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“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother”*…

 

women

 

If you’re in possession of a uterus, at some point in your life you’ve likely gotten the message that having children isn’t a choice—it’s your duty. For well over a century, doctors, psychologists, and politicians have engaged in intense public campaigns to persuade American women to bear children, publicly exalting motherhood and warning of personal, and societal, peril if they don’t comply.

There’s a word for this: pronatalism, the promotion of baby-making for a nation’s social, political, and economic purposes…

The techniques that have been used to pressure American women to keep breeding are even more shocking than you might think– proselytizing, pseudoscience, and shaming–all committed in the name of turning women into mothers: “A Brief History of Bullying Women to Have Babies.”

* Margaret Sanger

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As we cherish choice, we might send healing birthday greetings to Helen Brooke Taussig; she was born on this date in 1898.  The founder of pediatric cardiology, Dr. Taussig pioneered the use of X-rays and fluoroscopy to identify heart defects in newborns; then in 1944, with surgeon Alfred Blalock, she developed a surgical procedure for treating blue baby syndrome. In the 1960s, Taussig was a leader in the identification of Thalidomide (a fertility drug) as a cause of birth defects, and an effective campaigner for its banning.

Though she chose never to marry nor have children herself, Taussig was responsible for advances that have saved millions of children’s lives.

220px-Helen_B._Taussig source

 

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”*…

 

prediction

 

As astrophysicist Mario Livo recounts in Brilliant Blunders, in April 1900, the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin proclaimed that our understanding of the cosmos was complete except for two “clouds”—minor details still to be worked out. Those clouds had to do with radiation emissions and with the speed of light… and they pointed the way to two major revolutions in physics: quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.  Prediction is hard; ironically, it’s especially hard for experts attempting foresight in their own fields…

The idea for the most important study ever conducted of expert predictions was sparked in 1984, at a meeting of a National Research Council committee on American-Soviet relations. The psychologist and political scientist Philip E. Tetlock was 30 years old, by far the most junior committee member. He listened intently as other members discussed Soviet intentions and American policies. Renowned experts delivered authoritative predictions, and Tetlock was struck by how many perfectly contradicted one another and were impervious to counterarguments.

Tetlock decided to put expert political and economic predictions to the test. With the Cold War in full swing, he collected forecasts from 284 highly educated experts who averaged more than 12 years of experience in their specialties. To ensure that the predictions were concrete, experts had to give specific probabilities of future events. Tetlock had to collect enough predictions that he could separate lucky and unlucky streaks from true skill. The project lasted 20 years, and comprised 82,361 probability estimates about the future.

The result: The experts were, by and large, horrific forecasters. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, and (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting and bad at long-term forecasting. They were bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that future events were impossible or nearly impossible, 15 percent of them occurred nonetheless. When they declared events to be a sure thing, more than one-quarter of them failed to transpire. As the Danish proverb warns, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”…

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming… they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews…

The integrators outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.”…

Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable– at least more reliable– forecasting is possible: “The Peculiar Blindness of Experts.”

See Tetlock discuss his findings at a Long Now Seminar.  Read Berlin’s riff on Archilochus, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” here.

* Yogi Berra

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As we ponder prediction, we might send complicating birthday greetings to Edward Norton Lorenz; he was born on this date in 1917.  A mathematician who turned to meteorology during World War II, he established the theoretical basis of weather and climate predictability, as well as the basis for computer-aided atmospheric physics and meteorology.

But he is probably better remembered as the founder of modern chaos theory, a branch of mathematics focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions… and thus practically impossible to predict in detail with certainty.

In 1961, Lorenz was using a simple digital computer, a Royal McBee LGP-30, to simulate weather patterns by modeling 12 variables, representing things like temperature and wind speed. He wanted to see a sequence of data again, and to save time he started the simulation in the middle of its course. He did this by entering a printout of the data that corresponded to conditions in the middle of the original simulation. To his surprise, the weather that the machine began to predict was completely different from the previous calculation. The culprit: a rounded decimal number on the computer printout. The computer worked with 6-digit precision, but the printout rounded variables off to a 3-digit number, so a value like 0.506127 printed as 0.506. This difference is tiny, and the consensus at the time would have been that it should have no practical effect. However, Lorenz discovered that small changes in initial conditions produced large changes in long-term outcome. His work on the topic culminated in the publication of his 1963 paper “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow” in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, and with it, the foundation of chaos theory…

His description of the butterfly effect, the idea that small changes can have large consequences, followed in 1969.

lorenz source

 

“In so far as the mind sees things in their eternal aspect, it participates in eternity”*…

 

Hay

David Ramsay Hay’s mapping of color onto musical notes, a diagram from his The Laws of Harmonious Colouring (1838)

 

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” So wrote the Victorian art critic Walter Pater in 1888. Earlier in the century, Scottish artist David Ramsay Hay composed a series of fifteen books published between 1828 and 1856 that attempted to develop a theory of visual beauty from the basic elements of music theory. Anticipating Pater but also fin-de-siècle attempts to unite the arts via spiritual or synesthetic affinities, Hay’s writings mapped colors, shapes, and angles onto familiar musical constructs such as pitches, scales, and chords. While these ideas might appear highly eccentric today, an understanding of them offers a glimpse of the remarkable importance of music to the Victorian Zeitgeist…

Hay’s approach to visual aesthetics was equally applicable to architecture, color theory, the ornamental arts, and the human face and figure. It can be understood as a psychological account of beauty, as opposed to other contemporary theories that anchored beauty in notions of the picturesque, the mimetic, or the sublime. Though analogies between music and the fine arts certainly do not originate with Hay, his application of music theory to an extensive array of visual experiences including color, shapes, figures, and architecture broke new ground. Rather than locating musical properties in the objects themselves, as earlier thinkers ranging from Plato to Newton had done, Hay worked in the post-Kantian tradition, regarding these features as immanent to our own minds, where they create our experience of beauty by determining the very structure of our perceptions…

Throughout his writings, Hay consistently links the claim that a single fundamental law of nature determines aesthetic perception to the work of the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras…

Understanding the same laws to apply to both visual and aural beauty, David Ramsay Hay thought it possible not only to analyze such visual wonders as the Parthenon in terms of music theory, but also to identify their corresponding musical harmonies and melodies: “Music of the Squares: David Ramsay Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics.”

* Baruch de Spinoza

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As we excavate the essential, we might send elegantly-composed birthday greetings to Mary Cassatt; she was born on this date in 1844.  An American printmaker and painter, she moved to Paris as an adult, where she developed a friendship with Edgar Degas and became, as  Gustave Geffroy wrote in 1894, one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism (with Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot).

Self-portrait, c. 1878

source

 

 

Written by LW

May 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured”*…

 

Roman-calendar

A reproduction of the fragmentary Fasti Antiates Maiores, an early Roman calendar (c. 60 BC) [source]

 

What year is it? It’s 2019, obviously. An easy question. Last year was 2018. Next year will be 2020. We are confident that a century ago it was 1919, and in 1,000 years it will be 3019, if there is anyone left to name it. All of us are fluent with these years; we, and most of the world, use them without thinking. They are ubiquitous. As a child I used to line up my pennies by year of minting, and now I carefully note dates of publication in my scholarly articles.

Now, imagine inhabiting a world without such a numbered timeline for ordering current events, memories and future hopes. For from earliest recorded history right up to the years after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the late 4th century BCE, historical time – the public and annual marking of the passage of years – could be measured only in three ways: by unique events, by annual offices, or by royal lifecycles…

Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again: “A Revolution in Time.”

See also: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”*…

* Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

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As we mark time, we might recall that it was on this date in 293 that Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian appoint Galerius as Caesar to Diocletian, beginning the period of four rulers known as the Tetrarchy.  Although he was a staunch opponent of Christianity, Galerius ended the Diocletianic Persecution when he issued an Edict of Toleration in Serdica in 311.

220px-Romuliana_Galerius_head

Porphyry bust of Galerius [source]

 

“It’s not an effective protest if it’s not pissing people off”*…

 

extinctionrevolution

 

In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.

In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.

Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.

In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.

There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.

Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.

Chenoweth’s influence can be seen in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, whose founders say they have been directly inspired by her findings

… despite being twice as successful as the violent conflicts, peaceful resistance still failed 47% of the time. As Chenoweth and Stephan pointed out in their book, that’s sometimes because they never really gained enough support or momentum to “erode the power base of the adversary and maintain resilience in the face of repression”. But some relatively large nonviolent protests also failed, such as the protests against the communist party in East Germany in the 1950s, which attracted 400,000 members (around 2% of the population) at their peak, but still failed to bring about change.

In Chenoweth’s data set, it was only once the nonviolent protests had achieved that 3.5% threshold of active engagement that success seemed to be guaranteed – and raising even that level of support is no mean feat. In the UK it would amount to 2.3 million people actively engaging in a movement (roughly twice the size of Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city); in the US, it would involve 11 million citizens – more than the total population of New York City.

The fact remains, however, that nonviolent campaigns are the only reliable way of maintaining that kind of engagement…

Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change: “The ‘3.5% Rule’: How a small minority can change the world.”

* John Scalzi, Lock In

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As we take it to the streets, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to John Stuart Mill; he was born on this date in 1806.  A philosopher, political economist, civil servant, and reformer, he was a founder of what we now call “Classical Liberalism” and a major contributor to the development of Utilitarianism.  Mill reputedly learned Greek at the age of three, Latin and arithmetic at eight, and logic at twelve. He studied with Jeremy Bentham, and followed Bentham’s Utilitarian lead, though Mill both extended and deviated from his mentor’s thinking.  His conception of liberty was– and remains– an oft-cited justification of individual freedom in opposition to unlimited state and social control.

220px-John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870 source

 

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”*…

 

populationmap

Change in population aged 65 and older, 2010-2023. [Screenshot: ESRI]

 

We’re all getting older. It’s the one thing that every single person alive right now has in common. But we’re also getting older as a population, with Americans both living longer and having fewer children. Census projections show a major demographic shift already underway and accelerating in the years to come.

At the same time, populations are not aging evenly, and issues related to aging will impact individual communities in vastly different ways, boosting economic opportunity in some areas while putting a strain on social services in others.

For instance, real estate developers that invest in progressive senior housing projects now could benefit down the road as demand for modern facilities that cater to active seniors grows. Similarly, American tech companies will see opportunity in developing innovative high-tech solutions for senior care, such as health-monitoring devices, ride-share services aimed at seniors, and care-bots. (Take a look at how Japan has embraced high-tech solutions for its aging population for more on how that might play out in the United States.)

On the flip side, social safety nets are likely to face increasing financial challenges with the continued retirement of America’s Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom will reach 67 by 2031. As that happens, rural counties—where people on average rely on Social Security as a larger portion of their overall income—may disproportionately feel the economic effects of aging.

One way to sort out who will be most impacted by aging is to look at age demographics across the country and how they will change over time…

America is aging, but not evenly: “7 maps that tell the incredible story of aging in America.”

See also this essay by Don Norman, the 83 year-old dean of user-centered design (author of The Design of Everyday Things and a former VP at Apple): “I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me.”

* Robert Frost

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As we stand up to senescence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Peter Townsend wrote “My Generation”– inspired by the Queen Mother, who’d had his 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighborhood.  The song was released as a single later that year and became first a hit, then an anthem.

 

Written by LW

May 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Housework won’t kill you, but then again, why take the chance?”*…

 

Modern Kitchen

 

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) was the first Austrian woman ever to qualify as an architect. Following World War I, she was tasked with the design of standard kitchens for a new housing project by city planner and architect Ernst May. The Great War left rubble and a desperate housing shortage in its wake, but it also opened the way for new ideas and new designs.There was a pervasive sense among Europe’s leading designers, from Le Corbusier in France to Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus in Germany, that the need to rebuild in the 1920s, though rooted in tragedy, offered a society fresh start, and a chance to leave behind the class distinctions that were baked into 18th- and 19th-century architecture while they were at it.

Very much in this mold, Ernst May was a utopian thinker, and his International Style design for the Frankfurt project, known as New Frankfurt, featured egalitarian amenities for the community like schools, playgrounds, and theaters, along with access to fresh air, light, and green space.For her part, though she was a career woman herself, Schütte-Lihotzky believed that housework was a profession and deserved to be treated seriously as such. This counted as feminism in the 1920s, and although we might find it essentializing or insulting today, making housework easier was considered a form of emancipation for women.

This belief echoes that of American domestic scientist Christine Frederick, who conducted a series of experiments and studies to determine the optimal layout of appliances, work surfaces, and storage in a domestic kitchen. Frederick had studied the methods of mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who innovated the modern practice of scientific management. Taylor’s time and motion studies helped designers devise the optimal position of equipment and people in factories, by breaking down tasks into their component parts. That Frederick thought to emulate Taylor’s system speaks to a fascinating shift in how domestic work was understood in the early 20th century.

Schütte-Lihotzky conceived of the Frankfurt Kitchen as a separate room in each apartment, which was a design choice that had previously applied only to the cavernous kitchens that served great houses. She used a sliding door to separate it from the main living space. She read Frederick and Taylor’s works translated into German, and even conducted her own time and motion studies.And presaging the work of American designers Norman Bel Geddes and Raymond Loewy, who drew inspiration from trains and cars in designing their streamlined kitchen appliances in the 1930s, Schütte-Lihotzky found a model of culinary efficiency in the kitchens of railway dining cars designed by the Mitropa catering company. Though tiny, the cars served scores of diners using an extremely small galley space—a term we still used to describe apartment kitchens today.

The Frankfurt Kitchen featured an electric stove, a window over the sink, and lots of ingenious built-in storage including custom aluminum bins with a spout at one end. These bins could be used to store rice, sugar, or flour, then pulled out and used to pour the ingredients into a mixing bowl. The kitchen lacked a refrigerator, but in almost every other way, it was thoroughly modern. There was no clunky cast-iron stove, and no mismatched pieces of wooden furniture that had been drafted into kitchen duty. Even its small size was in part a nod to Taylor’s and Frederick’s principles: The lack of floor space meant fewer steps. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky introduced design ideals that still hold sway over our living spaces…

How that happened– despite Nazi resistance– and what it meant at: “The Frankfurt Kitchen Changed How We Cook—and Live.”

* Phyllis Diller

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As we dwell on the design of dwellings, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Allan Burns; he was born on this date in 1935.  A television screenwriter and producer, he cut his teeth working with Jay Ward on animated series like Rocky and Bullwinkle, then created or co-created a  number of hit live series, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and its spin-offs Lou Grant and Rhoda).  Along the way, he created the character Cap’n Crunch for Quaker Oats.

Allan+Burns+2016+Summer+TCA+Tour+32nd+Annual+UaB3KPmcX5yl source

We might also spare a thought for Charles Dawson “Daws” Butler; he died on this date in 1988.  A voice actor who worked mostly for Hanna-Barbera, he originated the voices of many familiar characters, including Loopy De Loop, Wally Gator, Yogi Bear, Hokey Wolf, Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Spike the Bulldog, and Huckleberry Hound.   He also served as the original voice of Cap’n Crunch.

220px-Daws_Butler_(1976) source

CapnCrunch source

 

Written by LW

May 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

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