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Posts Tagged ‘railroad

“The task of a university is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought and civilized modes of appreciation can affect the issue”*…

 

Saul-Alinsky

Saul Alinsky speaking at the Symposium on Civil Disobedience in a Democratic Society, Oberlin College, December 1965

 

Education is always political, but the politics and parties which it serves change… There was a twentieth-century party of the university, and that party held that the free humanistic-scientific pursuit of knowledge itself served a political purpose. It was not a purpose above or free from politics, but nor did it understand the university as the educational arm of a society devoted to the pursuit of a single moral vision. When the party of the university lost in Germany to the party of (im)moral education, its members fled to hospitable regimes in Britain and the U.S. These regimes did not understand the university as an organ of justice, but as an institution devoted to often amoral inquiry…

Rita Koganzon on An Academic Life, the memoir Hanna Gray, the former President of the University of Chicago– and on it’s lessons for higher education and society as a whole in our time: “The Party of the University.”

* Alfred North Whitehead

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As we we redouble our allegiance to learning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that the two dominant political parties in the U.S. came to fatal blows:  two Eastern Railroad trains crashed head-on near Marblehead, outside Salem, Massachusetts.  The Salem-bound train had a delegation of Whigs aboard, and the Marblehead train had a party of Democrats. The presidential election was to take place on November 7, and several political meetings and torch-light parades occurred during the week before the election.  A total of 6 people were killed, and about 40 people were injured in the wreck.

220px-Locomotive_at_Wenham_station,_January_1892

An Eastern Railroad train of the era

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Written by LW

November 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Madness is the emergency exit”*…

 

United, American, Spirit…  airlines are are suffering a cascade of incidents undermining their brand claims of “friendly skies” and “world’s greatest flyers,” and “more go.”  At the same time, there has been a concomitant rise in “air rage.”  But while these wounds are largely self-inflicted, there is a historical precedent…

As the railway grew more popular in the 1850s and 1860s, trains allowed travelers to move about with unprecedented speed and efficiency, cutting the length of travel time drastically. But according to the more fearful Victorians, these technological achievements came at the considerable cost of mental health. As Edwin Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller wrote in The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present, trains were believed to “injure the brain.” In particular, the jarring motion of the train was alleged to unhinge the mind and either drive sane people mad or trigger violent outbursts from a latent “lunatic.” Mixed with the noise of the train car, it could, it was believed, shatter nerves.

In the 1860s and ‘70s, reports began emerging of bizarre passenger behavior on the railways. When seemingly sedate people boarded trains, they suddenly began behaving in socially unacceptable ways…

More on motion-induced madness at “The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity.”

* Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke

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As we try to keep it cool, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that the B&O Railroad introduced air conditioning on the Capitol Limited, a sleeping car train that operated between New York, Washington and Chicago.

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Written by LW

May 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Life is not a theme park, and if it is, the theme is death”*…

 

French photographer Romain Veillon documented the after-life of Dreamland, a theme park built in Nara Prefecture in 1961, that was expected to become Japan’s answer to Disneyland.  But its fate was sealed when both Disney and Universal Studios opened up their own parks in nearby Osaka and Tokyo.  Closed in 2006, it lay dormant until it was razed in 2016– just after Veillon’s photos were taken.

Visit the ruins at “Deserted Japanese theme park photographed just before demolition.”

* Russell Brand

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As we contemplate an E Ticket, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway signed a five-year contract with Disney, agreeing to pay $50,000 per year in exchange for Disney’s use  of the name “Santa Fe” and company logo on all Disneyland trains, stations, literature, etc.

Walt Disney (left), with California Governor Goodwin J. Knight (center) and Santa Fe Railway President Fred Gurley (right) on Opening Day at Disneyland

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Written by LW

March 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”*…

 

The world is divided into people who sit on the floor and those who sit on chairs. In a classic study of human posture around the world, the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified no fewer than a hundred common sitting positions. “At least a fourth of mankind habitually takes the load off its feet by crouching in a deep squat, both at rest and at work,” he observed. Deep squatting is favored by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position. Certain Native American tribes in the Southwest, as well as Melanesians, customarily sit on the floor with legs stretched straight out or crossed at the ankles. Sitting with the legs folded to one side… is described by Hewes as a predominantly female posture in many tribal societies…

‘s brief history of the chair: “Sitting Up.”

* Albert Einstein

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As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date 1859 that George Pullman’s first railroad sleeping car, a rebuilt day coach, was introduced.  His first purpose-built sleeper followed in 1865.

Pullman’s first sleeper

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Written by LW

September 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train”*…

 

The moment of impact

As the U.S. remained mired in an economic depression in 1896, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (commonly known as “the Katy” line) faced two major problems: how to boost revenue and ticket sales amid increasing competition in the rail industry and what to do with an aging fleet of locomotives as it upgraded to larger, more advanced steam engines. And so the company’s creative passenger agent for Texas, William Crush, pitched an idea that would address both problems in one spectacular fell swoop.

With atom bombs and Justin Bieber still far off on the horizon in the late 19th century, an explosive train collision was perhaps the most eye-catching manmade disaster imaginable. And Crush knew he had the trains, the space and the public appetite to attempt such a spectacle. His plan was simple: ferry paying spectators to an isolated locale where two obsolete locomotives would be positioned face-to-face on the tracks. After gunning the trains to full speed, the engineers would jump to safety, and the masses would enjoy the fiery demolition from a safe distance. “Oh,” the exuberant Crush effused to The Galveston Daily News, “but it’s going to be a smash-up”…

In the event, over 40,000 people gathered at in the temporary town of “Crush, Texas” (for the day, the second largest city in the State).  And what a “smash-up” they saw.  As planned, the engineers stoked their locomotives, got them steaming toward each other, and jumped clear…  But though Crush had been assured by the railroad’s technicians that the engines’ boilers were strong enough to hold together on impact, both exploded.  As The Dallas Morning News put it: “The rumble of the two trains was like the gathering force of a cyclone… [then, a huge explosion, and] the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel… black clouds of death-dealing iron hail.”  Three spectators were killed, six others seriously injured; and countless onlookers were scorched by the hot shrapnel — many long after the explosion, when they picked through the flaming locomotive carcasses in a hunt for souvenirs.

Crush was immediately fired from the railroad. But given a lack of negative publicity, he was rehired the next day.

Read more at “Staging a Texas-size train disaster for fun and profit,” and check out the photos from the event here (one of which is used above).

* Charles Barkley

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As we ruminate on the rails, we might send foresightful birthday greetings to the extraordinary Jules Verne, imaginative writer non pareil; he was born in Nantes on this date in 1828.

Best known for his novels A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869–1870), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) and The Mysterious Island (1875), Verne is the second most translated (individual) author of all time (behind Agatha Christie).  He is considered, with H.G. Wells, the founder of science fiction.

Verne was startlingly prescient: Paris in the 20th Century, for example, describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, even electricity, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts, all developed years– in many cases, decades– later.   From the Earth to the Moon, apart from using a space gun instead of a rocket, is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program: three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula– from “Tampa Town” ( only 130 miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral)– and recovered through a splash landing.  And in other works, he predicted helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not invented/discovered until long after he wrote about them.

Jules Verne

Written by LW

February 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

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