Boomeria is a California science teacher's kingdom, complete with castle, enormous pipe organ, and area for epic water battles. Preston Boomer is the science teacher you always wished you had.
Kinetic Steam Works is a collective dedicated to restoring steam engines; makes me yearn for the 'simpler' times when almost ANYthing could be fixed by hand with the right tools; now with microchips and increasingly smaller, integrated components, you toss the whole blamed thing away. This will change, I'm sure/I guess.
Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, and the meeting that changed Baseball
The Fatal Flubber Fiasco of ’63 (Yikes; I had some of this stuff)
Abandoned Disney: Disney's first water park: River Country.
The New York Public Library is one of several places in Manhattan which still employs a pneumatic system; these 'Zip tubes' move book requests among the many floors of that imposing building on 42nd and 5th.
I'm a sucker for old-timey black and white photos (because that's all they had way back when, although folks would paint color onto B&W and sell in that form). A lot of great photography is available through Shorpy's, named after a 'greaser' on the tipple at Bessie Mine, of the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Co. in Alabama.
Outdoorsy stuff, but lots of arcade photos.
Las Vegas Long-Time Attraction to Close
The Liberace Museum, opened in 1979, is closing Oct 17 2010, due to long-term continued decline in attendance. The museum, located outside the hotspots of Las Vegas, at one time rivaled Hoover Dam in the number of visitors, at almost half a million in its heyday. Now attendance is more like 50,000 a year. If you have a chance, at least check out the article on its closing here.
Ken gets his Norton
Driving to Vermont to pick up a rebuilt classic motorcycle.
Best Bagger Contests - two videos
It is likely that this is a purely American phenomenon; in any event, it is surely an American phenomenon. Two videos on the subject:
Jason Zitko of Missouri wasn't happy with just a state championship
Remixing Virginia's state champion: Jacob by Mike Relm (@mikerelm)
Americana Interviews are listed in this directory and overview; note upcoming interviews.
Barbershop closes after 52 years
What is more a part of Americana than the neighborhood barbershop? Lovely photo essay.
Coney Island - Phantasmagorical City of Light
Luna Park, Steeplechase, Dreamland - if you were not aware of the ambitious and mind-blowing nature of these recreation projects, you will be surprised. Remarkable experiences awaited the Coney Island tourist, starting in the late 1800's and running into the late Twentieth Century, albeit in a truncated and somewhat tawdry form. Coney comes from Anglicized form of the Dutch word for 'rabbit' by the way.
Message from a Hopi Elder
Fascinating Posters from World War II
The US war effort required a heavy involvement on the home front, and people were encouraged to change their behavior in many ways; rationing, for example, imposed a common burden. In addition to rationing, bond drives, and recycling, folks on the home front got many messages about food.
Necessity is the mother of open source approaches to flexible, effective government. Code for America is an organization that connects willing developers and local governments in pursuit of cost-effective solutions to governance, which can then be shared once the model has been tested and proven. Good news that does not rely on national or even state authority or budgets.
Images of cowgirls from the US dream factory in its heyday. Does anyone else recognize Anne Francis? She played Honey West.
Futuristic Ads from the Past
I'm a sucker for these old print ads, along with those wonderful painted metal road signs of mid-Twentieth Century, often graced with neon, such as those found along fabled Route 66. This road predated the Interstate Highway System that President Eisenhower mandated for national security purposes; it is associated often in the popular mind with the wonderful cars that came out of Detroit in the days when those models dominated the world car market. (Sad to reflect on the changes we've seen since then, eh?)
The Next 500 is a website that covers innovative companies that are based in the US. Some fascinating stuff. The name pertains to the notion that some of these nascent firms will be in the future Fortune 500.
CEOs for Cities has ideas for remaking American cities at VELOCITY
Volunteer Match uses the power of the internet to easily match willing volunteers and deserving causes. The rate of volunteering has increased during the recent bad economic times.
The Small Business Administration offers free online courses in business basics.
Almost 30,000 individuals have shared vignettes and reflections from their life through interviews with loved ones in a novel and bottoms-up approach to telling the story of this country and its diverse and fascinating people. It's a lot like Studs Terkel, except every interview has an interviewee and someone who knows that interviewee well. Story Corpst started in a booth and has grown to a mighty archive. Founder David Isay will be honored in 2010 by Rutgers Oral History project. Check it out.
Over Ten Years of Pumpking Carvings by Scott Cummins
Seasonal treat. I can't even get the eyes right! Haven't found a 'TP' art site yet; not sure I want to look.
The 'Striking Viking' Strikes Out - For all Four Corners
This increasingly famous fellow undertook, while still young, to meet people worldwide face to face, look them in the eye, and shake their hand. Unsurprisingly to this author, the response he encountered was overwhelmingly positive. Most Americans still don't get overseas, and of course the current economic climate and exchange rate make this even less likely, but maybe we can derive some vicarious joy from reading of his exploits.
Neo-mannerist Master of sports art, and iconic African-American artist.
Yankee Fall Foliage
This site is noteworthy in two areas: Firstly, it provides a handy way to plan a trip in New England to see the beautiful change of colors of the leaves on the trees in that region. Secondly, it also illustrates the democratic nature of the web, in the sense that it allows anyone to contribute a report on the foliage.
The Global Mindset that can Help Uplift a Community
America is not a political monolith with overwhelming central control, but a quilt of municipal, county, state and national political culture. One locally involved American is someone who to our mind embodies so many of the qualities that make America great. We recently interviewed Shane Wyatt McCartney, someone who is using a modern and global approach to help his beloved hometown, Canton Ohio.
Homeless Person's Blog
The FDR administration's response to the economic calamity was to establish a number of programs as a pragmatic, experimental and very free-form way of addressing the Depression. Some of them, such as WPA, TVA and CCC, built parks, dams, electrical grids (for rural electrification), wells, statues, buildings, libraries, highway rest stops, roads, forest ranger stations, murals, photographic archives, vocal recordings of Americans such as veterans, teachers, former slaves, roots music from all over the country, and much more. This intervention in the marketplace helped to employ a lot of people at least for a part of the Depression, and therefore helped to promote aggregate demand in the economy, therefore a contribution to getting business and trade going again. This is one guidepost for possibilities for the Obama administration. Let's see what they do.
A Sioux Prayer
(From the First People web site)
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
Whose breath gives life to the world, hear me
I come to you as one of your many children
I am small and weak
I need your strength and wisdom
May I walk in beauty
The lessons you have written in every leaf and rock
Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes,
The 'greenback' that we have come to know (love?) was only really brought into the national life during the Civil War, when the North recognized that it would be unable to pay for its war expenses using conventional means. It resorted to a 'fiat currency', whereby the government essentially stated 'trust this currency', and the South had to do the same. Initially, the South actually relied on New York firms to print its bank notes, as it did not have the industrial ability to print quality currency in high volume. This of course changed soon after hostilities began. The South, literally, was unable to make money in sufficient quantities, one reason it collapsed. Another reason, apparently, was the strong streak of opinion running through the culture that made taxation of any sufficient level nearly impossible. The Confederacy had assumed that its cotton would help significantly in that regard, but the Northern blockade was soon effective, and ultimately very successful, cutting off that vector of possibilities.
Prior to the greenback era, counterfeiting was rife, and in order to safeguard the new national currency, a new arm of the Treasury was founded, who waged a successful and often extra-constitutional war to stamp out counterfeiting in the US. The name of that agency? The Secret Service. (Yes, it's the same folks who now safeguard the President---and also still protect the currency).
US Capitol building
The US Capitol building along with many of the landmark buildings of Washington D.C., was built with a significant contribution of slave labor. The National Archives have revealed orderly receipts generated by the US Government for the loan of approximately 400 slaves from nearby Virginia plantations for the Capital construction project, out of about 600 'human resources' total.
The statue at the top of the Capitol was designed by a US student who was located in Paris at the time. The original design was characterized by a figure wearing a 'slave cap', the symbol going back to antiquity of a liberated slave. (The former slave, once attaining emancipation in those days wore this cap as a symbol of their new status). When the design was shown to the US official in charge of that project, one Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War (that's what they called the post in those days), he hit the roof. Jefferson Davis, you see, was from Mississippi, a slave-holding state in the Deep South, and he was also a student of history. He recognized the nature of the message, and said that the entire project would be cancelled if that design were retained. The student yielded, modifying the statue to bear an eagle helmet. Most people see that statue as a Native American because of the 'headdress', but in fact, the figure is that of a slave.
Black and White Photography - New York
There's something about the 'old' black and white style of photography that can be so compelling; maybe it's the way that it clarifies and sharply limns faces and structures; in any event, hope you enjoy these at times near-iconic views of a remarkable city.
Some old sheet music covers from the 1920's-1950's
I found these at an estate sale some years back. The estate sale (also known as tag sale) is a social phenomenon whose heyday is long since passed, as eBay and the PBS series 'Antiques Roadshow' have caused this once rich source of cool stuff to dry up drastically. It is not an auction. At times, the effect of going through the personal and household effects of a deceased person can be a bit creepy, and sometimes you feel as if you were intruding, as telltale signs of the family past may be lying out in plain sight. One time, in search of slide trays for our slide projector, we bought a dozen slide trays that still had slides in them from the world travels of the decedent and his wife. It was fascinating to see the Mediterranean, Egypt, and Panama in the 1930's, before pollution and garish modern architecture impacted those locales.
One out of every eight Americans who wed in 2007 met online. A survey that same year by Monster.com disclosed that 70% of men would stay at home if their household budget permitted, while almost half of them took paternity leave when it was available, pursuant to a law enacted under President Bill Clinton.
The Gun Culture in the US
According to historical accounts, the actual number of gun owners on the American frontier was smaller than one would think, given the rough-hewn nature of life at that time, at that place. Regardless of the percentage of ownership in the early days, the number of guns and gun owners in the US in the past 50 or so years is remarkably high, compared to the rest of the world. The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC), has been tracking gun ownership and attitudes on firearms since 1972, the longest-running survey on the subject in the United States. The NORC reports that the number of households with guns dropped from a high of 54 percent in 1977 to 34.5 percent in 2006. The percentage of Americans who reported personally owning a gun has shrunk to just under 22 percent (that's reported ownership, which to this author's mind means that the number is probably higher).
Those who unconditionally comdemn gun ownership should remember that there are thousands of incidents nationwide where a gun has deterred a crime, just as there are of course a lot of tragic accidents and hot-headed misuse of firearms. Also, not a small number of people do use firearms to supplement their meat supply. Surprising, perhaps, but true. As a final note, where else but America would there be a nexus between guns and the entrepreneurial impulse inspired by tragedy? Note the popularity of bullet-proof backpacks for school use, a jarring reminder of modern life in the US.
The so-called 'Death Tax'
Throughout the history of this country, there has been advocacy of an inheritance (or wealth transfer) tax, as a way to hinder the growth of our own domestic aristocracy. Tom Paine first recommended it, and Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Buffet, over the years, have also. In classic public-relations fashion, the inheritance/estate tax was successfully recast as the 'Death Tax'. This approach made it easier to gain popular support for gradual and complete phasing out of that tax. Buffett, in an interview with MacLean's magazine some years back, opined:
Books such as "The Rich and the Super-Rich" talk of the pervasive influence of inherited wealth; consider the handshake deals, fraternities, insider access to information, jobs, tax havens, and more. What seems to prevent any possible 'economic populist' backlash is the persistence of the belief in the US that 'anyone can make it', so normal folks are reluctant to step on that dream, however unlikely it may be for them in particular.
The non-profit, non-government sector of the American society exercises a useful role in enriching as well as helping to monitor the polity. POGO is one such agency.
The Smithsonian is a National Treasure
A wonderful set of museums clustered around the National Mall in Washington D.C. is open to all for free (if you consider that taxes pay for the museums, it's not really free, but entrance is free). Among them is a museum devoted to Natural History, and associated with it is a website for the Lemelson Center for the study of Invention and Innovation. Science and technology are not as 'hot' as they once were in the US, for a number of reasons, but the history of this area is rich and proud.
Worthwhile visit to one man's vision of small-town USA
Along one of the main East-West arteries in Pennsylvania, near Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Roadside America (not the link to the left, which is a different site) has been a mainstay for vacationing families for over 7 decades. Entire miniature villages with animated figures, complement an extensive, endearing system of model trains. At the end of every show, the lights dim and the artificial sky becomes a projection of mainstream America. Plenty of parking, a picnic grove, some diners, a large gift shop---Truly a 'heartland' experience!
Ellis Island has a passenger search feature
See information about American ancestors who 'came over on the boat' during the heyday of that immigration center.
Ken Burns' series on World War II
In his characteristic way, TV auteur Ken Burns has once again created a gripping television series (or film as he prefers to call it.) Given the subject matter, World War II, I suppose it would be hard for the series NOT to be gripping. As with his previous effort about the American Civil War, he traces the stories of several individuals and towns through the conflict as well as its prelude and some of its aftermath. We are once again reminded of the horrors the Germans and Japanese inflicted, as well as the corresponding heavy bombing we did against both of the populations of those combatants. There are no winners in war, only survivors. One wishes that the lessons of that time about the unpredictability of war, its brutalizing effect on warrior as well as civilian, and its wastefulness had been more present in the minds of those who allowed this country to engage in a war of choice and disastrous occupation in Iraq, thereby adding another generation to the rolls of the damaged. He is one of America's foremost story-tellers (or should we say 'story-capturers'?) .
A Nation of small businesses
I was fortunate for a while to work in Hoboken, and we had international clients, and I would always offer to take them into New York for an evening (they paid their own way; I was more a 'native guide'; had a regular circuit worked out). Anyway, I would always ask my visitors what struck them about New York, and many said all the small businesses; this was especially true for clients from oil-rich countries, which had strong centralized economies. It does seem to still be available for newcomers, because you put your whole life into getting that tienda up and running, or that dry cleaning place, gas station, small restaurant, or whatever the case may be. It's not an easy price to pay for entry into the American Dream, but there are fewer hindrances to starting a business here than in many parts of the world, and perhaps just as importantly, most employers do not look askance at someone who tried to start a business which later failed, for those people did not fail as individuals, only their undertaking. These risk-takers, and the entrepreneurial verve they add to the culture, continue to move this country forward.
Frederick Jackson Turner, and the Frontier
In the late 1800's, as the US added more territory, and settled it, the Pacific Ocean was seen as the natural culmination of the quest Westward, which began at an early time in the settlement of this continent by Europeans and Africans. Remember that originally, the colonies were clinging to the seaboard and the Mother Country, which tied them to goods from England. At one point in the formative years of the new Republic, the Appalachians were considered the western frontier. As an example of how things change, note the college 'Case WESTERN RESERVE' in Ohio, whose capitalized part refers to a tract of land in current Ohio reserved by an expansionist Connecticut back in the day Public projects like the canals in New York state began to open up the 'West', and the Louisiana Purchase added a thousand-mile wide extension to the frontier. Turner's thesis was that the American national character was influenced by the fact that the country was not entirely settled, unlike the Mother countries across the Atlantic. A bigger sense of possibilities seemed ever present. The ending of the early period of expansion, where the frontier was essentially pushed off the edge of the continent at the Pacific littoral, can be said to have induced a change in the national character, and to have added a romantic yearning for that frontier spirit. Some argue that our territorial lust was simply pushed into other lands, as the annexation of the Phillipines, Guam, and the Caribbean territories would loudly argue.
Notes on American English
Those statistics which seem to show that Americans give a paltry amount to international aid and charity are not the complete picture. Figures usually cited are for government-level donations; on the individual and family level, however, Americans are quite generous. The Charities Aid Foundation surveyed the field, and in philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7 percent. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73 percent. On the individual and family level, a wider profusion of deserving organizations worldwide is available, to make their case, share their story, and maybe entice you to contribute, such as Kiva, Pardada Pardadi and Heifer International. In addition to the family-level generosity, American foundations, such as the Rockefeller and Gates Foundation, and large donors, such as Warren Buffet and George Soros, provide additional billions for global good. The Gates Foundation has focused on reducing hunger and fighting disease in developing countries as well as improving education in the U.S. With a recent Buffett pledge, it has an endowment of approximately $60 billion. 300 billion dollars were disbursed from US foundations in 2006 (granted, much of it going to domestic needs), but still, this is remarkable.
Road Trip to Atlantic City, NJ
The great majority of American Muslims consider themselves successfully integrated into our society. Their contribution to gathering intelligence about possible terrorists has been a significant contributor to our current period of safety from subsequent attacks, in my opinion. America is a religious country in large part, so the devout of any faith should be able to expect a respectful hands-off approach to the particular exercise of that faith. This calm may also be related to the ability to start and own one's own business in the US. The common national desire to make money and live a comfortable life does tend to damp down passions from the old country, in my opinion, as well as the fact that the old country is just one of hundreds, and becomes subsumed into a larger melting pot, a pot admittedly uneven in its 'melting' results. The lure of the secular and the modern also entices many young folks of any nationality, and this therefore means that we can assume that a sizeable number of American-born kids will leave their family faith, honor traditions, customs and other 'baggage' that can encumber the modern citizen of this world.