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
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.
JF Ptak Science Books Expanding an earlier post from 2009...
I’m a sucker for cross sections, and this one has it all—nicely drawn, a glimpse into the possibilities of the future, and technoid removed from the realm of possibility.This article appears in Popular Science Monthly for June, 1934, and presents the possibility of extending downward into the earth for future city development. (as a matter of fact, the fabulous Modern Mechanix site has a similar story on display, asking the question “Are Skyscrapers Doomed?” for the same year, with the same engineers.) Well. It seems as though in this cross section that residences for people begin below the thirtieth floor, making living quarters starting at about 350’ down.The story goes that it would be possible to dig these cities up to about 6,000 feet into the earth, which of course is a long way down.Its difficult enough to drill an oil well hole to this depth; its difficult to imagine digging/outfitting/removing the earth from something—I’m not even sure what to call it—that was, potentially, thousands of feet deep and miles wide and long.That’s playing with figures hundreds of billions of cubic feet. Of construction. Underground. Well, I guess it wouldn't be necessarily underground--it could be an excavated hole that is a mile or two wide and across and down, which would make the hole itself several times larger than the largest whole ever dug by humans, which is the Bingham Canyon Mine, a pit slope mine that is about .5miles x 2.5 miles. And then construction would begin after which the remaineder would be covered by earth.
Anyway, it is a big hole and a lot of construction, the volume of it at the beginner phases of say a cubic mile would be equal to the volume of 25,000 Great Pyramids or 5,400 Empire State Buildings. It would be easier probably to build a vertical city in part of the Grand Canyon (or of course a "more modest canyon" and then cover it up--that's an idea you won't see in print too often. (I should poitn out that I've bumped into canyon-filling ideas every now eand then, one of my favorite truly-floated ideas being the one that would fill up Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, which snakes its way north-south in the central part of the city. Around 1890 the Federal government was trying to figure out how to best multi-task the area for parkland and roadway. One incredible plan called for the creek, which in many places is bounded by some pretty steep embankments (25-75 feet or so) and extends about 8 miles north of downtown, to be filled in, leveled off, and paved over. Now that would've been a lot of dirt. The final plan was perfectly fine and had a series of small roads snaking their way through the park, making it one of the nicest rides (Central Park-like) of any major metropolitan cities in North America.)
This is one of hose books that I couldn't possibly spend any time with, save for skimming the illustrations looking for something unusual. Generally popular books published by Certain Publishing Houses on the future of warfare tend to read like bad sci fi--having not read this one I can't address that here, though this pic found at the end of the book may offer a little insight to the rest of the book's content. The author was a tank commander of high distinction, which might explain at least his hopes for the technological breakthrough of delivering fuel to motorized units in the front line--via "giant fuel missiles". Evidently these enormous missiles (the width of a tank) and filled with fuel is somehow launched and the projectiles fall gently enough to stand precariously on their own with the top 5% of the length buried a slight bit but somehow enough to support the weight of the missile and the contents. Remarkable.
In the history of transportation there haven't been many marriages between trains and planes. There have been proposals for Trains-Boats as we've seen in proposals for transporting ocean-going ships on a ganged series of railway cars and pulled x-number of locomotives across the isthmus of Tehauntapec. I also recall a Balloon-Tramway-Train where hot air balloons were guided along a particular harnessed route 50 feet above the ground for miles and miles. But the plane-train not found on the covers of Popular Mechanics in the 1930's and 1940's is a rare sight. I did spot a fantastic example of one though on the front page of the Scientific American for May 5, 1894.
It is a splendid beast--electric, under-powered, very heavy, and full of friction. Somehow the engineers envisioned the train reaching speeds of over 130 mph, and with speeds this great it was essential that all curves be removed from the coast-to-coast rail line, making this a straight shot from coast-to-coast, literally. (This would have just about doubled the land-speed record for sustained travel by rail, by steam. I'm not sure what the record was for electric trains, though I'm pretty sure it is safe to assume it wasn't close to the steam record.)
The part about removing curves was mentioned twice in the article, so it was definitely not a typo. The adjustable wings (here called "aeroplanes" which was the beginning of the terms that we now use to describe the whole aircraft) were added because it was felt that they would provide (some sort of) lift to the train. At the very least it was an interesting idea for 1894, and the wings would certainly have served a function of slowing the train down if they didn't get ripped apart in the process.
See also the related post from 2012 "A Bloated Alphabet of Fat Cures: Strychnine Pills, Vibrators and Hope", here.
Pushing its way past other adds in the back of the May 1903 issue of The Confederate Veteran is this contagiously interesting advertisement for a very loud quack cure for "blood poisoning". It was manufactured by the Cook Remedy Company of Chicago, Illinois, and offered their cure ("unknown to the profession") to sufferers of "the Bad Disease", which they say can affect anyone, not just confined to "dens of vice or the lower classes". "Our magic cure" they say, can help all sufferers, curing "quickly and permanently"--otherwise the bad stuff happens, not the least of which was bringing "disease to you and disgrace upon your children", which is tough hardball stuff, especially coming from con-artist quick-thieves who would say anything and offer any hope to desperate people for a buck, trading on frailty, ill-health, and fear.
By Cook Remedy was identified as a quack organization by the federal government, having a not-so-pretty appearance in the 1912 Hearings on the Pure Food and Drug Act.
I suppose that the cross in "Blood Poison" was designed to resemble a cemetery/graveyard marker...
This document of death, this pamphlet is the Auschwitz III Construction Contract between IG Farben and the Confederazione Fascista degli Industriali for Construction of the Buna Works at Auschwitz III, as well as construction at Heydebrek and Blechhammer, and was printed in 1942. I've only been able to scan five pages as the document is fairly weak and I have a flat bed scanner--I just don't think it would take much more abuse without falling out of its binding. But I have scanned some of it, notably the participatory Italian companies and some of the allocation of workers to the different concentration camps.
The full title reads of the work reads:
Contratto per l’escusione di lavori di construzione in partecipazione con imprese germaniche, nei cantieri di Heydebrek, Blechhammer e Auscwitz. It was printed by Tipografia del Gianicolo, in Rome, 1942, by the Confederzione Fascista degli Industriali, Federazione Nazionale Fascista Raggruppamento Germania. The document measures a fragile 30.5 x 21 cm, and is 29 pages long. Like dozens of thousands of other things here at the store, this was formerly in the “Pamphlet Collection” of the Library of Congress (which received the publication 12 July 1945) until we purchased the collection at the end of 1999.
This is also probably the most awful thing I own. Its like looking at those blueprints for the crematoria and the barracks--so precise, swimming in their blue pool, these concise, sure, white lines; designs for one of the worst things built in the 20th century--just drawings, lines on a long sheet of paper, for building something. Completely removed from the breathing world, just cold logical constructions for someone else's end. That's the feeling I get from handling this thing--the Italians and Germans figuring out where to put the thousands of workers, making sure that they get paid, providing for some sort of maintenance for the workers' health, salaries, benefits, work schedules, breaks, vacations, incentives, mailing and the post, and so on. All of the bits of the most mundane things that go into a large construction projects, like building a highrise, or a tunnel, or a highway, or a bridge to hell. This contract could've been for just about anything at all. But it isn't. Its for building a part of Auschwitz when anyone with any sense whatsoever knew what was already going on there.
Of the many terible things in this document I was really bothered to see Heydebrek, Blechhammer and Auschwitz abbreviated at the top of some of these pages. This is just so wrong. Wrong on every level, being an attribute of the nothingness, of the emptiness, of this document.
It is a simple, basic document on one of the least simple and basic things of the 20th century. The contract detailed labor expectations, needs and regulations from both the German and laboring Italian sides for the construction of these three concentration and slave labor camps in 1942. Subjects of interest in this document include salaries, housing, vacations, health care and insurance, as well as the application of German laws to the workers, qualifications, and classification of occupations.
Perhaps the part of most interest is the short list—reprinted below—on pages 3 & 4 of the firms and engineers taking part in this agreement..
The names that are attached to this document and signing off on the contract of this agreement (of 2 March 1942 which provided 8,636 Italian laborers for this construction) include:
1) for IG Farbenindustrie AG, Heydebreck, Heydebreck OS Adolf Mueller and (Hans) Deichmann
Hans Deichmann served as (senior) legal representative for IG Farbenindustrie in Rome and Milan from 1942 to 1945 and in 1942 was responsible for recruiting Italian workers for construction in the above-named concentration camps.
2) for Oberschleische Hydrierwerke AG, Blechhammer, Kreis-Consei Schlick
3) for IG Farbenindustrie AG Auschwitz, Auschwitz OS Adolf Mueller and (Hans) Deichmann
The signatures representing Italian interests include: Aurelio Aureli Giacomo Milella
Notes: --Blechhammer was a satellite camp of Auschwitz III (Monowitz) --Auschwitz III, also called Buna or Monowitz, was established in nearby Monowice to provide forced laborers for the Buna synthetic rubber works. The German conglomerate I.G. Farben established a factory in order to take advantage of cheap concentration camp labor and the nearby Silesian coalfields. It invested more than 700 million Reichsmarks (about 1.4 million U.S. dollars in 1942 terms) in Auschwitz III. On Italian labor being used at Nazi Concentration camps, as found in Vol VIII, pg 749, Nuremberg War Crime Tribunals:
Q. Did you go to ter Meer* to get Italian workers — I am thinking of a prosecution exhibit, the one which was shown to ter Meer on cross examination.
A. I was told at the time by an official source that Italian industry, after the collapse, would no longer produce because there was no coal, no current, or something. I was also told that since the Italian State obtained goods from Germany — buna, for example — the Italian State would be willing to enter into an agreement with Germany to make labor available, as was always the case from Italy. I said to him: “In case that is so” — neither ter Meer nor I knew whether that really would be the case — I said, “help the people at Auschwitz; help them to get workers if now” — I believe this was in 1944 — “the plants gradually go into operation.” For in these plants we wanted to have skilled workers — as I said yesterday, it is very important whether or not the man in charge has knowledge of the work he is doing. --Vol VIII, pg 749, Nuremberg War Crime Tribunals.
*”Fritz ter Meer served on the IG Farben [Farben was Hitler and Hitler was Farben. (Senator Homer T. Bone to Senate Committee on Military Affairs, June 4, 1943.] board of directors from 1926 to 1945 and was the head officer directing the operations of the IG Farben factory at Auschwitz. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal sentenced him to seven years in prison. He was released after serving only four years. Not long after, in 1956, Ter Meer was elevated to the chairman of the supervisory board at BAYER, a position he held for seven years. His grave in Krefeld has a meter-high wreath on it - donated by BAYER in recognition of his services.”
I don't mean this post to be snarky or irreverent, really, because we're dealing with one of the most fantastically murderous people in the history of humans. Since the seven book titles that I have been able to find so far are so, well, unusual, that pulling the individual words out and alphabetizing them might prove to be an insight into the mind of grown-up Soso, Joseph Stalin. I found the titles while researching Stalin's report card from when he was a child, and found "Stalin's Library Card", by David Wojahn, a poem in seven parts that treats each of the books borrowed by Stalin in 1926, when he was 47 years old.
Stalin in 1926 had been General Secretary of the CPSU for two years, in spite of several years of bickering and argument with the stroke-ridden Lenin, who for some years before his death (in 1924) grew more stratigraphically dissatisfied with Stalin and warned the resat of the leadership against him. After maneuvering against Zinoview, and Kaneneov, and Trotsky, and Bukharin and all of the people below them, Stalin was by this time solidifying his power. Purges, manufactured famines, internal deportations of millions, executions, imprisonment, and stupid decisions at the beginning of the German invasion of the USSR in WWII, Stalin had his had in causing the death of many millions of people.
What did he have in mind in 1926 with these books1? Well, I think we know. There are 36 words used in the titles, including six repetetives, leaving 30 unique words. There's certainly enough for haiku if you wanted the taint, and a poem like that could be one that would be difficult to unremember, not (in spirit but of course not in equivalence) unlike the unremembered masses who were forced into "non-personhood" by Stalin, who when he finally died was left out of the very next printing of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia as the Vast Un-nameable.
I'm cataloging this entry in the History of Blank, Empty, and Missing Things series because Stalin caused so muuch of that to happen to so many people, to nearly an entire country. And then he became missing, himself.
JF Ptak Science Books (continuing an earlier post)
A Monumental and Potentially Fantastically Bad Idea: Draining the Mediterranean
[Image source: private collection.]
"Simply the thing I am shall make me live."--from Jorge Luis Borges, "Shakespeare’s Memory"
It would be a Purgatory, or worse, to suddenly wake up one morning with another person's memory--worse yet than to have wished it, only to find that you didn't want it at all. This evidently works out with memories high and low, though it is tempting to want to wish to see what the inspiration looked like for one idea located in a particular memory. Or maybe not. But I am curious about when and here the author of the pamphlet above got his idea, and what it looked like to him--did he hear or see or smell something that prompted the inspiration for this reverse-monumental jolt?
It is interesting to pursue a loose thought like this to its not-necessarily logical end. Such is the case with the self-styled Paneuropic ideas of Hermann Soergel (1885-1952), the author of the above. Soergel was a Bauhaus architect and author of a number of works on design and far more ethereal, floating-castle ideas. His most spectacular contribution—incubated in the mid-1920’s and still clinging by its fingertips as an idea among some current thinkers—was to put a dam across the straights of Gibraltar. The dam would generate electricity of course, but most importantly to Soergel, it would also empty an enormous amount of water from the Mediterranean leaving vast new expanses of land to be developed and colonized over generations into the future. The water of course would have to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Sahara Desert, somehow in its wake creating farmable and productive lands. Soergel was creating a certain, very wide, fantastical future of uncertain monumental prospects.
A "brief outline" of the idea was published in this four-language pamphlet, Lowering the Mediterranean Irrigating the Sahara (Panropa Project), which was published by J.M. Gebhardt in Leipzig in the very bumpy year of 1929. (The Weimar years in Germany were already into deep bumpiness; the rest of the world would follow suit in October of that year.) To be fair, Soergel didn't plan on emptying the entire Mediterranean, just a bunch of it--at least enough to be able to rename it.
[Here's a map of the new Mediterranean, or the Mediterranean that would be made to go away. As you can see at this point Sicily and Italy become enormous, and the Greek Islands are combined to form one large land mass--this last bit alone is enough to form total and complete reisstance to this idea. Also at this stage perhaps 150 or so miles of new lands have been reclaimed from the sea all along its former borders--more so in Turkey. There is no mention as yet of any new islands that are formed in the sea water's wake.]
The master plan at work was that the world would be divided into three economic spheres in the future, all beginning with the letter “A”: American, Asia, and the new land to be created by Soergel, “Atlantropa”, which was the former Europe expanded into the new dry beds of the Mediterranean and North Africa. And also of course Egypt, which would be covered with "thousands" of canals and become semi-submerged by the new borders of the meandering sea. This would be the way for Europa to compete with the rest of the world in the future.
[I should point out that the image above comes from the Illustrierte Zeitung (Leipzig) for August 1931, and is a drawing by an artist named "AS. Christ" depicting a cross section of one of the bridge/dams of Soergel's Panropa's ideas.]
Perhaps it is actually three steps to get from the idea of damming up the straits of Gibraltar to the osmosis of Shakespeare’s memories into someone else’s brain—a squinting acquiescence of the middle touch being the brilliant Jorge Luis Borges. You see it was in the Argentine master’s last published story, "Shakespeare’s Memory", that we meet Herr Soergel (as Hermann Sorgel) again. But so far as I can remember Soergel exists only as a fictional character, with no reference to his real-life self. In this wonderful story, Soergel inherits the memories of William Shakespeare—these bits come to him slowly but surely, until they start to conflict with his own memory, and things get difficult. The man with Shakespeare’s memories winds up phoning strangers on the telephone, giving them away at random, until Soergel is left with his own mind again. Superior as Bill’s memories were, they still weren’t Hermann’s, who wanted his own life back in the end.
And so from the titanic, pan-europic technodream of Bauhausian Hermann Soergel to the dead brains and living memories of William Shakespeare, all through the fingers of the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges.
I'm sorry to report that at the end of it all, near the end of the pamphlet, Soergel releases his opinion on the political importance of his project. And yes, his aim was to form an alliance between the new PanAmerica (of the "three Americas" with the new Pan-European African Union to thwart "the yellow peril" which "arises from the racial antipathy of India, China and Japan. Soergel writes that "the fate of occidental civilization...will be settled on the Mediterranean".
After it is all said and done, perhaps the best reiew of the work by Soergel is provided by the graphic designer who put the Big Red X on the cover of his work. It fits.
Some of the works by Soergel include the following:
Alexander Gall: The Atlantropa project.Die Geschichte einer gescheiterten Vision.The story of a failed vision.Herman Sörgel und die Absenkung des Mittelmeers .
Herman Sörgel and the lowering of the MEditerranean . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1998.
Wolfgang Voigt: Atlantropa. Wolfgang Voigt: Atlantropa.Weltbauen am Mittelmeer.Building the Mediterranean world.Ein Architektentraum der Moderne . An architects dream of modernity. Dölling und Galitz. Hamburg 1998.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2203 (an earlier post continued and expanded)
"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa". (probably not) Oscar Wilde
And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.
I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".
It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14x8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.
There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness--the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.
A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan--a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline--it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.
In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:
"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".
The first-time published novelist's approach:
"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".
"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".
"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy--there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".
1502 tr. Ordynarye of Crysten Men (de Worde) iv. xxii. sig. ff.iii, Suche synne is named yronie, not that the whiche is of grammare, by the whiche a man sayth one and gyueth to vnderstonde the contrary. -- Oxford English Dictionary, in an example of the earliest usage of "irony" in English.
I wonder if there are such things as "small" and "big" ironies? Perhaps it is more a question of small and big wonders.
In any event, the Unselfish Society of this pamphlet refers to a eugenics Society, or eugenics in general, and was part of a Socratic dialog in the pamphlet concerning eugenic principles and education. It feels more like backlash of theatrical Shavian wit, what with the eugenics folks being about as far removed from principles of un-selfishness as possible. Or perhaps they are interested in "unselfishness" as a principle expressed by others in order to better the genetic and societal lot of the more-privileged people. But the expectation of unselfishness in others is not being unselfish in yourself, unless you're Ayn Rand. And in this instance we're talking about the so-called "positive" eugenics, and not the "negative" one, where there is an enforced elimination of what is deemed (by them) to be society's "weak links". "Unselfishness" is not a currency expected (and sometimes extracted) from others and used for yourself.
1883 F. Galton Inquiries into Human Faculty page 44. "The investigation of human eugenics, that is, of the conditions under which men of a high type are produced."
JF Ptak Science Books Revisiting/expanding an earlier post from 2009
In 1982 Werner Herzog, in what may have been a weirdly fashioned and irresistible death-wish effort, released a very difficult film that he wrote and directed: Fitzcarraldo. It is a spill-over-big, magnificent film about a would-be ice-making rubber baron bringing an opera house into the trans-Andes, trying to make his way into the dense forest in a huge rear-paddle steamboat on the Amazon to stake a claim in exploiting leased lands filled with rubber trees The problem faced by Fitzcarraldo (played by the probably-insane Klaus Kinski--just see Herzog's 1972 Agiurre, Wrath of God and you'll know what I mean) is that his path is blocked by unnavigable rapids--he can however reach his destination by hauling his very large ship up and over a mountain to get to a more pliant river and then to his goal. Herzog actually does this for the film--no digital anything here--in what is one of the most glorious things I've even seen in the movies. He really does have native people clear a path up and over a mountain, and they DO haul this ship up and over. It really, truly, is magnificent.
The story is partially based upon the adventure of Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, who in 1890 attempted a similar feat, though with a much smaller vessel, and who also dismantled the craft (?!) to haul it overland.
The bigger and deeper back-story though is the effort--mainly by Elmer Cotherell and James Eads--to build a combination railroad ship canal across the Tehuantepec isthmus in Nicaragua. The idea of moving across central America rather than taking the enormously long route around the tip of South America and up again is hundreds of years old. The Cotherell/Eads plan, begun in 1870's and alive in the early '80's, was really the first feasible (and workable) initiative.
It would have been a gigantic undertaking, and even though it was much longer (130 miles or so) than the more-favored Panama location for the canal, it seemed more workable as there would be less digging and no need for a lock/canal system as required at Panama. The plan was outlined in the pamphlet below, and printed in 1886. (This pamphlet is available for purchase at our blog bookstore.)
The French began a doomed attempt at conquering Panama shortly before this. Ferdinand de Lesseps tried to build a canal in 1880, but the organization and general construction plan was truly inferior; also, the sanitary and medical conditions were irreproachable, with the French losing perhaps 22 thousand men in the failed process to disease (mainly malaria). (The United States would lose 5,609 workers while building the Panama canal, on land granted as a payback for "helping" Panama release themselves from Columbia.)
The Cotherell/Eads (who by the way was a master builder perhaps best known for his inspired masterpiece of a bridge at St. Louis) plan called for hauling the ships up and out of the water in a short canal and placing them on an enormous floating roundabout; the roundabout would then be raised, and the ship place on huge cradles borne upon vastly augmented railway lines. Once on the cradle, the ship would be pulled and pushed by a team of four large locomotive teams which were in turn composed of two large engines. Happily aboard, the ship would then be taken on the extended, expanded wide and augmented rail 130 miles overland and dumped into the Pacific.
It was evidently not a workable deal all the way around, though, as the U.S. decided on the new Panama to works its engineering miracle
.There is something pleasing though about the Ship Railway, though, something that appeals to the little bit of Mr. Herzog in me. Perhaps it was the appraisal of the very stiff-lipped Sir Edward Reed--who was the former master engineer for the British navy and consultant to Eads—that makes it all so irresistible. “It would be best to avoid a very high rate of speed” when hauling the massive ocean-going and heavily laden cargo ships. Indeed.
"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.