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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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The City and The City

The making of Ephemicropolis from Peter Root on Vimeo.

O. Henry, “The Duel” (1910):

Your opponent is the City. You must do battle with it from the time the ferry-boat lands you on the island until either it is yours or it has conquered you. The battle is to decide whether you shall become a New Yorker or turn the rankest outlander and Philistine. You must be one or the other. You cannot remain neutral.

John Berger, “Keeping a Rendezvous” (1987):

Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.

To which some droll New Yorker replied: “Albany is an old man in a deli, trying to send back soup.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad Axe” (1856):

The great city is that which has the greatest men and women. If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the whole world.

All yoinked from the most recent Lapham’s Quarterly.

London, Ontario is of course a student with Ugg boots and big sunglasses. (I kid because I love.)

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The Top Five Most Boss Names of U.S. Secretaries of State

Tags: Sorry, Bainbridge Colby.

The top five most boss names of U.S. Secretaries of State:

5. Abel Parker Upshur (1843-1844)
4. Condoleezza Rice (2005-)
3. Elihu Root (1905-1909)
2. Hamilton Fish (1869-1877)
1. Philander C. Knox (1909-1913)

Honorable Mention: Lawrence Eagleburger (1992-1993), who as my friend Ned points out, sounds like something you’d be served at Ted Nugent’s ranch.

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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