(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears”*…

 

“‘A woman’s place is in the home’ has been one of the most important principles in architectural design and urban planning in the United States for the last century,” Dolores Hayden, an urban planning historian, wrote in her 1980s essay What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like?

Now we’re at a crucial point in urban planning because some of our age-old systems have been upended by innovation or economics. We have Uber and other ride shares replacing traditional transportation systems and Elon Musk trying to build the high-speed Hyperloop and underground tunnels. And our lifestyles are in flux: More young people are sharing homes before they get married, and they’re living with their parents longer.

We can’t design away sexism or the creepy dude waiting at the train platform. These are some of our culture’s oldest, most insidious problems and urban planners alone can’t solve them. But urban planners are now looking to new designs and technology that, for the first time, should include the other half of the population…

Toward a more inclusive city: “Sexism and the City.”

* Italo Calvino

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As we muse on metropoli, we might recall that it was on this date in 861 that the Viking burned Paris to the ground (for the third time since the Siege of Paris in 845).   The invaders also torched the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which they pillaged again in 869.  in 870, King Charles the Bald ordered the construction of two bridges, the Grand Pont and the Petit Pont, to block the passage of the Vikings up the Seine.  In 885, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, repaired the city wall and reinforced the bridges, enabling the city to resist an attack by the Vikings, who tried again twice (in 887 and 888), but were repelled each time.

Paris then enjoyed 90 years of (relative) peace, until 978, when the city was laid siege by The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

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Written by LW

May 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”*…

 

In 1699, an anonymous lexicographer known only as “B. E., Gent.” published the first comprehensive dictionary of non-standard English. Although shorter word lists and glossaries of slang terminology had been published previously, B.E.’s New Dictionary of the Canting Crew listed over 4000 words and phrases, and is credited with being the first such publication resembling a modern dictionary. As a result, it remained the standard reference work for English slang and jargon for almost another century…

“Addle-plot,” “ebb-water,” and 28 other examples of historic jargon at “30 Excellent Terms From a 17th Century Slang Dictionary.”

* Carl Sandburg

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As we reach for the right phrase, we might send gritty birthday greetings to a man who was a master of the coinage of crime– Samuel Dashiell Hammett; he was born on this date in 1894.  Hammett worked as an agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915-1922, when– disillusioned by the organization’s role in strike-breaking– he left to become a writer, providing copy in an ad agency until his fiction earned enough to support him.  Hammett drew for his fiction on his experiences as a “Pinkerton Man,” and created an extraordinary series of characters– Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), The Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse)– on the way to becoming, as the New York Times called him, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”

In his book The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, considered by many to be Hammett’s successor, observed,

Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of The Glass Key is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before. 

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Written by LW

May 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Observation is a dying art”*…

 

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Jason Shulman captures the entire duration of a movie in a single image with his series Photographs of Films.

There are roughly 130,000 frames in a 90-minute film and every frame of each film is recorded in these photographs.

More examples, and the backstory, at “Final cut: films condensed into a single frame – in pictures” and here. See Shulman’s other work here.

* Stanley Kubrick

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 2002 that the Cannes Film Festival employed a specially-empaneled jury to judge films from 1939, the planned first year of the festival (which was postponed due to World War II).  The retrospective Palme d’Or went to Union Pacific.

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Written by LW

May 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it”*…

 

New Yorkers like to say their tap water is the best in the world. Surely, then, it’s worth a $1.99-a-month subscription to drink it when you’re away from your sink—right?

That is the concept behind Reefill, a startup that aims to bring the subscription model to the simple, free act of filling up a water bottle at a café. The company wants to build 200 smartphone-activated water fountains inside Manhattan businesses, less to make money off the Nalgene crowd than to hit Dasani, Aquafina, and the wasteful consumption habits of bottled water–guzzling Gothamites…

Just as one field of startups is dedicated to doing what Mom won’t do for you anymore, another is reviving the infrastructure of the 19th century. Uber eventually found its way to the bus; Reefill, to the public drinking fountain…

Top up at “The Startup That Wants to Sell You a Subscription to New York City Tap Water Explains Itself.”

* W.C. Fields

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As we pine for the days of bigger visions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy gave the historic speech before a joint session of Congress that set the United States on a course to the moon.

In his speech, Kennedy called for an ambitious space exploration program that included not just missions to put astronauts on the moon, but also a Rover nuclear rocket, weather satellites, and other space projects.

Read the transcript here.

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Written by LW

May 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

“When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”*…

 

Drawing of Cannabis Indica featured in O’Shaughnessy article on the plant in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1839)

Cataleptic trances, enormous appetites, and giggling fits aside, W. B. O’Shaughnessy’s investigations at a Calcutta hospital into the potential of medical marijuana — the first such trials in modern medicine — were largely positive.

Sujaan Mukherjee explores the intricacies of this pioneering research and what it can tell us more generally about the production of knowledge in colonial science: “W. B. O’Shaughnessy and the Introduction of Cannabis to Modern Western Medicine.”

* Barack Obama

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As we choose the natural path, we might send wonderfully worded birthday greetings to William Whewell; he was born on this date in 1794.  One of the 19th Century’s most remarkable polymaths, Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a scientist (crystallographer, meteorologist), philosopher, theologian, and historian of science,  But he is best remembered for his wordsmithing:  He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist; they soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. He coined other useful words to help his friends: biometry for John Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Charles Lyell; and for Michael Faraday, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion).

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Written by LW

May 24, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There was a sound in their voices which suggested rum”*…

 

Pirates Ann Bonny and Mary Read depicted in 1724

How many real-life pirates can you name? While Captain Kidd or Blackbeard might come immediately to mind, names like Anne Bonny and Mary Read probably don’t. But as noted historian Marcus Rediker writes, they were just a few of the many women who sailed the seven seas disguised as men.

These women pirates have been almost completely obscured by the lore that surrounds their male counterparts. But they weren’t that uncommon: Marcus writes that women pirates “were not entirely unusual cases” and that they were part of “a deeply rooted underground tradition of female cross-dressing, pan-European in its dimensions but particularly strong in modern England, the Netherlands, and Germany.”

This tradition hinged on women with nothing to lose: people so marginalized and forgotten that all was opportunity. Women dressed as men to escape poverty and follow adventure on land, and women like Bonny and Read did it at sea…

Tap the barrel of rum at “Women were pirates, too.”

* Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

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As we raise the Jolly Roger, we might spare a thought for William Kidd; he was hanged on this day in 1701. Better known as “Captain Kidd,” he was a Scottish privateer, hired by European royals to attack foreign ships, mostly in the Caribbean.  But when, on an expedition to the Indian Ocean, his crew insisted on attacking the Quadegh Merchant, a large Armenian ship laden with treasures, Kidd found himself on the wrong side of the British government.  He was publicly executed in London in 1701, as a warning to other pirates.

Legends persist about Captain Kidd and the treasure some believe he buried in the Caribbean.

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Written by LW

May 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Madness is the emergency exit”*…

 

United, American, Spirit…  airlines are are suffering a cascade of incidents undermining their brand claims of “friendly skies” and “world’s greatest flyers,” and “more go.”  At the same time, there has been a concomitant rise in “air rage.”  But while these wounds are largely self-inflicted, there is a historical precedent…

As the railway grew more popular in the 1850s and 1860s, trains allowed travelers to move about with unprecedented speed and efficiency, cutting the length of travel time drastically. But according to the more fearful Victorians, these technological achievements came at the considerable cost of mental health. As Edwin Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller wrote in The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present, trains were believed to “injure the brain.” In particular, the jarring motion of the train was alleged to unhinge the mind and either drive sane people mad or trigger violent outbursts from a latent “lunatic.” Mixed with the noise of the train car, it could, it was believed, shatter nerves.

In the 1860s and ‘70s, reports began emerging of bizarre passenger behavior on the railways. When seemingly sedate people boarded trains, they suddenly began behaving in socially unacceptable ways…

More on motion-induced madness at “The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity.”

* Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke

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As we try to keep it cool, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that the B&O Railroad introduced air conditioning on the Capitol Limited, a sleeping car train that operated between New York, Washington and Chicago.

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Written by LW

May 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

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