(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘culture

“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money”*…

Further to yesterday’s post (about the relevance of Edith Wharton’s observations of her Gilded Age to ours), Dorinda Evans takes a look at rough contemporary of Wharton’s, and at his (similarly relevant) work…

After supposedly stealing 500,000 francs from his bank, the mysterious Victor Dubreuil (b. 1842) turned up penniless in the United States and began to paint dazzling trompe l’oeil images of dollar bills. Once associated with counterfeiting and subject to seizures by the Treasury Department, these artworks [are nowconsidered] unique anti-capitalist visions among the most daring and socially critical of his time…

The fascinating story of Victor Dubreuil’s cryptic currencies and the questions they raise about value and values: “Illusory Wealth,” in @PublicDomainRev.

For an illuminating look at Dubreuil’s spiritual successor, see Lawrence Weschler’s wonderful Boggs: A Comedy of Values.

For a loosely analogous artist: “Nobody knows what a dollar is, what the word means, what holds the thing up, what it stands in for… what the hell are they? What do they do? How do they do it?

And for an appreciation of trompe l’oeil (and its influence on Cubism), see “Feinting Spells.”

* H.L. Mencken

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As we contemplate currency, we might pour a cup of birthday tea for English mathematician, logician, photographer, and Anglican cleric, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– better known as the author Lewis Carroll– born on this date in 1832.

“There is no use in trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Alice in Wonderland (nee “Alice’s Adventures Underground,” then “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”)

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Oh, and… Happy Mozart’s Birthday!

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 27, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The future belonged to the showy and the promiscuous”*…

Emily J. Orlando on the enduring relevance and the foresight of Edith Wharton

If ever there were a good time to read the American writer Edith Wharton, who published over forty books across four decades, it’s now. Those who think they don’t know Wharton might be surprised to learn they do. A reverence for Wharton’s fiction informs HBO’s Sex and the City, whose pilot features Carrie Bradshaw’s “welcome to the age of un-innocence.” The CW’s Gossip Girl opens, like Wharton’s The House of Mirth, with a bachelor spying an out-of-reach love interest at Grand Central Station while Season 2 reminds us that “Before Gossip Girl, there was Edith Wharton.”

But why Wharton? Why now? Perhaps it’s because for all its new technologies, conveniences, and modes of travel and communication, our own “Gilded Age” is a lot like hers [see here]. For the post-war and post-flu-epidemic climate that engendered her Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence is not far removed from our post-COVID-19 reality. In both historical moments, citizens of the world have witnessed a retreat into conservatism and a rise of white supremacy.

Fringe groups like the “Proud Boys” and “QAnon” and deniers of everything from the coronavirus to climate change are invited to the table in the name of free speech and here Wharton’s distrust of false narratives resonates particularly well. Post-9/11 calls for patriotism and the alignment of the American flag with one political party harken back to Wharton’s poignant questioning, in a 1919 letter, of the compulsion to profess national allegiance:

how much longer are we going to think it necessary to be “American” before (or in contradistinction to) being cultivated, being enlightened, being humane, & having the same intellectual discipline as other civilized countries?

Her cosmopolitan critique of nationalist fervor remains instructive to us today…

Eminently worth reading in full (then picking up one of Wharton’s wonderful novels): “How Edith Wharton Foresaw the 21st Century,” in @lithub.

See also: “These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does.”

* Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country

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As we prize perspicacity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1884, in the midst of the Gilded Age, that Harper’s Bazaar proclaimed, “…it is not convenable, according to European ideas, to wear a loose flowing robe of the tea-gown pattern out of one’s bedroom or boudoir. It has been done by ignorant people at a watering-place, but it never looks well. It is really an undress, although lace and satin may be used in its composition. A plain, high, and tight-fitting garment is much the more elegant dress for the afternoon teas as we give them.”

Embraced by artists and reformers, the Aesthetic Dress Movement of the 1870s and 1880s was a non-mainstream movement within fashion that looked to the Renaissance and Rococo periods for inspiration. The movement began in response to reformers seeking to call attention to the unhealthy side effects of wearing a corset, thus, the main feature of this movement in women’s dress was the loose-fitting dress, which was worn without a corset. Artists and progressive social reformers embraced the Aesthetic Dress movement by appearing uncorseted and in loose-fitting dresses in public. For many that fell into these categories, Aesthetic Dress was an artistic statement. Appearing in public uncorseted was considered controversial for women, as it suggested intimacy. In fact, many women across the country were arrested for appearing in public wearing Aesthetic costumes, as authorities and more conservative citizens associated this type of dress with prostitution.

But for most wealthy women, the influence of the Aesthetic Dress movement on their wardrobes took the form of the Tea Gowns. Like most dresses that could be considered “Aesthetic,” Tea Gowns were loose and meant to be worn without a corset. However, they were less controversial than the Aesthetic ensembles of more artistic and progressive women. This is because they were not typically worn in public or in the company of the opposite sex. Tea Gowns were a common ensemble for hosts of all-female teas that were held in the wearer’s home. Thus, because no men were in attendance, Tea Gowns were socially acceptable in these scenarios. Mainstream magazines like Harper’s Bazar were not especially keen on the Tea Gown and cautioned their readers not to appear wearing one in public. 

“Gilded Age Fashion”

For a sense of what was at stake, see “The Corset X-Rays of Dr Ludovic O’Followell (1908)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 26, 2023 at 1:00 am

“There is not a thing that is more positive than bread”*…

A plate from The Book of Bread, by Owen Simmons (London: Maclaren and Sons, 1903).

A remarkable volume, published at the turn of the 20th century, anticipated the rise of molecular gastronomy in the 1990s and 2000s…

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, writes Owen Simmons at the outset of The Book of Bread (1903), a work he hopes will definitively establish “the link between the bakery and the laboratory” and speak to “the needs of the baker and of the miller”. And the text, at times, does indeed read like a lab manual for commercial bakeries: Simmons was a breadmaker’s breadmaker, co-founder of the National School of Bakery in London and frequent contributor to The British Baker. The book contains equations for the conversion of starch into alcohol (by way of maltose, dextrin, and glucose), chemical explanations for why viscoelasticity is “injurious to the proper manufacture of several kinds of biscuits”, and intricate discussions of nitrogenic proteids, which, once transformed into peptones, “nourish the yeast by percolating its cellulose”.

In addition to its scientific learning, the preface notes two unique aspects that set The Book of Bread apart from competitors: a tabulated appendix, featuring the results of more than 360 baking experiments, and its “most expensive illustrations”, which will force readers “to admit that never before have they seen such a complete collection of prize loaves illustrated in such an excellent manner”. An early entry in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s history of the photobook, the attention lent to loaves left the writers in awe: “Here, at the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the humblest, yet most essential of objects is catalogued as precisely, rigorously and objectively as any work by a 1980s Conceptual artist.” Kenneth Josephson’s later photographic experiment, The Bread Book (1973), seems to directly reference Simmons’ work…

More at “The Book of Bread,” in @PublicDomainRev.

Browse the book at the Internet Archive.

* Fyodor Dostoevsky

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As we contemplate carbs, we might recall that it was on this date– National Cheese Lovers Day— in 1964 that, with the aid of a $36,000 grant from the Wisconsin Cheese Foundation, work began on what would be the World’s Largest Cheese, which was displayed, starting later that year, in the Wisconsin Pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.  The 14 1/2′ x 6 1/2′ x 5 1/2′, 17-ton cheddar original– the product of 170,000 quarts of milk from 16,000 cows– was cut and eaten in 1965; but a replica was created and put on display near Neillsville, Wisconsin… next to Chatty Belle, the World’s Largest Talking Cow.

In 2018, Wisconsin added a second record– World’s Largest Cheeseboard.   Weighing in at 4,437 lbs, and measuring 35 feet long and 7 feet wide, it featured 145 different varieties, types and styles of Wisconsin cheese.

The replica on display (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 20, 2023 at 1:00 am

“You can’t go wrong with pizza, unless it’s terrible pizza”*…

(Roughly) Daily has considered the pizza box before (see, e.g., here and here); but Saahil Desai does a deep dive… and the results aren’t pretty…

Pizza delivery, it turns out, is based on a fundamental lie. The most iconic delivery food of all time is bad at surviving delivery, and the pizza box is to blame. “I don’t like putting any pizza in a box,” Andrew Bellucci, a legendary New York City pizza maker of Andrew Bellucci’s Pizzeria, told me. “That’s just it, really. The pizza degrades as soon as it goes inside,” turning into a swampy mess.

A pizza box has one job—keeping a pie warm and crispy during its trip from the shop to your house—and it can’t really do it. The fancier the pizza, the worse the results: A slab of overbaked Domino’s will probably be at least semi-close to whatever its version of perfect is by the time it reaches your door, but a pizza with fresh mozzarella cooked at upwards of 900 degrees? Forget it. Sliding a $40 pie into a pizza box is the packaging equivalent of parking a Lamborghini in a wooden shed before a hurricane.

The basic issue is this: A fresh pizza spews steam as it cools down. A box traps that moisture, suspending the pie in its own personal sauna. After just five minutes, Wiener said, the pie’s edges become flaccid and chewy. Sauce seeps into the crust, making it soggy. All the while, your pizza is quickly losing heat. After 15 minutes, the cheese has congealed into dollops of rubber. And after 45 minutes, your pizza deteriorates into something else entirely…

The painful present and the possible future of a delivery icon that hasn’t changed for 60 years: “You Don’t Know How Bad the Pizza Box Is,” from @Saahil_Desai in @TheAtlantic.

One answer is to consume one’s pizza at the point of purchase. Liam Quigley (@_elkue), a reporter in NYC, has made that a habit– and he’s kept notes. Starting in 2014, he logged every slice that he ate– type (e.g., “plain,” “pepperoni”) and price– 464 in all.

* Andy Kindler

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As we reach for the red pepper flakes, we might note that today was an important day in the history of food packaging: George Palmer was born on this date in 1818. The proprietor of Huntley and Palmers biscuit manufacturers (in Reading, England), he introduced the first biscuit tin in 1831.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 18, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The advance of machine-technique must lead ultimately to some form of collectivism, but that form need not necessarily be equalitarian”*…

Whither our relationship with the technology that’s become so engrained a part of our lives? And what of the companies that provide it? Tim Carmody muses…

The end of the heroic age of the tech giants does not imply that tech giants are in decline, but confusing the two is natural. Observers and analysts usually talk that way about companies, especially tech companies and the platforms they enable: they grow, mature, then decline (in relevance if not in revenue).

In general, what characterizes this phase of the tech giants’ development is a shift from unlocking user creativity and customer value to doubling down on surveillance, usually augmented by AI. Mass surveillance was always an important emergent part of the tech giants’ strategy, but was arguably secondary to delighting users and giving them greater capabilities. Now surveillance and nonhuman solutions are dominant, and the creative possibilities are now almost all residual.

(Yes, this “emergent/dominant/residual” schema is a Raymond Williams reference.)…

… Both of these declines — the decline of the consumer experience and the decline of the market forecasts — are driving tech companies’ retreat from what I’m calling their heroic phase. But neither are identical to it.

We can imagine — in fact, I predict — that these companies’ stock prices will rebound along with the rest of the market. Their profits will soar — the newfound emphasis on profits rather than reinvestment demands that they soar. Their technical innovations will continue, especially in AI, automation, and cloud computing. And yes, customers from you and me to the DoD will continue to shop for, use, and stream their products.

The main difference is that it’s now clearer than ever before that these companies’ interests are not the same as their customers’, or their workers’. There’s nothing universal about the technology revolution, no rising tide that lifts all boats. We have to give up that fiction in order to see things as they really are…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Two ways to think about decline,” from @tcarmody via @sentiers.

* George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

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As we (re-)think tech, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that Andrew Smith Hallidie received a patent for an “endless wire rope way” which he then put into practice as the Clay Street Hill Railroad– the start of the San Francisco cable car system.

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A view of the railroad in 1876 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 17, 2023 at 1:00 am

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