(Roughly) Daily

“Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers”*…

 

On October 20, 1880, just a couple weeks before the U.S. presidential election of that year, the New York newspaper Truth published a letter made up of two short paragraphs signed by James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Those two paragraphs could have been, as the paper wrote a few days later, Garfield’s “political death warrant.”

Addressed to one H.L. Morey, the letter concerned the immigration of Chinese laborers to America. “Individuals or companies have the right to buy labor when they can get it cheapest,” the letter read. “We have a treaty with the Chinese Government… I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.”

More than 135 years later, that might sound reasonable enough. But in the 1880s, America was caught up in a cascade of nativism and anti-Chinese sentiment. To parts of the American populace—in particular, voters in California and other western states, where Chinese labor was seen as a threat to white workers—this was an outrage…

The 1880 election was going to be very close. It was the first election after the end of Reconstruction, and while the Republicans were still the party of Lincoln, they were divided among themselves. Garfield had been nominated at the longest Republican National Convention ever, after 36 rounds of balloting in which neither of the two leading candidates, Ulysses S. Grant and Senator James Blaine, was able to command a majority. Democrats controlled the South and much of the West. To win, Garfield would have to sweep the North and the West Coast…

The “Morey letter,” as it quickly came to be known, was a classic October surprise, an attack in the waning days of a campaign meant to land a death blow. But the letter also raised some pressing questions…

An all-too-true (and all too resonant) story of 19th Century fake news: “The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield’s Immigration Scandal.”

* Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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As we double-check our sources, we might send eloquent birthday greetings to William Jennings Bryan; he was born on his date in 1860.  An orator and politician from Nebraska, he was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the House of Representatives and was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915, a position he resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I).

He was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era.  A devout Christian, he attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes (“Monkey”) Trial in 1925 in Tennessee; an ardent populist, he was an enemy of the banks and the gold standard (c.f., his famous “Cross of Gold” speech).

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Written by LW

March 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions”*…

 

The C.B.P. considers rosaries to be potentially lethal, non-essential personal property, and agents dispose of them during intake.

Tom Kiefer was a Customs and Border Protection janitor for almost four years before he took a good look inside the trash. Every day at work—at the C.B.P. processing center in Ajo, Arizona, less than fifty miles from the border with Mexico—he would throw away bags full of items confiscated from undocumented migrants apprehended in the desert. One day in 2007, he was rummaging through these bags looking for packaged food, which he’d received permission to donate to a local pantry. In the process, he also noticed toothbrushes, rosaries, pocket Bibles, water bottles, keys, shoelaces, razors, mix CDs, condoms, contraceptive pills, sunglasses, keys: a vibrant, startling testament to the lives of those who had been detained or deported. Without telling anyone, Kiefer began collecting the items, stashing them in sorted piles in the garages of friends. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he told me recently. “But I knew there was something to be done.”

Kiefer, who is now fifty-eight, had moved to Ajo from Los Angeles, in 2001, hoping to simplify his life, purchase a home, and focus on his passion: taking pictures. (Previously, he’d been a collector and dealer of antique cast-iron bed frames, and, before that, a graphic designer.) He took the C.B.P. job, in 2003, for purely practical reasons: it paid ten dollars and forty-two cents an hour, and it seemed unlikely to steal mental space away from his photography projects. Now he began photographing his C.B.P. collection in his studio, arranging and rearranging items, sometimes putting a single stuffed animal or T-shirt in the frame, more often capturing like with like: dozens of roll-on deodorant sticks, hundreds of nail clippers. Today, he has taken hundreds of photographs of objects he brought home from the processing center. Together they make up “El Sueño Americano” (“The American Dream”), an ongoing project that, thanks to its unconventional perspective on U.S. migrant policies, has launched Kiefer into a photography career he’s dreamed of for decades…

The extraordinary story in full at: “A janitor preserves the seized belongings of migrants.”

* George Washington

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As we put out the mat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that an executive order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority (WRA), a United States government agency established to handle the internment, i.e. forced relocation and detention, of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  The WRA operated 10 camps, mostly on tribal land, that ultimately “housed” 110-120,000 people.

The program was initially headed by Milton Eisenhower, younger brother of Dwight and a New Deal stalwart who had opposed relocation.  Eisenhower did his best to limit the program and to protect the property and rights of those interned.  But his efforts were largely thwarted.  He was replaced after only 6 months on the job by Dillon S. Myer, who ran the WRA until its dissolution at the end of the war.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 (equivalent to $41,000 in 2016) to each camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion (equivalent to $3,240,000,000 in 2016) in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and to their heirs.

See: “A ten-year old Japanese-American girl in an internment camp.”

Dust storm at the Manzanar War Relocation Center

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“They swore by concrete. They built for eternity.”*…

 

These are interesting times for the concrete industry. After the misery of the 2008 financial crisis, construction in America is back in rude health, albeit patchily. Texas, California, and Colorado are all “very hot,” attendees say, as places where new hotels and homes and offices are being built. Demand is so high in these states that concrete-pump manufacturers are apparently having trouble filling orders. Employees worry that with baby boomers retiring, there isn’t the skilled labor force in place to do the work.

But America’s public infrastructure is still a mess—rusting rebars and cracked freeways stand as miserable testaments to a lack of net investment. It’s a complex and cross-party problem, as James Surowiecki has described in The New Yorker. Republicans have shied away from big-government investment– though of course Trump paved his pathway to the White House with pledges to build roads, hospitals, and, of course, a “great great wall”– and the increasing need to get the nod from different government bodies makes it hard to pass policy. For politicians keen on publicity, grand plans for big new things are exciting. But the subsequent decades of maintenance are thankless and dull…

Georgina Voss reports from World of Concrete, the concrete and masonry industry’s massive trade gathering—a five-day show that attacts more than 60,000 attendees.

How the construction business and the politics of the moment are mixed for the pour: “Welcome to the SXSW of Concrete.”

Pair with this piece on the state of dams in the U.S.

* Günter Grass

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As we wait for it to set, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that a method for manufacturing elastic (rubber) bands was patented in Britain by Stephen Perry and and Thomas Barnabas Daft of London (G.B. No. 13880/1845).

In the early 19th century, sailors had brought home items made by Central and South American natives from the sap of rubber trees, including footwear, garments and bottles.  Around 1820, a Londoner named Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create garters and waistbands. By 1843, he had secured patent rights from Charles Macintosh for vulcanized india rubber.  (Vulcanization made rubber stable and retain its elasticity.)  Stephen Perry, owner of Messrs Perry and Co,. patented the use of india rubber for use as springs in bands, belts, etc., and (with Daft) also the manufacture of elastic bands by slicing suitable sizes of vulcanized india rubber tube.  The bands were lightly scented to mask the smell of the treated rubber.

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Written by LW

March 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I like boring things”*…

 

EarthCam, The Andy Warhol Museum, and St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church present a special Andy Warhol experience: “The Warhol Cams.”

* Andy Warhol

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As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that the National Gallery of Art was completed.  It was officially “received” the following day by President Franklin Roosevelt from Paul Mellon, the son of Andrew Mellon, whose gift funded the construction and whose collection of Old masters constituted the core of the new museum’s collection.  Now materially expanded, it remains open, free, to the public.

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Written by LW

March 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”*…

 

It used to be that we’d see a poorly made graph or a data design goof, laugh it up a bit, and then carry on. At some point though — during this past year especially — it grew more difficult to distinguish a visualization snafu from bias and deliberate misinformation.

Of course, lying with statistics has been a thing for a long time, but charts tend to spread far and wide these days. There’s a lot of them. Some don’t tell the truth. Maybe you glance at it and that’s it, but a simple message sticks and builds. Before you know it, Leonardo DiCaprio spins a top on a table and no one cares if it falls or continues to rotate.

So it’s all the more important now to quickly decide if a graph is telling the truth…

Nathan Yau (Flowing Data) provides a very helpful (and very amusing) guide: “How to Spot Visualization Lies.”

* W. Edwards Deming

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As we key our eyes open, we might send healthy birthday greetings to John Snow; he was born on this date in 1813.  A physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia and medical hygiene, he is considered the father of modern epidemiology, in large measure because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854.  His On the Mode of Communication of Cholera (1849) suggested that cholera was a contagious disease easily transmitted by contaminated water. But the widely-held theory was that diseases are caused by bad air led to his idea being ignored.  Then, in London’s 1854 cholera emergency, he painstakingly correlated individual cholera casualties to the water supply they had used in each case.  He then communicated his results with a map that underlined his point, and ended the deadly epidemic by removing the pump handle of the community water pump that he found to be the culprit.

Snow’s map of cholera cases

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His findings inspired fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London, which led to similar changes in other cities, and a significant improvement in general public health around the world.  His mode of communicating them contributed to the rise of data visualization.

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Written by LW

March 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer”*…

 

Dutch piano restorer Frank Bernouw has painstakingly restored a stunning Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, a self-playing, multi-violin orchestrion that plays a variety of concertos quite beautifully, if not a bit mechanically. This unusual instrument was invented in 1907 by Ludwig Hupfeld AG and “dubbed the “8th wonder of the world”…

Three violins (each with only one active string) mounted vertically were played by a round rotating bow made of 1300 threads of horse hair, according to the program on the roll of perforated paper. The small bellows replaced the violin player’s fingers, pressing on the strings to obtain the necessary notes. The piano can be driven either unaccompanied or together with the violins. It controls 38 accompaniment keys with 12 high notes (one octave) in extension. The whole pneumatic systems are controlled by an electric engine of uninterrupted current.

More at “A Beautifully Restored Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, A Self-Playing Mechanical Violin Orchestrion Player.”

* Victor Borge

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As we reach for the rosin, we might send intricately-melodic birthday greetings to Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist Georg Philipp Telemann; he was born on this date in 1681. Telemann was and still is one of the most prolific composers in history (at least in terms of surviving oeuvre) and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time—he was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally.  He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.

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Written by LW

March 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The score never interested me, only the game”*…

 

All you need is a ball and a wall.

The mantra of handball players everywhere is also a manifesto on the sport’s accessibility. A deceptively simple game with a steep learning curve, handball — in one form or another — has been played since at least the 15th century, when its earliest recorded occurrence (1437) has King James I of Scotland ordering the blocking of a cellar window that was interfering with his courtyard play.

In 1884 the rules for modern handball — in short, you hit a ball against a wall with your hand until your opponent fails to return it — were made official by Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association, and the rest is history…

The perfect game?  “‘Tennis for savages’: A visual history of handball in America.”

* Mae West

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As we revel in the “twack,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Wilbert “Uncle Robbie” Robinson, a career major league catcher who had become the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decided to try to set a record of sorts by catching a baseball dropped from an airplane being flown 525 feet overhead.   The team was in Daytona Beach, Florida for spring training and in the market for a publicity stunt; they settled on the idea of a world-record catch.  And when all of his players demurred, Uncle Robbie agreed to do it.

The Dodgers recruited Ruth Law, an aviatrix in town to drop golf balls in another publicity stunt, to execute the “throw,” but at the suggestion of a member of her ground crew, Law substituted a grapefruit (from a mechanic’s lunch box) at the last minute and tossed that from her cockpit instead of the rawhide.

The grapefruit hit Robinson in the chest– and made such a mess that he thought he had lost his eye (because of the acid burn and the blood-like splatter that covered him).  But he twigged to the gag when he saw his teammates burst out in laughter.  Outfielder Casey Stengel, later a successful manager himself, claimed to have convinced Law to make the switch; but Law herself told the true story in a 1957 interview.  From this point on Robinson referred to airplanes as “fruit flies.”

Wilbert Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

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Written by LW

March 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

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