(Roughly) Daily

“In politics the middle way is none at all”*…

 

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 statesthe only measure that matters in the Electoral Collegeand 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

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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.

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Written by LW

August 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The one way of making people hang together is to give ‘em a spell of the plague”*…

 

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

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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.

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Written by LW

August 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“It’s just a job”*…

 

Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dressed in protective clothing with traps and equipment, Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920. via Wellcome Library

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…

Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photograph, 1900/1920. via Wellcome Library

More “Peculiar Jobs” at Europeana.

* “It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”  – Muhammad Ali

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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.

One of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for “The Black Cat”

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Written by LW

August 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself”*…

 

Did you ever wonder where you came from? That is the stuff that’s inside your body like your bones, organs, muscles…etc.  All of these things are made of various molecules and atoms. But where did these little ingredients come from? And how were they made?…

Find the answer at “How much of the human body is made up of stardust?

* Carl Sagan

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As we hum along with Hoagy Carmichael, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that the first American edition of Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita was released.  Finished in 1953, Nabakov was turned down by publishers ranging from Simon & Schuster to New Directions, all concerned about its subject matter.  Nabakov turned to Maurice Girodias and his Olympia Press, and published in France in 1955.  Though it received almost no critical attention on release, Graham Greene called in “one of the three best novels of 1955″ in a year-end wrap-up published in the Sunday Times– provoking a response in the Sunday Express that the novel was one “one of the filthiest” ever.  Surprisingly to many, the novel’s American launch elicited no official response.  But it registered hugely with the reading public: it went into a third printing within days and became the first novel since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks.  Lolita is included on Time‘s “List of the 100 Best Novels in the English language from 1923 to 2005,” and it is fourth on the Modern Library’s 1998 “List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.”

Cover and half-title page of a presentation copy of the first American edition, inscribed by Nabokov to his wife, Vera ( “Verina verae Nab Aug. 1958 Ithaca”) and embellished with a delicately-rendered butterfly.

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Written by LW

August 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“More poetry, less demo”*…

 

School for Poetic Computation is an artist run school in New York that was founded in 2013. A small group of students and faculty work closely to explore the intersections of code, design, hardware and theory — focusing especially on artistic intervention. It’s a hybrid of a school, residency and research group…

The school for poetic computation is organized around exploring the creative and expressive nature of computational approaches to art and design. The school approaches writing code like creative writing — focusing on the mechanics of programming, the demystification of tools, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.

We value the craft necessary to realize an idea, recognizing that every writer needs space and time to hone their trade. Our school aims to provide a safe haven for you to get acquainted with the craft of coding at your own pace, make it your own, and investigate the space between creative process and craft. This takes conversations with colleagues and the right push at the right time.

The school aims to be more than a technical bootcamp. It is an opportunity to work intensively with a small group of students, faculty, and artists to explore questions about the poetics of computation. For us, computation is poetic when technology is used for critical thinking and aesthetic inquiry – a space where logic meets electricity (hardware), math meets language (software) and analytical thinking meets creative experimentation…

More about the New York City-based School here; more projects (larger and more legible) here; and more background, via the School’s blog, here.

* motto of the School for Poetic Computation

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As we get past the do loops to just do it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that Samuel Pepys took delivery of the first recorded glass-fronted bookcase.  He wrote in his famous diary:

“So took up my wife and home, there I to the office, and thence with Sympson, the joyner home to put together the press he hath brought me for my books this day, which pleases me exceedingly.”

and a few days later he wrote:

“and then comes Sympson to set up my other new presses for my books, and so he and I fell into the furnishing of my new closett … so I think it will be as noble a closett as any man hath.”

These cabinets– each with paired glazed doors in 21 small panes, over a low section, also with glazed panes, made to hold large folio volumes– are believed to be the same bookcases on display in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

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Written by LW

August 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

Deep into the Dog Days of Summer, readers are likely struggling to beat the heat… and thinking defensively about those predatory pests-of-the-season, mosquitoes (or as Bill Gate’s calls the species, “the deadliest animal in the world“).  The little-bitty buzzers just keep on coming…  And perhaps most frustratingly, they seem to bother some of us much more than others.

Smithsonian runs down the surprisingly long list of reasons in “Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?”  (Spoiler alert:  while 85% of them are genetic, beer makes one a more attractive morsel to the little bloodsuckers.)  Happily, there is a prospect of some relief.

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we splash on the DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1254 that the first known court case involving chess and violence was heard in Essex, England.  It dealt with a chess player who stabbed his opponent to death after losing.  But while this was the of relatively few such incidents to make it into the criminal justice system, chess violence was apparently pretty wide-spread– common enough to move French King Louis IX to ban chess.  And indeed, such violence continues to this day.

“The King is dead”

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Written by LW

August 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Smell was our first sense… We think because we smelled”*

 

Lisa Wade, in Pacific Standard:

Earlier this year I reviewed a study that found that, simply by changing the weight of an object in hand, psychologists can manipulate how seriously a person takes an issue. In other words, when holding something heavy, matters seem heavy. Or, concerns seem weightier when one is weighed down.

Thanks to an email from University of Southern California professor Norbert Schwarz, I was introduced to a whole series of studies on what psychologists call metaphorical effects. These are instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality. So, for example, holding a warm cup of coffee makes people feel warmly toward each other (here), getting the cold shoulder makes people feel cold (here), people placed in a high location seem to be high in a hierarchy (here), and cleaning one’s hands makes a person feel morally clean (here).

Schwarz was the co-author, with Spike W.S. Lee, on another example of a metaphorical effect. They wanted to know if smelling something fishy made people suspicious. It did.

Read the noisome news in full at “Smelling Something Fishy Makes People More Suspicious.”

* Lyall Watson (in Jacobson’s Organ)

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As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Ctaskills in New York State.  The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000.  A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free.  The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence.  Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts.  It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.

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Written by LW

August 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

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