The Moscow Times is reporting that Bulgarian pranksters are repainting Soviet-era monuments so that the Soviet military heroes depicted are recast as American Superheroes:
Russia is demanding that Bulgaria try harder to prevent vandalism of Soviet monuments, after yet another monument to Soviet troops in Sofia was spray-painted, ITAR-Tass reported.
The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria has issued a note demanding that its former Soviet-era ally clean up the monument in Sofia’s Lozenets district, identify and punish those responsible, and take “exhaustive measures” to prevent similar attacks in the future, the news agency reported Monday.
The monument was sprayed with red paint on the eve of the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s celebration of its 123rd anniversary, the Sofia-based Novinite news agency reported.
The vandalism was the latest in a series of similar recent incidents in Bulgaria — each drawing angry criticism from Moscow…
[continues at Moscow Times]
As we dream of empire, we might send enforceable birthday greetings to Allen Pinkerton; he was born on this date in 1819. After migrating from Scotland, Pinkerton landed a job as Chicago’s first police detective; then, partnering with a Chicago attorney, founded the North-Western Police Agency, which later became Pinkerton & Co, and finally Pinkerton National Detective Agency (still in existence today as Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations). Pinkerton provided a range of services, but was especially involved solving railway robberies. After his death in 1884, his firm became deeply involved as agents– Pinkerton men, or “Pinks,” served as spies and enforcers– for employers resisting the development of the labor movement in the U.S.and Canada. Pinkerton and his firm were so famous that “Pinkerton” became slang for “private detective”– and given their strike-busting activities, for authorities that sided with management in labor disputes. Indeed, it has been suggested that “fink” is a derivation of “Pink.”
Seinfeld caps + Kanye West lyrics: SeinYeWest
* Hans Christian Andersen (in translation)
As we do the mash, we might recall that it was on this date in 410 that Rome was sacked by the Barbarian Visigoths, led by Alaric. Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire (it had moved to Mediolanum and then to Ravenna); but it remained the Empire’s spiritual and cultural center. And it had not fallen to an enemy in almost 800 years (the Gauls sacked Rome in 387 BCE). As St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote: “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”
Not sure where this is from, but feel that tingle in the back of your head? That’s the feeling of your mind blowing up.
As we dwell on duality, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920 that Mary Roberts Reinhart’s The Bat opened at the Morosco Theatre in New York.
Reinhart, often called “the American Agatha Christie,” invented the “Had-I-But-Known” school of mystery writing; and while she never actually seems to have written it, is widely-credited with the phrase “the butler did it.” The Bat was one of her successes: it ran for over two years, was revived twice, novelized (see below), filmed three times… and perhaps as importantly, was cited (in one of its film adaptations) by Bob Kane as an inspiration for his creation, Batman.
… taking place via the medium of a series of letters between W.F.P (the author William Frederick Pinchbeck) and a mysterious A.B., the recipient of the former’s knowledge. The epistolary unveiling begins with arguably the most enigmatic of the tricks listed, that of the “Learned Pig”, or as the excellent frontispiece refers to it “The Pig of Knowledge”. In this trick, which took London by storm in the 1780s, a pig is taught to respond to commands in such a way that it appears to be able to answer questions through picking up cards in its mouth. Several years before the publication of his Expositor, Pinchbeck had himself toured his own “Pig of Knowledge” to all the major towns of the U.S. Union including, so he claims, once introducing the pig to President John Adams to “universal applause”. In addition to the pig trick, as the brilliantly lengthy title of the book declares, other tricks unravelled by Pinchbeck in subsequent letters include “invisible lady and acoustic temple”, “penetrating spy glasses” and the rather marvelous sounding “philosophical swan.”
* Ricky Jay
As we say “shazam,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that John Wojtowicz attempted (with Salvatore Naturale and Robert Westenberg) to rob a Brooklyn branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank. The heist, meant to pay for Wojtowicz’s lover’s (Ernest Aron’s) sex reassignment surgery, went sideways; Wojtowicz and Naturale ended up holding seven bank employees hostage for 14 hours (Westenberg had fled before police swarmed). Wolfowicz was arrested; Naturale, killed. The episode was the basis of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (for which screenwriter Frank Pierson won an Oscar), in which Wolfowicz was played by Al Pacino. (The real) Wolfowicz made $7,500 selling the movie rights to the story and 1% of its net profit– which he used to finance Aron’s surgery.
In the midst of the intense partisanship we experience today– with Americans polarized into red and blue camps and no convergence in sight– it’s easy to forget that much of the nation’s history was characterized by similarly-intense political rivalry, especially the late nineteenth century.
The map above, created in 1883, was created by Census Superintendent Henry Gannett, and published the massive Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, which included maps of each presidential election. The series ended with this unprecedented attempt to map the returns of the 1880 presidential election not just at the state but the county level.
Such data maps are routine today. But this one stunned nineteenth-century Americans by showing them a nation organized not according to railroads and towns, or mountains and rivers, but Democrats and Republicans. The parties, of course, represented entirely different agendas then, and even their color associations were reversed. On the Scribner map, red denotes Democrats, while blue marks Republicans. Yet the overall portrait is strangely familiar, with red blanketing much of the south while blue spreads across the north. (As to the color scheme reversal, it’s a bit of a mystery. Republicans are now generally represented with red and Democrats with blue, a change that seems to have taken hold sometime after the 2000 election. But other colors were used as well through the twentieth century, as in Paullin and Wright’s Atlas of 1932.)
The 1880 campaign itself was rather routine, with little of substance to differentiate the two parties aside from their positions on tariff policy. Yet the election itself was as much of a nail biter as 1876 had been: nine million Americans turned out, and when it was over Republican James Garfield had outpolled the Democrat by a margin of just 7,000 votes nationwide.
Focus on the outcome by states—the only measure that matters in the Electoral College—and the map shows a nation that seems hopelessly divided along a north-south axis, still fighting the Civil War by other means. Democrats control the former slave states, while Republicans hold an edge in the northeast and Midwest… the map revealed spatial patterns and relationships that might otherwise remain hidden, or only known anecdotally. Perhaps its no coincidence that at the same time the two parties began to launch more coordinated, disciplined, nationwide campaigns, creating a system of two-party rule that we have lived with ever since.
More all-too-familiar-seeming charts and graphs– and an account of the social and political temper of those times– at “The Story Behind the Ancient Map That Invented Red and Blue States.”
* John Adams
As we party on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that the Lincoln-Douglas debates began. It was the first of a series of public encounters on the issue of slavery between Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and one-time U.S. representative from Illinois. The two politicians, the former a Northern Democrat and the latter a Republican, were competing for Douglas’ U.S. Senate seat. In the seven debates–each lasting about three hours–Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery while Douglas maintained that each territory should have the right to decide whether it would become free or slave. Lincoln lost the Senate race, but his campaign brought national attention to the young Republican Party– whose Presidential candidate he became two years later.
Officials in West Africa plan to erect a cordon sanitaire around areas affected by the Ebola virus. The drastic tactic—a strict quarantine encircling an infected area, allowing no residents to exit—has been only rarely used since the end of World War I… and then, as in China, for suspect reasons and of questionable effect (see here and here).
Writing at The Vault, Rebecca Onion recounts the story of Honolulu’s Chinatown inside a cordon sanitaire during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1899-1900. In December 1899, You Chong, a 22-year-old Chinese bookkeeper, died of the disease, quickly followed by four neighbors. The Honolulu Board of Health isolated 14 blocks of the city, where ten thousand people lived.
Historian Nyan Shah writes that public health officials on the West Coast focused on Chinese and Japanese travelers in investigating the outbreak, “disregarding scientific evidence that rats were the primary conveyors of disease.” Facing the epidemic in Honolulu, officials acted on long-held stereotypes about the dirtiness of Chinese residences, turning to tactics of radical disinfection: spraying homes with carbolic acid; forcing residents to shower at public stations; throwing out belongings.
In Honolulu, officials finally escalated to fire, burning the home of one plague victim. But the blaze spread throughout the district. Historian Joseph Byrne writes that at first, after the fire burned out of control, fleeing citizens were “turned back by the National Guard and white vigilantes maintaining the cordon.” Finally, the cordonopened one exit to let people out. Eight thousand residents were displaced.
“Many bitterly insisted that the government had deliberately allowed the fire to spread,” Byrne writes, “a conviction only strengthened when one local newspaper printed an editorial celebrating the fire for wiping out the plague while simultaneously clearing off valuable real estate.”…
Read the whole– and horrifying– tale, and see more photos at “The Disastrous Cordon Sanitaire Used on Honolulu’s Chinatown in 1900.”
* Albert Camus, The Plague
As we remember to wash our hands, we might recall that is was on this date in 1619 that slavery arrived in North America, as “20 and Odd” Blacks landed in Jamestown, Virginia on a Dutch man of war, which traded them to settlers for provisions. These first African-Americans were not technically slaves, as slavery hadn’t yet been established as an institution in the Colony. But ownership was clear, and the the custom took hold (as reflected in the wills of original purchasers, who left “Negroes in service” to their children); was enshrined in law in 1662.
Peculiar Jobs– Catching Rats
Rat-catchers, pest control operatives or pest technicians. People with this occupation caught rats for a living, mainly as a form of pest control. Keeping the rat population under control prevented the spread of disease to man, most notoriously the Black Plague, and also prevented damage to food supplies.
Some reports show that rat-catchers would raise the rat population rather that catching them. Why? To increase their eventual payment from the town or city they were employed by. These rat-catchers were active in Liverpool – they caught the rats, then dipped them in buckets of petrol to kill the fleas and hoped to control the plague this way…
* “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” – Muhammad Ali
As we whistle while we work, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” first appeared (in The Saturday Evening Post, then known as United States Saturday Post). One of Poe’s two great studies of the psychology of guilt (with “The Tell-Tale Heart”) , its full text is available here.