Amazon Deals

New at Amazon

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Political map of the United States, 1850

For fellow lovers of historical maps:

"Designed to exhibit the comparative area of the free and slave states and the territory open to slavery or freedom by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (wiki) with a comparison of the principal statistics of the free and slave states, from the census of 1850."

Click here to embiggen.

And this one is a map of the popular vote from 1880 (embiggen here):


More old US maps here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday links

It's V-J Day, the anniversary of the date of Japan's surrender in 1945 and the end of WWII.

Remember this? Digital hell: Kansas farm is the default location for 600 million IP addresses. Well, now they're suing the mapping firm.

The Fierce, Forgotten Library Wars of the Ancient World.

How to Fight Multiple Assailants.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include Japan's electric baths, flying to Africa from Ireland via lawnmower, Gracie Allen's (of George Burns and Gracie Allen fame) excellent 1940 Presidential campaign, and why the reason for the "work of fiction" disclaimer at the end of almost all films is... Rasputin.

It's V-J Day, the anniversary of the date of Japan's surrender in 1945 and the end of WWII

And so on V-J Day (wiki) we take renewed faith and pride in our way of life. We have had our day of rejoicing over the victory. We have had our day of prayer and devotion. Now let us set aside V-J Day as one of renewed consecration to the principles that have made us the strongest nation on earth and which, in this war, we have striven to preserve.

Harry S Truman (wiki) (1884-1972) (proclaiming V-J Day, 2 September 1945*)

A cautionary note....

The day for which the people of the world have prayed has come at last. There is great thankfulness in our hearts. Peace has not come, however, by the kind of power which we have known in the past, but as the result of a new discovery which as yet is not fully understood, nor even developed. There is a certain awe and fear coupled with our rejoicing today, because we know that there are new forces in the world, partly understood but not as yet completely developed and controlled. 

~ Eleanor Roosevelt (wiki) (1884-1952) (V-J Day speech on the Columbia Broadcasting System) 

Today is V-J Day (wiki), the anniversary of the date in 1945 of the formal Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. For practical purposes, it ended on August 14, when President Truman announced the capitulation of Japan and the end of World War II in the Pacific, unleashing a paroxysm of jubilation throughout the victorious nations. The war in Europe had ended with the German surrender on 8 May, but Japan fought on in the Pacific and had only lost Okinawa, the last stepping stone toward the homeland, in mid-June, after a fanatical defense that cost enormous U.S. casualties. The invasion of Kyushu planned for October 1945 was expected to incur losses in the millions, and this factor figured significantly in the decision to use atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki (on 6 and 9 August, respectively). 

V-J Day crowd in Times Square
The nuclear threat and the belated entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan (on 9 August) tipped the balance between fiercely contending proponents of surrender and those in favor of continuing the war - despite an unsuccessful palace coup by the latter. And thus ended World War II after nearly six years. I'm not sure I agree with it, but an old Arab proverb holds that "On the day of victory, no one is tired."

VJ Day In New York:

Here's a Treasury Department documentary (newsreel) on the end of World War II, including Truman's speech:

V-J Day's most iconic photograph, taken in Times Square:

For a comprehensive account of the genesis of this famous photograph and the identification of the participants, see The Kissing Sailor: the Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II, by Lawrence Verria and Ed's friend and former colleague, George Galdorisi. The sailor and nurse were reunited in 2012:
"It was the moment. You come back from the Pacific, and finally, the war ends," reflects 89-year-old George Mendonsa, who says he's the sailor in the photograph that would come to symbolize the end of the war. The sailor, in uniform, is seen with Greta Friedman, a nurse, in her white uniform.

As the perfect strangers embraced and kissed, world famous photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped four pictures, taking only ten seconds to do so.

"The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks," George explains. " ... So when I saw the nurse, I grabbed her, and I kissed her."

They went their separate ways, not formally meeting again until 1980, when Life magazine asked the previously unknown pair to step forward.
Read the whole story of the reunion.

Based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his distribution list, leave your email address in the comments. Ed has personal recollections of that day:
I recall distinctly - as a child of five - awaiting Truman's announcement in the early evening of 14 August 1945 and later being driven around our hometown of Kearny, New Jersey with my cousins in Uncle Charlie's car, blowing the horn, shouting, and waving American flags out the window. My only earlier memories are of the night-time air-raid practices during the war. (My father was a warden and had a part-time job guarding a war- matériel railroad yard on the edge of the Jersey Meadows, west of Manhattan. My late wife's father, "Iron Mike" Gaffney, an expert on loading cargo into merchant ships, was commissioned a temporary colonel and spent the war supervising the handling of military cargo at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Before the war, he had been a high-level American agent for a Japanese shipping company, but that job went away in a hurry after Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday links

Anyone remember George Burns and Gracie Allen? Here's the story of Gracie Allen's 1940 White House Run.

One man's dream project to fly from Ireland to Africa by lawnmower gets under way this week

The Reason Nearly Every Film Ends by Saying It’s Fiction: Rasputin.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the invention of the Slinky, endurance tickling, Skynet self-awareness day, the history of pay toilets, and notable warning signs and labels.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Good riddance, Abu Muhammad Adnani: here's The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb On Me"

The Gap Band (youtube channel):

Anyone remember George Burns and Gracie Allen? The story of Gracie Allen's White House Run

One of the few things I like on NPR is the Sunday evening Old Time Radio (wiki, shows on WAMU in Washington. Last Sunday they aired a retrospective that NPR had done in 2008 on Gracie Allen's presidential candidacy in 1940, followed by the episode of the Burns and Allen Show in which Gracie announces her intention to run.

The radio version of the Burns and Allen Show is one one of my favorites, and I've heard quite a few of those broadcasts. Burns and Allen were headliners in vaudeville in the 1920s - Burns was the straight man and Allen played a silly, addle-headed woman - and radio stars in the 1930s and 1940s. I'm not old enough to remember when the the radio shows first aired (I was born in 1948) but I do remember their TV show from the 50's (wiki), largely from re-runs*. Those younger than I (and most people are) might remember George Burns on his own, for example as God in the movie Oh, God - Gracie died in 1964 and George kept performing until a few weeks before his death in 1996 at age 100.

So, here's how it came about:

"I'm tired of knitting this sweater," Gracie Allen told her husband, George Burns one day, "I think I'll run for president this year." So began the fictional campaign of a big radio star of small physical stature, a girlish-voiced imp who injected silliness into American politics at the end of the Great Depression and the dawn of World War II.

Ms. ALLEN: George, I'll let you in on a secret. I'm running for president.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BURNS: You're running for president?

Ms. ALLEN: Yes.

Mr. BURNS: Gracie, how long has this been going on?

Ms. ALLEN: Well, for 150 years, George Washington started it.

Mr. BURNS: But in the entire history of the United States, there's never been a woman president.

Ms. ALLEN: Yeah, isn't that exciting? I'll be the first one.

In February of 1940, with Franklin Roosevelt (wiki) and Wendell Willkie gearing up their respective campaigns, she went on the air announcing her candidacy.

Rather than making scathing remarks about either of the real candidates or vigorously attacking politics as a whole, Allen's style was gentler, always folding a charming, pure absurdity into the satire. For example, her party was "The Surprise Party," with a kangaroo mascot whose pouch bore the slogan "it's in the bag."

As part of the campaign she wrote a short book “How to Become President.” In it she reprinted her stump speech:

“This is the greatest night of my life. How glorious it is to be here among my friends, for you are my friends, at least until the election, in this fair city of _________, the garden spot of the great ___________ (APPLAUSE) I can say in all truthfulness that when I last tire of the mad whirl of modern life and want to find a place to die in, this is it.”

A selection of campaign quotes:

"Many candidates begin life as reformers. First they promote a little reform, then a medium reform, and then a great big reform. What they really need is chloroform."

“Presidents are made, not born,” she said. “It's silly to think that Presidents are born, because very few people are 35 years old at birth, and those who are won't admit it.”

“Don't try to impress your audience. Act like you don't know what you're talking about, then they won't think you're too smart for them. Fumble a word once in a while; the audience will yell it up to you and will thus have the thrill of being in on things. When the word is something like 'fiduciary' or 'incontrovertible,' you will be glad you got them in the habit of helping.”

“I don't think it's dignified for the President's husband to work. People would begin whispering that I couldn't support him, and anyway, now that I'm making good money it's high time he took things a little easier. I'll even send out our dirty linen.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt (2nd from left) and Gracie Allen
(far right) at the Women's Press Club Stunt Night
At the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt Gracie Allen appeared at the Women's National Press Club in Washington D.C. “Now that I think of it, have you ever considered what a great President Mrs. Roosevelt would make? It's not just her charm and personality. She has the intellect, tact, humor and a keen sense of her responsibilities to ---but wait a minute! Who am I campaigning for: Mrs. Roosevelt or me?” 

Allen used the occasion to announce the Surprise Party convention in Omaha and a whistle stop train tour. 

Flanked by George Burns and Laura the stuffed kangaroo, the Surprise Party's mascot, Allen set off from Hollywood to Omaha. At Creighton University she was unanimously nominated by a cheering crowd. There was no vice president candidate because Gracie promised there would be no vice in her administration.

Gracie Allen did win one election that year. The voters of Monominee, Michigan elected her mayor but promptly disqualified her for being a non-resident. In the fall she did receive, apparently, a few thousand write in votes for president - accurate numbers are not, of course, available.

After the election, Gracie Allen published a book about her campaign (individual chapters are reproduced here). She left these words of advice for future presidential candidates: "No matter what people say about them or what they say about each other, candidates are human beings, and we need them."

Here's her theme song:

*I don't remember the shows from the 50's, since I was too young to watch TV in the evening, and we had terrible reception where I grew up - 80 miles from the NYC signal meant that things were fuzzy at best and generally unwatchable.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The French word for “paperclip” is “trombone”.

I bought these paperclips yesterday and was surprised by the label. I was not surprised, however, when I googled "paperclip & trombone" and found that the always interesting Today I Found Out (author of The Wise Book of Whys*) blog had posted a well-researched answer to my question long before I thought to ask it. Excerpts below, but read the whole thing:
The word trombone originally comes from the Italian “tromba”, which comes from the same Latin word, “tromba”, both retaining the same meaning: trumpet.  In this case, the ending with the added “one” (tromb-one), indicates “large”.  So, essentially, trombone means “large trumpet”.  This has been the name of the instrument in Italy likely since its creation, which is probably around the early 15th century.
“Clip”, on the other hand, comes from the Old English “clyppan” meaning: to embrace.  Obviously this, combined with “paper” from the Latin “papyrus” (made from papyrus stalks), gave birth to the word paperclip.
Interestingly, the common style of paperclip today was never patented and is known as the “Gem paperclip”. Not surprisingly, it is thought to have first been manufactured by the Gem Manufacturing Company around the 1870s and later introduced to the United States around the 1890s. This is also why the Swedish word for paperclip is “gem”.
Undeserved patents and false origin stories:
Vaaler's design
One very popular false origin of the paperclip was that it was invented by Norwegian patent office manager, Johan Vaaler.  He was even granted patents in Germany and the U.S. for a paperclip of similar design as the Gem style paperclip, but which came after the Gem paperclip was already popular throughout Europe.  His design was slightly different than the Gem paperclip in that it didn’t include the all too critical second loop that makes the Gem style much more functional.  His paperclip had the papers inserted by lifting the outer wire slightly and pushing the papers into the clip such that the rest of the clip stood out from the paper at a 90 degree angle, which was necessary because of the lack of the critical second loop to allow the papers to be more or less embedded in the clip flatly.  This also made it so the papers wouldn’t be held together very well as they relied only on how bendable the wire used was to hold the papers. The Gem style paperclip, on the other hand, exploits the torsion principle to help bind papers together. Vaaler’s design was never manufactured or sold and his patents eventually expired.
Alternative designs
Why Vaaler gets the credit in so many places, including in many encyclopedias and dictionaries after the 1950s, is largely thanks to a patent agency worker who was visiting Germany to register Norwegian patents in the 1920s.  When he was doing so, he noticed Vaaler’s design for the paperclip and wrote an article stating Vaaler was the original creator of the paperclip.
This misinformation found its way into encyclopedias around the 1950s thanks to WWII. During WWII in Norway particularly, along with France and some other occupied countries, the paperclip became a symbol of unity for those rebelling against the Germans.  It is not thought that the Norwegians did this because they thought a Norwegian had invented the paperclip, but rather because it simply signified being bound together and was useful as it wasn’t initially a banned symbol or item by the Germans and could be easily clipped to one’s clothing.  Eventually, the Germans caught on and people were prohibited from wearing paperclips.
After the war, the fact that the Gem style paperclip had served as a symbol of unity resulted in interest in the origin of the paperclip, at which point the article written by the patent agency worker and the subsequent patent by Vaaler, who was now long dead, was discovered.  It was overlooked, of course, that his design was different than the Gem style paperclip and apparently they didn’t bother checking that the Gem style paperclip had already been around by the time Vaaler patented his version of the paperclip.  It made a good story though, particularly after the war and how the paperclip was used in Norway among other places, and so this false origin subsequently found its way into many encyclopedias. 
The same site has more on the paperclip as a symbol of resistance here

The Wise Book of Whys is a favorite of mine when it comes to gift-giving - several of my grandchildren have received a copy.

Monday links

The secret world of endurance tickling.

Whatever Happened to Pay Toilets?

August 29th, 2:14 AM: Skynet Becomes Self-aware.

400 Years of Equator Hazings: Surviving the Stinky Wrath of King Neptune's Court.

Fascinating Facts About the Invention of the Slinky.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include crash-test shopping carts at 73 mph, the history of mac and cheese, a Panama Canal timelapse from a ship’s POV, and, for LBJ's birthday, stories of how he used to mark his territory.