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Posts Tagged ‘exploration

“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.

403px-Bodleian_Libraries,_Ortelius,_Theatrum_Orbis_Terrarum_Titlepage_with_four_figures_which_embody_the_four_known_continents

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

 

“The nature of an innovation is that it will arise at a fringe”*…

 

fringe

 

Alternative media outlets of the Left and Right have become a crucial supplement to our knowledge of the world, providing those perspectives usually ignored by our mainstream media...

From the masthead of the aggressively-inclusive site that means to make those views available, The Unz Review.

The collection is sufficiently vast that your correspondent cannot guarantee against any bias in its eclecticism (indeed, he notes that it is the work of Ron Unz).  Still, it’s a remarkable aggregation of theory, opinion, and reportage, from what seems a broad array of points-of-view.

Readers are advised to steel themselves, take a deep breath…  then dive in.

Pair with Wikipedia’s Fringe Theory page– and perhaps more interestingly still, their explanation in their editorial guidelines of how they identify and classify fringe theories.

[Image above: source]

* “The nature of an innovation is that it will arise at a fringe where it can afford to become prevalent enough to establish its usefulness without being overwhelmed by the inertia of the orthodox system.”   — Kevin Kelly

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As we iris out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1804 that Corps of Discovery– better known today as the Lewis and Clark Expedition– left Camp Dubois, near Wood River, Illinois, commencing what would be a trek over two years on which they became the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803) to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent– a Northwest Passage– and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

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“Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America”*…

 

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The Mali Empire in 1337

 

Abubakari II was a Malian who ascended to the throne in 1310. He controlled most of western Africa and an incredibly wealthy state with more than one million subjects. He (his navy) may have sailed to the Americas in 1311:

More than a hundred years before the Portuguese had cleared Cape Bojador in the Western Sahara, and almost two hundred before Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, there is some evidence to suggest that Abubakari II, Emperor of Mali, crossed the Atlantic and visited the Americas. The idea even received support from Columbus himself, who wrote in his journal about African journeys from the Guinea coast to the Americas and supposed this was how the South Americans had learned techniques of alloying gold.

At the time, the Malian empire was arguably the richest state on earth. Founded in 1235, by 1310 when Abubakari II came to the throes it had control of most of western Africa, form the inland trading cities of Timbuktu and Gao on the fringes of the Sahara to the Guinea coast. The empire ruled millions of subjects, its three gold mines were responsible for producing more than half of the Old World’s gold and it also profited from the extremely lucrative salt trade. …

[It is from] Inslamic historian al-Umari’s conversations with Mansa Musa [Abubakari II’s successor] that we have our best account of Abubakari’s mission. Apparently, when Abubakari came to the throne in 1310, he ordered two hundred boats to set out to check whether, like the Niger River, the Atlantic Ocean had a far bank. Inorder to maximise the chances of success, a variety of boats was constructed.

Some of them would have been pirogues, which resembled a canoe, while others were probably based on Arab boats such as the dhow. Each of the two hundred vessels had a supply barge attached, with enough dried meat grain and preserved fruit in ceramic jars to last for two years, as well as cotton goods and gold for trade.

Of the two hundred vessels that departed only one returned. The captain reported to the mansa that:

we sailed for a long time, up to the moment when we encountered in mid-ocean something like a river with a violent current. My ship was lost. The others sailed on, and gradually each of them entered this place, the disappeared and did not come back. We did not know what had happened to them. As for me, I returned to where I was and did not enter the current.

It seems that most of the fleet was destroyed in a giant whirlpool. Yet Abubakari II’s curiosity was not diminished by this tale of natural disaster. He determined to make the voyage himself. In 1311 he abdicated, leaving matters of state in the hands of his younger half-brother Musa, and set off at the head of an expedition whose two thousand ships and their supply barges made it ten times as large as the previous one. They sailed off into the Atlantic from where The Gambia is today and were never heard from again.

Powerful but inconclusive arguments have been made to suggest that at least some of the fleet landed in America. The locations usually suggested are Recife in Brazil, or the Caribbean, where the Garifuna, a tribe known to the Europeans as Black Caribs, claimed pre-Columbian African ancestry. Arguments for a pre-Columbian Malian presence in the Americas include the prevalence of the bottle gourd, a native African plant, in South American cultures; the composition of spearheads, indicating the use of Malian gold; linguistic traces of Mandinka languages in the regions where the fleet may have landed; and Columbus’s assertion that he saw black traders working in the Americas when he arrived…

An excerpt from Ed Wright’s The Lost Explorers: Adventurers Who Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com.

* James Joyce

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As we investigate the initial, we might note that this leap-day (like every “last day in February”) is Rare Disease Day— an occasion devoted to raising awareness of and encouraging action on the too-often horrifying ailments that fall outside the spotlight, but that cumulatively are all-too-common.  It’s a great day to adopt an orphan (disease).

logo-rare-disease-day source

 

Written by LW

February 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“To an artist a metaphor is as real as a dollar”*…

 

Florida attarctions

 

Before a certain mouse took over Orlando, Florida was already home to a slew of delightfully bizarre tourist attractions. You could meet menacing pirates and hoop skirt-clad Southern Belles. Or visit the circus every day. Or watch an 80-year-old man break a world record as he waterskied barefoot in a banana-yellow jumpsuit…

How did the Sunshine State use to attract tourists? Circus animals, water ski shows and a half-mile replica of the Great Wall of China: “Let’s revisit Florida’s bizarre lost theme parks from before the Disney era.”

* Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

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As we pull over to investigate, we might recall that it was on this date in 1513 that Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who had become the Governor of Puerto Rico and Hispanola, but who believed there to be land further west, first set eyes on what he first believed was another island, which he claimed for Spain and named “Florida”… the name by which we know it still.  Legend has it that Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth; while there is no contemporary evidence that that’s true, it does seem resonant with Florida’s history thereafter…

240px-Juan_Ponce_de_León source

 

“It is the nature of humankind to idealize, to indulge in excessive praise as well as unjust condemnation”*…

 

Polarization

 

In 2013, James Evans, a University of Chicago sociologist and computational scientist, launched a study to see if science forged a bridge across the political divide. Did conservatives and liberals at least agree on biology and physics and economics? Short answer: No. “We found more polarization than we expected,” Evans told me recently. People were even more polarized over science than sports teams. At the outset, Evans said, “I was hoping to find that science was like a Switzerland. When we have problems, we can appeal to science as a neutral arbiter to produce a solution, or pathway to a solution. That wasn’t the case at all.”…

Looking at the polarized results, Evans had an idea. What would happen if you put together a group of diverse people to produce information? What would the results look like? Evans knew just the place to conduct the experiment: Wikipedia. Evans and Misha Teplitskiy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, and colleagues, studied 205,000 Wikipedia topics and their associated “talk pages,” where anybody can observe the debates and conversations that go on behind the scenes.

The scholars judged the quality of the articles on Wikipedia’s own assessments. “It’s based on internal quality criteria that is essentially: What do we want a good encyclopedia article to be? We want it to be readable, comprehensive, pitched at the right level, well-sourced, linked to other stuff,” Teplitskiy explained.

In their new Nature Human Behaviour paper, “The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds,” Evans and Teplitskiy concluded that polarization doesn’t poison the wells of information. On the contrary, they showed politically diverse editor teams on Wikipedia put out better entries—articles with higher accuracy or completeness—than uniformly liberal or conservative or moderate teams.

A way to pop filter bubbles? Evans and Teplitsky unpack their surprising– and encouraging– findings: “Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds.”

* Peter Ackroyd, Venice: Pure City

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As we celebrate diversity, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Sir Richard Francis Burton; he was born on this date in 1821.  An explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures (according to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages).

An exception to the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, he relished personal contact with human cultures in all their variety.  His best-remembered achievements include: a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English, after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

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“I think calling it climate change is rather limiting. I would rather call it the everything change.”*…

 

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The Trump administration released a report that predicted global temperatures will be four degrees higher by the end of this century, assuming current trends persist. World leaders have pledged to keep global temperatures from rising even two degrees (Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, with the understanding that warming beyond that could prove catastrophic. The last time the Earth was as warm as the White House expects it to be in 2100, its oceans were hundreds of feet higher. Which is to say: The Trump administration ostensibly, officially expects that, absent radical action to reduce carbon emissions, within the next 80 years, much of Manhattan and Miami will sink into the sea; many of world’s coral reefs will be irreversibly destroyed by acidifying oceans; vast regions of the Earth will lose their primary sources of water; and a variety of extreme weather events will dramatically increase in frequency.

And the White House believes that this fact is an argument for loosening restrictions on carbon emissions… the administration uses its four-degree warming estimate to argue that eliminating 8 billion tons worth of emissions won’t be enough to change the climate outlook, by itself, so the federal government shouldn’t bother…

This argument is deplorable in its nihilism. But its core assumption is also patently absurd. The administration’s analysis is premised on the notion that there is no relationship between what the United States does with regard to climate regulation, and what the rest of the world’s countries do. Which is totally bogus: Not only can the U.S. lead by example, it also has the power to coerce other countries into emulating the carbon standards we set for ourselves…

That said, if one assumes that the entire leadership of the Republican Party has concluded that human civilization will not survive Barron Trump, then their governing agenda starts to make a lot more sense. Exacerbating inequality and subordinating the commons to short-term profit maximization isn’t in the enlightened medium-term interests of the GOP donor class — but in the medium-term, we’ll all (apparently) be dead!

The whole sad story in full: “The Trump Administration Anticipates Catastrophic Global Warming by 2100.”

* Margaret Atwood

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As we we recall, with Marshall McLuhan, that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crew, we might take a celebratory trip in honor of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and anthropologist who became famous for his Kon-Tiki  Expedition in 1947 (though he went on many others as well); he was born on this date in 1914…  He once responded to an interviewer, “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of most people.”

220px-ThorHeyerdahl source

 

“Whose maps are we trying to read? And what are we trying to draw?”*…

 

A map of the South China Sea, with competing territorial claims marked

Maps are complicated in the current geopolitical climate—especially emblazoned across your torso. What is perfectly acceptable in Vietnam can get you stopped at Chinese border control, and vice versa.

Recently, US clothing retailer Gap apologized for printing a t-shirt that didn’t include China’s claimed territories, including Taiwan, South Tibet, and islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, it joined Marriott and Delta, which had previously triggered Beijing’s ire for maps-related issues. At the same time, a group of Chinese tourists to Vietnam generated outrage by showing up at a Vietnamese airport wearing t-shirts with a Chinese map including parts of Vietnam…

Even the United Nations’s world map openly states that the represented borders aren’t necessarily officially recognized (the map specifically calls out Kashmir and the Falkland Islands as disputed territories.) It also notes that although Taiwan was a UN founding member, it left the organization in 1971, and the UN recognizes China’s sovereignty over it…

And so the image above: “Here’s a t-shirt you could wear everywhere in East Asia without upsetting anyone.”

* Rebecca Solnit

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As we ponder geopolitical presumption, we might send pioneering birthday greetings to Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1910.  An explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer, he established the Boston Museum of Science, served as its director from 1939–1980, and from 1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director.

In 1940, he married fellow explorer Barbara Polk; on their honeymoon in Alaska, they made the first ascent of Mt. Bertha.  Seven years later, they climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley), an ascent that made her the first female to reach the peak.

Bradford and Barbara atop Mt. McKinley, Alaska, June 6, 1947

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