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Posts Tagged ‘humor

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures”*…


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.

- FlowingData.com

* Oscar Wilde


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.


Written by LW

August 23, 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


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”



Written by LW

August 19, 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


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”



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)


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.



Written by LW

August 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Elevate those guns a little lower”*…


Brian Jeffs, co-founder of Michigan Open Carry, worried that there were no children’s books celebrating the glories of the Second Amendment; so he wrote the story of “13-year-old Brenna Strong along with her mom, Bea, and her dad, Richard, as they spend a typical Saturday running errands and having fun together. What’s not so typical is that Brenna’s parents lawfully open carry handguns for self-defense”: My Parents Open Carry. It is, Jeffs suggests, “a wholesome family book that reflects the views of the majority of the American people, i.e., that self-defense is a basic natural right and that firearms provide the most efficient means for that defense. We truly hope you will enjoy this book and read and discuss it with your children over and over again. As you read this book, you will learn about the growing practice of open carry, the 2nd Amendment, and the right and responsibility of self-defense.”

Your correspondent will leave an assessment of the book to readers.  But he would be remiss not to draw attention to the reviews, which include gems like these (more legible, perhaps, on the Amazon page):

[TotH to Jesse Kornbluth/Head Butler]

* Andrew Jackson


As we stand our ground, we might send carefully-aimed birthday greetings to John X. Beidler; he was born on this date in 1831.  Born in Pennsylvania, Beidler ran through a series of gigs– shoemaker, farmer, compatriot of radical abolitionist John Brown– before migrating to Montana in 1863, during the gold rush there.   He landed in Virginia City, only to find it plagued by a band of thieves led by a psychopathic con-man, Henry Plummer, who had managed to get himself elected sheriff of the nearby town of Bannock.  Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the local law enforcement, the citizens of Virginia City and Bannock formed a secret vigilance committee; they hunted down and hung theSheriff Plummer and his bandits.  Beidler, who preferred to be known simply by his middle initial “X,” played an active and unusual role in the vigilante group– unusual in that, unlike his colleagues, he was quite public about his involvement, and welcomed the attention it drew; he relished the legends that grew up around him.  And he parlayed them into later jobs as a stagecoach guard and Deputy U.S. Marshall.

Vigilante X



Written by LW

August 14, 2014 at 1:01 am


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