Saturday, November 28, 2009

Photo Hunt #189: Technology

Cable Management

This shot was taken in one of the radiology reading rooms where I work, with a Holga 120CFN camera.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Skywatch Friday Season 4, Episode 20

Sunrise, Weld County, Colorado

Sunday, November 22, 2009


A view upward while standing under an electric transmission tower, Mishawaka, Indiana.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Skywatch Friday Season 4, Episode 19

Twilight, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Random Walk Through the 1905 Medical Dictionary: Don't Step in the Album Graecorum

In a previous post,"Ditzels, Schmutz, and Grummus: The Language of Radiology," I complained about the traditional publication process, and used this blog to self-publish an essay that had languished for months after being submitted to a periodical's editor for review. I have still not received a decision on that piece. Proving the axiom, "Experience is the ability to recognize your mistakes when you make them again," I had submitted a second article to the same editor, and that piece has joined the first in limbo. So, in the hopes it might be read by a couple of people, I present it here.

Medical lexicon reflects the state of science and society. Today we hear of genomics, antidepressants, and Botox. These things were unknown in the medical dictionary of hundred years ago. Leafing through (or more accurately, scrolling through the PDF file of) Lippincott’s Medical Dictionary, copyright 1905, provides a glimpse of medicine and morals in the early twentieth century.

Several years ago, a local septic tank cleaning company was summoned to our house, and one of the employees made the observation to my wife that excrement (the said employee used a shorter, more colorful word) "don’t run uphill.” In the days before the sanitation industry had, by bitter experience and careful observation, gained such insights, it was necessary to find innovative ways to deal with human dreck. Thus, we find in Lippincott’s Medical Dictionary the A.B.C. Method ‘a method of deodorizing sewage by adding alumina, blood, and charcoal.’ Alumina and charcoal I can maybe understand, but blood? And where did the blood come from--the local abattoir? Until I saw this entry, I would never have associated the word “deodorize” with a slaughterhouse.

Moving on in the A’s, we encounter amatory ‘pertaining to love,' amatory fever, ‘love sickness, see chlorosis,’ and amatory muscle, which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the nether regions, but is the superior oblique muscle of the eye, responsible for turning the eye forward and inward, allowing lovers to ogle one another. But what of amatory fever? Strolling, or rather, scrolling boldly onward to the C’s, we find the synonymous chlorosis, ‘green sickness, a form of anemia affecting young women about the age of puberty. It is characterized by a pale color of the skin, weakness, depraved appetite and digestion, and nervous disturbances.' Less severe was chlorosis rubra, ‘a mild form of chlorosis, in which there is color in the cheeks.’ Notice that there is no mention of adolescent males suffering from love sickness. Indeed, a century ago, females bore on their shoulders, or other parts of their anatomy, the sole responsibility for the many manifestations of la maladie d’amour, as well as a variety of other ills, real or imagined. The male-dominated medical profession saw the uterus (in Greek, hyster) as a source of endless trouble and woe. Witness the space taken up by hysteria, ‘a functional disease oftenest observed in young unmarried women, in which there may be simulation of almost any disease and a great lack of self-control,’ and all its variants: h. major, ‘hystero-epilepsy,’ h. minor, ‘hysteria with mild convulsive symptoms,’ h. breast, ‘an hysterical affection of the breast occurring at menstrual epochs, in which the symptoms resemble those caused by pregnancy,' h. fever, h. gait, h. insanity, h. knee, h. mania, h. neuralgia, h. paralysis, h. pregnancy, h. stigmata, ‘the peculiar symptoms of every kind observed in hysteria,' and so forth. Thank goodness that, in the enlightened twenty-first century, the pharmaceutical industry has educated us, through television commercials, about the role of the male in intimacy gone wrong. In 1905, the poor guys (as males are invariably called in commercials for ED drugs or prostate-shrinking medications) had no idea that, in the event of an erection lasting longer than four hours, they should seek medical attention, and not wait until Tuesday night to brag at the weekly poker game.

As we continue our scatological scamper (assonance, 'a morbid propensity to use alliteration in speaking') through the dictionary, we encounter stercus canis 'dogs' dung. See album graecorum.' Curious as to why dogs' dung should appear in the medical dictionary, we scroll back to album graecorum [L. Greek white] 'the dung of dogs.' Getting no additional information from Lippincott's, we consult the web site of Uppsala University, and learn that in days of yore, Fido's droppings were indeed used for medicinal purposes. And not just any dogs' dung would do—it had to be aged, acquiring a white patina which was rich in lime salts. It was this white coating that was used both externally and—egad!—internally. In the seventeenth century, a doctor went so far as to publish a book entitled The Health Dung Pharmacy: How to Cure the Worst Diseases and Wounds from Head to Toe with the Help of Excrement. Returning to Lippincott's, we learn that the paradoxically named album nigrum 'the excrement of rats and mice' was 'formerly used both externally and internally as a remedy.'

I fear I may have given gentle readers the creeps or fidgets 'restlessness, with a desire to change one's position' (perhaps the precursor of the restless leg syndrome the pharmaceutical companies are so interested in today).

Instead of enduring treatment with black or white stercora in 1905, one may have been better off undergoing one of the many permutations of the starvation cure or hunger cure: limotherapy, peinotherapy,nestitherapy,or nestiatria. In the era before antibiotics, lues 'a plague or pestilence, especially syphilis,' was sometimes treated with the hunger cure, or it may have been treated with Cyrillo's ointment 'an ointment of 4 parts mercury perchloride 4 parts and lard 32 parts.' In any case, the prospect of being starved or slathered with toxic lard for the treatment of a sexually-transmitted disease may have resulted in some cases of cypriphobia 'morbid fear of sexual intercourse.' One positive aspect of the starvation cure is that one would be protected from lathyrism or lathyrismus 'chronic poisoning, with paraplegic symptoms, occasionally resulting from the use, as food, of the chickpea.' Go easy on the hummus, Pilgrim!

Given the epidemic of obesity in modern America, we might do well to adapt one of the archaic terms from Lippincott's. Instead of explaining to the massive patient, “Mrs. Orca, we are going to do a biopsy with this little needle,” the physician could state, “We are going to do a biopsy with this harpoon” 'an instrument for procuring small pieces of tissue from the living subject.' We should not, however, contemplate going back to Laborde's method 'a method of resuscitation in asphyxia, in which the tongue is alternately drawn forward and allowed to fall back,' which doubtless led to the discovery of Laborde's test 'a test for the determination of death, which consists in plunging into the substance of a muscle steel needles, which will be oxidized if life is not extinct.'

Thus concludes our aimless meandering through the 1905 medical dictionary. The tour might have been more scholarly and organized, but I fear I suffer from cramstunt, 'imperfect mental development resulting from over-study in childhood.'

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time Travel

This is a double exposure obtained with a Holga plastic camera at the Nappanee, Indiana Amtrak Station.

Time Travel

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Skywatch Friday Season 4, Episode 18

Sunset, Lake Michigan, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

French for Americans

In a couple of previous posts ("Flushing Away Convention" and "The Avant-Garde Nature of Winky Dink"), I brought up the name of the French artist Marcel Duchamp. As I edited these posts, I found I tended to put an "s" (called le sigmoid in French) at the end of his name. I have a vague recollection from my single year of French study in high school (l'êcole elevée) that most self-respecting French words have approximately as many silent letters as letters which are pronounced, so it seemed only fitting and proper to tack on the "s" at the end of Marcel's surname. The extra letter adds heft and a certain je ne sais pas to the word without affecting its pronunciation, which I believe is Du-sha, perhaps implying the "m" by pursing the lips diffidently at the end, or perhaps not.

Since my matriculation at Wawasee High School occurred shortly after the glaciers receded from northern Indiana, I thought it would be a good idea to brush up on my French. For this, I turned to one of the books I have managed to retain from my youth. Like my own epidermis, the cover of my copy of The Benchley Roundup (pictured above) has seen better days. The price of $0.75 further betrays the paperback's age. Fortunately, the inside of the book is intact. Turning to the essay, "French for Americans," we learn that that in French the vowels a, e, i, o, and u are all pronounced "ong." Robert Benchley goes on to explain that "the French language has three accents, the acute e, the grave e, and the circumflex e, all of which are omitted." He also supplies a number of "phrases most in demand by Americans," such as "What kind of dump is this, anyhow?" (Quelle espèce de dump is this, anyhow?) and "Two hundred francs? In your hat." (Deux cent francs? Dans votre chapeau.). Benchley provides other helpful travel tips, such as places to find other Americans in Paris, and where to find American food, and side trips that involve getting on a ship and returning to America to relieve the tedium of staying in Paris. He explains currency conversion, with the value of the franc fluctuating as follows:
Monday: 5 cents
Tuesday: 5.1 cents
Wednesday: 4.9 cents
Thursday: 1 lb. chestnuts
Friday: 2 1/2 yds. linoleum
Saturday: What-have -you
He concludes with a list of "Other Words You Will Have Little Use For," including vernisser (to varnish), dromer (to make one's neck stiff working at a sewing machine), and pardon (I beg your pardon).

If you're interested in reading the entire essay, a used copy of The Benchley Roundup may be purchased online for as little as $1.58, though I wouldn't part with my copy for less than a bushel of chestnuts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Angela Building

In an homage to Eugene Atget, I took this photo of the Angela Building on the South Bend campus of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. The campus is being abandoned for a new hospital in the suburbs.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Flushing Away Convention

"Fountain," readymade art by Marcel Duchamp, 1917. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz.

I have developed a tendency to awaken early of late. When this happens, I may get up and read, or write, or watch the special features on a DVD. Sometime I'll have to tell you what happened to the Time Machine after the movie was completed in 1960. Other times I may just lie abed and ponder the Big Questions, such as why does the phrase, "early of late," used so cleverly in the opening sentence of this post, make sense, but the phrase "late of early" does not? Today, I awoke with visions of, not sugar plums, but a urinal dancing in my head. Yes, I have reached an age where the prostate gland looms ever larger on the horizon, much as Vladimir Putin "raises his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America," according to Sarah Palin (this memorable word salad occurs 59 seconds into the clip below of her interview with Katie Couric in 2008). But I was not thinking of a porcelain fixture because of a personal plumbing obstruction. I have not yet joined that jolly band of "guys" (as aging male baby booomers with problems below the belt are invariably called in TV commercials) who frequently must interrupt an ocean kayaking adventure with their buddies (other "guys") to look for a restroom onshore. It's interesting to me that the men in ads for prostate-shrinking drugs are a hale and hearty group, attending baseball games or bicycling across country, and not old coots in motorized chairs who have to take a break from the early bird special at Old Country Buffet to relieve themselves. No, they're all convivial, active "guys."

But enough of that. The reason I brought up the subject of urinals is I want to discuss the dada artist, Marcel Duchamp. As I have pointed out on numerous previous occasions, the blog Lugubrious Drollery is built on a rickety foundation of scant knowledge and an utter lack of expertise, particularly when it comes to the subject of art. This was perhaps best illustrated in the previous post, "The Avant-Garde Nature of Winky Dink," wherein I compared Monsieur Duchamp to a 1950s television cartoon character.

Tonsure. Marcel Duchamp with haircut by George de Zayas, Paris, 1919. Photo by Man Ray.

Winky Dink. Dell comic book, 1955.

My interest in Duchamp was reignited by a connection between one of his more notorious works and a piece of statuary on the courthouse square in Goshen, Indiana. Duchamp's piece is called simply "Fountain" and the Goshen piece is the "Neptune Fountain" or "Poseidon Fountain," and has been discussed here in two recent posts, "Monochrome Fountain," and "Neptune in the Heartland." One thing I found particularly fascinating is that both pieces came from the J.L. Mott Iron Works in New York City. This company produced statues as well as more utilitarian items like stoves, cast iron store fronts, and plumbing fixtures.

People with no more self-respect than to read this blog on a regular basis will appreciate that the author becomes easily fatigued when trying to compose fresh prose and frequently resorts to lifting text from other web sites. Let the current half-hearted effort be no exception! I quote from the article "Idol Thoughts," by Jerry Saltz, in the Feb. 21, 2006 Village Voice. I admire this article if for no other reason than the caption under a picture of Duchamp's urinal: Dada, where's the bathroom? Now there's a title worthy of a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon or an episode of "My Mother the Car."
In the winter of 1917, Duchamp—then 29, in America less than two years, teaching French, but still a sensation for the scandal his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 caused at the Armory Show of 1913 (the year he created his first "readymade")—along with collector Walter Arensberg and artist Joseph Stella, bought a Bedfordshire model urinal from the J.L. Mott Iron Works at 118 Fifth Avenue. Duchamp took the fixture to his studio at 33 West 67th Street, laid it on its back, and signed it "R. Mutt 1917." The name is a play on its commercial origins and also on the famous comic strip of the time, Mutt and Jeff (making the urinal perhaps the first work of art based on a comic). In German, armut means poverty, although Duchamp said the R stood for Richard, French slang for "moneybags"...
Mr. Saltz goes on to explain how Duchamp submitted "Fountain" to an exhibit put on by the Society of Independent Artists. Everything submitted was supposed to be displayed, but the Independent Artists made an exception in Duchamp's case. Maybe he would have done better with the Society of Incontinent Artists. In any event, "Fountain" went missing after the exhibit. Duchamp eventually authorized eight replacements. Saltz reported in his article that on January 4, 2006, 77-year-old French performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli took a hammer to one of Duchamp's Fountains, valued at 3.4 million dollars, at a dada show at the Pompidous Center. This wasn't his first assault on Duchamp's work. In 1993, the iconoclastic Monsieur Pinoncelli urinated into "Fountain" and damaged it. Perhaps if he were on a drug to decrease the size of his prostate, he would be less irritable and instead of attacking pricy plumbing fixtures, could spend his time bicycling around the French countryside with other "guys," unimpeded by the need to stop at every pissoir along the way.

Duchamp set off a debate on the nature of art that continues to this day. Can found objects really be considered art? Is something art just because the artist says it is? Is Duchamp chortling up his sleeve in dada heaven to think that someone would consider paying 3.4 million dollars for something that he couldn't even get displayed at an art exhibit in 1917?

I'd like to stay and discuss this further, but I need to visit the restroom.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Neptune in the Heartland

Earlier this week, I posted a monochrome photo of the Neptune Fountain on the courthouse square in Goshen, Indiana. Here is a color photo of the same fountain from a different angle.

Neptune Fountain, Goshen, Indiana

This landmark has been present for my entire life, though I believe the trident went missing or was broken for a while. I rode by this piece of art many times as a child, either on visits to relatives in Goshen, or on shopping trips, back in the days when department stores were located downtown. Later, as a teenager, I drove or rode past this fountain on innumerable nights, along with carloads of other hormonally oversaturated adolescents who were cruising the streets. This activity became so popular that eventually the town enacted an ordinance which specified the middle lanes of the major thoroughfares as emergency lanes at night, thus cutting down on the snarl of traffic and eventually eliminating the allure of cruising Goshen.

I had never thought about how such an impressive sculpture came to land in a small town in the Midwest until I dove into my usual intensive research (i.e., Googling) so I could include some information about the fountain with my first post. As luck would have it, a book was published earlier this year on the topic of zinc statuary, and in another stroke of luck, the book, sans pictures, is available online via Google books. I even went so far as to go to the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame so I could actually pull the substantial 706 page book off the shelf and see the pictures. The book is Zinc Sculpture is America: 1850-1950, by Carol A. Grissom.

From the book, I learned that the Goshen Neptune Fountain is not unique. It is based on a work by French sculptor Gabriel Vital-Dubray (1813-1892). Many copies were produced and placed in public spaces in Europe, South America, and the U.S. In Germany, Kahle and Son cast the statue in zinc. One of these was erected at the city Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in 1882. In France, Neptune was cast in iron by the Val d'Osne company. On October 28, 2008, Christie's auction sold the cast iron example below for $110,500.

Neptune Statue, from a private collection. The edge of the conch-shell is signed and dated V. DUBRAY/1856, and the base is stamped VAL D'OSNE.

In America, two companies in New York City sold similar Neptune statues, cast in zinc. The Goshen Neptune was sold by the J.L. Mott Iron Works. It seems to be cast from the same model as the Val d'Osne statues. Four Neptunes from J.L. Mott were also installed as part of an elaborate fountain at Bedford and Division Avenues in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, that fountain was dismantled in 1950.

At least one other zinc Neptune survives in the U.S., sold by the J.W. Fiske company. Originally installed at the old sailors' home at Sailors' Snug Harbor, Staten Island, the statue deteriorated and was replaced with a cast iron replica. The original is now on display in the basement of the Visual Arts/Neuhouse Gallery on the grounds of what is now the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. The Fiske version differs from the Mott version in a few details, such as the appearance of the dolphins at the base, and must have come from a different model. Below are pictures of the origin Snug Harbor Neptune, and its replacement.

Original Neptune Fountain, Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Photo used under Creative Commons License. See original by wallyg at:
For terms of CC License, click here: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Neptune Fountain Replica, Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Photo used under Creative Commons License. See original by apollonia666 at:
For terms of CC License, click here: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Well, so how did old Neptune wind up in Goshen? In 1901, an enterprising individual named James Polezoes immigrated to the U.S. from Greece. He wound up in Goshen in 1910, where he opened a confectionery across the street from the county courthouse, selling candy and ice cream. He must have done quite well in that business, and in 1912, he purchased the Neptune Fountain as a gift to his adopted city for helping him achieve the American dream. Another Greek immigrant, Nicholas Paflas arrived in Goshen in 1912, and worked for Polezoes, making hand-dipped chocolates and running the soda fountain. In 1920, Paflas bought the confectionary and named it the Olympia Candy Kitchen. It's still in operation in the original location, run by Paflas family members, but that's another story.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Monochrome Fountain

Elkhart County Courthouse, Goshen, Indiana. Poseidon Fountain or Neptune Fountain (1912), J.L. Mott Iron Works. Cast zinc with bright copper paint. The water is turned off for the winter. When the fountain is running, water spouts from the mouths and nostrils of the sea creatures at Neptune's feet.

Shadow Shot Sunday #76

Magnolia throwing leaves in her chicken costume. Captured with a Holga 120 CFN plastic camera, Kodak Tri-X film, developed in Diafine.


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