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SgtPepperLucy O'Donnell“Lucy O’Donnell, the woman who inspired the classic Beatles song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, has died aged 46.

“The song [was] featured on the ground-breaking 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“John Lennon’s elder son Julian said it was inspired by a picture he drew of his classmate Lucy O’Donnell when they were at a nursery school in Weybridge, Surrey, in 1966.

“Julian said he took the picture home and showed it to his father, explaining, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.'” (more @ Daily Telegraph)

wolcott-0908-01Pity the culture snob, as Kindles, iPods, and flash drives swallow up the visible markers of superior taste and intelligence. With the digitization of books, music, and movies, how will the highbrow distinguish him- or herself from the masses?” (James Wolcott, via Vanity Fair)

jim_carrollJim Carroll, the poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs who chronicled his wild youth in ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60. . . .

“As a teenage basketball star in the 1960s at Trinity, an elite private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Carroll led a chaotic life that combined sports, drugs and poetry. This highly unusual combination lent a lurid appeal to ‘The Basketball Diaries’ the journal he kept during high school and published in 1978, by which time his poetry had already won him a cult reputation as the new, Bob Dylan.

“‘I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation,’ the singer Patti Smith said in a telephone interview on Sunday. ‘The work was sophisticated and elegant. He had beauty.'” (more @ NY Times)

Stencilled graffiti on wall in Tarnow, Poland “celebrating” anniversary of destruction of World Trade Center towers on 9/11 (May, 2008). [Click image to enlarge]

Smalling“A mail carrier arrives at a suburban four-bedroom home here each day with more postcards and envelopes than anyone else in the neighborhood receives, unsure of why the house gets so much mail or why it has its own ZIP code extension.

“If the carrier stepped inside, she would find the reason: 2308 Van Buren Avenue is the unlikely headquarters for an ongoing effort to collect the home address of every living major league baseball player, umpire, manager and coach. She would also find the solitary man behind the effort: Jack Smalling, a widowed 68-year-old crop insurance salesman.

“On Tuesday, Mr. Smalling will begin shipping the 15th edition of  ‘The Baseball Autograph Collector’s Handbook,’ a listing of home addresses for nearly 8,000 major leaguers, from Aardsma (David) to Zimmer (Thomas) — with Bench (Johnny), Mays (Willie) and Pujols (Albert) in between.

“Mr. Smalling started collecting autographs in 1962 and soon began constructing the address list to help fellow collectors send requests to players. He has more than 100,000 autographs in his personal collection.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Cycles Nude Label“The State of Alabama’s liquor agency has banned the sale of wine which features a ‘nude nymph’ on its label.

“The label on Cycles Gladiator wine shows a naked nymph with flowing hair flying alongside a winged bicycle.

“Alabama’s liquor regulations bar labels with ‘a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner.’

“According to the winery’s website, the labels are based on a Parisian bicycle advertisement dating from the late 19th century.” (cont’d @ The Food Section)

Peter & Gordon“Gordon Waller, who formed half of Peter and Gordon, a successful pop duo that followed the Beatles to America as part of the British Invasion of the 1960s and that scored a No. 1 hit with ‘A World Without Love,’ died on Friday in Norwich, Conn. He was 64 and lived in Ledyard, Conn. . . .

“The song, a lilting, plaintive ballad, opens with the lyrics, ‘Please lock me away/And don’t allow the day/Here inside, where I hide with my loneliness/I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay/In a world without love.’

“Peter and Gordon toured the United States and appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show‘ and other network variety shows — part of a wave of British groups that swept the United States, among them Chad and Jeremy, the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits.” (more @ NY Times)

Venice Gondola“With the splash of her oar, nine centuries of taboos in this romantic canal city shattered as [Giorgia] Boscolo passed a rigorous exam of brains and brawn to become Venice’s first official female gondolier — or gondoliera in Italian, a term that didn’t even exist until her achievement made it necessary. . . .

“Boscolo’s breakthrough propelled her into the ranks of what can no longer be described with complete accuracy as an elite fraternity, made up of bluff and hearty boatmen whose presence along Venice’s winding waterways seems as timeless as the city itself.

“Fewer than 500 gondoliers are licensed to navigate Venice’s network of 150 canals. They’re a fairly macho bunch, instantly recognizable in their jaunty black-and-white-striped shirts, lounging lazily against the bank-side walls waiting for tourists to hire them or letting loose the occasional low whistle at women who walk by.

“They are heirs to a tradition stretching back nearly a millennium, when the signature banana-shaped boats first began plying the waters as a quick and easy means of transport. The men who captained them became indispensable fixtures around the Venetian lagoon, proud of their skill and bonded by shared experience.

“As is inevitable when such a testosterone-laden citadel is breached, not all of Boscolo’s new colleagues have been thrilled about her entry into their midst. Some grumble sotto voce that she’s become too big for her britches, upending the old order and hogging all the attention.” (more @ LA Times)

Au Revoir“On Bastille Day, as chefs from the Flatiron District were holding a benefit in Madison Square Park inspired by food from around the world, a couple of blocks away Michael Steinberger was sounding the death knell for the most legendary cuisine of all. The occasion was the launch, at Idlewild Books, of his book ‘Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.’ . . .

“Steinberger, an ardent Francophile, sat on a stool on a low dais in the front window, next to a giant illuminated globe of the world. ‘For the first time in the annals of modern cuisine, the most influential chefs in the world are not French,’ he declared. ‘If you wanted to come up with the top three, you would say Thomas Keller, American; Heston Blumenthal, British; and Ferran Adrià, Spanish.’ He spoke of France’s thirty years of economic stagnation and crippling regulation and high taxes, which have translated every year into the loss of thousands of bistros, cafés, and brasseries, along with thirty thousand farms, all of which, together with a certain gastronomic indifference, he feels has led to the decline of French cuisine. Only ten per cent of cheeses in France are now made from raw milk (there’s just a single artisanal producer of traditional lait cru Camembert left in Normandy), and the consumption of wine—wine!—has dropped fifty per cent, to the point where thousands of small producers are effectively destitute.” (more @ The New Yorker)

Tom WilkesTom Wilkes, an art director, photographer and designer whose posters for the Monterey Pop Festival and album covers for the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, George Harrison and others helped illustrate the age of rock ’n’ roll, died on June 28 in Pioneertown, Calif., in the high desert east of Los Angeles. He was 69. . . .

“For the Rolling Stones, he created a controversial cover for the album ‘Beggars Banquet,’ using a photograph of a toilet stall with the name of the band prominent on a wall filled with graffiti. The record label initially refused to release the cover, and replaced it with a fake invitation to a dinner. Mr. Wilkes’s version was released later.

“For Dave Mason’s ‘Alone Together,’ Mr. Wilkes photographed Mr. Mason wearing a top hat and a long-tailed coat against a backdrop of canyon rocks. For Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen,’ he placed a photograph of the long-haired Mr. Cocker flexing his right bicep within an illustration of a mirror frame. For George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass,’ he depicted the former Beatle as if he were a woodsman in a fairy tale, surrounded by reclining trolls.

“Only hours before Janis Joplin’s fatal drug overdose in 1970, Mr. Wilkes photographed her for the album ‘Pearl,’ colorfully dressed and coiffed and looking remarkably relaxed and happy. He photographed Eric Clapton, sitting in a chair in a white suit, for his first solo album, and for Neil Young’s ‘Harvest,’ he created the typescript title over a red sun set against a wheat-colored background.” (more @ NY Times)

Giant Pez“It took more than 30 years for the creators of Pez candy dispensers to give the little plastic figurines feet, and they never did get hands. But now the long arm of the Pez Candy Co. has reached all the way from Linz, Austria, into U.S. District Court, where it has slapped the tiny faces that fill Burlingame’s Museum of Pez Memorabilia with a lawsuit.

“The legal broadside, which was filed in San Francisco last month, singles out a 7-foot-10 snowman, built especially for the museum, that has been recognized by the Guinness record keepers as the world’s largest Pez dispenser. Pez seeks to have the snowman melted down.” (cont’d @ San Jose Mercury News)

12petr600.1“John Heneghan tugged a large shellac disc from its brown paper sleeve, placed it on a turntable and gently nudged a needle into place. Behind him, in the corner of his East Village apartment, sat 16 wooden crates, each filled with meticulously cataloged 78-r.p.m. records. The coarse, crackling voice of the blues singer Charley Patton, performing ‘High Water Everywhere Part 1,’ his startling account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, rose from the speakers, raw and unruly. The record is worth about $8,000.

“Mr. Heneghan, 41, is part of a small but fervent community of record collectors who for decades have hunted, compulsively and competitively, for 78s: the extraordinarily fragile 10-inch discs, introduced near the turn of the 20th century and made predominantly of shellac, that contain one two- to three-minute performance per side. At a time when music fans expect songs to be delivered instantaneously (and often at zero cost) online, scouring the globe for a rare record — and paying thousands of dollars for it — might seem ludicrous.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Harry_Wright_SeatedHarry Wright, a Hall of Fame manager and pioneer during professional baseball’s gestation period in the 19th century, kept his letters in scrapbooks along with pictures and ledgers from his distinguished career. These faded pieces of paper are fragile evidence of some of the earliest business practices in baseball.

Hunt Auctions was scheduled to sell some of the items on July 14 at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game FanFest in St. Louis. But the letters have been temporarily pulled from the auction after drawing the attention of the F.B.I. because of the possibility that they were taken years ago from the New York Public Library.

“The letters were written to Wright, who was the manager, the general manager and a center fielder for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, considered the first team of all paid players. A year before his death in 1895, Wright willed his archives to professional baseball’s two major leagues. The materials were donated to the library in 1921, and some of them vanished more than 20 years ago.

“The library lists as missing three scrapbooks of letters written to Wright during the 1870s, ’80s and ’90s. Of the 25 lots linked to Wright in the auction, at least 23 are from the same period as the missing scrapbooks. Only one other scrapbook remains at the library.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Update: (7/5/09) Another Clue That Baseball Auction Has Stolen Items

venice water“In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

“Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

“For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.

“But here in Venice, officials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Orwell“[Orwell’s] classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads.” (via The Independent)

Anti-Nazi and Anti-Papal graffiti, Rome, Italy (May, 2009) [Click images to enlarge]

Food, Inc“MOVIES about food used to make you want to eat. . . .

“But that was then, before Wal-Mart started selling organic food and Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. Before E. coli was a constant in the food supply, before politicians tried to tax soda and before anyone gave much thought to the living conditions of chickens.

“Into this world comes Food, Inc.,’ a documentary on the state of the nation’s food system that opens in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday. . . .

“‘Food, Inc.’ begins with images of a bright, bulging American supermarket, and then moves to the jammed chicken houses, grim meat-cutting rooms and chemical-laced cornfields where much of the American diet comes from. Along the way Mr. Kenner attempts to expose the hidden costs of a system in which fast-food hamburgers cost $1 and soda is cheaper than milk.” (more @ NY Times)

CB021034“Slang is like a breeze; it softly comes and goes, as new times bring new buzzwords. Some stick (‘cool’ defiantly endures); some induce cringes when dusted off (‘groovy’ is now in the dustbin of irony). It’s obvious when slang becomes less funny or less meaningful through overuse: ‘Internets,’ for example, has become too widespread to be implicitly derisive of George W. Bush. Slang, in other words, is inevitably ephemeral–but it’s not always incidental. When hip-hop listeners crack the codes of songs en masse, rappers know it’s time to invent anew. The refusal of normative, dominant culture–beginning with the fundamentals of language–is embedded in the form. Baseball vernacular, for its part, isn’t so expressly political, nor is its obscurity as deliberate. Baseball belongs to the same class of folklore as, say, jazz, hamburgers and even hip-hop–but to employ Ken Burnsian hyperbole about the significance of its wordplay is a tough sell. It is what it is. As [Paul Dickson, author of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary] writes, it’s ‘low-key and light’–slang for its own sake. In other words, the richness of baseball’s old, weird vernacular is pure, pointless creativity. . . .

“Baseball slang is an avalanche of skewed logic. The commonest words take on very precise meanings. ‘Stuff’ refers quite specifically to the totality of a pitcher’s arsenal: his array of pitches and the velocity and movement with which he throws them. A pitcher can easily have good stuff but not succeed if his ‘command’–the ability to locate pitches accurately–is erratic. Terms associated with dirt and filth are highly complimentary. A hitter respectfully calls an excellent pitcher ‘filthy,’ a term that evolved out of common adjectives from a decade ago: ‘nasty’ and ‘dirty.’ ‘Dirtbags’ and ‘dirt dogs’ are consummate hustlers, guys with perpetually soiled uniforms and caps and batting helmets stained with sweat, tobacco juice and pine tar. Naturally, dirtbags and dirt dogs play ‘dirtball.’ A player who is ‘pretty’ is the opposite of a dirtbag, as is a ‘muffin.’ Food references are as prevalent as the television announcers who longingly mention the hallowed postgame buffet in the players’ clubhouse. The ball itself can be an egg, apricot, apple or stitched potato. ‘Jelly beans’ are rookies and inexperienced kids, the type a veteran might relentlessly call bush for a year before acknowledging him properly. Reaching base for your team’s big hitters is ‘setting the table.’ ‘Fat’ pitches are hittable ones, almost exclusively delectable treats, my favorite being ‘ham-and-cheese.'” (more @ The Nation)

Kerouac Baseball“Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow-Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

“He collected their stats, analyzed their performance and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

“All these ‘publications,’ some typed, some handwritten and often pasted into old-fashioned composition notebooks, are now part of the Kerouac archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The curator, Isaac Gewirtz, has just written a 100-page book about them, ‘Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats,’ to be published next week by the library and available, at least for now, only in the library gift shop.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Curveball“The three best visual illusions in the world were chosen at a gathering last weekend of neuroscientists and psychologists at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Florida.

“The winning entry, from a Bucknell University professor, may help explain why curve balls in baseball are so tricky to hit.

“A properly thrown curve ball spins in a way that makes the air on one side move faster than on the other. This causes the ball to move along a gradual curve. From the point of view of a batter standing on home plate, though, curve balls seem to ‘break,’ or move suddenly in a new direction.

“This year’s winning illusion, created by Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, may explain this phenomena. His animation shows a spinning ball that, when watched directly, moves in a straight line. When seen out of the corner of the eye, however, the spin of the ball fools the brain into thinking that the ball is curving.

“So as a baseball flies towards home plate, the moment when it passes from central to peripheral vision could exaggerate the movement of the ball, causing its gradual curve to be seen as a sudden jerk.” (more @ Fox News)

A demonstration of the illusion of a baseball “breaking” can be found at the American Institute of Physics website.