Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for October 3, 2015

The Presidio Modelo was a “Panopticon”* design prison in Cuba. The design allowed all the inmates to be watched by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they were being watched; ca. 1926

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The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.


This prison is not a true Panopticon design.

No true Panopticon prisons to Bentham’s designs have ever been built. The closest are the buildings of the now abandoned Presidio Modelo in Cuba (constructed 1926–28). Although most prison designs have included elements of surveillance, the essential elements of Bentham’s design were not only that the custodians should be able to view the prisoners at all times (including times when they were in their cells), but also that the prisoners should be unable to see the custodians, and so could never be sure whether or not they were under surveillance.

“This objective was extremely difficult to achieve within the constraints of the available technology, which is why Bentham spent so many years reworking his plans. Subsequent 19th-century prison designs enabled the custodians to keep the doors of cells and the outsides of buildings under observation, but not to see the prisoners in their cells. Something close to a realization of Bentham’s vision only became possible through 20th-century technological developments—notably closed-circuit television (CCTV)—but these eliminated the need for a specific architectural framework.

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Fireball of Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the United States of America. The picture was taken from about 40,000 feet, Bikini Atoll; ca. 1954

In a distant laboratory, a Soviet scientist looking at a seismograph had a distinct feeling of discomfort.

The photo was taken from a plane flying 75 nautical miles from ground zero, from an altitude of 12,500 feet. The fireball is over 4 miles wide.

A Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryu Maru, came in direct contact with the fallout. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcinated Bikini Island coral, had absorbed highly radioactive fission products, and fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash). The crew members, suffering from nausea, headaches, burns, pain in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms, were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals. Seven months after the test on September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”

This resulted in an international uproar and reignited Japanese concerns about radiation, especially in regard that Japanese citizens were once more adversely affected by U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Japanese and U.S. governments quickly reached a political settlement and paid out US$2 million to the surviving victims, each receiving about ¥ 2 million each ($5,550 in 1954, $47,400 in 2013). It was also agreed that the victims would not be given Hibakusha status.


“The Most Beautiful Suicide”; ca. May 1947

The woman in the photo was 23-year-old Evelyn McHale. “At the bottom of Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier her falling body punched into the top of a car.”

The woman in the photo was 23-year-old Evelyn McHale. “At the bottom of Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier her falling body punched into the top of a car.”

“On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. “He is much better off without me. . . . I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,” she wrote. Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Across the street photography student Robert Wiles heard an explosive crash. Just four minutes after Evelyn McHale’s death Wiles got this picture of death’s violence and its composure.”

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