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11 Notes on Alfred W. Lawson, Founder of the Weirdest University Ever

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Many noble Americans have founded universities, but Alfred W. Lawson's school was devoted entirely to the study of his own questionable teachings. Did Lawson build the University of Lawsonomy out of pure hubris, or of genuine concern for the human race? Perhaps, as he posits, “Ninety nine per cent (roughly estimated) of the human race lack imagination” (parentheses his). Perhaps you have unwittingly spent your life as a dullard, because until you’ve learned Lawsonomy, “you are not educated.” Well, dear readers: Educate yourselves. Enter the imagination of Alfred W. Lawson, the man, the mystery, the shameless self-promoter who once claimed, of himself, in his awkwardly named magazine Manlife: “If Lawson should die today, posterity will honor and glorify him as no other mortal, because he has given mankind the true base from which to start an edifice of super-knowledge of the universe and its laws.”

1. Lawson claimed that from the moment of his birth in 1869 (“...the most momentous occurrence since the birth of mankind”), he was destined for greatness. His father, Robert Henry Lawson, spent decades trying to patent a perpetual motion machine, an ultimately misguided devotion that became formative in young Alfred’s understanding of the laws of “physics.”

2. At age eighteen, Lawson became a pitcher in the early days of professional baseball. He bounced around from team to team for a few seasons without making an impact. Lawson fared just as poorly on the business side of the game, founding and folding three leagues with bombastic names like Union Leagues of Professional Base Ball Clubs of America.

3. When baseball failed him, Lawson decided to start publishing an aviation magazine aimed at general audiences—a brave undertaking, considering (a) Lawson had no experience in either publishing or aviation, and (b) in 1908, only about three people in the world had actually flown airplanes. Fueled by the belief that air travel was the way of the future, Lawson managed to popularize two magazines, Fly and Aircraft, and helped popularize the latter term in the process.

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4. Though Lawson may not have invented the word “aircraft,” he most likely did invent the word “airliner.” Because...he actually invented the airliner. Rather, he invented the idea of the airliner, and (ever undeterred by his lack of technical knowledge) hired a team of designers and engineers who could literally give his vision wings.

In Milwaukee in 1920, Lawson unveiled the world’s first airliner: the largest non-military plane in the U.S. at that point, with a capacity of 16—26, if removable seats were placed in the aisle. Lawson Airlines was born.

5. As the U.S. entered the Great Depression, Lawson’s lofty endeavors struggled. He authored Direct Credits for Everybody, a utopian manifesto about a society in which “Direct Credits” would be used instead of money as a way to indicate ownership of land, products or labor. Kind of like money, but...not. The subtleties of Lawson’s concepts, he claimed, couldn’t be understood unless you also understood physics. “Economics is a side partner of physics...like a couple that can’t be separated.”

6. Lawson had his own version of physics, of course, based almost entirely on a childhood observation that dust could be moved through space by sucking and blowing. As such, Lawsonic physics were based on principles of “Suction” and “Pressure” acting upon substances. “Substances,” by the way, are everything, ever: air, “other gases,” solids, liquids, “mentality,” heat, cold, light, sound, electricity the “ether of outer space,” and something called “lesether” (see below). Energy had no place in Lawsonic physics: “There is no greater load of misconception that Science has ever had to shoulder than the unprovable theory that somewhere, somehow, and in some shape, there exists a substance called Energy that causes movement. No such thing exists anywhere and Science should expunge the fallacy without delay.”

7. Lesether, for the uninformed, is comprised of substances “supplied directly by the Sun in currents of various density and also by solid substances which are drawn into the Solar System, such as meteors and other cosmic debris which are dissolved into gases by contact with the atmosphere of the Earth.” Obviously.

8. Another Lawsonic law: Given ideal circumstances, universal substances can achieve a “state of maturity” called “Equaeverpoise,” or “a perpetual movement of matter.” (Sound familiar?) Inside the body, Equaeverpoise is called “Lawsonpoise,” which -- achieved via the proper combination of diet, hygiene, rest and exercise -- can potentially allow a human being to live 200 years. In short, Lawsonomy leads one to become one’s own perpetual motion machine.

9. By 1943, Lawson had published over 50 volumes, and he decided it was time to found a school. He managed to raise over $100,000 to buy an abandoned college campus and convert it to the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy (later renamed and relocated to Sturtevant, Wisconsin). There, people young and old gathered to study Lawsonomy and live communally according to its principles. At its height, DMUL boasted two thousand “part time students,” but the number had fallen to the lower hundreds by Lawson’s death in 1954.

10. Students of the University of Lawsonomy were expected to devote all their study to Lawson’s works -- in fact, no other books were allowed on campus. Exams entailed verbatim recitation of Lawson’s works, and therefore took years of study; interim exams were supposed to be held after 10-20 years, and a comprehensive exam after 30, at which point passing students would receive the degree of “Knowledgian.” By the time he died, Alfred Lawson was the only person holding the degree of Knowledgian, which posed a problem: Only Knowledgians could bestow the degree of Knowledgian. Officers of the University tweaked the laws a bit, and eventually graduated several Knowledgians, all well into their sixties.

11. With such a workload, Lawsonomy left little room for life after graduation. As for post-graduate work, the University of Lawsonomy offered Lawsonian Religion, intended to provide students the highest “grade of consciousness.”

In recent years, the Lawsonic community has been reduced to a cult following and a few mysterious internet advertisements for Lawsonomy Student Reunions. As of the publication of this article, the University of Lawsonomy has yet to return our calls.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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