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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War

“Merdre!”*…

 

If you were to browse a British newsstand in the early 1980s, you might have discovered a rather unusual magazine.

Called Protect & Survive Monthly or “PSM”, it aimed to teach people how to survive the almost unthinkable – nuclear war.

“How many citizens would know what to do to protect their own lives and loved ones?,” wrote editor Colin Bruce Sibley in the maiden issue. And how many, he asked, would look dumbfounded to the skies, “waiting for a ‘convenient’ bomb to explode above their head and blast them into eternity?”…

What’s old is new again: check out a publication offering detailed advice about how to prepare for nuclear war – it makes for timely, fascinating and occasionally morbid reading: “The bleak, chilling magazine for nuclear doomsday preppers.”

* Alfred Jarry, the opening line of Ubu Roi (and a deliberate misspelling)

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As we duck-and-cover, we might send painfully-prescient birthday greetings to Alfred Jarry; he was born on this date in 1873.  A Symbolist poet and critic, he is probably best known for his play Ubu Roi.  But he might more deservedly be famous for his creation of ‘pataphysics, a movement resurrected at the dawn of the Cold War (by the likes of Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp)… and surely due for another revival about now.

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Written by LW

September 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves”*…

 

… or at least that’s the idea.  Here, another of our occasional looks at the intellectual history of the cultural moment that we’re in:  how a concern with Commies in California’s universities led to “Cold War philosophy”– the yoking of rational choice theory to the scientific method– and how it embedded the free-market mindset in US society:

Cold War philosophy also influences US society through its ethics. Its main ethical implication is somewhat hidden, because Cold War philosophy inherits from rational choice theory a proclamation of ethical neutrality: a person’s preferences and goals are not subjected to moral evaluation. As far as rational choice theory is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I want to end world hunger, pass the bar, or buy myself a nice private jet; I make my choices the same way. Similarly for Cold War philosophy – but it also has an ethical imperative that concerns not ends but means. However laudable or nefarious my goals might be, I will be better able to achieve them if I have two things: wealth and power. We therefore derive an ‘ethical’ imperative: whatever else you want to do, increase your wealth and power!

Results of this are easily seen in today’s universities. Academic units that enable individuals to become wealthy and powerful (business schools, law schools) or stay that way (medical schools) are extravagantly funded; units that do not (humanities departments) are on tight rations. Also on tight rations nationwide are facilities that help individuals become wealthy and powerful but do not convey competitive advantage on them because they are open to all or most: highways, bridges, dams, airports, and so on.

Seventy years after the Cold War began, and almost 30 after it ended, Cold War philosophy also continues to affect US politics. The Right holds that if reason itself is rooted in market choice, then business skills must transfer smoothly into all other domains, including governance – an explicit principle of the Trump administration. On the Left, meritocracy rules: all three of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees attended law school at either Harvard (as Obama himself did) or Yale (as Hillary Clinton did). The view that choice solves all problems is evident in the White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s presentation of the Republican vision for US health care, at his press briefing last March 23: “We’ve lost consumer choice … The idea is to instill choice back into the market.”…

How this happened and what it wrought– the remarkable (but true) tale in its entirety: “America’s hidden philosophy.”

* Richard Feynman

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Congress authorized “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

The phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.   But it didn’t appear on bills until 1957…

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Written by LW

July 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy”*…

 

If You See Something, Say Something

Here are a few suggestions of what Americans can report to the FBI:

1. Any information about espionage, sabotage, and subversive activities. The FBI is as close to every person as the nearest telephone. See the front of any telephone book for the FBI’s number.

2. Don’t worry if the information seems incomplete or trivial. Many times a small bit of information might furnish the data we are seeking.

3. Stick to the facts. The FBI is not interested in rumor or idle gossip. Talebearing should always be avoided. The FBI is not interested in what a person thinks but what he does to undermine our national security.

4. Don’t try to do any investigating yourself. Security investigations require great care and effort. The innocent must be protected as well as the guilty identified. That is the job for the professional investigator. Hysteria, witch-hunts, and vigilantes weaken our internal security.

5. Be alert. America’s best defense lies in the alertness of its patriotic citizens.

The atmosphere of aggressive concern– if not paranoia– over “foreign” threats that’s so pervasive today is, in fact, nothing new.  The passage above is an excerpt from J. Edgar Hoover’s 1958 opus Masters of Deceit, which combined a flaming warning of the Communist threat with a painfully-specific how-to manual for combating it.

MoD was required reading for countless junior high school students across the U.S.– inclusding your correspondent, for whom it was the text in a six-week “special unit” on Communism, mandated by the Florida State Department of Education.

[via Lapham’s Quarterly]

* Honoré de Balzac

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As we watch both our borders and our backs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1950 that a US Navy Privateer with 10 people on board flew from Wiesbaden, West Germany, to spy over the Soviet Union. Soviet reconnaissance spotted the plane over Latvia. and Soviet La-11 fighters shot down it down just off the coast, over the Baltic Sea.

A U.S. Navy Privateer in flight

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Written by LW

April 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Whenever a toddler sees a pile of blocks, he wants to tear it down”*…

 

Jonathan M. Guberman made a set of alphabet blocks featuring iconic images of the things he and his wife were looking forward to sharing with their newborn son. Though Guberman started before his son was born, it took until his son was nearly a year old to finish these 36 1.5″ blocks. Here’s the full set of blocks on Flickr and the full list of references included on the blocks.

Quoth Jonathan:

There are 36 blocks — the English alphabet and ten digits — showing 134 images of people, animals, monsters, robots, vehicles, organizations, devices, tools, and objects from some of our favourite movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games, poems, and sculptures, as well as a few from the real world for good measure (and a couple not-so-favourites for comic relief/alphabetical exigency; I’m looking at you, Zardoz). The only real rule I followed in choosing subjects was trying to maintain an even gender balance.

Read the full story, and examine the blocks, at the ever-enlightening Laughing Squid.

* J.J. Abrams

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As we get in touch with our inner nerd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that, as part of its participation in the International Geophysical Year, the U.S. launched its first satellite, the Explorer I— following the launch the prior year of the first two satellites, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I and II, and beginning the space race.

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Written by LW

January 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

All flags flying…

 

Obesity percentages per state (in alphabetical order, running left to right, from the top left): the “fatter” the star, the more obese the average state resident

Through the month running up to the November election, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is featuring the responses of four design firms to the challenge of “re-branding America.”

This week’s entrant, MGMT, started from the observation that the U.S. flag is, in fact, an infographic, representative of both America’s history and its modern identity:  13 stripes = 13 original colonies; 50 stars = 50 states–  good as far as it goes, but what else, MGMT asked, might a flag communicate…

Last year, Americans spent over $10 billion on plastic surgery (white). The federal budget for NASA’s space operations was $3.5 billion (red).

Read more about MGMT’s entry here, and see all 50 of their new flags here.  Last week’s entrant, Jeremy Mende, took a different tack…

Readers can find Mendes entries here.

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As we stand to attention and salute, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that President John F. Kennedy took to television to report to the nation that Soviet nuclear missiles had been stationed in Cuba, and that in response, the U.S. was launching a naval blockade– and the Cuban Missile Crisis began.

Fifty years later, with the benefit of recently-declassified documents, it’s clear that the crisis was even more dangerous than it felt at the time… and as Ploughshares notes, its effects are with us still.

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Written by LW

October 22, 2012 at 1:01 am

“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it”*…

The Cold War was a pretty gloomy period, what with nuclear holocaust hanging over everyone’s heads.  But as CONELRAD: Atomic Platters points out, the purveyors of pop culture did their best to find purpose (even pleasure) in the panic…

Every art form had to deal with the arrival of the atomic age in one manner or another. Some artists were reserved and intellectual in their approach, others less so. The world of popular music, for one, got an especially crazy kick out of the Bomb. Country, blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll, rockabilly, Calypso, novelty and even polka musicians embraced atomic energy with wild-eyed, and some might argue, inappropriate enthusiasm. These musicians churned out a variety of truly memorable tunes featuring some of the most bizarre lyrics of the 20th century. If it weren’t for Dr. Oppenheimer’s creation, for example, would we have ever heard lines like “Nuclear baby, don’t fission out on me!” or “Radioactive mama, we’ll reach critical mass tonight!”?

Consider, for example…

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Jesus Is God’s Atomic Bomb: Swan’s Silvertone Singers [1950]


Purcel Perkins, the otherwise unknown composer of Jesus Is God’s Atomic Bomb, takes the atomic divinity metaphor that is prevalent in some other Bomb songs to the next level (or one might even say, the highest level) and in so doing provides this box set with one of its most memorable titles. For a person of faith, and clearly this song was originally intended for a gospel audience, the metaphor is certainly an apt one…

Have you heard about the blast in Japan
How it killed so many people and scorched the land
Oh, yes
Oh, it can kill your natural body
But the Lord can kill your soul
That’s why I know Jesus
Oh, Jesus is God’s–I declare–atomic bomb
Oh, yes

Jesus is God’s atomic bomb
Proudest papa that ever was
Jesus is God’s, His atomic bomb
Shook the grave, causing death to rise
Yes, God shook the grave, child
Put old death on a rock
Through trials and tribulation
Lord when it was done
That’s why I know Jesus
Yes, is my God, His atomic bomb

Or this patriotic ditty…

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Mr. Khruschev: Bo Diddley [1962]


The genre of Cold War music could be considered complete without this track featuring Bo Diddley weighing in with a number performed with his trademark beat. This song, sung in the cadence of a drill instructor, pledges solidarity with President Kennedy and serves as a musical warning to the Soviet Premier…

(Hut 2, 3, 4, hut 2, 3, 4, hut 2, 3, 4, hut, 2, 3, 4)

I think I want to go to the army (Hut 2, 3, 4)
I think I want to go overseas(Hut 2, 3, 4)
I want to see Khrushchev (Hut 2, 3, 4)
I want to see him all by myself (Hut 2, 3, 4)

Refrain: Hey, Khrushchev (Hey, Khrushchev)
Hey, Khrushchev (Hey, Khrushchev)
Hey, Khrushchev (Hey, Khrushchev)
Hey, Khrushchev (Hey, Khrushchev)

He don’t believe that water’s wet
If he did he could’ve stopped those tests (Hut 2, 3, 4)
JFK can’t do it by his self (Hut 2, 3, 4)
C’mon fellas, let’s give him a little help (Hut 2, 3, 4)

Refrain
We as Americans to understand (Hut 2, 3, 4)
We got to unite and protect our land
We got to keep us on alert (Hut 2, 3, 4)
To keep our families from getting hurt

Refrain

We fightin’ over a six-wheel bus
My bald-headed crew just parked on up

Refrain

Hut, 2, 3, 4, yeah! (Drill chatter) Get in line there! Lord have mercy! Get inline and walk right! Your mom can’t help you now! Ain’t nothing like home!…

Dozens more at CONELRAD: Atomic Platters.

[TotH to EWW and Ploughshares]

* Response to Dick Clark during one of American Bandstand‘s “Rate-a-Record” segments

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As we check the use-by dates on the canned food in our fall-out shelters (appropriately enough on Proust’s birthday), we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Miss P. Bedrosova, an instructor at the Leningrad Trade Institute, argued in Izvestia that “foreign” names for Soviet pastries– e.g., “melba,” “parfaits,” “eclair”… and “madeleine”– should be banned.  The French, German, Italian and English names under which Soviet sweets were being sold were introduced in pre-revolutionary Russia, together with the recipes and machinery for making them.  Now that the Russians are able to run the machines and make the recipes themselves, she argued, the foreign names should be discarded.

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Written by LW

July 10, 2012 at 1:01 am

Spy vs. Spy…

For most of the latter half of the 20th century, the United States and the Soviet Union were leading adversaries in the nuclear arms race known as the Cold War. Seemingly no potential advantage was to be overlooked, regardless of sector or industry. This was true in technology and espionage as well, and, in the 1960s, the CIA found a marriage of the two which could have been a potential game-changer.

That innovation? A bionic spy cat named the Acoustic Kitty.

According to former CIA agent turned author Victor Marchetti, the CIA had developed a way to, literally, wire a cat so that it could be used in espionage missions. The CIA surgically implanted a power supply into the cat, as well as wires going into its brain and its ears. A microphone was layered into its ears and an antenna through its tail. The implanted device was able to determine when the cat was aroused or hungry and suppress those urges, allowing it to carry out its mission — cuddle up to some Soviets and listen to their conversations. The entire operation, from start until its end, cost the government somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million and took about five years to develop.

In testing, the CIA discovered that the Acoustic Kitty had a fatal flaw. A surveillance van drove up to the test subjects and released the cat, which again according to Marchetti, made its way across the street unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, by an oncoming taxi cab, which struck the cat, killing it immediately.

The CIA decided to drop the spy cat program soon thereafter.

From kindred spirit (public broadcasting guy who does a daily email/blog) Dan Lewis, whose Now I Know is always a treat.

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As we beef up our bionics, we might recall that one cat did make it through: on this date in 1979 Elton John became the first Western pop star to play a live concert in what was then the Soviet Union, as he performed in Leningrad, kicking off a hugely-successful Evil-Empire-wide tour.


Elton behind the (Iron) Curtain

Written by LW

May 21, 2012 at 1:01 am

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