(Roughly) Daily

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”*…

 

Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, and nothing went to the bottom 50%.

Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich are men. Governments must create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful…

Late last month, Oxfam released its annual Inequality Report.  As Felix Salmon observes, it’s powerful stuff:

At the end of this crazy bull market, it’s always worth remembering just how enormous the big winners’ gains have been.

Specifically, the world’s billionaires – the richest 2,000 people on the planet – saw their wealth increase by a staggering $762 billion in just one year. That’s an average of $381 million apiece. If those billionaires had simply been content with staying at their 2016 wealth, and had given their one-year gains to the world’s poorest people instead, then extreme poverty would have been eradicated. Hell, they could have eradicated extreme poverty, at least in theory, by giving up just one seventh of their annual gains.

Oxfam is absolutely right, then, to shine a light on the extreme inequality of the world in 2017. Wealth creation is all well and good, but giving new wealth primarily to the world’s billionaires is literally the worst possible way to distribute it. Oxfam’s longstanding proposal for a wealth tax on billionaires makes perfect sense. They don’t need the money; the world’s poorest do. What’s more, as the Oxfam report details, the top 1% too often make their money by exploiting the very poor. Nothing about this is just, especially when a good 35% of billionaire wealth was simply inherited…

You can download the report (pdf) here; it is well worth the read.

* Nelson Mandela

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As we rethink “fair’s fair,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that University College London was founded.  Originally known as London University, it was inspired by the (then) radical ideas of Jeremy Bentham (one of the founders) and created as an alternative to the Anglican universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  UCL was the first secular university in the UK (admitting students regardless of their religion) and the first to admit women.  It is currently the third largest university in the United Kingdom by total enrollment (and largest by postgraduate enrollment), and is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world.

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Written by LW

February 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies”*…

 

Girl Scout Cookies come in a dizzying variety. Between cool Thin Mints and decadent Peanut Butter Patties, there’s a flavor that appeals to everyone. Which is helpful to the girls in the American youth organization, who sell the cookies to learn business skills and raise funds.

It’s a big operation, so much so that seemingly similar cookies differ across the United States. Since two commercial bakers provide the cookies to different parts of the country, one scout’s Peanut Butter Patty is another’s Tagalong. Even the recipes are slightly different. But all Girl Scout cookies have a common ancestor. Surprisingly, it was kind of boring.

It was an innocuous beginning for a glorious, cookie-filled century. The recipe for the original cookie was provided by local Scouting director Florence E. Neil and printed in the July 1922 issue of The American Girl Magazine (now defunct and unrelated to the current, doll-related American Girl magazine). It was very simple: a cup of butter (or “substitute”) mixed with sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and flour. Baking the mix in a “quick” oven produced super simple sugar cookies.

But simplicity was likely necessary, as the scouts baked the cookies themselves. According to the Girl Scouts, this recipe was distributed to 2,000 scouts in the Chicago area who likely needed something quick, simple, and inexpensive to sell. The ingredients for a batch of six to seven dozen cookies clocked in at 26 to 36 cents, which in today’s money is less than six dollars. The scouts could sell a dozen cookies for about the same amount, making a tidy profit…

The tasty tale in its entirety at “The First Girl Scout Cookie Was Surprisingly Boring.”

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we take just one more, we might send almost, but not quite cloying birthday greeting to Ira Remsen; he was born on this date in 1846.  A physician and chemist who became the second President of Johns Hopkins University, he is perhaps best remembered as the discoverer (with Constantin Fahlberg) of the artificial sweetener saccharin.

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Written by LW

February 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“First they moved, then they talked– now they smell”*…

 

In 1959, influenced by [Aldous] Huxley, two American films were made… introducing smell to cinema. The poster for one proclaimed: “FIRST They moved (1893) THEN They talked (1927) NOW They smell (1959).” The films premiered in December 1959 and January 1960, and the press dubbed their rivalry “The Battle of the Smellies.”

The redolent story of Smell-O-Vision: “Cinematic Airs.”

* Smell-O-Vision tagline

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As we hold our noses, we might recall that on this date in 1964, the Beatles made their U.S. TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, performing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (#1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 at the time) for an estimated 73 million Americans.

 

Written by LW

February 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid”*…

 

Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties.” Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison…

From Eli Rezkallah, a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the Mad Men era, that question modern day sexism: “In a parallel universe.

* George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

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As we check our privilege, we might send path-setting birthday greetings to Kate Chopin; she was born on this date in 1850.  A writer of both short stories and novels, she was highly-regarded in her time and in the decades following her death (in 1904).  Probably best remembered today for her novel The Awakening, she is considered an important forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors.

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Written by LW

February 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The imaginary is what tends to become real”*…

 

Tik-Tok of Oz, L. Frank Baum, Chicago, 1914.   Courtesy, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Maps enjoy a long tradition as a mode of literary illustration, orienting readers to worlds real and imagined. Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over sixty landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. At this intersection of literature and cartography, get your bearings and let these maps guide your way…

The map above is one of over 60 currently on display at the exhibition Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, at Harvard’s Houghton Library, as part of year-long celebration of Houghton’s 75th birthday.  In addition to the examples mentioned above, the collection includes the work of authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and the late Ursula K. Le Guin, and spans everything from love stories to fairy tales. It runs through to April 14, 2018.

See also “Charting the Geography of Classic Literature.”

* André Breton

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As we find our way, we might send the best of all possible birthday greetings to lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, Sir Thomas More; he was born on this date in 1478.  He is probably most widely known these days as the subject of Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, which dramatized More’s fate (he was beheaded) when he refused to accept his old friend Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  (More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  Interestingly, he is also remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”)

But also importantly for the purpose of this post, More was also the author of the widely-read and widely-influential Utopia— his map from which is on display at the Houghton.

Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of More

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Written by LW

February 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Demography is destiny”*…

 

I think we can all benefit from knowing a little more about others who aren’t like us (or who are), no matter how small the tidbits. In the graphic below, select sex, age group, and race to see the demographics of others.

The percentages are based on estimates from the 2016 American Community Survey. Each grid represents 100 percent, and each cell represents a percentage point…

The always-illuminating Nathan Yau— Flowing Data– presents an interactive portrait of life in the U.S., sortable by age, gender, and ethnicity; check it out at “The Demographics of Others.”

* Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon, paraphrasing Heraclitus in The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate (Often mis-attributed to Auguste Comte– who died before the word “demography” was first cited in print.)

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As we put ourselves in perspective, we might spare a thought for Aldus Pius Manutius (AKA Aldo Manuzio); he died on this date in 1515.  A Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator, he became a printer and publisher in his forties when he helped found the Aldine Press.  In the books he published, he introduced a standardized system of punctuation and use of the semicolon; he designed many fonts, and introduced italic type (which he named for Italy); and he popularized the libelli portatiles, or portable little (specifically) classic books: small-format volumes that could be easily carried and read anywhere.

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Written by LW

February 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A metaphor is like a simile”*…

 

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

-Virginia Woolf

Just one of the “exhibits” in “an ongoing collection of the world’s most likable literary device”:  The Simile Museum.

[source of the image above]

* Steven Wright

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As we remember that “liking” has a very long history, we might spare a thought for Thomas Carlyle; he died on this date in 1881.  A Victorian polymath, he was an accomplished philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, translator, historian, mathematician, and teacher.  While he was an enormously popular lecturer in his time, and his contributions to mathematics earned him eponymous fame (the Carlyle circle), he may be best remembered as a historian (and champion of the “Great Man” theory of history)… and as the coiner of phrases like “the dismal science” (to describe economics)

“A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”   – Thomas Carlyle

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Written by LW

February 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

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