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  • feedwordpress 08:01:12 on 2018/03/17 Permalink
    Tags: book shops, book towns, , books stores, , , , , ,   

    “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”*… 


    A market doubles as a bookstore in Obidos, Portugal

    What makes a book town?

    It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

    But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale…

    Tour some of the world’s best at “Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers.”

    * Jerry Seinfeld


    As we browse in bliss, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one of the most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

    Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.




  • feedwordpress 08:01:35 on 2018/03/16 Permalink
    Tags: , criminalization, debt, debtors prison, , , , , workers rebellion   

    “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”*… 


    An estimated 77 million Americans have a debt that has been turned over to a private collection agency. Thousands of these debtors are arrested and jailed each year because they owe money. Millions more are threatened with jail. The debts owed can be as small as a few dollars, and they can involve every kind of consumer debt, from car payments to utility bills to student loans to medical fees. These trends devastate communities across the country as unmanageable debt and household financial crisis become ubiquitous, and they impact Black and Latino communities most harshly due to longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in poverty and wealth.

    Debtors’ prisons were abolished by Congress in 1833 and are thought to be a relic of the Dickensian past. In reality, private debt collectors — empowered by the courts and prosecutors’ offices — are using the criminal justice system to punish debtors and terrorize them into paying, even when a debt is in dispute or when the debtor has no ability to pay.

    The criminalization of private debt happens when judges, at the request of collection agencies, issue arrest warrants for people who failed to appear in court to deal with unpaid civil debt judgments. In many cases, the debtors were unaware they were sued or had not received notice to show up in court…

    Read this deeply-troubling story in toto at “The Criminalization of Private Debt“; then read the full ACLU report at “A Pound of Flesh.”

    * Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1


    As we dust off the adjective “Dickensian,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1811, five days after the birth of the movement in Nottingham, that Luddites smashed over 100 machines intended to eliminate their textile industry jobs in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Kirby, Woodborough, Lambley, Bulwell, & Ilkeston in Derbyshire.

    an 1812 illustration of “Ned Ludd,” a fictional apprentice who (per his legend) destroyed two weaving frames in 1779.



  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2018/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: .com, access, domain name, , , , , Mundaneum, Paul Otlet, ,   

    “Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”*… 


    Belgian information activist Paul Otlet (1927)

    More than a century ago, Belgian information activist Paul Otlet envisioned a universal compilation of knowledge and the technology to make it globally available. He foresaw, in other words, some of the possibilities of today’s Web.

    Otlet’s ideas provide an important pivot point in the history of recording knowledge and making it accessible. In classical times, the best-known example of the knowledge enterprise was the Library of Alexandria. This great repository of knowledge was built in the Egyptian city of Alexandria around 300 BCE by Ptolemy I and was destroyed between 48 BCE and 642 CE, supposedly by one or more fires. The size of its holdings is also open to question, but the biggest number that historians cite is 700,000 papyrus scrolls, equivalent to perhaps 100,000 modern books…

    Any hope of compacting all we know today into 100,000 books—or 28 encyclopedic volumes—is long gone. The Library of Congress holds 36 million books and printed materials, and many university libraries also hold millions of books. In 2010, the Google Books Library Project examined the world’s leading library catalogs and databases. The project, which scans hard copy books into digital form, estimated that there are 130 million existing individual titles. By 2013, Google had digitized 20 million of them.

    This massive conversion of books to bytes is only a small part of the explosion in digital information. Writing in the Financial Times, Stephen Pritchard notes that humanity generated almost 2 trillion gigabytes of varied data in 2011, an amount projected to double every two years, forming a growing trove of Big Data available on about 1 billion websites… Search engines let us trek some distance into this world, but other approaches can allow us to explore it more efficiently or deeply. A few have sprung up. Wikipedia, for instance, classifies Web content under subject headings…

    But there is a bigger question: Can we design an overall approach that would reduce the “static” and allow anyone in the world to rapidly pinpoint and access any desired information? That’s the question Paul Otlet raised and answered—in concept if not in execution. Had he fully succeeded, we might today have a more easily navigable Web.

    Otlet, born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1868, was an information science pioneer. In 1895, with lawyer and internationalist Henri La Fontaine, he established the International Institute of Bibliography, which would develop and distribute a universal catalog and classification system. As Boyd Rayward writes in the Journal of Library History, this was “no more and no less than an attempt to obtain bibliographic control over the entire spectrum of recorded knowledge.”…

    The remarkable story in full at: “The internet before the internet: Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum.”

    * Alan Moore, V for Vendetta


    As we try to comprehend comprehensiveness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the first .com Internet domain,, was registered by Symbolics, a now-defunct Massachusetts computer company.



  • feedwordpress 08:01:22 on 2018/03/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    “All numbers are by their nature correct. Well, except for Pi, of course. I can’t be doing with Pi. Gives me a headache just thinking about it, going on and on and on and on and on…”*… 


    It’s Pi Day!

    In celebration, a few amusing– and illuminating– links:

    The history of pi

    Pi day magic revealed

    10 stunning images show the beauty hidden in pi

    The history of Pi Day

    How to Memorize Pi if You’re a Word Person (from whence, the image above)

    * Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys


    As we enumerate endlessly, we might pause for a piece of pi(e)…


    … in celebration of Albert Einstein’s birthday; he was born on this date in 1879.


    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”


  • feedwordpress 08:01:43 on 2018/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: Bank Holiday, , Bubbles, , , , , speculation, ,   

    “Fortune’s bubbles rise and fall”*… 


    Gordon Gekko talks tulips. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps / scottab140

    Right now, it’s Bitcoin. But in the past we’ve had dotcom stocks, the 1929 crash, 19th-century railways and the South Sea Bubble of 1720. All these were compared by contemporaries to “tulip mania,” the Dutch financial craze for tulip bulbs in the 1630s. Bitcoin, according some sceptics, is “tulip mania 2.0”.

    Why this lasting fixation on tulip mania? It certainly makes an exciting story, one that has become a byword for insanity in the markets. The same aspects of it are constantly repeated, whether by casual tweeters or in widely read economics textbooks by luminaries such as John Kenneth Galbraith.

    Tulip mania was irrational, the story goes. Tulip mania was a frenzy. Everyone in the Netherlands was involved, from chimney-sweeps to aristocrats. The same tulip bulb, or rather tulip future, was traded sometimes 10 times a day. No one wanted the bulbs, only the profits – it was a phenomenon of pure greed. Tulips were sold for crazy prices – the price of houses – and fortunes were won and lost. It was the foolishness of newcomers to the market that set off the crash in February 1637. Desperate bankrupts threw themselves in canals. The government finally stepped in and ceased the trade, but not before the economy of Holland was ruined.

    Yes, it makes an exciting story. The trouble is, most of it is untrue…

    Drawing on ten years of research for her new book, Tulip mania: Money, Honor and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden AgeAnne Goldgar tells a different story, one that’s just as illuminating, but very different: “Tulip mania: the classic story of a Dutch financial bubble is mostly wrong.”

    Like most trends, at the beginning it’s driven by fundamentals, at some point speculation takes over. What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end.”  The world went mad. What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.   — Warren Buffett, 2006 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting

    * John Greenleaf Whittier


    As we curb our enthusiasm, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that banks began to re-open after the “Bank Holiday” declared by the Roosevelt Administration to calm the market after bank runs had threatened the nation’s financial system during the Depression.



  • feedwordpress 08:01:39 on 2018/03/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , Internat Archive, , powerpoint, , ,   

    “If you like overheads, you’ll love PowerPoint”*… 


    Military Industrial Powerpoint Complex is  collection created as a special project for the Internet Archive’s 20th Anniversary celebration in 2016, highlighting IA’s web archive.  It consists of all the Powerpoint files (57,489) from the .mil web domain, e,g,:

    Plumb the depths at The Military Industrial Powerpoint Complex.

    * Edward Tufte


    As we hold our heads in our hands, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal to CERN for developing a new way of linking and sharing information over the Internet.  It was the first time Berners-Lee proposed the system that would ultimately become the World Wide Web, so this date is oft cited as the “Birthday of the Web.”  But his pitch was a bit vague, and got no traction.  He resubmitted a second, more detailed proposal on November 12, 1990– on which CERN acted…  so many consider this later date the Web’s inception.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2018/03/11 Permalink
    Tags: Citizens United, corporate personhood, , , , , , , , The Kingfish,   

    “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”*… 


    Louisiana Senator Huey Long announcing his presidential candidacy to members of the press in 1935

    Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the reality that corporations in the U.S. are afforded the same rights as individuals (even if they do not have the same responsibilities) has been on the minds of many.  But corporate personhood has a much longer history.  It began to take shape in that late 19th century when one of the drafters of the 14th Amendment convinced that courts that the Amendment is not limited to natural persons.

    Then, as Adam Winkler explains, the “endowment” of corporations caught fire in the 1930s– perhaps ironically, when newspaper publishers had to sue a politician to protect freedom of the press…

    When the Supreme Court first began to breathe life into the First Amendment in the early twentieth century, the speakers who inspired the newfound protections were politically persecuted minorities: socialists, anarchists, radicals, and labor agitators. Today, however, in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations have the same right as individuals to influence elections, the First Amendment is used by wealthy and powerful business interests seeking to overturn food-labeling laws, securities disclosure laws, and campaign finance regulations. Yet the seeds of this transformation were planted decades ago in a different Supreme Court case—though one eerily evocative of the Trump era—involving a blustery, dough-faced politician who railed against “fake news.”

    Huey Long was Trump before Trump. The fiery populist governor elected on the eve of the Great Depression had an aggressive agenda to make Louisiana great again—and little tolerance for dissent. Long set up a state board to censor newsreels and another to decide which newspapers would be allowed to print profitable government notices. When the student paper at Louisiana State University published an unflattering editorial about him, an outraged Long—referring to himself, as autocrats often do, in the third person—sent in the state police to seize copies, saying he wasn’t “going to stand for any students criticizing Huey Long.”

    After Louisiana’s larger daily newspapers came out against him, “the Kingfish” declared war. “The daily newspapers have been against every progressive step in the state,” Long said, “and the only way for the people of Louisiana to get ahead is to stomp them flat.” To do so, in 1934 Long’s allies enacted a 2 percent tax on the advertising revenue of the state’s largest-circulation newspapers. Long said the tax “should be called a tax on lying, two cents per lie.”

    Led by the Capital City Press, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the newspaper companies challenged the advertising tax in court. They claimed the tax was an effort to silence those who questioned Long’s policies. Long had said as much, promising he was “going to help these newspapers by hitting them in their pocketbooks. Maybe then they’ll try to clean up.” As an editorial in the Morning Advocate warned, if the government can impose special taxes on newspapers that oppose the party in power then “the guarantee of a free press, written in the Constitution of the United States, is at an end.”

    One problem for the newspaper companies, however, was that they were newspaper companies. They were corporations, and it was not at all clear that for-profit business corporations had free speech rights. Indeed, the prevailing law was on Long’s side…

    The fascinating story in full at: “How ‘the Kingfish’ Turned Corporations into People” (excerpted from Winkler’s new book).

    See also: “How Corporate America Won Its Civil Rights” and “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie.”

    * Robert Reich


    As we contemplate unintended consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 that Mary Shelley’s epoch-making tale of a man-made monster, Frankenstein, was published.  Shelley had begun writing the story two years earlier, when she was 18 and on vacation near Geneva with her husband (the poet Percy) and their friend Lord Byron.  The house party set itself the task of each writing a gothic story; only Mary finished hers.  The first edition was published anonymously; Shelley was first publicly identified as the author on the title page of the 1823 second edition.

    The work has, as Brian Aldiss argues, a strong claim to being the first true science fiction novel.  As the sub-title– “The Modern Prometheus”– suggests (and like all great sci fi), it treats the philosophical, cultural, and psychological ramifications of scientific and technological progress.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:29 on 2018/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , Hamlet, Hamlet: Prince of Pigs, , , Richard O'Brien, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sarah Boxer, ,   

    “A little more than kin, and less than kind”*… 


    Sarah Boxer explains:

    What, another Hamlet? There must be a zillion already: Slang HamletFirst Folio HamletCompressed HamletNo Fear Hamlet. Into this field, I toss Hamlet: Prince of Pigs, a Tragicomic. Why a comic? Because comics and plays are twin arts. Both use visual cues as much as words. Both have abrupt breaks between scenes. And their words are mostly dialogue.

    Why a pig? In the name “Hamlet,” I hear little ham, little pig. And the pig pun fits! In Shakespeare’s day, if you wanted to mock the king, you’d put on a pig mask. The “swine-snouted king” was a stock figure of fun.

    Once Hamlet’s species was set, I hewed to a one-family, one-species rule for the rest of the cast. Thus Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, the murderer, “the bloat king,” is a big fat pig. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is a pig with lipstick. Ophelia is a cat because cats don’t do well in water. So her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, are cats, too. For minor characters, I followed a one-profession, one-species rule. Gravediggers are dogs because dogs are excellent diggers. The players are mice because their play is “The Mousetrap.” The sentries, including Horatio, are rats because, well, rats look handsome in helmets.

    You’ll see that Hamlet: Prince of Pigs has been stripped of all fat. And tragedy minus many words is comedy. A pared-down Hamlet is a funny Hamlet

    Sample her work at “Hamlet, My Prince of Pigs“; dive into the full comic here.

    * Hamlet (on Claudius); Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2


    As we wonder what’s behind the arras, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened on Broadway.  An import from London (where it ran from 1973 to 1980), it bewildered critics and theater-goers in New York, where it ran through only its three previews and 45 performances (despite being nominated for a Tony and for three Drama Desk awards).  Broadway cast members Tim Curry, Meat Loaf, and Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the book and composed the score for the show) went on to star in the film version, released later that same year– which became, of course, one of the most successful cult classics of all-time.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:41 on 2018/03/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , Bumps Blackwell, Classical Gas, Dan McLaughlin, , , Mason Williams, , ,   

    “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”*… 


    Mason Williams recalls…

    CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

    During the time that CLASSICAL GAS was a hit I was also the head writer for THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR on CBS. I had seen a film titled “GOD IS DOG SPELLED BACKWARDS” at The Encore, an off beat movie house in L.A. The film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, or twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced “cultural” since they had just covered “3000 years of art in 3 minutes!”

    The film was the work of a UCLA film student named Dan McLaughlin. I contacted Dan and told him that I was interested in the idea of using his film as a visual for CLASSICAL GAS to air on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR. (His original sound track had been Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.) THE COMEDY HOUR offered him the money to finance a new film he wanted to make in exchange for the right to change the original soundtrack from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to CLASSICAL GAS and air it on the show. As a “music video” it was first shown on THE SUMMER BROTHERS SMOTHERS SHOW (Glen Campbell was the host) in the summer of 1968.

    The impact of the film on television opened the door to realizations that the viewer’s mind could absorb this intense level of visual input. It was a double shot of a hundred proof music and video that polished the history of art off in three minutes! It was also the beginning of the fast images concept now called kinestasis (a rapidly-moving montage technique set to music) that has over the years been exploited so effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc. As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video, in September of 1968 I wrote up a piece for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, projecting the idea that someday VJ’s would be playing hit tapes on TV, (as well as DJ’s hit records on radio), a prophesy of what was, 13 years later, to become MTV…

    [Dan McLaughlin went on to become head of UCLA’s animation program.]

    * Edgar Degas


    As we bathe in beauty, we might spare a thought for Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell; he died on this date in 1985.  A bandleader, songwriter, arranger, and record producer,  he was probably most impactful in his work overseeing the early hits of Little Richard, as well as in grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone at the starts of their recording careers.

    Blackwell, seated, with Rich Hall (of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals) and Little Richard



  • feedwordpress 09:01:58 on 2018/03/08 Permalink
    Tags: Bleek, , , , Laurens van der Post, , Lucy Lloyd, Oxford English Dictionary,   

    “There’s no such thing as an unabridged dictionary”*… 


    For OED’s editors, this world is both exhilarating and, one senses, mildly overwhelming. The digital era has enabled Oxford lexicographers to run dragnets deeper and deeper through the language, but it has also threatened to capsize the operation. When you’re making a historical dictionary and are required to check each and every resource, then recheck those resources when, say, a corpus of handwritten 17th-century letters comes on stream, the problem of keeping the dictionary up to date expands to even more nightmarish proportions. Adding to that dictionary to accommodate new words – themselves visible in greater numbers than ever before, mutating ever-faster – increases the nightmare exponentially. “In the early years of digital, we were a little out of control,” Peter Gilliver told me. “It’s never-ending,” one OED lexicographer agreed. “You can feel like you’re falling into the wormhole.”

    Adding to the challenge is a story that has become wearily familiar: while more people are consulting dictionary-like resources than ever, almost no one wants to shell out. Sales of hard-copy dictionaries have collapsed, far more calamitously than in other sectors. (OUP refused to give me figures, citing “commercial sensitivities”. “I don’t think you’ll get any publisher to fess up about this,” Michael Rundell told me.) While reference publishers amalgamate or go to the wall, information giants such as Google and Apple get fat by using our own search terms to sell us stuff. If you can get a definition by holding your thumb over a word on your smartphone, why bother picking up a book?…

    As Andrew Dickson explains, for centuries lexicographers have attempted to capture the entire English language. Technology might soon turn this dream into reality – but will it spell the end for dictionaries?  The fascinating story of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s ongoing attempt to outrun that fate: “Inside the OED: can the world’s biggest dictionary survive the internet?

    * Jack Lynch, The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Proper” English, from Shakespeare to South Park


    As we look it up, we might send carefully-defined birthday greetings to Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek; he was born on this date in 1827.  A linguist, he created  A Comparative Grammar of South African Languages.  But his great project (jointly executed with his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd) was “The Bleek and Lloyd Archive of ǀxam and !kun texts”– a shortened form of which eventually reached press as Specimens of Bushman Folklore (on which Laurens van der Post drew heavily for his book, The Heart of the Hunter and for his BBC series The Lost World of the Kalahari).


    Happy International Women’s Day!

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