April 15, 2014
Guliver’s Travels: Preserving History in Putin’s Crimea

BAKHCHYSARAI, Crimea—Guliver Altın loves old maps. He loves the crudely drawn outlines of continents and oceans, the regions of bright green and red and yellow—shapes and colors moving across the ages, expanding and contracting. To him, maps represent the vagaries of political history, illustrated.
Few places in the world have had more colorful and mutable maps than the Crimean peninsula, where borders have shifted yet again after Russia annexed the region from Ukraine in mid-March, following a referendum. As if living in a world of Zeno’s paradoxes, Crimeans have suddenly found themselves in a new country and even a new time zone. But this is nothing new. In 1783, after a series of wars, the Russian Empire annexed the Crimean Khanate, the Muslim Tatar state that had ruled Crimea and part of the north littoral of the Black Sea for the three previous centuries. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine, only for Crimea to become part of independent Ukraine after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
Read more. [Image: Boryana Katsarova/Pulitzer Center]

Guliver’s Travels: Preserving History in Putin’s Crimea

BAKHCHYSARAI, Crimea—Guliver Altın loves old maps. He loves the crudely drawn outlines of continents and oceans, the regions of bright green and red and yellow—shapes and colors moving across the ages, expanding and contracting. To him, maps represent the vagaries of political history, illustrated.

Few places in the world have had more colorful and mutable maps than the Crimean peninsula, where borders have shifted yet again after Russia annexed the region from Ukraine in mid-March, following a referendum. As if living in a world of Zeno’s paradoxes, Crimeans have suddenly found themselves in a new country and even a new time zone. But this is nothing new. In 1783, after a series of wars, the Russian Empire annexed the Crimean Khanate, the Muslim Tatar state that had ruled Crimea and part of the north littoral of the Black Sea for the three previous centuries. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine, only for Crimea to become part of independent Ukraine after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Read more. [Image: Boryana Katsarova/Pulitzer Center]

11:25am
  
Filed under: Crimea Ukraine Russia History Putin 
April 14, 2014
The Irony of Cliven Bundy’s Unconstitutional Stand

The Nevada rancher isn’t just resisting the Bureau of Land Management—he’s also fighting against his state’s unusual constitutional history.
Read more. [Image: Jim Uquhart/Reuters]

The Irony of Cliven Bundy’s Unconstitutional Stand

The Nevada rancher isn’t just resisting the Bureau of Land Management—he’s also fighting against his state’s unusual constitutional history.

Read more. [Image: Jim Uquhart/Reuters]

April 14, 2014
My Parents, the Real Mad Men

My father saw one episode of Mad Men and refused to watch any more. “You don’t make great ads by drinking and screwing all day!” was his angry objection to a show that he felt insulted the work he’d given his best years to.
As creative director at the Detroit ad agency Campbell-Ewald during precisely the same years that Mad Men portrays, my father, Thomas Murray, had poured his heart into making better advertising for what was the biggest client in the world, General Motors. 
And now some TV creeps were going to use all that as a stylish backdrop for a drama about decadence?
Over his dead body.
Since Dad died in 2009, I’ve been researching the contribution he and the other 1960s ad men made in the hopes of helping Mad Men fans learn what they missed by seeing that world through the filter of Don Draper’s preposterous drinking and casual sex. In a memoir I’m working on, I hope to commemorate the earnest, occasionally fierce, and almost moral devotion of 1960s advertising people to making more communicative, more candid, more human advertising for conservative corporate clients. 
Yes, but what about all the interoffice grab-ass? Was it really like that?
I’d say no, except I’m the product of it—but of a version that also contrasts significantly with the portrayal in Mad Men, and connects more coherently with how we live and work today.
Read more. [Image courtesy of David Murray]

My Parents, the Real Mad Men

My father saw one episode of Mad Men and refused to watch any more. “You don’t make great ads by drinking and screwing all day!” was his angry objection to a show that he felt insulted the work he’d given his best years to.

As creative director at the Detroit ad agency Campbell-Ewald during precisely the same years that Mad Men portrays, my father, Thomas Murray, had poured his heart into making better advertising for what was the biggest client in the world, General Motors. 

And now some TV creeps were going to use all that as a stylish backdrop for a drama about decadence?

Over his dead body.

Since Dad died in 2009, I’ve been researching the contribution he and the other 1960s ad men made in the hopes of helping Mad Men fans learn what they missed by seeing that world through the filter of Don Draper’s preposterous drinking and casual sex. In a memoir I’m working on, I hope to commemorate the earnest, occasionally fierce, and almost moral devotion of 1960s advertising people to making more communicative, more candid, more human advertising for conservative corporate clients. 

Yes, but what about all the interoffice grab-ass? Was it really like that?

I’d say no, except I’m the product of it—but of a version that also contrasts significantly with the portrayal in Mad Men, and connects more coherently with how we live and work today.

Read more. [Image courtesy of David Murray]

April 11, 2014
The Slaughter Bench of History

How war created civilization over the past 10,000 years—and threatens to destroy it in the next 40.
 Read more.[Image: Wikimedia Commons]

The Slaughter Bench of History

How war created civilization over the past 10,000 years—and threatens to destroy it in the next 40.

 Read more.[Image: Wikimedia Commons]

4:25pm
  
Filed under: War History Stanislav Petrov 
April 9, 2014
In 1893, Someone Predicted We’d Wear Leggings as Pants

Predicting the future is no easy task. Fifty years ago, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov imagined the technology of 2014 and saw underground suburbs, cube-like televisions, and a widening gap between human civilization and “nature.” 
In other words, he got some things right and some things wrong. But 60 years before him, a different prognosticator laid out a different version of future—or, at least, a more fashionable one.
That guy on the left up there? He’s a policeman, circa 1960. The man in the middle is a soldier. According to  “W. Cade Gall,” who wrote in 1893 with pen-in-hand and tongue-seemingly-in-cheek, that’s what the fashions of the 1960s would look like.
Gall, in fact, did this for every decade. You can see his predictions below.
He was writing for The Strand Magazine, a British fiction and “general interest” publication that ran from the early 1890s to 1950. I found his story in the excellent Public Domain Review. 
Read more. [Image: Public Domain Review]

In 1893, Someone Predicted We’d Wear Leggings as Pants

Predicting the future is no easy task. Fifty years ago, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov imagined the technology of 2014 and saw underground suburbs, cube-like televisions, and a widening gap between human civilization and “nature.” 

In other words, he got some things right and some things wrong. But 60 years before him, a different prognosticator laid out a different version of future—or, at least, a more fashionable one.

That guy on the left up there? He’s a policeman, circa 1960. The man in the middle is a soldier. According to  “W. Cade Gall,” who wrote in 1893 with pen-in-hand and tongue-seemingly-in-cheek, that’s what the fashions of the 1960s would look like.

Gall, in fact, did this for every decade. You can see his predictions below.

He was writing for The Strand Magazine, a British fiction and “general interest” publication that ran from the early 1890s to 1950. I found his story in the excellent Public Domain Review.

Read more. [Image: Public Domain Review]

April 7, 2014
Victorian Buzzfeed: ‘The 25 Stages from Courtship to Marriage’

The Internet did not invent the listicle. Lists-as-arguments—lists-as-stories—have, of course, been around since long, long before Buzzfeed came along. And they haven’t just been around; they’ve also been both playing with and poking fun at the list form itself, one item at a time. 
I mention that because the Public Domain Review has unearthed this gem, “The 25 Stages from Courtship to Marriage,” a set of hand-tinted stereographs depicting a sampling of those stages, generally from the perspective of the woman being courted. The cards are undated, PDR notes, but they mostly likely originated in the late 19th century. 
One of the fascinating elements of “The 25 Stages” is the extent to which, as a story, it plays with the card form itself. Notable in their absences are the couple’s most intimate moments: their wedding night, the news that they’re going to have a baby, the birth of their son. Notable in its emphasis, on the other hand, is their third date, which warrants five of the 25 cards, and cheekily moves the list’s frame from “stages of romance” to “story of romance.” 
Read more. [Image: The Public Domain Review]

Victorian Buzzfeed: ‘The 25 Stages from Courtship to Marriage’

The Internet did not invent the listicle. Lists-as-arguments—lists-as-stories—have, of course, been around since long, long before Buzzfeed came along. And they haven’t just been around; they’ve also been both playing with and poking fun at the list form itself, one item at a time. 

I mention that because the Public Domain Review has unearthed this gem, “The 25 Stages from Courtship to Marriage,” a set of hand-tinted stereographs depicting a sampling of those stages, generally from the perspective of the woman being courted. The cards are undated, PDR notes, but they mostly likely originated in the late 19th century. 

One of the fascinating elements of “The 25 Stages” is the extent to which, as a story, it plays with the card form itself. Notable in their absences are the couple’s most intimate moments: their wedding night, the news that they’re going to have a baby, the birth of their son. Notable in its emphasis, on the other hand, is their third date, which warrants five of the 25 cards, and cheekily moves the list’s frame from “stages of romance” to “story of romance.”

Read more. [Image: The Public Domain Review]

April 7, 2014
Greed Is Good: A 300-Year History of a Dangerous Idea

Among MBA students, few words provoke greater consternation than “greed.” Wonder aloud in a classroom whether some practice might fairly be described as greedy, and students don’t know whether to stick up for the Invisible Hand or seek absolution. Most, by turns, do a little of both.
Such reactions shouldn’t be surprising. Greed has always been the hobgoblin of capitalism, the mischief it makes a canker on the faith of capitalists. These students’ troubled consciences are not the result of doubts about the efficacy of free markets, but of the centuries of moral reform that was required to make those markets as free as they are.
We sometimes forget that the pursuit of commercial self-interest was largely reviled until just a few centuries ago. “A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God,” St. Jerome said, expressing the prevailing belief in Christendom about the relative worthiness of a life devoted to trade. The choice to enter business didn’t necessarily deprive one of salvation, but it certainly hazarded his soul. “If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way then drowning,” Iago tells a lovesick Rodrigo. “Make all the money thou canst.”
The problem of money-making was not only that it favored earthly delights over divine obligations. It also enflamed the tendency to prefer our own needs over those of the people around us and, more worrisome still, to recklessly trade their best interests for our own base satisfaction. St. Thomas Aquinas, who ranked greed among the seven deadly sins, warned that trade which aimed at no other purpose than expanding one’s wealth was “justly reprehensible” for “it serves the desire for profit which knows no limit.”
Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]

Greed Is Good: A 300-Year History of a Dangerous Idea

Among MBA students, few words provoke greater consternation than “greed.” Wonder aloud in a classroom whether some practice might fairly be described as greedy, and students don’t know whether to stick up for the Invisible Hand or seek absolution. Most, by turns, do a little of both.

Such reactions shouldn’t be surprising. Greed has always been the hobgoblin of capitalism, the mischief it makes a canker on the faith of capitalists. These students’ troubled consciences are not the result of doubts about the efficacy of free markets, but of the centuries of moral reform that was required to make those markets as free as they are.

We sometimes forget that the pursuit of commercial self-interest was largely reviled until just a few centuries ago. “A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God,” St. Jerome said, expressing the prevailing belief in Christendom about the relative worthiness of a life devoted to trade. The choice to enter business didn’t necessarily deprive one of salvation, but it certainly hazarded his soul. “If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way then drowning,” Iago tells a lovesick Rodrigo. “Make all the money thou canst.”

The problem of money-making was not only that it favored earthly delights over divine obligations. It also enflamed the tendency to prefer our own needs over those of the people around us and, more worrisome still, to recklessly trade their best interests for our own base satisfaction. St. Thomas Aquinas, who ranked greed among the seven deadly sins, warned that trade which aimed at no other purpose than expanding one’s wealth was “justly reprehensible” for “it serves the desire for profit which knows no limit.”

Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]

April 4, 2014
It Was Once ‘Somewhat Common’ To Bind Books with Human Skin

You think Twitter is weird? Look at early print culture and the practice of what book historians call anthropodermic bibliopegy. That would be binding books in human skin.
And while I now find the notion grotesque, the me of the 17th or 19th century would not have, apparently. 
“While books bound in human skin are now objects of fascination and revulsion, the practice was once somewhat common,” writes Heather Cole, assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library. “Termed anthropodermic bibliopegy, the binding of books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century. The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book.”
Houghton, where Cole works, has one such books in its collection which is, putatively though not definitively, bound in skin.
Read more. [Image: Houghton Library]

It Was Once ‘Somewhat Common’ To Bind Books with Human Skin

You think Twitter is weird? Look at early print culture and the practice of what book historians call anthropodermic bibliopegy. That would be binding books in human skin.

And while I now find the notion grotesque, the me of the 17th or 19th century would not have, apparently. 

While books bound in human skin are now objects of fascination and revulsion, the practice was once somewhat common,” writes Heather Cole, assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library. “Termed anthropodermic bibliopegy, the binding of books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century. The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book.”

Houghton, where Cole works, has one such books in its collection which is, putatively though not definitively, bound in skin.

Read more. [Image: Houghton Library]

April 4, 2014
#CancelCastro: Why Is U.S. Policy Toward Cuba So Absurd?

A Twitter knock-off is just the latest ridiculous attempt by U.S. officials to bring down the Cuban regime.
Read more. [Image: Enrique de la Osa/Reuters]

#CancelCastro: Why Is U.S. Policy Toward Cuba So Absurd?

A Twitter knock-off is just the latest ridiculous attempt by U.S. officials to bring down the Cuban regime.

Read more. [Image: Enrique de la Osa/Reuters]

April 3, 2014
This Man Took 445 Photobooth Portraits of Himself Over 30 Years, and Nobody Knows Why

For three decades, starting in the 1930s, he did the same thing. He’d sit inside a photo booth. He’d smile. He’d pose. 
And then—pop! pop! pop!—out would pop a glossy self-portrait, in shades of black and white. There he was, staring back at himself … and grinning. And, sometimes, almost scowling. There he was, mirthful. And, sometimes, almost scornful.  
The man—nobody knows who he was—repeated this process 455 times, at least, and he did so well into the 1960s. Nobody knows for sure why he did it. Or where he did it. All we know is that he took nearly 500 self-portraits over the course of thirty years, at a time when taking self-portraits was significantly more difficult than it is today, creating a striking record of the passage of time. 
The man’s effort is now being shared with the public in the form of a collection being shown at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick. “445 Portraits of a Man,” the exhibit is appropriately called, takes these early, earnest selfies and presents them as art. 
Read more. [Image courtesy Donald Lokuta]

This Man Took 445 Photobooth Portraits of Himself Over 30 Years, and Nobody Knows Why

For three decades, starting in the 1930s, he did the same thing. He’d sit inside a photo booth. He’d smile. He’d pose. 

And then—pop! pop! pop!—out would pop a glossy self-portrait, in shades of black and white. There he was, staring back at himself … and grinning. And, sometimes, almost scowling. There he was, mirthful. And, sometimes, almost scornful.  

The man—nobody knows who he was—repeated this process 455 times, at least, and he did so well into the 1960s. Nobody knows for sure why he did it. Or where he did it. All we know is that he took nearly 500 self-portraits over the course of thirty years, at a time when taking self-portraits was significantly more difficult than it is today, creating a striking record of the passage of time. 

The man’s effort is now being shared with the public in the form of a collection being shown at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick. “445 Portraits of a Man,” the exhibit is appropriately called, takes these early, earnest selfies and presents them as art.

Read more. [Image courtesy Donald Lokuta]

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