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Posts Tagged ‘humor

“The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required”*…

 

Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels…

The winner of the thirty-fifth Lyttoniad is Kat Russo from picturesque Loveland, Colorado. Kat describes herself as having twenty-six years of experience in covering social awkwardness with humor and stories about her cats. She spends her time working in outdoor retail and at a wildlife rehabilitation center while trying to figure out how to use her art degree.

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel “Paul Clifford” (1830) with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and the expressions “the almighty dollar” and “the great unwashed.” His best known work, one on the book shelves of many of our great-grandparents, is “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such far-flung locales as England, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Botswana…

All of the 2017 category winners and runners-up– all of which are eminently worthy– at “The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

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As we read ’em and weep, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Ernest Lawrence Thayer; he was born on this date in 1863.  A Harvard classmate (and Hasty Pudding and Lampoon colleague) of William Randolph Hearst, Thayer was recruited by his friend to the humor columnist for The San Francisco Examiner, 1886–88.  Thayer’s last piece, dated June 3, 1888, and published under his pen name “Phin,” was a ballad entitled “Casey” (“Casey at the Bat”) which made him “a prize specimen of the one-poem poet” according to American Heritage.

The first public performance of the poem was by actor De Wolf Hopper on this date in 1888, Thayer’s 25th birthday. Thayer’s recitation of the poem at a Harvard class reunion in 1895 finally settled the question of its authorship.

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“Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!”…

 

* Curly Howard

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As we celebrate the silly, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Columbia Pictures released “Hot Scots,” the 108th short film featuring The Three Stooges.  The Stooges try to get jobs with Scotland Yard after graduating from a correspondence detective school.  They end up as “Yard Men” picking up trash and pruning the hedges.  They inadvertently get their chance to crack a case when– dressed in kilts and talking in phony Scottish accents– the Stooges (as McMoe, McLarry, and McShemp) are given the task of guarding the prized possessions of The Earl of Glenheather Castle.  The castle staff ransack the castle while the boys sleep there, though of course they eventually arrest the thieves.

The comedians released 190 short films for Columbia between 1934 and 1959.

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Written by LW

July 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Good reporting should have the same standard as in a courtroom – beyond a reasonable doubt”*…

 

John Hinckley, failed assassin of Ronald Reagan, shown by artist Freda Reiter in front of a television broadcasting his obsession, Jodie Foster.

Courtroom sketches in the United States date back to the 17th Century Salem Witch Trials, and were a necessary staple of reporting on court cases up until recent years when the courtroom was off-limits to photographers and television cameras. It wasn’t until 2014 that all 50 states allowed cameras in the courtroom, though by the late ‘80s most states already had.

As portraits that exist solely out of the necessity for historically documenting legal proceedings, such sketches have never been considered high art, but a current exhibition of sketches housed at the Library of Congress shines a spotlight on some of the talents behind these documents.

The Library of Congress’ exhibition, “Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustrations,” features a selection of the Library’s collection of more than 10,000 courtroom drawings, many of which were donated to the library by the estates of the artists themselves…

More background and examples from the show at Dangerous Minds; details on the exhibition, which runs through October 28, at the Library of Congress.

* Barbara Demick

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As we remark that “photography always acknowledged there were cameras before photography,” we might send fiendishly-ingenious birthday greetings to Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg; he was born on this date in 1883.  A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology for his series of “Invention” cartoons which used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profiled here.)

Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

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Written by LW

July 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic”*…

 

The tilde is 3,000 years old, but is there any grapheme that’s more ~of the times~? The little traveling worm, originally designed to convey approximation (and used in Spanish and Portuguese to denote certain sounds), expresses so much more: strangeness, emotional and physical distance — but perhaps most importantly, sarcasm…

The twisted mark’s twisted story in its entirety at “The Internet Tilde Perfectly Conveys Something We Don’t Have the Words to Explain.”

– Mary Norris (the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen”)

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As we move our fingers to the upper left of our keyboards, we might send rib-tickling birthday greetings to Moses Harry Horwitz; he was born on this date in 1897.  Better known by his stage name, “Moe Howard,” he was the de facto leader of The Three Stooges, both on stage and off.

Moe, flanked by Curly and Larry, in The Three Stooge’s classic “Disorder in the Court

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Written by LW

June 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough”*…

 

“You’re a wizard, Harry,” Hagrid said. “And you’re coming to Hogwarts.”

“What’s Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

“It’s wizard school.”

“It’s not a public school, is it?”

“No, it’s privately run.”

“Good. Then I accept. Children are not the property of the state; everyone who wishes to do so has the right to offer educational goods or services at a fair market rate. Let us leave at once.”

An excerpt from the gloriously spot-on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Objectivism; more at “Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

– John Rogers

* Christopher Hitchens

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As we obviate Objectivism, we might spare a thought for José de Sousa Saramago; he died on this date in 2010.  A Portuguese author and Nobel Laureate, he was described (in 2003) by Harold Bloom as “the most gifted novelist alive in the world today.”

An atheist and proponent of libertarian communism, Saramago was criticized by institutions the likes of the Catholic Church, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, with whom he disagreed. In 1992, the Government of Portugal ordered the removal of his The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the Aristeion Prize‘s shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Disheartened by this political censorship of his work, Saramago went into exile on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, where he lived until his death.

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Written by LW

June 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Caveat lector”*…

 

xkcd

* “Let the reader beware,” Latin phrase

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As we interrogate our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that Representative (later, President) James Madison introduced nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the House of Representatives; subsequently, Madison added three more, ten of which (including 7 of his original nine) became the Bill of Rights.

Madison, often called “the Father of the Constitution,” created the amendments to appease anti-Federalists on the heels of the oftentimes bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution– in the drafting of which he had also played a central role.

Madison

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Written by LW

June 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Museums are custodians of epiphanies”*…

 

Located on the campus of Georgia Southern University, the U.S. National Tick Collection is the world’s largest curated tick collection

Just one of the extraordinarily-specific museums– from umbrella covers to pencil sharpeners– one will find at “The Ultimate List of Wonderfully Specific Museums.”

* George Lois

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As we defer to the docent, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964, on the eve of a get-together, that T.S. Eliot wrote his pen pal Groucho Marx: “the picture of you in the newspapers saying that… you have come to London to see me has greatly enhanced my credit in the neighbourhood, and particularly with the greengrocer across the street. Obviously I am now someone of importance.”

More on their unlikely friendship here and here.

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Written by LW

June 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

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