Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World

Trevor Paglen is a thorn in Uncle Sam’s side. Known for snapping telephoto candids of CIA planes and Area 51, the artist also gathers “patch intel,” which he’s collected in this provocative book (main title: “I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me”). The fruit of several Freedom of Information Act requests, Paglen’s book proves that classified black opps concoct esoteric team insignias just like other military divisions. In this case, 75 de-classified patches with colorful eagles, skulls, swords, dragons, wizards and even aliens (!). Surveying iconography that was never intended for your eyes is both exhilarating and frustrating. Decoding them is often impossible, which only leads back to the obvious: How else are our tax dollars being spent in secret? Unlike grainy, questionable YouTube clips of UFOs, Big Foot and Loch Ness, in this case, seeing guarantees believing.

I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World
Trevor Paglen
136 pages, 2007
$14

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

“Triangulum” is reported to designate a variation on the RS6b SENIOR SPEAR sensor system built into some versions of the U-2 spy plane. The Triangulum system allegedly uses twelve antennas along the aircrafts’ fuselage and an antenna on each wing.

The Electronic Warfare Directorate is the primary EW test organization at Edwards Air Force Base. Electronic warfare consists of defensive and offensive avionics and includes the so-called “Infowar” revolution in military technologies Commenting on information-warfare, Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper told Aviation Week and Space Technology that “we’re rapidly approaching the time when you can tell an SA-10′s [surface-to-air missile system] radar that it’s a Maytag washer and put it in the rinse cycle instead of the firing cycle.” The first letter of each word in the phrase “Nitwits Rubes and Oafs” spells out the agency responsible for this patch: the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office. Furthermore, “OAFS” could be an acronym for Onizuka Air Force Station, an Air Force Space Operations base in Sunnyvale, California colloquially known as the Blue Cube. It is unclear what the collection of three white stars and one black star represent, although they may be related to the collection of four triangles from the NRO’s “We Own the Night” patch…The phrase “Setec Astronomy” figures prominently in the 1992 film “Sneakers,” in which the phrase is an anagram for “Too Many Secrets.”

This patch is from the Phillips Laboratory Military Spaceplane Technology (MiST) Program Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The original version of the patch sported an “X-Wing” fighter from the Star Wars movies. When lawyers representing George Lucas delivered the unit a cease and desist order, the aircraft on the patch was changed into the shape that appears in this patch.

The letters ATOP depicted on this patch stand for “Advanced Technology Observation Platform,” whose first flight was on October 28, 1990. The Latin phrase “Furtim Vigilans” translates as “Vigilance Through Stealth.” No further information about this patch or program is known. Officials at the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base claim that the program depicted “isn’t one of ours.”

This was the original version of a patch commemorating a flight test series involving a B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber. The lower case Greek sigma symbol on the test shape’s outline signifies the unknown RCS value. The number “509″ refers to the 509th Bomb Wing, which operates the United States’ stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The alien is a reference to the 509th’s lineage. In 1947, the 509th was based at Roswell, New Mexico, home of the infamous “Roswell incident,” which ensued after the 509th’s commander, Col. William Blanchard, issued a press release whose headline stated “Roswell Army Airfield Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.” The dog-Latin phrase “Gustasus Similis Pullus” translates as “Tastes Like Chicken.” Note the knife and fork. This patch was eventually modified when Air Force officials insisted that the phrase “Classified Flight Test” could not appear on the design. In an updated version of the patch, “Classified Flight Test” has been replaced with the words “To Serve Man,” referencing a classic episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

9/11

Dictionary of Symbols

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Representation




Nudie the Rodeo Tailor

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This photo-driven book documents the life and work of legendary tailor Nudie Cohn, whose eccentric pieces of wearable art were worn by countless country, rock and pop musicians, everyone from Elvis to Elton John. The free-for-all that is Japanese street fashion is undeniably more outlandish, but if you keep in mind how Nudie made everyone look like Liberace (even macho country boys in the conservative ’50s!), his work becomes all the more inspiring. There are numerous, thicker retrospectives with glossy snapshots of flashy rodeo wear, but this is the only book that focuses entirely on Nudie.

His story is so enticing I don’t know why no one’s written a comprehensive, narrative non-fiction biography about him: After immigrating from Russia, he became an amateur boxer, spent time hitchhiking coast to coast and eventually started fashioning clothes and costumes out of his garage in the ’40s. If you’re a serious seamster or occasional stitch ‘n bitcher, his embroidery will get your juices flowing. If you’re a home crafter or tinkerer with big aspirations, here’s another fine example of what’s possible.

Nudie the Rodeo Tailor
Mary Lynn Cabrall & Jamie Lee Nudie
2004, 160 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:
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Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

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Brother Sewing Machine

Fruits

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Tie-Dye!




Tiny Showcase

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Keeping tabs on the art world is tough and time-consuming. Being a collector is tougher, and downright expensive. This site does all the work for you and allows you to amass your own hip, limited edition prints for cheap. Sign up for the newsletter and once a week you’ll receive a heads up about the artist whose work will be available later that day for $20 a pop. They usually make only 100-200 prints and it’s first come, first serve. The first piece I bought on a lark sold out in less than 15 minutes! I discovered the site nine months ago when a friend gave me a gift certificate. Although I’ve already spent my gifted wad, I still check the newsletter religiously, almost obsessively. Stumbling on amazing art(ists) is wonderful. Decorating our home with little, unique prints is very satisfying. Part of every purchase is donated to a charity chosen by the artist, too. (more…)

Tiny Showcase
$20/print
Available at TinyShowcase.com



Bathsheba Mathematical Sculpture

The Gyroid

Cool and useless. That’s my definition of art. These very cool 3D mathematical sculptures by Bathsheba Grossman are very nerdy art. Cleverly manufactured by a new type of 3D printing, they manifest bizarre mathematical notions. Bathsheba starts with her own complicated CAD designs, which she then sends to an Ex One printer. The printer stacks up layers of stainless steel powder hardened with a laser. Bathsheba trims and polishes each final form by hand. Lot’s of brilliant designs, some like alien seeds. Others are like Escher paradoxes in 3D. These mini ones are only a few inches wide, and not cheap. It’s art. It’s mathematics. Many are shapes never before made or even imagined — simply because they were impossible to render before. Bathsheba also does laser etched images deep inside of glass crystal. Check her news blog for some really dazzling larger pieces. I’ve ordered several things from her and have been happy.

-- KK  

Beth Sheba Mini Sculptures
$30+
Available from Bathsheba Sculpture

Quintron



The Self-Made Tapestry

The most comprehensive, and most comprehendable analysis of patterns in nature and the nature of patterns.

-- KK  

The Self-Made Tapestry
Pattern Formation in Nature
Philip Ball
1998, 324 pages
$76

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The Paris Metro is a branched network with a fractal form.

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When shaken vertically, a shallow layer of grains can develop complex wave patterns, including stripes, square and hexagonal patterns.

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The adult zebra Equus grevyi (b) has more and narrower stripes than the adult Equs burchelli (a). This is thought to be because the striped ‘pre-pattern’ is laid down on the embryo of the latter at an earlier stage: after twenty-one days for Equus burchelli (c), but after five weeks for Equus grevyi (e). The smaller embryo supports fewer stripes, and so by the time it is of comparable size (d), its stripes are wider.




Speed Square

This is the best tool for drawing lines, guiding saws, and basically all carpentry that requires a 90 degree angle. One edge is set perpendicular to the rest of it so you can quickly push it up against a straight side and have a 45 degree angle and a 90 degree angle to mark or saw with, etc. Hard to explain, but once you have one, you won’t know how you lived without it.

– Peter Lawrence

A good metal square is an essential tool for home building, especially framing. It helps you figure out rafter cuts quickly and easily, and it also has a ruler for quick measurements.

There are a number of different models of square out there, but Swanson’s Speed┬« Square is the best. Why? Well, sturdy aluminum alloy construction makes it nigh indestructible, and the recessed tick marks and numbers are colored in black so there’s good contrast for legibility.

The metal construction also makes it super-handy for making square cuts on lumber. Just snug it up and use it as a guide for your circular saw. Plus, all this utility fits in the pocket of work pants without any trouble.

-- Keith Pelczarski  

Swanson Speed Square
SO101 7 inches
$10

Available from Amazon



Art Forms in Nature

Long a favorite of designers, this 1904 album of diverse little-known creatures and plants drawn by German biologist Ernst Haeckel has usually been reproduced in black and white. This edition is of note because while still inexpensive it retains the color plates of the original portfolio (although many of the 100 plates remain monochrome). Art Forms in Nature is a library of possibilities. Artists, engineers, and natural scientists use this album for inspiration, since each of these bizarre forms is a living highly-evolved organism. It’s hard to believe all these species are earth found; why look to other planets for weird life forms?

-- KK  

[Since Haeckel's work is in the public domain, there are a few sites where his worked has been scanned and posted online. Here's a German site with some nice hi-res scans of some of the more specatular pages. Unless you want to make them huge, the book is still a cheaper way to "print" them out. -- KK]

Art Forms in Nature
Ernst Haeckel
1998, 139 pages
$16

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Tafel 17. — Porpema
Siphonophorae. Staatsquallen.

Tafel 63. — Dictyophora
Basimycetes. Schwammpilze.

Tafel 85. — Cynthia
Ascidiae. Seescheiden.




Arthur Ganson Presents a Few Machines

Cool and useless. That’s my definition of art. A midnight engineer and MIT professor creates totally useless machines. They are exquisitely beautiful. They do absolutely nothing. At best they whir and click and shake. A genuine artist, he also has filmed his machines obliquely, only partially seen, behind a veil of mystery. You want to know how they work, what they do, how come? No answers. Only peeks at cool and useless machines in marvelous varieties and cleverness, turning, turning, turning. Utterly riveting, supremely inspiring, and very geeky. Show this at a party, and everyone stops transfixed.

-- KK  

Arthur Ganson Presents a Few Machines: Created between 1978 and 2004
70 min.
$20
Available from Arthur Ganson

Sample Excerpts:



Fresh Fruits

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone wore more colorful clothes? You can get a glimpse of that heaven in this never-boring album of Japanese street costumes. Like its predecessor volume Fruits, this sequel, Fresh Fruits, preaches freedom of color and is meant to be browsed while standing in your closet tossing out the black.

-- KK  

Fresh Fruits
Shoichi Aoki
2005, 272 pages
$20

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:



Masters of Deception

In one tome, a glorious collection of visual trickery, the best I’ve seen. Optical illusions of the most ingenious types — using mirrors, type fonts, murals, globes, junk, and of course paint. It is a grand demonstration of nerd art.

-- KK  

Masters of Deception
Escher, Dali & the Artists of Optical Illusion
Al Seckel
2004, 320 pages
$25

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

“Lunch with a Helmut On,” welded forks, spoons, 1987, 73 x 31 x 42 inches

This shadow sculpture of a motorcycle is built entirely out of 848 welded forks, knives, and spoons. It is based on an earlier concept that Fukada exhibited in his 1965 show, “Toys and Things Japanese.” Fukuda wanted to create a three-dimensional object in which the shadow, as opposed to the actual form, represented the object. Fukuda was to remark that it is extremely difficult to create a three-dimensional object in this fashion that allows light to penetrate evenly. A movie of this sculpture is on Seckel’s website.

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Hamaekers holds an impossible cube, which is based on the figure in M.C. Escher’s print “Belvedere,” in 1985. A movie of this sculpture rotating is on Seckel’s website .

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“Spools of Thread, ” Colored spools of thread, 2001, 32 X 26 inches

This is Ken Knowlton’s portrait of, tribute to, and gift to Aaron Feuerstein, the president and owner of Malden (fabric) Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 1995 a devastating fire destroyed three main buildings of the mill complex. However, instead of collecting the insurance money and closing up shop, Feuerstein kept workers on salary during the recovery. His response to the situation has been widely acclaimed as a stellar example of decency in business.

Knowlton’s portrait consists of 945 inch-long multicolored spools of thread alternately oriented vertically and horizontally. They give the impression, from intermediate distances, of woven fabric. This artwork, therefore, has three levels of interpretation: a portrait, a woven fabric, and spools of thread.