Archive for March, 2015

In Like a Lion, Out Like Lady Caroline Lamb After She Published Her Scandalous Novel

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

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Lady Caroline Lamb (née Caroline Ponsonby) was born in 1785 into a family of British aristocrats who, despite their nobility, indulged in tempestuous love affairs and other terribly common behaviors.

Lady Caroline did not fall far from the tree.

She married (the future peer and Prime Minister) William Lamb, and on their wedding day was carried away with an uncontrollable rage (also, they carried her away).

Whether or not she inherited an outsized sense of entitlement (she did), Lady Caroline also contended with bouts of mental illness, and in her station and era, that was Just Not Done.

Never one to worry much about appearances, Lady Caroline carried on dalliances and carried on in general. After Lord Byron broke off their (quite public) affair, Lady Caroline made even more public displays by stalking the poet, showing up at his residence unannounced and uninvited, and slashing her arms with broken glass at a grand ball where they both happened to be in attendance.

If her social suicide attempt was not tantamount to social suicide (and it was), Lady Caroline’s novel, Glenarvon, was. Though she published it anonymously, once it became common knowledge the characters were based on real (and prominent) people, they no longer required her company.

Lamb was not the first author – or the last – whose tell-all work left her socially marooned. Decades years later, “La Côte Basque 1965” appeared in Esquire magazine and Truman Capote, literary lion, was out like a Lamb.

March Comes in Like… Singapore?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The Republic of Singapore gets its name from the Sanskrit word Sinhaupra and means “Lion City.” How does a Southeast Asian country come to be named after a lion?

According to Malay mythology, Prince Sang Nila Utama was on an expedition to found a new city. After a stormy and perilous sea passage he landed on the island of Singapore, then called Temasek, where he came upon a strange beast with a red and black mane. It disappeared before the prince could examine it, but he was pretty sure it was a lion. Although lions don’t have black manes and they aren’t found in the wild in Southeast Asia. Some people say that it must have been a tiger. But there aren’t any tigers on Singapore either. In any case it’s pretty clear that Prince Sang Nila Utama had no idea what a lion looks like.

Believing a lion to be a good omen (he obviously hadn’t ever come across one in the wild before), the prince decided to name his new city “Lion City.”

This is why Singapore’s coat of arms features a lion — plus a tiger, just to hedge their bets — and why their soccer team is called the Lions.

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Arbitrary Dicotyledon of the Day

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Castor oil plant.

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It’s St. Patrick’s Day Again

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day – everyone that is, save St. Patrick.

Nearly 40 million people in the United States claim Irish descent; in fact, though born in St. Louis, they may well refer to themselves as Irish.

Not so the patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick was born in Britain and arrived in Ireland as a slave. Though travel is supposed to broaden the mind, Patrick did not enjoy his stay. It might have been the food. It might have been that the ideal sightseeing experience is rarely to be had while clapped in irons, in spite of the sight of Spring lambs that really do bounce straight up in the air and gambol over the impossibly green hillsides to make you wonder what it was you ever found bad about the world.

In any event, though Patrick managed to escape and return to his home in Britain, he went back to Ireland. It’s just that pretty. (Also, he was on a mission to convert the island to Christianity.)

There are all kinds of legends involving St. Patrick and snakes and shamrocks, and it’s easy to confuse myth with fact; however, it’s generally accepted to dress in green on St. Patrick’s Day, though nearly certain to be a passing fad is the “wearing of the snakes.”

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In Like a Lion, Out Like Two Lions Outside the Library

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

New York City is famous for citizens both funny and rude, but we also have patience and fortitude – as well as Patience and Fortitude, the lions outside the New York Public Library at the corner of Fifth and 42nd.

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“Patience” – photo via nypl.org.

The lions are the work of renowned artists Edward Clark Potter (who designed the sculptures) and the Piccirilli Brothers (who carved them).

The dignified duo weren’t always known as “Patience” and “Fortitude.” At first, they were (nick)named after two of the library’s greatest benefactors: John Jacob Astor (the richest person in the country, who left $400,000 for the creation of a public library) and James Lenox (another multimillionaire philanthropist, who donated even more). During the Great Depression, Mayor LaGuardia renamed the lions Patience and Fortitude, and the name stuck.

And these guys are universally popular with natives and tourists alike – who knows how many cell phones, photo albums, and blogs feature their images? – unlike the bronze panther sculpture in Central Park (“Still Hunt” by Edward Kemeys), which has been known to terrify unsuspecting early-morning joggers.

How We Choose a Personality

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Every week we receive multiple requests from UPG customers about making a Little Thinker or Magnetic Personality of their favorite historical figure/scientist/philosopher/writer/artist/college professor.

We’d love to make them all. We are thrilled to honor people we admire with a product and we’re sure there are many of you out there who would cherish a Charles Babbage doll or a Jane Addams finger puppet.

The problem is that we have to make these things in large quantities. And that means large sales.

We can’t make products featuring some people due to rights issues. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Amelia Earhart aren’t available, for example. Living personalities are problematic because we need their permission provided they’re not a U.S. public official.

And the sad truth is that people we admire don’t always sell well. Or they sell well for a while, but once everyone who wants an Oscar Wilde doll or an Emma Goldman finger puppet buys one, the demand is fulfilled.

We Unemployed Philosophers have a voracious interest in philosophy, art, history, science and literature, and we have a huge list of people we want to make. We can only make so many though, and producing a line of only obscure philosophers is unfortunately not the best business model (as much as we’d like to do just that).

We tell people that if we can get 200+ requests for a Little Thinker or 400+ requests for a finger puppet, that will warrant enough interest for us to do a run. So keep writing and calling with your requests! Provided the rights are available, and the personality you want fits into our line (no evil dictators please), we’ll add her to the list.

March Comes in Like the Chamber of the Felines

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Lions are some of the many Paleolithic predators featured in paintings and etchings found on the walls of the Lascaux caves in France.

The section of the cave known as “The Chamber of the Felines” is both narrow and steep, obliging visitors to get into their crouch in order to view the cats and lions (and other images) on the walls.

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The Lascaux caves may have been the ideal place for two particular lions, as they are enjoying an intimate moment. Aside from the damp and visits from the likes of Werner Herzog, caves usually afford the amorous a bit of privacy.

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