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“Just play. Have fun.”*…

 

The mud-pit belly flop, a highlight of the annual Summer Redneck Games in Dublin, Georgia

 

The word “weird” is defined by various dictionaries as odd, bizarre, eccentric and unconventional. And where most of these traits could be considered unsettling, in the world of photography, and specifically sports, it could also translate to a gold mine.  The essence of photography is to capture a truly remarkable moment. And many times, different (or weird) can be good. If photographers covered the same events from the same angles, we really wouldn’t achieve anything unique or memorable…

712 people and 600 balls in Manhattan: the world’s largest dodgeball game

Sol Neelman, a self-proclaimed “failed athlete” and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, has turned his lens away from the conventional targets of sports photography…

A Chinese tourist in the dunes of the Sahara Desert tries his hand at sandboarding

Read an interview (from whence, the body quote above) with Neelman here; peruse his portfolio here.

* Michael Jordan

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As we Do It, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893 that “Cowboy Bill” Pickett invented bull-dogging. A 23-year-old cowhand at the time, he rode alongside a stray, dropped from his horse to grab the steer’s horns, and– emulating bulldogs that he’d observed– sharply bit the steer’s upper lip.  Soon after, Pickett and his four brothers formed The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association.  He did his bulldogging act, traveling about in Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, and Oklahoma.  In 1905, Pickett joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show that featured the likes of Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, and Tom Mix; Pickett was soon a popular performer who toured around the world and appeared in early motion pictures (see below)– though he often had to mask his African-American heritage by claiming (only) his Native American roots.  (Even then, while he was in fact part Cherokee, he claimed to be part Comanche.)

As the event became a common rodeo event, lip biting became increasingly less popular until it disappeared from steer wrestling altogether.

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Written by LW

May 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization”*…

 

… The history of “thug” goes back not just to the hip-hop scene of the 1990s, to Tupac Shakur and the “Thug Life” tattoo that stretched, arc-like, across his abdomen; it goes back to India—to the India, specifically, of the 1350s.”Thug” comes from the Hindi thuggee or tuggee (pronounced “toog-gee” or “toog”); it is derived from the word ठग, or ṭhag, which means “deceiver” or “thief” or “swindler.” The Thugs, in India, were a gang of professional thieves and assassins who operated from the 14th century and into the 19th. They worked, in general, by joining travelers, gaining their trust … and then murdering them—strangulation was their preferred method—and stealing their valuables…

Who is a thug? Who is not a thug? “The thug,” the Brown University professor Tricia Rose writes in her book The Hip Hop Wars, “both represents a product of discriminatory conditions, and embodies behaviors that injure the very communities from which it comes.” Thugs, in this conception, are both victims and agents of injustice. They are both the products and the producers of violence, and mayhem, and outrage. So it is fitting that, as the word’s history suggests, there is—contrary to [Baltimore] Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s claims last [week]—a kind of universality to thuggery. Thugs are not necessarily “evil”; thugs are not necessarily opposed to “the will of good”; thugs are not necessarily unsympathetic. Which is another way of saying that thugs are human. And, being such, they evolve. Mark Twain, in Following the Equator, noted that all of human history, on some level, has found “Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization.”

Twain continues…

The joy of killing! the joy of seeing killing done–these are traits of the human race at large. We white people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization; Thugs who long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman arena, and later the burning of doubtful Christians by authentic Christians in the public squares, and who now, with the Thugs of Spain and Nimes, flock to enjoy the blood and misery of the bull-ring. We have no tourists of either sex or any religion who are able to resist the delights of the bull-ring when opportunity offers; and we are gentle Thugs in the hunting-season, and love to chase a tame rabbit and kill it. Still, we have made some progress–microscopic, and in truth scarcely worth mentioning, and certainly nothing to be proud of–still it is progress: we no longer take pleasure in slaughtering or burning helpless men. We have reached a little altitude where we may look down upon the Indian Thugs with a complacent shudder; and we may even hope for a day, many centuries hence, when our posterity will look down upon us in the same way.
Following the Equator

More at “The History of ‘Thug’.”

* Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

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As we examine our etymology, we might send crafty birthday greetings to Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; he was born on this date in 1469.  Machiavelli wrote comedies, poetry, and some of the best-known personal correspondence in Italian; but he is best remembered as a Man of Affairs, first as a servant of the Florentine Republic in a time during which Medici influence was on the wane, then as an adviser to the Medici.  His most famous work, The Prince— first published as a pamphlet in 1513– was written mid-career to gain favor with the Medici, who were at that point regaining dominance in Florence.  The essay on the exercise of power (inspired by Cesare Borgia) not only failed to win over the Medici, it alienated Machiavelli from the Florentine public; he never again played an important role in government.  Indeed, when the Florentine Republic was established in 1527, Machiavelli was effectively ostracized.

But published in book form posthumously (in 1532), The Prince began its steady growth in influence.  And of course today, Machiavelli is considered one of the fathers of modern political theory… if not indeed a philosopher of thuggery.

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

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Written by LW

May 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is”*…

 

Left: Advertisement showing Regency amplifier, ca. 1954. Right: Living room stereo, ca. mid 20th century.

 

In 1954 House & Home reported that “half a million new hobbyists joined ranks of Hi-Fi enthusiasts last year”; by 1955, one authority noted that “High Fidelity at low cost is available to everyone.” (The rise of specialized publications catering to the new audiophiles is another indicator of the trend.) In fact, although stereo technology had been developed in the 1930s, it was not until February 1954 that RCA made the first commercial recording (a performance of The Damnation of Faust, by Berlioz, at Symphony Hall in Boston). Toward the end of the decade one observer would declare that “1958 will be remembered in America as the year when Stereo arrived.”…

Radios and phonographs had been around since the 30s, but with the rise of stereo…

Listening to music on hi-fi systems was not only central to music culture but also an accepted part of domestic culture — a complementary activity to almost anything else that could be done at home, from housework to recreation to eating to sex. As the cultural critic George Steiner wrote, in 1961, “The new middle class in the affluent society reads little, but listens to music with knowing delight. Where the library shelves once stood, there are proud, esoteric rows of record albums and high-fidelity components.” Listening to music was fast becoming one of the most important shared experiences in the American home…

More on the huge impact of the hi-fi at “A Tiny Orchestra in the Living Room.”

* Rebecca West

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As we load the changer, we might send sonorous birthday greetings to Robert Williams Wood; he was born on this date in 1868.  A physicist and inventor, Wood made substantial contributions to optics and to the development of infrared and ultraviolet photography.  He is probably best remembered as the first to photograph the reflection of sound waves in air, and for his investigated the physiological effects of high-frequency sound waves.

Wood, R. W. (1900) “The photography of sound waves and the demonstration of the evolutions of reflected wave fronts with the cinematograph.” Nature, 62: 342-349

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Written by LW

May 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We are all fools in love”*…

 

The most common assumption about romance novels, buoyed by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, is that they are anti-feminist. And though the so-called bodice rippers of the 1970s (in which men who look like Fabio ravish passive sweethearts) are still quite popular, the genre has also expanded rapidly in recent years to include fiction of the paranormal, gay, evangelical, steampunk, time travel and Gothic variety (and many more). Its female leads, in many contexts, have evolved with the times, rendering the notion that romance novels are full of oppressed, unthinking women, profoundly ignorant. Not only is the industry itself rife with female entrepreneurs; its heroines always get what they want. In fact, the only formula that rings true across all romance novels is the HEA: the Happily Ever After. It is unanimously believed to be the defining principle of the genre. “The women always win,” says [filmmaker Laurie] Kahn. “And that doesn’t happen in most places.”…

Find out “Why romance novelists are the rock stars of the literary world.”

* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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As we still our pounding hearts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that the Illuminati was founded.  While the name has been given to a number of organizations– real and imagined– over the years, this first incarnation was real enough.  It was started by Adam Weishaupt, the only non-clerical professor at the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt– an experience that turned him into a rabid anti-cleric.  He first tried to become a Freemason, but couldn’t afford the initiation fees and dues; so he created his own organization– the Iluminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati.  In some ways a typical Enlightenment secret society, the Illuminati’s goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power.  And like other secret societies with similar goals, it was pretty promptly outlawed by the State at the urging of the Church.  Still, rumors persisted– and persist still– that the Illuminati built a world-wide conspiracy of powerful folks who pull the world’s strings from behind the curtain.

The cover of an Illuminati pamphlet, featuring their “logo”: the owl of Minerva – symbolising wisdom – on top of an opened book

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Written by LW

May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The business of America is business”*…

 

A pair of Georgia Tech computer science students have created a Random Startup Website Generator that spits out a different jargon-laden startup website every time you click on “Get Started”.

Try it here; more background here.

* Calvin Coolidge

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As we prepare for our IPOs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1796 that the first U.S. patent for a pill of any kind was issued to Samuel Lee, Jr., of Connecticut, for a “Composition of bilious pills” which he renewed in 1810 and marketed as “Lee’s Windham Pills.”  Made up of “gamboge, aloes, soap, and nitrate of potassa,” the pills were of uncertain medical value– but were a huge hit.  Indeed, a second Samuel Lee (Samuel H.P. Lee, who had worked as an agent for the first Sam) began marketing a knock-off– which occasioned one of the young country’s first patent fights.

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Written by LW

April 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“They get their knowledge by books, I mine by melancholizing”*…

 

From the 1817 handbook The Philadelphia Medical Dictionary (available on the Internet Archive, via the U.S. National Library of Medicine)…

This book was edited by John Redman Coxe, a Philadelphia physician, sometime professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and pharmacist. Coxe published several other medical references, including one on smallpox vaccination. (He was a proponent of the practice and vaccinated himself and his infant son in 1801, write the editors of Penn Biographies, “as encouragement for others to do the same.”)

The book, Coxe wrote in a preface, was meant to be a quick reference for both the novice and the practiced physician, who might need a dictionary “to recal [sic] to his memory the explanation of some medical word.” The reference aimed for complete comprehensiveness, and the advertising copy used to sell the book in England boasted: “We have endeavored to include every Latin and technical term that has ever occurred in the PRACTICE of MEDICINE, SURGERY, PHARMACY, BOTANY, and CHEMISTRY.”…

* Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

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As we reach for the Xanax, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that Ezra Pound was turned over to the American Army by surrendering Italian forces; Pound, who’d been branded a traitor, was transferred back to the U.S., and committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Washington, D.C., where he was imprisoned for 13 years.

A poet who was a major figure of the early modernist movement, Pound was the developer of the “Imagist” school, and the “godfather” of a number of now-well-known contemporaries– among them,  T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.  He was responsible for the 1915 publication of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and the serialization from 1918 of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Deeply troubled by the carnage of World War I, Pound moved to Paris, then to Italy in the 1920s, and embraced the fascism of Benito Mussolini, whose policies he vocally supported.  

While in Army custody, he began work on sections of The Cantos– that became known as The Pisan Cantos (1948)– for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress… igniting an enormous controversy.

His release in 1958 was the result of a campaign by writers including Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams, and Hemingway.  Pound, who was believed to be suffering dementia, returned to Italy.

The best of Pound’s writing – and it is in the Cantos – will last as long as there is any literature.

-Ernest Hemingway

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Written by LW

April 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

“My attitude is never to be satisfied, never enough, never”*…

 

Duke Ellington eating dinner with his wife, Bea Ellington, and a friend (source: Library of Congress)

 

While Duke Ellington is rightly revered as the extraordinary musician and composer that he was, he was known among his friends almost as prominently for his appetites.  As frequent sideman Tricky Sam Nanton said, “he’s a genius, all right, but Jesus, how he eats!”

Ellington was happy to share his gourmand enthusiasms.  In a 1944 interview (recounted in Lapham’s Quarterly) he reminisces…

There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurant at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have deviled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Île-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world, and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royal, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world—eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smorgasbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the bun. Her hot dogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night…

More gustatory goodness in “Duke Ellington’s Diet“; and for a bonus treat, read this 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington.

* Duke Ellington

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As we Take the A Train, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that the first animated-cartoon electric sign display in the U.S. was lit by its designer, Douglas Leigh, on the front of a building on Broadway in Times Square.  It used 2,000 bulbs, and its four-minute show included a cavorting horse a ball tossing cats.  Leigh, who went on to design such famous billboards as the Eight O’Clock Coffee sign (with a coffee pot that was, literally, steaming) and the Camel Cigarette sign (that blew smoke rings), became know as “The Man Who Lit Up New York.”  While his signs are now gone, his lighting of the Empire State Building (Leigh was also a pioneer in the illumination of city skylines and buildings) survives; and his large illuminated snowflake is still hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season.

Douglas Leigh and his Times Square

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Written by LW

April 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

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