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Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: “An Instant American Classic”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2020

Well, this is a hell of a book review by NY Times critic Dwight Garner about Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste (which I am starting the second it comes out tomorrow).

A critic shouldn’t often deal in superlatives. He or she is here to explicate, to expand context and to make fine distinctions. But sometimes a reviewer will shout as if into a mountaintop megaphone. I recently came upon William Kennedy’s review of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which he called “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Kennedy wasn’t far off.

I had these thoughts while reading Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” It’s an extraordinary document, one that strikes me as an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far. It made the back of my neck prickle from its first pages, and that feeling never went away.

I told more than one person, as I moved through my days this past week, that I was reading one of the most powerful nonfiction books I’d ever encountered.

I mean, how can you not want to read a book that stirs a seasoned critic like that, particularly when the author also wrote the fantastic The Warmth of Other Suns? You can buy Caste at Bookshop, get the Kindle version, or read a lengthy piece adapted from the book.

The headline here says it all: The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free.

Ed Yong: How the Pandemic Defeated America. "How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet's most powerful nation."

"We should be hopeful about the prospects of a vaccine for Covid-19." The natural decrease in antibodies after an infection is not cause for alarm.

There's some really good stuff in this profile of Choire Sicha. "Not meddling with talent and not diluting great ideas by committee are two smart strategies in a creative workplace that are rarely deployed successfully."

A new study argues for a greater appreciation of hedonism in our lives. "Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don't lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control."

"Screen time expert" Anya Kamenetz reflects on what she's learned about kids & screens during the intense pandemic lockdown time. "Lean into video chat and real-time interactions. And play games, watch TV and videos together as a family."

A 118-page toolkit for reparations published by the Movement for Black Lives to help people "better understand what reparations are and how Black people in the United States can get them."

MacKenzie Scott just donated $1.7 billion to a variety of organizations working in areas like racial equity, LGBTQ+ equity, functional democracy, climate change, gender equity. Check out the whole list here.

"Actress and director Amy Seimetz has obtained a temporary restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, director Shane Carruth, accusing him of years of mental, emotional and physical abuse."

Several US states (like Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama) still offer license plates w/ the Confederate flag on them where profits go to Confederate pride groups.

New!  An archive of the Quick Links. You can find them @kottke on Twitter too.

Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John Lewis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2020

At John Lewis’s funeral yesterday, Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for his friend and mentor, praising him for his achievements in the struggle for civil rights. He also took the opportunity to suggest what politicians might do to honor Lewis and to continue his struggle, beyond just words. From the text of his speech:

If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy of work of all the Congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, trying to get back to where we already were. Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better.

By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance.

By adding polling places, and expanding early voting, and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are someone who is working in a factory, or you are a single mom who has got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot.

By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C. and in Puerto Rico. They are Americans.

By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering — so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around.

And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

And Now a Message from Mask Spokesman Bane from The Dark Knight Rises

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2020

The Auralnauts, who have rejiggered the dialogue and sounds from your favorite movies with hilarious results (most notably Star Wars), have reimagined Bane from The Dark Knight Rises as a coronavirus mask advocate for their latest video.

Do I look like I live in fear of anything?! I’m wearing this mask for you, the people of Gotham, who, I can’t help but notice, are not social distancing!

What Does Justice for Breonna Taylor Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

In a piece for Essence, prison industrial complex abolitionists Mariame Kaba and Andrea Ritchie challenge us to consider whether arresting and prosecuting the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor (or George Floyd or Elijah McClain) will result in justice.

Beyond strategic assessments of what is most likely to bring justice, ultimately, we must choose to support collective responses that align with our values. Demands for arrests and prosecutions of killer cops are inconsistent with demands to #DefundPolice because they have proven to be sources of violence not safety. We can’t claim the system must be dismantled because it is a danger to Black lives and at the same time legitimize it by turning to it for justice. As Angela Y. Davis points out, “we have to be consistent” in our analysis, and not respond to violence in a way that compounds it. We need to use our radical imaginations to come up with new structures of accountability beyond the system we are working to dismantle.

Noting that “turning away from systems of policing and punishment doesn’t mean turning away from accountability”, Kaba and Ritchie argue that use of a reparations framework would be more effective in delivering justice to Taylor’s family and in preventing future killings and violence by police.

Under a reparations framework Breonna’s family — and all of us — are also entitled to more than an individualized response to what is a systemic problem. We are entitled to immediate cessation of the actions that caused her death — no knock warrants, to be sure, but also short knock warrants, and dangerous drug raids in all their forms. And all of us are entitled to non-repetition, an end to the conditions that produced her death, including an end to the drug war that killed her, and the forces of gentrification that brought police into her neighborhood. It is long past time for an approach to drug use that saves lives instead of ending them — whether in a raid or in a cell — and a reckoning with the ways in which economic policies are driving deadly policing practices.

Read the entire piece at Essence.

TheirTube: Visit Radically Different YouTube Recommendation Bubbles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

TheirTube lets you see YouTube recommended videos for preppers, liberals, climate deniers, fruitarians, conservatives, etc. Here’s the climate deniers home page from a couple of days ago:

Theirtube Climate

Theirtube is a Youtube filter bubble simulator that provides a look into how videos are recommended on other people’s YouTube. Users can experience how the YouTube home page would look for six different personas. Each persona simulates the viewing environment of real Youtube users who experienced being inside a recommendation bubble through recreating a Youtube account with a similar viewing history.

The simulator was developed by Tomo Kihara after he got into an argument with someone who lived in a completely different filter bubble:

This whole project started when I was in a heated discussion with a person who thought climate change was a hoax and 9/11 was a conspiracy. Through conversations with him, I was surprised to learn that he thought everyone’s YouTube feed had the same information as his own feed. When we showed each other our YouTube homepages, we were both shocked. They were radically different. And it got me thinking about the need for a tool to step outside of information bubbles.

The project is open-sourced on GitHub so you can make your own personas, etc. (via craig mod)

Update: Leveraging Twitter’s lists functionality, Vicariously lets you see the timelines of other Twitter users. And not only that, but you can merge the timelines of several users, only the mutual follows of those users, and other options.

Breonna Taylor on the Cover of Oprah Magazine

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

Ever since O, The Oprah Magazine launched back in 2000, founder Oprah Winfrey has been featured on every single cover. Until now. For the September issue, the magazine is featuring an illustration of Breonna Taylor, who was murdered in her apartment in March by three Louisville police officers.

Oprah Breonna Taylor

Winfrey writes in an introduction to the issue:

I think about Breonna Taylor often. She was the same age as the two daughter-girls from my school in South Africa who’ve been quarantining with Stedman and me since March. In all their conversations I feel the promise of possibilities.

Their whole lives shine with the light of hopefulness. That was taken away from Breonna in such a horrifying manner.

Imagine if three unidentified men burst into your home while you were sleeping. And your partner fired a gun to protect you. And then mayhem.

What I know for sure: We can’t be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice.

And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine.

I cry for justice in her name.

The illustration of Taylor is by Dallas digital artist Alexis Franklin.

Update: Franklin wrote about the process of working on Taylor’s portrait.

Working as a digital portrait artist, I reimagine an existing image and can quickly switch moods or colors. The original photo is one Breonna took herself and has been featured in the news many times. Looking at it, I see an innocence, simple but powerful. It was critical for me to retain that. And there was a sparkle in Breonna’s eyes-a young Black woman posing in her Louisville EMS shirt, happy to be alive.

Some Inspirational Parting Words from John Lewis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

The funeral of US Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis will be held today in Atlanta, GA. Before he died, Lewis wrote an essay to be published posthumously. From the NY Times, Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation by John Lewis.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

These Flower Paintings “Blur the Lines Between Painting and Sculpture”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2020

Joshua Davison

Joshua Davison

I quite like this work by New Zealand artist Joshua Davison, who uses a palette knife to build these sculptural paintings of flowers. Mmmm, gradients. (via colossal)

Cute Laundry Shop Couple Stylishly Models Clothes Left Behind by Their Patrons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2020

Laundry Shop Models

Laundry Shop Models

Laundry Shop Models

One of the downsides of running a laundry shop is sometimes people drop off their clothes to be cleaned and they never come back to pick them up or, crucially, to pay the bill for services already rendered. About a month ago, Reef Chang came up with the idea of styling his octogenarian grandparents in some of the forgotten clothes from their Taiwan laundry shop and posted the results to Instagram. The internet, starving for positivity in the midst of global turmoil, responded energetically to the upstart modeling careers of Chang Wan-ji and Hsu Sho-er. The NY Times reports:

They are naturals in front of the camera. Ms. Hsu, 84, exudes the haughtiness of a supermodel but retains an air of playfulness. Mr. Chang, 83, is the perfect foil, complementing his wife’s swagger with a chill disposition while rocking bountiful eyebrows.

“His eyebrows really are something else,” Ms. Hsu said smiling in an interview in the rear of the laundry shop, next to a small shrine to the earth god Tudigong, a common feature of traditional Taiwanese homes.

The clothes they model are eclectic, funky and fun. Both can be seen in matching laced sneakers, and jauntily perched caps and hats. He sometimes sports brightly colored shades. One photo shows her leaning coolly against a giant washing machine, arms crossed, as he casually holds the open door, grinning. They pose at a place they know well — their shop, which provides an industrious backdrop of customers’ laundry, stacked and rolled into plastic bundles or hanging from racks.

Check out the couple’s continuing fashion journey on Instagram.

Americans Can’t Stop Mask Debating

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2020

A compilation of TV news clips of people saying “mask debate” (which sounds very much like another unrelated word when spoken — try saying it out loud right now to see what I mean), stitched together by the folks at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It feels good to laugh at infuriating things sometimes.

BTW, the actual debate over masks will continue to wane — science and then culture will win most people over and it’ll just become a normal thing that most people do in public all the time, like wearing shoes or carrying a bag.

Entire Series of “First Person” by Errol Morris Now Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2020

Filmmaker Errol Morris has uploaded the entire two-season run of his 2000-2001 TV series First Person to YouTube for free viewing: season 1 playlist, season 2 playlist. Each of the show’s 17 episodes is a one-on-one interview with someone who Morris finds fascinating, shot in the style that would find a wider audience and greater critical acclaim in The Fog of War two years later.

In the first season, Morris interviewed Temple Grandin about slaughterhouse design:

And Tony Mendez, former espionage expert for the CIA, whose work was the subject of the 2012 film Argo:

In season two, he profiled Josh Harris, one of the first internet celebrities:

Again, you can find every episode of First Person on YouTube: season 1, season 2.

Update: There’s an episode of First Person that has not been uploaded to YouTube: the one about Tanya Corrin (more on her here). That episode is also not listed on Morris’s site. I wonder what the story is here? (thx, @endquote)

Meet the Living Son of a Former Enslaved Person

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

The Washington Post recently ran a profile of DC-area resident Dan Smith. Smith is 88 years old, participated in the March on Washington, and, along with other activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. He is also the living child of a former enslaved person.

The whipping post. The lynching tree. The wagon wheel. They were the stories of slavery, an inheritance of fear and dread, passed down from father to son.

The boy, barely 5, would listen, awed, as his father spoke of life in Virginia, where he had been born into bondage on a plantation during the Civil War and suffered as a child laborer afterward.

As unlikely as it might seem, that boy, Daniel Smith, is still alive at 88, a member of an almost vanished demographic: The child of someone once considered a piece of property instead of a human being.

Smith is an example of The Great Span, the link across seemingly long periods of history by individual humans. In this case, just two people span almost two-thirds the history of the United States, linking slavery and the Civil War to the civil rights movement and eventually to George Floyd. 155 years may seem like a long time, but Smith’s story is a testament to how slow progress has been in the struggle for social justice for Black Americans. After all, up until earlier this year the US government was still paying out a Civil War pension to the daughter of a former Confederate and US soldier.

See also an eyewitness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln lived to be a guest on a television game show and 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin dances in the White House with the Obamas. (via @tinmanic)

This Is What a Scientist Looks Like

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

I Am a Scientist is an effort to introduce children to scientists outside of the narrow stereotypes that our culture typically offers (old, male, white, nerdy). They’re doing this through “scientist-of-the-month toolkits” that tell stories about contemporary working scientists who embody an “incredible range of personalities, interests, backgrounds, and pursuits”. From a blog post about the program:

Science has been the driving force in the modernization of the world as we know it, yet science as an industry has failed to adequately diversify with the times. While the new digital age offers opportunities to expand interest in and appeal of STEM careers, many barriers still hinder equitable access for all students. Conversations of famous scientists often draw answers such as “Albert Einstein” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy”. While accurate references of scientific leaders, the lack of diversity in the public image of scientists can contribute to the lack of diversity in STEM fields.

Introducing the “I Am A Scientist” initiative, which provides opportunities for students, specifically those in Junior High School and High School, to interact with the science and stories of today’s scientists-breaking down barriers like race, gender, and personal interests.

The program’s collection of classroom toolkits provide real-life stories of modern scientists, classroom resources, posters, career resources, and more. The initiative aims to help students engage with scientists that may look, act, or think like them, and are making great strides in remarkable fields that are often left out of career planning discussions. With featured scientists that range from multidimensional graduate students to globally recognized innovators at the top of their field, “I Am A Scientist” tunes into the power that comes from discovering a wide range of role models.

A Keen Analysis of the Influences on Inception

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

Ten years on from the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society smartly traces the key influences of the film, rejecting the simplistic notion that Inception is just a rip-off of Paprika or The Matrix. Instead, he delves into long-standing themes in science fiction and other genres that Nolan is able to synthesize into something new. (Remember, everything is a remix.)

Also, kudos to Saladino to getting through an entire video on the ideas that influenced Inception without making an inception joke or reference, e.g. “Dark City incepted Nolan into including malleable architecture”. Clearly I could not have resisted.