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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Happy Birthday Duke Ellington

When it sounds good, it is good.

Duke Ellington (wiki(program notes to Such Sweet Thunder, 1957)

I have a mistress. Lovers have come and gone, but only my mistress stays. She is beautiful and gentle... She is a swinger. She has grace. To hear her speak, you can't believe your ears. She is ten thousand years old. She is as modern as tomorrow, a brand new woman every day, and as endless as time and mathematics. Living with her is a labyrinth of ramifications. I look forward to her every gesture. Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to none. 

~ Ellington (Music is My Mistress, 1973)

The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius, and Duke E Ellington. Unfortunately, Bach is dead, Delius is very ill, but we are happy to have with us today the Duke. 

~ Percy Grainger* (quoted in Bird, Percy Grainger)

Outside of the intrinsic artistic value of his music (which is, of course, the most important thing about Ellington), I think his contemporary impact on American culture was at least as much a social one as an aesthetic one. He was the first black man who was widely perceived as a serious and significant artist in white America, and his success in vaulting over that barrier of perception was a source of immense collective pride in black America. It was exactly what he set out to do, too, which is one of the reasons why he went to such lengths to cultivate his image as a man apart from the common run of jazz bandleaders—black and white alike. 


April 28 is the anniversary of the birth of American jazz pianist and composer Edward Kennedy ("Duke") Ellington (1899-1974) (wiki) (official website) in Washington, D.C. One of the most influential figures in the history of jazz, Ellington established his reputation at the Cotton Club in New York City between 1927 and 1932 and toured Europe with his band in the late 1930s, setting an unprecedented standard for jazz performance and improvisation.

Over the course of a 50-year career, he wrote more than 6,000 compositions which span the spectrum from jazz to "serious" and sacred music and include such standards as Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, Solitude, and Black, Brown, and Beige. 

Often credited to the Duke but actually a couplet by Irving Mills from one of Ellington's favorite numbers, is a phrase that well describes his philosophy of music-making:

"It don't mean a thing
If it ain't got that swing."

Here he is playing that song:



* N.B. Quirky Australian-born composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961) is remembered largely for popular light-classical works such as Over the Hills and Far Away and Handel in the Strand. His ranking of watery English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) - whose music never rises above mezzo forte - with Bach and Duke Ellington boggles the mind.

Here's a short (4 minute) bio from the Biography Channel:


And here are the Duke and John Coltrane in Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood":



If you're looking for a good biography of the Duke, I highly recommend Terry Teachout's excellent Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. The author has provided an excerpt here.    

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday links

Today is ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli: here's some history, a documentary, and a Lego re-enactment.

How DNA Can Lead To Wrongful Convictions: labs today can identify people with DNA from just a handful of cells, but a handful of cells can easily migrate.

The 19th century art of measuring criminals.

It's Oliver Cromwell's birthday - here's his excellent speech throwing out the corrupt Parliament, the posthumous travels of his head, and bonus Monty Python.

An Eccentric Millionaire and his Lost Rocky Mountain Treasure.

How to download a copy of everything Google knows about you.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include 10 Medieval riddles, a supercut of epic movie explosions, the actual costs of restaurant foods vs what they charge, vintage animation lessons on how to make things cute, and the massive sewer system engineering undertaken to resolve London's "Great Stink".

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 25th is ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli

Ship after ship, crammed with soldiers, moved slowly out of the harbour, in the lovely day, and felt again the heave of the sea. No such gathering of fine ships has ever been seen upon the earth, and the beauty and the exaltation of the youth upon them made them like sacred things as they moved away... 

These men had come from all parts of the British world... They had said good-bye to home that they might offer their lives in the cause we stand for. In a few hours at most, as they well knew, perhaps a tenth of them would have looked their last upon the sun, and be a part of the foreign earth or the dumb things that tides push. Many of them would have disappeared forever from the knowledge of man, blotted from the book of life none would ever know how, by a fall, a chance shot in the darkness, or alone, like a hurt beast, in some scrub or gulley, far from comrades and the English speech and the English singing.

John Masefield (wiki) (Gallipoli)*

Damn the Dardanelles. They will be our grave.

~ Admiral Sir John Fisher (to the Dardanelles Committee, 1915)

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.

~Mustafa Kemal - Atatürk (wiki) (tribute to the ANZAC dead, 1934)

Map of the battle - larger version here
April 25th is celebrated in Australia and New Zealand as ANZAC Day, commemorating the key participation of the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in the ill-fated Allied assault on the Turkish-held Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 during World War I. This was one of the first large-scale amphibious invasion of modern times and the first major military operation in which Australia and New Zealand participated on behalf of the British Empire. As a result, the Gallipoli campaign was perhaps the key  defining event for Australia's nationhood, as it was in a sense for Turkey's also. Turkish Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli's successful defense, later became the founder of modern Turkey, adopting the name "Atatürk" - father of the Turks.

Today much of the Gallipoli Peninsula is a Turkish national park with over 20 cemeteries lovingly tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We visited there several years ago on ANZAC Day, taking a bus with a dozen or so others, mostly Aussies, from the nearby town of Canakkale to tour the cemeteries and battlefields. The tour guide read the Ataturk quotation above, along with, as is typical, the fourth stanza of Lawrence Binyon's For The Fallen:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Followed, as is also typical, by "Lest we forget..."

The Making of a Legend, The Landing at Anzac Cove by Lambert
The visitor can not help but be struck by the stark, natural beauty of its steep, scrubby, deeply-gullied terrain and sadly moved by the remembrance of the tens of thousands of men on both sides who lost their lives there in a futile clash of empires - only a few miles across the "wine-dark sea" from the ruins of ancient Troy. Of that earlier struggle, Homer wrote in book XIII of the Iliad,

"It is not possible to fight beyond your strength, even if you strive."

* N.B. John Masefield was the Poet Laureate of England from 1930 until his death in 1967. He served as a medical orderly on the Western Front in World War I and later wrote Gallipoli to counter German propaganda seeking to exploit the British defeat there.

The most readable account of the Gallipoli campaign remains Alan Moorehead's venerable history, Gallipoli, from the late 1950s. Also, the 1981 Australian movie of that same name, starring the young Mel Gibson, is an excellent evocation of both the horror and exhilaration of those times. There's a more recent movie, apparently, but I'm not familiar with it, and... Mel Gibson.

Several years ago, Peter Jackson restored and aggregated quite a bit of contemporaneous Gallipoli film:



Here's a 9 minute documentary:



And, as seems inevitable these days, there's a Lego reenactment of the events:



There's a good article on the 2015 centennial at The Guardian, and much more at the Australian government's site.

Parts of the text above arebased on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday links

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions.

Can You Solve These 10 Medieval Riddles?

The cost to make a Margherita pizza: $1.77. How much restaurants charge on average for a pizza: $12. The actual costs of restaurant foods.

Vintage animation lessons - how to make things cute.

London's "Great Stink" and the challenge of engineering a sewer system in the middle of a crowded city of 2.5 million.

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans?

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include the science of knuckle cracking, how a simple artificial heart could permanently replace a failing human one, the legend of Blackbeard’s silver-plated skull, and a look inside the FBI's pre-computer fingerprint factory.

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions

From Screen Junkies - watch full screen. List of movies below the video.


Movies used:

Fight Club,
Lethal Weapon 3, 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The Mask, 
Face/Off, 
Die Hard with a Vengeance, 
Independence Day, 
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 
The Dark Knight, 
Transformers: Age of Extinction, 
Tropic Thunder, 
The Expendables, 
Guardians of the Galaxy, 
Star Wars, 
Return of the Jedi, 
Die Hard, 
Django Unchained, 
Caddyshack, 
V for Vendetta, 
Dr. Strangelove, 
Ghostbusters, 
The Lord of the Rings: 
The Two Towers, 
Robocop (1987)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 
The Terminator, 
Speed, 
Oz The Great and Powerful, 
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 
Mary Poppins, 
Rio, 
Paul, 
The Theory of Everything, 
Neighbors, 
The Croods.

Friday links

Here's what happens when you crack your knuckles, including the researcher who cracked the knuckles in one hand only for over 60 years to see if he'd get arthritis. Related: The Science of Knuckle Cracking.

How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology

The legend of Blackbeard’s silver-plated skull. Kind of related: The Swashbuckling History of Women Pirates.

April 22 is Earth Day: here's the story of the co-founder who killed then composted his girlfriend.

Inside the FBI’s Colossal Pre-Computer Fingerprint Factory.

Artificial Heart Update: A simple artificial heart could permanently replace a failing human one.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 80% of San Francisco, that time Kansas locked up more than 5,000 women and girls for having STDs, why it's almost impossible to throw a 110 mph fastball, and "T'was the eighteenth of April in seventy-five": the midnight ride of William Dawes and Samuel Prescott (and Paul Revere).

Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 22 is Earth Day: here's the story of the co-founder who killed, then composted, his girlfriend

Nicknamed the Unicorn Killer because his last name means "one horn" in German, Ira Einhorn (wiki) jumped bail and evaded arrest for 23 years, but eventually the "she went to the neighborhood co-op to buy some tofu and sprouts and never returned" story fell apart.

Ira Einhorn was on stage hosting the first Earth Day event at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Seven years later, police raided his closet and found the "composted" body of his ex-girlfriend inside a trunk.

When his girlfriend of five years, Helen "Holly" Maddux, moved to New York and broke up with him, Einhorn threatened that he would throw her left-behind personal belongings onto the street if she didn't come back to pick them up.

And so on Sept. 9, 1977, Maddux went back to the apartment that she and Einhorn had shared in Philadelphia to collect her things, and was never seen again. When Philadelphia police questioned Einhorn about her mysterious disappearance several weeks later, he claimed that she had gone out to the neighborhood co-op to buy some tofu and sprouts and never returned.

At the time of his arrest, Einhorn had a kind of
crazed Colonel Sanders thing going......
It wasn't until 18 months later that investigators searched Einhorn's apartment after one of his neighbors complained that a reddish-brown, foul-smelling liquid was leaking from the ceiling directly below Einhorn's bedroom closet. Inside the closet, police found Maddux's beaten and partially mummified body stuffed into a trunk that had also been packed with Styrofoam, air fresheners and newspapers.

After his arrest, Einhorn jumped bail and spent decades evading authorities by hiding out in Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France. After 23 years, he was finally extradited to the United States from France and put on trial. Taking the stand in his own defense, Einhorn claimed that his ex-girlfriend had been killed by CIA agents who framed him for the crime because he knew too much about the agency's paranormal military research. He was convicted of murdering Maddux and is currently serving a life sentence.

Understandably, Earth Day's organizers have distanced themselves from his name, citing Gaylord Nelson, an environmental activist and former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator who died in 2005, as Earth Day's official founder and organizer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in the spring of 1970 as a way to bring national awareness to the fact that, at the time, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms in place to protect the environment. About 20 million participants at various Earth Day events across the U.S. made Earth Day a success, and in December of 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues — the EPA.

More at NBC and Reason.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday links

T'was the eighteenth of April in seventy-five: The midnight ride of William Dawes and Samuel Prescott (and Paul Revere).

The Forgotten Nazi History of ‘One-Pot Meals’.

Dorothy’s ‘Wizard Of Oz’ Ruby Slippers On Sale For A Whopping $6 Million.

On April 18, 1906, an earthquake and fire destroyed 80% of San Francisco: here's a documentary, Library of Congress footage of the destruction, and side by side film of Market Street four days before the earthquake compared to afterward.

Why It's Almost Impossible to Throw a 110 MPH Fastball


ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include Spring cleaning, 19th century style, a 1940's booklet to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees" entitled "Women are teachable", and predictions for 2018 from various times in the 20th century.

Monday, April 16, 2018

April 18, 1906 - the earthquake and fire that destroyed 80% of San Francisco: documentary and footage

San Fran City Hall
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake (wiki) struck the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on April 18 with an estimated"moment magnitude" of 7.8 and a maximum "Mercalli intensity" of "XI" ("Extreme"). Severe shaking was felt from Eureka on the North Coast to the Salinas Valley, an agricultural region to the south of the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Devastating fires soon broke out in the city and lasted for several days. As a result, about 3,000 people died and over 80% of the city of San Francisco was destroyed. The events are remembered as one of the worst and deadliest natural disasters in the history of the United States. The death toll remains the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California's history and high in the lists of American urban disasters.

Below is a side by side comparison of trolley car trips down Market Street taken 1. on April 14, 1906, four days before quake and fire, and 2. shortly after. Check out the lack of traffic regulation - the trolley car is on a track, but there's no rhyme or reason to anything else - no traffic lights, no lanes, and no rules: 


Library of Congress (silent) footage of  the quake itself:



And, lastly, a recent documentary on the disaster:



Want more? Check out Google images of the earthquake.

Monday links

How To Dress For Success And To Get A Man: A 1967 Guide. Related, "Women are teachable": 1940's booklet to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees"

Spring cleaning, 19th century style.

FBI recovers stolen Chagall 30 years after theft.


Predictions for the Year 2018 From the 20th Century

Shoplifter uses Play-Doh to cover up security camera lens, leaves perfectly pressed fingerprint behind.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include tax-related stuff (history, cartoons, links, Dave Barry, Sci Fi tax revolts, the tax implications of the zombie apocalypse, and the 1967 cartoon version of The Beatles "Taxman"), and the anniversaries of Lincoln's assassination and the sinking of the Titanic (with eyewitness accounts of each).