Ink and Pain: Tattoos, with Hobbit from GUI Podcasts

“The body is a temple and it’s our job to decorate it.” From tatau in Polynesia to Sailor Jerry to the oppressed class that gave rise to the Yakuza, we touch on some highlights from the history of tattoos.

Huge thanks to my guest presenter Mike “Hobbit” Bickett from Geeks Under the Influence Podcast network. Check out the episode of Smack My Pitch Up he let me do with him.

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m coming to you today from Richmond, VA, the #4 most tattooed city in America, depending on which list you’re looking at, a city with 15 tattoo shops per 100,000 people. Our unnofficial motto is “The body is a temple and it’s our job to decorate it,” right after “We don’t like the way things are, but don’t you dare suggest changing it.”

Tattooing is one of the earliest visual art forms and has served as a means of self-expression for thousands of years. The process was probably discovered when ash or dirt became embedded in an open wound, leaving an indelible mark when healed. The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means to mark. The earliest known reference to the word was made by Joseph Banks, a naturalist aboard Cpt. Cook’s the Endeavour, “I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly; each of them is so marked by their humour or disposition”. By the 1700s, the word tattoo was in use in Europe. The term and knowledge of the practice was probably re-introduced to Europe by sailors returning from Polynesia. I say “re-introduced,” because early Britons used tattoos in ceremonies. The Danes, Norse, and Saxons tattooed themselves with clan sigils, an early form of family crest. The practice took a major hit when Pope Hadrian banned tattooing in the eighth century, but it was the Norman Invasion of 1066, with its ink-antagonist Normans that caused it to disappear from Western Europe until the 16th century.
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Secret Cities

We all lose things — keys, wallets, patience — but how do you lose an entire city? Hear the stories of three American towns built in a hurry but kept off the map, secure Soviet enclaves known by their post codes, ancient cities found by modern technology, and the ingenious engineering of underground dwellings.

In 1943, three ordinary-looking US cities were constructed at record speed, but left off all maps. Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Richland, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico held laboratories and sprawling industrial plants, as well as residential neighborhoods, schools, churches, and stores. The three cities had a combined population of more than 125,000 and one extraordinary purpose: to create nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan project, the U.S. military’s initiative to develop nuclear weapons.

Their design was driven by unique considerations, such as including buffer zones for radiation leaks or explosions. In each case, there were natural features, topographical features, that were considered to be favorable. In all three cases, they were somewhat remote—in the case of Hanford and Los Alamos, very remote—which offered a more secure environment, of course. But also, in the event of a disaster, an explosion or a radiation leak, that would also minimize the potential exposure of people outside the project to any sort of radiation danger. The sites were selected far from one another in case German or Japanese bombers somehow managed to penetrate that far into the United States, it would be harder for them in a single bombing run to take out more than one facility. K-25 plant at Oak Ridge, which was where they enriched uranium using the gaseous diffusion method, was the largest building in the world under a single roof, spanning more than 40 acres.
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Foxtrot Alpha Charlie Tango Sierra

For Independence Day, we’re doing a two-parter on heroic animals, innovations from the field, and noteworthy bad-asses. Topics include a pigeon who saved hundreds of lives, a crossbow for grenades and Jack Churchill, who went into WWI with a claymore and bagpipes, despite not being Scottish. Part 2 is in the Read More.

3,150 soldiers and 54,000 pigeons made up the United States Army Pigeon Service, from 1917 to 1957, who delivered messages with an astounding 90 percent success rate. One American pigeon known as G.I. Joe, no joke, even received a medal for gallantry after delivering a vital, last-minute message informing British forces that the Italian village they were about to attack was actually under British control, thus preventing a friendly fire disaster that might have resulted in a thousand deaths.

Though I’m related by blood, marriage, and ex-marriage to a member of all five branches of the service – yes, the Coast Guard counts – I myself am civilian through and through and not intimately familiar with daily life in the military. I’d probably be more useful, and less dangerous, in a support role than in the infantry. It takes between 1 and 4 support roles to keep one soldier in the field. There can be obvious things, like medics and supply, and more niche jobs like writers and graphic design. We had a poll on your Facebook and Instagram last week on what the topic for this week should be. Strange military jobs took a slight lead, but when I started researching, the other topics starting falling into my lap, so we’ll get to the jobs on another episode, possibly for Veteran’s Day.
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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 “We Can’t Have Nice Things: Art & Antiquities Edition”

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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The Role of a Lifetime

Some actors fall victim to typecasting, but others have a single character they can’t disassociate themselves from.  Sometimes that means always being cast as a character similar to the one they made famous or that made them famous, or not really being cast at all.

A boy’s best friend is his mother. Anthony Perkins had established himself as a respected actor of stage and screen with skillful portrayals noted for their sensitivity and genuineness. But no one wants to play the sensitive guy forever. Perkins took the role as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho to show audiences and directors alike that he was good at being bad too. Unfortunately for Perkins, he did his job so well that became known for Norman Bates and seemingly Norman Bates alone.

There are worse roles one can be remembered for than the Man of Steel, but once you’ve worn the cape and the big red S, it’s hard to get people to see you without it. In Christopher Reeve’s case, much of the problem stemmed from being a virtual unknown when he scored the break of a lifetime. Despite great acting (see: “Remains of the Day), nothing could supplant Superman in people’s minds.

Even before the new sequels brought his character back, Luke Skywalker was an ever-present part of Mark Hamill’s life. Unlike a lot of thespians on our list, Hamill regards the role fondly, saying that even if he weren’t recognized by millions as Luke Skywalker, he would still be “the hugest fan” of the epic film franchise, maybe even doing cosplay.

No one could have imagined how big of a cult sensation “The Evil Dead” would become when it was made by a group of friends on a shoestring budget in 1981. While it served as a springboard for director Sam Raimi, late of the first Spiderman reboot, the film’s star, Bruce Campbell, was not as lucky. Campbell spent a lifetime trying to distance himself from the iconic role – so much so that he’s been known to sign autographs as Bruce “Don’t Call Me Ash” Campbell.

Playing a nerd is easy. Escaping that nerd is not. Don’t believe me, ask Jaleel White, aka Urkel. His lot is shared by Jon Heder, forever known to most as Napoleon Dynamite, star of the ‘little indie film that could.’ Heder wisely leveraged his 15 minutes of fame by booking as many gigs as possible over the next few years, including some high-profile films with Reese Witherspoon and Will Ferrell. Even with divergently different looks, it was nearly impossible for audiences not to see Napoleon.

The less said about Macauly Caulkin, the better. Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels didn’t have the chance to see if he would be cast again. He was put on a tortuously busy press circuit, allegedly doing sixty interviews in a single day, but that was nothing compared to the scornful hatred heaped on him by fans. Jack Gleeson, best known as Joffrey on Game of Thrones, saw the same path laid out for him. Joffrey epitomizes the villain you love to hate. After the first episode aired, author George R. R. Martin sent him a text saying, “Congratulations on your marvelous performance, everyone hates you.” Fans literally cheered when he finally died. Gleeson walked away from acting altogether.

Alfonso Ribeiro says he has been overshadowed by his 90’s alter-ego Carlton Banks. “I would like to try some stuff that is different from how the world sees me … But I doubt someone would automatically think of me when they go, ‘We need to cast a killer, let’s get the dude who played Carlton.'”

Though it premiered in 1966 and only ran for three years, Star Trek launched a franchise that left an indelible mark on popular culture, including the first widely-used nickname for a fan base. What it didn’t do was provide a lot of options for the cast afterwards. But as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. William Shatner had the most successful career overall not from trying to outrun Captain Kirk, but by embracing the kitsch. Though having been a focal character in the ensemble cast didn’t hurt. His analog in The Next Generation, Sir Patrick Stewart faced the same love-hate relationship with his captain character.

Music by Kevin MacLeod and sound effects from freesound.org.

Copy-wrong

If a monkey takes a picture in the woods, can the monkey claim the copyright?  Trademark and copyright laws can get pretty sticky and not a little zany.  Stay tuned for a list of words and phrases that will cost you a lot of money if you use them.

Photographer David Slater argued that he held copyright since he’d engineered the entire situation. The Wikimedia Foundation, which had been hosting the photo in their image library despite Slater’s objections, maintained that the picture was public domain. The US Copyright Office stated that works created by a non-human, such as a photograph taken by a monkey, are not copyrightable. Trying to recoup lost income, Slater published a book of wildlife photography, including the monkey selfie. That’s where it should have ended. Then PETA decided to get involved.

You can’t copyright a word or phrase, but you could trademark it. The most famous case is sports announcer Michael Buffer, who currently makes more money from his phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” than he does from actually announcing the matches. Dave Hester from A&E’s “reality” show Storage Wars not only has a trademark on the word “YUUUP!” but is actually involved in a bitter legal battle over it with rapper Trey Songz. A certain real estate developer turned TV personality wanted to trademark the phrase “you’re fired.” The application was denied for a few reasons, the least of which is that it was an established and commonly used phrase. A similar thing happened when carmaker Volvo unsuccessfully tried to trademark “Drive Safely.” The USPTO reasoned that the slogan was just a good suggestion that we should all follow.

Another phrase that sounds too common to trademark is “one more thing,” but that didn’t deter the Swatch watch company from applying for it or Apple from attempting to block them. Apple and Swatch would also find themselves in court when Swatch blocked Apple from trademarking “iWatch” as they already had an “iSwatch” product.

Imagine if Hugh Heffner had tried to forbid anyone from using the word “playboy” because it was the name of his magazine. That’s precisely what Tim Langdell of UK studio Edge Games tried to do. Langdell claimed he owned the rights to the word “edge” in anything pertaining to the video game industry. He managed to make some other developers knuckle under, such as the game that launched the Soulcaliber series. But he bit off more than he could chew when he took on the very big fish of Electronic Arts. The Banner Saga found their trademark application formally objected to by another developer. Was it the makers of another fantasy RPG? No, it was Candy Crush Saga, despite the fact that Banner had no candy and Candy Crush had no saga.

Have you ever noticed all the ads in late January talk about the “big game”? Why don’t they come out and say it? Because the NFL owns “Super Bowl.” “We take these issues very seriously and aren’t afraid to pursue infringements vigorously,” says Anastasia Danias, the NFL’s vp of intellectual property. It’s the same sort of scenario with the Olympics. The USOC owns the trademarks to Olympic, Go For The Gold, Tokyo 2020, Team USA, et al. You’ll get the same treatment from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science. You can’t say Oscar, Oscar Night, or Academy Awards, though you can say Awards of Merit, which is the actual name of the statues.

Am I worried about being sued? Well, I wasn’t until you asked. Just kidding, I’m covered by the principle of “fair use,” which provides certain exceptions to copyright. Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: commentary and criticism or parody.

All of the music on my podcast comes either from the YouTube music library or the composer extraordinaire Kevin MacLeod at incompotech.com.

Mummy’s Day

We cover the way people in Victorian Europe used (and abused) Egyptian mummies, whether or not mummies were burned for fuel, Catholic saints who do not decay, natural mummies preserved in ice, moss, and salt, child mummies of the Andes, and Buddhist monk mummifying themselves.

We’ll be using the timing of this episode to talk about bandaged bodies, the preserved passed-on, those desiccated decedents, mummies. Ancient Egypt knew its business when it came to preserving their dead, there’s no two ways about it. By some estimates, over the course of three millennia, more than 70 million people and animals were mummified. While the earliest Egyptian specimen we’ve found dates to 3,000 BCE, the oldest anthropogenically modified mummy, that is a body that someone intentionally preserved through drying, dates back to approximately 5050 BCE, in the high, dry, cold mountains of South America. Even older still is a natural mummy found in the Atacama Desert in modern-day Chile; that person is believed to have died in the year 7020 BCE, over 9,000 years ago. The Atacama Desert is an ideal place for the creation of mummies, as it gets less than an inch of rain, annually.

Mummies were considered very Gothic. In the Victorian era, when Gothic equalled cool, unwrapping mummies became a must-have for any self-respecting party host. “Come to Lord Longsberry’s at 2 p.m., Piccadilly, for the unwrapping of a mummy from Thebes. Champagne and canapés to follow.”

Mummy, often sold as “mummia”, was applied to the skin or powdered and mixed into drinks as a treatment for bruising and other ailments. The belief may have come from ancients such as Pliny the Elder, who wrote that the bitumen used to embalm mummies offered healing powers. Adherents included the French King Francis I, who kept a pouch of powdered mummy on his belt and ate rhubarb and mummy powder every day — because he “thought it kept him strong and safe from assassins.”

Natural mummies are a widespread phenomenon, appearing all over the globe. You’re probably on a first-name basis with the best known, Otzi, the ice man. Also frozen in ice but much more elaborately tattooed is a mummy known as the Siberian ice princess. The remains of the immaculately dressed woman, approximately 25 of age and preserved for two and a half millennia in the Siberian permafrost were discovered in 1993. Where Otzi only had lines, the princess had both arms covered with tattoos of animals, in large, bold designs, which can still be seen as clear as day on her leathery skin.

One of the most heavily-relied-upon preservatives in the world, salt, has also given us natural mummies. Half a dozen mummies have been found in a salt mine in Iran. The first salt mummy, dated to 300 CE; the oldest is truly ancient and has been carbon dated to 9550 BCE.

No salt is needed in the high Andeas mountains and the Atacama desert that lies between them and the sea. The Children of Llullaillaco are three Inca child mummies rediscovered in 1999. Dryness and cold temperatures are both major reasons for the excellent preservation of the mummies for 500 years. Children were usually chosen from nobles families, but were picked primarily based on their “physical perfection”. The mummies have been the subject of controversy, especially with regards to indigenous rights, with their display called “a violation of our loved ones.”