Lithuania: Now Smaller

DID YOU KNOW…? Lithuania used to be a lot bigger. And more important. As in, other countries used to ask to be ruled by Lithuania. True story. In review: Small and obscure now, previously was a great big deal, calling all the shots for a few centuries. There was also something with the Grateful Dead and their Olympic basketball team. And they built the basketball equivalent of Stonehenge. That’s all I’ve got. Except this.

A Helpful Reminder That Everything You Were Taught is Wrong

Matt Yglesias had a good post this morning about the sort of dumbed down cause -> effect common wisdom that gets tossed around at all levels of education and historical analysis.  In this case, he takes aim at the old chestnut we all learned in high school about the poor Germans in the Weimar Republic running around with wheelbarrows full of paper marks to buy a loaf of bread and how that hyperinflation made all the Germans toss up their hands and say “hey, why don’t we give this Hitler guy a try?” I understand that this is an accurate recounting of German folk history, but I wish people recounting it would note that Germans sort of misremember what happened. The hyperinflation of 1919-1923 was bad, but there’s a reason charts of it end in 1923, namely that the democratic government of Germany managed to tame the problem and in […]

The Invisible Simian Labor Force

About a week back I posted a link on Twitter to this article about a Berkeley woman who has been hiring out her pet monkey as a fruit harvester.  For a small free and a cut of the fruit, you can get your trees harvested of all those sweet unreachables. Naturally, it took me until this morning to figure out it was an April Fool’s Day hoax.  What? Fact-checking? However, the basic idea is not too far fetched.  Humans have gotten a days work out of our simian cousins for a long time and continue to do so.  Helper monkeys aid people with mobility problems, giving them back their independence and providing companionship.  The Monkey Business alluded to seems to be merely a mashup between this concept and open fruit map. I was further encouraged to come across a kindred spirit, accused of primate-related gullibility: In the issue of Science […]

I therefore pronounce him a Coward and a Scoundrel

This photo made my day when it arrived in my inbox. I don’t know who snapped it but I figured there had to be a story. And there is. William Tradewell, the man who declared General Leigh Read a “Coward and Scoundrel” was a member of the America conservative Whig party and slave owner in the Old South. General Leigh Read was a rising star in the Democrat party whose political naivety  cost him. Tradewell requested a duel with Read because of Read’s refusal to “apologise for the insult offered” and the feud between Tradewell and Read’s respective political parties. Read, being a poor shot turned him down. Another guy by the name of Augustus Alston also offered Read a duel (but no public notice on his ’scoundrelness.’) Read accepted knowing he was going up against a man who was a good shot, wealthy, from a nepotistic family, and vehemently opposed the […]

Boris Rose, King of the Bootleggers

Sucker for buried treasure that I am, the story of Boris Rose, jazz bootlegger supreme caught my attention as I perused Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays [preview] Around 1940, Boris began dubbing 78RPM records to 10-inch red vinyl disks with hand-written white labels.  He would sell these dubs of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and other great early jazz musicians to anyone interested in buying them…. Over the years Boris captured thousands of hours of recordings that likely did not exist anywhere else — his was easily the largest private collection of its kind anywhere in the world.  Eventually Boris began recording every sort of broadcast imaginable — he even recorded the soundtracks of entire movies as they were broadcast over television. What Rose became known for is the bootleg LPs of these recordings from old 78s and live jazz radio broadcasts.  He sold these records commercially, […]

God is Not the Creator

Richard Alleyne in the Telegraph writes: Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis “in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is not a true translation of the Hebrew. I don’t think Fundamentalist Christians, Nonfundamentalist Christians, or Non-Christians would care. Anyone who has made their mind up on that matter will not be changed by this historically important but practically superficial revelation if true. Already in the Bible is firm on not eating shrimp and sound advice on what to do if the master you sold your daughter to takes another wife. As the Bible is a large work with contradictions allowing followers to pick-and-choose the parts they like no new translation would change their beliefs. Reminds me of a corny joke in the book House of Leaves: One day, two monks were in the vaults of the monastery […]

Manners are the Weapon

Last week’s pop science debut of the remains of the early hominid species Ardipithecus ramidus was notable for a variety of reason’s, not the least of which was the secrecy and slow, careful approach of the scientists involved, so different from the half-baked, chuck out speculation for the slavering masses approach of so much of what crops up in my internet drain trap.  I particularly liked Carl Zimmer‘s summary of the findings, with this paragraph catching my eye: White and his colleagues  found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while […]

Terra Infirma: Republic of Mainz

If I were pressed to come up with a guiding principle for my curiosity about the ungainly beast commonly called ‘History’, it’d be that history has margins and a good amount of the interesting stuff is scribbled there, though hastily erased.  Hence, my interest in what could be called ‘ephemeral places,’ that is, geographic entities whose existence was brief, disputed or is often overlooked. Here’s a softball: a German democratic state that existed for less than four months in the late 1700s.  The Republic of Mainz was created by a counterattack of the free French army against the Prussians and Austrians, driving out Mainz’s ruler and leading the way tothe first democratically-elected parliament in Germany. Like many other statelets allied and/or established by revolutionary France, Mainz soon got trounced by the re-invading forces of the old order, finally being completely snuffed out in July 1793. So it goes, but what […]

For Writers/Obsessives: Names and Weather

In the realm of fiction, the concept of ‘plausibility’ is a tricky little bastard.  Unless you’re writing about dimensionless plasma dragons beyond all mortal physics and continuity, it’s going to be a sticky wicket to lie just right so that your reader swallows it while still being swept away in the unique fantasy world you’ve crafted. Even real life often comes off unlikely on the page.  Who among us young, shiftless, creative types has not tried to shoehorn into a plot some personally lived-through story that began with neutral spirits and come away muttering “Naw…. bullshit”? As I said, a sticky wicket.  I’ll say it again if pressed. Point being, it’s important to give some air of real life to your stories by recreating the milieu they take place in.  Character and setting greatly factor into this.  A couple of resources for this I came across tonight: Weather History: The […]