Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, June 28, 2021


 Openers:      The secret itself was still safe.  It was clear that the public not yet could have learned it.  No; the nature of the tremendous and terrific Discovery remained ocked in the breast of the men who had made it.  No one had broken so badly under the burden of it that he had let slip any actual details of what had been learned.

But the fact that there was a secret, of incomparable importance, was out.

David Randell received plenty of proof of it, as he stood at the liner's rail, and the radiograms from shore were brought to him.  He had had seven, all of the same sort, within the hour, and here was another.

He held it without opening it while he gazed across the sparkling water at the nearing shores of Long Island beyond which lay New York.  Strange that, in a city which he could not yet see, men could be so excited about his errand, while the fellow-passengers, at his elbow, glanced at him only with mild curiosity at the sudden frequency of radiograms for him.

They would be far less indifferent, if they had read them.

The first, arriving less than a hour ago, offered him one thousand dollars for first and exclusive information -- to be withheld from all others for twelve hours -- of what he carried in his black box.  It was signed by the most famous newspaper in New York.

Haardly had the messenger started back to the radio station wneh a second boy appeared with a message from another newspaper:  "Two thousand dollars for first information of your  business in New York."

-- When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (1933)

The message was one of doom.  Scientists in the Southern Hemisphere had discovered that two rogue planets -- one the size of Uranus, the other the size of Earth, with the smaller orbiting around the larger -- had entered the solar system.  Exact calculations showed that the two wandering planets would just miss striking Earth on its first path but, after orbiting the sun, the Larger of the two would strike Earth, completely obliverating it.  There was a chance that the second, smaller planet may have the qualities needed for life, despite the fact that it had been frozen during its millions of years traveling through space.

The scientists are building rockets that would take a few -- selected for their intelligence and for being the most biologially useful -- to that new world where humanity might have a chance of survival.  

But the secret leaked, sparking a world-wide struggle among mankind for an invidual chance of escaping certain death.

The story of Earth facing disaster from a collision with an extrasolar body is an old one in science fiction.  Jules Verne and H. G. Wells both played with the idea in novels.  A number of writers in the early twentieth century wrote Noah's Ark-type stories in which humanity tried to escape doom.  Wylie and Bulmer's book, however, managed to hit a public nerve and the novel has not been out of print since its inception.  The cover of the 1973 Waner Paperback Library printing which I read has the tag line, "America's most famous science fiction classic that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World."  It helped that the theme was used by Alex Raymond the following year in his Flash Gordon comic strip.  The theme of escape from a doomed planet via rocket ship also formed the basis of Siegel and Shuster's Superman comic book.  The very successful 1951 George Pal film When Worlds Collide also helped cement the book's fame.  Wylie and Balmer followed the book with a sequel, After World's Collide (1934), which has also remained in print.  The comic strip Speed Spaulding, in part based on the two books, was created by Edwin Balmer and Marvin Brdley and ran from 1938 through 1941.

Today the story is a chestnut, but it is still readble and can be enjoyed.

Philip Wylie (1902-1971) was a popular author and social critic who defined the term "Momism."  Wylie's fiction covered the gamut from mysteries to his 69 popular stories about fishing in his Crunch and Des series.  His greatest fistional impact was on the science fiction and related genres.  Among his books:

  • Gladiator (1931), the story of a superhuman created by eugenics and a major inflluence on the creation of Superman
  • The Murderer Invisible (1932), this, along with the H. G. Wells novel, provided the plot of  the firt draft of the 1933 film The Invisible Man; the fianl version of the film relied more heavily on the Wells novel, as adapted by R, C, sherriff, with an assist from Preston Sturges
  • The Savage Gentleman (1932) which features a Doc Savage prototype
  • Night Unto Night (1934) a posthumous fantasy; it was made into a 1949 Ronald Reagan film
  • Blunder:  The Story of the End of the World (1946) about the dangers of atomic power
  • The Disappearance (1951) in which the world is split into two dimensions -- one with all men and one with all women
  • The Smuggled Atom Bomb (1956) a thriller about the threat of an atomic bomb
  • The Answer (1955) in which Americans and Russians mistakenly kill an angel
  • Tomorrow! (1954) about the dangers of nuclear war
  • Triumph (1963) in which Americans are rescued from a deep shelter
  • The Spy Who Spoke Porpoise (1969) a political thriller
  • Los Angeles:  A.D. 2017 (1971) A novelization of Wtlie's script for and episode of television's The Name of the Game series; the episode, BTW, was directed by Stephen Spielberg; by this time, Wylie's attention was drawn away from nuclear holocaust and directed at ecological disaster
  • The End of the Dream (1972) Wylie's final novel and published posthumously; another warning about ecological disaster
One of Wylie's most famous novels was Finley Wren (1934), a baroque mainstream novel which has two science fiction tales embedded within it.  Wylie was also an accomplished screen writer.  Among his credits are Island of Lost Souls, King of the Jungle, Murderss in the Zoo, Charlie Chan in Reno, and Cinderella Jones.  His Crunch and Des stories were adapted for a television series in 1955, starring Forrest Tucker and Sandy Kenyon; 37 episodes were filmed.

Edwin Balmer (1883-1959) was a well-known editor and writer.  He edited Redbook from 1927 to 1949, and then became associate ;publisher of the magazine.  In 1910 he published a cornerstone book of mystery stories, The Achievements of Luther Trant, with his brother-in-law William MacHarg; the book was reprinted in 2013, with three additional stories, as The Complete Achievements of Luther Trant.  (MacHarg was also a popular author of novels and short stories,  His The Affairs of O'Malley [1940; also published as Smart Guy:  The Affairs of O'Malley] is another cornerstone mystery collection; MacHarg coauthored a number of books with Balmer.)  In addition to works co-authored by Wylie or MacHarg, Balmer published at least seventeen books, mainly in the romance and mystery genres.

Read the Book, See the Film:  For those interest, here is the 1950 film When Worlds Collide, produced by George Pal, directed by Rudolph Mate, screenplay by Sydney Boehm, and featuring Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, John Hoyt, and Larry Keating.  Look closely and you'll see Superman's Kirk Alyn as a rioter with a machine gun.

Read the Book, See the Film, Check Out the Comic Book:  And here's the May 1952 issue of Motion Picture Comics (issue  #110), which adapts the George Pal film:

Tapioca:  Today is National Body Piercing Day.  It's also Tapioca Day.  Since I am adverse to [papin, let's talk about tapioca.

Tapioca is a starch, extracted from the storage root of the cassava plant.  It is basically a carbohydrate, very low in protein, vitamins, and minerals.  The cassava comes from Brazil but is now grown in many South American countries, as well as in Asia and Africa.  It is a staple foodstuff in many tropical countries.  Tapioca ai also used as a thickerner for many manufactured foods.  Tapioca resin is used in making biogradable bags. gloves. capes, and aprons.  It's also used for starching shirts before ironing.

We know tapioca maninly as the little pearls found in tapioca pudding.  It's also used in bubble tea and other sweet drinks and is a common ingedient in Eastern and Asian desserts.  A thin flatbread called casabe is made without leavening from the bitter cassava root; it can be eaten like a craker, or, with the additiona of  few spinkles of water, as a bread.  

Tapioca pudding is made from tapioca and either milk or cream.  Its consistency can be runny or thick enough to eat with a fork, and all points in between.  It traditionally has beenn given a bad rap in England -- The Guardian termed it "Britain's most hated school pudding," and British schoolboys have commonly called it frog spawn, fisheyes, or eyeball pudding.  Tapioca pudding is making a comeback, though, and is now featured on the menus of many Michelin-rated restaurants.  Rhode Island army officers ate it as a desert during their Fourth of July celebrations at the Seige of Petersberg in 1864.

Something that may be if interest to anybody thinking of writing a murder mystery:  When the starchy root of the bitter casava is ground into a pulp and then squeezed, it produces a milky liquid called 'yare," which contain linamarin. a cyanogenic glycocide that can be used to produce cyanide; several weeks of eating improperly processed bitter cassava can lead to paralysis.

Cyanide or not, and discounting British schoolboys (as we really should), tapioca pudding can be pretty tasty.  Here's a recipe:

The Crimes of Thomas Hickey:  Two hundred twenty-four years ago today, Private Thomas Hickey became the first person to be excucuted by the Continental Army for "mutiny, sedition, and treachery."  (Hickey was evidently a sergeant in the continental army, but upon his conviction, his rank was reduced to private.)

Hickey, bpornnin Ireland, came to America as a soldier in the British Army, fighting in the Seven Yar's War.  When the American revolution came, he joined the Continental Army and became part of the Life Guard, the group assigned to protect General George Washington, his papers, and the payroll of the Continental Army.  In the spring of 1776 Hickey and another soldier were caught passing counterfeit money.  While jailed, he allegedly told another prisoner that he and a number of other soldiers planned to defect once the British attacked New York City.  While Hickey was on trial, David Matthews, the mayor of New York, was accused of funding the plot to bribe soldiers to join the British.  Matthews and twelve others were imprisoned briefly but the accusations could not be proven.  Allegedly, the plot also included an attempt to kidnap Washington, assassinate his offiers, and blow up the Continental Army's supply of ammunition.

Hickey was hanged before a crown of 20,000 in New York.

Following Hickey's execution, Washington announced the excution, stating that it should be a warning to every soldier not to commit the crimes of mutiny, sedition, and treachery.  Interestingly, Washington added this:  "And in order to avoid those crimes, the most certain method is to keep put of the temptation of them, and to particularly avoid lewd women, who, by the dying confession of this poor animal, first led him into practices which ended in an untimely and ignominous death."  {Emphasis mine.]  So there was a woman in this affair?  Well, that spices things up.  Unfortunately I have no further information.

Rumor had it that Hickey was part of a supposed plot by Matthews to assasinate Washington and that was the real. reason he was executed.  There were a number of contempory anecdotal accounts to support this, one of which traced the plot beyond Matthews to Governor William Tryon.  Washington
s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis's memoirs were published in 1859 by Custis's daughter.  In it was the allegation that Hickey had tried to kill Washington by putting poison in a dish of peas; the attempt was supposedly foiled by Phoebe Fraunces, Washington's housekeeper and the daughter of one of the men accused of being in the plot.  (He denied the accusation and claimed he was the one who discovered the plot; he was released because of a lack of evidence).

Anyway, back to the poisoned peas plot...It turns out that the entire story was not part of Custis's actual memoirs, but had been added, along with a number of other "extended notes" by Benson J. Lossing, a popular American historian noted for his "diligence in seeking out primary records, his interviews with particpants of events and intimates of his biographical studies, and his care to weigh and contrast details of his various sources."  In 1870, Lossing freely admitted that his account was third-hand, having been "related to a friend of the writer (Mr. W. J. Davis), by the late Peter Embury, of New York, who resided in the city at the time, and was well-acquainted with the general's housekeeper."

There is no record that Phoebe Fraunces ever existed, which puts a crimp on the story.  This discrepancy has been explained away in a number of ways, but Phoebe's existence remains in doubt, as does Hickey's attempt to poison Washington.  We will never know Hickey's full involvement in a supposed plot, nor will we ever know exactly why Hickey was the only person excuted in the entire affair.

Teenage Girls' Fashion Trends in the 1950s:  An intersting look of way long ago, with nary a refernce to "reefer madness."

Florida Man:
  •  Florida Man Rick Meyers, 30, of Titusville, was charged with picking magic mushrooms while carrying an alligator.  And if these two charges weren't enough, he was also charged with violating his parole.  Soooo...HAT TRICK!
  • If any Florida Man has ever shown remorse, it's Geoff Gaylord.  The 38-year-old Jacksonville man "killed" his imaginary friend, Mr. Happy, and the turned himself in.  Gaylord said that he stabbed Mr. Happy repeatedly with a kitchen knife, chopped up the  body with a hatchet, and  uried the remains in his back yard.  Drugs were involved.
  • Eladio Garcia-Gasca, a 50-year-old North St. Petersburg Florida Man, has been arrested for th theft and slaughter of a horse last year.  When the owner and deputies searched the general area, they found the horse dead with most of its meat removed.  Eww!
  • Florida Man Brendan Doaln-King, 23, of Clearwater, is evidently a fan of an ex-President-not-to-be-named   He waas arrested with five ecstacy pilles in the shape of the ex-President-not-to-be-named face.  And, yes, the pills were orange.
  • Here's an oldie but goodie from 2016:  Florida Man Joseph Robinson, 45 at the time, of Orange country got into a heated arguement with 69-year-old John Stubbs.  When Stubbs, who had eleven children and whose wife had dies of cancer six months before, tried to walk away, Robinson attacked him with ax and killed him.  The argument?  It ws over lottery tickets and beer.

Good News:
  •  Cmpany mimics spiders to create fax silk the is 1000% more energy efficient
  • 16-year-old buys contents of storage lockers to returned contents to former owners
  • Co-workers donate kidneys to save each other's husbands
  • America honors 98-year-old woman whose storn warnings delayed D-Day invation, thus saving the war
  • I like this one:  coffee is now linked to reduced risk of many ailmentss, including liver disease, Parkinson's, melanoma, obesity, and even suicide
  • A cure for hiccups?      Scientists Have Figured Out How to Instantly Cure Hiccups (

Today's Poem:
I Like Tapioca

I like even the word "tapioca."
It sounds like the name of a Latin dance,
the beat of the Samba underscoring
the ritual movements of some Amazonian tribe.
"Come, let's do the Tapioca."

Or it could be the local indigenous name
of a tributary of the Congo
the newsman Stanley hoped would
bring him closer to Dr. Livingstone.
"This is the Tapioca, I presume."

Or even a tropical insect,
whose bite transmits a lethal disease,
while its genes contain the secret
to conquering the riddle of aging.
"Tapioca face cream.  $26.59 a jar."

Yet tapioca is more than these:
A confection that puts a spring
in my step, takes my spirit
into worlds unknown, and renews my youth,
when I loved those gelatinous pearls --
even when told they were frog eyes -- the bigger, the better.

Where is it from?  There's the  mystery,
unlike the rice pudding they try to pawn off on me instead.

-- Bill Batcher

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