Saturday, February 14, 2015

Thursday, November 4, 2010

English Language Word of the Week: Tautology

Definition of TAUTOLOGY
a : needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word b : an instance of tautology
: a tautologous statement
Examples of TAUTOLOGY

1. “A beginner who has just started” is a tautology.

Late Latin tautologia, from Greek, from tautologos
First Known Use: 1574

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Favorite Painter: James Rosenquist

Newly enamored with James Rosenquist. I love the painting Dishes (directly above). It looks like Fiesta Ware. The other painting is entitled Let's Go For a Ride.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reponse to NYT article: Why can't middle-age women have long hair.

Dominique Browning's piece is first, my comments follow. Please note that the accompanying photo of Kristen MacMenamy has her recent photo at age 45 when it caused some brou-ha-ha on HP. The author of the story says she is 55 years old. I guess both ages could be considered "midlle-age."

I feel great about my hair.

I have long hair. I’m not talking about long enough to brush gently on my shoulder — when I tilt my head. I’m not talking about being a couple of weeks late to the hairdresser. I’m talking long. Long enough for a ponytail with swing to it. Long enough to sit against when I’m in a chair. Long enough to have to lift it up out of the sweater I’m pulling over my head. Long enough to braid.

What’s worse (to my critics) is that my hair is graying. Of course it is. Everyone’s hair is graying. But some of us aren’t ready to go there. That’s fine with me — I’m not judgmental about dyes. In fact, I find the range and variety of synthetic hair color to be an impressive testament to our unending chemical creativity. I’m particularly fascinated by that streaky kaleidoscopic thing some blondes do that looks kind of like Hair of Fawn. For my own head, I’m a tad paranoid about smelly, itchy potions.

No one seems to have any problems when a woman of a certain age cuts her hair off. It is considered the appropriate thing to do, as if being shorn is a way of releasing oneself from the locks of the past. I can see the appeal, and have, at times in my life, gone that route. Some women want to wash the men (or jobs) right out of their hair. Others of us have to have at them with scissors. Again, I do not judge. Go right ahead, be a 60-year-old pixie.

So why do people judge middle-aged long hair so harshly? I’ve heard enough, by now, to catalog the multitudinous complaints into several broad categories.

YOU’RE ACTING OUT. Long hair is not the appropriate choice of grown-ups. It says rebellion. Hillary Rodham Clinton softens her do, and sets off a bizarre Howl of Angry Inches, as if she had betrayed some social compact. Well, my long hair is indeed a declaration of independence. I am rebelling, variously, against Procter & Gamble, my mother, Condé Nast and, undoubtedly, corporate America in general. Whereas it used to be short hair that was a hallmark of being a liberated woman — remember the feminist chop? I do; I did it — these days, long hair is a mark of liberation.

My mother has a lot to say about my looks: Where did you find that shirt? Did you forget your makeup? She recently suggested, fluttering her hands in the vicinity of her ears, that I get just a very little trim. As if she thought she could still trick me into the barber’s chair to re-enact one of the central traumas of my childhood, when I was marched into a hair salon (so that’s where mothers went?) with hair to my waist and came out an outraged, stunned, ravaged 7-year-old with a stylish, hateful pageboy.

My mother’s favorite expression to me is “Make an Effort.” What she doesn’t understand, of course, is that just because things don’t turn out the way she thinks they should doesn’t mean an effort wasn’t made. It is incredible how parents and children never let go of old habits of relating. My mother still makes me feel like a 15-year-old. However, that no longer feels like a bad thing, if you see what I mean.

YOU’RE STILL LIVING IN THE ’70S. And why not? I like being 55 going on 15. As far as I’m concerned, we never did get better role models than that gang of girls who sang their hearts out for us through lusty days and yearning nights: Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Cher. Emmylou Harris is still a goddess in my book, with that nimbus of silver hair floating past her shoulders. Next thing you know, we’ll take to wearing beaded Next thing you know, we’ll take to wearing beaded leather headbands across our foreheads. And, I might add, that was a good look.

If you want to throw Princess Grace, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Pussy Galore, Sophia Loren, Charlotte Rampling, Isabelle Huppert, Julie Christie and Catherine Deneuve into the mix, who am I to complain? While those sexy sisters are hovering, I might note, with a sense of wonder, that Europeans are much more comfortable with long hair on women of a certain age. But then again, they’re more comfortable with women of a certain age in general. Perhaps I should move to Paris. Come to think of it, this would be making the kind of effort that would make my mother happy.

LONG HAIR IS HIGH MAINTENANCE. Yes, I’ll admit that it is a look that requires tender loving care. It is impossible to body surf without getting seaweed tangled up in it. It is impossible to get it completely dry when one is in a rush to get to a job interview or a blind date. It is impossible to forget one’s hairbrush when one travels. It is impossible to garden or farm or weave or cook without one’s hair getting in the way. I have knitted many a gray strand into many a scarf. Which, by the way, I consider a nice touch. Anyone who disagrees can send me back his Christmas present. It is impossible to let the vacuuming go for too long, lest the bezoars (new vocabulary word) become large enough to choke a tiger.
You would think that having long hair means you are spending a lot of money on hair products. I won’t even tell you what my Madison Avenue hairdresser, Joseph — the consummate high-end hair professional! — told me about how we shouldn’t even be using all those chemically laden shampoos. O.K., I will tell you: Those shampoos strip out the hair’s protective oils, and then you have to replace them with other chemical brews. He recommends regular hot water rinses and massaging of the scalp with fingertips. A little patience is required while the scalp’s natural oils rebalance themselves and — voilà — glossy, thick tresses, for free.
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Is it not wonderfully sexy the way our grandmothers, those women of the prairie, or concrete canyons, would braid their hair up in the morning and let their cowboys unravel them at night? Is there not a variety of excellent looks for taming long hair in high winds? What is cooler than stopping to wrap a silk scarf around your mane before you step into a zippy convertible?

MEN LIKE LONG HAIR. Wait. You say that like it’s a bad thing? Long hair is archetypal. And everyone knows that archetypes are all tangled up with desire. There’s a reason mermaids, Selkies and witches have long hair. Ballerinas, too. We all know Rapunzel’s tale, how she sat at the top of her lonely tower, her long hair hanging out the window, until finally, a prince climbed its ropy length to rescue her. Or impregnate her, depending on which version you read. Either way, it worked.

Men like to play with women’s long hair. They like to run their fingers through heavy tresses. They like to loosen tight braids. They like it when long hair tents over their faces during soulful kisses. The long of it is that long hair is sexy. (So is short hair, of course, but in a different way, and we’re not making that case — yet.) The short of it is that long hair means there is always, at least, hope.

What she is talking about is loss of her sexuality. Her hair represents her sexulity, thus her womanhood and femininity. She doesn't want to feel the pain of that loss completely. Her Mother like many others feels that you must put your sexuality behind you at a certain age. Your sexuality at the very least if not most of your femininity and womanliness. On one level the author is rebelling against that.
The other component is the" looks thing" and the "aging thing." A Woman's hair can look "aging" if it is not healthy and shiny and youthful etc. That is why in most of the make-overs you see--the women (who are the usual subjects) have 10 years taken off their face just by the haircut alone.
What the author means when she says "there is hope" is: her hair allows her; enables her to feel that her outward youthful beauty and inward sexuality some of it at least remains.
This is something that can define a whole woman's life, or just be a part of it. That is why it is an issue for an aging woman. But I have noticed that no one really wants to talk about it.

On another note: The old days she speaks could be confining, time-consuming and difficult dealing with really long, thick heavy hair. The ease of shampoo, conditioner, hot running water from a shower, blow dryers and array of brushes, have made long hair much easier to care for now than it was a during our grandmother and great grandmothers time. esp. if they had that super-long super heavy hair that had to be piled on top of their head during the day.

Another note is that it is connected with fashion and culture. A short bob haircut was a symbol of sexual freedom and assertion for women. Because they threw the shackles off of the long hair described in my previous paragraph. There is an excellent description of this in a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Berenice Bobs her hair."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Celebrity Culture

Art & Culture
Celebrity Culture in America
Has personality finally replaced reality?

By David McNair

In 1961, historian and social critic Daniel Boorstin argued in his book Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America that our nation was threatened by a “menace of unreality” which was replacing the authentic with the contrived in American society. “We need not be theologians,” Boorstin wrote “…to see that we have shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman….It is we who keep them in business and demand that they fill our consciousness with novelties, that they play God for us.”

Boorstin argued that America was living in an “age of contrivance” in which manufactured illusions were becoming a powerful force in society. He believed that public life consisted more and more of “pseudo-events”—staged and scripted happenings designed to “create” news and influence our perceptions of reality. Just as there were now “pseudo events,” he said, there were also “pseudo-people”—celebrities—whose identities were being staged and scripted to create illusions that often had no relationship to reality. “Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused,” Boorstin wrote. “Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.”

Today, as Boorstin predicted, reality has proven to be no match for the power of our celebrity culture. How else can one explain the immense popularity of “reality” TV shows, the way the masses move herd-like to see the latest summer blockbuster, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shockingly swift transition from action-movie star to governor of California? In fact, you could say we have grown so accustomed to this “menace of unreality” that Boorstin’s arguments have become passé. We understand the complex and sophisticated marketing strategies used to sell us cars, politicians, laundry detergent, celebrities, movies and TV shows, even wars. We understand it; we accept it as a given; we even embrace it. We know why men like Karl Rove are important to the President. We know why it is important to have a public relations manager when you’re in the public eye. We know we are being manipulated and deceived, but our indignation is overruled by the extent to which we are entertained and wooed by the sales pitch, the spectacle, or the freak show; overruled by the extent to which we feel like we’re “in the know” or “in on the joke”; or, for the more sophisticated among us, overruled by the extent to which we understand the strategies and methods behind the deception. We know that Arnold Schwarzenegger has no business being governor of California; we know that reality TV shows are staged and scripted; we know that news has become more like entertainment. But we don’t really care, as long as the illusion “fills our consciousness with novelties,” fuels our fantasies and desires, shames us with an awareness of our inadequacies, or serves as a kind of intellectual puzzle or mystery to unravel. It rarely occurs to any of us to simply stop watching, to stop talking about it, to stop participating in the ritual.

Commenting on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent election triumph, New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane suggested that there would be little surprise if “other monarchs of the movie industry, emboldened by the California recall, were to make the principled leap from screen to stump.” Indeed, Schwarzenegger’s swift rise to power seems to signal an era beyond which even Boorstin imagined. “The distance between the two is shrinking by the day,” Lane goes on to say. “Modern voters, given a choice between quiet political certitude and the cacophony of fame, are not hard to sway…. Celebrity now comes equipped with an in-built aggression that makes it ideal for the purposes of electioneering, and before which more traditional qualifications must learn to tremble. To put the matter at its bluntest: what has Wesley Clark got that Angelina Jolie hasn’t?”

Lane goes on to suggest that a stuffed shirt like Clark would be no match for the sexy tomb raider with a gun strapped to her thigh. Lane, of course, is being menacingly coy here. But in the midst of his playful analysis lies the fact that the people of California happily elected an illusion, a personality manufactured on-screen and in the media that had no relationship to reality. In a very real sense, the people of California elected their own fantasy of what a governor should be.

Celebrity has always influenced and been a part of American politics, of course, but this time it was like our celebrity system itself seized political power. The Austrian accent, the fact that his father was a Nazi, his lack of political experience, his fuzzy ideology, the serial groping charges, his pornographic interview in OUI Magazine, his admitted drug use, and an opponent with 30-plus years of political experience and the backing of the Democratic Party… all of this was no match for the sheer power of Schwarzenegger’s celebrity.

Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and 62 days later it was Jay Leno who introduced Arnold before his victory speech. Standing directly behind Schwarzenegger, a mural of both Republican and Democratic celebrities and entertainment heavyweights cheered him on. NBC’s Tom Brokaw declared it “an amazing American story” and wondered if Schwarzenegger might run for president if a constitutional amendment were passed. According to the Tyndall Report, the national broadcast networks devoted 169 minutes to stories about the recall in the last two months before the election, with 69 minutes devoted solely to Schwarzenegger. That’s compared to 40 minutes dedicated to all 36 gubernatorial races combined in 2002 and 34 minutes of coverage about the upcoming presidential campaign in the same period.

When our celebrity-obsessed culture clicked into gear on this one, Schwarzenegger’s name and image and familiar movie phrases dwarfed everyone on the political scene. Even the Presidential race was overshadowed by Schwarzenegger’s debut. For emphasis, only a day after he won, the A&E cable network announced it was producing a documentary about Schwarzenegger’s “rise to power.” When asked what story line the film would follow, an A& E vice president said “We will rely on news reports. The beauty of this is a lot of it has already played out.”

Today, you could say that Americans are divided less by race, class, or political ideology than they are by their participation in our celebrity culture. We are divided into two main groups: the famous elite and the unfamous masses who watch them. While the ranks of the famous swell (making Andy Warhol a visionary), the unfamous masses bring with them varying degrees of sophistication to the spectacle, all of them making subtle and not-so-subtle emotional and intellectual investments in the illusion.

Now that our celebrity culture has been operating for so long and at such a high level of sophistication, at least since the 1930s, it’s worth wondering what the long-term effects of developing complex emotional and psychological connections to “people we don’t know” might have over a decade or two. And that’s an important thing to remember: celebrities are “people we don’t know” who we nonetheless make very complex, subtle, and often intense emotional and psychological connections with over the course of our lives.

The fact that we “don’t know them” gets ignored in some fundamental way as we “enter” the famous person’s “identity” into our consciousness. In many ways, we get to “know” these famous people in a more intense, intimate way than we do the people we work with or see on a daily basis. It’s intimacy without the risk; it’s getting “close” to someone without having to risk exposing yourself. In addition, our “friend” or “role model” or “idol” is larger and more charismatic than any real acquaintance could ever be.

It’s no accident, I think, that celebrity worship took hold in America during the Depression. While the economy and spirit of America floundered in the 1930s, the illusion called Hollywood and our media culture filled the void and flourished. Eighty million people a week went to the “picture shows” and bought up celebrity paraphernalia. The music recording industry showed a 600% increase in sales between 1933 and 1938, and radio brought entertainers such as Rudy Vallee, Jack Benny, and Burns and Allen into millions of living rooms, where they began to make themselves at home in the minds and imaginations of the public.

During that bleak time, the illusion of celebrity manufactured on the screen, in magazines and photos, and on the radio offered a seductive, larger-than-life presentation of reality. When television came along, our modern celebrity culture found the perfect medium for manufacturing this kind of unreality. In fact, it was the first televised presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon, in which the images of the two men so strongly influenced viewers (Nixon looking pale, unshaven and nervous; Kennedy looking tanned and relaxed), that prompted Boorstin to write The Image. The Kennedy era/myth was born and played itself out on television. (Of course, it’s interesting to note that Schwarzenegger’s star is attached to the Kennedy myth as well via his marriage to Maria Shriver.)

The young, beautiful people; those powerful images, the live violence, and the illusion of intimacy we felt turned a rather short, troubled presidency into the myth of “Camelot.” In many ways, it was the first “reality” TV show in which we all shared in the horror and grief of the participants and swallowed whole-hog the script we were shown.

In truth, we now know that much of the Kennedy myth was at odds with reality. The Kennedy years saw the beginning of our involvement in Vietnam and a growing discontent among Black Americans. In addition, we now know that JFK was a voracious womanizer, chain-smoked cigarettes, and was physically unhealthy—a far cry from the athletic, loyal husband and family man portrayed in the media. And that’s to say nothing of the question marks surrounding his assignation.

But despite all that, reality has proven to be no match for the power of the myth. Generations of Americans are still deeply affected and moved by the story of the Kennedys. When JFK, Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999, the media coverage was overwhelming and intense. That single photo of John-John saluting his father’s casket made him ours, and we never took our eyes off him. CBS’ Dan Rather got choked up reporting the story, and every major news outlet used it as an opportunity to retell the Kennedy myth in all its tragic/romantic splendor. Networks broadcast his burial at sea the entire day, although all that was visible was a small ship in the distance.

Undoubtedly, JFK, Jr. was a handsome, personable man who managed his inherited celebrity with grace and dignity, but he had done nothing remarkable in his life. He was, as Boorstin defined celebrity, someone who was “well-known for their well-knownness.” (Rather appropriately, he had just begun to make his mark on the world by publishing the magazine George, a kind of Vogue or Vanity Fair-styled magazine about the celebrity of politics.) Yet he was afforded the attention of a fallen national leader or a beloved movie star.

In many ways, the Kennedy era ushered in the modern age of celebrity, an age in which, as Boorstin wrote, “Nothing is really real to us unless it happens on television.” In his 1986 book Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity in America, film critic Richard Schickel argues that the “illusion of intimacy” between the famous elite and the unfamous majority has created a potentially violent and destabilizing tension in our society. By obliterating the traditional boundaries between public and private life, Schickel argues that American society has become a kind of modern-day, technologically advanced equivalent of the Roman Coliseum, where the participants in the ferocious arena of public life are at the mercy of the moods and fantasies of the crowd. “This new relation is based on an illusion of intimacy,” Schickel writes. “… which is, in turn, the creation of an ever tightening, ever more finely spun media mesh … that cancels the traditional etiquette that formally governed not merely relationships between the powerful and the powerless, the known and the unknown, but, at the simplest level, the politesse that formally pertained between strangers.”

As a result, the interplay between public figures, celebrities, and the great unknown masses has grown increasingly aggressive and even psychotic in nature. As an example, Schickel examines John W. Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. As we all know, Hinckley had developed an obsession for the actress Jodie Foster. (What you might not know is that Hinckley’s father, a very successful businessman, was a friend of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.)

However, to be more precise, Hinckley, Jr. had an obsession with the character that Jodie Foster played in the movie Taxi Driver, in which a lunatic about to assassinate a politician is instead made famous for saving the life of a child prostitute, as played by Foster. “Jody, I’m asking you please to look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historic deed to gain your respect and love,” Hinckley wrote to Foster shortly before trying to kill the President, an act that would, like Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver, make Hinckley famous as well. It was one of many passionate letters he had written to Foster, letters he had even begun to hand deliver while she was a freshman at Yale. Desperately seeking her acknowledgment, he began hanging around her dorm and had even succeeded in reaching her by phone a few times.

Of course, Hinckley’s attachment to Jodie Foster is an extreme and complex example of this “illusion of intimacy” fostered by our celebrity culture. But Schickel believed that Hinckley’s crime viciously parodied the unhealthy nature of the relationship between the famous and unfamous in our society. It’s interesting to note here that a recent study conducted by British psychologists at the University of Leicester and published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease has defined this kind of obsession, calling it Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS). Thirty-six percent of the people they studied showed an “unhealthy fascination” with celebrities, and two percent believed they had a “special bond with their celebrity” and would be willing to lie or even die for them.

Although most people wouldn’t go as far as Hinckley did in believing his relationship to Foster was real, most people would have to admit to having emotional and psychological connections to the celebrities they have been attracted or exposed to. For example, it’s not unusual for perfectly intelligent, normally sane people to be on a casual, first-name basis with celebrities—to speak of Oprah, Phil, Jerry, or Geraldo as if they were old friends. Or, likewise, it is not unusual for intelligent people to speak of political celebrities such as Bill, Dubya, Hillary, Condi, and Cheney as if they were personal enemies or representatives.

On a more subtle level, it’s not unusual for intelligent people to hold strong opinions about public figures or to indulge in nasty or careless gossip about them. Our celebrity culture allows us to shamelessly praise, berate, gossip about, and lust after other human beings without consequences. Who among us has not directed some nasty remark or shameless praise at a character or personality on television? Of course, that is to say nothing of the garden-variety obsession on display in our national interest and attraction to popular actors, entertainers, and musicians. In many ways, it is a kind of pornography of the spirit, turning us all into voyeurs and gossip mongers, tempting us all to bend down and peep through the keyhole and to substitute provocative imagery for real intimacy.

Thanks to our sophisticated media and celebrity system, thanks to their constant exposure on television and in other media, we can’t help but feel we know them. Over the decades we have been exposed to the media machinery of our celebrity culture, we have been conditioned to “know” these people we have never met, to invite them into our inner lives, to carry on an inner dialogue with them. “To a greater or lesser degree,” Schickel writes, “we have internalized them, unconsciously made them part of our consciousness.” The problem is that this kind of false intimacy creates unrealistic expectations and makes disappointment and self-loathing all but inevitable because, as Schickel writes, “Another part of the approaching stranger’s mind is, of course, aware that he is totally unknown to the celebrity. And he resents that unyielding fact. A chip grows on his shoulder. An undercurrent of anger is felt.”

Indeed, along with the sovereignty we feel we have over the lives of our celebrities and public figures, free as we are to praise and criticize them without restraint, there also exists the painful knowledge that we are alone in this relationship, that we are like stalkers who the people we’ve made a connection with neither know or care about. To some degree or another, Schickel argues, we are all victims of our celebrity culture because we are all susceptible to feeling this kind of false intimacy—and therefore inevitable disappointment—with our celebrities and public figures.

The larger danger to society, Schickel warns, is that our obsession with celebrity has given the power of personality authority over the power of ideas, ideologies, and even authentic human connections. As Schickel writes, “We have come a very long way in a very short time to our present isolation, subjectivity, and desperate hope that the cult of personality may substitute for a sense of organization, purpose, and stability in our society.”

So, where do we go from here? What happens when we seriously consider the illusion of a movie star’s personality to be a legitimate qualification for public office? What happens when public relations finally and completely replace politics? Will we as a society have finally and officially lost our minds?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ignominious--Is this a great fucking Vocabulary word or what?

adj \ˌig-nə-ˈmi-nē-əs\
Definition of IGNOMINIOUS
: marked with or characterized by disgrace or shame : dishonorable
: deserving of shame or infamy : despicable
: humiliating, degrading
— ig·no·min·i·ous·ly adverb
— ig·no·min·i·ous·ness noun


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mike Kelley Artist

This is from the
The writer is explaining the artwork depicted accompanying photo. Sounds incredible--I wish the detailed picture were not blurry. It is something that needs to be in detail and sharp focus. The larger picture is entitled Memory Ware Flat #29. The writer talks about a MWF#18. Maybe the artist made several of these and numbered them.
I will post more photos from this artist who I just found out about on the sublime PBS series Art 21.
On a pop-culture level, Mike Kelley's art is featured on a couple of Sonic Youth Albums. John Baldessari was a teacher of his at CalArts in Valencia.

I clearly remember my first direct contact with Mike Kelley's works. It was in an occasion which I had the opportunity to attend an exhibition about the little known and very complete collection Herbert, featuring contemporary masters such as Hans Hofmann, Robert Rauschenberg, Bruce Nauman, or important sculptors as Eduardo Chillida or Sol Lewitt. There, in one of the last rooms, I suddenly faced the Memory Ware Flat #18 (2001). The spectacularity of the work was so that it surpassed every other work in the room: the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces of imitation jewellery, metal plates, keys, key rings, and other daily objects supposed an exciting challenge for the spectator, taking it to an impossible debate between the possibility of facing the work in its totality, or in the partial contemplation of the infinity of daily and easily recognizable objects. It was frankly peculiar that the union between cheap, out-fashioned earrings, a few plastic flowers, pins of almost every pop band of the 80s, and a funny Flubber pic could suppose a comparable to a complete set of Quianlong dishes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I can't believe I never knew about this until I viewed the Walton Ford segment on Art 21

When I heard and saw Walton Ford's comment about this photo--I was intrigued and curious enough to google info. about the Passenger Pigeon and surprised that I have not been privy to the history. I agree with him that the photo is ominous with its' "underlightling" I believe he called it.

Passenger Pigeon
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct bird, which existed in North America. It lived in enormous migratory flocks – sometimes containing more than two billion birds – that could stretch one mile (1.6 km) wide and 300 miles (500 km) long across the sky, sometimes taking several hours to pass.[1][2]

Some estimate that there were three billion to five billion passenger pigeons in the United States when Europeans arrived in North America.[3] Others argue that the species had not been common in the Pre-Columbian period, but their numbers grew when devastation of the American Indian population by European diseases led to reduced competition for food.[4]

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.[5] At the time, passenger pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second only to the Rocky Mountain locust.

Some reduction in numbers occurred because of habitat loss when the Europeans started settling further inland. The primary factor emerged when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive scale. There was a slow decline in their numbers between about 1800 and 1870, followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890.[6] Martha, thought to be the world's last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the 18th century, the passenger pigeon in Europe was known to the French as tourtre; but, in New France, the North American bird was called tourte. Tourtière, a traditional meat-pie originating from Quebec and associated with French-Canadian culture, was so-named because tourte was historically a key ingredient. Today, the dish is typically made from pork and/or veal, or beef. In modern French, the bird is known as the pigeon migrateur.

The passenger pigeon was a very social bird. It lived in colonies stretching over hundreds of square miles, practicing communal breeding with up to a hundred nests in a single tree. Pigeon migration, in flocks numbering billions, was a spectacle without parallel:
Early explorers and settlers frequently mentioned passenger pigeons in their writings. Samuel de Champlain in 1605 reported "countless numbers," Gabriel Sagard-Theodat wrote of "infinite multitudes," and Cotton Mather described a flight as being about a mile in width and taking several hours to pass overhead. Yet by the early 1900s no wild passenger pigeons could be found.
—The Smithsonian Encyclopedia[3]
There was safety in large flocks which often numbered hundreds of thousands of birds. When a flock of this huge a size established itself in an area, the number of local animal predators (such as wolves, foxes, weasels, and hawks) was so small compared to the total number of birds that little damage would be inflicted on the flock as a whole. This colonial way of life and communal breeding became very dangerous when humans began to hunt the pigeons. When the passenger pigeons were massed together, especially at a huge nesting site, it was easy for people to slaughter them in such great numbers that there were not enough birds left to successfully reproduce the species.[12] As the flocks dwindled in size with resulting breakdown of social facilitation, it was doomed to disappear.[13]

The extinction of the passenger pigeon has two major causes. The primary cause is held to be the commercial exploitation ( unregulated hunting) of pigeon meat on a massive scale.[3] But current examination also focuses on the pigeon's loss of habitat.
Prior to colonization, Native Americans occasionally used pigeons for meat. In the early 1800s, commercial hunters began netting and shooting the birds to sell in the city markets as food, as live targets for trap shooting and even as agricultural fertilizer.
Once pigeon meat became popular, commercial hunting started on a prodigious scale. The bird painter John James Audubon described the preparations for slaughter at a known pigeon-roosting site:
"Few pigeons were then to be seen, but a great number of persons, with horses and wagons, guns and ammunition, had already established encampments on the borders. Two farmers from the vicinity of Russelsville, distant more than a hundred miles, had driven upwards of three hundred hogs to be fattened on the pigeons which were to be slaughtered. Here and there, the people employed in plucking and salting what had already been procured, were seen sitting in the midst of large piles of these birds. The dung lay several inches deep, covering the whole extent of the roosting-place."[14]
Pigeons were shipped by the boxcar-load to the Eastern cities. In New York City, in 1805, a pair of pigeons sold for two cents. Slaves and servants in 18th and 19th century America often saw no other meat. By the 1850s, it was noticed that the numbers of birds seemed to be decreasing, but still the slaughter continued, accelerating to an even greater level as more railroads and telegraphs were developed after the American Civil War.
One of the last large nestings of passenger pigeons was at Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. Here 50,000 birds were killed each day and the hunt continued for nearly five months. When the adult birds that survived the slaughter attempted second nestings at new sites, they were located by the professional hunters and killed before they had a chance to raise any young. In 1896, the final flock of 250,000 were killed by the hunters knowing that it was the last flock of that size.

Another significant reason for its extinction was deforestation. The birds traveled and reproduced in prodigious numbers, satiating predators before any substantial negative impact was made in the bird's population. As their numbers decreased along with their habitat, the birds could no longer rely on high population density for protection. Without this mechanism, many ecologists believe, the species could not survive.
[edit]Methods of killingAlcohol-soaked grain intoxicated the birds and made them easier to kill. Smoky fires were set to nesting trees to drive them from their nests.[15]
One method of killing was to blind a single bird by sewing its eyes shut using a needle and thread. This bird's feet would be attached to a circular stool at the end of a stick that could be raised five or six feet in the air, then dropped back to the ground. As the bird attempted to land, it would flutter its wings, thus attracting the attention of other birds flying overhead. When the flock landed near this decoy bird, nets would trap the birds and the hunters would crush their heads between their thumb and forefinger. This has been claimed as the origin of the term stool pigeon,[16] though this etymology is disputed.[17]

Attempts at preservation

Conservationists were ineffective in stopping the slaughter. A bill was passed in the Michigan legislature making it illegal to net pigeons within two miles of a nesting area, but the law was weakly enforced. By the mid 1890s, the passenger pigeon had almost completely disappeared. In 1897, a bill was introduced in the Michigan legislature asking for a ten-year closed season on passenger pigeons. This was a futile gesture. This was a highly gregarious species—the flock could initiate courtship and reproduction only when they were gathered in large numbers; it was realized only too late that smaller groups of passenger pigeons could not breed successfully, and the surviving numbers proved too few to re-establish the species.[3] Attempts at breeding among the captive population also failed for the same reasons.
Attempts to revive the species by breeding the surviving captive birds were not successful. The passenger pigeon was a colonial and gregarious bird practicing communal roosting and communal breeding and needed large numbers for optimum breeding conditions. It was impossible to reestablish the species with just a few captive birds, and the small captive flocks weakened and died. Since no accurate data were recorded, it is only possible to give estimates on the size and population of these nesting areas. Each site may have covered many thousands of acres and the birds were so congested in these areas that hundreds of nests could be counted in each tree. One large nesting area in Wisconsin was reported as covering 850 square miles, and the number of birds nesting there was estimated to be around 136,000,000. Their technique of survival had been based on mass tactics.

The extinction of the passenger pigeon aroused public interest in the conservation movement and resulted in new laws and practices which have prevented many other species from going extinct.[citation needed]

Walter Ford Art: 21

I love his twisted take on Audubon and nature painters. From Wikipedia:

Walton Ford (born 1960) is an American artist who paints large scale watercolors in the style of Audubon's naturalist illustrations. Each painting is a meticulous study in flora and fauna, while being filled with symbols, clues and jokes referencing a multitude of texts from colonial literature and folktales to travel guides. Ford's paintings are complex narratives that critique the history of colonialism, industrialism, politics, natural science, and man's effect on the environment.

Walton Ford appropriates the crisp, descriptive style of 19th-century naturalists and artists—John James Audubon, Karl Bodmer, George Catlin—but he puts their conventions to work in an investigation of natural history itself.

Repurposing a field-guide aesthetic, Ford composes dense allegories that make sometimes pointed, sometimes sidelong allusions to everything from conservationism and consumption to war, politics and imperialism.

While staying uncannily faithful to the natural history mode, Ford paints on a much larger scale, producing outsize watercolors with epic compositions. He renders his scenes with operatic drama, capturing moments when the natural order changes, such as the last member of a species struggling just before extinction.”[1]

Walton Ford is the recipient of several national awards and honors including a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and is one of the artists profiled on the PBS series Art:21. He had his first major one-man show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006 and is currently represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery in Manhattan.

After living in New York City for more than 10 years, Ford moved his family and studio to Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

English Language Word of the Week: Supercilious

Definition of SUPERCILIOUS
: coolly and patronizingly haughty
— su·per·cil·ious·ly adverb
— su·per·cil·ious·ness noun