Marathon Woman

Kathrine Switzer: Changing the face of sports

Peter Hadzipetros, CBC News

April 19, 1967. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in the early stages of their march to their most recent Stanley Cup championship. Expo 67 was preparing to open its doors in Montreal to what would turn out to be 50 million visitors celebrating Canada’s centennial. And south of the border, a 20-year-old college student was lining up with the men, preparing to do the unheard of — to become the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon.

Katherine Switzer

They said it couldn’t be done, that women weren’t built to go the distance. The rules of the marathon didn’t expressly forbid women from entering — but there were no races longer than ½ miles (2.4 kilometres) that were open to women. A year earlier, Roberta Gibb hid in the bushes near the start line and ran the race as a bandit. But in 1967, K.V. Switzer trained hard and signed up for the Boston Marathon. Kathrine Switzer followed the rules and earned a bib number. …
What were some of the excuses they would make for not allowing women to take part?

If a woman ran more than a mile and a half, she’s going to get big hairy legs, her uterus is going to fall out, she’s going to grow a mustache and turn into a guy and never have children. Or we’re simply too fragile and something might happen to us — in the long term. That really was a bad one. It was inappropriate to run with men — that’s so stupid. People had bought into the three thousand years of myth about women’s passivity and weakness. I thought that was a whole lot of garbage because I came from pioneering stock, you know. My family came to the U.S. in 1737, so we were real tough stuff. The women in our family, certainly they were feminine and they were womanly, but they were no chickens.

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Houses of cards …

Bryan Berg, cardstacker

Bryan Berg

Bryan Berg makes fantastic card architecture. Formally trained as a designer and architect, Berg holds several Guinness World Records for houses of cards. He landed his first one at 17 when he built a 14 foot, 6 inch tall tower. His most recent record-holding tower is more than 25 feet tall.

Bryan Berg Cathedral Bryan Berg Capital

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Judith Leyster, the Dutch Lodestar

Judith Leyster

Here’s a woman who looks delighted to be doing what she’s doing …

Judith Leyster (1609-1660) was one of the very few women to have been accepted as a member of the Haarlem Guild of Painters. Although a contemporary historian described her as a leading light in art (punning on her name Leyster, which means “lodestar”), after her death she remained unknown for a long time.

In 1636, after having worked as a professional artist for several years, she married Jan Miense Molenaer, a more prolific (though described as less talented) artist. In hopes of better economic prospects, they moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam, where the art market was far more stable. They remained there for eleven years; they had five children, only two of which survived to adulthood. Most of Leyster’s dated works are from 1629-1635, which coincides with the period before she had children. There are only two known pieces painted after 1635; two illustrations in a book about tulips from 1643 and a portrait from 1652.

Although well known during her lifetime and esteemed by her contemporaries, Leyster and her work suffered the same fate of so many women in western history; she and it were largely forgotten after her death. Leyster’s rediscovery came in 1893 when the Louvre had purchased a Frans Hals only to find it had been, in fact, painted by Judith Leyster.

(A contemporary critic has said that her work can be distinguished from that of Hals by her “altogether flightier brushwork”; here “flightier” is a code word for feminine and deficient.)

Labyrinth …

Labyrinth, Villa Pisani

Labyrinth, Villa Pisano

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served either as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. During Medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to the God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending towards salvation or enlightenment. Many people simply could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so the use of labyrinths and prayer substituted that need. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded and they were used primarily for entertainment, although recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence.

Boston College Memorial Labyrinth

Boston College Labyrinth

Many newly-made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks. Labyrinths are used by many modern mystics to help the user achieve a contemplative state. By walking amongst the turnings, the user loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind. The result is a relaxed mental attitude, free of internal dialog. Walking the labyrinth, then, is a form of meditation.

Source: Wikipedia

Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral

Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral

The Labyrinths of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

The American Gigantic

Has the dream of freedom and opportunity declined into a hopeless pathology?
by Mark Kingwell

“[P]erhaps Paul’s sudden elevation from schoolmaster to millionaire struck a still vibrant chord of optimism in each of them, so that they said to themselves over their ledgers and typewriters: ‘it may be me next time.’”

Evelyn Waugh
Decline and Fall (1928)



American society’s greatest sleight of hand, the persistent belief that it is classless, suffers periodic cataclysms. Sometimes, as in the dislocated images of Katrina-chased black refugees begging for water or clambering onto buses, they are impossible to ignore. Other times, the media conspires to make them almost invisible—if more telling. …

Stern’s invocation of the American dream is a useful reminder of the instability that lies at the centre of the United States. A tension persists between two versions of the dream, a difference frequently elided for reasons both innocent and sly. One dream—the older one, as it happens—is about a society that takes justice seriously and offers a structure of mobility, what John Locke called “the career open to talents,” combined with care or compensation for the least well-off.

Kruger Buy Me

Kruger, Buy Me, I’ll Change Your Life 1984

The other dream is a vision of acquisition pure and simple, though often romanticized in ways belonging to an American television comedy of the 1950s, where the median income of depicted households was, in today’s dollars, less than a third of what is seen in television’s current ten most popular shows. Even idealization is subject to the laws of inflation, apparently, and dreams get priced out of their own market when material success overpowers all other values. At that point, they are naturally subject to the massive debt-financing characteristic of the current domestic economy. After all, the idea that one might have to wait to realize the dream is unthinkable. The dream is, in a familiar paradox of human desire, both demanded immediately and deferred constantly.

Kienholz Room 17

Kienholz, Room 17 1969

The two dreams are in fact contradictory, but substituting the latter for the former—making the enjoyment of material goods a governing virtue of American life along the way—has, in effect, created a third, hybrid American dream: the hallucination that a country where poverty is more widespread by the year, and where the gap between rich and poor is growing with the aid of tax cuts and low-cost inheritance, is actually both wealthy and just. Between 1979 and 2003, the after-tax income of the top 1 percent of American households rose 129 percent, to more than $700,000 (all figures US); the income of the middle fifth enjoyed just a 15-percent lift, to $44,800; and the income of the poorest fifth struggled with a 4-percent rise. Despite its vast gdp, poverty is growing in America, not declining: the United States Census Bureau reported last year that 12.7 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2004, up from 12.5 percent in 2003. The US now ranks twenty-fourth among industrialized nations in income disparity; only Mexico and Russia rank lower.

Thiebaud Cakes

Thiebaud, Cakes 1970

Everybody’s getting richer, after a fashion, but the super-rich are pulling ahead even as the majority fall behind. This can be hard to see: sleek durables, leisure activities, and cheap credit are easy to come by. This is comfort without reflection on comfort’s conditions of possibility: the diminishing marginal urgency of leisure goods generates a diminishing marginal urgency of the questions leisure is supposed to allow. …

The idea of an American dream is so firmly planted in the loam of national consciousness as to appear chthonic, primeval, originary—a natural property of the whole democratic experiment. But like most ideologies, the dream is a construct with human, not divine, provenance. Nobody can claim utter certainty when it comes to the proverbial, indeed mythic, language of a nation; nevertheless, most historians credit popular chronicler James Truslow Adams with coining the phrase “American dream” in his 1931 volume of dewy optimism, The Epic of America. Adams was no apologist for the current arrangements. The American vision, he wrote, is:

“that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Haring Frog Legs

Haring, Frog Legs 1984

Do you hear that, dear friends and neighbours? Not motor cars. High wages … No, not them either. For that matter, the passage does not even mention the houses, Chevrolets, and white picket fences that feature so centrally in homespun versions of the dream circa the post-war boom—the rhapsodic appreciation of the breezeway and the bungalow so deftly skewered by Don DeLillo in Underworld. No such things of any kind. Richer life, yes, but in the sense of fuller; a dream of order and self-actualization. Indeed, by today’s protracted ideological standards, where US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is considered a moderate, Adams’ rhetoric is nothing short of hard-left looniness, socialism in all but name. And yet, the position is here espoused not merely as viable in America but as the essence of the American project. Indeed, his talk of “opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” must help explain that enduring irony of American high-school students consistently attributing quotations from The Communist Manifesto to the Declaration of Independence. From each according to his ability! …

Haring Untitled

Haring, Untitled

“Americanism,” Martin Heidegger wrote, “is something European. It is an as-yet uncomprehended form of the gigantic.” Current readers can be forgiven for thinking there is a typographical error: surely the European thing is anti-Americanism But this remark was written in 1938 and, as was often the case, Heidegger meant something not quite what we are inclined to expect: first, that judging anything technological or “fast” to be American is a naive European tic; second, that the New World inherited an aspiration that is stalled and thwarted in the old. There is a truth lurking in the routine charge of Americanism, already a continental pejorative in the 1930s.

Gursky San Francisco Hotel

Gursky, San Fransisco Hotel 1989

Though we must take care not to be hasty in understanding it, Americanism as a world picture—as a construction of thought, not polity—is a metaphysical reaction to modernity organized in the form of scale. Americanism, if it means anything, signifies that largeness is all. Pace well-meant documentaries or op-eds, this truth cannot be seen from within American self-regard any more than it can be judged from a position of Euro-disdain. The reason is that this truth conceals itself in the form of use, effect, or purpose. “The American interpretation of Americanism by means of pragmatism,” Heidegger goes on, “still lies outside the metaphysical realm. The gigantic has a deeper meaning than blind mania for exaggerating and excelling”; it is a flight into the incalculable.

Flack Marilyn

Flack, Marilyn 1975

Contemporary eyes may discern here routine condemnation, perhaps more Gallic than German, of the gigantic food portions, obese bodies, hulking suvs, and vast wastelands of box-store and monster-home common in recent cultural criticism. Americans, making up just 5 percent of the world’s population, consume a quarter of its energy. Thirty percent of Americans over twenty are clinically obese, a dramatic increase from just 14 percent in the 1970s. The associated medical costs of obesity were $75 billion in 2003—almost as much as tobacco. Even sexual attraction seems to be shifting with the growth of double-wide America. In 1985, 55 percent of US adults said they found overweight people less attractive than others; in 2005 only 24 percent said this. Talk about the American gigantic.

Captains of Industry

Captains of Industry

We make a mistake if we reduce the gigantic to mere symptoms, however, especially if those symptoms are understood only as expressions of greed. A better statement of the American gigantic is probably the Empire State Building, that total mobilization of technology and labour which opened its doors in 1931—the same year Adams’ Epic of America was published. The skyscraper, with its embodied desire for transcendence through height, is an American invention, a fantasy building of the New World. Such a dream may have obsessed Le Corbusier in France or the Futurists in Italy; it may be, now, a property mostly of East Asia’s surrealistic skylines, but it was born on the streets of Manhattan and Chicago, the boulevards of dreams where Depression-era economics bought exceptional skill for pennies a day….

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