A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
This title sounds a little stretched and disingenuous, but it is not, not really--there was a plan to destroy periscopes of subs, rendering them ineffectual while submerged, and it did involved exploding birds, so the title to this quick post is largely true.
The article/note explaining it all appeared in the February 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics, which is reproduced here in full. It is brief and to the point: a falcon would be trained to hunt a metal tube protruding from water, which is would attack while carrying a pouch of high explosives around its neck that would detonate when it came into contact with water. No more periscope, no more sub, no more falcon.
It does seem to be a wooden-cog reaction to a metal gear problem...and very off-putting.
I haven't seen very many bits on using animals as actual weapons of mass destruction, though the ones I recall catapulted diseased animals over and into enemy lines, and a few other truly bad things not worth repeating. But I must say that I found this approach to warfare particularly repugnant, even for warfare of desperation.
This advertisement for a remarkable new and 'painless" therapy for involutionary melancholia looks to me strained and strangely Ken Keasyian, John-Forbes-Nashian. The disease--not actually recognized as such by the DSM-5--was said to be lessened by "electro-tonic therapy", which looks to me to be electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. Evidently before treatment for illness like involutionary melancholia were available via antidepressants the ECT worked in some number of cases. Still to me this looks like all kinds of bad.
The title of the broadside is constrained though it does give a little bit of a pull and hint about the juicy tenders to follow, all brought to you from the National Library of Scotland:
'A full and particular Account of the Sale of a Woman, named Mary Mackintosh, which took place on Wednesday Evening, the 16th of July, 1828, in the Grass Market of Edinburgh, accused by her Husband of being a notorious Drunkard; with the Particulars of the bloody Battle which took place afterwards.'
Unfortunately it was legal to sell your possessions and your wife, though it seems as though this was an activity of the "lower classes" and a much frowned-upon activity by most.
And here are one set of the details that you could purchase for a penny, with much colorful language and alliteration to come:
"When, the crowd got a little quiet the people began to examine the countenance of the woman ; a Highland Drover stepped through the crowd, and pulled out his purse, and Said, " She be a good like lassie,'l will gi'e ten and twenty shillings for her." This caused great cheering among the crowd?then a stout Tinker made a bolt into the crowd, and said she should never go to the Highlands?he then bid sixpence more for her. At this time, one of the KlLLARNEY PIG JOBBERS, with his mouth open as wide as a turnpike gate, and half drunk, eried loudly, FAUGHAHOLLICE , I will give two shillings more, for she is a pratty woman. A Brogue maker, from Newry, coining out of a public house; as drunk as 5O cats in a wallet, came up to the Killarney man, and hits him in the bread bag,"
Full transcription http://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15971/transcript/1
Source: National Library of Scotland http://deriv.nls.uk/dcn3/7441/74414096.3.jpg
Nothing quite spells out the duties of subjugation as being a one-dimensional-purposed two-dimensional object. And in the world of these things few seem to come as close to becoming-a-real-girl in the Pinocchioiana sense than this item.
It is a cigarette-lighting girl for beachgoers, found sleeping lightly on page 556 of the October 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics. It seems that it is an issue for people being able to light their cigarettes on the beach, so cigarette manufacturers or their agents or agents of agents manufactured this device to make sure that no ill wind would come between the cigarette consumer and the uninterrupted consumption of cigarettes. And so this device was created--the lightless ciggie smoker would come up to the cut-out and place their cigarette tip into the recesses of the lighting element in the cutout's mouth.
In August 1940 Popular Mechanics reported on another example of cloudy thinking on the coming world of warfare--the "Floating Wall of Fire" of Romanian defensive consideration. The article tells the story of how Romania "girdled itself, like a medieval castle, with avast moat stretching for 750 miles....which, at the moment of invasion, can be turned into a river of flaming oil". The canals which make up this open-pit Maginot line were 50' wide and 12' deep, the longest of them running some 400 miles, the combined efforts of the big dig meant top protect the country from invasion from Hungary, Poland, the Soviet Union, Yuoslavia, and Bulgaria--and of course from Germany which at the time could advance from a number of different positions. There were also hundreds of gun emplacements facing the pit, I guess to fire on whomever if they decided to try and break through/over the moat, which would have been flooded with crude oil and set ablaze when invasion occurred.
The problem of course was that even a year after the Blitzkrieg in Poland with the combined assault by land/air forces the lesson had not been learned here--unless of course the flames were 20,000' high. And obviously the river of fire would last only so long--depending on available amounts of crude oil I wonder how long they determined the wall of fire could be maintained? A day? A week? (I know that from controlled burns of oil spills that in one case some 16,000 barrels of floating oil was burned off in a controlled burn in about four hours--it seems to me that if there was an invasion front that was miles wide and striking at numerous point along a 100-mile front that...well, the problems are obvious.)
Could anyone have expected an invasion force to arrive and then once confronted by a burning moat turn back and retreat?
In spite of fulfilling expectations during a "rehearsal of a large-scale invasion", it seems very highly dubious that anyone could really have been comfortable with the first line of national defense being fire in a long hole.
[It should be mentioned that after the once-neutral-ish Romania settled into its relationship with the Axis that the worst single-mission air losses for the U.S. Army Air Force occurred in the bombing of petroleum facilities in the area of Ploiesti, Romania, on 1 August 1943. In an unsuccessful attempt to damage the flow of petroleum to Axis forces, Operation Tidal Wave targeted this location but with devastatingly bad consequences, with 53 aircraft and 660 servicemen lost in the action.]
I know this shouldn't be so semi-surprising and yet so not-unexpected, but it is--finding NSDAP/Nazi symbolism in Germany in the '30's embedded in and "edifying" common items and ordinary locations. The thing would just appear, like a little stamp of approval, in advertisements for toothpaste, cars, pins, engines, oil--multiple alphabets of everyday bits made to associate with NSDAP emblems. In this instance the found-swastika caught my eye in a design detail for a gate. The company, Remanit (in Krefeld, northwest of Dusseldorf), specialized in indoor and outdoor stainless steel fixtures--handrails, lighting elements, doors, gates, so on. The gate in the ad--appearing in an oversized magazine on art and taste, Die Kunst, Monatschefte fuer Freie und Angewandte Kunst, volume 74, 1934/5---contained a decoration of a family crest-like design, incorporating a cross; on the other gate, another crest, and almost lost in the shadow was a large swastika. Party members and sympathizers and other passives used the symbol (in its many iterations) quite a bit,adorning their possessions and products with it-- and evidently also in one's stainless steel impervious-to-rusting-but-not bombing gate crest, a stamp of approval for the eclipse of a culture and nearly unprecedented destruction.
I was having a breezy little time looking through Piedmont Carolinas, Where Wealth Awaits You, published by Duke Power in 1937 and extolling the many virtues of living in the section of North Carolina between the western mountains and the western edge of the lowlands--this is not far from where I'm sitting right now, in the Southern Highlands, 50 miles west. I was enjoying reading about the beautiful roads, and the fine country (where farmers outnumbered industrial workers three to one).
But then the romance stopped, bumping into this:
The pamphlet was pleasant and standard-enough discussing manufactures,industrial markets, industries, farms, opportunities, and so on, and then along comes this bit, folded into the teased normalcies.
(There are several posts on this blog relating to child labor--a simple search in the Google box will bring up a few.)
What a dirty little pamphlet this is--at least that's the way it feels in my hands. The author, Sara Birchall, takes to task the results of a survey that finds 10,000 child toilers" in New York (in 1937). The push behind the survey was for the passage of a constitutional amendment banning all child labor. Birchall makes the case that the "quaint statistics" are incorrect, and that state in themselves have taken great leaps to end the child labor menace, and therefore the need for a federal involvement ("boondoggle") was happily unnecessary.
I don't know what the National Child Labor Committee (founded 1904) had to say about this in particular. They were certainly active in the push for a constitutional amendment, though that effort would be pretty much d.o.a. in the mid 1930's. Ironically just a year after this missive was written came the Fair Labor Standards Act, which very heavily favored child labor laws pushed by the NCLC. In the weight and gravitas of the issue, Birchall's effort left a mean, red-knuckled impression on me, saying the federal initiative wasn't worth the effort and that the whole deal could be handled at the state level. That was sort of true, though my guess is that things might have happened quick for a couple of generations of child laborers had there been a cohesive national plan.
A few days ago I was having a look at a Large & Impossible Tank, and today I came across this fabulous beauty from the Electrical Experimenter for February, 1915.
This 45' monster would be somehow powered by electricity though there is no discernible power source or power train, and it would be steered by a gyroscope. (The use of the gyroscope is interesting--the idea of it acting as a control mechanism had been successfully introduced in the Whitehead torpedo in 1905, and used as stabilizing agents in airplanes and ships by 1910, and found in the first gyroscopic repeater compass by 1911, so the magazine and writer pretty much had their finger on the national gyroscopic pulse of the time.) Being hit by defensive cannon fire was said to have been not too much of a problem because the shells would mostly pass through the lattice work of the structure. The armament in the suspended armored buckets would be "the same as British tanks"--the buckets also came equipped with a bomb chute (if you look closely you'll see one in action here, the destroyer dropping a bomb on itself) for, well, bombing.
These spectacular images of monumental monumentality appeared in the December 1916 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The author Frank Shuman (1862-1918) had some major inventing chops, not the least of which was some very forward-thinking work (in theory and practice) on solar power (one of which was a solar powered steam engine and another a liquid O2 propulsion system for submarines), so these suggestions for gigantic land battleships came with a fair amount of gravitas. This is some grand thinking, and as Shuman tells us, the beast below would weigh about 5,000 tons (the weight of several hundred Sherman tanks1) and would roll along on 200' diameter wheels. Unfortunately, outside of seeing some sort of (steam) power plant, there is no mention of how those wheels would be turned--I'd've liked to read about that. There is a mention of shock absorbers, but only so, jsut a bare hint.
[Image source is Google Books--I have this volume in a 40 year run of this periodical down in the warehouse, but the book was really too thick to lay flat ont he scanner, and so the Google Books scan was used..]
And for whatever reason there is no heavy artillery on this thing. The damage to the enemy would be done via the three wheels, and also by the enormous chains that hang from the front of the enormity, like a flailing slow-moving monster from a 1950's B-movie.
My guess is that this wouldn't do so well in the rain.
The title of this post is a bit of a tweeker--the project is not to fill in the entire the North Sea, just the southern North Sea. This actually makes a pretty big difference bathymetrically, because the sea floor gets mighty deep up along the coast of Norway. Still, though, as impossibly ambitious projects go, this is still a massively unstable consideration, the entire North Sea or not.
[I owe the fun I had thinking about this project to two great sites: Modern Mechanix and Imaginary Cities--Modern Mechanix for posting it to begin with and Imaginary Cities for tweeting it. These are two great sites well worth subscribing to.]
A sort-of Atlantis was drowned some 8500 years ago, a large piece of land that connected what is today Great Britain and Europe. Rising water did away with this territory leaving behind the great island nation and much else. The plan referred to above in the title is the extraordinary thinking for "raising" that lost Atlantis-esque land, and was floated in the September 1930 of Modern Mechanics.
The author maintains some sort of possibility for recovering some 100,000 square miles of submerged land that would connect south-eastern England with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. It would be accomplished by erecting some 700+ miles of dykes and dams and then, somehow, emptying all of that surrounded and captured water into the sea that it once belonged to.
100,000 square surface miles is an area twice the size of England, three times the size of Lake Superior, nearly the size of the Caspian, and equal to the size of Colorado.
The English Channel and the straits of Dover would become a divided thoroughfare; the Thames would be part of a canal system that would extend along the old Norfolk coast to The Wash; a bay from the Straits would extend inland to Belgium, where it would be met by a canal system that would extend to the Baltic. All of this would be held in place by a 150-mile long dam of unusual shape. And just for good measure, bisecting these two would be a monster bridge from Dover to Calais.
This is of course extraordinary, but when we look north we see a breathtaking proposal for a 450-mile long, 90'-high dyke extending from the English coast to Denmark. The artwork claims that this is 90' above the water for the rest of the North Sea, which means that the structure would have to be at least 110'-150' high, plus the foundation. Luckily for the designer the southern North Sea is a relatively shallow water sea, 20-40' deep, though there is a stretch of 100' miles where the depth is considerably deeper. I haven't considered yet how wide this dyke would be, except that it would be, well, big.
There is also a drawing for a London-Berlin and points east train. The Elbe is dammed, and it looks as though the Netherlands is no longer the Lowlands, everything there being "filled in", with the sea being moved some 200 miles to the west.
This is just a short spec piece that appeared in a popular science magazine 84 years ago, but there is no mention of what these changes might mean to the currents of the south North Sea, or Jutland coastal waters, or the Continental Coastal waters; or the changes it might dictate to salinity, or nutrients to the rest of the North Sea, to say nothing of the sea floor inhabitants and fish, and so on. There would no doubt be some natural consequences to this (literal!) undertaking.
I suppose someone at some point would have to think about how all that new land would be divided, but I guess that would all take care of itself.
Another related article from Modern Mechanix posting a Modern Mechanics May 1931 addresses the issue of water removal albeit at as much lesser scale, here.
I haven't read anything in the Phrenological Journal before seeing this in American Agriculturalist for 1869, but the small (two inches tall) ad made an impression, what with the big head filled with text concerning all of these questionable sub-medical practices. It seems that the head in the image is big and very smooth and very unphrenologicalistic about it.
Captives of Capitalism (printed ca. 1925)is a small pamphlet with a big reach. It was published by the Committee for International Workers Aid, a Communist organization created in Berlin in 1921 (as the International Arbeiter-Hilfe) to help raise money for famine and drought victims in Russia. It was evidently expanded to include collecting money to help victims and prisoner of Fascism, which seems to be the major target in this pamphlet.
Although pretty slight the pamphlet looses no time in getting to the heart of the matter, detailing atrocities and unjust imprisonments by fascists and capitalists in Germany, Roumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Finland, Lithuania, and Italy. Although not mentioning the United States the "Call to Action" states that "Democracy is on the rampage, with proletarians as its victims" with calls for unity of workers and donations to the International Workers Aid as well as to Red Aid--money to help "lighten the burden of the imprisoned" and to "support starving families".
Inside of my copy of the pamphlet was a small handout, a long sheet folded into quarters with the working "title" of "Drop by Drop the Bucket Will Fill", and on opening the sheet the entire reverse is a form to fill in with the names of donors and amounts of the "drops" they send into the bucket. This request series in particular was aimed at "Xmas Relief"
The "Call to Action" ends very strongly: "A united front of the workers of the world so that
of a proletarian fighter against capitalism creates a millionfold echo from the workers of the world."
Unfortunately the Soviet Union would become its own home-made disaster following the turmoil and famine(s) of the early 'twenties. Lenin's death in 1924 led to Stalin, and Stalin went down a terrifically bad path, beginning his Five Year Plans in 1928 which would displace 25 million families to create the collective farm state; smashmouth industrialization lead to great gloom and the development of Stalin's cult-of-state created the Great Famine in '32-'33 and the rest of the hideousness that would cover the Soviet Union through the rest of Stalin's existence.
This is a comparison between two different types of photographic vision--one on seeing instantaneous and direct responses, a photograph recording a true and unguarded reaction; the other, though it was the achieving the same but used a series of photographs laid one on top of the other for a complex amalgam. Charles Darwin used the first, particularly in the Expression of Emotions, and Francis Galton the second, in his Inquiries into the Human Faculty (1883). This is Galton's version, the famous frontispiece to his 1883 work:
Living within a self-defined truth function, and its own language, setting its own parameters, finding what it wanted to find. Galton's work is more like ambient music with a touch of Steve Reich, multiple layers of the same piece of music textured at intervals one piece on top of the other, seeing what came out the other end. Darwin's approach was a simple score.
I am constantly surprised-and-then-unsurprised, having the "surprise" part ripped away like a bandage to leave a vacuum of missing surprise, when I bump into deep, inherent, part-of-the-language and part-of-the-social-landscape racism. I've mentioned before in this blog that some years ago I bought a very large collection of pamphlets from the Library of Congress--it was a collection in name only (even though almost every item was stamped "the Pamphlet Collection") though their storage and relationship was basically unassociated and uncategorized even though they were supposed to be so, housed in 3,000 document boxes that supposedly put everything into order, though the classifications were extremely loose and could refer to author/title/subject/publisher and so indexed almost nothing. The great majority of the time The Finding of Things was almost random, and there was really no telling what might slip out of each box.
I looked at quite a few of these documents, and one thing that I found over and over, in varied subject areas and content, in obvious and odd places, was periodic deep-seated racist remarks. The vast majority was directed at African Americans, though there has been a showing for the Japanese and Chinese, as well as Mexicans, and Eastern Europeans, and of course Jews. The surprising thing to me has been how this racism emerges from the pamphlets--usually it seems so, well, "out of context", even if you were racist, the way that suddenly something bizarre and racist would appear, as though dropping unexpectedly from the sky. For example, in the middle of an introduction to carnival barking, the caller was supposed to occasionally "slap his hands like a n-word" when accepting money. I mean, right there in the middle of a nothing sentence, this awful stuff would just appear. After many exposures to this I took it to represent very deeply rooted systemic racism, where light banter and semi-meaningless explanations would be peppered seemingly from nowhere with racist statements. I remember feeling so outraged opening a pamphlet on Purina sheep feed and catching a phrase where the farmer is supposed to feel some part of a sheep's wool and that it should feel something like "n-word hair but softer". It is an incredible disgrace to read it in 2014 and to think that in 1940 (when the Purina sales catalog was written) that it would be so much part of the verbal landscape that it would seem like nothing at all.
And this happened many times, and all by chance, a weird turgidity of racist serendipity.
Which brings me to tonight. I selected the pamphlet (above) called Language as a Medium of Communication to be part of my book cover Found-Surreal collection--I mean, what else is language for, and what would Wittgenstein say in his quietest moments about this? I opened the pamphlet, and there it was, the found-offending bit, on page 9.
The question the author asked in text was "Does the increase in vocabulary facilitate ease in thought?" Which is kind of an interesting question if it wasn't so filled with the demand for explanation and definition.
The rejoinder was this:
"Do remarkable vocabularies of many hotel porters, couriers, precocious children, negroes, parrots, and schizophrenics "facilitate" their "ease in thought"?
Now, the irony here of course is that this problematic and overwritten pamphlet was on language and communication, and what happens here is that (a) the author does not capitalize "Negro" even though it had been a long-fought battle that was basically decided in favor of the capital "N" a few decades earlier, which communicates something in a corruption of language, and (b) that the inclusion of "Negro" speech alongside that of parrots, children, and schizophrenics communicates a racist view of African American speech. None of this makes a dent in the consciousness of the author because these completely unexpected racist bombs that seem so incredibly pernicious and disgusting to us now were really evidently nothing when this pamphlet was written in 1942. That they appear without any real call for them is a damnable thing, that the racist aspect was so deep that one could include a racist reference even in an innocuous statement--that made bitter and repugnant with the expression of stupidity, fear, and loathsomeness. And this is only 72 years ago.