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“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”*…

 

 

It seems that in northern Siberia, the reindeer developed a taste for those colorful red and white mushrooms, fly agaric (amanita muscaria), and will eat them till they’re higher than a kite.  Anyone eating the meat of such reindeer will get equally high. The village shamen soon figured out how to reduce the toxicity of the mushrooms, while increasing the potency and claiming it helped them fly.  Folks in the far north had not yet discovered the art of fermentation, so the fly-in visits from the shaman with his mushroom treats were much anticipated.  A further point…many shamanistic arctic tribes such as the Koryaks of Siberia lived in semi underground yurt like structures, whose only entrance was a ladder through the smoke hole, or chimney, in the roof, down which the shamen would climb with his gifts, carried in a sack.

Then, in 1931, a young Swedish artist named Haddon Sundblom, obviously familiar with the tales, created a jolly round Santa Claus as a Christmas icon for his client, Coca-Cola,  using the company’s familiar red and white colors.  Coke notes with pride that until that time, St. Nick appeared in any number of guises, from a somber man in priestly garb to a green-clad elf, and it was only after Haddon had developed the character over several years that the jolly fat Santa became our Christmas standard-bearer, shown drinking his first Coke in 1934…

Read more in John Hulls’ terrific blog Somewhat Logically: “Reindeer Really Know How to Fly.”

* the famous reply contained in “Is There a Santa Claus?”, an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun.

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As we bake cookies to leave out on Christmas Eve, we might recall that on this date in 1732 Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack,”  a pamphlet series that he continued, to great success, annually through 1757.  (Indeed, with print runs typically numbering 10,000, the series made Franklin’s fortune, allowing him to spend the bulk of his time on scientific experiments, diplomacy…  and in his own consciousness-altering experiments in The Hellfire Club.)

The first edition (published in 1732 for 1733)

 With the hope that your celebrations will be warm and peaceful, and with thanks for your kind attention over the last twelve months, (Roughly) Daily is going on it’s annual Holiday hiatus…  See you in the New Year!

Written by LW

December 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”*…

 

Since we last visited Tom Gauld, he’s turned his attention increasing to the blessed realm of every year’s perfect Holiday present: the world of books.  From New Yorker covers to cartoons for The Guardian‘s Review section, he celebrates the world of letters (and the arts) with insightful whimsy…

Turn the pages at “You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack” and at Gauld’s site.

* Joesph Brodsky

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As we prepare to bury our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1679 that ruffians in the employ of the Earl of Rochester set upon and pummeled England’s poet Laureate, John Dryden, on the mistaken impression that he had written “An Essay on Satire.”  The essay– which was circulating in manuscript form in London, and contained damning accounts of the King and many notables, including Rochester– was in fact written by John Sheffield (1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, a poet and Tory politician of the late Stuart period, who served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council).

The wrongly-accused Dryden

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Sheffield

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Written by LW

December 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination”*…

 

The 1603 Sphaera stellifera globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu showcases cutting-edge seventeenth-century astronomy in three dimensions. Designed by printmaker Jan Saenredam, it is also stunningly beautiful. It features highly accurate observations of the Northern Hemisphere, and pictures the newly discovered constellations of the Southern sky, offering them as heavenly proof of the success of the Dutch colonial enterprise…

Read more– and find a version that you can zoom and turn online– at “Spin a 3-D Representation of a Beautiful 17th-Century Celestial Globe.”

* Henry David Thoreau

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As we locate ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1790 that the  Aztec Calendar Stone (or Sun Stone or Stone of the Five Eras), which had been buried by Spanish conquistadors at El Zocalo in Mexico City, was rediscovered during repairs to the Cathedral there.  Perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture, it depicts the five eras (the Five Suns) of Aztec civilization; and, while it is called “calendar stone,” it appears to have been used as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar.

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Written by LW

December 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”*…

 

Benedikt Groß (designer of a cool typeface made up of satellite imagery, among many other nifty things) has created Population.io, a new site (still in Beta) that visualizes a user’s place in the world’s population in a series of elegant tables and charts… including one that estimates the time of the users death (at least loosely– that is, based on average life expectancy where he/she lives).

Locate yourself.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle into the global village, we might send speculative birthday greetings to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, eleven popular films have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired”*…

 

More weird wisdom at Werner Herzog Inspirationals

* Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

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As we study Stuart Smalley, we might recall that it was on this date in 1616 that Cervantes’ Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Works of Persiles and Sigismunda) was accepted for publication.  A departure from the celebration of the commonplace in his Don Quixote, the Persiles is a romance– a Byzantine novel– full of fantasy.  Cervantes, who had died three days after finishing the manuscript, believed it to be his crowning achievement.

The cover of the first edition, which appeared the following year (1617)

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Written by LW

December 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year”*…

 

The commercial Christmas card as we know it originated in London in 1843. That winter, Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who helped organize the Great Exhibition and develop the Victoria and Albert Museum, decided he was too busy to write individual Christmas greetings to his family, friends and business colleagues. He asked his friend, the painter John Callcott Horsley, to design a card with an image and brief greeting that he could mail instead.

Horsley designed a triptych, with the two side panels depicting good deeds (clothing the naked and feeding the hungry) and the center panel showing a family Christmas party. The inclusion of booze at this party got Cole and Horsley an earful from the British Temperance Movement. At the bottom of the center panel was the inscription “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

The card was lithographed on 5 1/8″ X 3 1/4″ stiff cardboard in dark sepia and then colored by hand. An edition of 1,000 cards was printed and sold at Felix Summerly’s Treasure House in London for a shilling each. Of those cards, twelve exist today in private collections, including the one Cole sent to his grandmother.

Mass-printed cards soon replaced hand-written greetings in most of Europe and the United States. Americans imported their Christmas cards from England until 1875, when a German immigrant named Louis Prang opened a lithographic shop and created the first line of Christmas cards in the states.

While Prang was soon producing more than 5 million Christmas cards each year and had been dubbed the “father of the American Christmas card,” his success didn’t last long. The initial popularity of his cards led to imitations that were less expensive and featured seasonal images instead of the colorful floral arrangements Prang favored. Prang’s imitators drove him out of the market in 1890, and inexpensive Christmas postcards imported from Germany ruled until World War I.

By the end of the war, the modern American greeting card industry had been born and today it supplies the 2,000,000,000+ Christmas cards that are sent every year in the U.S.

[Via Mental Floss, where one can also get a peek at some of the weird turns that the trend took: “9 Delightfully Bizarre Christmas Cards from the 1800s.”]

* E.B. White

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As we lick envelopes, we might be relived to remember that today os the traditionally-accepted start of the Halcyon Days.  Ovid recounts, in The Metamorphoses, the story of Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, his daughter Alcyone, and her husband Ceyx, the king of Thessaly. When Ceyx was drowned at sea, Alcyone threw herself into the waves in a fit of grief– whereupon the gods transformed them both into halcyon birds (kingfishers).  When Alcyone made her nest on the beach, waves threatened to destroy it; so Aeolus restrained his winds and kept them calm during seven days (some believe fourteen) in each year, so she could lay her eggs.  These became known as the “halcyon days,” when storms do not occur.

While in modern usage the phrase has taken on a nostalgic cast (folks pine for the “Halcyon Days of Youth”), we can hope that they spell a safe and calm Holiday season in 2014…

The Kingfisher

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Written by LW

December 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In memory everything seems to happen to music”*…

 

 

What do you hear when you mix the easy sounds of ambient music with the insistence of a police scanner?  Listen to San Francisco, or to any number of other cities

… at YouAreListeningTo.

* Tennessee Williams

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As we tune in, we might send forcefully-metered birthday greetings to Kenneth Patchen; he was born on this date in 1911.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

- from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

December 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

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