(Roughly) Daily

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at”*…

 

A proposed cross-section of the Minnesota Experimental City

The future had arrived, and it looked nothing like what city planners expected. It was the early 1960s, and despite economic prosperity, American urban centers were plagued by pollution, poverty, the violence of segregation and crumbling infrastructure. As the federal highway system expanded, young professionals fled for the suburbs, exacerbating the decay…

One man had a revolutionary idea, a plan so all-encompassing it could tackle each and every one of the social issues at once: An entirely new experimental city, built from scratch with the latest technology, entirely free of pollution and waste, and home to a community of life-long learners.

The Minnesota Experimental City and its original creator, Athelstan Spilhaus, are the subjects of a new documentary directed by Chad Freidrichs of Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films. The Experimental City tells the story of the tremendous rise and abrupt fall of an urban vision that nearly came to fruition. At one point, the Minnesota Experimental City had the support of NASA engineers, Civil Rights leaders, media moguls, famed architect Buckminster Fuller and even vice president Hubert Humphrey. Many were drawn to the plan by Spilhaus’ background as well as his rhapsodic conviction for the necessity of such a city.

“The urban mess is due to unplanned growth—too many students for the schools, too much sludge for the sewers, too many cars for the highways, too many sick for the hospitals, too much crime for the police, too many commuters for the transport system, too many fumes for the atmosphere to bear, too many chemicals for the water to carry,” Spilhaus wrote in his 1967 proposal for an experimental city. “The immediate threat must be met as we would meet the threat of war—by the mobilization of people, industry, and government.”…

Creator of the comic “Our New Age,” which featured new science and technology in easy-to-digest fashion (including inventions he wanted to feature in his experimental city), Spilhaus had worked in the fields of mechanical engineering, cartography, oceanography, meteorology and urban planning. He initiated the Sea Grant College Program (a network of colleges and universities that conduct research and training related to oceans and the Great Lakes), helped invent the bathythermograph (a water temperature and depth gauge used in submarine warfare), and designed the science expo for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. But above all, the longtime dean of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology was a futurist, and the experimental city was his brainchild that combined his many passions…

 

The Quixotic tale in toto at “How a $10 Billion Experimental City Nearly Got Built in Rural Minnesota.”

But the Modern Utopia must not be static but kinetic, must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage, leading to a long ascent of stages. Nowadays we do not resist and overcome the great stream of things, but rather float upon it. We build now not citadels, but ships of state.
― H.G. Wells

* Oscar Wilde

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As we’re careful what we wish for, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable”*…

 

 click here for enlargeable version of the full chart

For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?…  Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives…

See the list in full, along with a nifty infographic, at “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History.”

Readers will note that “history” for these folks seems to start in the 19th century… so that one doesn’t find, for instance, the development of domestication or the invention of the plow.  And even then, one could quibble: surely, for example, the understanding of contagious diseases, epidemiology, and medical statistics/cartography that flowed from Dr. John Snow’s mapping of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London belongs on the list.  Still, it’s provocative to ponder.

* Joesph Wood Krutch

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As we realize, with Krutch, that will the sweet comes the bitter, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
– Rachel Carson

 source

 

Written by LW

April 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In comics, we’re all weird together”*…

 

Your correspondent is heading out into the middle of the Pacific for about 10 days, so (Roughly) Daily will be on hiatus.  Regular service should resume on or around April 14…

To keep readers occupied in the meantime, via the ever-illuminating Warren Ellis, “this extremely 1998 webcomics index page.”

* G. Willow Wilson

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As we dig for treasure (of which, there’s plenty), we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that CBS Records UK began distributing the eponymously-titled first album from The Clash.  (It was officially released four days later.)  Featuring such anthems as “White Riot,” “Police & Thieves,” and “London’s Burning,” it is widely regarded as one of the greatest punk recordings of all time, and ranks high on essentially every “best album” list.

Deeming the material “not radio friendly,” CBS in the US refused to release it until 1979 (on their Epic label, but even then dropped some of the more virulent songs).  Meantime, Americans bought over 100,000 imported copies of “The Clash”, making it the best-selling import album of all time in the U.S.

Cover of the UK release

source

 

Written by LW

April 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn”*…

 

In February of 1966, Bobbi Gibb received a letter in her mailbox from the organizers of the Boston Marathon. She expected to find her competition number inside the package. Instead she found herself reading a disqualifying letter. It stated that women are “not physiologically able to run a marathon.” The Amateur Athletics Union prohibited women from running farther than 1.5 miles, and the organizers just couldn’t “take the liability” of having her compete.

Refusing to take no for an answer, two months later the 23-year-old hid in a forsythia bush near the marathon start line. Disguising herself in a hoodie and her brother’s Bermuda shorts, she joined the throng once half the men had already started running. Her identity was soon obvious, but she only received encouragement, spectators yelling, “Way to go, girlie!”

Three hours, 21 minutes, and 40 seconds later, Gibb tore through the finish line ahead of two-thirds of the male competitors…

The remarkable tale in toto at “The Woman Who Crashed the Boston Marathon.”

* Gloria Steinem

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As we cheer her on, we might send similarly admiring birthday greetings to Jane Morris Goodall; she was born on this date in 1934.   A primatologist and anthropologist, her (over 55-year) study of the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania have made her the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.

Born and raised in Kenya, she reached out to the archaeologist and palaeontologist Louis Leakey, who was coincidentally looking for someone to study primate behavior.  With his support, she became the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD at Cambridge University without first having obtained a BA or BSc– after which, she returned to Africa and her life’s work.

She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.  She has served on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project since its founding in 1996.  In April 2002, she was named a UN Messenger of Peace.

 source

 

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph”*…

 

Three decades ago, as a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mimi Plumb [see here] was wandering around Bernal Heights when she came across the site of a recent house fire. Plumb went inside to explore the building’s charred remains. She paused to photograph a blackened globe and a singed stack of telephone books. In the basement, she found snapshots of an unknown family, and in the bedroom, a burned lamp and dresser. The grim, soot-filled rooms would later remind her of her childhood during the Cuban missile crisis, when duck-and-cover drills occurred every few weeks. “My mother told me there might be a nuclear war,” Plumb says. “I would wake up in the middle of the night.”

The photos of the house were among the first that Plumb would take for her series Dark Days, which will be published this summer by TBW Books in a collection titled Landfall

After seven years of taking photos for the series, Plumb did the unthinkable: She packed the negatives into a box and didn’t look at them again. In some ways, she knew she had nothing more to add to the work, that she had adequately captured that feeling of imbalance. But there was also another reason. Plumb felt pressure as a female photographer to take more “palatable” images.

The series was tucked away until 2015, when Plumb, having retired from teaching black-and-white photography, began going through her archives. She was struck by how much the work — with its themes of nuclear anxiety and environmental decline — “runs eerily parallel to our current situation.”…

More on Plumb’s work at “Unearthed“; see more of the Dark Days series at her site

* Alfred Stieglitz

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As we ponder the pix, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that French physicists Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault took the first photograph of the sun.  The daguerreotype was just 4.7 inches, but as National Geographic reported, still caught sunspots.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year”*…

 

25+ Hilarious Pranks For April Fools’ Day

29 Insanely Easy Pranks You Need To Play On April Fools’ Day

* Mark Twain

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As we ponder the prank, we might note that today is, of course, April Fools’ Day.  A popular occasion for gags and hoaxes since the 19th century, it is considered by some to date from the calendar change of 1750-52— though references to high jinx on the 1st of April date back to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1392).

April Fools’ Day is not a public holiday in any country…  though perhaps it should be.

If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings.

– Welsh Proverb

An April Fools’ Day hoax marking the construction of the Copenhagen Metro in 2001

source

 

Written by LW

April 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Secret codes resound. Doubts and intentions come to light.”*…

 

Music cryptography is a method in which the musical notes A through G are used to spell out words, abbreviations, or codes…

Early 17th- and 18th-century mathematicians and cryptologists such as John Wilkins and Philip Thicknesse argued that music cryptography was one of the most inscrutable ways of transporting secret messages. They claimed that music was perfect camouflage, because spies would never suspect music. When played, the music would sound so much like any other composition that musically trained listeners would be easily fooled, too. Thicknesse wrote in his 1772 book A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: With an Harmonic Alphabet, “for who that examined a suspected messenger would think an old song, without words, in which perhaps the messenger’s tobacco or snuff might be put, contained a secret he was to convey?” Written letters don’t have this advantage…

This music cipher was supposedly proposed by Michael Haydn (brother of Franz Josef Haydn). It appears in an appendix to a biography about Haydn by Werigand Rettensteiner published in 1808.

More musical mischief at “With Musical Cryptography, Composers Can Hide Messages in Their Melodies.”

* Wislawa Szymborska

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As we bury the lede, we might tip the plumed birthday bonnet to Rene Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who thought and therefore was.  He was born on this date in 1596.

Many contemporaries (perhaps most notably, Pascal) rejected his famous conclusion, the dualist separation of mind and body; more (Voltaire, et al.), since.  But Descartes’ emphasis on method and analysis, his disciplined integration of philosophy and physical science, his insistence on the importance of consciousness in epistemology, and perhaps most fundamentally, his the questioning of tradition and authority had a transformative– and lasting– effect on Western thought, and has earned him the “title” of Father of Modern Philosophy.

“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to contemplate.”
– Rene Descartes

Frans Hals’ portrait of Descartes, c. 1649

source

Written by LW

March 31, 2018 at 1:01 am

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