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“If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better”*…

 

It’s official. Science has decided that old books smell “smoky,” “earthy,” and more than anything, “woody.”

That’s based on findings released today by Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič, researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, who have been working to capture, analyze, and catalog historic and culturally important scents. The scientists collected the responses of visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter library in London, asking them to describe the smell and later compiling the results in a document they’re calling the Historic Book Odour Wheel…

 Take a whiff at “The Odor ‘Wheel’ Decoding the Smell of Old Books.”

* Ray Bradbury

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As we breathe it in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1749 that George Frideric Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks— or Fireworks Music, as it’s commonly known — premiered in a specially-constructed theater in St. James park in London.

The display was not as successful as the music itself: the weather was rainy, and in the middle of the show the pavilion caught fire.

The ill-fated site of the premiere

source (and larger version)

Written by LW

April 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”*…

 

It was the summer of 1941 and a British astrologer named Louis de Wohl was becoming wildly popular among Americans with his increasingly accurate predictions in his stargazer column, “Stars Foretell.” As de Wohl’s reader numbers escalated to meteoric heights, real world consequences ensued. In August 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifted its long-standing ban against astrologers and aired an exclusive interview with the man being heralded as “The Modern Nostradamus.” Just a few weeks later, for the first time in U.S. history, an astrologer was filmed for a U.S. newsreel, the TV news of the day. “Pathé News released the newsreels’ seminal plunge into prophecy with a nation-wide audience of 39,000,000 sitting as judge jury and witness,” declared a press release issued by de Wohl’s manager. Except it was a facade; it was all fake news.

De Wohl’s newspaper column was part of an elaborate black propaganda campaign to organize American public opinion in favor of Britain, and to ultimately get the U.S. to enter the war. In reality, de Wohl worked for British Intelligence (MI5). His so-called manager was none other than the legendary spymaster Sir William Stephenson, a man whom Winston Churchill famously called Intrepid. The average American had no idea…

The story of a man, born in Berlin, who went on, after the war, to become a fabulously-successful Catholic novelist (16 of his books were made into films): “Louis de Wohl: The Astrologer Who Helped Foil Hitler.”

[Image above, from here]

* Winston Churchill, who practiced what he preached

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As we look to the stars, we might send a cheery greeting to David Hume, the Scottish Positivist philosopher; he was born on this date in 1711.  Bishop Berkeley may have wondered if, when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, it makes a sound.  For Hume, the question was whether the tree was beautiful (“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them. “)

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But then, it’s also the birthday of the (somewhat more “practical”) Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius, born on this date in 121.  “Why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements?”  Why indeed?

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Written by LW

April 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”*…

 

Before the 18th century, most successful magicians were European, and white.  Richard Potter– the son of a slave–changed all that.  A magician, ventriloquist, and fire eater, he is credited with being both the first American-born and the first Black professional stage magician in the (then young) United States.

His extraordinary story at “Gravesite of Richard Potter.”

* W.B. Yeats

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As we say “Abracadabra,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, just days after the completion of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, that the Beatles returned to Studio Three, at EMI Studios in London to begin their next project, a film to be called Magical Mystery Tour.  The group laid down the basic rhythm track and assembled the title track’s coach and traffic noises into a tape loop.

While the film was widely panned, the soundtrack album (a double EP in the U.K; an LP in the U.S.) went to #1 on the British and American album charts, and was nominated for a Grammy.

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Written by LW

April 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Earth is ancient now, but all knowledge is stored up in her”*…

 

(Roughly) Daily is headed into a brief hiatus, as your correspondent is hitting the highways of his humid homeland.  Regular service should resume on April 26.  Meantime…

An illustration of the huge waterfalls cascading over the land bridge connecting Britain to Europe

Britain split from mainland Europe to become an island thanks to catastrophe — that might sound political, but in fact it’s geographic. Thousands of years before the UK opted to leave the European Union, a process called Brexit, a different separation occurred. Unlike the political one, it was relatively simple, and probably composed of just two stages.

First, a review of geography: England is separated from the rest of Europe by a body of water called the English Channel; the bit of water where England is closest to France is called the Dover Strait. But the strait wasn’t always there — it was likely created by two major erosion events, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The first one likely happened around 450,000 years ago, around the same time Neanderthals first appeared in Europe. That’s when huge amounts of water spilled over from a large lake sitting at the edge of a massive ice sheet that stretched from Britain to Scandinavia. The second one may have occurred 160,000 years ago, when catastrophic flooding opened the Dover Strait. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, water flowed into that gap. Just like that, Britain became an island…

More at “The first Brexit actually happened thousands of years ago.”

* Jeanette Winterson, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

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As we cope with separation anxiety, we might spare a thought for Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he died on this date in 1788.  A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste,  Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life.  It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals.  As Max Ernst remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”

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Written by LW

April 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“O, had I but followed the arts!”*…

 

Investment in the arts doesn’t cost us money – it MAKES us money!

I just got back from a rally at City Hall. It was organized by city council member Jimmy Van Bramer to protest the proposed budget cuts to both publicly funded arts organizations (NEA, NEH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and the library system. Lots of other council members, museum directors, actors, union representatives and many more were on hand. It was a beautiful spring day. I spoke very briefly, making the economic and social argument—that arts funding benefits the economy and creates jobs way in excess of the amount invested. It has the effect of lowering crime, raising property values and lowering child abuse! Really!

The Trump administration and their Republican allies hope to eliminate funding for a number of federal arts organizations. This is a political move—it really doesn’t amount to much money—it’s a tiny part of the federal budget. The amount of federal funding is $741 million, which sounds like a lot, but is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending, an amount supporters say is too small to make a difference in the budget if it was cut. On a budget pie chart it doesn’t even show up, it’s too small.

Q: What does that “investment” get us as a nation?—A: It gets multiplied more than 100 times= $135.2 BILLION…

Read on, as David Byrne makes a compelling case at “What Good Are the Arts?

* Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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As we treasure society’s hope chest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that celebrated contralto Marian Anderson sang an Easter Sunday concert for more than 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  A radio audience of millions listened in.

Anderson had been denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the DAR because of her color.  Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes permitted her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.

 

 

Written by LW

April 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”*…

 

One woman feeds bills into the washing machine as another collects the clean bills

Long before the term “money laundering” entered the popular lexicon, the U.S. Treasury Department had an actual laundry shop for grimy greenbacks. The mostly female “redemptive division” worked out of the basement and cleaned up to 80,000 soiled bills a day using mechanical scrubbers…

Come clean at: “Treasury Department Laundry.”

And for an insightful look at the dirty business that money laundering has become, see “The Russian Laundromat Exposed.”

* A colloquial expression (used by Francis Bacon, e.g., but popularized by John Wesley), rooted in an interpretation of Acts 9:32-10:23

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As we love the lave, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that The Viking Press published John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  The story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by economic hardship– drought, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work– it won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

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Written by LW

April 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I said to a bartender, ‘Make me a zombie.’ He said ‘God beat me to it.'”*…

 

Wharram Percy, aerial view

Archaeologists investigating human bones excavated from the deserted mediaeval village of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire have suggested that the villagers burned and mutilated corpses to prevent the dead from rising from their graves to terrorise the living.

Although starvation cannibalism often accounts for the mutilation of corpses during the Middle Ages, when famines were common, researchers from Historic England and the University of Southampton have found that the ways in which the Wharram Perry remains had been dismembered suggested actions more significant of folk beliefs about preventing the dead from going walkabout.

Their paper, titled “A multidisciplinary study of a burnt and mutilated assemblage of human remains from a deserted mediaeval village in England,” is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science

Dig in at “Mediaeval Yorkshirefolk mutilated, burned t’dead to prevent reanimation.”

* Rodney Dangerfield

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As we anticipate the apocalypse, we might recall that it was on this date (as tradition would have it) in 1387 that 30 pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to embark together the next day on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  They agreed to a story-telling contest to be held along the way on their journey, the prize being a free meal on their return.

The pilgrims were, of course, fictional, the product of the glorious imagination of Geoffrey Chaucer.  But their stores– The Canterbury Tales— delight to this day.

A woodcut from William Caxton‘s second edition of The Canterbury Tales printed in 1483

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Written by LW

April 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

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