Archive for The Way We Were

Approved for Room 101

Although presumably you’d need the optional Sharp Pain attachment (sold separately):

Self-hypnosis equipment by Schneider

Rumor has it this was actually more effective than watching VH1.

(Via Mostly Forbidden Zone.)

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One last ride at midnight

Paul Revere occupied the same relative position to the Raiders as did Harold Melvin to the Blue Notes: he was nominally the leader of the group, and hardly ever missed a show, but most of the time, the focus was on the lead singer — Mark Lindsay for the Raiders, Teddy Pendergrass for the Blue Notes.

The Raiders came out of Idaho around 1958, and scored an instrumental hit in 1961 with “Like, Long Hair,” a piano-boogie number that sounded nothing like anything they did afterwards. In 1963, they were caught up in the “Louie Louie” madness sparked by Rockin’ Robin Roberts; their own relatively polished version of the old Richard Berry semi-calypso song was well-received, but didn’t quite have the impact of the utterly insane Kingsmen version. Still, “Louie” got them a look from big-time Columbia Records, which put them to work grinding out mono singles, because it wasn’t worth the effort mixing that rock and/or roll stuff into stereo. Subsequently, the band wangled a gig with Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is series, and started wearing fanciful American Revolution-ish duds, as seen here on the Ed Sullivan show (Revere, as always, playing the Vox Continental organ):

“Kicks,” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was ostensibly addressed to an unnamed girl with problems who, we found out later, was not a girl at all.

In August of this year Revere, seventy-six, retired from the band; he died Saturday back home in Idaho. Oh, and “Paul Revere” was two-thirds of his real name; his family name was Dick. I do not know if he was related to Tim Allen, also a Dick.

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Fark blurb of the week

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That terrible day

A lot of 9/11-related stuff came out today, much of it saying the same things that have been said a dozen times before.

Which is why the item to which I point you is this one:

The biggest thing I personally remember, in my individual reaction, was how so many things I was doing suddenly felt futile. I was trying to write a Biostatistics exam when my then-chair came around and told us they were closing down the university for the day and we all needed to go home.

(To this day, I don’t know if that was done out of respect for the loss of life, or out of concern there might be more things going to happen.)

And I found myself wondering: In the world that is coming, will we need Biostatistics? What is the point of learning about probability when something that seemed impossible just happened? Shouldn’t I rather be teaching my students what basic first aid I know, and what plants are medicinal, and how to grow and find and hunt your own food? That was actually where my mind went: “Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it?”

I honestly don’t know. But if at the time it seemed the end was near, nothing that’s happened in the thirteen years since can make me think the end is any farther away.

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A pretty good call

A vision of (some of) the future:

Unfortunately, morning email is still a chokepoint.

Well, at least he didn’t mention flying cars.

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A memory left behind

Women of a certain age may relate to this:

I remember with the few friends I did have — who were kids from families that were frugal like mine — whispering furtively “lard-ass jeans” about the Jordache jeans (I think that may have been a joke on SNL?). Whispering furtively because “ass” was a bad bad bad word and we could have got in SO MUCH TROUBLE had a teacher overheard. Heh.

Actually, it went far beyond “joke on SNL”:

In 1984, Jordache Enterprises, Inc. was the designer jeans behemoth of its day, grossing about $400 million annually. Jordache had just launched a $30 million ad campaign to keep up the momentum.

That same year, two Albuquerque women, Susan Duran and Marsha Stafford, started a home-based company to market a brand of designer jeans for plus-sized women.

The two ladies were passionate about their new venture. Duran, 35 (5’8″, 190 pounds), and Stafford, 33 (5’7″, 170 pounds), had long wanted to create jeans for the amply-proportioned woman.

They considered a variety of brand names for the new company — Calvin Swine, Vidal Sowsoon, Seambusters, Buffalo Buns, Thunder Thighs. In the end, they chose Lardashe.

Jordache, of course, was not amused:

During the three-day trial, an attorney for Jordache said, “The term Lardashe, which everybody understands to be lard ass, is an offensive, insensitive term to use to apply to overweight women.” He claimed that potential customers might think Lardashe jeans were a Jordache product and could take offense… The District Court in New Mexico held, and an appeals court later affirmed, that no trademark infringement had occurred.

There was, however, one unexpected later development:

Although the ladies won, the legal battle proved to be particularly costly for Stafford. She developed an ulcer and lost 60 pounds, making her too svelte for Lardashe jeans.

She and her partner solved the problem by creating a new line of Lardashe junior sizes.

Eventually, Lardashe was wound down. Jordache survives today, although they’ve diversified into lots of other product lines, and their jeans are no longer considered even slightly iconic.

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Days of yore.dat

Prodigy iconI was there, and by “there” I mean “here, at this desk, logged in,” when Prodigy Classic was put out of its misery just after 11:59 pm on the first of November, 1999. Of course, I’d warned about that several months earlier:

The real disappointment, at least to me, comes not with the announcement of the termination of the service — it had been expected for some time — but with the management’s willingness to blame everything on Y2k. It is no doubt true that Prodigy’s proprietary technologies are not fixable for Y2k; however, Y2k is just the tip of the iceberg. The core of the Prodigy software is ten years old. By the standards of the Net, it’s Fred Flintstone stuff.

We have now discovered that Y2k was, at best, a convenient excuse:

After that shutdown, loyal Prodigy customers, who had hung on to the bitter end, were suspicious about the stated reasons for the closing. And they were mad. Fifteen years later, we can now confirm that their suspicions were correct: “As far as I know, Prodigy Classic being shut down was not influenced by Y2K issues,” recalls [Michael] Doino, the Prodigy employee who actually pulled the plug on the service in 1999.

Where is that enormous amount of data, anyway? Much of it has probably evaporated; the way P* assembled pages, using cached bits from here and there, makes it darn near impossible to trace. And yet:

Fifteen years later, a Prodigy enthusiast named Jim Carpenter has found an ingenious way to bring some of that data back from the dead. With a little bit of Python code and some old Prodigy software at hand, Carpenter, working alone, recently managed to partially reverse-engineer the Prodigy client and eke out some Prodigy content that was formerly thought to have been lost forever.

The ultimate goal of all this? “Some day,” Carpenter says, “I’d like to create something to emulate the Prodigy backend and serve up requested objects to the client.”

I was in my usual chat room when the last goodbye came; I’ve kept about 16k of that room’s final chatter. (Hey, it’s only 15 years old; I have email older than that.)

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My tears are falling

And of course, you came in with ’cause you’ve taken her away, the opening to “Take Good Care of My Baby,” recorded by Bobby Vee in 1961, the second Number One hit for Brill Building stalwarts Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The first, you may remember, was the prodigiously influential “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” cut by the Shirelles in late 1960. Carole did the music, Gerry did the words; Eva Boyd, who did their baby-sitting, sang their third.

Goffin and King broke up in 1968; both stayed in the business and made lots of hits.

Then King tweeted today:

She was never the words person, but she came up with a few:

“Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship. He will be missed by his wonderful wife Michele, his devoted manager, Christine Russell, his five children, and six grandchildren. His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

When they wed, Gerry was twenty; Carole was seventeen. He made it to seventy-five; she’s still working. And you know, she could knock out a lyric if she really wanted to.

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Application for the Geezer Card

There is an essay required, but anyone close to meeting the qualifications almost certainly already has a story not unlike this:

Back in the day, when I was in middle school (11-13 years old), we had to walk over 3K to school in the rain and snow and sleet, and NOBODY CARED!! None of our parents rallied to have us bussed! None of them felt remotely bad for our plight! We trudged through adverse conditions for three whole kilometres in torrential downpours or baking sun, and not one of the parents in the area ever offered us a ride. I clearly remember a blizzard one year: snow was almost waist high and yet our troubles did nary make dinner table headlines. And I’m really short, so it was even higher on me!

I lived 8.7 miles (Google says so) from school. Getting there was no problem: a neighbor worked in the same general vicinity, so I rode with her. School days, however, were shorter than work days, so I had this complex scheme of walking down to the nearest city bus stop (four blocks), riding the bus to the end of its route (seven miles, 50 cents), and then walking the rest of the way (a mile and a half). This was in South Carolina, and on the coast at that, so snow and sleet were uncommon. Rain, however, was something I got to see on a fairly regular basis. I hasten to point out that the total distance walked each day fell short of 3 km.

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The opposite of nostalgia

James Lileks is looking for a name for it:

What’s the word for an exaggerated dislike of a particular time? I know I am nostalgic for things I did not experience, and only see through the pop-culture elements left behind, which communicate incomplete and occasionally misleading messages. But I have antipathy for things I experienced at the fringe of adolescence — not because it was a bad time, or I didn’t like them then, but because they seem now to be the products of a culture that was getting cheap and lazy; it was full of gimcrack baubles turned out by an exhausted system that tried to adapt to the times, but had no strength to put forth any ideas or uphold any ideas that went before. The period from 1967 to 1975, with some stellar exceptions, was just a horrible time for everything, and you can reduce it all down to one middle-aged balding dude with wet hair plastered over his head in brown polyester pants and a mustard-yellow shirt approving one thing after the other because the kids will go for it.

I suspect we can generalize further: if anything worthwhile happened during your bête noire period, it happened in spite of that middle-aged balding dude.

My own “Oooh, take it away!” era runs roughly 1989 through about 1994 or so: it is delineated by changes in my own life, which had only just bottomed out and was in a tediously slow recovery, and by the fact that Mariah Carey was getting massive hit records by sounding like her record producer — Tommy Mottola, you may remember, lives on the road — had stuffed a live ferret into her pants.

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When auctions were merely awkward

Jack Baruth recalls the early days of eBay:

If I didn’t get in on the ground floor to eBay, I was close; I’ve been a member since Feb 15, 1999, about two years after it became practical to buy anything on the site and well before it became part of the American vocabulary. In the first few years, I sold a bunch of vintage BMX parts and bought a variety of old Atari computers. It’s fair to say that I am deeply ambivalent about eBay: it’s raised the price of old books into the stratosphere while simultaneously adding a $250 transaction fee to most vintage guitar sales. On the other hand, it’s enabled me to find and purchase items that I’d have never found otherwise. You have to take the good with the bad; yes, you can now actually find a brand-new Atari 1200XL, but it will cost you.

Transaction history having been truncated in recent years, I’ve had to comb through my email archive to determine my first item, which was acquired in June 1999: a collection of various Debbie Gibson ephemera. (I had then been a Debfan for about eleven years; I remain one to this day.) I’ve never actually sold anything. I have won, however, enough actual auctions to have earned myself 161 solid-whatever-color-it-is feedback points, without a single negative.

I admit that I did my part in forcing up the price of old books in those days. But a combination of boredom and penury weaned me off the site; I think I’ve returned twice this year, and one of those visits was to change my password. (Mine was, I think, even lamer than Jack’s.)

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And some gave all

Still they come, the dreams, brief glimpses of what might have been.

The war had been going on, we knew — they hadn’t told us, since it wasn’t “critical to the mission” — for nearly seventeen (“officially,” eleven) years. For all we knew, it had eleven or even seventeen years left to run, and if you were eighteen, as I was, that was close enough to eternity to bring you up short. None of us, cringing in our marginally awake state at 0430, knew what to expect: all we knew was that some of us would be sent to the front, and not all of us would come back.

But first, there was training. Lots of it. We learned some possibly useful skills — my own company proved to be particularly ingenious in dealing with the recapture of escaped partisans, and if I did indeed throw like a girl, only seven of my sixty test grenades failed to hit the target — and we learned to hurry up and wait, to stand there awaiting orders, and to not waste time thinking when those orders were given.

And then it was all done and new orders were cut and eventually I was sent to the other side of the world, where it was probably unlikely that I would be shot at, but it didn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things: there was a mission, and I would be doing my level best to make sure of the success of the mission, Sir.

It’s forty years later and I still think about the ones who didn’t come back. They had faces, they had names, and several of them, I am told, drew resting places as near to nowhere as can exist on this planet. I grin when I think of some of the gallows humor produced in the wake of the war:

Six Phases of a Military Operation

    1. Enthusiasm.
    2. Disillusionment.
    3. Panic.
    4. Search for the guilty.
    5. Punishment of the innocent.
    6. Praise and honor for the non participant.

And then the grin vanishes, erased by the knowledge that the humor only barely concealed the truth of the matter.

It could have been me. The luck of the draw, the whim of the Almighty, whatever, it could have just as easily gone the other way. I’m not sure which bothers me more: the fact that we lost so many, or the fear that we won’t be able to mobilize anyone if something serious should happen.

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Before the Breathalyzer

When Professor Harold Hill hit River City, one of the plagues he predicted as a result of the presence of a pool table was tobacco, and the concealment thereof:

While they’re loafin’ around that hall
They’ll be tryin’ out Bevo, tryin’ out Cubebs
Tryin’ out Tailor Mades like cigarette fiends
And braggin’ all about how they’re gonna
Cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen

At the time, I understood about a third of this: I knew from Bevo — before it was a University of Texas symbol, it was a near-beer — and cubebs were a sort of spice that occasionally found their way into smokes, sort of like cloves only more so. “Tailor-Mades,” it turned out, described a bevy of bottom-of-the-line off-brands, purchased by those who could not afford the Good Stuff. But I never had a clue about Sen-Sen back then, and had pretty much forgotten about it until now:

As a kid, I judged that Sen-Sen was the worst candy ever made. A number of years later, I learned that Sen-Sen was primarily used to mask the smell of alcohol on a drinker’s breath.

The last packets of Sen-Sen, amazingly, were produced in the summer of 2013.

Suddenly I have an urge for a cup of cider.

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They know nothing

Was this truly television’s most tasteless sitcom ever?

Hogan’s Heroes premiered on September 17, 1965, and quickly became the most popular new show of the year. In fact, for several seasons it ranked in TV’s top 20 programs … but it never escaped the controversy it premise engendered: Was it immoral to portray history’s most evil killers as bumbling — even lovable — buffoons week after week, just to make a buck? One critic wrote: “Granted, this show is often funny and well-acted. But there’s simply no excuses for turning the grim reality of Nazi atrocities into fodder for yet another brainless joke.” Another wrote simply: “What’s next? A family sitcom set in Auschwitz?”

Three words: Springtime for Hitler.

And guess who defended the show:

Ironically, the biggest apologists for the show were its Jewish cast members — including all four of the actors who played the regular Nazi characters — Colonel Klink, Sergeant Schultz, General Burkhalter, and Major Hochstetter. Not only were they Jewish, but three were actually refugees from Nazi Germany.

Then there was Robert Clary, who played Corporal LeBeau:

In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth. He was later sent to Buchenwald, where he was liberated on April 11, 1945. Twelve other members of his immediate family were sent to Auschwitz. Clary was the only survivor.

Clary is the last surviving member of the Hogan’s Heroes cast.

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At least it isn’t Axe

Joe, catching a whiff of a chap who reeked of Aqua Velva, was somewhat startled: “I didn’t think they made that any more.”

This, you may be assured, led me to go track the stuff down. Combe Incorporated acquired the J. B. Williams company in 2002. I remembered Williams for this product (and its longtime slogan, “There’s something about an Aqua Velva man”), and for something called Lectric Shave, which conditioned one’s beard before bringing on the Norelco. The Wikipedia article on Aqua Velva contains the unsupported statement that before it was marketed as an aftershave, the blue liquid was sold as a mouthwash. A guy with some vintage bottles is prepared to say otherwise.

Also passing through Combe ownership via J. B. Williams: Cepacol, which actually was a mouthwash, and later throat lozenges. It is now owned by Reckitt Benckiser, whose own convoluted history probably deserves a once-over on these pages.

Combe, incidentally, first came up with Clearasil, but sold it off after ten years. They still have one -sil product: Vagisil.

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Give or take a cubit

We’re not saying that they’d all fit, but we’re saying that they’d all float:

[R]esearch by physics students suggests that a structure on the scale of Noah’s ark as described in the ancient text could have been built.

And what’s more, they say it would have been buoyant even with two of every animal on Earth on board.

Okay, you’ve gotten my attention. How does this work?

  • The dimensions for the ark were provided in cubits in the Bible, an archaic measure based on the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger.
  • Noah was commanded to make the boat out of ‘gopher wood’ and in order to calculate the weight of the empty ark they needed to know the density of the material the boat was constructed out of, but there is no modern-day equivalent of gopher wood.
  • English translations of the Bible refer to cypress wood instead, so this was the material that the students used.
  • In order to calculate the overall downward force of the ark, the students needed to know the mass of the animals on board; previous research has suggested that the average mass of an animal is approximately equal to that of one sheep, 23.47kg, which was the figure used.
  • “Our conclusions were that the ark would support the weight of 2.15 million sheep without sinking and that should be enough to support all of the species that were around at the time.”

Still unexplained: why Noah didn’t swat those frickin’ mosquitoes when he had the chance; and dammit, you expect unicorns to be smarter than that. Or at least I do.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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Notice the quilting

It’s a Northern exclusive:

Original or Ultra Northern Bath Tissue

There are, of course, alternative products. Consider, for instance, the recommendations of François Rabelais’ infamous (and hefty) Gargantua:

Once I did wipe me with a gentlewoman’s velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable; at another time with a lady’s neckerchief, and after that some ear-pieces made of crimson satin; but there was such a number of golden spangles in them that they fetched away all the skin off my tail with a vengeance. This hurt I cured by wiping myself with a page’s cap, garnished with a feather after the Swiss fashion. Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it daubed my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they grievously exulcerated my perineum. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter, by wiping myself with my mother’s gloves, of a most excellent perfume of Arabia. [He continues in this vein for several pages.] But to conclude, I say and maintain that of all arse-wisps, bum-fodders, tail-napkins, bung-hole-cleansers and wipe-breeches, there is none in this world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs: and believe me therein upon mine honour; for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down, and of the temperate heat of the goose; which is easily communicated to the bumgut and the rest of the intestines, insofar as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains. And think not that the felicity of the heroes and demigods, in the Elysian fields, consisteth either in their Ambrosia or Nectar, but in this, that they wipe their tails with the necks of geese.

(Original ad pronounced a “good buy” at Bad Newspaper. No geese were harmed in the preparation of this article, unless François wasn’t kidding.)

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Razor canon

Advice Goddess Amy Alkon draws a plaintive wail from a chap whose girlfriend has forsworn the blade for, um, political reasons, and explains why this is mostly bogus:

As for your girlfriend’s notion that the defurred look traces to “anti-feminist propaganda,” way back before there was Cosmo, there was Ovid, the Roman poet, advising women looking for love: “Let no rude goat find his way beneath your arms” (don’t let your underarms get stanky like a goat), “and let not your legs be rough with bristling hair.” Archeological evidence (including hair-scraping stones and an impressive set of Bronze Age tweezers) suggests that women — and often men — have been shaving, depilating, and yanking out body hair since at least 7,000 B.C. In the early 1500s, Michelangelo sculpted David (who would have been a hairy Middle Eastern dude, looking more Borat than baby’s bottom), making him look like he was too busy spending three weeks at the waxer to slay Goliath. And these days, male bodybuilders also remove their body hair, lest their admirers have to peer through the hair sweater to find the pecs and abs.

For my part, I contributed a verse of this track by The Pursuit of Happiness to the discussion.

And for the record, I have known a few women who were similarly disinclined to defoliate themselves, for whatever reason: there were times when I couldn’t tell without close inspection, and there were times when entering the room was more than sufficient. Since I wasn’t actually dating any of them, I considered it none of my beeswax.

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Madness on display

Ronnie Schreiber has a great piece in TTAC about Earl “Madman” Muntz, entrepreneur, used-car salesman, new-car manufacturer, tape-cartridge magnate, and all-around swell guy. One paragraph, I admit, took me slightly aback:

An inveterate and flamboyant romantic, Muntz married seven times, and in between matrimonial relationships he also had a number of girlfriends, including comedienne Phyllis Diller. That seems somewhat ironic in light of the fact that all of his wives were beauties and Diller famously effected a homely comedic persona.

Which reminded me that it was, indeed, a persona. Here’s Phyllis Diller on the cover of her second comedy album for Verve, Are You Ready for Phyllis Diller?

Cover of Are You Ready for Phyllis Diller, Verve 15031, 1962

Pretty darn cute for a woman in her mid-forties (Diller was born in 1917, this came out circa 1962).

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Let’s talk about a Rocket

No, not a Houston Rocket. Think Lansing, Michigan, home of Oldsmobile since Ransom E. Olds himself starting building cars in 1897.

Nineteen fifty-eight had not been a good year for General Motors: it was a down year for Detroit generally, and one brand — Packard — actually perished. (Nash and Hudson had expired after the 1957 model year; Ford had yet to learn the fate of its shiny new Edsel.) The General’s own ’58 models were mocked for their bloat and for their ridiculously overchromed flanks; the ’58 Olds perhaps got it the worst, with stylist Alex Tremulis, then best known for his work for Preston Tucker, satirizing it by drawing musical notes in that rear-panel staff. Worse yet, the daily driver of a Ford designer in the early 60s was a ’58 Olds with its nameplate letters shuffled: the Ford man tossed an I and rendered the name as “SLOBMODEL.”

By then, of course, Oldsmobile had moved on. At the time, the division’s big dealer promotion each year consisted of a small-scale Broadway-style musical, often based upon a large-scale Broadway musical. For 1959, Good News about Olds debuted with a catchy little number that demonstrates that Bill Hayes and Florence Henderson definitely knew the territory. Turned into a TV commercial, it looked like this (after the jump):

Read the rest of this entry »

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Seventh verse, same as the first

“Art there any more like thee at home?” asked Henry VIII:

Mary Boleyn is a shadowy figure and although she has been the subject of biographies, novels and movies, very little is actually known about her. Although she is often portrayed as Henry VIII’s favourite mistress or the Boleyn woman he really loved, we actually have no details at all about the King’s affair with Mary. We only know that they had a sexual relationship because of the fact that the King applied for a dispensation from the Pope in 1527 to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn and in this dispensation was listed the impediment of “affinity arising from illicit intercourse in whatever degree, even the first”. There was the impediment of affinity in the first degree due to Henry having slept with Anne’s sister.

The relationship, such as it was, is difficult to date:

Most historians date the relationship to the 1520s, beginning in 1522. This is because at the Shrovetide joust of 2nd March 1522 Henry VIII rode out with the motto Elle mon Coeur a navera, or “She has wounded my Heart”, embroidered on the trappings of his horse. A woman had obviously rebuffed his advances, but we cannot be sure that it was Mary, who, by this time, was married to William Carey. Mary could well have been just a one night stand when Elizabeth Blount, the King’s former mistress, was pregnant with the King’s son in 1519, they may not have had a long-lasting affair at all but the King still needed to declare the impediment whether the relationship had been one night, two nights or many nights.

Bill Clinton, unsurprisingly, was not available for comment.

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Move over, darling

No, seriously. Move it on over. Now.

Doris Day rolls on

This has been just one of 28 Cringe-Worthy Vintage Product Endorsements you’ll find at Collectors Weekly.

(Via Miss Cellania.)

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Very expensive dust

With developers coming in like a wrecking ball — literally, perhaps — to dispose of Stage Center, Steve Lackmeyer has seen fit to list nine other downtown landmarks, scraped off the face of the earth because demolition was Part of the Plan.

One of the saddest such removals involved the old Biltmore Hotel. What did we lose?

The Oklahoma Biltmore was without a doubt one of the finest hotels in the post-oil boom days of Oklahoma City. There were 619 rooms, each offering free radio, circulating ice water, ceiling fans with up-and-down draft, and later, air conditioning. In 1936 the Biltmore was headquarters for 104 conventions, served 284,604 meals, and had 114,171 guests! H.P. “Johnnie” Johnson, manager, always said in the advertising, “On your next visit to the Oil Capital be sure to register at the Biltmore.”

On October 16, 1977 the Hotel Biltmore was demolished by a team of demolition specialists. Hundreds of low-yield explosives were planted throughout the building so that it would collapse and fall inward into an acceptable area only slightly larger than the hotel’s foundation. The purpose was both to break the materials into smaller pieces that would be easily transported away, and to contain the blast and debris within the area, in order to minimize damage to surrounding structures. The razing was recorded by hundreds of camera buffs.

[Edwards, Jim, and Hal Ottaway. The Vanished Splendor II: Postcard Views of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City: Abalache Book Shop Publishing Co., 1983]

And now, of course, we have to pony up zillions for a hotel more or less adjacent to the New Improved Convention Center. Your guess is as good as mine as to which of these elephants is whiter.

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What’s the name of the game?

If you remember ABBA from the Seventies and Eighties, you probably also remember that while they weren’t the least bit ugly, their mama, or somebody, dressed them funny. Turns out that this was a matter of cold calculation:

Swedish supergroup Abba have revealed they had good reason to wear such garish stage costumes — because it saved a little money, money, money on their tax bill.

The band, whose spangly flares, catsuits and platform heels were considered naff even in the 1970s, exploited a Swedish law which meant clothes were tax deductible if their owners could prove they were not used for daily wear.

Gotta love those capitalist Swedes.

(Via Fark.)

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No higher accolade exists

No more need be said, at least by the likes of me.

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Backhanded truth

Penmanship was never my strong suit until my middle teens, when I assume that the onrush of hormones that screwed up everything else somehow induced me to change my scrawl to a sweet flowing script. (My original Social Security card, issued in the 1960s, contains a signature worthy of Sister Catherine.) Today, well, not so much.

Still, that doesn’t constitute anything like an argument for the abandonment of actual handwriting:

If you can’t read cursive, someone could hand you page 12 of the owner’s manual of a ’94 Toyota Camry and tell you that it’s Article Three of the Constitution, and if you can’t read the original to compare, you’d just need to take their word for it that the Supreme Court has a 3 year/36,000 mile powertrain warranty.

And as we all know, there are entire cities — Washington, D.C. comes quickly to mind — of people who are manifestly incapable of reading the Constitution. I doubt many of them are driving ’94 Camrys, though.

Addendum: Learning it once is hard enough; learning it twice is torturous.

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Beyond triplicate

A good threesome is hard to beat. Think Kukla, Fran and Ollie; Dewey, Cheetham and Howe; Manny, Moe and Jack. It was a shock to the system to discover that there was originally a fourth Pep Boy. But that’s nothing compared to this:

You’re familiar with the elves, Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Their onomatopoetic names match the very cereal they’ve repped since the ’30s — Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. In the years after that, the trio has withstood the influx of cartoon competitors like the Trix Rabbit, Lucky the Leprechaun, the Cookie Crisp thieves, Cap’n Crunch and many more. Lost in the shuffle, however, was a fourth Rice Krispies elf named Pow! His short life is a time-capsule of an era when everyone was dreaming big.

Say, kids, what era was that?

From 1948 through the mid ’50s, the brothers sponsored the popular children’s program The Howdy Doody Show. But in early 1950, Kellogg’s marketers snuck in a fourth friend, Pow. The company said in an email to Smithsonian.com, “[Pow] appeared in two TV commercials. The spaceman character was meant to exude the ‘power of whole grain rice.’ He was never considered an official character.”

And why don’t you hear about that fourth Pep Boy? Perhaps because he cashed out of the company early — or maybe because his name was also Moe.

(Thanks, M. A. Larson!)

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Rewind thirty years

And just imagine what life would be like if it hadn’t happened this way:

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios decision, also known as the Betamax case, which paved the way for such innovations as your beloved DVR.

In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that Sony could continue to sell its Betamax videocassette recorder, overruling the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judgement that held Sony liable for consumers’ copyright infringement.

The lawsuit, which began in California District Court in 1976, charged that because Sony manufactured a device that could be used for copyright infringement the company was liable for infringement committed by consumers of Betamax.

Justice John Paul Stevens’ majority opinion in the case deemed home videotaping legal in the United States. The ruling also bore an important principle that has been used time and time again in lawsuits — if a product has a substantial, legitimate use it can be sold, even if some consumers use it illegitimately.

Two things happened within five years of this decision:

  • Sony began building VHS VCRs under license from JVC (1988);
  • Sony became a content provider on its own, taking over Columbia Pictures (1989).

And if that court ruling had gone the other way? Sony might have had to sue itself.

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With six you get ponies

A wondrous artifact over at Pergelator: the instrument panel from a 1929 Hudson Super Six. I got to wondering why a ’29 specifically, and it turned out that this was Hudson’s biggest year ever, third in US sales, behind Ford and Chevy but a smidgen ahead of your choice of Chrysler brands. (Chrysler, in 1928, had introduced Plymouth and DeSoto and bought Dodge; there persists a story that DeSoto was created specifically to use as a club against Dodge, should they refuse Chrysler’s overtures.)

The Super Six was Hudson’s top-selling model back then, and though Hudson, in a fit of corporate apostasy, went to eight-cylinder cars in 1930, the postwar line reintroduced the Super Six, which became their best seller for the next several years, largely because the old straight-eight cost about 10 percent more and delivered only seven more horsepower. By 1951, Hudson was winning races with a 308-cubic-inch six, which in civilian form kicked out 145 hp, more than the old eight, and which the company offered with some serious go-fast parts: the “Twin-H Power package” had dual induction and twin carburetors, offering 160-170 hp, and the factory-racer version (dubbed 7-X) was good for 210. The old eight-holer faded into oblivion. Unfortunately, so did Hudson, which was merged with Nash in 1954 to form American Motors; both brands were killed off after the 1957 model year in favor of Rambler, previously a Nash sub-brand, which was selling better than either.

There is, incredibly, one active Hudson dealer remaining: Miller Motors in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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Zapruder than ever

The guy I feel bad for is William Henry Harrison, who caught a cold three weeks after his inauguration; he wound up with pneumonia, which killed him on the 31st day of his term. Everyone, of course, explained that it was because he gave the most godawful long inaugural address on a raw March day without benefit of overcoat. But that’s what everyone does: coughs up an opinion.

This week, we’re getting all manner of JFK-related, um, nostalgia, and frankly we should knock it the hell off, or at least back off from the crushing volume of drama:

Once again, we’re told that it was the worst, the most terrible thing that ever happened to a U. S. President, in all of history —

And that, as H. L. Mencken might’ve said, is utter buncombe. While no President — or any other law-abiding citizen — deserves to be shot down, especially as long as there’s an independent press and the process of impeachment available, it’s an amazing coincidence that the only one they’ve got on film and tape is somehow the very worst.

The press isn’t as independent as it used to be, or for that matter as it thinks itself to be, but that’s not what’s at issue:

Consider Lincoln, who was assassinated in the actual (defective) course of an actual conspiracy, for which eight people were eventually convicted and four were hanged. Consider James A. Garfield, suffering though eleven weeks of increasingly dire infection before dying in agony, or William McKinley, lingering for days before succumbing to gangrene. If there’s a scale of terribleness, someone else is going to have to rank these untimely deaths — but not on the basis of which one offers the most compelling video.

Yeah, but this society has declared itself proudly ahistorical: unpleasant details are left out of the textbooks, and we’re awash in wannabe revisionists with political axes to grind. I can think of no better way to honor Mr Kennedy’s memory — or, for that matter, mine, once the time comes — than to hang the lot of them.

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