(Roughly) Daily

“It’s not the end of Western Civilization. It’s chewing gum.”*…

 

Santa Anna

Antonio López de Santa Anna in his days as a dashing soldier, before his unglamorous exile

 

Two years before he died senile and broke, the disgraced Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna lived in a modest residence in Staten Island. Known variously as the executioner of hundreds at The Alamo, the man who lost Texas, and “His Most Serene Highness” and “The Eagle,” Santa Anna was missing a leg and had recently been conned out of tens of thousands of pesos. He spent his exile moving among high society, plotting to get rich or return to Mexico, and chewing on something called chicle.

Santa Anna hoped that his supply of chicle, a natural latex harvested from trees in the same fashion as rubber, would make him rich. He’d pitched Thomas Adams, a local inventor, on developing this foreign substance into an inexpensive replacement for rubber. It never worked. But after he left for Mexico for the final time, dumping his chicle on Adams, it became something else: the first modern chewing gum…

He captured the Alamo, lost Texas, and helped invent Tutti Frutti: “How a Mexican General’s Exile in Staten Island Led to Modern Chewing Gum.”

* Jerry Springer (defending his television show)

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As we’re careful not to swallow, we might recall that it was on this date in 2012, in the final week of that year’s Texas State Fair, that “Big Tex,” a 55-foot tall statue, marketing icon, and traditional meeting place at the Fair since 1952, was destroyed by fire.  (It was replaced by an updated replica the following year.)

200px-Big-tex-1956 source

 

Written by LW

October 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

misinfo

 

Ideas replaced with feelings. A radical relativism that implies truth is unknowable. Politicians who revel in lying openly, shamelessly, as if being caught out is the point of politics. The notion of the people and the many redefined ceaselessly, words unmoored from meaning, ideas of the future dissolving into nasty nostalgias with enemies everywhere, conspiracy replacing ideology, facts equated to fibs, discussion collapsing into mutual accusations, where every argument is just another smear campaign, all information warfare … and the sense that everything under one’s feet is constantly moving, inherently unstable, liquid …

Almost a decade ago I left Russia because I was exhausted by living in a system where, to quote myself invoking Hannah Arendt, “nothing is true and everything is possible.” Those were still relatively vegetarian days in Moscow — before the invasion of Ukraine — but it was already a world where terms like liberal or democracy were used to mean their opposite, where paranoia was increasingly replacing reasoned argument, and where spectacle had pushed out sense. You were left with only gut feelings to lead your way through the fog of disinformation. I returned to the thing once known as “the West,” living in London and often working in the United States, because, in the words of my naïve self, I wanted to live in a world where “words have meaning,” where facts were not dismissed as “just information war.” Russia seemed a country unable to come to terms with the loss of the Cold War, or with any of the traumas of the 20th century. It was ultimately, I thought, a sideshow, a curio pickled in its own agonies. Russians stressed this themselves: in Western Europe, America, things are “normalno” they would tell me. If you have the chance, that is where you send your wives, children, money … to “normalnost.”

Back in the West, however, I soon noticed things that reminded me of Moscow…

Peter Pomerantsev in an essay from his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality: “Normalnost.”

Pair with his essay “The Info War of All Against All” and this review of his book.

[image above: source]

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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As we get down with Diogenes, we might expect little or no help from today’s birthday boy, Henri-Louis Bergson; he was born on this date in 1859.  A philosopher especially influential in the first half of the 20th Century, Bergson convinced many of the primacy of immediate experience and intuition over rationalism and science for the understanding reality…. many, but not the likes of Wittgenstein, Russell, Moore, and Santayana, who thought that he willfully misunderstood the scientific method in order to justify his “projection of subjectivity onto the physical world.”  Still, in 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize (in Literature); and in 1930, received France’s highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur.

Bergson’s influence waned mightily later in the century.  To the extent that there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest, it’s largely the result, in philosophical circles, of Gilles Deleuze’s appropriation of Bergson’s concept of “mulitplicity” and his treatment of duration, which Deleuze used in his critique of Hegel’s dialectic, and in the religious and spiritualist studies communities, of Bergson’s seeming embrace of the concept of an overriding/underlying consciousness in which humans participate.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

October 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Tossing away a piece of paper is clearly taboo”*…

 

paper

 

Today, in an age of computers, smartphones and e-books, you could be forgiven for predicting the demise of this ancient wonder material. But though there has been a small decline in the demand for so-called “graphic paper”, like newspapers and books, the paper industry is booming.

The world currently uses around 400 million tonnes of paper per year. And from money to cardboard boxes, to receipts, coffee cups, stick-on notes, baking paper, egg cartons, birthday cards, straws, wrapping paper, and, of course, papier-mâché, it’s hard to imagine modern life without it. We might be edging towards a cashless society, but the paperless society, as the American librarian Jesse Shera famously put it, “is about as plausible as the paperless bathroom”.

In fact, demand for paper is growing all over the world, and as we turn our backs on single-use plastic, paper is one of the main contenders to take its place. The last few years has seen numerous retailers announce that they are switching to paper bags, while paper-based chocolate wrappers, ready-meal trays and water bottles have also started to emerge.

In Canada, the government recently approved a ban on certain plastic items, while the EU has pledged to eradicate some of the most notorious by 2021. Some Indian states have gone further, ditching single-use plastic altogether. Many businesses have already announced that they will be replacing throw-away plastic items with paper versions.

But how sustainable is paper really? And what can be done to reduce its environmental impact?…

[Consider, among other factors, like deforestation…]

Almost every phase of paper manufacturing involves water. Scaled up to the magnitude of the industry today, a vast amount is required. To make just a single A4 sheet, you need between two and 13 litres. In China, which remains one of the leading players in the paper trade, the industry sucked up 3.35 billion tonnes (roughly three trillion litres) in 2014 – enough for about 37 billion baths.

After the pulping and bleaching is over, paper mills end up with water containing a cocktail of organic compounds, alkalis and bleach, which must be treated so that it can be disposed of safely. This can be a huge technical challenge, and some paper mills simply discharge the effluent straight into the local water supply, where it’s acutely toxic to fish and other wildlife  – even at concentrations of just 2%

For better and/or worse: “How paper is making a comeback.”

* Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

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As we muse on materials, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

source

 

 

Written by LW

October 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

###

As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

300px-Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

source

 

“By reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events”*…

 

paper_theaters_the_home_entertainment_of_yesteryear_1050x700

 

In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike.

Meanwhile, crowds packed into the “blood tubs,” unofficial performances held in abandoned warehouses and holes dug into the ground. The typical fare included lewd songs, dramatizations of shocking local crimes, and twenty-minute abridgements of Shakespeare. The shows changed so frequently that the actors tended to make up the stories as they went along. The theaters were unlicensed, meaning that both audiences and actors risked imprisonment for participating. Nonetheless, the blood tubs were so popular that they sometimes gave as many as six performances a day to audiences of hundreds, most of them children.

Clearly, people were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For “one penny plain, two cents colored,” you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels…

This short-lived children’s toy left… an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages. As the literary scholar Monica Cohens points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens…

In the nineteenth century, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring theater into the home.  An appreciation of the Dungeons and Dragons of its day: “Paper Theaters: The Home Entertainment of Yesteryear.”

* G. K. Chesterton

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As we revel in role-playing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that I Love Lucy premiered on CBS.  The chronicle of Lucy Ricardo’s (Lucille Ball’s) efforts to break into show business alongside her bandleader husband Desi (Desi Arnaz) via schemes hatched with her neighbors (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), it ran for six seasons, 180 episodes, it became the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run atop the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998).

A pioneer– it was the first scripted show shot in 35mm, the first ensemble cast, the first “three camera” scripted production– it created the template for sit-coms to come.  It won five Emmys and is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

ILoveLucyTitleScreen source

 

 

 

Written by LW

October 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.”*…

 

12_population

 

Vaclav Smil is a distinguished professor emeritus in the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Over more than 40 years, his books on the environment, population, food and energy have steadily grown in influence. He is now seen as one of the world’s foremost thinkers on development history and a master of statistical analysis. Bill Gates says he waits for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. The latest is Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities.

You are the nerd’s nerd. There is perhaps no other academic who paints pictures with numbers like you. You dug up the astonishing statistic that China has poured more cement every three years since 2003 than the US managed in the entire 20th century. You calculated that in 2000, the dry mass of all the humans in the world was 125m metric tonnes compared with just 10m tonnes for all wild vertebrates. And now you explore patterns of growth, from the healthy development of forests and brains to the unhealthy increase in obesity and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Before we get into those deeper issues, can I ask if you see yourself as a nerd?
Not at all. I’m just an old-fashioned scientist describing the world and the lay of the land as it is. That’s all there is to it. It’s not good enough just to say life is better or the trains are faster. You have to bring in the numbers. This book is an exercise in buttressing what I have to say with numbers so people see these are the facts and they are difficult to dispute.

Growth is a huge book – almost 200,000 words that synthesise many of your other studies, ranging across the world and exploring far into the past and future. Do you see this as your magnum opus?
I have deliberately set out to write the megabook on growth. In a way, it’s unwieldy and unreasonable. People can take any number of books out of it – economists can read about the growth of GDP and population; biologists can read about the growth of organisms and human bodies. But I wanted to put it all together under one roof so people could see how these things are inevitably connected and how it all shares one crystal clarity: that growth must come to an end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that…

The always-illuminating Jonathan Watts interviews the always-provocative Vaclav Smil: “Vaclav Smil: ‘Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that’.”

Pair with “Minimal Maintenance,” the essay version of a talk by Shannon Mattern, Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research.  As Patrick Tanguay suggests: it is a “really excellent read which ties together maintenance, degrowth, libraries, museums, environmental justice, and architecture…[it] frames degrowth not as blanket anti-growth but as a critique of growth as an end in itself.”

See also Astra Taylor’s “Bad ancestors: does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?” and. for a look at the challenges ahead, The Economist‘s “The past, present and future of climate change.”

* Miles Davis

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As we ponder progress, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying premiered on Broadway.  A musical comedy by Frank Loesser, with book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, it was based on Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book of the same name.  It follows young, ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch, who, with the help of the self-help manual How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, rises from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company.

The play, which starred Robert Morse and Rudy Vallée, ran for 1,417 performances; it won seven Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle award, and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

220px-How_to_Succeed_in_Business_Without_Really_Trying_1961_Original_Cast_Recording source

 

 

“O brave new world”*…

 

law and AI

 

With the arrival of autonomous weapons systems (AWS)[1] on the 21st century battlefield, the nature of warfare is poised for dramatic change.[2] Overseen by artificial intelligence (AI), fueled by terabytes of data and operating at lightning-fast speed, AWS will be the decisive feature of future military conflicts.[3] Nonetheless, under the American way of war, AWS will operate within existing legal and policy guidelines that establish conditions and criteria for the application of force.[4] Even as the Department of Defense (DoD) places limitations on when and how AWS may take action,[5] the pace of new conflicts and adoption of AWS by peer competitors will ultimately push military leaders to empower AI-enabled weapons to make decisions with less and less human input.[6] As such, timely, accurate, and context-specific legal advice during the planning and operation of AWS missions will be essential. In the face of digital-decision-making, mere human legal advisors will be challenged to keep up!

Fortunately, at the same time that AI is changing warfare, the practice of law is undergoing a similar AI-driven transformation.[7]

From The Judge Advocate General’s CorpsThe Reporter: “Autonomous Weapons Need Autonomous Lawyers.”

As I finish drafting this post [on October 5], I’ve discovered that none of the links are available any longer; the piece (and the referenced articles within it, also from The Reporter) were apparently removed from public view while I was drafting this– from a Reporter web page that, obviously, opened for me earlier.  You will find other references to (and excerpts from/comments on) the article here, here, and here.  I’m leaving the original links in, in case they become active again…

* Shakespeare, The Tempest

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As we wonder if this can end well, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that Ameritech executive Bob Barnett made a phone call from a car parked near Soldier Field in Chicago, officially launching the first cellular network in the United States.

barnett-300x165

Barnett (foreground, in the car) and his audience

 

Written by LW

October 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

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