1610 (allegedly) – A list of community regulations in Krakow stipulates that bagels are to be given to pregnant women.
1683 (allegedly) – An Austrian baker bakes a stirrup-shaped roll in honour of the Polish King for defeating the Turks.
1872 – Cream cheese is invented.
1907 – The International Bagel Bakers Union (Local #338), specifically for bagel workers, is formed in New York. Its influence declines in the late 1950s with the automation of bagel manufacture. Merges in early 1970s with Bakers Union Local 3 (as does Matzoh-Noodle Local 269).
1919 – A baker named Engelman introduces bagels to Montreal. Thus begins a long simmering dispute about which city produces the best bagels.
This is the first of an occasional series [everything about this blog is occasional (ed)] on what people think about getting paid for stuff that they or other people do.
To kick things off, here's Philip Larkin on the rewards of being a poet:
Everyone envies everyone else. All I can say is, having a job hasn't been a hard price to pay for economic security. Some people, I know, would sooner have the economic insecurity because they have to "feel free" before they can write. But it's worked for me. The only thing that does strike me as odd, looking back. is what society has been willing to pay me for is being a librarian. You get medals and prizes and honorary this and thats – and flattering interviews – but if you turned around and said, Right, if I'm so good, give me an index-linked permanent income equal to what I can get for being an undistinguished university administrator – well, reason would remount its throne pretty quickly.
So.... you're in a mid-20th Century drawing room, circulating, when a staid-looking old guy, but with a twinkle, engages you in conversation. When you ask him what he does, he says, "I'm an expert on cellophane; in fact, I invented it!" Do you: a) wish mobile phones had been invented so you could say you have to call home to check on your kids; b) take him by the arm and walk him to the corner of the room for an in-depth conversation; c) say, "Are you related to Anthony Brandenberger from Paarl?"
This is one of those life situations where there is no right answer, but here's what you might learn if you put your reservations on hold:
In the pantheon of famous Swiss, Jacques Brandenburger has his place. One day, he saw someone spill some wine on a table cloth. (There is no record of what the spilled wine was.) That got him to thinking:
As the waiter replaced the cloth, Brandenberger decided that he would invent a clear flexible film that could be applied to cloth, making it waterproof.
He experimented with different materials and in tried applying liquid viscose (a cellulose product known as rayon) to cloth, but the viscose made the cloth too stiff. His idea failed but he noted that the coating peeled off in a transparent film. Like so many inventions, the original use was abandoned and new and better uses were found.
The plastic cellophane that everyone knows to have been used of it for the house, was invented by no other that Dr. Jacques Edwin Brandenberger. This engineer in textile in the idea of had invented a protective coating. Sat in a restaurant it saw a customer reversed of the wine on the tablecloth and it is at this time that it decided to begin his research to arrive with a solution in 1908. Since this discovery it made several other research in the field of the plastic.
This outstanding inventor and businessman excelled through his sophistication of mind and kindness of heart. As a young man he already felt a courageous, bold and unrestrained zest for action....His faith in a successful future, his optimism and his absolute trust in his own capabilities combined with a clear view of existing business opportunities and a bold power of decision in his resolutions....By virtue of his open and straight character, his dependability which missed and forgot nothing, through his open-hearted and generous way of thinking and acting, but above all through his friendly and distinguished nature, he set a shining and impressive example. The charm he radiated was an anathema to servility.
Other accidental discoveries: Popsicles, velcro, post-it notes, inter alia.
Fact: There's a song in Chicago, the musical, called Mr Cellophane (but it isn't about Dr J E Brandenburger).
Fact: My daughter E just told me that the grandad of one of her classmates invented the laminator during WW2. I believe every home should have one.
Ted Heath apparently started it all, though, he added, "one should not suggest that the whole of British industry consists of practices of this kind." Since then, it's proved a durable phrase, no doubt helped by a surfeit of worthy recipients. Most recently in the House of Commons:
"On the “Today” programme on Monday, Sir Clive Thompson said that the company was negotiating a rescue package with Halifax Bank of Scotland in March. At the same time, Farepak was sending out letters to my constituents telling them that they were going to have the best Christmas ever."
In similar vein, from a previous British corporate scandal:
Speaking at BMW's annual press dinner in London, Jim O'Donnell, managing director of BMW (GB), said that the conduct of the five Phoenix directors was "disgusting".
A Utah woman has become the latest asset in online gambling outfit GoldenPalace.com's eBay preposterous purchase portfolio after accepting $15,000 dollars to have the casino's name permanently tattooed on her forehead.
Let's hear it for nitrogen. There's a lot if it about, but oxygen seems to get all the glory. Nitrogen constitutes 78.08% of the earth's atmosphere, but gets, I would say, less than 0.5% of the media space allocated to chemical coverage (maybe even less), except in relation to pollution.
Apart from various industrial uses, nitrogen is good for:
The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz) teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary or congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals to us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.
In the interests of balance, here's some not-so-good stuff about nitrogen and about Fritz Haber, father of nitrogen fertilizer (and chemical warfare).
Oh, and Daniel Rutherford, credited with the discovery of nitrogen in 1772, called it 'noxious air'.
While I wait for blogger's block to thaw after several week's absence, here is a recent picture of a southern hairy-nosed wombat taking the sun in Melbourne Zoo.
I don't know the difference between the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the northern hairy-nosed wombat. Nor do I know whether they get on with each other or are hostile, perceiving each other as a threat. I do not know if wombats and goats are natural enemies, friends, totally indifferent to each other or even believe in each other's existence. In fact I know next to nothing about wombats. I should probably have done a little research. One thing I do know, however, is that wombats are not as slow as people once thought. That's all I currently have to say about wombats.
In her (highly recommended) recent book, Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein hints at the possibility that theological differences may not have been entirely responsible for Spinoza's excommuncation from the Amsterdam 'Portuguese' Jewish community. She writes (p251):
His sister Miriam had had one child before she died, Daniel. The child had been less than a year old when the mother had died. Miriam, his litle mother, his mais velha. He can still remember her kindness to him, though she was only a child herself, eight years old, motherless and no doubt forlorn herself. Her husband, Samuel de Casseres, had married Spinoza's other sister, Rebecca, and, in addition to Daniel, they had had more children together...... There had been a certain unpleasantness with Rebecca, involving money. He hadn't thought of it in years. It was the sort of thing that can happen in families, that happens quite often. It had involved the distribution of their father's assets. Rebecca was already promised to Casseres, with his many ties to the synagogue authorities, and Spinoza could easily deduce how the parnassim would be inclined to decide in favour of Casseres's future wife. So Spinoza had done the unthinkable. He had brought the case before the state authorities, and they had decided in his favor. Perhaps this act, more than any of his blasphemous views – whether of God, the Jews, or immortality – had incited the parnassim to fulminate against him with such bombastic excess in the writ of excommunication that they had prepared, and which he had never deigned to recognise.
Polish poet, Zbigniew Herbert, describes the dispute thus:
In the eyes of his biographers Spinoza was unmistakably an ideal wise man: exclusively concentrated on the precise architecture of his works, perfectly indifferent to material affairs, and liberated from all passions. But an episode in his life is passed over in silence by some biographers, while others consider it only an incomprehensible, youthful whim. Spinoza's father died in 1656. In his family Baruch had the reputation of an eccentric young man who had no practical sense and wasted precious time studying incomprehensible books. Due to clever intrigues (his stepsister Rebecca and her husband Casseres played the main role in this) he was deprived of his inheritance. She hoped the absentminded young man would not even notice. But it happened otherwise. Baruch initiated a lawsuit in court with an energy no one suspected him to have. He hired lawyers, called witnesses, was both matter-of-fact and passionate, extremely well-oriented in the most subtle details of procedure and convincing as a son injured and stripped of his rights. They settled the division of the estate relatively quickly (clear legal rules existed in this matter). But then a second act of the trial unexpectedly followed, causing a general sense of unpleasantness and embarrassment. As if the devil of possessiveness had entered him, Baruch began to litigate over almost each object from his father's house. It started with the bed in which his mother, Deborah, had died (he did not forget about its dark green curtains). Then he requested objects without any value, explaining he had an emotional attachment to them. The judges were monumentally bored, and could not understand where this irresistible desire in the ascetic young man came from. Why did he wish to inherit a poker, a pewter pot with a broken handle, an ordinary kitchen stool, a china figure representing a shepherd without a head, a broken clock which stood in the vestibule and was a home for mice, or a painting that hung over the fireplace and was so completely blackened it looked like a self-portrait of tar? Baruch won the trial. He could now sit with pride on his pyramid of spoils, casting spiteful glances at those who tried to disinherit him. But he did not do this. He only chose his mother's bed (with the dark green curtain), giving the rest away to his adversaries defeated at the trial. No one understood why he acted this way. It seemed an obvious extravagance, but in fact had a deeper meaning. It was as if Baruch wanted to say that virtue is not at all an asylum for the weak. The act of renunciation is an act of courage-it requires the sacrifice of things universally desired (not without regret and hesitation) for matters that are great, and incomprehensible.
As for the Leibniz sibs, I know precious little, other than the fact his sister Anna Catharina's son, Friedrich Simon Löffler, was his sole heir. I'm sure some sort of broigus – acknowledged or not – lies behind that decision.