Friday, April 29, 2016

How Many Seconds Old Are You?

by Drew Martin
I was born in the 60s. Ok, it was in the last four and a half months of 1969, but I can still claim a little of that turf. The 69 always messes me up when I have to actually think about how old I am. Am I 46 or 47? 

I am horrible with math, too forgetful of my actual age, and a little indifferent to the whole matter. 

There are a bunch of apps and websites out there designed for people like me, which I decided to consult. The two websites I looked at for this post are pretty bare bones but each has its own advantage. 

The age calculator on breaks your age down separately into years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds and it tells you when you next birthday is in days, hours, minutes and seconds but it does not give you a precise age as in years+months+days+hours+minutes+seconds. One other drawback is that when you put in your time of birth you have to adjust for your time zone. I was born in California so I had to add three hours to that time.  The coolest feature of the calculator is that it has a live, ticking display of exactly how many seconds old you are.

The only other site I looked at was, which is nice because it does tell you your age as a combined years+months+days+hours+minutes but it lacks the fun of the seconds details.This site also works with time zones, which is a little more sophisticated but you have to select from a drop down, and in this particular case it felt wrong to click on Los Angeles, when I was born up north.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cosmic High Fives to High Tides

by Drew Martin
As a kid, my grandparents’ vacation spot at a creek near Williamsburg, Virginia was the most remote place in the world for me. My relatives had either small cabins or trailers in the thick woods and we were miles from civilization. We fished, spent time on boats, or shot at cans with BB guns or sling shots during the day and played cards at night. It was a place to kick back and spend time with relatives, but I never imagined I would have a profound, worldly feeling there. 

On a recent trip to Virginia, my brother arranged for my family stay at his own cabin on the same creek. I got up before everyone else in the morning and went out to his dock. A text from him (he was back at his house in Richmond) mentioned it must be high tide. I said it was and sent him a picture of his dock (top). Then I ran with my older son to our old stomping grounds at the creek. The water was the highest I had ever seen it so I texted my brother and asked if it had something to do with global warming. He mentioned that the tides vary with many factors. 

In that moment I looked around this marshy area of the meandering creek and I felt like I was on top of an observatory mountain in Hawaii. All of these years I never thought about how perfect of a place this was to observe the influence of the moon and sun's tractive force on Earth. Unlike the ocean coasts, the creek is undisturbed by crashing waves and blasts of wind. And unlike a steady flow of a river, the creek flows in different directions based whether it was rising towards high tide or lowering towards a low tide.

I had always felt overwhelmed by nature at the creek but that was because of water snakes, spiders, and ticks - this was a cosmic connection. Since our recent stay at the creek, I have looked at a lot of detailed tidal charts of that area and compared them to moon phase charts. What I keep reading is that tides are a "Complex Phenomenon."

They are barely noticeable at the equator and range only about a foot at high sea, but in other areas they are extreme. At the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada tides vary as much as 44.6 feet!

Although the time between high tides is (normally*) constant, around 12 hours and 25 minutes, the heights of high and low tides vary because of orbital path of the moon and how it aligns with the sun - the sun adds to the moon's gravitational effect. The bulge of the Earth's body of water is greatest when there is a new moon (when the sun and moon are aligned on one side of the Earth) or during the full moon (when the moon is on opposite side of Earth from sun). 
The gravitational force of the moon is actually only one ten-millionth of the Earth’s gravity [to things on Earth]. And the sun's gravitational force is only 46% of the moon, but when combined with the Earth’s centrifugal force created by the spin of the Earth, the effects are increased. The Proxigean Spring Tides are the highest because they are when the moon is closest to the Earth. Neap tides, the weakest, happen during quarter moon phases, which diminish global water bulging because the sun and moon are perpendicular with respect to Earth. The illustration here (bottom) is much simplified but is one of the better ones I found online.

*Click here to read more about this "Complex Phenomenon", which includes such morsels:

The world ocean is a complex dynamical system. The natural velocity of a water disturbance depends on the depth and salinity of the water at each point it passes. When bodies of land circumscribe bodies of water, they produce a collection of resonating systems that favor water oscillations with certain frequencies over others. From among the 300+ harmonics that can be measured, every port and coastal location has its own unique signature depending on its latitude, longitude, water depth and salinity. The result is that the 'two high two low' tide rule can be strongly modified so that the time between successive high tides can be greater than or less that 12 hours in many cases. The result is that for some locations, there can be days when only one high tide occurs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

007 Leagues Under the Sea

by Drew Martin
I have always appreciated how BBC nature documentaries develop a narrative for the animals they are observing. Perhaps it is at times too forced and scripted (as if for a children’s story) but it draws you into the fold, or pod, or whatever. Last night I watched the first episode of Dolphins: Spy in the Pod. As Brits are also famous for their spy culture, this two-episode program combines onsite observation with camouflaged espionage.

The show follows a couple different pods of bottlenose and spinner dolphins in various oceans around the world. The dolphins are filmed swimming, hunting and foraging for fish, mating, rearing their young, and above all, playing.

What’s different about this documentary's approach to turning the lens on nature is that it tries to remove the presence of humans by using synthetic spy creatures whose eyes, and sometimes mouths, are outfitted with high-definition cameras. There’s Spy Turtle, Spy Tuna, Spy Nautilus, Spy Dolphin, Spy Squid, Spy Clam, Spy Puffer, and Spy Ray, all with a unique way of getting around and filming.

One advantage of the various aquatic agents is that they pique the interest of the ever-curious dolphins and attract them for up-close photo opportunities. Sometimes the spy creatures fit in too well. Spy Squid is preyed upon by a monstrous potato cod, and while filming a couple of mating olive ridley sea turtles, the female switches her attention to our voyeur and makes her moves on Spy Turtle. When the narrator announces that Spy Turtle has to stay focused and has a job to do, as it moves off, you feel a little sorry for him, even though he is just an android.

While the spy creatures might seem like a gimmick at times, and you might question how effective they are from traditional underwater filming when you see them putter out of commission, they do make some amazing finds. Spy Trout captures the coming together of two large pods to form a never-seen-before mega-pod of more than 3,000 dolphins. 

Also filmed is a garland mating dance/play initiated by male dolphins who present wreaths of seaweed to interested females. One of the spy creatures even captures the dolphins at a spa – they must get rid of their most outer layer of skin every three hours to stay hydrodynamic so the dolphins will revisit coral beds where they can exfoliate.

The spy creatures, when looked at as art objects, are pure Dada, and surreal, and remind me of a post I did about pigeon surveillance cameras, tree stump listening devices, exploding coal, and other quirky tricks of the espionage trade. For more on that, read I Spy.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chuck Norris vs. Communism

by Drew Martin
Chuck Norris vs. Communism is a great Romanian documentary about the role illegal VHS video tapes had between 1985-1989 in the downfall of brutal communist regime of Romania when video players were hard to come by and cost as much as a car.

The video tapes were smuggled in often by bribing border guards, then illegally dubbed, copied, and distributed to individuals who would have secret screenings in their apartments.

The three people who had the most influence were 
Teodor Zamfir, the ring leader of the business, Irina Nistor a professional interpreter for the state television who illegally moonlighted in Zamfir's basement studio, and Micea Cojocaru another interpreter who also dubbed movies for Zamfir but turned out to be secret police - which actually saved Zamfir when his house was raided and he was able to whisper a special password to call them off.

The documentary is a mixture of reenactment and interviews with everyone from Nistor to the people who attended the apartment screenings. They recall the movies they watched and how much it changed their lives and empowered them to bring down the government. Nistor continued to do the dubbing even after things got dangerous for her because she said the films were her oxygen. And her fans appreciated her - they said that if they heard a film dubbed by Cojocaru or anyone else they considered it a rip off, and they fantasized about what she looked like. One older viewer described her voice as being shrill but at the same time pleasant and expressive, and that she went beyond the role of dubbing and really acted out the roles.

Most of the films they watched were American action films but they got much more out of them than the brawls and explosions. They understood the idea of fighting the bad guys and felt empowered. The younger people from the audience would go out in the street after the screenings and have a more "disciplined" way of playing - acting out scenes from Chuck Norris, Rocky, Rambo, Van Damme, and Bruce Lee films. They also watched films such as Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman, and other lighthearted movies where everything had a different meaning for them - a typical shop scene would show the abundance of products in America, and common street scenes would show them cars they had never seen in person.

The censors who Nistor worked with at her dayjob with the state television axed everything for a range of reasons. The meat locker scene in Rocky displayed too much meat available for consumption, and a rabbit carrying red, yellow, and blue balloons in the Russian kids cartoon Nu, pogodi! was canned because those are the colors of the Romanian flag and they thought it might send a message that Russia had too much control of them.

By 1989 Nistor had dubbed more than 3,000 films. When Zamfir first asked her what pay she would require for each film, she suggested the amount it would cost to get a smuggled bar of Austrian chocolate. He doubled it. When people reflected on how it all happened, even despite all the bribes and payoffs to high-ranking officials, they suggested that in the end the video cassette seem so trivial that no one could image that it might actually contribute to the downfall of Nicolae Ceauşescu's regime.

Autism in Love

by Drew Martin
Today I watched Autism in Love, an interesting documentary about autism and love. It follows a few people with various degrees of autism: a couple that gets engaged during the course of the documentary, a man who is married but loses his wife to brain cancer by the end of the film, and 
a young man looking for love.

It is an interesting look at love because with autism there are challenges in expressing oneself as well as comprehending how others are communicating to you. Their cues for and signs of love are hardly verbal so people with autism sometimes have to rely on other aspects.

Pictured here the man who eventually proposes to his girlfriend, explaining his formula for love. L + P + 2T is Looks + Personality + 2 x how he or she treats you. He continues to explain that how someone might be ugly but scores high overall because he or she is a nice person. You want all of the people filmed to have meaningful relationships but you see the frustrations. In one moment the girlfriend of this man is explaining very soulfully how necklaces are a shield for her and instead of engaging further into the conversation, he reminds her that the weather is on and would like to watch it.

The man who loses his wife is the least communicative. He visited his wife regularly during her hospital stay but never really had a full conversation with her and later explains very practically that he cannot love her after she is gone because she is not there. It is painful to watch but at least you know he lived and loved.

The young man is the one you are most concerned about, and hope he will find someone to share a life with. In one part he explains about how he does not see women anywhere, and he says (to show how dire the situation is)...

It's like I feel like if someone came up to me and said "Would you want to go to a woman's prison for a week?" I'd probably say yes. "Would you go to a woman's jail for a week and be the only man there?" I'd probably say yes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Overturned Kübelwagen on the New Jersey Turnpike

by Drew Martin
Overturned Kübelwagen on the New Jersey Turnpike is sculpture I made this morning that ties together a meltdown I had as a passenger last week on the New Jersey Turnpike after an 11-hour drive up from North Carolina, a recent conversation and contemplation I had about the "Jersey barrier" (I am from Jersey), and the affects of wars - years after they have ended.

I live in a small, crowded house with five people, so when I find myself alone I have a couple options: sleep in peace, write in peace, or go into the magical zone of creating art. So this morning I had a couple such hours and I decided to make a sculpture. I try to make sense of all the toys left in the wake of my growing children, as well as other objects sitting around the house - especially in my basement.

A six-foot-long wooden plank started it off as a good "road" project, which I could incorporate some of the Matchbox cars in our house. I had old house paint for the road and white acrylic paint for the road stripes. I researched the standard: 10-foot white stripes, six inches wide, 30 feet apart.

I thought about 3D-printing the Jersey barrier but that would take a long time and I am cautious of using it too much because of the fumes. So I designed and 3D-printed a negative cross section of a Jersey barrier, which I planned to force clay (which I found in my basement) through and cut into lengths. I pictured it working like a macaroni-making device, but no such luck: the clay just got stuck. So I ended up making a snake of clay and hand-sculpted the Jersey barriers.

One of the toy cars I found was of a WWII Kübelwagen. The front wheels were missing so that inspired me using it as a vehicle in the accident. I had just finished The Civil War Ken Burns documentary and one of the themes is about the continuation of the affects of war long after the final surrender: psychological effects and economic hardships. So the idea of WWII enemies actually causing a modern day traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike is the quirkiness of the piece.

Ancient Wound

by Drew Martin
I just finished watching (the entire) The Civil War from 1990 by Ken Burns. This nine-episode, 11-hour documentary is a detailed yet personal approach to the American Civil War that raged between April of 1861 - May of 1865.

Calling it a civil war plays down some of the dynamics because this was not a power struggle by the "rebels" for "the country." The South had, in fact, politically seceded from the United States by forming its own government with its own president, Jefferson Davis. In their minds they had their own country for four years: the Confederate States of America, and the military action of the North was treated as an invasion of their country by Yankees whose directive was to bring them back into the Union.

When Yankee soldiers first encountered runaway slaves, they sent them back to their southern owners as they were instructed to do because they were fighting for unification, not the abolition of slavery. President Lincoln would have agreed to a solution even if it meant letting slavery continue. He later entertained the idea of colonizing the slaves on an island somewhere. It was not until hundreds of thousands of soldiers died that he turned the war into a fight for freedom.

The documentary is an amazing display of black and white photographs. It was the first war to be photographed. I once had a book of American Civil War photographs and remember many of the dead soldiers pictures, such as the middle one here from Gettysburg. But I do not recall seeing pictures of the devastation caused by Sherman's Union army. The pictures of the destroyed cities of Atlanta, Charleston, and Richmond (top) look like bombed-out Dresden or Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had no idea that flightless 19th century armies could even logistically do such damage.

My mom's father, "Granddaddy" was a proud southerner who I still recall shaking his head in his Richmond apartment and saying with a proper southern accent, "It's a shame we lost the war." He was born less than 40 years after the war so he would have heard old timers firsthand accounts. I remember some of our families stories of the Yankees invading and what they did but I never felt connected to the events even though I went to Virginia at least once a year to visit my grandparents. I have always felt a connection to Virginia because of my family history, which dates back to 1619 Jamestown, but It was not until I started The Civil War series that I began to think much more about the war itself and how much physical and psychological damage it did. I always thought the South would remain as I remember it but on a recent trip to Virginia and North Carolina, it seems to be slipping away into a gentrified mishmash of transplanted professionals.

William Faulkner once said that history is not "was" but "is." In many ways the American Civil War is still unresolved. The Confederate States of America compared the defense of their land to the Revolutionary War, while the Yankees set up America as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later culture of invasion, which takes a horrible toll on humanity with often indirect reasons.

I learned so much from this documentary. I did not know the Confederates had so many victories despite always being out-manned and out-gunned.The last battle of the American Civil War, in Texas, was a Confederate victory. I was also surprised by the multiple accounts by the Yankees of how they admired the devotion of the southerners, while they themselves were not always sure of why they were invading. It was beyond an educational film for me and really made me explore my own southern connection.

Burns set up the documentary to feature characters from both sides. He points out a couple soldiers from the very beginning and checks in on them a several times throughout. But if there is a personality of this epic documentary, it is the writer and historian Shelby Dade Foote Jr. (1916-2005), whose calming, Mississippi accent relays anecdotes about the lives of the soldiers in a dreamy way. His material is so rich that his presence makes up for almost a tenth of the entire documentary. He explains details such as when you see pictures of dead soldiers with their shirts pulled out and pants pulled down, that you might assume they were picked over for their possessions but that they were, in fact, casualties of the Minié ball - a fairly recent invention and choice of ammunition that shattered bones and tore at flesh. The disheveled appearance of the casualties was from them tearing at their burning wounds in their final moments. 

Towards the end of the series Foote summarizes the effect of the American Civil War with a twist of grammar. He explains that before the American Civil War, people said The United States are... and after, The United States is...

Finally, Burns' narrators recap the lives of the opposing Generals, Lee and Grant, and explains their final days. He also mentions Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who had been in constant pain for the rest of his life after being shot with by a Confederate Minié ball in the Battle of Petersburg. At the age of 83 he attended the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which he described as a transcendental experience. A year later, he finally died because of his "ancient wound" - the last casualty of the war.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Brain, Brain - Go Away, Come Again Another Day

by Drew Martin
The movie Concussion may have been snubbed at this year's Oscars but it will not be forgotten, neither will Will Smith's performance. I like Smith from what I know of him but his performances up to this point were always a bit smug for me. Not so with this role. He does not mimic Dr. Bennet Omalu, but creates a believable character so much so that I often forgot it was Smith I was watching, and not a passionate Nigerian doctor. That's always my barometer for good acting; when the actor can act past him/herself. True of actors such as Daniel Day Lewis and Kate Blanchett. Not true of people such as Tom Cruise, Matt Damien, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, etc.

Concussion was actually quite similar to the film which won the Oscar this year for best film, Spotlight, which I posted about last month. The energy of both films is generated from the pursuit of knowledge and overcoming the obstacles that get in the way.

Smith's not being nominated for his role fueled #oscarssowhite tweets, and while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a long way to go to achieve diversity, I think this film was pushed aside for other reasons, inherent in the plot. With the applause for Spotlight, it is apparent that it is fine to attack the church, but Concussion threatens an even holier American industry - the National Football League (NFL).

The difference between Spotlight and Concussion is, however, that Spotlight dates itself and plays off the priest molestation of minors as something uncovered and identified. Concussion is alive and kicking, and the real fallout is in the future. Exactly a year ago the NFL settled (without an admission of wrongdoing) a 2011 class action lawsuit from former players for more than $1 billion over the next 65 years to 20,000 NFL retirees. This was directly related to Omalu's work, who first discovered c
hronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002, published his findings in the journal Neurosurgery in 2005, and presented the details to the dismissive NFL in 2007. Last week New York Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson announced his retirement and cited the movie Concussion as the impetus.

While the film is titled Concussion, and such obvious head trauma has always been a concern for high-impact athletes, Omalu's work shows that CTE is actually the result of repetitive hits to the head that may not cause a concussion. 
It is a form of tauopathy, a progressive degenerative disease previously called dementia pugilistica (DP). This "punch-drunk" condition was initially found in boxers but is present in all athletes who experience repeated brain trauma, which causes a build-up of tau protein. Other tauopathies include Alzheimer’s disease.

If the NFL feels singled out here, which they certainly are, the film also takes on a certain anti-intellectual side of America. Omalu came from Nigeria where, his character in the movie explains, America is considered a notch just below heaven. He holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications, has a broad range of interests. Despite this he is labeled in the film (as in real life) as uneducated, and voodoo. Omalu is indeed a brilliant man, who Smith potrays with keenness. You cannot help but appreciate a coroner who speaks to his dead subjects with respect and even throws away the surgical knives after each autopsy.

The family name, Omalu, is a shortened form of the surname, Onyemalukwube, which translates to "he/she who knows, speak."

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Behind: the Art Scene

by Drew Martin
A couple years ago I was a little obsessed with Fiverr, a site where people offer a range of services for only $5. Recently, I realized I still had $5 credit so I scrolled through a range of options. I found an illustrator, Alastair Laird,
 from South Africa who did a four-frame cartoon about a woman checking out and commenting on her butt so I asked him to place her in a museum/gallery setting. This is the result:

Museums and galleries are interesting places to watch people. There is always the couple where the guy who is clueless about the art is there merely to comply or, if he is a bit more ambitious, he will engage in the situation as a kind of foreplay. And now, with the ubiquity of smartphones, these places are more about being backdrops for selfies. 

When Kim Kardashian's butt graced the cover of the Winter 2014 issue of Paper magazine, and "broke the Internet," the Metropolitan Museum of Art joined in the public conversation. Their it's-nothing-we-have-not-seen-before twitter response was accompanied by a 6,500+ year-old bootylicious fertility statue.

So I like Alastair's cartoon here, catered for my request, because he plays with that updated meaning of self-reflection, and also pulls in the hapless fellow.

Related articles:
Freedom from Want: Kim Kardashian's Buttocks
The Jeff Koons Retrospective At The Whitney: Shiny Reflections But No Self-Reflection

Interestingly, as a cartoonist myself, I have never really done cartoons about art except for my posters for Freak Show and Freak Show II. It is a new thing for me - to pay for someone else's creativity and work. As an artist that is always from within.