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In my experience of paying attention to unusual found-art found in unusual places, I have paid particular attention to found-art in the sciences that have full lives out-of-context of their text. [See the series Unintentional Absurdist.] And so while reading through an issue of Die Naturwissenschaften (1931) for an article by Herman Weyl ("Geometrie und Physik") I found in its closing pages a review by Arnold Berliner of R.W. Pohl's Einfuhrung in die Physik--complete with these three fantastic silhouette illustrations. They're simply beautiful things, exceptionally designed, simplistic but detailed and dramatic and way beyond what was necessary to illustrate the intended physical principle. It is a nice and unexpected artistic find.
I found this unusual heading in a half-page ad in March 1864 issue of American Agriculturalist for the Farm, Garden, and Homestead--as it can well be imagined it stopped me pretty quickly, if for no other reason than to make certain that the heading was correct. And it was. The seed manufacturer, James Vick (from Rochester NY) in the midst and throes of other oddness reprinted a letter from a correspondent named George Ford, who was writing from Lawrence, Kansas, about his experience in that town in 1863, and Quantrell, and (maybe bu tmaybe not) Vick's flowers.
Capt William Clarke Quantrell--a sociopath who led a group of avengers and bushwhackers and various sorts of murderers and guerrillas in service of the Confederacy--was in Lawrence in 1863 committing acts of vengeance and murder against its citizens. Mr. Ford expressed his admiration for Vick's seeds and how lovely they were, and that they were responsible for saving his house from destruction by Quantrell. It is a remarkable thing to include in ad advert for flower seeds, closing in on the end of the war--it is also the only mention of the war for this issue and one of the few acknowledgements of it in this entire year.
Quantrell eventually pissed almost all of his men off, winding up with a dozen die-hards, and then in Kentucky and dead in June 1865, ironically and mortally wounded in a Union ambush.
I found this sub-magnificent collection of Police-Sponsored Anti-Crime Bunko-Squad pamphlets in a collection of other material from long ago that today looks so mundanely sublime. They were published by the Boston Better Business Bureau, and listed an alphabet or thereabouts of small- (and not-so) time grifters and frauds and what-have-you who were set to produce ill among the good folks of Beantown, and how to recognize and avoid them. (The reports are all in the same format, printed via offset on 11x8.5 inch sheets, titled in pencil "Pamphlets on Fraudulent Business Methods and Schemes" and printed in 1936.) There are 34 in all, stapled sheets at left-top, each about 10pp long (making for about 350 leaves), with each having an example of a conversation between the consumer and the grifter.
[Source: ex-library with the occasional stamp from the Library of Congress ("Pamphlet Collection"), via the U.S. Copyright Office and then to my collection.]
These schemes have a colorful flavor, and some sort of antique pleasantness to them, except that they were all based on fraud and deceit. The schemes include numerous out-and-out bait-and-switch approaches: Bait Window Advertising Scheme, Free Permanent Wave Scheme, Smuggled Goods Scheme, Bait Advertising Scheme, Business Opportunity Scheme, the Re-load Scheme, A Switch and Sell Scheme, Bucket Shop Scheme, Tipster Sheet Scheme, Sewing Machine Scheme, Memorial Park Cemetery Scheme, Heir Scheme, Bait Advertising Scheme, Song Writing Scheme, Is It Bait? Bait Scheme, Action Sale Scheme, Stuffed Plate Scheme, Stuffed Flats (Furs) Scheme, Buy Wholesale Scheme, Insurance Association Scheme, Partner-Wanted Scheme, Long Distance Tailoring Scheme, Bait Advertising (T.C. System) Scheme, Free Lot Scheme, Home Work Scheme, Furniture Club Lottery Scheme, Charity Merchandise Scheme, Suit Club Scheme, Picture Enlargement Scheme, Puff Sheet Scheme, Territorial Rights Scheme, Obesity Cure Scheme, Territorial Rights Scheme, Cash Bond Scheme, Unordered Merchandise Scheme. Schemes enough for one and all, and all with a flavor of Mony Python's Spam routine.
Herbert Quick did a fair amount of thinking about the military use of poison gas, and it winds up, in the final analysis, thinking that it was tolerable. What About Chemical Warfare? (published by the Newspaper Enterprises Association in 1921) is certainly a possible title for a Duck-and-Cover A-Bomb or You and Your Hormones kind of film. But Mr. Quick took the slow boat around his issue, thinking about it a little long and out loud, before coming to his final conclusion in the chapter titled "Gas Warfare Cheapest and Most Effective Arm of Defense".
He points out the enormous impact in the war effort that relatively small chemical corps played in WWI--something on the order of hundreths of one percent of all serving soldiers were employed in the combined chemical corps, saying "how small a body to produce such great results!" Which is true, assuming that by "great" he meant 'widespread', though it is unclear exactly what he was talking about.
Nr. Quick does make a case for poison gas being not so inhuman as presented by most civilized people, pointing out both its high quick-death rate and survivability/recovery rates, which seems to be giving/taking at the same time. No matter: "But woe to the army or nation that does not keep up with the times. The Angel of Death will breathe in their faces" he writes.
The author also warns that though Germany was "stripped" of her war-making capacities, he thought it was not so of the industries necessary to produce poison gas. He points out that Germany can produce these munitions in secret, and that if any "militaristic nation conquers the world in the future", it will be through the use of the poison gas it developed in secret.
Defense was also important: "in the absence of efficient defense worked out beforehand, our great cities might be wiped out with gas bombs dropped from aircraft". Mr. Quick believes that protecting cities is possible, writing simply "preparation will prevent such a crisis". Indeed. Unfortunately no ideas about this defensive posture were forthcoming, though he did bring himself around to writing about gas as a defensive tool. Against looters. And rioters. And snipers. "Gas puts the sniper in the power of his enemy" Quick writes, using the Marine action in Vera Cruz, Mexico, as a good example of where gas ("gas grenades") would have come in handy.
The bottom line is of course the bottom line, practically stating that poison gas as a weapon was indisputably more cost-conscious than anything else, by far, each dollar spent on chemical warfare being worth "from three to five hundred for the army". Poison gas services Quick says should be pursued, because "gas warfare cannot be stopped until all war is stopped".
Gas warfare "gives the educated, intelligent nations the advantages over the people of lower civilizations".
"When both sides are prepared it is much less inhumane than war with bullets and high explosives; but it means horrible annihilation to the army which is unprepared."
It is an interesting exercise to replace "poison gas" with other types of weapons, just to see how it reads.
Mr. Quick was up and down in his treatment of poison gas and war, though almost entirely down. One thing he didn't see, that no one saw, really, was the use of a particular gas that was used to destroy millions of people, and which was developed quite in the open in Germany for many years, used for killing rats. The Nazis simply used it instead on people. No one saw Zyklon-B coming, and no one could have, even when they did.
"Motion-picture and method of producing the same."
I've written a note earlier on this blog about the history of word balloons--it is the stuff that we think of today as the little clouds filled with words over the heads of comic book characters and such, but which had a long history stretching back at least to the Renaissance when speech was illustrated in a similar way, but with lovely scrolls instead of blank clouds (as we see above).
There's also a few posts on the visualization of thinking, which comes close to this topic but not quite, as illustrated in teh post on Francis Galton's groundbreaking and probably-the-first-paper-on-synesthesia Visualizing Numeracy)
The following illustrations though come at a great expense to the imagination, and were a weak but fully patented attempt to replace spoken-word captions in the pre-audio motion picture--that is silent films before the Talkies. In general I guess the complaint with illustrating speech during a photoplay was that the text card was a breakaway from the moving-picture part of the experience, necessitating a clean break from action so that the audience could read about what was being pantomimed.
Folks were well underway in processes to produce sound motion pictures, though up to this point--1917--the systems were separate recordings of sound and speech which would be played in conjunction/synchronously though not necessarily at exactly the right moments with the motion picture. Edison was hot on this trail but with blemished trials, combining his kinetoscope and phonograph in very early and novel attempts at producing a sound motion picture in the first decade or so in the development of moving pictures. The next 20 years in this development are fairly complex, but the matter is fairly well solved by at least three different technologies by 1923 with the production of successful continuous sound-on-film motion pictures, and then most famously and successfully debuting with The Jazz Singer in 1927.
And then there is this colossal bit of overdeveloped-underdeveloped thinking that would link the seamless word of not needing text card interruptions with non-spoken speech--and coming just this shy of not meaning anything at all. The work is that of Charles F(elton) Pidgin (1844-1923) who was a very successful author of genre/historical romance books (though he did have an interesting-sounding title in The Letter H, a Novel). He was also an engineer of some sort with some advanced patents in calculating machines and devices, which is the way I came to his name (via a letter I have written to him by the director of the U.S. Census rejecting his tabulating apparatus because it basically produced too much info for too much money, but that's another story).
Pigdin's idea--in short--was to have an inflating paper text bubble issue from the mouth of the actor during a scene--in that way the view could see what the other actors on the screen were "hearing".
I know this might sound as though I'm judging a technological effort from the vantage point of the idea's deep future, but I believe that this idea was a truly bad one right from the moment of conception, a two-beer idea that should've stayed in the bar, no matter if it was 1917 or 1967 or 2017. Sometimes bad ideas are just bad ideas, top to bottom--and some of them are timesless, like this one.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1670 from December 2011, revised.
In the history of dropping things--as distinguished from simple falling things--it must be said I think that this is the easiest of all human activities ever invented, and people have been trying to improve on this creation ever since. After all, almost anyone can do it and--if you include pushing things over a ledge so that they might fall--most complex life forms can do it, too.
Of course there have been intellectual and technological adaptations, particularly when you include throwing and shooting things so that the objects have been charged with a "created height" so that they will be dropped in the designated location. Cannons have been particular benefit to this aspect of advanced dropping. And then of course there are the "Galileos" of dropping--like Galileo--and Jonas Moore and David Letterman and of course Seinfeld's Kramer, and to a lesser extent there's also every other person from the Boston area who represent hundreds of millions of people who drop a letter from somewhere in their spoken vocabulary. There are people who drop their accents altogether, and of course politicians who drop the truth, and the tantalizers who drop suggestions, and paid-for pharmaceutical consultants who drop the untoward test results and their accountants who drop a zero when necessary.
[Image source: June, 1936, Popular Mechanics.]
People drop options, they drop in and out and off, pennies and dimes, lawsuits and dumplings, coverage and names and the f-bomb. They also drop dead and bombs, the last two being closely related, though more people "drop dead" when bombed because they are killed.
Bombs seem to be the biggest of all dropped things, especially bombs dropped by airplanes, and especially those bombs dropped on collections of people, which are called cities.
Perhaps one of the strangest things to be dropped, though, is the following, found in the September 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics
This was a model of sorts for a critical-care-parachute-gurneystretcher, or something, for when a crew member of a U.S. Army Air Force aircraft was injured and needed care, though the article doesn't specify where the person would be dropped. Overall it seems not the height of workable ideas, and suffered no doubt from its model using a baby doll, which just looks altogether wrong.
And the last part of this episode is another strange bit: dropping women on Manhattan. The image comes from 1904 and--when taken out of context--it seems as though Manhattan is in for the worst of it, with a view in front of the Flat Iron Building of an aerial bombardment of women. This is probably one of the few bad things that weren't done with/at women, and would actually significantly predate the first use of explosives being dropped from aircraft. Unfortunately the original, intended image was a poke at crinoline and featured women being blown up into the air rather than the other way around, though I like my interpretation better.
Certainly there is some sort of recognition of being vigilant, of bearing witness, of some sort of fidelity, but of what sort? The second, standing man is clearly showing respect and directing the viewer's attention to the hand-holding of the seated couple. Is this a mother and son, long reunited, after years apart? Or is this a married/marrying pair, age difference be damned? In whatever case, it is the standing man and observer who seems to exhibit any sort of emotion besides dread or confusion.
It is hard to identify what Standing Man might be feeling. Perhaps the scenario that adds all of this aspects up properly is that this is a police identification photo, and that the two seated people are a tag-team for some sort of crime, arrested together, with the arresting officer pointing them out, not the hands--in-fidelity. This might make the most sense of all.
Pierre E. Trastour published this remarkable pamphlet in 1847, in New Orleans, a fragment of what was supposed to be an astounding and magnificent work of science that dispensed with commonly-held understanding of math and physics and astronomy. It was a manuscript Trastour was working on in his engineering travels in South and Central America, something of his great pride. The section that was published, which was translated from the French, did not meet his approval--or so it was said, as some time later he decided that the work was badly translated and interpreted, and sought out to destroy whatever copies he could find as well as all of the copies that remained of this edition. He found them unacceptable.
His ideas regarding the physical world are, well, quite independent. He addresses "caloric" as the cohesive element of the universe, right on the title page, and then works down from there. My issue is not with caloric per se--I don't intend to have fun with this idea simply because it is obsolete, a remnant of scientific research. Trastour wraps caloric around a lot of adventurous thinking about the nature of gravity and the ridiculousness of Newton. And Kepler. And much else. Caloric is a simple bystander to the rest of this Idea-omat and is used like a club to make the rest of his theory (or from what I can tell of it) work.
And for those who are curious, this copy was the Library of Congress copy, and included the original hand-written card for the card catalog, itself a pretty thing:
Caloric itself has a place in the history of thermodynamics (mostly) as a gas, going from object to object as the transference of heat. It has a fairly strong history for 70 years or so, from the 1770's into the 1830's/'40's, and found interest in the works of the highest ranks of science in Lavoisier and Laplace and Black and others. It runs into modernity beginning with Rumford around the turn of the century (1799) and then dissipates with the work of Joule and Helmholtz and Clausius and many others, until it is mostly gone by mid-century. Caloric hung for a while in bits and pieces, though it is now remembered if at all for the "calorie" and for a line of ovens and stoves.
Trastour so far as I can tell doesn't have a seat at the history of science table--he doesn't seem to bump into anything interesting, though he does manage to say some outstandingly bad things about some of the biggest minds at that banquet. Here's an example of Trastour on Newton, appearing in The Round Table Review in 1865:
Trastour has little use for Newton, and doesn't seem to actually ever name the Principia anywhere. The chapter headings in the 1847 work are as follows: "Creation of the Universe", "Refutation of Newton's Principle", "Expositions of Principles", "Refutation of the System of Copernicus", Exposition of the Planetary World" (singular in the original), and "Truth".
Trastour proclaims in point #205 "One Only God, creator of all, from which all things come..." and "One Only Matter, Universal and Infinite, caloric, the primordial element, which has formed bu its different states of condensation the heavens, the earth and all things in nature". And so on, quickly deducing the non-existence of gravity and replacing it with the "peculiar manifestations" of the equilibriums established by caloric in bringing spinning bodies together.
In the end, for Trastour, it all comes down to three principles: love of God, love of mankind, and marriage. And "celibacy of thought" ("Whoever sets up the principle of celibacy, that immortal revolt of earthly ambitions against the divine thought, is not in the way of truth, and opens the road to disgrace and misfortune" (page 65, last paragraph of the work). That last has a bit of the sense of Precious Bodily Fluids from General Jack D. Ripper.
In a review of Trastour's work some years later, the author (signed "R") of the piece starts the article off in a way in which I thought he was going to do some serious damage to Trastour's theories. "I did not know the world contained one other dissenter from Newton's theory" R said, leading me to believe that the writer was going to have-at Trastour. But I read it to quickly, missing the "other" part, because as it turns out the piece is in support of Trastour and his world-altering ideas, and winds up being quite a hagiographic peon, which was surprising.
(The Round Table: A Saturday Review of Politics Finance, Literature ..., Volume 7, 1865)
I do very much like the title of the article, though.
Trastour returns to his cosmogony in 1875, writing in English this time, producing a booklet called The New Astronomy, which is 67 pages long compared to the original 65 of caloric. It is a different work--it jsut so happens that it is about the same length of his refuted first attempt, and it is also "a preface" to a greater work to come that never does. At the end of the book he does write on of the most glorious sentences probably ever written about caloric--well, if not the most glorious, it is at least probably the longest:
Interesting bits of unintentional art--in some of these cases, unintentional, or found, Dadaist art--can be found in unexpected places. Here, in this parade of zeros, we find such a case, and the place it is taken is from Girolamo Maggi's book on fortification , printed in Venice in 1583. Aside from the crowded images like the Maturation of Zeros, I like the Embigenment of Empty Space approaches as much.
The future is everywhere and nowhere, hidden and obvious, localized and distant; and sometimes it is there when it really isn't, and vice versa. This image of the future is the last of these descriptions, though perhaps not even that, because it is a peep at a peep into the future, a reference to a reference.
First, the cactus, seen here, from G.B. Ramusio's (1485-1557) Navigationi et Viaggi, printed in Venice in 1565 (and finally in three volumes, links to which are below). Ramusio was a geographer and largely a scholar/reader/armchair-traveler, who collected travel accounts of explorers and published them together--the first such effort of its kind.
The second image works better if you squint somewhat while looking at the cactus--it comes from the great and slightly problematic Thomas Nast, the Harper's Weekly social/graphic warrior. The image appeared in 1881, and depicts New York City in the near future, he result of newly-advanced building techniques, including the elevator (and importantly!) the elevator safety brake, which allowed the construction of buildings to great and fabulous heights. Nast saw a little bit of overeager sky-scraping in it, and pictured variegated but probably dark future from the architectural commotion.
I'm well aware of this being an enormous stretch, but I couldn't think of anything else to get these two images together on a single post. (Original article here for the Nast.)
Full text for the Ramusio volumes from the Internet Archives site:
In what could be a very long thread, this installment in the Just Because You're Smart Doesn't Make You Smart series takes place on the ethically/morally suspect creator of the single-wire electrical telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse.
Some of this could have been learned at a young age via his "militant" Congregationalist minister father, who created "a household temper...of the deepest animosity against other faiths"1. And then again, perhaps not--but even weighing the spirit of the times in which he lived (1791-1872), Morse had a particularly long-lived, deep, and very public hatred of the Catholic Church and "Popery", finding it a creeping abomination that was setting out to destroy the United States via the churches propagandist agents in the Jesuits and through mass immigration.
Morse's book on this subject, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States (1835), became a much-reprinted guidebook for Catholic-haters and immigration conspiracy types, curling itself around the impending priest-ridden despotism of the Vatican and (whatever was left of) the Holy Alliance.
“Surely American Protestants, freemen, have discernment enough to discover beneath them the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is now, what it has ever been, a system of the darkest political intrigue and despotism, cloaking itself to avoid attack under the sacred name of religion. They will be deeply impressed with the truth, that Popery is a political as well as a religious system; that in this respect it differs totally from all other sects, from all other forms of religion in the country."2
Morse also found slavery to be an ordained right and a creation of God for right, wise, benevolent and disciplinary purposes,3 writing about it publicly in his pamphlet An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery in the Social System, and its relation to the Politics of the Day4 in the middle of the Civil War, 1863.
"Slavery or the servile relation is proved to be one of the indispensable regulators of the social system, divinely ordained for the discipline of the human race in this world, and that it is in perfect harmony ... with the great declared object of the Savior's mission to earth." (Morse, Ethical Position of Slavery, 1863, page 10.)
"My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler." (Morse, Ethical..., page 13.)
The Yale website also goes on to point out that Morse thought it sacrilegious to oppose slavery and support Abolition (citing Samuel F.B. Morse, Letters and Journals, ed. E. L. Morse, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914, 2:416):
"Conscience in this matter has moved some Christians quite as strongly to view Abolitionism as a sin of the deepest dye, as it has other Christian minds to view Slavery as a sin . . . Who is to decide in a conflict of consciences? If the Bible is to be the umpire, as I hold it to be, then it is the Abolitionist that is denounced as worthy of excommunication; it is the Abolitionist from whom we are commanded to withdraw ourselves, while not a syllable of reproof do I find in the sacred volume administered to those who maintain, in the spirit of the gospel, the relation of Masters and Slaves"
This goes on and on, a distribe with Scriptural and distanced-moral support, on into a cold dark night of extraordinary egotism and ethical despotism. And it is a fine example of people with some great abilities and high intelligence could be correct in some things and wrong in so many others.
1.Gustavus Myers, A History of Bigotry in the United States, Random House, 1943, p. 160.
3.. Edward Lind Morse, editor, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, His Letters and Journals, vol 2, pp 19, 46-8, 531.
4. An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery in the Social System, and its relation to the Politics of the Day (New York, Papers from the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, no. 12, 1863)
In the history of Mile High Things I doubt there are many entries for airports--or half-airports. This if not highly questionable structure inverted the horizontal concept of airport into something else, or at least changed the take-off into quite something different while leaving the landing strips the same. (This is the "half-vertical" part of the title to this post; "half-vertical" doesn't mean "horizontal", though I like that idea.) The new method of getting a plane into the air was straightforwardly breathtaking: haul the plane up one mile in an elevator and drop it through one of the "launching chutes". After everything is said and done, this is one idea that really didn't need to be three-dimensional.
There was a ride something like this on Coney Island that was very popular for years, a parachute ride where folks were hoisted skyward in a seat on a parachute and then dropped--a much better idea than this mile-high monster.
Here are a few other examples of Mile-High/Long Bits that are posts in this blog:
At some point I think I would like to post an exhibition of some of the collection of the vastly/quietly weird/surreal/Outsidery titles from my BizzaroLand Today! pamphlet collection. Sometimes the titles are just incredibly weird, or wrong, or they're not titles at all but something else, or they're unintentionally absurdist of dadaist or Surreal, or they are just Outside what we might come to expect in the world of logic and its extensions. Sometimes the titles are just odd and the work is real; sometimes not. Sometimes they're just terrifically understated or heartbreakingly simple, and even useful, like this example (from Clymer, New York, 1945):
There was a Bible-studying group headquartered in Haverhill, Massachusetts whose inspiration/idea interpreting the true nature of what was "Israel" according to bits and pieces in the Old Testament, and which found something to be radically different from what was seen to be the case. The pamphlet documents that the place we think of as Israel is not really so, and that the country best fitted to these OT statements was actually Great Britain. There are many reasons for this and they get mistily presented in the pamphlet Restoration of Kingdom Administration the Anglo Saxon Responsibility (published by the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America in 1929), but it is rather too much and tedious and tiresome to get into the milky details, except to say that Israel as was currently recognized could not be so unless they adopt the Christian faith. And so on.
The address of the organization put it on Merrimack Street in Haverhill, a block away from the river--the four story building now has it middle floor obscured by some teal 1950's architectralolypse facing, and the bottom floor is now a dollar store (with redundant signs) with a sandwich board out front (captured by the Google car) reading "Design Perfume on Sale Beauty Supply". I'm sure the store is necessary and fills a need, but it is a long way and many years from redefining the concept of Israel.
Albert Einstein was many things--including a designer of clothing, and a patented one at that. He applied for and was granted a patent in 1936 (not an unbusy period in which he must've been noodling this thought around in his head, that blouse thing along with gravitational lensing, that pesky quantum mechanics, and the EPR paradox and all that) for an expanding waistcoat.
Well. Einstein had his hand in other patents, including a rather famous one regarding a refrigerator with no moving parts (along with the great Leo Szilard, the "Einstein-Szilard electromagnetic pump), as well as part interest in gyroscompasses and a hearing aid, and better yet a "light intensity self-adjusting camera" with an "electric eye". And the "ornamental blouse". I suspect that it was all in fun, except that once the thinking had been done, it was thought to take it to the next logical step.