Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lost and Found: Spielberg's Goonies II

“Who the hell is Josh Brolin” Gus Van Sant, 1990 Vanity Fair Interview from the set of My Own Private Idaho

Cult classics such as Apocalypse Now, Critters, and Plan 9 are in fact, cut down versions of lengthier manuscripts. While in some cases, the remaining story lines are released, it often takes the screenwriters or actors own money to produce the movie, as Kevin Bacon so famously did with Critters 2 and 3. However, most stories barely make it past pre-production, most famously Goonies II.

Before Goonies became a blockbuster in the home video market, it was a failed B-movie attempt by Steven Spielberg, who began pumping movies out after his success with E.T. Only grossing 9 million dollars in its ‘85 release, Paramount pulled out of the sequel shortly before the end of 1986, and with only budding child stars left to produce, the movie was never made. What is known about the film is that in the spring of 1986 around 17 scenes were actually filmed by Spielberg, who pulled out of production shortly after, choosing instead to work on a script about an archeologist, named Indy. The story begins with the break up between Mouth, Corey Feldman’s character and Stef, portrayed by Martha Plimpton (who agreed to film only one scene as she was already working full time in Parenthood) and the budding romance between Brand and Andy, played by Josh Brolin and Kerri Green. The Fratelli’s in the mean time have escaped Astoria Prison, and are seeking revenge on the gang, whose story begins with Mikey, Chunk and Data reading through One Eyed Willie’s Journal; it is eluded that the ship was turned over to the Copperpot Museum, while each member of the Goonies was allowed to choose one item from the ship. Mikey of course takes the ship’s log, and discovers that another treasure had been left with One-Eyed Willie’s predecessor, Captain George Flavel, who turned over command of The Inferno to Willie in order to amass a new fortune, the treasure we find with Willie in the first movie. The story thins out as Data is kidnapped by the Fratelli’s while looking for clues at the Museum, and the gang reunites to find the other half of One-Eyed Willie’s treasure and save their friend.

After the success of the home video release, Spielberg attempted unsuccessfully to reunite the gang for the sequel. A mix of bitterness toward Spielberg’s initial walk away, and conflicting schedules of the now famous actors led to the movie never being made. Corey Feldman, despite his mixed career, has been quoted several times stating, that Goonies II: The Return of One-Eyed Willie’s Gold, would never be made. The story was bought by Konomi in 1987, and quickly released as a run down version of the movie, where Mikey must rescue all his captured friends from the Fratelli’s.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Historical Note on the Pantages Theater

“If DeMille’s movies are art, then my building is the canvas.”
- Michael Pantages

By 1930 the first “talkies” (movies with audio-dialogue) had became a mainstay in the United States. These talkies offered a new form of affordable entertainment for the middle-class. Not all cities and towns had a Major League Baseball team, but they all had town halls to show movies for a nickel. As more of the populace began to frequent these halls, the upper class began to stay home. Not wanting to be associated with riff-raff and other unfavorable people, the rich decided to frequent the strongholds of bourgeoisie life – theaters for the lively arts. In Los Angeles, the Carthay, Ebell and Wilshire Theater claimed most of these patrons. Michael Pantages, part-owner of the Ebell saw attendance sky-rocket and wondered what kind of profit he could make by screening talkies at the Ebell. He did, starting with the Douglas Fairbanks classic, “From Here to the Jungle.” The upper-class loved it; the idea of screening movies in large ornate theaters, away from plebeians was a hit. Pantages took his idea north to Hollywood and built the Pantages Theater, the first of many ornate movie theaters to hit Hollywood Boulevard. The rich came down from the Hollywood Hills and Hancock Park to see this shrine to Hollywood. Charging $1 a ticket, Pantages turned a tidy profit, and lead to modern cinematic castles that turn up at malls across America.

Monday, April 27, 2009

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Friday, April 24, 2009

A Historical Note on the Trenton Roy Rogers

TR Reviewer Questions

“Roy Rogers ain’t just a cowboy anymore.”

-Peter Marriott

Actor Leonard Franklin Slye endeared himself to an entire generation of Americans as Roy Rogers, the quintessential cowboy. Along with his horse Trigger, Rogers dominated every form of media in his salad days of the early years after the Great War. In those days, screen stars often took to lending their names and faces to advertising campaigns for popular products (e.g., Brylcreem, Haagen-Dazs, Renault automobiles, etc.), but with over 100 movies to his name, Rogers speculated he was sufficiently beloved to found and carry his own product rather than hawking someone else’s. After seeing the immediate boom in McDonald’s franchises in the Southwest, he seized the opportune climate to start a fast-food chain on the other side of the country and name it after himself to build on his name recognition.

Rogers spent the first half of 1956 traveling up and down the eastern seaboard trying to gain a feel for the places that best fit the “Roy Rogers” profile of down-home charm with a mischievous edge. New York City (quirkily urban), Wilmington (hidden allure), Georgetown (uppity), and Palm Beach (diverse) were all candidates for the first Roy Rogers wave, but none seemed an appropriate flagship location. During his final drive from Philadelphia to New York, Rogers stopped the convoy off Route 1 to take a break and have lunch and found himself in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. While taking his lunch in a small café on the second floor of the Trenton railway station, Rogers admired the blue-collar industry around him and knew he had found his spot. The restaurant construction created jobs both temporary and permanent. Upon the grand opening in 1957, the Trenton Roy Rogers brought a simple hamburger quickly prepared with a variety of self-serve sauces and condiments to the people of central New Jersey. When the restaurant fared favorably with the nearby Philadelphia cheese steak outposts, Rogers expanded the menu to include fried chicken and roast beef sandwiches and proceeded with expansion of the other planned branches. Roy Rogers Family Restaurants brought their namesake’s cheer and cowboy good will to the entire east coast for the next 40 years until being bought out by the Pizza Hut-Wing Street consortium in 1999. The Trenton Roy Rogers remains among the last of two distinct groups: 1. the 50 Roy Rogers locations that haven’t been converted to Pizza Hut-Wing Street franchises and 2. good things in Trenton.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weary Traveler: A Historical Note on Delta Song

“…and the wind shall be our words in the world’s greatest song”
Wilbur Wright

Beginning in the late 1990’s airlines began launching side ventures to adhere to changing customer needs. Entire fleets of airlines catering to specific destinations and demographics were launched by the top five airlines, attracting the middle class as the new business class. Northwest launched Sky Bound, American Airlines had Alliance, Continental embarked on Horizon Air (now owned by Alaska Airlines) and most famously, Delta launched Song. Only Jet Blue kept out of the race, instead choosing to attack smaller markets with the same fleet.

In April 1997, John Owen, CEO of Delta Song, unveiled an extensive 3 year plan for Delta, in which a new fleet of aircrafts would be modernized, creating a business class style seating for everyone on board. Song's main goal was to draw in vacationers in the northeastern United States and Florida, taking away JetBlue’s appeal of the cheap vacation flight, and then quickly move into smaller west coast airports, such as Burbank. “We hear your voice, and sing your Song”1. Song's aircraft were fitted with heated leather seats throughout the cabin, and designed by Marc Jacobs. Each passenger had access to free in flight DVD players, programmable MP3 playlists, interactive trivia games, and satellite television provided by DirectTV. Every passenger received a free canned beverage provided by Pepsi, as well as the return of the in-flight snack pack, which was provided by Doll. A series of ‘songs’ gave passengers safety instructions; with Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Ludacris and Seal each lending their vocal talents to a certain flight path. Crew uniforms designed by Kate Spade solidified the appearance that this modern airline was to be taken seriously. Song began service on April 15, 2000, days ahead of the anticipated launch. For the next two years, Song’s 48 Boeing 757’s operated more than 200 flights a day and carried over fifteen million passengers. Unfortunately, with only 198 seats, all priced economy, the operating plan could not be sustained and the planes were refitted to Delta’s standard 288 passenger cabin, which included First Class, Business Class and Economy. The vibrant green planes were slowly repainted and could be seen in Delta’s Orlando hub until the last Song plane was decommissioned in 2005. Shortly after Song’s collapse, Sky Bound and Alliance went under as well. John Owen was hired by Jet Blue in 2003 as their CFO, the sour note in Delta’s Song; however Song’s impact can still be felt. Delta flights now include DirectTV, modern uniforms, and leather seats, although only First Class is able to enjoy the heated cushions.

1. John Owen, NYC press release, April 1997

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fashion Backward: A Historical Note on Bermuda Shorts

“The short-pant is a terrible fashion choice. Unless it is from Bermuda.”
-Winston Churchill

The island of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, has a long history as a military outpost for the Royal Navy. British officers set up a North Atlantic headquarters in this strategic island in 1816; they soon found the heat unbearable, a common thread throughout the Empire outside of Great Britain. Each territory finds and creates a style on its own due to the weather. In India it is the light breathable Madras, in Burma (modern day Myanmar) linen is the textile of choice. But, in Bermuda, the Royal Navy found that the island had no natural clothing resource, almost all textiles were made from cotton. Nathanial Coxon, a native Bermudan and local businessman, ran one of the only tea shops on the island. Coxon employed a small staff and when business skyrocketed and his shop became crowded with naval officers, the shop became a sauna with steaming pots of tea. His own employees complained about the heat. The navy blue blazers and cotton khaki pants were the uniform and Coxon hesitated in adopting a new one. In order to save money and not outfit his staff with a whole new wardrobe, he took the khaki pants of his crew and cut them at the knee. The employees found the style silly, but were much more comfortable in this attire. Rear Admiral Mason Berridge took his tea in Coxon’s shop and found the style, “a bit of old Oxford and a bit of the Khyber Pass.” He loved the practicality and adopted the style for his fellow officers (who would later where them with knee socks). Berridge commissioned the short-pant and named it the Bermuda Short. But unlike other imperial writs, Berridge gave credit to Coxon and Coxon was given the title of OBE (Order of the British Empire). Bermuda shorts are still popular today (particularly since they come in a myriad of colors) and not just with tourists in tropical locales. It has become a mainstay on casual Fridays and the short-pant of choice for garden parties and clam bakes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wordsmith: "Stuff" in Baseball

“Proctor’s stuff was electric tonight.”
-Joe Torre

Things. Substance. General materials of undisclosed nature. ‘Stuff’ has evolved through the centuries into a placeholder-word preferred by many who grasp at ambiguity in a long history the Wordsmith may someday trace. To baseball people—players, scouts, writers, fans—‘stuff’ points to something even more ephemeral: the indeterminate quality a pitcher possesses that make his pitches dance, that special something that he has on a good night, the absence of which can leave a great pitcher feeling ordinary. Unlike the origins of the general meaning of ‘stuff’ or the history of baseball itself, the roots of ‘stuff’ as a baseball term are easily traceable to one of the game’s early greats.

Robert Moses ‘Lefty’ Grove built a Hall of Fame career as the mild-mannered ace of the Philadelphia Athletics in the Depression era, one of the last pitchers to win over 30 games in a season and the only one ever to strike out the side on nine pitches twice in a season. During this time, the sporting public knew Grove as much for his easygoing demeanor as for his on-field feats. Following a downturn in the Athletics’ fortunes, team owner Connie Mack sold him in 1933 to the Boston Red Sox, who were also struggling at the time and needed a left-hander to bolster their three-man rotation. Grove spent much of his first two seasons in Boston on the disabled list with a tired arm, prompting endless questioning from the notoriously-impudent Boston sports media of which he quickly grew weary. A few games into the 1936 season, however, it was clear that Grove had returned to form. After one particularly-dazzling start against the Detroit Tigers in June 1936 in which Grove struck out 13 batters en route to a complete-game shutout, baseball journalist Walter Barnes of the Boston Globe cornered Grove in the changing room and asked to what he attributed his impressive outing. The now-surly southpaw replied, “I don’t know. Stuff.” Not picking up on Grove’s sarcasm, Barnes ran with the description, poeticizing the intangible difference Lefty had so tersely quantified. The article ran in the next morning’s paper under the famous headline, “Grove’s Stuff Tames Tigers.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Historical Note on Jorge Luis Borges

“Everyman will have his 15 minutes of fame. But to Jorge, an eternity.”
-Andy Warhol

World-renowned novelist and poet Jorge Luis Borges came from humble beginnings. Born in 1920 on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Borges honed his bilingual literary talent at the San Ramon School for Boys in Buenos Aires (an Eton equivalent). Borges graduated at the top of his class and enrolled at Columbia University to study Medieval Literature. He never found the subject thrilling and dropped out his sophomore year. Making his way as a translator at the Department of Health Services, Borges became a bit of a flaneur in the city, walking the city each day from his Alphabet City flat hoping to catch literary fire. During this time he published a series of poems for the Paris Review. He failed to win acclaim and shortly moved back to Argentina. Borges all but gave up writing and started working at his father’s jewelry store. In 1962 Borges caught wind of artist Andy Warhol and his avant-garde pop-influence art. Once again inspired, Borges began to write prolifically in his native Spanish. He soon was published in multiple literary journals and was being translated in English thanks to Warhol cohorts David Salle and Julian Schnabel. Borges made his way back to New York and became dedicated to Warhol’s movement and during this time wrote the “Garden of Forking Paths.” This literary odyssey married the avant-garde movement with Borges detail for constructing historical fiction. This formula became a staple for his next two novels, “Ficciones” and “Labyrinths.” The latter, an epic novel recapturing the beginnings of a fictional war-torn Canada garnered him the Nobel Prize for Literature

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Historical Note on the Pythagorean Theorem, Part 2

“So I told Kennedy, ‘Pythagoras already disproved Fermat’s Last Theorem.’”

John F. Kennedy

Today, Pythagoras’s triples (5,12,13; 8,15,17; etc.) are well-known and taught in elementary school. At the time, however, this was ground breaking. For the first time, it was proven that the square of one side of a triangle equaled the square of the other two sides. Working only under right-sided triangles (half a square), this simple relationship would be referred to as “squaring” and the opposite side, a hypotenuse, in honor of his hypothesis.

Unfortunately, Pythagoras died in seclusion attempting to develop Pythagorean triples. In 1995, a genius named Andrew Wiles showed once and for all that Pythagoras died in vain and that his Theorem was the last set that was plausible. Equally as sad was the discovery of Fermat’s Little Theorem in 2003, which illustrated Fermat’s predated work with the “Pythagorean Theorem,” dismissing this relationship as “άνους” or “brainless.” Today, there are over 345 separate theorems to prove that a2 + b2 =c2.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Historical Note on the Pythagorean Theorem, Part 1

(Editorial Note: The following entry continues JPedia's Music Week with a note on maths, the universal music.)

“Striking Cuba with 100% effectiveness would have been like planning to disprove Fermat’s Last Theorem.”

-John F. Kennedy

Pierre de Fermat wrote in his “Arithmetica of Diophantus” that it was unfeasible to break any powered number into the sum of two like-powered integers (i.e., ax +bx can never equal cx). This proof by converse inflection remains one of the most potent statements ever made in the mathematical world. Like Galileo, Fermat dared the greatest minds of the ancient world not to prove him correct, but to prove him incorrect. Just as it took Christopher Columbus a thousand years after the death of Galileo to prove him wrong, it took the birth of Pythagoras of Samos to prove Fermat a fool.

Born in 580 B.C.E. in the eastern Aegean, Pythagoras was the Einstein of his day, teaching himself to read Greek and mastering its numerical system by age five. Traveling from Greece to Egypt to modern-day Spain, he earned a following known as Pythagoreanists and was the first recorded “philosopher.” During these itinerant years, an unnamed student presented him with Fermat’s Last Theorem. At age 15, Pythagoras dedicated his life to proving this theory wrong. Within a week, using the simple equations a0 + b0 =c0 and a1 + b1 =c1, he presented his accomplishment to the public square in mockery of Fermat, but mathematicians instead laughed at Pythagoras for making such an oblivious, childish statement. He hypothesized that there were more and that he just needed time. Shamed into seclusion, Pythagoras was discovered in a temple 20 years later reciting triples and saying “δεν υπάρχουν πιο” (“there are no more”). In just two short years, he had allegedly proven so many 3-number combinations that he had gone mad. Moving on to the next local integer, 3, he spent the latter 18 years falling deeper and deeper into madness. . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Annals of Music: The Mersenaries

“John and I were sitting at the piano in Jane Asher's basement when we heard ‘Strolling with My Baby.’ The bridge harmony on ‘From Me to You’ was certainly a nod.”

-Paul McCartney

Gerry & The Pacemakers had the first hit, and The Beatles wielded the greatest influence and popularity, but the Liverpool sound better known as “Merseybeat” originated with the group the British Invasion left behind, The Mersenaries.

Music historians have well-documented Merseybeat’s roots in Teddy-boy skiffle and imported rock-and-roll. While Lennon and McCartney were playing skiffle as The Quarrymen in 1957, fellow Liverpudlians Tony Vaughan (guitar), Michael Kinsley (bass), Billy Kramer (vocals, occasional keys and rhythm guitar), and Arthur Mason (drums) had begun to incorporate the American sound of lyric-driven tunes and catchy beats as Tony and the Tornadoes. The Tornadoes combined a set of energetic covers and simple self-written songs, taking the Merseyside County art hall scene by storm, cementing their reputation by becoming the house band for the Leeds Plaza Ballroom in Woolton Street in 1960.

In mid-1961, the group landed a two-week engagement at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London and changed their name to The Mersenaries as a nod to their hometown cross the Mersey River. At the Empire, the group drew notice from Decca A&R man Mike Smith on the strength of the Kinsley-Kramer original “Strolling with My Baby” (Strolling with my baby near the Mersey riverside/ I looked at her, she looked at me with magic in her eyes). Smith signed The Mersenaries without an audition and started the Mersey Beat newsletter in anticipation of the single’s release. In January 1962, confident on the eve of the U.K. release of “Strolling with My Baby,” Smith denied The Beatles a contract, famously using the polite excuse that guitar groups were on their way out. EMI, however, rushed the release of Gerry & The Pacemakers’ “How Do You Do It?”, crowding the market on the Merseybeat sound The Mersenaries had invented. “Strolling with My Baby” failed to crack the top 20, and The Beatles’ success with EMI in the following year caused Decca to drop The Mersenaries in favor of The Rolling Stones. Vaughan tried to keep the group together as The Merseys, but Kramer left to become frontman for The Dakotas, whose two hits, “I’ll Keep You Satisfied” and “Bad to Me,” were both ironically Lennon-McCartney numbers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Annals of Music: Kelly Frampton

“Without the bonds of brotherhood, there would be no Beatles, no Kinks, no bloody Who”

Pete Townsend, The Who, 1972

Frampton. The name itself instills sounds of vibrating guitar voices and the famous talkbox. But before Peter Frampton hit stardom in 1976 with hits like, Show me the way and Baby, I Love Your Way, he played in a band called The Little Ravens, with his older brother, Kelly Frampton. The boys played clubs all over the London art district, sharing stages with numerous acts, including George and the Dragons, David Bowie’s first band. Impressed by Kelly’s vocal range, Bowie offered the brother’s the opportunity to cut a folk record with his new band The Riot Squad. Peter, who wanted pop-stardom rather than dark-folk fame, declined to record, and instead joined Humble Pie, leaving Kelly without a guitarist or a band. Kelly went on to manage the Marquee Club, giving groups like John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the Yardbirds, and the Animals their first opportunities to take the stage, while the songs he wrote during his short music career fell to the wayside. Peter later used the line, “I wonder how you’re feeling” from one of Kelly’s songs, as a tribute to his brother.

Taken from “Where the Stairways Seem Unending “ By Kelly Frampton

Dear God let me fall looking for it all
Back toward sleep and silent preachers
Will you stay with me a while longer, and linger
Through the time here left inside of us

Somewhere where I’m left not listening
Somewhere where you’re gone, forgetting
In the places replacing memories
Where the stairways seem unending
I wonder how you’re feeling

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Annals of Music: Matthew Wilder

“My favorite song? That’s a hard question, but I would have to say “Break My Stride.”
-John Cusack

Matthew Wilder, most famous for his 1983 hit, “Break My Stride,” started what would become a synth-pop revolution in the 1980’s. Wilder (the grandson of Hollywood great Billy Wilder) started his music career as a guitarist in the mid-seventies for several disco acts, including the Bee-Gees. Inspired by the Bee-Gees 1976 B-Side, “Stranger in NYC,” Wilder was blown away by the pulsating synthesizer that Barry Gibb used to give the piece a frenetic feel that mirrors New York’s legendary nightlife. Wilder soon started composing pieces on his spare time with a Moog VCS-3. Soon disco faded and Wilder was bent on contributing to a dying dance culture in New York and started playing synth-driven pop ballads that no one in the city had heard before – or was willing to accept. New York was in music upheaval, The Ramones had shifted the music landscape from Rockaway Beach to the Lower Eastside. But disco-revelers soon founded a club in the Village, Waves (once a haughty seafood joint, the owners kept the sign). Wilder started out playing with an accompaniment of two synthesizers on Tuesday nights. Soon he had a following and his song, “Break My Stride,” was soon discovered by A&R recording exec Martin Katz. Katz loved “BMS,” and made it into a single. The song made it to number one on the Billboard charts and stayed for three weeks. Wilder’s passion soon brought on a wave of 80’s synth-powered pop that was labeled after the club, New Wave. Wilder is a legend and inspired the likes of Flock of Seagulls, A-Ha and numerous other acts. Wilder now writes and produces songs for current popstars. Listen to “BMS” and you just won’t get it out of your head!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lost & Found: The Lion by William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) the famous pre-Romantic poet is well known for his poem The Tiger. His lesser known works in his follow-up book of poetry, The Bloomsbury Book of the Dead, continued his love of all things feline.

The Lion

LION, lion, fleet of foot
In the savannah eating moot
What emotion do you exude?
From temples painted gold

In the grassland horizon peaks
Solely looking for food to eat
On the currents of our creator
Find thyself by intelligent painter

Focus eye of baring teeth
Focus time on Hampstead Heath
And where does my heart dread
A solemn pace your pawprint treads

The roar is piercing and anthemic
Brings me to my knees cathartic
Consider closely foal of many
Leave my mind and hearts aplenty

And nightfall comes quickly, quietly
Turn my head to see thy eye
Quickly, quickly unlatch the clasp
Quietly, quickly come to pass

Lion, lion, fleet of foot
In the savannah eating moot
What emotion do you exude?
From temples painted gold

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wordsmith: The Etymology of "Fop"

The ill-clad populace accuses me of foppery; I accuse them of feeble taste.
-Lord Robert McIlhenny

A fop in the word’s driest sense is a man overly-concerned with or vain about his manner of dress or, more vividly, a dandy, a coxcomb. We experience the traditional image of foppishness today primarily through antiquated representations of pompously-styled men in theatrical period pieces, such as the male participants of the grand ball in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” although the term predates the French Revolution by a century.

‘Fop’ originated in late 17th-century London as an acronym: F.O.P., meaning Friend of Peter, a contemporary euphemism for a ‘dainty’ man with affected speech patterns. Peter, in turn, referred to Peter Stent, a prominent London printmaker active earlier in the century. Stent was a rumored member of the underground community of flamboyant gallants due to his fondness for large powdered wigs, ruffled shirts, elegant coats, and haughty speech. With Stent the most well-known member, other purported members of the group were labeled as his friends.

Although no longer termed as such, modern-day foppishness is exemplified by Ivy-educated, collar-popping, seersucker-clad youths and metrosexuals.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weary Traveler: A Historical Walking Tour of East London

Most Western cities grow west, leaving the east sides to be a festering pool of crime and poverty. With recent gentrification policies and the influx of “hipsters,” East London is no longer the vampire it has been portrayed in literature and film. Gone are the opium dens of Limehouse and up are the swinging digs of Shoreditch media types. Here is a historical walk through this new and thriving area.

Start at the Liverpool Street Tube stop (A) and make your way north to Spitalfields Market. Once the thriving center of East London, Spitalfields got its name from the grand spired church St. Ambrose. The surrounding area was given the Cockney name Spitalfields and a market went up in 1705 to accommodate farmers from Essex. The church is gone now, but the market has some of the best flower stalls in all of London. From there head northeast, through the historical Brick Lane (C), now famous for curries and bagels, but once the headquarters of London’s most notorious street gang, the “maçons.” These French Huguenots fled to England in 1743 and set up shop as weavers in the buildings overlooking the northern part of Spitalfields. The maçons capitalized on the growing population and ran an early version of racketeering. Head Southeast to Whitechapel (D). On the corner of Hanbury and New Road is St. Justin the Martyr’s church where the remains of Jack the Ripper’s last victim was found. The massacred prostitute brought East London to its knees at the peak of the Ripper’s spree. The murders then stopped and a myriad of stories and suspects have become legend. Most famous is that Jack the Ripper was actually, Walter Hornsbury, a patient at the nearby Royal London Hospital. Gaining expertise by watching surgeons as he waited for surgery. It is believed that Hornsbury died under the knife while doctors tried to repair his bronchial tubes from a bout of Consumption. Lastly head southwest to Aldgate East (E), the last of the great gates of the walled city of London. A portion of London Wall still exists near the Tube stop. This gate was a gathering point for Danes that tried to invade London under the Danelaw in Eastern Great Britain. Londoners took their dead and impaled them on the outside of the wall to warn the Danes of their own brutality. Take the Tube here back to your hotel and grab a pint; you’ll need it after this walk!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Historical Note on Instant Oatmeal

“Even a tramp like me, no matter what happens; I know there's always a brother who won't refuse me a bowl of oatmeal.”
Tuco Benedicto Ramirez

In 1852, an Irishman named James Boswell was taken prisoner during a fishing expedition in the Celtic Sea. Brought to England by way of Scotland, Boswell was put to work in the stables of a rich military general name Lord Elibank. There Boswell, using what he knew of Ireland’s barley, cultivated the same mealy paste he fed his children into a pudding like substance using the local ‘groats.’ Elibank took notice of this pudding in the winter of 1853, when his horses became reluctant to eat potatoes. A just nobleman at that time, Elibank and Boswell went to work that spring concocting a way to store this paste in order to serve it all year long. Through a series of accidents, Boswell discovered that by adding alcohol, cobalt, manganese and sea salt, the paste would dry up over night, only to be rejuvenated by water or milk. These products were later combined to form Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, where a chlorine derivative replaced alcohol, and can still be found in modern day instant oatmeal. Ever wanting to return to his family, Boswell pleaded with his Lord for release. Elibank, now ravished with poverty from the war, and bred to hate the Irish, instead killed Boswell and began selling his “On the Spot Oat Meals” to markets all across England, to no avail. Two years before his death, Elibank immigrated to the United States where he sold his recipe for dehydrating oats to John McCann, an Irishman, for twenty-three dollars. McCANN'S Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal is still sold today.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Historical Note on the Least Tern

"Despite its name, the least tern plays a very unique, important role in the tern family."
-Dr. John Bishop, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Residents of the central Pacific coast recognize the friendly white-and-gray bird capped by a black helmet of feathers: Sternula antillarum brownii, the California Least Tern, a subspecies of the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) species familiar on the Atlantic coast. The Least Tern, in turn, bears close relation to the other seabirds of the Sternidae family, and so on. Many tern species have names reflective of their discoverers (e.g., Jameson’s Tern or Cooper’s Tern) or characteristics (e.g., the Sooty Tern or Minor Iridescent Tern), but the Least Tern’s origins have remained as overlooked as its name suggests.

Naturalist Jonas Stern first identified the larger Tern family (Sternidae) in 1838 by classifying a series of similarly-countenanced birds along the Thames River. He abandoned his initial inclination to group these docile, web-footed, sea-feeding creatures as a subspecies of gull or duck when he noticed the distinctive feathering pattern that prevailed across all samples, a finding confirmed both by breeding patterns and a unique trilling tweet. Drawn to this masked bird, Stern spent the next four years scouring waterways throughout western Europe and the American Northeast in search of finer classifications, of which he determined many, all dwelling along the shores of rivers, lakes, and seas, and all with variations on the gray-black-white in their feathering.

Later, in 1850, ornithologist John James Audubon ventured west as the official naturalist of the Gold Rush, bringing with him his fondness for Stern’s avian discoveries. While taking an observation walk along the Pacific near the San Francisco Bay, Audubon came upon a flock of Terns unlike any previously studied, bearing bright orange bills and more streamlined feathering. A series of measurements determined this group as the smallest among known terns in length, with the shortest bills, and most concise songs. With measurables consistently last in the Tern family, Audubon dubbed his finding the Least Tern.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fashion Backward: A Historical Note on Seersucker

“Although my public appearance comes dressed in a white pressed suit, my creativity flows from a certain Seersucker ensemble. For a true Southerner can’t live without it.”
- Mark Twain

During Reconstruction a small amount of Northern confidence men went south to pilfer money from rebuilding budgets that were being given to towns ravaged by the Civil War. Most of these men outfitted themselves as contractors, but one in particular found a roundabout way to a straight life. Landis Seer III was a small time confidence man by way of Hollowcreek, New Hampshire. His M.O. was that of a traveling salesman selling cure-alls to the elderly in and around New England. Seer made his way south to Jennings, Florida where he grandstanded in town squares to sell his Seer & Son’s Medicinal Cure-all. The potion was nothing more than seltzer water and fennel. Seer found his marks did not care to see a man with a Northern accent dressed in a pressed black suit and tried different accents and clothing to appeal to the genteel Southerners. Finding the summers unbearable, Seer weaved a suit himself made out of cotton from nearby Georgia. Seer was no weaver, so his slack-tension weave produced a wrinkled suit, but when worn lifted from the skin to provide certain coolness. Seer wore his suit and his newly minted down home charm led to increased sales of his tonic. His fellow confidence men christened his marks, “Seer’s Suckers,” who would constantly ask about his suit. Seer, seeing a profit on the horizon, started to mass produce his suit, which, out of jest, he marketed as Seersucker. Sales of his suit flourished in the South and have become a mainstay of Southern fashion between Easter and Labor Day.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wordsmith: The Etymology of "Bandwagon"

If you see a bandwagon, it's too late.
-James Goldsmith

No one likes to be called a ‘bandwagoner’—a johnny-come-lately, a shameless joiner—, and the term has even become the ultimate insult among sports and indie music fans. For as long as mankind has existed, people have mindlessly glommed onto successful efforts, but the term ‘bandwagoner’ itself has much more recent origins, dating only to the 19th century, C.E. and bearing close ties to the unsuccessful presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan, perhaps best known for opposing the gold standard. Bryan, a noted populist, invented the political stumping tour, first traveling the country to rally grassroots support for free silver leading up to the 1896 election. Defeated by William McKinley, who garnered more support among the Germans and middle class, Bryan resolved to try again with a different platform in 1900. This time, Bryan redoubled his stumping efforts, riding a flat-bed wagon around the 45 states and addressing the nation via bullhorn. While riding through Lincoln, Nebraska, a full British-style brass band jumped on his wagon, hoping to hitch a ride to a playing engagement at a nearby farm. Bryan, amenable, allowed the band to keep playing en route. After attracting more than the usual crowd from their homes to view this ‘bandwagon,’ Bryan kept the band as a regular feature for the rest of the campaign. This apparent success proved fleeting, however, as the popularity of the now-famous “Bryan Bandwagon” among his western and midwestern “bandwagoners” failed to translate to victory at the polls. Bitter after two defeats, Bryan cursed the fair-weather “bandwagoners” and excluded the popular stumping attraction from his trust-busting, third presidential campaign eight years later.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Medical Dispatch: The Caduceus

"Our greatest triumph shall come from curing the ill."

- Hippocrates

The origin of the Caduceus (the logo associated with medicine depicting serpents winding around a stick) is thought to be linked to the parasitic nematode Dracunculus Medinensis. Its larvae reside in arthropods found in the waters around the Middle East, among other places. The arthropods are able to burrow under the skin of human hosts. The larvae develop just under the surface of the skin. If removed too rapidly, the full-grown worms rupture, spilling toxins into the human host, resulting in inflammation and infection. Proper removal entails gradually winding the body of the nematode around a stick on a daily basis until the full length has been removed. The image of the worm wound around a stick implies medical intervention, as seen in the Caduceus.

Of note, Dracunculus Medinensis is thought to be the "fiery serpents of the night" mentioned as one of the plagues in the Old Testament.