Archive for October, 2008
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937 after more than four years of construction at a cost of $35 million, is the second-longest suspension bridge in the United States, (4,200 ft. long) second only to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City (4,260 ft. long). However, despite its aesthetic grandeur, The Bridge is widely considered to be the world’s No. 1 suicide landmark, where an estimated 1,200 people have leapt to their deaths since it opened in May 1937. While no exact figure is available, because many of the suicides have no witnesses, the official count for 2005 showed an average of one suicide every two weeks. People have been known to make the journey to San Francisco specifically for the purpose of jumping off the bridge, and police have frequently found abandoned rental cars in parking lots nearby.
On October 11, 2008, Golden Gate Bridge directors voted 14-to-1 to install a stainless steel net system, to be placed 20 ft. below the deck, constructed to collapse around the body of a jumper, making it nearly impossible for anyone to jump to their death. Attempts to introduce a suicide barrier were long thwarted by engineering difficulties, high costs and public opposition. The net is expected to cost $40 million to $50 million to complete, and it is expected to take years to install the 3.4 miles of netting. Prior to its approval, nearly 3,500 people and organizations submitted approximately 5,900 comments on the barrier. Nearly 4,000 people voted in an online poll about whether a barrier should be erected, with an even split between people who were in support of the measure and those who wanted the bridge left alone. Now that this measure has been passed, the question of funding still looms large, with some suggesting a toll on pedestrians and bicyclists.
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Jamaican Black Nationalist leader Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940) famously advanced the “Back to Africa” movement, the intention of which was to encourage people of African ancestry to reclaim the continent as their ancestral homeland. A devout Orthodox Christian, Garvey was deeply dismayed when the nascent Rastafari religious movement sprang up in Jamaica in 1930, inspired by Garvey’s philosophy. Led by fellow Jamaican Leonard Howell, the Rastas declared Garvey a prophet (some Rastas even consider him to be the reincarnation of John the Baptist) and anointed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I the “Black Messiah.” The origin of this belief can be traced to many of Garvey’s afro-centric speeches in the 1920’s, which often included lines such as, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand.” Garvey saw in Selassie an African head of state and someone who could be a major player in the “Back to Africa” movement; but the fledgling Rastafari movement recognized the Emperor as their “Black Messiah.”
The Rastafari movement started amongst impoverished Jamaicans who felt oppressed by white colonial rule and ignored by the powers that be on the island. Rastafari is commonly called “Rastafarianism,” by some academics, but this term is considered belittling and offensive by many Rastas themselves. The Rastas accept both Jesus Christ and Haile Selassie I as incarnations of God, called Jah, and believe that Ethiopians are one of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Rastas are strictly forbidden from cutting (or interfering) with their hair, resulting in the dreadlocks associated with the movement. They revere Ganja (marijuana) as a sacrament which allows for a direct experience of God (often likened to the Christian communion). Followers are expected to eschew meat (especially pork), coffee, salt, tobacco, alcohol and seafood (with an exception for small fish). The Rastafari movement is also strongly associated with reggae music, most notably in the figure of international superstar Bob Marley.
Rastafari scripture includes the “Holy Piby,” an edited Bible that includes some portions of the Hebrew and Christian bibles, and the Kebra Negast, a book that allegedly traces the lineage of Kings from Solomon to Emperor Selassie. Rastas believe that Africa, in particularly Ethiopia, are where Zion, or paradise, shall be created. Long after his coronation as the Rastafari “Black Messiah,” Selassie finally visited Jamaica in 1966, where he advised his followers not to leave Jamaica until it was fully liberated. Selassie died fourteen years later, but many Rastafari believe that he is still alive, and that he faked his death to test the faithful.
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“A book lives longer than a girl,” Vladimir Nabokov once remarked during a lecture to his Cornell students about Gustave Flaubert’s crowning masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857). The same could be said of Gaetano Donizetti’s most famous opera, the blood-soaked and melodramatic opera Lucia di Lammermoor(1835). It is widely agreed that of all of opera’s crazy ladies—of which there are many—the title character’s rambling, hallucinatory 20-minute descent into madness set the gold standard for going bonkers. But it wasn’t only the music world that was taken in by Lucia’s formidable charms. The opera found a second life as part of the plot of some of the greatest works of western literature, including such classics as Leo Tostoy’s Anna Karenina (1877), E.M. Forster’s, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and most notably in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
With the character of Emma Bovary, Flaubert set out to create a woman whose raison d’être is making her life as elaborate a novel as possible, and who is ultimately undone by her inability to bridge the gap between illusion and reality. Finding herself bored and restless in her marriage to a kindly but milquetoast husband, Emma tries to live out her fantasy life by engaging in numerous affairs while racking up considerable debt as a result of her profligate spending habits. After one such love affair ends in disaster, a heartbroken and highly impressionable Emma sees a performance of Lucia di Lammermor, and finds inspiration in the opera’s tragic heroine. The famous Act IV “mad scene” of the opera finds a distraught Lucia forced into a loveless marriage by her brother to a man she loathes, and scorned by her beloved for her “betrayal.” Overwhelmed with despair, Lucia stabs her betrothed to death offstage. She dramatically stumbles back onstage for her famous 20-minute mad scene, wielding the bloody knife that she had just unleashed on her unlucky husband. She wanders the stage, singing back-to-back arias in which she hallucinates that she is marrying her true love and that she is already dead and looking down on her beloved from Heaven. The ordeal proves so traumatizing that she dies from a broken heart the next day.
After being exposed to Lucia Di Lammermor, Emma, “[p]ermits herself to be lulled by the melodies and felt her entire being stirred as if the bows of the violins were passing over her nerve-ends…[L]ucia begged for love, longed for wings. Emma, too, would have liked to flee away from life, locked in a passionate embrace.” Emma adopts the fictional character as her role model and so strongly identifies with the tragic heroine of Lucia that she becomes convinced that the only correct way to respond to heartbreak is to go mad and take her own life. After another failed love affair and panicked over her spiraling debt, Emma swallows arsenic and dies an excruciating death. Even the romance of suicide failed the tragically empty Emma Bovary in the end.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, will be available in stores on October 14. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on Led Zeppelin is from the “Music” section.
The iconic cover of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album (1970), which features a black and white illustration of the Hindenburg airship engulfed in flames, is a reference to the origin of the band’s name itself. Legend has it that when Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and The Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle were discussing the idea of forming a band, Moon joked, “It would probably go over like a lead balloon”. To which Entwistle allegedly quipped, “…a Lead Zeppelin!”
The band unexpectedly met with controversy (and received invaluable media exposure) while they were touring in support of their album in Europe. They had unwitting provoked the ire of the Danish aristocrat Frau Eva von Zeppelin, a direct descendant of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, (dubiously credited with creating the doomed Hindenburg airship), for their use of the ‘Zeppelin’ name. The ensuing hullabaloo began brewing in October of 1969, when Frau von Zeppelin unsuccessfully attempted to get a televised concert featuring the band pulled off the air during an early show in Copenhagen. Her anger finally escalated into full-blown rage when she saw the cover of the album, which she felt was a grievous insult to her family. In a quote widely disseminated throughout the world, she famously said of the band, “[T]hey may be world famous, but four shrieking monkeys are not going to use a privileged family name without permission.”
Frau von Zeppelin’s hostility towards the band continued unabated, finally erupting shortly before their next tour of Denmark in early 1970, when she threatened to sue them unless they agreed to refrain from performing under the name Led Zeppelin while working in the country. While Peter Grant (the band’s manager) initially balked at her demands, the band decided it was in their best interest to prevent further legal wrangling with the fiery aristocrat. As such, Led Zeppelin agreed to play their opening Copenhagen gig under a different name-for one night only.
This savvy decision prompted breathless media speculation about what name they would use for the show. The band thoroughly enjoyed being the subject of this guessing game, especially relishing the widely disseminated theory that they would perform under the name “Ned Zeppelin.” After some discussion, Grant and Page elected to bill themselves The Nobs for their February 28, 1970 Copenhagen concert, a playful pun on the name of their European promoter, Claude Nobs.
Ironically, the controversy with Frau von Zeppelin proved to be a blessing in disguise for the then-fledgling band. The widespread media coverage of the brouhaha attracted legions of new fans with what was widely perceived as an expression of the band’s likability and wit. Moreover, their skilled maneuvering made Frau von Zeppelin’s behavior appear absurd, and she was subsequently roasted by the press for her perceived elitism and bullying behavior towards the band.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, will be available in stores on October 14. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on Clint Eastwood is from the “Personalities” section.
Clint Eastwood’s personal life erupted into scandal when spurned former lover Sondra Locke sued Warner Bros. in 1992 for fraud and contractual interference, claiming that the studio deliberately keep her from directing, producing and acting as a favor to the star. Her lawsuit stemmed from a three-year, $1.5 million “pay or play” development deal she cut with Warner Bros. in 1990, negotiated for her by Eastwood, in exchange for dropping her palimony case against the actor. She alleged that the studio entered into the contract in bad faith, never intending to allow her to develop any of her films. Despite pitching more than 30 projects to the studio during her three-year contract, Warner Bros. never developed any of Locke’s films or offered her any opportunities to direct.
Eastwood and Locke began their tempestuous 14-year relationship when they met on the set of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). They subsequently co-starred together in five films: The Gauntlet (1977), Every Which Way but Loose (1978), Bronco Billy (1978), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and Sudden Impact (1983). Locke maintained that she learned of their breakup in 1989 when she came home to discover that Eastwood had changed the locks of their house and put her belongings in storage. She also asserted that he had coerced her into having two abortions and a tubal ligation. The actor adamantly denied these charges, but his reputation was tarnished when it subsequently surfaced that he had fathered two children, Scott Reeves Eastwood (b. March 21, 1986) and Kathryn Eastwood (b. Feb 2, 1988), with airline hostess Jacelyn Reeves during his relationship with Locke.
Locke filed a $1.3 million palimony suit against her ex, and Eastwood was determined to keep the salacious details of their relationship away from the press. He convinced her to drop the lawsuit, by offering to use his pull with Warner Bros. to secure her now-infamous development contract. It was during a pretrial hearing for the Warner Bros. lawsuit that Locke discovered that Eastwood had financed her entire contract, secretly paying off the studio for keeping her on at the company. This prompted Locke to sue Eastwood for fraud in 1994.
After years of public wrangling, Locke’s lawsuit was settled out of court in 1999. The settlement purportedly provided Locke with a position at Warner Bros., but specifics and monetary amounts were kept strictly hush hush. When asked how she felt about going back to the company that she believes had wronged her, Locke shrugged her shoulders and giggled, “Hey, that’s Hollywood.” For his part, While shooting the best-selling romance novel, The Bridges of Madison County, Eastwood famously quipped, ‘This romantic stuff is really tough. I can’t wait to get back to shooting and killing.’”
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Lenin’s embalmed remains have been on permanent public display in Red Square in Moscow since his death in 1924, in a mausoleum known as “Lenin’s Tomb.” When he died on January 21, 1924, the outpouring of grief was such that more than 10,000 telegrams poured into the Soviet capital, beseeching the government to honor the memory of “Papa Lenin” by embalming his body for the benefit of future generations. This wish was summarily granted, and a small army of pathologists were charged with preserving his long-decrepit corpse in perpetuam, a thankless task faithfully carried out to this day.
Until the collapse of communism in 1991, the procedure and the chemical solutions developed to preserve Lenin’s body–a mixture consisting mostly of glycerol and potassium acetate–were considered top secret and classified by the Kremlin. Indeed, it’s rumored that disintegrated bits of him have been consistently replaced with artificial substances—or that what you see is a complete wax stand-in, secretly installed to replace his decrepit body. However, one glance at Lenin’s pale waxen face and bloated, blue-tinged hands should convince even the most die-hard conspiracy theorist of the authenticity of the corpse. Though he is annually “rejuvenated” by Russian undertakers, Lenin is no Sleeping Beauty. While his dedicated caretakers deserve an A for effort, the decades of preservation efforts have not yielded results that can be mistaken for the lifelike wax likenesses found at Madame Tussad’s…
Ilya Zbarsky, Lenin’s keeper from 1934 to 1952, (he inherited the task from his father) came forward in the early 1990’s to confirm that the body on display is authentic. According to Zbarsky, Lenin is faithfully moisturized and injected with preservatives on a daily basis to prevent decay. Moreover, every eighteen months he is given a special chemical bath consisting of potassium acetate, alcohol, glycerol, distilled water, and quinine (a disinfectant). The sarcophagus is kept at a constant temperature of 61 degrees and kept at a humidity of 80 – 90 percent. Twice weekly, a group of scientists inspect his body for blemishes and gently pat embalming fluid onto his face and hands, the only visible parts of his body (the rest is covered by a suit, with a blanket over his legs).
Ironically, even though Lenin’s empire has since crumbled and few in Russia still espouse his ideology, no one has yet succeeded at laying the long-deceased leader to rest. The last to try was Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation (1991-1999). He intended to close his tomb and inter Lenin during his time in office, but was unable to do so before his resignation on December 31, 1999. Perhaps it is fitting that even in death, the father of Soviet communism did not see even his best laid plans come to pass; he had asked to be buried next to his mother, without a commemorative monument.
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Music04 Oct 2008 10:30 am
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died suddenly on November 6, 1893, a mere nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique. The cause of his mysterious demise has never been conclusively solved, and has remained a source of intense speculation since his death. Most scholars believe that Tchaikovsky died of cholera, probably contracted from drinking contaminated water. They point out that Russian medical records from that time indicate that a cholera epidemic swept through Russia in May 1892, infecting some 504,924 people before finally dying out in February 1986, claiming the lives of 44.9% of the infected.
However, a growing number of scholars have disputed this hypothesis, advancing the theory that Tchaikovsky committed suicide by poisoning himself with arsenic. Some biographers have opined that he was driven to suicide because he was being blackmailed by someone threatening to publicly out him as a homosexual. Another intriguing (albeit incredible) theory alleges that his alma mater, the School of Jurisprudence, put him on trial for his “sexual deviancy” before a court of honor, and ordered to commit suicide.
It is also widely believed that the composer’s profoundly pessimistic and unorthodox final symphony, considered one of his darker and quieter works, was the musical equivalent of a suicide note. The first movement contains a dramatic musical non sequitur, where the theme and tone abruptly changes from a rapidly progressing evolution of the strings to a mysterious and mournful harmonized chorale of trombones. This trombone theme has been an enduring source of curiosity to musicologists because of its unusual placement and seeming irrelevance to the themes of anything proceeding or following it in the piece. In fact, it was taken from the Russian Orthodox Mass for the dead, and is sung to the chilling words, “And may his soul rest with the souls of all the saints.”
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