Monthly Archives: January 2012


Gunther von Hagens

Controversial, fascinating, educational, brilliant, often-imitated, artistic: the plastination of corpses. The man behind the process: Gunther von Hagens.

Working as an anatomy assistant at the University of Heidelberg, Germany in 1977, von Hagens was confronted with organ specimens conserved inside plastic blocks. He wondered why the specimens had been embedded in the plastic and not the other way around. He thought the specimen could be infused with the plastic, creating a much more realistic sample. He experimented with different vacuum techniques until, on January 10, 1977, he successfully made his first specimen, a plastinated kidney to be prepared and sliced for a research project. He decided that day to make plastination the focus of his life. The technique was patented between 1977 and 1982 and he has worked to improve the process over the years.

The Circulation System

Medical students learn anatomy by dissecting a corpse down. They remove the skin, the muscles, the chest and abdominal wall. After the organs are removed, they are left with the bones and ligaments. Platinates, as the prepared corpses are called, allow students and lay persons alike to experience anatomy in a whole new facet. Because of the polymers, the muscles can be fixed in definite poses. Certain systems of the body, like the circulation or nervous system, can be isolated and exposed, allowing them to be observed in their entirety.

The exhibition has been touring for ten years now and over 30 million people have attended. The enormous success of the exhibition has also stirred quite a bit of controversy over the years. The ethics question arises from the church, although the corpses come from donors who have given permission for their bodies to be donated to science for medical research. Eight thousand (8000!) people are waiting in line to donate their bodies. In 2009, von Hagens unveiled the Sex Couple at the Berlin exhibition, evoking mucht debate and critisism. Wanting to show the Couple at the London exhibition, von Hagens wrote and open letter to the British public via the London Evening Standard describing his latest work:  “…the anatomical preservation of a man and a woman – two consenting, deceased donors – through my science of plastination, in a pose meant to highlight human reproduction.”  (You can read the complete letter here)

Searching the Web for pictures, I stumbled on a mulititude of blog entries written by people who have visited the Body Worlds. Some were appalled, some fascinated, others outraged. I have not yet had the honor, I must say. Count me in with the Fascinated.

Here is a link to the official website, with tour dates and a detailed explanation of the plastination process:

Speaking of Guitarists…

Les Paul was born as Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At age eight, he played the harmonica and attempted to play the banjo. This brought him to the guitar. By the time he was thirteen, he played country music in Waukesha semi-professionally. He migrated to Chicago in 1934 and released his first two records in 1936. At this point he started playing jazz and adopted his stage name, Les Paul.

In the 30’s, a problem facing guitarist was the growing brass sections in the big bands. The sound of the guitar could not compete with the brass instruments and needed to be amplified. The attempts at amplifying instruments can be traced back to 1910, when techniques using telephone transmitters for violins and banjos were first patented.

The first hollow-body electric guitar was actually developed by Georg Beauchamp, with Adolph Rickenbacher and Paul Barth and then built by Henry Watson. The guitar was commercially produced in 1934 under the name of Rickenbacher Electro Stringed Instruments.

But the hollow-body guitars had feedback and sustain problems. The main goal was to have the strings vibrating and nothing else. So, Les Paul built his first solid-body electric guitar in 1941, called “The Log.” It was a four-by-four board with strings and a pickup and two hollow-body guitar halves screwed on the sides for show. He offered this project to Gibson, who promptly refused to produce it. They said it was a board with pickups and strings. (Basically, it is just that, right?)

Les Paul not only made great donations to the development of the electric guitar, he also made great leaps in the recording industry with his overdubbing techniques or “sound on sound” recording. He went on to write and record a slew of music and remained an active guitar player until his death:

“Paul performed weekly – at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club – and indulged his inventor’s curiosity in a basement workshop at home in Mahwah, New Jersey up until his death on August 12, 2009.”  
A quote from:    Copyright 2011 The Les Paul Foundation

Les Paul in action:

Surprise Sentence

Who is on trial here?

The verdict in the trail of Adolf B., 69, is now three weeks old but the repercussions of this irresponsible decision in our so-called modern-day society still ripple through the Franconian Village of Willmersbach. Adolf B. was accused of raping his daughter Renate, 46, some 500 times, over the last 34 years, and fathering three children. He was sentenced on December 19, 2011 to a prison sentence of two years and eight months for incest, a lesser crime than rape, because the evidence did not support the accusation of rape. That means, the defense could not prove that the father took his daughter against her will. The sentence for incest in Germany is three years in prison. The Staatsanwaltschaft (District Attorney) was pushing to get a fourteen-year sentence for rape.

Called a ‘public secret’ in Willmersbach, this drama started in the early 80’s when Adolf B. brought his then twelve-year-old daughter into the bed he shared with his wife and had sexual relations with her. In front of his wife. She was present. Maybe she had her eyes closed.

The judge, Günther Heydner, known to be a tough cookie, addressed the court for two hours to justify the decision he felt compelled to make after the six-day trial. He recounted the witnesses’ testimonies and remained steadfast that no rape had been proved. The daughter’s testimony was inconsistent. She had a car and a driver’s license and could flee. They seemed to be a normal, healthy family. The daughter had advantages to this situation. She didn’t have to work outside the home! She would inherit the house when the father died!

There was no question of his guilt: no, it came down to the severity of the act. Incest or Rape? The question that bothered most of the newsfeed-readers who bothered to comment on’s website was: how could anyone believe that a twelve-year-old girl was seducing and voluntarily having sex with her father? Even Adolf B.’s defense wanted to lock him up for five years!

The parallels to the verdicts that came out of medieval courts are overwhelming. But today’s society is more civilized, less violent and, even though I complain about the system, surely more humane.