At 8:20 p.m., the body artist Chris Burden entered a large gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art, did not look at his audience of 400 or more, set a clock for midnight, and lay down on the floor beneath a large sheet of plate glass that was angled against the wall. So commenced on April 11 [1975] a deceptively simple piece of conceptual art that would eventually involve the imaginations of thousands of Chicagoans who had never heard of Burden, would cause the museum to fear for Burden’s life, and would end at a time and in a way that Burden did not remotely anticipate.

As I read this entry from Roger Ebert’s journal, I am standing on a sidewalk in downtown Ottawa, waiting for a bus.

I arrived at the stop at 5:17 p.m. No one else is waiting; I’ve just missed a bus.

[Burden, lying on the floor,] was wearing a Navy blue sweater and pants, and jogging shoes. He let his hands rest easily at his sides and looked up at the ceiling, blinking occasionally. He could not see the clock.

The audience perhaps expected more. There was a pregnant period of silence, about 10 minutes, and when at the end of it nothing else had happened, there were a few loud whistles and sporadic outbursts of clapping. Burden did not react. At various times during the next two hours, audience members tried to approach Burden with advice, greetings, exhortations, and a red carnation. They were politely but firmly kept away by the museum attendants. A girl threw her brassiere at the glass; it was taken away by a smiling guard. At 10:30 p.m., when I left, the crowd had dwindled down to perhaps 100.

There are three bus routes I can take home at the end of a long work day. I prefer this one, because it drops me off closest to my door. On the other hand, it is unreliable during the afternoon rush hour. At other times of day, I never have a problem. But 5:17 p.m., and I’ve just missed a bus? It’s a bad sign.

I consider taking one of the other routes, and decide against it.

I stand. I wait.

At 1:15 a.m., I went to the pay telephone and called Alene [the museum’s publicist]. She said Burden was still on the floor. I said the hell with it and drove back downtown to the museum. Burden had not moved. […]

“He doesn’t move except for what look like isometric flexings,” Alene Valkanas said “He flexes his fingers sometimes, and once in a while you can see his toes flexing.” Burden seemed removed to a great distance. He was not asleep. There was no way to tell if he was in a meditative trance, or had hypnotized himself, or was fully aware of his surroundings. After an hour, I left very quietly, as if from a church.


Homeless hero

What do Faron Hall and Susan Boyle have in common? They both exceeded people’s low expectations of them.

You’ve probably heard of Susan Boyle, whose audition on Britain’s Got Talent shocked everyone. Who would have thought that a homely woman could have a beautiful singing voice?

Faron HallFaron Hall is a homeless, Dakota man who saved the life of a drowning teenager. Who would have thought that a homeless man would risk his own life to save the life of a stranger?

I’m not imagining this. People interviewed on TV were uniformly shocked that a homeless man would emerge as the hero of this life-and-death story. But why?

Aren’t homeless people human beings, the same as you and me? In a crisis, shouldn’t we expect a homeless person to respond as any other human being would respond?

Hall’s story, like Susan Boyle’s, is an example of the halo effect:

People seem not to think of other individuals in mixed terms; instead we seem to see each person as roughly good or roughly bad across all categories of measurement.

The halo effect occurs when our first impression of someone (e.g. a beautiful woman) is positive, and we assume good things about her in other respects. For example, she might impress a prospective employer and receive a job offer despite a weak resume.

The reverse halo effect occurs when our first impression of someone (e.g. a homeless man) is negative. Reflexively we assume there’s no good in him. In Mr. Hall’s case, that would be a big mistake:

Mr. Hall […] was sharing a beer with a friend, Wayne Spence, downriver from the bridge when he heard a loud splash. In a light-hearted mood after a long day of collecting cans, he remembers saying, “Damn, that must have hurt.”

But humour turned to shock when they spotted the teen screaming for help 40 metres out on the fast-moving river. Living life on the margins helped him decided what to do next. “People ignore me,” he says. “But I don’t ignore them. We look out for one another out here.”

He threw off his backpack, kicked off his old black dress shoes and jumped into the chilly water.

“When I got to the kid, he started fighting me,” says Mr. Hall, pointing to a bloody scar on his forehead where the teen socked him. “I had to smack him back, tell him, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you.'” He’d pulled the teen within 20 metres of shore when his adrenalin stalled and fatigue set in. “It’s too damn cold,” he remembers yelling to Mr. Spence, who was standing along the shore.

“You can’t let go, you can make it,” Mr. Spence yelled back, before wading up to his knees in the water to drag his friend and the petrified teen to the shore.


Anxiety dreams

This post of Zayna’s got me thinking about anxiety dreams.

Once upon a time, I was a preacher. I had two anxiety dreams in that distant part of my life that still amuse me.

In the first, I stepped up to the lecturn after one of our elders — an exceptionally tall man — had been speaking. The microphone was way above my head. I kept jumping and jumping, but I just couldn’t grasp it to bring it down to my level.

In the other, I announced the text I was going to preach from, and then tried to turn to it in the Bible. Only I couldn’t find it. I did my best to put a brave face on things:  smiling and saying, “That’s right, it’s just past Isaiah”, or “… just before Paul’s letters” or whatever. Doggedly I flipped the pages one way, and then the other way, but I simply couldn’t find my text. Meanwhile, the entire time I had allotted for the sermon was being consumed with me searching futilely, like someone who had never opened a Bible in his life. Some preacher I was!

Is anyone else inclined to share?

Hannah Wooll, Anxiety Dream(Hannah Wooll, Anxiety Dream)

Fool your ears

This is the first thing I’ve come across in a while that was brief enough to share, but interesting enough to be worth doing so!

Courtesy of Digg, I bring you auditory illusions. For a long while I’ve loved a good visual illusion, but there are so few that seem to circulate that eventually I don’t bother looking any longer. But this was something new, and thrilling, particularly since I tend to be an auditory person sooner than visual.

The article itself is the host to five different intriguing tricks our brain plays on us to help make sense of the world around us. Much like the fact that our eyes retain an afterimage of each brief snapshot of the world to make our vision appear fluid, our ears lend some sort of consistency to the abnormalities of noise around us. All of them are interesting, but the best by far is the first, and so I’m going to post it directly. Be sure to listen to the following video with headphones on!

Local Good Samaritan

This is from the Ottawa Metro (a free daily tabloid). The photo, as indicated, is by James MacLennan.

(Click to enlarge.)


Over on Digg an article has surfaced that deals with an interesting issue:

Counselling and sex therapy charity Relate says it has seen a 40 per cent increase in men who simply cannot be bothered to make love to their wives and partners.

The findings are a world away from just ten years ago, when hardly any men contacted them with a loss of libido. The main sufferers who call its helpline with the problem are generally aged between 30 and 50 and are married.

Peter Bell, Relate’s head of practice, said: “Men used to come to us with impotence – now known as erectile insufficiency – but Viagra has sorted some of that problem. What we have is a lot of men who say, as women did in the 1950s: ‘I can have sex but I do not want to. It’s not rewarding’.

The article then briefly discusses some possible explanations, including depression and gender roles’ shifting.

It’s an interesting conundrum, and the brunt of many a joke over on the Digg page. Within the first couple of comments, two other factors were brought up: Lack of physical attraction, and free pornography.

The first is, of course, a bit ridiculous, but also somewhat unsettling. To hear some 19-year olds saying that 40-year old men aren’t having sex because their wives aren’t “hot” anymore is unsurprising and immature. But it also conveys, I think, a sense of the general societal response to aging. It’s a bad thing to get older, and you can’t possibly be physically attractive, even to people within your own age range! I would say that’s utter rubbish, and certainly hope that as I age I’ll appreciate my wife aging along with me, but the more society enforces that perspective, the more it seems to become prevalent even among those who are getting older.

The free porn is an issue in and of itself, which helps to feed the former issue. If you can access free images of 19-year olds and that’s the age range that’s deigned “most sexy”, then it’s hard to argue that men won’t access those images instead of seeking sex with their partner. But I’m not sure if that’s entirely what’s going on here, since the article argues that men aren’t just stopping sex with their wives, they’re going off sex entirely. Does that include porn? Sexual attraction is a portion of sex, even if it’s not sex itself. The article doesn’t make it clear if they’ve lost that, as well.

Gender roles almost certainly played a role in boosting statistics from years past. The fact that almost no men were seen claiming no need for sex is likely because it would have been considered a failure of the man’s abilities if he were to not be sexually capable. But for such a large portion to be turned off suddenly seems to be the other extreme, and not as easily attributed to shifting identities!

I’d like to see more statistics and a more thought-out piece on the information. But it’s food for thought at least! Perhaps the issue will fade into oblivion; but, until the men get back onto the old saw-horse, there’s likely to be some more speculation in the future!

Snapshot from Victoria Falls

Neighbours of ours are travelling around the world. Here they are at Victoria Falls, Zambia:


They’ve been gone since July seeing China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, then various African states. Currently, they’re somewhere in South America (Peru?) on their way home. They’ll return to Canada in a couple of weeks.

Meantime, we’re experiencing the thrill of looking after their two cats. I must have done something terribly evil in a previous life to get the short end of the stick like this.

But I’m not bitter. Just unspeakably jealous.

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