Ooh, this looks good: Medieval Europe is Oxford historian Chris Wickham’s “spirited and thought-provoking history of the vast changes that transformed Europe during the 1,000-year span of the Middle Ages”.
Tracking the entire sweep of the Middle Ages across Europe, Wickham focuses on important changes century by century, including such pivotal crises and moments as the fall of the western Roman Empire, Charlemagne’s reforms, the feudal revolution, the challenge of heresy, the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the rebuilding of late medieval states, and the appalling devastation of the Black Death. He provides illuminating vignettes that underscore how shifting social, economic, and political circumstances affected individual lives and international events.
Here’s a short excerpt on the Yale University Press blog.
The Middle Ages get short shrift in tellings of European history (as evidenced by the term “Dark Ages”…and even “Middle” implies something moving between two better eras), but recently historians have been working on filling out the story and rehabilitating that period. I really enjoyed Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome, so I’m looking forward to digging into this when it comes out in November.
When you see how well it works for Donald Trump, do you ever think to yourself, “Oh, maybe I should be more racist”?
I loved this. If Galifianakis can’t get her to break, what hope does Trump have in the debates? Maybe this is part of her debate prep?
Born to be Mild is a short documentary about The Dull Men’s Club, an online community of men wishing to escape the hurly-burly of everyday life and just be ordinary.
Whether you’re crazy for roundabouts, addicted to photographing mailboxes, have the world’s largest collection of British milk bottles, or you’re a dull man with pretty much any sort of hobby that induces bafflement and yawns in friends and acquaintances, there’s a club just for you. A drolly cheerful celebration of the very ordinary, Born to be Mild explores the uncommon hobbies practiced by the members of the Dull Men’s Club — an online community that connects ‘dull men, and women who appreciate dull men’.
The group’s “greatest accomplishment”, listed on their about page, is:
Remaining dull in spite of the ever-increasing pressures from advertising, the media, and elsewhere to change.
In a recent piece in the NY Times Magazine, Nicholson Baker wrote about dullness:
That’s the extremely interesting thing: Everything is interesting. Potentially. Sometimes it may not seem so. You may think a certain thing is completely without interest. You may think, or I may think, eh, dull, boring, heck with it, let’s move on. But there is someone on this planet who can find something interesting in that particular thing. And it’s often good to try. You have to poke at a thing, sometimes, and find out where it squeaks. Any seemingly dull thing is made up of subsidiary things. It’s a composite — of smaller events or decisions. Or of atoms and molecules and prejudices and hunches that are fireflying around in unexpected and impossible trajectories. Everything is interesting because everything is not what it is, but is something on the way to being something else. Everything has a history and a secret stash of fascination.
The Dull Men’s Club actually seems to be the Odd Objects Collector’s Club. I could get into milk bottles and roundabouts. What about the truly dull, who don’t collect anything and just watch the news on TV all day?
Wired took an exclusive tour of NASA’s rockets and robots with photographer Benedict Redgrove and the photographic results are — sorry! — out of this world. Best viewed on Redgrove’s site, who must be — still sorry!! — over the moon about how they turned out. But seriously, that DARPA centaur-on-wheels robot…how cool is that?
Also, you may remember Redgrove from his short film on how tennis balls are made. How that for service? (Stop. Just stop it. (You love it. (STOP!)))
What causes traffic? Mostly the poor reaction times of humans driving cars. Even a simple lane change can cause traffic to back up for hours. What’s the solution? (Hint: it rhymes with “health diving stars”.)
See also intersections in the age of driverless cars.
A cool brace from Tycho this week. First was the chill Burning Man set and now a brand-new album called Epoch. My Friday is allllll set.
From Candice Drouet, a quick supercut of some of notable athletic shoes in movies, including Marty’s self-lacing Nikes from Back to the Future II (which you can win in a raffle). Michael Keaton’s Batman wore Nikes?
Per the second law of thermodynamics, the total entropy of a closed system is always increasing. So how does complexity arise out of that? More colloquially, if everything in the Universe is always falling apart, how do complex organisms like living things come into being? Well, entropy and complexity are actually two different things…
From XKCD, a typically fine illustration of climate change since the last ice age ~20,000 years ago.
When people say “the climate has changed before”, these are the kinds of changes they’re talking about.
And then in the alt text on the image:
[After setting your car on fire] Listen, your car’s temperature has changed before.
The chart is a perfect use of scale to illustrate a point about what the data actually shows. Tufte would be proud.
Update: Tufte is proud. (via @pixelcult)
Johanna Nordblad is a free diver who specializes in cold water dives. After being injured in a biking accident, her recovery involved ice water baths and she developed an interest in cold water. Ian Derry filmed Nordblad doing a dive for this gorgeous short video.
There is no place for fear, no place for panic, no place for mistakes. Under the ice, you need total control of the place, the time, and to trust yourself completely.
Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have stumbled upon a process that uses “nanospikes” to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol, a common fuel.
This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.
Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.
This sounds like a big deal…is it now possible to limit the effects of climate change by sinking carbon while also placing less dependence on fossil fuels? Here’s the Oak Ridge press release. That this news is almost a week old already and we haven’t heard more about it makes me a bit skeptical as to the true importance of it. (Of course, CRISPR is potentially a massive deal and we don’t hear about it nearly enough so…)
Update: A relevant series of tweets from Eric Hittinger on “why creating ethanol from CO2 cannot solve our energy or climate problems”. Wasn’t fully awake when I posted this apparently because, yeah, duh. (via @leejlh)
This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.
Update: Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie details why the Black Jeopardy sketch was so good; the title of the piece asks, “The Most Astute Analysis of American Politics in 2016?”
When Thompson reads a second clue for that category — “They out here saying that every vote counts” — Doug answers again, and again correctly: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ‘fore it happens.’” With each correct answer, Doug gets cheers and applause from Thompson, the black contestants, and the black audience. They all seem to understand the world in similar ways. “I really appreciate you saying that,” says Thompson after Doug praises Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, leading to an awkward moment where Hanks’ character recoils in fear as Thompson tries to shake his hand, but then relaxes and accepts the gesture.
By this point, the message is clear. On this episode of “Black Jeopardy!”, the questions are rooted in feelings of disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity-experiences that cut across racial lines. Thompson and the guests are black, but they can appreciate the things they share with Doug, and in turn, Doug grows more and more comfortable in their presence, such that he gets a “pass” from the group after he refers to them as “you people.”
Due to its popularity, the Harry Potter series of books has been translated into dozens of different languages from around the world. Given the books’ setting in Britain, heavy use of wordplay & allusions, and all of the invented words, translating the books accurately and faithfully was difficult.
Translators weren’t given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.
Also not mentioned in the video is all of the foreshadowing Rowling uses in the first few books in the series that pays off in later books. Since the translators probably didn’t know the plot details of the later books, some of that foreshadowing might have been edited out, downplayed, or misinterpreted.
In the 1930s, almost a decade before the nation’s young men would be shipped overseas to combat the foul stench of Hitler wafting across Europe, official and unofficial rallies for the Nazi party were held in Madison Square Garden.
Shortly after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Nazis consolidated control over the country. Looking to cultivate power beyond the borders of Germany, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess charged German-American immigrant Heinz Spanknobel with forming a strong Nazi organization in the United States.
Combining two small extant groups, Spanknobel formed Friends of New Germany in July 1933. Counting both German nationals and Americans of German descent among its membership, the Friends loudly advocated for the Nazi cause, storming the offices of New York’s largest German-language paper, countering Jewish boycotts of German businesses and holding swastika-strewn rallies in black-and-white uniforms.
A later group, which only disbanded at the end of 1941, were prominently pro-American and featured iconography of George Washington as “the first Fascist”. (I would have gone for “the Founding Fascist”…catchier.)
Shel Kaphan was the first person Jeff Bezos hired to work on Amazon. In an interview with Craig Cannon, he talked about how he met Bezos, the early days of the site, and how he feels about the experience now.
At the time I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be building this website to run a bookstore and I haven’t done that before but it doesn’t sound so hard. When I’m done with that I’m not sure what I’ll do.” At that point there was no idea of doing anything but a bookstore. I thought maybe I would be able to go back to Santa Cruz and monitor it from there. I was pretty wrong about how the business would develop and how ambitious Jeff was. I didn’t know him at the time. We had just met.
I had forgotten that Amazon’s IPO happened less than two years after the site went live…can’t imagine something like that happening today.
A short video look at the Master’s golf tournament. You know, the one where you get the green jacket for winning. No, not that one…the mini golf one.
True story: I have won a mini golf tournament. It was an 18-hole affair, a 4th of July tourney at a campground in northwestern Wisconsin. At 16, I was the youngest competitor in the adult competition and had never before (or since) shown any aptitude for the game of golf, mini or otherwise. Somehow I beat the defending champion on his home course by one stroke. I declined to turn pro and promptly retired from competition.
Kanye West is not a great singer. But he packs his songs and albums full of the human voice. Estelle Caswell explains how Kanye uses the human voice as the central instrument in his music.
Michael Chabon has written a great non-traditional boy-coming-of-age story about his son Abe, who, at 13, is obsessed with fashion.
It takes a profound love of clothes, and some fairly decent luck, to stumble on somebody who wants to converse about cutting-edge men’s fashion at a Rush concert, and yet a year before his trip to Paris, in the aftermath of the Canadian band’s last show at Madison Square Garden, Abe had managed to stumble on John Varvatos. Abe had spent that day leading his bemused minder on a pilgrimage through SoHo, from Supreme to Bape to Saint Laurent to Y-3, and now, ears still ringing from the final encore (“Working Man”), Abe reported in detail to Varvatos, with annotations and commentary, on all the looks he had seen downtown. When he was through, Varvatos had turned to Abe’s minder — a major Rush fan who was, of course, also Abe’s father — and said, “Where’d you get this kid?”
Read this all the way to the end…the perfect coda to the story.
Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) is coming out with a new mockumentary for Netflix about a competition to determine the best sports mascot.
Jeet Heer writing for The New Republic: Clinton Proved Trump Is a Man You Can Bait in a Debate.
In her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump memorably, saying, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” The insight that Trump is easy to provoke formed the core of Clinton’s successful strategy in the first debate on Monday, as she repeatedly incited the Republican nominee to both adopt an off-putting aggressive tone and to make a series of damaging self-admissions.
This reminded me of poker player Annie Duke’s explanation of how she used the gender stereotypes of her male opponents against them.
I figured it was part of the game that if somebody was at the table who was so emotionally invested in the fact that I was a woman, that they could treat me that way, that probably, that person wasn’t going to make good decisions at the table against me. So I really tried to sort of separate that out and think about it from a strategic place of, how can I come up with the best strategy to take their money because I guess, in the end, isn’t that the best revenge?
Trump sounds like he’s a combination of the angry and disrespecting chauvinists:
VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.
DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.
VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.
DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.
VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren’t creative.
DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.
VEDANTAM: And then there’s a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.
DUKE: The angry chauvinist.
VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can’t bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.
DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.
Although I suspect his chauvinism is only part of his poor debate showing…his insecurity is off the charts as well.
From Genius, a short review of Beyonce Knowles’ life and career, from an appearance on Star Search — I wonder what Skeleton Crew is up to these days? — to Lemonade, one of 2016’s few genuine bright spots. The greatest entertainer of the century so far? A friend recently went to see Beyonce and Kanye concerts about two weeks apart. I asked her who was better and she just rolled her eyes.
An advertising poster for Italian typewriter company Olivetti by graphic designer Giovanni Pintori.
Doris Kearns Goodwin worked in the White House for LBJ and has written extensively about US Presidents: Team of Rivals (Lincoln), The Bully Pulpit (Teddy Roosevent & Taft), and No Ordinary Time (FDR & Eleanor Roosevelt). For the November issue of Vanity Fair, she visited with Barack Obama in the White House to reflect on his progress and legacy as he approaches the end of his two terms in office. The resulting conversation is excellent.
Early in my presidency, I went to Cairo to make a speech to the Muslim world. And in the afternoon, after the speech, we took helicopters out to the pyramids. And they had emptied the pyramids for us, and we could just wander around for a couple hours [at] the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the pyramids are one of those things that live up to the hype. They’re elemental in ways that are hard to describe. And you’re going to these tombs and looking at the hieroglyphics and imagining the civilization that built these iconic images.
And I still remember it — because I hadn’t been president that long at that point — thinking to myself, There were a lot of people during the period when these pyramids were built who thought they were really important. And there was the equivalent of cable news and television and newspapers and Twitter and people anguishing over their relative popularity or position at any given time. And now it’s all just covered in dust and sand. And all that people know [today] are the pyramids.
Sometimes I carry with me that perspective, which tells me that my particular worries on any given day — how I’m doing in the polls or what somebody is saying about me … for good or for ill — isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is: What am I building that lasts?
I particularly enjoyed the part early on about ambition, adversity, and empathy. Oh, this short anecdote from Goodwin about LBJ is great:
L.B.J. had his amphibious car when he was president. He tricked me and took me in his car one day, and the Secret Service collaborated with him. L.B.J., behind the wheel, warned me, “Be careful, we’re going toward a lake. The brakes aren’t working.” Well, we go into the lake: the car became a boat. Then he got so mad at me because I didn’t get scared. I’d figured, He’s not going to die. And he said, “Don’t you Harvard people have enough sense to be scared?”
Has anyone in one of these interviews really pressed Obama on his drone policy? I think it’s the one big stain on his record and would love to hear his personal defense of it in length.
In June, ecologist Suzanne Simard gave a talk at TED about her 30 years of research into how trees talk to each other. Underneath the forest floor, there is a communications network on which trees — even those from different species — trade carbon with each other, send warnings, and trade messages. Simard described one of her first experiments (from the transcript):
I pulled on my white paper suit, I put on my respirator, and then I put the plastic bags over my trees. I got my giant syringes, and I injected the bags with my tracer isotope carbon dioxide gases, first the birch. I injected carbon-14, the radioactive gas, into the bag of birch. And then for fir, I injected the stable isotope carbon-13 carbon dioxide gas. I used two isotopes, because I was wondering whether there was two-way communication going on between these species.
The idea was to use the isotopes to track whether the trees were trading carbon when some of them were shaded and less able to make their own energy.
The evidence was clear. The C-13 and C-14 was showing me that paper birch and Douglas fir were in a lively two-way conversation. It turns out at that time of the year, in the summer, that birch was sending more carbon to fir than fir was sending back to birch, especially when the fir was shaded. And then in later experiments, we found the opposite, that fir was sending more carbon to birch than birch was sending to fir, and this was because the fir was still growing while the birch was leafless. So it turns out the two species were interdependent, like yin and yang.
Fascinating. German forester Peter Wohlleben came out with a book this week called The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (Simard contributed a note to the book). From a Guardian review:
Trees have friends, feel loneliness, scream with pain and communicate underground via the “woodwide web”. Some act as parents and good neighbours. Others do more than just throw shade — they’re brutal bullies to rival species. The young ones take risks with their drinking and leaf-dropping then remember the hard lessons from their mistakes. It’s a hard-knock life.
The Monthly, Maclean’s, and Scribd all have excerpts of Wohlleben’s book if you’re interested.
Update: See also this episode of Radiolab, From Tree to Shining Tree. (via @Chan_ing)
Daniel Jovanov does fantastic impressions of cars. In the video above, he imitates them so well that a trio of actual race car drivers are able to pick out exactly which ones he’s doing. I think he’s gotten better since his appearance on Australia’s Got Talent several years ago:
This folding measuring spoon on Kickstarter is clever as hell. Polygons lays flat in a drawer and, depending on how you pick it up, folds into four different volumes.
Premarked areas on both spoon sizes (tablespoon and teaspoon) let you know where to pick up from to measure the volume required for your recipe. Practicality and simplicity at its finest.
The spoons come in two sizes (the smaller measures teaspoons and the larger one tablespoons), they’re marked with US and metric measurements, you can flatten it to easily scrape every last bit of stuff into the bowl, and it doubles as a knife when flat as well. (via colossal)
Update: Hmm, it looks like Polygons needs a little more work to be a fully functional product. (thx, mac)
From a new Kickstarter publication called The Creative Independent, Philip Glass was interviewed about the importance of artists owning their work and getting paid for it.
My personal position was that I had wonderful parents. Really wonderful people. But my mother was a school teacher. My father had a small record shop in Baltimore. They had no money to support my career. I began working early. You’re too young to know this, but when you get your first Social Security check, you get a list of every place you’ve worked since you began working. It’s fantastic! I discovered that I was working from the time I was 15 and putting money into the Social Security system from that age onward. I thought it was much later. No, I was actually paying money that early.
The point is that I spent most of my life supporting myself. And I own the music. I never gave it away. I am the publisher of everything I’ve written except for a handful of film scores that the big studios paid. I said, “Yeah, you can own it. You can have it, but you have to pay for it.” They did pay for it. They were not gifts.
A lot in this interview resonates, including this:
It’s never been easy for painters, or writers, or poets to make a living. One of the reasons is that we, I mean a big “We,” deny them an income for their work. As a society we do. Yet, these are the same people who supposedly we can’t live without. It’s curious, isn’t it?
And this bit about making work vs performing (italics mine):
What happens, is that the artists are in a position where they can no longer live on their work. They have to worry about that. They need to become performers. That’s another kind of work we do. I go out and play music. The big boom in performances is partly because of streaming, isn’t it? We know, for example, that there are big rock and roll bands that will give their records away free. You just have to buy the ticket to the concert. The cost of the record is rather small compared to the price of the ticket. It’s shifted around a little bit; they’re still paying, but they’re paying at the box office rather than at the record store. The money still will find its way.
Then you have to be the kind of person who goes out and plays, and some people don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of writing online. Making a comfortable living only by writing is tough and very few independents are able to do it. More successful are those who are able to get away from writing online by speaking at conferences, writing books, starting podcasts, selling merchandise,1 post sponsored tweets and Instagram photos, building apps, consulting for big companies, etc. This stuff is the equivalent of the band that tours, sells merch, composes music for TV commercials, etc. But as Glass said, what about those who just want to write? (And I count myself among that number.) How can we support those people? Anyway, more on this very soon (I hope).
Photo is of a Chuck Close painting of Philip Glass taken by me at The Whitney.
From photographer Brea Souders, an assortment of food photographed using a thermal camera.
As an object’s temperature increases, so does the amount of radiation it emits. This special camera uses state-of-the-art technology to detect infrared radiation, thereby displaying differing levels of heat in various colors and creating images reminiscent of pop art.
This Valley Girl contest that aired on Real People1 in 1982 is quite the time capsule of Reagan-era America. BAG YOUR FACE!!!! I had totally (LIKE, TOTALLY!!) forgotten about that super-80s insult. Is the Valley Girl thing the reason we, like, all say “like” and uptalk all the time now?
I love this design work from UnderConsideration for their recent conference in Nashville. It’s got a Western rhinestone + woodtype vibe but it also feels digital — the first thing that popped into my head when I saw that gorgeous F was a circuit board. Wonderful. (via @Colossal)
In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.
The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.
The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.
In a sketch from Monty Python called Argument Clinic, a character played by Michael Palin goes to a facility and pays to have an argument with John Cleese. That argument was recreated for this video using a pair of old school speech synthesizers. Palin’s part is played by the DECTalk Express (aka the voice of Stephen Hawking) and Cleese’s part is played by the Intex Talker. As you can probably hear, the Talker predates the DECTalk by a few years and is more difficult to understand. (via @303)
From James Lovelock, The Earth and I is a look at our planet and the living things on it…how Earth came to be, what we understand about our planet, and how we live today. Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Edward O. Wilson, and Eric Kandel have contributed writing to the book.
In a recent episode of his EconTalk podcast, host Russ Roberts talks with Michael Munger about a paper Munger co-authored about how white Southern attitudes toward slavery shifted from around 1815 to 1835. The episode is interesting throughout,1 but I want to highlight this attitude shift Munger writes about in the paper, something I was previously unaware of.
Sifting through documents from the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Munger and his co-author Jeffrey Grynaviski found that Southern whites believed, in the first decade or two of the 19th century, that owning slaves was evil but necessary. There was this system in place and it was bad but we’re gonna go with it because, whaddya gonna do? But in a period of about 20 years, due to a variety of factors, mostly economic, the justification for slavery shifted primarily to a racist one: that black people were inferior and needed to be cared for by whites. Southern whites came to believe, like really believe, that they were doing their slaves a favor by enslaving them and that the slaves were better off than they would be in Africa.
The way we defined it in this paper was that racism became a substitute justification for slavery. And the reason was, the original justification for slavery, which was the Roman one of wasn’t good enough. And so Southerners cast about and found basically an alternative, which was the Greek justification for slavery. And let me just say very briefly what those two are. The one justification for slavery, and it was pretty common in Rome, was that if you lost a battle and were captured, then you might either be killed or kept as a slave. And there is a mutually beneficial exchange, if you will, in the sense that you’ve already lost. So, me saying, ‘I tell you what: I won’t kill you if you will agree to act as my slave for the rest of your life. And I may free you; I may not; but that’s up to me.’ And you say, ‘Killed/be a slave: I’m going to go with the slave thing.’ But, it meant that some slaves were very excellent. And in Roman society some slaves occupied very high positions, positions of respect. It’s just that they made this promise. It was an economic institution. And that was the way that slavery had existed in Africa: if you lost a battle, then you would be captured by the other side. It was almost like indentured servitude: you could work it off.
Well, that didn’t work in the American South because they wanted to maintain slaves, to be able to identify slaves and to have a justification that would allow them to enslave the children — which the old Roman justification would never have allowed. You are not going to be a slave if you are born to a slave, because you didn’t lose in battle: you would have been free.
So, the Southerners needed a different way, so they were looking for the Aristotelian notion of slavery, which is that slaves are people who are either morally inferior or lack the judgment to make independent choices. They are like children or like horses. That means that you actually have a positive-good justification for enslaving them: if I have a thoroughbred horse or a fancy dog, it would be cruel of me to set it loose to let it run around, because it’s not capable of taking care of itself. I have obligations to take care of it. My ownership actually gives me obligations. And what’s interesting and what this paper is about is how Southerners worked that out between about 1815 and 1835, and started to understand the implications for how they had to change the economic institutions of slavery to match this new ideology that they were creating.
Yet another example of how powerful economic self-interest is in shifting moral beliefs.
Over at Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk ranked 36 Netflix original series from worst to best. It’s not a spoiler to say that Orange is the New Black is #1 (I haven’t seen it yet and guessed that it would be right at the top). Personally, I would rank Stranger Things and Kimmy Schmidt lower and Narcos, Making a Murderer, and Chef’s Table higher.
6. Narcos. An appealing, gripping, smart drama. The first episodes of Narcos sweep across decades and spend way too much time waving the exposition wand, but it somehow makes those tropes feel confident rather than tiresome. Yes, the story of Pablo Escobar covers well-trod Difficult Man territory, but Wagner Moura’s performance is charismatic and layered, and Narcos’ deadpan tone is a bracing way to frame Escobar’s often gruesome life.
What’s interesting is that Amazon’s best original show (Transparent), several of HBO’s original series, and at least 2 AMC shows are better than anything on this list (aside from possibly OITNB).
Rolling Stone polled actors, critics, producers, and showrunners about their picks for the greatest shows ever to air on TV and aggregated the responses. Some random results:
87. Doctor Who
57. Fawlty Towers
43. The Americans
27. Arrested Development
12. Game of Thrones
That’s really high for Thrones, isn’t it? It’s no spoiler to say that the top two picks are The Wire and The Sopranos…you’ll have to click through to see which order they put them in. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about what my list of favorite shows would look like, but just off the cuff, maybe (in no particular order):
The Wire, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Transparent, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Simpsons, Iron Chef, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Doctor Who, The Americans.
A couple of those are definitely not great shows, but they are favorites all the same.
The Museum of Modern Art has started the process of putting online a massive trove of photographs of what the museum’s exhibitions looked like, extending back to their earliest big exhibition in 1929 of works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and van Gogh. The NY Times has the story.
The digital archive project will include almost 33,000 exhibition installation photographs, most never previously available online, along with the pages of 800 out-of-print catalogs and more than 1,000 exhibition checklists, documents related to more than 3,500 exhibitions from 1929 through 1989.
Shown above are some notable works of art pictured among the first times they were displayed at the museum…the top one is from that first show in 1929. I happily spent an hour browsing through these exhibitions1 and I haven’t been gripped with this powerful of a desire to travel through time in quite some time. To be able to see that first exhibition…what a thing that would be. In part, I love going to museums for this very reason: standing in the very spot where the artist stood in making their drawing or painting is a very cheap form of time travel.
This is a devastating commentary on sororities by Victoria Valentine, a simple intercutting of scenes from contemporary sorority life with vintage video on how to start a mind control cult.
My freshman roommate in college joined a fraternity at the end of the year. We were supposed to be roommates our sophomore year, but a couple weeks before school started, I was informed that I’d be living with a different roommate. My ex-roommate moved into the fraternity dorm and pretty much cut ties with his freshman-year friends, preferring the exclusive company of his brothers for the next several months. College is a time of fluid relationships and identity and my friend and I were eventually able to reconnect, but the whole thing was really disturbing and cult-like for awhile.
Raging Cinema pays tribute to the late Gene Wilder and his use of the comedic pause. On Twitter, Edgar Wright, who knows a thing or two about funny, called for a moment of silence for Wilder:
A moment of silence for the master of the comedic pause.
Gene Wilder: funny doing something & funny doing nothing.
This is entertaining: Megan McArdle considers four possible economic approaches to how couples should order food in restaurants.
3. Individual property rights, with option trading. Now we’re moving toward a more centrally planned economy. The menu is individually consulted, and then the two parties state their preferences. If these preferences are strong, then matters proceed much as in the above strategy. However, if indecision is expressed, the trading is opened: “If you get the clam chowder, I’ll get the mushroom crostini, and we can split.” Option trading is usually, but not always, confined to the appetizer course. Any offer can be refused, and a substitute offered — “What if I got the clam chowder, and you got the ham timbales?” — or both parties may reluctantly conclude that no trade is possible, and revert to their original choices.
Well done, Team Restaurant! You are now beginning to realize the magnificent benefits of trade. Coordination and cooperation have permitted you to agree on choices that jointly improve utility.
However, I must tell you that you are still probably not at the highest valued use of your food dollar. You are almost certainly investing most of your effort in appetizers or shared desserts, which are the minority of your spending, time and consumption. If you want not merely to improve your utility, but to maximize it, then you are going to have to invest more effort in coordination.
Her conclusion is spot on; it’s the best way to dine out.
For a recent episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak takes a look at how Steven Spielberg constructed the intense opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His decision to film the Omaha Beach landing from the perspective of a battlefield cameraman — something he cribbed from actual WWII battle footage and John Ford’s The Battle of Midway, where scenes in which on-set explosions made the film skip were kept in the finished movie — made it one of the best depictions of war ever created. I need to watch this movie again soon.
An incredible detail Puschak notes: the shot-length in that scene was surprisingly long, particularly for a battle scene. In fact, the shot length in that scene was more than double that of the entirety of 300, any Transformers movie, and Inception.
As a chaser to the last post, here’s Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign commercial. This is right up there with the best political ads I’ve seen. Obama’s words are taken from his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last month.
Our work’s not done. But if we are going to advance the cause of justice, and equality, and prosperity, and freedom, then we also have to acknowledge that even if we eliminated every restriction on voters, we would still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. That’s not good, that is on us.
And I am reminded of all those folks who had to count bubbles in a bar of soap, beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi. Risked everything so that they could pull that lever. So, if I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect, read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote.
In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff, and that was a beautiful video, but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset now, get people registered to vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake, on the progress we have made is at stake in this election.
My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.
A group of hardcore Star Wars fans are restoring the original 1977 theatrical release of the first Star Wars movie in ultra high-def 4K resolution. The video above is a trailer of sorts, but it also shows the restoration of a short scene…the increase in quality and resolution is impressive.
Simply put, we are restoring the original, theatrical version of Star Wars in 4K. Using multiple 35mm prints, scanned at 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at full 4k UHD 4096x1716 resolution. To be clear, this is not simply an upscale of any other source, this is all to be done natively in 4K from 35mm sources. The only exception to this rule is when we don’t have a particular frame available, in that case either an upscale of the Silver Screen Edition, or the official Bluray will be used.
Mitch Dobrowner takes wonderfully dramatic black & white photos of clouds and storms from across the plains of the central United States. Dobrowner, who lives in California, became “addicted” to photography as a teen after discovering Ansel Adams and Minor White but then gave it up to spend energy on his career and family. A few years ago, he picked his old obsession back up and these storm photos are the result. (via colossal)
From cartoonist John Atkinson, the plots of some classic books distilled down to just a few words. Like The Grapes of Wrath:
Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip sucks.
Atkinson followed this up with two additional cartoons: (more) abridged classics and (even more) abridged classics. (via @mkonnikova)
Update: From back near the web’s Big Bang comes Book-A-Minute, which contains ultra-condensed versions of classic books. Here’s the summary of War and Peace:
History controls everything we do, so there is no point in observing individual actions. Let’s examine the individual actions of over 500 characters at great length.
Trials rider Danny MacAskill busts out some more amazing tricks as he takes a mountain bike out for a ride in the area around Edinburgh. This could double as a tourism video for Scotland…the scenery almost steals the show here. (via @mathowie)
The Architectural Record recently chose the 125 “most significant works that defined architecture” built in the past 125 years. Included are the Morgan Library, the old Penn Station, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Eames House, the Seagram Building (a particular favorite of mine), the Salk Institute, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the High Line.
This looks quite good… A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World.
A Proper Drink is the first-ever book to tell the full, unflinching story of the contemporary craft cocktail revival. Award-winning writer Robert Simonson interviewed more than 200 key players from around the world, and the result is a rollicking (if slightly tipsy) story of the characters — bars, bartenders, patrons, and visionaries — who in the last 25 years have changed the course of modern drink-making. The book also features a curated list of about 40 cocktails — 25 modern classics, plus an additional 15 to 20 rediscovered classics and classic contenders — to emerge from the movement.
I know bits and pieces of the story, but it’d be cool to hear the whole thing. Simonson also wrote the book on The Old-Fashioned, which would probably be my desert island cocktail. Ok, maybe a daiquiri if there were limes on the island. (via @buzz)
When you open the glove compartment on this car, it sounds like light jazz. And with that, it’s time inaugurate a new tag on the site: things that sound like other things, which includes my all-time favorite, this shovel falling sounds exactly like Smells Like Teen Spirit. (via @kepano)
In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman, who had already done work that would win him the Nobel Prize a few years later, gave a talk at Caltech that didn’t have much to do with his main areas of study. The talk was called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom and it was a scientist at the peak of his formidable powers asking a question of the scientific community: What about nanotechnology?
I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, “What are the strange particles?”) but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.
Even though he made no formal contribution to the field, Feynman’s talk has been credited with jumpstarting interest in the study of nanotechnology. No recording exists of the original talk, but in 1984, Feynman gave a talk he called Tiny Machines, in which he recalled his original talk and spoke of the progress that had been made over the past 25 years. (via @ptak)
Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary won the 2016 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and is now available to view online for free courtesy of the New Yorker.
It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter.
Great little film…my heart broke three separate times watching it.
A group at MIT built an app called the Moral Machine, “a platform for gathering a human perspective on moral decisions made by machine intelligence, such as self-driving cars”. They want to see how humans solve trolley problem scenarios.
We show you moral dilemmas, where a driverless car must choose the lesser of two evils, such as killing two passengers or five pedestrians. As an outside observer, you judge which outcome you think is more acceptable. You can then see how your responses compare with those of other people.
That was a really uncomfortable exercise…at the end, you’re given a “Most Killed Character” result. Pretty early on, my strategy became mostly to kill the people in the car because they should absorb the risk of the situation. The trolley problem may end up not being such a big deal, but I hope that the makers of these machines take care1 in building them with thoughtfulness.
The ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are calling for the pardon of Edward Snowden. The ACLU:
The government has charged Snowden under the Espionage Act, a World War One-era law that doesn’t distinguish between selling secrets to foreign governments and giving them to journalists working in the public interest. If Snowden were to be tried under the charges he faces, any argument that his actions benefited the public would be inadmissible in court.
The Pardon Snowden campaign will work through the end of Obama’s administration to make the case that Snowden’s act of whistleblowing benefited the United States and enriched democratic debate worldwide, and we’re asking citizens to write to the president via our website.
Human Rights Watch:
Though some government officials claimed that irreversible harm had been done to US national security, little evidence has been aired publicly. Snowden entrusted the release of information to seasoned journalists and made them promise to inform the government and consider any claim of harm to national security in advance of publication. Adm. Michael Rogers, on taking the helm of the NSA a year into the revelations, told the New York Times he couldn’t say “the sky is falling.” Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who still advocated Snowden’s prosecution as he left office, conceded he performed “a public service.”
“Edward Snowden clearly acted in the public interest. He sparked one of the most important debates about government surveillance in decades, and brought about a global movement in defence of privacy in the digital age. Punishing him for this sends out the dangerous message that those who witness human rights violations behind closed doors should not speak out,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“It is ironic that it is Snowden who is being treated like a spy when his act of courage drew attention to the fact that the US and UK governments were illegally spying on millions of people without their consent.
“The mass surveillance exposed by Snowden impacts the human rights of people around the world. Our new campaign gives the public a chance to call for his pardon and thank him for triggering action by concerned individuals around the world to take back their privacy.”
Several prominent individuals have lent their support to the effort as well, including Steve Wozniak, Eve Ensler, Daniel Ellsberg, and Teju Cole. Bernie Sanders is also urging some form of clemency fror Snowden.
Why this push now? Obama is leaving office (typically a good time for pardons) and Oliver Stone’s Snowden is due out in theaters tomorrow. The reviews aren’t bad and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s impersonation of Snowden is uncanny (see the trailer).
When Ashley was a kid, she was legally blind. Her friends and family described colors to her in a wonderful way.
Yellow. I didn’t touch anything for this, they just told me that whenever you laugh so hard you can’t stop, that that happiness is what yellow looks like.
Green. I held soft leaves and wet grass. They told me green felt like life. To this day it is still very much my favorite color.
I love this list. (thx, nicholas)
OneZoom is an interactive zoomable map of “the evolutionary relationships between the species on our planet”, aka tree of life. Browsing around is fun, but you’ll want to use the search function to find specific groups and animals, like mammals, humans, and mushrooms. The scale of this is amazing…there are dozens of levels of zoom. (via @pomeranian99)
Anil Dash recently asked his Twitter followers: “If you could get everybody to read one book, what would it be?” Dash followed up right away with his answer: The Power Broker by Robert Caro.1 Here are some of the other interesting responses:
Letters from A Self-Made Merchant to his Son by George Horace Lorimer.
George Horace Lorimer was an American journalist and author. He is best known as the editor of The Saturday Evening Post. His Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son is a timeless collection of Gilded Age aphorisms from a rich man — a prosperous pork-packer in Chicago to his son, Pierrepont, whom he ‘affectionately’ calls ‘Piggy.’ The writing is subtle and brilliant.
A Simpler Way by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers.
Constructed around five major themes — play, organization, self, emergence, and coherence — A Simpler Way challenges the way we live and work, presenting a profound worldview. In thoughtful, creative prose, the authors help readers connect their own personal experiences to the idea that organizations are evolving systems.
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.
In volume one of his America in the King Years, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a masterly account of the American civil rights movement. Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.
In her comic, scathing essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools — with its emphasis on great men in high places — to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis — that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
Kindred by Octavia Butler.
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
That’s a nice little syllabus for a What Is America? class. I’m not entirely sure what my answer would be. Infinite Jest is my favorite book, but I’m wary of recommending it to people — it was an important book for me but perhaps not for others. Maybe A People’s History of the United States or Isabel Wilkerson’s amazing The Warmth of Other Suns?
During World War II, a group of scientists led by Werner Heisenberg worked on designing a nuclear weapon for Nazi Germany. They were, thankfully, unsuccessful. After the war, the Allies detained ten German scientists in England for six months. Hoping to learn about the German bomb program, they secretly taped the scientists’ conversations. In August 1945, the scientists were told about the US dropping a nuclear bomb on Japan. Here’s a transcript of the resulting reaction and conversation.
Shortly before dinner on the 6th August I informed Professor HAHN that an announcement had been made by the B.B.C. that an atomic bomb had been dropped. HAHN was completely shattered by the news and said that he felt personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as it was his original discovery which had made the bomb possible. He told me that he had originally contemplated suicide when he realized the terrible potentialities of his discovery and he felt that now these had been realized and he was to blame. With the help of considerable alcoholic stimulant he was calmed down and we went down to dinner where he announced the news to the assembled guests.
“Professor HAHN” is Otto Hahn, who co-discovered nuclear fission in Germany right before the war and won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for it. The rest of the world may have gotten there eventually, but think of how different the war (and resulting Cold War period) would have been if Germany had sequestered their scientific progress a couple years earlier or if Hahn and Lise Meitner had made the discovery a year or two later.
WEIZSÄCKER: I think it’s dreadful of the Americans to have done it. I think it is madness on their part.
HEISENBERG: One can’t say that. One could equally well say “That’s the quickest way of ending the war.”
HAHN: That’s what consoles me.
HAHN: I was consoled when, I believe it was WEIZSÄCKER said that there was now this uranium - I found that in my institute too, this absorbing body which made the thing impossible consoled me because when they said at one time one could make bombs, I was shattered.
WEIZSÄCKER: I would say that, at the rate we were going, we would not have succeeded during this war.
WEIZSÄCKER: It is very cold comfort to think that one is personally in a position to do what other people would be able to do one day.
I particularly like Heisenberg’s distinction between between theoretical and applied science:
There is a great difference between discoveries and inventions. With discoveries one can always be skeptical and many surprises can take place. In the case of inventions, surprises can really only occur for people who have not had anything to do with it. It’s a bit odd after we have been working on it for five years.
If this stuff interests you at all, I’d highly recommend reading Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb. (via real future)
Update: The complete transcripts of the secret recordings were collected into a book called Hitler’s Uranium Club. The story of the Allied sabotage of a key element in producing a German bomb is told in Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress. Alex Wellerstein writes that the Nazis didn’t know very much about the Manhattan Project. (via @CarnegieDeputy, @hellbox, @AtomicHeritage)
If you watch any of Steven Spielberg’s movies, you’ll notice a distinctive element: the Spielberg Face.
If Spielberg deserves to be called a master of audience manipulation, then this is his signature stroke.
You see the onscreen character watching along with you in wonder, awe, apprehension, fear, sadness. It’s the director’s way of hitting pause, to show the audience this is a critical scene, to reinforce how the audience should be feeling in that moment.
Carl Van Vechten moved to New York in the early 20th century and became “violently interested in Negroes”. As part of that interest, Van Vechten got to know many of the leading black figures in the city and photographed them, first in black & white but later in vibrant Kodachrome. Almost 2000 of his color photos are available at Yale’s Beinecke Library (direct search). Pictured above are Van Vechten’s photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, and a young James Earl Jones. (via the new yorker)