kottke.org posts about video
Tyler Cowen’s new book, The Complacent Class, comes out today. In it, he argues that as a society, Americans have stopped taking risks, are too comfortable, and rely too heavily on incremental improvements of existing goods & ideas, which has resulted in a stagnation of our culture and economy. This video by Cowen is a good introduction to what he means by that.
After about the 1970s, innovation on this scale slowed down. Computers and communication have been the focus. What we’ve seen more recently has been mostly incremental improvements, with the large exception of smart phones.
This means that we’ve experienced a ton of changes in our virtual world, but surprisingly few in our physical world. For example, travel hasn’t much improved and, in some cases, has even slowed down. The planes we’re primarily using? They were designed half a century ago.
Since the 1960s, our culture has gotten less restless, too. It’s become more bureaucratic. The sixties and seventies ushered in a wave of protests and civil disobedience. But today, people hire protests planners and file for permits. The demands for change are tamer compared to their mid-century counterparts.
Time published an excerpt of the book last week:
Americans traditionally have thought of themselves as the great movers, and indeed that was true in the nineteenth century and even through most of the twentieth. But since the 1980s, Americans have become much less restless in movements across the country, and more people are looking to simply settle down and entrench themselves.
Here is this change in a single number: The interstate migration rate has fallen 51 percent below its 1948-1971 average, and that number has been falling steadily since the mid-1980s. Or, if we look at the rate of moving between counties within a state, it fell 31 percent. The rate of moving within a county fell 38 percent. Those are pretty steep drops for a country that has not changed its fundamental economic or political systems. You might think that information technology (IT) would make it easier to find a job on the other side of the country, and maybe it has, but that has not been the dominant effect. If anything, Americans have used the dynamism of IT to help ourselves stay put, not to move around.
And in a recent piece in the NY Times that mentions Cowen’s book, David Brooks references a piece by Nicholas Eberstadt called Our Miserable 21st Century:
That means there’s an army of Americans semi-attached to their communities, who struggle to contribute, to realize their capacities and find their dignity. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen. That’s about the number of hours that usually go to a full-time job.
Fifty-seven percent of white males who have dropped out get by on some form of government disability check. About half of the men who have dropped out take pain medication on a daily basis. A survey in Ohio found that over one three-month period, 11 percent of Ohioans were prescribed opiates. One in eight American men now has a felony conviction on his record.
If you need a chaser, consider this from the introductory chapter of Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari (which I’m currently reading):
For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. In the early twenty-first century, the average human is far more likely to die from bingeing at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack.
Artist Garip Ay recently painted van Gogh’s Starry Night (along with his self-portrait) on top of water. Ebru, or paper marbling, is an art form where paint or ink is splattered or “painted” on the surface of water. Typically the painted scene is then transferred to paper with the finished product resembling polished marble stone. But Ay records his marbling on video and the effect is pretty cool.
See also the art of making marbled paper, which is well worth your attention.
A new video by Kurzgesagt explores the question of machine’s rights. Do machines deserve rights? Perhaps not right now, but what about if they achieve consciousness at some point in the future? (And what does that even mean?) If machines are programmed to feel pain and suffering, do they deserve protection? Or will machines not be allowed to be programmed to suffer and therefore be exempt from rights, for the potential benefit of humans? One thing seems certain: when the shift from machine as thing to machine as thinking, feeling being occurs, it will happen pretty quickly and humans will handle it poorly.
See also The Philosophy of Westworld and Bill Gates’ assertion that the robots who replace people in the workplace should pay taxes.
In a recent interview with Quartz, Gates said that a robot tax could finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools, for which needs are unmet and to which humans are particularly well suited. He argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes.
In 1938-39 on the eve of World War II, Nicholas Winton established an organization to rescue Jewish children living in Czechoslovakia from the Holocaust by giving them safe passage to Britain, which had recently approved a measure allowing refugees younger than 17 entry into the country. Winton’s organization ended up saving 669 children — future poets, politicians, scientists, and filmmakers among them. Getting these children out of Czechoslovakia was literally a matter of life and death. From Winton’s Wikipedia page:
The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, were unable to depart. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland on the same day, the Second World War had begun. Of the children due to leave on that train, only two survived the war.
Although he continued his humanitarian work after the war, Winton rarely spoke of his efforts in saving the children. The full scope of what he had done was revealed only after his wife found a scrapbook in 1988 of the children’s names and the names of the British families that had taken them in. The public learned of Winton’s efforts on a TV show called That’s Life. Winton believed he was attending the show as an audience member, but it was revealed that he was actually sitting amongst about 2 dozen of the now-grown children that he had saved:
For his efforts, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. He died just a year and a half ago, at the age of 106.
In a series of pieces written for King Frederick II of Prussia in 1747 called The Musical Offering, Johann Sebastian Bach included a canon that is popularly referred to as the Crab Canon. The piece is a puzzle to be worked out by the reader/player.
You may notice that the Crab Canon is performed by two instruments, but only one line is notated. What’s the deal?
Bach published the canons in the Musical Offering as puzzles, giving the reader the minimum amount of information with which they can figure out the piece as long as they understand its structure. To “solve” a puzzle canon is to give it a structure that makes it fit together in pleasing harmony.
The solution to the Crab Canon is that it can be played forwards or backwards or forwards and backwards together in accompaniment. It’s a musical palindrome of sorts. (via open culture)
Missed this early this month while I was on vacation: Computer Show is back with a new episode, partnering with HP to showcase one of their fast color printers. Yes it’s an ad, but yes it’s still funny.
Before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, most women seeking abortions in the US had to get them illegally. Illegal abortions were often unsafe & painful, and many women died, were injured, or were sexually assaulted by the men performing the procedures. In this video, three women who had abortions before 1973 and a woman who worked at a Brooklyn hospital in that era described their experiences.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to give you any anesthetic’ and he said ‘If you scream, they will hear you.’”
That’s how Connie described the illegal abortion she received in 1953 when she was 16 years old. Now a retired teacher, mother and grandmother, Connie said that after she received the abortion, the man who performed the procedure proceeded to sexually assault her as she lay bleeding on the table.
In this short video, Josh Begley shows all of the front pages of the NY Times in chronological order from 1852 to the present. The Times began publishing in 1851 so not every front page is represented, but that’s still more than 50,000 pages in less than a minute. Since they go by so quickly, here are some highlights:
Dec 11, 1861: The Times publishes their first illustrations on the front page. One is a map of Virginia and the other two are political cartoons lampooning James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, one of the Times’ main rivals.
Apr 15, 1865: The front page columns were lined with black as they reported on the assassination of Lincoln.
Dec 1, 1896: The hyphen is dropped from “The New-York Times”.
Feb 10, 1897: The slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” appears for the first time on the front page.
May 30, 1910: The first news photograph appears on the front page, a photo of aviator Glenn Curtiss flying from Albany to NYC at the blistering pace of 54 mi/hr.
May 1, 1926: The Times prints the first photo “radioed” to the newspaper from London. Transmission time: 1hr 45m.
Jul 21, 1969: The first use of 96 pt. type on the front page announces the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and subsequent moonwalk. The large type will also be used to announce Nixon’s resignation, the first day of 2000, 9/11, and the election of Barack Obama.
Sept 7, 1976: The columns on the front page are widened, reducing their number from 8 to 6.
Oct 16, 1997: The first color photo is printed on the front page of the Times. (The Times Machine scan is in B&W for some reason, but the photo was in color.)
Begley also made Best of Luck With the Wall, a video showing the entire extent of the US-Mexico border.
Since 2001, the Oscars have awarded The Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The video above shows a scene from each of the winning movies: Shrek, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Rango, Brave, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Inside Out….as well as 2016’s five nominees: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia. Pixar has dominated the category with 8 wins (and 10 nominations) out of 15 years, but the strong field this year meant the studio’s critically acclaimed blockbuster Finding Dory wasn’t even nominated, joining Cars 2, Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur as the only Pixar films made during that period not to be nominated.
In the first of a three-part video series, Vox’s Joss Fong looks at how the technology used to film nature documentaries has changed over the past 50 years and how the producers of Planet Earth II used contemporary image stabilization techniques to make the series with a more cinematic style.
In the 1970s and ’80s, it was enough for the NHU to show people a creature they’d never seen before and provide the details in the narration. The films were illustrated zoology lectures. Since then, the producers have become sticklers for capturing specific behaviors, and in Planet Earth II, they showcase the drama of those behaviors. Each scene sets up the characters to perform something - something brave, something brutal, something bizarre. They’ve made room for our emotions; that’s what cinematic storytelling means.
And visually, the cinematic approach means the camera is often moving.
Hollywood filmmakers have kept the camera in motion for decades, but for obvious reasons, it’s much more difficult when your subject is wildlife. As we explain in the video at the top of this post, NHU producers used new stabilization tools throughout the production of Planet Earth II to move the camera alongside the animals.
The program doesn’t make you wait long to showcase this new approach. The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. — but this is really some next-level shit. The kids were more excited after watching it than any movie they’ve seen in the past 6 months (aside from possibly Rogue One). The Blu-ray will be out at the end of March1 but there’s also a 4K “ultra HD” version that had me researching new ultra HD TVs I don’t really need.
Oh, and remember that thrilling sequence of the snakes chasing the newly hatched iguanas? Here’s a short clip on how they filmed it.
Update: The second video in the series is an ode to the BBC’s pioneering use of slow motion and time lapse photography in their nature programs.
Fong also explains one of my favorite things to come out of the first Planet Earth show, the slow motion buffer capture system used by the crew to catch great white sharks leaping out of the water.
But also, digital high-speed cameras came with a continuous recording feature. Instead of pressing a button to start recording and then pressing it again to stop, they could press the button as soon as they saw some action, and the camera would save the seconds that happened before the button was pressed. That’s how the cameraman captured this great white shark coming out of the water, not just in the air, for this sequence in the 2006 Planet Earth series.
I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.
Update: The concluding video in the series shows how the filmmakers use thermal and infrared cameras to capture scenes at night.
The bit at the end about the Sony a7S is interesting — as cameras go, this one is much cheaper than the professional high-def cameras used for most of the scenes but is way better in low light.
Actor Michael K. Williams — who played Omar Little in The Wire and Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire — has a conversation with himself, musing if he’s been typecast for a certain type of role.
Face it, we from a certain type a people that come from a type a place that look a type a way. You know what that make us?
For a promotional video (for The Atlantic), that was unexpectedly poignant.
George Saunders has written his first novel and it’s just as unusual as his short stories. Lincoln in the Bardo is historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his son Willie, who is caught between lives.
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
Buzzfeed has an excerpt of the novel, which takes the form of a collection of quotes.
The boy, frustrated at being denied the attention he felt he deserved, moved in and leaned against his father, as the father continued to hold and gently rock the—
the reverend everly thomas
At one point, moved, I turned away from the scene and found we were not alone.
roger bevins iii
A crowd had gathered outside.
the reverend everly thomas
All were silent.
roger bevins iii
As the man continued to gently rock his child.
the reverend everly thomas
While his child, simultaneously, stood quietly leaning against him.
Then the gentleman began to speak.
roger bevins iii
Time to bust out the Google Cardboard: the NY Times VR team adapted a part of the novel into a 10-minute VR film.
Here’s a good interview with Saunders about the book and a review by Colson Whitehead. The book has been hovering near the top of the Amazon best sellers list since its release — it was #2 when I looked yesterday but is currently 6th, right after Orwell’s 19841 — and I’ve seen several people in my Instagram feed reading it…or at least socially signaling that they’re reading it. ;)
For their short film Ten Meter Tower, Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson coaxed dozens of people to jump off of a 10-meter diving platform for the first time.
Our objective in making this film was something of a psychology experiment: We sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt. We’ve all seen actors playing doubt in fiction films, but we have few true images of the feeling in documentaries. To make them, we decided to put people in a situation powerful enough not to need any classic narrative framework. A high dive seemed like the perfect scenario.
After the first 10 seconds, I was riveted to the screen for the remaining 16 minutes. It’s not at all obvious who will jump easily and who won’t.
My head says, “Go!” But my heart says, “No!”
People often worry about competition from others, but in the sporting world, the workplace, the home, and school, the struggle against the self — closing the gap between what you want your life to be like and reality, what your head wants and what your heart can provide — is always the most significant and difficult. (via @thisiseamonn)
In his newest video, Evan Puschak talks about Arrival, calling it “a response to bad movies”. Arrival was perhaps my favorite film of 2016, and I agree with him about how well-made this film is. There’s a top-to-bottom attention to craft on display, from how it looks to how it was cast (Amy Adams was the absolute perfect choice for the lead) to the integration of the theme with story to how expertly it was adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. The whole thing’s tight as a drum. If you happened to miss it, don’t watch this video (it gives the whole thing away) and go watch it instead…it’s available to rent/buy on Amazon.
Looking back through the archives, I’m realizing I never did a post about Arrival even though I collected some links about it. So, linkdump time!
Wired wrote about how the movie’s alien alphabet was developed.
Stephen Wolfram wrote about his involvement with the science of the film — his son Christopher wrote Mathematica code for some of the on-screen visuals. 1
Science vs Cinema explored how well the movie represented actual science:
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer wrote about how he adapted Chiang’s short story for the screen.
Jordan Brower wrote a perceptive review/analysis that includes links to several other resources about the film.
Update: The director of photography for Arrival was Bradford Young, who shot Selma and is currently working on the Han Solo movie for Disney. Young did an interview with No Film School just before Arrival came out.
I’m from the South, so quilts are a big part of telling our story. Quilting is ancient, but in the South it’s a very particular translation of idea, time, and space. In my own practice as an image maker, I slowly began to be less concerned with precision and more concerned with feeling.
Quiltmakers are rigorous, but they’re a mixed media format. I think filmmaking should be a mixed media format. I’m just really honoring what quiltmakers do, which is tell a story by using varying texture within a specific framework to communicate an idea. For me, with digital technology, lenses do that the best. The chips don’t do it now-digital film stock is basically all captured the same, but the lenses are how you give the image its textural quality.
Update: James Gleick, author of Time Travel, wrote about Arrival and Story of Your Life for The New York Review of Books.
What if the future is as real as the past? Physicists have been suggesting as much since Einstein. It’s all just the space-time continuum. “So in the future, the sister of the past,” thinks young Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, “I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which then I shall be.” Twisty! What if you received knowledge of your own tragic future-as a gift, or perhaps a curse? What if your all-too-vivid sensation of free will is merely an illusion? These are the roads down which Chiang’s story leads us. When I first read it, I meant to discuss it in the book I was writing about time travel, but I could never manage that. It’s not a time-travel story in any literal sense. It’s a remarkable work of imagination, original and cerebral, and, I would have thought, unfilmable. I was wrong.
I finally got the chance to see Hidden Figures the other day. Recommended. It’s a science/space story in the vein of Apollo 13, but the twin engines of the film are the three excellent lead actresses — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe — and the persistent portrayal of the systemic biases of segregation and sexism. You watch this movie and think, how much higher could the human race have flown if women and people of color had always had the same opportunities as white men?1 How many Katherine Johnsons never got the chance to develop and use their skills in math, science, or technology because of their skin color or gender? Our society wastes so much energy and human lives telling people what they can’t do rather than empowering them to show everyone what they can do.
Hidden Figures was adopted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. The film takes some dramatic license with the timing of certain events but overall is historically accurate.
The film primarily focuses on John Glenn’s 1962 trip around the globe and does add dramatic flourishes that are, well, Hollywood. However, most of the events in the movie are historically accurate. Johnson’s main job in the lead-up and during the mission was to double-check and reverse engineer the newly-installed IBM 7090s trajectory calculations. As it shows, there were very tense moments during the flight that forced the mission to end earlier than expected. And John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM spat out (albeit, perhaps, not at the exact moment that the movie depicts). As Shetterly wrote in her book and explained in a September NPR interview, Glenn did not completely trust the computer. So, he asked the head engineers to “get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.”
You can view Johnson’s published reports on NASA’s site, including her initial technical report from 1960 on the Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.
Some genius took footage from The Americans and cut it into an alternative music video for The Beastie Boys Sabotage. Compare with the real thing:
Pretty good! Plus it’s always great to hear that song. (thx, steve)
Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.
In a bonus from the food series The Mind of a Chef, LA chef Ludo Lefebvre visits a butter factory where they make customized butter for restaurants.
So when we visited the Jean-Yves Bordier Butter factory in the Brittany region of France and had chef Ludo Lefebvre help in the process, it was nothing but pure amazement in his eyes. Le Beurre Bordier customizes it’s butter to the specifications of the chefs they send it to.
The video is subtitled and they go really quick, but I love the look on Lefebvre’s face after he runs his thumb through the finished butter: pure childlike wonder. The full episode featuring Lefebvre is available on PBS’s website (likely for US viewers only). This clip pairs well with this video on how to make croissants. (via the excellent the kid should see this)
I really like Keanu Reeves. He’s one of my favorite actors and seems like a genuinely nice person who has dealt well with his stardom. But after watching this collection of clips from every single movie he’s ever been in, I can’t tell if Reeves is actually a good actor or not. He definitely gets better as his career progresses, but many scenes where emotion or nuance are called for are just…oof. It’s like he’s reading the dictionary sometimes. But I still like him! Why is that?
See also: Danny Bowes believes Reeves belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood Action Stars along with John Wayne, Tom Cruise, and Harrison Ford.
Update: From Peter Suderman, Why Keanu Reeves is a perfect action star:
This may come off hyperbolic, or flat-out inaccurate, to those who don’t see Reeves as a great screen actor. And granted, his performance style doesn’t capture the tiny nuances of human reactions that are usually associated with great acting; he’s often characterized as a big-screen blank, and that’s not an entirely faulty statement.
But while it’s not wrong to label Reeves a blank, it’s also not enough. For nearly three decades, Reeves has proven himself one of Hollywood’s most durable and entertaining action stars, and the John Wick films show why: His total physical commitment to his action roles makes him a perfect avatar for the visions of ambitious action directors. At his very best, he becomes inseparable from the cinematic visions he embodies.
Aaron McAvoy’s washing machine makes a banging noise while washing clothes so he played The Devil Went Down to Georgia in time with the banging. This is the most perfect little internet entertainment…I actually started crying I was laughing so hard. A much needed respite from the world. See also the washing machine edition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and a tribute to George Michael. (via @aaroncoleman0)
Update: McAvoy and his washing machine are back with this cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
As he says, don’t miss the “guest appearance by my white trash dryer”. See also Thunderstruck on the bagpipes (which is really one of my favorite online things of all time for some reason).
In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at the differences between The Internet and The World Wide Web, the differences between commercial OnLine Services such as the Microsoft Network, Prodigy, or America Online and the Internet, how to get connected to the Web, how to use something called a Web browser to navigate the Web, what a Web Page is, and how to search, locate, and download all types of files, from information files to video and audio files.
It’s worth skipping ahead to 17:30 to hear how the host pronounces “URL”.
See also a brief clip of Blogger/Twitter/Medium co-founder Evan Williams explaining the Internet in the mid-90s.
Look at that kid! He just knew the Internet was going to be a big deal, and boy was he right. (via laughing squid)
Richard Overton fought in the South Pacific in World War II, is 109 years old, still drives, sometimes drinks whiskey with breakfast, smokes 12 cigars a day (but doesn’t inhale), and still lives in the house he built himself in 1945. In this video from National Geographic, Overton talks about his military service, his faith, his long life, and soup. Overton’s short summary of World War II:
It wasn’t good, but we had to go.
I don’t really care to live to 100, but if I had Overton’s spirit and attitude, perhaps I’d consider it.
Update: Ryan Holiday recently visited with Overton and learned a thing or two about life.
The most animated Richard ever got was when he told me a story about the enormous pecan tree in his front yard. It seemed like an ordinary tree to me, until he told me his dog planted it seventy years ago. They had a pecan tree in the back, and the dog would grab the nuts and bury them in the front yard. With glee, Richard told me how eventually the tree grew and now it’s so big it’s nearly pushing up the foundation of his house. He loved the absurdity of it — a dog planting a tree! He was laughing at it still, seven decades later.
And then there’s this, about another instance of The Great Span:
It’s fascinating to think that when Richard was born Theodore Roosevelt was president. Overton is the oldest living American veteran now, but when he was born, Henry L. Riggs was still alive. Riggs was a veteran of the Black Hawk War (1832) and he was born in 1812…and Conrad Heyer, the Revolutionary War veteran and the oldest and earliest person to be photographed (born in 1749) was still alive when Riggs was born. Three overlapping lives, that’s all it took to get back to before even the idea of founding the United States. Richard’s brother fought in the first World War. He told me he remembered seeing Civil War veterans around when he was a kid. Not many, but they were there. It was Texas — those men fought to keep his mother in slavery. How long ago all that horribleness seems. How recent it is at the same time.
This lovely video from a television station in Denmark highlights the similarities we all share across seemingly impassable social, economic, racial, and religious boundaries.
It’s easy to put people in boxes. There’s us and there’s them. The high-earners and those just getting by. Those we trust and those we try to avoid. There’s the new Danes and those who’ve always been here. The people from the countryside and those who’ve never seen a cow. The religious and the self-confident. There are those we share something with and those we don’t share anything with.
And then suddenly, there’s us. We who believe in life after death, we who’ve seen UFOs, and all of us who love to dance. We who’ve been bullied and we who’ve bullied others.
Last week I started reading The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis’s book about the friendship and collaboration of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. This passage on Tversky’s work seems relevant to this video.
From Amos’s theory about the way people made judgments of similarity spilled all sorts of interesting insights. If the mind, when it compares two things, essentially counts up the features it notices in each of them, it might also judge those things to be at once more similar and more dissimilar to each other than some other pair of things. They might have both a lot in common and a lot not in common. Love and hate, and funny and sad, and serious and silly: Suddenly they could be seen — as they feel — as having more fluid relationships to each other. They weren’t simply opposites on a fixed mental continuum; they could be thought of as similar in some of their features and different in others. Amos’s theory also offered a fresh view into what might be happening when people violated transitivity and thus made seemingly irrational choices.
When people picked coffee over tea, and tea over hot chocolate, and then turned around and picked hot chocolate over coffee — they weren’t comparing two drinks in some holistic manner. Hot drinks didn’t exist as points on some mental map at fixed distances from some ideal. They were collections of features. Those features might become more or less noticeable; their prominence in the mind depended on the context in which they were perceived. And the choice created its own context: Different features might assume greater prominence in the mind when the coffee was being compared to tea (caffeine) than when it was being compared to hot chocolate (sugar). And what was true of drinks might also be true of people, and ideas, and emotions.
The idea was interesting: When people make decisions, they are also making judgments about similarity, between some object in the real world and what they ideally want. They make these judgments by, in effect, counting up the features they notice. And as the noticeability of features can be manipulated by the way they are highlighted, the sense of how similar two things are might also be manipulated. For instance, if you wanted two people to think of themselves as more similar to each other than they otherwise might, you might put them in a context that stressed the features they shared. Two American college students in the United States might look at each other and see a total stranger; the same two college students on their junior year abroad in Togo might find that they are surprisingly similar: They’re both Americans!
By changing the context in which two things are compared, you submerge certain features and force others to the surface. “It is generally assumed that classifications are determined by similarities among the objects,” wrote Amos, before offering up an opposing view: that “the similarity of objects is modified by the manner in which they are classified. Thus, similarity has two faces: causal and derivative. It serves as a basis for the classification of objects, but is also influenced by the adopted classification.” A banana and an apple seem more similar than they otherwise would because we’ve agreed to call them both fruit. Things are grouped together for a reason, but, once they are grouped, their grouping causes them to seem more like each other than they otherwise would. That is, the mere act of classification reinforces stereotypes. If you want to weaken some stereotype, eliminate the classification.
That’s what this video did so effectively…it switched up the contexts. Rabid soccer fans became dancers, bullies became lonely people, people of different faiths were united by their believe in an afterlife. An exercise for investors and entrepreneurs building media companies and social networks (as well as people running small independent sites….I’m staring hard at myself in the mirror here): how can you build tools and platforms that give people more ways to connect to each other, to switch up the contexts in which people are able to group themselves?
The official trailer for season five of The Americans is out and oooooooooh boy! I’m currently bingeing on The Night Manager and I love me some Halt and Catch Fire, but The Americans is my favorite pure-drama show1 right now. The actress who plays Paige is great and it looks like she’s going to be more involved in the plot than ever:
Look at her! Learning how to fight and reading Karl Marx! Oh, I can’t wait until March 7th! If you haven’t been following the show, all four of the previous seasons are available on Amazon Prime. I might have to rewatch!
Last night, during the Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III1 for Attorney General, Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship (which he did not get).
The first page of the letter appears above and the entire contents may be read here. King pretty plainly states that Sessions abused his position in an attempt to disenfranchise black voters:
Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.
Under Senate Rule XIX and after two votes by the full Senate, Warren was barred from speaking and finishing the letter.
When Warren first spoke against Sessions Tuesday night, Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, warned her that she was breaking the rules. When she continued anyway, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retaliated by finding her in violation of Senate Rule XIX — which prevents any senator from using “any form of words [to] impute to another Senator… any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Warren later read the letter outside of the Senate chambers. How the Senate is supposed to debate the appointment of a Cabinet member without being able to criticize the actions, words, and beliefs of that candidate is left as an exercise to the reader. (Ok, I’ll answer anyway: it’s not supposed to debate. That’s the entire point of the Republicans’ actions w/r/t Trump’s political nominees thus far.)
King’s letter, which Buzzfeed called “a key part of the case against Sessions [in 1986]” was only published earlier this week in part because Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond never officially entered it into the congressional record. Thurmond, you may remember, vehemently opposed the civil rights reforms of the 50s and 60s, even going so far as filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for more than 24 hours and switching political parties because of the Democrats’ support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
And Senate Rule XIX? Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann notes the precedent:
Let’s be clear on the precedent here: it’s the 1836-44 gag rule that forbade any consideration of abolition in the House.
Racist southern representatives were so frustrated by abolitionist petitions to Congress, that they adopted a series of rules.
All abolitionist petitions would immediately be tabled, and any attempt to introduce them would be prohibited.
From pro-slavery members of the House to Davis to Beauregard to Thurmond to Trump (and Bannon) to Sessions to McConnell (and the nearly all-white Republican majority). Paraphrasing Stephen Hawking, it’s white supremacy all the way down. Gosh, if you’re a black person in America, you might even think the system is tilted against you!
P.S. I like this part of Senate Rule XIX, right at the bottom:
8. Former Presidents of the United States shall be entitled to address the Senate upon appropriate notice to the Presiding Officer who shall thereupon make the necessary arrangements.
I’m not sure what it would accomplish, but seeing a former President address this Senate, after an appropriate period spent kiteboarding, would be pretty fun to watch.
P.P.S. In silencing Warren, McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Not a bad explanation of the feminist movement in America there, Mitch. Folks on Twitter are having fun with the #shepersisted hashtag.
Update: While the precedent for Senate Rule XIX dates back to the abolition debates in the 1830s and 1840s, the actual rule was made after a fight broke out in the Senate in 1902. From a book called The American Senate: An Insider’s Story:
South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman accused his South Carolina colleague, John McLaurin, of selling his vote for federal patronage. McLaurin called Tillman a malicious liar. Tillman lunged at him, striking him above the left eye. McLaurin hit Tillman back with an upper-cut to the nose.
Given the history of this rule and how it was recently applied, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Tillman was an outspoken advocate of lynching, once remarking in a speech:
“[We] agreed on on the policy of terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.” (Tillman boasted during the same speech that his pistol had been used to execute seven black men in 1876.)
So we can squeeze Tillman in-between Beauregard and Thurmond in the abbreviated narrative of how it came to be that a white majority Senate silenced a white woman for reading a letter written by a black woman.
Need to sleep, focus on work, get away from the news, meditate, or just tickle your ASMR receptors? Try 10 hours of ambient noise from a Norwegian icebreaker idling in the frozen Arctic.
10 hours video of Arctic ambience with frozen ocean, ice cracking, snow falling, icebreaker idling and distant howling wind sound. Natural white noise sounds generated by the wind and snow falling, combined with deep low frequencies with delta waves from the powerful icebreaker idling engines, recorded at 96 kHz — 24 bit and designed for relaxation, meditation, study and sleep.
That is some “Calgon take me away”-level shit. See also the most relaxing song in the world. (via bb)
Since its initial release in 2009, Minecraft has matured to the point of being a platform for people who want to make art and also for people who want to make money. Phil Edwards of Vox highlights some of the beautiful structures being created by Minecraft players (some of which are collected in this coffee table book called Beautiful Minecraft) and the challenges faced by creators trying to make money within a game owned by a large company.
The creativity “Creative Mode” enables is obvious in the work that talented designers produce. Sometimes Minecraft artists will create interactive worlds that replicate historic events; other times, Minecraft’s many cubes coalesce into a sculptural image, the same way pointillism’s dots disappear to form a picture. These images and worlds can be eerie, magical, and surprisingly beautiful.
But perhaps most surprising of all, Minecraft worlds can also be a business. Companies like Blockworks make maps for private Minecraft servers (computer networks that host Minecraft games), and they also occasionally design maps in collaboration with institutions and companies like Minecraft owner Microsoft.
BlockWorks — company tagline: “creative Minecraft solutions” — has done some really fantastic designs for themselves and their clients.
Using PT Anderson’s 2012 film The Master as a jumping off point, Evan Puschak discusses how Scientology’s audit process works. You can take the Oxford Capacity Analysis test he mentions right here.
Steve Hackman, aka Stereo Hideout, composes, arranges, and conducts mashups of orchestral music and pop music. Not just mixes on Soundcloud, mind you, but entirely new compositions that are played by actual orchestras. The video embedded above is Brahms Symphony No. 1 mixed with Radiohead’s OK Computer but he’s also done a few others that are available on YouTube: Copland vs Bon Iver, Beethoven vs Coldplay, and Bartok vs Bjork. Hackman’s next project in this vein? Tchaikovsky vs Drake, which he’s premiering with the Pittsburgh Symphony in March. (thx, spencer)
Update: Here’s a trailer from Tchaikovsky vs Drake:
I wish I lived closer to Pittsburgh…I’d totally go.
The 2017 Wind Games were recently held in Spain and featured skydivers from all over the world competing in a number of indoor skydiving1 events. Maja Kuczynska competed in the freestyle category and her routine/dance/performance was arresting.
My mind broke a little watching this. People are not supposed to move like this, like superheroes…it looks like not particularly well done special effects. At several points, the way she moves reminded me of Saruman toying with Gandalf before flinging him to the top of Orthanc in the Fellowship of the Ring.
Here’s her performance from another angle. Wow. Just wow. Kuczynska finished third in the event while Kyra Poh took first…here’s Poh’s winning routine.