BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 May 2018, 12:40

Man is not a solitary animal, and so long as social life survives, self-realization cannot be the supreme principle of ethics. Russell, History of Western Philosophy.

If you think of history as progress—and despite current evidence, many do—then Britain’s aristocratic Russell family might encourage you. At almost every great stage of modern British history, from the dissolution of the monasteries to the 17th-century revolutions to the expansion of the suffrage, you can find one (or more) Russells on the side of the angels. An important agent of that continuity was Bertrand Arthur William Russell, third earl Russell, born in Wales on May 18, 1872. He was born to rebel; his reforming father saw to it that the boy’s godfather was J. S. Mill; his mother, grandmother, and a passel of aunties were feminists and suffragists. As importantly, when he was a mere slip of a lad, his elder brother tutored him in geometry, and young Bertrand found the subject both easy and enticing, and although the boy loved the poetry of Shelley it was in mathematics that he first set Cambridge on its ear. After penning some approving works on continental social democracy, he produced The Principles of Mathematics (1904) and then, with his mentor Alfred North Whitehead, Principia Mathematica (1913), both of which (I am told by those who understand these things) marry math with philosophy at the altar of logic. Another contribution to philosophy was Russell’s welcoming of Ludwig Wittgenstein to Cambridge sets and circles. In the rest of his life, Bertrand Russell was best known as a radical political gadfly, from his pacifism in World War I to his post WWII campaign against nuclear weapons and warfare. Russell did, however, accept the necessity of war against Hitler. I know him best as the author of The History of Western Philosophy (1945), one of the chief reasons for Russell’s 1950 Nobel Prize for Literature and a going-to-college birthday gift from my father. Over the years, I subjected it to such hard use that I recently had to purchase a second copy. Russell died in 1972; his ashes were scattered at his birthplace. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 May 2018, 02:31

Creativity in science, as in the arts, cannot be organized. Max Perutz.

Anyone lucky enough to have seen the BBC drama on the mapping of DNA (“Life Story,” 1987) may remember who played the Max Perutz character. Whoever it was did a brilliant job, bringing us Perutz as the self-deprecating, funny man who gave Francis Crick and James Watson the space and time they needed to make their world-changing discovery. That was accurate as far as it went, but in Perutz’s case it wasn’t far enough. Max Perutz, born in Vienna on May 19, 1914, was a brilliant scientist in his own right, and in 1962, the same year that Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel in physiology (for DNA), Max Perutz won the chemistry Nobel for his discovery of the molecular structure of hemoglobin. Nor did “Life Story” adequately recognize Perutz’s organizing role. The unit at the Cavendish that he was appointed to create, and then direct, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, produced during his directorship nine Nobels, a remarkable run to say the least. It was, by definition, a multi-disciplinary operation, and its chemists, physicists, and biologists flourished at the edges of their disciplines under a director who didn’t do a whole lot of directing and almost no organizing. Another reason that the likes of Crick and Watson weren’t restrained from just messing around with molecules was Perutz’s legendary eccentricity, for this Austrian emigré made himself into the very model of the modern British boffin, “Professor Brainstawm” incarnate, from his time spent on a wartime project to create a mid-ocean iceberg (as an ersatz airport for ferrying planes across the Atlantic) to his cure for shingles (listening to Beethoven sonatas). He was himself such an oddball, he later reflected, that he really had to be tolerant. His was a wide tolerance, but it did not extend to modern British (or American) conservatism, and his elder years were punctuated by pungent essays on that subject, notably in foreign policy matters. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 May 2018, 12:49

It is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.

Back in my day, “ethics” (as an introductory course in philosophy) was taught historically, as a system of modern western thought that applied reason rather than revelation to issues of the good and the doing of good. By design, we never did get to present-day ethics (now the general approach of ethics courses). Rather we started with Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) and finished with John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859). Professor Elizabeth Flower left us with the idea that there was much more to learn but we had been equipped with all the basic tools we needed to think ethically. And there was a notion of progress, with Mill’s utilitarianism offering a kind of data-driven way to distinguish the good from the bad, the beneficial from the deleterious. There was also the general idea that the more you knew the better able you might be to make these distinctions. And there was no doubt that John Stuart Mill knew a very great deal. He was born on May 20, 1806, and under his father James’s tutelage he began with the languages (ancient and modern) and progressed through math, logic, more than a smattering of science, before cutting his teeth on philosophy (James Mills’ summum bonum). These plunges into deep waters left John Stuart with the idea that there must be more to life, something perhaps called happiness, and at age 22 William Wordsworth’s poetry helped him to find it. This brought into his utilitarian philosophy a diffuse benignity which, in his writings and in his politics, he sought to extend to the working classes, to women (he attempted to write women’s suffrage into the 1867 Reform Bill), to American slaves, to the oppressed black farmers of Jamaica. Still, there was something spare and niggardly in his philosophy of government. He was a classical liberal, not a modern humanitarian. But what a life he lived! His last words (in 1873, to his step-daughter Helen) were “you know that I have done my work.” Indeed so. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 May 2018, 13:08

I know for certain// The one I love// I'm through with flirtin'// It's you that I'm thinkin' of// Ain't misbehavin'// I'm savin' my love for you. Fats Waller, 1929.

Until the mid 20th century, black musicians usually crossed the color line by selling their work to—or having it pirated by—white composers and performers. And then there was Fats Waller, who did plenty of that (including, probably, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby”), but experienced a novel way of ‘crossing’ when, after a Chicago performance in 1926, he was kidnapped by armed men, deposited in the Hawthorne Inn, and informed—at gunpoint—that he was to play for Al “Scarface” Capone’s 27th birthday party. Waller, always a sensible chap, played. Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born in New York City on May 21, 1904, to a Baptist minister and his musician wife, Edward and Adeline Waller. He learned music from mom and played in dad’s church, and his parents’ high hopes for their son were, it seemed, rewarded by his admission to DeWitt Clinton High School in 1919. But Waller was already playing professionally in Harlem (for the princely salary of $32 weekly), and after only a semester he dropped out of Clinton. By the mid 1920s he was famous enough to get kidnapped by Capone, and (better) to land a recording contract with RCA and to be writing for Broadway. That meant, at least on occasion, getting money and publicity in the white world, but there were times also when Fats Waller sold his compositions for peanuts, just to make ends meet. But the world knew his most famous songs were, indeed, his: for instance “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” both in 1929. National and European concert tours followed, including a performance on BBC television, and in the same year (1938) Waller broke through a racial covenant to buy a home for his wife and family in an exclusive New York neighborhood. But he toured too much, worked too hard, and in 1943 he died on the Santa Fe Super Chief, an all first-class train, somewhere in Kansas, en route to somewhere else. His ashes were scattered over Harlem, from a plane. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 May 2018, 11:38

Experiments are intended to teach, and not to mystify. William Sturgeon, Lectures on Galvanism, 1843.

“It’s a wery remarkable circumstance, sir, that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.” So wrote Charles Dickens in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Thereafter Dickens spared no effort to tell us how, out of the very grit of poverty, pearls would be made and could be found if only humans were humane enough. I like to think that Dickens found an avid reader in William Sturgeon, who rose from the grit of poverty to be—if not a pearl—then a pioneer in science. Sturgeon was born in the pretty Lancashire village of Whittington on May 22, 1783. Pretty for some, but for Sturgeon it was hell. His father (a poacher when it was a high risk occupation) treated him brutally, and things didn’t improve when he was apprenticed to a village shoemaker. For young Sturgeon (as for many in our own time) the army was an escape route, and he took it as soon as he could. In the Royal Artillery an older sergeant encouraged him, and so (at the Woolwich Arsenal) began a life of self-improvement that would take Sturgeon to the forefront of electrical innovation. By 1825 he had made the world’s first—if primitive—electromagnet. His paper on the subject, published in the Philosophical Magazine, won him a silver medal from the Society of Arts, association with some of the great men of science, and even several papers presented to the Royal Society. But more than a trace of grit remained, and soon Sturgeon—who could be difficult—fell out with the likes of Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday and into “hard times.” He moved north to Manchester, continued to tinker, earned a pittance lecturing to workingmen’s institutes, and eventually, in 1847, through the sponsorship of James Joule, brewer and physicist, Sturgeon won a Royal Bounty of £200 and a Civil List pension of £50 per annum. Sadly, our pearl soon died, but his widow continued to reap the grace and favor harvest of her husband’s struggle for self-improvement. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 May 2018, 13:14

Captain Eads, with his jetties, has done a work at the mouth of the Mississippi which seemed clearly impossible; so we do not feel full confidence now to prophesy against like impossibilities. Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883.

In Life on the Mississippi (1883), Mark Twain unforgettably summarized the character and standing of steamboat pilots, dwelling long and lovingly (for he had been one himself) on their intimate knowledge of the great river. They could read the muddy surface like a book, seeing instantly the snags, bars, and shoals that lurked beneath. James B. Eads knew the river just as well, but he saw it from the bottom up. Born in Indiana on May 23, 1820, and named after his cousin James Buchanan (now thought to be our worst-but-one president), Eads was fascinated by—and taught himself—engineering, physics, and mechanics. Once in St Louis, Eads designed and operated a diving bell with which he could plumb the river’s depths and snatch salvage (or remove notorious snags). He prospered mightily and was known up and down the river as “Captain” Eads, running not only his diving bell but a fleet of salvage and snag boats. During the Civil War, he devised ways (including the first Union ironclads) of attacking Confederate strongholds along the river, and then of defending Union gains. So with the peace he was ready for his masterpiece, the Eads Bridge (1867-1874), at the time the longest arch bridge in the world, the first to be built using the cantilever system, and the first big bridge to use mainly steel construction—and a mammoth version of Eads’ diving bell to set the stanchions. In the 1880s, Eads chaired a commission that aimed to secure all-year navigation of the river from St. Paul to the sea. His St. Louis bridge is a beautiful piece of engineering, spanning the roiling tide and still carrying road and rail (Metrolink, these days) traffic. In 1883, Twain didn’t think much of the “mighty bridge,” blaming it (and the railroads) for the decline of the steamboat. Rather Twain praised Captain Eads’ miraculous jetties, way down at the river’s mouth, that (completed only in 1879) had secured entry to the port of New Orleans for ocean-going ships. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 May 2018, 12:40

I was inflamed with a great desire to make for myself a thermometer . . . that I might with my own eyes perceive this beautiful phenomenon of nature. Daniel Fahrenheit.

A physicist friend (and sometime neighbor) once told me that his field was mainly about heat (or its absence), and there have been scientists who thought it was only about heat. James Clerk Maxwell was one of those, and in his Theory of Heat (1871) called it “thermodynamics” and (on page 1) noted that if you’re going to have a theory of heat you must be able to measure it. Attempts to do so scientifically began in the 17th century with the recognition that although any scale would be arbitrary, it was desirable to have on it “natural” points of reference. Enter Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, born in Gdansk/Danzig on May 24, 1686. His father was a wealthy German merchant, and so might Daniel have been but for the poisonous mushrooms that killed both parents in August 1701. Thus began Daniel’s trek into natural philosophy and to Berlin, Copenhagen, and other cities until he fetched up in Amsterdam, as Spinoza had found possibly the only place in the world where you could make a living producing scientific instruments. There Fahrenheit tackled the technical and scientific problems of creating an accurate thermal meter, using as his natural reference points the temperature of a supersaturated solution of ice, water, and salt (then thought to be as low as you could go in a laboratory setting), the temperature of naturally melting ice, and the temperature of water at the boil. Later improvements made these read as 0o, 32o, and 212o, the 180o between the latter two chosen because 180 is a very fractionable number. Another friend (and sometime neighbor) tells me that Daniel Fahrenheit picked “normal” human temperature on his scale by taking the heat of a feverish friend, but we all make mistakes. Later developments (in politics and in science) gave us a new scale with only 100o between freeze and boil, but in the USA we stick with Fahrenheit’s 180, possibly on the greatly mistaken belief that it is somehow “American.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 May 2018, 14:35

To produce things which are merely new and not better is really evil. Robin Day, 1999, on the relationships between modern design and the world's limited resources.

Furnishing our first house, in 1970, was a real challenge. The house was old, we were young, and (looking back) my English lecturer’s salary was miniscule (I started at £1204, per annum). My boss’s kindly wife, Muriel Woolrich, threw us onto the generosity of a kindly antiques dealer, and although we couldn’t afford ‘real’ antiques—certainly none as old as the house—Mr. Craig’s various storerooms yielded up enough OK stuff (much of it we still have) that we furnished nearly the whole place for £175. Save for the Habitat® kitchen I installed and Nick Fisher’s ersatz hide-a-bed, we didn’t think of modern; indeed we regarded “English modern design” a kind of oxymoron. Nothing did we know, then, of Robin Day, although he had designed our rental TV (a “Pye”) and much else by 1970, including the modern benches on British Rail station platforms and all the fixed and loose seating in London’s Royal Festival Hall (where we heard Bach, Procol Harum, and Beethoven). Robin Day was born Ronald Henry Day on May 25, 1915, in High Wycombe. His dad was a police constable, but his town made furniture, and at 16 he began to draw designs for a local furniture factory. From there, talent and fizz took him to the Royal College of Art where in 1942 he found a wife (Lucienne Day) who would become his design partner and, herself, a force in modern fabrics. Working by himself, with Lucienne, or as employee of S. Hille & Co., Day’s designs became ubiquitous, albeit often in plastic (his seating for the main Olympic Stadium in Mexico City was made entirely of polypropylene). There there are now over 50 million Robin Day plastic chairs in existence. But Day’s main media were wood and steel, fabrics often added by Lucienne (as in BOAC airline interiors and at the Festival Hall). Robin and Lucienne carried on designing until 2010, she passing in January and he in November, a long partnership that did more than mortals could to make “English modern design” a real concept. We sat on it, but didn’t see it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 May 2018, 11:58

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child. King Lear, Act 1, scene 4.

Thanks to the Burns brothers and PBS, the diarist George Templeton Strong (1820-1875) is probably better-known today than in his lifetime, although he was an accomplished and strong-willed man. Married to Elizabeth Ruggles, he was like his father-in-law an eminent lawyer and public benefactor, and he was also the founder of the U. S. Sanitary Commission and an architect of the post-war Republican party. He was, as well, the father of a son, and like too many fathers he hoped—none too secretly—that the boy would become a chip off the old block, and follow his father and both grandfathers into law, politics, and public benefaction. He even named his son George Templeton Strong, Jr. However the boy, born on May 26, 1856, soon developed other ideas, ironically by internalizing his parents love of music. Both parents were amateur musicians, and Strong, Sr., was President of the New York Philharmonic Society, but their taste was for the ‘classical’ classics. Strong. Jr., early identified with the Romantics, notably Liszt and Wagner, whose works his father particularly detested, but what was worse he elected for a musical, rather than a legal, career. The struggle between father and son (as can so much else, including dad’s utter detestation of the louche, swaggering, and corrupt Jay Cooke, the Trump of his day) is documented in the Strong diary. It is said that there was a rapprochement (not with Cooke but between the Strongs), but in truth the issue was finally settled by the son’s fleeing to Europe and the father’s death, both in 1875. Strong, Jr., got the support and instruction in Europe that he could not find in America, and although he did later return briefly to teach (composition) in Boston, he made his home in Geneva, and there lived out his long life (he died in 1948) as a composer and, surprisingly, a passable watercolorist. Perhaps the latter was a nod to dad’s diary-keeping, but otherwise it’s a case of like father, unlike son. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 May 2018, 05:37

There is no one so black that is not akin to me. Victoria Earle Matthews.

Many of today’s white supremacists are eager to deny that southern masters had sex with their slaves: further proof, perhaps, that evil and idiocy are old friends. But it happened, and more than occasionally the offspring of such unions were fair enough to pass as white. One such was Victoria Earle Matthews, but she “passed” only occasionally and then to document New York City employers’ racial exclusion practices and, worse, the city’s booming market for black sex slaves. Mostly Victoria Matthews passed as black, by preference and by conviction. Her life began as Ella Victoria Smith on a Georgia plantation on May 27, 1861, the secession year, and in the same year her slave mother (Caroline) celebrated her own personal secession, running away to freedom. After the war, Caroline returned to Georgia to claim custody (of Victoria and her sister, both fathered by their master), and returned with the girls to New York City. Victoria proved an excellent school student, but poverty forced her into domestic service at 16. There a sympathetic employer continued her education, giving her free access to his library, and thus commenced her life as a writer. Along the way, Victoria married (a blacker man) and became Victoria Matthews, mother (of Lamartine), a reporter for white and black newspapers and, in 1893, a novelist (Aunt Lindy, wherein a slave refuses to murder her master but instead decides to heal him of his racism). In New York, she became a force to be reckoned with, a supporter of the (blacker) Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign, and on her own the founder of a rescue house that took young black women off the streets and taught them marketable skills. It was called The White Rose Mission, and until 1984 it also operated as a school for the children of working mothers. Victoria Matthews died in 1907, succumbing to her personal plague of tuberculosis. Still, her short lifetime was one of energy and accomplishment. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 May 2018, 13:41

The more civilization progresses, the hollower it becomes and the easier to destroy it. The Empress Eugenie.

One of Karl Marx’s best (and funniest) essays is “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” (1852), in which he compared uncle (Napoleon I) to nephew (Napoleon III), and found the latter a “grotesque mediocrity.” That idea stuck in French culture, with “second empire” décor becoming a novelist’s shorthand for the tasteless grandiosity of the haute bourgeoisie. I don’t know what Marx said of the Empress Consort Eugenie, whom Louis Napoleon married in 1853, but she did not fare well with her aristocratic contemporaries (who thought her too, too parvenue) nor with historians, who have dwelt on Eugenie’s lavish entertainments, ersatz social rituals, sometimes lasting for days, in which she tried to recreate the first Bonaparte’s imperial grandeur. But Queen Victoria came to love her, and we should think again. Born in Granada, Spain on May 28, 1826, and with a name too long for these notes, Eugenie conquered Napoleon with her beauty and her insistence that the route to her bed lay through the wedding chapel. She began well with her public—the people of France—by donating almost all of her lavish wedding presents to found charities for poor girls and women. She also produced a son, the prince imperial, but her labor was so hard that she closed off the route to her bed and left Louis to return to his philandering ways. Following the Second Empire’s collapse after the disasters of the war with Prussia, Eugenie fled to England where she gallantly (and lavishly) maintained the style of a court-in-exile, first in a Kentish mansion, later in Hampshire, and after Louis’s death in 1873 traveled extensively (including to the Riviera). At home in England, Eugenie visited often with her dear sister, Victoria, was addressed always as majesté, and with Victoria’s help built a grand mausoleum for her husband and her son (and, in 1920, herself), and may have been instrumental in the return to France of Alsace-Lorraine after WWI. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 May 2018, 13:16

We Can Do It. Slogan on the Howard Miller poster of Rosie the Riveter, 1942.

If you have not seen the wartime poster of ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ find her online today, for it was on May 29, 1943, that Norman Rockwell launched his ‘Rosie’ cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post. When I got to the honors college, and realized that women made up two-thirds of its total enrollment, I rushed right down to the Missouri Historical Museum to buy a copy, frame it, and post it outside my office. But I knew nothing of Rosie’s history. Over the years, several women (students, colleagues) taught me that my poster was NOT the Rockwell cover. Indeed, Rockwell’s Rosie was late in the game. Even in WWI there was a call to bring more women into the industrial work force, but from the first WWII made more, and more pressing, demands. While there had been plenty of women workers before, the need now was to recruit more of them and from new groups (country girls, black women, the urban middle classes). Propaganda (patriotic advertising) seemed one way to do it. My poster was a copy of the first one, by Howard Miller of Pittsburgh, done for the Westinghouse Corporation in 1942. (Rather fitting, for George Westinghouse had pioneered in hiring skilled women workers, as documented by his films prepared for the 1904 World’s Fair, now online at the Library of Congress). She’s a wonderful image: resolute, blue-shirted, rolling up her sleeves to show her muscle, her hair is tied back by a polka dot bandana to keep it away from spinning lathes and of course rivet hammers. Better, Miller worked from a model, so there was a “real” Rosie. But who was she? Of several possibilities, two of the claimants were actually named Rosie (well, Rose and Rosalind) and were, in fact, riveters in war industries. But the most likely Rosie the Riveter (that is, Miller’s Rosie) was Naomi Fraley, a metal shop worker in the Naval Air Station at Alameda, CA. Ms. Fraley died just this year, one of a dwindling number of WWII vets we remembered last weekend. ©

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 May 2018, 14:37

I do not think it matters whether one agrees or not, as long as one is forced to think. Vanessa Bell.

Nature and nurture combine to ensure that siblings share at least some characteristics, and this was the case with Vanessa and Virginia Stephen, daughters of Sir Leslie Stephen and his wife Julia, who impressed on all their children and step-children (partly through educating them at home) a veneration for the arts and for truth-telling. And the sisters became friends for life, both important members—indeed leaders—of the famed—if somewhat fissiparous—Bloomsbury Group. But while Virginia Woolf went the way of literature, her elder sister Vanessa Bell (born on May 30, 1879) found in art—painting—her mode of truth-telling. Vanessa was also, altogether, a much more serene person, readier to show her affections and her good cheer, and effective as a conciliator and peacemaker in the sometimes fractious and always shifting Bloomsbury circle. These talents helped Vanessa herself to maintain cordial relations—very cordial—with her husband Clive Bell (an art critic) and her lovers Duncan Grant and Roger Fry (both painters). These same talents also helped her to weather the great tragedies in her life, her son’s death in the Spanish Civil War (1937) and her sister’s suicide (1941). Throughout, she painted, and although her work went through several stages and evolved under disparate influences critics agree that it was distinctively Bell. Influenced first by the tutelage of John Singer Sargent and the example of James McNeil Whistler, Vanessa Bell’s art was then transformed by her contacts with French impressionism and her life with Duncan Grant. She did briefly experiment with abstraction, but in her paintings, her teaching, and her influence on public art, she remained representational yet distinctive in her landscapes, still lifes, and portraiture. Undeterred by her personal losses, Vanessa Bell kept painting the truths she saw right up to her final illness, in 1961. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 31 May 2018, 10:50

Your absurd, beautiful drawings... give me a peculiar pleasure of the mind like nothing else in the world. H. G. Wells to Heath Robinson, 1914.

Those who once assured us of the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” devilishly concealed in Iraqi souks might have done better to have looked for “Weapons of Moronic Distinction,” the WWI trademark of the British cartoonist Heath Robinson. But then Cheney and Rumsfeld were humorless gits, and anyway would not have appreciated the anti-war subtext of Robinson’s German High Command diabolisms, such as the “Flying Kettle Attack” and the “Subzeppmarinellin.” William Heath Robinson, to give him his full handle, the British precursor to Rube Goldberg, was born in London on May 31, 1872. Pictorial art was in his bloodline, and his brothers would follow his father into book illustration. Robinson himself aimed for higher things—specifically, landscapes—but soon fell prey to the lure of quick money for fast sketches and put out book illustrations for (inter alia) UK editions of Andersen’s fairy tales. Poe’s poetry, and Rabelais’ Gargantua. Already, though, there was a hint of something even zanier yearning to break out, which first occurred in the plot and the illustrations of Robinson’s very own children’s story, The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902: the proceeds enabled him to marry). From Uncle Lubin’s otherworldly inventions it was but a short step to such elaborate devices as a machine for resuscitating stale railway scones and another room-sized monstrosity for peeling spuds. Robinson’s cat (“Saturday Morning,” he called him) inspired “the multimovement tabby silencer,” an extravagant machine for those who would sacrifice anything for the privilege of sleeping late on the weekend. So well known did Robinson become that in WWII British Intelligence named their incredibly elaborate decoding machine at Bletchley Park the “Heath Robinson.” Had they but known, they might have called it the “Rube Goldberg,” but then they were, after all, British. And, anyway, the Germans never got it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Jun 2018, 12:40

I was never used to being happy. Marilyn Monroe, interview in Life magazine, August 3, 1962.

Back in the day, when my local newspaper splashed all over its front page details of the suicide of a prominent Jewish lawyer, my dad (a professor of journalism) sourly commented that in America the right to privacy was only selectively honored. Just a little later, on August 6, 1962, ‘national’ papers demonstrated the truth of that in their coverage of Marilyn Monroe’s suicide. While the NY Times headlined her “Brilliant Stardom and Personal Tragedy,” and went into some detail on the latter (in plural), the story carried nary a whiff of her sexual liaisons, e.g. with the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert. While I suppose that one might say that Ms. Monroe had sacrificed her rights to privacy on Hollywood’s altar of mass entertainment, it now seems apparent that the Kennedys still owned theirs. Marilyn Monroe was born (on June 1, 1926) as Norma Jean Mortenson, but after her father abandoned ship she took her mother’s surname, Baker. She grew up poor, “Oliver Twist in girl’s clothing,” and in a disrupted family network with a history of mental problems, alcohol abuse, and religious fantasies. She could have stepped right out of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939), for through it all (including a childhood stammer) she nursed ambitions to star in the movies, ambitions undoubtedly fed by awareness (of her own and of those around her) of her several beauties. These bowled over the first film director to see her screen test (none other than Billy Wilder) and then millions of others, males of almost all ages and not a few women, who flocked to see her pictures, marveled at her beauty, and were drawn to her wide-eyed innocence, hopeful, naïve, yet mournful. Along the way Marilyn Monroe married three times, suffered two miscarriages, several addictions, and periods of psychiatric examination and rest cures. She pleased great numbers in many ways, but never found the tendernesses that she needed. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Jun 2018, 13:53

London is quite different from any city in America . . . as yet I have met with no prejudice . . . I am getting a great deal of material for my writing. Dorothy West to her father from the Carlton Hotel, London, April, 1927.

Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard has become famous as the hub of an established African-American community. It’s the setting for the novel The Wedding (1988), in which the main character, Shelby Coles, remembers when, aged 6, she went missing on the island. Everyone was frantic, but how on the Vineyard do you find a little “black” girl who was almost “white”? For that matter, how might she find herself? Soon the whole island looked for Shelby, and a couple of (white) women, finding the kid on her own, spoke gently to her. “Tell me, little girl, and don’t be afraid. Are you white, or colored?” Shelby looked at her skin and answered truthfully that she was white. The passage raises the question of whether gentle irony can be savage, and offers its own answer. The writer was Dorothy West, born in Boston on June 2, 1907 and destined to live a long, and singular, life. Herself the offspring of a dark-skinned man (an ex-slave who became the “Black Banana King” of the Boston vegetable markets) and a very light-skinned mother, Dorothy West was brought up in comfort (including a grand tour of Europe at age 20), but always aware that color lines gave her comfort a sharp, hard edge, as in the implicit irony of her first novel’s title, The Living is Easy (1948), by which time she was ensconced at Oak Bluff, writing for the Vineyard’s (white) newspaper, essays and stories for The New York Daily News, and deciding that after the excitements of her early life (in the Harlem Renaissance) she had best learn to live alone. Through it all, West wrote voluminously (sharing a second prize with Zora Neal Hurston in 1926): letters, essays, stories, a few novels, and she catalogued it all, a self-referencing library of a life. You can now follow it yourself, in Dorothy West’s distinctive, clear, hand, for her papers have been digitized on line and are now offered to you, free and easy, by the Harvard University library. Go to it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Jun 2018, 13:55

She had the finest shape, the loveliest neck, and most beautiful arms in the world; she was majestic and graceful in all her movements; and she was the original after which all the ladies copied in their taste and air of dress. Elizabeth Hamilton de...

The contemporary courts of Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France were different in several respects, notably that Louis had more money, but in other ways they were alike. Notably, they abounded in amorous liaisons, not only between the kings and their mistresses (official and otherwise). Among families that swam in both ponds were the Gramonts and the Hamiltons, nobles of Gascony and Ireland. The Gramonts were the more notorious, notably Catherine de Gramont who combined being princess of Monaco (she married a Grimaldi) with being mistress to several at Louis’s court (including Louis), and her brother Guy who was the lover of both the Duke of Orléans and his duchess, Henrietta (who was also Charles II’s sister). The Hamiltons, exiled in the 1640s and again after 1688 for their Catholicism and their excessive loyalty to the Stuarts, compiled a similar record at both courts. So when a Hamilton of astounding beauty married an astonishingly disreputable Gramont, one might expect notorieties of a sexual sort. That may be what one got with Philibert, Comte de Gramont, who even as an old man continued his louche ways, but Elizabeth Hamilton, Comtesse de Gramont from 1663, seems to have been quite different, courted by many (early on by Charles II and his brother James, later by the Sun King himself) but faithful to only one. Along the way, she was picked out as one of the classic beauties of both courts, portrayed as such—oil on canvas—by Sir Peter Lely and in her husband’s “memoirs” (written by her brother Antoine Hamilton). Elizabeth was known in London and Paris as “La Belle Hamilton” and played important diplomatic roles, both dynastic and political, never more so than after 1689 with the court-in-exile of James II at St. Germain-en-Laye. Apparently broken-hearted at the death of her husband the count, Elizabeth Hamilton died on June 3, 1707, aged 66, a virtuous wife and a virtuous widow. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Jun 2018, 13:15

An Essay Upon Prints: Containing Remarks upon the Principles of Picturesque Beauty; the Different Kinds of Prints; and the Characters of the most noted Masters: Illustrated by Criticisms upon particular Pieces: to which are added, Some Cautions that may be useful in Collecting Prints. The title in full of Gilpin’s Essay upon Prints, first edition, 1768.

In the 18th century, Britain and her colonies were transformed by a ‘consumer revolution.’ Winifred Rothenberg demonstrated how deeply this bit into colonial life, finding astonishing retail shop inventories of fine cloths, silver, and china even in the raw frontier settlement of Lancaster, PA and in the estate inventories of New England farmers. It led also to an expanding market for art, so much so that it became possible to make a good reputation from art criticism. One such was William Gilpin, born in what had been regarded (in previous centuries) as a “dark corner” of England, the Lake District, on June 4, 1724. Already his naval captain father—as a notable amateur painter—had begun to spread light there, and after turns at St. Bees school and Queen’s College, Oxford, William made himself into a purveyor of good taste for, and in, the finer things of life, writing first about gardens (and how to make them aesthetically and morally beautiful) and then getting on to pictorial art with his Essay on Prints. Somewhat to his surprise, it turned into a best seller going through enough editions that he soon claimed authorship. Note that his main subject here was not paintings, still perhaps a restricted market, but prints, notably the growing popularity and profitability of landscape prints, whether original or rendered from landscape paintings, and prints, of course, could be sold by their hundreds, even thousands. Quite ordinary folk bought them, and quite ordinary folk needed instruction on how best to appreciate their purchases, and in a series of Observations on “the picturesque” William Gilpin gave it to them. Of course, one still needed a day job, and there he made his mark as a reforming headmaster (of the Cheam School) and then as a civic minded vicar at a very good living in rural Hampshire. In the spirit of the times, he even taught the boys at Cheam how to create nice gardens and to keep little retail shops. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Jun 2018, 13:27

Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters . . . announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things. Frederico Garcia Lorca.

The Spanish poet and playwright Frederico García Lorca was born on June 5, 1898, near Granada, into a landowning family grown rich on rents and sugar production. His parents encouraged his artistic talents, particularly in music, even though they distracted from his educational progress. Nevertheless García Lorca kept at it as a student, first at the University of Grenada, then at Madrid, and learned through experimentation and in close collaboration with artistic friends (e.g. Dali and Buñuel) to meld music with literature. As importantly, he sought contemporary inspiration in the great movements of early 20th-century European art while also celebrating Spain’s kaleidoscopic cultural past, not least its Gypsies. His year in the USA (1929-30) added a strong element of anti-capitalism to his artistic portfolio. He seems to have been developing himself as a kind of universal poet, a celebrant of all things Spanish, and much preferred actual performance to publication. In Spain’s deepening political crisis, the political associations that went with this cultural universalism proved dangerous. Add García Lorca’s increasingly public homosexuality, and the danger became critical. The young artist, still perhaps approaching his prime but certainly a very public figure, was kidnapped and murdered in August 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Exactly who was responsible, how it happened, and where García Lorca was buried, remain mysteries, complicated by the fact that he had friends within the Nationalist coalition. Whatever black-shirt band did kill him, Francisco Franco’s fascist régime endorsed the fact of García Lorca’s death and added his plays and poetry to the forbidden list. Some, heavily censored, began to be published in the 1950s, but it was not until democracy came to Spain that his writings became an open book and Frederico García Lorca became widely—though not yet unanimously—celebrated as a national treasure. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Jun 2018, 13:00

Styles come and go. Design goes on forever. Ivan Chermayeff.

I’ve only worked for two universities in my life, neither of which could be thought “typical,” but in one respect they were alike and like all other organizations under our sun. Each spent an inordinate amount of time and money deciding whether (or whether not) to adopt a new logo. ‘Logo’ derives from a theological term, logos, and it’s a comment on our weakening grasp on reality that it now refers to “image.” That it is nearly universal owes much to a brilliant designer (of logos, plural), Ivan Chermayeff, born in London on June 6, 1932. One might say that design and wit were in his blood. His father, a distinguished architect, was a Russian émigré who was amused to name one son after Ivan the Terrible and the other after Peter the Great. The family soon (1940) moved to the states, where the terrible one was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then Harvard, then the IIT school of architecture and design, then finally at Yale, emerging from all that with only a BFA and a yen to do graphics. Graphics Chermayeff did (although he also taught graphics, finally and for many years at the School of Visual Arts in New York), and his graphics have entered our consciousness. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort out just which logos were his, for his design firms specialized in collaborative work, but among them are the Smithsonian’s sun, Pan Am’s globe, Chase Manhattan’s interlocking blue octagon, NBC’s reformed and reduced peacock, the exploding brain (mushroom cloud and all) for the nuclear disarmament campaign, and the red, white, and blue Pepsi bottlecap (originally a bas relief globe of the world). There are many, many others (the red ‘o’ in his firm’s Mobil Oil logo has grown into a rather fetching sculpture), but the one that encapsulates his wit and design best is the perhaps obese and certainly very large red “9” that tells you—if you happen to be there and need to know—that you are in front of the building at 9 West 54th Street in Manhattan. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Jun 2018, 10:26

Fashions come and go. Bad taste is timeless. Beau Brummell

Those who want to find in their fiction society’s seamier realities advise us to ignore Jane Austen. She’s all about character, and her worst characters are merely excruciatingly embarrassing (Mr. Collins) or destined for self-reformation (the eponymous Emma) or being sent, like coals, to Newcastle (George and Lydia Wickham). If you want real Regency vice, you need to find a novel about George Bryan Brummell, aka “Beau” Brummell. Beau Brummell was rather well-placed than well-born (on June 7, 1778). His father was private secretary to Lord North and his mother was the daughter of the Keeper of the Lottery Office. One way and another they amassed enough capital to buy a Berkshire estate and see to it that Beau and his brothers were properly schooled at Eton and then, in Beau’s case, at Oriel College, Oxford. At Eton he got some learning (a facility in writing Latin verse), but it was at Oxford that he became “Beau.” This decision was aided by a £20,000 bequest from his father and his growing notoriety as an arbiter of fashion and the creator of often cruel witticisms about those who did not come up to snuff. A further £30,000 when he came of age helped him to hold the attention of George, Prince of Wales and Prince Regent, and to set the style (notably in personal “dandyism” and architectural excess) of an age. Brummell’s costumes became mythic (he was said to have his boots washed in champagne) and, for many, de rigueur. His wit made him an object of a perverted national pride (Lord Byron said he would rather be a Brummell than a Bonaparte). And he perfected the social “cut.” But he got above himself, notably in criticizing the Prince Regent’s rapidly expanding physique, and Beau himself was cut. That eroded his standing, while gambling losses dissipated his inheritance. In 1816 Beau Brummell exiled himself to France where he died of his excesses and his deficiencies—becoming, finally, a meet subject for Ms. Austen? ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Jun 2018, 10:56

An English village, with the whole of Ceylon for my manor, and no expense of gamekeepers. Sir Samuel Baker's vision for his tea colony.

Niall Ferguson’s efforts to whitewash the British Empire (and, latterly, its American successor) as advancing civilization and civility through the benign institutions of democratic capitalism have elicited much criticism. Some has come from the British and American left. More, though, has come from those whom Ferguson argues were imperialism’s chief beneficiaries: the ex-colonial peoples of Asia, the middle east, and Africa. The economic and political aspects of these debates are important, but there is also “attitude.” Unsurprisingly, those “lesser breeds without the law” (as Kipling warned) reacted badly to the imperial vision that made men “drunk with sight of power” and was inherently racist and exploitative. Exhibit A in the case that—in these ways—imperialism was not a Good Thing might be Sir Samuel Baker, born in London on June 8, 1821 as the heir of an imperial fortune based on sugar, shipping, and slavery. Impatient of restraint, born to command, Baker’s imperial exploits made him a Victorian hero, a trusted advisor on empire, and a popular retailer of his own imperial adventures. And adventure was the word, at least after his failure to establish a tea colony in Ceylon. Even this effort at society-building included taking along with him a pack of hunting hounds. That little imperial design killed a few elephants and also his first wife and two of their children (empires gave back diseases), but not Baker’s taste for hunting. He and his second wife (Florence von Sass, whom he bought at a slave auction in the Ottoman Empire) lived out an imperial drama of expeditions, explorations, and governance mainly in Africa, and always marked by trails of blood (wildlife, mainly). For stirring tales of heroic imperial freebootery, Baker can hardly be matched. But in his view of the “lesser breeds” he encountered, and their lands, we sense the origins of much of the anger directed against Niall Ferguson’s imperial revisionism. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Jun 2018, 12:43

Art must be the quintessence of meaning. Mary Vaux Warrick Fuller

To find the low point of the history of racial lynching in the USA would be a hard task, and a grisly one, but a possibility is the lynching of Mary Turner in May 1918. She was one of 13 victims of a Lowndes County (Georgia) carnival of fury roused up over the murder of a white man, a brutally racist employer (of prison labor) named Hampton Smith. But Mary Turner’s crime was simply to protest the lynching of her husband, Hayes, whose own crime was that he was known to have publicly criticized Smith. That, and the fact that Mary’s pregnancy was at term (the baby was also murdered), made her an icon of the anti-lynching campaign. And her icon had form and shape, a beautiful, gilt sculpture of Mary, standing, head bowed, body only slightly bent, her arms folded in a protective cradle over her empty womb. Her figure rises out of a writhing mass of arms and hands and faces, to remind us of other victims. That sculpture (1919) was the work Meta Vaux Fuller, born Meta Vaux Warrick in Philadelphia on June 9, 1877. Her parents (a barber and a beautician) had influential white clients, and some of those clients (Meta was named after one of them) and Philadelphia’s intensely supportive black community insured that this precocious little girl got plenty of encouragement, including (after high school) a scholarship to a local art school and then support enough to go to Paris, where she was befriended by Henry Ossawa Tanner, an established African-American painter, and W. E. B. Dubois, and became a protégé of none other than Auguste Rodin. There she developed an audience for her highly individual style and its particular substance, her reading of the African-American experience but also of human suffering generally. The Paris press called her “the delicate sculptor of horrors,” but in a long creative life (poetry and painting as well as sculpture) Meta Vaux Fuller never had a horror so challenging as the murder of Mary Turner and her baby. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Jun 2018, 11:32

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. E. O. Wilson, 1998.

Edward Osborne Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 10, 1929, and as far as I know is still going strong. Since 2010, he’s published nine titles, including a novel, all of which reference his main concerns: ants, evolution, ecology, humanism, and ‘social biology.’ The last has been controversial, but although the controversy still rankles with Wilson (he’s never, as far as I know, forgiven his main antagonists, Harvard colleagues Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin), he’s moved on to become an elder statesman of the science, and the politics, of conservation. As a child, parental divorce meant that he moved all over the place, but returned to his native state to take his first degrees, in biology, for he had already developed a profound interest in nature. Nature writ large or nature writ small, but a fishing accident left him temporarily blinded and then with an odd vision profile which meant that he could easily see the hairs on the bodies of small insects. And so, of course, nature writ small is what Edward Wilson did. Even before he entered the University of Alabama he’d begun a survey of the ants of Alabama, and that’s pretty much where he stayed, to become a Harvard PhD, myrmecologist extraordinaire, Professor Emeritus, a two-time Pulitzer winner, and along the way a controversial sociobiologist and a gently militant atheist. Plus he’s become an interesting epistemologist, an evangelist about the scientific method, and his Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998) has been from time to time a required text in my Honors College First Year Experience seminars. With our increasing understanding of genetics, and with his own discoveries that altruism is as “natural” as competitiveness, controversies over his sociobiology have died down, somewhat. In any case, a great many people will hope that Professor Wilson has an excellent (but not an ant-free) picnic on his 89th birthday. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Jun 2018, 12:37

A virago errant in enchanted armor. John Quincy Adams on Anne Newport Royall.

Anne Newport had a difficult early life on the Pennsylvania frontier, her father dead of disease and her step-father killed by Indians. Back in Virginia, aged 16, Anne and her mother took work as domestic servants to a rich old widower, Major William Royall, who liked her precocities and gave her the run of his library. At 28, in 1797, she married him, to the scandal of his family, and when Major Royall died in 1815 leaving Anne the lifetime usufruct of his estate, they challenged the will, ultimately leaving Anne penniless. It can only be said she made the best of it. Anne Newport Royall, born on June 11, 1769, took her husband’s education to town—Washington, DC—to become famous, or infamous, as a crusading journalist, and indeed as the proprietor (“editress” she called herself) of a newspaper, first called Paul Pry, latterly The Huntress. More a blog than a newspaper, it was accurately named, for Anne Royall pried into public corruptions and hunted down hypocrites. But that side of her life began only in 1831, before which (besides the litigations versus the Royall heirs) she’d gained significant notice as a traveler and writer (first anonymously and then as Anne Royall), and some enemies too, for her books not only described local places but offered up exposés of their local corruptions, and of those responsible, usually men involved in politics. So when in 1829 she was brought to trial in DC as a common scold (a medieval statute still on the books), she had few friends and was found guilty. The immediate issue was her objection to government property being used as a Presbyterian meeting house. She was fined $10, but she decided instead of silence to keep on scolding, in Washington. There she pried into the machinations of corrupt politicians, hunted down religious bigots, and published her findings until 1854 when, in death, Anne Royall found enough friends to be buried in the Congressional Cemetery. ©
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