Seeing As How It Is Washington’s Birthday More Or Less


I’d just like to remind people that it’s completely within their rights to see how much of Parson Weems’s biography of George Washington they can read aloud, to as large a crowd as possible, before cracking up. Here’s a practice sample from the Introduction:

And in all the ensigns of character amidst which he is generally drawn, you see none that represent him what he really was, “the Jupiter Conservator,” the friend and benefactor of men. Where’s his bright ploughshare that he loved — or his wheat-crowned fields, waving in yellow ridges before the wanton breeze — or his hills whitened over with flocks — or his clover-covered pastures spread with innumerous herds — or his neat-clad servants with songs rolling the heavy harvest before them? Such were the scenes of peace, plenty, and happiness, in which Washington delighted. But his eulogists have denied him these, the only scenes which belong to man the GREAT; and have trick’d him up in the vile drapery of man the little. See! there he stands! with the port of Mars “the destroyer,” dark frowning over the fields of war — the lightning of Potter’s blade is by his side — the deep-mouthed cannon is before him, disgorging its flesh-mangling balls — his war-horse pants with impatience to bear him, a speedy thunderbolt, against the pale and bleeding ranks of Britain! — These are the drawings usually given of Washington; drawings masterly no doubt, and perhaps justly descriptive of him in some scenes of his life. But scenes they were, which I am sure his soul abhorred, and in which, at any rate, you see nothing of his private virtues. These old fashioned commodities are generally thrown into the back ground of the picture; and treated, as the grandees at the London and Paris routs, treat their good old aunts and grandmothers, huddling them together into the back rooms, there to wheeze and cough by themselves, and not depress the fine laudanum-raised spirits of the young sparklers. And yet it was to those old fashioned virtues that our hero owed every thing. For they in fact were the food of the great actions of him, whom men call Washington. It was they that enabled him, first to triumph over himself; then over the British; and uniformly to set such bright examples of human perfectibility and true greatness, that, compared therewith, the history of his capturing Cornwallis and Tarleton, with their buccaneering legions, sounds almost as small as the story of General Putnam’s catching his wolf and her lamb-killing whelps.

And to help you get into the spirit of the thing and past that bit about Washington’s neat-clad servants with the rolling songs, here’s the statue Congress commissioned Horatio Greenough to carve of Washington that they decided, after a while, to hide while they looked for something less pompous to remember him by, like maybe a 555-foot-tall stick.

Marble statue of Washington, dressed as Jupiter more or less, holding up one hand and extending a sword in trade for your pants.

Yeah, that’s a miniature Christopher Columbus or somebody in the corner behind him.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Trading dropped six points amidst concerns that the Nicaraguan peso might be overvalued and also that the currency of Nicaragua might not be pesos. “Back a couple decades didn’t they rename, like, everything for Trujillo? I bet they trade in Trujillos,” said Robert. Nobody was completely sure which Dave took as his excuse to tell, once again, how they would have built the Panama Canal in Nicaragua — “shut up, you know what I mean” he added defensively — except Americans are a-scared of volcanoes. The Nicaraguan córdoba is trading at about thirty to the US dollar. Rafael Trujillo was President of the Dominican Republic, not Nicaragua. Probably he visited Nicaragua at some point in his life. That would make sense.

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On Not Knowing About Disney’s Saint Louis Theme Park


Did you know that Disney worked up plans to open a five-level indoor amusement park for Saint Louis, in the early 60s? Me neither. Consumerist.com reported yesterday about how blueprints from the planned park are up for sale. Apparently according to folklore Disney cancelled park plans because they’d have had to sell beer. In reality Disney just wanted other people to build the place for them, while they got to have the amusement park when it was done. The other people wouldn’t see things Disney’s way. You can see how Disney was making the only reasonable decision.

Consumerist quotes Mike Fazio, a consignment specialist, without actually naming him. I imagine they figured everybody would go to the Associated Press article they were working from instead. Anyway, Fazio says, “It’s amazing how many people don’t even know that they [Disney] were going to build a park in Saint Louis.”

I didn’t know. My sister, an amusement park enthusiast who lives near Saint Louis, had no idea either. [ NOTE: ACTUALLY COMMUNICATE WITH SISTER AND ASK IF SHE KNEW BEFORE POSTING THIS — EXTREMELY URGENT ]

And now I’m stuck wondering: what is an amazing number of people to not know that Disney considered but did not build a five-level indoor amusement park in Saint Louis over fifty years ago? Eight? That seems too few. Twelve? No, I think it’s credible that twelve people would not have heard of this. Forty-six? Again, I find that a believable number. Forty-eight might be a little amazing, if I hadn’t spoiled things by putting up thoughts of forty-six just a sentence before. But I’d bet Fazio was thinking of some even greater number of people.

Now, if there were 438 trillion people who didn’t know, I would agree that’s amazing. But that’s carried on the strength of 438 trillion being an amazing number of people. Whether they knew about the park or not neither adds to nor detracts from their amazingness. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. What they’re doing is standing ahead of me at the Coke Freestyle machine, staring at the single large illuminated button marked “PUSH”, with no course of action in mind and no desire to get one.

How does the number of people unaware of Disney’s Kennedy-era plans for a Saint Louis amusement park compare to other people unaware of things that don’t exist? In 1908 President William Howard Taft laid the cornerstone for a giant statue to the Vanished Native American. This even though Native Americans were still around and wanted to stick around. The statue never got finished, and Native Americans went on not vanishing. How many people have no idea that somewhere on Staten Island there is not this memorial taller than the Statue of Liberty?

Statues and amusement parks are one thing [ NOTE: at least two things ] but how about airports? There were plans afoot in the early 1930s to build an airport on top of Manhattan skyscrapers. This would have solved both the problem of New York City’s needing a commercial airport within the Five Boroughs and the problem of anybody being willing to use it. How does the number of people unaware of that compare to the Saint Louis Disney Park? In the 1970s they were going to build a nuclear power plant floating in the ocean by Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. How does the Saint Louis Disney Park Unawarenss Number compare to this plan to create, with the help of a little hurricane blowing the nuclear power plant into the skyscraper-top airport, the greatest disaster movie ever made, if only they could ever have put together the right cast?

There’s no telling, because I don’t know the numbers. I realize there’s little chance that Mike Fazio is going to see this article. But, what the heck, if I can get picked up the Onion AV Club briefly and get in contact with guys I knew in college and from Usenet fifteen years ago, why couldn’t I get to hear from him? Mr Fazio, if you read this, could you let me know what’s the largest number of people you’d think could credibly not know about this before?

The blueprints are expected to sell for between five and ten thousand dollars, so I’m afraid I’m not going to get them for my sister for Christmas. She doesn’t have time to build her own amusement park these days anyway, with with [ NOTE: ASK WHAT SHE’S DOING THESE DAYS ]. You can sympathize.

What Is Art?


What is art? Is this some of it, and if it isn’t, then what is it? Is a painting of leaves art? Is a football game art? What about teams of men repairing asphalt? If not them, how about people going around painting asphalt? Can you artistically endure a snowstorm? If not, can you endure building a snowman? Is parking next to the university library? How can it be, if no one has ever managed to do it? Are hamsters art? If not, can they be part of art? And what of noise? In short, can we define art any more precisely than “I don’t know what that is but I know I don’t like it”?

These are questions which have plagued humanity since 1878, when the governments of western European nations found that art could serve a role in defining their national cultures, by telling the nations that they had a culture. With new forms of attempted art, some in fixed installations and some in public performances, people just got generally more confused and irritated. For example, cartooning looked promising, but it flopped when people discovered that there are about four poses total that don’t make the human body look ungainly and awkward and weird when drawn. Those four poses have since been fully explored and nobody can be bothered to look at them anymore. Some folks carry on drawing, because what else is there to do, and people still try standing around or sitting or lounging in the hopes of finding another pose in which they look attractive.

Initially this was seen as a good thing, as many public opinion makers were worried that the public wasn’t confused enough anymore, given the rise in literacy and the adoption of standardized time zones. However, now people began to wonder if this thing which was annoying them was some manner of art or whether, worse, these might be protest rallies from people trying to rally support to the idea that society could be made a little less horribly brutal in some fashion.

Some order was restored by the United States Commerce Department which in a series of meetings between 1925 and 1928 adopted a standardized definition of artwork which became as good as universal. According to this, art was officially standardized as “the stuff that was kept in museums where nobody had to look at it or have opinions about it through to 1925”. New art might be admitted if it fell into one of two accepted categories: watercolor paintings of sailing ships, or bronze statues of generals on horseback. These were adequate for most of the remaining 1920s, as people had not yet fully learned what exactly sailing ships looked like, and while there wasn’t all that much bronze to go around nobody really wanted to commemorate the generals of the most recent war anyway.

These standards are still in place, with the only major revision being a ruling in 1946 that the statues countries had put up to remember the horrors of World War I absolutely had to be repaired so as not to show any damage they sustained in the battles of World War II. But the old standards show their age: today it’s difficult to find anyone who didn’t know what a sailing ship looks like, and while the generals-on-horseback style was revitalized sculptors got fairly bored and tried horses-on-generalback and then the backs of horse generals before deciding they didn’t much like bronze anyway.

Meanwhile, municipalities started seeing their public spaces decorated with sculptures consisting of oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal painted international warning signal orange, which serve as emblems of the way municipalities naturally form oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal and how artists have a lot of international warning signal orange paint. These are generally harmless, with a few getting exorbitant price tags, good for a little scandal about the city council spending money for those times when there isn’t any real news to worry about.

Given this, plus two other examples I couldn’t think up right now, it’s best to fall back on the pragmatic definition of art. According to this, art is anything you see that it annoys you someone else gets to do. The definition isn’t perfect and it can be vexed by things you’re confident your niece and/or turtle could do better, but it will do until a new standard can be defined.