Let Them See Cake — Protestor Smears Cake On The Mona Lisa

Was your Memorial Day weekend exciting? Whatever your experience was, it can’t top what happened to the Mona Lisa; an attack against the world’s most famous painting took the cake–literally. The priceless work of art was assaulted by a disguised museum visitor wielding–not a knife or gun–but a piece of cake.

Sunday May 29th was seemingly just another night at the museum. No, it wasn’t New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, and Ben Stiller was nowhere in sight. The location was the Louvre in Paris which houses over 7,500 works in its painting collection. Displayed in the typically crowded room called the Salle des Etats, the Mona Lisa sat with that mysterious smile on her face.

As tourists gathered before Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting oohing, aahing, and taking pictures, something strange happened. An elderly women in a wheelchair in front of the artwork leapt up, smeared a piece of cream cake across the glass protecting the Renaissance painting, and began yelling in French. Well, yelling in French wasn’t that strange since the museum is in Paris, but the visitor’s actions were certainly unexpected.

Security sprang into action and tackled the attacker who turned out not to be old nor even a woman. Instead it was a 36 year old man wearing a white jeans, an orange scarf, a black wig, and makeup. (Sadly, there’s no word on the color of lipstick the man used to accessorize his vandalism outfit.) He threw red roses at the feet of the security personnel who tackled him. Meanwhile museum staff wiped thick cream off the painting’s protective glass.

Who’d perpetrate such a bold act of vandalism? Based on what the man yelled, he appears to be a climate activist. His words (translated from French, of course), urged those in hearing range to “Think about the Earth….Think about the planet.” Maybe I’m just dense, but I’m having difficulty finding the connection between Mona Lisa, cream cake, and environmental issues.

Carted away from the museum, the attacker ended up a police psychiatric unit for evaluation. Not only is Paris for lovers, but some loonies are in the City of Lights as well. A charge of damaging cultural artifacts is pending. Is this the best charge to pursue? The painting was untouched and undamaged; its protective glass case simply had delicious cream cake spread across it.

Needless to say, those present in the Louvre at the time of the incident got the photo opportunity of a lifetime. Those taking selfies with the smeared cake visible likely said “cake” rather than “cheese” before clicking. (Make that “gateau” instead “fromage” for the French-speaking visitors.)

Video and pictures taken went viral on social media. As a result of the buzz, a t-shirt has already been designed by a Tokyo-based label bearing the image of the painting behind cake smeared protective glass. For a mere $60, this item can be added to your wardrobe. Me? I’d rather spend $60 on delicious cream cake, especially from the Parisian bakery where the offending piece of cake was purchased. I’m waiting for the news report on exactly what type of cake it was and what establishment made it. (Que a stampede to obtain some.)

Although the attacker may be touched in the head, he did have a detailed plan which worked well. Pulling this stunt off was no piece of cake. (Yes, pun intended.) Museum staff believed he was an elderly, disabled woman; they not only admitted him but allowed him access to the spot in front of the painting reserved for the handicapped. Personally, I believe the security staff need eye exams. After seeing the video, I don’t think the perpetrator looks anything like an elderly woma,n.

Although the Mona Lisa may not be connected to the environment per se, its high visibility made it ripe for an attention-getting protest. The painting, owned by the French government, is priceless and holds the Guinness World Record for the highest insurance valuation–$100 million in 1962 ($870 million in 2021). It’s one of the first artworks displayed at the Louvre and the museum’s biggest draw. Before the pandemic as many as 30,000 people a day viewed the Mona Lisa.

Not only is the painting one of the most valuable paintings in the world, it is also OLD. Da Vinci painted the half-length portrait around 1503-1506, making the work over 500 years old. Because of its age and for security, da Vinci’s 16th century masterpiece is kept under strict climate-controlled conditions in a bulletproof glass case. Glass has protected the artwork since the 1950’s.

Despite its worth and fame, the Mona Lisa isn’t huge, measuring only 30 inches by 21 inches. The painting’s subject isn’t anyone famous; although debated, the portrait is believed to be an Italian woman named Lisa Gheradini. Even the portrait’s name is tame. “Monna” in Italian (Americanized to “Mona”) is simply a polite form of address like “ma’am” or “madam.”

Is ultra-tight security really needed for this valuable painting? The answer would be a resounding “YES!” A number of incidents involving the the Mona Lisa have occurred over the years. In 1911, it was stolen by a Louvre employee. (Check those references, peeps!) The bottom of the canvas suffered an acid attack in the 1950’s. A rock was thrown at the painting in 1956. In 1974 when on loan to the National Art Museum in Tokyo, the artwork was sprayed with red paint. And in 2009, a Russian woman flung a ceramic cup at it; the cup broke, but the painting was unharmed. For such a nice, smiling lady, Mona Lisa sure does take a lot of flak.

With all Mona Lisa has been through in her 500+ years, you have to admire her attitude. She’s still smiling. While we may never know why she was smiling when Leonardo da Vinci painted her, I suspect there’s a different reason for her to smile now. She’s enjoying her great popularity with millions of admirers. And maybe, just maybe, she’s thinking, “Hit me with your best shot” when she spots potential vandals. Getting her to frown will be no cakewalk.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Have you ever been to the Louvre? How much security should an art museum have? What’s an appropriate punishment for someone who intentionally damages a valuable piece of art?

Ready, Aim, Fire! — Execution By Firing Squad Given A Shot

Asked to name current execution methods in the U.S., most citizens will cite either the electric chair or lethal injection. But a few states have turned to Door C–death by firing squad. And to no one’s surprise, death penalty opponents characterize this third method as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. Should the old-time execution method of a firing squad be given a shot?

The question has come to a head in South Carolina where a death warrant for 57-year-old Richard Moore was issued. The set execution date of April 29th is on hold with the South Carolina Supreme Court approving a temporary stay of execution. Should the execution go forward in the intended manner, Moore would become the first inmate to be put to death by firing squad in that state. The proposed manner of his execution has become the target (pun intended) of death penalty protestors who’ve labeled this method as unconstitutional.

What does the Constitution have to do with executions, you ask? Six words in the Eighth Amendment, a part of the Bill of Rights which was ratified in 1791, come into play: “nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.” Firing squad opponents hang their arguments on these words to shoot down this execution method.

Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers didn’t provide a glossary behind the Constitution and its amendments, so it’s impossible to know exactly what they meant by either “cruel” or “unusual.” But whipping, stocks, and branding with a hot iron were in use during their time. The drafters of the Eight Amendment wanting to avoid the public shame and pain such punishments brought is a reasonable assumption with their use of the terms “cruel” and “unusual.”

Death by firing squad has been an accepted method for executions for quite some time, particularly for the military. It was deemed a fitting punishment for the offenses of treason, desertion, and mutiny, among others. Numerous soldiers were executed in this way during the Civil War. According to historians, 433 of the 573 soldiers executed in that time faced a firing squad. (Would this historical evidence be characterized as a “smoking gun?”)

The term “squad” is appropriate because more than one shooter is utilized, and all shooters fire simultaneously. Traditionally, not all the shooters are given live rounds, allowing them to preserve deniability for the death. In South Carolina, three shooters are used to execute the condemned, but all are provided weapons having live ammo. Squad members are volunteers from the Department of Corrections trained in the use of weapons. (Translate: Trained marksmen = less chance of botched execution.)

Forget the dramatic scenes from movies where the condemned stands in a field, is shot, and falls to the ground or in a pit or grave behind him which has already been dug. In South Carolina, the condemned is strapped into a metal firing squad chair in the “death chamber.” A metal chair sounds stark, but comfort really isn’t a concern at that point. A hood is placed over the condemned’s head, and a small “aim point” (perhaps an “X?”) is placed over his heart. The firing squad stands 15′ away behind a wall of the chamber and fire rifles through an aperture in that wall. Bulletproof glass in the chamber protects those witnessing the execution in an adjoining area.

Using a firing squad is cheaper than maintaining an electric chair or purchasing lethal drugs, but is this method “cruel?” Legal debates rage, but one U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer seems favorable to the method. She wrote in a 2017 opinion that “In addition to being more instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless.” Using “Old Sparky,” the nickname given most electric chairs, in contrast might be more painful with electricity surging through the condemned’s body.

Undoubtedly, the firing squad method reduces the time for suffering, assuming any occurs. The gunshot is delivered to a vital organ, i.e., the heart, bringing quick death. A doctor’s experiment during an execution of a Utah inmate in the 1930’s supports this conclusion. The prisoner allowed the doctor to hook him up to an electrocardiogram as he faced the firing squad. The device registered 15.6 seconds before his heart stopped after being shot. (NOTE: This is a fine example of multitasking–execution and science experiment rolled into one.)

A lethal injection, in contrast, takes several minutes for death to occur, and instances of botched executions in that manner have been reported. In 2014, an Oklahoma prisoner writhed, groaned, and convulsed for over forty minutes. While the man surely wanted to live longer, he certainly didn’t want to do so under excruciatingly painful circumstances.

Why a return to execution by firing now? One driving factor is the lack of availability of the drugs needed for a lethal injection. Typically, a three-drug cocktail is utilized for executions, and South Carolina hasn’t possessed a usable dose of lethal injection drugs since 2013. Lack of these drugs is attributable to drug companies’ reluctance to have their products used to kill people, leading to a shortage.

Because of this drug shortage, in May of 2021 South Carolina’s governor signed a bill into law which allowed inmates to choose their method of execution–firing squad or electric chair. Talk about picking your poison….South Carolina is one of a handful of states authorizing this execution method; the others are Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah.

But just because the method is authorized doesn’t mean that it’s being used. According to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, only three executions in the U.S. have been carried out by firing squad since reinstatement of the death penalty nationally in 1976. And all three of those executions were conducted in Utah. Nevertheless, no firing squad executions have occurred in over a decade.

While the acceptability of using a firing squad in general may not be resolved immediately, the life of at least one condemned S. C. prisoner hangs in the balance now. Hopefully a quick resolution of his case will take place. To me, it is cruel and unusual to have the condemned remain in limbo for an extended time as to whether he will live or be executed no matter by what method.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Is it the method itself or simply the fact someone is being put to death that’s the crux of death penalty opponents’ objections? If you were to be executed, what method would you select–injection, electrocution, or shooting? Should all shooters in a firing squad be given live ammo or should one receive a non-lethal bullet?