Monday, June 30, 2008

The Dime Novel Made Him Do It

In the 1950's rock 'n' roll was branded "the Devil's music" by some and blamed for every kind of juvenile delinquency. Today, violent video games and "gangsta rap" are under the same spotlight of suspicion. But back in the late 1800's, it was the low-tech dime novel which was viewed as the evil influence on youth.
In Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest Serial Killer, author Harold Schechter gives readers the gory details of Jesse Pomeroy's spree of torture and murder in Boston, ending in his 1874 arrest at the age of 14. In an intriguing passage, Schechter explores the sordid reputation of the dime novel genre. These action-packed, melodramatic adventure stories were chock full of bravado and bloodshed. And they were readily available and inexpensive enough for even a working-class boy to buy on a regular basis. As is the case today, there were those who chose to blame an individual's bad deeds on a popular form of entertainment. Schechter writes, "Denunciations of the dime novel's supposedly corrupting effects on young minds began appearing everywhere, from the pulpit to the newspaper editorial pages to such venerable publications as Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly."
Soon after Pomeroy's arrest, incriminating stories arose about the boy's fondness for this violent fare. The Boston Globe found it relevant to note that "There is plenty of evidence to show that dime novels ... constituted a good share of the boy's mental nourishment," and quoted a friend of Jesse's who revealed that the boy had been smuggling these volumes into school and hiding them inside his text books where he would "devour [them] while pretending to study his lessons."

View related material from the City of Boston Archives. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Golf Carts Going Off Course

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, golf cart accidents have increased 132 percent since 1990. And in just the past few weeks, we've had several startling reminders that golf cart accidents aren't just for golfers anymore.
On June 23, a decorated 37 year old police detective in Michigan fell out of the passenger side of a golf cart at a motorcycle rally, bumped his head and later died.
On Saturday, May 31, a 63 year old  South Carolina woman was driving her golf cart over to a friend's house so they could water flowers together, when she fell out of the cart on a turn.  She died the next day from her injuries.
A few days  before that, a 24 year old Minnesota man had gone out for a joy ride in a golf cart. As he was heading home in the dark, he hit a tree and ended up in the emergency room with a three-foot oak branch sticking out of his leg. He is expected to make a full recovery. 
Golf carts aren't just for grown-ups anymore either. Last year, A 9-year-old Massachusetts boy was a passenger in a golf cart being driven around a cul-de-sac by a 9 year old driver, when he fell off the back of the vehicle and struck his head on the pavement. 
And lastly, golf carts aren't just for people who can see anymore. In 1998, a blind man and his seeing-eye dog were detained by police for DUI and reckless conduct in Peachtree City, Georgia, after driving a golf cart two miles along winding streets and crashing into a parked car.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Theraputic Purr

If you've ever had a purring cat curl up next to you, you know how soothing the sound and gentle vibrations can be. But certainly cats don't purr for our benefit. No self-respecting feline would exert energy simply to please its human. At the Fauna Communications Research Institute  in North Carolina, scientists believe that the cat's purr acts as a self-mending mechanism, encouraging bones, ligaments and organs to heal quicker and grow stronger. 

Cats purr when content but also when distressed, ill, injured or birthing. Not just house cats but most big cats are purrers. Since a certain amount of energy is required to purr, the theory goes, an injured or ailing animal is unlikely to exert that energy unless it was getting some benefit from it. According to Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, president of Fauna Communication Research Institute,. the frequency at which cats purr is the best frequency for bone growth, fracture healing and tendon mending. 

Supposedly, the purr acts as a low-impact exercise program for the often-idol feline. Cats in nature are excellent and efficient hunters, using only a small fraction of their day to catch and consume their prey. This leaves them plenty of leisure time which they usually spend in various stages of lounging. How convenient, how genetically advantageous it would be if such a marathon napper is truly able to stimulate bone growth and muscle strength even while at rest, just by purring.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Whooping Cough

I mentioned to my friend Ann that I had just been re-vaccinated for whooping cough. "Did I ever tell you that whooping cough was the beginning of my downfall?"she asked me. Now in her early sixties, Ann had struggled her whole life with anorexia nervosa.
"When I was born, my brother had whooping cough. It was a very dangerous disease for a baby. I could have died if I'd gotten it. So, to keep me safe, the doctors wouldn't let me leave the hospital and go home with my mother. I had to stay in the nursery for the first three months of my life. I couldn't have any contact with my parents except once a week, on my father's day off, they would come to the hospital and wave to me through the nursery window. Of course, I was so little, I didn't know who these people were waving to me. I'm sure the nurses took care of my basic needs but they were busy with their work and didn't have time to touch or cuddle me. And not much was known then about the importance of cuddling and bonding with babies. Everyone thought they were doing what was best for me."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saint Audrey's Laces

Cheap and showy, gaudy, sleazy. These are hardly words to describe a Saint. Yet, the adjectives are used by Webster's to define "tawdry," a word with saintly connotation.
"Tawdry" refers to Saint Audrey, who traded a queen's throne - and a penchant for exquisite necklaces - for the nun's humble habit and veil. 
At her feast day fairs in Norwich England, brightly colored ribbons and necklaces were sold to remind the faithful of the splendor surrendered by the Saint in the name of God.
At first well-made and elegant, "Saint Audrey's laces" were soon being produced fast and cheap, sacrificing quality and artistry along the way.
Meanwhile, the phrase "Saint Audrey's laces" was being carelessly slurred into the contraction "tawdries" or "tawdry" which has come to mean anything flashy or tasteless.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Proximity Breeds Friendship

In her book Girls Like Us:  Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation, Sheila Weller writes of Carole King and her grammar-school girlfriend, Barbara Grossman, "Barbara and Carole's friendship started the way many friendships started back then: in line. Both were small so they were placed next to each other." In another chapter, Weller notes that Carly Simon, upon starting a new school in seventh grade, was befriended by Jessica Hoffmann "the other tall girl at the back of the line." 
Does proximity breed friendship? A psychological investigation of college freshmen suggests it might. Researchers from the University of Leipzig found that students randomly assigned to sit next to each other when meeting for the first time had higher ratings of "friendship intensity" one year later than they had with those seated further away. The study was written up in a recent issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science.