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“A dull, decent people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter of a million bayonets”*…

 

BritEmpGlobe

On the heels of the Scottish Referendum, a meditation on the scope of the U.K…

Mitch Fraas, curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections, recently sent me this image and GIF of a moveable toy distributed by the Children’s Encyclopedia in Britain in the early twentieth century. The toy, which doubles as an ad for the encyclopedia, takes the old saying “The sun never sets on the British empire” and represents it physically, through the medium of a spinning wheel.

The Children’s Encyclopedia, one of the first such projects directed exclusively at young people, was first sold in Britain as a serial in 1908. The illustrated Encyclopedia addressed a grab-bag of subjects, structured not alphabetically but thematically, with each volume holding information on nineteen different topics (animals, history, literature, geography, the Bible). Like the text on this movable map, the overwhelming tone of the Encyclopedia was optimistic and patriotic, with the United Kingdom’s achievements in science, literature, and war always emphasized.

The Encyclopedia was republished in the United States as The Book of Knowledge,where (its publisher claimed) it sold three and half million sets between 1910 and 1945. Here’s a poem by Howard Nemerov about his childhood experience reading the project’s American edition, which he describes as “The vast pudding of knowledge,/With poetry rare as raisins scattered through/The twelve gold-lettered volumes black and green”…

 

More at the invaluable Rebecca Onion’s “‘The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,’ Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy.”

* George Orwell’s harsh judgement of British imperialism, in Burmese Days

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As we break for a cup of tea, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor who’d immigrated to America and was fighting for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War, became the first American naval hero when he won a hard-fought engagement against the British ships-of-war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England.  Though Jones went on to serve in the Imperial Russian Navy, he is often called the “Father of the United States Navy” (an honorific he shares with John Barry).

A 1781 painting of John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale.

 source

 

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”*…

 

From the annals of the $20 billion phenomenon that is Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

The latest craze, known as miss-mixing, is proving very popular amongst digital DJs as a way of highlighting that they are actually manually mixing tracks rather than using the sync button.

Michael Briscoe, also know as DJ Whopper, spoke about miss-mixing with Wunderground, “Flawless mixing is now a thing of the past, especially for any up and coming digital DJs. You just can’t afford to mix without mistakes these days or you’ll be labelled as a ‘sync button DJ.’”

“I learned how to mix on vinyl years ago so naturally I’m pretty tight when it comes to matching beats,” continued the resident DJ. “I swapped to digital format a couple of years ago because it’s convenient, now I spend more time practicing making mistakes than I do practicing actual mixing.”

“I like to drop in on the second or third beat, leave it play for a couple of bars and then quickly correct myself,” explained Mr. Briscoe. “It’s subtle yet affective, I call it The Perplexer. People who don’t know what they’re listening to won’t even notice it while other DJs will be thinking ‘that’s a great mistake, who is this DJ Whopper lad anyway?’ d’ya know what I mean?”…

Ponder the price of authenticity at “DJs Now Deliberately Making Mistakes To Prove They Are Real DJs.”

* The title of a seminal work by recent (R)D “honoree” Walter Benjamin

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As ask ourselves if it’s real or if it’s Memorex, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the first Farm Aid concert was held, in Champaign, Illinois.

It started with an offhand remark made by Bob Dylan during his performance at Live Aid, the massive fundraising concert held at Wembley Stadium, London, and JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, in the early summer of 1985. As television viewers around the world phoned in donations in support of African famine relief, Dylan said from the stage, “I hope that some of the money…maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe…one or two million, maybe…and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks.” Dylan would come under harsh criticism from Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof for his remarks (“It was a crass, stupid and nationalistic thing to say,” Geldof would later write), but he planted a seed with several fellow musicians who shared his concern over the state of the American family farm. Less than one month later, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp announced plans for “Farm Aid,” a benefit concert for America’s farmers.

As one might have expected of a concert staged to “raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land,” Farm Aid featured a number of performers from the worlds of country, folk and rootsy rock music. There were the three main organizers and the instigator Bob Dylan, for instance, along with Hoyt Axton, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Joni Mitchell and Charley Pride. But the first Farm Aid, more than any of the annual Farm Aid concerts since, was a bit of a stylistic free-for-all, featuring artists united only by their interest in supporting a good cause.

“As soon as I read in the paper that there was gonna be such a thing,” Sammy Hagar told MTV’s cameras on the day of the show, “I called my manager and said, ‘I wanna do it.’ And he said, ‘It’s all country.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. It’s America. I wanna do it.’ If there was anything more surprising than hearing Hagar perform his hard-rock anthem “I Can’t Drive 55″ on the same stage that had earlier featured the quiet folk of Arlo Guthrie, it was hearing Lou Reed perform “Walk On The Wild Side” on a stage that had featured John Denver.

Over the years since its first charity concert on this day in 1985, the Farm Aid organization has raised upwards of $33 million to support small farmers, promote sustainable farming practices and encourage consumption of “good food from family farms.”

[source]

Coincidentally, it was on this date in 1962 that Dylan played his first gig at Carnegie Hall…

 source

 

 

Written by LW

September 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears”*…

 

Vaccination rates are plummeting at top Hollywood schools, from Malibu to Beverly Hills, from John Thomas Dye to Turning Point, where affluent, educated parents are opting out in shocking numbers (leaving some schools’ immunization rates on par with South Sudan) as an outbreak of potentially fatal whooping cough threatens L.A. like “wildfire”…

Read @GarymBaum’s fascinating– and chilling– story (and find the interactive version of the map above) at “Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic.”  See also: “The Calculus of Contagion.”

[TotH to Quartz for the pointer]

* Alice Walker

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As we steel ourselves for the prick, we might spare a thought for Abraham Flexner; he died on this date in 1959.  The founding director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Flexner is best remembered for his pioneering work as a reformer of American higher education, especially medical education.  On the heels of his 1908 study, The American College, in which he effectively critiqued the university lecture as a method of instruction, he published the Flexner Report, which examined the state of American medical education and led to far-reaching reform in the training of doctors.  The report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research.  While one unintended consequence of Flexner’s impactful advocacy was the reversion of American universities to male-only admittance programs to accommodate a smaller admission pool (female admissions picked up again only later the century), most historians agree with his biographer, Thomas Bonner, that Flexner was “the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had.”

 source

 

Written by LW

September 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“A copy is a meta-original”*…

 

History tells us that Walter Benjamin, the influential German critic of literature, art, and culture, died more than seventy years ago. So how is it that he’s now out doing lectures and has published a new book?

The fascinating tale in its entirety at “An Investigation Into the Reappearance of Walter Benjamin.”

Conceived by an anthropologist of art and culture as a collection of recent texts by Walter Benjamin written between 1986 and the present, this book includes interviews by Beti Zerovc, Maxine Kopsa and Milo Rau as well as lectures including “Lenin and Coca-Cola,” “The Unmaking of Art” and “The Making of Americans.”

source

[TotH to Tyler Hellard's Pop Loser]

* Walter Benjamin

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As we celebrate simulacra, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “Sugar, Sugar” hit the top of the U.S. pop charts.  Written by Jeff Berry and Andy Kim as one of 16 musical segments performed by “The Archies” (a group of studio musicians) in the CBS “The Archie Comedy Hour,” the tune went on to become the number-one single of the year.

email readers click here for video

 

Written by LW

September 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Everything you can imagine is real”*…

 

Gregory Frank Harris, Tea in the Garden, c. 1953

A mash-up of fine art and current SMS messages…

From the sacred…

Diego Velazquez, Christ Crucified, 1632

…to the profane…

Jacques-Louis David, Male Nude Known as Hector, 1778

… readers will find oh so many more at If Paintings Could Text

Rosa Bonheur, Portrait de Col. William F. Cody, 1889

[TotH to @mattiekahn]

* Pablo Picasso (whose paintings-with-texts are here)

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As we just hit “send,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1545 that François Rabelais received the permission of King François I to publish the Gargantua series– Gargantua and Pantagruel as we know it.  In fact, Rabelais’ wild mix of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes, and songs had been circulating pseudonymously for years.

Rabelais wrote at a time of great ferment in the French language, and contributed mightily to it– both in coinage and in usage.  But his influence was even broader (Tristram Shandy, e.g., is full of quotes from Rabelais) and continues to this day via writers including Milan Kundera, Robertson Davies, and Kenzaburō Ōe.

 source

Written by LW

September 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence”*…

 

And yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Aesop makes the fable, that when he died he told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under the ground in his vineyard: and they digged over the ground, gold they found none, but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man’s life.
― Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning

The Alchemist in His Studio, 17th century, Thomas Wijck, oil on panel. Via the Chemical Heritage Foundation, to which all rights are reserved

Dr. Larry Principe, professor of the history of science at Johns Hopkins, on his favorite painting in the collection of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, The Alchemist in his Studio, by Thomas Wijck (1616–1677).

email readers click here for video

Special bonus:  hear a discussion of this painting (and others) from a very different perspective in “Alchemy’s Rainbow: Pigment Science and the Art of Conservation.”

* Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus

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As we trouble ourselves with transmutation, we might send swinging birthday greetings to Jean Bernard Léon Foucault; he was born on this date in 1819.  One of the most versatile experimentalists of the nineteenth century, Foucault was a physicist made early measurements of the speed of light, discovered eddy currents, and is credited with naming the gyroscope (though he did not invent it).  For all that, Foucault is surely best remembered for the “Foucault Pendulum,” with which he proved that the earth rotates on its axis.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

September 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap”*…

 

It’s tempting to consider information visualization a relatively new field that rose in response to the demands of the Internet generation. “But,” argues Manual Lima in The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge, “as with any domain of knowledge, visualizing is built on a prolonged succession of efforts and events.”

While it’s tempting to look at the recent work, it’s critical we understand the long history. Lima’s stunning book helps, covering the fascinating 800-year history of the seemingly simple tree diagram.

Trees are some of the oldest living things in the world. The sequoias in Northern California, for example, can reach a height of nearly 400 feet, with a trunk diameter of 26 feet and live to more than 3,500 years. “These grandiose, mesmerizing lifeforms are a remarkable example of longevity and stability and, ultimately, are the crowning embodiment of the powerful qualities humans have always associated with trees.”

Such an important part of natural life on earth, tree metaphors have become deeply embedded in the English language, as in the “root” of the problem or “branches” of knowledge. In the Renaissance, the philosophers Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, for example, used tree diagrams to describe dense classification arrangements. As we shall see, trees really became popular as a method of communicating and changing minds with Charles Darwin…

More on the highly-recommended Farnum Street blog.

* Rodney Dangerfield

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As we look to our roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that Capitol Records released what it claimed to be (and what surely was) the shortest “song” ever recorded.  Earlier in the year, Les Paul and Mary Ford has released a single, “Magic Melody,” that concluded with the well-known “shave and a hair cut” musical phrase– sans the traditional “two bits” sting.  Disc jockeys around the country complained that the track ended too abruptly, that it left the listener hanging.  So Les Paul went back into the studio to record “Magic Melody- Part 2″– which consisted solely of the two “missing” notes.  It ran for about one second.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

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