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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Life Philosophy

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I hope Heaven has a periscope to Hell, because humans are really only happy relative to other humans.

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Hey geeks-- if you're any kind of a wecomics fan, you're surely familiar with Kate Beaton. I consider her to be the highlight of my "generation" of cartoonists. A sister of hers is dealing with an aggressive form cancer and is getting to the point where few options remain, and what remains is liable to be quite expensive. They're running a fundraiser to make sure she can get the right treatment. Please give it a look if you have a moment.

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rraszews
3 days ago
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"I hope Heaven has a periscope to Hell, because humans are really only happy relative to other humans."

I think it's Aquinas who pretty much said flat-out that the number one awesome thing to do in heaven is to watch the sinners burning in hell (with heavenly-enhanced certainty that yes, they totally deserve it and no, boundless eternal suffering for temporal failings isn't kinda ridiculously unfair.)

The 17th-Century Spy Who Gave Us Big Strawberries

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In 1711, the War of the Spanish Succession was going poorly for France, a country ruled by Louis XIV, a monarch who loved strawberries. Those two facts—the status of an intercontinental European war, and Louis’ favorite fruit—may seem unrelated. But strawberries and espionage were about to collide in unpredictable ways.

Louis’ grandson had recently been placed on the Spanish throne, which dramatically shifted the balance of power in Europe, sparking the conflict. Fearing that France might be shut out of Pacific South America in a peace treaty, Louis sent a military engineer by the name of Amedée François Frézier through the pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic and around Cape Horn to map the area and collect intelligence. Frézier posed as a merchant, “the better to insinuate himself with the Spanish governors, and to have all opportunities of learning their strength, or whatever else he wanted to be informed of,” according to the English translation of his account: A Voyage to the South-Sea, And along the Coasts of Chili and Peru, In the Years 1712, 1713, and 1714.

Frézier was a real renaissance man, a polymath. He reportedly read six hours a day and wrote books on everything from pyrotechnics to architecture. Voyage to the South-Sea reflects a mind equally interested in the life sciences as engineering, but contrary to the current of his professional work, it was his nearly accidental contribution to horticulture that would have the biggest impact.

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Despite 400 years of domestication, European garden strawberries remained a tiny delicacy in 1711. But on the other side of the world, in a sliver between the Andes and the Pacific, people had been cultivating strawberries for much longer, perhaps a thousand years.

The two major strawberry species of the Americas are unique in that they have eight sets of chromosomes (they are octoploid). The Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is found from the peaks of the Pacific Coast range to the Atlantic coast. Its close cousin, Fragaria chiloensis, is indigenous to the Pacific Northwest coast. The two readily hybridize with one another, and probably share a common ancestor from Asia.

Like nearly all wild strawberries, they are both quite small, perhaps the size of blueberries.

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But maybe 100,000 years ago, Fragaria chiloensis traveled far to the south and the west. It’s assumed that migratory birds ate the fruit and spread the seeds all the way down the coast into Chile and out to Hawaii. Finding themselves in environments similar to their home in the Northwest, some seeds grew into separate populations. Fragaria chiloensis is often called the Chilean strawberry, because it was in Chile that it grew to prominence when, tens of thousands of years later, humans arrived in the area around the mouth of the Bio Bio River and began to domesticate them. In the gardens of the native Picunche and Mapuche people, the tiny strawberry from the Pacific Northwest became large enough to captivate every outsider who saw it.

Meanwhile, the Virginia strawberry, whose story is lost to history, made its way to Europe from North America sometime in the early 1600s. Although noted for its deep color (it was sometimes called the “scarlet strawberry”) and intense flavor, it was small—a horticultural curiosity.

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In 1712, Frézier arrived in Concepción, a Spanish possession at the mouth of the Bio Bio river. By day, he toured fortresses and hobnobbed with officials; by night, he drew maps and took notes. Although he worked for a friendly foreign power, even being discovered traveling the provinces without official permissions would have resulted in being “sent back with fetters at my heels,” in his words. Had they known he was visiting their defenses under false pretenses, the Spanish might have had his head.

Frézier wrote that the strawberries of Concepción, which were large and nearly white, were among the only fruits to be sold at market. (Produce was otherwise freely traded among the native people, according to Frézier.) He added that they grew, “As big as a walnut, and sometimes as a Hen’s egg.” Perhaps he knew of Louis XIV’s love for the fruit. Perhaps he just knew a good thing when he saw it. In any case, he returned from Chile in 1714 with five living strawberry plants.

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Frézier had promised two plants to the ship’s superintendent of cargo, who provided water for the plants. Of the remaining three, Frézier gave one to his superior at Brest, France, and one to Antoine de Jussieu, the head of the Royal Gardens in Paris. He kept the last for himself. Since Chilean strawberries, like many strawberries, clone themselves asexually, one plant will soon create a carpet of genetically identical plants. In the scientific spirit of the age, Jussieu wasted no time distributing samples among his colleagues internationally. There was just one problem: They didn’t bear fruit.

No one knew it at the time, but many strawberry species are dioecious: Each individual is of a single sex, and they require opposite-sexed plants to bear fruit. Frézier probably wanted to bring only the plants that bore fruit, which would have been females. His Chilean strawberry remained barren for years, only occasionally producing a small, misshapen fruit. Like its cousin, the Virginia strawberry, it looked doomed to remain a botanical curiosity, since its octoploid chromosome count prevented it from crossing with most other species.

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Then, in 1764, a seventeen-year-old named Antoine Nicolas Duchesne made his name by presenting Louis XV with a pot of Chilean strawberries containing fruit so large and beautiful that the king ordered an illustrator to paint them for the royal library. Louis XV then financed Duchesne to collect every known strawberry species in Europe for the royal garden at Versailles. As great as they were though, Duchesne’s fruits were sterile. He had used a European species, Fragaria moschata, which is just similar enough to pollinate the female Chilean plants, and stimulate them to bear fruit, but not to create viable seeds.

Duchesene would go on to make many great botanical observations based on the strawberry, and he wrote perhaps the first single-subject botanical text on strawberries. He even intuited some of the fundamental concepts of evolution, such as the mutability of the species, roughly 100 years before Darwin published his Origin of Species. But as gifted as he was, Duchesne was not the first to solve the problem of the Chilean strawberry.

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Duchesne’s understanding was enhanced by similar successes in Brest, France, where farmers noticed similarities between the Chilean strawberry, its cousin the Virginia strawberry, and the moschata strawberry. Planting them all together, they produced such great crops of strawberries that Frézier himself took notice. “This city and its vicinity are so well provided with strawberries that one finds them for sale at the market,” he wrote to Duchesne in 1765.

In fact, gardeners and farmers throughout Europe were, intentionally or not, planting Virginia strawberries near Chilean strawberries, which stimulated the Chilean plants to produce fruits, and the seeds of those fruit bore hybrid plants. Many samples or descriptions of these hybrids made their way to Duchesne. They were vigorous and hardy plants bearing large and aromatic fruits, and they were early versions of our familiar garden strawberry.

In 1766, Duchesne became the first person to finally understand that the parents of these various hybrids were the two New World strawberries. As botanists would later come to understand, they had started as a single species in ancient prehistory, spread across the Americas, been bred larger by early South Americans, and finally reunited in France. Duchesne named the offspring Fragaria ananassa, the pineapple strawberry, because “the perfume of the fruit is closely similar to the pineapple.” Like its Chilean parent, the fruits were big, yet the color was deeper and the flavor more pronounced. What’s more, the plants were self-fertile, so every plant could fertilize itself.

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It would take time and additional breeding, but Fragaria ananassa gradually spread around the globe, eventually becoming the dominant horticultural strawberry in the world. Every plastic clamshell of strawberries you’ve ever bought, and likely every pint of farmer’s market berries, are all varieties of the same species: crosses of those same two from the Americas. Only occasionally are wild Virginia strawberries or older Chilean varieties used to try to improve the commercial lines, or to introduce some novel trait (witness the white strawberry known as pineberry).

California cultivars of Fragaria ananassa have also overtaken the traditional strawberry agriculture of Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. But small pockets of traditional Chilean strawberry agriculture still exist, and those small farms continue to provide important genetic material to modern strawberry breeders—just as they did 300 years ago, when the most important information a French spy brought back from Chile was the genetic code of superior strawberries.

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rraszews
3 days ago
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In Elizabethan literature, strawberries were often used to symbolize treachery.

Statue of Liberty's Original Torch in New York, New York

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The original torch was replaced in 1986.

Towering over a tiny chunk of land in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty has greeted millions of tourists and immigrants that come to the United States through New York City. The iconic Lady Liberty clutches a torch in her raised hand, which symbolizes enlightenment. But the light she holds up as a beacon today isn't the original.

Dedicated in 1886 as a gift from France, the last 100-odd years of weathering the elements has taken its toll on the monument. Its color changed from copper to blue-green, and even its signature accessory has been replaced.

The original torch held in Lady Liberty's raised hand was swapped for a newer, more efficient design in 1984. Fortunately, the original torch was not thrown out when the current version took its place two years later. Rather, it was placed in the museum below, in the statue pedestal. A tour to the pedestal should take you through the museum and directly past the original torch. 

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rraszews
30 days ago
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So weird to see the pre-1984 torch held up as some obscure piece of historical trivia, when I remember the replacement happening, and being unsure how I felt about replacing the "classic" stained-glass look with the current all-gold one. (Though it turns out that the torch was originally closer to the current appearance; the way the old torch looked was due to a lighting upgrade in 1916)

The Small Script-Copying Service That Powered NYC Entertainment for Decades

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n 1957, playwright Tennessee Williams received an offer he couldn't refuse. Recommend Studio Duplicating Service to your friends, said its founder, Jean Shepard, and we'll print your scripts for free.

So begins the story of a copy shop that opened on 9th Street in New York’s East Village that year, and for the next four decades printed the lion's share of scripts for the city’s entertainers in film, television, and the theater.

The story of the shop and the paper it churned out is the secret history of the printed archive of the New York entertainment industry for almost half of the 20th century, sitting squarely at the intersection of the history of drama, printing, and labor. It’s also the story of a woman entrepreneur whose working life was designed to maintain her life as a creative person, and how the business helped her employees do the same along the way.

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Everybody from Edward Albee to Spike Lee went to Studio Duplicating. From 1975 to 1997, NBC’s Saturday Night Live was one of Shepard's biggest and most demanding customers. A first draft of an episode’s script came into the shop on Friday evening, and Studio staff worked through the night to get it printed by Saturday morning. A round of revisions came back Saturday afternoon, and new pages were delivered to NBC Studios in time for evening rehearsals after a frenzied round of proofing, typing, and printing. ABC was another major client, hiring Studio Duplicating for soap operas like All My Children and Dark Shadows. Typists got hooked on the stories and fought to type the soaps to get a sneak-peek at new episodes before they aired.

These three shows were a few of many loyal clients that helped the business grow. Scripts for movies shot in New York were constantly coming in, and a lot of play- and screenwriters were repeat customers. Woody Allen was a major client, and Jean’s son Grey Shepard, who I interviewed for this article, recalls reading his newest scripts over the dinner table with Jean.

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Allen often edited his work in person at a desk reserved for writers in the shop. Elaine May, Terry Southern, William Goldman, and Spike Lee were just a few of the screenwriters whose scripts were printed there. One of Grey's summers off from school was spent mimeographing, collating, and binding shooting scripts for Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather.

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Major work for television signaled the height of the Studio Duplicating Service, which was by then an all-night operation that employed around 30 people in a brownstone on 44th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Studio Duplicating took up the ground floor, and the Shepards’ home—which featured an indoor badminton court and art studio—was on the upper floors. The shop’s beginnings, however, were humbler. Shepard and her founding business partner, Patricia Scott, rented a tiny office in the back of a dry cleaner’s shop on East 9th.

In those early years, most of the work they printed was for theatrical productions on and off Broadway. Among the nearly 600 scripts printed by Studio Duplicating in the New York Public Library are scripts by Tennessee Williams, Aldus Huxley, Irving Berlin, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, and Truman Capote. Scott sold her share in the business in 1961, and that year Studio Duplicating relocated to larger quarters on West 43rd Street. Six years later, Shepard purchased the 44th Street brownstone. Grey remembers how rough the block was in those days. His mother, however, loved dogs and they always kept two German shepherds that went with them almost everywhere. Nobody messed with the Shepards because nobody wanted to mess with their dogs.

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Grey also recalls that most of Studio Duplicating’s employees were men—he remembers only five women who worked there—and that they were working actors. There were a handful of writers, too, and anyone who wasn't working yet was trying to make it. One employee to go onto a successful acting career was Marcia Wallace (1942-2013), who played receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show and voiced Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons. Joel Parsons, an actor traceable to productions of Shakespeare's As You Like It and Henry IV, worked as a mimeographer at Studio when the business opened, and stayed on for 30 years.

Working at Studio Duplicating was a great gig for actors because their boss understood the ebb and flow of the profession. Shepard readily gave time off for performances and auditions, and if someone got a part in a touring company, he could hop on the bus for three months and his job would be waiting when he returned. Shepard gave herself the same flexibility. She hated mornings and refused to take calls before noon, and also spent part of each day writing, painting, or at her pottery wheel. She devoted time in the afternoon and late at night to the business, keeping up with orders, billing, and bookkeeping in the wee hours.

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Shepard was well connected to the theater world partly because she trained as a lighting designer at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she met her actor-husband, Richard Shepard. (They divorced in the early sixties but remained close friends.) Co-founder Patricia Scott was a singer and actress, and her actor-husband was George C. Scott, a.k.a. General Patton and General Buck Turgidson. Their social and professional network was the New York theater world, and they ran a business that never advertised to attract new clients or staff. Hiring actors to work at Studio Duplicating made sense because it was the first print shop in New York to specialize exclusively in scripts. Having a great American playwright vouch for your services is a pretty good way to get started in business, but Studio Duplicating lasted because they got scripts right, at least in part because everybody who worked there knew from experience what right looked like.

Studio Duplicating’s employees were proofreaders, typists, mimeographers, or binders, and scripts passed through their hands in that order. Proofreaders never interfered with the text, but read things through to regularize spelling and punctuation and make sure the script was complete. Some writers' manuscripts always went straight to the only proofreader who could read their uniquely indecipherable handwriting. Corrected manuscripts next went to typists, who typed up one mimeograph stencil for each page of text.

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The mimeographer would then affix the stencil to the cylindrical drum of the motorized machine, and power it on to turn the drum and stencil across an inked pad. Typed holes in the waxy surface coating on the blue mimeostencil absorbed the ink, and transferred it to blank sheets of paper. Scripts were printed and collated sheet-by-sheet, then hole-punched and bound in colored vinyl stamped with the title and the Studio Duplicating Service logo. In the early 1990s the shop bought a Xerox machine and word processor—mimeograph supplies were difficult to obtain, and by then the business served only a handful longtime, major clients—but their archive of mimeostencils stayed in storage in the shop basement until the doors closed for good in 1997.

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Mimeo was a great technology for a small printing business. The machines required a relatively small investment, were easy to maintain and operate, and supplies were inexpensive. It worked really well for scripts because the typed stencils were easy to file and store. This meant that a writer, agent, producer, or director could order new copies of a script and expect a quick turnaround—no retyping required. It was also easy to keep scripts up to date with the latest revisions, and print either a full revised script or just revised pages. This was crucial, because in both the pre-production and production phases, screenplays and stageplays often went through multiple rounds of revisions. Many scripts also spent months or even years in development. An order might come in for just a few copies, and work on revisions and a larger print run would follow if and when production started. The stencils stayed in the Studio Duplicating archive for years, and even after they stopped printing new jobs with the mimeo machine they could still run off copies from a mimeostencil long after it was first created.

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In the author bio in Nobody Home, the novel she published in 1977, Shepard alluded to her work with Studio Duplicating Service last, saying "Jennifer Lloyd Paul is the pseudonym of a writer, artist, and businesswoman." Before publishing Nobody Home, which was warmly reviewed by the New York Times, her clay work stocked New York City's first Pottery Barn when it opened in 1963. A play based on her novel called A Firehouse Bride opened Off Broadway in 1985.

Today we remember Shepard first as the brains behind the small yet significant printing operation that manufactured the printed matter essential to New York's entertainment industry, much of which still survives in public and private collections across the country. But Shepard's life and her business were supportive of one of the creative worlds she loved in more ways than one. Shepard's understanding of her own need to make a living without sacrificing her life as a creative person gave her the perspective to make the same thing possible for the people who worked for her. The plays, TV shows, and movies that Studio Duplicating staff wrote or acted in may have never brought them fame and fortune, but they considered themselves actors first and their work in the shop made it possible for them to do what they loved when they could and still make rent.

Movies, television, and the theater need scripts and actors. Studio Duplicating gave them both.

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rraszews
39 days ago
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I was very confused until I worked out that the Jean Shepard in this story is not the same person as the guy who wrote the book "A Christmas Story" is based on.

According to Japanese Traffic Lights, Bleen Means Go

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The streets of Japan have no shortage of interesting sights. Standing at one of Tokyo’s bustling intersections, sharp-eyed visitors might spot something unusual about the traffic signals hanging above, which feature green lights with a noticeably blue tinge—so much so that illustrated Japanese road safety guides use distinctively blue “green” lights. This is no illusion. Blue and green—a combination known alternatively as “grue” or "bleen”—traffic signals in Japan are the result of a mix of linguistics, international law and a dash of passive-aggressive policy by the Japanese government.

It is a near universal constant when driving: red means stop, and green means go. So fundamental is this dynamic that it is codified in international law under the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, which has been ratified by 74 countries. Why, then, does Japan—not a signatory to the Convention—seem to buck the trend with its blue/green traffic signals?

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Historically, there has been significant overlap in the Japanese language as it pertains to green (midori) and blue (ao). In that regard, blue—one of the four traditional colors originally established in the Japanese language along with red, black and white—historically encompassed items that other cultures would describe as green—creating the concept of “grue,” the portmanteau of blue and green first coined by philosopher Nelson Goodman in 1955. Indeed, a distinct word for green is a relatively recent development in Japanese, only coming into existence in the late Heian Period (794-1185). This continues to manifest itself in several ways in Japanese.

As in many languages, green in Japanese can be used in reference to something new or inexperienced. Whereas in English a rookie employee might be referred to as being “green,” in Japanese they are aonisai, meaning a “blue two-year old.” Elsewhere, a visitor to Japan might be tempted to try the exotic sounding ao-ringo—“blue apple,” only to perhaps be disappointed at finding out it refers to a regular green Granny Smith apple. Dozens of other examples exist in relation to nature, food and animals.

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Traffic lights are treated similarly. In official literature and conversation, the “green” traffic light is referenced as ao, rather than midori. Even dating back to when traffic lights were first introduced in Japan in the 1930s—a time when traffic signals employed a distinctly green light—common practice was to make reference to “blue” lights. In modern times, Japanese traffic law requires those seeking a driver’s license to pass an eye exam specifying, among other things, the ability to distinguish between red, yellow and blue.

In the intervening years, this system of officially referring to green lights as blue put the Japanese government in a difficult position. Linguists took issue with the continued use of ao for what was a distinctly green color, and the country faced pressure to comply with international traffic customs regarding traffic lights.

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Ultimately, a novel solution was employed. In 1973, the government mandated through a cabinet order that traffic lights use the bluest shade of green possible—still technically green, but noticeably blue enough to justifiably continue using the ao nomenclature. While modern Japanese allows for a clear delineation between blue and green, the concept of blue still encompassing shades of green still remains firmly rooted in Japanese culture and language.

“Grue” traffic lights remain a common sight in cities across Japan. While some newer traffic signals come equipped with bright green LEDs—still referred to as blue—the familiar blue-green lights can still be found without much effort—representing a nod to the evolution of the Japanese language.

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rraszews
68 days ago
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There's apparently an episode of "Detective Conan" where the solution to the mystery hinges on the witness, being an elderly woman, describing someone as wearing a "blue" (ao) coat, which confuses the younger detectives (except for the master sleuth), as they thought of that color as green (midori)

3 Corpse Flowers Are About to Bloom in Washington, D.C.

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Washington, D.C., won't see a total solar eclipse on August 21 (residents will get upwards of 80 percent coverage), but there's another incredible natural phenomenon that could help make up for it. Three corpse flowers are expected to bloom at the United States Botanic Garden, stinking up its conservatory sometime between August 17 and 23.

Corpse flowers are native to Indonesia and known for their pungent smell that's reminiscent of rotting garbage, as well as their infrequent blooms. The strange plant, also called the titan arum, can grow up to 12 feet tall, so its blooms (technically inflorescences, or flower clusters) are quite the spectacle. The three plants at the Botanic Garden started out between two and three feet in height, but are growing quickly as they approach opening. The flower on the far left in the Botanic Garden's live stream, below, was 36 inches tall on August 6. By August 10, it had already shot up to 54 inches.

The Botanic Garden says this is likely the first time three corpse flowers at one institution have bloomed at once in North America. Chicago's Botanic Garden had two bloom back in June, and the New York Botanic Garden and the United States Botanic Garden had one bloom each last summer. There are a few possible explanations for why all these corpse flowers appear to be blooming around the same time, but the eclipse isn't one of them. The partial occlusion of the sun over D.C. is just a coincidence, but together they might make quite the natural show for the nation's capital.

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rraszews
97 days ago
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A weird, huge flower that smells of death and only blooms during a TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN? Um. I've seen Little Shop of Horrors. This sounds like bad news.
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