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  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2018/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , imagery, , monsters, , Roman Inquisition, ,   

    “Life swarms with innocent monsters”*… 

     

    MS H.8, Fol. 191 verso, St. Martha taming the tarasque. St. Martha preaching (margin), and initial O, “Hours of Henry VIII”MS H.8, "Hours of Henry VIII,” book of hours, France, Tours, ca. 1500

    “The Taming the Tarasque,” from Hours of Henry VIII, France, Tours, ca. 1500

     

    From dragons and unicorns to mandrakes and griffins, monsters and medieval times are inseparable in the popular imagination. But medieval depictions of monsters—the subject of a fascinating new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan [which includes the image above]—weren’t designed simply to scare their viewers: They had many purposes, and provoked many reactions. They terrified, but they also taught. They enforced prejudices and social hierarchies, but they also inspired unlikely moments of empathy. They were medieval European propaganda, science, art, theology, and ethics all at once…

    Finding the meaning in monsters: “The Symbols of Prejudice Hidden in Medieval Art.”

    * Charles Baudelaire

    ###

    As we decode dragons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1542, with Pope Paul III’s papal bull Licet ab initio, that the Roman Inquisition formally began.  In the tradition of the medieval inquisitions, and “inspired” by the Spanish Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition gave six cardinals six cardinals the power to arrest and imprison anyone suspected of heresy, to confiscate their property, and to put them to death.

    While not so much in the prudish spirit of Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,”  the Roman Inquisition– which lasted in the 18th century– was ruthless in rooting out what it considered dangerous deviations from orthodoxy.  Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Cesare Cremonini were all persecuted.  While only Bruno was executed, the others were effectively (or actually) banished, and in the cases of Copernicus and Galileo, their works were placed on  the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books).

    inquisition source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:42 on 2018/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , De Bow's Review, graphs, , , J.D.B. De Bow, , , xenographphobia   

    “Above all else show the data”*… 

     

    Charts

    Three of the many exhibits at Xenographics

    … a collection of unusual charts and maps, managed by Maarten Lambrechts. Its objective is to create a repository of novel, innovative and experimental visualizations to inspire you, to fight xenographphobia and popularize new chart types…

    * Edward Tufte

    ###

    As we put the info into infographics, we might ponder the terminally-tarnished legacy of James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow; he was born on this date in 1820.  While he was an accomplished statistician who served as as head of the U.S. Census from 1853 to 1857,  he was also the founder and first editor of DeBow’s Review, a widely-circulated magazine of “agricultural, commercial, and industrial progress and resource” in the American South from 1846 until 1884.  Before the Civil War, the magazine “recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves.”

    James_Dunwoody_Brownson_DeBow_04 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:26 on 2018/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: consservation, , John Muir, , privatization, public space, , , urban policy, Yosemite   

    “Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life”*… 

     

    private space

    Paternoster Square, pictured here from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company

     

    In general, the privatisation of public space in the west accompanied the traumatic transition from an industrial economy to one based on financial services, shopping, entertainment and “knowledge”. This model began in 1970s America, where downtown waterfront areas that were former industrial heartlands were redeveloped into entertainment complexes: Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, described by the Urban Land Institute as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment”, is the prime example.

    London’s Docklands, once the hub of the UK’s shipbuilding industry, became a centre for privatised financial services districts such as Canary Wharf, gated developments and private campuses such as the Excel, the enormous conference centre where the potential to “lock down” the site ensures it is well suited to host such events as the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition.

    War very often leads to heavily privatised areas, too. In downtown Beirut, the rebuilding of the city centre provided the opportunity for Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and the former prime minister, to form Solidere, a company that has remodelled a 200-hectare area of the city centre.

    Jerold S Kayden at Harvard has coined the term Pops (“privately owned public space”) for these types of places, and found that there are 503 in New York City alone. One of the highest profile is Manhattan’s latest tourist attraction, the High Line, which also appears to be the model for London’s contentious Garden Bridge – an urban “park” that bans all sorts of activities, closes for corporate events, does not allow political protest and requires groups of more than eight people to book ahead.

    Indeed, the key question in determining how “private” a city might be could be about access, rather than ownership. Zucotti Park, another Pops in New York, was for many months the venue for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Contrast that with London’s Paternoster Square, home to the London Stock Exchange, where Occupy was quickly evicted when the owners took out an injunction. Political activity has been almost entirely squeezed out of London’s square mile, and Occupy had no choice but to camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, on the only genuinely public space left in the city.

    So while it may be impossible to name a city or a place as the “most private” in the world, what we can say is that societies with high levels of inequality are also those where the privatisation of the public realm and life behind gates increasingly defines the urban fabric. In Britain and North America, where democracy remains the system by which we define ourselves, the spread of this kind of city space is extremely problematic…

    More and more parts of more and more cities are becoming the equivalent of private clubs or airport lounges: “What is the most private city in the world?

    Semi-related (but altogether fascinating): “Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong.”

    * Jan Gehl

    ###

    As we try not to ask about access, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that John Muir set pen to paper to capture his experience of awakening in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  Published in 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra is based on Muir’s original journals External and sketches External of his 1869 stay in the vicinity of the Yosemite Valley.  His journal, which tracks his three-and-a-half-month visit to the Yosemite region and his ascent of Mt. Hoffman and other Sierra peaks, was instrumental in building public support for President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, and for the formation of Yosemite National Park and the birth of the National Park Program.

    jul-19-muir source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2018/07/18 Permalink
    Tags: coincidence, , , , , , Thackeray,   

    “All mystical experience is coincidence; and vice versa, of course.”*… 

     

    coincidence-clipart-Pi-Coincidence

     

    Today, nearly all scientists say that coincidences are just that: coincidences – void of greater meaning. Yet, they’re something we all experience, and with a frequency that is uniform across age, sex, country, job, even education level. Those who believe that they’ve had a ‘meaningful coincidence’ in their lives experience a collision of events so remarkable and unlikely that they chose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to the occurrence, via fate or divinity or existential importance. One of the most commonly experienced ‘meaningful coincidences’ is to think of your friend for the first time in a long while only to have her telephone you that instant. Any self-respecting statistician would say that if you tracked the number of times you thought of any friend, and the number of times you had that friend immediately ring you, you’d find the link to be statistically insignificant. But it is not necessarily irrational to attribute grander significance to this occurrence…

    Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?  Find out at “On coincidence.”

    [image above: source]

    * Tom Stoppard

    ###

    As we muse on meaning, we might ponder the significance of the fact that on this date in 1817, the exquisite novelist of English manners Jane Austen passed away– six years to the day after the birth of William Makepeace Thackeray, who was in such works as Vanity Fair her successor as chronicler of English society (born on this date in 1811).  Coincidence?

    Austen Thackeray

    Jane Austen, as drawn by her sister Cassandra [source] and William Makepeace Thackeray [source]

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:48 on 2018/07/17 Permalink
    Tags: 80s, , , Moon Unit, , , , Valley Girl, Zappa   

    “In a lot of places, of course, the ’80s had never really come to an end”*… 

     

     

    frankie-goes-to-hollywood

    Frankie Goes to Hollywood: You have woken up under your high school gym teacher.

     

    Simple Minds: You have tasted a scented pen.

    Mike and the Mechanics: You have thrown a Rolodex at a raccoon or skunk.

    Peter Gabriel: You know what Fimo tastes like.

    Roxette: You have injured yourself with a Q-Tip.

    Madonna: Your bedroom smells like Midori.

    Tommy Tutone: You have attempted to use a Polaroid picture as an ID.

    Eurythmics: You have lost a mood ring in a hot tub.

    The Smiths: You have read aloud to a hamster, ferret, or turtle.

    Def Leppard: You have used a package of lunch meat as a pillow.

    Psychedelic Furs: You have worn sunglasses through an entire tooth cleaning…

    Consult a (very complete) list to find out “what your favorite 80s band says about you.”

    * Nick Harkaway, Tigerman

    ###

    As we revisit yesteryear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1082 that “Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa and his then 14-year old daughter Moon Unit, entered the Billboard Pop chart at #75. It peaked at #32 in August.  Written by the dad and daughter and performed by Moon Unit, and intended as a parody, the single popularized the Valley Girl stereotype nationwide; following the song’s release, there was a significant increase in “Valspeak” slang usage, whether ironically spoken or not (not the least of which was the film, Valley Girl).  Indeed, Zappa later sardonically observed that, despite his rich body of work, he was likeliest to be remembered as a novelty artist for “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”

    220px-Frank_Zappa_Valley_Girl_single

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:09 on 2018/07/16 Permalink
    Tags: building materials, , , , Monier, reinforced concrete, ,   

    “Why were Europeans, rather than Africans or Native Americans, the ones to end up with guns, the nastiest germs, and steel?”*… 

     

    steel

    Oil painting by E.F. Skinner showing steel being produced by the Bessemer Process at Penistone Steel Works, South Yorkshire. Circa 1916

     

    The story of steel begins long before bridges, I-beams, and skyscrapers. It begins in the stars.

    Billions of years before humans walked the Earth—before the Earth even existed—blazing stars fused atoms into iron and carbon. Over countless cosmic explosions and rebirths, these materials found their way into asteroids and other planetary bodies, which slammed into one another as the cosmic pot stirred. Eventually, some of that rock and metal formed the Earth, where it would shape the destiny of one particular species of walking ape.

    On a day lost to history, some fortuitous humans found a glistening meteorite, mostly iron and nickel, that had barreled through the atmosphere and crashed into the ground. Thus began an obsession that gripped the species. Over the millennia, our ancestors would work the material, discovering better ways to draw iron from the Earth itself and eventually to smelt it into steel. We’d fight over it, create and destroy nations with it, grow global economies by it, and use it to build some of the greatest inventions and structures the world has ever known…

    The story of the emperor of alloys: “The entire history of steel.”

    * Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel

    ###

    As we celebrate strength, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that F. Joseph Monier launched a (then-)new use for steel: a gardener in Paris, he received the first patent on reinforced concrete (which he used to create stronger garden tubs, beams and posts).  Monier had found that the tensile weakness of plain concrete could be overcome if steel rods were embedded in a concrete member… and in so doing created a key material that would be used in skyscrapers, bridges, and much of what we now take for granted as the infrastructure of modern life.

    Joseph_Monier source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2018/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: , cinema verite, , direct cinema, , , , , Pennebaker,   

    “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”*… 

     

    dance

    Someone went through a great deal of effort to stitch together a montage of dance scenes from some 300 feature films…

     

    More (including a list of all of the films featured) at: Dancing in Movies: A Montage of Dance Moments from Almost 300 Feature Films.

    * Friedrich Nietzsche

    ###

    As we tap our toes, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Donn Alan “D. A.” Pennebaker (or “Penny” to his friends); he was born on this date in 1925.  A documentarian, he was a pioneer of direct cinema and cinema verite.  While his dozens of films have touched on a wide variety of subjects, he has a long– and very influential– suit in music: starting with his portrait of the young Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back, and continuing through Monterrey Pop, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and Woodstock Diary, he was instrumental in creating the modern “rock doc.”

    220px-D_A_Pennebaker_2_by_David_Shankbone source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/07/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , meaning, , , The Twist,   

    “One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another”*… 

     

    philosophy

    There comes a moment in every philosophy student’s life, perhaps when struggling through a logic set or trying to parse some impenetrable Derrida essay, that the inevitable question comes up: What’s the point? A new philosophy paper, published in the June 2018 edition of the Journal of Practical Ethics, argues that there isn’t one.

    At least, there’s not a singular coherent point that the field is working towards. Whereas history is clearly focused on understanding our past and biology is devoted to explaining living organisms, there’s some confusion as to philosophy’s purpose. There are clear themes of course, such as the meaning of life, and what constitutes reality. But the subject is huge and sprawling, encompassing questions about metaphysics, epistemology, language, and ethics, among others. Is the point of philosophy to unravel the nature of the universe, or how we know what we know, or the role of language, or answer some other great question?…

    Find out why (and whether it matters) at “What’s the point of philosophy? A new philosophy paper says there isn’t one.

    * René Descartes

    ###

    As we wax philosophical, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Billboard Magazine reported that the teenage dance craze, The Twist, was being picked up by the adult crowd in Philadelphia.

    twist source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:50 on 2018/07/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , cultural differences, , , , , Lévi-Strauss, ,   

    “The more we claim to discriminate between cultures and customs as good and bad, the more completely do we identify ourselves with those we would condemn”*… 

     

    blog_cultural_distance_scotch_tape_black_white

    A new paper, “Coming Apart? Cultural Distances in the United States over Time” aims to see if people of different races, genders, and incomes have become more culturally distant from each other over the past few decades…

    The authors use a simple metric for this: how easy is it to predict who you are? For example, if I know your five favorite TV shows, how well does that predict whether you’re male or black or high income? If different groups watched similar shows in the past but now they all watch different shows, this kind of prediction becomes more accurate because we’re moving apart in our tastes. But it turns out we aren’t. The basic conclusion of the paper is that nothing much has happened:

    blog_cultural_distance_time

    For the most part, these lines are pretty flat. For example, take a look at the red line in the top left panel. It represents the consumption pattern of rich vs. poor, and it’s around 0.9. This means that the rich and poor are very different in the products they buy, but also that they’ve always been very different. The size of the difference, or “cultural distance,” is about the same as it’s always been…

    The biggest changes have been in gender issues, party affiliation, religion, and confidence in institutions. This isn’t surprising, nor is the fact that the divergences have been relatively large, since ideology is self-selected. The increasing political polarization of Americans has been a topic of endless discussion over the past decade, and it’s a real thing.

    [And] on a less serious side, here are the products [see chart at the head of this post] that most distinguish whether or not you’re white…

    Read on for more detail on the ways in which “We’re About as Different From Each Other As We’ve Always Been.”

    C.f. also: “What we buy can be used to predict our politics, race or education — sometimes with more than 90 percent accuracy.”

    * “The more we claim to discriminate between cultures and customs as good and bad, the more completely do we identify ourselves with those we would condemn. By refusing to consider as human those who seem to us to be the most “savage” or “barbarous” of their representatives, we merely adopt one of their own characteristic attitudes. The barbarian is, first and foremost, the man who believes in barbarism.”  ― Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race et histoire

    ###

    As we note that what’s true latitudinally is arguably also true through time, we might send magical birthday greetings to John Dee, the  mathematician, astronomer, and geographer who was a consultant to Elizabeth I– and who was born on this date in 1527. Dee was a translator of Euclid, and a friend of both Gerardus Mercator and Tycho Brahe; he revolutionized navigation by applying geometry; and he coined the word “Brittannia” and the phrase “British Empire.”  He had a tremendous impact on architecture and theater– and was the model for Shakespeare’s Prospero.

    “So how come such a significant philosopher– one of very few in a country then considered an intellectual backwater– barely features in British history books?  Because of his notorious links with magic” (observed BBC’s Discover).  Dee was indeed involved (most heavily, toward the end of his life) in the Hermetic Arts: alchemy, astrology, divination, Hermetic philosophy and Rosicrucianism (the Protestant answer to the Jesuits, which Dee founded).  Perhaps most (in)famously, Dee put a hex on the Spanish Armada, a spell widely credited at the time for the misfortunes that befell the Iberian fleet (as readers may recall).

    In a way that presaged Isaac Newton, Dee’s work spanned the world’s of science and magic at just the point that those world’s began to separate.

    220px-John_Dee_Ashmolean source

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:10 on 2018/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Fullerenes, , hole, , nothing, , , zero   

    “I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”*… 

     

    zero

    The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

    Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

    But for the vast majority of our history, humans didn’t understand the number zero. It’s not innate in us. We had to invent it. And we have to keep teaching it to the next generation.

    Other animals, like monkeys, have evolved to understand the rudimentary concept of nothing. And scientists just reported that even tiny bee brains can compute zero. But it’s only humans that have seized zero and forged it into a tool.

    So let’s not take zero for granted. Nothing is fascinating. Here’s why…

    It is indeed fascinating, as you’ll see at “The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained.”

    Pair with: “Is a hole a real thing, or just a place where something isn’t?” and with The Ministry of Ideas’ podcast “Nothing Matters.”

    * Oscar Wilde

    ###

    As we obsess about absence, we might box a dome-shaped birthday cake for inventor, educator, author, philosopher, engineer, and architect R(ichard) Buckminster Fuller; he was born on this date in 1895.  “Bucky” most famously developed the geodesic dome, the only large dome that can be set directly on the ground as a complete structure, and the only practical kind of building that has no limiting dimensions (i.e., beyond which the structural strength must be insufficient).  But while he never got around to frankfurters, he was sufficiently prolific to have scored over 2,000 patents.

    “Fullerenes” (molecules composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow spheres, ellipsoids, or tubes), key components in many nanotechnology applications, were named for Fuller, as their structure mimes that of the geodesic dome.  Spherical fullerenes (resembling soccer balls) are also called “buckyballs”; cylindrical ones, carbon nanotubes or “buckytubes.”

    I have to say, I think that we are in some kind of final examination as to whether human beings now, with this capability to acquire information and to communicate, whether we’re really qualified to take on the responsibility we’re designed to be entrusted with. And this is not a matter of an examination of the types of governments, nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economic systems. It has to do with the individual. Does the individual have the courageto really go along with the truth?

    God, to me, it seems
    is a verb,
    not a noun,
    proper or improper.

    For more, see “And that’s a lot.”

     source

     

     
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