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Franz Kafka: Great writer, bad boyfriend

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 16, 2018

Kafka Was A Terrible Boyfriend” is a sentence that is simultaneously unsurprising and revelatory. But it gives us a chance to dive into Kafka’s letters, which are, along with the stories, unfinished novels, and the conversation slips he passed back and forth at the end of his life when he could no longer speak, among his most treasured works.

This fact maybe illustrates why so many writers are bad boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives (but let’s face it, mostly bad boyfriends and husbands) — especially from the point of view of their writing to their significant others. Kafka in particular seemed incapable of thinking about his writing, on any topic, as anything but writing, in a literary sense. So his putative love letters are filled with sudden ironies and reversals, meditations on ambiguity, contingency, and the self. The dude couldn’t get out of his own head, or out of his own way.

Would it help if we write to each other only once a week? No, if my suffering could be cured by such means it would not be serious. And already I foresee that I shan’t be able to endure even the Sunday letters. And so, to compensate for Saturday’s lost opportunity, I ask you with what energy remains to me at the end of this letter: If we value our lives, let us abandon it all.

Did I think of signing myself Dein [Yours]? No, nothing could be more false. No, I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, and that’s what I must try to live with.

Franz

Needless to say, I identify with him completely.

Smart critique of Star Trek: Discovery, a show with infinite potential and a lot of squandered chances

Atlas Obscura asked readers to send in the best things they found pressed between the pages of old books

Original cast sequel to The Karate Kid whaaaaat?

It's official: Jeffrey Tambor will not return to Transparent after an investigation in sexual harassment claims. I love Transparent and his character in particular but good; get 'em out.

Transgender Woman Breast-Feeds Baby After Hospital Induces Lactation

Wondering why stock prices for firearm companies jumped after the Parkland school shooting yesterday? Because the mass killing of children is good for business.

The discovery of a bright red pigment made from the cochineal bug native to present-day Mexico revolutionized European painting in the 16th century

Moodica: relaxing and satisfying videos with themes like momentum, cool down, zero gravity, and art therapy.

If you're as into Dunkirk as I am, you might enjoy this 30-minute making-of feature

The laws of physics at work: if you fire a soccer ball at 50mph out of cannon mounted on the back of a truck going 50mph in the opposite direction, what happens?

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

The web is a library; the web is a shopping mall

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 16, 2018

Harper_memorial_reading_room-1024.jpg

Frank Chimero has a long, insightful essay about how commercial imperatives have creeped in on the public commonwealth of the web, creating a bunch of pseudo-public spaces whose experience continually degrades (think a negative stereotype of NYC’s Penn Station) as opposed to free and open public spaces (think a positive stereotype of NYC’s main public library).

Remember: the web is a marketplace and a commonwealth, so we have both commerce and culture; it’s just that the non-commercial bits of the web get more difficult to see in comparison to the outsized presence of the commercial web and all that caters to it. It’s a visibility problem that’s an inadvertent consequence of values. The commercial parts become more self-contained and link inside themselves to keep you around—after a while, you’re looping around their cul-de-sac because attention is money on the web. Non-commercial sites link out and will let you go, which immediately puts them at a disadvantage for mindshare.

Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon aren’t going anywhere at this point—nor should we expect them to—so it’s best to recalibrate the digital experience by increasing the footprint and mindshare of the kinds of cultural and communal value they can’t provide. The web isn’t like Manhattan real estate—if we want something, we can make space for it.

“If technology is increasingly a place where we live, it needs to have space for the soul,” Frank writes. For him, that means carving off pieces of it that don’t serve that goal: foregoing television, or Facebook, or anything where the net balance falls on the soul-draining more than the soul-nourishing.

I’m less sure; partly, I’ve never been able to be quite so deliberate about my physical or my media diet. I also have fewer options to step away: my day job is writing about advertising technology, after all, which mostly means plunging into the weird. But I am 100 percent about the idea that the web is a place of infinite space, where we can create new kinds of public spaces wherever we choose. It’s not that easy, of course. Nothing great ever is. But if we’re going to dream, let’s dream about that.

A short, melancholy review of Black Panther

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 16, 2018

Black_Panther_Fire.jpg

I’m certainly aware that one of the themes (perhaps the theme) of Black Panther is the gap between the world as it is and the world as it could be. I’m also aware that one of the main characters, when he finally sees the unimaginable beauty of Wakanda, finds it too bittersweet to bear. It’s a movie about hard choices and impossible expectations. Which makes it a movie about making movies, like all the other movies.

The closest analogy I can think of for Black Panther is The Lord of the Rings. (These are the two movies, in my lifetime, I have waited the longest to see, and held the highest expectations for.) Black Panther may be the closest Marvel has come, even counting the Thor movies, to merging high fantasy and superhero fiction. This pops up in deep and superficial ways: the characters fight with swords and spears more often than guns and blasters, and the plot is laden with intrigue of kings and clans, bloodlines, blood debts, and blood enemies, and magical (sometimes techno-magical) weapons that are too dangerous to be used lightly. I’ve heard other people call these parts of the movie Shakespearean, and I could see some parallels, but it feels more like fantasy.

Like the Lord of the Rings movies, Black Panther is a beautiful, improbably piece of filmmaking. Like them, the overlapping action plots sometimes get muddled, with one thread having to be sacrificed for another. And like them, when the movie has time to breathe, it is a quieter, emotional film, about characters who are able to convey or suggest deep connections with limited screen time.

It’s that movie, that other Black Panther, I want to stay in. The moments between friends, lovers, rivals, parents and their children quickly get bowled over by a very capable action fantasy superhero movie. And to make a version of Lord of the Rings that is antiracist and antiimperialist from start to finish, while preserving all the dramatic possibilities and ambiguities of what it means to be a king to a people, is no small thing.

But the genius of Creed — and as of today, after only one screening of Black Panther versus dozens of Creed, I’m going to provisionally maintain that Creed is the better Ryan Coogler film — was its ability to balance its obligations to the Rocky franchise with its subtle but penetrating portrayal of human relationships. Creed comes the closest I have seen, the closest I recognize, to what it means to love someone: a partner, a mother, a child, a father figure, a lost legacy. Black Panther only occasionally allows room for the same emotional range, and they’re the best moments of the film.

Creed’s Philadelphia shows the world as it is; Black Panther’s Wakanda staggers against the task of showing the world as it ought to be.

This brings me to the last way in which Black Panther is like The Lord of the Rings: its first cut, by several accounts was over four hours long. I am perfectly happy with the movie I saw. But I suspect that somewhere in those four hours, is the movie that I most especially wanted to see.

A list of Isaac Newton’s sins

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2018

In 1662 when he was 19 years old, Isaac Newton sat down to a fresh notebook and wrote out a list of the sins he’d committed “before and after Whitsunday of that year”. They included:

Eating an apple at Thy house
Making a mousetrap on Thy day
Making pies on Sunday night
Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
Wishing death and hoping it to some
Striking many
Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.
Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee
Punching my sister
Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar
Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.
Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot.

Maps of UK national parks drawn in the style of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2018

Tolkien Maps

Tolkien Maps

Tolkien Maps

Artist Dan Bell has drawn maps of the UK’s national parks in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Bell has also drawn maps of Westeros (from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series) and places like London and Oxford. Both prints and the original hand-drawn maps are available for purchase from Bell’s online shop.

The trailer for The Incredibles 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2018

Last night at like midnight during the Olympic broadcast, Pixar dropped the first trailer for The Incredibles 2. The first movie, one of Pixar’s most entertaining, centered around the illegality of superheroics and its impact on a family of superheroes in hiding, particularly the patriarch of the family, Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible). Takes on the philosophical and political meanings were various and hot, among them that the movie espoused Randian views of society, but in hindsight and with the context of the present, the reading that makes increasing sense to me is The Incredibles is a parable for how white middle class men have lost their way in today’s world and are struggling to get back to the good ol’ days, i.e. Make Superheros Great Again.

From the trailer, it looks like The Incredibles 2 explores the same issue from another angle. As his wife’s star rises in the workplace, Parr is trying to figure out how to find fulfillment and an identity in being his family’s primary caregiver. It’ll be interesting to see where the movie goes with this, but I suspect Mr. Incredible will eventually find his way back into the workplace, creating an imbalance in his family life, just as it did in the first movie.

*extremely Tim Robbins voice* You know, for kids!

(I watched the trailer with my kids this morning and my son, who remembers exactly where he was when he heard that there was going to be a sequel to one of his all-time favorite movies, was kinda meh about it.)

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 17 people in Parkland, Florida today. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year and guns that can fire dozens of rounds a minute are perfectly legal.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. As Dan Hodges said on Twitter:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

I hate to leave it on that note, but Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

Edith+Eddie, a short documentary about America’s oldest interracial newlyweds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

One of the five Oscar nominees for best short documentary this year is Edith+Eddie, the story of an interracial American couple who got married in 2014 at the ages of 96 & 95 respectively. But as you can see from the trailer, their story is not a happy one:

Edith+Eddie, directed by Laura Checkoway, follows America’s oldest interracial newlyweds at age 96 and 95. Their love story is disrupted by a family feud that threatens to tear the couple apart.

Millions of American families go through elder care disputes and guardianship cases. These cases are life altering, emotionally and financially depleting, and dealt with in isolation.

You can watch the entire film on YouTube and on Topic.

The best audiobooks for kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

Trumpeter Swan

When they were younger, my kids spent a lot of time in the car on long trips. Unwilling to give them an iPad to watch a movie or play games, we would often spend a big portion of these trips listening to audiobooks. Some of our favorites were Cricket in Times Square, Matilda, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

But my personal favorite The Trumpet of the Swan, wonderfully narrated by E.B. White himself! We’ve probably listened to it four or five times at least. The other day the kids and I were discussing the system of Latin names for species and when I asked if they knew any of them besides homo sapiens, Ollie shouted “Cygnus buccinator!” (The only one I could come up with off the top of my head was Rattus rattus.)

I’ve also heard good things about Jim Dale’s narration of all seven Harry Potter books, some of the other Roald Dahl stories like Danny the Champion of the World, Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Hobbit.

I’m also curious about See You in the Cosmos. I’m reading it aloud to my kids right now in book form but given how the story is told, the audiobook might be even better.

Thanks to Lexi Mainland at Cup of Jo for the inspiration for this post.

Winners of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

Underwater 2018

Underwater 2018

Underwater 2018

The winners of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year have been announced and In Focus has a nice selection of the winners and runners-up.

Top photo by Filippo Borghi and the bottom two by Greg Lecoeur. Said Borghi about his photo:

During springtime, from April to June, on the coast of Baja, California, we can witness one of the most impressive migrations of the sea. Thousands of mobula rays migrate along this coast. I tried many times to find this incredible behavior but never was able. This year, during a morning safari on the sea, we saw a different group of beautiful mobula rays. I jumped in the water and we followed them for a couple of hours and a small group moved into a shallow area where I was able to shoot in great light.

Great stuff if you’ve been watching Blue Planet II. And if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?!

An oral history of the “fuck” scene in The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

In the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire, the one that really hooks you fully into the show, detectives Bunk and McNulty enter a crime scene and scour it for potential clues, communicating with each other almost entirely using variations of the word “fuck”.

It’s a great scene, almost pure visual filmmaking and an homage to a singularly versatile word. In his new book, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, Jonathan Abrams details how this scene came to be made. New York Magazine has an excerpt.

David comes up to us and describes a scene. He says, “You’re going to go to the scene. You’re going to realize that [the previous] detective, he did a bad job. Wendell, you’re going to see the photos of the girl. Dominic, you’re going to start getting the stats, looking at what the report was. Going back over, you’re going to realize it’s impossible to have gone down the way it was reported, because the guy would have to be like eight feet tall to get that trajectory. If he did, then something must be left in here, and you’re looking for any evidence that may be around, and Wendell, you discover that there’s a shot through the window. The glass is on the inside. It means it came from the outside. That means whoever the perpetrator was wasn’t inside, like the person they say in the report. The bullet came from outside. From there, let’s see the trajectory. It would be right here, in the refrigerator. Let’s see, not the wall. In the refrigerator, we find the bullet here. Let’s go outside, make a new discovery.” He explained the whole scene to us. He said, “Now you guys are going to do that whole thing, but they’re going to be on me about the profanity and language that we use.” So, I said, “Let’s just come out the box with it.” He said, “You’re going to do that whole scene, but the only word you can say is ‘fuck.’” I said, “What?”

“Here” by Richard McGuire

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

“Here” is a comic by Richard McGuire that tells the story of a single room over the course of billions of years.

Here Mcguire

In 2014, McGuire expanded the comic into a very well-received graphic novel. In the NY Times, Luc Sante called the book “brilliant and revolutionary”:

The book originated as a 36-panel story published in 1989 in Raw, the comics journal edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. No one who saw that story ever forgot it: a chronicle of a life, running from 1957 to 2027, as situated in one room, with kaleidoscopic intrusions from various pasts and a wisp of a future — the house burns in 2029 and is torn down in 2030; a time capsule is interred on the site in 2033. The time capsule, perhaps too neat a detail, has not survived the translation to the book, and the story no longer follows a single human life but fully widens its scope to the life of the place. You might say that the book is “Fantasia” to the story’s “Steamboat Willie,” for example, considering the latter’s black-and-white panels that draw their style from generically jocular 1950s illustration.

(via @davextreme)

Teachers have personalized handshakes for every single one of their students

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2018

These two teachers, Jerusha Willenborg of Mueller Elementary in Wichita, KS and Barry White Jr. of Ashley Park Elementary School in Charlotte, NC, both greet each of their students with a personalized handshake every day.

I love watching these. I can barely remember to shake with my right hand…no idea how the teachers memorize all that.

Mona, Vincent, and The Girl with the Pearl Earring hit the beach

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2018

Art At The Beach

Photo collage by Dan Cretu.