(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘humor

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me”*…

The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has a large collection of some of the most important apparatus and objects related to psychological science and practice covering the past 150 years.  There are brass chronoscopes from the 1800s that measured reaction time in one-thousandths of a second.  There are a variety of rat mazes, tachistoscopes, and Skinner boxes.  The “shock” machine used by Stanley Milgram in his famous obedience studies is in the Center’s collections as are a Bobo doll from Albert Bandura’s research, guard uniforms from Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison study, a surrogate monkey head from Harry Harlow’s studies of love in monkeys, and one of B. F. Skinner’s air cribs.  The Center is always looking to add to its collections, including items that were of questionable scientific value.  One such item is the Psycho-Phone [pictured above].

Similar in principle to audio devices today that play messages during a person’s sleep, for example, alleging sleep learning, the Psycho-Phone was the invention of Alois Benjamin Saliger (1880-1969) who patented his machine in 1932 as an “Automatic Time-Controlled Suggestion Machine.”  The device was essentially an Edison-style phonograph with a timer that played the contents from a wax cylinder during the period of sleep.  Saliger believed that the messages delivered during sleep would enter a person’s unconscious and have a powerful influence on the individual’s behavior…

The machine was quite expensive, selling for $235 in 1929.  That would be the equivalent of $3,250 in 2017.  It came with several wax cylinders, each with messages relating to a different theme; one was labeled “Prosperity”, another “Life Extension,” and a third “Mating.”  Eventually Saliger expanded the record library to more than a dozen titles, even one in Spanish.  According to a story in The New Yorker in 1933, the message on the Mating recording included the following statements: “I desire a mate.  I radiate love.  I have a fascinating and attractive personality.  My conversation is interesting.  My company is delightful.  I have a strong sex appeal.”  Saliger was convinced of the effectiveness of the Psycho-Phone noting that 50 of his customers reported finding a mate…

From the annals of self-help: “The Psycho-Phone.”

[TotH to Ted Gioia (@tedgioia)]

“Stuart Smalley”

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As we get better every day, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Mandrake the Magician first appeared in newspapers. A comic strip, it was created by Lee Falk (before he created The Phantom)… and thus is regarded by most historians of the form to have been America’s first comic superhero.

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“It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example. Also The Bible.”*…

“What’s in a name?” mused Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (first published in print in 1597 as An Excellent Conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet). Would he have said the same, one wonders, if he’d been around to hear that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was at one point titled Trimalchio in West Egg; or that for Dracula, Bram Stoker considered The Dead Un-Dead? There is certainly an art to the great title, as demonstrated by the late English humourist Alan Coren, who when choosing a name for a collection of essays in 1975 noticed that the most popular books in Britain at that time were about cats, golf and Nazis. So he called his book Golfing for Cats and slapped a swastika on the front cover.

We also learn that care should be taken to avoid tempting an ironic fate. Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year—and again the next year. And in the 2017 British national election, the Conservative politician Gavin Barwell, author of How to Win a Marginal Seat, lost his marginal seat.

The humorous literary award known as the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year has been running since 1978, with past winners including Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986) by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, The Joy of Waterboiling (2018) by Achse Verlag and The Dirt Hole and its Variations by Charles L. Dobbins (2019). But we can go back centuries earlier to find their ancestors…

For example…

An Essay upon Windwith Curious Anecdotes of Eminent Peteurs (1787) by Charles James Fox

Sun-beams May Be Extracted From Cucumbers, But the Process is Tedious (1799) by David Daggett

How to Cook Husbands (1898) by Elizabeth Strong Worthington

Fishes I Have Known (1905) by Arthur A. Henry Bevan

Does the Earth Rotate? No! (1919) by William Westfield

Thought Transference (Or What?) in Birds (1931) by Edmund Selous

The Boring Sponges Which Attack South Carolina Oysters (1956) by Bears Bluff Laboratories

A Weasel in My Meatsafe (1957) by Phil Drabble

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1977) edited by Tatsuji Nomura et al.

Just a taste of the delights at: “77 Strange, Funny, and Magnificent Book Titles You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” From @foxtosser.

* Dave Barry

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As we nominate, we might send bright birthday greetings to Greg Sherwood Cohelan; he was born 70 years ago today. An accomplished marketing consultant, he is best known for his decades on the radio and television (as Greg Sherwood) in the San Francisco Bay area.

The son of Don Sherwood, “The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey” (who ruled the Bay Area airwaves in the 1950s and 60s), Greg began his on-air career while in high school as a correspondent for his father, doing a call-in show as he drove across country, “Young Man on the Road”; he followed that with a stint as a morning traffic reporter, flying around in a helicopter doing traffic reports for his dad.

After college he joined KQED, the local public television and radio organization, first as a volunteer, then as an employee. Over the years, he’s become the face of KQED-TV and the voice of KQED radio, hosting interviews, anchoring award-winning documentaries, and especially during pledge periods.

“Call right now, 1 (800) 937-8850.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

“A party without cake is really just a meeting”*…

The pandemic has been, for many, a time of home confinement. So, in search of both solace and diversion, lots of folks turned to baking… with mixed results…

27 more at “Failed Quarantine Baking Attempts.”

* Julia Child

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As we go back to the bakery, we might recall that today is National Empanada Day. The savory turnovers were born in Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain (and across the border in Portugal), where they were large baked “pies” served in slices; they made their way with Spanish settlers to Latin America, where they took their current form. They are typically baked, but sometimes fried (in which form, your correspondent can attest, they are at least as delicious as they are baked).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 8, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started”*…

For the last six years I’ve kept a spreadsheet listing every parking spot I’ve used at the local supermarket in a bid to park in them all. This week I completed my Magnum Opus!..

A marvelous tale from Gareth Wild (@GarethWild): One man’s quest to park in every space in a Saintsbury parking lot in Bromley (UK).

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets “Little Gidding” pt. 5 (1942)

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As we turn in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, at the Amsterdam Auto Show, that the original Land Rover (the Series 1) was introduced. Inspired by the Jeep, its progeny pioneered the luxury SUV category.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 30, 2021 at 1:01 am

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue.”*…

Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctors’ and dentists’ offices, at your grandmother’s, a great aunt’s house, or maybe in the very home that you yourself grew up in, during the 1960s and 70s. (At one point the hippies even adopted it.)

You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wooden wall plaque in a junk shop) you’ll remember this post (and wince).

Here’s an example of the proto-New Age almost meaningless wisdom you will find in “The Desiderata of Happiness”:

You are a child of the universe,

No less than the trees and the stars;

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Ehrmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to even have respect for dipshits (it doesn’t use that exact term, of course) seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump standards, but for whatever reason this thing struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).

In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.

The following year, a parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest (The words were Hendra’s, the music is Guest’s) released as a single and on the classic Radio Dinner album. Melissa Manchester sings on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, who was THE voice over announcer of the era. You’ve also heard his voice in Woody Allen’s Love & Death and The Telephone Book.

There are a few then current references in the song that might need some context for listeners almost fifty years later: The line about your dog’s diet refers to a TV dog food ad which wondered, “Is your dog getting enough cheese in his diet?” The “Remember the Pueblo” bit refers to a rightwing bumper sticker rallying cry about the capture in 1968 of the USS Pueblo by North Korea. “Do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate” was a phrase employed on government checks. And again, bear in mind that narrator Norman Rose would be the equivalent to say, Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones reading it today…

A cultural history of cultural oddity, “The Desiderata of Happiness”: “The Universe Is Laughing Behind Your Back,” from the ever-illuminating @DangerMindsBlog.

* Stephen Fry

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As we become one with the universe, we might note that today is The Day of the Dude, he annual sacred high holy day of Dudeism, a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle inspired by “The Dude,” the protagonist of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski.  Dudeism’s stated primary objective is to promote a modern form of Chinese Taoism, outlined in Tao Te Ching, blended with concepts from the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, and manifest in a style personified by the character of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (the character portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the film).

Dudeist logo

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