October 24, 2007
'Dirt is only matter out of place'
So wrote Virginia Smith in her new book, "Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity."
Holly Brubach reviewed it along with Katherine Ashenburg's "The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History," another book on the subject which, in a perfect example of synchronicity, has just been published.
Wrote Brubach, in this past Sunday's (October 21, 2007) New York Times "T" Style magazine supplement, "Even more surprising is the fact that two books filled with fascinating information on the same subject barely overlap."
I guess there's a lot of dirt out there, what?
But I digress.
Smith's quote about dirt (in the headline up top) continued, "... and is neither 'good' nor 'bad.'"
Ashenburg wrote that "... to risk smelling like a human is a misdemeanor, and the goal is to smell like an exotic fruit... or a cookie."
I'll go with the "exotic fruit," perhaps the one pictured above and below, thank you very much.
Here's Brubach's review.
- Soap Dish
Let me see a show of hands: how many of you were planning on reading a book — no, make that two books — on the subject of cleanliness this fall? Or ever. That’s what I thought.
And neither was I, to be honest. It’s probably safe to say that I take indoor plumbing for granted. I’m glad it exists, but I don’t feel compelled to spend a lot of time contemplating what happened during the preceding 2,000 years that made the tub in my bathroom possible. But that’s where I was wrong. Because, I’m happy to report, both “Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity” (Oxford University Press), by Virginia Smith, and “The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History” (North Point Press), by Katherine Ashenburg, are utterly engaging as guided tours of human history seen through the lens of a single idea. Even more surprising is the fact that two books filled with fascinating information on the same subject barely overlap. Each author approaches the task from her own point of view, and there is evidently plenty of material to go around, leaving the reader with the sense of just how vast a topic this must be.
Smith, for instance, starts from an evolutionary perspective, offering observations of animal behavior and insights into early humans. So much for the notion that cleanliness is a relatively recent invention, with centuries of civilization culminating in antibacterial shower gels and disposable razors. “The famous traveler who froze to death on a Tyrolean pass in c. 3300 B.C.E.,” Smith informs us, a man 25 to 40 years old, was “shaved and beardless, and had recently had his hair cut.” For those of us under the misapprehension that Saturdays at the day spa are a new phenomenon, she sets us straight, with the news that “the cosmetic routine now called ‘pampering’ — baths, aromas, facials, manicures, pedicures, hairstyling and costuming, conducted in sensuous surroundings with or without groups of friends — emerged at both ends of Eurasia during the Bronze Age from c. 4000 B.C.E., along with most of the necessary tools and raw materials.”
Ashenburg, for her part, operates within a more literary frame of reference, mining “The Romance of Flammenca,” Madame de Sévigné’s letters, Thackeray’s novels and others over the course of a lively account in which we learn that: Napoleon spent two hours in a steaming bathtub every morning while an assistant read him newspapers and telegrams; Louis XIV had halitosis; Caucasians possess merocrine sweat glands “in profusion,” while Asians have few or none; and Kotex were first manufactured by a Wisconsin company during World War I as absorbent bandages for Army hospitals in France.
Both accounts tend to bog down when they get to the Middle Ages and religion. Christians, it seems, are unique among religious zealots in their disregard for cleanliness, a phenomenon Ashenburg attributes to a dogmatic refusal to care for the body or even feel comfortable in it, “devaluing the flesh so as to concentrate on the spirit.” For many saints, monks and hermits, dirtiness became a badge of holiness.
In time, science and medicine supplanted superstitions about how disease was transmitted, and a more rational understanding of hygiene took hold. By the 1890s, germs were “the invisible enemy, fought at every turn,” Smith writes, documenting the battlefields in the war on dust and its havens in the Victorian household: velvet curtains, wallpaper, heavy carpeting, ornate upholstered furniture and knickknacks. “Even dress length was affected,” she says, “after domestic science reformers criticized long hems that brushed in the dirt and dust, bringing potential disease from the street directly into the home.” Though Smith never makes the connection, the reader wonders to what extent this concerted attempt to banish germs figured in the genesis of Modernism, with interiors overhauled in sleek, hard surfaces and objects reduced to a minimum. Her announcement that 75 to 80 percent of vacuum-cleaner dirt consists of human skin cells is enough to put some of us off scatter rugs and throw pillows for life.
An honorary fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Smith bases her narrative in Europe, with details of England in particular, although she does lay the credit — or is it the blame? — on America for a handful of important contributions, among them: “the concept of ‘BO’ (body odor),” the introduction of underarm deodorants and the “habit of showering.” In movies and on television, Smith writes, America exported “the hygienic ideals of the affluent American suburbs, including a fervent nouveau riche obsession with domestic and personal cleanliness.” Ashenburg, by contrast, more closely tracks the progress of cleanliness in America and ingeniously links the rise of soap to the growth of the ad industry.
Both authors bring to the task a sense of humor and a forthright willingness to call our prevailing assumptions into question. “Dirt is only matter out of place,” Smith assures us, “and is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ ” Ashenburg marvels at the absurdity of our current standards, which would seem to imply that “to risk smelling like a human is a misdemeanor, and the goal is to smell like an exotic fruit... or a cookie.”
If there’s a moral to be extracted from either of these books, surely it has something to do with the uneasiness that historically has characterized our relationship to our bodies. How to manage the shame, the revulsion, the fears that arise in response to every reminder of the fact that we’re animals — this is the perpetual question, and each era, each culture, finds its own response. Smith tells us that our “primate cousins” spent 10 to 20 percent of their time on grooming, an inordinate commitment, she says, in light of the fact that they also need to find food. It’s a trade-off familiar to anyone who has ever opted for a bikini wax over a trip to the grocery store.
I'm very fond of Mario Buatta's observation that dust protects furniture.
If you ever stop by you'll learn why that's an understatement.
Lumbar Mug — 'You'll always know which mug is yours'
Even in the dark.
From the website:
- Lumbar Mug
Our jumbo-sized lumbar mug makes a great conversation piece and groovy gift.
At home or at work you'll always know which mug is yours.
Just the thing for your favorite orthopod.
Red Trevi — Episode 2: 'It's a resurrection of Andy Warhol, the act of highlighting an object of mass consumption'
Warhol wasn't about trashing existing monuments or objects.
Rather, his world view flattened everything into projections of greater or lesser desire, making their essential emptiness painfully apparent.
Wrote Povoledo, "One day a vandal, the next an artist.... As soon as it was clear that the 18th-century Baroque fountain had not been seriously damaged, intellectuals and art critics began reconsidering the gesture as something nearing genius."
Oh, I see how it is: you wait to see how it turns out, then decide if the act was good or bad.
I think not.
The act is what it was.
To say now, after it's evident that the red dye wasn't an acid that ate holes in the fountain, permanently damaging it, that dumping it was a positive gesture — that of an artist rather than a vandal — is to make the mistake so prevalent in daily life, that of deciding after an outcome that the decision leading to it was good or bad.
There are no good or bad decisions — we make the very best choice possible at the time.
To criticize or find fault with one's judgment after the fact is to open the way to a never ending, lifelong stream of internal questioning and pain.
Likewise, to praise oneself for making a good decision is to take credit for luck and chance happening to smile rather than frown.
Don't be fooled.
To judge retroactively like this implies that you should have been able to see the future — or did see it, yet chose to proceed in a way that wouldn't result in the best possible outcome.
Don't confuse your dreams with what's around you: it does a disservice to both.
Here's a link to a video taken by a security camera of a man in a baseball cap dumping the dye into the fountain (below),
then running away.
Here's the Times story.
Dye in the Trevi: Some Romans See Red, but Others Cry ‘Art!’
One day a vandal, the next an artist. That is the story of the baseball-capped culprit who dumped a bottle of dye into the famed Trevi Fountain here on Friday, turning the waters blood-red for a day.
As soon as it was clear that the 18th-century Baroque fountain had not been seriously damaged, intellectuals and art critics began reconsidering the gesture as something nearing genius.
“Once the indignation had died down, we rediscovered the Fountain of Trevi,” said Roberto D’Agostino, an Italian blogger. “It’s a resurrection of Andy Warhol, the act of highlighting an object of mass consumption.”
A box found near the fountain held leaflets signed “Ftm Futurist Action 2007,” a reference to Futurism, the early 20th-century art movement that advocated a violent break with the past. The fliers said that the act was, in part, a protest of the cost of the Rome Film Fest, which runs until Saturday, and that the color referred to the event’s red carpet.
It is a lackluster festival, said a media critic, Gianluca Nicoletti, “with no depth, no color.”
“The real splash was the one made at a fountain,” he said.
Calling the dyeing a “dramatic representation of the decline of the country,” Mr. Nicoletti said, “it was a marvelous event” that put Rome in the spotlight “at practically zero cost.”
Initial reactions were of outrage and concern, and underlined how exposed Italy’s precious monuments are. Over the years, vandals have damaged dozens of statues, including the Pietà by Michelangelo in the Vatican. A 1993 bombing aimed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence that killed five was attributed to the Mafia.
Anita Ekberg, who took a swim in the fountain for Fellini’s 1960 classic, “La Dolce Vita” [below],
fumed in newspapers that dyeing it was “an offense to Rome’s culture.”
Photographs by tourists and a video captured a man, baseball cap pulled low, flinging the dye and hurrying off. News reports have identified him as Graziano Cecchini [below],
a 54-year-old artist.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, he was asked if he was the man in the photographs. “Who knows?” he answered.
“If it had been me, wink wink, I’d say that this had been a media-savvy operation in the face of a very gray society,” he said.
He said he had taken refuge in an undisclosed location with the photographer Oliviero Toscani, known for his bold, iconoclastic work for Benetton clothing.
“We see the same thing,” he said, citing a comment by Mr. Toscani about the fountain’s new color in the newspaper Corriere della Sera, “Rome that’s still menstruating, Rome that has not entered menopause yet, can still have children, is still fertile.”
The Six Thousand — and why you're not one of them
I looked back through the archives all the way to the beginning and was relieved to find that I wasn't among the good and the great appearing there.
So you know Cliff's list has to be good.
But I digress.
I did note that two of the individuals cited — Xeni Jardin and Lisa Randall — I have indeed met online.
5,998 to go.
At this rate Ray Kurzweil had better be right.
Kathleen Egan explains why she can't resist these shoes
Her short mea culpa in the October 21, 2007 New York Times Magazine Style "T" supplement was hilarious, and follows.
- Heel, Girl — What Would Imelda Say?
I was born with poor judgement, the way others are born color-blind or without a sense of rhythm. I once fell in love with a man because he had no ambition, which I found refreshing. I am no better with things than with people. I’ve purchased worthless exercise equipment advertised on late-night infomercials that take up more closet space than my clothes. I once bought a pair of silver sneakers that would look good only in space. I purchased a Marc Jacobs shirt with no buttons just because I got it for a really good price. I have yet to replace the buttons. I own a pair of Kelly-green corduroys. Need I say more? Although I am aware of my disability, I can’t help but gravitate toward these Christian Dior shoes. They call to the Carmen Miranda in me. They are candy-apple red. They match nothing in my wardrobe. With that precarious heel, a tumble in these spine wranglers could lead to a life confined to a wheelchair. And what of the damage they can do to others? I will probably fall while walking down Fifth Avenue and, feet in the air, manage to gouge out the eye of a small child with the knifelike stiletto heel. It is one of Madonna’s kids. Great. Now we will never be best friends.
Heavy Duty Cam Action Suction Hook
A lot of tech bang for the buck.
From the website:
- Suction Hook
This is a dramatic improvement over the unreliable hooks commonly available.
Its cam mechanism provides a surprising amount of suction, firmly attaching it to any smooth, non-porous surface, such as glass, tile, metal or plastic, and allows you to release and reposition it easily — but only when you want to!
Though originally developed for use in bathrooms, it is equally useful in kitchens, laundry rooms, offices, workshops, or anywhere storage is needed and you have a suitably smooth surface.
Made in France, the hook is 2" long and has a 3" projection.
Weight capacity is 22 lb (10kg).
De-Icing the Kicker*
You read it here first.
It's my term for this NFL season's new practice of a coach calling a timeout a split-second before the opposing team snaps the ball for a field goal attempt.
Judy Battista wrote about the annoying, very fan-unfriendly tactic in a story which appeared in the October 21, 2007 New York Times.
You can read it if you like below; me, I just wanted to claim the term I invented.
- Icing Kicker: New Tactic Has Drawn Double Take
Jay Feely can appreciate opponents trying to throw kickers into a mental tailspin as much as anybody.
Two years ago, when Feely kicked for the Giants, he heard creepy music as he prepared to attempt a game-winning field goal in overtime of a critical game in Philadelphia. The Eagles had called a timeout to give Feely extra time to think about his kick and presumably to catch a glimpse of the big screen, which was showing a video montage chronicling the three game-winning field-goal attempts he had missed two weeks earlier in Seattle. Feely kept his head down and made the kick to beat the Eagles.
“I thought it was pretty ingenious,” Feely said. “City of Brotherly Love and all.”
But Feely is not a fan of a new fad in which coaches are calling timeout from the sideline to freeze a kicker a split-second before the ball is snapped.
“I understand the strategy,” Feely said. “At the same time, there are a lot of plays that the N.F.L. has outlawed because they say it is deceptive in nature. I think this falls under the same category. It’s deceptive.”
It has also been somewhat successful, which undoubtedly accounts for its recent popularity.
Old-fashioned icing has been around ever since somebody realized kickers are a quirky lot. But Denver Coach Mike Shanahan introduced the N.F.L. to the new wrinkle in the second week of the season.
As Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski lined up for a game-winning attempt, Shanahan sidled up to an official on the sideline to tell him he was going to call a timeout. Then Shanahan waited until Janikowski looked up for the snap of the ball before calling it.
Because the call came from the sideline, the players did not realize there was a timeout until the ball had been snapped. Janikowski made the kick, but it was waved off. The rekick ricocheted off an upright, the Broncos eventually won the game and a fad was born.
Shanahan has never said how the tactic evolved, but it might have come from Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick, a friend of his who last year successfully iced the Colorado kicker at the last second.
And Shanahan inspired Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin, who a week after Oakland lost to the Broncos, used the tactic to freeze Browns kicker Phil Dawson. The Raiders won the game.
“I learned that from Mike,” Kiffin said later. “Thanks, Mike.”
Now the tactic has spread like a rash. Florida Coach Urban Meyer tried it, but Auburn kicker Wes Byrum made a 43-yard game-winner after his initial, successful attempt was waved off. And, in a widely played highlight, Buffalo Bills Coach Dick Jauron attempted to freeze the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie kicker, Nick Folk, as he lined up for a 53-yard attempt at the end of an epic Monday night game. Folk made the kick, not once, but twice, which left Coach Wade Phillips delighted with the victory and furious about what he considered an unfair strategy. Phillips, however, acknowledged that he might do the same thing in the same situation.
Phillips is not alone in his ambivalence. Coaches and owners have called the league office to express their reservations about using timeouts in such a fashion, even though the N.F.L. rule book was changed in 2004 to allow coaches to call timeouts from the sideline so they did not have to waste precious seconds relaying a timeout to a player. (The N.C.A.A. has the same rule.) Most kickers are clearly not thrilled, either.
The Giants co-owner John Mara, a member of the N.F.L.’s competition committee, said the committee would probably review the rule and propose a tweak after this season.
Mike Pereira, the N.F.L.’s head of officiating, said: “It’s the unintended consequence of a good rule change. I don’t think any of us projected it would be used this way. It just doesn’t seem right.”
The most likely change would be to prohibit the calling of a timeout after the kicking team is set and the linemen are in their three-point stance.
That would still permit coaches to call timeouts to freeze kickers the traditional way, as they run onto the field or start counting off the steps for a kick.
For a rule change to take effect, 24 of the 32 owners must vote for it.
“The next thing you’ll see is a coach walking up to the official and acting like he’s going to call it, and then he doesn’t do it,” Mara said. “Do we want to have that in the game? I don’t really like the way it looks, to have the kicker kick the ball and you think the game is over and the players run out onto the field celebrating and it’s, ‘Wait a minute,’ and you’re lining up again.
“We have other sportsmanship issues we have had to deal with — taunting, excessive celebrations — and this just adds a whole other level to it.”
The N.F.L. could also hope the trick dies a natural death when the seemingly inevitable happens: a coach calls a timeout but the waved-off field goal misses, and the second attempt is successful.
That is not so far-fetched. Even traditional icing, designed to make kickers think about the significance of their kick for a couple of long minutes, may not be as successful as fans assume, in part because it is widely expected by nearly everyone in a stadium.
Scott Berry, a statistician and the former chairman of the Statistics in Sports section of the American Statistical Association, studied every field-goal attempt made in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
His conclusion was that icing probably worked, but its effect is mostly noticeable only on kicks of reasonable difficulty, say from 40 to 55 yards. At those distances when a timeout is called, the probability of the kicker making the attempt drops about 10 percent. So if a kicker is usually successful on those kicks 75 percent of the time, icing might mean he is successful just 65 percent.
On shorter kicks, the effect is negligible.
“Most people would say that’s not much of an effect,” Berry said. “Our conclusion was if you’re using the timeout that you might otherwise use to stop the clock, you’d be crazy to use it.”
Feely said icing might help kickers, particularly veterans, because it gives them a few extra minutes to gather themselves.
Opponents tried to freeze the former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri in two of the most famous pressure field-goal attempts in N.F.L. history: the overtime kick during a blizzard in a playoff game between the Raiders and the Patriots in 2002, and the game-winning field goal in the 2004 Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Panthers.
Vinatieri made both. No wonder he doesn’t have a problem with the last-second timeout.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Vinatieri said. “We have to be able to reload and do it again. Anything that makes it easier for kickers I’m all for. But I don’t think changing that rule is going to help.”
It is too soon to know if the icing effect applies to the last-second timeout, but it also stands to reason that making a kicker attempt a field goal twice could swing the advantage to the kicker. He gets what is essentially a practice kick, which should help him gauge wind and footing conditions. That may be like giving Tiger Woods a practice drive.
“That sounds great in theory, but you have the relief of it going through and then it’s, ‘Oh gosh, I have to do it again?’” said Eagles kicker David Akers, an otherwise extremely accurate kicker with a history of missed kicks at Giants Stadium.
“But I hope they do that against me at Giants Stadium. I’ll take the practice kick up there.”
*Why "de-icing" as opposed to "re-icing?"
Two (actually, three, now that I think about it) reasons:
1) The opposing team may have already called a time-out to ice the kicker; thus, once he lines up and even attempts a field goal after the second time-out is called from the opposing sideline (unbeknownst to him and his team) just before the ball is snapped, he suffers a letdown — especially if he's made the initial attempt. In other words, having been iced, he's now thawed — or de-iced.
2) Re-icing doesn't have much pizazz.
3) Back when I was growing up in Milwaukee, a ubiquitous antifreeze commercial had the tag line, "My advice sir, get De-Icer." We modified it to "My advice sir, drink De-Icer." Maybe you had to be there.
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
I'll blow it up.