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Posts Tagged ‘history

“What’s a bigger mystery box than a movie theater?”*…

Arman Cinema / Viktor Konstaninov, architect. Almaty, Kazakhstan 1967

“Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era” is a collaborative series by The Calvert Journal and ArchDaily highlighting iconic architecture that had shaped the Eastern world. Each publication has released a round-up of five– so ten in total– Eastern Bloc projects of different sorts. The above, from: “Eastern Bloc Architecture: Sci-fi Cinemas.”

More where that came from at “Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era.”

* J.J. Abrams

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As we take our seats, we might send brief birthday greetings to Valentin Sergeyevich Pavlov; he was born on thus date in 1937. A Russian economist and politician, he served as Prime Minister of the Soviet union for 9 month in 1991. During his tenure he oversaw a major currency reform and (concerned to prevent the break-up of the USSR) he attempted to shift the locus of power from the President– Gorbachev at the time– to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Deputies. When that move failed, he joined a coup attempt… which, when it too failed, cost him his post and landed him in prison.

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Written by LW

September 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Like so many named places.. it was less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts– census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway”*…

Dallas-Fort Worth has one of the world’s most extensive urban freeway systems. It is the product of the pro-growth ambition of political and business leaders, and has empowered the ambition of real estate developers, big business, the technology industry and entrepreneurs. The North Texas cultural spirit to think big and build big has guided the ongoing growth and expansion of Dallas-Fort Worth freeways, a transportation system which has propelled North Texas to be among the most economically successful regions in the United States in the post-World War II era. Dallas-Fort Worth Freeways documents the origins, politics, influence and resulting urban landscape of North Texas freeways…

The very complete– and lavishly illustrated– history of the Dallas-Fort area’s motorways: “Dallas-Fort Worth Freeways.”

See also the same author’s equally remarkable “Houston Freeways.”

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we watch for our exit, we might send motile birthday greetings to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, he was born on this date in 1725.  In 1769, Cugnot, a military engineer, invented the world’s first fuel-propelled vehicle–a gun tractor commissioned by the French government.  The following year he produced the first mechanically-driven “horseless carriage”; his steam tricycle, driven by a steam engine, carried four passengers and was the forerunner of the modern motor car.

There are reports of a minor incident in 1771, when the second prototype vehicle is said to have accidentally knocked down a brick or stone wall, either that or a Paris garden or part of the Paris Arsenal walls, in perhaps the first known automobile accident.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, monument à Void (Lorraine)

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Written by LW

September 25, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I’m envious of people who can sleep as long as they want. I have the circadian rhythm of a farmer.”*…

After World War II, scientists began studying the internal clocks of animals in earnest. They discovered that mammals and other creatures are ruled by their own, internal body clock, what is commonly referred to today as a biological clock. The German physician and biologist Jürgen Aschoff wondered if this might also be true of humans. In the early 1960s, as head of a new department for biological timing at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, Aschoff and his research partner Rütger Wever designed an experiment to find out.

To study the inner workings of human biological clocks, Aschoff built a soundproof underground bunker in the foothills of a mountain deep in the Bavarian countryside, just up the road from the well-known beer-brewing monastery Kloster Andechs. Through a series of investigations that included 200 subjects and spanned two decades, Aschoff’s bunker experiments would become a pioneering study in the field of chronobiology, changing the way we think about time today…

What Is Chronobiology? Does it explain why we’re having so much trouble sleeping? Find out here.

* Moby

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As we hit the hay, we might spare a thought for Urbain Le Verrier; he died on this date in 1877. An astronomer and mathematician who specialized in celestial mechanics, he’s best remembered for predicting the existence and position of the planet Neptune using only mathematics. Le Verrier sent the coordinates to Johann Gottfried Galle at the New Berlin Observatory, asking him to verify. Galle found Neptune in the same night he received Le Verrier’s letter– this date in 1846. The planet was within 1° of the predicted position.

Urbain Le Verrier

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Written by LW

September 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behavior modification on a titanic scale, but without informed consent”*…

Illustration by Anders Nilsen

“Which category have they put you in?”

This sinister question—at least, it was meant to sound sinister—headlined the advertising copy for The 480, a 1964 novel by Eugene Burdick. His previous best sellers, The Ugly American and Fail-Safe, had caused sensations in political circles, and the new one promised to do the same. Its jacket featured the image of a punched card. The title referred to 480 categories of voter, defined by region, religion, age, and other demographic characteristics, such as “Midwestern, rural, Protestant, lower income, female.” Many readers recoiled from the notion of being sorted into one of these boxes. The New York Times’s reviewer called The 480 a “shock novel” and found it implausible.

What was so shocking? What was implausible? The idea that a company might use computer technology and behavioral science to gather and crunch data on American citizens, with the nefarious goal of influencing a presidential election.

In the 1950s and 1960s this seemed like science fiction. Actually, The 480 was a thinly disguised roman à clef, based on a real-life company called Simulmatics, which had secretly worked for the 1960 campaign of John F. Kennedy. Burdick had been a political operative himself and knew the Simulmatics founders well. The company’s confidential reports and memoranda went straight into his prose. And the 480 categories—listed in an appendix to the novel—were the real Simulmatics voter types, the creation of what one of its founders called “a kind of Manhattan Project gamble in politics.”

Simulmatics was founded in 1959 and lasted eleven years. Jill Lepore mentioned its involvement in the Kennedy campaign in These Truths (2018), her monumental history of the United States; she was already on the trail of the story she tells in her new book, If Then. Lepore is a brilliant and prolific historian with an eye for unusual and revealing stories, and this one is a remarkable saga, sometimes comical, sometimes ominous: a “shadow history of the 1960s,” as she writes, because Simulmatics stumbled through the decade as a bit player, onstage for the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the Great Society, the riots and protests. It began with grand ambitions to invent a new kind of predictive behavioral science, in a research environment increasingly tied to a rising defense establishment amid the anxiety of the cold war. It ended ignominiously, in embarrassment and bankruptcy.

Irving Kristol, the future architect of neoconservativism, dismissed Simulmatics in 1964 as “a struggling little company which, despite the fact that it worked on a few problems for the Kennedy organization in 1960, has since had a difficult time making ends meet,” and he wasn’t wrong. Today it is almost completely forgotten. Yet Lepore finds in it a plausible untold origin story for our current panopticon: a world of constant surveillance, if not by the state then by megacorporations that make vast fortunes by predicting and manipulating our behavior—including, most insidiously, our behavior as voters…

The ever-illuminating James Gleick (@JamesGleick) unpacks the remarkable Jill Lepore‘s new history, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future: “Simulating Democracy.”

See also: this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, and for historical perspective, “Age of Invention: The Tools of Absolutism.”

* Jaron Lanier (see, e.g., here and here)

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As we think about the targets painted on our chests, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011 that Facebook introduced the Timeline as the design of a user’s main Facebook page.

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Written by LW

September 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

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