Thursday, December 24, 2009

Green States vs. Blue States

Partisanship, the likes of which we have with modern day US congressional democrats and republicans, has been around for quite a while. The Romans had a long-standing tradition of circus factions identified by their colors. The 'big two' were the blue and green factions, the other two being the red and white. I guess in the US we have donkeys and elephants, but the idea is not new. Below is a rare ancient mosaic of a blue faction member.

Emperors Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Verus, and Commodus supported the greens (note, the greens back then didn't really have the 'tree-hugging' reputation that the green party today has). Caracalla and Vitellius backed the blues (no police reference, the emperors were the police). Marcus Aurelius is on record as having supported neither party, and I think I identify most with him. In truth, the factions were/are set up as a distraction for the masses; a way to make common plebs forget who is really pulling the strings of power.

In no place was this truer than Byzantine Constantinople. There, at the center of the political world were games in the hippodrome. The Constantinople Hippodrome was a horse racing track about 450 meters long and 130 meters wide with occupancy of about 100,000. In other words, think of it like a 1500 year old NASCAR, but with congress, the president and executive and the judicial branches all present.

People were so wrapped up in the goings on within the hippodrome, a civil war within the empire almost started in 532 (Nika Revolt). Speaking of civil wars, hopefully we won't have one against the state of Nebraska because of the residents there not having to pay any Medicare tax at the expense of citizens in the other 49 states in a sleazy vote for payoff deal. I'm pretty sure the rest of the union could probably take those arrogant bastards down in a war, even with their stockpiles of corn.

Regardless of which color faction of the day you might favor... As the current US faction in power is rushing through a massive healthcare mandate that over the holiday behind closed doors, I'll leave you with this thought from Procopius written in his 1500 year old 'History of the Wars'.

"In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowning not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitiution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their 'faction'; for so they name the bands of that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Your Glass is Crass

Seasonal activities have kept me busy as a one fingered feather plucker before Thanksgiving, so I've been a bit lax in recanting the rest of the Italy trip. I'm about to start a few art projects now though and am faced with a dilemna. Maybe some of you can help me out with it.

The subject which I'm doing a mosaic of has very intense purples (violet cobalt manganese oxide pigments), but the only commercially available glass I can find with the color intensity of the object I'm trying to represent would be cobalt blue. So I've been hitting the color theory books and websites, trying to figure out placement or backgrounds that would make intense cobalt blue seem more like a shade of rich purple in context.

Here is an example Roman model boat of a cobalt blue glass in the British Museum from the first century. It's blue, but kind of purple as that glass often is. I like to think that 1900 years ago, someone served gravy from this.

While wading through all of the color theory information, I've come across some examples of how the human mind processes color and shape. Some of these examples involve motion, but many are just how the colors and shapes are processed.

For example, check out lilac chaser on Michael Bach's site.
This guy has collected several other visual phenomenon examples that are fascinating to me.

I'm leaning towards giving the cobalt blue a background of its inverse color in green. Given an unsaturated background of green, because of the way eyes process color with their red and green cones and rods, it should trick the mind into attributing more saturated red in the object done in cobalt blue (which is what I want, to play up the violet elements of the cobalt blue).
What do you guys think?

Another thing that I discovered while pouring over glass chemistry was a complete surprise. Back in the 20th century, they used to make glass with uranium dioxide in it (completely radioactive). This sounds like a horrible cancer causing express train to legal liability, right? Well it turns out that glass is a great radiation shield, so this radioactive glass is not the deadly killer I first suspected it might be.

Shining an ultraviolet light (as above) on glass made like this causes it to flouresce in a manner that even Monty Burns would be proud of. I've now taken to carrying an ultraviolet light with me everywhere to check for *ahem* flourescence.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Carving the Christmas Lamb (Taglio il Agnello di Natale)

This weekend, I thought it would be nice to carve a marble relief of a sheep, since a parent of some neighborhood friends really likes sheep. By like, I mean this lady completely loves sheep to an obsessive and freakish level with sheep images all around her house (not the kind of obsessive and freakish love that people who are making fun of citizens of Arkansas reference).

The carving still needs a bit of clean-up, particularly around the hindquarters, but it looks like it will be ready in time to be a Christmas gift. I was thinking of including a note with it like 'Bah-aahhaaahhh Humbug' or maybe '...ohhh this was a white *elephant* party'.

Speaking of sacrificial lambs, I feel sorry for all the Nebraska college football fans whose team was completely dominated the entire game by the University of Texas team this weekend. It wasn't even close as the kicker made a 46 yard field goal to ensure a healthy 8.3% point total lead to win the game. Nebraska had 12 points.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hot Piece of Glass

Not much new going on around here except work and being nominated for the highly distinguished Drysdale Award for the dullest blog over at Grant Miller Media so vote for me if you aren't too excited and drawn to my blog.

In unrelated news, I'm committing an excellent book to memory, 'The Arts of Antioch: Art Historical and Scientific Approaches to Roman Mosaics and a Catalogue of the Worcester Art Museum Antioch Collection'. This book delves deeply into the chemical makeup of the ancient pieces of the mosaics found in Antioch, or modern Antakya, Turkey.

I might just get a friend with a kiln to cook up some of the recipies that this book has (especially after spending about 800 euro on art glass last month). More importantly though, being able to control every aspect of the glass creation is what I find as the most appealing. Here is the furnace at the Orsoni factory in Venice which I saw in October.

Finding this place in Canneregio was particularly difficult for me because 1) my GPS had the wrong address to begin with, 2) I had to go under the Sottopassageo Vedai, which was basically like a literal hole in the wall down an alleyway, 3) I didn't see any kind of sign other than the little bronze plaque by the doorbell (I blame this problem on US advertising where the signs are all at least human sized for every place of business), 4) I had had a half liter of red wine prior to starting out.

Most people don't know that many ancient Roman mosaics contain quite a bit of opaque colored glass. Usually wind dirt and erosion makes it look kind of like stone. Also, they put so much calcium and lime in some of the colors, it really does look more like a stone-based glass paste than the highly reflective mirrored glass of the Hubble telescope.

As a quick refresher, glass is made by heating up silica (sand), soda as a 'flux' which lowers the required temperature to melt the sand (sodium based, not soda like a coca cola), and lime. Sometimes other elements like calcium, copper sulfates, lead oxide, and stibnite were added to make the glass more opaque or to get certain colors.

The other variable in obtaining the colors is the controlled time that it takes for the glass to cool, or 'annealing'. For reds and oranges, the internal crystals have to grow just right. Several hundred years ago, only certain specialty shops had the knowledge to make red and orange glass. Lawrence Becker who is a co-author on the book above, conjectures that some of the pale blue and green glasses were actually failed attempts at producing finer and more expensive red glasses.

One of these glasses used by the Romans was the 'Natron' based glass, so named because of the place where the soda stone was found in Egypt (Wadi Natron). Did you realize that on the periodic table of elements, sodium is 'Na' because of this? I thought so.

You also have the low magnesium / high potassium glass, or LMHK, which they've traced the source of the soda in this one back to certain plant ash.

For your amusement here is a video of someone pouring a small amount of glass.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be pouring a wine glass for tonight.