Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who Is Shannon Berry and How Does She Know So Much About Franklin Pierce?

I have had way too much time on my hands today, as this record-setting fourth post in one day proves. While looking for new information on Franklin Pierce, I found this History Channel video on YouTube. The speaker, Shannon Berry, is identified as a Franklin Pierce biographer. She knows her subject, but I can find no evidence that she has authored a biography of our obscure 14th President.

The Awesome Power of Elektro

His brain is bigger than yours.


dys⋅to⋅pi⋅a: [dis-toh-pee-uh] –noun -a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

Occasionally, I'll click on links in Feedjit to see how people landed on a particular post here. For instance, someone searched for "Sarah Palin grandchild" on AOL and got a list that included LD's post Naming Sarah Palin's Grandchild. Also in the list was a link to a site selling Republican-themed items. For real--this isn't satirical.

Magnolia and Mimi

I love this laughter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Present

Among the Christmas cards in yesterday's mail was an envelope containing a check for the princely sum of $137.50 from History Magazine. I had sent them an article on the history of leprosy back in March. They accepted it, but then I didn't hear from them again till the check arrived. Last time they published an article of mine, they sent me galley proofs and then a copy of the magazine. This time I'll have to buy a copy to see how it turned out.

From the History Magazine web site:

In Our January 2009 Issue ...

The Christmas Truce of 1914
Ron Hunka looks at a historic day of peace in a time of war

Darwin Aboard the HMS Beagle
Phill Jones follows the trail of Charles Darwin's ground-breaking expedition

The History and Mystery of Leprosy
David A Cory, M.D., looks at a disease that has been misunderstood for centuries

American Hostages in the Middle East
John R. Herman examines an 18-th century hostage taking that took years to resolve

Merry Christmas

My first Christmas, 1952

Seated center: Jeannie, Dennis, Jim
Next to tree: Carl, Fred, Joan, Skip, Diane
Seated next to tree: Reta
Back row: Walter, Pauline, Donna, Arlene, Bernie (holding yours truly), Ed

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Elektro Passed Over Again

Time magazine's photoessay, "Cinema's Most Memorable Robots," overlooked Elektro's performance as Sam Thinko the campus computer in that classic of the silver screen, Sex Kittens Go to College.


glowing lava
crackling, cools
earth’s birth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Franklin's Fir a First--Fact or Fallacy?

With a great deal of trepidation, I bring up an aspect of the Presidency of Franklin Pierce heretofore not explored on this blog. Lugubrious Drollery is dedicated to stamping out misinformation wherever it rears its ugly head. With this in mind, the author has tirelessly posted righteously indignant comments at as many as three or four other blogs guilty of repeating the story of President Franklin Pierce running over an old woman (see also LD's previous post "Franklin Pierce Runs Over Woman--Not!").

I know I am risking my reputation as a champion of truth, justice, and the American Way by posting an unsubstantiated bit of Presidential trivia here. In this Christmas season, I feel I must point out that they say (ah, the omniscient, omnipresent they!) that Franklin Pierce was the first President to decorate the White House with a Christmas tree. There! I've said it! Let the Devil take the hindmost and Bob's your uncle!

I have searched high and low for contemporaneous documentation of this momentous event in holiday decorating, but so far this effort has come a cropper. Sometimes they say the tree was erected in 1853, but others say the date was 1856. Some accounts throw in a visit from a Sunday school class from a Washington Presbyterian Church for good measure.

Well, until someone can show me a shred of evidence, I remain skeptical that Handsome Frank decked the halls of the White House.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Perfect Woman

While standing on a ladder to put Christmas decorations atop a bookcase, what to my wondering eyes should appear on the top shelf but a row of old books inherited from my grandfather Lee Cory. Among them was The Perfect Woman, copyright 1915.

Book Cover

I can only speculate as to why he bought this book. It may be that before his marriage, he was beginning the perpetually futile attempt of men to understand the female of the species. Perhaps he bought it with the intent that he could mold his wife into a perfect woman. My grandmother, whom I dearly loved, was small in stature and mild-mannered, but I can't imagine her as a Pygmalion to anybody. Whatever the reason for my grandfather's purchase, the book has survived for almost a century.

Title Page

Here is a picture of "Perfect Womanhood," whatever that may be.

Here is the ideal female figure: the Venus de Capitolina. The caption states that "the waist will be found to be two-fifths the height and nine inches less than the measure at the top of the hips." So a woman 5 foot 5 inches tall should have a 26 inch waist and 35 inch hips. There is no mention in that pre-implant era of what the ideal bust size should be.

Here's a fun and healthful family activity suggested by the author--Mom should dress up in a toga and pose as various statues while the children photograph her.

As noted on the title page, a major topic is "The Diseases Peculiar to Women," including hysteria: ". . .an affection peculiar to women of a nervous or nervous-sanguine temperament, with cheerful, lively and ardent dispositions. It takes its name from the Greek word meaning the womb..." and "the patient bursts into a fit of weeping, soon to be followed by convulsive laughter." Treatment included ignatia, macrotin, and pulsatilla. Exercise, deep breathing, and outdoor life were also recommended.

The author advocates baths of various kinds, including the unpleasant-looking nasal bath below, for a variety of maladies. In an era when medications were largely ineffective and somethimes harmful, this may have been a good idea.

The book doesn't confine itself to perfection of the woman. One of a woman's duties is to produce perfect children. And so we have "The Perfect Boy." It seems the bar was set much higher for women.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Most Boring Book Ever Written

William James Sidis (1898-1944) was an enigmatic character and a child prodigy. He spoke his first word ("door") at six months and was reading the New York Times at 18 months. He mastered numerous languages and even created his own language, called Vendergood. At age 9, he lectured the Harvard math club about the fourth dimension and entered Harvard as a student at age 11. Although his IQ was never formally tested, it has been estimated it was in the range of 250-300. His father Boris, a psychologist, and his mother Sarah, who graduated from medical school but never practiced, claimed their child-rearing methods were responsible for their son's genius. Despite his early promise, after an abortive attempt at teaching math at Rice in Houston, William James Sidis avoided academia as an adult. His preferred job was operating a comptometer, a calculating machine at which he was quite adept, but which did not require significant mental exertion on his part. He refused to take a job with any potential for promotion, and lived alone in a modest furnished apartment in Boston. His story is fascinating, and I would refer the interested reader to the biography, The Prodigy, by Amy Wallace.

Sidis received a lot of negative press for his eccentricity and perceived lack of success in life. He did, however, write extensively, usually under pseudonyms, on a variety of topics, including cosmology, history, and language. Only two of his book-length manuscripts were published. The first, The Animate and the Inanimate, which was published with the author's real name, predicted the presence of black holes. The second book, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, is a 300-page tome about peridromophilia, Sidis' peculiar hobby of collecting street car transfers. Sidis used the nom de plume Frank Falupa when he wrote the book. In The Prodigy, Amy Wallace states, "This book is arguably the most boring book ever written." In it, Sidis describes in excructiating detail the principles behind transfers, their physical appearance, and even how to collect discarded transfers off the street. For instance, if the paper transfer is frozen in ice, it is better to chip out the ticket and surrounding ice and take it home to thaw out, rather than to risk damage by trying to peel the paper off the ice on site.

And so forth.

Wallace mentions a few other contenders for the honor of most boring book. Nothing, by Methela, consisted of 200 blank pages. The Feminin Monarchi, written by Charles Butler in 1634, was a history of bees in phonetic spelling.

And so forth.

Now, there is a book--a book that has already been hailed as having the the oddest title of the last thirty years--with soporific potential which may approach that of Notes on the Collection of Transfers. As The Guardian reported on September 5, 2008:

The people have spoken and the oddest book title of the past 30 years has been selected: Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers. The impenetrable-sounding book, a comprehensive record of Greece's postal routes, is published by the Greek Hellenic Philatelic Society of Great Britain, which "exists to encourage the collection of Greek stamps and to promote their study".

In previous posts, I have mentioned the Diagram Prize, awarded annually by Bookseller magazine for the oddest book title of the year. This year, Bookseller awarded the Diagram of Diagrams to the book with the oddest title of the last 30 years. While the cover of Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers looks equally as boring as the cover of Notes on the Collection of Transfers, I'm not sure the scant 72 pages of text of the newer book can seriously challenge the 300 pages of Sidis' work. If any readers of this blog have access to these books and the stamina to slog through both, please report back.

Click on this link to see a gallery of some of the past annual Diagram winners which were considered for the Diagram of Diagrams Prize.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


While going through a box of old snapshots, it occurred to me I should be scanning some of these old photos before they and I deteriorate any further. Here are a couple of undated photos of my grandfather, Lee R. Cory, farming with horses. This would have been before my time, when he was using two Ford tractors for farm work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Conrad

While catching up on some podcasts of The Writer's Almanac on the way to the dentist for a root canal today, I learned that December 3 is the birthday of Joseph Conrad, who coined the phrase "lugubrious drollery." Happy belated birthday, Joe, dead though you have been since 1924.

Joseph Conrad said, "My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything."

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

I just got a new macro lens and was playing around with it today. Here are a couple pictures of the official White House Christmas ornament for 1997, commemorating Franklin Pierce.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Giant Fruit in Southern Indiana

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Big Peach, a peculiar roadside landmark along US 41 near Bruceville, Indiana.

I would like to add a picture of another monument to fruit further south on 41, in Gibson County--the Giant Strawberry. It looks forlorn and sits among a patch of weeds in a field. I think it once marked a strawberry farm, but now just sits there with no indication of its history.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Yellowstone Moose

Many years ago, on a family vacation out west, I took this picture of a moose in Yellowstone National Park. Mary showed me the print the other day, and I decided to use it as an exercise in my continuing attempt to learn to use Photoshop Elements. I imported the print with a flatbed scanner, and using layers, converted the background to black and white, and adjusted the color and lighting of the moose. The moose was covered with lots of white specks on the original. I clone stamped out some, and left some, to maintain the antique look of the picture.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hall of Mirrors

During a recent trip to Chicago, my photography tended toward a theme of reflections.

Self Portrait #1 in Funhouse Mirror - Navy Pier

Self Portrait #2 in Funhouse Mirror - Navy Pier

Cloud Gate, Millenium Park

Mary at Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate Reflection

Photographer and Ice, Cloud Gate, Millenium Park

All this reminded me of a shot I took at Harlaxtan Manor, Grantham, England in October: