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“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”*…

 

A cartoon depicting William Jennings Bryan as a Populist snake, swallowing the Democratic Party, dated 1896

As if things weren’t weird enough…

By a number of political measures, this year bears an uncanny resemblance to the transformative 1896 presidential election… It pitted Republican William McKinley against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Although McKinley won—the incumbent, Grover Cleveland, was a Democrat and the economy was bad—Bryan’s candidacy ushered in an era of fiery oratory and Democratic Party populism. Indeed, Cleveland’s pro-business Democratic Party largely vanished from American politics.

That probably sounds at least a little bit familiar, what with Trump’s populism and his own brand of fiery oratory. But, political scientists Julia Azari and Marc Hetherington argue in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the similarity goes well beyond personality….

So what does this mean for the future of American politics? “[W]hen political conflict between the parties becomes polarized, the same polarizing issues tend to become divisive within parties as well,” Azari and Hetherington write. “[T]he fate of previous eras of division suggests that this brand of politics is rarely sustainable in the long term. If not in 2016, it seems change is likely to come soon.”

The eerie similarities, then to now, detailed at “If History Is a Guide, American Politics Is About to Get Weird.”

* Mark Twain

As we batten down the hatches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957, at 8:54p, that Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a Democrat (of the Dixiecrat variety), began a 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster, the longest ever conducted by a single Senator.  Thurmond was speaking in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957; his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act led him to switch to the more comfortable home of the Republican Party.

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“Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns, controlling patterns in time and space.”*…

 

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Part friendly circus act, part vicious duel: welcome to the world of combat juggling. Unlike the variety show clowns that would entertain you as a child, combat juggling is no joke; this is a competitive contact sport and there can only be one person left standing … er, juggling…

Great Big Story recently sat down with Denver, Colorado variety performer Sam Malcolm to learn more about the competitive and sometimes vicious sport of combat juggling.  [Via]

* Ronald Graham

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As we keep ’em in the air, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that Luther Haden “Dummy” Taylor made his Major League debut.  A deaf-mute right-handed pitcher, he was a key feature of the New York Giants’ National League championship teams of 1904 and 1905.

Taylor communicated on-field with his teammates– all of whom learned sign language– with his hands. He is credited with helping to expand and make universal the use of sign language throughout the modern baseball infield, for example, the use of pitching signs.   And Taylor contributed to signing’s repertoire of profanities, frequently cussing out umpires with his hands (and largely getting away with it…  except when, as with Hank O’Day, he encountered a ref who knew sign language).

Taylor was also a consummate showman, an accomplished juggler who would often put on “a grand juggling act” in front of the Giants’ dugout to amuse the fans.

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Written by LW

August 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I don’t know how music works, I’m just glad that it does”*…

 

Long time readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with Sun Records, it’s presiding spirit, Sam Phillips (c.f., “So you wanna be a rock and roll star…“), and the acts–a pantheon of early rockers– that Sun birthed (c.f., “Collecting is my passion“).  Turns out, there was a very particular method to the madness…

If rock and roll is a religion, then Sun Studio is one of its holiest temples. The walls of this garage-turned-recording-studio in Memphis reverberate with the echoes of the past. This is where Elvis became king, Cash walked the line, and Perkins put on his blue suede shoes. This is where Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Ike Turner, and Jerry Lee Lewis all got their start. This is where rock and roll was born.

Behind every guitar riff, drum beat, and lyrical innuendo, there was the man in the control room who engineered it all. Sam Phillips helped turn poor boys, sharecroppers’ sons, and ex-servicemen into legends, icons, and superstars. “He was always trying to invent sound,” says Sam’s son, Jerry Phillips, “He felt the studio was his laboratory.”

The inside story: “How Sam Phillips Invented the Sound of Rock and Roll.”

* Lou Brutus

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As we swivel our hips, we might sing a doleful birthday ditty to Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup; he was born on this date in 1905 (though some sources give the date as August 24).  A Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Crudup is probably best known today as the writer of “That’s All Right (Mama),” the A side of Elvis Presley’s first single (recorded, of course, by Sam Phillips at Sun), and for “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” also covered by Elvis (and many others).

Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns suggests that “That’s All Right (Mama)” is the world’s oldest rock and roll song, and notes that it contains (what is probably) the first ever guitar solo break.

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Written by LW

August 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I am a ruin myself, wandering among ruins”*…

 

The abandoned Hachijo Royal Hotel on the island of Hachijojima

Japan is in some sense uniquely blessed as a land of ruins. Its rapidly aging population, low birth rate, urbanization and lack of immigration have left a legacy of ghost towns and more than 8 million abandoned homes, or akiya. That tally could hit 21.5 million, one-third of all residences nationwide, by 2033, according to the Nomura Research Institute.

Abandoned homes are ubiquitous in rural Japan, posing health and safety hazards to locals, but they can even be found in central Tokyo, vacant edifices that for whatever reason owners refuse to demolish and rebuild.

In addition to the scourge of abandoned homes, Japan is dealing with lingering effects of the asset-inflated bubble economy of the 1980s and 1990s that saw the construction of numerous hotels, theme parks and other leisure facilities that went bust when the bubble burst. Some money-losing facilities, including the ill-fated Canadian World in Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, themed on the popular “Anne of Green Gables” novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, were rehabilitated into public parks. But in all too many cases, others were left to rot…

More on the “ghost towns” of Japan at “The lure of Japan’s mysterious ruins.”

* Heinrich Heine

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As we keep our ear peeled for echoes, we might we might send majestic 100th birthday greetings to the U.S. National Park Service; it was founded on this date in 1916.

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Written by LW

August 25, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time”*…

 

Contact: A hundred years before iconic figures like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs permeated our lives, 60 years before Marshall McLuhan proclaimed media to be “the extensions of man,” an Irish-Italian inventor laid the foundation of the communication explosion of the 21st century. Guglielmo Marconi was arguably the first truly global figure in modern communication. Not only was he the first to communicate globally, he was the first to think globally about communication. Marconi may not have been the greatest inventor of his time, but more than anyone else, he brought about a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Today’s globally networked media and communication system has its origins in the 19th century, when, for the first time, messages were sent electronically across great distances. The telegraph, the telephone, and radio were the obvious precursors of the Internet, iPods, and mobile phones. What made the link from then to now was the development of wireless communication. Marconi was the first to develop and perfect a practical system for wireless, using the recently-discovered “air waves” that make up the electromagnetic spectrum…

An excerpt from Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy. Oxford University Press.  Via “How Marconi Gave Us the Wireless World.”

* Guglielmo Marconi

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As we tweak the dial, we might recall that, thanks to a handwritten note by illustrator Heinrich Cremer, we know that the final binding of the Gutenberg Bible took place on this date in 1456.

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Written by LW

August 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

“That’s when I gave up pinball”*…

 

 

Readers will recall the hysterical efforts of “Dr.” Frederic Wertham to protect children from the dangers of comic books; pinball machines faced a similar challenge…

During the decadent reign of Louis XIV, restless courtiers at Versailles became enchanted with a game they called ‘bagatelle’ which means a ‘trifle’ in French. This game was played on a slanted felt board. A wooden cue was used to hit balls into numbered depressions in the board – usually guarded by metal pins. The game arrived in America in the 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century attempts were being made to commercialize the game. According to Edward Trapunski, author of the invaluable pinball history Special When Lit (1979), the first successful coin operated bagatelle game, Baffle Ball, was produced by the D Gottlieb Company at the end of 1931.

Soon the metal plunger took the place of the wooden cue stick, and lights, bumpers and elaborate artwork appeared on the machines. The game had arrived at the right time – the Depression had just hit America hard, and the one-nickel amusement helped entertain many struggling citizens. It also kept many small businesses afloat, since the operator and location owner usually split the profits 50/50. The game was particularly popular with youngsters in claustrophobic cities like New York, which boasted an estimated 20,000 machines by 1941. That year, one local judge who was confronted with a pinball machine during a case voiced the complaint of many older citizens when he whined: ‘Will you please take this thing away tonight. I can’t get away from these infernal things. They have them wherever I go.’

Although pinball was quickly vilified in many parts of America, the poster child for the vilification was none other than ‘the little flower’ himself: the pugnacious, all-powerful Fiorello H La Guardia, mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. La Guardia argued that pinball was a ‘racket dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality’, which took money from the ‘pockets of school children’…

The whole sad story at: “A menace to society: the war on pinball in America.” (And more on the history of pinball machines here and here.)

* Haruki Murakami, Pinball

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As we limber up our flipper fingers, we might spare a thought for a man who’d surely have approved of neither the comics nor pinball, Increase Mather; he died on this date in 1723.  A major figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Province of Massachusetts Bay (now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), Mather was a Puritan minister involved with the government of the colony, the administration of Harvard College, and most notoriously, the prosecution of the Salem witch trials. His piety ran in the family: he was the son of Richard Mather, and the father of Cotton Mather, both influential Puritan ministers.

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Written by LW

August 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Bambi was inspired, and said trembling, ‘There is Another who is over us all'”*…

 

Brian Wolslegel was fresh out of school and looking for work as a firefighter when he took a temporary job with a taxidermist. One day a game warden walked into the shop near Wausau, Wis., and asked if he could build a robotic deer to help catch an illegal hunter.

“I had putzed around with robotic cars just like any kid,” Wolslegel said, “and we started messing around with little motors to make things move. It was a lot of fun.”

More than 20 years later, he’s still at it. His business, Custom Robotic Wildlife, is now one of the oldest and best regarded of its kind in North America. Each year, Wolslegel builds a menagerie of about 150 lifelike remote-controlled animals, mostly for wildlife enforcement officers in states and American Indian reservations across the United States and Canada.

Compared to current motorized decoys, that first attempt was “prehistoric,” Wolslegel recalled, laughing. Today, his whitetail deer can be made to independently move their ears and tail, stomp their legs and slide on a track that makes them appear to walk.

He’s made robotic animals as big as a bear and as small as a squirrel. He’s sold pigs to game wardens in Texas, and elk to clients out West…

More at “Wisconsin taxidermist makes robotic decoys used to help nab poachers across the U.S.

* Felix Salten, Bambi

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As we muse on mechanical ducks, we might send thoughtfully-titrated birthday greetings to Denis Papin; he was born on this date in 1647.  A physicist, mathematician and inventor, he is best known for his pioneering creation of a “steam digester,” the forerunner of the pressure cooker and of the steam engine.

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Written by LW

August 22, 2016 at 1:01 am

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