Just My Type, or Fontsy Meeting You Here

Lowercase f and r are a headache for typesetters. Typesetters want letter spacing to be snug, no gaps. But f and r reach forward into the next letter’s space, like someone tapping your shoulder.

When r gets too close to m, the two letters start to look like a three-humped camel. An f touching an apostrophe looks like a sneeze in search of a kleenex.

Despite its wider spacing (compared to Times New Roman), Century Schoolbook still has its apostrophe snogging the f.

Arial and other clean-cut fonts avoid overcrowding by doing without ornamental blobs and swoops (serifs). Taking a close look at “waffle,” you see how pleased Arial must be with itself, not only keeping the f-crooks clear of each other but also joining the horizontals to form a double letter (ligature).

Here is a close-up on apostrophes:

Lucida has its square-head apostrophe centered perfectly, as you would expect in a font from the bit-mapped 1980s. Palatino solves spacing by redesigning the apostrophe, from a yin shape to a semi-bananoid.

Lucida and Cambria are the kitchen-faucet fonts, recognizable by the downward aim of their spout-like f’s and r’s. Square dots over the i’s date these as pixel-era designs.

Palatino and Goudy scream hand-lettered.

Palatino’s f rises thick, angles thin, then thickens again to a squared-off, forward-looking stop: thinning or thickening at turns is characteristic of a pen with an angled nib (chisel-tip).

In the Goudy f, the thinning is more fluid, suggesting a brush stroke.  You can always identify Goudy by the letter i, dotted with a diamond.

Above, the Times New Roman f droops nearly on top of the r — that is TIGHT letter-spacing, valued highly in multi-columned newspapers but less so in the wide pages of books.

The older Baskerville is much like TNR, using heavy blobs in contrast with thin strokes to improve legibility. Thin strokes are much thinner in Baskerville.

The letters g and y are “below the baseline” cousins to f and r, encroaching on neighbors’ space. Why does y slant backward? Why does this kind of g have a lasso below? Short answer: these are the forms inherited from medieval manuscript tradition. The first fonts were designed for readers who were accustomed to monkish handwriting.

The Baskerville g features a curlicued oval, which is not quite closed. You could draw a thin vertical line in the clear space between the Baskerville g-bags.

Both Garamond and TNR  set their serifs low on the g-head, like the bill of a cap, to avoid overlapping the y serif. Goudy, a quirky American font, has an antler-like g serif — damn the overlap, full speed ahead!

The letter o is seldom a circle. It’s a perfect circle in typewriter-born Courier but an obvious oval in Arial — a font so standardized every stroke of every letter is of uniform thickness. It is surprising then to find one of the TNR-like fonts (at right) has a circular o. Hint: the one with the droopiest a-bag.

There is a white pill shape inside the Century and Bodoni o’s. The pills are upright. Notice how the pill in TNR is tilted slightly leftward. Is it because monks were mostly right-handed? Notice also in TNR that d and b, which ought to be mirror images, are not. Though TNR’s middle name is New, there’s much of Hogwarts still in it.

You’d never finish a book if you noticed irregularities in every letter of every word. So we surf lines of type without regard to the droplets flying in every wave. No doubt the future of fonts — and language generally — will bring further simplification and modularity. Yet the smoothest surface, under magnification, always turns out to be a jungle gym of atoms, with long molecules swirling in a vortex of association and connection, toward the eye of further study and enjoyment. To that end, here is an array of examples for contemplation at your leisure.

Constellation theory of the Great Serpent Mound

From Squier and Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848)

At top, the yoke is between the two paths. Photo: Jarrod Burks, via drone camera

The yoke is at bottom right. A berm forms the oval head, in the middle of which is a capsule-shaped mound a few feet high.

Assuming the Great Serpent is a reflection of a figure in the sky, we look for a serpent-like arrangement of stars with its head pointing westward — i.e., a reversed image of the Squier and Davis drawing.

Winter constellations visible from Ohio.

The head is centered on the 3.5 magnitude star Wasat, a spectacular sight in 1066 when occulted by Halley’s comet. A necklace of faint stars forms the yoke. The coil of the tail, including a few stars from Canis Major, ends on the brightest star in Puppis (Naos).

The hourglass shape of Orion has a rough counterpart in the Fort Ancient earthwork, not far from Cincinnati.

The Bayeux tapestry (scene 32) shows amazed observers pointing at Halley’s comet above a tower. In the night skies of January–March 1066, the spraying “star” passed through the middle of the oval head at Gemini.

Shakespeare Shorts

Shakespeare Shorts

Quotes from the Bard you can use every day — in four words or less !


“Good night, mother.” — Hamlet III.iv.218

DraggingPolonius.gifHamlet says this while dragging the corpse of Polonius out of her bedroom. The line is delivered hilariously by Laurence Olivier in the 1948 movie.

Illustration: Unknown artist via http://hs.umt.edu/joyce/notes/060029huggermugger.htm


“Rudesby, be gone.” — Twelfth Night IV.i.50


This is Olivia rebuking her drunken Uncle Toby (left) with a made-up name. Sneaksby and Idlesby were similar zingers from the Elizabethan era. “Rudesby, be gone” is suitable also for siblings who dare enter your room, hoverers around your cube, and so many others.

Illustration: Unknown artist via Folger Digital Collection @ http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/detail/FOLGERCM1~6~6~348735~129285:-Twelfth-night,-IV,-1,-Olivia,-Sir-


“Twas a rough night.”Macbeth II.iii.58


These four words are presented as a comment on the weather, as Macbeth chats with Lennox the next morning, but Macbeth is remembering too how he had a major fight with his wife in the wee hours. There was a lot of confusion, and bad things happened.

Illustration: Posted on the National Education Network (UK) http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/asset58044_75-.html


“Myself myself confound!”Richard III (IV.iv.399)


Anytime you trip yourself up, being too clever, you can invoke Shakespeare’s Richard — the ultimate weaver of tangled webs (the queen calls him a “bottled spider”). Richard’s most famous line is “My kingdom for a horse!” (V.iv.7).

Photo: Actor Richard Mansfield as Richard III (1889). He became a star in the stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


“Kill Claudio.”Much Ado About Nothing IV.i.285

Beatrice and Benedick. Much Ado About Nothing - Act IV, Scene 1

When Benedick asks a question that lovers have asked since time immemorial — How can I prove how much I love you? — Beatrice gives an unusually specific answer. Claudio is Benedick’s best friend.

Illustration: Norman Mills Price (about 1925) via http://www.lookandlearn.com/history-images/N846914/Beatrice-and-Benedick-Much-Ado-About-Nothing-Act-IV-Scene-1


“I’ll unhair thy head!”Antony and Cleopatra II.v.64


When a messenger delivers bad news, Cleopatra grabs him by the hair and gives him a good shake.

Photo: Theda Bara as Cleopatra (1917) via wikimedia


“You are — a Senator.”Othello I.i.119


Iago makes this snappy reply when Desdemona’s father calls him a villain.

Illustration: Thomas Nast cartoon (1872) depicting actor Carl Schurz in the role of Iago; via wikimedia


“I am your butt!”Henry VI Part Three I.iv.29


Queen Margaret rallies her commanders on the battlefield — with a line Shakespeare would probably edit if he were doing a remake today. In his time, “butt” could mean “target” or the brace that holds up a target. The target in this case is the rebel Duke of York and his followers, and she is saying: “Kill them. I as Queen uphold your cause.”

Margaret of Anjou was a durable and versatile character for Shakespeare, appearing in four of his plays. She’s a hot-blooded princess-bride in Henry VI Part One, a scheming politician with a too-churchy husband in Part Two, and a warrior queen in Part Three. She makes a comeback in Richard III as the acid-spitting embodiment of “I told you so.” The only other character to appear in four plays by the Bard is Bardolph, a sidekick of the cowardly Falstaff.

Illustration: Joan of Arc serves here as a stand-in for Queen Margaret. This copyright-free engraving of Joan is from The Stratford Gallery or the Shakespeare Sisterhood by Henrietta Lee Palmer (1866). You can see a portrayal of Queen Margaret in a similar pose in the following article from The Guardian, which shows Dame Peggy Ashcroft dressed for battle. Scroll down at: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/jun/09/great-performances-peggy-ashcroft-the-wars-of-the-roses


“Die all, die merrily.”Henry IV Part One IV.i.134


For those who choose to go out in a blaze of glory — being true to their own flawed selves — the brilliant but short-lived Hotspur provides a cheerful exit line.

Painting: William Edmund Doyle (1864) via wikimedia


“Speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap.”

— The Merry Wives of Windsor IV.v.2


Illustration: The Droeshout portrait appeared in the first publication of Shakespeare’s collected plays, known as the First Folio (1623).

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Joke Journal

Joke Journal

Image: Wikimedia

Yosemite Sam via wikimedia

What is the earliest joke you can remember from childhood? Maybe it was something on TV, possibly involving a small, seemingly powerless figure who turns the tables on somebody big. It might have been Tweety dodging Sylvester. Certainly Bugs Bunny had no trouble dealing with mini-adults like Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. Faced with a gun at point-blank range, Bugs would plug the barrel with his gloved finger and . . .

Ka-blooey! Scorched face. Ka-blooey! Moustaches with smoke twirling off the ends.




Inspired by Bugs Bunny, below is a graphical model of how a joke works. Humiliation is the energy source in about a third of all jokes. References to sex are the combustible fuel for another third. The remaining third of jokes get their pop from disrupted language processing, which we’ll get to later.


_ _ _

According to some, “ha!” is an expression of relief like “whew,” meaning “I’m glad that happened to you and not me.” As you see in the chart below, a lot of comedy is associated with characters who bring misfortune on themselves.


The Inept Aggressors are fools. They deserve ridicule — ha! Our feelings are less clear when we laugh at Habitual Victims and Innocent Bystanders. In the world of “insult added to injury” humor, as in the real world, the innocent take their whacks with the guilty. Too bad for you, chumps!

To see the “Prawn Salad Ltd” sketch, google: youtube monty python prawn salad

_ _ _

Thanks to advanced scanning technology, scientists are beginning to understand the role of the ass brain in joke processing and guffaw emissions.















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Theodore Roosevelt (1910) via Library of Congress

Theodore Roosevelt (1910) via Library of Congress

I once organized a practical joke at work. It was just before a weekly department meeting, and there were about a dozen people around a big conference table, waiting for the boss to arrive. “Everybody, raise your chair to maximum height,” I said. The boss arrived soon after, started the meeting, and eventually he said the secret word (the name of a major client). Around the table, we all pulled the levers on our chairs and sank six inches in unison — a hilarious sight. Surprisingly, the boss — though he was famous for his sense of humor — didn’t laugh. For everyone in the room except him, part of the joke was seeing the look on his face. The thing about a practical joke is: there is always someone not “in on it.”

  • To illustrate the boss’s famous sense of humor: he once said if he was out and you left a memo on his empty chair, he would assimilate the information by assmosis.


_ _ _


The schoolmaster has a switch in his hand and a quill behind his ear, circa 1905. Photo: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-37935

In seventh grade, Mrs W told a version of the “pi r square” joke, which uses “country” grammar and food ways to slam the rural poor — a popular target in all parts of the world and in every era of history. The funny thing is: Mrs W was a self-declared hick, having a Texas accent and being from a family that had seen hardship (which was why, she said, she wore a black skirt and plain white blouse to work every day).

But folks are paradoxical, and country people love telling jokes with a twang. It goes to show how stereotyping feels different when the target group is in on the joke.

Instead of a pickup, Mrs W drove a beat-up ol’ white Triumph TR-3.


_ _ _

Humiliation and sex account for about two-thirds of the joke universe. The remaining third belongs mostly to language-processing humor. Puns are an example. You think you know what a word means, and then it means something different (“What has four wheels and flies?”). Another type of “wrong meaning” joke follows the pattern of “Waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup?”

A third type uses the juxtaposition of poetic language with street talk. The high-low language combo usually gets referred to the appreciative chuckle center (see Jocularological Map of the Brain), but in this example from Silkwood (1983) you see how mismatched diction can bring on an epiphany. In one shattering instant of illumination, we see what life has been like for TDF. Fair warning: if you are offended by the foul language you hear on cable TV, you should watch this video anyway.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSoNSVKTvGw

_ _ _

One day in fifth grade, I noticed Mrs M kept pointing to the chalkboard with her middle finger. Clueless grownup! Little did she realize she was using a bad word in front of the class. I clamped my lips as hard as I could, but there was nothing I could do about the grand mal giggles in my chest. Terry B noticed and started making funny faces whenever Mrs M turned to the board. I couldn’t take a breath. My insides were jolting like an off-balance washing machine. I don’t know how I made it to recess. But the last thing in the world I wanted to hear was Mrs M calling on me to ask: “Karl, would you like to share with the class what is so funny?”

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How to Find Favorite Constellations

04UmbrellaPlanetariumThe Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) are two of the best-known constellations for viewers in the Northern Hemisphere. They are easy to locate. And having found the Dippers, you can also track W-shaped Cassiopeia (KASS ee oh PEE yuh). All you need is a portable planetarium.

To make an Umbrella Planetarium (very portable), paint three constellations onto the underside of an umbrella, as shown. Point your umbrella at the North Star, and rotate the stick counterclockwise. Voila, the nightly and seasonal motion of the circumpolar stars.




Find the North Star

01FirstFindNorthStarTo find the Dippers, first find the North Star (Polaris). Look due north, about one-third to one-half of the way up from the horizon.

  • If you are in Los Angeles (34 degrees latitude), Polaris is 34 degrees above the horizon.
  • If you are in Seattle (47 degrees latitude), Polaris is 47 degrees above the horizon.

From anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere — any time of year, any time of night — Polaris is due north and x degrees above the horizon, where x = degrees north of the equator for your location. At the North Pole (90 degrees latitude), the North Star is at the top of the sky.




02LookInCircleEven if you can’t find Polaris (often too faint to see under city lights), look in a large circle around its estimated location. The Big Dipper is bigger, brighter, and easier to find.

  • Because of Earth’s rotation, the Big Dipper appears to circle Polaris every 24 hours.
  • Because of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, the Big Dipper’s starting point each night appears to advance a little in the counterclockwise direction.

Knowing about the Big Dipper’s circle, you can predict where to find this constellation during each season of the year. If you are out for several hours, you can follow the Big Dipper’s slow progress around the circle and estimate the time.




Note: Click images to enlarge.





With observations taken in mid-evening, Spring finds the Big Dipper high in the northern sky, well above the North Star (more than two hand widths, held at arm’s length). By Summer, the Big Dipper’s nightly starting point has inched one-quarter of the way around its circle. Notice how the two forward stars of the pot always point to Polaris. In the Fall, the Big Dipper approaches the horizon and may disappear for viewers in southern latitudes (in Florida, for example). Look for Cassiopeia, which travels around the same circle as the Big Dipper but on the opposite side. Near the middle bump of this W-shaped constellation, astronomer Tycho Brahe observed a supernova in 1572. In Winter, the Big Dipper climbs toward the top of the sky again, now three-quarters of the way around its circle. The Little Dipper, with Polaris at the tip of its tail, sweeps around the circle like the hand of a clock running backwards.


Disclaimers: The North Star is visible from the Northern Hemisphere. Sorry, Southern Hemisphereans!

The seasonal positions shown for the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia assume a viewing time in the mid-evening. When viewed at later times, these constellations will be seen to have moved along their circular paths in the counterclockwise direction.


05RevEarthPolarisWhy Polaris Is Aways Seen in the Same Location

A line drawn through the South and North Poles points directly to the North Star.


Coming soon . . .

South-Facing Constellations


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Thru — A Tale of Tangled Spelling

Thru — A Tale of Tangled Spelling

Thru was one of the more successful initiatives of the spelling reform movement. You see it on highway signs and in certain kinds of military paperwork. From 1939 to 1975, copy editors at the Chicago Tribune changed every through in the paper to thru.

The selling points for thru were easy to understand:

  • Fewer letters
  • Spelled as it sounds

And yet the dictionary spelling continues to be through, with thru listed as an informal variant.

Here is how through came to look the way it does.

LetterThornIn the early days of the English language (around A.D. 700), through was a four-letter word, and it was spelled as it was pronounced — like this:


The letter þ, looking like a p with a head-feather, is called a thorn. It dropped out of use after the 1400s, but before then it stood for the sound th. In the spelling of þurh, notice that:

  • The r and u were in reverse order back then. This kind of switch-around, called metathesis, happened a lot in the history of the English language. Bird, for example, used to be spelled and pronounced brid.
  • The final letter h was pronounced with a Germanic hocking sound, similar to the ch in Achtung!

As þurh evolved toward through, quite a few variant spellings accumulated — including thrughe, throughe, throgh, threu, threw, throu, thrwch, throwch, throche, and thro. These reflected pronunciations in different districts and, over time, by different generations. In Shakespeare’s time (circa 1600), there was growing demand for someone to put a stop to all the variant spellings.

Arrival of THE Dictionary


Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1796 edition). Photo: D’Youville College Archives, Buffalo, NY

Spelling lists had begun to appear in the late 1500s. Samuel Johnson completed the first English dictionary in 1755, followed in 1828 by Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language. The success and enduring reputation of Webster’s dictionary were such that even today American dictionaries often have his name in the title.

With dictionaries came the concept of THE dictionary — an authority that ends dispute about the correct spelling and definition of any particular word. At some level, we understand there are many dictionaries produced by different publishers, but when we need to look up a word, we think of ourselves as going to THE dictionary — whichever one it may be. (It’s similar to THE hospital, as in: “Thousands of people go to THE hospital every day.”)

Once the concept of THE dictionary takes hold, it becomes difficult to introduce new spellings. The whole idea of THE dictionary is to extinguish variation. Nevertheless, in the late 1800s, when reformers were clamoring for all kinds of change — the vegetarians, the nudists, the advocates of good government — a spelling reform movement arose, and one of their favorite cases to lay before the public was the common sense of changing through to thru.

Theodore Roosevelt expressed interest in spelling reform, but the movement never rallied enough popular support for a makeover of THE dictionary. By the 1920s, the movement was in decline. Today, you can still see a few stalwart protesters at the national spelling bee, waving signs that say “Enuf!”

The lesson of history appears to be that we are willing to put up with quirks and contradictions, and we are willing to let children and foreigners struggle with silent letters and combinations that produce the most unexpected sounds (hey, we had to learn it; why shouldn’t they?) as long as we have THE dictionary to give the final word.

Modern lexicographers insist their job is to reflect rather than prescribe. But we continue to rely on THE dictionary. Nobody wants to go back to a time when through could also be spelled thrwche.

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Hello, Dairy Cows

Hello, Dairy Cows


Photo: Malcolm Morley / Wikimedia Commons

We love our cows more than they love us. Some say a cow doesn’t even love another cow so much as she loves being in a herd. This bony, barrel-waisted, thousand-pound bovine just won a beauty contest, but her handler is the one who smiles — at the sight of a cow who is all that a dairy queen should be. A Jersey cow typically has a ring of white around her nose.

Click photos for larger view.





Photo: Jamain / Wikimedia Commons

Cows are good at making milk, and humans have been very clever about making things from milk — butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and the whipped cream supporting the cherry on top of the prettiest form of pretty please. Historically, cheese was important as a storable food. It could also be carried during travel. To make cheese, you need rennet — a curdling agent found in a cow’s stomach. To avoid killing a valuable cow, American pioneers took rennet from deer stomachs.




Photo: Scott Bauer / USDA

Cows don’t eat horses because their famously serial stomachs can convert grasses into complete nutrition. They particularly enjoy rye and oats (not so much wheat or corn).

Getting all your nutrition from plants is an awesome superpower, on par with the ability of plants to make their food from chlorophyll and sunshine. Alas, human digestive systems are unable to make nine of the 20 amino acids we need for protein. So we devour animals for THEIR protein. Or drink their milk. Lamentably, we are the Klingons.

The cows in this photo are Holsteins — your standard-issue, black-and-white American dairy cow. About 90 percent of US dairy cows are bred from Holsteins.



Photo: Storye_book / Wikimedia Commons

It’s better to be a cow than a steer, from a snipping point of view. Even so, dairying is a business that relies on four-tube milking machines, and that means a dairy cow must have four teats and no more. Any extras are sheared off when the calf is two to six weeks old. It’s unpleasant, but ethically justifiable. We humans do lots of mutilations on ourselves (circumcisions, piercings, scarring, foot binding, etc.) as well as animals, with a lot less reason. The US dairy industry has agreed to stop docking cows’ tails by 2020.





Photo: David Merrett / Wikimedia Commons

Big arteries and veins route a high volume of blood through the high-production udder of a modern dairy cow. Judges at the fair look for a smooth, snug transition between udder tissue and the belly (not “loose”). From the rear, they look for a high point of attachment and a strong medial suspensory ligament (MSL), which holds the udder up in the middle. A cow with cleavage has a pronounced MSL.






Photo: Mike Sporcic / USDA

Judges evaluate a cow’s head for breed characteristics. It’s a low priority, being far from the udder, but we humans can’t help responding to a face. A cow’s face should be feminine, clean cut, and “slightly dished,” with wide open nostrils. Parrot jaw is bad, and so is a “wry face.” Nobody wants mockery from a cow.






GEA 50-stall Magnum Rotary automatic milking system. Photo: Midwest Livestock Systems

This 50-stall rotary milking carousel is fully automated. As a cow steps in, the system washes and dries the udder and scans the teats for mastitis. The vacuum nozzles attach, drain the milk, and retract without any assistance from a human — which may be fine with Elsie, given the massive indifference of cows to us as persons. A gate opens in front to send her on her way. Next!

See Youtube for a 3 min. video from New Zealand that demonstrates a fully automatic milking system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoWpxWBlMpg&noredirect=1

Most dairy operations are too small to afford full automation. A dairy with only hundreds of cows to milk would still rely on humans to clean and inspect the udder and attach the nozzles.  http://jasonsmalley.photoshelter.com/image/I0000Nf8OOZyklpY

Here’s a wider view of a whole carousel: https://www.morningagclips.com/virtual-farm-tours-part-of-world-dairy-expo/




Photo: Jamain / Wikimedia Commons. Dream photo: Paradise Ranch (Nevada) / Library of Congress

A heifer begins giving milk at age 2. In today’s high-production dairies, a robust cow might stay on the job to age 12, but most are culled by age 6 — because of mastitis, bad legs, or not enough milk. A dairy cow that retires at 12 has given her all and deserves retirement in a pasture, but MBA economics forbids it. Culled dairy cows, too tough to offer filets, are generally sold for ground beef.





Photo: State Library of Queensland via Wikimedia Commons

Within living memory, dairy farming was a means of survival rather than industrial profit and loss. In this 1935 photo from Queensland, Australia, Annie Mallinson has two children with her in the milking shed — Florence Jean milking the other cow, and Arthur hiding behind a post. Note the skinny pins on the cows and the skinny legs on the humans.

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Local History — Assorted Angelenos

Local History — Assorted Angelenos

Harry Chandler (left) makes nice with bitter rival William Randolph Hearst (1930). Photo: LA Public Library / Herald Examiner Collection

Harry Chandler (left) and William Randolph Hearst, 1930. Photo: LA Public Library / Herald Examiner Collection

Harry Chandler

He proved to be the greatest land-development visionary since Moses. Harry Chandler came to Los Angeles in 1882 to recover his health, which was shattered after a fall into an icy pond at Dartmouth. Back then, LA was a lawless backwater, murder capital of the United States. Chandler went to work as a paper boy for the Times and not long after married the publisher’s daughter. Through hard ward work and imagination, Chandler became the guiding genius in the development of the nation’s fastest-growing city, conjuring up such landmarks as the Rose Bowl, the Hollywood sign, CalTech, the Ambassador Hotel, Douglas Aircraft, Santa Anita, and the 1932 Olympics. He didn’t invite the Dodgers to Chavez Ravine (his son Norman did that). But he created the Salton Sea — by accident (an irrigation scheme on the Colorado River went awry in 1905).




Moses Hazeltine Sherman (left) and Sheriff Bill Hammel on Hollywood Blvd, 1900. Photo: Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries

Moses Hazeltine Sherman (left) and Sheriff Bill Hammel on Hollywood Blvd, 1900. Photo: Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries

Harry Chandler bought a lot of real estate — maybe a little less than Thomas Jefferson but in the same league. Famously, he made a water wonderland of the semidesert San Fernando Valley. First, he and a cohort of investment partners bought 44,000 acres in the Valley on the cheap. Then the Times persuaded voters there was a dire water shortage. Voters said yes to bond issues for a 250 mile aqueduct from the Sierra Nevada, engorging the aquifer under Chandler’s land.

Moses Hazeltine Sherman, who lent two of his names to Valley thoroughfares, was among Chandler’s favorite investment partners.



Job Harriman


Job Harriman. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-06415

Running for mayor as a Socialist, Job Harriman won the primary in 1911 but lost the general election when the radical unionist McNamara brothers pleaded guilty to setting off a bomb in the Times building. Harriman was a local defense attorney for the McNamaras, alongside Clarence Darrow.

In 1914, Harriman left politics to establish the Llano del Rio collective farm. Located just north of the San Gabriel Mountains, near today’s Devil’s Punchbowl Park, the utopian community started with five families, each buying shares in the collective. The colonists built houses, two hotels for visitors and prospective colonists, a cannery, and various specialty shops. The crops included 250 acres of alfalfa, 200 acres of orchards, and 100 acres of garden vegetables.

Llano del Rio grew to 1,000 colonists, and then Big Rock Creek began to run dry. In 1917, the colonists packed up and moved to Louisiana — out of the frying pan of the Mojave desert, into the vegetable steamer. As soon as the colonists moved out, nearby ranchers vandalized Llano del Rio. All that remains are stone foundations.


Llano del Rio, Christmas, 1914. Photo: County of Los Angeles Public Library

The ruins of Llano del Rio, with chimneys 12 feet high, are sometimes called the Socialist Stonehenge.

The ruins of Llano del Rio, with chimneys 12 feet high, are sometimes called the Socialist Stonehenge.








Note: Click photos to see full size.


Arna Bontemps


Bontemps (left), singer Etta Moten Barnett, and Langston Hughes. Photo: Chicago Public Library, Etta Moten Barnett Papers

Arnaud Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923 and got the hell out of LA, which by that time was advertising itself  as The White Spot of America. Joining in the Harlem Renaissance, Bontemps drew attention as a poet and novelist. He later became the movement’s chief preservationist. At Fisk University, he assembled important collections based on the work of Langston Hughes and other African-American writers.

Bontemps’ first novel, Chariot in the Cloud (1929), was set in South-Central Los Angeles in the 1910s, when the city’s black population was small and mostly middle class. His first novel never found a publisher. His second, God Sends Sunday (1931), was based on the life and travels of a favorite uncle, who was a famous jockey.  When his racing days were over, Little Augie rode the rails to LA and lived for a while in Mudtown, an area of “three or four dusty wagon paths” and shacks overgrown with morning-glory, gourd, and honeysuckle. Mudtown was a straggly rural patch beyond the more suburban neighborhood of Watts. As Bontemps explains, “Mudtown was exceptional. Here, removed from the influences of white folks, they did not acquire the inhibitions of their city brothers. Mudtown was like a tiny section of the deep south literally transplanted.”


Sister Aimee

Aimee Semple McPherson loved God and loved putting on a show. She made a career of doing both, but eventually — like many uniquely gifted believers before her (St. Francis, Shakespeare, and Quaker painter Edward Hicks, to name a few) — she ran into trouble.

Aimee Semple McPherson. Photo: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-52ROzybe_kU/TfTgioB5oJI/AAAAAAAACNY/i5buM7haLdc/s1600/txu-hrc-5039-1000.jpg

Aimee Semple McPherson. Photo: Source unknown

Sister Aimee preached in white and wore high heels. Observers said she had a way of whooshing sexual energy around a room while preaching a simple Four Square vision of the Bible. Raising her arms was a favorite gesture, making audiences aware of the contours of her body, even in prayerful supplication.

Sister Aimee developed “illustrated sermons” with elaborate props, sets, and special effects, drawing on talents in nearby Hollywood. Big crowds came to her Angelus Temple on Sunday afternoons to see lavish productions such as “Arrested for Speeding,” based on the time she got a traffic ticket.


Recovering in Douglas, Arizona. Photo: Wikimedia

Overwhelmed by work, Sister Aimee disappeared for 36 days in the spring of 1926. Her followers were sick with worry, and the whole country read about it in the papers, especially after she turned up in Douglas, Arizona, telling an off-kilter tale of escaping kidnappers in Mexico. Other reports suggested she had been in Carmel, shacked up with radio technician Kenneth Ormiston. As shown in the photo, District Attorney Asa Keyes (left) and deputy Joseph Ryan (far right) went to Douglas to investigate. Also in the photo are Sister Aimee’s business manager/mother Minnie Kennedy, daughter Roberta Star Semple, and son Rolf McPherson. For a sense of how the scandal of Sister Aimee’s disappearance affected each of them, zoom for a closer look at their eyes and mouths.


Clifford Clinton

Clifford Clinton. Photo: Weird California weirdca.com

Clifford Clinton. Photo: Weird California weirdca.com

Los Angeles is famous for its salvationist kooks, but Clifford Clinton was their polar opposite. He dedicated himself to making this world (and his city) a better place.

Clinton opened the Golden Rule cafeteria in 1931, well into the hard times of the Great Depression. The cafeteria operated as a for-profit business but had a policy of turning no one away if they couldn’t pay. For a nickel, you could buy a meal of soup, salad, bread, Jell-O (it’s protein), and coffee. Clinton had to open a penny cafeteria to keep up with demand — people lined up for blocks for vegetable broth.

Combining his first and last names, Clinton changed the name  of the Golden Rule to Clifton’s and opened a second store. He remodeled both in 1939, with the original location getting an elaborate South Seas makeover, complete with a 20 foot waterfall. The Clifton’s still open today, at Broadway and Seventh, features a redwoodsy theme.

As a food consultant to the War Department in the 1940s, Clinton took it on himself to ask a Caltech biochemist to develop a food with complete nutrition for five cents a serving. The result was the soy-based Multi-Purpose Food (MPF), which fed the starving after WWII and later filled shelves in backyard bomb shelters. In 1946, Clinton organized Meals for Millions, now part of the Freedom from Hunger organization.

Unlikely as it might seem, somebody bombed Clinton’s house in 1937. It was not long after a grand jury investigation, led by Clinton, found rampant corruption in the police department. Suspicion fell on Captain Earle Kynette, who stood trial the following year for another bombing.

Clifton's Cafeteria. Photo: Jovon Shuck via roadfood.com

Clifton’s Cafeteria. Photo: Jovon Shuck via roadfood.com


Sleepy Lagoon Murder Trial

Eight suspects brought in for questioning. Photo: Special Collections, UCLA Library

Eight suspects brought in for questioning. Photo: Special Collections, UCLA Library

In the Sleepy Lagoon murder case of August 1942, everyone behaved according to stereotype.

+ A gang from Downey beat up a 38th Street Gang leader and his date, which led to a counterattack later that night, which ended in a young man’s death from a stab wound.

+ The police rounded up all the brown-skinned suspects they could find, 600 in all, of whom an unlucky 22 were selected to stand trial. (The eight seen here remind me of kids I knew from high school, called into the office. Guilty or not, they’re in trouble, thinking of how they will face whatever comes next.)

Henry Leyvas. Photo: UCLA Library Special Collections

Henry Leyvas. Photo: UCLA Library Special Collections

+ Henry Leyvas was the star among the defendants — handsome, brash, and politically aware.

+ Do-gooders organized the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, posturing in defense of a martyr made to order for the cause.

+ The judge, unable to tell one Latino from another, played his part to perfection, refusing to let the defendants have haircuts or decent clothes for the trial.

+ Mothers, sisters, and girlfriends celebrated and then grieved the vain heroics of young men.

Some 40 years later, the Sleepy Lagoon case inspired the play and movie Zoot Suit, about the stereotype of the defiant young man — how it empowers but also imprisons him. “My worst enemy, my best friend… myself.”

Photo: LA Public Library, Herald Examiner Collection

Photo: LA Public Library, Herald Examiner Collection

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Old Shoes and Socks

Photo: Fort Rock sandals, The Oregon Encyclopedia, https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/fort_rock_sandals/#.Yg5599_MK5c
5,500 year old shoe found in Areni,Armenia. Photo: Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, et al. via Wikimedia

Photo: Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, et al. via Wikimedia

The world’s oldest LEATHER shoe was found in a cave near Areni, Armenia, by the world’s luckiest grad student, Diana Zardaryan. The straw stuffed inside the shoe might qualify as the world’s oldest sock. Or it may have been filler to keep the shoe from drying out flat when not in use.

Like a moccasin, the Areni shoe was made from a cut-out of scraped hide. The laces were part of the cut-out, dangling from one side, with matching eyelets on the opposite side. The 5,500 year old Areni shoe has a bulge around the big toe, showing the wearer habitually put it on his right foot. The Areni shoe is 9 1/2 inches long (in the US, men’s size 6 1/2, woman’s 8).

FYI, the world’s oldest shoes are Fort Rock (Oregon) slip-ons, made from rope. Five lengths of rope, braided from the stringy insides of sagebrush bark, form the sole and fold back to form the upper. In 1938, archaeologist Luther Cressman of the University of Oregon unearthed dozens of Fort Rock shoes, preserved 10,000 years in a layer volcanic ash.


Photo: Cropped from the hi-res original by Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia

Photo: Cropped from the hi-res original by Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia


Artemis Rospigliosi, at the Louvre. Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia

In a way, the history of shoes has already come to an end by the time of the Artemis Rospigliosi, a first or second century Roman copy of an earlier Greek statue. Enlarge the closeup of her left shoe to see a sole built up in layers of toughened leather. The soft leather upper, a separate piece, is sewn onto the sole. The back and forth lacing is novel (only one lace) but recognizable in shoes that are in your closet right now. What’s left to invent but Velcro?

Between Artemis’ big toe and second toe, a tie-down holds the flaps of the upper in place. This practical detail confirms we are looking at a depiction of a real shoe, not an idealized icon.

The drapery around the top of this boot-like sandal, with its lion clasp in front — is it functional or purely for show, suggesting the lion’s mane?

Note: Click photos to enlarge.



Three British kings: James I, Charles I, and Charles II. Image: Composite of two portraits by Daniel Mytens and a portrait of Charles II by Simon Pietersz via Wikimedia

Closeup of Charles II's shoes

Closeup of Charles II’s shoes

High heels rode into Europe in the late 1500s, an innovation copied from Mongol horsemen. The stepped-up heels provided non-slip control in the stirrups.

In the portraits of three British kings, James I (left) wears a flat-soled shoe, tied with a showy bow.

His son Charles I wears riding boots with a modest heel and spurs. The yellow leather folds down fashionably. His white stockings, bunched at the knee, are held up by ribbons with metal “points,” attaching to the royal pants. No one, not even a king, can bear having their socks slip down in their boots.

On the right, Charles II knew how to ride a horse, though you wouldn’t guess it from his footwear. The height of his heel has nothing to do with riding, everything to do with personal elevation. The red color even calls attention to the added altitude.  In fashion, Charles II’s court followed the court of Louis XIV, where stockings to match one’s shoes were de rigeur. Open toes and backs, a large, waggly tongue, and sparkly ribbons proclaimed the importance of style and self-presentation. Charles’s grandfather, sponsor of the King James Version of the Bible, would surely have cringed in his flat-soled slippers.


09aStripeSockCompositeTo understand socks, we have to appreciate the foot — its subtle shape, kinetic repertoire, stress points, and absolute lack of help from the calf in keeping socks up. See how the stripes swell and bend when the socks are on, revealing a  continuum of curving, mobile surfaces beyond description by even the most advanced mathematical models. Hence the importance of knitting.

Knitting produces a fabric made of loops. Loops allow some “give” in fabric, which means socks can fit snugly to the uncanny forms of the foot. In contrast, woven cloth is an interlocking mesh, which does not stretch and has to be  cut and sewn for a close fit. Even then, there will be puckers.


World's oldest socks, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photo: Fæ via Wikinedia

World’s oldest socks, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photo: Fæ via Wikinedia

The world’s oldest extant socks — from a 4th/5th century AD Greek colony at Oxyrhynchus, 50 miles south of Cairo — were knit using a single-needle method  called naalbinding.

With a separate compartment for the big toe, these socks were likely made to be worn with sandals similar to flipflops.

For centuries, knitting was an art known only in the Muslim world.

Knitting came to Scotland from Spain in the 1400s. Until then, Europeans  wore stockings cut and sewn from cloth. Or they wore foot wraps, which could not “breathe” and tended to become very smelly indeed.


In 1589, William Lee invented a knitting machine and asked Queen Elizabeth for a patent. She said “not yet.” She didn’t want to deprive villagers of extra income from knitting.

Moreover, the work from Lee’s machine was coarse — only 8 stitches per inch. A few years later, he tripled the number of stitches, but the answer was still no.

A century went by. Eventually Lee’s machines — also known as stocking frames or framework knitting machines — made Nottingham more famous for knitted cotton stockings than for Robin Hood.

The key concept in Lee’s machine is the “bearded” needle, bent into a hook at the end. As shown, sinkers push the yarn down between the needles, forming half-loops. The needles then retract, pulling the new loops toward the previous loops. A presser bar closes the hooks on the bearded needles, allowing the new loops to be pulled through the old. The needle doesn’t snag because its point is pressed into a  slot in the body of the needle. These illustrations are from “The Art of Knitting.”

The Morning Toilet by Jan Steen. Image: Adapted from Wikimedia

The second version (1665) of Jan Steen’s The Morning Toilet shows the strangle marks on a woman’s calves from stockings . There is a footie sole in the stocking, Her wood-soled shoes, called pattens, have a slightly elevated heel. Poor thing, time for bed.

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