(Roughly) Daily

“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

 source

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

###

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

 source

 

Written by LW

April 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”*…

 

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

 

Jonathan Basile, a Brooklyn author and Borgesian Man of the Book, taught himself programming so that he could recreate Borges’ Universal Library [the Library of Babel, which “contained all books”] as a website. The results are confounding. A true site-as-labyrinth, Basile’s creation is an attempt to write and publish every story conceivable (and inconceivable) to man. In the process, Basile encountered new philosophical conundrums, French rappers, and unheard-of porno search strings. The possibilities, after all, are endless…

Browse the Universal Library here; read more of Basile’s prodigious project here.

* Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” [“La Biblioteca de Babel”]

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As we renew our Library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that John Milton sold the rights to Paradise Lost to printer/publisher Samuel Simmons for £10.  Milton, who’s worked for Cromwell, was on the outs in those early days of the Restoration.  (Indeed, Simmons kept his name off the title page [below], naming only his sellers.)

That original edition was structured into 10 sections (“books”).  Milton revised his work and reordered it into 12 books, the form we know today; it was published in the year of his death, 1674.  While his motive may well have been, as some critics have suggested, to emulate the structure of Virgil’s Aeneid, a second payday probably also figured in.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“A city that was to forge out of steel and blood-red neon its own peculiar wilderness”*…

 

A woman and her work

 

Las Vegas– and the world– lost two icons of neon sign design on April 19th: Betty Willis, seen above with the iconic “Welcome” sign that she designed, and Brian “Buzz” Leming, creator of many of the Strip’s most memorable marquees, passed away within hours of each other.

Leming’s “Hacienda Horse and Rider”

 

Willis and Leming both worked at the Western Sign Company, where they struck up a friendship.  Many of their creations are preserved in the Neon Museum’s outdoor “Boneyard,” where it stores its relics.

The Neon Museum’s Boneyard

 

More at “Two Designers of Las Vegas’s Iconic Neon Signs Died on the Same Day.”

* Nelson Algren (writing about Chicago, though it’s surely apropos of Las Vegas as well)

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As we switch on the lights, we might send forbearing birthday wishes to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; he was born on this date in 121.  The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers; his Meditations, written on campaign before he became emperor, is still a central text on the philosophy of service and duty.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

“LOCK-AND-KEY, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and enlightenment”*…

 

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put something under lock and key—a chest, a safe, your home—and have complete, unwavering certainty that no intruder could get to it.

This is a feeling that security experts call “perfect security.”

Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back…

Joseph Bramah’s challenge lock: “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 Guineas the moment it is produced.” 200 Guineas in 1777 would be about £20,000 today. The challenge held until 1851.

From the late 1770s until the mid-19th century, two British locks– the Bramah and the Chubb– offered their users unpickable security.  Then, at A. C. Hobbs, an American locksmith, attended The Great Exhibition—the first international exhibition of manufactured products– and destroyed that sense of security forever…

 

The “unpickable” Chubb Detector Lock

Read the remarkable Roman Mars’ account of security (and the loss thereof) in “In 1851, A Man Picked Two Unpickable Locks and Changed Security Forever“; hear it on his wonderful podcast, 99% Invisible.

* Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

###

As we reach for our keys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that a different kind of lock was picked: Nature published a one-page article by James Watson and Francis Crick outlining the structure of DNA– te work for which the pair won a Nobel Prize in 1962.  (Their paper ran immediately ahead of one co-authored by Maurice Wilkins, who shared the Nobel award, in the same issue.)

 source (and larger, legible version)

 

Written by LW

April 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Chelsea, please let your art speak for itself”*…

 

The Artspeak Incinerator Project is an interactive video installation created by artist Bill Claps. This video documents the Artspeak Incinerator in action at the MOMA, Guggenheim, Whitney, New Museum, ARTFORUM, Gagosian Gallery, and other locations.

During Armory Arts Week Claps utilized crowdsourcing and a technology interface connected to Twitter to source examples of artspeak from various art fairs, publications, and institutions throughout New York City. The artspeak was translated into Morse code (representing the art world’s distinct coded language) and digitally incinerated while being projecting onto the facades of art institutions throughout the city, releasing it into the atmosphere in a purified state…

 

email readers click here for video

See more– and more of Claps’ other wonderful work– at his site.

* “Ms. Patuto,” season 3 of Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven

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As we connect with our inner connoisseur, we might send bold birthday greetings to Willem de Kooning; he was born on this date in 1904.  After Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters, and with his wife, Elaine, Pollock, Rothko, and Kline, was at the core of what has become known as the New York School.

de Kooning has been the subject of reams of artspeak.

de Kooning’s Woman III, 1951-53

 source

de Kooning in his studio, 1961

 source

 

Written by LW

April 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Outer space is so empty”*…

 

At the furthest-most reaches of the observable universe lies one of the most enigmatic mysteries of modern cosmology: the cosmic microwave background (CMB) Cold Spot.

Discovered in 2004, this strange feature etched into the primordial echo of the Big Bang has been the focus of many hypotheses — could it be the presence of another universe? Or is it just instrumental error? Now, astronomers may have acquired strong evidence as to the Cold Spot’s origin and, perhaps unsurprisingly, no multiverse hypothesis is required. But it’s not instrumental error either…

The Cold Spot area resides in the constellation Eridanus in the southern galactic hemisphere. The insets show the environment of this anomalous patch of the sky as mapped using PS1 and WISE data and as observed in the cosmic microwave background temperature data taken by the Planck satellite. The angular diameter of the vast supervoid aligned with the Cold Spot, which exceeds 30 degrees, is marked by the white circles.

 

More at “Mysterious ‘Cold Spot': Fingerprint of Largest Structure in the Universe?

* Theodore Sturgeon

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As we boldly go, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that NASA launched the Ranger 4, the first U.S. spacecraft to reach another celestial body.  Ranger 4 was designed to transmit pictures to Earth and to test the radar-reflectivity of the lunar surface during a period of 10 minutes of flight prior to crashing upon the Moon, “rough-landing” a seismometer capsule as it did.  In the event, an onboard computer glitch caused failure of the solar panels and navigation systems; as a result the spacecraft crashed on the far side of the Moon three days after it’s launch without returning any scientific data.  Still, the “landing” was a first.

 source

 Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

 

Written by LW

April 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

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