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We Can Be Happy Underground

From the “Further Readings” section at the back of Paul Collin’s wonderful Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change The World:

There is one very simple way to see what Beach’s railway [19th century New York’s secret, unfinished pneumatic subway] looked like, and blown up far larger than any plate in this book could manage. Go to a Subway shop–the fast-food chain, you know, where you can buy a six-inch Cold Cut Trio?–and lo! Pasted upon the walls are pictures of Beach’s invention. Whoever was designing the chainwide decor for Subway simply clipped out a bunch of old public-domain illustrations of subways, including three that originally ran in Scientific American in the 1870s. Look for the pictures that depict an almost perfectly round (save for a slight groove in the bottom) brick-lined subway tunnel, and a rounded subway car interior. These are Beach’s own handpicked illustrations for what was to be an ultra-million-dollar venture. Graze pensively on your Baked Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips. Ponder the vagaries of ambition.

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Metaphysical Graffiti

Tags: gilded age memetics, intellectual history as improv jazz, the secret of the sphinx revealed.

I’m a little stunned by how many nights back in September I stayed awake to the small hours reading Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club. You might not expect the intellectual biography of four Gilded Age pragmatists to be a compulsive page turner, but for me it really was.
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Curse of Bigness

As for me, my bed is made. I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water. … The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top.
William James, June 7 1899

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Two Turntables and a Cactus Thorn

Gloria Swanson drops the needle.

This made me think of my good buddy Gamma Fodder, who is DJing his first real club gig in Toronto this week. It’s a magazine article on messing with the phonograph from 1917. Scratching and needle-dropping sixty years before Grandmaster Flash? “The street finds its own uses for technology,” indeed.
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