TIME Pop Culture

Burning Man’s Founder Explains the Problem With Utopia

The annual festival runs from Aug. 30–Sept. 7 this year. Remember your toilet paper

Nearly three decades after the inaugural Burning Man festival, the massive gathering in the desert is still tricky to explain. The event, which runs this year from Aug. 30-Sep. 7, now attracts politicians and pop starsbut what exactly is it and how did it start?

In 2000, TIME’s Joel Stein went straight to the source for an answer, interviewing Larry Harvey, the man who lit the spark:

Harvey, a San Francisco bohemian, started the tradition 14 years ago as a punk-pagan celebration on a San Francisco beach and moved it to a lifeless desert northeast of Reno in 1990 when the S.F. beach patrol kicked him off. Since then, he has nurtured his festival into a lengthy ritual that this Labor Day attracted 30,000 campers to its mix of art, raves, nudity and spirituality. In the process, much has changed. Harvey has driven out some of his original anarchy-loving partners, instituted streets and rules (no guns), and now controls much of the art through $250,000 in grants. He is the director of a limited-liability corporation that oversees the festival’s $4 million annual budget. He is the mayor of the wildest city the West has ever seen.

Larry Harvey may be the first truly pragmatic utopian. “The problem with utopias is that they are based on some theory of human nature,” he says, as he is joined on his couch by a topless woman, a punk called Chicken John and a transvestite glam rock star named Adrian Roberts. “Static utopias based on a priori notions are doomed to failure.” Surprisingly, utopias where you have to bring your own toilet paper work just fine.

As for the effigy after which the festival is named, which seems to get bigger every year? The size isn’t really the point. “That first man was just 8 ft. tall, and it was enough,” Harvey told TIME. “Something bigger than they are–that’s all people need. It’s at least enough to inspire a leap of faith.”

Read the full story from 1997, here in the TIME Vault: The Man Behind Burning Man

TIME Sports

Serena Williams’ Fashion Future Was Hinted at Years Ago

Sep. 3, 2001
Cover Credit: ADREES LATIF The Sep. 3, 2001, cover of TIME

A TIME cover story from 2001 offered a glimpse at Serena Williams' still-to-come future

At the U.S. Open, starting Monday, Serena Williams will have the opportunity to make history with tennis’ always-elusive Grand Slam—victories in the four major tournaments all in the same year. That’s a huge deal for any athlete, but for Williams it could be especially so: as revealed in a New York Magazine cover story earlier this month, even though she’s at the top of her game the 33-year-old has her eye on what might come next.

There’s every indication that that next phase in Williams’ career will be to continue the work she’s already done in the world of fashion—which would be no surprise to anyone who read TIME’s 2001 cover story about Williams and her sister Venus. As the story revealed, the siblings were already taking their first steps toward a fashion career as they were first entering stardom:

They are up front about the fact that tennis is merely one aspect of their lives. They take the autumn off, for example, to attend a fashion design school located next to a strip mall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Because the ranking system of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) adds up the best 17 events over the previous 52 weeks, neither sister has a realistic shot at a No. 1 ranking. Still, Venus, who won Wimbledon in July, is ranked fourth, while Serena, who has played even less, is 10th. They are part-time players with a full-time presence.

…Along with Anna Kournikova, 20, who may be the most photographed woman in the world, the Williams sisters are celebrities as much as they are tennis players. “We’re two sisters. That’s new and exciting,” says Serena, sounding very much like a younger sister. And they act like sisters. Really close sisters. Besides living together, they usually share hotel rooms at tournaments. They sit next to each other in their classes. They want to start a clothing business together. When Venus loses her wallet, which is surprisingly often, Serena often finds it. Venus even sticks her nose in Serena’s mouth to find out what she ate. They make the Jolie siblings look estranged.

Read the full story from 2001, here in the TIME Vault: The Sisters vs. The World

TIME animals

For National Dog Day, Meet a Hero Dog From 1928

Feb. 27, 1928
TIME The Feb. 27, 1928, cover of TIME

'Max barked until a policeman came to revive Gilbert Kirkwood'

In honor of National Dog Day—celebrated on Aug. 26–allow us to look back at the the first nonhuman to be a TIME cover subject: a basset hound puppy who was a born show dog with champion parents. But the story, which was prompted by the 1928 Westminster Kennel Club dog show, took a much broader look at the state of dogs in America.

“It would be idle to suppose that the tiny fraction of the U. S. canine population which last week posed and strutted in Madison Square Garden was in any sense the most important,” TIME noted. “Other dogs did not pause last week, in the performance of their deeds and duties, to admire the antics of these prototypes.”

Among the canine feats highlighted by TIME was one particularly heroic pooch:

In Manhattan, Max, a police dog, watched his owner, one Gilbert Kirkwood, a plasterer, going to sleep with a cigaret in his mouth. When he saw that Gilbert Kirkwood’s cigaret had dropped and ignited the bedclothes, Max dragged the burning bedclothes away from Gilbert Kirkwood and put them in the kitchen. Then he dragged Gilbert Kirkwood, overcome by smoke, off the bed and put him in the kitchen right next the bedclothes. After this, Max barked until a policeman came to revive Gilbert Kirkwood and to extinguish both his bedclothes and the conflagration caused by dragging these from room to room.

Read more stories of 1920s canine heroism in the TIME Vault: Putting on the Dog

Read next: 21 Reasons This Dog Is the Best Dog in the World

Download TIME’s mobile app for iOS to have your world explained wherever you go

TIME conflict

The ‘Zealot’ Who Gave the John Birch Society Its Name

John Birch Society Exhibit
Spencer Grant—Getty Images New England Rally for God, Family & Country by the John Birch Society Exhibit held at the Statler Hilton Hotel on Park Square, Boston, 1972.

His death on Aug. 25, 1945, was commemorated by the anti-communist group

It was one of the last deaths of World War II, but its legacy had a lasting effect on our politics.

Seventy years ago Tuesday—on Aug. 25, 1945— a 26-year-old Army Air Force captain named John Birch was killed by communists in China at the twilight of World War II, after Japan announced its surrender. Some 13 years later, the John Birch Society–named for the young soldier–was founded to expose what they saw as rampant communism within the United States.

The secretive group wasted little time fanning the flames of anti-communist sentiment, with TIME reporting in 1961 on their theories about leftist agents in high-ranking government positions—including, they posited, Dwight Eisenhower. That report was read into the Congressional record a few weeks later and inspired debate on the Senate floor.

The group’s namesake was apt. As TIME reported, Birch was a champion crusader:

John Birch was born in Landour, India, to a husband-and-wife team of missionaries. When John was two years old, his family returned to the U.S., and he was raised in New Jersey and Georgia. In 1939 Birch graduated from Georgia’s Baptist-controlled Mercer University as the top man in his class, leaving behind him a record that is still recalled. “He was always an angry young man, always a zealot,” says a classmate. “He felt he was called to defend the faith, and he alone knew what it was.” Says a psychology professor: “He was like a one-way valve: everything coming out and no room to take anything in.”

In his senior year, Birch organized a secret “Fellowship Group” and set out to suppress a mildly liberal trend at Mercer. He and twelve colleagues collected examples of “heresy” uttered by faculty members (example: a reference to evolution), whipped up support among Georgia’s Baptist clergy, finally forced the school to try five men on the charge. Mercer eventually dismissed the cases, but not before admonishing 75-year-old Dr. John D. Freeman, a world-famous Baptist leader, for using a theologically “unsound” textbook. That summer Dr. Freeman quietly retired from Mercer. Says a professor: “It broke him.”

After school, Birch followed his parents’ lead in becoming a missionary. He was serving in China when World War II arrived. In 1942, after meeting survivors of the U.S. air raid on Tokyo, Birch decided to enlist and was assigned to work behind enemy lines in China.

Read more from 1961, here in the TIME Vault: Who Was John Birch?

TIME conflict

What It Felt Like to Witness the Liberation of Paris During World War II

Sep. 4, 1944
TIME The Sept. 4, 1944, cover of TIME

'I have never seen in any face such joy as radiated from the faces of the people of Paris this morning'

For four long years during World War II, France’s capital city festered under the thumb of Nazi occupation—until Aug. 19, 1944, when Paris, it seemed, could take no more. With the German forces on their heels throughout the region, an uprising broke out in the city. Less than a week later, on this day in 1944, Allied forces triumphantly made their way into the City of Light. For many around the world, it was the liberation of that great cultural center that marked the beginning of the end of the horrific war.

“Paris is the city of all free mankind,” TIME opined shortly after, “and its liberation last week was one of the great events of all time.”

The report from TIME’s war correspondent Charles Christian Wertenbaker captured the charged spirit of the moment:

I have seen the faces of young people in love and the faces of old people at peace with their God. I have never seen in any face such joy as radiated from the faces of the people of Paris this morning. This is no day for restraint, and I could not write with restraint if I wanted to. Your correspondent and your photographer Bob Capa drove into Paris with eyes that would not stay dry, and we were no more ashamed of it than were the people who wept as they embraced us.

We had spent the night at General Leclerc’s command post, six miles from Paris on the Orleans-Paris road. Here the last German resistance outside Paris was being slowly reduced, while inside the city the Germans and the F.F.I, fought a bitter battle that had already lasted six days. Late in the afternoon a French cub plane flew in 50 yards above the Cathedral of Notre Dame, on the He de la Cite where the F.F.I, had its headquarters, and dropped a message which said simply: “Tomorrow we come.”

Read more from 1944, here in the TIME Vault: Paris Is Free!

TIME People

How Duke Kahanamoku Saved Lives With His Surfboard

The swimming and surfing star was born on Aug. 24, 1890

Monday marks what would have been the 125th birthday of the late Duke Kahanamoku, who during his lifetime was an Olympic swimmer and Hawaiian public official. Kahanamoku is best known today for boosting surfing’s popularity and introducing the sport to many regions around the world.

But Kahanamoku’s prowess with a surfboard is worth remembering for more reasons than mere athletic glory.

And, as TIME reported in 1925, Kahanamoku had a chance to prove that point one day in Laguna Beach, Calif.:

Out through the surf put a gasoline launch, the Thelma, with a fishing party aboard. The beach crowd watched her careen on the breakers, herded to the water’s edge when the boat capsized. Good swimmers ran splashing out, split the first wave with a dive, plowed off to the rescue.

In the lead swam a figure darker than the most deeply sunburned, an Hawaiian duke, Kahanamoku of Olympic fame. Before him, as he swam, he pushed his long surf board.

Five of the capsized fisherman had drowned before the swimmers reached them, but it was no trick at all for Kahanamoku and his followers to buoy up 13 survivors, drag them across their boards, catch a wave and rush their gasping passengers ashore in relays.

In his 1968 obituary, the rescue of the Thelma passengers was credited with helping Kahanamoku recapture the fame of his Olympic days, eventually leading him to his post as sheriff of Honolulu. But, even as he grew older and his role on the shore grew larger, he never stopped surfing. “To the last,” the obituary concluded, “he was a symbol of the islands, surfing, swimming, and appearing as the 50th state’s official greeter.”

Read the full 1925 story, here in the TIME Vault: Duke

Read next: Beyond The Waves: An Intimate Look at the Life of Surfer John John Florence

Download TIME’s mobile app for iOS to have your world explained wherever you go

TIME Books

See a Page From a Gutenberg Bible in Close-Up

The bibles were first printed in 1456

It’s hard to pin down the exact day the book was born, but August 24 is as fine a day to celebrate as any: it was on this day in 1456 that at least one copy of the original Gutenberg Bible was completed. You can zoom in on a page from that milestone text by rolling over it with your cursor (on your phone? Just click). This is Jerome’s epistle to Paulinus, which serves as the prologue to the Bible:

Print Collector-Getty Images

Because the colorful decorations were done by hand, each of the copies—about four dozen of which have survived intact, out of nearly 200—is slightly different, even though the actual text was printed with the same type.

As TIME explained in 1999, when it named Johann Gutenberg the most important person of the 15th century, non-European printers had figured out the idea of moveable type first—but dealing with more than 26 or so letter characters made it less efficient. Printing in Europe, meanwhile, was usually done by carving into a block of wood, which meant that once the printing form was made, you were stuck with it permanently. Having the idea of casting each letter separately and just moving them around wasn’t the only stumbling block for Gutenberg—he needed to find the metal that melted at the right temperature, he needed to find ink that wouldn’t smudge, he needed to design the press part of the machine—but it was a start.

Exactly what happened between his grand idea and the emergence of the first full Gutenberg Bible—like, for example, whether Gutenberg himself actually printed it—remains something of a mystery. But it was enough to get his name printed, as it were, in history:

By the time he was back in Mainz in 1448, Gutenberg had ironed out enough of these problems to persuade Johann Fust, a goldsmith and lawyer, to invest heavily in his new printing shop. Exactly what happened behind Gutenberg’s closed doors during the next few years remains unknown. But in 1455 visitors to the Frankfurt Trade Fair reported having seen sections of a Latin Bible with two columns of 42 lines each printed–printed–on each page. The completed book appeared about a year later; it did not bear its printer’s name, but it eventually became known as the Gutenberg Bible.

Read more about Gutenberg and others, here in the TIME Vault: The Most Important People of the Millennium

TIME Science

The Strange Story of the First People to Die From Nuclear Weapons During Peacetime

LOS ALAMOS GATE
AP A Feb. 25,1955 view of the well-guarded Los Alamos, N.M. birthplace of the A-bomb and other thermonuclear weapons.

Seventy years ago, a young physicist made a tragic mistake

The first wartime deaths from nuclear weaponry were vast in number and world-changing in scope. The first peacetime deaths from that same technology were far quieter incidents, free of violence but still illustrative of the awful power of the bomb.

The physicist Louis Slotin was part of the team that figured out how much nuclear material (plutonium and uranium) would be needed for the bombs used at the end of World War II. And as Richard L. Miller explained in his 1986 book Under the Cloud, Slotin wanted to see his work through to the end by accompanying the pilots who dropped the bomb, but he wasn’t given permission. Frustrated, he decided to go on vacation instead and leave his young assistant, Harry Daghlian, to continue his experiments while he was away.

On Aug. 21, 1945, Daghlian was stacking tungsten carbide bricks as a reflector around a plutonium core, according to a Los Alamos report on nuclear accidents. The idea was that the tungsten would reflect neutrons, meaning that you’d need less plutonium to get a nuclear reaction going. Daghlian’s lab instruments showed him that the next tungsten brick he added to the stack would bring the experiment to a critical point (ie. the reaction would begin). He moved to take the brick away, but his hand slipped and it fell into the middle of the stack. Though he quickly took the assembly apart, it was too late.

According to the American Physical Society, Daghlian’s skin turned red and began to peel off as his gastrointestinal system started to fail. He died that September. In a cruel twist, the next person to be killed by peacetime atomic science, in a similar mishap the next year, was Louis Slotin.

After that death, TIME (misidentifying Slotin as “the first peacetime victim of nuclear fission”) explained the science behind such accidents:

Apparently Dr. Slotin and seven or more other scientists were working with “subcritical masses” of uranium or plutonium. Kept apart, these masses were lifeless as lead, but if brought together to form a mass above “critical” size, a chain reaction would start. Its violence would depend on the character of the materials. Probably they were midway in activity between mild-mannered natural uranium and furious plutonium 239.

Bringing such “reactors” together is touchy business. The scientists work with infinite caution, watching instruments which measure the number of free neutrons within the experimental mass. Under some conditions, the chain reaction starts slowly. But sometimes it leaps into violence in a millionth of a second. There is no explosion, no vibration, no sound. No human sense can detect the outburst of deadly radiation. The only warning, which comes too late, is a faint bluish glow. Some experts think it is caused by ionization of the air; others believe it to be an optical illusion telegraphed to the brain by stimulated nerves behind the eyes.

Slotin suffered radiation burns while breaking apart the materials. According to a letter to the editor about that article, Slotin knew that he was sure to die within days but still returned to the lab to explain his work to the staff, “not wanting any knowledge to die with him.”

As for that staff, they had learned from the mistakes of those before them and established new safety protocols.

TIME Books

Read a TIME Article Written in the Style of H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft, (1890-1937), American writer, circa 1934.
Everett Collection H.P. Lovecraft, (1890-1937), American writer, circa 1934.

Attendees at this week's NecronomiCon celebration will appreciate this 1973 attempt to channel the author

Starting on Thursday, fans of the writer H.P. Lovecraft will gather in his hometown of Providence, R.I., for the annual NecronomiCon festival, this year marking what would have been Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. For an author of rather niche specialty—supernatural horror—his staying power within the culture has been impressive.

In 1973, when new editions of several Lovecraft works were released, TIME’s Philip Herrera decided to get to the bottom of that appeal. Lovecraft’s talent, he decided, was a combination of “mesmeric” prose and the insight to know that inexplicable evil was scarier than any monster. Rather than rely on vampires or other stock demons, he turned to the “more intimate horror” of ancient and pervasive power that all our modernity could do nothing to stop.

But, in order to reach that conclusion, Herrera really got into the spirit of things. Instead of writing a straightforward review, he summoned the image of three nightmares set at the Providence cemetery, each of which reveals something new about Lovecraft. And, in describing those dreams, he channeled Lovecraft’s signature style, to amusing results:

The graveyard bristled with baleful intensity. Strangely colossal bats beat the air around my face, and chittering hordes of toadlike things chortled in infandous rhythms of ululation in dissonances of extreme morbidity and cacodemonial ghastliness. As I somehow anticipated, the cowled figure, his face ever hidden, approached and tugged my pajama sleeve, pulling me toward the open Lovecraft tomb. Forgetting danger, cleanliness and reason, I ventured into the yawning Stygian recesses of the inner earth, down inclined passageways whose walls were coated with the detestable slimy niter of the earth’s bowels. My whole being choked on the stinking confluence of incense fumes, and a cancerous terror clutched my chest with strangling tendrils. Penultimately we reached a vast vaulted room lit with a gangrenous green glare from an unknown source, while all around pulsed and crashed a monstrous noise not unlike a machine malevolently crunching great living trees to pulp.

Read the full story here, in the TIME Vault: The Dream Lurker

TIME Race

Read TIME’s Report on the Crown Heights Riots of 1991

Police officers try to calm Hasidim during confrontation wit
New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images Police officers try to calm Hasidim during a confrontation at Utica Ave. and President St. during Crown Heights riots in August of 1991.

"It was the city's worst racial violence since the outbreak that followed Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968," TIME noted

The incident that set off the 1991 Crown Heights riots was easy to pinpoint: on Aug. 19, a car driven by a Hasidic Jew hit and killed a young black child. As a private ambulance took the driver away from the scene and emergency responders worked to free the victim and another child pinned under the car, the area’s black and Jewish residents–who had long been tense neighbors–erupted in anger. As TIME later noted, the result was the worst episode of racial violence in New York City city since 1968, after the death of Martin Luther King.

But as with any cataclysmic event, the underlying causes of the riots were far more complicated than a single moment.

As TIME’s story on the riots explained, the side-by-side life of the two communities in Crown Heights was already tense—and the fighting did little to diffuse the situation:

Behind the violence lay decades of uneasy coexistence between local blacks and members of the Lubavitcher sect, who established their world headquarters there in 1940. Lubavitcher Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky claims that ”Crown Heights is a model community of integration where whites and blacks live in peace together.” But blacks describe a different atmosphere. ”The Hasidim set up an apartheid situation in Crown Heights,” says Dr. Vernal Cave, a black dermatologist who has lived in the area for 36 years. Cave claims that the Lubavitchers have long received preferential treatment from police and city authorities. In particular, he says, the sect caused resentment in the past by pressuring Jewish shopkeepers in the neighborhood to close their doors on Saturday and by prevailing on police to block off the streets near their synagogues during the Sabbath. Said another local black man: ”You’ve got to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know about the problems here with the Hasidim.”

One thing is clear: there is little common ground between the two groups. Nor have leaders from either side reached out to the other in an effort to defuse the situation. Instead they have engaged in a bitter public debate in which heated rhetoric far outweighs the language of reason and compromise. While blacks like Cave speak of apartheid, Lubavitcher leaders evoke visions of pogroms and Kristallnacht.

Read more from 1991, here in the TIME Vault: An Eye for an Eye

 

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