(Roughly) Daily

“Every restaurant needs to have a point of view”*…

 

chili bowl

Launched in 1931 by former amateur boxer Art Whizin, the Chili Bowl chain had 22 outposts at its peak. Each building was round and shaped like a chili bowl with 26 stools around a circular counter where diners could get the signature dish: an open-faced burger blanketed with chili. This 1937 photo shows the original Chili Bowl, located at 3012 Crenshaw Boulevard.

One stop on a wonderful tour of La La Land’s most exceptional eateries; see them all at: “LA’s Awesome History Of Weird, Food-Shaped Restaurants.”

* Danny Meyer

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As we muse on the mimetic, we might sparea thought for Charles Elmé Francatelli; he died on this date in 1876.  A Italian chef working in England, renown in his time, he was chef to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for a time, chef of the St. James Club, among other prestigious postings .  But he is probably better remembered for his best-selling cookbooks, The Modern Cook (1845), A Plain Cookery Book for the Working ClassesThe Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, and The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book.

Charles_Elme_Francatelli source

 

 

Written by LW

August 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I went to the bank and asked to borrow a cup of money. They said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I’m going to buy some sugar.”*…

 

 

sugartown_final_lw_smaller.0

Sugar is sprinkled everywhere in our language. When children are good and happy, they are cutie pies. Cool stuff can be “sweet, man.” Our crush is a sweetheart, and our sweetheart might be our honey. “A spoonful of sugar,” as Mary Poppins croons, is a bribe, something to help “the medicine go down.” Sugar is leisure and celebration — what British birthday would be complete without the stickiness of cake frosting on fingers? It is, according to Roland Barthes, an attitude — as integral to the concept of Americanness as wine is to Frenchness. In the 1958 hit song “Sugartime,” to which Barthes was referring, the sunny, smiling McGuire Sisters harmonize sweetly, filling their mouths with honey: “Sugar in the mornin’ / Sugar in the evenin’ / Sugar at suppertime / Be my little sugar / And love me all the time.”

And like anything pleasurable, sugar is often characterized as a vice. The flood of industrial sugar into packaged food has real public health consequences, but predictably, the backlash has taken on a puritanical zeal far beyond reasonable concerns. Sugar is “America’s drug of choice,” one headline claimed. “Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?” wondered another. Even those selling sugary food winkingly parrot the language of addiction — consider Milk Bar’s notoriously sticky, seductively sweet Crack Pie. A drug that decimated predominantly poor, black American communities is now a punchline for middle-class white indulgence.

For black Americans, sweetness was an essential ingredient in Jim Crow-era stereotypes designed to keep newly emancipated people from their rights. Those stereotypes persist — and even generate profit — today…

Sugar is survival. It is a respite for palates swept clean of childish joy for too long. It is sexual desire and pleasure, and also temptation and sin. And it is a commodity, one historically produced with some of the most brutal labor practices on the planet. In the Western imagination, sugar is pleasure, temptation, and vice — and in modern history, it is original sin…

How a taste for sweetness, developed for survival, became a stand-in for everything good — and evil — about our culture: “Sugartime.”

* Steven Wright

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As turn to the tart, we might send bodacious birthday greetings to that most fabulous of flappers, Betty Boop; she made her first appearance on this date in 1930.  The creation of animator Max Fleischer, she debuted in “Dizzy Dishes” (in which, still unevolved as a character, she is drawn as an anthropomorphic female dog).

 

Written by LW

August 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_-_czardas_dancers_-_google_art_project

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, CZARDAS DANCERS, 1908

 

Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade. To contemporary eyes, the art of the Dark Ages looks ugly as a whole (consider this great Vox explainer about ugly babies in medieval paintings.) At the time, however, people didn’t consider the malformed dogs or awkward hat-wearing crows to be ugly, though they did know that doom paintings, which depict the worst-case afterlife scenarios, were hideous. Doom paintings highlight the difference between heaven and hell in order to strike fear into the heart of viewers and thus discourage them from, say, coveting their neighbor’s hot spouse or lying when the tax official came around to collect coins. Sometimes these paintings function like the medieval version of Jonathan Edward’s hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: they actually make the afterlife look interesting, stimulating, and perhaps even a little bit appealing…

A consideration of the less-than-beautiful in Western art through the ages: “Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”  -Marquis de Sade

(Echoed by Umberto Eco: “Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.”)

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As we agonize over aesthetics, we might spare a thought for Lucas van Leyden; he died on this date in 1533.  A seminal Dutch artist, he was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as a very accomplished engraver.

220px-Durer-Lucas-Van-Leyden

A portrait of Lucas van Leyden by Albrecht Dürer, June 1521

source

 

 

Written by LW

August 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often”*…

 

bodleian

Interior of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, by David Loggan, 1675. Rijksmuseum.

 

In the nineteenth century some librarians became preoccupied with the morality or lack thereof displayed in some of their texts. Consequently a number of libraries created special shelf marks or locations for restricted books to ensure that only readers with a proper academic purpose might access them…

Take a tour of the restricted collections in remarkable libraries: “Do Not Read.”

* Mae West

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As we cover our eyes, we might consider censorship’s close cousin, misinformation: it was on this date in 1964 that Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  A response to a reported attack by the North Vietnamese Navy on the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Resolution gave President Lyndon B. Johnson authorization, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, for the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia– a right that Johnson exercised vigorously.

In 1967, A senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation determined that the incident had not unfolded as earlier reported, and repealed the Resolution.  An NSA study of the incident, declassified in 2005, put it bluntly: “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night.”

275px-Tonkin_Gulf_Resolution source

 

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”*…

 

complexity

A couple of weeks ago, we considered the human urge to find significance, meaning in everyday occurrences: “All mystical experience is coincidence; and vice versa, of course.” Today, we consider the same phenomena from a more mathematical point-of-view…

Was it a chance encounter when you met that special someone or was there some deeper reason for it? What about that strange dream last night—was that just the random ramblings of the synapses of your brain or did it reveal something deep about your unconscious? Perhaps the dream was trying to tell you something about your future. Perhaps not. Did the fact that a close relative developed a virulent form of cancer have profound meaning or was it simply a consequence of a random mutation of his DNA?

We live our lives thinking about the patterns of events that happen around us. We ask ourselves whether they are simply random, or if there is some reason for them that is uniquely true and deep. As a mathematician, I often turn to numbers and theorems to gain insight into questions like these. As it happens, I learned something about the search for meaning among patterns in life from one of the deepest theorems in mathematical logic. That theorem, simply put, shows that there is no way to know, even in principle, if an explanation for a pattern is the deepest or most interesting explanation there is. Just as in life, the search for meaning in mathematics knows no bounds…

Noson Yanofsky on what math can teach us about finding order in our chaotic lives.

* Ian Fleming

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As we consider the odds, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Johann Bernoulli; he was born on this date in 1667.  A member of the mathematically-momentous Bernoulli family, Johann (also known as Jean or John) discovered the exponential calculus and (with Leibniz and Huygens) the equation of the catenary.  Still, he be best remembered as teacher and mentor of Leonhard Euler.

220px-Johann_Bernoulli2 source

 

Written by LW

August 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”*…

 

bon-mots

Both published in 1897, Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth Century and Bon-Mots of the Nineteenth Century, pretty much deliver what they promise — that is, a compilation of some of the best conversational witticisms of the two centuries. Examples from many famous and expected names adorn its pages — including Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Byron — but we are also introduced to more obscure though no less prolific sources, such as the actor Charles Bannister and the Irish politician John Philpot Curran. Although many of the bon-mots might not stand the test of time — so often firmly rooted in the language or the culture of the time as they are — some don’t fair too badly today. Also don’t miss the two introductions which each include entertaining examples of how various writers have defined “wit” (in Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth Century) and “humour” (in Bon-Mots of the Nineteenth Century). Look out also for the fun little “grotesques” that litter the pages of both volumes, by English artist Alice B. Woodward.

Voltaire

Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century (1897)“; page through them at The Internet Archive.

* Oscar Wilde (featured in the second volume treated above)

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As we celebrate celerity, we might spare a thought for Judy Canova; she died on this date in 1983.  A veteran of a sister act in vaudeville (“the Three Georgia Crackers”), she got her break as a teenager when bandleader Rudy Vallée offered her a guest spot on his radio show in 1931.  Her career spanned five decades, during which she performed as a comedian, actress, singer, and radio personality, appearing on Broadway and in films.  She hosted her own self-titled network radio program, a popular series broadcast from 1943 to 1955, first on CBS, then NBC.

Judy Canova source (and repository of audio examples of her work)

 

Written by LW

August 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing”*…

 

Heraclitus of Ephesus; detail from Raphael’s <i>The School of Athens</i>, circa 1509

Heraclitus of Ephesus; detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens, circa 1509

 

Poor Diogenes Laertius. He gets no respect. A “perfect ass”—“asinus germanus”—one nineteenth-century scholar called him. “Dim-witted,” said Nietzsche. An “ignoramus,” declared the twentieth-century classicist Werner Jaeger. In his lyric moods he wrote “perhaps the worst verses ever published,” an anthologist pronounced. And he had “no talent for philosophical exposition,” declares The Oxford Companion to Philosophy.

Then why waste time on him? For this excellent reason: Diogenes Laertius compiled the sole extant work from antiquity that gives anything like a comprehensive picture of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. He may have been a flaming mediocrity. He may have been credulous and intellectually shallow. He may have produced a scissors-and-paste job cribbed from other ancient sources. But those other sources are lost, which makes what Diogenes Laertius left behind, to quote the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “truly priceless.” Eighty percent of success is showing up, Woody Allen supposedly said. Well, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers showed up. And by dint of that, its author has become what Nietzsche called “the night watchman of the history of Greek philosophy: no one can enter into it unless he has given him the key.”…

Jim Holt on on one of the more curious accidents of intellectual history: “Lovers of Wisdom.”

* Socrates

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As we ponder provenance, we might spare a thought for Hans Christian Andersen; he died on this date in 1875.  A prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, he is best remembered for his (often curiously-titled) fairy tales.  Those tales– which include “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”– have inspired plays, ballets, and of course both live-action and animated films.

In Andersen’s honor his birthday– August 2 (1805)– is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day.

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