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Friday, September 26, 2014

Lego versions of main characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly and Star Wars debate "Who shoots first?"

A conversation between the Lego versions of Peter Quill (Guardians), Han Solo (Star Wars), and Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly), discussing the age old question: when is it ok to shoot first? 

For anyone who doesn't know about the "Han shot first" thing from Star Wars, read up on it at Wikipedia.


Plastic prophets: artists create religious Barbie and Ken mods, "plan to skip Muhammad"

Argentinian artists Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini will show their Barbie and Ken dolls modeled after religious figures at an Oct. 11 show titled, "Barbie, The Plastic Religion." I don't have a problem with this in principle - I've had a Dashboard Jesus in my car for years. The crucifixion version (at the bottom of this post), though, is a bit much.

Apparently they're smart enough not to take on the "religion of peace":
Pools also explained they have “nothing against religion” and were even careful about respecting all beliefs. The pair is working on Islam figurines and plans to skip representing Muhammad, as this religion condemns representing the prophet.
BUENOS AIRES, Sept. 23 (UPI): A pair of Argentinean artists are courting controversy with a series of Barbie and Ken dolls modeled after religious icons including Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini posted photos online featuring Mattel's famous plastic couple as religious figures complete with boxes explaining their intended identities.

The artists said the dolls will be displayed Oct. 11 at an exhibition titled "Barbie, The Plastic Religion" in Buenos Aires.

The 33 dolls feature icons from religions including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.

"If there's a Barbie doctor, a teacher and a police officer, why shouldn't there be a Virgin of Lujan Barbie?" the artists said on their Facebook page.


Unexpected combination of the day: Stormtrooper Klingon Ballerinas

The concept reminds me of the sort of thing you'd hear about as guests on Jerry Springer (which I've never actually seen) - blind pregnant lesbian nuns or cross-dressing men who live in boxes. Except, of course, for the fact that Klingon Stormtrooper ballerinas are extremely cool and the Jerry Springer guest are weird and pathetic.


via Fashionably Geek

Friday links



Munch's "The Scream" without the screaming person, for example: Subtracting Art: Subjects Photo-Edited from Famous Paintings.

Reading recently about Common Core, let's not forget how much schools had already been dumbed down: From the archives, check out this test for eighth graders in Kentucky dated 1912.

1799, Humphry Davy, future President of the Royal Society, really got into laughing gas. “O, Excellent Air Bag”: Humphry Davy and Nitrous Oxide.

Now That Cars Have Black Boxes, Am I Being Tracked? Who gets access to the info in your vehicle’s event data recorder?

ICYMI, Thursday's links are here, and include photos of Nature Winning The Battle Against Civilization, a 1940's booklet to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees", and goldfish brain surgery.

George Gershwin was born 116 years ago today - some quotes and history

Today, a great American composer:

The composer does not sit around and wait for an inspiration to walk up and introduce itself ... Making music is actually little else than a matter of invention aided and abetted by emotion. In composing we combine what we know of music with what we feel.
- George Gershwin (quoted in Goldberg, Tin Pan Alley)

Not many composers have ideas. Far more of them know how to use strange instruments which do not require ideas.
- Gershwin (The Composer in the Machine Age (1933))

My people are American, my time is today ... music must repeat the thought and aspirations of the times.
- Gershwin (quoted in Armitage, Accent on America)

Many musicians do not consider George Gershwin a serious composer. But they should understand that, serious or not, he is a composer - that is, a man who lives in music and expresses everything, serious or not, sound or superficial, by means of music, because it is his native language.
- Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) (quoted in Kimball and Simon, The Gershwins)

Today is the 116th anniversary of the birth of American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937), born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn to Jewish parents of Russian/Ukrainian descent. Gershwin started piano lessons at an early age, left school at 15, first worked as a "song plugger" on Tin Pan Alley, and published his own first song in 1916. Later, while working as a piano-roll arranger, he began a series of Broadway collaborations, leading to his first show with brother Ira Gershwin (1896-1983), Lady Be Good (1924). This was followed by (among others) Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Strike Up the Band (1927), Show Girl (1929), and Girl Crazy (1930). In 1924, Gershwin also wrote his quasi-classical Rhapsody in Blue for Paul Whiteman's band, and it has remained his most popular work in that vein. That same year, he traveled to Paris, hoping to study composition with Nadia Boulanger or Maurice Ravel - they demurred - but while there he did compose another of his well-known semi-classical works, An American in Paris. Following a brief Hollywood stint, Gershwin wrote his most ambitious work, the "folk opera" Porgy and Bess (1935), based on a novel by DuBose Heyward, and it has been an American classic ever since.* Gershwin's shows became the source of countless popular hits, including "I Got Rhythm," "Strike Up the Band," "Swanee," "Summertime," and "Someone," and his classical compositions raise intriguing questions about "what might have been" had he not been felled by a brain tumor in 1937. On his death, American novelist John O'Hara (1905-1970) wrote,

"George died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."

* N.B. Of Porgy and Bess, American composer Virgil Thomson 1896-1989) wrote,

"Porgy is ... an interesting example of what can be done by talent in spite of a bad set-up. With a libretto that should never have been accepted on a subject that should never have been chosen, a man who should never have attempted it has written a work that has a considerable power."

Rare footage of Gershwin himself playing I Got Rhythm:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 14, 1861: The Night of the Flaming Ballerinas

 Frightful scene in the dressing room of the Continental Theatre, Philadelphia, on the evening of Saturday, September 14, 1861 - Accidental burning of a portion of the ballet corps while preparing for the dance in Shakespeare's play of "The Tempest," resulting in the death of seven of the dancers - sketched by Mr. Oehlschlager who witnessed the catastrophe
For William Wheatley's first production at the Continental Theater in Philadelphia, the decision was made to present Shakespeare's The Tempest (wiki) in ballet form. From England, Wheatley imported a special effects expert, as well as four ballet dancing sisters, the beautiful Gales – Ruth, Zela, Hannah, and Adeline. Six other chorus dancers rounded out the ballet troupe. On the night of September 14, 1861, the cast only made it through The Tempest’s first act.

While the seas were raging at the end of the first act, the entire ballet company ran to change into gauzy costumes so as to be ready to welcome Alonso and the rest of shipwreck victims onto Prospero’s Island. At the Continental Theater the dressing rooms were above the stage itself, necessitating a fifty foot climb up a rickety flight of stairs. The chorus received their own dressing room, complete with lighting by means of gas jets close to the mirror, where their light could be reflected and doubled – if you look at the picture above, you’ll see the gas jets off to the top left.

Flaming Ballerinas Plunging to their Deaths 
Above the mirror, Ruth Gale had hung her dress for the second act; she climbed onto the back of the couch to pull down her dress and the hem touched the gas jet. Instantly Ruth’s clothes were on fire, and as she ran screaming through the room, she set her sisters’ clothes on fire, as well. 

Panicking, and on fire themselves, Ruth and her sisters plunged out the window and onto the street below, which was filled with pedestrians now under bombardment from flaming, screaming ballerinas who fell to earth with sickening thuds and the crack of broken bones.

Another member of the chorus, dress also ablaze, came running across the stage and fell into the pit where the stage crew simulated the storm that gave its name to the play. Tearing the cloths which represented the waves, they managed to smother the flames. Wheatley ordered the curtain brought down, and asked the audience to leave the theater peacefully. The remaining flaming ballerinas were extinguished.

Over the next four days, the six (one source says seven) ballerinas perished of their burns including all the Gale sisters. Wheatley was exonerated of any wrongdoing, and erected a monument to the perished ballerinas at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. The inscription on the stone is barely legible now, but the New York Clipper preserved it. It reads:

IN MEMORIAM

Stranger, who through the city of the dead

With thoughtful soul and feeling heart may tread,

Pause here a moment – those who sleep below

With careless ear ne’er heard a tale of woe:

Four sisters fair and young together rest

In saddest slumber on earth’s kindly breast;

Torn out of life in one disastrous hour,

The rose unfolded and the budding flower:

Life did not part them – Death might not divide

They lived – they loved – they perished, side by side.

O’er doom like theatre let gentle pity shed

The softest tears that mourn the early fled,

For whom – lost children of another land!

This marble raised by weeping friendship’s hand

To us, to future time remains to tell

How even in death they loved each other well.

Maps: Top: 1858-1860
Middle top: 1875
 Middle bottom: 1895
Bottom: 1922 
Between the time of the fire described above and the end of the century, there were three additional fires at the same theater, although the name changed - on June 19, 1867, now known as Fox’s New American Theatre the group of ballerinas made it out safely and the audience was warned in time to leave the building. But, the front wall collapsed the onto volunteer firemen and others working along Walnut Street. As many as thirteen were crushed to death; at least four of them fire-fighters. The American Theatre was a complete loss.

The place was then rebuilt as the Grand Central Theatre (or just the Central Theatre) and suffered another major fire on March 24, 1888, a Saturday morning. No loss of life was reported, but the theater was, yet again, reduced to ashes. Plus, the stores and restaurants that faced Eighth Street from Walnut to Sansom were, once more, gutted. 

Then on April 27, 1892, the yet-again-rebuilt Central Theatre was destroyed in a huge blaze that also devastated the adjoining Times newspaper office on Sansom Street, as well as the shops and eateries on Eight Street. 

The audience members' exodus caused a stampede in which many were trampled underfoot. Those who lost their lives had ascended a stairwell that was one of two that led to doors in back of the theater, but unfortunately led directly to the fire itself. Confused when they found their escape route cut off, they were then overcome with fumes and died on the staircase. In a fit of hysteria, one man even forced his way out by slashing others with a bowie knife he had with him.

At least seven audience members and six performers died, and about fifty others were also hospitalized, suffering from excruciating burns and smoke inhalation. Some lost their eyesight, as their burns were mostly on the face. Many actors broke limbs when they jumped to the street from their dressing room windows onto Sansom Street, as the ballet dancers of 1861 had done.

Gilmore’s Theater, the fifth and final
 playhouse at 807 Walnut |
Image via 
The Roanoke Times,
February 1893
What remained of the structure was torn down to allow for recovery of the bodies, and immediately reconstructed as Gilmore’s Auditorium. It opened on August 26, 1893, with architect John D. Allen setting it back five feet from the old building line and placing a turret on the roof in front. It was advertised as “Absolutely Fireproof” and “the safest and probably the best built theatre in this country.” 

Perhaps it was absolutely fireproof, for the building did not burn again.

Thursday links

"Women are teachable": 1940's booklet to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees".

Goldfish brain surgery.


Shostakovich was born 108 years ago today: some quotes and history.

Stolen identity, price-fixing, a foursome, and some deep space intrigue - Manischewitz: The Great Story of a Not-So-Great Wine.


ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the world's most expensive cars, amputees with a sense of humor, and the 50th anniversary of Fiddler On The Roof.

Shostakovich was born 108 years ago today: some quotes and history

I always try to make myself as widely understood as possible; and if I don't succeed, I consider it my own fault.
~Dmitri Shostakovich (quoted in Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music)

The composer apparently does not set himself the task of listening to the desires and expectations of the Soviet public. He scrambles sounds to make them interesting to formalist elements who have lost all taste... The power of good music to affect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, "formalist" attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.*
~Pravda (on the Shostakovich opera Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, "Muddle Instead of Music," January 1936)

Still from a production of
 Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Shostakovich told me: "I finished the Fifth Symphony in the major and fortissimo... It would be interesting to know what would have been said if I finished it pianissimo and in the minor." Only later did I understand the full significance of these words, when I heard the Fourth Symphony, which does finish in the minor and pianissimo. But in 1937, nobody knew the Fourth Symphony.**
~Boris Khaikin (1904-1978) (Discourses on Conducting)

There may be few notes, but there's lots of music.
~Shostakovich (on his film music for King Lear; quoted in Wilson, Shostakovich, A Life Remembered)

Particularly during the Cold War, Shostakovich was anathema to many Western critics:

The Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich always has been singularly irritating to this chronicler... Whenever I hear one of his marches, my imagination fastens upon a picture of the parades in Red Square and the banners of Uncle Joe, and my irritation becomes powerful.
- Cyrus Durgin (? - 1962) (Boston Globe, 25 October 1952)

To anyone who knew his music, a first encounter with Dmitri Shostakovich could not fail to be startling. In contrast to the elemental force, bombast, grandeur of his works, he was a chétif*** figure, the perennial student, unassertive and shy, who looked as though all the music could be wrung out of him in a couple of song cycles.
~Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) (Unfinished Journey)

Today is the 108th anniversary of the birth of the greatest of Soviet composers, Dmitri Shostakovich (wiki) (1906-1975), recognized by many as the greatest symphonist of the 20th century. Three decades after his death, his reputation only continues to grow. Born in St. Petersburg, Shostakovich was an early piano prodigy and studied composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory during the early Soviet era. At first recognized internationally as an exemplar of the best of Soviet musicianship, he ran afoul of the regime with his modernistic opera, Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, which so outraged Stalin that he is said to have had a personal hand in writing the infamous Pravda editorial, "Muddle Instead of Music" that literally put the composer's life in jeopardy during the "Great Purge" of the late 1930s. Shostakovich somehow survived, even though he was recurrently criticized by the regime for his “modernist” tendencies. During his subsequent tumultuous career, he produced an enormous oeuvre: 15 symphonies, concertos, a great quantity of chamber music, song cycles, piano music, and several operas. Generally considered a serious - almost tragic - composer, Shostakovich nonetheless wrote a large amount of “light” music, including even a stage work – Moscow Cheryomushki (1959) – that might be described as a Russian musical comedy.

Harry Potter looks exactly like
 a young Shostakovich
For newcomers to the music of Shostakovich, I would recommend his 4th, 5th, and 10th symphonies, the two piano concertos, the "autobiographical" 8th strinq quartet, his several "jazz" and "ballet" suites compiled from light works of the 1930s, and his film score for The Gadfly, whose "Romance" was used to great effect as the principal theme of the TV series, "Riley, Ace of Spies."

During the last two decades, there has been a raging musicological debate about whether the music of Shostakovich reveals him as a loyal Soviet citizen or a closet dissident whose works portray a tormented man. No one really knows. He was clearly a quirky guy. In contradiction to the opening quotation above, he noted late in life,

"I've said what I said. Either you have it in you to understand, or if not, then it would be fruitless to try to explain anyway."

* N.B. In the first year of the Great Purge, this last sentence was a terrifying threat.

** After the uproar caused by Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, Shostakovich "redeemed" himself with his Fifth Symphony (1937), designated "A Soviet Artist's Response to Just Criticism," still one of his most successful and popular works. However, his iconoclastic Fourth Symphony, which had been in rehearsal at the time of the debacle, was withdrawn and did not emerge again until 1961. It is now considered one of the master's most original works and a fascinating indicator of "the road not taken." By the way, Boris Khaikin was a Soviet-Jewish conductor.

*** Chétif - a French word meaning "puny."

Here is the romance from The Gadfly, accompanying a selection of photos:


More typical of Shostakovich is the opening of his 4th symphony:



The above is based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email.  If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Women are teachable": 1940's booklet to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees"

The subject has always interested me, because my mom was one of them - the women who went to work during World War II while the men were off fighting, then gave up their jobs and paychecks once those men came back.

You've come a long way, baby. From the National Archives:
By 1944, over half of American adult women were employed outside the home, making invaluable contributions to the war effort. As women went about their duties, supervisors often worried about effectively assimilating them into the workforce. This publication from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) awkwardly attempted to assist supervisors with managing their new female employees.

Text:
When you supervise a woman…
Make clear her part in the process or product on which she works.
Allow for her lack of familiarity with machine processes.
See that her working set-up is comfortable, safe and convenient.
Start her right by kindly and careful supervision.
Avoid horseplay or “kidding”; she may resent it.
Suggest rather than reprimand.
When she does a good job, tell her so.
Listen to and aid her in her work problems. 
Text:
When you put a woman to work…
Have a job breakdown for her job.
Consider her education, work experience and temperament in assigning her to that job.
Have the necessary equipment, tools and supplies ready for her.
Try out her capacity for and familiarity with the work.
Assign her to a shift in accordance with health, home obligations and transportation arrangements.
Place her in a group of workers with similar backgrounds and interests.
Inform her fully on health and safety rules, company policies, company objectives.
Be sure she knows the location of rest-rooms, lunch facilities, dispensaries.
Don’t change her shift too often and never without notice.

Text:
Whenever you employ a woman...
Limit her hours to 8 a day, and 48 a week, if possible.
Arrange brief rest periods in the middle of each shift. 
Try to make nourishing foods available during lunch periods.
Try to provide a clean place to eat lunch, away from her workplace.
Make cool and pure drinking water accessible.
See that the toilet and restrooms are clean and adequate.
Watch work hazards - moving machinery; dust and fumes; improper lifting; careless housekeeping.
Provide properly adjusted work seats; good ventilation and lighting.
Recommend proper clothing for each job; safe, comfortable shoes; try to provide lockers and a place to change work clothes.
Relieve a monotonous job with rest periods. If possible, use music during fatigue periods.

Text:
Finally–call on a trained woman counselor in your personnel department…
To find out what women workers think and want.
To discover personal causes of poor work, absenteeism, turnover.
To assist women workers in solving personal difficulties.
To interpret women’s attitudes and actions.
To assist in adjusting women to their jobs.

The same group of documents in the Archives also has a booklet called ""Womanpower" Campaign". See the whole thing there:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday links

Today is the autumnal equinox - science, videos, quotes, poems, Vivaldi and Copernicus

13-year-old turns dead pet into 'Ratcopter'.

Fiddler On The Roof opened 50 years ago today; Zero Mostel singing If I Were A Rich Man will make your whole day. Plus, the Lego version.


Parody of the Song Under the Sea From The Little Mermaid Highlights the Horrors of Deep Sea Life.



ICYMI, Friday's links are here, including making and eating the worst of the Jello recipes from the 1950s, the evolution (devolution?) of toilet training. and lots of Talk Like a Pirate Day stuff.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Climate march photo of the day, presented without comment

Oh, the irony.


More at Weasel Zippers

Parody of the Song ‘Under the Sea’ From ‘The Little Mermaid’ Highlights the Horrors of Deep Sea Life

You probably don't want to play this for the little girls in your life (or, really, Little Mermaid fans of either gender):

Nature is viscous
Look at these fishes
Deep in the sea


Here's the original, in case you want to compare:


This Chart Explains the Chemicals That Give Autumn Leaves Their Color

Click here to embiggen



Compound Interest explains the chemicals that give leaves their color both when they are green and when they change color in autumn. Further explanations are available in their post.

Leaves are green because of chlorophyll, yellow because of a combination of carotenoids and flavonoids, red because of carotenoids combined with anthocyanins, and orange when only carotenoids are present. 

"To get ungrounded you must earn 500 points" - this strikes me as a good parenting idea.

Although whoever made this must really hate laundry - you get 50 points for cleaning out a kitchen cabinet and 100 points for a load of laundry?


Thanks, Tracy!