The 21st Century, Week 820

Weekly Links: March 16 – March 22

White+ at Los Globos last week:

  • A 26-Story History of San Francisco: a psychosocial history of the former Pacific Bell building at 140 New Montgomery in San Francisco
  • A short history of the Public Storage building on Beverly & Virgil. I’ve been mildly obsessed with this building on the Silver Lake/Hollywood border for a long time. Never suspected that it was designed out here, it always felt as if it was a east coast-styled building transplanted over here
  • A New York Times profile of surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • Nick McCabe talks about his favorite albums.
  • 360 degree view of the Milky Way as seen via the Spitzer Space Telescope.
  • The Next America – The America of the near future will look nothing like the America of the recent past. Everyone who makes a living from futurism needs to get hip to what the demographic landscape is going to look like.

“It didn’t bother you to see the world tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness?”

(this was initially an ILX post and then I expanded it to Metafilter post, but it still needed some proof reading so I’m reposting it here. Plus I want it here in case the other sites disappear)

In a recent episode of Mad Men titled “Lady Lazarus,” Pete Campbell has an existential crisis when he sees a picture of the Earth from space, but were there color pictures of the whole Earth in October 1966?

First some background…

Astrophotography via rocketry begins in 1946 when a V-2 launched from White Sands takes the first image from space – a grainy black and white photo of the New Mexican desert. By 1948, the V-2 flights were able to photograph all the way out to the Gulf Of California.

In 1954, the first color photos of the Earth from space were taken by an Aerobee sounding rocket also launched from White Sands.

As the manned spaceflight programs ratcheted up in the 1960s, a new sociological view of the Earth developed. We, as a civilization, shouldn’t be in conflict with the planet and treating its resources solely as a source of plunder. Instead we should view ourselves as “crew members” of a planet-sized spaceship and like a good ship’s crew, we should be doing our utmost to keep our spaceship in good working order. Political borders, as both astronauts and philosophers pointed out, are invisible from space and perhaps this new view will allow us to re-contextualize our relationship with the planet, with each other, and by extension the Universe.

By 1966, this “Spaceship Earth” metaphor had entered the public consciousness. In September, Vice President Hubert Humphrey refers to “the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship“. Economist Barbara Ward writes Spaceship Earth – an early manifesto of sustainable development and global mindfulness which in turned garners the attention of famed futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. Meanwhile, Merry Prankster Stewart Brand had an idea:

It was February 1966 and I was twenty–eight and was sitting on a gravelly roof in San Francisco’s North Beach. I had taken a mild dose of LSD on an otherwise boring afternoon and sat, wrapped in a blanket, gazing at the San Francisco skyline. As I stared at the city’s high–rises, I realized they were not really parallel, but diverged slightly at the top because of the curve of the earth. I started thinking that the curve of the earth must be more dramatic the higher one went. I could see that it was curved, think it, and finally feel it. I imagined going farther and farther into orbit and soon realized that the sight of the entire planet, seen at once, would be quite dramatic and would make a point that Buckminster Fuller was always ranting about: that people act as if the earth is flat, when in reality it is spherical and extremely finite, and until we learn to treat it as a finite thing, we will never get civilization right. I herded my trembling thoughts together as the winds blew and time passed. And I figured a photograph—a color photograph—would help make that happen. There it would be for all to see, the earth complete, tiny, adrift, and no one would ever perceive things the same way.

Brand wholeearthbutton

The Apollo program was going full-bore by then and as NASA prepared to launch the Lunar Orbiter series of lunar-surveying spacecraft, Brand launched the “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” button campaign – sending buttons to scientists, senators, thinkers, the media, and getting some press attention out of it. Realizing that the photo would be a good PR move, NASA instructed Lunar Orbiter 1 to take a single black and white picture of the Earth on August 23, 1966.

Only that wasn’t the first photo… the Soviet Union had already done so three months earlier with Molniya I.

It would be another year before the first full-frame color picture was released, taken by ATS-3 on November 10, 1967. Only again, that wasn’t the first photo… that honor fell to a Department of Defense satellite called DODGE who took the very first single-frame color photo of the Earth two months earlier in September 1967. However, by the end of the year ATS-3 had taken enough images to make the first color movie of the entire planet.

Arguably the most famous single-frame pictures of Earth were taken on the first and last Apollo lunar flights. William Anders of Apollo 8 took the famous “Earthrise” picture in 1968 and then in 1972 the “crew” (it’s unclear which one) of Apollo 17 took the equally as iconic “Blue Marble” picture in 1972.

After the button campaign, Stewart Brand went on to found the Whole Earth Catalog – with a picture of Earth on the cover of every issue. The catalog becomes a sensation in the counterculture – resonating in particular with a young iconoclast named Steve Jobs. R. Buckminster Fuller publishes Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth in 1969 and eventually consults with Disney on the construction of EPCOT and it’s central icon: a giant sphere called Spaceship Earth.

So no, Pete Campbell wouldn’t have been able to see a full-color single-frame photo of the Earth in 1966, but if he makes it to 1990 it might be interesting to see how he would react to possibly the most important picture of Earth ever taken: the “Pale Blue Dot” photo of Earth as seen by Voyager 1 as it prepared to exit the solar system and enter interstellar space. Carl Sagan, who requested that the photo be taken, famously wrote:


Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

If you have the DISH Network satellite service, be sure to check out the DISH Earth channel – a live picture feed of the Earth from a camera on board EchoStar 11.

Some additional links:

By the way, I have to thank YouTube user cadilimo for soundtracking 24 hours of rotating Earth from DISH Earth with Brass Construction’s “Peekin.'” I can’t think of anything more appropriate to close this out than with a banging mid-70s funk disco track.

Eau de Moron

Forwarded without comment from Evan Dorkin…

In the new Previews catalog there are listings for two fragrances (scents, perfumes, useless smelly liquids in chintzy bottles, whatever the fuck you want to call them), based on the works of Neil Gaiman.

Now fanboys and geekgirls of a certain fantastical persuasion can joyously cover up the wretched stink of bad personal hygiene and chronic loneliness by simply sprinkling these magical new unguents across their ripe marsh-like armpits, sweaty, dirt-lined necks, and dewy, mint-in-pants genitalia. For only a few dozen dollars you can be one of the more distinguished stinkpots traipsing about the San Diego Comicon floor, marching with the Society for Creative Anachronism, or trundling through the local Renaissance Fair –  cock of the walk, sporting a devilish grin, proudly smelling like a mystical whatever-the-fuck, Ahhh, the smell of it!

Now, seriously, would somebody please go out and shoot this fucking industry in the head, pretty please? Just blow it’s tiny brain out like any other mindless, scuzz-stained zombie deserves. The eu de moron sales benefit the CBDLF, which is nice, and I’ve got nothing personal against Neil, who I’ve met and who seems to be a lovely person, but I’m still waving my hate flag proudly for this one. This just makes my head spin. I know, perhaps I’m being a mite harsh here, because, as we all know, nothing says classy like shopping for perfume in Diamond Previews. It’s where I most often turn to when I’m in the market for formal outerwear, accessories, toiletries and what have you. Ascots, cuff links, gaiters, monocles, top hats, of course, it makes perfect sense to see Diamond Previews first. But this…well, for me, it goes beyond the pale.

Who would dream this up, who would approve this, who would manufacture this, who would want this, who would buy this, who would wear this, who would admit to any of the above?

Find them. Chain them. Stop them.

I guess it could be worse. Joe Matt could have a fragrance line.

The rest of Previews, it goes without saying, besides about a dozen or so pages of prudently clipped offerings, was the usual mind-numbing, eye-assaulting, heart-stopping display of madness, greed, incompetence, witlessness, and outright trash. But this tooketh the cake.

Duty Now For The Future

Following from my snark about the Buried Belvedere (which on second glance looks like it had been smothered in batter and deep-fried for fifty years), Jonson challenged me to pick out five items from today that I want to preserve for the citizens of 2057.

1) The logo for the London 2012 Olympic Games. People hate it! People (marginally) love it! And really now, would you feel better if it had freaking Big Ben on it or something? As usual, Peter Saville gets directly to the point.

“I find it a bit cheesy. Those rings don’t sit happily within that angular form and the typographic expression of London is a little insecure and apologetic. On the other hand, it’s incredibly noticable, brave and confrontational. Designs which are effective are abrasive on our sensibilities initially, that is how they work. It doesn’t have to be nice because they are familiar, while a great design forges a new aesthetic. It’s real job is to be a catalyst for awareness of the Olympics and it’s doing that already”.

The logo reminds me of stylized Kanji that you would see on a Tokyo neon sign. I like it. I’m including it in my time capsule on the odd chance that it doubles as an Elder Sign. Hey, you never know.

2) A Cyborg Fidel Castro. Communist revolutionary to pop culture joke icon in under fifty years. I believe it’s only fair that he gets to annoy people forever. See also: the robotic Richard Nixon in Futurama. If a cyborg Fidel isn’t available, then the real Fidel will be a adequate substitute.

3) A stainless steel tablet with “COOKBOOK IT IS LOLZ!” engraved on it.

4) Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts. Out of all the five items I’ve chosen, pop-tarts have the best chance of surviving fifty years of stasis. If the future is an all-natural blissful ecotopia, then pop-tarts are the exact Molotov Cocktail of bio-psychological corruption to bring those Eloi to the darkside of junk food. If the future is something else, then pop-tarts will provide the sugar boost necessary to escape the zombie hordes. Note: the pop-tarts must be brown sugar cinnamon, other flavors are not to be trusted.

5) Rheingold. Not the beer, but the band. It’s my dream that in the future everything will be 1980 Euro-synthpop and we’ll all have synthesizers made of red, yellow, and clear lucite.

At the very least, I want to leave 2057 a forty-five minute long version of “Dreiklangsdimensionen”.

Gluttony On The (Assisted) March

Countdown to when someone coins the term “douchebuggies” for these slugs in T minus 5, 4, 3…

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) — There’s lazy, and then there’s Las Vegas lazy.

In increasing numbers, Las Vegas tourists exhausted by the four miles of gluttony laid out before them are getting around on electric “mobility scooters.”

Don’t think trendy Vespa motorbikes. Think updated wheelchair.

Forking over about $40 a day and their pride, perfectly healthy tourists are cruising around Las Vegas casinos in transportation intended for the infirm.

You don’t have to take a step. You don’t even have to put your drink down.

“It was all the walking,” 27-year-old Simon Lezama said on his red Merits Pioneer 3. Lezama, a trim and fit-looking restaurant manager from Odessa, Texas, rented it on Day 3 of his five-day vacation, “and now I can drink and drive, be responsible and save my feet.”

The Las Vegas Strip is long past its easily walkable days. Casinos alone are nearly the size of two football fields. That doesn’t count the hotel rooms, shopping malls, spas, convention centers, bars and restaurants.

And that’s just inside. For tourists who plan to stroll from one big casino to another, there are crowds, construction sites and long stretches of sun-baked sidewalks between.

A tourist could accidentally get some exercise.

“We’re seeing more and more young people just for the fact that the Strip has gotten so big, the hotels are so large,” said Marcel Maritz, owner of Active Mobility, a scooter rental company whose inventory also includes wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.

Most of those using the scooters are obese, elderly or disabled. But many are young and seemingly fit.

The number of able-bodied renters has grown in the past few years to represent as much as 5 percent of Maritz’s business, he said. The company, which contracts with some casinos, has a fleet of about 300 scooters.

“It makes it a lot easier for people to see everything,” he said.

At full throttle the scooters open up to about 5 mph, though crowded sidewalks allow little opportunity for such speeds. They can go anywhere wheelchairs can — elevators, bars, craps tables — but are banned from streets. They come with a quick operating lesson, an instruction booklet, a horn and a basket.

“At first, I figured it was for handicapped people, but then I saw everybody was getting them. I figured I might as well, too,” Lezama said.

Las Vegas has other transportation options, although each has its problems. The Strip is regularly clogged with cabs and drive-in tourists. A double-decker bus system, dubbed the Deuce, often gets stuck in the mess. A $650 million monorail with stops at eight casinos has been plagued by poor ridership, perhaps because it runs behind the resorts, well off the Strip and out of sight.

Police and casino workers often use bicycles.

Some think it’s unethical

Some find the notion of using a device intended for disabled people unethical.

“It’s the same principle as parking in a handicap spot,” Mike Petillo, 64, a disabled tax accountant who recently visited from New York City.

Several hotel bell desk workers — who handle most of the rental requests from tourists — said they try to discourage people who do not appear to need the scooters from renting. But refusing the self-indulgent is not really an option.

“You can’t really discriminate against anybody,” said Tom Flynn, owner of Universal Mobility. “We don’t require a prescription or an explanation of why they need it.”

Michelle Bailey, a slender, apparently healthy 22-year-old, used a scooter to get around a recent pool tournament at the Riviera hotel-casino. “Four-inch heels,” she explained with a laugh, pointing to her lipstick-red pumps.

But Troy Burgess, a 21-year-old optician visiting from Detroit, said he considers it “immoral” for an able-bodied person to rent wheels. And not only that, but “you probably wouldn’t pick up too many chicks on that scooter.”

Nice to see that jackass use “drink and drive” and “be responsible” in the same sentence. Is it wrong for me to wish that he gets pasted by The Deuce bus while crossing The Strip?

Wheeling, West Virginia

What struck me first about Wheeling was what I didn’t see. No Wal-Mart, no pawn or check cashing shops. Barely any strip malls. No obvious attempts at last-ditch downtown redevelopment. Almost like a cloak of invisibility descended over the city and kept it in stasis since the mid-1960s. No one ever thought about putting up “Old Town Wheeling” signs and turning all vacant storefronts into antique stores because that idea has never penetrated this far in. Welcome to Wheeling, West Virginia – it’s rural, poor, but it kept it’s identity intact.

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

Victoria Theatre - Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

When I get around to writing my “end of the world apocalypse” book, I’ll set it here. Assuming that Wheeling survives another kind of apocalypse.