Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Swear I Saw That One Move: Duane Hanson

From Wikipedia:

Duane Hanson (January 17, 1925 - January 6, 1996) was an American artist based in South Florida, a sculptor known for his lifecast realistic works of people, cast in various materials, including polyester resin, fiberglass, Bondo and bronze.

He was born in Alexandria, Minnesota. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Macalester College in 1946 and his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1951. From 1953 to 1960, Hanson taught art in Munich and Bremerhaven, Germany. From 1962-1965 Hanson was a professor of art at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hanson’s work has been shown internationally in many important exhibitions including two solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum (1978 and 1998),‘Five Artists and the Figure’ at the Whitney Museum in New York, a solo show at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the 1995 Monte Carlo Sculpture Biennale and ‘Pop Art: 1955-1970’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

Starting in the mid-1980s, his works were cast in bronze. His works are exact down to every detail; made via lifecasting, the pieces created from epoxy resin or bronze, and the whole sculpture painted to faithfully resemble a living person. This combined with hand-picked wigs, clothing and accessories means that Hanson’s works are perfect simulacra, often fooling gallery visitors with their ordinary appearance and casual stances.

Hanson chose to sculpt working class citizens, unremarkable people going about their business transformed into highly complex works of art – he gave these overlooked, generalized people a singular identity, highlighting their activities and societal roles. Duane Hanson along with John DeAndrea are the two sculptors most associated with photorealism. Both are famous for amazingly lifelike painted sculptures of average people that were complete with hair and real clothes. They were called Verists. Today the Australian artist Ron Mueck's work relates to Hanson and DeAndrea. Hanson is recognised as one of the most accomplished hyper-real sculptors ever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All Rise for His Squeaky Majesty: The Myth of the Rat King

From Wikipedia:

Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported.

Most researchers presume the creatures are legendary and that all supposed physical evidence is hoaxed, such as mummified groups of dead rats with their tails tied together. Reports of living specimens remain unsubstantiated. One theoretical cause for the phenomenon is cramped living space; young rats might live too closely together, becoming inextricably entangled. However, the normal behavior of rats, which generally seek their own comfort, speaks against this theory. No scientific study has been performed to prove a natural cause of the phenomenon.

Most extant examples are formed from black rats (R. rattus). The only find involving sawah rats (Rattus rattus brevicaudatus) occurred on March 23, 1918, in Bogor on Java, where a rat king of ten young field rats was found. Similar attachments have been reported in other species: in April 1929, a group of young forest mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) was reported in Holstein; and there have been reports of squirrel kings. The Tartu Ulikooli Zooloogiamuuseum (Museum of Zoology in Tartu, Estonia) has a specimen. The Zoological Institute of the University of Hamburg allegedly owns a specimen.

Specimens of purported rat kings are kept in some museums. The museum Mauritianum in Altenburg (Thuringia) shows the largest well-known mummified "rat king", which was found in 1828 in a miller's fireplace at Buchheim. It consists of 32 rats. Alcohol-preserved rat kings are shown in museums in Hamburg, Hamelin, Göttingen, and Stuttgart. A rat king found in 1930 in New Zealand, displayed in the Otago Museum in Dunedin, was composed of immature Rattus rattus whose tails were entangled by horse hair. Relatively few rat kings have been discovered; depending on the source, the number of reported instances varies between 35 and 50 finds.

The earliest report of rat kings comes from 1564. If real, the phenomenon may have diminished when the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) displaced the black rat (R. rattus) in the 18th century. Sightings have been sporadic in the modern era; most recently comes an Estonian farmer's discovery in the Võrumaa region on January 16, 2005.

The rat king discovered in 1963 by the farmer P. van Nijnatten at Rucphen (Netherlands) as published by cryptozoologist M. Schneider consists of seven rats. X-ray images show formations of callus at the fractures of their tails which according to proponents show that the animals survived an extended period of time with the tails tangled.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Shameful Bit of Shameless Self Promotion

Please stand by while we momentarily divert you from the whimsy and eccentric trivialities that is Meine Kleine Fabrik to tell you a bit about what playful skullduggeries its purveyors have been up to.

S.A., in addition to his superb posting here at MFK, is the owner/operator of the two-wheeled, asphalt-blackening, tire-screeching, engine bellowing, but remarkably distinguished, erudite, and cultured blog The (New) Café Racer Society. He is also a star contributor to the bike site, the recently launched Hell For Leather.

M.Christian, aside from his metzo-metzo postings here at MKF hasn’t really been up to much of anything. Oh, sure, there’s the smut stuff he does for the NSFW blog Frequently Felt, and there’s the little matter of a new novel, Me2, that was just released. But aside from that he just twiddles his thumbs all day.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Of Bats, Sherlock Holmes, Pygmalion and Werewolves: The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould

From Wikipedia:
The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 18342 January 1924) was an English hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar. His bibliography lists more than 500 separate publications. His family home, Lewtrenchard Manor near Okehampton, Devon, has been preserved as he rebuilt it and is now a hotel. He is remembered particularly as a writer of hymns, the best-known being "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Now the Day Is Over", and the desk at which he wrote these hymns is still preserved at the hotel. He also translated the carol "Gabriel's Message" from Basque to English.

Baring-Gould wrote many novels (including Mehalah), a collection of ghost stories, a 16-volume The Lives of the Saints, and the biography of the eccentric poet-vicar of Morwenstow, Robert Stephen Hawker. His folkloric studies resulted in The Book of Were-Wolves (1865), one of the most frequently cited studies of lycanthropy. Half-way through, the topic changes to crimes only vaguely connected to werewolves, including grave desecration and cannibalism.

One of his most enduringly popular works was Curious Myths of the Middle Ages , first published in two parts in 1866 and 1868, and republished in many other editions since then. "Each of the book's twenty-four chapters deals with a particular medieval superstition and its variants and antecedents," writes critic Steven J. Mariconda. H. P. Lovecraft called it "that curious body of medieval lore which the late Mr. Baring-Gould so effectively assembled in book form."

Stories of his own eccentricity have been exaggerated. He did once, while teaching at Hurstpierpoint, have his pet bat on his shoulder, and it is also said that, at one children's party, he called out to a young child: "And whose little girl are you?" Bursting into tears, the girl sobbed: "I'm yours, Daddy."

His obituary in Warwick School's magazine The Portcullis of March 1924 states that not only did he "inherit the family estates of Lew Trenchard, which comprised 3,000 acres (12 km²), and presented himself to the rectory of that place in 1880", but also that he had married a mill girl of 16, and "had her educated" for two years. When he was 34, Baring-Gould, a curate in Horbury, Yorkshire at the time, had met Grace Taylor, an illiterate, 16-year-old mill worker, and had married her in 1868. The marriage lasted for 48 years, and the couple had 15 children. This extraordinary liaison helped inspire George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and, subsequently, the musical My Fair Lady.

One grandson, William Stuart Baring-Gould, was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar who wrote a fictional biography of the great detective—in which, to make up for the lack of information about Holmes's early life, he based his account on the childhood of Sabine Baring-Gould. Sabine himself makes an appearance in Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes novel The Moor.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


From Wikipedia:

Skywhales is a 1983 animated short film that depicts a fictional society of alien creatures dwelling in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The film is notable for the completeness of its depiction of a fictitious society, including alien language, flora, fauna, and social structures and practices.

It was released at the cinema in the UK in 1984, showing before the film Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is one of a number of animated shorts that feature on the British Animation Collection Volume 1 DVD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And The Answer Is: William James Sidis

To the question "Who might have been the world's smartest man?"

From Wikipedia:
William James Sidis (April 1, 1898July 17, 1944) was an American child prodigy with exceptional mathematical and linguistic abilities. He first became famous for his precociousness, and later for his eccentricity and withdrawal from the public eye. He avoided mathematics entirely in later life, writing on other subjects under a number of pseudonyms. With an estimated IQ of 300, he is considered the most intelligent person in history.

William James Sidis was born to Russian Jewish immigrants on April 1, 1898 in New York City. His father, Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D., had emigrated in 1887 to escape political persecution. His mother, Sarah Mandelbaum Sidis, M.D., and her family had fled the pogroms about 1889. Sarah attended Boston University and graduated from its School of Medicine in 1897. William was named after his godfather, Boris's friend and colleague, the psychologist William James. Boris earned his degrees at Harvard University, and taught psychology there. He was a psychiatrist, and published numerous books and articles, performing pioneering work in abnormal psychology. Boris was a polyglot and his son William would become one too at a young age.

Instead of the more common disciplinary approach to education, Sidis's parents believed in nurturing a precocious and fearless love of knowledge, for which they were criticized. Nevertheless, the young Sidis could read the New York Times at 18 months, taught himself eight languages (Latin, Greek, French, Russian, German, Hebrew, Turkish, and Armenian) by age eight, and invented another, which he called Vendergood. The New York Times described Sidis as "a wonderfully successful result of a scientific forcing experiment."

Although the university had previously refused to let his father enroll him at age nine because he was still a child, Sidis set a record in 1909 by becoming the youngest person to enroll at Harvard College. He was 11 years old, and entered Harvard as part of a program to enroll gifted students early. The experimental group included mathematician Norbert Wiener, Richard Buckminster Fuller, and composer Roger Sessions. In early 1910, his mastery of higher mathematics was such that he lectured the Harvard Mathematical Club on four-dimensional bodies, prompting MIT professor Daniel F. Comstock to predict that Sidis would become a great mathematician and a leader in that science in the future. Sidis began taking a full-time course load in 1910 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, on June 18, 1914, at age 16.

Shortly after graduation, he told reporters that he wanted to live the perfect life, which to him meant living in seclusion. He granted an interview to a reporter from the Boston Herald, which published his vows to remain celibate and never to marry, and a statement that women did not appeal to him (however, he later developed a strong affection for a young woman named Martha Foley). He later enrolled at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In 1919, shortly after his withdrawal from law school, Sidis was arrested for participating in a socialist May Day parade in Boston that turned into a mêlée. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison under the Sedition Act of 1918 for rioting and assault. Sidis's arrest featured prominently in newspapers, as his early graduation from Harvard had garnered considerable local celebrity. During the trial, Sidis stated that he had been a conscientious objector of the World War I draft, did not believe in a god, and that he was a socialist (though he later favored a quasi-libertarian system that he invented). His father made an arrangement with the district attorney to keep him out of prison before his appeal came to trial; his parents, instead, held him in their sanitorium in New Hampshire for a year, then took him to California where he spent another year. While at the sanitorium, his parents set about "reforming" him and threatened him with transfer to an insane asylum.

After escaping back to the East Coast in 1921, Sidis was determined to live an independent and private life, and would only take work running adding machines or other fairly menial tasks. He worked in New York City and became estranged from his parents. It took a number of years before he was cleared to return to Massachusetts, and he remained concerned of possible arrest for years. He devoted himself to his hobby of collecting streetcar transfers, published periodicals, and taught small circles of interested friends his version of American history.

In 1944, Sidis won a settlement from The New Yorker for publishing an article about him in 1937, which he alleged contained many false statements. Under the title "Where Are They Now?", the pseudonymous article described Sidis's life as lonely, in a "hall bedroom in Boston's shabby South End". Lower courts had dismissed Sidis as a public figure with no right to challenge personal publicity. He lost an appeal of an invasion of privacy lawsuit at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1940 over the same article. Judge Charles Edward Clark expressed sympathy for Sidis — who claimed that the publication had exposed him to "public scorn, ridicule, and contempt" and caused him "grievous mental anguish [and] humiliation" — but found that the court was not disposed to "afford to all the intimate details of private life an absolute immunity from the prying of the press".

Sidis died in 1944 of a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston at the age of 46. His father had died of the same malady in 1923 at age 56.

Abraham Sperling, director of New York City's Aptitude Testing Institute, said after Sidis' death that according to his calculations, Sidis "easily had an IQ between 250 and 300" and that there was no evidence that his intellect had declined in adulthood. (His father once dismissed tests of intelligence as "silly, pedantic, absurd, and grossly misleading.") Sperling commented: "What the journalists did not report, and perhaps did not know, was that during all the years of his obscure employments he was writing original treatises on history, government, economics and political affairs. In a visit to his mother's home I was permitted to see the contents of a trunkful of original manuscript material that Bill Sidis composed (Psychology for the Millions)." From writings on astrophysics, to Native American studies, to a comprehensive and definitive taxonomy of vehicle transfers, an equally comprehensive study of civil engineering and vehicles, and several well-substantiated lost texts on anthropology, philology and transportation systems, Sidis covered a broad range of subjects.

In The Animate and the Inanimate (1925), Sidis predicted the existence of regions of space where the second law of thermodynamics operated in reverse to the temporal direction that we experience in our local area. Everything outside of what we would today call a galaxy would be such a region. Sidis claimed that the matter in this region would not generate light. (These dark areas of the universe are not properly dark matter or black holes as they are used in contemporary cosmology.) This work on cosmology, based on his theory of reversibility of the second law of thermodynamics was the only book published under his name.

Sidis was also a "peridromophile," a term he coined for people fascinated with transportation research and streetcar systems. He wrote a treatise on streetcar transfers under the pseudonym of "Frank Folupa" that identified means of increasing public transport usage only now gaining general acceptance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jack, Doc and Reggie-We Love A Mystery.

Jack, Doc and Reggie-We Love A Mystery

I Love A Mystery was an old-time radio program about three friends who ran a detective agency and traveled the world in search of adventure. Distinguished by the high octane scripting of Carlton E. Morse, the program was the polar opposite of Morse's other success, the long-running One Man's Family.

panel from the I love a mystery comic strip

Jack Packard, Doc Long and Reggie York met as mercenary soldiers fighting the Japanese in China. Later, they met again in San Francisco, where they decided to form the A-1 Detective Agency. Their motto was "No job too tough, no adventure too baffling." The agency served as a plot device to involve the trio in a wide variety of stories. These straddled the genres of mystery, adventure and supernatural horror, and their adventures often took the them to exotic locales.

Jack, the group leader, is a tough charismatic man, usually the first to figure solutions to the mysteries. Jack has more of an edge than the typical radio hero of the period. He distrusts the attractive women who always seem to show up, and he professes to dislike women in general. The series' writer claimed that Jack's problems with women had to do with his youth. He had gotten a girl pregnant and had to leave his home town in shame. This was only a back story detail and was never made explicit on the show. Doc and Reggie are slightly less edgy characters.

The Texas-born Doc is a hard-fighting, boastful, high-spirited character who provides comic relief.
Reggie, an Englishman noted for his great strength, competes with Doc in trying to romance the women.

Morse, regarded as one of the best writers in radio, took delight in creating vividly imagined settings for the show and elaborate, often bizarre plots. In a medium whose heroes tended to be serious and strait-laced, he created three who were wonderfully reckless and exuberant. Jack, Doc and Reggie were more interested in the thrill of adventure than in righting wrongs. When they collected a fee, their only goal was to spend it as quickly as possible.

There were several film adaptations of I Love a Mystery by Morse, but none had the success of the radio series. Surviving recordings of the show are rare. Over the years, Jack was played by Michael Raffetto, Russell Thorson, Jay Novello and John McIntire. Doc was played by Barton Yarborough and Jim Boles. Reggie was portrayed by Walter Paterson and Tony Randall.

Filmed in 1966 but not broadcast until 1973 an ABC T.V movie was made of the lads remains sadly forgotten.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Wizard of War

Jasper Maskelyn wanted to help. “You want to do WHAT?” said the British Army – or as their oh-so-polite upper crust officers probably put it: “Sorry, ol’ chap, but we don’t seem to have an urgent need for magicians right at this very moment –” But this was the Second World War and the British were losing, badly, to Rommel’s Africa corps and rather than just send him packing back to the floodlights of London they, instead, sent him into the desert to duel a local fakir.

See the British were losing so badly that they needed escape routes – and one of them was right through this certain tribe’s territory, and they were not about to grant these foreign devils permission to cross their desert.

Jasper Maskelyn was the son of Neville Maskelyn, who had taken many bows to thunderous applause, and HIS father had been the legendary John Neville Maskelyn, who – even today – is considered a genius of magic and illusion. Jasper, before hearing his call to duty, had been taking how own bows to roaring accolades. The fakir didn’t stand a chance.

They faced each other: Jasper straight off the boat from his distant home, the fakir dancing with fierce showmanship in front of his people – and the battle was joined. The fakir went first, beads and bells jangling and flashing in the so-hot desert sun, and with a great demonstration of sorcery and inhuman will took a spear from one of his greatest warriors and – to the shock and terror of almost everyone present – impaled himself.

Then it was Maskelyn’s turn. Did he pull a bouquet of paper flowers out of his hat? No. Did he saw a lovely Nubian princess in half? No. Did he ask these wild-eyed savages to ‘pick a card, any card?’ No – instead, Jasper Maskelyn, star of the London stage and a proud descendent of one of the greatest stage magic families of all time just calmly walked over to the fakir and whispered something into his ear.

Shortly thereafter, the British Army had its safe passage – with the fakir’s blessing. What had Jasper Maskelyn whispered? Simple and powerful: He told the holy man that he knew how the trick had been done. No magician ever wants the audience to know how it was done.

Some people’s lives are so outrageous, so incredibly they seem like fantasy – and for Jasper Maskelyn that is wonderful appropriate. How better for this Wizard of War to appear to us, now, to be the stuff of myth and legend – almost like the tale preceding some great miraculous appearance or spectacular disappearance?

“Ladies and gentlemen, before your very eyes, courtesy of the British Army (grudgingly) the legendary, the amazing, the fantastic prestidigitations of that Wizard of War, Jasper Maskelyn. SEE him hide the Suez Canal. SEE him move Alexandria Harbor. SEE him trick the Desert Fox himself, Rommel, that the entire British Army was in the South when it was really in the North. SEE him turn trucks into tanks and tanks into trucks – and merchant ships into battleships. SEE him change the face of war FOREVER.”

No magician wants his secrets told – like that fakir in the desert, I’m sure in some ways Jasper Maskelyn wouldn’t want us know exactly how it was that he performed his miracles of the battlefield. Well, while I am usually one to honor the memory of the legendary, I have to risk insulting this Wizard of War ... more than anything because it was his fantastic innovations and flat-out innovative genius that makes what he did so incredible.

The Germans were planning on bombing the very strategically important port of Alexandria. Funny thing about aerial bombing – in the desert, at night – you have very little to go on as far as points of reference. So Maskelyn went out into the bare desert next to the great port and set up hundreds of lights and even fake flashes of what the pilots would take to be exploding bombs. When the German’s flew over the blacked-out city they took the lights in the desert for the town – and bombed the empty sands. Realizing the German’s might realize the mistake in the morning, Maskelyn also constructed fake damage for the real down, paper mache rubble and wreckage. The German’s saw what they wanted to see: a bomb-blasted port.

Maskelyn's inventiveness was awe-inspiring. Another thing, you see – or rather the German's didn't see – was that out there in the hot, flat, dry there aren't a lot of reference points. A tiny truck that could cast a shadow the approximate size and shape of a real one was indistinguishable from a full sized one from the air. So Maskelyn and his Magic Gang created a whole miniature Army of tanks, trucks, troops, and even pipelines out of bulrushes and whatever the British Army had laying around. Though had the Nazi's been flying over at one point they would have seen the surreal sight of Maskelyn and his gang chasing a wicker-work locomotive that had managed to get swept up by a stern breeze.

So how DO you hide the Suez canal? Nothing up my sleeve ... presto. There you are, hotshot Africa Corp bomber cruising along looking for this very important strategic point when what do you see but rather than a neat line in the desert but rather a crazy cascade of rapidly flashing lights. Not being able to see anything clearly, let alone that narrow band of water, the German's bombed the desert flat – and never touched the all-important canal.

One of Maskelyn's true genius touches was in using bad camouflage. He'd do such nasty tricks on those bad, ol' Germans ... like that gun emplacement over there – the one that looks so 'obviously' fake: gun barrel from a telephone pole, 'armor' that was actually billowing in the wind – fake, yes, until Maskelyn would replace the empty 'bad' camouflage with, say, a real gun emplacement outfitted with tacky window-dressing – and the Germans got several nasty surprises.

But the Magic Gang didn't save all their tricks and illusions for the enemy. Realizing the need for secrecy from both his own forces as well as the curious African allies, these illusionists bobby-trapped their own Magic Valley with all manner of devilish hocus-pocus. Step on the wrong spot, put your nose where it really shouldn't belong and you might, say, be enveloped in smelly fog, or find yourself facing some horrific, screaming specter. Maskelyn and his Gang, needless to say, were left alone.

To give you an idea about how much Maskelyn and his Magic Gang changed the course of modern warfare ... well, I can't – and that's what's so telling: much – a tremendous amount, in fact – of what Maskelyn and his illusionists did are still TOP SECRET. While it's true that no magician wants his tricks revealed, it's sad that Maskelyn still can't take the bows he so richly deserves. Ah, but then we did win the war, after all – what applause could top that?

So much has been made of Hitler's obsession with such practices as Astrology and with mystical artifacts – dark magic ran deep through the hideous veins of the Nazis. Yet, the true Wizard of War wasn't an evil sorcerer – but rather a mischievous British stage magician ... with more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: They Might Be Giants

From Wikipedia:

They Might Be Giants is a 1971 film based on the Broadway play of the same name (both written by James Goldman) starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward.

Justin Playfair (Scott) is a millionaire who retreats into fantasy after the death of his wife, imagining himself to be Sherlock Holmes, the legendary fictional detective. Complete with a deerstalker hat, smoking pipe and violin, he spends his days in a self-constructed criminal laboratory, constantly paranoid of plots hatched by his (that is, Holmes's) arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty.

When his brother (Lester Rawlins) places Justin under observation in a mental institution, and conspires with his former business associate to get his power of attorney, Justin attracts the attention of Dr. Mildred Watson (Woodward), a psychiatrist who becomes fascinated by his case. After Justin demonstrates a knack for Holmesian deduction, the institution releases him, and Watson meets with him at his home. Playfair is initially dismissive of Watson's attempts at psychoanalyzing him, but when he hears her name, he enthusiastically incorporates her into his life as Dr. Watson to his Holmes.

The duo then begin an enigmatic quest for Moriarty, with Playfair/Holmes following all manner of bizarre and (to Watson) unintelligible clues, growing closer to each other in the process.

Here are some choice lines:

Justin Playfair: Dear friends, would those of you who know what this is all about please raise your hands? I think if God is dead he laughed himself to death. Because, you see, we live in Eden. Genesis has got it all wrong. We never left the Garden. Look about you. This is paradise. It's hard to find, I, I'll grant you, but it is here. Under our feet, beneath the surface, all around us is everything we want. The earth is shining under the soot. We are all fools. Ha ha. Moriarty has made fools of all of us. But together, you and I, tonight... we'll bring him down.

Justin Playfair: Just keep saying to yourself "I'm adequate."

Dr. Mildred Watson: You're just like Don Quixote. You think that everything is always something else.
Justin Playfair: Well, he had a point. 'Course he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be, well... All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

They Might Be Giants on the IMDB

On a personal note, I still can't watch this film without crying like a baby. You've been warned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jeremy Bentham: "Present but not voting"

From Wikipedia:

Jeremy Bentham (February 15, 1748June 6, 1832) was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He was a political radical, and a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism, for the concept of animal rights, and his opposition to the idea of natural rights, with his oft-quoted statement that the idea of such rights is "nonsense upon stilts." He also influenced the development of welfarism.

Bentham is frequently associated with the foundation of the University of London, specifically University College London (UCL), though in fact he was 78 years old when UCL opened in 1826, and played no active part in its establishment. However, it is likely that without his inspiration, UCL would not have been created when it was. Bentham strongly believed that education should be more widely available, particularly to those who were not wealthy or who did not belong to the established church, both of which were required of students by Oxford and Cambridge. As UCL was the first English university to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief, it was largely consistent with Bentham's vision, and he oversaw the appointment of one of his pupils, John Austin, as the first Professor of Jurisprudence in 1829.

As requested in his will, his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his "Auto-icon". Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-Icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-Icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as "present but not voting". Tradition holds that if the council's vote on any motion is tied, the auto-icon always breaks the tie by voting in favor of the motion.

The Auto-Icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham's head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than one occasion. It is now locked away securely.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Twice Upon A Time

From Wikipedia:

Twice Upon a Time is a 1983 animated movie directed by John Korty and Charles Swenson. This film had an unusual history in terms of release and editing, but it has been named one of the most important films in the history of stop-motion animation. This was also the first animated film George Lucas produced.

The film uses a form of cutout animation, which the filmmakers called "Lumage," that involved prefabricated cut-out plastic pieces that the animators moved on a light table.

Twice Upon a Time is an action-adventure-fantasy-comedy about two oddballs who are so eager to be heroes that they do something very wrong in trying to do something right. One of the two would-be heroes is Ralph, the all-purpose animal. He's a nice guy -- a friendly, dog-like animal who wears glasses, and has the special (yet unmastered) ability to transform into any creature he wishes to be. Mum, Ralph's prankster sidekick, is a trim fellow in a black suit who speaks in special effects and loves mischief and magic and a good time. Their relationship is the opposite of human and dogs: Mum is happy-go-lucky, Ralph is a worrier. Together they are funny, lovable dupes who have recently been exiled from Frivoli, Home of Sweet Dreams.

Frivoli bakes sweet dreams, The Murkworks hammers out nightmares, and the harried people who receive these two very different kinds of dreams are called the "Rushers of Din".

Greensleeves (affectionately known as "Greenie") is in charge of delivering sweet dreams to the sleeping Rushers of Din with his helpers, the Figs (Figmen of Imagination). But the paunchy and raunchy Synonamess Botch, maniacal ruler of the Murkworks Nightmare Factory wants to foil Greenie's efforts and increase his own production of nightmares, to the point where the Rushers are subjected to non-stop nightmares. Botch uses his vultures - who deliver the nightmares - to kidnap the Figs and Greensleeves.

Botch also cons the innocent Ralph and Mum into freezing time in Din by releasing the Magic Mainspring from the Cosmic Clock, telling them that it's the humane thing to do. The naive "heroes" soon find out that stopping time was a big mistake. Their Fairy Godmother twinkles in to spell it out in her Bronx accent that they have been tricked. Ralph and Mum must now find the Spring before Botch's menacing vulture minions can drop thousands and thousands of so-called "Nightmare Bombs" on Din, preparing for world-wide misery when Botch starts time again.

Ralph and Mumford join forces with Flora Fauna, a true flower and aspiring movie star, who is the heroes' heart throb, as well as Greensleeves' niece, and Rod Rescueman, a recent graduate (D-average) from Superhero School. They free Greensleeves and the Figs and attempt to stop Botch before he can start time back up and activate the bombs simultaneously - with a button he calls "The Big Red One."

Together they foil Botch's plan and defeat both he and his henchmen: Ibor, the half-gorilla, half-robot who responds to Botch's commands with old, cliched television clips, and Ratatooie, Botch's pet rat/armadillo who has a voracious appetite for garbage and an inscrutable passion for bowling balls. Scuzzbopper, Botch's Head Screamwriter, turns coat to help the heroes. Eventually, Ralph and Mum become true heroes and restore cosmic balance.

See also: Twice Upon A Time on the IMDB

Thursday, February 7, 2008

There's Thinking Big - Then There's Atlantropa

From Wikipedia:

Atlantropa was a gigantic engineering and colonization project devised by the German architect Herman Sörgel in the 1920s and propagated by him until his death in 1952. Its central feature was a hydroelectric dam to be built across the Strait of Gibraltar, and the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by as much as 200 metres.

The ultimate, Utopian goal of the project was to solve all the major problems of European civilization by the creation of a new continent, "Atlantropa", consisting of Europe and Africa and to be inhabited by Europeans. Sörgel was convinced that to remain competitive with the Americas and an emerging, Oriental "Pan-Asia", Europe must become self-sufficient, and this meant possessing territories in all climate zones – hence colonizing Africa was necessary. The lowering of the Mediterranean would enable the production of immense amounts of electric power, guaranteeing the growth of industry. Vast tracts of land would be freed for agriculture – including the Sahara desert, which was to be irrigated with the help of three sea-sized man made lakes throughout Africa. The massive public works, envisioned to go on for more than a century, would relieve unemployment and the acquisition of new land would ease the pressure of overpopulation, which Sörgel thought were the fundamental causes of political unrest in Europe. Sörgel also believed the project's effect on the climate could only be beneficial. The Middle East, under the control of a consolidated Atlantropa, would be an additional energy source and a bulwark against the Yellow peril.

The publicity materials produced for Atlantropa by Sörgel and his supporters contain plans, maps, and scale models of several dams and new ports on the Mediterranean, views of the Gibraltar dam crowned by a 400-metre tower designed by Peter Behrens, projections of the growth of agricultural production, sketches for a pan-Atlantropan power grid, and even provisions for the protection of Venice as a cultural landmark. Concerns about climate change, earthquakes, attacks, and the fate of African culture are often ignored as being unimportant.

The project never gained substantial support despite its fantastic scale and eurocentric expansionism. Under the Nazi regime the plan was ridiculed as it was against the idea of a Eurasian German Empire. The Italians never supported the idea, as their cities were so dependent on the coastlines. After the Second World War interest was piqued as the allies sought to create closer bonds with Africa and combat communism, but the invention of nuclear power, the cost of rebuilding, and the end of colonialism left Atlantropa technologically and politically unnecessary, although the Atlantropa Institute remained in existence until 1960.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Footsteps in the Dark: The Night Runners of Kenya

From Our Strange World:


The night runners are known by different names in various communities. They start their activities from midnight and close shop around 3am. In some areas they start as early as sun set. Elders agree that some villagers derive excitement from brandishing torches of fire or parts of exhumed corpses while naked.

The chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, Mzee Riaga Ogalo says night running is a vice that may take eternity to eradicate from several communities.

“Night running (Juogi in Dholuo) is a hereditary trait. However, some people learn it from their neighbours and others are inducted after marriage,” Ogalo says.

Ogalo says night runners are ordinary persons, adding that many are respected members of society during the day but are dreaded at night.

“We know of some who go to church and take sacraments but are different people at night,” says Ogalo, who comes from Kasipul-Kabondo.

The Ker (Luo elder) says some night runners cry, imitating sounds of small children being strangled. This causes residents sleepless nights.

“Jojuok do funny things but are the worst people to encounter because they think their acts entertain,” says Ogalo.

Some night runners are lynched while others are left as they are considered harmless.

“Those lynched are accorded normal burials while others are beaten with the villagers hoping that they discard the vice,” he says.

The Luo elder says some night runners are called by their names during their nocturnal activities to intimidate them. Elders from different communities concur that old habits diehard and several culprits have been beaten senseless in an attempt to make them quit the vice.

There is a belief in Nyanza and Western provinces that the night runners are too fast to be caught. The night runners seldom are violent but the choice of their paraphernalia is what scares their victims. Villagers say some night runners rear snakes, which they carry during their nightlong escapades.

There are extreme cases where corpses are exhumed and used to perform nocturnal activities by experienced night runners.

Ogalo says the vice starts at an early age, and people graduate after years of performing.

“There are children who accompany their parents and pick up the skills from them. It is a hereditary trait, which makes some children see it as normal,” Ogalo explains.

Elders say some women are introduced into the vice after they are married to families where night running is pivotal. But Ogalo stresses that the night runners were known, adding jogam (go betweens) enjoined the two to be a couple.

“Jogam know families and their behavior, thus they cannot link a man from a good family to a woman whose family practices night running,” he adds, with a chuckle.

Young men and women have tales of encounters with night runners while escorting their friends in the wee hours of the morning after sneaking from home at night. Principals of various boarding schools who do not want to be named, say dealing with the vice, especially in girls' schools, is difficult.

“We have girls who have been accused by their dormitory mates of running around dorms laughing loudly while naked,” a principal in a Nyanza school says.

The principal adds that there are occasions when girls wake up with razor blade cuts on their necks all attributed to the night runners.

“It is a vice that will take long to curb. I was a principal in schools in Western Province where night running was a headache,” another principal says.

Many principals concur with this opinion, saying that suspension of the culprits does not solve the problem, as the vice is hereditary. Teachers assert this fact adding that the numbers of girls practicing the vice increase in third term before the national examinations start.

“The best we can do as principals is to warn the girls and transfer them to dormitories which, do not have long corridors,” another principal from Western Province says.

Mzee Joseph Oduor, 67, from Kotengo, Kogada village in Ugenya, says night running is inborn.

“Jojuok must eat well before going on duty because they run continuously for more than three hours,” he says, adding, “They also answer calls of nature on your doorstep.”

The story is the same in Gusii land where residents of Keumbu, Suneka and Nyakegogi have lynched suspected night runners and their families. The Kisii who call the night runners abarogi say most of them not only disturb at night but also perform witchcraft.

Villagers in Kisii, however, do not take chances with abarogi but strive to kill their families.

Mzee Moses Kedemi, 79, and Paul Chukunzira, 72, from Kidundu village in Central Maragoli, say the community is dealing with the vice.

“Some of the night runners are elderly people we know we cannot trap them at night because they are too fast on their feet,” says Kedemi.

Kedemi and Chukunzira who are Maragoli elders say night runners are referred to as avaroji, adding they have been a nightmare for ages.

Residents of Sigulu village near Bumala market in Busia District claim a known old woman is one of them. Oduor says night runners know each other making them agree on areas of operation.

“They agree on villages they are going to cover and within a specific time - some men go on the missions with their wives and children,” Oduor says.

He adds that some night runners come to Siaya from neighbouring Busia to pour soil into huts through spaces between the walls and grass-thatched roofs.

“There are some who run around brandishing logs of wood calling names of all the dead people from the area,” Kedemi says.

Some villagers in Nyanza believe that those who want to trap night runners should eat cold food.

“They can smell people who have eaten hot food. Eating cold food will confuse them and enable one to trap them,” Oduor says.

He reveals that female night runners cannot hide the vice for long from their husbands saying their bodies swell at night.

“Bodies of female night runners swell at night as they sleep in their marital beds just before their husbands make love to them,” the old man says. Many villagers in Western Kenya concur that the vice needs to be dealt with urgently.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Welcome to Weirdsville: The New Motor

John Murray Spear and a guess at what the New Motor looked like

As promised, I’m continuing to dig through my dusty books to pull up odd-tasting tidbits of information, which is to say hard-core, certifiable, definitive, positive, and no-shit Weirdness.

And few things are as strange as the tale of the The New Motor.

1854, America, the Northeast. The time, particularly, is important. Think about it: 1854. Years before even the civil war, a time of technological innovation. No electric lights. The safety match was even a year away. No elevators. The hypodermic syringe and spinal anesthesia was either just developed (the former) or just a little ways away (the latter). So don’t even THINK of getting sick. Think coal, wool coats, the Crimean War, legal slavery, and Sir Richard Burton in Mecca and Medina.

Also John Murray Spear.

Go ahead, look him up. If you’re lucky, you might find him as a footnote, a side-thought in the spiritualist movement of the time. You know: ghosts, table-turning, trances, automatic writing, levitations ... in other words, spirits. Spear was part of that world, a medium-temperature medium. Then sometime during that coal and Crimean War year of 1854 Spear was elevated from mediocrity to the domain of the truly, magnificently ... unusual.

See in 1854 Spear was contacted by a bunch of spirits, with an “apparent mechanical turn of mind” (to quote A.J. Davis) that included the ghost of Benjamin Franklin: the Association of Electricizers, who commanded him to go forth unto this world and build The New Motor.“The Physical Savior of the race,” was how Spear described the Motor. As to its mysterious workings he said it was to be powered by “power from the magnetic store of nature, and therefore to be as independent of artificial sources of energy as was the human body.”

What the hell the New Motor looked like anyone’s guess. A clockwork Jesus? A steam-powered messiah? A rubber-band savior? A locomotive God? The fact that we haven’t the foggiest idea of what his “The Physical Savior of the race” looked like doesn’t diminish the fact that Spear and his spiritual mechanical gizmo really existed -- at least according to the eminent Lewis Spence in his An Encyclopedia of Occultism.

Slowly, Spear collected quite a little cult of followers … who did just that: Trail behind him and the New Motor, which they worshipped as a god, on tours throughout the Northeast. Eventually, this little band ended up in the lovely little town of Lynn, Massachusetts. There a certain lady received a vision of the New Motor and, while in its presence, suffered “birth pangs” for over two hours.

After this certain lady went through her “pangs” it was said that “it was averred that pulsations were apparent in the Motor”. After learning of this wonderful bit of unusual (okay, weird) history, the term “jump start” has not meant the same to me ….

I really wish this story had a better ending: like maybe Spear vanishing one day with the Motor, or that it ascended into some kind engineering nirvana, or was lost only to be discovered to our fascination and delight in some farmhouse in Connecticut. But, sadly, real like is too often stuffed with clichés: I can only hope that the “outraged” citizenry of Randolph, New York, who smashed the Motor to bits, had been carrying torches.

Still, who knows? Maybe someone someday will discovered a twisted bit of spring and cylinder, a crumpled mixture of glass and copper, a wind-up collection of gears and pendulums in a old barn, at the bottom of a filled well, on a dusty shelf somewhere and, to his surprise and shock, he will notice certain ... movements ....

No, that’s not quite right. Not movement, rather: “pulsations” ….

And so maybe The New Motor of John Murray Spear will tick and tock, and live again …

High Rock Cottage, Spear's home

Here's a bit more info on Spear and the Motor, compliments of
Old Is the New New:
In 1851 or 1852, Spear and his daughter Sophronia began seeking messages from the spirit world. In 1853, they announced that Spear had become the mouthpiece for the General Assembly of Spirits, a benevolent association of departed worthies like Franklin, Jefferson, and Emmanuel Swedenborg. The Assembly of Spirits was divided into a number of committees and subcommittees: the “Educationizers,” the “Governmentizers,” the “Healthfulizers,” the “Agriculturalizers,” and so on, but it was the “Electricizers,” headed of course by Franklin, who had immediate plans for Spear.

Franklin tasked Spear with building a series of electrical inventions—a “wizard’s suit” made of minerals and batteries, an electric ship shaped like a duck (they ply the waters of Boston Harbor to this day!), and most famously, a perpetual motion machine known variously as the New Motor, the New Messiah, and the God Machine. From all this I deduce that Franklin got a little freaky in the half-century after his death. The New Messiah, which Spear constructed in Lynn, Massachusetts, was a roughly human-shaped machine, with an electric “brain,” magnetic “lungs,” and many more strange attachments. Bringing it to life involved much channeling of spiritual energy by male and female mediums “mingling into one,” and a “New Mary” going through simulated pregnancy and labor. (Spear had a string of “New Marys” as he drifted into Free Love circles, at least one of whom simulated pregnancy so well as to bear him an un-simulated son.)

Other delightful details can be found on the Fortean Times site.