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Posts Tagged ‘London

“There are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe”*…

 

Ancient-Mariner-crop

Gustave Doré. From an illustration in the 1877 edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Roaring out of the radical 1790s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a founding fable for our time. A fable must by definition revolve around an animal, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nightmare the slain albatross hangs around the fated sailor’s neck like a broken cross, an emblem of his sin against nature. It is all too relevant today, as a statement of isolation and despair: “Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea!” Yet in that forlorn expression is great power; the power of art to change us…

Slavery, ecocide, plague … the warnings of Coleridge’s poem resound down the ages.  Now 40 actors, musicians and authors are performing in a daily mass-reading: “Why Willem Dafoe, Iggy Pop, and more are reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to us.”

Then experience “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Big Read.”

[TotH to friend MK]

[image above: source]

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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As we dig for a drop to drink, we might recall that it was on this date in 1665 that Samuel Pepys made his first diary reference to the Great Plague in London.  “Great fears of the sicknesses here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”  The entries in his diary continue throughout the year, documenting the horrifying conditions in the city, as many thousands died, until Winter’s freezing cold reduced the number of fleas that spread the disease.  (Pepys also wrote, the following year, about the Great Fire of London.)

pepys plague source

 

Written by LW

April 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“A good rule of thumb is to assume that everything matters”*…

 

Dayen-financial-climate 112019

 

Every few months, a news outlet will write a story heralding the next financial crisis, with an assumed assuredness that we should all view as suspect. Predicting the next crisis has become a sport, one that typically magnifies risks and displays an unreasonable degree of certainty. But if you had to choose a looming event that’s most likely to produce a negative shock to the financial system, it would almost certainly be the climate emergency.

That’s the takeaway from a fascinating issue brief… from the Center for American Progress’s Gregg Gelzinis and Graham Steele from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Both worked for the Senate Banking Committee for many years, and they make a compelling case, not only that headline risks to financial stability will flow from a warming planet and the efforts to mitigate that, but that federal banking regulators have gone almost completely AWOL in monitoring or even assessing this legitimate threat.

Worse, to the extent that any financial regulators in Washington are paying attention to the climate crisis, they’re seeking to dismiss it. A subcommittee formed at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to look at climate-related market risk is stacked with fossil fuel industry representatives, including several executives from climate-polluting agribusiness, banks with significant carbon-intensive portfolios, and fossil fuel giants BP and ConocoPhillips.

The committee’s clear intent is to examine the climate risks to polluting companies’ core business, not from their polluting. As one critic—Paddy McCully, the climate and energy director at the Rainforest Action Network—notes, “We should recognize that there’s risk from the climate to the economy, and that the corporate sector needs to assess their contributions to climate change and then deal with it.”

The report explains that global economic losses from a rise in temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius have been estimated at $23 trillion per year. This would pose two kinds of risk to the financial system: physical risk from natural disasters, and a more indirect risks from transitioning away from fossil fuels…

A new paper makes the case that financial regulators are ignoring the significant risks from a warming planet and even from efforts to green the economy.  The fascinating– and chilling– analysis in full at “The Biggest Threat to Financial Stability Is the Climate.”

* Richard Thaler

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As we internalize externalities, we might recall that it was on this date in 1952 that the Great Smog of London began,  A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants—mostly arising from the use of coal—to form a thick layer of smog over the city.  It caused far more severe disruptions than “pea-soupers” of the past,  reducing visibility and even penetrating indoor areas.  While the Underground maintained service, bus service was virtually shut down (as visibility was so severely and reduced; and thus, the the roads, congested). Most flights into London Airport were diverted to Hurn, near Bournemouth and linked by train with Waterloo Station.

Government medical reports in the following weeks estimated that 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog; and 100,000 more, made ill by the smog’s effects on their respiratory tracts.  More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities may have been considerably greater, one paper suggesting about 6,000 more died in the following months as a result of the event.

The disaster had huge effects on environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship between air quality and health.  It led quickly to several changes in practices and regulations– perhaps most notably, the Clean Air Act 1956.

Nelson's_Column_during_the_Great_Smog_of_1952

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog

source

 

“Why do people respect the package rather than the man?”*…

 

Alphonse Bertillon’s Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques was essentially a cheat sheet to help police clerks put into practice his pioneering method for classifying and archiving the images (and accompanying details) of repeat offenders, a system known as bertillonage. Beginning his career as a records clerk in the Parisian police department, Bertillon, the child of two statisticians and endowed with an obsessive love of order, soon became exasperated with the chaos of the files on offenders. The problem was particularly acute when it came to identifying offenders as repeat offenders (recidivists), given that the person in question could simply provide a false name. Before Bertillon, to find the files of the accused (or if there was even one already existing) the police would have to sift through the notorious “rogues’ gallery”, a disorganised mess of photographic portraits of past offenders, and hope for a visual match.

Bertillon’s solution was to develop a rigorous system of classification, or “signalment”, to help organise these photographs. This involved — in addition to taking simple measurements of the head, body, and extremities — breaking down the criminal’s physiognomy into discrete and classifiable elements (the curl of ear, fold of brow, inclination of chin). What in other contexts might be the much loved (or reviled) expressions of a personality, in Bertillon’s world become simply units of information. Taking a note of these, as well as individual markings such as scars or tattoos, and personality characteristics, Bertillon could produce a composite formula that could then be tied to a photographic portrait and name, all displayed on a single card, a portrait parlé (a speaking portrait). These cards were then systematically archived and cross-indexed, to make the task of linking a reticent offender with a possible criminal past, infinitely easier. Put into practise in 1883, the system was hugely effective and was soon adopted by police forces across the channel, before spreading throughout Europe and the Americas, (though without Bertillon’s obsessive eye overseeing proceedings, its foreign adventures were not a complete success).

Key to the whole endeavour, of course, was the new exactitude of representation afforded by photography, though this was still an exactitude limited to a particular moment. Over time faces change, a fact which rendered Bertillon’s system less than perfect. With the call for an identifier more fixed than the measurements of an inevitably changing face, and a system less complex, bertillonage was eventually, by the beginning of the 20th century, supplanted by the new kid on the forensic science block — fingerprinting

An early ancestor of today’s Age of Surveillance: “Alphonse Bertillon’s Synoptic Table of Physiognomic Traits (ca. 1909).”

* Michel de Montaigne

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As we try on a Privacy Visor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

source

 

Written by LW

October 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“When you’re dead, they really fix you up”*…

 

For 87 years, nearly every day, a single train ran out of London and back. It left from a dedicated station near Waterloo built specifically for the line and its passengers. The 23-mile journey, which had no stops after leaving London, took 40 minutes. Along the way to their destination, riders glimpsed the lovely landscapes of Westminster, Richmond Park and Hampton Court — no mistake, as the route was chosen partly for its “comforting scenery”, as one of the railway’s masterminds noted.

How much comfort a route gives passengers isn’t a usual consideration for a train line. But this was no normal train line.

Many of the passengers on the train would be distraught. The others — those passengers’ loved ones — be dead. Their destination: the cemetery.

In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway was the spookiest, strangest train line in British history. It transported London’s dead south-west to Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, in Surrey, a cemetery that was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2,000 bodies a year.

It also transported their families and friends. Guests could leave with their dearly departed at 11:40am, attend the burial, have a funeral party at one of the cemetery’s two train stations (complete with home-cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes), and then take the same train back, returning to London by 3:30pm.

The pairing of grief and efficiency may seem a little jarring. It did then, too…

For the full story, hop aboard at “The passenger train created to carry the dead.”

* J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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As we struggle with our sugar hangovers, we might recall that today is Graveyard Day– or more politely, All Hallows or All Saints Day– a Christian celebration of all saints, “known and unknown.”

“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs,” Fra Angelico (c. 1423-4)

source

 

Written by LW

November 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We have laboured long to build a heaven, only to find it populated with horrors”*…

 

The view of London’s skyline from the dome of St. Peter’s today (below) and visualized to reflect the completion of all currently-approved skyscrapers (above)

436 new skyscrapers could be popping up in London soon: 114 are at the pre-planning stage, 233 have received approval prior to construction, and 89 are actually being built. A new set of extremely-detailed renderings from Visualhouse and Dan Lowe offer an idea of how this high-rise future might actually look. More (and larger) photos and more background at “A Striking Visualization of London’s Future Skyline.”

* Alan Moore, Watchmen

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As we reach for the sky, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that a bill headlined by Kevin Coyne and Procol Harum played the “Closing Show” at London’s Rainbow Theater.  Built in 1930 as a cinema, it became a major concert venue in the 1960s:  The Rainbow was where Jimi Hendrix first burned a guitar, and where The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Queen, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Little Feat, Kool & the Gang, the Ramones, and many others recorded live material for albums, television, and film.

The Rainbow was used again, sporadically, for concerts beginning in 1977.  But it was subject to a Historic Preservation Order, the maintenance standards of which the owners couldn’t meet; their plans to convert the space into a bingo parlor fell through, and the venue went dark in 1982.  It stayed vacant until the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian Pentecostal order, converted into the church that it is today.

 source

Written by LW

March 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

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