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Editing as Punctuation in Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

Riffing on Kathryn Schulz’s piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.

We Work Remotely

The best facts I learned from reading The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2016

Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the now-infamous New Yorker piece about earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest, shared a list of the best facts she learned fron books in 2015. Two stuck out for me. The first is from Sarah Hrdy’s Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and provides some necessary context for the debates over birth control and abortion:

In the era before women had any control over their fertility, child abandonment — a de-facto form of infanticide — “affected not tens of thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of babies,” according to the anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy. In Florence, for instance, the average annual rate of infant abandonment between 1500 and 1843 ranged from twelve per cent to forty-three per cent. In response, societies eventually began establishing foundling hospitals, but the mortality rates at these were equally high. Two-thirds of babies left at a Florence foundling home between 1755 and 1773 died before their first birthday; in 1767, mortality rates in foundling homes in St. Petersburg and Moscow reached ninety-nine per cent. While contemporary readers may find these statistics shocking, many people at the time knew exactly what was going on. In the town of Brescia, in northern Italy, residents proposed carving a motto over the entrance to the foundling home: “Here children are killed at public expense.”

And from Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss comes the realization that London’s poor visibility was not limited to outdoors:

Having read my share of Victorian novels, I was familiar with the phenomenon of London fog, but I was surprised to learn, from Lauren Redniss’s “Thunder & Lightning,” that the combination of atmospheric conditions, factory emissions, and coal fires sometimes made the city’s air so impenetrable that visibility was reduced to just a few feet even indoors. That was bad news for theatregoers, who could not see the stage, but good news for thieves, who could not be seen. Worse, ambulances got lost, trucks accidentally drove into the Thames, and at least one airplane overshot its runway. Conditions began to improve only in 1956, with the passage of England’s Clean Air Act.

Thanks, Kathryn!

The impending Pacific Northwest earthquake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2015

I know I already posted this in my quick links early last week, but HOLY GOD is this Kathryn Schulz piece about the already-overdue Pacific Northwest earthquake is terrific and terrifying.

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west — losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

Update: Michelle Nijhuis interviewed Schulz about how this piece came about and its impact.

Probably the hardest thing about writing this piece was that from the beginning, this story was two stories for me. It’s the overt, obvious story, which is the story of the Cascadia subduction zone. On its own, that’s an incredible story, one of the best I’ve ever happened to chance upon. But, from the get go, in my mind, it was also really a parable about climate change. And then one level deeper than that, it’s not a parable, but an example about a really deep problem in our human existence, this kind of problem of scale. We are bound by certain temporal and geographic coordinates, and it’s very very hard to see beyond them.

Update: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center recently posted a revised version of a paper on the link between an “orphan tsunami” that occurred in Japan in 1700 and a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. An accompanying video shows a forecast model animation of the tsunami.

Famous punctuation marks in literature

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2014

Kathryn Schulz went looking for those rare moments in literature where “punctuation pops its head up over the prose” and found five noteworthy uses. For instance, a period at the end of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table (spoilers?):

“It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.”

And Nabokov’s Lolita made the list, but I expected this bit:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

rather than:

“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three…”

(via df)