(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history

“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

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul”*…

 

DID YOU KNOW:

• Bill Gates is actually worth $1,956
• Canadian pop star Justin Bieber has five times fewer cells in his brain than in his liver
• Top tennis player Serena Williams has 24.5 trillion red blood cells powering her body
• Internet and social media pioneer Mark Zuckerberg’s body contains 800MB of data
• President Barack Obama’s head rules his heart; his brain weighs 1.4kg, his heart just 0.4kg

Welcome to The Making of Me and You, a unique, new digital interactive from BBC Earth that details extraordinary personalised facts.

Just input your date of birth, sex at birth, height and weight, and choose the metric or imperial units that make most sense to you.

And instantly find out:

• The chemical ingredients that make up you, and what your body is worth
• How many atoms you are made of, and what can be made with them
• How many fat, blood, skin and brain cells you have
• How much genetic data is inside you
• How many other microbes live on your body with you
• The size and weight of your internal organs
• How much wee, poo, sperm or eggs you have produced so far
• How many times you have blinked, breathed, yawned and farted
• And so much more

Try it at: “The Making of You and Me.”

* Ludwig Wittgenstein

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As we take our measures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1988 that the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted U.S. Patent 4,736,866 to Harvard College for “a transgenic non-human mammal whose germ cells and somatic cells contain a recombinant activated oncogene sequence introduced into said mammal…”– the first U.S. patent issued on a mammalian life form.  The Oncomouse (as it was known, a mouse altered to be highly susceptible to breast cancer) was called the product of the year by a major financial magazine.

Although the mouse was genetically modified following a process designed by Philip Leder and Timothy A Stewart of Harvard, and the patent was owned by Harvard Medical School, it was developed with funding from DuPont, which scored a commercialization arrangement that entitled DuPont to exclusive license of the patent. Until the patent was ruled expired in 2005, DuPont claimed patent protection on any anticancer product derived from the mice.

The first patent for a life form was issued seven years earlier for a genetically engineered bacterium.

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Written by LW

April 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance”*…

 

Roman 12mm dice

Random numbers are central to more than we may realize.  They have applications in gambling, statistical sampling, computer simulation and Monte Carlo modeling, cryptography (as applied in both communications and transactions), completely randomized design, even sooth-saying– in any area where producing an unpredictable result is desirable.  So how they’re produced– the certainty that they are, in fact, random– matters enormously.

It’s no surprise, then, that random number generation has a long and fascinating history.  Happily, Carl Tashian is here to explain.

“As an instrument for selecting at random, I have found nothing superior to dice,” wrote statistician Francis Galton in an 1890 issue of Nature. “When they are shaken and tossed in a basket, they hurtle so variously against one another and against the ribs of the basket-work that they tumble wildly about, and their positions at the outset afford no perceptible clue to what they will be even after a single good shake and toss.”…

From I Ching sticks and dice to the cryptographically-secure PRNG, “A Brief History of Random Numbers.”

[TotH to the eminently-numerate Reuben Steiger]

Robert Coveyou

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As we roll the bones, we might spare a thought for Samuel “Sam” Loyd; he died on this date in 1911. A chess player, chess composer, puzzle author, and recreational mathematician.  A member of the Chess Hall of Fame (for both his play and for his exercises, or “problems”), he gained posthumous fame when his son published a collection of his mathematical and logic puzzles, Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles after his father’s death.  As readers can see here and here, his puzzles still delight.

Loyd’s most famous puzzle was the 14-15 Puzzle, which he produced in 1878. His original authorship is debated; but in any case, his version created a craze that swept America to such an extent that employers put up notices prohibiting playing the puzzle during office hours.

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Written by LW

April 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance”*…

 

Interference Archive was founded in 2011 by Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. Our initial collection grew out of the personal accumulation of Dara and Josh… through their involvement in social movements, DIY and punk, and political art projects over the past 25 years…

The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including as exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements…

The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

Through our programming, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation.  We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions…

Visit the Archive online, and if you’re in the New York area, visit their current exhibit.

[TotH to the always-inspirational Ganzeer]

* Thomas Paine

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that the U.S. Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The House passed the Amendment January 31, 1865, and it was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption.

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

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Written by LW

April 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

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