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30 May 2008

Memorial Day 2008 (continued): The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori / What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Click image for larger.

is a huge painting which hangs in the Imperial War Museum in the Lambeth section of London. The American John Singer Sargent had become famous painting beautiful young aristocratic women. When World War One broke out, the British government invited him to the war front in France to paint scenes of the war.

The diagonal ropes in the lower right are the guy ropes of a medical aid tent, toward which a squad of soldiers, blinded by a cloud of poison gas (probably chlorine) is slowly headed, like the Blind Mice. Below, Sargent's studies of the soldiers' faces.

Thanks to Jim Olson for posting Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" to the Memorial Day 2008 post. It's reprinted here, along with Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth."

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" -- "Sweet and proper it is to die for your country" -- is from Virgil's Latin epic poem "The Æneid." Though the story of the mythical Trojan founders of Rome, "The Æneid" was intended as a memorial to the annihilation of three Roman legions under Varus in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany in 9 A.D., a profound shock to Rome's people and the emperor Augustus. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Roman soldiers were killed by a coalition of German tribes led by Arminius.

from Wikipedia:

According to the biographer Suetonius, upon hearing the news, Augustus tore his clothes, refused to cut his hair for months and, for years afterwards, was heard, upon occasion, to moan, "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my Legions!" ("Quinctili Vare, legiones redde!").

From the 2002-2003 exhibit "Anthem for Doomed Youth, Twelve Soldier Poets of the First World War," by the Imperial War Museum:

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918) was born into a prosperous home in Oswestry, but two years later his family was obliged to move to a modest house in Shrewsbury and then to Birkenhead. His mother encouraged his ambitions to restore the standing of the family. From 1911 he worked as a lay assistant to an Oxfordshire vicar, but became increasingly disillusioned with the Church.

When war was declared Owen was in France, where he had been employed as a private tutor. He returned to England and joined the Artists' Rifles in October 1915. He was subsequently commissioned into the Manchester Regiment and was sent to France in December 1916. In April 1917, after a traumatic period of action, He was diagnosed as suffering from shell-shock and was sent back to Britain. At Craiglockhart War Hospital he met Siegfried Sassoon. There, with Sassoon's constructive support, he found his poetic voice, writing such poems as 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'. Owen returned to France in August 1918. He was awarded the Military Cross in October, but was killed in action on 4 November.

His family received the telegram reporting his death as the Armistice bells were sounding in their home town.

~ ~ ~

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

~ ~ ~

Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

26 May 2008

Memorial Day 2008 / 2 poems from Scot and English soldier poets of World War One

Caskets of U.S. military casualties in the War in Iraq return to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware USA. (From Russ Kick's Memory Hole.)

Charles Hamilton Sorley,
a Scot from Aberdeen, was shot through the head and died instantly at age 20, at the Battle of Loos, on Wednesday 13 October 1915. His body was lost, but his kit bag was found and sent home to his family. They found this poem inside it.

When You See Millions
of the Mouthless Dead

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Original text: Charles Hamilton Sorley. Marlborough and other Poems. 4th edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1919: 78 (no. XXXIV). First publication date: 1916. Composition date: 1915. Form: sonnet. Rhyme: ababbabacdcdcd

~ ~ ~

Does it Matter?

by Siegfried Sassoon
from "Counter-Attack and Other Poems," 1918

Does it matter? -- losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter ? -- losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter? -- those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

24 May 2008

PizzaQ! so like, what's this? Be specific, not Vague & Fuzzy

Click, gets a bit bigger.

So like, what is this? 4 slices of square white (no tomato sauce) pizza. Be specific, not Vague & Fuzzy. And I want some answers, it took me a long time to filch & redraw this.

23 May 2008

Fooey, it won't wiggle anymore / Bob's Unhealthy Love for Crazy Old Machines

Yeah yeah, click, gets bigger.

Rats, the wiggle.gif won't wiggle anymore, not here, not on the website I filched it from. Here's 2 still photos of the same wharf at high and low tides. The Bay of Fundy claims the world's greatest tide height differences.

I am sorry to report that standing on the shore watching the tide go out and come in does not compare favorably as a tourist attraction with Niagara Falls.

Not too long ago, I think Abbas
asked for a little more information about some crazy old computing machines which used pulleys and cranks and cables to Predict the Tides.

The first was Lord Kelvin's Analog Tide Predictor (1872). In 1910 two Yanks built a more sophisticated Tide Predictor -- they call it Old Brass Brains -- and I just visited (and PHOTOGRAPHED) it in Maryland.

Watch This Space very soon for more details and nifty images. It's why I bought that disposable (analog 35mm silver-film) camera.

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope this wiggles for you. It's the tide in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, Canada, a town on the Bay of Fundy, which claims it has the world's highest tides -- well, I guess more accurately, the world's greatest difference between Low and High.

The nasty, intimidating, scary crap I had to endure just to get inside the government building where they keep Old Brass Brains in a dark, neglected old storeroom -- well, more about that Horrifying Adventure later. (But the nice young oceanographer who showed me the machine and answered my 7,912 nosy dumb questions was a real treat.)

But it illuminated what I am beginning to suspect is my Unhealthy Overfondness for Strange Old Machines.

So as you watch this crazy wiggle.gif , here's the problem:

Obviously the nice fisherfolk want to know, with considerable accuracy, what time of day and night it's safe to sail in and out of a particular coastal location, and when it's dangerous (or impossible) to sail.

They could get their answers by setting up a water height marker and paying a very bored girl or boy to record the water height minute by minute for a few days or weeks or months. This was probably the state-of-the-art technology for Tide Prediction precise enough for practical sailing well into the 19th Century.

But is there a way to very precisely compute the highs and lows in this animation in a nice dry, warm office thousands of miles away? Without even looking at the water?

Can it be reduced to an entirely mathematical problem, and solved? By pencil and paper and aspirin, or by digital computer?

Or can Gyro Gearloose (a "boffin" in UK jargon, I love that word) build some crazy special-purpose Tide Predictor Machine which will Predict the full cycles of local tides at any coastal location anywhere on Earth? Just by turning a crank?

Watch This Space for some Amazing Answers, with real cool pictures and more animations!

20 May 2008

Does Bob have a future as a commercial artist? logo design for the Altruistic Benevolent Committee of the 4th Church of Suburbia

Click image, I think it gets a little bigger.

My brother is involved up to his eyeballs in a church,
and while I was visiting him in DC, he presented me with a little challenge.

A committee in the church -- I'll call it the Altruistic Benevolent Committee -- needed a logo.

The ABC committee works on issues involving community activism and social justice. Utopian stuff. Helping to make a better community for all the people.

Everybody in the church is super-familiar with the little cartoon symbol for the church, it's been printed on every church document for decades. So I filched it (and colored the windows to reflect the colors of the Rainbow).

But how do you make a picture of community justice and social activism for a better community? And show that the church, and its spirit, and the spirit of its members, are at the center of the committee's activities?

I stole the Sun from a NASA image site. I made the Rainbow from scratch.

Dude -- it's HARD to draw/draft a rainbow! You have no idea! Blood was trickling from my ears and I was gobbling aspirin like M&Ms!

I left out Orange, to keep the Rainbow down to manageable size. The other colors are in the proper Natural Order of the colors of real rainbows. I think.

Anyway, my brother said he loved it and now we have to find out if the members of the ABC love it. Maybe soon it will be wildly familiar to about 1000 people, everybody will know what it is and what it means.

I don't think it's half-bad, considering what they're paying me (U$ Nada).

my beautiful (but CLOSED) 1894 1-lane Iron Bridge / SAVE THE CLEMENT STREET BRIDGE!

Oh yes, please click for larger.

This one -- also a neighborhood feature to fill up my disposable camera -- is very heavily digitally edited.

This is the one-lane iron bridge across the Mill River in Northampton, one of the last 19th-century iron bridges in America. It was built in 1894.

I needed to modify it because the poor thing is CLOSED and blocked and full of BRIDGE CLOSED signs and other ugly barriers.

Nobody in the USA seems to know how to manufacture new replacement pieces for an iron bridge anymore.

Steel -- well, yeah, we can still do some steel stuff.

But Iron -- well, the Iron Age has apparently ended in the USA. You can find little foundaries to make wrought-iron fences and gates for your house or for 19th-century downtown office buildings. But these big iron girders and structural elements -- nobody can do these anymore.

When the Clement Street Bridge is open, it makes a very convenient shortcut from my part of town to the next town, Easthampton.

But over the last 10 years, the poor bridge has been CLOSED more often than it's been open. That adds a detour of about 3 or 4 extra miles to get to Easthampton.

I wish the powers that be -- the City of Northampton, the Massachusetts Highway Department -- would love this beautiful old bridge the way I do, and would finally repair it and put it back to use.

I suppose one of the problems is that the bridge was built for horses and carriages, and can't stand the weight and the load of modern automobiles, trucks and school busses.

When it's open, approaching the bridge and figuring out which car has the right of way, and pulling over to wait for the other car -- it's exactly like driving in the Third World, like rural Mexico or Montserrat since the volcano blew up all the infrastructure.

It crosses the Mill River at a gorgeous spot in the woods that looks exactly like where Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn spend their summertime skinny-dipping and fishing.

You can find newspaper stories about the recent woes and troubles of the Clement Street Bridge HERE.

Fix My Beautiful Old Neighborhood Iron Bridge! Don't let it rust away! Give us another century of pleasure and beauty!

19 May 2008

Hope in a keychain, Hope in a refrigerator magnet, Hope in a mouseclick

Click for larger & clearer.

Purchased at Union Station, Washington DC, at a souvenir shop specializing in political tchatchke. Outside the shop you can be photographed standing next to life-size cutouts of John McCain or Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama (all smiling).

The shop also sells the Hillary Clinton Nutracker/Ballbuster figurine; she crushes small testicle-like spheres between her powerful thighs. (I didn't buy one, I just gawked at this New Achievement in Bad Taste -- even in train station and airport souvenir shops.)

I also bought the t-shirt. Under the US Constitution, we always know when the absolute maximum last second that a president can still bother people and animals and weather and plants. After noon on 20 January 2009, the War in Iraq, Global Climate Change, torture, human rights and freedoms, and a huge volume of other disasters and pooch-screwings imposed on Earth over the past 8 years will, by law, become the hot steaming fly-swarming pile of shit on the desk of either

[ ] Hillary Rodham Clinton
[ ] Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.
[ ] John McCain

I also bought a coffee mug with The Bill of Rights printed on it. When you pour a hot beverage into it, your rights and freedoms disappear.

This company also sells the Bush Countdown Clock in a refrigerator magnet.

Click HERE any instant you like and see the latest precise countdown.

This is not a paid advertisement, I am just happy to point your attention to these t-shirts and battery-operated devices because, as they silently click away the 10ths of a second, they bring me great Pleasure & Hope. Soon this badly educated, vile, lying, ignorant creature can no longer pick up the phone and order the deaths of human beings, soon he can no longer poison Planet Earth and hasten the polar bear toward extinction.

18 May 2008

my neighbor Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?

Click on image for larger, clearer.


In conformity with the federal Truth In Digital Images Act of 2001, Agence-Vleeptron Presse discloses that the new version of this photograph has been digitally edited to remove a gardener, who was leaning over and showing her butt to the photographer.

I filled up the roll of 35mm film in my disposable camera with images in my neighborhood.

This is a 5-year-old statue of the freed slave, anti-slavery activist, and early champion of women's rights, Sojourner Truth, who came to my neighborhood -- Florence, Massachusetts -- to join a pacifist, abolitionist school community in which both genders and all races were equal. She lived in a small house in the village of Florence for the rest of her life, which was the headquarters of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a quite famous and radical community in its day.

Northampton just spontaneously has always had a history of lefty and somewhat Utopian activity. I am constantly surprised at how closely it resembles my vacation planet of Vleeptron (which abolished slavery of human beings and cats and dogs 975,000 years ago).

I just learned an odd bit of trivia about my neighbor S.J. She wasn't a stereotypical slave in the American South. She was born into slavery in New York state, owned by a Dutch-American household, and until she was a young adult, the only language she spoke was Dutch. After a series of sales from owner to owner as New York state was on the verge of abolishing slavery, a Quaker family bought her, freed her, and paid her last owner money to compensate for a year's worth of her slave labor.

The sculptor is Thomas Jay Warren, and I was shocked at how fine a statue it is compared to most modern representational statues I've seen.

The text below is from her famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?", made at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851.

09 May 2008

what's wrong with roasting and eating sailors? / also, Vleeptron is taking a train adventure for a week!

Publicke Notices

Okay! Abbas of Toronto (see his blog link at right) wins the Pizza Slice for knowing where this came from:

"From the land
beyond beyond
From the world
past hope and fear
I bid you, Genie,
now appear."

It was the incantation used to summon the Little Boy Genie in the Lantern from just possibly the greatest movie ever made, "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," by the greatest movie animator of all times, Ray Harryhausen.

(Irrascible Small knew it was a Sinbad flick, but couldn't name which one.)

Look: 7-year-old kids are human beings, too, and "T7VoS" was certainly the high moment of my movie-going life. It took me eight months for my bugged-out eyes to go back into their sockets.

Abbas, you're lucky you saw it in Pakistan. (And triply lucky to have seen it in a Drive-In! What kind of junk food did they serve?) In the UK, the two scenes depicted above in Harryhausen's thrilling sketches were censored and snipped out because the censors felt they were too scary for little kids.

So what's so wrong about showing monsters roasting and eating people? Huh? All a kid cares about is that the monster isn't eating the kid. If the monster is roasting and eating the kid next door, that won't harm the child's fragile developing personality.

Sinbad's duel with the skeleton -- well, there was never anything like it before and there'll never be anything like it again. Luke Skywalker's light saber duel with Darth Vader is like a tawdry two-bit pub fight compared to Sinbad's life-and-death scimitar duel with the leering skeleton on the evil magician's stone spiral staircase.

In an interview, the producer Schneer said they were very lucky to get Kerwin Matthews to play Sinbad, because Matthews had a natural gift for battling monsters which weren't really there during the filming of Sinbad's part of the duels. Most actors just don't know how to look convincing when they're battling nothing.

You can try to dismiss "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" as kid stuff, but you're sooooooo off-base. First, its spirit is fully the spirit of Alf Layla Iwa Layla -- The 1001 Nights, which is my pick for the greatest single work of imaginative fiction and storytelling in all literature. Sad at this moment to contemplate, but this thrilling adventure of Sinbad is set in the glory days of Baghdad when it was the center of Arab power and the blazing moment of world science, art, literature and trade. (And Sorcery!)

And the beating heart of this magnificent flick is the astonishing music score of Bernard Herrmann, most famous for scoring most of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, but he had a field day with Sinbad -- a huge symphonic eruption of lurid, passionate, mysterious danger, dread, anxiety, magic. I think it's tied with Herrmann's magnificent score for "Vertigo." As pure symphonic music, even without the movie, it's a fantastic listening treat for adult or child ear.

Are you all getting the hint? Rent "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" and make some popcorn. You won't have to pretend you're 8 years old again. The movie will take care of everything for you. It will wash the adult sophistication from you in the first five minutes. And your little kid's eyes will bug out. That's a promise.

~ ~ ~

Vleeptron will be sleeping and off-line for about a week, in a few hours Bob is hopping the Amtrak to New Haven and thence to DC (at this historical moment, the capital of the Whacky Loopy Backwards Bush Empire) for a long overdue trip to see Family (often scarier than the Cyclops or the Skeleton).

Received yesterday original art from Uwe von Wedding commemorating the passing from this Dimension to the Next of Dr. Albert Hofmann, I will post it and blather on about That Naughty Stuph when I get back.

Meanwhile wish me luck and fun on what passes for passenger rail service in the United States of America.

Why don't I fly there?

Why don't you hire sailors to beat you up in an alley for nine hours?

Anybody bought Grand Theft Auto IV yet? How is it? Is it The End of Civilization? Are there secret hidden Toon Teen Pixel Virtual Porn Sex Bits in it? This time the Evil Violent Villain is a Euroscum guy from the Slavic East, I think his name is Niko, he needs a shave. Mostly he needs to be arrested and deported. I can't imagine how Homeland Security let him in to this country.

Anybody managed to hear NIN's latest and FREE! download album yet? I'm trying to figure out how to play it in the FLAC lossless audio format. Everybody tells me that will be easy as soon as I take a university course in computer audio software. MP3s suck, I'm not making the Great Leap Backwards in Beautiful Music from CDs to MP3s. The NIN download page claims iTunes will play the FLAC version -- but they're lying.

See you all in a week!

08 May 2008

Euro blotter art / anonymous artist (cause he/she might get busted)

Click for larger. Artist unknown. Typography & text beneath the blotter is mine.

In searching for images to filch for my Albert Hofmann Memorial Quilt, I discovered a huge worldwide underground treasury of Blotter Art -- easily in size and popularity and intense devotion the rival community to the Faux Postage / Mailart community.

Unlike the Mail Artists, almost all Blotter Art is anonymous, because most of the artwork began life as perforated sheets of blotter paper impregnated with tiny but highly effective doses of Dr. Hofmann's naughty "problem child," LSD-25.

LSD, of course, is banned all over Planet Earth for Fun Purposes, and banned for psychiatric therapeutic use, too, so those who manufacture and sell LSD are criminals, and the artists they hire to make their particular batch of LSD distinctive on the market are a little leery about splashing their names all over the sheets of blotter paper destined for the underground commerce.

Living in the USA during the 1960s can give you the false perception that LSD consumed for Fun is an overwhelmingly American Thing. Nope, it's not an American Thing. From the moment the formula leaked out of the Sandoz pharmaceutical laboratories in Switzerland, Europeans have been tossing it down their maw and wiggling to the craziest music and doing the most erratic things exactly like Americans (Northern Californians the most passionately).

This blotter art is Euro stuph, each perforated square will send you

"From the land
beyond beyond

From the world
past hope and fear

I bid you, Genie,
now appear."

(1 slice plain: What movie is that from?)

If you've ever taken some of this Bicycle brand of blotter acid, please Leave A Comment and a product review.

If Americans have any special claim to LSD for Fun, this is due to the pioneering efforts of a Harvard psychology professor, Timothy Leary, who, in his respectable suit-and-tie young professor days, became a test subject for early experiments, and very quickly concluded that LSD was the greatest Happy Gift to insufficiently happy humanity since nude sex. For the rest of his life he became a Loud and Ceaseless Public Prophet for and Champion of LSD, regularly in Deep Shit with the law, and the cultural, musical and political life that exploded into the 1960s would be unimaginable without Leary and a few other like-minded figures at the Center of the Cyclone.

If I got this right, Leary was the first husband of the mother of Uma Thurman, the family stayed close, so Leary was always Uncle Timmy as Uma was growing up. Dad is a professor of Oriental philosophy and religion, I think now at Columbia University.

A world without LSD -- unimaginable. Or imaginable: Colorless, gray, unthrilling, boring, routine, ordinary.

02 May 2008

First Day Issue: Tierra de los Sueños / TdSPosta / Albert Hofmann

As always, click for larger, clearer.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Robert Merkin, All Rights Reserved.

Bob the One-Man-Band from Vleeptron will have more to say about the passing of Dr. Albert Hofmann, but for now this First Day Issue, from Tierra de los Sueños, commemorating Hofmann and his discovery of Lysergic Acid (Sauer, the S in LSD)
Diethylamide-25. That's the Stuff at bottom center of the Quilt, and again, a reflection of my profound ignorance of biochemistry -- how the hell can something with so few atoms do so much so powerfully? How can about 50 atoms create Woodstock and Yoko Ono, and inspire 100,000 people to surround and attempt to levitate the Pentagon with magickal incantations?

The other squares of the Quilt are famous image brands of blotter acid, mostly from California, from the late 1960s to the 1980s.

I wish to express my gratitude to the United States Army and the Vietnam War for arranging the circumstances that first acquainted me with LSD. I am also grateful to Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, some of the Beatles and some of their songs ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," e.g.), and many others for the wonderful background music for these swell adventures into Inner Space.

Oh, hi Timothy Leary!

I can't imagine how gray and colorless those years would have been without the worldwide explosion of imagination, creativity, music, art, and spiritual self-exploration that Dr. Hofmann discovered in his Sandoz research lab.

The Stuff is still around. I keep reading police stories of seizures of LSD hither and yon, although it seems to have descended from the finest college campuses to less prestigious schools, and now has a blue-collar working-class cachet rather than being the handmaiden of the Ivy League.

In "Kids' Greatest Hits," a collection of authentic schoolyard songs of little children by Simpsons creater Matt Groening, this little ditty, to the tune of "Frere Jacques":

Marijuana, marijuana
College kids are makin' it
High school kids are takin' it
Why can't we?
Why can't we?

If you ever went on one of these Inner Space Adventures -- and the Statute of Limitations has expired -- please Leave A Comment. Did it destroy your world? Did it destroy Planet Earth? Was it a worse scourge than the Vietnam War? Was it a worse scourge than the Iraq War? What do you recall of your Adventures? What music were you listening to? Were you wearing clothes? Did you stare at the Sun for hours until you went blind? Did you murder your grandmother? Did you meet and chat with God? Was she overweight?


The Associated Press
(US newswire)
Thursday 1 May 2008

Albert Hofmann,
father of drug LSD,
dies in Switzerland

by Frank Jordans

GENEVA (AP) — Albert Hofmann, the father of the mind-altering drug LSD whose medical discovery inspired — and arguably corrupted — millions in the 1960s hippie generation, has died. He was 102.

Hofmann died Tuesday at his home in Burg im Leimental, said Doris Stuker, a municipal clerk in the village near Basel where Hofmann moved following his retirement in 1971.

For decades after LSD was banned in the late 1960s, Hofmann defended his invention.

"I produced the substance as a medicine. ... It's not my fault if people abused it," he once said.

The Swiss chemist discovered lysergic acid diethylamide-25 in 1938 while studying the medicinal uses of a fungus found on wheat and other grains at the Sandoz pharmaceuticals firm in Basel.

He became the first human guinea pig of the drug when a tiny amount of the substance seeped onto his finger during a laboratory experiment on April 16, 1943.

"I had to leave work for home because I was suddenly hit by a sudden feeling of unease and mild dizziness," he subsequently wrote in a memo to company bosses.

He said his initial experience resulted in "wonderful visions."

"What I was thinking appeared in colors and in pictures," he told a Swiss television network for a program marking his 100th birthday two years ago. "It lasted for a couple of hours and then it disappeared."

Three days later, Hofmann experimented with a larger dose. The result was a horror trip.

"Everything I saw was distorted as in a warped mirror," he said, describing his bicycle ride home. "I had the impression I was rooted to the spot. But my assistant told me we were actually going very fast."

"The substance which I wanted to experiment with took over me. I was filled with an overwhelming fear that I would go crazy. I was transported to a different world, a different time," Hofmann wrote.

Hofmann and his scientific colleagues hoped that LSD would make an important contribution to psychiatric research. The drug exaggerated inner problems and conflicts and thus it was hoped that it might be used to recognize and treat mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

For a time, Sandoz sold LSD 25 under the name Delysid, encouraging doctors to try it themselves. It was one of the strongest drugs in medicine — with just one gram enough to drug an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people for 12 hours.

LSD was elevated to international fame in the late 1950s and 1960s thanks to Harvard professor Timothy Leary who embraced the drug under the slogan "turn on, tune in, drop out."

But away from the psychedelic trips, horror stories emerged about people going on murder sprees or jumping out of windows while hallucinating. Heavy users suffered permanent psychological damage.

The U.S. government banned LSD in 1966 and other countries followed suit.

Hofmann maintained this was unfair, arguing that the drug was not addictive. He repeatedly argued for the ban to be lifted to allow LSD to be used in medical research.

Peter Oehen, a psychiatrist in the Swiss town of Biberist, says substances such as LSD and MDMA — also known as ecstasy — can produce results where conventional psychotherapies fail.

"They help overcome the wall of denial that some patients build up," said Oehen, who met Hofmann and has studied his work.

Hofmann welcomed a decision by Swiss authorities last December to allow LSD to be used in a psychotherapy research project.

"For me, this is a very big wish come true. I always wanted to see LSD get its proper place in medicine," he told Swiss TV at the time.

Hofmann took the drug — purportedly on an occasional basis and out of scientific interest — for several decades.

"LSD can help open your eyes," he once said. "But there are other ways — meditation, dance, music, fasting."

Even so, the self described "father" of LSD readily agreed that the drug was dangerous if in the wrong hands. This was reflected by the title of his 1979 book: "LSD - my problem child."

In it he wrote that, "The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug."

Hofmann retired from Sandoz in 1971 and devoted his time to travel, writing and lectures.

"This is really a high point in my advanced age," Hofmann said at a ceremony in Basel honoring him on his 100th birthday. "You could say it is a consciousness-raising experience without LSD."

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

Associated Press writers Balz Bruppacher in Bern, Eliane Engeler in Geneva and Clare Nullis contributed to this report.

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(This version CORRECTS Corrects sequence of quotes regarding his two LSD experiences; CLARIFIES that authorities authorized LSD in experimental sted of standard psychotherapy; ADDS comment from psychiatrist.)

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