Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Memoriam: Michael J. Jackson, Inventor

As we all know, Michael Jackson, singer, dancer and entertainer extraordinaire, passed away last week. He revolutionized music, dancing and the way music and dance are perceived through visual and audible means. For example, he revolutionized the music video with MTV, and made looking at a stand-alone dance "story" a form of entertainment in and of itself. What we also know is that he revolutionized dance itself – bringing new steps and moves to the world – from the moon-walk to precision disciplined movements that seemed to defy gravity. In this sense, he was an inventor.

But, he also was a true inventor in the patent sense. In 1993, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Michael Jackson a patent: US Patent No. 5,255,452. The patent covered shoes he designed, as well as an "anchor" in the stage floor that, when engaged, allowed the wearer to lean forward beyond his center of gravity and to achieve the 45-degree angle required by the dance choreography. We all remember the video "Smooth Criminal."

Drawing from US Patent No. 5,255,452

Still Photo from Smooth Criminal

Interestingly, Michael Jackson heralded the beginning of an innovative generation of the 1980's where previously thought limits were regularly broken – from the creation of the personal computer with Apple, to the creation of Microsoft. Not only was he ready to take on the world to become the King of Pop, but the world was also ready to receive him and allow him to take his place as one of the most creative, dynamic and innovative entertainers of our time. He was in the right place at the right time.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

New Museum in Athens Designed in part to “Guilt” Britain into returning the Elgin Marbles

Tomorrow, Saturday, June 20, 2009, a state-of-the- art museum in Athens, Greece will open its doors to the public. The museum, custom built to showcase the Parthenon sculptures, holds about 350 artifacts and sculptures formerly been held in a small museum on top of the Acropolis.

Antique ceramics and sculptures are displayed on the first floor while the Caryatids - columns sculpted as females holding up the roof of a porch on the southern side of the Erechtheum temple - dominate the top of a glass ramp leading up the second floor. Sculptures from the Temple of Athena and the Propylaea entrance to the Acropolis are displayed on the second floor, while the third features a reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles, some of which are known as the "Elgin Marbles."

The Elgin Marbles currently reside in London in the British Museum. They formed part of the Parthenon frieze in Athens and were sculpted between 443 and 438 BC. Lord Elgin removed the classic Greek statues in 1816 with the permission of the Ottoman empire who controlled Athens at the time. Without Lord Elgin's actions, these archetypal statues would most likely have been lost to the ravages of war, air pollution and acid rain, along with the rest of the 94% of the Parthenon frieze.

For years, the Greeks have asked for the return of the marbles, and for years, the British Museum has responded with claims that Greece in unable to give them a suitable home. The basis for the denial has varied over the years, from the lack of security in Greece available to protect the marbles to the unfriendly air quality that could "eat" away at the marbles' integrity. And yet, now that this state-of-the-art facility is ready and waiting, seemingly allaying those justifiable fears, it still seems unlikely that the marbles will be returned anytime soon. The British Museum remains disinclined to return the marbles, citing the benefits of having the marbles in two locations: the two locations give the opportunity for more people to view the exquisite sculptures and also puts them in different educational contexts – one in its historical home, one in one of the most extensive and outstanding global museums. Further, the museum may fear setting a precedent — encouraging other nations to lobby for the return cultural heritage pieces originating in their nations, including Italy, Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

Thus, the saga continues as to who should own the Elgin Marbles – the nation who preserved the cultural heritage pieces, or the nation of origination. The principle of cultural property – property that a nation believes it should own due to the significant cultural legacy the object represents – versus personal property – property personally owned and preserved by an individual. Further, from a moral perspective, what rights should the preserver of works retain? Without the preserver, many works would be lost to the world forever.

The opening of the museum creates more emotional weight for the return of the marbles, rather than a legal basis. So, while the legal debate rages on as to who should own cultural heritage pieces, even without the Elgin Marbles, this new museum serves as an important display of the aesthetic and architectural excellence of ancient and modern Athens.

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