Friday, August 31, 2007

Denver Airport: The Lair?

Denver International Airport is in the middle of nowhere. It's been dubbed "America's Most Inconvenient Airport." It's also the airport of choice for conspiracies theorists, who say that deep beneath the airport exists a massive complex of buildings six stories underground designed to house a cultish shadow government and the super-rich elite in case of natural or man-made disaster. The airport's colorful and undeniably creepy diptych murals depicting things such as a gas-mask wearing Gestapo officer impaling a dove with his saber, and three dead women in coffins, don't help quell the rumors that DIA is some kind of grand mystic lodge for the reptilian overlords who secretly run everything.

And not all these theorists are Unabomber-like crackpots uploading their hallucinations from basement lairs. Former BBC media personality David Icke, for example, has written twenty books in his quest to prove that the world is controlled by an elite group of reptilian aliens known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, whose ranks include George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, the Jews and Kris Kristofferson. In various writings, lectures and interviews, he has long argued that DIA is one of many home bases for these creatures, a fact revealed in the lizard/alien-faced military figure shown in Tanguma's murals.

"Denver is scheduled to be the headquarters of the US New World Order during martial law take over," Icke wrote in his 1999 book, The Biggest Secret. "Other contacts who have been underground at Denver Airport claim that there are large numbers of human slaves, many of them children, working under the control of the reptilians."

The latest issue of Westword has a long article about DIA and the many conspiracies surrounding it. God, I love crazy shit like this..

Artist Leo Tanguma doesn't understand how conspiracy theorists find hidden messages in his mural on environmentalism.

Denver International Airport has long been subject to a litany of conspiracy theories. At least one nationally syndicated radio show is taking them seriously.

By Jared Jacang Maher

Published: August 30, 2007

Conspiracy theorists have always hovered around Denver International Airport. Especially on June 11, when George Noory devotes all four hours of Coast to Coast, his nationally syndicated talk-radio program dedicated to the "paranormal, extraterrestrial and other topics typically overlooked by more mainstream media outlets," to a discussion of Denver International Airport. Broadcast on more than 500 affiliate stations, including KHOW, the popular overnight show is the 60 Minutes of conspiracy theories, often with self-educated experts expounding on such subjects as the occult, psychic visions, crop circles, Skull and Bones and apocalyptic predictions. And almost all of these conspiracies intersect at DIA.

For the show this night, a special line is set up for listeners in Colorado. Susan from Denver finds it strange that so many contractors were dismissed during the airport's construction, and speculates that this was a tactic to prevent workers from understanding the true scope of the project, allowing planners to build a facility six stories underground "without anyone questioning it." Chris from Indianapolis has heard that the tunnels below DIA were constructed as a kind of Noah's Ark so that five million people could escape the coming earth change; shaken and earnest, he asks how someone might go about getting on the list.

"Well, you first need a lot of money," replies guest expert Jay Weidner. "And then you need a lot of influence."

Weidner, a filmmaker and freelance journalist, is on Noory's show to promote 2012: The Odyssey, a new documentary that connects Weidner's previous work uncovering the secrets of ancient alchemy with a growing interest in the year 2012 as a historical "end date" for the world as we know it, a kind of new-age Armageddon. Some conspiracy buffs predict this end/beginning nexus will generate a telepathic wave of harmony throughout humanity; others see signs that 2012 will be fraught with fire and warfare. The date comes from the ancient Mayan calendar, which marks a day in December five years from now as the conclusion of the 5th Sun. Weidner has found evidence in monuments built by alchemists and Freemasons that they were not only aware of this Mayan prophecy but have been secretly preparing for 2012 for generations. His film examines a 150-year-old cross in France, a Stonehenge-like structure in Georgia and Masonic connections in Washington, D.C. It concludes at DIA, where Weidner shows the capstone located in the terminal's Great Hall — a name that's no accident, since Masonic temples call their main meeting rooms by the same name. Engraved in the marble facade is a coffee-cup-sized icon of a square and compass, symbols of the Masonic order, with the words "New World Airport Commission." Weidner associates this with the New World Order, an autonomous behind-the-scenes government that manipulates global events and communications.

"And my feeling is that the Denver airport is some kind of cathedral to these guys, a cathedral to the world that they're making," Weidner tells the listening audience.

The airport holds more clues. "These murals, which are shown in the film, are a story," Weidner continues.

"Like a message?" Noory asks. "Are they trying to tell us something? Or are they trying to [rub] it in our face?"

Weidner explains that some high-level factions in Masonic society may be using the murals to alert the general population to the earth-shattering political and environmental changes in store for 2012. Either that, or those factions are amazingly arrogant. Because for Weidner and other conspiracy experts, the symbolism is as explicit as a manifesto.

One mural features three women in coffins surrounded by endangered animals, including a Quetzal bird, named after the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, in a glass cage — an "extinction message," Weidner says. The next panel shows children of the world gathered around a "gigantic psychedelic plant of some kind. And they're all extolling that all the races are going to live together in a world of peace."

"It's like the one-world government bylaws," says Noory.

But the peace doesn't last. Another mural depicts a Gestapo-like figure "knifing the dove of peace with his bayonet," surrounded by crushed cities and starving citizens. Considered in the context of other curiosities captured in his documentary, Weidner concludes that these DIA murals reveal that 2012 will be a time of intense military oppression.

"To put it bluntly," he says, putting it bluntly, "It's going to be a real nail-biter."

Back in 1994, Leo Tanguma was working in his studio in the Lakeside Mall when a van full of people pulled up.

"And they weren't hostile," he recalls. "They asked a lot of questions." They wanted to know about all the different symbols in the murals that he'd been commissioned to make for the still-unopened DIA. "And I explained it like I explain it to everybody," the artist says. The first part of the environmental mural is about the ways that humans destroy nature and themselves through destruction and genocide. The second part is about humanity coming together to rehabilitate nature and revive their own compassion.

Tanguma likes to keep things simple. He may be left-wing, but he says he's not a liberal intellectual. He's a Christian who thinks of his murals as painted sermons, depicting the virtues of the poor and hardworking, and warning against the evils of greed and violence. Like many painters trained in the Mexican style of mural art, Tanguma gears his work to the street and all of its elements, everyone from businessmen and college professors to people like his parents, who were all but illiterate. The last thing Tanguma wants is for viewers to mistake his meaning.

The visitors stayed for more than an hour, looking around his studio, talking. One of the women asked Tanguma if the airport had told him what to paint. He remembers that, because he remembers how she said it. He told her no, that he was given no instructions on content. And then the visitors began to talk about how the United Nations was another conspiracy to take over the United States.

"How do you figure that?" he asked.

Before they left, they went to the back of their van and pulled out a thick, photocopied book detailing the U.N. conspiracy. They gave Tanguma the book. He knew where it was until about ten years ago, when he moved his studio from the strip mall to a modest house in Arvada where he lives with his wife.

Now that his art has become so central to a growing group of conspiracies, he wishes he could find it.

Even before the U.N. came into being, the United States had a rich history of conspiracy movements. It stretches back to seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, where Puritans began executing witches in hopes of saving their crops and livestock from God's wrath. In a 1964 article for Harper's magazine, Richard Hofstadter labeled groups prone to such "exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy" as having "paranoid style," and he compared the anti-Masonic movements of the previous century with the McCarthyism trials of the 1950s. Hofstadter wrote this piece before the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance and the Apollo moon-landing hoax became mainstays of conspiracy subculture, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy was already providing plenty of fodder.

In the '90s, Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing massacre both prompted bumps in theorizing, but the events of September 11, 2001, really kicked government coverup conspiracies into high gear. The 9-11 Truth Movement points to purported incongruities in the official explanation of the attacks as proof that the events were actually conducted by elements within the U.S. government. And other large-scale disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, have also fallen under the microscope of conspiracy theorists.

It's not difficult to see why national disasters and global catastrophes would inspire suspicion, but a set of paintings at an airport in middle America? How the Tanguma murals became the focus of such a diverse spectrum of conspiracists is a mystery in itself. Still, whispers of shadowy plots, nefarious schemes and activities ranging from paranormal to extraterrestrial have been tied to DIA since even before it opened in 1995, and the growth of the Internet and the increased interest in conspiracies since 9/11 have combined to pull even the most cryptic oddities from the back of the web to the forefront of the conspiracy networks.

Today, dozens of websites are devoted to the "Denver Airport Conspiracy," and theorists have even nicknamed the place "Area 52." Wikipedia presents DIA as a primary example of New World Order symbolism, above the entry about the eyeball/pyramid insignia on the one-dollar bill. And over the past two years, DIA has been the subject of books, articles, documentaries, radio interviews and countless YouTube and forum board postings, all attempting to unlock its mysteries. While the most extreme claim maintains that a massive underground facility exists below the airport where an alien race of reptilian humanoids feeds on missing children while awaiting the date of government-sponsored rapture, all of the assorted theories share a common thread: The key to decoding the truth about DIA and the sinister forces that control our reality is contained within the two Tanguma murals, "In Peace and Harmony With Nature" and "The Children of the World Dream of Peace."

The murals each stretch about 28 feet along wide hallways near the baggage claims on the east and west sides of the rectangular Great Hall. Each is split into two parts by access-area doorways. Painted in the Mexican "muralista" style typified by such artists as Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco, with simplified figures cast in bright, solid colors, the characters in the murals — mostly children of various ethnicities — are portrayed with almost cartoonish qualities and laden with symbolism, such as a boy weeping as he holds a soon-to-be-extinct chipmunk in front of a burning forest. According to the DIA website, the murals function metaphorically as diptychs (hinged tablets of theological artwork and writing often placed on Catholic altars) designed with two simple themes: environmental destruction vs. environmental healing and war vs. peace.

But conspiracy theorists from as far away as Australia, Romania and Japan offer their own analyses of the paintings on message boards and blogs. Some think the murals depicting peace and environmental harmony are meant to be read first, which makes the second parts of the visual narratives — genocide and the devastation of the natural world — the conclusion; the murals can then be read as prophetic warnings from all-knowing groups or celestial beings that humans must clean up their act. Others view the murals not as an oracle, but as a propaganda tool of power-hungry interests who hope to distract people with false concerns over global warming, lulling citizens into complacency with dreams of peace. Once all the swords have been beaten into plowshares — as Tanguma's "Dream of Peace" mural illustrates — then the evil forces, represented by the military figure in the adjacent panel, will enact their brutal overthrow of the world.

When Syracuse University professor Michael Barkun was researching his 2006 book A Culture of Conspiracy, he found DIA in the stream of conspiracy theory that considers the Freemasons, a fraternal organization that grew out of the stone-mason guilds of medieval Europe, as a group secretly in control of world politics. "We think of anti-Masonic material as essentially a nineteenth-century genre," Barkun says. "But there is an enormous amount of anti-Masonic stuff being recycled." Barkun wasn't really surprised by DIA's Freemason-to-Illuminati-to-New World Order conspiracy connection, but he was intrigued by how DIA conspiracies intersected not only with UFO and 2012 "millennialist" contingents, but also the conspiracy branches concerned with underground military bases and reptilian aliens. Left-wing radicals, fundamentalist Christians, UFO hunters, white nationalists, hippie mystics, Vietnam veterans and anti-U.N. Libertarians are all able to pick out evidence within the main body of DIA infatuation to support their competing perspectives.

And not all these theorists are Unabomber-like crackpots uploading their hallucinations from basement lairs. Former BBC media personality David Icke, for example, has written twenty books in his quest to prove that the world is controlled by an elite group of reptilian aliens known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, whose ranks include George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, the Jews and Kris Kristofferson. In various writings, lectures and interviews, he has long argued that DIA is one of many home bases for the otherworldly creatures, a fact revealed in the lizard/alien-faced military figure shown in Tanguma's murals.

"Denver is scheduled to be the Western headquarters of the US New World Order during martial law take over," Icke wrote in his 1999 book, The Biggest Secret. "Other contacts who have been underground at the Denver Airport claim that there are large numbers of human slaves, many of them children, working there under the control of the reptilians."

On the other end of the conspiracy spectrum is anti-vaccination activist Dr. Len Horowitz, who believes that global viruses such as AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, tuberculosis and SARS are actually population-control plots engineered by the government. The former dentist from Florida does not speak about 2012 or reptiles — in fact, he sees Icke's Jewish alien lizards as a Masonic plot to divert observers from the true earthly enemies: remnants of the Third Reich. He even used the mural's sword-wielding military figure as the front cover of his 2001 book, Death in the Air.

"The Nazi alien symbolizes the Nazi-fascist links between contemporary population controllers and the military-medical-petrochemical-pharmaceutical cartel largely accountable for Hitler's rise to power," Horowitz explained in a 2003 interview with BookWire. A YouTube video dated last fall shows him standing before a podium as he deconstructs photos of the murals projected onto a large screen. He points to Tanguma's work as an "expression of the devil-doers' confidence" in their plan to generate mass genocide of undesirable populations through air-based chemical warfare. The wispy rainbow that extends between the two adjacent murals is a stand-in for lethal toxins sprayed into the atmosphere, he tells the audience, "and as a result, you have dying people, mostly ethnic populations."

Evangelical Christians have also found messages in the murals. In a 2003 newsletter, biblical research group Cephas Ministry included photos of the murals, along with the caution that they referred to bio-warfare, 9/11 and paganism. "They are frightening to Christians as well as American citizenry since one speaks of death to Christianity as we know it," the newsletter noted. Another grainy YouTube video shows a speaker alleging that the murals indicate that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has built a concentration camp below the airport to systematically murder the "people that Lucifer hates."

Many of these Internet speculators believe that DIA is linked via underground tunnels to nearby conspiratorial hotbeds such as NORAD and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. But some also believe that the conspiracy stretches from the airport to controversial Colorado tragedies such as Columbine. (A few even posit that those students may have been consumed by aliens.) One 1998 article posted on managed to connect the DIA conspiracy to JonBenét and the Denver Broncos. Reached by phone at his home in Las Vegas, the site's creator, Robert Sterling, admits that the best conspiracy theories often necessitate dizzying leaps of logic, demonstrated by a kind of free-association exercise he calls "the conspiracy game."

Even though Sterling realizes that these connections are more than a little tenuous, he is willing to err on the side of speculation, given the sheer weirdness of the murals and evidence of DIA's capstone. "The idea that [DIA] is a temple or monument to the New World Order, it almost in some bizarre way makes sense," he says.

In his sociological observations of conspiracy culture, Barkun has noticed a rise in the number of individuals suspicious of Freemasonry, a trend he thinks may be the cause (or effect) of conspiracy-thriller novelist Dan Brown's popularity. As with The Da Vinci Code, there's a belief that the future can be accessed if you can only decipher the code. "It's often something that's in plain sight as it is [at DIA]. But their claim is that there's a hidden meaning," Barkun says. "Most often it is thought to exist in text; people have long done this with the Bible. But it can often be visual, as in the case of DIA."

Although conspiracy theories vary widely, they all share three commonalities. "One is the belief that nothing happens by accident," Barkun points out. "Another is that everything is connected. And a third is that nothing is as it seems."

Jay Weidner would agree with that. From his office in Seattle, the former National Public Radio talk-show host says that world events like the war in Iraq, the oil crisis and the erosion of global economies signal that a fundamental alteration in human history is on the horizon.

"There's some profound shift that's about to happen," he says. "And for those of us who are prescient and aware and conscious, we can feel there's something going on here." And they can see it in the Tanguma murals.

Although the DIA conspiracies have branched off into wild ideological directions, they're all rooted in a 1996 radio interview with Alex Christopher, an interview whose transcription has been republished on hundreds of websites. Many theorists surmise that the man quoted in this transcription is dead.

Actually, Christopher is a 65-year-old grandmother living in Alabama.

Christopher first became interested in the New World Order in the mid-'80s, and she started writing a book on the subject. In the mid-'90s, she came to Denver for the Global Sciences Congress conference, where she gave a lecture on her theories about aliens and the globalist agenda. People there were talking about how odd the long-delayed airport was, "and I started looking at all the murals and floors and weirdness," she remembers. "I got really intrigued."

At the conference, she met people who she claims took her into DIA's underground tunnels. The first time, she went with a man who worked there. "It was really spooky," she remembers. Then she returned with fellow conspiracy theorist Phil Schneider, and they went down four levels.

That was enough to convince Christopher that something funny was going on at DIA. "As far as I know, I'm the one who started all that," she acknowledges.

She went with a few family members to visit Tanguma at his studio, where he was working on the second mural. "And I asked him, 'Where on earth are you coming up with this material from?' And he said, 'Well, it's just a collection, a collage.' And he had a lot of books in his studio that had strange pictures," she remembers.

"I understand that he didn't have free rein on those things," Christopher continues. "He was given an outline of what was supposed to be in the murals. And I tried to talk to him about what I thought, and he wasn't buying it at all. Evidently he was bought and paid for, because there was no talking to him. And his mind was totally shut down to what he was depicting."

Christopher, on the other hand, was open to hearing anything. A man called her and said he had found an elevator at DIA that led to a corridor that led all the way down into a military base that also contained alien-operated concentration camps. She detailed this theory in her next book, Pandora's Box II, and in 1996 was a guest on an esoteric California radio show hosted by Dave Alan. There she outlined her theory that the British secretly control the United States, as shown in the "secret society" symbolism of the Tanguma murals.

But then Phil Schneider turned up dead — officials determined it was a suicide, but conspiracy theorists recognized it as an assassination, and he has since become a martyr for underground-base believers. Christopher became fearful for her life and her children's safety. "And so for them, I shut up and disappeared and decided to see if somebody would take the material and let it take on a life of its own so that their focus would be somewhere else," she says.

And Christopher has tried to stay hidden, which has led to even more conspiracies. "Everybody thinks I'm dead or they think I'm a man," she says. "My daughter and I have a real good chuckle over it." But she's grown tired of how "notorious" her KSCO interview has become, as others pick apart and misquote her work to serve their own conspiracy-theory agendas.

She's now working on an updated version of her books, which she says may even include a DVD containing photographic proof of DIA's underground labyrinth.

While the Tanguma murals appear in all DIA conspiracies, the pieces themselves are not the root of the airport obsession. Every good conspiracy theory needs a foundation of fact or a pre-existing controversy as its framework. And in this case, the theories all build off the origins of DIA, which seem bizarre enough on their own: an airport built absurdly far off into the prairie, on a massive piece of land, billions of dollars over budget, years late, with a high-tech baggage system that never worked. An airport that critics say was never needed in the first place.

Since it first opened in 1929 as Denver Municipal Airport in the northeast corner of the city, Stapleton Airport had steadily grown in both size and capacity. But commercial and residential development around the airport made new construction so cramped that jets were forced to taxi through underpasses built below I-70 to access certain runways. Talk of building a new airport at a different location started as early as the 1960s and continued through the mayoral administration of Bill McNichols, who commissioned a study of new sites. When Federico Peña took over as mayor in 1983, he thought that expanding Stapleton onto the adjacent Rocky Mountain Arsenal might be a better alternative. But the costs of cleaning up the contaminated site and opposition from Adams County sunk that idea. Meanwhile, Park Hill residents were growing increasingly angry over airport noise and pollution and even filed a lawsuit in hopes of prompting a relocation.

Peña knew that building a new airport would not be easy. But with the support of then-governor Roy Romer and other high-profile boosters from the civic and business world, Peña was able to work out a complicated deal that would allow the annexation of a large swath of farmland northeast of Denver. Despite a strong opposition campaign, the arrangement was approved by both Adams County and Denver voters in the late '80s.

From the beginning, plans for DIA were ambitious. Peña, who now works in the local office of an international investment company, says he wanted the airport to make a "bold statement across the world" that would put Colorado on the global map. And the scale of DIA reflected this desire: It was to be the largest, most modern airport in the world. But almost as soon as ground was broken in 1989, problems cropped up. The massive public-works project was encumbered by design changes, difficult airline negotiations, allegations of cronyism in the contracting process, rumors of mismanagement and real troubles with the $700 million (and eventually abandoned) automated baggage system. Peña's successor, Wellington Webb, was forced to push back the 1993 opening date three times. By the time DIA finally opened in February 1995, the original $1.5 billion cost had grown to $5.2 billion. Three months after that opening, the Congressional Subcommittee on Aviation held a special hearing on DIA in which one member said the Denver airport represented the "worst in government inefficiency, political behind-the-scenes deal-making, and financial mismanagement." But Peña, who by then was serving as the Secretary of Transportation for President Bill Clinton, testified that despite the project's shortcomings, more cities would need to construct world-class airports in the future.

And what looked like a gamble in 1995 seems to have paid off for Denver. Today, DIA is considered one of the world's most efficient, spacious and technologically advanced airports. It is the fifth-busiest in the nation and tenth-busiest in the world, serving some 50 million passengers in 2006.

Peña knows all about the statistics — but he hadn't heard about any of the DIA conspiracies. They "have no basis in fact," he asserts, but still manages to put them in a positive light, suggesting that it's a compliment that Denver International Airport has attracted so much interest. "If it were a boring architectural structure, if it were a minor cog in the complex system of aviation traffic around the world, it probably wouldn't get very much attention from anybody," he says. "So in a way, I would think of this as a somewhat interesting observation that people make of DIA, which means that people give it a lot of importance, which it deserves. So I think it's good in that sense."

DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon has heard all about the DIA conspiracies. He's been getting questions about the underground bases and the airport's connection to the New World Order since before DIA opened, at a rate of about one a month. And his response hasn't changed over the years. With all of the intense public and media scrutiny of the airport project, he asks, how could these supposed underground facilities have been built without somebody seeing them or reporting them?

"Sometimes these conspiracies are fun to read about, but they're hokum; they just don't hold water," Cannon says. "And the people who say they've been out here and worked on the project and saw all of this stuff being built are smoking something stronger than what they can buy at their local supermarket."

The strangest theories he's heard are that the capstone in the main hall is a beacon for the mothership, and that underneath the basement is a camp for political prisoners. "When I tell them it's bunk, they say, 'Well, of course you'd say that. You work there. You're part of the conspiracy, too!'" he says. "Well, if they think that's true, why did they bother calling me?"

No one has bothered to call Charles Ansbacher, now the conductor of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, which gives free classical concerts at public landmarks around the Boston area. But as the co-chair of the now-defunct New World Airport Commission, which orchestrated DIA's opening festivities, Ansbacher would be a prime candidate for the conspiracists' Illuminati puppet master. Back in 1990, the longtime arts advocate was living in Denver and working as an aesthetic design-policy advisor for DIA when he decided to start a not-for-profit organization that would help promote the new airport to the people of Denver, and enlisted big-name corporate and civic names to serve on the board.

Ansbacher can't quite remember how he came up with the name for the organization, but he guesses it might have come from Dvorák's New World Symphony. The New World Airport Commission name emphasized that DIA was the newest airport in the world, and the first new airport built in this country since Dallas/Fort Worth in 1973, he says; it did not symbolize that DIA was a monument to the New World Order. "The idea that there is anything secretive about this is totally preposterous," Ansbacher says.

The group's main function was to plan both an air show and a public gala in 1993, which went on despite the fact that the airport was delayed. He was there the day the capstone, which is also a time capsule, was dedicated. The Masonic symbol was placed on the stone because it was provided by a local Masonic lodge. "One of the remaining things they do is provide time capsules," he points out.

Ansbacher was also a force behind the plan to make art a pervasive part of the new airport. With a budget of more than $7 million, DIA's art program grew into the largest single-facility public-art program in the nation. "We are definitely not a Greyhound bus depot," says Colleen Fanning, DIA art program manager. "We're not just a bland environment. We have a transitory public that oftentimes has a little bit of time to spend as they make their way through security. We definitely want to enhance and humanize our spaces here at the airport and just beautify the experience."

From the beginning of the design process, an effort was made to infuse art into the architecture, with 39 artists chosen to create original work for the project. These artists were selected by a committee of public officials, community members and working artists. There was a major cultural component to pieces chosen, and the committee was careful to include work by black, Native American and Hispanic artists. Still, there was no specific slot for a Mayan artist — which Jay Weidner insists Tanguma is.

Fanning has gotten calls about Tanguma's art, including one last year from a person who accused the airport of changing portions of his murals to cover up secret meanings. "They basically scream at me and ask me why we have taken those murals down, but they've never been changed or been taken down," she says. "Those murals will be there for a while. They're not coming down."

In fact, DIA will soon be getting more art. The airport will undergo $1.2 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next ten years, and under the city's one-percent-for-art program that requires all capital improvement projects to allocate that percentage of the budget to art, Fanning's program should get a significant boost.

And so the conspiracy calls will keep coming. "And really, there is nothing controversial here at all," Fanning insists. "I really don't give credence to any of the thinking that goes behind these theories."

Weidner does. He visited DIA while working on his documentary and checked out the Tanguma murals. "I don't know where he is," Weidner says of the artist. "Last I heard, he was in Chicago; that's all I could find out. I know he was commissioned to do the murals, and I know he was told pretty much what to paint. And that's all I know. He's pretty much just gone away."

Leo Tanguma, a quiet man with a gray goatee, hasn't moved from Colorado since DIA opened. Right now he's standing in front of "The Children of the World Dream of Peace," describing his work while travelers scurry past.

"This is my daughter's friend," he says, pointing to the children's faces. "That's my niece. Here's my other niece. This is my granddaughter, Sandiana. This is my other granddaughter." Other faces belong to friends of the family, neighbors, relatives. Some were victims of gang violence. "This little boy was at the zoo with his parents. At the zoo! And somebody was having a war in the neighborhood, and one of those bullets came in the air and paralyzed him," Tanguma says. "It took him one year to die. So when I met the parents, I went to their home, and they gave me his photographs."

The children represent a wide assortment of nationalities: "Panama. Brazil. Greece. Arabia. Sweden. Czech Republic." The mural is about kids dreaming of a world without violence, he explains, with the dream turning into a rainbow that leads to children of all nations putting down their weapons by beating swords into plowshares.

The soldier in the mural could be any soldier. "That's why I put a mask on him," Tanguma explains. "I didn't want to make him white or black. I wanted to make him villainous to give that aspect of something vile, something real, something mean."

Tanguma grew up in a small town in Texas, where Latinos were in the minority. He created his first mural when he was in the fifth grade and the local sheriff shot and killed three of his cousins in a questionable incident. He got up and went to the blackboard to draw what he liked to draw: horses, lions and tigers. "But this kid, somebody, said, 'Draw me killing the sheriff.' We were totally helpless in those days." So he drew the kid stabbing the sheriff. And then the teacher walked in. He got a few licks for his depiction.

"But somebody asked me to do that art," he remembers. "And in my life, I always felt that the community needed somebody to express its feelings."

He only finished school through the sixth grade. Later, he joined the military. While overseas, he got his GED and took a cartooning correspondence course. Once out of the service, Tanguma went to Texas Southern University in 1972, where he'd paint community-center walls or street murals for small commissions. His murals can now be found on the walls of elementary schools, college campuses, housing projects, churches and art museums across the western U.S.

Tanguma moved to Colorado in 1983 because he thought there would be more opportunity here. The first piece he did in town was a mural in response to gang violence, paid for with small donations from churches and neighbors.

In 1993, Tanguma got a $100,000 commission for DIA. Initially, it was for one mural — but as he started painting, he decided to do more. "I wanted it to live up to how I felt about Denver, for the opportunity," he says. He insists that he was given no guidelines for what to paint, and it took him three years to finish the work. "I tried to paint according to my conscience. Because I told the committee I tried not to paint just for decoration. It has to have a meaning."

But meaning is created by the viewer as much as the artist. And it's not just conspiracy theorists who find unintended meaning in the murals. Tanguma remembers how passersby would question his work even while he was finishing it on the walls at DIA. One man complained that the Scottish boy's shawl had the crest of an enemy of his clan, so Tanguma included the man's family crest on the shawl. Others wondered why the multi-racial murals didn't have more black people, or white people, or why one country's flag seemed to be covering another's.

No matter how big the murals, no matter how inclusive the content, viewers always seem able to find a subtext, a code that explains the chaos now common in the new world.

Tanguma's murals have even traveled from the world of fictional fact into outright fiction. In Forever Conceal, Never Reveal, a novel published online in 2005, Washington-based author Dawn Meier wrote about a character who got sucked into the Masonic underworld and traveled to DIA in one scene:

"How on earth did the city of Denver approve of such horrific murals in their airport?" Aaron asked.

"They really didn't have anything to say about it. Freedom of speech; freedom of expression in art; all the freedom arguments allowed the Masons to influence all the murals you see. Here is another one." They moved on to the next one.

"Oh, Gordon. How horrible. I can't believe my eyes; a dark green giant monster wearing what looks like a gas mask, destroying a city. And what are these? It looks like women carrying dead babies. What sick person drew all these?"

"It doesn't matter who drew them, Aaron. This is the future."

Tanguma says he would like to "have a chance to meet with those folks and explain to them what I meant by this. I'm not part of any conspiracy whatsoever. I mean, it's weird to be saying that. In general, this is about humanity. What could they find bad about this?"

A Woman who went to Alaska

A Woman who went to Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan (1902) is available for free in a bunch of different formats from Manybooks. I love shit like this, probably because it combines my love of esoteric experiences and strong, unconventional women. Here's the blurb:

This unpretentious little book is the outcome of my own experiences and adventures in Alaska. Two trips, covering a period of eighteen months and a distance of over twelve thousand miles were made practically alone. In answer to the oft-repeated question of why I went to Alaska I can only give the same reply that so many others give: I wanted to go in search of my fortune which had been successfully eluding my grasp for a good many years.

Art, Truth & Politics

In his controversial Nobel Lecture "Art, Truth & Politics", speaking with obvious difficulty while seated in a wheelchair, Harold Pinter distinguishes between the search for truth in art and the avoidance of truth in politics.

He describes his own artistic process of creating The Homecoming and Old Times, following an initial line or word or image, calling "the author's position" an "odd one" as, experiencing the "strange moment . . . of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence," he must "play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek" during which "the search for the truth . . . has to be faced, right there, on the spot." Distinguishing among his plays The Birthday Party, Mountain Language, and Ashes to Ashes, he segues into his transitions from "the search for truth" in art and "the entirely different set of problems" facing the artist in "Political theatre" to the avoidance of seeking "truth" in "power politics" (Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture.

He asserts:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [of the artist] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al-Qaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

Charging the United States with having "supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War," leading to "hundreds of thousands of deaths," Pinter asks: "Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?" Then he answers his own question: "The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it".

Revisiting arguments from his political essays and speeches of the past decade, Pinter reiterates:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

In imagery recalling his description of "speech" as "a constant stratagem to cover nakedness,"

Further information: #Pinter's "two silences": a "continual evasion" of "communication"

Pinter adds:

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

Toward the end of the lecture, after reading two poems referring to "blood in the streets", "deaths", "dead bodies", and "death" by fellow Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda and himself, in a whimsically-humble gesture, Pinter offers to "volunteer" for the "job" of "speech writer" for President George W. Bush, penning a ruthless message of fierce aggression masquerading as moral struggle of good versus evil yet finally proferring the "authority" of his (Bush's) "fist".

Pinter demands prosecution of Tony Blair in the International Criminal Court, while pointing out, with irony, that he would do the same for George W. Bush if Bush had not so shrewedly refused to "ratify" that Court. Pinter concludes his Nobel Lecture with a call for "unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies" as "a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all," one which he regards as "in fact mandatory," for, he warns, "If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us — the dignity of man

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Espressor-Maker

Lokesh Dhakar's "Coffee Drinks Illustrated" is a lucid infographic showing the composition of a variety of espresso beverages. Espresso is prepared by forcing hot water through finely ground dark-roast coffee beans. Think of it as strong, concentrated coffee.


Espresso Con Pann


Flat White


Cafe Breve

Caffe Latte

Caffe Macchiato

Caffe Mocha

Monday, August 27, 2007

Belittle Britain

If the US is a sexy, blonde cheerleader with perfect smile, golden brown tan and more than a hint of availability, then Britain must surely be her brunette geekette of a younger sister, the one with the odd mannerisms and bad teeth. I've always had a soft spot for good old Blighty and had visited here many times; so imagine my surprise when I found myself wondering why the hell the Brits did certain things in certain ways. I mean, is there such a thing as delayed culture shock?

They're not big things and goodness knowns I applaud individuality wherever I can find it..but some of these are worth a mention, for their stubborn insistence on standing their ground in the face of my plodding casually through the day. For the sake of brevity and because I don't want to come across as (even more of) a whiner, I've picked out just five of those things that have stood out:

1. Coins: the Brits love them. You have your smaller denominations (much as you do in the US)..but then it carries on from there. Any change you get from shops or newstands or coffee places will invariably be a collection of 50 pence coins, pound coins and 2 pound coins. And they're heavy too. Were I to trip and fall into the Thames, I'd expect whomever's in charge of my estate to sue the treasury, because I'm sinking right to the bottom.

2. Trashcans: in the US, and even in Egypt, every desk at work has a trashcan. Not so in the UK. You have to get up, walk to the kitchen and dispose of your litter there. I see a certain logic there: it can't be too healthy to spend eight hours a day at a desk that houses a mini-waste basket filled with all kinds of aromatic refuse, from this morning's bagel to that overripe banana you decided you didn't want. But still, what that's done is it snookered me into hoarding my garbage until I happened to be getting up to go. So now the trash is above my desk, as opposed to under..

Incidentally, there are no trashcans in the street or in tube stations.

3. Four seasons in one day. The joke about England is that it never stops raining, but even that I could understand. The problem is that rain is no guarantee of sustained wetness and bright sunshine is no promise of enduring dryness. In the space of five minutes, you could go from nibbly cold (less intense than biting cold) to face-warming heat and back again. In the words of Bobcat Goldthwaite, who made this world?

4. When I call my bank in the US and I'm prompted to key in my pin number, each entry is accompanied by a certain beeping note to let me know that the system is receiving my keystrokes. Guess what? Here, you're greeted with the sound of silence, and I don't mean the Simon and Garfunkel song. From the time they tell you to key your pin in, to the time you're done, you have no way of knowing if you doubled-pressed a key, skipped a digit, if the system was even turned on or if you'd lost your connection even. I know this is a small thing, but I'm a small man..

5. I knew this was coming but there's no way you can brace yourself for this kind of drop-off: The standard of Thai food here should be debated in the Commons and people should be sent to the tower for allowing it to be. It is abysmal. Limp as a Viagra focus group. Tasteless as a leopard skin top on a fifty-five year old Russian countess. As plain and bland as a teenage Basil. It's simply a gastronomical crime against nature, a cry for help, a call to arms for all the foodies out there. I can't bear it anymore because it enrages me to think that I may very well never taste another well-made pad thai with cashew salad. And such a simple thing to fix: bring some Thai people over and give them license to kill anyone who has besmirched their good culinary names!

That said, the step up in Indian has been remarkable, but why should I settle for substitutes when I am so used to having it all?

1000 Words

The Double Act

Without Karl Rove around to give him his orders, and with the investigations closing in, "Fredo" had nowhere to turn.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Alberto Gonzales, right, and Karl Rove, left, at the swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in Washington, Jan. 31, 2005.

Aug. 27, 2007 | When Alberto Gonzales swiftly turned heel on the stage at the Department of Justice without answering questions about his resignation as attorney general he left behind yet another lingering cloud of mystery. What is he not telling about his resignation?

The true story may be something like the denouement of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter," which was in plain sight all along, a solution that can, as Poe wrote, "escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the intellect suffers to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too obtrusively and too palpably self-evident." To be excessively obvious, Gonzales' resignation, following Karl Rove's exactly by two weeks, is the shadow of the first act.

Under investigation by the House and Senate Judiciary committees for his part in the political purge of U.S. attorneys and warrantless domestic surveillance, Gonzales wandered through his appearances down winding paths of dissembling. On the U.S. attorneys, his former deputies -- his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and former deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty -- contradicted him. On domestic spying, the former acting attorney general, James Comey, described then White House counsel Gonzales' attempted coup on behalf of a program Comey considered illegal through Gonzales' securing the signature of the ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft, barely able to lift his head in his hospital bed after surgery. After Gonzales offered a different account, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before the Senate on July 27 to corroborate Comey's version, staking his position against Gonzales' credibility. Senators called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

In the weeks leading up to his resignation, Gonzales was undoubtedly aware of the various investigations into his activities, the avenues being pursued and the witnesses questioned, not all of them in public. As a practiced attorney, he knew that once he left government service he would become less interesting to investigators and that whatever revelations were unearthed would have less political impact. The logic of his resignation became indisputable from his own narrow interest and the larger interest of the administration. But the resignation of Rove severed his lifeline to his political control agent. Without Rove, Gonzales was adrift.

From the beginning of his rise with George W. Bush until the day of his abrupt resignation, Alberto Gonzales was anointed, directed and protected by Karl Rove. At the Department of Justice, Gonzales served as Rove's figurehead. In the real line of authority, the attorney general, a constitutional officer, reported to the White House political aide. Bush did not nickname Gonzales "Fredo," after the weak brother in "The Godfather," without reason.

As White House counsel and attorney general, Gonzales operated as the rubber stamp of the two great goals of the Bush presidency -- the concentration of unaccountable power in the executive and the subordination of executive departments and agencies to partisan political imperatives. Vice President Cheney directed the project for the imperial presidency, while Rove took charge of the top-down politicization of the federal government. Gonzales dutifully signed memos abrogating the Geneva Conventions against torture, calling them "quaint," and approved the dismissal of U.S. attorneys for insufficient partisan zeal.

Rove ran the Department of Justice like a personal fiefdom as Gonzales reigned there as his vassal lord. The civil rights division was gutted, more than 60 percent of its professional staff forced out; and since 2001, not a single discrimination case was filed. The antitrust division became a favor bank. Rove granted dispensations to companies, including those seeking to override laws involving foreign purchases of U.S. assets with national security implications, a former government official involved in such a case told me.

Typical of the political interference was the 2005 federal racketeering case against big tobacco companies in which government witnesses were suddenly withdrawn, suggested penalties lessened and lawyers ordered to read a weak closing statement prepared for them. Sharon Y. Eubanks, the 22-year veteran federal prosecutor in the case, revealed to the Washington Post in March 2007 that the chain of command ran directly through the attorney general's office. "The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public ... Political interference is happening at Justice across the department. When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general's office, politics is the primary consideration ... The rule of law goes out the window."

Rove's interest in tobacco cases was hardly new. From 1991 through 1996, while guiding the ascent of Bush to the Texas governorship and during his early years in that office, Rove worked as a $3,000-a-month consultant to Philip Morris. In 1996, when Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a suit against tobacco companies seeking compensation for state Medicaid funds spent on workers who fell ill because of smoking, Rove conducted a dirty trick against him -- a push poll spreading smears about him.

Rove vetted and approved every important appointment made by Gov. Bush. Like Bush, Rove saw the political possibilities in having a prominent Hispanic as part of the entourage. The son of immigrants, from the town of Humble, Texas, no less, was perfect casting.

From 1982 to 1994, Gonzales worked as a partner at the Houston-based Vinson and Elkins law firm, which handled the legal affairs of Enron and Halliburton. Enron was the single biggest financial supporter of Bush's political career in Texas; and Cheney, of course, was the CEO of Halliburton, for which Gonzales performed legal services.

In 1994, for Bush's run for governor, Rove got tobacco firms, Enron and Halliburton, among other interests, to siphon funds into various front groups on the issue of "tort reform." Through these funding sources, Rove also managed a flow of donations to candidates for the Texas Supreme Court, whom he handled as a consultant. (Rove was among the biggest owners of Enron stock among White House staffers, holding between $100,000 and $250,000. His influence with Enron extended to arranging a lucrative Enron consulting contract for Republican operative Ralph Reed, an old associate from College Republicans days, while Reed simultaneously worked on Bush's 2000 campaign.)

Upon Bush's election, Gonzales was named his legal counsel. In 1996, he successfully argued that Bush should not serve on a Travis County jury because of a potential conflict of interest given his powers of pardon and clemency. The real reason was that Bush did not want to disclose his past drunken-driving arrest, which would have threatened his political viability as he began planning his presidential campaign.

Having proved his loyalty, Gonzales was made Texas secretary of state and then appointed to the Texas Supreme Court. Rove guided him every step of the way. In 2000, Gonzales had to win election to his appointed judgeship. Even as he was running Bush's presidential effort, Rove handled Gonzales' campaign, just as he managed the campaigns of all Republican candidates for the state high court. Once again, Rove drew upon his deep sources of campaign funding. Enron and its law firm, Vinson and Elkins, were the principal financiers of Gonzales' race, kicking in $35,450.

Once elected president, Bush immediately named Gonzales his White House counsel. To the extent that Gonzales was pliable he was useful. But his "remarkable journey," as he called it today in his resignation statement, was remarkable only for his unwavering subservience.

From the start, Rove and Gonzales were secret sharers. But one was "the Architect" and the other was "Fredo." With Rove's resignation, Gonzales lost the political and policy hand that had guided him all along. When the puppet master departed, the puppet collapsed in a heap.

Tattoo Band-Aids

These tattoo bandaids are a fantastic idea. Get them for $3.99 at Perpetual Kid.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reading books not big in US

The winner of the obvious article of the day..

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There it sits on your nightstand, that book you've meant to read for who knows how long but haven't yet cracked open. Tonight, as you feel its stare from beneath that teetering pile of magazines, know one thing -- you are not alone.

Women are more avid readers than men, according to a new poll.

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year -- half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.

"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, Texas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.

That choice by Bustos and others is reflected in book sales, which have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way indefinitely. Analysts attribute the listlessness to competition from the Internet and other media, the unsteady economy and a well-established industry with limited opportunities for expansion.

When the Gallup poll asked in 2005 how many books people had at least started -- a similar but not directly comparable question -- the typical answer was five. That was down from 10 in 1999, but close to the 1990 response of six.

In 2004, a National Endowment for the Arts report titled "Reading at Risk" found only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002, a four percentage point drop in a decade. The study faulted television, movies and the Internet.

Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn't read a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women fit that category. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.

At the same time, book enthusiasts abound. Many in the survey reported reading dozens of books and said they couldn't do without them.

"I go into another world when I read," said Charlotte Fuller, 64, a retired nurse from Seminole, Florida, who said she read 70 books in the last year. "I read so many sometimes I get the stories mixed up."

Among those who said they had read books, the median figure -- with half reading more, half fewer -- was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger.

Pollyann Baird, 84, a retired school librarian in Loveland, Colorado, says J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series is her favorite. But she has forced herself to not read the latest and final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," because she has yet to file her income taxes this year due to an illness and worries that once she started the book, "I know I'd have to finish it."

People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently.

There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories. Popular fiction, histories, biographies and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels. Every other genre -- including politics, poetry and classical literature -- were named by fewer than five percent of readers.

More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.

"Fiction just doesn't interest me," said Bob Ryan, 41, who works for a construction company in Guntersville, Alabama. "If I'm going to get a story, I'll get a movie."

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.

The publishing business totaled $35.7 billion in global sales last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, according to the Book Industry Study Group, a trade association. About 3.1 billion books were sold, an increase of less than 1 percent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tom Stoppard Said

"Age is too big a price to pay for maturity"

Odd Commemorative Russian Stamps

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cupid's Sigh-ence

Anthropologist Helen Fisher explains what online dating sites can learn from the biology of love -- and what the length of your ring finger says about your sex life.

By Rebecca Traister

Aug. 20, 2007 | You've probably seen's magazine and television ads, the ones about people who have been rejected by online matchmaking sites like eHarmony for being gay, depressed, or generally unmarriageable for murkier reasons. In one ad, a young man stares hopefully at heterosexual porn, only to conclude, "Nope, still gay." At Chemistry, spokespeople like to crow, you can "come as you are" (as long as you come as someone who is over 18).

But the aggressive ad campaign isn't the only thing that sets Chemistry apart in the flourishing business of finding love online. The company is an offshoot of Internet meet-market, which has been around since 1994. In 2004, Match approached Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher, whose work on sex, love and the brain had made her a preeminent authority on human mating, about designing a site where, like at the successful but restricted eHarmony, members would not shop blindly for dates, but would be matched with each other based on personality profiles and compatibility.

Fisher developed a theory that human beings fall into four categories: negotiators, directors, explorers and builders, and that your type helps determine who you fall for. According to Fisher's formulation, negotiators are powered by estrogen, intuitive, socially skilled, imaginative and sympathetic; testosterone-fueled directors are focused, ambitious, daring and independent; explorers are dopamine-driven risk-takers who are spontaneous, curious and adaptable; and solid builders have a lot of serotonin that makes them calm, sociable, conscientious and domestically oriented.

Fisher designed, and continues to tweak, the site's lengthy personality questionnaire, on which customers discover what their driving chemical and personality type is by answering wacky questions about the length of their fingers, how they react to public displays of affection, and what kind of doodles they do in work meetings. (While reporting this story, I took Chemistry's personality test, and received a stream of matching profiles. My matches did not seem to differ significantly from those with whom I was set up several years ago while reporting a story on eHarmony, except that my Chemistry matches tended to be geographically closer to New York City. But overall, the profiles I browsed were of guys I was not moved to meet in person. Then again, I am not the world's most enthusiastic dater.)

Fisher, a lifelong academic, seems the unlikeliest online dating entrepreneur, and in the 18 months since Chemistry's launch, has lent the enterprise a kind of punk-wonky sensibility. On Chemistry's Great Mate Debate blog, she trades messages with Match spokesman and sex therapist Ian Kerner, columnist Dan Savage and modesty enthusiast Wendy Shalit. Her entries are sprinkled with references to everything from Chaucer to an East African chimp named Flo, who gets a lot of play despite her bulbous nose and bald pate because she's so confident and happy.

Fisher and Kerner recently stopped by the Salon offices to chat about estrogen, testosterone, the impact of antidepressants on our love lives, the mating habits of elephants, trading sex for food, and what on earth the length of our fingers tells us about our personalities.

Helen, how did you come to be involved with a dating site?

Helen Fisher: When Match invited me in December 2004 to create a new dating site for them, I said, "Are you sure you've got the right person? Because I'm an anthropologist. I've spent my life studying why we're all alike, not why we're different." But I came up with a theory, supplementing what we already knew, for why you fall in love with one person and not another. I wanted to add the Darwinian, biological, evolutionary, chemical component. So I came up with a theory [that there are four personality types] and I designed the core questions on the site. I've studied the first 28,128 people and who they chose to go out with. Did you do the questionnaire?

I did.

HF: What did you end up being?

Oh, I already knew what I'd be. I'm a Negotiator/Explorer.

HF: Oh! I'm the Explorer/Negotiator. But frankly I think I cheat, so I could be a Negotiator/Explorer. Those two could be very interchangeable. Plato came up with these four types, and then Aristotle, and Galen in the second century A.D., and then Carl Jung. We've known about these types for hundreds of years. What I've done is add that biological component.

Did Plato divide them into four categories as well?

HF: Yes. What I call the Explorer he calls the Artisan, what I call the Builder he calls the Guardian, what I call the Negotiator he calls the Idealist, and what I call the Director he calls the Rational. Frankly, I would not have made up new names if I had known the originals. You can't beat Plato.

Ian Kerner: I have a question for Helen, because I was recently at the AASECT [American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists] conference and people were saying that women's sexual response has a lot more to do with emotional attunement at the outset, as opposed to desire, and that initial desire is going to have a broader emotional context for a woman than for men.

HF: Generally women take a broader view of everything, for good Darwinian reasons: Women were the ones that were going to spend nine months having the baby, and most of the time for the first four years raising the baby! So women think of the contingency: "Well, he doesn't have a job. What about 10 years from now?" Women do more long-term thinking.

Does that play into initial attraction, not just a later decision about whether to stay in a relationship?

HF: I don't think we understand much about female sexuality yet. We way underplay men's desire for love and women's desire for just plain sex. Women can have quite a high sex drive. But there's a lot of data that they're a lot less interested in the one-night stand, for good Darwinian reasons.

IK: I was looking at studies of male and female college students who were having a lot of casual sex; the women ended up being much more ambivalent, much more regretful, much more depressed.

HF: I just don't think that casual sex is very casual. Any kind of sexual activity drives up dopamine in the brain, and that can bring you closer to a threshold of romantic love. I also think both sexes often use casual sex trying to trigger these other brain systems. They may tell you it's casual sex, but they're hoping that he likes me or she likes me.

You're talking about all this hormonal response, but how does that relate to someone you meet over an Internet connection?

HF: A lot of people think that Internet dating is unnatural, but I think it is extremely natural, because for millions of years, you might not know that cute boy over at the water hole, but your mother knows his aunt, and you know a lot about him: what he's going to grow up to become, who his relatives are, what his religion is; you know things about him. It's really much more artificial to walk into a bar where you know nothing about the person.

IK: One trend I've noticed lately online is people being much more interested in people's educational backgrounds.

HF: Yeah, particularly men. Men didn't care about women's educational backgrounds in the past. Now they care.

Do they want women to have more or less education than they have?

IK: Equal or superior. It's not the traditional: "Oh my God, she's making more money than me, my ego has been shattered." It's more like, "This is a two-income world we live in, it's going to take both of us to make it."

HF: They also want women closer to their age, and want them to have the same earning power. But you know what? It's not different from the way we always were. We're moving forward toward the kind of people we were a million years ago. For millions of years women commuted to work to gather vegetables, they came home with 60 to 80 percent of the evening meal, the double-income family was the rule. In shedding what we regard as traditional family values, we're actually going back to the real traditional configurations.

What screwed up that balance originally?

HF: Somebody invented the plow. Prior to the plow, women in horticultural societies did the farming with a digging stick and were very powerful. But somebody invented the plow about 5,000 years ago, and it required the strength of men; men began to need to move the rocks, fell the trees, draft big heavy animals. Then the property that got produced was more theirs, and they would bring it to local markets and come back with the equivalent of money. Women got relegated to secondary jobs and having lots of babies, because in farming societies, you needed children as the workforce.

IK: Changing subjects for a minute, I wanted to ask Helen about the fact that my wife says to me, "The only reason I'm still with you is that I like the way you smell." For all the mate-matching systems, aren't there always going to be these intangibles?

HF: Always. I finish my talks by saying "there will always be magic to love." All I'm trying to do is add another component to the mystery. But you never can predict. There could be some tiny aspect of your childhood that will turn you one way or another in love.

IK: Even the smell thing is a genetic index, so if I'm attracted to your smell we're most likely to create the most genetically broad, healthy children. People should be submitting T-shirts to Chemistry.

HF: Somebody actually came to me with a proposal! What I'm discovering on the site is how much you can read someone's face. We know you can read testosterone signs: the heavy jaw, heavy brow ridge, and little round face for estrogen. What we will do eventually is figure out how serotonin and dopamine express themselves physically. I'm interested in the smell thing, but they call it love at first sight because 80 percent of the brain is devoted to the visual.

IK: What do you think about a generation of single people who are on SSRIs? Are they spiking their dopamine and messing with their brain chemistry?

HF: Yes. At the university I'm working with, 40 percent of incoming freshmen are on something. Ritalin for fun, androgens to build the body, SSRIs.

And you say that antidepressants not only have sexual side effects but that they dull the brain's ability to feel love?

HF: Yes, I wrote about it [with psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson] in a chapter in the book "Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience."

IK: I think you're on to something, because anecdotally I meet a lot of single people on antidepressants and I would say their mating systems are very impaired. That's 40 percent of my clientele -- when one person is on an antidepressant. And I hear from lots of people whose psychiatrists or G.P.s never even mentioned the sexual side effects before prescribing.

HF: I give speeches to grand rounds at hospitals, and at an uptown hospital a guy took me to the cleaners for [talking about the way that SSRIs alter the way the brain responds to love]. People don't hear what I'm saying. For some people these are necessary drugs. There are people who can't get out of bed to go on a date; they need antidepressants! I'm just saying that we could at least tell people it's a possibility that they're altering how they feel love.

Can you talk at all about anthropological and biological models for matchmaking? Are there yentas in the animal kingdom, matchmakers in nature?

HF: I've looked at 100 species and I think we've evolved three different brain systems -- sex drive, romantic love, and attachment, the deep sense of calm and security you can feel over the long term. Animals have all three systems. Now, 97 percent of animals do not pair up to rear their young; only 3 percent do. So they probably have a stronger attraction system and maybe romantic love, but not as strong attachment systems.

But an elephant will, at the beginning of her estrus, avoid a lot of males and then she'll suddenly see one who's the right guy and make a beeline for him. Then she'll show many of the characteristics that, if you listed them in a human being, you would say she's in love: doggedly following him; focused attention on the fact that this particular male is special -- if he had three heads she wouldn't notice -- all kinds of affiliative gestures, like putting her trunk on his back; not eating; not sleeping; she'll be just overcome by infatuation for this fella. So no, I don't think other female elephants are lumbering through as matchmakers, saying, "He's not good for you!" But don't forget that many females raise their babies on their own. So what they really need is insemination by the best-looking, strongest, smartest, least scruffy guy.

Given the number of single mothers, could humans be heading toward a model in which women raise their babies on their own and just need insemination from the smartest, least scruffy male?

HF: I don't think so. Our brain system for attachment is so strong.

IK: On the other hand, I send my son to a school where a percentage of moms chose to be artificially inseminated or have a sperm donor. They are very successful in their careers, money is not really an issue, and they're raising their children on their own.

HF: But I would guess that if the right guy came along ... Look: One-third of all children in America are born out of wedlock; teen births are going down, but older women are choosing to have the babies on their own and then marrying the guy or marrying a different guy. But 90 percent of Americans do marry by middle age. We're just marrying later and doing more serial pair bonding.

I know that eHarmony's goal is to lower the divorce rate, and PerfectMatch's is to make practical long-term partnerships. Are you interested in creating marriages?

HF: was designed for people interested in a long-term relationship. But we feel that a lot of these other sites are behind the times in looking only for marriage, that there are many, many ways to have a beautiful long-term relationship that does not include marriage.

Was it a major decision to provide matching services for gay couples?

HF: No. They asked me right off the bat whether I thought that the brain chemistry for gay was any different from the brain chemistry for straight, and I'm absolutely convinced that it isn't.

It's the same model for matching?

HF: Absolutely. We don't have quite as many gays to study as straights, but that's changing thanks to the new ad campaign, and I've been asked whether they'll have the same patterns as the straights, and everything makes me think yes. Explorers are going to go for Explorers whether they're gay, straight, black, white, pink, green, old, young, cats, dogs, male or female. If you're a person who loves risk and novelty, you're going to want somebody to do that with you. Period. Homosexuality is about which sex you're attracted to. It's nothing about how you feel when you're in love.

IK: I can tell you that gay couples are having the same issues as straight couples: boredom in relationships, emotional infidelity, sexual infidelity. If the post-matching process is exactly the same, I would think the pre-matching systems are probably the same.

What else is shifting in the world of dating and couples?

IK: So many gender stereotypes are being turned on their heads right now, between stay-at-home dads and the guy who makes less money than his wife. It's tremendously exciting, though I sometimes worry that the residue of the third-wave feminist cultural product creates almost a new set of expectations.

Like that all women want casual sex?

IK: Yeah, or that women should always be asking guys out, stuff like that.

HF: A good example of that is who pays. From an anthropological perspective, the guy always pays.


HF: Because throughout the animal kingdom, it's food for sex. A male chimpanzee will get the sugar cane and the female will go up and stare at him. You know, if somebody's staring at your food, you've got to deal with this. So the male gives her the sugar cane and she'll turn around and copulate with him and then march off with the food. Women biologically know there's no such thing as a free lunch.

I'm not in Ian's business, but I'm single. I find that I want to split the bill until I'm ready to make a relationship. At the very moment he pays, we've already begun down a new route in my head.

IK: I meet a lot of men who are confused. Who are somewhat wired to be a pursuer in something and confused about paying the check, or calling someone again, or courtship around sex. Everything is upended.

HF: That's what's so interesting! Because we're seeing the shedding of thousands of years of traditions where men knew what they were doing and women knew what they were doing and now we're here in this amazing time in human evolution.

IK: When I met my wife we had a great first date and we were very attracted to each other. And she still gives me shit about this because I kissed her on the cheek, and she still says, "I can't believe you didn't kiss me on the lips." And I say, "But I knew that I liked you!" Guys get it internally even if they never stop to think about it: If I postpone sex, it will lengthen the courtship period and increase the dopamine activity and enhance the whole reward system. So in an age of casual sex you have a bunch of guys who are slowing the process down.

HF: We have these innate sexual practices that we don't even realize. That's the difference between short-term and long-term reproductive strategies.

When we meet someone do we decide short-term or long-term pretty quickly?

HF: Different people would do different things, but what they call "beer goggles" is a short-term reproductive strategy. But then you might take her to bed and wake up and she says something about Nietzsche or Tolstoy that makes you think you could have a good intellectual conversation with her and then you take her to breakfast and over breakfast she laughs at your jokes and you start falling in love with her. So short-term can turn into long-term.

What is the thing about your fingers? It's a question on the Chemistry questionnaire -- about how long your pointer finger is versus your ring finger.

HF: It's called digit ratio. In the womb, the brain is washed over by estrogen and testosterone. If you have a lot more testosterone than estrogen in the womb, it is going to build a longer fourth finger than second finger. If you've got a lot more estrogen in the womb, the pointer finger will be longer.

What does it say about your personality?

HF: Well, there are three testosterone bursts. There's one in the womb, and there's one in infancy and a giant spurt in puberty. But if you have more testosterone in the womb and you have a longer fourth finger, you're more likely to have musical ability, mathematical abilities, to be an engineer or architect or good at computer programming. You tend to have poorer social skills but be direct, decisive, ambitious, competitive. What they call extreme male brain is when you're overly flooded with testosterone and are pushed into the autistic spectrum. And football players are very high on testosterone and estrogen. So you can be high in both.

What does it mean to have more estrogen?

HF: Usually that you have good verbal skills, can find the right word rapidly, are good at remembering, better at compassion, nurturing, patience, have good people skills, and are better at reading posture, gesture, tone of voice and facial features.

Do you believe lifelong monogamy is possible and natural?

The word "monogamy" means a pair bond, which doesn't necessarily mean sexual fidelity. What you're asking about is a long-term pair bond including sexual fidelity. So ... sure! Forty-three percent of people are serial monogamists, but that leaves the balance of people who form a pair bond and sustain it long term.

Builders go for Builders, Negotiators for Directors and Directors for Negotiators, and Explorers are going to keep going for a lot of different kinds of people! I get asked all the time can people settle down. And I think a good Explorer can find another good Explorer who keeps them running home for the novelty.

IK: I think that the beginning of a relationship, especially falling in love, is such a heightened state that people often don't know each other for a few years. Romantic love will mask more fundamental truths about our personalities, and I meet a lot of people who don't understand that they're really sexually incompatible until they're well into the relationship.

HF: Yes! In fact I say to people, "Don't marry him till that's worn off and you know what you've got."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Genuine old New Yorker ad

Wind-up MP3/ Video Player

The Eco-Media Player is a wind-up MP3/video player created by Trevor Baylis, inventor of the Freeplay wind-up radio. One minute of winding gives you 40 minutes of playback, and the device can also charge mobile phones and has a built-in flashlight. It plays mp3, wma, asf, wav, mp4, and has an FM radio, an analog recorder, and a photo-viewer. You can wind it for 20 hours' worth of playback.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Iranians Get Thirsty, Too

Fantastic WW2 Propaganda Posters

Fans of this blog know me as someone who's a big believer in the power of the word and its ability to move and motivate. But I have to admit that back in the day, before we all fell prey to carefully manufactured, heavily focus-grouped mass messaging, art on posters (especially propaganda posters) had the power to evoke strong emotions and exploit the passions and prejudices of the common man to a scarcely imaginable degree.

A superb example of this is the wildly effective Lusitania Enlistment ad, which encouraged men to enlist in the army and avenge the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, during WW1, and was a big factor in the US decision to enter the war.

I'm just a huge lover (or so the ladies tell me) of this style of art and I'm starting to learn more about it. I mean, mass manipulation and ethnic sterotyping aside aside, the quality of drawings and inkwork simply transcends all the machinations of its questionable message. Here are a few examples of just such propaganda posters from the Second World War, courtesy of BoingBoing.