procession, which included the entire regiment, was led by their mascot, a bear.

When the king died in 1740, crown prince Frederick — future Frederick the Great — did not share his sentiments about the regiment, which seemed to him an unnecessary expense. He dismissed the Giants. Forcibly recruited foreigners returned to their home countries after a long service. Nancy Mitford's biography of Frederick the Great, quotes contemporary sources saying the roads to Paris were littered with half-wit giants trying to find their way home.

Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia looking up to (at) his troops

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The feeling of wetness: The Blaschka Marine Invertebrates.

From William Warmus:

"In 1928 the naturalist William Beebe described his experiences as a helmet diver in the book Beneath Tropic Seas. Beebe felt that our existing terrestrial vocabulary was an inexact and at times unimaginative instrument for gauging the world beneath the waves. For example, he wrote: "I know the exact shade of a certain feathery sea plume, but resent having to refer to it as zinc orange. Yet I am always pleased when I detect salmon, or pearl-grey or ultramarine." Beebe struggled to present an accurate and poetic account of the fantastic visions presented to him by the ocean realm, but he was not the first. From ancient times to today, scientists, writers and artists have sought to perfect their descriptions of the deep and the creatures that thrive there. The Blaschkas, who made the glass creatures that illustrate this essay, were not the first to make models of underwater life, but they were among the most fanatic in attention to detail. They would have appreciated Beebe's subtlety of observation.

The Discovery

During the fall of 1957 an unusual find was made at Cornell University in upstate New York. Professor Thomas Eisner, a young faculty member who was working in Roberts Hall and had begun to explore its musty corridors, found a series of locked antique wooden cabinets. Through the dingy glass windows were visible hundreds of delicate and unusual sea creatures, all the more extraordinary because landlocked Ithaca is several hundred miles away from the closest tide pools. Eisner, now recognized as a founder of the field of chemical ecology, and his graduate student Roger Payne, who later discovered that Humpback whales sing songs [endnote 1], picked the locks with a paper clip and were absolutely mesmerized to find that the highly detailed ocean invertebrates, including octopus, squid, pelagic snail, and sea cucumber, were made of glass. Altogether, 570 creatures had been-well, how had they been?-fashioned by someone, for some purpose. But why? And when?

The story begins in the fall of 1882. The president of Cornell, A. D. White, had launched the University on an avid career of institutional collecting that would eventually include everything from the first telegraph receiver to the principal copy of the Gettysburg address (in Lincoln's handwriting) to a preserved manatee and the papier mache models of Auzoux. It was easy, then, for Professor Comstock of Entomology and Invertebrate Zoology to talk White into visiting Ward's Natural History establishment in Rochester, New York. There, they saw the highly detailed teaching models of ocean invertebrates, made by Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf (1857-1939) Blaschka of Dresden, Germany. President White was so enthusiastic about the glass models that he authorized the order of a complete set, and increased the annual operating budget for the department, allowing for the installation of running water in the laboratory.

The rest is fairly well known. The Blaschkas made educational models for many universities and institutes, including the Zoological Institute in Vienna [endnote 2] and Harvard University, where they were engaged to create a significant study collection of glass flowers. Many of their early marine designs were derived from illustrations available in contemporary books, for example those published in Philip Gosse's famous account A Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast of 1853, although later the Blaschkas worked from preserved and live specimens. The advantage to students of studying glass models over preserved specimens was that the preserved specimens tended to lose shape and color.

The Publication

By the time Eisner made his discovery, Jacques Cousteau had perfected the aqualung and the era of gorgeous, full color underwater photography of sea creatures would soon make the scientific study value of the Blaschka models obsolete. But not quite out of date in 1964, when Eisner wrote (with Allison Burnett) the book Animal Adaptation. Lacking good illustrations of Sepia officinalis (a squid), Sabella (a tube-dwelling polychaete), and Arenicola marina (a lugworm), he turned to the Blaschka models. An avid photographer, he made the photos himself and published them in black and white in the book, where they look amazingly like the live creatures, or at least like freshly caught ones. In a certain sense, Eisner's use of the Blaschka models in his book represents the closing of a circle that began when the Blaschkas first turned to Gosse's book as a source for their models.

The caption for Sabella in Eisner's book hints at the precise anatomical detail that is visible in the model and was introduced by the Blaschkas: "The front end, beset with feathery gills, protrudes from the tube. The gills are slimy and entrap small organisms that are then conveyed to the mouth by cilia. The slender body of the worm is visible (arrow) where the tube has been dissected open." Although Paul Stankard's wildflower botanicals come immediately to mind, I am aware of few artists practicing today whose work could sustain such a close inquiry into its parallelism with natural forms. We live instead in a hit-and-run era, a time when artists brought up on conceptual, minimal and political art use nature as a starting point, but seldom as an end in itself. Today the work of the Blaschkas is seen as a curious fusion of craft and science. Some people love them as both, some people see them as not very good examples of either: obsolete science, high craft, low art. I personally like them because they are objects that exist "between." This undefined flavor seems to me to give them a kind of live independence.

The Feeling of Wetness

The Blaschka models still have a voice for those interested in listening, and maybe even a few new stories to reveal. For example, I have for a long time felt uneasy about what I can only describe as the "dry" aspect of the surfaces of some of the glass models. Then I learned that many were painted (probably cold painted), and this explained why the usual high gloss aspect of the glass had been muted. But I keep asking myself, why would the Blaschkas do that? Why not use a paint that would retain a shiny, wet look? I don't have an answer yet to this question. Maybe the paint is simply dusty and dim with age. But recently, in researching the work of the painter Walter (Zarh) Pritchard, I came across another possible answer. Pritchard was probably the first artist to paint underwater. He took his oil impregnated drawing paper (attached to a sheet of glass) and oil crayons to the bottom of the sea (well, actually only to a depth of fifteen or twenty feet), off the coast of Tahiti around 1905.

At first, Pritchard drew only as long as he could hold his breath, diving and surfacing repeatedly, but later he used a dive helmet, the air pumped from the surface. Curiously, many of the resulting paintings and drawings had a "dry" look. A remark he made is pertinent here: "There is no feeling of wetness when one is below the surface." [endnote 4] Wetness is given to us by visual cues-drops of water, irregularities of sheen--that can't exist beneath the waves. This meshes with my own diving experiences. And when glass is immersed in water, it does not have a wet look. I have had the opportunity to work beneath the Pacific Ocean with glass installations by the artists Catherine Rahn and Dale Chihuly: glass surfaces underwater have a beautiful way of melding with the ocean medium. I conjecture that the Blaschkas knew, or intuitively sensed, that their marine invertebrate models need not have a wet look to be accurate to the feel of the ocean realm. Who knows? Maybe they even placed their models in aquariums (a new invention of the era) out of simple curiosity, and learned for themselves Pritchard's profound observation about the terrestrial origin of wetness. But would that sort of observation count as an act of the artist or of the scientist?

Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

The Blaschkas worked during an era of tremendous growth in our knowledge about the ocean. Just a generation earlier, in 1861, the writer Michelet had observed, in his book The Sea, that "There are doubtful creatures, the Corallines, for instance, that are claimed by all the three kingdoms." Scientists soon decided that the corals were animals rather than rocks or plants. Today, we are faced with a similar uncertainty regarding certain categories of objects. Which kingdom should lay claim to the Blaschka creatures? Art? Science? Craft?

The artist Marcel Duchamp was among the first, around 1917, to show that anything and everything could be experienced as a work of art. Since that time, artists have demonstrated that bottle racks, bricks, piles of earth, ideas, a dead shark, and even craft objects can be appreciated aesthetically. From this situation follows a question: If any thing can be made into a work of art, can works of art be made into anything else? Can the work of art itself be claimed by other kingdoms?

For many artists, the answer is no: it is art, nothing else. It is not a brick, it is art. It is not a dead shark, it is art. It is not a bowl, it is a work of art. To put apples in that bowl would be wrong. Art trumps function. In fact, art trumps. Period.

Above: This unusual Blaschka glass model from the 1880s is an ocean going Sea Slug that floats upside down as it hunts jellyfish. Glaucus atlanticus is featured on the cover of the 2003 book Deep New Zealand by Peter Batson.

I want to revisit the question: If anything can be a work of art, can (or should) it be something else besides? That is why I am writing about the Blaschka Marine Invertebrate models. These objects are sometimes considered works of art. But are they perhaps also something other than works of art? To expand beyond Duchamp, can we claim that there are objects that resist or transcend the ability of the artist to aestheticize them?

Even if you always harbored doubts about the Blaschka models as art, by 1999 at least one artist had "transformed" them into "art" and received the approval of a leading art museum. In "The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the artist Christopher Williams exhibited a 1989 photograph of Blaschka flower Model 272 at the Harvard Botanical Museum. As the catalog entry from the Museum of Modern Art exhibition indicated: "By choosing to photograph glass flower models from countries where political disappearances were recorded in 1985, Williams reclassifies them by country of origin rather than by the museum's system. Over the institution's botanical classification, based on science, the artist proposes another, based on politics, underlining the biased nature of any classification system." "Biased" can mean unfair, prejudiced, subjective. Curiously, the credit for Williams' photograph reads "The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The El Paso Natural Gas Company Fund for California Art," reminding us of the biased nature of Williams artwork by reclassifying it and "claiming" it as an advertisement for an energy company.

Where does it all end? Other artists have chosen to produce fantasy cabinets of objects and labels that superficially resemble the ways the Blaschka models were originally displayed, or, like Damian Hirst, have preferred to immerse real ocean critters in tanks of preservatives. Do these artists know what they are doing? Have they chosen to live in a prefabricated world, detached from the inspiration of anything outside the artworld itself? Perhaps Duchamp made a kind of pact with the devil. In granting the artist absolute power to turn anything into art, he greatly magnified the power of the artist, but also severely diminished the independence of the object.

That is why I like the Blaschka creatures. Made at the height of the art nouveau era, they ignored that style's tendencies to exaggerate form and color. Their creators had too many other concerns: were the colors accurate? Are the feathery gills correctly placed on the body? In fact, the absence of "style" in these objects is among their most astonishing aspects. After all these years, they still seem very much alive [endnote 5].

I would like to give the last word to the novelist John Steinbeck, who wrote a perfect book with his great friend the marine biologist Ed Ricketts about a spring (in 1940) spent collecting marine invertebrates and other critters in the Sea of Cortez:

"It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and has recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that color, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way." [Endnote 6]

Maybe the Blaschkas never set out to be artists, but somehow they managed to unpickle the fish.

William Warmus
Ithaca, New York"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Our Favorite Elf ... With A Gun!

From Habakkuk at Everything2:
A character published by Marvel Comics. The Elf with a Gun first appeared in Defenders #25 in 1975 and was created by Steve Gerber

So you like your comics bizarre, you say? You are all for continuity and comics canon, but occasionally you like things that are just so odd that they leave you puzzling over them for days. Then, you will in general love the work of Steve Gerber. Gerber is the creator of such cultural icons as Howard the Duck and Doctor Bong, so his history of the off-kilter is well documented, but over a couple of years, he introduced into the Marvel Universe a wonderful character that became known simply by the moniker the Elf with a Gun.

The character first appeared in a brief interlude in Defenders #25. The scene opens with a couple watching TV in their trailer one evening when their activity is interrupted by a knock on the door. The husband goes and answers the door and is met with the unexpected sight of an elf. That's right: an elf - small, red hair and beard, pointed ears, hat with a pom pom, and curly toed shoes. And as the husband stares at the elf, it pulls out a gun and shoots both the husband and his wife. End of Interlude.

What makes this interlude so odd is that the couple has nothing to do with the Defenders at all. We have never met them or their assailant, but it is an intriguing plot point and began speculation as to who this elf was.

Six issues pass, and the elf appears again, this time in Las Vegas, posing as a cab driver. He picks up another couple, drives a bit, discards the disguise, and for no visible purpose, shoots them both. Again, there is no connection between the Defenders, the victims, or the Elf that we are aware of.

This trend continues over the next couple of years. On at least two more ocassions, the Elf with the Gun appears and kills seemingly nameless people for no particular reason. The fans by this point were demanding an answer from Gerber as to who this character was, why he was shooting people, and what it all meant. Gerber, to his credit, never explained or said a word on the subject. He did however move on to other projects and the new writers of the Defenders were left with this huge dangling plot thread, one which they attempted to clean up by having the Elf with a Gun run over by a truck outside the home of Defenders' member Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk).

In retrospect, the Elf with a Gun was one of the oddest and most perplexing moments in Marvel history. Steve Gerber for his part stated years later that the Elf with a Gun was only supposed to represent the randomness of life and how no matter how much you plan and work, something completely random may occur and destroy all of your plans - like, one supposes, getting shot by an Elf with a Gun.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alias the Scarecrow.

Patrick McGoohan from the Disney movie "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh"
"Christopher Syn was a brilliant scholar who also possessed many swashbuckling skills such as riding, fencing, and seamanship. He was content to live the quiet life of a country vicar in Dymchurch-under-the Sea under the patronage of Sir Charles Cobtree, the father of his best friend Anthony Cobtree, until his beautiful young Spanish wife Imogene was seduced by and eloped with Nicholas Tappitt, whom Dr. Syn had considered a close friend.

Christopher Syn set out on a quest for revenge, always managing in a deliberate campaign to reach the eloped pair's destinations ahead of them just in time to terrify them against landing and facing him. While sailing from Spain to America in pursuit of them, his ship was captured by the pirate ship The Sulphur Pit commanded by the Negro pirate Captain Satan. In a one-on-one fight, Syn defeated and killed Captain Satan to take command of his ship and crew, among whom was Mr. Mipps, a former Royal Navy ship's carpenter with whom Syn had become friends back in England after rescuing Mipps from the Customs men and who had sworn loyalty to Syn from that time onward. With Mipps at his side, Dr. Syn turned to piracy and became a great success, but when his crew refused to allow him to leave them, Syn and Mipps quietly slipped away in one of the ship's boats; unknown to Syn, Mipps had arranged a convenient "accident" in the ship's powder hold with an exploding barrel of
gunpowder, eliminating all witnesses who could tell of Syn's piratic acts.

Dr Syn: The Steam Locomotive from the Romney Hyde and Dymchurch Railway

Mr. Mipps then joined Dr. Syn in his quest for revenge, pursuing Tappitt and Imogene throughout the thirteen American colonies (supposedly to preach the gospel to the Indians) and around the world (as past of a whaling voyage) afterwards, and was with him in the Caribbean when Dr. Syn turned again to piracy, assuming the name of Captain Clegg (taking the name "Clegg" from a certain vicious biting fly he had encountered in America), hijacking his enemy Tappitt's own ship and crew and sailing off with them (renaming the ship the Imogene) to become the most infamous pirate of the day. However, a mulatto who escaped the destruction of Syn's previous ship stowed away in Clegg's ship and accused him before the crew; Captain Clegg quelled the potential mutiny by having the mulatto's tongue cut out, marooning him on a coral reef and violently killing Yellow Pete, the ship's Chinese cook, who represented the crew in their wish to rescue the mulatto. Afterwards, realizing that Captain Clegg had become too notorious, Dr. Syn decided to abandon his quest and return to England, and Mipps set up a second "accidental" explosion to destroy the Imogene and her crew.

Andrew Wyeth's Dr Syn

"Dr. Syn" is the most startling work in this exhibition. A birthday gift from Betsy Wyeth to her husband, it is skeletal figure, dressed in antique military uniform and slippers, sitting in a chair on an ivory and ebony floor. Modeled after Wyeth's 1981 tempera, Dr. Syn, it took Pywell a year to complete, and he humorously calls it "a self-portrait of the inner man.

Christopher Syn returned to England on the night of a terrible storm which wrecked the brig he was travelling on off the coast of England just within sight of Dymchurch, leaving him the only survivor. He managed to reach the shore safely and that same night turned up at the house of his old friend (and now Squire) Anthony Cobtree. When news came that that the local vicar had drowned while trying to save victims of the shipwreck, Squire Cobtree offered the post to Christopher Syn. Syn accepted and settled down to a more respectable life as the vicar of Dymchurch and Dean of Peculiars in Romney Marsh, Kent, resuming his original name. Soon after Mr. Mipps arrived in Dymchurch with the intent of settling down, and Doctor Syn made him the village sexton upon condition that Mipps "remember to forget" (that Syn had been Clegg and that they had known each other before) and that Mipps never get involved with the local smugglers.

Dr. Syn soon became aware that his parishioners were smuggling goods from France to avoid the extravagant customs duties the government charged. Learning from Mr. Mipps (who, contrary to Syn's orders, had become a leader of the smugglers) that certaim townsfolk had been ambushed and captured during a smuggling run, Christopher Syn purchased the great black stallion Gehenna from a band of gypsies and raced to their rescue. A suit of clothing borrowed from a scarecrow made an improvised disguise and Syn and Mipps were able to rescue the townsfolk from the Dragoons.

After this, Doctor Syn decided that he could only protect his people by becoming their leader. He created a more elaborate scarecrow costume complete with eerie luminous paint. At night riding Gehenna, the respectable Dr. Christopher Syn became "The Scarecrow", the feared head of the smugglers. Together with Mr. Mipps, he organized the smugglers into a well-organized band of "night riders", called "The Devil Riders" with macabre disguises and code-names. Syn's cunning were so great that the smugglers outwitted the government forces for many years. A hidden stable watched over by Mother Handaway, the local "witch" (who believed "The Scarecrow" to be The Devil in living form), was the hiding place for the horses of "The Scarecrow" and his lieutenants Mr. Mipps and the local highwayman Jimmie Bone (who, being as good a horseman as Dr. Syn, was sometimes called upon to impersonate "The Scarecrow" when Dr. Syn either had to be elsewhere or seen in the same place as "The Scarecrow").

Shortly after the first appearances of "The Scarecrow", Nicholas Tappitt (using the name "Colonel Delacourt") and the ailing Imogene returned to England, ending up in Dymchurch. Recognizing Syn as Captain Clegg, Tappitt realized that Syn and "The Scarecrow" were one and the same and helped the authorities set a trap for "The Scarecrow", hoping to both rid himself of his enemy and claim the reward for "The Scarecrow"'s capture. The trap was sprung, but Squire Cobtree's daughter Charlotte, who had fallen in love with Dr. Syn and also learned his secret identities as both Captain Clegg and "The Scarecrow", was the tragic victim when she dressed in "The Scarecrow"'s disguise and was fatally wounded in Syn's place. Tappitt was then suspected of being "The Scarercrow", and a Customs officer and three constables came to arrest him. In the ensuing fight, Tappitt killed the Customs man and the constables subdued and arrested Tappitt for murdering the Customs officer.

After Imogene's death in Syn's arms (during which she revealed to him that he had a son by her who was missing somewhere in America), Syn fought a final duel with Tappitt in his jail cell, defeating him. Syn then struck a bargain with Tappitt: if Tappitt confessed to being the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, then Syn would look after and care for Tappitt and Imogene's new-born infant daughter (also named Imogene). Tappitt agreed, and "Captain Clegg" was hanged and later "buried without benefit of clergy at a cross-roads hard by the Kent Ditch."
Many years later, Captain Collyer, a Royal Navy officer assigned to smash the local smuggling ring, uncovered the deception and Dr. Syn's true identity, thanks in part to the tongueless mulatto (who had been rescued by Collyer years before and who had been serving Collyer as a "ferret" seeking out hidden contraband) who recognized Syn as Captain Clegg. Syn evaded capture while at the same time making sure that Imogene and Squire Cobtree's son Dennis (who had fallen in love with Imogene) would have a happy life together (they were eventually married), but was murdered in revenge by the mulatto, who then mysteriously managed to escape, leaving Syn harpooned through the neck. As a last mark of respect, Collyer ordered that Syn be buried at sea, rather than have his body hung in chains. Mr. Mipps escaped in the confusion of Syn's death and disappeared from England, but it is said that a little man very much like him is living out his days in a Buddhist Monastery somewhere in the Malay Peninsula, delighting the monks with recounting the adventures of Doctor Syn and the eerie stories of the Romney Marsh and the mysterious Scarecrow and his night riders."

Monday, August 20, 2007

One of Our Favortite Heroes: Gekko Kamen-The Moonlight Mask.


"Moonlight Mask set the standard as Japan's first live-action TV superhero, and was a huge success with children. Television was already new in Japan, so many children that didn't have a TV set were gathered around to watch it at a friend or neighbor's house. Children also bought toy capes, sunglasses, masks and pistols and played Moonlight Mask in schoolyards and backyards (but as with every children's superhero, Japanese or American, Moonlight Mask was not without liability casualties....

A silent statue of the famous "Lover of Justice"..watching over the children who loved him and who where maimed in his name. is the case with every superhero idolized by children, children themselves become victims of the many liability issues surrounding them (ie. imitating the hero's dangerous & impossible feats such as leaping from trains and helicopers, and riding a motorcycle while shooting guns with both hands), and Moonlight Mask was no exception. Because of the many concerns over children imitating Moonlight Mask's dangerous stunts, the show was unfortunately cancelled on July 5, 1959, after the end of the final story arc."

Take me there: Rowland Emmett's Far Twittering and Oyster Creek Railway, Battersea 1951.

Mind the gap: Far Twittering station

From: Chris Browns Emmett Site:
"Rowland Emett's first cartoons appeared in "Punch" in 1939 and his spindly locomotives, Nellie foremost amongst them, puffed into view shortly after. In 1951 the invitation to turn the drawings into an operating railway for the Festival of Britain resulted in a magical creation and a fundamental change of direction, Rowland Emett from then on increasingly being known for his animated machines, or "Things" as they should properly be called.


The Far Tottering and Oystercreek Railway could be argued to be the most successful in the world, as it paid off all its initial costs in under three weeks! The locomotives were 15 inch gauge diesel-electric engines (from war-surplus searchlight generators), built by Harry Barlow of Stockport"


From an unnamed but brilliant webpage on the Great Emmett:

"Rowland Emett is known as both a cartoonist and a designer/creator of kinetic sculptures . The word 'whimsical' is frequently used to describe his work. His most recognizable work are the 'inventions' of Caractacus Potts in the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Born in 1906 in London, England, Emett studied art and started employment in the commercial art field. Seeing a friend paid handsomely by Punch magazine for what he thought was a poorly drawn cartoon, he submitted his own, quickly becoming one of the most popular cartoonists at Punch, and eventually cartoon editor.

Many of Emett's cartoons featured trains such as Nellie. In 1951 the Festival of Britain (or here)(a kind of national fair) was to be created, and Emett was approached to build a real-life version of the Far Tottering & Oystercreek Railway. Initially reluctant, he finally agreed and built a 15" gauge version of the Railway, complete with engines Nellie, Neptune and Wild Goose. It became one of the main attractions at the Festival. This led to his constructing many other machines over the following decades.

Emett purchased Wild Goose Cottage in Ditchling, Sussex with the $12,320 commission paid by Life magazine in the U.S. for a 12 page feature article (July 5, 1954) [1]. He lived in this cottage with his wife and business manager, Mary, until his death on November 13, 1990."

Declined to be used by the R.A.F.-"The Shell By Plane X100"

Once in a great while something gentle comes to the surface; The Great Emmett.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Supertanker surfing: or James Fulbright and his f-king large wake.


"Off of the Texas Gulf Coast there is a ship channel heading inland that spans about 30 or 40 miles -- from Galveston to Houston. The magic scenario I'm about to describe is extremely fickle, but listen: it's calm, hardly any wind, obviously no surf along the beach front, low tide (or at least out-going) and it's usually on a weekday. There is a fully loaded tanker coming in, without any barge or other traffic around to slow its speed -- the supertanker is allowed to travel about 13 knots in the channel with no traffic. Now, here's the big catch: the waves those supertankers produce only break in certain areas within that 30 miles or so, dictated by bottom contour, depth, etc. But they do break and, man, they're long.

By the way, it's not barge waves. Barges don't have a deep enough draft, enough cargo load, speed or proper hull design. It's the fully loaded supertankers that we seek.

Some time ago, after much reconnaissance on my part, I was able to find a couple of spots that were fairly consistent. Some other spots were rumored to have even better, bigger conditions than the few I had already charted. But this is a real hush-hush thing. Hardly any people even know where to go. And even I still get skunked all the time.

Nevertheless, I will share my first experience with you. The experience that caused me to go out and buy my own boat immediately.

A guy I know went fishing in that area all the time and told me how these small fishing boats would get swamped by these "rogue waves" caused by passing tankers. He said he remembered where he saw the waves breaking and asked if I would like to do a recon. I was about pissing in my pants when I said, "Yes." Well, a buddy of mine, the fisherman and I went out there to where he thought it was. We hung out, and lo and behold, saw a tanker coming. The fisherman told us to jump in and paddle out. He pointed in a certain direction, and then added, "Stay far enough away from the channel, or you will get sucked in." Sucked into the tanker engine, that is.

My buddy and I got into position, the huge f--ker passes, we wait and nothing happened. So, we paddled back to the boat with these shrimpers and other fishermen staring at us. I knew they were thinking, "Hey, you idiots, the beach is that way. You're in the bay, dumbshits!"

We felt about as big as your dick after a winter surf. Afterward, we followed the huge beast of a ship that had passed us, when, looking out of my binoculars, I spotted the backs of some waves breaking on the other side of the channel. We sped way ahead of the mother, jammed across to the other side and jumped in. My buddy and I paddled furiously to get into what hoped was the right spot. Surer than shit, here comes a wave. I can't f--kin' believe what I'm seeing. We both paddle for the thing and both of us catch it. Riding side by side, it looked like something out of a Gidget flick -- sporting longboards, but without the palm-frond hats and cigars. The wave was about stomach high and kind of rolling whitewater. It occasionally walled up, then backed off, and walled up again. My buddy and I were looking at each other and laughing our asses off.

The channel has buoys with the number of the buoy marked on each one. We rode that first wave for two channel markers, or about one-and-a-half miles. No bullshit. Here's the kicker, I've yet to accomplish it again, but it still gives me chills: we were sitting there on our boards, high-fives, snickering like we just got our first piece of ass, top of the world -- bizarre world, that is -- when we look back at our boat and can barely see it. F--k, I thought, we gotta paddle all the way back.

Just then, we both look at each other when the same thought crossed our minds --an outbound tanker was coming our way. This is not going to happen, I thought. The mother passed, we waited and sure enough -- on Elvis' grave -- we both caught its wave back the direction we came, riding it a little farther than the number one channel marker. We rode it long enough to see the poor slob we left on the boat, and he was dancing a jig on deck. True story.

It'll never happen again, probably, but a good first time. No, I didn't catch the biggest wave ever ridden at Makaha, or Phantoms, or some other name spot. But the thrill of that first day surfing the "supertanker waves" is about as good as it gets on the pure-stoke level. Like I said: it's fickle, a lot of conditions have to come together, but when they do, that wave, well, it's pretty f--kin' funny. -- James Fulbright"

The lost city of Detroit.

"The DetroitYES project began with the 1996 launch of the "Fabulous Ruins of Detroit" tour.
This guided tour of the contemporary ruins of Detroit is accompanied by brief notes which, woven together, tell the story of precipitous decline and agonizing path of the great city of Detroit in the late 20th Century.Along away the visitor will discover a snapshot of the ruins of Detroit in the mid 1990's meant to stimulate and energize discussion of the questions, "What went wrong?"

....and "Where to do we go from Here?"

The "Classic Tour" forms the core of the DetroitYES project, an endeavor that has grown to over 2000 pages and has become home the most active forum for the discussion of Detroit, its problems and its promise -

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One of Our favorite heroes: Tom Lehrer

From Wikipedia:
Thomas Andrew (Tom) Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. He used to lecture on mathematics and musical theater.

Before attending college, Lehrer graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, he began to write comic songs to entertain his friends, including "Fight Fiercely, Harvard" (1945). Those songs later became (in a joking reference to a leading scientific journal, The Physical Review) The Physical Revue. Influenced mainly by musical theater, his style consisted of parodying then-current forms of popular song. For example, his appreciation of list songs led him to set the names of the chemical elements to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major-General's Song".

Inspired by the success of his performances of his songs, he paid for some studio time to record an album, Songs By Tom Lehrer, which he sold by mail order. Self-published and unpromoted, the album, which included the macabre ("I Hold Your Hand In Mine"), the mildly risqué ("Be Prepared"), and the mathematical ("Lobachevsky"), became a success via word of mouth. With a cult hit, he embarked on a series of concert tours and released a second album, which came in two versions: the songs were the same but More Songs by Tom Lehrer was studio-recorded, while An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer was recorded live in concert.

Lehrer's major break into the UK came as a result of the citation accompanying an honorary degree given to Princess Margaret, where she cited musical tastes as "catholic, ranging from Mozart to Tom Lehrer". This produced significant interest in his works, and helped secure distributors for his material. Ironically, it was in the UK where his music ended up more popular due to the proliferation of University Newspapers referencing the material, and the willingness of the BBC to play his songs on the radio (something that was a rarity in the USA).

By the early 1960s Lehrer had retired from touring (which he intensely disliked) and was employed as the resident songwriter for the U.S. edition of That Was The Week That Was (TW3), a satirical TV show. An increased proportion of his output became overtly political, or at least topical, on subjects such as pollution ("Pollution"), Vatican II ("The Vatican Rag"), race relations ("National Brotherhood Week"), education ("New Math"), American militarism ("Send the Marines"), World War III nostalgia ("So Long, Mom", premiered by Steve Allen), and nuclear proliferation ("Who's Next?" and "MLF Lullaby"). He also wrote a song which satirized the alleged amorality of Wernher von Braun. A selection of these songs was released in the album That Was The Year That Was.

Here's a couple of treats compliments of YouTube. The first is the beloved Tom Himself doing "Wernher von Braun" and the second is "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park" with some clever visuals.

Including Wikipedia there's a great resource for Tom's wonderful lyrics at Tom Lehrer Annotated.
I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.
You can raise welts
Like nobody else,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

Let our love be a flame, not an ember,
Say it's me that you want to dismember.
Blacken my eye,
Set fire to my tie,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

At your command
Before you here I stand,
My heart is in my hand...
It's here that I must be.

My heart entreats,
Just hear those savage beats,
And go put on your cleats
And come and trample me.

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany,
That's why I'm in such exquisite agony.
My soul is on fire,
It's aflame with desire,
Which is why I perspire when we tango.

You caught my nose
In your left castanet, love,
I can feel the pain yet, love,
Ev'ry time I hear drums.

And I envy the rose
That you held in your teeth, love,
With the thorns underneath, love,
Sticking into your gums.

Your eyes cast a spell that bewitches.
The last time I needed twenty stitches
To sew up the gash
That you made with your lash,
As we danced to the Masochism Tango.

Bash in my brain,
And make me scream with pain,
Then kick me once again,
And say we'll never part.

I know too well
I'm underneath your spell,
So, darling, if you smell
Something burning, it's my heart... [hiccup]
'Scuse me!

Take your cigarette from its holder,
And burn your initials in my shoulder.
Fracture my spine,
And swear that you're mine,
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stuff We Wished Existed But Doesn't: The Nazi Sex Doll

Adolph, who actually did not order production of nazi sex dolls

Italian newspaper 'Corriere della Sera' says Nazi dictator ordered production of inflatable sex dolls for S.S. soldiers; doll would be blonde, blue-eyed with large lips and breasts

The Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler ordered, in 1941, a Danish doctor named Olen Hannussen, to develop the world's first inflatable sex doll, the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera' reported on Monday.

The doll was went meant to serve the sexual needs of the German fighting man, who might otherwise go to brothels and contract a sexual transmitted disease – or worse, have sex with non-Aryan women and thus pollute the race.

The story of the sex doll first appeared in a Norwegian newspaper, which said that Hitler himself provided the measurements and design for the doll: "She should be a natural size with a pretty woman's appearance with white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, 1.76 meters (5 feet, nine inches) high, with large lips and breasts."

According to the project, which was classified as "top secret," soldiers would inflate up the doll when feeling the urge, and it would meet their sexual needs.

The officer directly responsible for the sex doll project was S.S. commander Heinrich Himmler.

Perfecting the plastic woman

According to another report, Dr. Rudolf Chargeheimer, a psychiatrist appointed by Himmler to help develop the prototype, wrote that "the purpose and goal of the dolls is to relieve our soldiers. They have to fight and not to mingle with 'foreign women.'"

The plan was never put into action because the factory that was supposed to manufacture the sex doll was in the city of Dresden, which was bombed by the Allies. And so Hitler never got to see his inflatable girls put to use.

"However," wrote Chargeheimer, "no real men will prefer a doll to a real woman until our technicians meet the following quality standards: The synthetic flesh has to feel the same like real flesh. The doll’s body should be as agile and moveable as the real body. The doll’s organ should feel absolutely realistic.”

The plan was never put into action because the factory that was supposed to manufacture the sex doll was in the city of Dresden, which was bombed by the Allies. And so Hitler never got to see his inflatable girls put to use.
Alas the story is a hoax but that doesn't change the fact that it's a damned weird story.

Actually not a picture of a Nazi sex doll (from the Japanese Sexual Cushion & Doll site)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Rollerman

From Outside Online:
Frenchman Jean-Yves Blondeau first conceived of his plastic Buggy Rollin' suit in 1994, while he was a student at Olivier de Serres design school, in Paris. But the invention, which allows a wearer to top 60 miles per hour while maintaining any position found in the Kama Sutra, didn't exactly catch fire with consumers. Not one to give up, Blondeau recently refined the suit to a stripped-down 31-wheel version and developed his own playbook of moves, like the Zaphial (rolling flat on your back with all four limbs pointed straight up) and the Smooth Buggy Dog (three limbs on the ground and one rolling along a wall). So will Buggy Rollin' go big? We're not investing. The suits cost $3,800 each. And it's called "Buggy Rollin'."
We respectfully disagree with Outside Online. Give me a Buggy Rollin' suit, a stretch of road, and a star to sail by ....