Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Night When Charlie Parker Played for Igor Stravinsky (1951)

in Music | October 12th, 2016
Image (left) by William P. Gottlieb, image (right) by Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

The history of 20th-century music offers plenty of stories of luminaries meeting, playing together, and sometimes even entering into long-term collaboration. But it typically only happened within traditions: encounters between rock and rock, jazz and jazz, modernism and modernism. And so it still thrills to hear of the time in 1951 when Charlie Parker added one more story to the most storied jazz club of all by performing for Igor Stravinsky at Birdland. Alfred Appel tells it definitively in his book Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce:
The house was almost full, even before the opening set — Billy Taylor's piano trio — except for the conspicuous empty table to my right, which bore a RESERVED sign, unusual for Birdland. After the pianist finished his forty-five-minute set, a party of four men and a woman settled in at the table, rather clamorously, three waiters swooping in quickly to take their orders as a ripple of whispers and exclamations ran through Birdland at the sight of one of the men, Igor Stravinsky. He was a celebrity, and an icon to jazz fans because he sanctified modern jazz by composing Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman and his Orchestra (1946) — a Covarrubias "Impossible Interview" come true.
As Parker's quintet walked onto the bandstand, trumpeter Red Rodney recognized Stravinsky, front and almost center. Rodney leaned over and told Parker, who did not look at Stravinsky. Parker immediately called the first number for his band, and, forgoing the customary greeting to the crowd, was off like a shot. At the sound of the opening notes, played in unison by trumpet and alto, a chill went up and down the back of my neck.

They were playing "KoKo," which, because of its epochal breakneck tempo — over three hundred beats per minute on the metronome — Parker never assayed before his second set, when he was sufficiently warmed up. Parker's phrases were flying as fluently as ever on this particular daunting "Koko." At the beginning of his second chorus he interpolated the opening of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite as though it had always been there, a perfect fit, and then sailed on with the rest of the number. Stravinsky roared with delight, pounding his glass on the table, the upward arc of the glass sending its liquor and ice cubes onto the people behind him, who threw up their hands or ducked.
Parker didn't just happen to know a few bits of Stravinsky to whip out as a novelty; he had, at that point, already deeply internalized the work of the man who composed The Rite of Spring (1913), the most rhythmically complex piece of orchestral music to date. "Jazz musicians sat up in their seats when Stravinsky's music started playing; he was speaking something close to their language," writes New Yorker music critic Alex Ross in his book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. "When Charlie Parker came to Paris in 1949, he marked the occasion by incorporating the first notes of the Rite into his solo on 'Salt Peanuts'."

In a piece on why jazz musicians love The Rite of Spring, NPR's Patrick Jarenwattananon discusses other instances where Parker quoted (or paid musical tribute to) Stravinsky: "A personal favorite comes from 1947, when Parker was a guest soloist on trumpeter and arranger Neal Hefti's 'Repetition,' as heard on a compilation called The Jazz Scene. Not only does Hefti's arrangement quote the transitional horn motif which signals the second half of the 'Augurs of Spring' movement from The Rite, but Parker riffs on the same motif to start his solo."

Dylan Thomas: A Centenary Celebration contains a chapter by Daniel G. Williams on Dylan Thomas and Charlie Parker, which, in establishing Parker's engagement in "revivifying the vocabulary of jazz," gets into how that got him drawing from Stravinsky, whose work Parker called "music at its best." Williams quotes Parker's trumpeter Howard McGhee as remembering that Parker "knew everything, and he hipped me to, like, Stravinsky and all those guys. I didn't now nothin' about Stravinsky." When Parker brought The Rite of Spring over to listen to at McGhee's house, he prefaced the experience with these words: "Yeah, this cat, he's kind of cool, you know; he knows what he's doing." And the more we learn about what went into Parker's music, the more we realize that he, too, knew even more thoroughly what he was doing than we'd ever realized.
via Jerry Jazz Musician/Dangerous Minds

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America Was Founded on Secrets and Lies

Espionage, kidnapping, and the dark art of spycraft is as American as George Washington.
With all due respect to early-American hagiographer Parson Weems, George Washington knew how to tell a lie. In fact, he told a lot of them. Moreover, talent for deception was shared by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, all of whom, to borrow from former Vice President Dick Cheney, worked the "dark side." And though these Founding Fathers' knack for the shadows may cut against the image of modern-day saints that has grown up around them, it is difficult to see the American Revolution succeeding without it.

In popular history, clandestine operations, and their control by the executive, are a cancerous growth that began in the 20th century with the so-called "imperial presidency" and the rise of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. This is fiction. Unfortunately, this fairy tale account of American history is gospel in far too many quarters. It was accepted as fact by the Church Committee in the 1970s, resurrected again in the majority report of the Iran-Contra Committee in 1987, and now finds renewed life on the libertarian right. As Jefferson noted, for the founders, the "laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger," overrode traditional standards of conduct or any written law. Enlisting their legacy in the cause of restricting or banning these operations can only be achieved by either distorting or ignoring their repeated use of underhanded means.

Facing off against the greatest superpower of his day, Washington understood that when fighting a more formidable foe, deception acts as a force multiplier. Though Washington's commitment to espionage may have been written out of the laudatory histories that established America's first president as the "Jupiter conservator," striking a demigod pose, the work of spying was never far from his mind.

One of Washington's first acts upon taking command of the Continental Army in 1775 was to hire a spy to go behind the enemy lines and report on British activities in Boston. He devoted a considerable amount of energy to his role as intelligence chief, including using personal funds to pay for clandestine operations. These operations were essential to winning the war, he believed, and so sensitive, that he withheld information about them from the Continental Congress. As he bluntly noted in 1777, "there are some secrets, on the keeping of which so, depends, oftentimes, the salvation of an Army: secrets which cannot, at least ought not to, be entrusted to paper; nay, which none but the Commander-in-Chief at the time, should be acquainted with."

His commitment to espionage, however, was a pragmatic one. While Washington understood that success in the struggle between nations required the use of covert operations — and the employment of individuals who were ethically challenged — he was not particularly enamored with these tactics or with the types of individuals employed in these endeavors. In fact, Washington bemoaned in 1779 the "ambiguous characters" that were essential to conducting covert warfare, and warned his intelligence officers to constantly be on the lookout for double agents. Nonetheless, Washington believed that these operatives and their underhanded methods were necessary to defend American interests.

If he were alive today — and enmeshed in the debate over domestic spying — Washington would likely clash with the modern civil libertarian view of the sanctity of private communications. In other words, he would disagree with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy's, or Michigan Rep. Justin Amash's moral outrage regarding government monitoring of private communications, despite their claims to the contrary. Covert mail opening, he believed, was an important national security tool and instructed his agents to "contrive a means of opening them [letters] without breaking the seals, take copies of the contents, and then let them go on." This type of intelligence gathering would provide "innumerable" advantages to the American cause, Washington argued. He was also comfortable using clergymen as intelligence agents. In 1778, he urged a chaplain to coax vital intelligence out of two captured British spies facing execution. Washington instructed the chaplain to exploit the fact that these men would want to get right with God, and by default with George Washington, before departing for the pearly gates.
There was an element of ruthlessness in Washington's approach to clandestine operations.
There was an element of ruthlessness in Washington's approach to clandestine operations. In March 1782, he approved plans for a political kidnapping designed to grab the heir to the British throne while he was visiting New York City. Washington created a special team whose purpose was to kidnap the future King William IV, planning to hold him for ransom in exchange for the traitorous Benedict Arnold or use him as a bargaining chip to secure the release of American prisoners of war. The mission was called off after British intelligence was told of the plan and doubled the prince's guard, but if Washington had had his way, a future king of England would have been snatched off the streets and kept in bondage.

His practice of deception wasn't confined to the enemy. One of Washington's greatest triumphs during the war, the Yorktown campaign of 1781, succeeded in part due to his skill at deception. The general decided that, in order to convince the British that he intended to attack New York City instead of marching south, he needed to mislead not only the British military but American officials as well. He so wanted American authorities to believe that "New York was the destined place of attack, he would later recall to Noah Webster in 1788, that he continued to draw recruits from the Mid-Atlantic States who might be less inclined to enlist for a southern campaign. Washington's domestic disinformation campaign extended to his own army as well. As he put it to Webster, "pains [were] taken to deceive our own army; for I had always conceived, when the imposition did not completely take place at home, it could never sufficiently succeed abroad."

Washington and other veterans of the Revolutionary War, including Alexander Hamilton, who served at the center of Washington's intelligence network (along with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay, who served on the political or diplomatic side of the conflict), believed that the new government established in 1789 needed to rectify some of the problems that had impaired U.S. security under the Articles of Confederation. They sought to transfer the unilateral control that Washington exercised under the articles into the newly created Office of the Presidency, in order to allow for more shrewd and coherent foreign and defense policy, including the use of clandestine means.

General Washington's successful use of intelligence and deception during the Revolutionary War led President Washington to conclude that the new executive office needed a secret service fund to handle the "business of intelligence," as John Jay referred to it in The Federalist Papers. Washington believed intelligence operations were the exclusive province of the executive, a hard-earned lesson taken from the inability of the Continental Congress to protect secrets. He would have little use for the permanent intelligence committees of the House and Senate, seeing this as an infringement on his "executive power" as vested in Article Two of the Constitution, including his powers as commander in chief and his role as the nation's chief diplomat. All of the founders would be particularly concerned about the role of the House, since they intended a minimal role for that body in foreign affairs.

In his first annual message to Congress, Washington requested a "secret service" fund that would be controlled by the president and would allow the chief executive to conduct secret operations free from congressional oversight. The president's request was approved by Congress in 1790, with the support of Rep. James Madison, and with it Washington was granted the authority to avoid the usual reporting procedures mandated by Congress — the president was in essence given a blank check to conduct secret operations that he alone deemed to be in the national interest.
The spycraft apparatus that Washington built lived on after he left — and grew.
The spycraft apparatus that Washington built lived on after he left — and grew. No president was more temperamentally inclined to resort to clandestine schemes than Thomas Jefferson. The Sage of Monticello is frequently portrayed as a champion of deference to Congress and the patron saint of openness and accountability, but in fact he was a precursor to the imperial presidents of the 20th century. Jefferson utilized the secret service fund to a greater degree than almost any early American president, using it as something of a personal slush fund with which to bribe Native American tribes to cede territory, and funding the first covert operation designed to overthrow a foreign government. Dating back to his time as an American envoy in France, Jefferson was enamored with clandestine operations, including at one point attempting to covertly acquire a study of a plan from the Spanish government outlining a path for a canal through the isthmus of Panama, and utilizing a source in Holland to acquire information on the inner workings of the Dutch government and plant stories in the Dutch press favorable to Americans interests.

Echoing Washington, Jefferson believed that it was the executive's prerogative to direct the secret instruments of the American government. In 1807, Jefferson wrote to George Hay, a federal judge who also happened to be James Monroe's son-in-law, that "all nations have found it necessary, that for the advantageous conduct of their affairs, some of these [executive] proceedings, at least, should remain known to their executive functionary only." He noted on an earlier occasion that "the Senate is not supposed by the Constitution to be acquainted with the concerns of the executive department … nor can they, therefore, be qualified to judge of the necessity which calls for a mission to any particular place … which special and secret circumstances may call. All this is left to the President." In light of this, it comes as no surprise that Jefferson utilized private citizens for sensitive operations as a means of circumventing congressional oversight due to that body's penchant for leaks. In one instance, in 1804, Jefferson used a private citizen to carry a secret letter to an American envoy in France, which contained an elaborate cipher and a statement in support of using private channels for public business.

In a sense, early U.S. attachment to spycraft was a practical choice. Both Jefferson and Madison were drawn to covert operations because they allowed them to project American power on the cheap without having to maintain a large standing military. One can see this in Secretary of State Jefferson's policy toward Native American tribes, which involved bribery as a means of persuading them to concede territory. Jefferson succinctly summarized his views in an April 1791, letter to James Monroe, who would become the country's fifth president: "I hope we shall drub the Indians well this summer, and then change our plan from war to bribery" — a policy he was able to fully implement after he was elected president.

In a secret letter written in 1804 to future president William Henry Harrison — then governor of the Indiana Territory — Jefferson urged Harrison to expand the number of trading houses in Indian-controlled territory so that prominent Indian leaders would accrue large debts and be forced to pay them off with land concessions. Additionally, President Jefferson authorized a covert operation to overthrow the King of Tripoli — the first of its kind undertaken by the United States — that involved recruiting a disgruntled family member to do America's bidding. Jefferson would later dissemble about this operation to Congress, particularly regarding his decision to abandon the American-created mercenary army designed to place the disgruntled family member on the throne.
The celebrated Lewis and Clark expedition authorized by Jefferson in 1804 was more of an intelligence operation than an effort to discover new species of flora and fauna.
The celebrated Lewis and Clark expedition authorized by Jefferson in 1804 was more of an intelligence operation than an effort to discover new species of flora and fauna. Jefferson's proclivity for the dark side can also be seen in his lobbying effort to persuade his friend President Madison to retaliate for the British burning of the White House by hiring arsonists in London to burn down St. Paul's Cathedral.

James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, had served as Jefferson's Secretary of State and was well aware of his boss's appreciation for the unseemly necessities of foreign relations, although he seemed to have somewhat less enthusiasm for scheming than Jefferson. In 1805, Secretary of State Madison procured a prostitute using money from the secret service fund in order to enhance the visit of a foreign envoy from Tunisia — the fund being designed in part to facilitate "foreign intercourse." Madison, although more deferential to Congress than Jefferson, conducted his own covert operations which were designed to secure parts of Florida for the United States by inciting "spontaneous" uprisings in Spanish-held territory. In response to criticism, Madison provided misleading accounts to Congress and to foreign governments of his administration's actions. On the eve of the War of 1812, Madison spent $50,000 from the secret service fund to purchase mail from a suspected British agent who claimed he could prove that New England Federalists had conspired to secede from the union.
One can dismiss the founders as irrelevant to the debate over contemporary intelligence issues by claiming that the United States has evolved beyond their unenlightened ways. But enlisting them in the cause of restricting or banning these operations is a distortion of history. These operations are as American as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. The fairy-tale version of the founders that denies this dark side, is spun by libertarians on the right and liberals on the left. Like it or not, it's not true.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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The GOP’s Policy on Wages Has Abducted the American Dream - disinformation

Jul 3, 2017

Sometimes when a person is kidnapped or taken hostage, a psychological alliance develops between the abductee and their captor. It's a condition called Stockholm Syndrome, and the American working class has been stricken with it — bound and gagged by a Republican Party that has become increasingly conservative.

At the core of the GOP's manipulative strategy to keep the poor poor is a philosophy that promotes the removal of obstacles to economic growth. Rather than nourish society from the ground up, what we get from the GOP is trickle-down economics. It's a phrase that was coined in the Reagan era, and has been rationalizing the disenfranchisement of the American working class ever since.

Why Do Poor People Vote Republican?
If the GOP is so outwardly against helping the 45 million Americans living below the poverty line improve their quality of life, why do the poor so consistently vote Republican? Surprisingly, according to poll results, they don't.

You may have heard it said that poor people vote Republican, or seen a map of how certain counties vote that shows less affluent areas casting ballots for GOP candidates. However, it's easy to misconstrue some data to support the appeal to the common man that recent GOP hopes have run on.
Consider the fact that about 40 percent of eligible voters don't visit the polls. Now think about who in those poor, rural counties has the means to get to the polls. Not the poor, many of whom are unable to make it to increasingly distant voting locations.

Make America What Again?
There is only one demographic within the American working class that consistently supports the GOP: white males.

Unlike minority families that might be first- or second-generation immigrants, the victims of longstanding oppression that has kept them from the education and opportunity needed to advance — or both —  conservative white males view the class culture gap as the barrier to their success. So the GOP has lowered their standards in a bogus appeal to the common man.

Many middle-aged white males adhere to GOP values, the same family values that the GOP began promoting in the early '90s. The problem is, these aren't '90s values. Promoting a predominantly Christian agenda in the form of foreign policy that alienates immigrants, health care that leaves the old and sick uncared for, and tax policy that turns a blind eye on the poor but makes big businesses fat and happy isn't family-friendly for the working class.

Manly Men Eat Blood Soup
Still, these appeals prevail. There are enough white middle-class voters out there that, when combined with the large number of upper-class white voters, give the GOP a winning strategy.
The working class and the middle class are not the same, and so what we have is a pocket of white GOP supporters earning modest incomes propping up a Republican agenda that funnels cash away from the families less fortunate than them using fear. Fear of Mexicans stealing their jobs, Arabs with bombs in their shoes and black lesbian CEOs.

The curmudgeons that fuel the GOP's bacon-powered war machine are in love with their manly dignity. They resent the poor. They adhere to stringent budgets eschewing luxuries like alcohol and fine dining, and scrape by just so. Who are these paupers who think they deserve a place at the table? Can't they even help themselves?

Death to the Dream
Sadly, the answer is no. Policies that would allow the poor access to the assistance and resources they need are gutted and funds are rerouted to the military industrial complex and other GOP harems. While the progressive movement flourished under the Obama administration, class equality was one of the least talked-about issues, and today the American poor are still suffering at the hands of a much less sympathetic despot.

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The .01% Don't Want More Money to Create Jobs or Buy More Frivolous Shit, They Want More Money Simply So You Don't Have It - disinformation

Hey, did you know that the proposed single payer health care bill in California is already dead? Did you know that it was a Democrat that killed it? Neither did I, but Jesus Christ is that depressing/predictable. Almost as depressing as watching the Dems cheerlead 45 when he bombed Syria. Anywho, that's not honestly the point to this post, the point is how well Caitlin Johnstone articulated the motivations of our oligarchs in writing about the whole disaster. Are the super rich hoarding resources simply so they can keep us as their wage slaves? Read away on her Medium site.
"The word "oligarchy" gets thrown around a lot in progressive discourse, usually to highlight the problem of money in politics, but not many people seem to really settle in and grapple with the hefty implications of what that word actually means. If you say that America is an oligarchy (and it certainly is, which we'll get to in a second), you're not merely saying that there is too much money in US politics or that the wealthy have an unfair amount of power in America. Per definition, you are saying that a small class of elites rule over you and your nation, like a king rules over his kingdom.
You've studied history, in school if nowhere else. How often have you read about kings voluntarily relinquishing their thrones and handing power to their subjects out of the goodness of their hearts? Once someone makes it to the very top of a society, how often have you known them to eagerly step down from that power position in order to give the people self-rule?

This isn't about money, this is about power. The wealthiest of the wealthy in America haven't been doing everything they can to stave off universal healthcare and economic justice in order to save a few million dollars. They haven't been fighting to keep you poor because they are money hoarders and they can't bare to part with a single penny from their trove. It's so much more sinister than that: the goal isn't to keep you from making the plutocrats a little less wealthy, the goal is to keep you from having any wealth of your own.

Power is intrinsically relative: it only exists in relation to the amount of power that other people have or don't have. If we all have the same amount of government power, then none of us has any power over the other. If, however, I can figure out a way to manipulate the system into giving me 25 percent more governmental power than anyone else, power has now entered into the equation, and I have an edge over everyone else that I can use to my advantage. But that edge only exists due to the fact that you're all 25 percent less powerful than I am. If you all become five percent more powerful, my power is instantly diminished by that much, in the same way a schoolyard bully would no longer enjoy the same amount of dominance if everyone at school suddenly grew five percent bigger and stronger.

Here's where I'm going with all this: the ruling elites have set up a system where wealth equals power. In order for them to rule, in order for them to enjoy the power of kings, they necessarily need to keep the general public from wealth. Not so that they can have a little more money for themselves in case they want to buy a few extra private jets or whatever, but because their power is built upon your lack of power. By keeping you from having a few thousand extra dollars of spending money throughout the year, they guarantee that you and your fellow citizens won't pool that extra money toward challenging their power in the wealth-equals-power paradigm that they've set up for themselves."

Here's where I say that I think this is partially true. I also think this is just a game to them, and a game that they're winning at that. I don't think a lot of these people have the ability to question the legitimacy of this game, they just like the fact that they're kicking everyone's ass because it makes them feel important. I think there's unquestionably a level of obsessive compulsive/addictive behavior going on with all that. This is not only what they're trained to do but are also rewarded handily for doing, so why would they question it exactly?
It would strike me that it'd actually be easier for a poor person to discontinue behaviors that are obviously screwing them over (like having multiple kids at a young age) than it would be for a rich person to question something they keep gaining adulation for, but that's just me. Having said that, are some of these people just power hungry assholes devoid of any sort of moral center like Caitlin is indicating? Yeah, I think some of them absolutely are.

Thad McKraken

Thad McKraken is a psychedelic writer, musician, visual artist, filmmaker, Occultist, and pug enthusiast based out of Seattle. He is the author of the books The Galactic Dialogue: Occult Initiations and Transmissions From Outside of Time, both of which can be picked up on Amazon super cheap.

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8 Hottest Tech Trends in 1776

CEO at The Palmer Group

Back, by popular demand, a reprise of my 8 Hottest Tech Trends of 1776. Enjoy!
A little more than 241 years ago, our forefathers used the best technology available to inspire colonial proto-Americans to revolt against King George. At that time, the "best" technology available was the printing press and the "best" social network required the use of "word of mouth" in Public Houses. Grog was the lubricant that facilitated this communication and the rest, as they say, is history.
But while all this was going on, there were a bunch of entrepreneurs and a few startups that changed the world. In the 1770s, America was a relatively low tech, agrarian society, but as you can see from the list below, all that was about to change. So here, for your Independence Day reading pleasure, are the eight hottest tech trends circa 1776.

1. Underwater Warfare

The Submarine – A ship called "The Turtle" was invented by David Bushnell to secretly attach explosives to the undersides of British ships without being noticed. George Washington wasn't a fan of The Turtle (he thought it was "ungentlemanly"), but still okay'd its use – only to see it unsuccessful in its three attempts to destroy British ships. While "The Turtle" wasn't a success in and of itself, it was promising enough to lead to further research and development that would one day yield effective underwater vessels.

2. Telling Accurate Time

The Chronometer – One major invention of the 18th century was the marine chronometer – a clock that was accurate enough to use as a portable time standard "to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation." Although the chronometer was first invented in 1737 by John Harrison, who spent more than 30 years of his life on its design, a few Europeans: Pierre Le Roy, Thomas Earnshaw and John Arnold brought it to market. In 1775, Arnold was working on improvements for the device, and took out his first patent for improvements to the device on December 30, 1775.

3. Underwater Exploration

Scuba – Englishman Andrew Becker created a leather-covered diving suit, complete with a helmet that featured a window and a series of tubes for breathing. Becker showed off his device in the River Thames in London, where he was able to breathe underwater for an hour. Around the same time, a French inventor named Fréminet had designed a compressed air reservoir as part of a breathing machine that dragged along behind a diver or mounted on his back. Becker and Fréminet's inventions were examples of the earliest scuba gear. At the same time, Charles Spalding (of Scotland) developed an improvement to the diving bell by adding a system of balance-weights to make raising and lowering the bell easier.

4. Indoor Plumbing

The Toilet – The modern flush toilet was first proposed in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, but it never truly caught on. However, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the flushable toilet began to emerge in the late 18th century. Alexander Cummings of Scotland invented the S-trap in 1775, which we still use in our toilets today. The S-trap uses standing water as a seal to prevent smelly air from escaping. Inventor Joseph Bramah (of England) used Cummings' design when he installed toilets. Bramah improved on Cummings' design by developing a slide valve with a hinged flap as part of a greater float valve system; Bramah's model (first patented in 1778) was the "first practical flush toilet" and was used for another 100 years or so.

5. High Tech Major Appliances

The Kitchen Stove – The Franklin stove, a metal-lined fireplace designed by Benjamin Franklin, was all the rage! Its original purpose was to heat a home during especially brutal New England winters. But the Franklin stove revolutionized home cooking because it allowed families to cook over an open fire without dealing with the smoke that traditionally accompanied that process. Up until Franklin's inventions, most meat was cooked on a turnspit.
Kitchens in the 18th century also saw a lot of improvements because of rolled sheet iron. Better utensils, fire grates, and the clockwork spit all became possible thanks to this "advanced" metalwork.

6. Electricity

The Lightning Rod – Another one of Franklin's inventions from the same era would forever change the world of power and energy. In 1749, Franklin invented the lightning rod. Other scientists shared his theory about a link between electricity and lightning, but Franklin's invention allowed him to be the first to test his hypothesis. His invention saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars worth of buildings. Back then, a lightning strike usually resulted in a conflagration.

7. Mechanical Motion

Steam Engines – While mankind has used boiling water to produce mechanical motion for thousands of years, the first steam engine wasn't patented until 1606. Thomas Newcomen designed the first commercially successful steam engine in the early 1700s, but it was relatively inefficient and used mainly for pumping water. In 1769, James Watt developed an improved version of Newcomen's engine by adding a separate condenser. Watt continued to work on his design over the next several years, ultimately improving it enough to turn it into a valuable device for manufacturing and helping advance the Industrial Revolution.
There are some who believe, myself included, that harnessing steam power was the single most impactful technological advancement in history – it allowed humans to multiply the power of their muscles by thousands of times. We are on the cusp of the next great transition as we teach machines to multiply the power of our brains by millions or billions of times.

8. Multitasking

Revolving Bookstand – Many of us think of multitasking as a recent trend, but at least one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, had a need to consume information from multiple sources at "breakneck" speed. According to the Monticello Classroom, "as many as five books could be placed on this bookstand, which was probably made at Monticello according to Jefferson's design."

Good Wishes

So, verily, I wish ye celebrate America's independency with our usual entertainments so when next we meet, we can regale our good fortune with the ears of fraternity.

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About Shelly Palmer

Named one of LinkedIn's Top 10 Voices in TechnologyShelly Palmer is CEO of The Palmer Group, a strategic advisory, technology solutions and business development practice focused at the nexus of media and marketing with a special emphasis on machine learning and data-driven decision-making. He is Fox 5 New York's on-air tech and digital media expert, writes a weekly column for AdAge, and is a regular commentator on CNBC and CNN. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com or subscribe to our daily email http://ow.ly/WsHcb

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The End of History Is the Birth of Tragedy

Americans have forgotten that historic tragedies on a global scale are real. They'll soon get a reminder.

The ancient Greeks took tragedy seriously. At the very height of Athenian power in the 5th century B.C., in fact, citizens of the world's first democracy gathered annually to experience tragedy. Great theatrical productions were staged, presented to the entire community, and financed by the public treasury. While the dialogue and plot lines varied, the form, and the lesson, remained consistent. Prominent individuals fell from great heights due to their own errors, ignorance, and hubris. The injunction was clear: The destiny of society was in the hands of fallible men, and even in its hour of triumph that society was always perched on the abyss of catastrophic failure.

This tragic sensibility was purposefully hard-wired into Athenian culture. Aristotle wrote that tragedies produce feelings of pity and horror and foster a cathartic effect. The catharsis was key, intended to spur the audience into recognition that the horrifying outcomes they witnessed were eminently avoidable. By looking disaster squarely in the face, by understanding just how badly things could spiral out of control, the Athenians sought to create a communal sense of responsibility and courage and to encourage both citizens and their leaders to take the difficult actions necessary to avert such a fate.

Americans, too, once had an appreciation of tragedy. After World War II, Americans intuitively understood — because they could remember — how catastrophic a breakdown of world order could be, and they were constantly reminded by the looming Soviet threat that international stability and peace could not be taken for granted. And so, over a period of decades, the United States undertook the unprecedented geopolitical efforts necessary to ensure that world order did not collapse once again. The result was something like a flawed masterpiece — a postwar international system that was never perfect, but one in which aggressors were contained and ultimately defeated, democracy spread more widely than ever before, and both global and American prosperity reached dizzying heights. A tragic sensibility propelled Americans to do great things.

But as has been said before, Americans are serial amnesiacs. And today, after more than 70 years of great-power peace and a quarter-century of unrivaled global supremacy,
Americans have lost their sense of tragedy.
Americans have lost their sense of tragedy. The U.S.-led international order has been so successful, for so long, that Americans have come to take it for granted. They have forgotten what that order is meant to prevent in the first place: the sort of utter breakdown of the international system, the descent into violence and great-power war, that has been all too common throughout human history. And this amnesia has become most pronounced, ironically, as American power and the international order are coming under graver threat than at any time in recent memory. Today, the United States and the world it did so much to create are once again courting tragedy — precisely because Americans have lost their ability to imagine what tragedy really is.

Tragedy as the norm
We tend to think of a full-on collapse of global order, characterized by widespread international violence and great-power war, as something that cannot happen in our time — a relic of a bygone era. But such a perspective is profoundly ahistorical, for such breakdowns have long represented the norm as much as the exception in international affairs. Indeed, the classical realists — Thucydides, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes — and their 20th-century counterparts, such as Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr, understood that the history of international relations was in large measure a story of precisely such tragedies.

After all, it happened to the Greeks, despite their efforts to cultivate a tragic sensibility. In the Peloponnesian War of the fifth century B.C., Athens and Sparta, the two dominant powers in ancient Greece, came to blows. The war was not unforeseen, as tension had been rising between the two powers for years, but the timing and the rapidity of its outbreak was. After all, Sparta and Athens were technically at peace with each other, having signed a 30-year peace treaty, agreed to settle disputes through arbitration, and having generally avoided escalation throughout multiple crises over the proceeding 15 years. But, in response to a seemingly trivial dispute involving their allies and the imposition of economic sanctions against the city of Megara, the Greeks voted for war.
The resulting conflict inexorably expanded into something like a world war, as most of the known world was drawn into the vortex of a struggle that lasted nearly three decades. The conflict was so costly in lives and treasure that it devastated winner and loser alike, precipitating massive social and political ruptures and leaving the Greek city-states divided and vulnerable to external conquest. Few observers had initially expected that a quarrel over client states would bring about the end of Greece's golden age and the eventual eclipse of the Greeks as powerful and independent actors on the world stage, but this was precisely what happened.

More recent centuries give little reason to think that the nature of international relations has fundamentally changed. Europe, which stood at the center of the international system for nearly 400 years, suffered repeated descents into cataclysm, from the Thirty Years' War of the 17th century to the French revolutionary wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to the two world wars of the 20th century. Each of these conflagrations was preceded by intensifying challenges to, and then surprisingly rapid breakdowns within, the prevailing international order. And, in each case, the ensuing destruction and violence were appalling.

The Thirty Years' War, which began as a conflict between Catholic and Protestant states within the Holy Roman Empire, eventually expanded to encompass all of Europe. In the German states alone, it resulted in demographic disaster — a population decline of roughly 25 percent by even the most conservative estimates, equivalent to 80 million American deaths today. The French revolutionary wars lasted for over two decades, revolutionized European politics, and unleashed warfare on a scale and intensity previously unknown. Sobered by these upheavals, the major powers constructed a fairly stable peace thereafter, marred "only" by localized great-power conflicts such as the Crimean War and the wars of German reunification. But this comparative tranquility utterly collapsed in the 20th century with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 — another global explosion triggered by a seemingly minor spark — and then, after a mere 21 years' respite, the unleashing of World War II. These conflicts fundamentally transformed the modern world: They devoured tens of millions of lives, empowered some of the most brutal political and ideological forces in human history, and ultimately brought Europe's time atop the global system to an end.

Even a casual survey of modern history thus suggests that breakdowns of international order litter the historical landscape. These breakdowns occurred for multiple and varying reasons: sometimes having to do with relative shifts in the balance of power, sometimes having to do with clashing ideologies, sometimes having to do with simple blunders and other idiosyncrasies of statecraft. But the results were all too often similar — and catastrophic. In an anarchical world characterized by sharp competition between states, tragedy is often simply a fact of international life.

Tragedy as inspiration
In fact, these breakdowns were so traumatic that modern international orders — systems of rules, norms, and power relationships that govern international affairs — have generally taken shape in the wake of such tragedies and been designed to prevent their recurrence. International orders rest on more than historical memory, of course. They are also dependent on favorable configurations of power in the global arena and often on some degree of ideological consensus among the system's leading actors. But it has often been the recollection of tragedies experienced — and the hope that future tragedies might be averted — that has motivated key states and leaders to summon their creativity and power in the service of order.

Consider the order-building project that established the modern international system. Exhausted by the violence of the Thirty Years' War, the rulers of Europe signed the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to control the forces that had stoked that violence. Westphalia was a diplomatic revolution. It created a political order that precluded interference in other states' domestic affairs, enshrined secular and not religious authority as the basis for state sovereignty, and attempted to prevent aggression and war through the maintenance of a balance of power between those states. And it rested on a recognition, shared among key participants, that the continental cataclysm that had befallen Europe in the three decades prior to Westphalia simply could not be permitted to happen again.

Similarly, the British-led Congress system after 1815 was designed to prevent Europe from imploding as it had during the French revolutionary wars and succeeded in that task for nearly a century. It did so by drawing the five major powers of Europe into a system in which they had at least minimal incentive to uphold a stable peace. This system was anchored by British and Russian power and by the conservative political values that prevailed in most European capitals after 1815. It, too, was a profound innovation in the history of modern international relations — one that featured regular consultation to contain local conflicts and diplomatic antagonisms and one that required each member to forgo some degree of unilateral advantage as the price of relative peace. But like Westphalia, it was an innovation that looked backward as much as forward, for it was designed to stifle the sources of the conflicts that had plagued Europe after 1789 — and what ultimately held it together for so long was the hard-earned recognition that the likely alternative to such a system was a resumption of bitter upheaval.

One need not even look so far back into history to understand that tragedy has often served as inspiration for such painstaking efforts to reconstruct international order and preserve the peace. This was precisely what motivated the generation of Americans who lived through World War II and shaped America's response to the postwar world. American leaders and elites — the "wise men," as they were known for decades; "the blob," as they would be called less generously today — consciously rejected the isolationist attitudes that had prevailed in the 1930s. They committed to making the extraordinary exertions necessary to stabilize the postwar world and prevent World War II from coming to be seen as mere prologue to an even more destructive global conflict.
They did so by embracing American leadership, embedding the United States within a global network of security alliances, participating in multilateral institutions, and promoting broadly beneficial concepts like free trade, democracy and human rights, and respect for the rule of law. They committed to confronting aggressors early, before they could destabilize key regions or pose an existential threat to international peace and security. They accepted that there would be no "return to normalcy," that the United States — as the world's strongest nation and the only one capable of bearing this burden — would have primary responsibility for upholding a congenial world order. And they based these efforts on a set of basic intellectual principles that guided U.S. policy for generations: that it was cheaper to maintain international order than to restore it once it had been destroyed; that it was better to make modest sacrifices now rather than enormous sacrifices later; that global norms and stability were not self-sustaining but rather required continual support and maintenance by those countries that sought to perpetuate and advance them.

In the late 1940s as in the years after 1815, the U.S.-led world order was informed as much by haunting lessons from the past as by inspiring visions of the future and particularly by the multiple failures of the isolationist strategy of the 1930s. After the searing experience of World War II, American leaders concluded that failure to stand up for friendly nations in the face of external aggression, failure to speak up on behalf of democratic values under assault, failure to prevent a trade war born of or sparked by protectionism, and failure to support international organizations by withdrawing American support produced a world with a leadership vacuum and an invitation to chaos. These failures, in turn, directly informed the great successes of postwar American foreign policy: the creation of a positive-sum global economic order anchored by the Bretton Woods institutions, the erection of a containment policy that for decades checked the aggressive impulses of the Soviet Union, the building of an international alliance system that maintained stability and tamped down conflict in key regions, and many others. What we now think of as the brilliantly successful postwar international order was a response to the repeated tragedies that had preceded it — and the menace of an expansionist, illiberal Soviet Union reminded Americans that tragedy could all too easily recur if the United States pursued a different path.

Indeed, America's leaders were acutely aware of how precarious and easily disrupted international peace traditionally had been, and this knowledge steeled them in the face of the challenges of the postwar era. In January 1950, for instance, the Harry Truman administration declared that the Korean Peninsula lay outside the American defensive perimeter, based on the judgment that it was not, by itself, critical to the global balance of power. But when Kim Il Sung marched his forces southward five months later, Truman quickly made the difficult decision to resist. He based that decision, he later wrote, on his earlier experiences living through the dark years preceding World War II:
In my generation, this was not the first occasion when the strong had attacked the weak. I recalled some earlier instances: Manchuria, Ethiopia, Austria. I remembered how each time that the democracies failed to act it had encouraged the aggressors to keep going ahead.… I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores.… If this was allowed to go unchallenged it would mean a third world war, just as similar incidents had brought on the second world war.

International order had to be reinforced when challenged, Truman understood; the use of military force now could prevent the necessity of fighting an even larger conflict later. To the generation of statesmen who had seen just how rapidly and completely the international system could erode, the lesson was clear:
Eternal vigilance was the price of an enduring peace.
Eternal vigilance was the price of an enduring peace.
This approach led to tragedies and excesses of its own, of course, with a costly and divisive U.S. intervention in Vietnam being the most notable example. There is such a thing as being too vigilant, and the United States occasionally learned this lesson the hard way. But on the whole, it is hard to argue with the approach that U.S. policymakers took in the postwar era. The Cold War is now generally seen as a "long peace," the postwar era as a veritable golden age in which human prosperity increased by leaps and bounds and the democracies — not the brutal authoritarian regimes that threatened them — came to dominate the global arena. All of these accomplishments rested on the unique and unprecedented ways in which the United States deployed its unmatched power in the decades after World War II. And those efforts, in turn, were inspired by tragedy.

The contemporary amnesia
This postwar order has been so successful, in fact, that Americans now seem to be losing the tragic sensibility that brought it about in the first place. It has been — thankfully — almost three-quarters of a century since the United States last confronted the sort of catastrophic insecurity associated with a crackup of the international system. And it has been 25 years since the end of the Cold War, leading many observers to conclude that geopolitical competition itself is a thing of the past. The effect has been a natural slackening of the efforts required to maintain the stability and security to which Americans have become accustomed. In 1961, John F. Kennedy could confidently assert that Americans were willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe" in support of a favorable concept of world order. That willingness now seems, increasingly, to be in doubt.

Consider the state of the U.S. defense budget. A robust, well-funded peacetime defense has been the cornerstone of America's order-building efforts since World War II; outright military primacy has been the foundation of the international system since the end of the Cold War. But today, America's dominance is slipping, and its willingness to stem that decline is uncertain. Russia and China are pouring money into their own military capabilities in hopes of negating U.S. power in Eastern Europe and East Asia and projecting their own influence farther afield. The U.S. military budget, meanwhile, declined in real terms from $768 billion in 2010 to $595 billion in 2015; on its current trajectory, defense spending will soon represent a smaller share of GDP than at any time since the outbreak of World War II. Steps to bolster the American military deterrent in any meaningful way — as opposed to the smoke-and-mirrors "buildup" proposed by President Donald Trump — are politically infeasible, with entitlement spending still a sacred cow and tax increases apparently unfathomable.
Americans and their elected representatives seem to have forgotten, in other words, that there are worse things than having to reform Social Security or pay another 3 to 5 percent of one's earnings in income taxes and that American military dominance has traditionally been what prevents those worse things from happening.

Or consider the broader state of American public opinion on foreign affairs. The last several years have seen a remarkable resurgence of sentiment to the effect that it is time for the United States to tend its own garden, rather than tending the world's. In 2013, 52 percent of Americans agreed that the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." Three years later, the number agreeing with a similar statement had risen to 57 percent. This is some of the most pronounced anti-internationalism that we have seen since the years immediately following the Vietnam War, and it reflects a growing sense that Americans are no longer so eager to bear the burdens traditionally associated with global leadership.

And it is hard to blame them. Their leaders, in recent years, have too frequently stoked that very sentiment. Barack Obama repeatedly argued that it was time to forsake nation building abroad in favor of nation building at home, and he claimed that the arc of the universe bent inevitably toward justice — thereby implying that America didn't need to do much bending of its own. Senior Obama administration officials dismissed Russia's dismemberment of Ukraine as "distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions" instead of acknowledging such actions as typical of the renewed great-power revisionism that increasingly threatens to define the 21st century. More recently, Donald Trump has repeatedly characterized America's alliances and other commitments as sucker bets that allow other countries to make a killing at Washington's expense; he has revived the language, and even proposed reviving some of the policies, associated with the "America First" program of the 1930s.
There is, particularly in Trump's worldview, no tragic sensibility to be found here — no recognition that the international system, and the United States itself, has avoided tragedy and made so much progress over the past seven decades only because America has labored so diligently to make it so. And there is no recognition that attacks on free trade, admiration for autocratic leaders, and questioning of U.S. alliances threaten to undo these very accomplishments.

Indeed, if Americans have grown tired of bearing the burdens of international leadership, it is probably because they have simply forgotten why that leadership is worth bearing in the first place. Why do we have troops and military hardware stationed around the globe? Why do we have an extensive system of alliances the world over? Why do we worry so much about what happens in faraway places like Ukraine or the South China Sea? Why do we pursue free trade even when it sometimes comes at a near-term cost to certain industries and workers in the United States? There are, of course, good historical answers to all of these questions, and they all come back to the very nasty things that tended to happen to the international system before the United States took up its ambitious, globe-girdling role. But now most of the country has forgotten that history, in part because of the simple passage of time but more precisely because the successes of American leadership have made it possible to forget.
America's tragic sensibility has faded and has increasingly been replaced by a worldview that is equal parts naive, dangerous, and ahistorical.
America's tragic sensibility has faded and has increasingly been replaced by a worldview that is equal parts naive, dangerous, and ahistorical.

The darkening horizon
The irony is that this amnesia is afflicting us precisely as the international environment is once again becoming more threatening. In East Asia and Eastern Europe, revisionist authoritarian powers are coercing their neighbors and nibbling away at the international order. Chinese leaders are laying plans for a Sino-centric Asia, and Russian leaders are talking about the transition to a "post-West" world: It is hard to see how either transition can be accomplished without coercion and violence. In the Middle East, Iran is asserting its regional ambitious, Bashar al-Assad is perpetrating a slow-motion genocide, and the Islamic State and other jihadi groups continue to wreak havoc even as their military fortunes decline. North Korea is racing ahead with its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of the international community, posing an ever greater threat not simply to its neighbors but to the United States as well. And across these various regions and issues, the rules that seemed to have gained such global dominance in the wake of the Cold War are increasingly being challenged and transgressed. Nonaggression and the peaceful resolution of disputes, the ability of countries to choose their economic and geopolitical alignments free from intimidation or coercion, freedom of navigation in the world's key waterways — all of these norms are being tested more severely today than at any time in decades.
The threats today are diverse, but they do share a common theme. They represent the warning lights flashing on the dashboard; they are indications that an international system that has long been so historically exceptional in its effectiveness and stability is now fraying at the edges. The revival of great-power competition is particularly concerning:
Geopolitical revisionism on the part of unsatisfied major powers is traditionally the sort of thing that has preceded large-scale war with all of its horrors.
Geopolitical revisionism on the part of unsatisfied major powers is traditionally the sort of thing that has preceded large-scale war with all of its horrors. Hard as it may be for us to imagine, it is by no means inconceivable that we will one day look back on the challenges and disruptions the international system is now experiencing as auguries of the greater tragedy that would follow.
But if tragedy is commonplace, it is not inevitable. And this dark scenario need not materialize, for the United States and its myriad allies do not lack the strength to prevent it from materializing. Yes, the international power balance is undoubtedly shifting; it is no longer as favorable as it was in 1945 or 1991, and some corresponding degree of change is therefore unavoidable in global politics. But the United States is no fallen hegemon just yet; it still commands unmatched economic and military capabilities, and Washington and its allies still control a preponderance of global military and economic power. The existing international order is under challenge, then, but it can still be effectively defended; the alliances, institutions, and arrangements that have underpinned it may yet remain resilient if the countries that have so vigorously supported them in the past make up their minds to do so again.

The key questions, then, are not simply questions of power — they are also questions of willpower. Will the countries that have historically defended the international order summon the nerve, unity, and resources to defend it again today? Will they realize that it is not historical inevitability, or some triumph of "the better angels of our nature," but rather incessant and determined effort that holds disasters such as great-power war and catastrophic instability at bay? Will they remember precisely how bad things can get, and how quickly they can get that way, when international orders fall apart? The United States and its allies once found, in tragedy, the determination necessary to create something beautiful. Will they now recover an equivalent determination to keep that good thing going?

In writing about the successes and ultimate failure of the Congress system in the 19th century, Henry Kissinger observed that "in the long interval of peace the sense of the tragic was lost; it was forgotten that states could die, that upheavals could be irretrievable." Today, Americans are likely to end up rediscovering their sense of the tragic one way or another — either by reacquainting themselves with the tragic sensibility that they seem to have lost or by experiencing the real-world tragedy that their amnesia, if not corrected, may help bring about.

Photo credit: MARK WILSON/Getty Images

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