We Can’t Have Nice Things: Art & Antiquities Edition

In the height of irony, many priceless works of art and antiquities have been destroyed by the people who were trying to preserve them. Modern art can be especially susceptible to accidental destruction by well-meaning parties. Some things were destroyed by unthinking or unfeeling people. Some relics were destroyed for the sake of money, even entire pyramids. Some things were destroyed by people who think they’re more important than, ya know, the history of the planet and its people.

Ecce Homo, Behold the Man, was the name of a fresco, a watercolor on plaster, of Jesus Christ painted in 1930 by Elias Garcia Martinez on a church wall in Borja, Spain. For the past 6 years, people have been calling it Monkey Christ or Beast Christ, ever since a well-intentioned 85 year old woman who lived near the church took it upon herself to restore the priceless piece. She had no training in art restoration or even painting, but how hard could it really be? Pretty damn hard, as it turns out. In place of the Renaissance-style face was now a smeary circle, wreathed in what looks like a maribu balaclava, with a nose like a folk-art sock doll, the crooked, misplaced eyes of a failed anime sketch, and a mouth like a lipstick smear left by a bass.

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The family of the original artist have said they will seek legal action against Gimenez for “destroying” the work. Senora Gimenez was sincerely trying to help and, in a way, she did. When word and pictures spread across the internet, tourists began to flock to Borja. The town with a population of 5,000 or so was hit particularly hard by the global recession. In the first three years after the abuela’s mis-strokes, 160,000 people, and their money, made the pilgrimage to see it. The church began collecting a 4 euro/ $5 entrance fee, raising 2,000 euros/$2,500 in the first four days. But even a silver lining can tarnish. Gimenez did not fail to notice the fresco’s huge popularity; now she wants royalties for her work. Her lawyers insist she should be entitled to a cut of the profits. Continue reading

Science Fiction Double Feature

My father was a sci-fi fan of the old school.  The man had the entire original Star Trek series on VHS, commercial free, and an Enterprise technical manual.  So in his honor, a little late for Father’s Day, we go back in time to look to the future as we dive into the wormhole of classic sci-fi.

As the spike in sales of neckties and golf-themed tchotchkes tells us, last Sunday was Father’s Day, and no, it’s not the day that sees the most collect calls all year. For one thing, it’s not 1987; who still makes collect calls? Where do you even find a payphone? My own father, who’s gone on before, was a sci-fi fan of the old school, bred to the bone. My mother would buy him grocery bags of pulp paperbacks as gifts. The man had the entire original Star Trek series on VHS, commercial free, and an Enterprise technical manual. [nerd!] So in his honor, today’s episode goes back in time to look to the future as we dive into the wormhole of classic sci-fi. My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts.

First off, and this is often a point of contention, we need to establish what we’re talking about when we say “sci-fi.” We’re not going to haul out the Merriam-Webster for this. There is some wiggle room and a fair amount of contention here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a list of top however-many sci-fi whatevers only to kvetch out-loud, “That’s barely even fantasy, let alone sci-fi” or “Just because it’s set in the future doesn’t make it sci-fi. Philistines.” Whether a work draws on existing science and technology to extrapolate what we might see in future generations, what is known as ‘hard sci-fi,’ or the author goes ‘laser guns, pew pew,” [sfx] a key requirement for science fiction is that it be speculative. If it’s worth its salt, its focus will be how we as humans will interact with and react to this proposed environment, its trappings and its other occupants. Even though there’s a lot of overlap in the fan bases and, as Arthur C. Clarke said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” we’re going to eschew the sword & sorcery genre of fantasy and even science-fantasy for right now. Likewise, we probably won’t get into more recent sub-genres like cyberpunk and slip-stream today. We’ve also going to skip over some of the better-known authors because they’re, well, better-known. But that’s okay, because we have a LOT of talk about.
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Like Butter in the Bank

A strategic reserve is a commodity held back by governments to stabilize prices or protect against shortage. Your mind may go immediately to the 35 million barrels or so of crude oil that the US has in storage, but there are all kinds of strategic reserves around the world. From cotton in China, to butter and wine in the EU, to the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, we talk about strange stockpiles (mostly food) and their effect on producers and consumers.

Buried beneath the earth in central Russia, squirreled away in former mine tunnels, sits a top-secret cache of cereals, sugar, canned meat, and other food staples. The site is considered a state secret; even the exact location isn’t known by anyone who doesn’t need to know it. We do know that the complex is vast, climate controlled, airtight, and nuke-proof. The facility also includes a laboratory, so that the food can be tested against the government’s nutritional standards, and the inventory is rotated on the regular, to ensure that none of it goes bad. Today, we’ll be focusing on stockpiles of sustenance, collections of commestibles, these funds of foodstuffs. My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts.

A strategic reserve is the reserve of a commodity or items that is held back from normal use by governments, organisations, or businesses in pursuance of a particular strategy or to cope with unexpected events. Your mind may go immediately to the 35 million barrels or so of crude oil that the US has in storage, but there are all kinds of strategic reserves, sometimes called stockpiles, throughout the world.

The rationing, deprivation, and economic collapse that were part and parcel to WWII affected the lives of Europeans so profoundly that the European Economic Community, a precursor to the European Union, began subsidizing farmers. Farmers have never been raking in the big bucks, even when the are outstanding in their field [rimshot], but they were no longer able to rely on it to support their families, especially on land pock-marked with those pesky bomb craters. Under-production was endemic to the 1950’s.

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The Last Word(s)

We assign a great deal of significant to last words. We expect them to be deep and profound, the sort of thing you immortalize on a $3,000 headstone. We hope we’ll say something really clever when it’s our turn, and not “what’s this button do?” or “hold my beer.”  But you may end up with last words like American author Henry David Thoreau, who simply said “moose…Indian.” From the profound to the prophetic, from the ironic to the ignominious, from founding fathers to TV stars, we look into the final utterances of the famous and infamous alike.

“I am about to — or I am going to — die; either expression is correct.” These were the last words of 17th century French Jesuit priest, grammarian, and man after my own heart, Dominique Bonhours. That’s right up there with 18th century aristocrat the Marquis de a Favras, who pronounced, “I see you have made three spelling mistakes,” as he read over his own death warrant. We assign a great deal of significant to last words. We expect them to be deep and profound, the sort of thing you immortalize on a $3,000 headstone. We hope we’ll say something really clever when it’s our turn, and not “what’s this button do?” or “hold my beer and watch this.” But you may end up with last words like American author Henry David Thoreau, who simply said “moose…Indian.” My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts.

Many people think Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde’s last words were, “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.” That would be typical Wilde, but there are two small factual inaccuracies there. The actual quote is “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do,” and he said this a few weeks before he died. Oscar Wilde’s actual last words were a mumbled Catholic prayer. He did also say toward the end of his life, as he lay in bed sipping champagne, ”I am dying beyond my means.” With about a third of the world being Christian, it’s not surprising that God gets mentioned a fair amount. When the priest performing last rites for Charlie Chaplain reached the line,“may God have mercy on your soul,” Chaplain replied, “Why not? After all, it belongs to him.”

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