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“Man… generally cannot read the handwriting on the wall until his back is up against it”*…

 

Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BC

The wax tablet was an important contribution to the written culture of ancient civilizations because it was the first widely used device for casual writing, intended for individuals other than scribes. Before wax tablets, anything that was written down had to be considered of great and enduring importance. But once there is writing, there arises a need for temporary writing — a quick note to jot down and throw away the next day, an aid in calculating a math problem, a rough draft of a docu­ment that would later become permanent. All the other previous writing surfaces had been, for all intents and purposes, permanent. You could not bake a clay tablet to throw away the next day, or jot down something on an expensive scroll of papyrus and throw it away. And once something is literally carved in stone, it is figuratively ‘carved in stone.’ It can’t be unwritten. The wax tablet, therefore, was the original Etch A Sketch for the ancient world…

An excerpt from Paper by Mark Kurlansky, via Delanceyplace.com.

* Adlai E. Stevenson

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As we rock the stylus, we might recall that it ’twas on this date in 1852 (according to the stories) that Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John H. Watson, was born… while Holmes did occasionally say “Elementary!” (e.g., in “The Crooked Man”), he never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson” to Dr. Watson in any of the stories/novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The phrase was actually a kind of homage, offered by P.G. Wodehouse, who first used it in Psmith Journalist in 1915; it found more common currency as it made it’s way into the scripts of the Sherlock Holmes films, perhaps most notably on the pursed lips of Basil Rathbone…

Ironically, it was on this date in 1930 that Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, died.

Watson (left) and Holmes, as drawn by Doyle’s original illustrator, Sidney Padget

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (never actually seen in the room at the same time as Dr. Watson)

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Written by LW

July 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

The Annals of Relativism: The High Art of Doublespeak…

Judge Soggy Sweat (source)

In 1952, a young Mississippi State Legislator, Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., spoke on the Assembly’s floor to the question of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize them:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

Sweat went onto to a judicial career, then taught law, and founded the Mississippi Judicial College (the first full-time state judicial education program in the nation; a division of the University of Mississippi School of Law).  But he is surely best remembered for his “if by whiskey” speech, the canonical example of the use in political oratory of a relativist fallacy, via doublespeak, to satisfy listeners on both sides of an issue.

Hear it here (reprised by Mississippi State Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi State Capitol, as broadcast on public radio).

As we hear altogether too many echoes in the political discourse of today, we might note that today is a special day for Baker Street Irregulars the world over, Sherlock Holmes Day.  Sherlockian Carl Thiel:

Although Holmes’s date of birth is nowhere mentioned in the Canon (ie, all 60 stories written by Doyle), the 6th of January was first suggested by Christopher Morley (1890-1957) in his ‘Bowling Green’ column in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1933. Through the efforts of the Baker Street Irregulars, and largely the influence of William S Baring-Gould’s 1962 biography of Holmes (Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Biography of the World’s First Consulting Detective), January 6th has become the traditional birthday of the great detective.

Morley wrote: ‘I have not looked up the data, but if, as an astrologer has suggested, Sherlock Holmes was most likely born in January, some observance is due. Therefore, if the matter has never been settled, I nominate January 6th (the date of this issue of the Saturday Review) as his birthday.

Morley, incidentally, believed the year of Holmes’s birth was 1853. Subsequent tradition has settled on 1854, largely due to the fact that in the story ‘His Last Bow’ (which takes place in August 1914) Holmes is described as a ‘man of sixty.’

In the 60 original stories, Holmes was depicted in illustrations as wearing a deerstalker cap in only four. Nowhere does Doyle mention that type of headgear.
image source

First Impressions…

 

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Via the always-rewarding Dangerous Minds, a simple– and simply wonderful– graduation film made by Jurjen Versteeg, who explains the idea behind his project:

Designed as a possible title sequence for a fictitious documentary, this film shows a history of the title sequence in a nutshell. The sequence includes all the names of title designers who had a revolutionary impact on the history and evolution of the title sequence. The names of the title designers all refer to specific characteristics of the revolutionary titles that they designed.

This film refers to elements such as the cut and shifted characters of Saul Bass’ Psycho title, the colored circles of Maurice Binder’s design for Dr. No and the contemporary designs of Kyle Cooper and Danny Yount.

This title sequence refers to the following designers and their titles: Georges Méliès – Un Voyage Dans La Lune, Saul Bass – Psycho, Maurice Binder – Dr. No, Stephen Frankfurt – To Kill A Mockingbird, Pablo Ferro – Dr. Strangelove, Richard Greenberg – Alien, Kyle Cooper – Seven, Danny Yount – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang / Sherlock Holmes.

 

As we remember to “tell ’em what we’re going to tell ’em,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that the first Cannes Film Festival opened.  It had originally been scheduled for September, 1939 as an “answer” to the Venice Film Fest, which had become a propaganda vehicle for Mussolini and Hitler; but the outbreak of World War II occasioned a delay.

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Whether ’tis ignobler…

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but, ‘That’s funny…” —Isaac Asimov

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” —Sherlock Holmes

The good folks at Improbable Research have once again awarded the Ig Nobel Prizes.  In keeping with IR’s goal…

to make people laugh, then make them think. We also hope to spur people’s curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?

… The Ig Nobel’s “honor” research that is, at the least, amusing…  for instance, among this year’s winners:

VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.

PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.

For the scholarly citations attaching to these accomplishments– and a full list of other winners– click here.

At the 2009 ceremony, Public Health ig Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elena Bodnar demonstrates her invention — a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander. She is assisted by (real) Nobel laureates Wolfgang Ketterle (left), Orhan Pamuk, and Paul Krugman (right). PHOTO: Alexey Eliseev.

As our minds drift back toward campus, we might recall that, on this date in 1916, The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (playing under coach John Heisman, after whom The Trophy is named) set a still-unbroken football record, beating the Bulldogs of Cumberland College 222-0… of course, the game was in Atlanta, so the Jackets had home field advantage…  Astoundingly, Tech wasn’t named National Champion for the first time until the following season.

The Tally

Everett Strupper, who scored eight TDs in the game

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Seeing is… well, seeing…

Via Discover‘s Bad Astronomy blog, one of the more amazing optical illusions that your correspondent has ever seen:

Alternating red and green spirals, right?  Actually, they are exactly the same color.  As Bad Astronomy explains,

The reason they look different colors is because our brain judges the color of an object by comparing it to surrounding colors. In this case, the stripes are not continuous as they appear at first glance. The orange stripes don’t go through the “blue” spiral, and the magenta ones don’t go through the “green” one. Here’s a zoom to make this more clear:

The orange stripes go through the “green” spiral but not the “blue” one. So without us even knowing it, our brains compare that spiral to the orange stripes, forcing it to think the spiral is green. The magenta stripes make the other part of the spiral look blue, even though they are exactly the same color.

Read the full story in Bad Astronomy here.  And for a treat, visit the site of the originator of the illusion, Japanese psychologist Akiyoshi Kitaoka here.

As we reconsider the evidence of our eyes, we might recall that it ’twas on this date in 1852 (according to the stories) that Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John H. Watson, was born… while Holmes did occasionally say “Elementary!” (e.g., in “The Crooked Man”), he never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson” to Dr. Watson in any of the stories/novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The phrase was actually a kind of homage, offered by P.G. Wodehouse, who first used it in Psmith Journalist in 1915; it found more common currency as it made it’s way into the scripts of the Sherlock Holmes films, perhaps most notably on the pursed lips of Basil Rathbone… Ironically, it was on this date in 1930 that Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, died.

Watson (left) as Holmes, as drawn by Doyle’s original illustrator, Sidney Padget

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (never actually seen in the room at the same time as Dr. Watson)

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