Thursday, February 28, 2013

Two of the three known photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair.

FDR in wheelchair aboard Vincent Astor yacht 1935 - FDR Presidential Library and Museum - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17

FDR in wheelchair aboard USS Indianapolis 1933 - FDR Presidential Library and Museum - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17
Eleanor Roosevelt in her wedding dress.

Eleanor Roosevelt in wedding dress - January 1905 - FDR Presidential Library and Museum - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What do the following buildings have to do with Washington, D.C.??

They were all created by Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect who has just been hired by the Smithsonian Institution to come up with a master plan for the area around the Smithsonian Castle. The $2.4 million master plan design should be ready in eight to 12 months. The area to be covered is bounded by the north side of Jefferson Drive SW, 7th Street SW, Independence Avenue SW, and 12th Street SW. This includes the Smithsonian Castle, the Arts and Industries Building, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, the National Museum of African Art, the Sackler Gallery, the Quadrangle Building (the entrance to the Ripley Center, the Museum of African Art, and the Sackler Gallery), the S. Dillon Ripley Center, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, and the Freer Gallery.

The Smithsonian has charged Ingels with creating a gateway. Visitors should be able to learn (what is not said), rest, and escape from the tumult of the city around them. The approach to the gateway should be from the south, with exits toward the north.

* * * * * * *

So who is Bjarke Ingels?

First of all, he's quite the handsome stud.

But more to the point, Ingels was born in Copenhagen in 1974. His father was an engineer and his mother a dentist. He originally wanted to draw comic books, but his father refused to pay for an education in graphic art. So he studied architecture at the Royal Academy, transferred after three years to the Technica Superior de Arquitectura in Barcelona, and graduated in 1999.

His first job was working for renowned Post-Modernist architect Rem Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA; an architectural firm based in Rotterdam). After two years, he moved to Copenhagen and with Belgian architect Julien de Smedt (with whom he'd worked at OMA) established a new firm named PLOT.

At PLOT, Ingels helped design a number of award-winning, innovative designs. The first was the VM Houses in Ørestad, Copenhagen. This mixed-use development (which was intended to have everything a person needed contained within it) consists of two two residential blocks shaped like the letters V and M. Completed in 2005, VM Houses won the Forum AID Award for the best building in Scandinavia in 2006. As the VM Houses was beginning construction in 2004, PLOT began work on a second development nearby. Known as the Mountain Dwellings, this residential block was completed in October 2008. It received the World Architecture Festival Housing Award (2008), Forum AID Award (2009), and the MIPIM Residential Development Award at Cannes (2009). Notably, Ingels himself lived in the VM Dwellings from 2004 to 2008, when he moved into the Mountain Dwellings. In 2005, Ingels completed the snowflake-shaped Helsingør Psychiatric Hospital.

PLOT disbanded at the end of 2005, and in January 2006 Ingels founded Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).

Ingels designed 8 House in 2006. The largest private development ever constructed in Scandinavia, the sloping, bow-shaped 10-story development consists apartments, townhouses, and retail. The apartment building is in the shape of a figure-eight, and from the side resembles a roller coaster. A completely "green" building, the rooftop gardens of heat-resistant succulents are visible from the street, adding to the building's appeal. 8 House won the Best Residential Building prize at the 2011 World Architecture Festival, and Huffington Post called it one of the "10 Best Architecture Moments of 2001–2010."

In 2007, Ingels designed the Danish Maritime Museum in Helsingør. Because the museum is located at Kronborg Castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), it had to be subterranean. Ingels took an abandoned drydock at the site, and built around it -- with windows in the walls of the drydock providing natural light to the interior of the museum. Across the open space, he built a zig-zag bridge a full story deep which house corridors (allowing people to cross from one side of the museum to the other) as well as classrooms.

Since 2007, Ingels has designed hotels, museums, piers, and towers, and recently completed a master plan for redevelopment of an abandoned navy base. He also designed the National Library of Kazakhstan; the Tilting Building in the Huaxi district of Guiyang, China; the city hall in Tallinn, Estonia; and the Faroe Islands Education Centre in Torshavn, Faroe Islands. Ingels also won the competition to build the Danish Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. His design was a self-contained loop that ended at a pool. His most ambitious effort, however, is turning the abandoned oil refinery on Zira Island off the coast of Baku, Azerbaijan, into a LEED Gold-certified residential, entertainment, and resort community. The zero-emissions project began construction in 2010.

In 2011, Ingels won a competition to design the Amagerforbrænding waste incineration building. Ingels designed a structure whose various roofs slope at different degrees. Each roof is covered in a granular material made from chopped plastic that mimics snow. Members of the public will be able to ski down each slope, day or night. Ingels designed the incinerator's smokestacks so that they issue smoke rings, not streams of gas. At night, these rings will be illuminated with lasers to turn them various colors. The project will be completed in 2016.

In 2012, Ingels moved to New York City. That same year, he was commissioned to build the white, pyramid-like West 57 apartment building.

Ingels is not some isolated designer living the fast life. He teaches as well. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Rice University School of Architecture; the Harvard Graduate School of Design; the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; and currently is an Adjunct Professor at the Yale School of Architecture.

Among Ingels' many awards are:
  • 2002 Nykredit Architecture Prize
  • 2004 Golden Lion for best concert hall design, Venice Biennale of Architecture
  • 2006 Forum AID Award, Best Building in Scandinavia in 2006
  • 2007 Mies van der Rohe Award Traveling Exhibition prize
  • 2008 Forum AID Award for Best Building in Scandinavia in 2008
  • 2008 World Architecture Festival Award for Best Residential Building
  • 2010 European Prize for Architecture
  • 2012 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for design which elevates the quality of architectural practice

What is Ingels' design philosophy? Architectural Review wrote in 2009 that Ingels seems bent on "bigness and baroque eccentricity." Like OMA, he's fascinated by twists and folds. Like the Norwegian firm Snohetta, he likes to draw on Scandinavian landscape images. And like all Scandinavians, Ingels is deeply concerned that his designs reflect democratic ideals and the reinforcement of community life. As a committed sustainable architect, he seeks to merge urbanism and nature, and constructs buildings which are sensitive to global warming and eminently practical.

The Netherlands Architecture Institute says he has an "international reputation as a member of a new generation of architects that combine shrewd analysis, playful experimentation, social responsibility and humour." Fast Company magazine put him on its 2010 list of the 100 most creative people in business. In October 2011, the Wall Street Journal named Ingels their Innovator of the Year for architecture. The New Yorker put him in the "first rank of international architects".

Ingels himself calls his design philosophy "hedonistic sustainability". He wrote:
Historically the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes. On one side an avant-garde full of crazy ideas. Originating from philosophy, mysticism or a fascination of the formal potential of computer visualizations they are often so detached from reality that they fail to become something other than eccentric curiosities. On the other side there are well-organized corporate consultants that build predictable and boring boxes of high standard. Architecture seems to be entrenched in two equally unfertile fronts: either naively utopian or petrifyingly pragmatic. We believe that there is a third way wedged in the no-mans-land between the diametrical opposites. Or in the small but very fertile overlap between the two. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective.
His designs are exceptionally modern and urban, relying heavily on glass, steel, polished concrete, plastic, and chrome. The designs are intended to be hedonistic, in that they should give intense pleasure not only to those who use them and live within them, but also to those who merely pass them by. The look of his buildings are highly contextual. "Buildings should respond to the local environment and climate in a sort of conversation to make it habitable for human life," Ingels says. Architecture should draw on images locally found in nature as "a way of massively enriching the vocabulary of architecture."

Interestingly, Ingels has spoken out against rich people moving back into the city from suburbia. He calls these individuals the "grey-gold" generation, since they are largely older or retired and very wealthy. As they move into the city, they seek to replicate their suburban lifestyles (detached house, front yard, hedge, fences, etc.) and architects meet their wishes by stamping out the existing architectural language and environment and imposing the rural one. Ingels calls this a "suburban biopsy".

Self-portrait. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Hyde Park, New York.

Self portrait - Henry Wallace Visitor Center - FDR Presidential Museum and Library - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17
"...the dedication of a library is itself an act of faith. To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things.

It must believe in the past.
It must believe in the future.
It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt, dedication speech, FDR Presidential Library, June 30, 1941

Sunday, February 24, 2013

They are building a George Washington Presidential Library!! At Mt. Vernon!

The 45,000-square-foot library, designed by Ayers Saint Gross, will 15 acres of woodland just to the west of Washington's historic Mt. Vernon home. A 6,000-square-foot Scholars' Residence adjacent to the library will provide bedrooms, kitchenettes, and living quarters eight resident scholars.

Until 1941, presidents retained their public papers as personal property. They often then edited these and published them for profit. Private presidential papers were rarely made available to anyone; many families destroyed them rather than see them become public, and most private papers remained unavailable for decades (or longer). The first president to donate his materials to the public was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1941 founded his own presidential library for his public and private papers at Hyde Park. Harry S. Truman also donated his public and private papers to the National Archives. Then, in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Presidential Libraries Act into law. The Act provides for private donations to build libraries to house public presidential papers, and for a mechanism for presidents to donate their private papers to these libraries (including restrictions on their release and access). The law also permitted for the creation of private foundations to assist the National Archives in operating the library, and for the construction and operation of presidential museums at each library site.

Truman's was the first library built, in 1957. Hoover's followed in 1962, Eisenhower's in 1966, LBJ's in 1971, Kennedy's in 1979, Ford's in 1981, Carter's in 1986, Reagan's in 1991, George H.W. Bush's in 1997, Clinton's in 2004. Nixon's originally was private, and opened in 1990. A federal lawsuit erupted over ownership of most of Nixon's papers, due to Nixon's involvement in Watergate. As an outcome of these lawsuits, the library was federalized in 2007. The George W. Bush library will open in Dallas in May 2013. Obama's library will likely open in 2016, although it's not clear if it will be in Hawaii or Chicago.

The new George Washington Presidential Library will NOT be part of the National Archives (NARA) presidential library system. One wonders why... After all, the Library of Congress' Manuscript Collection holds about 65,000 of Washington's personal diaries, letters, papers, manuscripts, and other items. You'd think a NARA library would get this LOC collection, right?

So what does Mt. Vernon have that justifies a library? Mt. Vernon has just 500 original Washington items. It has another 5,500 historical items such as letters written to Washington, accounting books used at Mt. Vernon and at various other Washington estates (which were extensive!!), and maps; 46 books owned by Washington; about 2,450 rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries; about 18,000 hard-copy books, journals, and magazines about Washington, 18th century American life and culture, 18th century decorative arts, historic preservation, genealogy, and Mt. Vernon; and 250,000 digitized books, journals, and magazines about Washington. Except for the original manuscripts, all of what Mt. Vernon has is already at the Library of Congress (LOC).

You'd think the two would have worked together to create a single George Washington research site. It's unclear if Mt. Vernon wanted to become part of the federal presidential library system or not. It's not clear if Mt. Vernon will be purchasing other major Washingtoniana collections, to make it's library more than just a niche facility. It's also unclear why this library is being built at Mt. Vernon. Why didn't Mt. Vernon donate its collection to the LOC and build a major library in D.C. -- so that scholars and the public are better served by a single facility, rather than collections scattered hither and yon? Or does a private library provide better access than big, stuffy, red-tape suffused LOC?

We don't have these answer.

And besides... well, it's kind of moot. Mt. Vernon needed $100 million to build its library, and it now has $110 million.

* * * * * *

Just for fun's sake, here is where the other presidential papers are located.

At the Library of Congress:
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • Andrew Jackson
  • William Henry Harrison (Note: The majority of Harrison's papers were destroyed by fire in 1858.)
  • John Tyler (Note: The majority of Tyler's papers were destroyed during the Civil War.)
  • Zachary Taylor (Note: The majority of Taylor's papers were destroyed during the Civil War.)
  • Franklin Pierce (Note: Pierce's papers are scarce. The most significant collections available are housed at the Library of Congress and the New Hampshire Historical Society.)
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Andrew Johnson
  • James Garfield (Note: Garfield's presidential papers are scarce, as he served only 100 days.)
  • Chester Arthur (Note: Arthur's papers are scarce.)
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • William McKinley
  • Theodore Roosevelt (Note: Other than the Library of Congress, the most significant collections available are housed at Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Calvin Coolidge

In other collections:
  • John Adams at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts
  • James Monroe at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia
  • John Quincy Adams at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Martin Van Buren are widely scattered. The largest collection is at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Smaller collections (less than 250 items) may be found at the Columbia County Historical Society in Kinderhook, New York; Filson Club Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky; the Massachusetts Historical Society; the New-York Historical Society in New York City; and the New York State Library in Albany, New York
  • James K. Polk at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Millard Fillmore at the Buffalo Historical Society and Erie County Historical Society, both in Buffalo, New York
  • Franklin Pierce (Note: Pierce's papers are scarce. The most significant collections available are housed at the Library of Congress and the New Hampshire Historical Society.)
  • James Buchanan at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Ulysses S. Grant at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois
  • Rutherford B. Hayes at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio
  • Theodore Roosevelt at the Library of Congress; Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota)
  • Warren G. Harding at the Ohio Historical Society at Columbus, Ohio
Adam and Anton 021 - Royal Hanneford Circus - Westchester NY - 2013-02-16

Duo A&A: This is Anton and Adam!

Adam Vazquez comes from a family which has been doing acrobatics for almost 150 years. He began in gymnastics, but for the past 14 years has been working in circuses. He's worked with Franco Dragon at Cirque du Soleil, and previously was best known as a solo hand balancer (speed-landing on his hands, balancing on his hands while support his body, etc.). He's also worked on Chinese poles, and performed high-wire acrobatics and gymnastics landing in water.

Anton Makuhin was born in Kiev, Ukraine. His parents were both professional athletes, and he began acrobatics training at four years of age. Incredibly strong at a young age, he entered the National Olympic Lyceum of Ukraine. As a where he trained under the most prestigious coaches that sports acrobatics had to offer. He won both National Gold and World Championship acrobatic titles, and worked for 12 years with Cirque du Soleil.

Adam and Anton 017 - Royal Hanneford Circus - Westchester NY - 2013-02-16
Contortionist Kevin Sadrak 004 - Royal Hanneford Circus - Westchester NY - 2013-02-16

This is contortionist Kevin Sadrak. DEAR GOD! Aside from being cute as a button, he's a terrific performer. And he has it bulging in juuuuust the right spot. Yum!

Contortionist Kevin Sadrak 014 - Royal Hanneford Circus - Westchester NY - 2013-02-16
Hunky juggler - Royal Hanneford Circus - Westchester NY - 2013-02-16

Wait. He was JUGGLING?????????? I hadn't noticed until now.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Let's go back to about 1974. My maternal grandparents lived in Watford City, North Dakota. School let out the first week of June, and two weeks later my family would travel from Great Falls, Montana, to Watford. We'd spend a month there, living with my grandparents. Nearly all of my mom and dad's family lived there (or in nearby Arnegard), so we'd spend many days seeing my aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, and family friends. My parents married late in life, so I and my two younger brothers were a decade or more younger than all my cousins. Most of them had moved away from Watford City (population, on a good day, about 1,500) anyway, so we kids had little to do.

My grandparents lived in a two-bedroom house my grandfather had constructed in the 1940s. At once time it had a second floor with bedrooms, but my grandfather removed that after his children grew up and moved away. Watford was your typical sleepy western North Dakota town at that time. It had a Main Street (literally) on which the grocery store, drug store, dress shop, automotive store, and other major retailers were located. The drug store also contained the post office (in the back corner). It had your traditional long glass counter which offered seemingly hundreds of different glass jars full of penny candy.

And, near the front door, there was a comic book rack. About five feet tall. Circular, rotating, maybe 20 or 25 different comics loaded into its white wire racks.

I had no idea what comic books were. My parents were so unwilling to allow us kids to be part of pop culture that we watched little television, had no access to radio or records, and never went to movies. Comic books were something completely alien to me.

Not to my grandfather.

Every day afternoon at about 3 P.M., my grandfather would walk from his home at 4th and Park Streets and go to the drug store to pick up his mail. It was eight blocks. But since Watford is such a small town, it was really only about a third of a mile. Trees densely lined every street, so all but the last two blocks were cool and green.

This particular day was probably only the third or fourth day we'd been in Watford. It can be horribly hot in North Dakota in the summer, but it was only in the mid 70s and pleasant on this day. My grandfather asked me and my brother if we wanted to go with him to the drug store, and of course we said yes. Anything to get out of the house. Anything to have an adventure and not be bored to death. We were behaving very well, and my grandfather bought us the piece of candy we wanted (as he always did).

As we walked out the door, my grandfather asked us if we wanted any comic books.

I turned, and there was the comic book rack. Full of color, full of heroes, full of villains, full of stories.

We each got three comic books.

From then on, I was hooked. I loved Justice League, Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman, Godzilla, Firestorm, Flash, Kamandi, Detective Comics, Aquaman, Hawkman, Doom Patrol, Superboy, Supergirl, and Weird War Tales. I never really liked the Marvel heroes, because they seemed too fucked up, too human. They weren't heroic enough. They had these ultra-complex back stories which a little kid of nine could just not get into.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Oddly, I was not much of a Batman fan. I would occasionally buy Batman or Detective Comics if they had a good story or villain, but I didn't religiously buy them the way I did Justice League or Legion of Super-Heroes. I loved Scarecrow, and thought The Penguin had a lot going for him if the writers would only use him right. I was reading Batman when Ra's al Ghul and Dr. Phosphorus were created, and when they introduced -- and then killed off -- Batwoman. Over on Batman itself, Dennis O'Neil was writing much darker stories and artist Neal Adams was adding depth-of-field, angularity, and more dynamic body language to the title. During the 1970s, the Joker -- who had become a goofy clown who stole jewels -- was brought back to his roots as a psychotic homicidal maniac. Many people point to Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight" as the watershed moment for Batman. But, in fact, Miller's conception can be traced directly back to O'Neil's interpretation of Batman as a revenge-obsessed, tormented human being.

But over on Detective Comics, it was an odd time to be Batman. The comic had a really terrific artist in Jim Aparo, who was drawing a lean, more realistic Batman. But there was no consistency to the book, because the writers switched in and out a lot. Dennis O'Neil was writing stories with a darker edge, like those he was writing in Batman. But Steve Englehart was writing more prose-based stories that were even darker, delving into the psychosis that drove most villains. (It was around this time that he penned the legendary "Laughing Fish" story.) Another writer, Len Wein, was less interested in darkness and more interested in vitality and realism. He dug deeply into Batman's past to resurrect villains from the early days -- most notably Clayface -- and revamped, updated, and infused new life into them by getting them away from their cartoonish roots and making them more believeable human beings. Psychotic, super-powered human beings, but human beings. (You'll later see this idea picked up extensively by writers for Batman: The Animated Series, who rehabilitated numerous cartoonish villains and made them into believable, high-powered, but tragic figures for that show.)

Detective Comics was bimonthly at the time. This supposedly meant that writers who were under pressure to do monthly story lines elsewhere could work on better stories at Detective. That wasn't true at all, I believe. Detective Comics was the cast-off, the has-been, the title where a writer had just 17 pages in a 25-page book to tell a nearly complete, self-contained story. Good luck with that.

We know Detective Comics was junk-comics land because DC Comics was about to cancel the title. Although DC had some really terrific titles at the time (Justice League of America was doing gangbusters and Legion of Super-Heroes was blowing people away), it had also kept a lot of failing titles around much too long. Furthermore, a whopping number of new heroes (remember "Shade, the Changing Man"?) without interesting powers or compelling backstories had gotten titles. The company had only introduced its first black superhero in 1977, and still had no black heroes in major "group" titles like Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes, or Teen Titans. (When it did introduce such heroes, they were junky ones like disco-boy Tyroc in LSH and angel-horn sucking Hornblower in JLA. Eeesh.) In June 1978, DC Comics canceled almost half of all the titles they were producing, and cancelled five titles which had not yet been released (including one which would have introduced DC's first black superheroine). Only a massive in-house backlash kept the comic book which gave DC Comics its name from being ignominiously cancelled. (To save Detective Comics, the more-popular Batman Family was merged into it.)

It's just as Detective Comics is about to be cancelled that we get the "Grok" story.

Detective Comics #480 was supposed to be the title's final issue. It was released for December 1978. About six months previously, Batman had fought Dr. Phosphorous -- a scientist whose body was infused with radioactive phosphorous during a nuclear experiment. The X-rays his body emitted left people only seeing a glowing, fiery skeleton. Dr. Phosphorous was driven mad by the accident, and Batman's encounter with the villian left him seriously ill with radiation poisoning.

As Bruce Wayne, Batman sought treatment for the radiation sickness. He unfortunately sought it from Dr. Hugo Strange.

Hugo Strange was one of the earliest Batman villains. He'd first appeared in Detective Comics #36 (February 1940) as a criminal mastermind. Batman rather easily defeats him. He next shows up in the now-classic Batman #1 (Spring 1940). Typically, Strange has vowed vengeance on Batman for his earlier defeat. But, interestingly, Strange has invented a super-strength formula (wait for it!!!) that turns the average guy into a mega-super-strong mindless beast. Strange clads them in kevlar, and they wreak mayhem in Gotham while Strange and his more intelligent henchmen rob banks in the city to fund Strange's plan to wreak vengeance on Batman. Batman defeats the mega-men and Strange. Strange shows up again in Detective Comics #46 (December 1940), this time wielding a fear-creating dust. Strange intends to create national panic and become dictator of America, but Batman tosses him over a cliff. Note that this predates the appearance of The Scarecrow and his fear-gas by nine months. Jonathan Crane does not make his first appearance until World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941). (A person might also point out that Hourman with his "Miraclo" serum also gives super-strength and super-speed. Hourman first made an appearance in Adventure Comics #48 [March 1940], written by Ken Fitch. This comes a month after Hugo Strange's first appearance. Given the close proximity in time in which the two serums appear, it seems coincidental rather than plagiarism.)

While Scarecrow made two apperances in the 1940s, he was dropped from the Batman mythos until legendary writer Gardner Fox made him reappear in Batman #189 (February 1967). He's made numerous appearances since then.

It took Hugo Strange longer to appear. And this is where I come in! YAY!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Detective Comics #471 (August 1977), writer Steve Englehart has Batman seek treatment for radiation sickness at a clinic secretly run by Dr. Hugo Strange. (Strange is again using his mega-monster serum -- this time to turn rich people into horrific brutes, having them steal stuff, filming their crimes, and then blackmailing them to keep the footage secret.) Strange knocks Batman unconscious, and then learns his true secret identity as Bruce Wayne! In the Englehart-penned Detective Comics #472 (September 1977), Strange masks himself and, mimicking Bruce Wayne's voice and mannerisms perfectly, begins taking over Wayne Enterprises and putting Wayne's money into his numbered Swiss bank account. He also decides to sell Batman's secret identity to the highest bidder. Three individuals (seen sitting in the dark) pony up the $10,000 needed to participate in the auction. (The reader can easily deduce that two of these are the Joker and the Penguin.) Strange announces that the auction will begin the next night. The third individual is not readily apparent until a page later, when it turns out to be Gotham crime boss Rupert Thorne. As Strange leaves the abandoned building where the antes were made, Thorne's henchmen tranquilize Strange's hulking bodyguards. Strange is taken off to be tortured into turning over Batman's secret identity. He's brutally beaten, and Thorne's henchmen accidentally kill him when Strange won't talk. They toss his body in a barrel, and dump it in the river.

Six months pass. The Penguin attacks (#473), Deadshot returns and Silver St. Cloud learns Batman's secret identity (#474), and the Joker creates "Laughing Fish" (#475) -- on which he wants a trademark, or he'll start killing every trademark examiner in the nation. In the Englehart-penned Detective Comics #476 (March-April 1978), the "Laughing Fish" story concludes as Joker kills off a second patent examiner. Batman and Joker have it out atop a construction site in a thunderstorm. Joker is apparently electrocuted when lightning strikes the steel tower, and he plunges into the river. Silver St. Cloud decides to leave Gotham City, telling Batman she could not live with the fear of him dying every night.

The side-story here is that, in issues #473, #474, and #475, Boss Thorne has been seeing apparitions of Hugo Strange's ghost. No one else is seeing them, however. So in issue #476, while Thorne is driving in that same thunderstorm that seemingly kills the Joker, the ghost of Hugo Strange appears on the highway, flies through the window of the car Thorne is driving, and strangles him. The GPD later pick Thorne up on the side of the road -- mentally unhinged and babbling about his crimes. He's locked away for good.

Issue #477 is a reprint of an older Batman story. (This is Detective Comics #408, "The House That Haunted Batman". It features a psychic attack on Batman by his old nemesis Dr. Tzin-Tzin. Bats quickly figures it out.) Issues #478 and #479 introduce a new Clayface -- Preston Payne, a man suffering from a disfiguring disease who shoots himself up with serum concocted from the blood of the second Clayface (actor Matt Hagen). Oops! The serum leaves the new Payne even worse off. Furthermore, whenever Clayface suffers from "clay fever" (which he does every 12 to 24 hours, it seems), whomever he touches can be turned into a puddle of mud. Batman manages to fend off the first attack by Clayface, who is slowly going insane. The local abandoned wax museum has a figure of Payne's dead actress girlfriend in it. Believing the figure is alive, Clayface hangs out there. When the fever hits him again, he hunts down Batman. After a fight on the Gotham Narrows Bridge, Clayface escapes and hightails it back to the wax museum. Batman finds him there, a fire breaks out (as it always does at a wax museum), and the building collapses. Clayface is presumed dead.

When you think about it, Detective Comics was really pushing the envelope here. Silver St. Cloud learned Batman's identity, they brought back Hugo Strange, they came up with the legendary "Laughing Fish" story, and they brought back Clayface. Pretty awesome!

This brings us to Detective Comics #480 (December 1978), with a Batman story titled "The Perfect Fighting Machine".

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, Steve Englehart had penned all the stories since issue #471 except for Len Wein-written Clayface two-parter. (Wein had also penned the repeat story.)

Now, all of a sudden, we are getting a Denny O'Neil story. Huh... O'Neil hadn't penned a Detective Comics story since issue #461 -- and that was July 1976! The writers in the past two years had been primarily Steve Englehart and Bob Rozakis (ugh), with a few Gerry Conway and Elliot S! Maggin and Len Wein stories tossed in here and there. And #461 wasn't even really an O'Neil story: It was the second part of a Bob Rozakis (ugh) story involving a pirate named Captain Stingaree. (Yes, that's one for the vault. Price that today at $0.05.) True, O'Neil's effort prior to #461 had been #457 (March 1976) -- "There is No Hope in Crime Alley!", a longtime fan favorite that reimagined the death of Thomas and Helena Wayne.

So what do we get with #480, what should have been the penultimate Detective Comics story? What do we get with this first Denny O'Neil story in a long, long time?

Ivan Angst is the head of a never-seen-or-heard-from-again criminal organization known as Mercenaries, Inc. Batman's been on his tail for some weeks now (so we are told), and he wants the Dark Knight gotten rid of. So he seek out Dr. Moon -- DC Comics' resident mad scientist. O'Neil created Dr. Moon in Batman #240 (July 1972). As far as I can tell, this is only Dr. Moon's second outing in the DC Universe. (My reearch says Moon will next appear in a Joker story written by Mike Barr for Detective Comics #569 [December 1986] and #570 [January 1987]. He makes a number of appearances in the 1990s, and dies in Manhunter #18 [March 2006].)

Moon has apparently been working on a serum that will turn the average person into a mega-super-strong fighting machine. SOUND FAMILIAR, Hugo Strange fans? Angst has funded Moon's research, and hopes that if it is successful then he can create a whole army of super-powered, mindless mercenaries to do Mercenaries, Inc.'s dirty work. Angst recruits an obese college kid with poor vision (requiring those coke-bottle lens glasses) who is being ruthlessly bullied. He tells the kid that he can beat up those who have tortured him his entire life if he will just undergo a little surgery... So naturally poor slob agrees to let Moon operate. Moon implants plastic armor beneath the guy's skin, strengthens his arms and legs with metal plates, severs his nerve endings so he'll feel no pain, and dopes him up with the super-strength serum. (Sound familiar? Hugo Strange gave his hulks armor, too.) The serum makes the kid pretty mindless, so he obeys orders, too.

Moon calls the unnamed kid "Grok", which he claims is a medical term for a person in a vegetated state.

Out of the blue, Grok attacks Batman. Naturally, Batman almost breaks his hands punching Grok. Grok feels no pain, but soon Batman is terribly injured and almost incapacitated by his pain. Grok is also impossibly fast, and Batman can't understand what's providing such a huge, muscular guy with that speed and that power. (Of course, Batman is also not really up to par, as he's still recovering from his battle with Dr. Phosphorous.)

Naturally, Batman loses the battle.

But just as Grok is choking Batman to death, Grok stumbles backward. Grok starts gagging, shaking, and can't stand. Standing off to the side, watching the battle, Dr. Moon theorizes that Batman did much more damage to Grok than a human being could take. Internal organs are probably severely damaged. But since Grok could not feel the pain, he kept taking it. In other words, Batman's killed Grok. Furthermore, Moon thinks the serum is wearing off, and Grok is not only losing his super-strength but is likely dying from the withdrawal symptoms. Batman lies on the ground, barely able to move. Grok, seeing Angst standing next to Moon, staggers over to the only friend he's ever had. Angst shuns him as a horror. Grok realizes he's been betrayed. Using his last bit of strength, Grok chokes Angst to death. A bleeding, heavily injured Batman tries to pull Grok off Angst, but can't. Grok collapses, dead, onto Angst's cold body. Dr. Moon escapes, as Batman is too exhausted to pursue him.

And that's the last you hear of any of this..........................

OH WAIT!!!!!!!!!

In 1991, departing Detective Comics writer Peter Milligan pitched a two-part story involving a heavily injured Batman who is replaced by a substitute hero (who is not mentally ready for the role). Although Milligan's idea was not picked up, Dennis O'Neil -- hey, remember him???? -- asked the Batman creative teams to begin brainstorming ways to introduce a major shift in the Batman mythology. He'd been inspired by Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie to come up with something really dark without replicating Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (1986) mini-series or Miller's "Batman: Year One" (1987) story arc in Batman.

Here's the thing: O'Neil felt that his 1978 "Grok" story had gotten short shrift in those 17 pages of a dying Detective Comics. He wanted more pages, more issues, and more time to work out his ideas to make Angst, Moon, Mercenaries Inc., and Grok into some major villains. He felt the reader had never really gotten the tragic nature of Grok, never really got hooked by the story, and that Batman never had a chance to react to the tragedy -- not only the tragedy of Grok, but the tragedy of accidentally killing him.

O'Neil got the writers on the three Batman titles -- Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Alan Grant -- together over a long weekend, and they hashed out the major plot points and story line. The Central American nation of Santa Prisca (home of the hellish Peña Dura prison) was first created by O'Neil in The Question #10 (November 1987), and the drug Venom (remember Hugo Strange's and Dr. Moon's version of this?) was created by O'Neil in Legends of the Dark Knight #16 (March 1991). Both of these O'Neil-created plot elements would be added to the "Grok" story. The new villain would be called Bane, and he would not be tragic but rather an arrogant super-soldier with a brutal addiction to both thrill-seeking (his initial motivation is to challenge the world's greatest unpowered fighter, Batman) and Venom. (Gotta make Grok have a weakness other than death, right?) The concept of having Batman lose to Bane was also lifted right out of the 1978 "Grok" story, but it was made much worse by allowing Bane to actually break Batman's back and sever his spinal cord. To carry out this plan, they agreed that they should the two Batman comics -- Batman and Detective Comics -- should integrate their story lines. (They normally were treated as part of the same continuity, but never integrated.) They also decided to incorporate the story into other DC Comics titles. Thus, the story played out as well in Showcase '93, Shadow of the Bat, Catwoman, Justice League Task Force, Legends of the Dark Knight, Robin, and Showcase '94.

The storyline actually saw print first in Batman: The Sword of Azrael mini-series, which ran from October 1992 to January 1993. This introduced Azrael, the character first pitched by Peter Milligan the year before. Bane is introduced in Batman: Vengeance of Bane (January 1993), a seeming one-off. The "Knightfall" story arc began with a sub-arc, "Broken Bat", in April 1993. This sub-arc has Bane pestering Batman almost to death, then breaking Bruce Wayne's back. It concluded in Batman #497 (July 1993). The second sub-arc, "Who Rules the Night", ran from July to October 1993. In this sub-arc, Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley) becomes Batman. The second story arc, "Knightquest", also had two sub-arcs. "The Crusade" and "The Search" ran concurrently from October 1993 to June 1994. The third story arc, "KnightsEnd" ran from July to August 1994, and the fourth, "Aftermath", ran from November 1994 to February 1995.

Now, when I left for college, I gave up buying comic books. I could not afford them. It was just that simple. I had a lot of subscriptions, and I let them lapse. Poverty sucks. The "Knightfall" story arc got a lot of press attention, coming as it did just after the "Death of Superman" story arc that rebooted a lot of the Man of Steel titles.

But imagine my surprise when I read newspaper articles about Bane and Batman's broken back. "Hey!" I said, "that sounds awfully familiar..." At that time, I told people that I'd already read this story back in a Batman comic book in the 1970s... But no one believed me.

It took me a long time, but I finally figured out which title this Grok story first appeared in (Detective Comics) and when it happened (December 1978) and the circumstances under which the story was created.

Moral of my story? There is nothing new under the sun.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today -- February 19, 2013 -- is the 413th anniversary of the eruption of Huaynaputina.

I know: "What?"

Huaynaputina is a corruption of the Quechua word "Waynaputina", which means "Young Volcano". Huaynaputina is a stratovolcano in southern Peru. Its eruption on February 19, 1600, was the largest volcanic explosion in South America in 670 years. It remains the largest to this day.

The Nazca Plate is a large non-continental tectonic plate which borders almost all of the western side of South America. It is slowly being pushed beneath (subducted) the massive South American Plate. This has created the incredibly deep Peru-Chile Trench just offshore. It has also buckled a portion of the South American Plate, raising up the Andes. The Nazca Plate is wet, and as it disintegrates in the heat far below the South American Plate, that water turns to steam. And that steam has to go somewhere... This causes volcanos all along the western side of South America.

Huaynaputina is located above crust that is unusually thick. Sedimentary rock lies near the surface, followed by gneiss (sedimentary rock that has become highly compressed and dense due to pressure) and then granite. The granite is "basement" rock -- some of the oldest rock on the planet. The volcano formed here because the crust has cracked in numerous small places due to the stresses caused by the subduction of the Nazca Plate.

Huaynaputina is a "glass volano". That's because its lava is heavy with silica. Its lava tends to be light and flows easily, and forms large amounts of Pele's hair -- long, very fine and flexible strands of glass formed when lava is caught by the wind.

The Incan Empire formed about 1438 C.E., and controlled the area around Huaynaputina until 1532. Unfortunately, smallpox wiped out 94 percent of the Incan population between 1520 and 1620. The Incan ruler, Huayna Capac, and most of his family died -- leading to civil war in the Incan Empire. Smack in the middle of this, Francico Pizarro landed in Peru in 1531. On November 16, 1532, he and his few conquistadors captured the victorious Incan ruler Atahualpa and strangled him to death. Pizarro suppressed numerous rebellions, as well as fought a civil war against his fellow conquistador Diego de Almagro. (Pizarro was assassinated in 1541.) The Spanish instituted an encomienda system, in which the native populace paid tribute to the Spanish in "thanks" for being forcibly converted to Christianity. In 1542, the Spanish established the Viceroyalty of Peru, which had authority over Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. (Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco's brother, assassinated the first viceroy in an attempt to retain control over the entire continent, but the second viceroy captured and executed him.) At first, the Pizarros and Viceroys ruled through puppet-state clients in the interior, but in 1572 C.E. the third viceroy, Francisco de Toledo, executed the last Incan puppet-ruler (Tupac Amaru I), shut down the puppet states, and ruled directly from Lima. Slave labor was instituted to ramp up silver mining.

There is evidence that the local Incan people sacrificed people, animals, and clothing to Huaynaputina. They believed that Supay, god of death, lived beneath the cone-shaped mountain. Huaynaputina is in the center of the Cerros Moquegua (Moquegua Mountains) in Moquegua Province in southern Peru. It is about 40 miles north of the provincial capital of Moquegua, and about 50 miles southeast of the very large city of Arequipa. To the mountain's west is a large plain, which provides spectacular views of the volcano.

A few days before the eruption, booming noises and thick clouds of gas being emitted from its crater. The local people began preparing sacrifices to Supay, but during the sacrificial ceremony the volcano belched a large amount of ash that forced them to cease. Many earthquakes hit the region beginning February 15, with quakes hitting every five or six minutes by February 18. By 10 P.M., the quakes were powerful enough to wake people from their sleep. Between 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. on February 19, two major earthquakes hit the region, causing widespread panic. Most structures were destroyed or severely damaged, large landslides occurred, and cracks and deformations appeared in the earth.

At 5:00 P.M. local time on February 19, Huaynaputina exploded. Violently.

Each explosion was like a cannon, sending gigantic fire- and lightning-filled balls of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. It was heard in Lima, 625 miles away. Every few seconds, another massive explosion of ash, fire, and lightning shot into the air. Over the next few hours, more than 7.2 cubic miles of earth and rock were launched into the air. Explosions occurred every few seconds, and there was so little light that people thought it was night-time. Fine sand began falling from the sky at about 6 P.M. Pumice began to fall later that night, accompanied by dry lightning everywhere.

The earthquakes accompanying the blasts were so powerful that the cities of Arquipa and Moquegua were heavily damaged. Pyroclastic flows (ash so hot that it moves like water) flowed down the sides of the mountain in all directions. Those to the east and southeast flowed more than eight miles. The villages of Tasata and Calicanto were buried beneath more than 10 feet of pyroclastic flows.

The Rio Tambo, which lies to the east of the mountain, filled with ash -- creating a lahar (ash-water mix) that shot downstream at high speed. Several villages downstream were wiped out, with all their inhabitants. More than 1,500 people died. Mud dams formed on the Rio Tambo, which were then breached -- causing tidal waves of destruction to repeatedly slam down the river. The lahar reached the Pacific Ocean, 75 miles away, and was still so hot that fish boiled to death as far as 5 miles out to sea. The course of the Quinistiquillas River was changed.

The explosion was so powerful that it took the ash hours to reach ground again. Close to the volcano, more than THREE FEET of ash was reported. The ash was so hot, houses caught fire and people could not go outside. Large stones accompanied the ash, and many people and animals were killed by the falling rock. Every village within 15 miles of the volcano to the north, west, and southwest was obliterated. Strong wind blasted the ash around, mayors ordered roofs swept of ash to prevent buildings from collapsing, and in some areas pumice blocks 5 inches in size plunged through roofs.

Within 24 hours, Arequipa was covered with 10 inches of ash. At Moquegua, somewhat protected by high-level winds pushing east, nine inches of ash fell. Ash fell more than 300 miles away.

The eruption continued into February 20. Explosions were heard every few minutes, and it was like midnight all day long. Heavy quantities of ash continued to fall, and heavy earthquakes continued to strike the area. When the quakes struck, people staggered, furniture on the floor moved, and what little remained standing in the area collapsed.

The eruption continued for several more days, but so few survivors were in the area that its cessation was not well-documented. A major earthquake struck on February 28. Ships more than 750 miles out to sea in the Pacific had ash fall on them, and ashfalls were reported in Panama and Nicaragua. The ash fall ceased on March 5, which is generally considered to be the end of the eruption. From February 20 to March 5, more than 12 cubic miles of rock were blasted into the sky. But it was not until April 2 that the atmosphere finally cleared of ash.

The destruction of Huaynaputina altered world weather. The winter of 1600-1601 was the coldest in 600 years. In Russia, massive famine hit that caused the death of two million people. Weather-sensitive crops like fruit and certain vegetables collapsed in Scandinavia, France, and Germany. In Japan, lakes froze months early, and in China spring came more than 30 days late. Across North America, northern Europe, and northern Asia, snowfalls were the heaviest in more than two centuries.

The worldwide climate was deeply affected for more than a decade. Winters remained much colder and growing seasons quite short for at least five years. A seven-year drought struck eastern North America, and heavy acid rainfalls throughout the northern hemisphere destroyed riverine and lake fish stocks for more than two decades. Agriculture in southern Peru did not recover for more than 150 years due to the massive amounts of ash and altered river drainages in the area.

A volcano is considered to be "active" if it has erupted within human history. This includes volcanoes which have erupted only in myth, and are recorded in native people's oral culture.

So how does Huaynaputina rank among the world's greatest explosions in human history?
1) Mount Tambora - Located on the Sunda Islands (between Australia and Indonesia), it erupted on April 10, 1815. It is ranked a "7" on the Volcanic Explosive Index (VEI).

2) Rinjani - Also located in the Sunda Islands, it erupted in 1258 C.E. and helped cause the "Little Ice Age" (a global cooling which lasted almost 500 years). VEI rating: 7.

3) Baekdu Mountain - Located on the China/North Korea border, it erupted in 969 C.E. VEI rating: 7.

4) Taupo Caldera - Located on New Zealand's north island, it erupted in 230 C.E. VEI rating: 7.

5) Mount Pinatubo - Located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, it erupted on June 15, 1991. VEI rating: 6.

6) Novarupta - Located in the Aleutian Islands, it erupted on June 6, 1912. VEI rating: 6.

7) Santa María - Located in western Guatemala, it erupted on October 24, 1902. VEI rating: 6.

8) Krakatoa - Located in the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, it erupted on August 26–27, 1883. VEI rating: 6.

8) Grímsvötn and Laki - Located in Iceland, these two volcanoes (actually a single unit) erupted from 1783 to 1785. VEI rating: 6.

9) Long Island - Located in Papua New Guinea, it erupted in 1660. VEI rating: 6.

10 )Santorini - Located in the South Aegean Sea, it erupted on September 27, 1650. VEI rating: 6.

Huaynaputina ranks 11th on this list.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Presidents Day

Franklin D Roosevelt grave - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17

I visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Grave Site for the first time on February 17, 2013. The day before Presidents Day...

Statues - Senator Robert Kerr Memorial Garden - Henry Wallace Welcome Center - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17

Happy Presidents Day

Arlington National Cemetery - William Howard Taft marker - 2011
Happy Presidents Day

Tomb of Woodrow Wilson - Washington National Cathedral - Washington DC - 2012
Happy Presidents Day

Lincoln Memorial - entrance - looking out - closeup - 2011
Happy Presidents' Day

Lincoln Memorial - interior - statue up - 2011
Spent the weekend in Irvington, New York, with friends. I also saw Hyde Park -- the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It's the second Presidential museum and library I have been to, and the second presidential birthplace, and the third presidential home. It was awesome!!! Now I'm halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore, headed home.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Here is your Valentine's Day giggle.

Here are your Valentine's Day kisses.

Your Valentine seems to have kicked all his covers off, and is cold. Go warm him up.

So get this: G4, the video game and gadget network aimed squarely at techno-geeks, is rebranding itself as "The Esquire Network". It will now focus on luxury whiskey, fine cigars, stylish suits, how to date classy broads, which 'lectric razor setting leaves you with that three-day scruffy look, and similar stuff like that. Things you would find in Esquire magazine.

A press release says the channel is going after the "untapped metrosexual viewership" demographic. Uh-huh. Because upwardly mobile, wealthy, handsome young men have nothing better to do than watch TV.

The new channel says it will have reality shows about slobs dressy and acting classy to get a supermodel to date them, a gourmet cooking competition, high-end cocktails in mahogany-drenched bars, and a celebrity-based luxury travel show. It also will be running massive amounts of re-runs. Look for Parks & Recreation and Party Down to air in endless four-hour blocks (at first). Overnight, there'll be informercials for the Shake Weight, Comfort Wipe, and Fushigi.

Really, someone thought this was a great idea. Honest.

Who was Robert Sherwood?

He was born in April 1896, and grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. He graduated from Harvard, then joined the Canadian Black Watch and fought and was wounded in World War I. After the war, he worked as a movie critic for Life and Vanity Fair. He was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table -- a notorious group of hard-drinking, hard-smoking, fabulously talented writers who met monthly at the Algonquin Room bar in New York City to eat, drink, tell jokes, and share stories. He became good friends with celebrated writers Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber.

Sherwood turned to writing in the 1920s. His first play, The Road to Rome (1927), was a big success. He wrote two more plays before completing Waterloo Bridge in 1930. A devastating portrait of the loss of innocence and the insanity of British generalship in World War I, James Whale adapted it into a critically acclaimed film in 1931. Four plays later came The Petrified Forest (1935), which was adapted into a famous film with Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart. Set in a single room at a restaurant near Petrified Forest National Monument, Bogart played the escaped convict Duke Mantee -- who holds hostage a room full of local people during a sandstorm while waiting for his escape car to arrive. It is considered one of the most harrowing plays ever written. His 1936 play about old vaudville lovers caught in a European nation just about to go to war, Idiot's Delight, won the Pulitzer Prize. He won the Pulitzer again in 1938 for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (a biography of the president from his teens to his election as president) and again in 1940 for There Shall Be No Night (about a Finnish-American couple living abroad as the Soviet Union invades their home). But he only wrote two more plays over the next decade... Why?

Well, in 1926 Sherwood began writing for Hollywood. In all, he did 22 films, although many more films were based on his plays (he had no hand in adapting them). Most of his early films are not very important, but he wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1934, The Ghost Goes West (a comedy) in 1935, and adapted his own The Petrified Forest in 1936. 1940 was a huge year for him: He wrote the screenplay for John Cromwell's Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Rebecca. Rebecca was a Best Picture nominee; Sherwod was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

In 1946, he wrote The Best Years of Our Lives -- a realistic film about three troubled men coming home from WWII. It won Sherwod the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Fredric March won Best Actor, Harold Russell (who really lost both his hands in the war) won Best Supporting Actor, William Wyler won Best Director, Daniel Mandell won Best Editing, Hugo Friedhofer won Best Score, and the film won Best Picture.

The following year, he wrote The Bishop's Wife -- a Christmas comedy which nabbed Oscar noms for director (Henry Koster), editing, music, and best picture. It won only for Best Sound.

Sherwood became a pacifist during World War I, but abandoned that stand once World War II broke out. He became a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and coined the phrase "arsenal of democracy" for him. He wrote a memoir, Roosevelt and Hopkins, in 1948; it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949.

Sherwood smoked too much, drank too much, and ate too much. His health seriously deteriorated in the late 1940s, and he stopped writing. He died of a heart attack in New York City in 1955.

Only Eugene O'Neill won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as often (four times). No one has won it more times than Robert Sherwood.

A little Valentine's Day hotness from Del & Xavier. (The blond is gay go-go dancer Rowan Pierce, who works at Splash in NYC.)

"We've all been there, right? You have a crush on a guy, he's thrusting his erection in you, but you're laying there wondering, 'Does he even know I exist?' Well, you have to make him notice you. Don't just bounce around on his penis hoping he's going to compliment your new earrings."

HO HO HO HO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How To Get A Guy To Notice You While You're Having Sex With Him

Because it is Valentine's Day, here is Monty Python's "Medical Love Song".


This is the Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival in Habin, China. Amazing! Colossal structures, sculptures, buildings, temples and even functional hotels and restaurant are built from ice and snow.


Ice & Snow World

You can see a lot more images here.

Valentine's Day was originally called Lupercalia -- after the Roman god of fertility, Lupercus (the she-wolf who nutured Romulus and Remus as children). During this festival, goats and dogs were sacrificed in the morning, and then supplicants orgied in the open all day long. (Goats were used since Lupercus was a god of shepherds, and the dog was protector of the flock.) Lupercalia commemorated a young man's rite of passage to adulthood. The celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man would be his sexual companion during the remainder of the year. In another ritual, men would go to a grotto dedicated to Lupercus located at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome. The men would sacrifice a goat, don its skin, and then run around -- hitting women with small whips. The ritual imitated the god Pan (a lustful and raunchy lover). Supposedly, a woman struck by the whip would be fertile in the coming year.

In an effort to do away with this pagan festival, Pope Gelasius I (who ruled from 492 to 496 C.E.) ordered that the box contain the names of saints, and that the good Christian emulate the ways of the saint whose name was drawn. Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, Gelasius chose St. Valentine as the patron saint of the festival.

Who was Valentine? Valentine was beheaded by the Roman emperor Claudius in 270 C.E. Claudius thought married men made poor soldiers, so he banned certain classes of young men from marrying. But Valentine, a Christian preacher, secretly married the couples who came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine's actions, he had Valentine brought before him. Claudius tried to convert Valentine to paganism, but Valentine turned the tables and tried to convert Claudius instead. When Valentine failed to sway Claudius, Claudius had him jailed, stoned, and beheaded.

While Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her and his faith, it is said, miraculously healed her sight. Before Valentine was taken to be stoned and beheaded, he signed a farewell message to her that closed with "From your Valentine." The phrase has been used ever since.

Although the sexual lottery had been attacked by the Roman Catholic church, mid-February was still a time when young Roman men sought the affection of young Roman women. Hence, a new tradition arose: Men gave the ones they loved messages of affection containing Valentine's name.

The practice of putting saints' names in the box didn't last past the 1300s. People began putting women's names in boxes instead. Over time, women also adopted the practice of writing their name on a slip of paper and pinning it to the cuff of their sleeve. A young man who drew a young woman's name from the box would pin her name on the cuff of his sleeve. Thus, the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve" was born.

The first true Valentine's Day card was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.

Cupid became associated with Valentine's Day because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty.

As for Cupid.....

Greek myth held that a king of old had three daughters. The youngest, Psyche (which means "soul"), was so beautiful that mere words could not describe her. The fame of her beauty was so great that strangers from neighboring countries came in crowds, and began to call her even more beautiful than Venus.

Outraged, the real Venus sent her winged, mischievious son Cupid to punish Psyche. Cupid, a handsome youth himself, roamed the world invisibly, shooting arrows at young men and women and causing them to fall in love. In so doing, he upset the schemes of parents everywhere. Cupid was anti-authoritarian, promoted pre-marital sex, and railed against the nuclear family. (My kinda guy!)

Venus pointed out Psyche and told Cupid to punish her by making her fall in love with some ugly, contemptible creature.

There were two fountains in Venus's garden -- one with sweet water, the other with bitter. Cupid filled two vases with water from each fountain and came to the sleeping Psyche. He hesitated, amazed at her beauty. But he regained his composure and poured some of the bitter water over Psyche's lips. Then he touched her side with the point of his arrow. Psyche awoke at the touch and opened her eyes. She looked directly at Cupid, who was still invisible. Startled, Cupid jerked his hand away -- and wounded himself with his own arrow! Cupid then poured the sweet water over Psyche's hair.

The effect of the sweet water was to enhance Psyche's beauty. But due to the effect of the bitter, she herself became sick of beauty, and men no longer offered her their hand in marriage.

Psyche's parents, afraid that they had unwittingly incurred the wrath of the gods, consulted the oracle of Apollo. They received this answer: "The virgin is destined for the bride of no mortal lover. Her future husband awaits her on the top of the mountain. He is a monster whom neither gods nor men can resist."

The king and his wife wept in grief. But Psyche said, "It is just punishment for the glory I stole from Venus. Take me to the mountain where my fate awaits me."

Psyche was taken to the top of the highest nearby mountain and left there. Psyche spotted a grove of trees there, and in the center of the copse she found a fountain and a small marble dwelling. Realizing it was the abode of some god, Psyche entered. It was filled with art and treasures, larger on the inside than out. Invisible voices then told her that they were her servants, and her every need would be fulfilled. She was bathed, dressed, and fed.

That night, Cupid came to her in the dark. But he always fled before dawn. He spoke to her of love, and she responded in kind. Psyche begged him to let her see what he looked like. But Cupid gently refused her every wish, saying, "I would rather you would love me as an equal than adore me as a god."

But after a time, Psyche grew homesick. She asked that her sisters be brought to see her. Reluctantly, Cupid agreed to her request and had them brought to the mountain. The sisters asked Psyche many questions, including what sort of a person her husband was. Psyche replied that he was a beautiful youth who spent the day hunting in the mountains. Not satisfied, the sisters continued to pester Psyche. Soon she confessed that she had never seen her lover. The two sisters reminded Psyche of the oracle's prophecy that she would marry a monster. They said that Psyche's husband was merely fattening her up to eat her! "Take our advice," they said. "Get a lamp and a sharp knife, and conceal them near your bed. When your husband is sound asleep, see for yourself whether he is a monster. If he is, cut off his head."

Psyche did as her sisters suggested. That night, Cupid visited her. And, as usual, he slept by her side for a time. In the darkness, Psyche rose, lit her lamp, and grabbed her knife. But as she leaned the lamp closer, she saw that Cupid was not a hideous monster but the most beautiful of the gods.

As Psyche leaned over Cupid, a drop of burning oil fell on his shoulder. He awoke, and instantly flew out the window. Psyche threw herself out the window after him, but fell on the ground. Cupid, hearing her fall, turned and said, "Is this how you repay my love? I disobeyed the commands of my mother, Venus, and made you my wife. But rather than listen to me, you listened to your jealous, foolish sisters! I will not punish you. I will merely abandon you. Love cannot dwell with suspicion."

When Psyche looked up, the palace and gardens had vanished. Psyche wandered day and night, without food or sleep, seeking Cupid. She traveled the length and breadth of the land, begging anyone if they had seen him, desperately seeking his new abode. After a very long time, Psyche came to a desolate mountain. On the very peak, she saw a shining temple. Perhaps, she thought, Cupid lives there.

Psyche climbed the mountain and entered the temple. But instead of Cupid's treasures, she saw heaps of corn, sheaves of wheat, ears of barley, and much fruit -- all mixed in heaps on the floor. Scattered about lay sickles and rakes. In her piety, Psyche decided to put everything in its place and restore the temple to order.

The temple was the home of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. When Ceres saw that Psyche was honoring her, she spoke to Psyche. "Psyche, you are worthy of my pity. While I cannot shield you from Venus, I can teach you how to lessen her displeasure. Surrender yourself to Venus, and with modesty and submission try to win her forgiveness."

Psyche agreed to do as Ceres said, and Ceres took her to the temple of Venus. Venus, however, was not amused. She accused Psyche not of wanting to serve Venus but wanting to see Cupid. As for Cupid, he was suffering greatly -- for the point where his own arrow had pierced his skin long ago was now a great, festering wound.

Venus decided that hard work might dissuade Psyche from her goal, so Venus led her to a great storehouse. Huge amounts of wheat, corn, barley, lentils, and others foods lay scattered and mixed. Put everything in its proper container by sundown, Venus commanded. The task was impossible; there was so much food! Psyche sat, despairing. But hearing her sighs, Cupid stirred up a huge nest of ants to sort the food grain by grain and put it into the various barrels, vases, and urns. When they were finished, the ants vanished. Venus returned at twilight. Seeing that the task done, she knew instantly that this was Cupid's work.

The next morning, Venus set Psyche yet another task. She pointed to a river and said that a flock of sheep with golden fleece lived there. She ordered Psyche to obtain some wool from each of the sheep. Psyche obediently went to the river. But Poseidon appeared in the water and said, "Do not approach! During the morning, the river will flood and prevent anyone from crossing. While they are in the sun, the rams in the herd will attack and kill anyone who approaches. Wait until afternoon. The river will subside, and the sheep will seek the shade of the trees. Then you can approach safely. You will find their wool sticking to the bushes and to the trunks of the trees." Psyche did as she was told, and gathered a large amount of golden fleece. Once more, Venus realized Psyche had gotten help somehow...

So Venus set Psyche a third task. She gave her a box and told her to descend into Hades. Give it to Persephone, wife of Pluto. Tell her that in tending sick Cupid, Venus has lost some of her beauty. Venus desires that Persephone put some of her own beauty in the box. But, Venus said, Psyche must return before twilight so that Venus could attend the circle of the gods that evening. Despairing, Psyche went to the top of a high tower to kill herself -- convinced that this was the quickest way to Hell. But a voice spoke to her. The voice told her how she could find her way to Hades via a certain cave. The voice also told her how to get past Cerberus the three-headed dog, and how to get Charon the ferryman to take her across the River Styx and back again. But the voice added, "Do not look into the box. It is for the gods, not for you."

Psyche did exactly as the voice told her. She found her way into Hades, evaded Cerberus, crossed the Styx, and entered Persephone's palace. Beauty was placed into the box, and Psyche returned to the surface.

But Psyche began to wonder... What if she put on some of the beauty? Wouldn't that make her appear more pleasing to Venus, and win her favor? So Psyche opened the box. But instead of beauty, the box was empty. A deep sleep overcame her, and she fell down as if dead in the middle of the road.

Meanwhile, Cupid recovered from his wound. But he was no longer able to bear Psyche's absence. To keep him from seeking her out, Venus locked Cupid tightly in his room. But Cupid found a tiny crack between the window and the sill, and escaped. He flew to the spot where Psyche lay. He put the sleep back in the box and awoke Psyche with a light touch from one of his arrows. "Again," said he, "your curiosity has almost killed you. Go now and give my mother the box, and I will take care of the rest."

Then Cupid presented himself before Zeus/Jupiter and pleaded his cause so earnestly that Zeus/Jupiter agreed to intervene and remove Venus' anger. Meanwhile, Psyche completed her task. Venus was infuriated, but Zeus/Jupiter reminded her that Psyche had indeed accomplished all three tasks. Venus relented.

Mercury brought Psyche to the circle of the gods. Zeus/Jupiter handed her a cup of ambrosia and said, "Drink this and be immortal. Cupid shall never break the knot in which he is tied, for your marriage shall be forever."

Psyche and Cupid were united forever. In time, they had a daughter whose name was Pleasure.