homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

The history of straws

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

Alexis Madrigal is great at the systemic sublime — taking an everyday object or experience and showing how it implicates interconnected networks across space, time, and levels of analysis. His history of the drinking straw — or rather, “a history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the drinking straw” — is no exception. It doesn’t give quite enough space to disability, either in its history or its examination of the straw’s future — the stakes of that debate are better-covered in this David Perry essay from a year ago — but there are still plenty of goodies.

Temperance and public health grew up together in the disease-ridden cities of America, where despite the modern conveniences and excitements, mortality rates were higher than in the countryside. Straws became a key part of maintaining good hygiene and public health. They became, specifically, part of the answer to the scourge of unclean drinking glasses. Cities begin requiring the use of straws in the late 1890s. A Wisconsin paper noted in 1896 that already in many cities “ordinances have been issued making the use of wrapped drinking straws essential in public eating places.”

Add in urbanization, the suddenly cheap cost of wood-pulp paper goods, and voila: you get soda fountains and disposable straws, soon followed by disposable paper cups, and eventually, their plastic successors, manufactured by a handful of giant companies to the specifications of a handful of other giant companies, in increasingly automated processes for the benefit of shareholders. It’s a heck of a yarn.

A Conversation With My Friend Who Really Wants To Have Sex With Mr. Incredible

Immigrant World Cup athletes from many nations explain their experience of identity, outsider status, and patriotism

An important SCOTUS decision holds that a warrant is required to obtain most private data from a third-party

The Texas Tribune has gathered its 30+ stories on families separated/imprisoned on the border all in one spot:

Terrific essay on Letraset rubdown typography and its impact on pop culture from the 60s through the 80s

On Cindy Sherman, and the blending of fiction and reality that comes with self-portraiture

"Shakira, who is married to Iniesta's teammate, Gerard Piqué, famously said that hips don't lie. But Iniesta's do."

This car has a shield that slides down over the license plate to avoid paying tolls

Older bigger fish are found in deeper water not because of intrinsic biology but because humans are fishing them out of the shallower water

Canada has legalized the recreational use of marijuana

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

The poster child problem

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

child separation

This week’s crisis of children separated from their parents, and both parents and children sent to jails or camps (in most cases) for the misdemeanor of improperly crossing the border, has inspired some excellent critical writing on the power of overpowering imagery, especially the John Moore photograph above.

From Josephine Livingstone, “America’s ‘Poster Child’ Syndrome”:

These poster children present a paradox: They are real, so is their suffering—but they have also been chosen to represent a suffering that is shared by many others… There are several political repercussions of allowing a single child to represent a crisis. The first is that the child herself, literally voiceless in the case of Moore’s photograph, ceases to be an individual. She instead becomes a blank canvas upon which adults project their anxieties and fears. The second is that it obscures the suffering of others—particularly adults. Moore’s photograph captures this young migrant’s isolation so well that it hurts; but, by definition, it leaves out the faces of the rest of her family. It reduces a crisis about human beings of all ages and stages of life to a single image of total vulnerability.

Behind the American response to these images of children lurks an uncomfortable truth: The white majority in this country perceives children of color differently than they perceive adults, in what we might call the visual rhetoric of victimhood. This crisis is happening to babies, toddlers, teenagers, parents, and elderly adults; but the only images that can make America care about its inhumane policy toward immigrants at its borders, the only images that can cause a Republican like Laura Bush to speak on behalf of these foreigners, are photographs of children.

Megan Garber, “How To Look Away”:

In a democracy, if the people are to have a meaningful say over the world and its workings, those people are, fundamentally, obligated to look. And, much more fundamentally, to see. To avert one’s eyes is a privilege that those of us who have the power to act cannot afford to exercise, even when we are complicit in the images. Especially when we are complicit.

It is a dynamic—the democratic alchemy that converts seeing things into changing them—that the president and his surrogates have been objecting to, as they have defended their policy. They have been, this week (with notable absences), busily appearing on cable-news shows and giving disembodied quotes to news outlets, insisting that things aren’t as bad as they seem: that the images and the audio and the evidence are wrong not merely ontologically, but also emotionally. Don’t be duped, they are telling Americans. Your horror is incorrect. The tragedy is false. Your outrage about it, therefore, is false. Because, actually, the truth is so much more complicated than your easy emotions will allow you to believe. Actually, as Fox News host Laura Ingraham insists, the holding pens that seem to house horrors are “essentially summer camps.” And actually, as Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy instructs, the pens are not cages so much as “walls” that have merely been “built … out of chain-link fences.” And actually, Kirstjen Nielsen wants you to remember, “We provide food, medical, education, all needs that the child requests.” And actually, too, Tom Cotton warns, think of the child-smuggling. And of MS-13. And of sexual assault. And of soccer fields. There are so many reasons to look away, so many other situations more deserving of your outrage and your horror.

And Kainaz Amaria, “Time magazine’s cover isn’t bold or brave. It’s exploitative.”

[When] I saw Time’s cover this morning — and what I can only describe as the misuse of Moore’s original image — my immediate reaction was rage. As a photojournalist, a visuals editor, and an immigrant, I didn’t see it as a powerful statement on President Trump’s attitude toward the family separation crisis or the policies that have ripped more than 2,000 vulnerable children from their parents.

I see it as an insensitive and exploitative play to sell magazines — and one that, albeit unintentionally, offers up this personal tragedy to be memed and ridiculed…

Vox’s Brian Resnick has written about the limits of human compassion and the impact an image can have. In it, he talks to Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, who says: “Individual stories and individual photographs can be effective for a while. They capture our attention — they get us to see the reality, to glimpse the reality at a scale we can understand and connect to emotionally. But then there has to be somewhere to go with it.”

I haven’t yet read anything comparable diving into the effect of the ProPublica audio of imprisoned children separated from their parents by immigration officials, apart from this behind-the-scenes video on the how the audio was obtained. But I’d certainly be interested in doing so.

Cooking Babylonian stews, the oldest recipes ever found

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

The Yale Babylonian Collection has four cuneiform tablets that contain the world’s oldest known food recipes — nearly four thousand years old. Scholars think the recipes weren’t everyday cuisine, but dishes prepared for royal houses, because they’re 1) fairly complex and 2) written down. A Yale-Harvard team decided to cook three of the recipes (two lamb stews, one vegetarian) for an event at NYU called “An Appetite for the Past.”

The undertaking was not without its challenges, says [Yale curator Agnete] Lassen. “Not only were some of the ingredients that were used during this time period not available, but two of the tablets are poorly preserved — there are big holes in them. Some of these terms that appear in the Akkadian original are difficult to translate because these are words that don’t appear very often in the other texts that we have and that makes it very difficult to decipher them.”

“Having an understanding of what the food is supposed to feel and taste like is very important,” says Lassen. “We didn’t know what we were looking for. When we were recreating one of the recipes I kept thinking they were doing this wrong, ‘this is not how I would make this.’ And then when it had boiled for a while it suddenly transformed itself into something delicious.”

I wonder which of our recipes will still survive in four thousand years, and what historians of the future will make of the people who ate this food.

Update: University of Chicago Press has a book of ancient Mesopotamian recipes. “Offering everything from translated recipes for pigeon and gazelle stews, the contents of medicinal teas and broths, and the origins of ingredients native to the region, this book reveals the cuisine of one of history’s most fascinating societies.” I’ve never eaten pigeon, but people I know who have say it’s delicious. (I don’t know anyone who’s eaten gazelle.) Via Amy Drummond.

Huge online collection of Frida Kahlo art and artifacts

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2018

In partnership with over 30 museums and institutions from around the world, Google Arts & Culture has launched Faces of Frida, a massive collection of art, letters, essays, videos, and other artifacts about the life and work of Frida Kahlo. There’s a *lot* here, including dozens of zoomable high-resolution scans of her artwork and essays by art historians and experts.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

This is the kind of “organizing the world’s information” I want to see more of from Google. (via open culture)

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

In Here Are the 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People, Cloe Madanes gives us some advice at how to succeed at self-sabotage (or, really, how to avoid it).

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

See also seven helpful tips on how to be miserable.

The Blind Skateboarder

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

Dan Mancina has lost 95% of his eyesight but that hasn’t kept him from skating. Red Bull has an interview with Mancina, who stopped skating for a couple of years after he went blind, thinking that it wasn’t something a blind person would or could do.

There wasn’t a defining moment that changed my mind as to what a blind person was, but the day I started to build that bench sort of started it, and sparked this passion and stoked this urge to skate again.

Seeing how people responded to that, that’s the shit I was searching for. To see me not as a blind person, but as a normal person, a skater.

Ever since I was seven, that’s who I was. I am a skateboarder, I just lost it for a while. I bought into people’s ideas of me and what a blind person is, and really I should’ve been searching for who I was and what I wanted to do.

People who are really good at something talk about doing it “by feel” or being able to do it “in their sleep”. Mancina’s skating ability is a good reminder that after you pass a certain threshold of expertise, so much of athleticism is just your body’s ability to unconsciously perform.

You can watch more of Mancina’s skating on his Instagram account.

A sad update about a scissors maker that went viral

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

Back in 2014, a lovely short film by Shaun Bloodworth called The Putter went viral. The film shows Cliff Denton making scissors for Ernest Wright & Sons. Denton works for the company as a putter, short for putter togetherer.

Before the film, business at the firm was so slow that staff were only working two days a week. When the video took off online, the company received two years’ worth of orders in a single day. Two years later in June 2016, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign for a throwback pair of kitchen scissors and ended up making four times their goal from more than 3600 backers.

Outwardly, this seemed to be one of those stories about how an old school company found a new audience and a second chance on the internet. But internally the company was struggling, hamstrung by a series of setbacks. Problems with design and machining the new scissors model delayed production for a year and two key employees, including putter Cliff Denton, were off the job due to illness. Shaun Bloodworth, the filmmaker, died waiting for a liver transplant. And then in February 2018, the news broke that Nick Wright, the company’s managing director, had died suddenly.

Under new leadership, the company vowed to carry on and fulfill all of the Kickstarter orders, but a message to Kickstarter backers yesterday revealed the company was deep in debt and would be “going into receivership”. It also revealed that Wright had taken his own life. Here’s the full message from Pam Addy, the current managing director of Ernest Wright & Sons. (Note: this includes a portion of a final letter written by Wright before he died.)

Hello everyone, this is Pam.

Following the death of Nick Wright, who took his own life in February, myself and the rest of the Ernest Wright team have endeavored to honour all you Kickstarter backers who pledged money for the Kutrite design of kitchen scissors. Unfortunately, only now am I aware of the extent of the business debt incurred prior to my taking over as Director on March 22 2018, so it is with great sadness I announce that Ernest Wright & Son Ltd will be going into receivership.

If you have not received your goods, you will be contacted by the Insolvency Practitioner in due course. Following advice from them, if you paid by Credit Card you may wish to contact your card provider, to see whether they will refund you the money paid.

Nick wrote a final letter. In this letter were personal messages including one to Kickstarter people:

“I tried so hard, this was no scam, I just could not make it happen. Too much pressure, not enough resource or time. I am so very genuinely sorry to you all.”

What a sad situation for Wright’s family and the company. It’s tempting to want to draw conclusions between the finances, the campaign, and Wright’s death, but we don’t actually know much about the situation. But I do think this highlights the potential disconnects between mental health & business, publicity & success, and success & happiness. The internet can seem so intimate but ultimately it’s a thin view of an individual’s or company’s reality. (thx, dawn)

There’s no scientific or genetic basis for race

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

Elizabeth Kolbert writing for National Geographic: There’s No Scientific Basis for Race — It’s a Made-Up Label.

“What the genetics shows is that mixture and displacement have happened again and again and that our pictures of past ‘racial structures’ are almost always wrong,” says David Reich, a Harvard University paleogeneticist whose new book on the subject is called Who We Are and How We Got Here. There are no fixed traits associated with specific geographic locations, Reich says, because as often as isolation has created differences among populations, migration and mixing have blurred or erased them.

She also observes that there’s more diversity in Africa than all the other continents combined (which is what happens when the rest of the world’s population is based on a relatively small population that left Africa 60,000 years ago).

What the uncharted territories of outer space might look like…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

Harkening back to when visual effects teams used colorful liquids & chemicals to simulate space travel for films like 2001, Helios uses those same techniques to visualize “what the uncharted territories of outer space might look like”.

Helios considers what the uncharted territories of outer space might look like. It was created as a passion project in my basement studio using various liquids and chemicals. It is staged as an audiovisual stimulus inspired by the aesthetics of vintage NASA space travel.

Having spent my entire childhood in an area lacking both basic infrastructure and light pollution, I developed an escapist obsession for watching the night sky and contemplating. I would constantly get on people’s nerves asking: “What do the limits of the universe look like? And what’s behind that?”

Here’s a look at the process behind the video, along with some high-resolution screencaps.

Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

Russian writer Varlam Shalamov spent 15 years, from 1937 to 1951, in a Soviet gulag (forced labor camp) for engaging in “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist activities”. He wrote a book of short fiction about his experience called Kolyma Stories. He also wrote down 45 things he learned while in the gulag.

1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.

15. I realized that one can live on anger.

17. I understood why people do not live on hope — there isn’t any hope. Nor can they survive by means of free will — what free will is there? They live by instinct, a feeling of self-preservation, on the same basis as a tree, a stone, an animal.

26. I realized that you can achieve a great deal-time in the hospital, a transfer-but only by risking your life, taking beatings, enduring solitary confinement in ice.

30. I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards. Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat.

44. I understood that moving from the condition of a prisoner to the condition of a free man is very difficult, almost impossible without a long period of amortization.

What made the Nazis possible? Why didn’t anyone stop them?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

With an eye on the current political situations in the US, Turkey, Russia, and China, Cass Sunstein reviews three books that shed light on how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century by Konrad Jarausch, and Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner.

Mayer’s book was published in 1955 and consisted of post-war interviews with normal German people (janitor, baker, teacher) who had been Nazi party members. Their recollection of what had happened differed somewhat from the rest of the world’s.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we — you and I — saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

They also denied the Holocaust had happened. They didn’t see it because their lives were just fine (up until the war started).

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

This reminded me of how ISIS improved the lives of many in Iraq & Syria by fixing electrical problems, regularly collecting garbage, and focusing on law & order. The quotes around “everybody” in the last line of that paragraph also reminded me of the criticism1 directed at people like Steven Pinker, Bill Gates, or Hans Rosling who insist the world is getting better. Better for whom? Everybody?

See also the Sunstein-edited Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

  1. It’s interesting that this post was deleted from the TED blog. I wonder why?

Dancing in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

A supercut montage of dance scenes from over 300 movies (like School of Rock, The Wizard of Oz, Footloose, Dances With Wolves, West Side Story, and Straight Outta Compton). A full list of the movies represented is available here.

The insides of everyday items, animated

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2018

On Tinker Fridays, industrial designer dina Amin takes apart an item and makes a playful stop motion animation out of its parts.

I spent 2016 taking products that people decided to throw away apart and showing people (not the ones who threw away those products, but others on Instagram) what’s inside and transformed all the pieces to lil creatures by the magical power of stop motion.

You can find more of Amin’s work on her website, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram. (thx, samira)

These Oklahoma teachers are now permanently on strike

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2018

Earlier this year, 30,000 teachers in Oklahoma walked out of their classrooms to protest teacher pay and education budget cuts. The walkout ended after nine days with the teachers’ goals partially met. Vice News talked to 18 Oklahoma teachers about why they’ve decided to quit teaching after this year, essentially making their walkouts permanent.

Eric Weingartner worked two side jobs in addition to his role as a full-time 4th grade teacher to make ends meet. Chemistry teacher Becky Smith’s monthly paycheck rose just $300 in sixteen years. Aimee Elmquist spent her own money to stock her biology classroom. Mary West did the same for high school art.

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had in the past few years is that while Americans talk a lot about the importance of children and education, those things actually are not that important to us. You can see it in how we approach our educational system and you can see it in how we our government uses the abuse of children to attempt to curb immigration with relatively little outcry. You can see it in our governance…the people we elect do what’s best for voters, not for future voters. The enthusiasm of hobbyists and desire of gun companies keep our children attending school in fear. Healthcare costs are soaring and coverage for children isn’t guaranteed. Our parental leave policies, maternity care, and all-around treatment of mothers & women in the workplace lags behind other so-called “developed” countries. Children are a priority for the US? Yeah, no.