Archive for The Way We Were

It’s been going on for a long time

And not much has changed:

And, as befits a Floridian turned Texan turned Floridian once more, he was a general in the Civil War Between the States for Southern Independence.

On the Union side, of course.

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A page right out of history

This isn’t quite a scholarly treatise — for one thing, “Friday” was released before March 14, 2011 — but it gets the heavy lifting done with a degree of finesse.

Yes, this may be more than you wanted to know.

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Your work is cut out for you

There have been releases of this sort before, but I don’t remember anything like this:

The Vintage Patterns Wiki released 83,500 sewing patterns of pre-1992. You can find pretty much everything from the Dynasty-inspired suits and Betty Draper’s frocks and white gloves. There’s also an 1985 boys’ Reefer Suit and short trousers.

The search can be narrowed to particular pieces, designed and decades. There are patterns from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Lots of illustrations at the link.

(Via Michael Bates.)

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Much cherished

Francis W. Porretto is having a Golden Goodies flashback:

I’ve been listening to a lot of old pop music lately. Old as in you first heard it on your AM Radio. Old as in actual melodies and harmonies, even some occasional counterpoint. Old as in no politics, no sex, and no Anglo-Saxon vulgarities. The Beach Boys. The early Beatles. The BeeGees before disco. Chad and Jeremy. The Dave Clark Five. Donovan. The Hollies. Jay and the Americans. The Kingston Trio. The Lovin’ Spoonful. The Mamas and the Papas. Paul Revere and the Raiders. Spanky and Our Gang. And my all-time favorites, The Association.

When I arrived at college, I discovered something surprising: those groups and their music were almost uniformly dismissed as “plastic.” Why? They sounded good. They sang in smooth voices and played their instruments like musicians. They were non-vulgar. They weren’t trying to sell you on some political position or promote some trumped-up “crisis.”

It took a while for me to realize that those were the reasons my fellow collegians dismissed them.

The Association, in fact, had serious street cred, mostly on the basis of “Along Comes Mary,” which everyone just assumed was a drug song, though songwriter Tandyn Almer wisely kept his trap shut. By their second album, the group figured it could come up with some in-house psychedelia, which led to Jules Alexander’s wobbly “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies,” which didn’t come close to the Top Ten:

“Heebie-jeebies,” should you be wondering, are like the fantods, only hairier. Maybe Curt Boettcher, who produced the band’s first album, could have salvaged that mess, but by then he was gone, and management brought in Hollywood stalwart Bones Howe to produce the next LP.

It was one of the symptoms of the troubles to come, the proverbial “clouds the size of a man’s hand” on our social and political horizons. And it is difficult for me, at this remove, to believe that it had no genesis other than a change in tastes.

There was a strategy in play even then. We were unable to see it, even as it operated on us.

But by no means was a united front presented. One of my best buds in freshman year had some countercultural ideas of his own: he wrote an actual piece called “In the Event That I Lose My Mind,” scored for twelve-string guitar and pipe organ, and recorded in the dead of night in the school tower by yours truly on his four-track Sony. But where did his tastes truly lie? He had a 10½-inch reel of Dionne Warwick, which got played more than anything else on his tape rack. And remarkably, no one picked on me, perhaps because I had Santana and Led Zeppelin II sitting by the phonograph on top of the Grass Roots LPs.

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Not nostalgia, exactly

But just the same, it was twenty-seven years ago today:

The Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership — in particular then-President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

At the time, Billy Jeff seemed a bit less untrustworthy than Janet, though the Deep State was pretty well entrenched even then.

The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs, but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.

Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.

What’s changed since then: back in the day, you could hold whatever goofy beliefs you wanted, and as long as you didn’t run off at the mouth about it, nobody cared. Today, every day brings a new kind of thoughtcrime.

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Killer Joe

Since the term “Stalinist” gets tossed around a lot these days, it’s probably time to take a look at the man who inspired the term:

We all know what he did as dictator, but unless you’re a fairly serious student of the Russian Revolution, you probably don’t know that before becoming the vozhd, his primary duty was … paperwork. Tons and tons and tons of paperwork.

His brief stint as a Red Army commissar was a disaster — he was, as you might expect, aces at having dissidents rounded up and shot, but his few actual military(-ish) decisions were widely blamed for the loss of important cities to the Poles. Here too, his decisions were all paperwork — in this case, refusing to countersign orders because they didn’t follow proper procedure. After the Civil War he was the “People’s Commissar for Nationalities,” hardly a glamour post (by contrast, Lenin’s heir presumptive, Leon Trotsky, was in charge of the Red Army … which he created from scratch). Even Stalin’s participation in the Tiflis Bank Robbery of 1907, the one “direct action” he was involved with, is disputed — his only known role was as an organizer.

In short, the guy was a pen pusher, and very little more than a pen pusher, up to the moment he seized power.

How, you wonder, could a mere bureaucrat pull this off? Not so hard, really:

His plan was simple and obvious: Build up an organization by inserting his loyalists into every possible post, while maneuvering to get anyone who opposed him transferred (or shot). The execution was even simpler: Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Stalin didn’t seize power; he ground all his rivals down with sheer tedium. “Stalin” means “man of steel,” but he won by having a cast-iron bladder and a leather ass.

He who would drain the swamp must first gauge the tenacity of the dwellers therein.

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A star in her own right

Now that Betsy Ross is back in the news again, it might not be a bad idea to examine her credentials as a vexillographer. Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re a tad on the sparse side:

The story first started to circulate in popular consciousness around the 1876 centennial. Allegedly passed down through the Ross family, Betsy Ross was said to have made the flag at the personal request of George Ross [Betsy’s brother-in-law] and America’s first president George Washington. An example for patriotic young girls around the time of the centennial, Betsy was given the design by Washington, Ross and another man named Robert Morris. (Morris was an early United States Senator and held a pre-Constitutional office roughly analogous to Secretary of the Treasury.)

“Superintendent of Finance,” in fact. Once the Constitution was in place, Morris was offered the job of Secretary of the Treasury; he begged off, but recommended a candidate, a fellow named Alexander Hamilton.

Other than the say-so of her distant relatives, there is no evidence supporting Ross’ design and creation of the first American flag. However, much circumstantial evidence against her role includes no records of a flag design committee, no evidence that George Washington even knew who Betsy Ross was, and no mention in letters or diaries that have surfaced from the period. Betsy Ross was paid a significant sum by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board to make flags, but there’s no details about what those flags were.

Of course, the fact that it was done is far more important than the question of who did it.

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Moonfoolery

Astronauts get some serious training, and generally they behave in a serious manner. But sometimes … well, let’s turn the clock back to Apollo 16 in 1972:

The story begins with [lunar module pilot Charlie] Duke and mission commander John Young having just a few moments left on the Moon’s surface before needing to retreat back to the lunar module. Not wanting to waste the precious minutes on another world, Duke decided to engage in what he called the “Moon Olympics,” performing feats that would be impossible back on Earth.

School kids know this, or at least used to know this: whatever you weighed on Earth, it’s reduced by about five sixths on the Moon.

Duke, who admits he was “horsing around,” did his best to perform a high jump, launching himself several feet off the lunar surface thanks to the dramatically reduced gravity. Unfortunately, the weight of his suit and life support system strapped to his back proved too much to handle, and he crashed onto his back — and the vital systems in his backpack — at a potentially dangerous angle.

“The backpack weighed as much as I did. So I went over backwards,” Duke explained. “It’s a fiberglass shell, and it contained all your life-support systems. If it broke, I was dead.”

Young eventually helped Duke to his feet, and the shaken astronaut spent the next several seconds listening closely to see if he had broken any of the pumps or other mechanisms that were chugging along inside his backpack to keep him alive. He didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary, and no hissing that would indicate a tear in his space suit, but he made sure to stay grounded for his remaining moments on the Moon.

And you know, if I’d pulled a stunt like that at age 37, I’d probably wait until I was 83 to admit to it.

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Of historical interest, anyway

This cute little darb is the IBM 5100 Portable Computer, unleashed on the world in 1975, six years before the machine normally called the IBM PC. The base version, with 16 KB of actual RAM, could be had for about $10,000; fortified with a whole 64 KB, it was about twice as much. I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed with that QIC tape backup.

IBM Model 5100 computer

What’s it worth today? Ask this guy: How to go on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter on a 1977 IBM-5100?

I don’t think I have the heart to tell him. After all, it’s a ten-grand (or more) machine.

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Lack of stodge

These days, you recommend Toyota to someone, and you get this back: “BORRR-ing.” Then again, that’s been their stock in trade in North America for years: the ultimate automotive appliance.

Dial over to Japan, circa 1982, and you see the very antithesis of that premise:

A few of those actually sneaked into the States, bearing Tercel badges.

(Via Murilee Martin.)

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Meanwhile at the sideshow

This particular sample was observed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, far away from the “serious” exhibits:

Headless Woman exhibit, Amusement Area, New York World's Fair 1939

The pitch, of course, was pure hokum: after some tragic accident, the remains of this poor woman were parked in a chair, to be kept alive by those mysterious fluids that flow in and out of her neck. Invariably, the victim proves to be either fidgety or playful, possibly both, adding credence to the still-alive premise; at some point, she will cross her legs, and maybe engage in a little foot-bounce.

In 1941’s Maisie Was a Lady, the amazing Ann Sothern appears briefly in a sideshow setup like this; wealthy ne’er-do-well Lew Ayres discovers that those legs of hers are just slightly ticklish, ruining the act (and getting her fired from the carnival) in a matter of seconds.

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Quote of the week

As is his wont, Severian gives us a brief history lesson:

The original “reactionary,” [Joseph] de Maistre argued that there’s no such thing as a “rational” polity, because any attempt to frame one will always devolve into arguments about ends, means, and above all, legitimacy. This is because people are people and not cells on a spreadsheet. In other words, there are lots of individual men, and many different types of men, but no such thing as Man.

The Founding Fathers understood this. That’s why, even as they let Thomas Jefferson gas on about “all Men are created equal,” they designed a system specifically to safeguard man’s inequality. No, I don’t mean the 3/5 Compromise or any of that hooey. I mean federalism itself. Whether or not slavery was an integral part of being a “Virginian” in 1789 (it wasn’t), it was clear to everyone that Virginians and Massachussans were different — irreconciliably different — and that any political system which required them to be on the same page for any but the biggest of national questions would rapidly devolve into anarchy.

Words mean what they mean. “Unequal” doesn’t mean “inferior;” it means “not the same.” A man like Light-Horse Harry Lee would cheerfully agree that Virginians and Massachussans are “unequal,” but suggesting that Massachussans are therefore superior to Virginians would be met with an invitation to debate the issue with pistols at dawn. Everyone at the Constitutional Convention understood this, because they’d just fought a big nasty war together, and everyone there had seen the color of everyone else’s blood.

I rather miss the custom of pistols at dawn. Not only was it handy for settling disputes, it had the singular virtue of being singular: today, we’d have Twitter Mob One versus Twitter Mob Two, and no one would get a round in edgewise.

And frankly, “Massachussans” is a clumsy sort of construction at best; the government of the Commonwealth has declared “Bay Staters” as the official demonym, and I have yet to see anyone actually bound over for saying “Massholes.” It’s more of a New Hampshire thing, anyway.

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Putting the squeeze on them

His name was Robert R. Taylor, and you may have one of his creations in your house: Taylor, who had numerous successes (and the occasional flop) as an inventor/entrepreneur, gave us SoftSoap, the hand soap with the pump sprayer. And apparently the key to its success was that little pump:

Before launching SoftSoap, Taylor had made a crucial observation — there were only few companies in the United States at the time that actually made the kind of pumps needed. Of these companies, only one produced enough pumps suitable for mass-production on the scale envisioned here. And since there also wasn’t much in the way of a suitable international company that would be able to provide what was needed here quickly and at a competitive price, in effect, this left only a single choice for anyone wanting to sell liquid soap en masse using such a pump system. Thus, Taylor’s idea was quite simple — buy literally every pump the company had available for the foreseeable future. How many would he need to buy? It turns out about 100 million to keep the company (Calmar) busy at full capacity for about a year.

The problem was he didn’t have the required $12 million (about $37 million today) to place such an order. So he had to wait until after the product was launched and hope that it was a massive hit to give him the money he needed before his competitors decided to make their own copy-cat product.

Outrageous as it was, the plan still could have backfired:

[W]hen the time came, he also had no way of knowing whether Calmar would agree to the contract. If Calmar didn’t, there was a very real risk that one of the bigger companies would eventually sign a contract with them that would do to Taylor what he was attempting to do to everyone else — stop them from getting the needed pumps for a little while.

And while you might think agreeing to a massive contract that would see them working at full capacity for the foreseeable future would be a no-brainer for Calmar, consider that this would force them to get rid of all their other business contracts to service one, relatively small, company.

When the time came, however, Calmar agreed. Naturally, this sequence of events has gone down in history as one of the most ballsy “bet-the-company moves” ever.

And, just as Taylor had planned, when the larger companies tried to release their own take on SoftSoap, they quickly realised that they couldn’t at first because some mysterious, freshly smelling, large penis owning individual had called dibs on almost every suitable pump in the United States set to be produced for the next year.

In the States, the financial industry has been known to refer to a person who pulls off a stunt like this as a Big Swinging Dick, so the penis reference is not gratuitous, or not too gratuitous anyway.

And there’s a bottle of Taylor’s soap beside my bathroom sink, and another in the men’s room at the office. I assume there’s also one in the women’s, but I am disinclined to take a look for myself.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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In a happier place

Dr. John, the Night Tripper, live in 1981 with his second-biggest hit ever:

As a studio pro, the man born Malcolm John Rebennack played behind everyone from Cher to Frank Zappa; for two decades he was a songwriting partner to Doc Pomus.

And now he belongs to the heavens, where I’d like to think he’s jamming with Professor Longhair.

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Long live the Queen of Creole

Someone you perhaps don’t remember, but should:

In the 1950s and 60s at the height of the US civil rights movement, when activists needed somewhere discreet to discuss strategy, they would go to Dooky Chase in New Orleans — meeting in an upstairs room and make plans over generous helpings of the hearty, Creole stew, cooked up by its owner Leah Chase.

Known as the Queen of Creole, Chase — who died on Saturday aged 96 — fed Martin Luther King as he organised sit-ins with other civil rights activists.

She fed freedom riders — black and white activists who intentionally rode interstate buses into segregated states where it was against the law for them to travel together.

Unless you have support troops, you really have no army.

Thurgood Marshall, when he was the lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is even said to have made an urgent mid-gumbo call to then-attorney general Bobby Kennedy from the restaurant’s phone.

“They would eat gumbo, and talk about what they were going to do and how they were going to do it,” she told the BBC’s Dan Saladino in 2016.

Decades later, Chase would serve the very same gumbo to Barack Obama, who was soon to become the first black president of the United States — and would slap his hand for adding hot sauce to it.

In defense of Mr Obama, I don’t recall any incident when he dumped ketchup on a steak.

The eatery itself was named for Leah Chase’s husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase II; it began in 1941 as a sandwich stand in the Treme district, run by his parents, and the Chases eventually turned it into a sit-down place.

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Because the South had balls

And they weren’t shy about using them, either:

The three lethal Civil War-era cannons pulled from the Confederate gunboat CSS Pee Dee were loaded for action when they were recovered.

That was maybe the biggest surprise for the conservators who confirmed the ship was ready to fight when it was scuttled in 1865 in the Pee Dee River near Florence as Union troops closed in.

The cannons, recovered in 2015, were restored and preserved in a four-year effort by the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. They will be placed on exhibit outside the Veterans Affairs building in Florence at a date yet to be announced.

“Wait a minute. Why haven’t I heard about this mighty vessel?”

The ship might have been one of the South’s greatest weapons had it ever seen action. But it was finished in the desperate days of the Confederacy as the war drew to a close. While the Pee Dee likely never saw action, its guns had been powdered and primed. Conservators knew this because when they turned the key on a brass fuse it fizzed like a soda.

A 9-pound ball was loaded into the single Dahlgren cannon. The two Brooke cannons were loaded with forged grapeshot the size of billiard balls instead of the large, bullet-like shells they had been rifled to fire.

The neat, or un-neat, thing about grapeshot is that individual projectiles spread out after firing.

The Pee Dee was about 150 feet long and carried a crew of 90, plus that Dahlgren cannon, which bore “U. S. Navy” indicia, indicating it had been taken from a Union vessel.

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Bongo, bongo, bongo

“Bongo Rock” is where it started:

Preston Epps was a percussionist, and a good one. Born in Mangum, Oklahoma in 1930, he attended grade school in Tulsa before the family relocated to Oakland, California, and spent the duration of the Korean War in Okinawa. He was rather muted on his first big recording gig, behind the Penguins on “Earth Angel,” but he found his way to the spotlight, with “Bongo Rock” hitting #14 in Billboard.

Our title comes from Epps’ second charter, which wasn’t quite so boisterous:

Preston Epps kept playing until 2014; he died on the 9th of May.

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Decoration Day

[A reprint from 2004.]

Spring 1868. General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a support organization founded by veterans for veterans, issues the following as General Order No. 11:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

This wasn’t the first Memorial Day, technically; the townspeople of Waterloo, New York had inaugurated just such an observance two years earlier. But General Logan’s call to honor fallen soldiers resounded nationally, and five thousand turned out at Arlington National Cemetery on the thirtieth of May, placing flowers and placards and gifts on the resting places of twenty thousand.

Two years later, General Logan spoke at Arlington, and this is part of what he said:

This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims… Let us, then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us…

I come from a family with strong ties to the military. Both my parents were sailors, and my father had served in the Army before joining the Navy. A brother served in the Navy; a sister took on the duties of a soldier’s wife. But it took me rather a long time to understand the “noble dead”; I knew nothing of death except that it was a scary prospect, and I didn’t see nobility as being part of the package.

The first inkling of what it meant came during Basic Combat Training in 1972. I was eighteen, grossly immature, and generally scared spitless. The guys with the funny hats who dragged us out of bed at 0500, well, they were just an obstacle, to be endured and then to be forgotten.

Except that they knew things. They weren’t scholars issuing position papers from ivory towers; they were men who had Been There, who had faced real enemies, and who had come back to show us pathetic slobs how to face real enemies ourselves. There were things you did, and there were things you did not do, if you expected to come back yourself. And since we were all green as hell and totally lacking in life experience, what we wanted more than anything else was to be able to come back.

So we learned. We fired (just as important, we cleaned) our weapons, we studied simple tactics, we got used to sleeping with the rocks and the ticks, we got to the point where we weren’t as embarrassingly bad as we had been a couple of months earlier. And the NCOs, who up to then had never been satisfied with our performance, pronounced themselves satisfied: we were going to be all right.

Most of us did come back. But some did not, and we found ourselves grieving for them and for their families, because we knew that it could just have easily have been us. Their sacrifice was received and found worthy. Noble, even.

I thought about this during the dedication of the World War II Memorial this week [in 2004], especially when that old soldier Bob Dole explained why it was happening:

What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.

I hope, as I slide into old-soldier status myself, that I’ve done my best to live up to those ideals.

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All the sentiment you could want

About a week and a half after the musicians’ strike of 1942-44 drew to a close, Doris Day sang “Sentimental Journey” in front of Les Brown and his Band of Renown; that spring, Columbia put it out on a 78, and it made Number One on whatever charts existed in those days. It’s appropriate that we play it here:

Incidentally, when Doris got her own radio show on CBS in 1952, Brown was her bandleader.

I’m sure there were at least some guys of a certain age who didn’t crush on Doris Day, but I never met any of them.

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Never forgotten

The bones, we had. But there was more:

The unmarked grave of Joseph Merrick — who is better known as the Elephant Man — has been traced after nearly 130 years, it has been claimed.

Merrick had a skeletal and soft tissue deformity which saw him as a freak show attraction, then a medical curiosity.

His skeleton has been preserved at the Royal London Hospital since his death. But author Jo Vigor-Mungovin says she has now discovered Merrick’s soft tissue was buried in the City of London Cemetery after he died in 1890.

No, they didn’t dig him up. But:

Mrs Vigor-Mungovin, who has written a biography of Merrick, said a story about his soft tissue being buried had not been followed up due to the number of graveyards in use at the time.

“I was asked about this and off-hand I said ‘It probably went to the same place as the [Jack the] Ripper victims’, as they died in the same locality. Then I went home and really thought about it and started looking at the records of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium near Epping Forest, where two Ripper victims are buried.

“I decided to search in an eight-week window around the time of his death and there, on page two, was Joseph Merrick.”

The actual plot has been located:

Initially, the area was narrowed down to a communal memorial garden, but Mrs Vigor-Mungovin said a specific plot had now been identified.

“The authorities said a small plaque could be made to mark the spot, which would be lovely. Hopefully, we can soon get a memorial in his hometown of Leicester.”

Good. Merrick deserves to be remembered; most people with severe deformities are trotted up and down the stage and then utterly forgotten.

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Direly straitlaced

Equating today’s humorless scolds — “Democracy dies in dorkness” — to the Puritans of old might be emotionally satisfying in some small way, but history insists otherwise:

The great Reformers were all very special snowflakes, but the Puritans were the special-est snowflakes History has ever produced. They focused entirely on the inner experience. Get your being right, they held, and whatever you say and do will automatically be right. That they were history’s first ideological murderers goes without saying, and truly excellent killers they were, too — ever heard of the Pequot Indian tribe? No? There’s a reason for that. “Thus the lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.

It’s tempting to say “and here we are!,” and indeed it’s commonplace in Our Thing to refer to the dour scolds who rule us as Puritans. They’re not, though, because Puritanism never had mass appeal. Equating “membership in the Elect” with “worldly success” is great if you’re one of the successful, but as the vast majority of people aren’t successful, The Elect are a small, elite club. Which Calvin et al to their … credit, I guess? … were ok with, but once the revolutionary fervor passed away with the first generation of fanatics, Puritanism was unsustainable. In Massachusetts, for example, they were hanging witches in 1693; by 1698 Cotton Mather was being openly mocked, and by 1700 everyone was pretending that the whole sordid business never happened.

It took the Puritans about seven decades to piss away all their social capital. The last time the world turned Really Damn Stupid was 1968: Congress decided that the currency of the United States would henceforth be backed by sheer inertia; an insufficiently-anonymous asshole shot Dr King in Memphis; there was a battle, and its name was Tet, and it was offensive; and people rioted in the streets of Europe because there were no salt mines to which to exile them. If our current level of stupidity is going to subside by, say, 2038, it might be worth hanging around after all. God knows there’ll be no shortage of common scolds to mock.

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Over at Harry’s place

This has been going on at the Truman Library tonight:

Dozens of middle school students will perform original and historical speeches Monday at the Truman Library and Museum — a Midwest regional event that’s part of the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellowship.

“An Evening of Oratory” will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the library, including more than 25 middle school students from Independence, Fort Osage and Raytown schools, as well as Wichita, Kansas who will perform in front of a public audience and a representative from Ford’s Theatre. A scheduling conflict will prevent students from Omaha, Nebraska from making the trip to participate.

Students from Bridger Middle School in Independence have been participating in this for several years, but this is the first time it includes students from other Midwest schools. Speeches will last about two minutes. An additional 25 students from Bridger will give speeches at a later event Wednesday evening.

Now, who do I know who attends Bridger?

Yep. Grandson Gunner, just turned twelve, is doing one of those speeches. And it makes sense that he should be the family member to take part in this thing, inasmuch as he’s now a fairly experienced thespian, having appeared in several local community-theatre productions. I am properly awed.

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Basses for comparison

In nineteen ought eight, Cadillac won the prestigious Dewar Trophy, and arguably deserved to be called the Standard of the World:

[T]hree Model Ks were selected from stock at the Anglo-American Motor-car Company, Cadillac’s London agent. On Saturday, February 29, the three were driven 25 miles to the Brooklands Circuit, opened only a year before, where they did 10 laps of this oval, another 30 miles.

After resting under [Royal Automotive Club] lock and key, on March 2, 1908, the three Cadillacs were disassembled, each car reduced to a heap of 721 parts. Then R.A.C. officials scrambled everything into a pile of 2163 pieces. What’s more, they chose 89 of these to swap with replacements selected from the dealership’s parts supplies.

The resulting heap was categorized into three appropriate piles, from which three Model Ks were reassembled. These three “harlequin cars” were fired up on Thursday morning, March 12, and began lapping Brooklands.

By 2 p.m. on Friday, March 13, 1908, the trio had completed 500 miles. After this, one of them was locked away until the June 1908 R.A.C. Reliability Run, at which it earned a class trophy. And, of course, Cadillac deserved the 1908 Dewar Trophy for this impressive display of parts interchangeability.

It’s been many years since anyone thought of Cadillac as being a world leader in anything, but interchangeable parts are still a thing. Behold Daryl Hall, John Oates, and Diana Ross:

(Via Miss Cellania.)

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For the tiny houses of the Fifties

Methinks this is just too much appliance for this meager amount of space:

But apparently this combination has never gone completely out of style:

Looks like it would fit in the space one might devote to a dishwasher. Then again, I don’t own a dishwasher.

(Via Carolyne Mas.)

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The Empress’ new clothes

An advertisement for “Spanish lambswool invisible petticoats,” from 1806:

Mrs. Robertshaw begs leave to inform those ladies that found their invisible petticoats shrunk last winter that she has a kind so much improved that she will warrant them never to shrink even in the commonest wash, at the same time will be found equally as soft, pliant and warm. Everybody that has tried them allows them to be a much pleasanter article than ever before invented, being so very elastic [a word merely meaning at the time having some stretch or give] and of so beautiful a white, and, like all these comforts will add quite as little to size as her patent lambs’ wool so much approved of last winter. Likewise invisibles and stays all in one; well adapted to ladies that are confined; also under waist coats and drawers of the same description.

Of course, what makes these garments “invisible” is the fact that they’re worn between the body and the dress, hence unseen; no H. G. Wells-style trickery here. Interestingly, advertisements of this sort disappeared, so to speak, after 1816:

The year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer (also the Poverty Year and Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death) because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). This eruption was the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years (after the extreme weather events of 535–536), and perhaps exacerbated by the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Philippines.

We may perhaps assume that the tendency of women to wear less when it gets warmer goes back at least two hundred years.

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They come and they go

This is fascinating on several levels:

The one that shakes me up is Vijayanagar, with half a bmillion souls in 1500 and essentially nobody in 1566, a consequence of the Battle to Talikota, in which the Vijayanagara Empire was routed, and subsequently burned, by the Deccan Sultanates.

(Via Coyote Blog.)

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Go, you bacon fat, go

There was a time when fat was actually valuable:

WWII poster to support the Fat Salvage effort

The American Fat Salvage Committee was created to urge housewives to save all the excess fat rendered from cooking and donate it to the army to produce explosives. As explained to Minnie Mouse and Pluto in one wartime video, fats are used to make glycerin, and glycerin is used to make things blow up.

One pound of fat supposedly contained enough glycerin to make about a pound of explosives. Patriotism aside, many American housewives were not enticed. Only about half donated their excess cooking fats. Saturated fats were of little health concern at the time and cooking grease was hard to come by, especially once rations were imposed.

And schlepping a pound of grease across town to the collection point probably wasn’t all that much fun.

Still, the program started out with high hopes:

Mass-produced butter and lard were not readily available in stores, vegetable oils were expensive, and everything only became pricier during the war. At the start of the fat salvage program, a study found that almost three-quarters of households saved cooking fats for reuse (Southerners were the biggest fat savers). Doctors and dieticians at the time were more concerned with vitamin deficiencies caused by wartime diets than the consumption of excess fat or salt. Collecting the fat after frying up some bacon or roasting some beef was a practical and economical way to run a household. And there was a lot of leftover fat because Americans ate a lot of meat.

Until rationing kicked in, and they didn’t eat so much.

The product made from all this glycerin was propane-1,2,3-triyl trinitrate, but you know it better as:

Nitroglycerin is a dense, colorless, oily, explosive liquid most commonly produced by nitrating glycerol with white fuming nitric acid under conditions appropriate to the formation of the nitric acid ester. Chemically, the substance is an organic nitrate compound rather than a nitro compound, yet the traditional name is often retained. Invented in 1847, nitroglycerin has been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, mostly dynamite, and as such it is employed in the construction, demolition, and mining industries. Since the 1880s, it has been used by the military as an active ingredient, and a gelatinizer for nitrocellulose, in some solid propellants, such as cordite and ballistite.

Far as I know, this is the only song that mentions the stuff:

Explosive, indeed.

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The man and the munition

From the previous post:

Sandbox tree fruit looks like little pumpkins, but once they dry into seed capsules, they become ticking time bombs. When fully mature, they explode with a loud bang and fling their hard, flattened seeds at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and distances of over 60 feet. The shrapnel can seriously injure any person or animal in its path.

“Shrapnel” is such a great word, it deserves some exposition of its own:

Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842) was a British Army officer whose name has entered the English language as the inventor of the shrapnel shell.

In 1784, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he perfected, with his own resources, an invention of what he called “spherical case” ammunition: a hollow cannonball filled with lead shot that burst in mid-air. He successfully demonstrated this in 1787 at Gibraltar. He intended the device as an anti-personnel weapon. In 1803, the British Army adopted a similar but elongated explosive shell which immediately acquired the inventor’s name. It has lent the term shrapnel to fragmentation from artillery shells and fragmentation in general ever since, long after it was replaced by high explosive rounds. Until the end of World War I, the shells were still manufactured according to his original principles.

The Crown awarded him £1200 a year for life, some of which he actually was paid. (This equals about £82,000 today.)

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Slowly walking away

I lost track of the Walker Brothers after about 1976, following their reunion album No Regrets, which wasn’t even released in the States, a weird sort of irony given the fact that the Walkers, apart from not being brothers and not being named Walker, were based in Los Angeles but made a far bigger splash in the UK; for the most part, Mercury Records was content to let us fools think they were a British Invasion act. (Fontana, a Mercury subsidiary in those days, put out a 1967 compilation album called England’s Greatest Hits, which actually contained a Walker Brothers track.)

“No Regrets,” the song, was a late-Sixties Tom Rush number that Scott Walker imbued with enough pathos to support both Charles Aznavour and George Jones. Its failure to get traction in America is a tragedy.

The Walkers — Scott Engel, Gary Leeds and John Maus, although John had adopted the Walker surname on his own before joining up — were at least given decent material. The orchestral wash of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David ballad “Make It Easy On Yourself,” with Scott’s vocals riding across the top, was good enough to buy the track some chart action, maybe even good enough to make you forget that Jerry Butler had recorded it earlier.

The second Big Hit was a cover of a Frankie Valli solo track that went nowhere. Given the same sort of orchestral sweetening as before, plus my favorite non-Hal Blaine drum part ever, it simply had to be a hit:

Number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100. They’d never see that chart again. All three of them recorded solo material, though only Scott had much success; John died in 2011, and Scott died last week.

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The undisputed King

Did Dick Dale ever get tired of playing “Misirlou”? From this session, recorded when he was 71, I’m guessing he didn’t:

Dale said that he had to keep touring just to afford his medical bills, which is a shame, but it never seemed to affect his playing.

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