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“I like ruins because what remains is not the total design, but the clarity of thought, the naked structure, the spirit of the thing”*…

 

Raphael

The Chigi Chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo, designed by Raphael

 

Poor Raphael! This year, the five-hundredth anniversary of his death, was to have been his year of glory. After major exhibitions of Michelangelo in 2018 and Leonardo da Vinci in 2019, the museum world was in the midst of celebrating the third member of the glorious trinity of High Renaissance art. Then fear of a new coronavirus forced museums everywhere to take down their banners, chase away visitors, and close their doors…

It’s a kind of tragic coincidence, or perhaps poetic injustice, that celebrations of Raphael’s achievement were interrupted by a deadly virus. It was a viral pneumonia ripping through the papal court that killed Raphael himself, aged thirty-seven, on April 6, 1520. The overworked and exhausted artist was carried off, biographers tell us, by a grandissima febbre. His greatest patron, the Medici pope Leo X, died suddenly of pneumonia a year and a half later, aged forty-six. The most fruitful partnership between artist and patron in High Renaissance Rome had lasted just over seven years. Among the casualties was Raphael’s career as an architect, cut off just as it was beginning to blossom…

Humanists since Petrarch had mourned the destruction of Rome’s ancient fabric and dreamt of restoring the city’s physical grandeur. Earlier pontiffs such as the humanist pope Nicholas V had begun to rebuild Rome in a more classical style. But it was Raphael, supported by Pope Leo and his humanist advisers, especially Baldesar Castiglione and Angelo Colocci, who undertook the serious work of surveying the ruins of Rome and attempting to reconstruct the appearance of the ancient city district by district, building by building. It was this quasi-philological project that fired the imaginations of Renaissance literati and led them to praise Raphael as the greatest architect of the age.

Yet Raphael’s Plan of Rome, with its reconstructions of major monuments—temples, baths, theaters, palaces, fora, and public buildings—was not simply a learned contribution to antiquarian studies. It was a practical project, designed to serve architects and patrons interested in building in the modern classical style, the Renaissance style. In his work as a painter Raphael was famous for collecting the designs of other artists throughout Italy and making their inventions and techniques his own. Michelangelo and his coterie sneered at him, with appalling injustice, as a mere magpie, stealing his best ideas from other artists. As an architect Raphael practiced the same kind of recombinant classicism, choosing elements from innumerable antique structures but reassembling them in harmonious, creative ways. He understood, as modern educational theory does not, that creativity is the child of knowledge…

James Hankins appreciates Raphael’s brief turn as an architect: “Raphael, interrupted.”

* Tadao Ando

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As we reappraise famous men, we might spare thought for a predecssor of Raphael’s, Lorenzo di Pietro; he died on this date in 1480.  Better known by his “work name,” Vecchietta, he was painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and architect of the (earlier) Renaissance.  He was born and did much of his work in Sienna– work prized highly enough in his times to earn him a spot in He is among the artists profiled in Vasari‘s Le Vite delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects often known simply as The Lives).

220px-Vecchietta,_storie_dei_ss._lorenzo_e_stefano_martiri,_1431-39_ca.,_autoritratto_02

Self-portrait. Detail of a fresco in Collegata di Castiglione Olona

source

 

Written by LW

June 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When I die, I’m leaving my body to science fiction”*…

 

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If Somnium is the first science fiction book (which many people argue is true), then this is probably the first reference to the idea of zero gravity, or weightlessness.

“…for, as magnetic forces of the earth and moon both attract the body and hold it suspended, the effect is as if neither of them were attracting it…”
From Somnium (The Dream), by Johannes Kepler.
Published in 1634
Additional resources

Note that the word “gravity” is not used to describe the attraction between masses; Isaac Newton did not describe universal gravitation until 1687…

The first entry in Technovelgy’s (@Technovelgy)Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas, Technology, and Inventions.”  Starting in the 17th century, it contains hundreds of reminders– most linked to info on real-life inventors and inventions that realized the dreams– that imagination is often the inspiration for invention.

* Steven Wright

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As we ponder precursors, we might recall that on this date in 1954 Gog premiered in Los Angeles.  The third film in Ivan Tors‘ “Office of Scientific Investigation” (OSI) trilogy, following The Magnetic Monster (1953) and Riders to the Stars (also 1954), it starred Richard Egan, Constance Dowling (in her final big-screen role), and Herbert Marshall in a cautionary tale of killer robots.

gog source

 

“Like guns and crosses, maps can be good or bad, depending on who’s holding them, who they’re aimed at, how they’re used, and why”*…

 

World Map

“A New and Accurat [sic] Map of the World,” John Speed 1626. For background, see here

We expect maps to tell us the truth. They seem trustworthy, after all: when you need to figure out how to get from Copley Square to Fenway Park, or if you’re interested in comparing the income levels of Boston’s neighborhoods, the first reference material you’re likely to seek out is a map.

But maps, truth, and belief have a complicated relationship with one another. Every map is a representation of reality, and every representation, no matter how accurate and honest, involves simplification, symbolization, and selective attention. Even when a map isn’t actively trying to deceive its readers, it still must reduce the complexity of the real world, emphasizing some features and hiding others. Compressing the round globe onto a flat sheet of paper, and converting places, people, and statistics into symbols, lines, and colors is a process inherently fraught with distortion.

Meanwhile, what we understand to be true is based on what we have seen in maps. For example, how do you know that New Zealand is an island off the coast of Australia if you’ve never been on a ship in the Tasman Sea or flown up in space to see it yourself? That fact about the world is one you can believe because you’ve seen it reproduced over and over again in maps produced by people and institutions that you trust…

Because they seem to show the world how it “really is,” maps produce a powerful sense of trust and belief.  But maps and data visualizations can never communicate a truth without any perspective at all.  They are social objects whose meaning and power are produced by written and symbolic language and whose authority is determined by the institutions and contexts in which they circulate.  From the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, a remarkable online exhibit that explores the many ways in which maps and data can mislead: BENDING LINES: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception. (Lots of fascinating information and LOTS of glorious maps!)

See also: “How to Detect the Distortions of Maps.”

And lest we underestimate the innate challenges facing cartographers, “The U.S. Is Getting Shorter, as Mapmakers Race to Keep Up.”

* Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps

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As we aspire to accuracy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1784 that Élisabeth Thible became the first women to ascend in an untethered balloon (eight months after the first manned balloon flight).  When the balloon left the ground Thible, dressed as the Roman goddess Minerva, and her pilot, Monsieur Fleurant sang two duets from Monsigny’s La Belle Arsène, a celebrated opera of the time.  The flight lasted 45 minutes, covered four kilometers, and achieved an estimated height of 1,500 meters.  Their audience included King Gustav III of Sweden, in whose honor the balloon was named.

Thible

Élisabeth Thible on a later flight

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“If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan”*…

 

pscil

 

 

In 1955, a bank executive and a New York society photographer found themselves in a thatch-roofed adobe home in a remote village in the Mazateca mountains. Gordon Wasson, then a vice president at J.P. Morgan, had been learning about the use of mushrooms in different cultures, and tracked down a Mazatec healer, or curandera, named María Sabina. Sabina, about 60 at the time, had been taking hallucinogenic mushrooms since she was a young child . She led Wasson and the photographer, Allan Richardson, through a mushroom ceremony called the velada.

“We chewed and swallowed these acrid mushrooms, saw visions, and emerged from the experience awestruck,” Wasson wrote in a Life magazine article, “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” “We had come from afar to attend a mushroom rite but had expected nothing so staggering as the virtuosity of the performing curanderas and the astonishing effects of the mushrooms.”

Appointing himself as one of the “first white men in recorded history to eat the divine mushrooms,” Wasson inadvertently exposed much of the Western world, and the burgeoning counterculture movement, to psychedelic mushrooms. On the other side of the globe, the Swiss drug company Sandoz received 100 grams of the mushrooms from a botanist who had visited Sabina on one of Wasson’s return trips. They went to the lab of Albert Hofmann (see here) the Swiss chemist who first synthesized LSD. In 1963, Hofmann traveled to Mexico with pills containing synthetic psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms.

“We explained to María Sabina that we had isolated the spirit of the mushrooms and that it was now in these little pills,” Hofmann said during an interview in 1984. “When we left, María Sabina told us that these tablets really contained the spirit of the mushrooms.”

Hofmann’s pills were the first indication that while people can have spiritual and transcendent experiences from eating the mushrooms themselves, they can also have such experiences with a man-made version of just one of the mushroom’s compounds: psilocybin.

This development is particularly relevant today, as scientists study psychedelic mushrooms as potential treatment options for those who suffer from severe depression, addiction, and more. In clinical trials, such as those ongoing at Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London, participants don’t eat caps or stems. They consume synthetic psilocybin, made in a lab by chemists in a way similar to how Hofmann first made his psilocybin.

It’s a necessary hurdle: Psilocybin mushrooms can be grown relatively easily, and aren’t expensive to produce. But researchers have to source their psilocybin from highly regulated labs because natural products vary, and researchers need consistency in chemical composition and dosage in order to do controlled studies. Clinicians need to know how much of a drug they’re giving to a patient, how long it takes to kick in, and how long it lasts; they also need to be sure their drug isn’t tainted with other chemicals. It also helps to be able to mass-produce large amounts and not be threatened by variables, like weather, that affect agricultural products.

As psilocybin moves closer to becoming a legal medicine meeting all the regulatory requirements, doctors won’t be writing prescriptions for mushroom caps or stems—and this will come at a certain cost. Johns Hopkins researchers have claimed they’ve paid labs $7,000 to $10,000 per gram of psilocybin, whereas the street price of magic mushrooms is around $10 per gram. Besides the cost of chemical materials, the steep sticker price comes from the labor required to adhere to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s strict drug-making standards, known as Current Good Manufacturing Practice.

It’s an unprecedented moment, and psychedelic culture must reckon with what it means for a magic mushroom to become a synthetic pill, to be picked up at your local pharmacy or from a doctor. There’s some wariness in the psychedelic community about what synthetic psilocybin represents: big business, questionable investors, and patents on experiences they think shouldn’t have a price tag or a profit margin. Since it’s a known natural compound, psilocybin itself cannot be patented, but the way it’s made and used can be. Already there are organizations applying for patents for their synthesis process, and innovators coming up with new ways to make large amounts of synthetic psilocybin, all seeking protection for their intellectual property…

The truth is, there is money to be made in psychedelics, and investors are flocking to back startups in the psychedelic and mental health spaces. The current antidepressant medication market was valued at $14 billion in 2018 and is estimated to grow to $16 billion in the next three to five years. Any drug company that can compete stands to become very wealthy…

As magic mushrooms make the shift from recreational drug to mental health treatment, patients won’t be eating caps and stems, but a synthetic product made in a lab—one that pharma companies can patent and from which they can profit: “Get Ready for Pharmaceutical-Grade Magic Mushroom Pills.”

* Terence McKenna

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As we ponder the profound, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that city authorities in the California beach town of Santa Cruz announced a total ban on the public performance or playing of rock and roll music, calling it “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

It may seem obvious now that Santa Cruz’s ban on “Rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” was doomed to fail, but it was hardly the only such attempt. Just two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements” echoed the not-so-thinly-veiled concerns of Santa Cruz authorities over the racially integrated nature of the event that prompted the rock-and-roll ban… (source)

rock ban source

 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”*…

 

police

Police advance through a cloud of tear gas on Aug. 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a “War on Crime,” a declaration that ushered in a new era of American law enforcement. Johnson’s turn toward crime control as a federal priority remains his most enduring legacy—even more than the Great Society programs that scholars often herald as his greatest achievement—and continues to shape what is arguably the most important social crisis the United States now faces.

Until recently, the devastating outcomes of the War on Crime that Johnson began had gone relatively unnoticed. Then, last August, during the series of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., images of law-enforcement authorities drawing M-4 carbine rifles and dropping tear gas bombs on protestors and civilians alike shocked much of the American public. Ferguson looked like a war zone. Many commentators attributed this sight to the ongoing technology transfers from the defense sector to local law-enforcement authorities, which began during the War on Drugs and escalated in the climate of the War on Terror.

But the source of those armored cars is much older than that. It was the Law Enforcement Assistance Act that Johnson presented to Congress on March 8, 1965, that first established a direct role for the federal government in local police operations, court systems, and state prisons. Even though the Voting Rights Act is considered the major policy victory of that year, Johnson himself hoped that 1965 would be remembered not as the apex of American liberal reform, but rather as “the year when this country began a thorough, intelligent, and effective war against crime”…

As we witness (again) the deploying of martial materiel against citizens the vast majority of whom are peacefully exercising their constitutional rights to express all-too-understandable frustration and anger, we’d be wise to try to learn from our history and correct our mistakes: “Why We Should Reconsider the War on Crime.”

(TotH to EWW)

* James Baldwin

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As we pray for ploughshares, we might recall that it was on this date in 455 that the Vandals entered Rome, which they plundered for the next two weeks.  It was, as sackings went (this was Rome’s third, of four altogether), relatively “light”:  while the Vandals (who had destroyed all of Rome’s aqueducts on their approach) looted Roman treasure and sold many Romans into slavery, their leader Genseric acceded to the pleas of Pope Leo that the Vandals refrain from the wholesale slaughter of Rome’s population and the destruction of the Eternal City’s historic buildings.

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Genseric sacking Rome, by Karl Briullov

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“All business sagacity reduces itself in the last analysis to judicious use of sabotage”*…

 

sabotage

 

Since World War II, US intelligence agencies have devised innovative ways to defeat their adversaries. In 1944, CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), created the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.

This classified booklet described ways to sabotage the US’ World War II enemies. The OSS Director William J. Donovan recommended that the sabotage guidance be declassified and distributed to citizens of enemy states via pamphlets and targeted broadcasts.

Many of the sabotage instructions guide ordinary citizens, who may not have agree with their country’s wartime policies towards the US, to destabilize their governments by taking disruptive actions. Some of the instructions seem outdated; others remain surprisingly relevant. Together they are a reminder of how easily productivity and order can be undermined.

Here’s a list of five particularly timeless tips from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual:

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.

  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument…

From the CIA, a “classic” that can be read (as Veblen suggests) as a guide to what an executive should avoid in his/her own organization and what s/he might encourage in others: “Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage’.” Download the full Simple Sabotage Field Manual here.

(TotH to David Perell)

* Thorstein Veblen

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As we muse on the fragility of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Thomas Edison was gratnted his first patent (U.S. Patent 90,646) for an “electric vote recorder.”  He was in Louisville, KY at the time, where he had as a night shift employee of Western Union, assigned to the Associated Press; Edison preferred graveyard duty, as it left him lots of unsupervised time to read and experiment.  He had been fired a few moths earlier, when one of his projects leaked sulfuric acid onto the floor… where ran between the floorboards and onto his boss’s desk below.   When his vote recorder failed to find a market, Edison moved to the New York City area, where his career as we all know it began in earnest.

vote recorder source

 

“What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable?”*…

 

Atlas

 

Now that we’re corralled into our homes and apartments, something seems pre-modern in how our worlds have shrunk. Unlike past quarantines, we’re also connected by digital technology to the rest of the globe, calling to mind poet John Donne’s line from a 1633 poem about making “one little room an everywhere.” Donne came of age able to envision a mental map of the globe based on new and detailed evidence about a dizzying array of locations. His poetry is replete with globes, maps, and atlases. What’s considered to be the first atlas was first available in an Antwerp print shop 450 years ago [see here] only two years before Donne was born. It was large, handsome, and expensive, with the grandiose title of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or in English Theater of the Orb of the World. Donne was undoubtedly familiar with it. Produced by the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, it was one of the most popular books of the era. Ortelius had invented the world.

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Never before had all cartographic knowledge been compiled together; never before could a reader imagine the totality of the Earth so completely…

Ortelius wasn’t the first mapmaker to be concerned with what the coastlines actually looked like, or with making sure that islands were in the right location. But he was the first to gather all of that detailed material in a single place. Those who purchased the Theatrum were not unlike those first seeing The Blue Marble, a photograph of Earth the members of the 1972 Apollo 17 mission took from space.

As with that image, Ortelius’ atlas birthed a new mental geography, a new imagined space. If Medieval thinkers saw themselves as living in a symbolic and allegorical geographic order, then the Theatrum presented the physical world in its totality. The cartographer didn’t prove that the world was round (people already knew that) or that the world was large (they knew that too) but he gave people the mental images necessary to imagine themselves on that large, round globe. Ortelius gave us not disenchantment, but a differing enchantment—a sense of the sheer magnitude of the planet.

It was the most expensive book ever published (up to then), and one of the most impactful: “The Book That Invented the World.”

* David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

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As we find our places, we might recall that it was on this date in 1790 that Peruvian-Spanish explorer and cartographer Manuel Quimper began his exploration and mapping of The Strait of Juan de Fuqua (known until a few years earlier as The North Straits).  Running into the Pacific at the northern extreme of what is now Washington State, the center of the Strait defines the international boundary between Canada and the United States (and in earlier maps, per the link in the quote above, contributed incorrectly to defining California as an island).

Manuel_Quimper source

 

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