Tuesday, February 26, 2019

THE CURE IS IMMEDIATE: patent medicine in the 1800s

Birthday at The Keg!

Elizabeth Holmes: She-wolf of Wall Street


Elizabeth Holmes, a blonde woman with an army of black turtlenecks who at least one person has described as someone who “absolutely has sociopathic tendencies,” has been known to lie. Her company Theranos—which she claimed was capable of running hundreds, if not thousands, of diagnostic medical tests with a single drop of blood—gave patients fake test results for years. Holmes deceived investors to drum up a $9 billion valuation for the company. She could not answer a number of questions in her 2017 deposition, as she was being investigated by the SEC for fraud.

She also reportedly likes to lie about what kind of dog she has. Holmes bought her Siberian husky in 2017, according to Vanity Fair, when things were really bad at Theranos. She named him Balto, as in, yes, the beloved sweet boy who saved lives during a 1925 diptheria outbreak by delivering antitoxins to a small town in Alaska. The dog was more of a brand-building exercise for Holmes than a four-legged best friend:

The metaphorical connection was obvious. In Holmes’s telling, Balto’s perseverance mirrored her own. His voyage with the life-changing drug was not so different from her ambition.

Which was extremely useful to Holmes:

In an industry full of oddballs, Holmes—a blonde WASP from the D.C. area—seemed hell-bent on cultivating a reputation as an iconoclastic weirdo. Having Balto seemed to help fortify the image.

And was even more helpful when she lied and told anyone who’d listen that Balto was a wolf:

Around this same time, Holmes says that she discovered that Balto—like most huskies—had a tiny trace of wolf origin. Henceforth, she decided that Balto wasn’t really a dog, but rather a wolf. In meetings, at caf├ęs, whenever anyone stopped to pet the pup and ask his breed, Holmes soberly replied, “He’s a wolf.”

But we mustn’t look down on Balto for the actions of his owner, for he had no control over what Holmes said or did. He did, however, poop all over the Theranos office, and for that, we can say Balto really is a true American hero and has a nose for the morally right thing to do:

Holmes brushed it off when the scientists protested that the dog hair could contaminate samples [...] Accustomed to the undomesticated life, Balto frequently urinated and defecated at will throughout Theranos headquarters.

I hope Balto has a nice life, whether that’s with Holmes (who still tells people he’s a wolf), or perhaps, I don’t know, with me, a person who would love a dog and would never dramatize aspects of their genetic background to make myself look cooler. Just saying! Godspeed, Balto.

- Frida Garza, Jezebel

Monday, February 25, 2019

At home with the unhappy bride

Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis at HOME 

(transcript of article)

Intimate glimpse of the Lloyds at their new and ornamental home which Harold built especially for Mildred, his bride

by Grace Kingsley

I was dashed up to the house in Annie.

If there is anything I do love, it is being dashed up.

Annie is short for anniversary, She is a new sport model roadster given by Harold Lloyd to his bride, Mildred, three months from the day they were married. They give each other presents every month, and call the day their "anniversary". Next anniversary, Harold is to give Mildred a solid gold vanity case.

"What do you give Harold?" I asked Mildred, after I was inside the house, and everything was explained to me.

"Oh, things I want for the house!" explained Mildred with her airy little laugh.

Mildred is looking lovely these days - a fit gem for that beautiful big house of theirs - built for Mildred especially, and according to the plans she selected. So if the sideboard and the closets aren't just right, she has no one to blame but herself.

It is a very big house for such a little girl - but bright, high, airy, luxurious without being heavy is the way - and so homey, somehow!

If there are any such things as human vibrations, they surely exist in this love nest. You feel just that sort of exhilaration suitable to a honeymoon house, the moment you enter the place.

Mildred welcomed me. Harold is a hard-working husband, and hadn't come home yet.

"Why, Harold gets up at five in the morning, and doesn't get home until six at night!" exclaimed Mildred.

"And are artists really temperamental to live with?" I asked.

Mildred looked awfully earnest - for her.

"Oh, nobody can know how untemperamental and kind and thoughtful Harold is who hasn't lived with him," she answered fervently.

But with all her happiness - Mildred wants to go back to the films.

"I see all the other girls getting ahead," she said, "and I want to, too, I'm getting way behind. Don't you think that if a woman has ever used her brains and her talents, it is hard to give up her work?" she asked wistfully. I agreed with her, even though way down deep in my heart, I felt just a wee bit of sympathy, too, with Harold in his desire that Mildred should be content as a housewife.

"You see, Harold tries to tempt me with boxes of candy," laughed Mildred, "but I've gone on my diet," she added resolutely, "just a lamb chop and a bit of pineapple three times a day. Oh, I can't look a little lamb in the face these days, and I begin to pine the moment I look at a pineapple. I'm taking more slimming baths, too."

"And Harold is going to give his consent to you going into pictures?" I asked.

"Yes! I don't know what happened to Harold. I think somebody must have been talking to him. Maybe it was Douglas Fairbanks. Anyway, Harold came home one day and said he wouldn't stand in my way - that in after years I might blame him if he hadn't given me my chance. 'Dearie,'  he said, 'I don't want you to feel, when we get older, that I have stood in your way.' That was awfully nice of him, wasn't it?"

Still, it would appear that while Harold is quite in sympathy in general with Mildred's film aspirations, when any particular offer comes it is wrong, in one way or another. So I have my suspicions - just suspicions, mind you - that Harold is playing a very canny game - telling Mildred she may return to the screen, but sort of waiting until he can take her to Europe and get her mind off her career.

But goodness knows, I wouldn't crimp his game for anything!

They are going ahead, Harold and Mildred, next April, you know. It is all quite thoroughly settled about that. They are going merely to Europe however, and are reserving Asia and  Africa for a later date.

It was just as Mildred was telling me all about it, that Harold came in after his day's work.

Mildred is still a new enough bride to fling herself into her husband's arms when he comes home at night, and Harold is a (end of page).

BLOGGER'S NOTES.  When I first saw this page from a 1923 magazine story about Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis, blissfully cohabiting in their new "honeymoon" home, I thought: OK then, can I blow it up? Will this flyspeck type yield anything useful? Meaning: if I enlarged it enough, could I get a transcript? Turned out I could (though it took forever, and I had to guess at some words).

At first it just seemed like the normal Hollywood promotional piece, the two newlyweds settling into their elegant-but-"homey" new home - but then I thought, wait. Mildred was being portrayed as some sort of featherbrained, breathless little girl, with some truly insulting phrases being used to describe her: "Mildred looked awfully earnest - for her." "It is a very big house for such a little girl." "So if the sideboards and closets aren't just right, she has no one to blame but herself." And as for the two "lovebirds", Harold, as it turns out, isn't even home. He gets up for work at 5:00 a.m., then disappears until he comes home at 6:00 p.m. (presumably to have his dinner). In this story he's a no-show, a non-entity, though Mildred refers to him constantly.

While assuring us all that Mildred is perfectly happy in her new home, the writer of the piece reveals something kind of heartbreaking: Mildred says she misses being in films, is afraid she's falling behind, and wants to ask Harold for permission to jump back in. Harold has sneakily appeared to give his consent (which, of course, she needs to do anything at all), all the while planning to whisk her off to Europe to take her mind off the whole thing.

And that's not counting the boxes of candy he plies her with to ruin her actress's figure. But the truly ridiculous line in this phony-baloney puff piece is her "diet" of lamb with pineapple. "Oh, I can't look a little lamb in the face these days, and I begin to pine the moment I look at a pineapple."

OH. . . COME. . . ON.

This is not a real interview. This person, this "Grace Kingsley", has never been anywhere near the huge, pretentious, elegantly excessive sprawl known as Greenacres (and you'll notice Kingsley never even mentions it by name, or gives more than the sketchiest of generic descriptions). 

The only part that seems to ring true is the saddest part: "Don't you think that if a woman has ever used her brains and her talents, it is hard to give up her work?" The interviewer ponders what she has said. "I agreed with her, even though way down deep in my heart, I felt just a wee bit of sympathy, too, with Harold in his desire that Mildred should be content as a housewife."

Should. Content. Housewife. 

Worst of all is that Mildred is given absolutely no credit for the amazing career she built for herself pre-Harold. Her well-established performing talent and luminous camera presence explain why he purposely approached her to be his next leading lady. That sort of stellar opportunity doesn't come along unless you are well prepared for it.

After I had transcribed this, the whole thing began to clang.  "Grace Kingsley" could be anyone, because I do not believe for one minute that he or she ever TALKED to Mildred Davis (whom no one ever called Mildred - she was always Mid or Molly). This person, whom I suspect was male, never took the trouble to drive up that monstrous hill to Greenacres, but just cobbled together bits of information from "sources" such as rumor, hearsay and other magazines. Photos of the couple at Greenacres were ubiquitous. As for Mildred's "contentment" and willingness to give up a brilliant film career, all that was soon to be taken out of her hands. In their innermost circle, it was known that the two "had to get married": Harold had knocked up his co-star and was required to marry her to save face.  Mostly his.

I don't know what to say about all this, and I don't want to say anything at all about the worst of it. Just that the truth seems to be too harsh for fans to take, then as now. Who was there to blow the whistle on Grace Kingsley? He or she was just doing his/her job. For all I know, this person DID go to Greenacres and hear Mildred prattle on about a little lamb. But somehow, the whole thing just seems too contrived to be believable.   

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Choo Choo via Louis Wain

Some favorite images of my beloved Choo Choo from Top Cat, 
magically melded together with paintings by Louis Wain.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The greatest flesh producer of the age

I have nothing to say about this, except that if this pill were available now and did the OPPOSITE of what it was supposed to do, it would be selling millions, if not billions of bottles online. There must have been a lot of skinny people back in the days of patent medicine. Being beefy (forgive the pun) and filled-out was the desirable thing, perhaps to dispel the horror of an untreatable, wasting sickness like cancer or tuberculosis. Then you'd at least have "flesh" to live on. 
"Rounds out the figure and gives strength to the whole system" is the giveaway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Having said all that. . . (Further thoughts on Louis Wain)

Having said all that about Louis Wain and his genius cat paintings, I have to confess that there is one that truly scares the hell out of me.

It's this one.

Maybe it's the vaguely "cattiform" nature of it - just barely - and the expression, most uncatlike, like some hideous grinning clown from hell with gaping mouth and pinwheel eyes. Or is it something else?

If you look at this painting closely, it's incredible. Each detail is wrought with extreme care. The colours are glorious, the pattern full of motion as the golden sprays splash upwards. Taken as an abstract with no natural reference, it's amazing. It's only when you pull back to look at the whole that it becomes disturbing. 

Had Wain not been chiefly a painter of cats, this might have been seen very differently. But he DID paint cats, and at some point this painting represented - I think - a cat, or was it merely some bizarre "cattiform" fractal a century ahead of its time?

We'll never know, but one thing that REALLY disturbed me was that, not once but twice, I saw this painting displayed on the internet THE WRONG WAY. In one of those godawful cubic sequential things, with this one near "the end" (when he went crazy, which meant his life was, of course, over), this painting was displayed UPSIDE-DOWN. I could not believe what I was seeing, because even with its extreme abstractness, it definitely has the general features of his cats. The ears are the ears, the eyes are the eyes, disturbing or not. The mouth does suggest the fierceness of a cat's wide-open mouth when all the teeth show.  But someone put together a sequence of his work, which was probably not even a sequence at all, with this painting upside-down, like that famous Matisse in the Museum of Modern Art which hung that way for years.


                                   Right way.


                               Wrong way. I think.

But that wasn't the end of it. Looking for a good example of a print, I found the same painting displayed SIDEWAYS. No, I am not kidding! This was on a site offering pristine Wain prints, and even a few originals. And they let it fall on its ear.

If I ever needed proof that no one understands Wain and his cats, I have it, but it's so sad. Revile him if you will, be afraid or scornful of his "madness" and write him off as a whack job, but for God's sake, please, display his paintings right-side-up. Really, is that so much to ask?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Louis Wain: a cat's a cat

I think I was in my teens when I first encountered the enigmatic, provocative cat paintings of Louis Wain. Throughout his life he was moved to represent his beloved cats in a wide variety of artistic styles, including a highly abstract form which was so original and unknown that it sometimes scared the hell out of people. As is so often the case, fear and ignorance hardened the public's  perception of the artist into a distorted and only partially-true stereotype.

Thus a brilliant and inspired, not to mention significant, contributor to 19th century art was jammed into a box of conventional belief and nailed there, a condition made infinitely worse by constant replication on that mindless Xerox machine of a communications system, the internet. So how much of it is actually true?

When I was about 16, I remember reading  a Time-Life coffee table book called The Mind which was full of (I realize now) ridiculous, stigmatizing untruths about mental disorders. Wain was used as a classic case of "the tragedy of mental illness", with his charming magazine cats slowly and hideously devolving into foul fiends from hell: surely, the authors claimed, a sign that Wain had gone irreversibly "mad".

This "madness" was labelled "schizophrenia", at a time when 90% of the population would define the term as "a split personality". Nobody who wrote about this had the first idea what they were talking about, but all at once Wain's work was cemented in a sort of immutable chronology, with the most representative and realistic cats at the beginning, followed by the whimsically naughty greeting-card-style cats, then those oddball wildly-colored-and-patterned things, and finally, the horrendous, scary, oh-my-we-don't-like-that-one cats trailing along at the end. This was proof positive that not only had Wain gone mad,  his very art had slowly but relentlessly deteriorated from drawing-room respectability into something no decent person would ever want to look at.

There is biographical evidence that Wain WAS sometimes difficult to deal with, even antisocial, and could be "inappropriate" (which in Edwardian times was almost synonymous with being a "madman"), and spent some time in an asylum when his sisters had had enough of his strange ideas and angry acting out. As in too many cases, he landed there in part because his funds had run out and he had nowhere else to go. For as time went on, his charming anthropomorphic cats went out of style, as everything else eventually does. 

Because he was an artist in his soul and not just an illustrator, Wain kept on painting, even while hospitalized - and yes, he DID paint his cats in a tremendous variety of styles, from the most purr-rumbling, paw-kneading, whiskery realism to the most wildly, even disturbingly abstract - but none of these works was ever dated. Thus there is no evidence at all that as his mind supposedly deteriorated, his conventional cats relentlessly and sequentially devolved from whimsical creatures to bizarre psychedelic ones, to (finally) those dreadful Satanic figures that barely resembled cats at all.

Art historians who have actually taken the time to research his life have concluded that Wain was likely not a schizophrenic at all, but may have lived with another condition that was even less understood. We now know much more about autism and Asperger syndrome and the many gradations of it, and are even beginning to unlock its artistic/creative significance. From existing records, it is likely he painted his conventional cats in parallel with the wildly imaginitive, even disturbing-looking cats he became famous for. Yes, he probably DID experience a chronic mental or perhaps social liability that sometimes separated him from his fellow humans. But he never once gave up on his beloved cats, portraying them in every conceivable manner, with a few that were so startlingly original that no one knew what to make of them. They just didn't fit anywhere. Happens sometimes with these artist types, as with that other fellow. . . you know, the "madman" who painted all those sunflowers.

The little arrangement I give you here is NOT in any kind of chronology. Nor is it completely random. These cats are here because I like them. The more extreme ones aren't here, not because I dislike them but because they're already getting enough (if not too much) play on websites called Psychedelic Cats! and Wain's Schizo Cats. Each inevitably includes a rectangular diagram cut into squares, with each cube representing a stage of successive deterioration rather than a phase of inspiration. I even found a few paintings with labels like "early stages". Obviously, Wain's originality was a sign of sickness. We are still poking the madman with sharp sticks.

Anyway, as I sigh in my usual  exasperation at what a lot of ignorant lunkheads human beings are, I found this snippet on an art site, and it clarified things a little bit for me. 

"Dr. Michael Fitzgerald disputes the claim of schizophrenia, indicating Wain more than likely had Asperger syndrome (AS). Of particular note, Fitzgerald indicates that while Wain’s art takes on a more abstract nature as he grew older, his technique and skill as a painter did not diminish as one would expect from a schizophrenic. Moreover, elements of visual agnosia are demonstrated in his painting, a key element in some cases of AS. If Wain had visual agnosia, it may have manifested itself merely as an extreme attention to detail.

A series of five of his paintings is commonly used as an example in psychology textbooks to putatively show the change in his style as his psychological condition deteriorated. However, it is not known if these works were created in the order usually presented, as Wain did not date them. Rodney Dale, author of Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, has criticised the belief that the five paintings can be used as an example of Wain’s deteriorating mental health, writing: “Wain experimented with patterns and cats, and even quite late in life was still producing conventional cat pictures, perhaps 10 years after his [supposedly] ‘later’ productions which are patterns rather than cats.”

H. G. Wells said of him, “He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

His work is now highly collectible but care is needed as forgeries are common."