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The top 25 films of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

I look forward to David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his favorite films of the year and 2016’s installment does not disappoint. Nice to see Beyonce’s Lemonade, the weirdo Swiss Army Man (which I loved, Daniel Radcliffe 4eva!), and the excellent OJ: Made in America on there. Still puzzled by Hail Caesar…I love the Coen brothers but was bored by this one. No Arrival though…this was the only movie I saw in the theater twice this year. For those looking for upcoming or recently released films to watch, Ehrlich includes Jackie, La La Land, and Scorsese’s Silence on his list.

We Work Remotely

52 things learned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Consultant Tom Whitwell shared 52 things he learned in 2016. Here are three:

Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]

Twitter has enough money in the bank to run for 412 years with current losses. [Matt Krantz]

Intervision, the 70s Soviet answer to the Eurovision Song Contest, was judge by electricity grid voting: “those watching at home had to turn their lights on when they liked a song and off when they didn’t, with data from the electricity network then being used to allocate points.” [Nick Heady]

It was hard to whittle the list down to just three, so a bonus one:

Instead of batteries, the ARES project in Nevada uses a network of train tracks, a hillside and electric trains loaded with rocks to store wind and solar power. When there is a surplus of energy, the trains drive up the tracks. When output falls, the cars roll back down the hill, their electric motors acting as generators. [Robson Fletcher]

The Economist did a piece — “Sisyphus’s train set” — on ARES this summer.

The best books of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Best Books 2016

It’s just the beginning of December and the lists of the best books of the year are already starting to stack up like so many clichés about nightstand book piles. Here’s what book editors, voracious readers, and retailers have to say about the year’s top books.

Tyler Cowen almost never steers me wrong, so I’ll lead with his best fiction of 2016 and best non-fiction books of 2016 lists. Cowen seems more enthusiastic about the year’s non-fiction than fiction, recommending The Age of Em by Robin Hanson and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History. He also recommends Atlas Obscura, which arrived in my book pile and was immediately commandeered by my 9-year-old who has read it straight through three or four times now.1

The NY Times somehow narrowed down the entire year’s output to The 10 Best Books of 2016. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad made this list and many others for good reason: it was an excellent and essential read. Also on the list is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.

From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2016. Includes The Vegetarian by Han Kang and The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.

Amazon’s editors selected their top 100 picks for the year. Included are The Girls by Emma Cline, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a book that came out very early in the year and was well-regarded but got lost in the shuffle a little as the year went on.

For their list of the best books of 2016 (part two), The Guardian asked writers what they had enjoyed reading during the year. Yuval Noah Harari (whose Sapiens I’ve been yapping about all year) recommends Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie picked Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, and Taiye Selasi “adored” Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Oh and my fave Hilary Mantel (where’s that next Cromwell book?!) recommends Ian McGuire’s The North Water.

The Telegraph’s top 50 books of the year is a wider-ranging list than most, with picks ranging from the Man Booker prize-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty to several books about sports, including an autobiography by FC Barcelona’s star midfielder Andrés Iniesta called The Artist.

On its list of the Top 20 Fiction Books of 2016 The What recommends Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.

See also 2015’s best books. Ferrante and Ta-Nehisi Coates were the clear favorites last year. I haven’t read Between the World and Me yet, but the Neapolitan Novels were fantastic.

Update: Shane Parrish of Farnam Street offers 5 Noteable Nonfiction Books of 2016, including Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.

Update: At the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada shares his picks for the most surprising, hopeful, and overrated books of 2016. Among them are Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

Update: Bill Gates just released his annual list of some of his favorite 2016 books. The first book on the list is David Foster Wallace’s String Theory, a collection of his writing about tennis — here’s his full review.

When it comes to books, it’s pretty rare that I get intimidated. I read all kinds of books, including ones that only the harshest college professors would assign. And yet I must admit that for many years I steered clear of anything by David Foster Wallace. I often heard super literate friends talking in glowing terms about his books and essays. I even put a copy of his tour de force Infinite Jest on my nightstand at one point, but I just never got around to reading it.

If you’re a long-time reader, I’m not sure if there’s anything more I can say to convince you to read Wallace’s tennis writing, but just give his piece on Roger Federer a try.

Update: They just keep coming! For their Year in Reading 2016, The Millions surveyed a number of contributors for their favorite books of the year — Annie Proulx highlights Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. The Globe 100 Best Books of the Year list includes Nicholson Baker’s Substitute. NPR built a Book Concierge to help you find the perfect 2016 book — I found White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg by applying the Seriously Great Writing filter.

  1. The other day he said to me, “Daddy, you should read this book. I think you’d really like it. There might be some interesting stuff in there for your website.”

Fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2016

Do Not Obey In Advance

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder took to Facebook to share some lessons from 20th century about how to protect our liberal democracy from fascism and authoritarianism. Snyder has given his permission to republish the list, so I’ve reproduced it in its entirety here in case something happens to the original.

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by V’aclav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

A great thought-provoking list. “Corporeal politics”…I like that phrase. And I’ve seen many references to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism in recent weeks.

See also Five Steps to Tyranny and The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism.

Note: Illustration by the awesome Chris Piascik.

Five Steps to Tyranny

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

In 2000, the BBC broadcast an hour-long documentary called Five Steps to Tyranny, a look at how ordinary people can do monstrous things in the presence of authority.

Horrific things happen in the world we live in. We would like to believe only evil people carry out atrocities. But tyrannies are created by ordinary people, like you and me.

[Colonel Bob Stewart:] “I’d never been to the former Yugoslavia before in my life, so what actually struck me about the country was how beautiful it was, how nice people were, and yet how ghastly they could behave.”

The five steps are:

  1. “us” and “them” (prejudice and the formation of a dominant group)
  2. obey orders (the tendency to follow orders, especially from those with authority)
  3. do “them” harm (obeying an authority who commands actions against our conscience)
  4. “stand up” or “stand by” (standing by as harm occurs)
  5. exterminate (the elimination of the “other”)

To illustrate each step, the program uses social psychology experiments and explorations like Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise on discrimination, the Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo (who offers commentary throughout the program), and experiments by Stanley Milgram on obedience, including his famous shock experiment, in which a participant (the “teacher”) is directed to shock a “learner” for giving incorrect answers.

The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger — severe shock).

The “learners” were in on the experiment and weren’t actually shocked but were told to react as if they were. The results?

65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

The program also shows how real-life tyrannies have developed in places like Rwanda, Burma, and Bosnia. From a review of the show in The Guardian:

But there is no doubt about the programme’s bottom line: tyrannies happen because ordinary people are surprisingly willing to do tyranny’s dirty work.

Programmes like this can show such things with great vividness — and there is news footage from Bosnia, or from Rwanda, or from Burma to back it up with terrible clarity. It isn’t clear why the majority is so often compliant, but the implication is that democracy should always be grateful to the protesters, the members of the awkward squad, the people who challenge authority.

But don’t take it for granted that the awkward squad must be a force for good: in Germany, in the 1920s, Hitler was an outsider, a protester, a member of the awkward squad. When he came to power in 1932, he found that German medical professors and biologists had already installed a racial ideology for him, one which had already theorised about the elimination of sick or disabled German children, and the rejection of Jewish professionals as agents of pollution.

Zimbardo himself offers this final word in the program:

For me the bottom line message is that we could be led to do evil deeds. And what that means is to become sensitive to the conditions under which ordinary people can do these evil deeds — what we have been demonstrating throughout this program — and to take a position of resisting tyranny at the very first signs of its existence.

The 100 most influential images of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2016

Earthrise

Koudelka Invasion Of Prague

Hines Child Labor

Time Magazine has selected the 100 most influential photos of all time, from the first permanent photograph taken (in 1826) to the heartbreaking photo of the body of a 3-year-old refugee washed up on a beach from last year. As you might expect, many of the images are tough to view, but history and our good conscience compels us not to look away.

I was pleased to see Josef Koudelka’s photo Invasion of Prague included (it’s the one above with the wristwatch); it’s one of my favorites.

Josef Koudelka, a young Moravian-born engineer who had been taking wistful and gritty photos of Czech life, was in the capital when the soldiers arrived. He took pictures of the swirling turmoil and created a groundbreaking record of the invasion that would change the course of his nation. The most seminal piece includes a man’s arm in the foreground, showing on his wristwatch a moment of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance. It beautifully encapsulates time, loss and emptiness — and the strangling of a society.

The photos are also available in book form.

A reading list for resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

Over at Literary Hub, Emily Temple offers a “reading list for resistance”, a list of 25 Works of Fiction and Poetry for Anger and Action.

Included are The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:

This is the book women will be whispering about to one another in Trump’s America-an all-too-real vision of our country under a totalitarian theocracy where women are stripped of their rights and kept around only as breeders or servants.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin:

There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real.

And of course, George Orwell’s 1984:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic…

1984 was my favorite book for a long time — I first read it when I was about 10 years old and reread it every year or two well into my 20s. I haven’t read it in more than 10 years…perhaps it’s time for another go.

The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

In 1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books on fascism.1 As part of the article, Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:

These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Eco’s list:

1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

8. The humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

I found this list via Paul Bausch, Blogger co-inventor and long-time MetaFilter developer, who writes:

You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.

It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.2 We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous liberal government”:

I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.

And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”

  1. You’re probably going to be hearing that word a lot in the coming months, so before we get to Eco’s list, here’s a quick dictionary definition of fascism: “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization”. That’s imprecise as hell, but “authoritarian” and “nationalistic” are components you’ll always see associated with fascism.

  2. As an exercise as you read through the list, think about statements and policies made by Trump and his team that reflect each point. As I said, it is not difficult.

The 21 best documentaries of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

The editors of GQ have selected their picks for The 21 Documentaries from the 21st Century Everyone Should See. Ones I’ve seen and recommend: The Fog of War, No Direction Home, The Two Escobars, Grizzly Man, Going Clear, Capturing the Friedmans, The Jinx, Citizenfour, and O.J.: Made in America. I would consider adding Zero Days and Making a Murderer to the list.

100 greatest TV shows of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2016

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:

94. Jeopardy
87. Doctor Who
73. Transparent
57. Fawlty Towers
43. The Americans
27. Arrested Development
12. Game of Thrones
5. Seinfeld

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.

Every Netflix original series, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2016

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).

A nonfiction literary map of the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

From Nylon, Kristin Iversen compiled her list of the best pieces of nonfiction — books, essays, memoirs — from every state in the US (plus DC and NYC). Here’s a sampling:

Alaska: Coming into the Country by John McPhee.

Connecticut: The Story of How, and Why, Martha Stewart Became the Queen of Living Well by Margaret Talbot.

Florida: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. (Love this choice!)

Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Strong runner-up here is the amazing The Warmth of Other Suns (which I reviewed here).

Vermont: Where the Roads Have No Name by Geoff Manaugh.

100 objects that shaped public health

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2016

From the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins comes this list of 100 things that have “made their mark on public health”, good and bad. Here’s a sampling of the objects:

Horseshoe crab. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the helmet-shaped horseshoe crab, whose ancestors date back 450 million years. From vaccines to needles to pacemakers, any IV drug or medical equipment that will come in contact with the human body must first be safety-checked using a test that comes from a clotting compound in the crab’s blood. This compound can detect even the smallest amount of deadly bacteria and is sensitive enough to isolate a threat equivalent to the size of a grain of sand in a swimming pool.

Vaccines. Immunization is one of the most important public health achievements in human history. Vaccines helped eradicate smallpox globally and eliminate polio in the United States. The introduction of effective vaccines has also drastically reduced deaths from measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis (“whooping cough”) and other diseases that sickened hundreds of thousands of Americans in the early 20th century.

American Cheese. Food processing was actually developed to make food safer. Milk is pasteurized to kill harmful organisms, and canning and freezing foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables helps them last longer. But the food industry has taken processing well beyond these early origins. Often, to extend a food’s shelf life, manufacturers increase fats, sugars, and salt and add in chemical flavorings, emulsifiers, and other additives — taking foods that could have been healthy and making them much less so.

Pap smear. Since its introduction in 1955, the Pap smear has reduced death from cervical cancer by more than 60 percent. Invented by Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou, the Pap smear is a diagnostic procedure in which a health-care professional swabs a cell sample from the cervix and sends it to a lab to see if any of the cells are malignant. Before the invention of the Pap smear, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age in the United States. Today, it comes in at number 14 on the list of cancers found in women.

Spittoons. Spittoons were developed centuries ago as receptacles for spitting — think ashtrays for saliva. These brass or even porcelain repositories were everywhere: In homes, train stations, saloons and even the U.S. Congress. They were meant for men to dispose their chewing tobacco and the abundant phlegm that accompanied the habit. Convenience turned to concern in the late 19th century when a global tuberculosis epidemic took hold and scientists realized that spittoons might actually spread diseases. Some argued that when people spat in the general direction of a spittoon and missed the target, they caused a greater health threat than if the spittoon hadn’t been there at all.

Vaccines. And now my kids don’t die.

The most significant buildings of the past 125 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2016

Hadid Heydar Aliyev

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.

The colors of friendship

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2016

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)

Frank Ocean’s 100 favorite films

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2016

In addition to Kanye West’s poem about McDonald’s, Frank Ocean also published a list of his 100 favorite films in his popup magazine, Boys Don’t Cry. Here’s a sampling:

ATL (ATL is not the best movie lol but ok)
Un Chien Andalou
Blue Velvet
Barry Lyndon
Battleship Potemkin
Eraserhead
Chungking Express
Raging Bull
The Conformist
The Bicycle Thief
Taxi Driver
A Clockwork Orange

Overall, a very solid list. Ocean and I could definitely go to the cinema together.

The 50 best film scores of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2016

The Playlist has compiled a list of the top film scores of the 21st century (so far).1 Tron: Legacy should be much higher than #49…it is perhaps my favorite Daft Punk album. And I don’t know how they left Philip Glass’ fantastic score for The Hours off. Glad to see Upstream Color, There Will Be Blood, and Requiem for a Dream so high on the list though.

I love film scores — I listen to them while I work — so here are a few of my favorites that are available on Spotify:

Not available on Spotify but worth seeking out elsewhere: The Fog of War, Sunshine, and Her.

  1. This is not to be confused with the list of the best movie soundtracks. The score is the music composed specifically for a film while a soundtrack features songs from other artists and albums that appear in a film. More or less.

The 100 best films of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2016

The editors of BBC Culture polled 177 film critics from around the world about the best films made since 2000 and compiled the results into this list. The top film? David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Here’s the top 20:

20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

Eternal Sunshine, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Zodiac seem too high on the list but I’m not sure what I would move up instead. It’ll be interesting to see how the consensus changes as these films age. Also, I’ve seen exactly half of the films on the full list…time to get watching.

Every spell from the Harry Potter movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2016

From Accio to Wingardium Leviosa, this is a supercut of every spell uttered in the 8 Harry Potter movies. Lots of Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmis, and Stupefy. As supplementary reading, here’s a list of spells in Harry Potter from Wikipedia.

Ten lessons learned by rereading Jane Jacobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2016

Martin Pedersen recently reread Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and came away with ten lessons.

3. Jacobs was remarkably prescient on gentrification.
She didn’t invent the term or even use it. But she observed (and I don’t know how, since most cities were in decline at the time) that lively diverse neighborhoods are always at risk for becoming victims of their own success, because newcomers invariably alter the characteristics that made these neighborhoods appealing to them in the first place. Today this seems obvious and self-evident, but that’s largely because of Jane Jacobs.

Yeah, it’s time for a reread…it’s been more than 12 years for me. (via @michaelbierut)

50 best sci-fi films of the 21st century (so far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2016

The Playlist lists their picks for the 50 best sci-fi films of this century. Unlike the list of 50 best animated films I posted the other day, there are many movies on this list I haven’t seen or even heard of, so I’m eager to dig in. Here are picks 6-2:

6. Her
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Upstream Color
2. Under the Skin

Good choice for #1 too. I really didn’t care for Under the Skin. Nice to see some love for Edge of Tomorrow, Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Primer, and Snowpiercer as well. I would also have included Cloud Atlas, which I know not a lot of other people liked but I loved, and the first Hunger Games movie.

The 50 best animated films of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2016

The Playlist has decided on their list of the 50 best animated films of the 21st century (so far). Here is 50-46:

50. Brave
49. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
48. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
47. Tokyo Godfathers
46. Frankenweenie

And 5-2:

5. The Triplets of Belleville
4. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
3. Up
2. The Incredibles

I’ll give you a hint about #1: it is somehow not Wall-E, which didn’t even crack the top 10. And come on, Up? The opening of that movie is damn near perfect, but the rest of it is good but not great.

Pandora’s Box: 10 super scary things about the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2016

George Dvorsky at Gizmodo highlights 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare the Hell Out of You. My, uh, favorites are:

1. Virtually anyone will be able to create their own pandemic
5. Robots will find it easy to manipulate us
7. The antibiotic era will end
8. Getting robots to kill humans will be disturbingly routine — and dangerous

From the manipulating robots section:

“Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses,” Brin told Gizmodo. “For at least a million years, we’ve developed skills at lie-detection…[but] no liars ever had the training that these new [Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots] will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths — and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.”

Many of the things on the list seem to have a similar potential for mischief as the discovery of nuclear fission chain reactions in the 1930s. On the other hand, humans have at least temporarily turned that possible civilization-ending technology into a major source of clean energy and 75+ years of world peace (relatively speaking) so maybe there’s some room for optimism here? Maybe? Hello?

61 Glimpses of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2016

Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:

7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.

24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.

33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.

34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.

38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.

53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.

This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)

The winners of the 2015 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2016

The AIGA and Design Observer have announced the results of the 50 Books/50 Covers competition for books published in 2015. The competition recognizes excellence in design of books and, separately, book covers. Here are a couple of my favorite covers:

50books Covers 2015

50books Covers 2015

Oreo by Fran Ross was designed by Erik Carter and Moon-Kie Jung’s Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy was designed by Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein.

The most frequently stolen books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2016

Most Stolen Books

Vintage/Anchor Books recently tweeted out a photo of a Most Stolen Books shelf at a bookstore. Some of the books on the shelf include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (one of many Murakamis), Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

According to research by Candice Huber, books by Bukowski and Kerouac are indeed popular targets for theft from bookstores, along with those by Hemingway, David Sedaris, and The Great Gatsby. All of the books listed are by men, and most by “manly” men. This 2009 list from the UK is slightly different: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book both rank high.

Libraries are a different story. According to Huber, the most frequently stolen library books are the Guinness Book of World Records, which is a favorite around our house,1 and The Bible. Thieves could use the Good Book’s wisdom more than many, I guess. Art books, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and test prep books are also popular with the light-fingered. Judging from my personal experience hanging around garages and auto mechanics when I was a kid, Chilton’s Auto Repair manuals were also lifted quite often.

  1. “Daddy, our copy is from 2014. We should get the one from this year, so we can check if any of the records have been broken.”

The best rule-breaking films of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2016

From Cinefix, a list of 10 movies (plus dozens more runners-up) that broke the rules of filmmaking most effectively by using jump cuts, nonlinear narrative, lack of plot, surrealism, and breaking the fourth wall.

The 50 greatest films by black directors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

Slate gathered a panel — made up of people like film critic Dana Stevens, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. — to choose The Black Film Canon, the 50 greatest movies by black directors.

We must recognize that even with the financial and systemic odds stacked against them, black filmmakers have long been creating great and riveting stories on screen. The academy’s failure may have inspired a memorable hashtag, but that failure is deeply linked to the way nearly all movie fans remember cinematic history. In our never-ending conversation — or argument — about which films deserve to be remembered, which films are cultural touchstones, which films defined and advanced the art form, we habitually overlook stories by and about black people.

Included on the list are 12 Years a Slave, Boyz n the Hood, Killer of Sheep, and Do the Right Thing.

The 100 greatest American films

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2016

In 2015, BBC Culture polled critics around the world and came up with a list of the best 100 American films. The video above offers a visual look at the list. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg each have several films on the list. Although many of the films were edited by women, only one was directed by a woman.

13 books recommended by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2016

In a conversation last year with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates recommended that readers of his acclaimed Between the World and Me check out a baker’s dozen other books, including his mentor David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, The Half Has Never Been Told (previously mentioned here), and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

I could have imagined Isabel Wilkerson’s excellent The Warmth of Other Suns on this list too; it’s the most eye-opening American history book I’ve read in years. (Paging Lin-Manuel Miranda to make a play out of this.)