A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Ruminations on a Song About Ruminators

The Merry Macs - Mary Lou Cook and Ted, Joe, and Judd McMichael.

When I was little my parents seemed to watch a lot of television shows with band leaders on them - Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, Skitch Henderson, and once in a while Norman Tabernacle and his choir on the Ed Sullivan Show.  One night I asked my dad which guy was Norman.  After getting me to tell him what I meant, I thought he might die laughing.  He finally explained that the singing group was the MORMON Tabernacle Choir, and that the Mormons were a variety of Christians.

Unbeknownst to me, I had just committed a mondegreen - a word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of an overheard word or phrase.  The term was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright from an essay she published in Harper's Magazine in November of 1954.  Her essay was titled "The Death of Lady Mondegreen".  She got "Lady Mondegreen" from a line in a Scottish ballad, "laid him on the green".  It was included in the 2000 edition of Random House Webster's College Dictionary, and in 2008 in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

But the best and most well-known example of a mondegreen is the famous WWII song Mairzy Doats:

Mairzy Doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey,
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?


Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy,
a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?

The inspiration for the song is said to have come from songwriter Milton Drake's four-year-old daughter.  She came home from school one day singing, "cozy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters." ("Cows eat wheat and sows eat wheat and little sharks eat oysters.")  Early in 1942, Drake and his pals Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman kicked around the idea of making "mares eat oats" into a song. They did but neither publishers nor leading bands were interested in a "silly" song.

A year later Livingston offered the song to Al Trace, who was bandleader of the Silly Symphonists.  They broadcast the song, and put the words on a blackboard to lead the audience through the words with a pointer.  It became an overnight sensation and the song was published by Miller Music.  Many recordings were made of it, but the most popular one was by The Merry Macs, whose rendition was No. 1 for five weeks in 1944.  It was spread all over the world by U.S. troops at foreign posts.  These servicemen even allegedly used some of the lyrics as passwords.

Der Bingle got in on the act.

The words weren't all new, however.  There is an English ditty going back centuries that goes "in fir tar is, in oak none is, in mud eel is, in clay none is, goat eat ivy, mare eat oat".  Dr. Dale B.J. Randall of Duke University, a Renaissance scholar, wrote a paper in 1995 titled "American 'Mairzy' Dottiness, Sir John Fastolf's Secretary, and the 'Law French" of a Caroline Cavalier".  It was published in American Speech, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 1995).  He found the earliest written mention of similar words were found in a work by William Worcester, secretary of the knight Sir John Fastolf in the reign of Henry VI (circa 1460).  In his Collectiones medicinales a passage reads "Is they pott enty, Colelent?  Is gote eate yvy.  Mare eate ootys.  Is thy cocke lyke owrs?"  The assumption is that Worcester committed to writing some known oral phrase(s).  The "Law French" of Dr. Randall's title refers to a reference he found in a 1635 play by William Cavendish that used wordplay to satirize lawyers who used broken French to sound fancy:  "Kiddleeatiue, Mare'leatoates".

I'm sure my parents listened to this when it first became popular.  So why did they mock "In A Gadda Da Vida" by Iron Butterfly?  I'm going to have to ruminate on this.

Images courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, 
Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri, Kansas City.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Short History of the U.S. in Mexico

The ludicrousness of the immigration debate has a long history.  Based on racism, it proves that there is nothing new under the sun...

Map of the United States of Mexico at the time of the Treaty
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, at the city it was named for, thus officially ending the Mexican-American War that was waged from 1846-1848.  Negotiated on the U.S. side by Nicholas Trist, chief clerk of the State Department, in defiance of orders from President Polk, among the terms of the treaty was Article X, guaranteeing the protection of Mexican land grants.  When the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 34 to 14, Article X was deleted.  This was a clear indication of things to come.

Nicholas Trist
Image courtesy of Sons of the South

Mexico ceded to the United States Alta (upper) California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Texas.  (The southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona were annexed under the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.)  The Rio Grande River was acknowledged as the boundary between the two countries.  The U.S. gained more than 500,000 square miles of valuable land for $15,000,000 .  This treaty is the oldest that is still in force between the U.S. and Mexico.  It is also the reason that Mexico has never been a significant player in the world, and a contributing reason for the U.S. becoming a world power.  The loss of land and resources, about half of their country, hurt Mexico economically to the extent that 150 years later Mexico still hasn't recovered.  The U.S., however, prospered, and has assumed a position of moral superiority ever since that still perverts U.S.-Mexican relations.

Cover of the Treaty
Image courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Representatives of the two governments set the boundary between the two countries.  The original treaty called for six markers, but another treaty five years later added 47 more.  Most of these were just piles of stones, and few were made to last and had proper inscriptions.  Over time these markers were moved or destroyed.  Photographers were brought in to record the locations of the markers. Such was the extent of the original concern of keeping Mexicans off their ceded land - simply some stones as a reminder.  Today the borders are the center of much controversy and are patrolled by government and civilian armed squads.

"Rebuilding Monument 40", 1818
Image courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

The Treaty has since been the basis of hundreds of land claims, although few have been successful.  It has also been important in disputes over boundaries, water and mineral rights, as well as civil rights for descendants of the Mexicans living in the ceded areas.  The implications have also served as an important example in international law.  Even though the treaty guaranteed U.S. citizenship to Mexican citizens and Native Americans (who were considered Mexican citizens) in the areas ceded, Native Americans didn't receive full citizenship until the 1930s.  The property rights that the Treaty seemed to promise never came to pass, and within a generation Mexican-Americans became a poor minority and outcasts.  To this day, the descendants of the pre-Treaty Mexicans are looked down on as interlopers, even though they preceded those who would deny them space.

Lands ceded to the U.S.  In red from the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hildaldo; in yellow from the Gadsden purchase.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although the Treaty conferred citizenship on Mexicans living in the ceded areas, this was often refused.  Like African and Native Americans, they were assigned second-class status.  California, for one, in the early twentieth century tried to reclassify Mexican Americans as Native Americans so their legal rights could be denied.  The current national ideology was only whites could be citizens.  The prevailing question was if Mexicans were white.  California also enacted The Greaser Act in 1855, an anti-Mexican law masquerading as an anti-vagrancy statute, which defined vagrants as "all persons who are commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood... and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons."  This allowed law enforcement officers to arrest, deport, and/or send to forced labor any vagrant and resulted in local militias confiscating property and even lynching "vagrants" with immunity.  A few years later it was repealed. Arizona's current immigration laws echo these odious times.

The Avila Adobe, first house in Los Angeles built for the Alcalde (mayor)
in the early 1800s.  Image courtesy www.olvera-street.com.

In 1897, Ricardo Rodriguez, a San Antonio resident for ten years, petitioned the court to grant him naturalization.  In re Rodriguez, as the case was known, became a landmark civil rights case.  The issue was citizenship included the right to vote. After a year of legal maneuvering to try and disenfranchise all Texas Mexicans, Rodriguez was granted citizenship, thereby guaranteeing the right to vote to all Texas Mexicans.  By this time, federal law allowed citizenship only for a white person or a person of African descent.

Table of Land Measures used by the Los Angeles
General Land Office to convert Mexican land
measurements into the U.S. system.

During the year that the case dragged on, one court brief labeled Rodriguez as Asian, under the "Bering Strait" hypothesis, which proposed that Native Americans came from Asia and crossed over via Russia and Alaska into the new world thousands of years ago.  This attempt was made because Asians and Native Americans were barred from naturalization.  The "whiteness" issue became an even more important legal question when a large number of Mexican immigrants began to enter the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. 

A Diseño, used by the Mexican government to document grants of land.

Between 1850 and 1920, the U.S. Census counted Mexican-Americans as whites. (In 1980 the U.S. Census began using the term "Hispanic".)  However, racial discrimination continued.   In 1954, Operation Wetback was begun by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).  Modeled after a program during the Great Depression called the Mexican Repatriation, it was designed to put pressure on Mexicans to return home.  Even those whose "home" had been in the ceded areas for generations.  The effort began in California and Arizona and included police sweeps of Mexican American neighborhood, random stops and ID checks of "Mexican-looking people".  Agricultural areas were targeted.  Over a million people, some American-born, others who looked "Mexican" were taken deep into Mexico to make it harder to come back into the U.S.  (Sound familiar, Arizona?)

Grant #163 given to patentee De Haro on 9/10/1872
of 2,219 acres for Laguna de la Merced.

Controversy over community land grants persists to this day, especially in New Mexico.  Many of the records concerning land grants from the Spanish ended up in Cuba instead of being turned over to the U.S.  Retrieval efforts have been bogged down between the three bureaucracies for over a century.  A couple of decades ago there was progress in microfilming a lot of the original documents.  These grants are an important key to tracing later grants.  The subject is so complicated that researchers have spent their lives tracing ownership.  Part of the problem may lie in the fact that a lot of translations of these grants and other important documents that were made between English and Spanish and vice versa were more idiomatic than literal.  The U.S. has often feigned miscomprehension.

A survey plat, used by the Los Angeles General Land Office
to convert Mexican land measurements into the U.S. system.

The original Mexican residents of the U.S. Southwest have always gotten a raw deal, just like Native Americans throughout the entire country.  Unfortunately, although a lot of progress has been made for Mexican Americans, immigration issues remain.  Mexican Americans whose families go back to before the annexation to the United States are often treated poorly.  Illegal aliens have historically been welcomed, and even brought into the country as cheap labor, but have little rights and are railed against by those who are ignorant of the facts.  It is such a complex problem, that perhaps this should be titled "A Short History of the U.S. Screwing Mexico".

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of www.archives.gov.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Cookie's Fame and Fortune

A fortune cookie is a perhaps a strange thing to write a graduate thesis on, but that's what Yasuko Nakamachi did.  The folklore and history graduate of Kanagawa University spend over six years researching the origin of the fortune cookie.

Fortune cookie scholar Yasuko Nakamachi.
Image courtesy Ko Sasaki for the New York Times.

Prior to her research there were Chinese and Japanese factions claiming the invention.  It was even thought to be an American product, albeit invented by either Chinese or Japanese immigrants.  They were popularized in the early 20th century in the U.S.

Tying Omikuji at Kasuga Shrine in Nara, Japan.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Both China and Japan have a history of fortune telling.  China's Kau Cim is a practice usually performed in front of an altar in a Taoist or Buddhist temple.  Kau Cim uses flat sticks with a different number inscribed on each, stored in a tube. The querent shakes the tube and tips it so one stick falls out.  The number on the stick corresponds to a number on a piece of paper, which is supposed to be the answer to the question the querent was thinking.  In Japan there is a temple tradition of random fortunes known as Omikuji.  These fortunes are written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  The word literally means "sacred lot", and they are chosen from a box after one makes a small offering. Today they are available from machines.

Omikuji vending machines in Kamakura, Japan.
Image courtesy of Urashimataro/Wikipedia.

Senbei (sometimes sembei) are bite-sized Japanese rice crackers that come in various sizes, shapes, and flavors, usually savory.  They are often served with green tea and offered to guests as a snack.  Ms. Nakamachi believes that a type of senbei - tsujiura senbei - was the antecedent to the modern fortune cookie.  Her earliest reference to them was from a book Haru no Wakakusa (Spring Grass) by Shunsui Tamenga, circa 1830-1844, which featured tsujiura.  She also came across a woodblock print from the National Diet Library (Japan's answer to the Library of Congress) which was used as an illustration for a story from the Meiji era (1868-1912) Moshiogusa Kinsei Kidan (Moshiogusa Modern Amazing Stories).

A worker baking tsujiura senbei over a grill in this 1878 woodblock print.
Image courtesy The New York Times.

Ms. Nakamachi traveled all over Japan visiting temples and interviewing people. She then went to San Francisco and Los Angeles, both cities claimants to making the first fortune cookies, and interviewed descendants of Japanese and Chinese immigrant families who made them.  She concluded that the fortune cookie is of Japanese origin, and was introduced to the U.S. in 1914 by Makoto Hagiwara at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.  The original tsujiura senbei she documented back to 1847 in Japan.

A plate of standard senbei, cousin to the fortune cookie.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The main difference between the original tsujiura senbei and the fortune cookie is the flavoring.  The tsujiura senbei are made with miso instead of butter, and sesame instead of vanilla.  The manufacture of fortune cookies was dominated by Japanese-Americans until WWII.  Then over 100,000 Japanese were placed in interment camps, and anything Japanese was not looked upon favorably.  Chinese-Americans took over their production.  Chinese restaurants had been eager buyers since their inception, one reason being that Chinese cuisine is not noted for their dessert menu, and this was an easy and cheap way to fill that void for U.S. patrons.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

How the popularity of fortune cookies spread is thought to be from G.I.s who served in California.  When they returned to their homes and frequented Chinese restaurants, they began to ask for fortune cookies, and they quickly spread across the country.

A Japanese fortune cookie, image courtesy of The New York Times.

There are now approximately 3 billion fortune cookies made each year worldwide, mostly for U.S. consumption.  The largest manufacturer is Wonton Food, Inc., headquartered in Brooklyn, which makes over 4.5 million per day, with a database of over 10,000 different fortunes.  There are also companies who will make custom fortune cookies.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

There are many superstitions about how one should deal with a fortune cookie. Some believe that you should not eat the cookie if you don't like the fortune. Others say you must eat the cookie first, then read the fortune.  Another insists that each person should choose the cookie facing them with "open arms".  There is even a common joke about fortune cookies that adds the phrase "between the sheets" or "in bed" after the fortune, creating silly messages with sexual innuendoes.

See link below to make these delicious ones.
Image courtesy Sweet Savory Life.

Fortune cookies were found to be the culprits behind a suspected fraud in the March 30, 2005 Powerball drawing held across 29 states.  While one person won the $13.8 million jackpot, an unprecedented 110 players won second place prizes of $100,000 or $500,000, depending on whether they chose an option to multiply their win.  Normally the lottery has 4-5 second place winners.  It turned out that all the winning numbers had been from fortune cookies manufactured at Wonton Food, Inc.  The fortunes read:  "All the preparation you've done will finally be paying off."

And finally, here's an actual fortune that I received after dining at Nop Gow, my favorite Thai restaurant:

In case this has whetted your appetite, and you'd like to try 
your hand at making your own cookies, this site has a recipe 
that includes pictures to show you how it's done.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Race for PFLOPS is the New Race for Space

2008's 2nd place supercomputer, Cray's Jaguar.  Image courtesy of Wired.

Supercomputers are ones that are used for extremely complex processing jobs such as problems in quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling, and physical simulations, to name some of the better uses.  They were introduced in the 1960s, and were initially designed by Seymour Cray.

1985 Cray-2 seen from the side at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
Image courtesy of Edal Anton Lefteroy/Wikipedia.

LINPACK is a software library for performing numerical linear algebra on digital computers, designed for use on supercomputers in the 1970s and early 1980s.  The LINPACK Benchmarks are a measure of a computer's floating point power, measuring how fast a computer can solve a dense system of linear equations.  The result is reported in millions of floating point operations per second (FLOPS). Supercomputers are currently measured in PFLOPS, or petaFLOPS.

IBM Roadrunner, the world's first PFLOPS computer.
Image courtesy of LeRoy Sanchez/Wikipedia.

The TOP500 Project ranks and details the 500 most powerful computer systems in the world (non-distributed computers, that is, or one that does not interact with other computers to solve a complex problem).  It began in 1993 and publishes an updated list twice a year, in June and November.  The June list coincides with the International Supercomputer Conference, and the November one with the ACM/IEEE Supercomputing Conference.  The Project's goal is to provide a realiable basis for finding and tracking trends in high-performance computing.  It bases its rankings on HPL, a software package regarded as a portable implementation of of the LINPACK Benchmark, which is written in Fortran.

The list is compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim in Germany, Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, and Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of NERSC/Lawrence Berkeley National Library.

TOP500 June 2011 Poster

This month the TOP500 Project committee announced that Fujitsu's K supercomputer was the fastest supercomputer in the world with a performance of 8.162 PFLOPS, or 8.162 quadrillion calculations per second with 93% efficiency. (A quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000 or one thousand million million or  1015.)

The K supercomputer.  Image courtesy of The Telegraph, UK.

Named after the Japanese word "kei", which stands for 10 quadrillion, the supercomputer is produced by Fujitsu and located at RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science campus in Kobe, Japan.  According to Jack Dongarra, the K's performance equals "one million linked desktop computers".  Its power usage is roughly that of 10,000 houses and its annual running costs are $10 million (U.S.).

A rack of RIKEN's next-generation supercomputer manufactured
by Fijitsu.  Image courtesy of CES1596/Wikipedia.

The previous winner, announced just last November, was China's Tianhe-1, which was capable of 2.566 PFLOPS.  Located at the National Supercomputing Center of Tianjin, China, it was developed by the Chinese National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in Changsha, Hunan.

The Tianhe-1A CPU-GPU hybrid supercomputer.  Image courtesy of The Register, UK.

The rankings reflect how quickly computer power is advancing, hence the new ratings every six months.  Asian countries have made huge investments in supercomputing and lately dominate the field.  There is, however, a contender called Blue Waters being developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which may soon rival the K in speed, per Dongarra.

Radio Shack's Tandy TRS89 computer system.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

As someone commented, if you bought a Tandy TRS80 in 1981, the K computer is 2,050 trillion times faster.  This is great advancement but it all comes down to what it will be used for.  If it used for something trifling like stock predictions, or something heinous like weapons development it would be a shame.  But if it used in forecasting or in the field of medicine, things that will benefit the health and safety of mankind, then this is truly an amazing development.

Check out RIKEN to find out more about the K.
Geeks can learn more about programming on the K.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beware of Greeks Bearing Books

"My art is inspired by the death of the printed word.  Books and
newspapers are becoming artifacts of the 21st century.  As a society
we're shifting away from print consumption and heading straight
towards full digital lives."  Nick Georgiou

When Nick Georgiou saw his entire music and film collection absorbed into his computer and starting getting his news online, he realized that people's interaction with paper was becoming very different.  He became obsessed with the immediacy of media.

His work is not only about the decline of the printed word, but also its rebirth as art.  He claims his art is essentially about renewal.  He puts old books and newspapers to good use by crafting them into 3D sculptures and framed wall art.

Born in Queens in 1980, six years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, he was one of six kids born to a Cypriot father and a mother whose family came from Smyrna.  He has been working on solo exhibitions for Cyprus and Greece.  He has also been making a documentary on the decline of the printed word.

He has been living in Tucson, Arizona, for the last couple of years, but began his career as an artist on the streets of New York City.  There he placed his work in random locations - on street corners and next to lamp posts.

He loves public art and felt as an artist it was his job to break through to another reality.  He liked to watch public reactions to his placements and photograph them. Now he likes to see which of his images becomes popular, and why:

"It's amazing to be able to witness an image go viral and dissect
what makes it universal/what breaks down cultural/language barriers."

He has a website where he posts his latest creations and thoughts.  Cerebral art from a cerebral mind...

All images courtesy of his website.