Happy Birthday, Leonardo

Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Red chalk....
the Renaissance.

The first writing award I ever won was for an “A Day In The Life of Leonardo da Vinci” contest in sixth grade in celebration of da Vinci’s 540th birthday.  Leo is 559 years young today, and he’s still one of my Top 5 All Time Heroes.  Happy Birthday, you amazing, astonishing man.  Please give my regards to Nikola.

yours in humble admiration,

Christopher Cocca

Fighting Air Pollution in 1959 (Historical Document Images)

This is an Operating Certificate for the Hercules Cement Company in Stockertown, issued in 1959 by Lehigh Valley Air Pollution Control and signed by one R. Emmet Doherty.  Since 1970, the R. Emmet Doherty Clean Air Award has been presented to a regional air quality leaders in recognition of their service and of Doherty’s considerable legacy.  Maybe you’ve never heard of him, but not everyone has their own award or their own page on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

Keith Williams, the chairperson of the Lehigh Valley Air Quality Partnership, sent me these images.  It’s something special to see documentation from the early era of air quality control, signed by one of the issue’s most respected pioneers.  Click to enlarge.

Ed Koch and the Afterlife of FDR

Edward I. Koch, mayor of New York City, sports...
not a recent photo.

Christopher Cocca

Ed Koch has a very interesting piece up on RealClearPolitics.  I’m not going to get into the Israel-Palestine debate in this post, but I did want to point out Koch’s religious eclecticism on matters of the hereafter.  I’m not in the business of opining on the eternal fate of people, but I do sympathize with the religious and legislative impulse behind Koch’s placement of FDR in the not-quite-sweet by and by.  Certainly, it feels icky when civic leaders speculate about these kinds of things.  On the other hand, like the Sinead O’Connor piece I posted yesterday, Koch’s essay captures a public figure in raw struggles around faith, life, death, justice, and forgiveness.  You need to know, before reading the excerpt below, that Koch has just described newly-found evidence of FDR’s less than progressive attitude toward the fate of Jewish professionals living in a newly liberated North Africa following World War II.  I’ll also mention that I remember learning about FDR’s rather crass sentiments toward the Jewish members of his own administration in high school.  Yes, I went to high school in the 90’s, but I doubt this was a case of revisionism.  On to Koch:

I appreciate FDR’s contributions to the survival of our country. At the same time, I have never forgiven him for his refusal to grant haven to the 937 Jewish passengers on the SS St. Louis, who after fleeing Nazi Germany had been turned away from Cuba and hovered off the coast of Florida. The passengers were returned to Europe, and many were ultimately murdered in the Nazi concentration camps before World War II ended. I have said that I believe he is not in heaven, but in purgatory, being punished for his abandonment of the Jews. The concept of purgatory is Catholic. I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept. The Casablanca document reinforces my conviction that President Roosevelt was, at heart, not particularly sympathetic to the plight of the Jews.

I’m not sharing this piece to stir up a big debate about FDR’s eternal reward.  But I am very interested in and sympathetic to the way Koch rather nonchalantly identifies himself religiously in the excerpt above. “The concept of purgatory is Catholic.  I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept.”  Period.  I don’t relish the thought of anyone being stuck in purgatory, but I love Koch’s honesty about spiritual beliefs he has chosen, some informed, indelibly, by his inherited Jewishness, others by the pluralistic settings of successive communities and constituencies.

Here and there, I’ve described myself as an eclectic or even provisional Christian.  Even though I am a protestant, traditions from across the wider Christian experience appeal to me in various ways, as does a whole lot of secular philosophy.  This sort of up-front religious navigation strikes me as honest and compelling in ways that weren’t readily accessible to the pilgrims of other eras.


Infographic: Blockbuster For Sale, How Netflix is Like NATO

Blockbuster went up for sale today.  For a while now, I’ve been seeing some funny hacked-by-bankruptcy Blockbuster signs as embattled locations have had neither reason nor resource to change old lights or fix broken letters.

My favorite of these is one that simply says BLOC.  It’s not that the rest of the letters are burned out. It’s just that there are no other letter letters left on that half of the storefront.  I’ve been making the joke for a while that this must make Netflix like NATO.

Because I have other things to do, and because it was a lot of fun, I decided to sum up this thesis in a nifty infographic.  This is my first attempt at an infographic, and I only used public domain/fair use images and iWeb. It’s sort of a hack all the way around.  I put it together earlier today before I knew Blockbuster was officially for sale, so the timing seems right to share.  And please, share and share alike if you dig it.

The End of the Cold War as Summated by “Brands of the World”

When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything: the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks. – Fight Club

We all know that companies (and specifically, the economic polices set forth by mercantilism) played a huge part in the founding of European America.  It’s probably safe to assume with The Narrator that when they run out of stadiums, giant companies will, indeed, have a hand in naming the stars in the next push of industrial expansion.  Behold, friends, The Facebook Nebula.

There’s a reason “branding” has become such a ubiquitous noun-verb in recent years, and it’s obviously tied to our increasing consumption of dynamic visual media.  In a nifty meta-critical move, sites like Brand New and Brands of the World help we consumerist natives remember our lives in corporate logos even as they help curate (you knew it was coming) good and bad design features from which emerging and veteran creatives can draw inspiration or caution.

I’m working on a new infographic for the blog that I hope to put up later today.  During my research, I was struck by the succinct political history implicit in what’s going on here:

Put your shoe on, Nikita.


Considered in light of the grist-milling  Soviet system, “designer: unknown” and “contributor: unknown” become rather chilling political statements.  “Status: Obsolete” heralds the world we still live in:  Soviet weapons and technology still unaccounted for, Soviet scientists still off the grid, regional economies still shaky, but also millions and millions of people more free; in some places, truly, in others by comparison and in degree.  Imperfect, even dangerous as all of this is, we’re reminded again and again that people cognizant of their dignity as human beings will rise to demand that dignity recognized, that sovereignty civilly reckoned with if not yet fully honored.

The CCCP’s obsolescence was as far from inevitable as is the rise of true freedom in Russia even now.  Consider all that remains to be seen as revolution moves through North Africa and possibly beyond.  We have seen freedom ramp up, and if and when it coalesces into free societies and governments, it will be the people that name everything: Free Egypt, Free Tunisia, Free Libya.  Free Iran. What might these emerging societies teach us about our own bondage to the Dutch West India Companies of our day, and to entrenched political attitudes that keep us from the business of prudent, engaged, informed civil life? Might this be the end of the world as we know it?  Let’s hope.


Martian Starbucks by firexbrat via Flickr.