Friday, February 28, 2014

“The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the flood

"Marina Warner on 'Gilgamesh,' the flood and what remains"


David L. Ulin

February 27th, 2014

Los Angeles Times

“Myths, like inquisitive children, keep asking: why?” Marina Warner observes in an essay posted at the London Review of Books. “They answer with stories of origin and destiny, luck and catastrophe.”

If anyone should know about this, it would be Warner. A professor at England’s University of Essex, she may be our foremost authority on fairy tales. This is not, lest we think otherwise, kids’ stuff; what Warner is after, rather, is what we might call the substance of our imaginative DNA.

“Stories come from the past but speak to the present (if you taste the dragon’s blood and can hear what they say),” she has written. “… I hope, I believe that literature can be ‘strong enough to help’, to borrow Seamus Heaney’s wonderful comment about poetry.”

I share that belief, in literature as a source of solace, understanding, even (or especially) when it seeks to disturb.

This is part of the point of Warner’s essay, which uses accounts of the flood in various cultures, from Mesopotamia to the Bible, to riff on what we leave behind us, on the value of what remains. That there are so many flood stories, she suggests, does not indicate “one single universal deluge — this is accepted now even by Biblical scholars.” And yet, in the overlap of narratives, we learn something about our desire for history to cohere.

Writing of George Smith, who discovered “The Epic of Gilgamesh” in the 19th century, Warner observes that “his joy was occasioned above all by the independent corroboration the poem offered to the historicity of the Bible. He was a fervent Christian and longed, as many did, for archaeology to prove the scriptures’ reliability.”

Now, however, “Gilgamesh” stirs a different sort of promise — that of rediscovery. When Smith first shared it with the public in 1872, Warner points out, it “was the first time the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ had been heard and understood after an interval of two thousand years: the longest sleeper ever among the world’s great poems.” What this means, she continues, is that we read it as representing a kind of “double history, as an ancient epic and a modern narrative poem.”

This is important, for it allows us imagine “Gilgamesh” as both story and artifact, to understand that its survival was not inevitable but a function of fortune, luck. That, in turn, reminds us of just how random our pattern making efforts are, reliant on a “jumble of stone bits and pieces,” on the serendipity of what survives.

What will linger after we have disappeared, Warner wonders, and what will it say about who we were?

“The tablets dug up at Nineveh happen in shape and size to resemble mini-iPads,” Warner notes. "If our ‘tablets’ are still there in the mud in four thousand years’ time, and humans are still around, they’ll have a hard puzzle in front of them, should they wish to recapture our words, our laments, our tweets.”

"Short Cuts"


Marina Warner

March 6th, 2014

Vol. 36 No. 5

London Review of Books

In the most ancient stories of the Flood the gods are annoyed by humans making a racket and keeping them up at all hours: these gods are unreconstructed adults who don’t hold with negotiating but relish inflicting punishment, while humans are lawless, partying teenagers. The poem Atrahasis, written down at some point between 1702 and 1682 BCE by ‘Ipiq-Aya, Junior Scribe’ (we know his name!) tells how Enlil, the father god, starts his regime of terror against humanity by plugging the springs and bolting the earth and the air and the sea. The ground dries up, the seed corn rots, and famine and plague are visited on the nuisance noisemakers:

    The dark pastureland was bleached,
    The broad countryside filled up with alkali …
    Their faces [become] cover[ed] with scabs (?) like malt,
    Their faces looked sallow,
    They went out in public hunched

(Stephanie Dalley’s translation.) The poem is uncannily prescient about extreme weather events around the world (storms, droughts), the rise in global mean temperature and the threat to water resources in so many places.

Myths, like inquisitive children, keep asking: why? They answer with stories of origin and destiny, luck and catastrophe. In the epics from Mesopotamia, which are written in Akkadian (the script that looks like wading birds’ skittering feet on the ebb tide sand), a prolonged drought precedes the great flood which Enlil and his fellow deities then decree. The story seems to have originated in the fertile basin of the Tigris and Euphrates, where locals were accustomed to swelling rivers and rising tides, rich in alluvial deposits. It dramatises the symbiosis of land use and water flow, and the danger to survival if that relationship is disturbed. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the king is a culture hero, who builds a magnificent walled city, founds a library and, above all, digs wells.

In other epics from Babylon and Sumer, the gods set out expressly to cure overcrowding by exterminating (almost) everybody – a religious rationalisation of disaster. In other, less nasty stories, the Deluge brings to an end the immortality that human beings once enjoyed in the image of the gods. The book of Genesis seems to know its antecedents, and although the mortalising aspect has disappeared from the surface of the Bible version of the Flood, traces of the plot seem to linger on in the extreme longevity of Adam (930 years). Noah, who is the favoured survivor in the Judeo-Christian version, is already 600 years old at the time of the Flood and he carries on afterwards (as do Methuselah et al), for the Bible, unlike its Babylonian forerunners, doesn’t establish in so many words that post-diluvian life expectancy has been shortened. From this angle, the myth of the Flood is another attempt to understand the reality of death, and the dangers of extreme weather are metaphorical means to tell a just-so story about ordinary human lifespan, not the subject of the myth itself (the story of the Fall isn’t about the apple).

Andrew George, the editor of the Oxford Classics Epic of Gilgamesh, writes that ‘in the main the function of the poem is not to explain origins. It is more interested in examining the human condition as it is.’ For Thorkild Jacobsen it is a ‘story of learning to face reality, a story of “growing up”’. In this respect Gilgamesh is existential in spirit, whereas the flood story in the Bible is religious: God is put back into the picture and his actions justified in ways not found in the ancient epics. The gods are called dogs and flies, like ‘parasitical scavengers’, Andrew George writes; their eternal realm clogged with dust.

Versions of the Flood from around the world record memories of different disasters, not one single universal deluge – this is accepted now even by Biblical scholars. But the different accounts share several dramatic elements: the figure of the one man who is chosen to survive, the extraordinary hope placed in the building of a boat, its measurements and vast size, and the processes of caulking and stocking it. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ark is a six-decker vessel; in the Bible, the specs seem so exact they inspired many believers to attempt to make models. Atrahasis is the name of the hero who is spared and wins eternal life in the poem that Ipiq-Aya, Junior Scribe, pressed into the wet clay with his reed pen. In Gilgamesh, the survivor is called Uta-napishti, and Gilgamesh meets him when he is travelling to the underworld in order to bring back from the dead Enkidu,the wild man whom he loves. But the half-divine hero fails, and although he is told how to pick a magic coral-like plant from the seabed, which will guarantee his immortality, he loses it when he is bathing in a pool: a snake comes by and takes it.

The Babylonian Noah tells Gilgamesh how he survived the rains; in Atrahasis he sees in a dream that he must build an ark; in the later Gilgamesh, the counsellor god Enlil whispers the warning in secret:

    Load the seed of every living thing into your ark,
    The boat that you will build.

(John Gardner’s version, 1984.) The animals do enter two by two in some versions, but here the ark is a sperm bank, a granary. The Epic of Gilgamesh was deciphered from cuneiform tablets in the British Museum which had been excavated in the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Thousands of chunky manuscripts, chipped, friable and defaced, more like knapped flints than books, were dug out of the alluvial strata by Henry Layard and Homuzd Rassan in the 1850s and laid out on trays in the museum. George Smith was an engraver of banknotes for Bradbury’s, the printers, which specialised in playing cards and had the commission from the Mint to issue banknotes. The workshop was near the museum and the story goes that George took to haunting the Assyrian collections in his lunch hour, until he caught the eye of the keeper, who asked him what he was doing, coming so regularly. ‘I am reading,’ he replied. So this startling decoder was set to work on the jumble of stone bits and pieces until one day he cried out in ecstasy and ran round the room tearing off his clothes. George Smith had found Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which told the story of the Flood, and his joy was occasioned above all by the independent corroboration the poem offered to the historicity of the Bible. He was a fervent Christian and longed, as many did, for archaeology to prove the scriptures’ reliability. Later that year, 1872, he delivered a paper to the Society for Biblical Archaeology, and read out the account of the flood from the epic. This was the first time the Epic of Gilgamesh had been heard and understood after an interval of two thousand years: the longest sleeper ever among the world’s great poems. Four years later, Smith died in Aleppo at the age of 36.

The work’s interrupted chronology, so different from the destiny of the Upanishads or even Homer, gives Gilgamesh a double history, as an ancient epic and a modern narrative poem. The most recent rendering, by the OuLiPian poet Philip Terry, is simply called ‘DICTATOR’. Terry has pared it down, in keeping with cuneiform’s prime usage in legal documents and accountancy, to the bare life of contemporary business-pidgin, known as Globish.

    Six day | and sev | en night
    the wind | cry and | the storm | roll through | the land
    After | seven | day … | the storm | break off | from the | battle
    which like | a wo | man la | bour to | give birth
    The sea | grow qui | et the | storm still | the big | water | stop …
    I look | out at | the day | and all | be still
    All the | people | lie dead | … in | the dirt* (?)
    *or ‘water’
    The ground | be like | a great | flat roof
    I op | en the | window | and light | fall on | I face
    I sit | down and | cry …
    The tear | flow down | I face

More of the epic would be discovered under the sand as time went on. In 1990 Stephanie Dalley added more lines to her edition from newly recovered pieces, but most of what’s left has probably been smashed in the course of the Iraq wars. It seems proper that a place of fire and dust, its skin scarred by warfare, should be the origin of the story of the Flood today: devastation in negative, flood and drought bound together.

In Genesis, Yahweh resolves to exterminate man, since ‘every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ The judgmental tone doesn’t help clarify current thinking about managing water, or the stewardship of resources in general. On the one hand, it gives the impression that floods have always happened so no need to act differently now; on the other, only nutters believe that floods are visiting vengeance from heaven upon us. The secretary of state for the environment can play the calm, pragmatic rationalist who refuses to be swayed by superstitious fanatics. This is a case in which the underlying blueprint for a narrative – the story of the Flood – is sending the wrong signals.

The tablets dug up at Nineveh happen in shape and size to resemble mini-iPads. If our ‘tablets’ are still there in the mud in four thousand years’ time, and humans are still around, they’ll have a hard puzzle in front of them, should they wish to recapture our words, our laments, our tweets.

The Epic of Gilgamesh [Project Gutenberg]

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Starlog" magazine is available for free at Internet Archive

Internet Archive...

Starlog was a monthly science-fiction film magazine published by Starlog Group Inc. The magazine was created by publishers Kerry O'Quinn and Norman Jacobs. O'Quinn was the magazine's editor while Jacobs ran the business side of things, dealing with typesetters, engravers and printers. They got their start in publishing creating a soap opera magazine. In the mid-1970s, O'Quinn and high school friend David Houston talked about creating a magazine that would cover science fiction films and television programs.

O'Quinn came up the idea of publishing a one-time only magazine on the Star Trek phenomenon. Houston's editorial assistant Kirsten Russell suggested that they include an episode guide to all three seasons of the show, interviews with the cast and previously unpublished photographs. During this brainstorming session many questions were raised, most notably legal issues. Houston contacted Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry with the intention of interviewing him for the magazine. Once they got his approval, O'Quinn and Jacobs proceeded to put together the magazine but Paramount Studios, who owned Star Trek, wanted a minimum royalty that was greater than their projected net receipts and the project was shelved. O'Quinn realized that they could create a magazine that only featured Star Trek content but without it being the focus and therefore getting around the royalties issue. He also realized that this could be the science fiction magazine he and Houston had talked about. Many titles for it were suggested, including Fantastic Films and Starflight before Starlog was chosen. (Fantastic Films was later used as the title of a competing science fiction magazine published by Blake Publishing.)

To keep costs down, Starlog was initially a quarterly magazine with the first issue being published on August 1976. The issue sold out and this encouraged O'Quinn and Jacobs to publish a magazine every six weeks instead of quarterly. O'Quinn was the magazine's first editor with Houston taking over for a year and then replaced by Howard Zimmerman when Houston was promoted to the "Hollywood Bureau." Zimmerman was eventually succeeded by David McDonnell.

One of the magazine's milestones was its 100th issue, published on November 1985 and featured who they thought were the 100 most important people in science fiction. This included exclusive interviews with John Carpenter, Peter Cushing, George Lucas, Leonard Nimoy, and Gene Roddenberry. The magazine's 200th issue repeated the format of the 100th issue but this time interviewed such notable artists as Arthur C. Clarke, Tim Burton, William Gibson, Gale Anne Hurd, and Terry Gilliam. Starlog was one of the first publications to report on the development of the first Star Wars movie, and it also followed the development of what was to eventually become Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The magazine was devoted to science fiction films, television series, and books. Many fans of this long-running magazine considered its heyday to have been the 1980s with very little substance to the content in later years and many of its long-time contributors having since moved on. But it continued to boast some top-flight genre journalists, including film historians Will Murray, Jean-Marc Lofficier and Tom Weaver. It was one of the longest-running and most popular publications of its type.

It published its 30th Anniversary issue in 2006. On Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at approximately 11 a.m. a warehouse, operated by Kable News, in Oregon, Illinois containing back issues of Starlog and Fangoria burned to the ground.

Here is issue #1.

And,  here are many more. Unfortunately, they are not in numerical issue order.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

STEM re-evaluated

"The truth about the great American science shortfall"

Karin Klein

February 24th, 2014

Los Angeles Times

It was confusing when, several years ago, Bill Gates blasted American education for failing to produce enough graduates in science, technology and engineering. Really? Not enough workers in those fields? At the same time that he was making these statements, I knew computer programmers and biologists who couldn’t find jobs and others who were facing stagnating and falling wages.

Yet, as with many positions Gates takes on education — often backed by sizable contributions to bolster his vision — this one took off and clung. Conferences are held on opening more high schools that specialize in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. There have been suggestions that the nation should cut those pesky humanities departments and liberal arts degrees in colleges and universities. The Obama administration, which has bought into numerous educational shibboleths, has made it a goal to push for a million new STEM graduates in coming years.

Over the weekend, a Harvard researcher finally cast a more critical eye on all the hoopla. The conclusion: While the great STEM shortage isn't wholly myth, it certainly has been mightily overhyped.

Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, laid out the evidence for journalists Saturday at the USC-hosted conference of the Education Writers Assn:

If there were a big, general shortage of these workers, you would expect to see their wages rising. That hasn’t happened.

There would be relatively low and declining unemployment rates compared with people of similar educational levels. Hasn’t happened.

There should be faster-than-average employment growth, which is occurring in some occupations but not others.

In fact, Teitelbum portrayed the life of a biomedical researcher as practically grim. It takes an especially long time to obtain a doctoral degree in the field, and graduates are not being snapped up for jobs. The wages are lower than average for someone with that level of education, and the jobs tend to be unstable. Engineers start with higher wages, but those quickly flatten, and their jobs are notoriously insecure. Computer and information technology jobs are given to boom-and-bust cycles, but at least during the booms, the salaries are high.

The chatter about STEM is based on some realities, Teitelbaum said. Engineers might not, as a group, be terribly sought-after, but some specialized kinds of engineers are in hot demand — at least right now. There are regional shortages as well, and people have been less willing to move to another part of the country where the demand might be higher. That might in part be explained by cost-of-living differences — a computer job in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, even if it pays 50% more than elsewhere, isn’t seen as a good deal when housing there costs four times as much as in many other places.

But there’s more to that unwillingness to move, according to the conference speakers. Partly that’s an attachment to roots and families in young professionals that was less present in the baby boomer generation. But a big factor is that they don’t trust that the move will result in a long-term job. And who can blame them? Jobs don’t tend to be jobs anymore; they’re contracts, often without benefits, for limited periods of time. Even when they are regular staff positions, people have little confidence that the job will continue. Employers show less loyalty to the people who work for them, and the workforce is responding in kind.

So from where does the STEM hype stem? According to Teitelbaum — who has written a book on the subject, due out in March, titled “Falling Behind?: Boom, Bust and the Global Race for Scientific Talent” — some of it comes from the country’s longtime cycle of waxing and waning interest in science; attention seems to focus on science every 10 to 15 years before slacking off.

The only forces pushing the idea of STEM doom, he said, are those that have something to gain from it. Mostly those are STEM employers — the tech industry, for example — that want to pack the labor force with people to suppress wages, he said, as well as lobby for looser immigration laws so that they can bring in less expensive overseas workers. Joining the chorus are universities that want more funding for science programs, as well as immigration lawyers who see the potential for handling large numbers of work visas.

The Chronicle of Higher Education did an excellent job of reporting on this in November 2013; unfortunately, the publication isn’t read much by the general public.

A lot also depends on what you call a STEM job. Regardless of what the Obama administration says, some of the real need is for technically-oriented jobs that don’t require any sort of college degree. Want to be in demand these days? According to the speakers, the workers everyone wants are trained welders and glaziers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

To error is human, but big mistakes made at the Philosophy Department at CU-Boulder

"Philosophy profs: CU-Boulder shouldn't have shared private info"

They say privacy around complaints keeps perpetrators from public scrutiny, makes whole department look bad


Sarah Kuta

February 23rd, 2014
Boulder Daily Camera

Some faculty members in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado say they're concerned that three outside consultants tasked with studying the climate of the department were given access to confidential files regarding sexual harassment and discrimination.

University administrators acknowledged the investigators from the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women Site Visit Program were given access to files within the Office of Discrimination and Harassment that are typically considered confidential.

Administrators said the three investigators all signed a confidentiality agreement, which said they would not disclose what they read without written authorization from the university chancellor.

"In their roles as consultants for the university, the site visit investigators had access to relevant CU employees and relevant documents that helped them assess the climate of the philosophy department," CU spokesman Ryan Huff wrote in an email. "As part of their assessment, the site visit team met with the Office of Discrimination and Harassment director, signed confidentiality agreements and were given access to the ODH files."

Under the Colorado Open Records Act, public institutions are required to deny the inspection of sexual harassment files to the general public. However, CU officials said that because the site team investigators were performing an administrative function for the university, they were not acting as members of the public.

The confidentiality agreements were signed by Valerie Hardcastle, Peggy DesAutels and Carla Fehr, the women who co-wrote a 15-page report released last month describing sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional sexualized behaviors within the philosophy department.

The findings of the report led the university to suspend graduate admissions into the department until 2015 and bring in an external chairman.

Members of the department, who said they were told to keep quiet about the report, were shocked when the university released the document publicly last month.

Perpetrators protected from public scrutiny

Professor Michael Tooley said he takes issue with how vague the report is about the 15 complaints filed against members of the department since 2007. Because of the confidentiality agreements, the investigators were not able to describe any specifics of the complaints.

The result, Tooley said, is a report that negatively portrays an entire department.

When a formal investigation under the Office of Discrimination and Harassment is completed, only the complainant, respondent, chancellor and decision-making authority, often the department chairman or dean, are allowed to read the office's findings.

Only the respondent and decision-making authorities are allowed to know what, if any, disciplinary action is taken because of confidentiality around personnel matters.

Tooley said it's strange that the university has such strict rules about confidentiality around harassment and discrimination, but then gave the site visit investigators access to confidential files.

"On the one hand, they seem to have these very strict rules of confidentiality, and then they allowed these three strangers to come in (and see the files); that seems to be incredible," he said. "I would say that even if it's not illegal, it seems highly unethical."

Tooley said he also wondered why the site team investigators were able to give the number of complaints, but not a breakdown about how many complaints underwent formal investigations, how many of the complaints involved the same offender, and how many investigations resulted in a finding of a violation of policy.

DesAutels, director of the site visit program, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality agreement.

Philosophy instructor emerita Diane Mayer, who is retired, said she wondered why the university can't find a way to protect the identities of complainants, while holding the perpetrators publicly accountable.

The site visit report described a lack of transparency around disciplinary processes, which led to an "extremely harmful rumor mill."

Mayer said if the university could hold perpetrators publicly accountable, it might deter future offenders from acting.

"The actual perpetrators should be held accountable long before some climate study has to be called in to give recommendations and these drastic measures have to be taken," Mayer said. "There has to be some method by which a department can really be punitive about people who are sexual harassers, including if they're tenured. There has to be some way for the university to address these issues ... ."

CU has fired a few tenured professors, for various reasons, in its history. In 2004, the university fired R. Igor Gamow, a tenured chemical engineering professor, for moral turpitude after allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Lora Blakeslee Atkinson, executive director of Moving to End Sexual Assault, said assuring survivors of sexual assault and harassment that their identities will be protected plays a vital role in the recovery process.

"They're concerned about people finding out, and our culture has a lot of victim-blaming still of survivors," she said. "When survivors feel that they do not have confidentiality, it makes them even more reluctant to report."

CU: Team used a 'broad scale of input'

Attorney Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said an argument could be made the university was fully within its rights by releasing confidential documents to the site team investigators but then may have violated the open records law when it released the site team report publicly.

Zansberg said if personnel or sexual harassment files, which are exempt from inspection under the law, are summarized or analyzed in a subsequent report, that document is also protected under the law.

He also said releasing the report without releasing the data used to create the report does not give the public, or members of the department, a chance to verify the validity of the report.

"It's incumbent upon them to allow the public to monitor and assess the legitimacy of those findings," he said. "We routinely say that when a government entity affirmatively discloses information and then withholds the data upon which that information was based, that's contradictory to the purposes of having an open records act. It becomes very difficult for the university to say, 'Take these three researchers' word for it.'"

CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said the university does not feel it has violated the law either in sharing the confidential files with the site team investigators or by releasing the report publicly.

"There's much more material in (the report) besides things that are in the individual files," he said. "The report's writers went out of their way to take a broad scale of input from interviews with graduate students, with faculty, with undergraduates, with the deans, with department chairs."

Hilliard said he hopes victims of harassment and discrimination won't be deterred from reporting.

"I hope that victims would take away . . . that the institution is acting and taking strong actions to remedy situations that might possibly have given rise to whatever it was they complained about," he said. "We want to take actions, we want to take situations that are not working for individuals and groups of people and make them better on the campus."

Women at CU-Boulder philosophy department speak out

Friday, February 21, 2014

Self-perception via the telescope

"Gaze Upon the Internet's First Telescope Archive"


Ben Richmond

February 20th, 2014


There has never been an object that changed humanity’s self-perception as quickly or as completely as the telescope. It’s almost impossible to imagine what life was like before it. “How many stars have telescopes revealed to us which did not exist for our philosophers of old!” the philosopher/mathematician Blaise Pascal waxed in Pensées, referring to an era “of old” that was disrupted just 43 years earlier.

“The telescope transformed astronomy,” the science historian Stephen Case told me over the phone. “This is where Copernicus’s models went from being interesting mathematical models to being something we have evidence for.”

Case is wrapping up a PhD at Notre Dame on 19th century British astronomy and our changing perceptions of the stars (Spoiler: They’re just like us!), while also doing the graduate-student grunt work on the internet’s premier pre-1775 telescope archive,  
Dioptrice .

Starting in 2009, Marvin Bolt, then of Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, now of the Corning Glass Museum, and Michael Korey of the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, in Dresden, have been recording and cataloging every old telescope they can find—starting with big museum collections like Adler’s, moving outward to English manor houses-turned-historical site, where someone back in the 1600s bought a telescope that’s sat in the collection without much thought since. Splitting his time between Notre Dame and Illinois, Case curates the collection and gets it online. Only a fraction of what they’ve found is up on the site now, but as the researchers get a better sense of what’s still around—some early telescopes were no more than parchment wrapped around a lens—they’re going to start seeing what the telescopes can see.

Okay, so that sounds pretty esoteric, and maybe it is, but the job of documenting the short wonderful life of early refracting telescopes—from 1608 to end of an era in 1775, when achromatic lenses became mass produced—attracted grants from both the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, mostly because the early telescopes managed to knock the Earth and humanity out of the center of the universe all while those early astronomers were looking into the sky, literally, through a glass darkly.

“The early Galilean telescopes are notoriously difficult to use,” Case told me. “They’re difficult to find things with, and even once you find something with them it’s hard to know what you’re seeing.”

There’s a saying that “Computer science is not about machines, in the same way that astronomy is not about telescopes,” but a history of either science is inextricably tied to the limits of the technology it depends on. That said the limits of that technology is, to some extent, always determined by the user.

“William Herschel, the guy who discovered Uranus, says, ‘Even if you have a telescope as big as I do, you’re not going to see the things that I do because you’re not trained to see the way that I am,’” Case said.

What was Herschel seeing through his telescope? What was Galileo seeing? It’s hazy. For all its historical important, the history of the instrument is less than crystal clear.

The first patents on the telescope were taken out in 1608 in the Netherlands, but before looking up, the telescope was first used for looking around. It was the cutting edge in military surveillance.

“When Galileo gets his hands on a telescope the first thing he does is he makes a gift of it to the Venetians,” Case said. “He says, ‘here, you can see enemy ships approaching.’”
When were they turned skyward? One of Dioptrice’s goals is to answer that question, which takes their scope (ugh) into manuscripts, illustrations and artwork from the 17th and 18th centuries. These questions of what a telescope is for, who is looking through it and what they’re looking for are cultural ones.

“We’re trying to figure out if these were originally seen as scientific instruments or as status symbols. Does your amateur gentleman natural philosopher just want to have one?” Case explained. “What we’re finding is that the telescopes are so ornate—quite lovely, really. They’re fancy, pretty objects. So they might be status symbols that people are buying them. Are they using them for astronomical observations? I don’t know. That also might be sampling bias, of course. If you have a telescope that you bought for looks it’ll stay around for longer than one you’re getting out every night at a university or for you own use.”

Some answers may not come until Dioptrice begins phase two: testing how well the telescopes work. Until recently the only way to do that was taking them apart, which museums are understandably adverse to, so Dioptrice plans to instead use adaptive optics and computer modeling to test them out. A light source is put on one end of the telescope that sends a grid through to the other side, where a wavefront detector watches the other end, and creates a map of the light’s path.

“Then you could model on the computer, say, an image of Venus or Saturn. And run that through the optical path, and this is what, physically, what astronomers could see, and the limits of what this telescope could observe,” Case said.

But according to Case the first step is just collecting all the data they can find. “Let’s be really empirical and really Baconian, and see how many of these instruments are still out there, where they are and what qualities they have,” he said, proving that astronomers speak exactly how you’d hope they would.

The internet might be known for having pornographic versions of absolutely everything that exists, but eventually, it’s also going to have archives of everything too. Naturally some will be porn, too, but at least one is of telescopes.

Maybe we don't need to fiction accuracy

Princeton University Press...

From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas--for instance, could Mr. Weasley's flying car in the Harry Potter books really exist? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldn't work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy--such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle--and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.

Chapter One

Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Charles L. Adler

ISBN: 9780691147154
ISBN: 9781400848362


"I can't work out whether I love or hate this book. I love it because its analysis of the physics behind numerous accounts of magic and space exploration in fantasy and science fiction writing is fascinating. I hate it because it reveals why I will never be able to realise my dream of saying 'Beam me up, Scotty' before being teleported; or so Charles Adler has convinced me. . . . The physics is well explained and Adler offers entertaining examples."
--Noel-Ann Bradshaw, Times Higher Education.

AT&T coughed up a recording of a very long distance phone the Moon

"Tech Time Warp of the Week: Watch President Nixon Dial the Moon in 1969"


Daniela Hernandez

February 21st, 2014


President Nixon placed countless phone calls from the Oval Office, but there was one he called the most historic call ever made from the White House: His phone call to the moon.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, millions watched on television as they climbed from their spacecraft, bounded across the lunar surface, and planted an American flag. They also saw the Apollo 11 astronauts take a long-distance call–a very long distance call–from the president.

“This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House,” Nixon told them. “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world, and as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth.”

In the video below, you can watch the call in all its grainy, low-def glory. It was routed from Washington to Mission Control in Houston, and from there, it bounced to Manned Space Flight Network dish antennas scattered around Earth, traveled 238,000 miles to the Apollo Lunar Module, and finally hopped to its ultimate destination: antennas attached to the backpacks carried by Armstrong and Aldrin. Armstrong’s response was then transmitted back to the Oval Office.

It all went relatively smoothly–if you can forgive the low-grade audiovisuals. “For all its historic importance, it was basically an engineering test mission. Hence the ghostly, somewhat jumpy black and white images and the often crackly audio from the moon,” says WIRED Science blogger David S. F. Portree, a space exploration historian at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The call used technology developed by the Air Force, USGS, and several corporate contractors, including AT&T’s BellComm, one of the smallest subsidiaries of the Bell System. BellComm, formed at NASA’s request in 1962, employed scientists plucked from the legendary Bell Labs. “It was a huge team effort, with nearly half a million people across the United States involved at its height,” Portee says, referring to the Apollo project as a whole. “To me, that’s one of the really inspiring things about it. Americans came together and accomplished amazing things.”

After bidding the president goodbye, Aldrin and Armstrong crawled back into their space capsule for the three-day journey home. On July 24, together with fellow astronaut Michael Collins, they splashed down about 920 miles off the coast of Honolulu. They were promptly picked up by the USS Hornet, and once aboard ushered into a mobile quarantine facility–a modified camper–where they would spend 21 days. NASA wanted to make sure the astronauts weren’t carrying alien germs that could exterminate life on earth.

Once sealed inside, they got to meet President Nixon. He was on the opposite side of a thick glass window, and the chat wasn’t nearly as impressive as a presidential call to the moon.

Difficult to understand...destruction of Anne Frank's Diary

"Anne Frank's Diary vandalised in Japan libraries"

February 21st, 2014


More than 100 copies of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl have been vandalised in public libraries in Japan's capital Tokyo, officials say.

Pages have been ripped from at least 265 copies of the diary and other related books, they added.

It is not clear who is behind the vandalism. A US Jewish rights group has called for a police investigation.

Anne Frank's diary was written during World War Two, while the teenager hid from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam.

The book made her a symbol of the suffering of Jews during the war.

For many Japanese the book forms the basis of their knowledge about the Jewish holocaust, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo reports.

But what might have motivated the attacks remains a mystery. Japan has no history of Jewish settlement and no real history of anti-Semitism, our correspondent adds.

Toshihiro Obayashi, a library official in West Tokyo's Suginsami area, said: "Each and every book which comes up under the index of Anne Frank has been damaged at our library."

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a global Jewish human rights organisation, said in a statement that it was shocked and concerned by the incidents, and called for the authorities to investigate.

"The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organised effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War Two Holocaust," associate dean Abraham Cooper said.

"Anne Frank is studied and revered by millions of Japanese," Mr Cooper added. "Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne's historic words of courage, hope and love in the face of impending doom."

The book was added to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's Memory of the World Register in 2009.

Anne Frank's diary was translated into Japanese in December 1952 and topped the bestseller lists in 1953.

Professor Rotem Kowner, an expert in Japanese history and culture at Israel's University of Haifa, told the BBC that the book has been exceptionally popular and successful in Japan.

He says that in terms of absolute numbers of copies of the book sold, Japan is second only to the US, and adds that for Japanese readers the story transcended its Jewish identity to symbolise more powerfully the struggle of youth for survival.

"In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were competitions in which Japanese teenagers had to reflect on the experience of Anne Frank. Thousands of teenagers sent their submissions to such competitions," Professor Kowner says.

"It was a book about a war tragedy and the way youth experienced war... For many Japanese they would view this as a tragic development," he adds.

Ah, the good ole nostalgia

Dial up modem...

Dot matrix printer...

Storage units...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lunar real estate rights

"Lunar property rights"

Hard cheese



February 16th, 2014

The Economist

WHO owns the Moon? According to the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, signed by every space-faring country, no nation can claim sovereignty over Earth’s lunar satellite. 102 countries have entered into to the 1967 accord; China joined in 1983. But space law scholars debate whether the Treaty actually implicitly prohibits, or allows, private ownership on celestial bodies.

Some commercial companies, such as Bigelow Aerospace, are hoping to use the ambiguity of the treaty’s language to their advantage. Founded in 1999 and based in Las Vegas, the firm aims to manufacture inflatable space habitats. It already has an agreement with NASA to expand the International Space Station in 2015 using its flexible modules, and also to devise a plan for a privately developed, NASA financed, lunar base architecture.

The firm’s chief executive Robert Bigelow, a billionaire hotel owner, wants to establish private property rights on the Moon in a bid to tackle Chinese lunar dominance. He believes “the final nail in America’s 21st century coffin is likely to be China’s takeover of the Moon.”

Bigelow Aerospace’s case rests on careful consideration of the Outer Space Treaty’s article II and VI. The first’s explicit ban on national appropriation may leave the door open for non-national moon ownership. The second decrees that countries bear “international responsibility” for activities in outer space—even if carried out by non-government groups.

For schemes in space (such as mining fusion fuel from the moon, a perennial favourite of wild-eyed space cadets) to be worthwhile commercially, Bigelow Aerospace says a legal framework for private lunar property is needed, and reckons the American government should be involved in creating one.

Consequently, two months ago Bigelow Aerospace formally submitted a related request to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Transportation (FAA AST). The case is now being vetted by agencies including the State Department, Department of Defence, NASA and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as part of a standard review for any proposed private space “launch”, “re-entry” or “payload” activity.

The application is not directly seeking private property rights or exclusive ownership of lunar resources; the company is requesting government, and by extension, Outer Space Treaty, assurance that its private spacecraft can run without interference or possible collisions with licensed vessels already in operation. In other words, Bigelow Aerospace is asking for the ability to use the moon and its resources in order to shore up its capital investments.

Whether such usage equates to property rights or ownership is an international legal debate. Bigelow Aerospace lawyers point out that an effective national and international licensing system has meant that satellite companies operate successfully and peacefully without actually owning the space they occupy.

The company also contends that FAA AST commercial licensing requires a 200km (124 mile) buffer zone of operation for each spacecraft. This means the government is obliged already to maintain safe operations in space, limit liability and prevent crashes between private entities that could cause damage on and around the Moon.

The company believes it is entitled to similar treatment. “Failing to approve the payload review request would in many ways represent an abdication of US obligations under the treaty,” Michael Gold, Bigelow Aerospace’s chief counsel, tells this Babbage correspondent.

In addition, the lawyers say an international custom has been established giving private entities the right to use and explore space as long as states authorize them to do so, and continuously supervise their workings.

The space firm hits back at claims that it is flouting Article II of the Outer Space Treaty precisely because “Bigelow Aerospace is a company, not a country” and so “cannot engage in national appropriation,” according to Mr Gold. He argues that as FAA AST licensing only pertains to commercial activities, its regulatory decisions could not be in violation of Article II.

A decision regarding Bigelow Aerospace’s request is expected by the Summer.

The Outer Space Treaty was not signed, however, by countries wishing to replace national lunar colonization with commercial colonization. But the time for pragmatic policies in the face of Beijing’s blooming space programme may be at hand. Building on the success of the Chang’e-3 mission with the Yutu rover (currently rolling on the lunar surface), China expects to put a base architecture and crew on the Moon within the next ten years.

The optimistic scenario for Bigelow Aerospace and American lunar ownership advocates is a new space rights pact within a decade—before China’s dominating presence on the Moon makes such agreements moot, and territorial disputes, akin to ancient wars fought over empires, begin anew in space.

Women at CU-Boulder philosophy department speak out

"Female CU-Boulder philosophy colleagues speak out on report"


Sarah Kuta

February 18th, 2014

Boulder Daily Camera

For the first time since the release of an independent report detailing sexual harassment within the University of Colorado philosophy department, female members of the department are speaking out.

Six women with ties to the department released a joint statement Tuesday that describes the negative impact the report's release has had on male philosophy faculty members and graduate students.

"We are all distressed that the report may damage the reputations of male colleagues who are completely innocent of sexual misconduct," the statement's authors wrote. "It could also harm the prospects of our male graduate students currently on the market."
The independent report released last month was authored by three investigators from the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women Site Visit Program. The report described sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional behaviors within the philosophy department.

Because of the report's findings, the university brought in an external chairman and suspended all graduate student admissions into the department until 2015.

The women who co-wrote the statement are Sheralee Brindell, senior instructor and associate chairwoman for undergraduate studies; Carol Cleland, professor; Alison Jaggar, professor of distinction for philosophy and women and gender studies; Mitzi Lee, associate professor; Diane Mayer, senior instructor emerita; and Claudia Mills, associate professor.

The six women write that they believe a small number of men in the department are responsible for the sexual harassment or unprofessional sexualized behavior described in the report.

"We faculty women strongly believe that none of our currently untenured male colleagues or current male graduate students has engaged in sexual misconduct (nor, indeed, have most of our tenured colleagues)," the women write. "We believe that many have heard about the problems, if at all, only through the rumor mill."

The statement also points out that the women in the department have "different takes on the content of the report."

The six women write that they are determined to rebuild the department and its reputation.

CU spokesman Ryan Huff said the university wants to make the department welcoming to everyone.

"We are pleased that the faculty members want to work hard to improve the reputation of the philosophy department," Huff wrote in an email. "We share their views in making the department a welcoming place for faculty, students and staff from all demographic groups."

Many of the women in the department said they were hesitant to talk openly about the content of the report because they feared their statements would be interpreted as either complete endorsement or complete rejection of the report.

Many female members of the department expressed concern that the problems detailed in the report weren't being dealt with internally, but rather in public because of the report's unexpected release.

Some women said they feared retaliation if they spoke out on their own.

Jaggar said the joint statement was a way for the women in the department to defend the reputations of the men who were not responsible for the misconduct described in the report.

"We released it because we didn't want innocent, vulnerable people to have their reputations smeared," she said.

Mayer, who is now retired but worked at the university in various roles starting in 1971, said sexual harassment is a systemic problem that exists in all university departments.

Mayer also said that she feels university administrators need to provide more support for victims of sexual harassment and implement tougher punishments for offenders.

"Throughout the university, in all departments, much more support is needed for the victims of sexual harassment," she said. "The philosophy department is not unique. It's only unique because it uniquely tried to solve the problem. It uniquely called on outsiders to come in and help them figure out the problem. It's unique that the department was put into the public eye."


Ogle female undergraduates at The University of Colorado--DON'T

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Very Creepy...Cap One's unethical practices

"Capital One says it can show up at cardholders' homes, workplaces"

The credit card company's recent contract update includes terms that sound menacing and creepy.


David Lazarus

February 17th, 2014

Ding-dong, Cap One calling.

Credit card issuer Capital One isn't shy about getting into customers' faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.

The update specifies that "we may contact you in any manner we choose" and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a "personal visit."

As if that weren't creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be "at your home and at your place of employment."

The police need a court order to pull off something like that. But Cap One says it has the right to get up close and personal anytime, anywhere.

Rick Rofman, 71, of Van Nuys received the contract update the other day. He was spooked by the visitation rights Cap One was claiming for itself.

"Even the Internal Revenue Service cannot visit you at home without an arrest warrant," Rofman observed.

Indeed, you'd think the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, would make this sort of thing verboten.

Apparently not.

"It sounds really invasive, but I don't think it's a violation of your 4th Amendment rights," said Daniel E. Kann, a Santa Clarita lawyer who specializes in illegal-search cases.

He explained that the amendment applies primarily to searches and seizures by law enforcement, not civilians. A credit card company, in theory, could reserve the right to visit your home or office without a court order, Kann said.

But he emphasized that there are laws against harassment, not to mention stalking, and Cap One could be held accountable under such statutes if, say, it took to inviting itself over for dinner or hanging around your cubicle.

Incredibly, Cap One's aggressiveness doesn't stop with personal visits. The company's contract update also includes this little road apple:

"We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose."

Now that's just freaky. Cap One is saying it can trick you into picking up the phone by using what looks like a local number or masquerading as something it's not, such as Save the Puppies or a similarly friendly-seeming bogus organization.

This is known as spoofing, and it's perfectly legal. As I've written before, the federal Truth in Caller ID Act makes it a crime to use a phony number or caller ID message to commit fraud or cause harm to others.

But it's not against the law to engage in what courts have called "non-harmful spoofing," which includes businesses wearing digital disguises to penetrate a consumer's phone defenses.

Such corporate spoofing is employed primarily by telemarketers. It's weird, to say the least, for this practice to be so publicly adopted by a major credit card issuer.

Emily Rusch, executive director of the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, said it's especially troubling for Cap One to declare itself a spoofer as people grapple with recent security breaches involving Target, Neiman Marcus and other businesses.

"Now more than ever, consumers need to be able to trust companies,"
she said.

So what does Cap One have to say?

Pam Girardo, a company spokeswoman, told me that Cap One isn't quite as much like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" as the company's contract lingo might suggest.

"Capital One does not visit our cardholders, nor do we send debt collectors to their homes or work," Girardo said.

The exception to that, she said, is when it comes to big-ticket sporting goods. Cap One has partnerships with makers of gear like Jet Skis and Snowmobiles.

"As a last resort, we may go to a customer's home after appropriate notification if it becomes necessary to repossess the sports vehicle," Girardo said.

So Cap One is saying it's more "Repo Man" than "Fatal Attraction."

I asked Girardo about the spoofing. What's up with that?

"Actually, we want our calls to display as Capital One on caller ID, and that's the way they are programmed,"
she replied. "However, some local phone exchanges may display our number differently. This is beyond our control, and we want our cardholders to be aware of that potential occurrence."

That's not what the contract update says, though. It says, ominously, that Cap One can "modify or suppress" people's caller ID capabilities and identify itself "in any manner we choose."
But let's give Cap One the benefit of the doubt. Let's accept that the company isn't as menacing as it sounds.

That raises the question of why Cap One is sending out this bizarre contract language in the first place rather than explaining in plain English, as Girardo did, what its true intentions are.

Girardo said only that Cap One is "reviewing this language." I take this as an indication that, now that a little sunlight has been applied, the company is not as comfortable as it previously was with behaving like a total psycho.

In the meantime, cardholders can make up their own minds. Do they want to believe the non-binding explanations of a company representative or the legally enforceable language that's currently in their written contracts?

And while they're pondering that, they may want to watch out for bunnies boiling on the stove.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Remember her...the Tooth Fairy

"Very American Creation"

The tooth fairy first appeared around the turn of the 20th century


Colin Schultz

February 13th, 2014

In the United States, kids drop a lost tooth under theirs pillows, and the Tooth Fairy brings them a monetary reward. But, says Michael Hingston writing for Salon, “every recorded human culture has some kind of tradition surrounding the disposal of a child’s lost baby teeth.” Globally, these tooth-shedding rituals are as diverse as you'd expect. So how did Americans end up with the Tooth Fairy?

According to Hingston, the Tooth Fairy is a wholly American creation, an amalgamation of the traditions other cultures, blended together and sparked up with a bit of Disney magic.

At the core of the Tooth Fairy is a mouse:

    Perhaps the most widely practiced ritual, one that has been documented everywhere from Russia to New Zealand to Mexico, involves offering the lost tooth as a sacrifice to a mouse or rat, in the hopes that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodent’s — a wish for transference that anthropologists call “sympathetic magic.””
    … In many countries around the world, children continue to leave teeth out in the hopes that a mouse will come take them away in exchange for money or some other gift.

Layered on top, says Hingston, is the veneer of the fairy, a traditionally European folk character. But just like Coca-Cola had a hand in defining the look of Santa Claus, it was Disney that helped the Tooth Fairy stick.

It’s no coincidence that at the same time the tooth fairy was starting to gain traction in the United States, Disney was also releasing animated films like “Pinocchio” and “Cinderella” — each of which features a benevolent, maternal fairy with the power to make wishes come true. Pop culture helped solidify the tooth fairy in the mainstream, and she’s been a fixture there ever since.

Tooth fairy [Wikipedia]

Synchrotron Radiation Center to shut down--no operating money

"UW physics lab set to close in early March"


Nyal Mueenuddin

February 17th, 2014

The Badger Herald

A unique particle accelerator housed in a University of Wisconsin physics lab has attracted scientists from across the world and nation for years, but due to federal cuts the lab has officially been slated for closure on March 7.

The Synchrotron Radiation Center allows scientists to examine the composition and chemical structure of a given material, Joe Bisognano, the lab’s director, said.

After funding cuts from the National Science Foundation and the lab announced its preparations for closure, UW provided the lab with short-term funding as alternatives were sought. Bisognano said he has been looking for other sources for funding over the past several years, but with a shortfall of approximately $5 million, he has announced that the lab will be forced to close in March.

The lab’s dozen technical workers will be left without jobs, and will have to seek employment elsewhere, Bisognano said. The lab’s other personnel have found jobs at other national labs, at UW and in industry, while others are retiring, a statement from UW said.

“Over the past few years, we’ve developed an infrared beam that can measure the structure and the chemical identity of the target material at the same time,”
Bisognano said in a statement. “This device is the best in the world, and that’s probably the saddest part about shutting this down.”

The closing of this particular lab raises questions among educators and researchers regarding the effects and implications of federal budget cuts to basic research.

Bisognano said though the closing of this site was an unfortunate loss, places like SRC are being shut down across the country, which he said was a shortsighted move by policy makers looking to bolster the country’s economic recovery.

“The scientific community is really being squeezed,” Bisognano said. “Our children will be left a country without a scientific base and without the ability to compete in high-tech.”

Wesley Smith, a professor of physics at UW and a member of the team of UW researchers that won the Nobel Prize for Physics last year, spoke out against the continued federal cuts to basic research too, saying that there is no greater investment you can make in the future of a country than to invest in basic scientific research.

“The one thing that correlates the highest to prosperity is investment in basic research,” Smith said. “Investment in research is what drives the economic engine.”

Smith said as a society people are still surrounded by and living off the basic research done at the beginning of the 20th century and that “it is now our turn” to invest in children’s futures.

Smith said it was essential that the federal government support basic research, especially in times of economic hardship because private industries will not make the investments independently as the benefits of such research are much longer term. Private industries are more interested in marketing research than basic research, Smith said.

Despite the closing of the SRC, Smith said UW has not been hit by huge research cuts. In 2012, UW was ranked third in the nation for research funding with more than $1 billion, behind Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, according to the NSF.

Synchrotron Radiation Center [Wikipedia]

Letterisme and the Letterists...a French avant-garde movement

Alain Satie, extrait de ecrit en prose

The beat generation of Paris.

"The group was a motley assortment of novelists, sound poets, painters, film-makers, revolutionaries, bohemians, alcoholics, petty criminals, lunatics, under-age girls and self-proclaimed failures."

Letterist International [Wikipedia]

Traité de bave et d'éternité [Venom & Eternity]


Isidore Isou


Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day scifi romance story..."Gray Flannel Armor"

"My name is Thomas Hanley, and my case history is of particular interest to anthropologists, sociologists, and students of the bizarre. In its humble way, it serves as an example of one of the more obscure mating customs of the late 20th century."

Below is the radio script followed by an audio presentation and some comments.

X Minus One's
Gray Flannel Armor

January 9th, 1958




Countdown for blast-off. X minus five, four, three, two. X minus one. Fire.






From the far horizons of the unknown come tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future, adventures in which you'll live in a million could-be years on a thousand maybe worlds. The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine, presents -- (HEAVY ECHO) X Minus One!




Tonight, "Gray Flannel Armor." But first -- hear this!

Everyone knows about and admires Bob Hope's frequent globetrotting trips to entertain our servicemen in far-flung corners of the Earth. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually travel halfway around the world with one of America's greatest comedians, accompanied by an all-star troupe of entertainers? Well, this past Christmas, Bob Hope and company set out on a twelve-day tour of the Far East, entertaining servicemen in Honolulu, Okinawa, Korea and Japan -- and NBC's "Monitor" went along, with microphones open all the way. This weekend, you'll find yourself a voyager on this exciting trip, along with Bob, Jayne Mansfield, Hedda Hopper and Jerry Colonna as "Monitor" broadcasts highlights from "Operation: Entertainment." And this is only part of the top variety of information and entertainment "Monitor" brings you all weekend long beginning Friday night. So start your weekend right with "Monitor" on Friday night and stay with "Monitor" all weekend long for celebrities, music, news and sports over most of these same NBC Radio stations.




Now, "X Minus One" and Part One of "Gray Flannel Armor."


(NARRATES) My name is Thomas Hanley and my case history is of particular interest to anthropologists, sociologists and students of the bizarre. In its humble way, it serves as an example of one of the more obscure mating customs of the late twentieth century.

To begin with, I own several gray flannel suits and many slim neckties with regimental stripes. Millions of us roam the streets of our great cities -- footsteps firm and hurried, eyes front, voices lowered -- dressed to the point of invisibility. (CONSPIRATORIALLY) But inside -- inside -- I fairly seethed with romantic ideas -- of swinging cutlasses, of beautiful damsels, their hair shimmering in the moonlight. In short -- let's face it -- I was a romanticist.

But romance is a commodity difficult to come by in the great cities. Life is too impersonal, too busy, too standardized. This particular Friday night, I returned from my office to my one-room apartment and prepared to face another long, dull weekend. Then the doorbell rang.




Good evening, Mr. Hanley.


Uh, if you're collecting for something, come back after payday.


My friend, I'm Joe Morris, a representative of the New York Romance Service, main offices in the Empire State Building and branches in all five boroughs, Westchester and New Jersey.


You must have the wrong party.


Oh, no, Mr. Hanley. We're out to serve lonely people -- and that means you! Don't deny it, now. Why else would you be sitting home on a Friday night?


Well, the fact is--


You're lonely. And it's our business -- and our pleasure -- to serve you.


(BEAT) To serve me with what?


A bright, sensitive, good-looking fellow like yourself needs girls.




Nice girls. Now, these young ladies I was referring to, Mr. Hanley, are not, er, uh-- professionals. They're sweet, normal, romantically-inclined young ladies. But they are lonely. There are many lonely girls in our city, Mr. Hanley.


Oh, yes. Yes, I suppose there are. Funny, you never think of it that way. I mean, if you're not a girl.


True, true. Now the purpose of the New York Romance Service is to bring young people together under suitable circumstances.


Oh! Oh, I see. A kind of a-- (CHUCKLES) You'll pardon the expression, a kind of "friendship club"?


I should say not. We at the New York Romance have done what should have been done years ago. We've applied scientific precision and technological know-how to a thorough study of the factors essential to a successful meeting between the sexes.


Factors? What factors?


The most vital ones, my friend, are spontaneity and a sense of fatedness.


Oh, well, spontaneity and fate are contradictory terms.


Certainly. Romance, by its very nature, must be composed of contradictory elements. We have graphs to prove it.


Are you saying that you sell romance?


The very article. The pure and pristine substance itself. Mind you, I didn't say love. I didn't say common animal passion. I said romance. The missing ingredient, Mr. Hanley, in modern society -- the spice of life, the vision of all the ages. That is what we sell.


Uh, very interesting. If I'm ever in the market, I'll get in touch with you.


Oh, now, just a minute, sir. Try our system for a few days absolutely free of charge. Here. Put this in your lapel.


Oh? Well, what--? Well, what is this thing? It looks like a small transistor radio with a tiny video eye.


As it happens, it is a small transistor radio with a tiny video eye.


Oh? What does it do?


You'll see. Just give it a try. Remember, romances sponsored by our firm are fated, spontaneous, aesthetically satisfying and morally justifiable.


Well, uh-- All right, Mr. Morris. I'll accept the free trial offer. Er, wear this in my lapel, you say?


In the lapel.


Uh huh. Well, all right. There it is.


(MOVING OFF) Happy romance, Mr. Hanley!




You're listening to "The Gray Flannel Armor," tonight's attraction on "X Minus One."

Are you able to brush your own teeth? Not everyone can. Not a man whose arms have been crippled by polio. There are thousands of disabled polio survivors who must depend on someone else to help them perform the simplest, most personal act. With your help, many polio victims can learn how to be independent. Right now there are one hundred thousand survivors of crippling polio who need help. They need your dimes and dollars to pay for expensive care and equipment. Your contributions will provide trained hands to teach a polio survivor how to live with his disability. Thanks to you, a polio-scarred life will once again seem worth living. Remember, your generosity is the one hope of thousands for whom Salk vaccine came too late. Join the Nineteen Fifty-Eight March of Dimes. Won't you right now send your dimes and dollars to your local March of Dimes headquarters?




Now, "X Minus One" brings you Act Two of "Gray Flannel Armor."


(NARRATES) After Joe Morris left me, I took off my gray flannel jacket and examined the small device attached to my lapel. It had no knobs or controls. It didn't seem to do anything at all. I shrugged, put my jacket on again, tightened the Windsor knot in my tie, and went for a walk.

It was a clear, cool night. Like most nights in my life, it was a perfect time for romance. Around me lay the city, infinite in its possibilities and rich in its promise. [X]




(NARRATES) But it was devoid of fulfillment. Nothing ever happened. I passed lighted apartment buildings and thought of the women behind the high, blank windows, looking down and seeing a lonely walker on the dark streets. Wondering about me, maybe -- as I was wondering about them.


Nice to be on the roof of a building, to look down on the city.




Huh? Huh? Who said that? I - I wonder-- Ohhh, sure. Heh! This transistor thing. (TO RADIO) Hey, er, what was that you said about a roof? (NO ANSWER, TO HIMSELF) Oh. I guess it isn't two-way. Well, it's not a bad idea, though. Would be kind of pleasant to look down on the city lights.








Not that one.


Well, what's wrong? (REALIZES, AMUSED) Oh. Oh, sure. Wrong building.




Uh, ya mean this one over here? (NO ANSWER, TO HIMSELF) Oh. No answer again.




Well, must be the right one this time. Least, I hope so.




(NARRATES) I walked into the lobby and I remember thinking how you had to hand it to New York Romances. They seemed to know what they were doing. I took the self-service elevator to the top floor. From there, I walked up a flight of stairs to the roof. [X]




(EXHALES, TO HIMSELF) Well, the air smells good up here, at least.


No. Not that side. The west side.


Okay. I hope you know what you're doing. I certainly don't. Heh. If this turns out to be some sort of joke, I'll-- (INHALES, SURPRISED, DELIGHTED, OVERCOME) Ohhhh.


(SWEETLY) Hello?


Oh, I'm, uh-- I'm sorry. (CHUCKLES NERVOUSLY) I didn't mean to intrude.


You're not intruding.


Well, I - I didn't see you at first -- there in the shadows.


I know.


The lights. Mention the lights.


Huh? Oh, um-- (TO 1ST GIRL) Those - those lights. The lights of the city down there? They're beautiful.


Yes. Like a great carpet of stars. Or - or spear points in the gloom.


Like sentinels keeping eternal vigil in the night.


(ROMANTIC) Like sentinels keeping eternal vigil in the night.


Take her in your arms.


(ROMANTIC) Take her--




Uh-- (CHUCKLES NERVOUSLY) Nothing. Nothing; a mistake. Uh-- (ROMANTIC) Come here to me.






(NARRATES, UNDER A ROMANTIC SPELL) As she was melting in my arms, I caught sight of the small transistor set pinned to her shoulder strap.

(SNAPS OUT OF IT, UNROMANTIC) The one exactly like the one in my lapel! Ya can't help feeling a little odd about a romantic meeting set up and sponsored by transistor radios. I could visualize a million young men in gray flannel suits roaming the streets in response to barely-heard commands from a million tiny radios.

(SIGHS) I tried to forget my doubts. [X]




(NARRATES) The next night, I took another walk and found myself in a slum section of the city. I decided I'd made a mistake and started to turn around.


Why not walk on?


Hm? (SKEPTICAL) You want me to walk down this alley? Oh, well.




(YELLS, FROM OFF) Help! Help!


(STARTLED, TO HIMSELF) Oh - oh-- Good night! Two muggers after a girl. I - I'd better look for a policeman.


Why do that? You can handle them.


No, no, no. A policeman can do it a lot better.


(YELLS, FROM OFF) Help! Help!


No, you must do it. Now.


(STAMMERS) But there's two men! They're probably armed.


(YELLS, FROM OFF) Save me! Help!


You can do it.


(RELUCTANT) Oh-- Oh, well. Here goes.




No, you don't!


Now, wait a minute--


Let me go! Let me go!


(HEROIC) Wait. I'll save you! Let go of her, you rats! There! Take that! And that!




(CALLS AFTER THEM) Ah! That'll teach you to harm a helpless girl! (EXHALES, RELIEVED)


(ECSTATIC) Oh! You - you saved me. You saved my life!


I had to come.


(BREATHY) I - had to come.


(INTENSE) Yes, I know.


Take her in your arms.


(WHISPERS) Yes, I know.




(NARRATES) I swept her into my arms and we embraced there in the darkened alleyway. As I held her close, my cheek brushed a shining jewel in her raven-black hair. (INCREASINGLY UNROMANTIC) I had to look twice to recognize it but, sure enough, it was a tiny transistor receiver just like mine.

I was suddenly angry! Oh, the girl was lovely. There was no denying that! And the circumstances were undeniably romantic until you realized that it was all a kind of cheap play. (DISGUSTED) Fated and spontaneous! That was a joke!

Angrily, I tore the transistor from my lapel and threw it into the nearest garbage can. I stalked away into the night hardly realizing where I was going. I didn't really wake up until I reached the waterfront.




(NARRATES) I stood there looking at the oily black water and let the brackish-scented breeze fan my face. [X] And then, unexpectedly, I was aware of another person nearby. The moon slid from behind a cloud and her auburn-tinted hair caught its light and held it for a moment. She turned her face toward me with frank curiosity. But, this time, there was no transistor radio to throw me a cue. I didn't need one. (TO 3RD GIRL) It's a - nice night.


Maybe. Maybe not.


Uh, the beauty is there -- if you care to see it.


What a strange thing to say.


Is it? Is it really so strange? Is it strange that I'm here at this very moment -- and that you're here, too?


Perhaps not. No, perhaps not.


Let me look at you. (BEAT) Oh, you're really beautiful, you know.




You know you are.




(SIGHS) You're - you're lovely.


Do you really like me?


Like you? If I could only tell you--


Oh, I'm so glad. You see, I'm your free introductory romance, given you as a sample by Greater Romance Industries--!




-- with home offices in Newark, New Jersey. You see, only our firm offers romances which are truly spontaneous and fated.


Spontaneous and fated?!




Due to our technological researches, we are able to dispense with such clumsy apparatus as transistor radios and-- (CALLS) Sir?! Where are you going?!




(NARRATES) I was sick and disgusted. After that, there were several other attempts to get in touch with me but I ignored them. I wanted no more to do with the romance game.

In a couple of days, I called up a twittering aunt of mine and she arranged a blind date for me with the daughter of one of her oldest friends. The blind date was a nice, friendly girl with plain, mousy brown hair. We were introduced in my aunt's living room and we sat out on her sun porch and talked. [X]


So you're Tom Hanley?


Yeah, yeah, I, uh, guess I am.


Your aunt has told me a lot about you. You work in advertising, don't you?


Yes, yes, that's right. Um, uh-- Madison Avenue.


Oh, I think that's thrilling. Advertising, I mean. It's such an - an interesting field.


Well -- heh! We, uh-- We like to think so.


Yes, I imagine you do all right.


Uhhhh-- Seems like, uh-- it's warmer this evening, doesn't it?


Oh, yes, it is. Although I don't mind the cooler weather so much. Lots of people complain about it, but I don't mind.


Well, uh, I don't either, I guess. Heh. As long as - you're dressed for it.


(LAUGHS) Yes, I suppose that's the secret.


Oh, I was just thinking. Uh, do you like bowling?


Oh, I don't know. I've never bowled.




Do you like tennis? I'm crazy about tennis.


Well, tennis is all right. Yeah. I guess you could say - tennis is fine.


I'm crazy about it.




(NARRATES) Well, all right. So it wasn't romantic. At least, it wasn't at first. But there must have been something about it. We began to hit it off, and we had more dates, and one thing led to another, and -- the first thing you know-- (CHUCKLES) Darned if we didn't get married. [X]

Yes, that's the story of my courtship. Of course, it isn't the whole story. At least, if you're making a case history, you have to know the important things. And, to my mind, one of the most important of all happened after we were married.

We bought a nice little house out near my aunt's and settled down in it. Then, one Saturday morning, I was out cutting the lawn--




(OFF) Hi, there!


Huh? Uh, did you - did you say something?


(OFF) I said "Hi"! Don't you remember me? Joe Morris.


Ohhhh! Oh, sure. New York Romances. Well, uh, I'm sorry, Mr. Morris, but you'd better take me off the list. I'm, uh-- Heh! I'm married now.


(APPROACHES) Certainly. I know all about it. Congratulations.


Oh, thanks.


I mean, I know all about the way it happened. Introduced by your aunt, talking on the sun porch, corny old-fashioned stuff. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not knocking it. Quite the contrary. Do you know what we down at New York Romances call this?


No, what?


Hanley's Mode. We studied you. A lot of commercial possibility there. We've got it down on graphs. "Effects of Embarrassment on the Psyche," "The Role of the Aunt in American Courtship," the whole works.


What are you talking about?


New York Romances, what else? We've got a new service. It's called "The Old-Fashioned Plan."


The what?!


We provide bonded aunts for young men to call up. We even have the aunt walk into the sun parlor, at unexpected intervals, with a plate of cookies or something. They say the suspense becomes almost overpowering. Like our motto always said -- "Spontaneity and a Sense of Fatedness." It never misses, my boy. Never misses!




You have just heard "X Minus One," presented by the National Broadcasting Company in cooperation with Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine which this month features "The Repairman" by Harry Harrison. Being an interstellar trouble shooter wouldn't be so bad if only you could - shoot the trouble. Galaxy Magazine, on your newsstand today.




"X Minus One" has brought you "Gray Flannel Armor," a story from the pages of Galaxy written by Finn O'Donnevan and adapted for radio by William Welch. Featured in our cast were William Redfield as Thomas Hanley and Guy Repp as Joe Morris. Others in our cast were Abby Lewis, Pat Hosley, Hetty Galen, Freddie Chandler and Helen Gerald. This is Fred Collins speaking. This broadcast concludes this series of "X Minus One." We sincerely hope you enjoyed it. "X Minus One" was directed by George Voutsas and is an NBC Radio Network production.




Guest star Don Ameche is your host on "Nightline," your line to new worlds of entertainment after dark -- tonight on most of these NBC stations.

Audio presentation [January 9th, 1958

Gray Flannel Armor

Tangent wrote...

Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) is regarded as one of the finest short story writers in SF history, his voluminous short work being lauded by J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster, and many others. Hugo and Nebula nominated for his sparkling, clever, sometimes absurdist visions, he was named SFWA Author Emeritus at the 2001 Nebula Awards in Los Angeles, where I was fortunate enough to meet him for the first and last time. "Gray Flannel Armor" is Sheckley's third X Minus One appearance here. It appeared in the November 1957 issue of Galaxy, under the pen name of Finn O'Donnevan (note that the cover has another Sheckley story, "Morning After," under his own name, along with the conclusion of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth's novel Wolfbane).

A word of warning, or explanation if you will. Sometimes a story gives rise to a lengthier introduction via its historical context than the norm. Such is the case here, so please bear with me.

"Gray Flannel Armor" is a deceptively simple story, for it deals with lonely people searching for someone to love. In this prescient story however, Sheckley combines cutting edge technology with the human element and a (relatively) early incarnation of the "dating" service. The cutting edge technology? The transistor.

The transistor is very old technology now, but when Sheckley wrote "Gray Flannel Armor" it was the hot high-tech innovation that pretty much revolutionized the way people world-wide would listen to music (and get their news; the automobile industry would engineer this technology for car radios as well). Those of us old enough to remember will appreciate the introduction of the transistor into our lives. But here's part of the beauty of Sheckley's speculation about how the transistor could be used. First, a brief bit of history. The transistor was invented in 1947--just the transistor--with no immediate practical application. But engineers in major tech corporations around the world attempted to adapt it to the radio immediately--in Japan, the US, and Germany--all were scrambling to find a commercially practical way for it to replace the bulky vacuum tubes used in radios and televisions. Everyone failed until 1954 when Texas Instruments introduced the first practical production line transistor radios. 1954. Radios became portable (with batteries as the power source, and that industry blossomed as well) and sans an electrical cord for the first time. They became part of the social consciousness of the public at large via exposure to magazine and newspaper articles all over the country...and in advertising everywhere. The transistor made the portable transistor radio an overnight sensation, selling billions from the mid-1950s through most of the 1970s when cassettes and other technologies replaced the transistor (the digital revolution was just around the corner).

But Sheckley's story was published at the end of 1957, which means that with magazine lead time (at least four to six months, give or take), the inventory Galaxy had on hand, and whether or not the story was extracted from the slush pile (doubtful, but possible), that Sheckley wrote the story (following the time to come up with the idea, research it, and plot and write the story) either in very early 1957 or late 1956. No more than two years after the beginning of the transistor-fueled explosion hit the general public on a practical level with the first transistor radios. A revolutionary commercial application, mind you, that wouldn't appreciably change the world for a few years yet.

So, as a science fiction author, what does Sheckley do with this transistor radio phenomenon. Two things. On the human level he speculates a "dating service," such as they were at the time--but in this instance a very special sort of service--enticing the lovelorn (after payment) into wearing a miniature transistor radio device whereby an anonymous voice from the "service" whispers in the ear of the "customer" upon meeting a possible romantic partner, just the right words to insure a positive emotional response on the part of the other person (male or female). In essence, and for the time, a high-tech dating/match-making service (strictly on the up-and-up, of course--no "escort" service here). Therefore, the clumsy, tongue-tied, or shy are transformed into something they may want to be, and on the inside may be, but outwardly are not. How this transistor technology, used by Sheckley's mid-1950s cutting-edge dating service plays out is the crux of the story. But the story doesn't quite end there, for this is a Sheckley story. At the very end there is a chance meeting with our protagonist, years later, with the representative who sold him the original service. The service, the New York Romances service by name--has come up with a new "scientific" wrinkle. A set of personal and sociological matrixes whereby they can virtually guarantee a satisfactory romantic match, for New York Romances has followed our protagonist from his previous history and tracked his every move (how they do this is irrelevant--but we know how such things might be accomplished today, don't we?).

As an example of how much of Sheckley's blend of then-high-tech focused on the timeless search for love has progressed fictionally through the decades, we note that as recently as this year, 2011, new writers (whether they know it or not) are attempting to address the same concern, in strikingly similar, if not precisely identical fashion. The high-tech element is now borrowed from early Bruce Sterling, ones and zeros and the almost-magical possibilities arising therefrom and not the lowly transistor, and while the search for love is not from a dating service, the search for a one-on-one romantic rendezvous is still at the heart of the matter; see this review of the story "Perfection" by Jay Garmond from Redstone SF #11, April 2011--over half a century after "Gray Flannel Armor" appeared in Galaxy. The core use of technology to explore the identical theme is worth noting, thus, in part, this unusually lengthy introduction for which I beg forgiveness.