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Entries for September 2017 (October 2017 »    November 2017 »    Archives)

 

Annihilation, a new film from Alex Garland

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name, Annihilation is the newest film directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina).

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer.

Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh star as members of the 12th expedition sent into Area X.

Ballet Rotoscope

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

In a short film from 2011, you can see the shapes, curves, and outlines left by a ballet dancer as her arms, legs, and body move through the dance studio. This isn’t quite dancing about architecture, but maybe dancing about geometry?

SpaceX wants to send people to Mars by 2024

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Spacex BFR

Elon Musk says SpaceX is on target to send cargo to Mars in 2022 and people in 2024. The way the company will do it is by focusing its resources on a new vehicle, the Interplanetary Transport System (codename: the BFR). That vehicle will be able to travel to Mars, but can also be used to generate revenue for the company through launching satellites, resupplying the ISS, and going to the Moon.

Musk also proposed a variety of new uses for the scaled-down rocket beyond just going to Mars. Supposedly, the ITS can be used to launch satellites, take cargo to the International Space Station, and even do lunar missions to set up a Moon base. SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 fleet is used to do a few of those things already, but Musk says eventually the company will turn to the ITS to do all of its space missions.

“We can build a system that cannibalizes our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all the resources we use for Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system,” he said at the conference. Musk says the cost of launching cargo on the ITS will be fairly cheap, too, since the rocket and spaceship will be a fully reusable system — unlike the Falcon 9, which is only 70 to 80 percent reusable.

Musk also astoundingly asserted that the same rocket system could be used for long-distance travel on Earth.

He ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long distance travel on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea on stage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price of an economy airline ticket.

As they say, “huge if true”. Musk is like the sci-fi Oprah here: You get a electric car! And you get a trip to Mars! And you get a self-driving car! And you get a 30-minute Hyperloop trip from SF to LA! And you get a rocket shuttle from NYC to Mumbai in 43 minutes for $1200! Beeeeeeeeees!!!!

Beyonce drops a new remix, all proceeds going to hurricane & earthquake relief

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Last night, Beyonce posted a video of her remix of J Balvin & Willy William’s song Mi Gente and she’s donating the proceeds to hurricane & earthquake relief efforts in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, and other affected areas.

As many have said on Twitter, nothing but respect for my President.

Researchers may have found a CTE test for living patients

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Currently, the only way to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by repeated head trauma, is by posthumously examining brain tissue for signs of tau protein buildup. But a group from Boston University may have found a way to test for CTE in living patients.

McKee and her team discovered a specific biomarker in the brains of former football players. A biomarker is a measurable substance which is, in this case, found in the brain and identifies an abnormality.

This particular biomarker is called CCL11, and it’s a secreted protein the human body uses to help regulate the immune system and inflammation in the body.

As The Ringer’s Claire McNear writes, if a CTE test is easily available to players, what will that do to football? (Or indeed, what will it do to sports like soccer, boxing, skateboarding, or even skiing?)

“After learning all of this,” the retiring Ferguson wrote of the clarity he gained when he began researching CTE, “I feel a bit betrayed by the people or committees put in place by the league who did not have my best interests at heart.” He should feel betrayed, as should many of his fellow players. As will, certainly, so very many, once they have the ability to see what has happened to them. They may wonder, rightfully, about the people who trained them and paid them, sometimes even as they attempted to shut down research into CTE. They may look at the league’s structure, at the lopsided contracts that rob many players of their leverage, forcing them to choose between getting back on the field or losing a paycheck (and possibly getting cut), and at how the league cycles through players like they’re nothing more than easily broken pieces on a board.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Sheryl Oh of Film School Rejects called the trailer for The Killing of a Sacred Deer “the most suspenseful thing you’ll see today, even if it’s only a minute and 9 seconds long” and I cannot improve upon that description. The film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (who directed and co-wrote the supremely weird The Lobster), will be out in late October.

Real websites for Halt and Catch Fire’s Rover and Comet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

HACF Comet

This season on Halt and Catch Fire, competing teams made up of the main characters are building web apps. One team is making a hand-curated directory called Comet and the other is building a search engine with a unique algorithm called Rover. It’s Yahoo vs. Google, more or less. AMC has put up the sites as they appear on the show up on the web: Comet and Rover. They also put up the Cameron Howe fan page seen in the most recent episode, The Howe of It All (that’s a perfectly anachronistic name). See also Yahoo’s website circa 1994 when it was still hosted on a server at Stanford.

A character in the most recent episode also mentioned Justin Hall, creator of the early web’s most well-known personal site, Justin’s Links from the Underground.

Anyone know where I can get a Comet t-shirt? (I already have a Cardiff Electric shirt. (No, really.)) Oh, maybe this?

Jane, a National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

As a young woman, Jane Goodall began a life-long study of wild chimpanzees that revolutionized our understanding of primate behavior. Jane, a documentary produced by National Geographic and directed by Brett Morgen (The Kids Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck), tells the story of Goodall’s life, especially her early forays into chimpanzee cultures in Tanzania. The backbone of the film is over 100 hours of 16mm footage that’s been locked away in the National Geographic archives for 50 years.

Philip Glass did the score and the early reviews are very positive. (thx, meg)

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.

RIP The Broccoli Tree

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Broccoli Tree Vandal 00

For the past few years, Patrik Svedberg has been taking photos of a beautiful Swedish tree he dubbed The Broccoli Tree. In a short time, the tree gained a healthy following on Instagram, becoming both a tourist attraction and an online celebrity of sorts. (I posted about tree two years ago.) Yesterday, Svedberg posted a sad update: someone had vandalized the tree by sawing through one of the limbs.

Broccoli Tree Vandal

One of the trees branches has now (a couple of days ago..?) been sawn in almost all the way through and it’s just a matter of time before it’ll fall off. I won’t be around to document it, others will for sure so I guess you lunatics who did it can enjoy every moment.

Very soon after, it was decided by some authority that the vandalism meant the entire tree had to come down. A work crew arrived and now it’s gone:

Broccoli Tree Vandal

Oscar Wilde once wrote that “Each man kills the thing he loves”. I don’t know exactly what Wilde meant by that, but our collective attention and obsession, amplified by the speed and intensity of the internet & social media, tends to ruin the things we love: authors, musicians, restaurants, actors, beloved movies, vacation spots, artists, democracies, and even a tree that became too famous to live.

A worldwide portrait of a shared sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

One Sky

Women Who Draw, a directory of female illustrators, organized 88 of their members from around the world to draw the sky on August 13, 2017 at noon Eastern Time.

What each artist saw was unique to the time, the weather, and the place. The locations ranged from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, Buenos Aires to rural Georgia. Some saw different hues of blue. Some saw black, pink, or gray. Some saw stars or clouds or fog or rain. Here it was summer. There it was night.

I love projects like these…moments of time, collectively caught in the amber.

An explanation of the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

If you want to get up to speed about the growing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar involving the government’s long campaign against the Rohingya people, this 5-minute Vox video is a good place to start.

In what has quickly disintegrated into a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions, a staggering 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh over the past three weeks alone. At least 240,000 of them are children.

The Rohingya are fleeing a campaign of indiscriminate violence by Myanmar’s military, whose tactics are being widely condemned as a form of ethnic cleansing.

Entire villages have been burned to the ground. Women have been raped. Rohingya refugees report that soldiers shot at them as they fled. Along the border with Bangladesh, there are reports that the military has laid land mines to ensure those fleeing won’t return. Though independent observers have no access to the region, the Myanmar government now says 175 villages in the region — 30 percent of all Rohingya villages — are empty.

Famous logos drawn from memory

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Logos From Memory

Logos From Memory

Logos From Memory

Signs.com asked dozens of Americans to draw the logos of well-known companies from memory, including Domino’s, Apple, Adidas, and Starbucks. As you can see, there was a wide range in aptitude and some logos fared better than others; overall the Starbucks and Foot Locker logos were the worst drawn while Ikea and Target were the best represented.

There is also this (a true story):

Adidas, the second largest sportswear company in the world, acquired its three-stripes logo in 1952 from footwear brand Karhu Sports for two bottles of whiskey and the equivalent of $2,000.

See also drawing all 50 states from memory, can you draw a working bicycle from memory?, and maps drawn from memory.

Trump is terrorizing America and should be removed from office

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Poet and English professor Seth Abramson recently published a Twitter thread about his current understanding of Donald Trump: his deliberate terrorization of the American public, lack of policy positions, corruption, and keen understanding of America as “a chaos machine” that “spits out attention, headlines, sometimes money” when you feed it. I think Abramson is right about Trump in many respects and I’ve included a few excerpts below…it was difficult to pick out what to highlight.

We need to never again discuss this man with respect to policy — it’s become more than clear in 9 months that he holds no policy positions.

So if you support Donald Trump because of any view you claim he holds, I don’t ever want to hear from you again. The man holds no views.

There is no position Donald Trump has ever taken that he has not, at some point in the past or present, taken the opposite position to.

But the most important thing is this: this is the first U.S. president to systematically and willfully terrorize his own populace daily.

His changeability is intended to keep us anxious and on guard. In fact, he’s admitted publicly, many times, that this is a tactic of his.

His corruption is equally studied: his business model has always been “get away with what you can,” and that’s exactly how he’s governed.

It’s *more* than that he’ll go down in our history as the worst president we’ll ever have — he’ll go down as one of our greatest villains.

Benedict Arnold tried to betray America for a prior sovereign — Trump is trying to *torture* a nation that was good to him his whole life.

Have you noticed a change in your mood since January? I mean a change you can’t seem to escape? Anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, doubt?

The most ubiquitous man in your nation is trying to poison you daily — because it gives him power — and no one’s stopping him from doing it.

I’m not using hyperbole: you’re under attack. A deliberate, unprovoked, systematic, and — yes — evil attack. And it’s working. We’re losing.

Because the last thing — of the three I mentioned — humans look for in a crisis is hope, and he’s systematically taking *that* away as well.

We don’t have hope future elections will be fair. We don’t have hope our government is working in our interests. We don’t have hope we can trust and love our neighbors and they’ll trust and love us back. And we don’t have hope things will start to make sense again.

Abramson finishes by saying that we need to focus on “legally, peacefully and transparently” removing Trump from power. I’m probably going to get some email about this post,1 so I might as well go all in here with a ludicrous-sounding hunch2 I’ve had about Trump since before the election: not only will he not resign or be impeached (for Russia ties or otherwise), he will refuse to leave office under any circumstances. He will attempt, with a non-zero chance of success, to stay in power even if he’s not re-elected in 2020.

Obviously, this is ridiculous and will not happen. What about laws and precedence and democracy and social mores, you’ll say! And you’d be correct. But Trump’s got more than 3 years to lay the groundwork to make it seem normal for him to do this…and Fox News and the Republicans will let him and aid him if they can. (I mean, if you’re America’s increasingly authoritarian & extremist minority party struggling to stay in power, making the sitting Republican President not subject to an election is far more effective than suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters through gerrymandering and voter ID laws.) Sure, we’ll be outraged about it, but we’re outraged about him anyway and that hasn’t seemed to matter in a significant way yet.

Ok, that’s nuts, right? Could never happen in America, yes? But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him.3 That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

  1. I always get email about my Trump posts. Political posts on kottke.org are pretty unpopular and lose me readers every single time. Stay in your lane, Kottke!

  2. Or perhaps “speculative fiction” is a better descriptor? I’m way too level-headed to actually believe this. Aren’t I?!

  3. Seriously though, what is the enforcement mechanism surrounding the transfer of power here? The 20th Amendment covers the beginnings and ends of terms and what happens when there’s no president-elect. But what about if a sitting President refuses to leave office? A lot of this stuff is ritual, presumably because of course (of course!!!!) the President is supposed to be a decent person who will honor tradition and democracy. Does Congress decide what to do? Does the Secret Service? The Supreme Court? The military? Can you imagine the cries of “coup” from Trump and his supporters if a bunch of Marines storm the White House? OMG, he’d love it.

My media diet for the past month

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. I’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough books. I’m currently trying to get through Scale & Behave and listening to Superintelligence on audiobook and they’re all good & interesting, but I’m having trouble staying interested enough to actually pick them up in lieu of zoning out in front of the TV. I think I need something with more of a narrative.

The Vietnam War. Excellent, a must-see. (A)

The Matrix. Holds up well. I saw this in the theater in 1999, not knowing a damn thing about it, and walked out in a daze…”what the hell did I just see?” (A)

The Founder. There’s a certain kind of businessperson for whom the Ray Kroc depicted in this film would be a hero. Travis Kalanick, etc. Fuck those people. I stand with the McDonald brothers. (B+)

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. I aspire to this level of sandwich obsession. (B)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I should have stopped watching after 15 minutes but then I would have missed perhaps the worst closing line in movie history. (C-)

Inception. This might be my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. (A-)

american dream by LCD Soundsystem. I’ve never been able to get into LCD Soundsystem. Is there a trick? What’s the secret? (B-)

Basic Instinct. This movie is not great and hasn’t aged well. But you can totally see why it made Sharon Stone a star…she’s the only thing worth watching in the film. (C-)

Minions. *whispers* I kinda like the Minions and think they are funny and not as insipid/cynical as many others think. (B)

The Antidote. “Reread” this as an audiobook. I recommend this book to others more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years, save the Ferrante books. (A+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I enjoyed it the first time, but this movie is so much better when watching it with two kids who think that everything coming out of every character’s mouth is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Biggest laugh was “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (B+)

Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Gets better every time I listen to it. (B+)

10 Bullets. Neat little one-button game. There’s an iOS version (and sequel) but they don’t work on iOS 11. (B)

Dunkirk. Saw this again on a larger screen (not IMAX sadly) and liked it even more this time. (A)

Champlain Valley Fair. I love fairs. We ate so many mini donuts and saw a dog walking a tightrope! (B+)

Logan Lucky. I was somewhat lukewarm on this leaving the theater but thinking back on it now, I definitely will see this again. (B+)

Sleep Well Beast by The National. Meh? (B-)

War for the Planet of the Apes. I saw this 3-4 weeks ago and can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I enjoyed it at the time? I do remember that the CG is seamless. (B-)

Applebee’s Artichoke and Spinach Dip. Way better than it had any right to be. I will make a special trip to eat this again. (A-)

Blade Runner. Rewatched in advance of the sequel. The final cut version, naturally. I watched the original cut for about 20 minutes once and had to shut it off because of the voiceover. (B+)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Taking a knee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Late last week, Donald Trump called any NFL player who kneels during the national anthem protesting police brutality a “son of a bitch” (recall that this is the President of the United States we’re talking about here) and said they should be fired (Ha! He said his catchphrase! From that TV show!). Naturally, NFL players took exception to this and over the weekend, many many more players kneeled, sat, or no-showed during the anthem. And there were many takes, from political commentators and sports journalists alike. One of the best was from Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen, who deftly cut to the core of the matter in a short monologue:

Donald Trump has said he supports a peaceful protest because it’s an American’s right… But not this protest, and there’s the problem: The opinion that any protest you don’t agree with is a protest that should be stopped.

Martin Luther King should have marched across a different bridge. Young, black Americans should have gone to a different college and found a different lunch counter. And college kids in the 60’s had no right to protest an immoral war.

I served in the military during the Vietnam War… and my foot hurt, too. But I served anyway.

My best friend in high school was killed in Vietnam. Carroll Meir will be 18 years old forever. And he did not die so that you can decide who is a patriot and who loves America more.

The young, black athletes are not disrespecting America or the military by taking a knee during the anthem. They are respecting the best thing about America. It’s a dog whistle to the racists among us to say otherwise.

They, and all of us, should protest how black Americans are treated in this country. And if you don’t think white privilege is a fact, you don’t understand America.

Here’s a text transcript…it’s worth reading or watching. See also Bob Costas’ interview on CNN and Shannon Sharpe’s comments.

Beautiful opening credit sequence for Star Trek: Discovery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

I haven’t had a chance to watch the new Star Trek series yet. The early reviews are good, but the opening credit sequence is really good.

Why didn’t human brains freak out when we first watched cuts in film?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Cuts in film and television are so normal now that it’s absurd to think of them as optical illusions. But they are. Adapted from an essay by psychology professor Jeffrey Zacks, this video examines how the human brain dealt with the novel mechanism of film cuts at the turn of the last century.

Before the emergence and rapid proliferation of film editing at the dawn of the 20th century, humans had never been exposed to anything quite like film cuts: quick flashes of images as people, objects and entire settings changed in an instant. But rather than reacting with confusion to edits, early filmgoers lined up in droves to spend their money at the cinema, turning film — and eventually its close cousin, television — into the century’s defining media. It would seem that our evolutionary history did very little to prepare us for film cuts — so why don’t our brains explode when we watch movies?

The answer lies with the limitations of our visual systems and how much work our brain does in providing us with the illusion of an endlessly panning “reality”.

For more visual tricks brought on by technological innovation, see also a bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick and a magically levitating helicopter, courtesy of a camera frame rate trick.

Dinner with Don Rickles

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Comedian Don Rickles died earlier this year. For his last project, he sat down to dine with more than a dozen comedians, actors, and directors, who interviewed the comedy legend in a series of videos for AARP. Don’s dining companions include Marisa Tomei, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, and Martin Scorsese. I’ve embedded two of the videos: Vince Vaughn and Snoop Dogg. In the Snoop video, Rickles and Snoop compare notes on freestyling and they show a 1978 clip of Rickles roasting Orson Welles:

Orson Welles…30 years ago you were handsome and now we’re going to put “Goodyear” on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.

I was laughing just as hard as Welles was in the clip.

HBO documentary on Steven Spielberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Early next month, HBO will premiere a 2.5-hour-long documentary on the life and career of Steven Spielberg, a director who has arguably shaped how movies are made today more than any other single person. Director Susan Lacy, creator of American Masters PBS series, interviewed Spielberg for 30 hours for the documentary (in addition to talking to nearly everyone he’s worked with in his 50-year career). Really looking forward to this.

Short Trip

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Short Trip

What a beautiful and lovely meditative way to start the week. Short Trip is a 5-minute interactive illustration (you can’t really call it a game) by Alexander Perrin…simply use the left and right arrow keys to move. I won’t say anymore; just go play it (with the sound on).

The ACA is a bipartisan solution to healthcare

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Arizona Senator John McCain has publicly come out against the latest Republican attempt to repeal the ACA. His statement begins:

As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.

I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.

Many opponents of the ACA repeal are hailing McCain as a hero for going against his party leadership on this issue. I don’t see it — he’d still support a bill like Graham-Cassidy that would take away healthcare coverage from millions of Americans if only it were the result of proper procedure — particularly because of what he says next (italics mine):

We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009.

This is false. The NY Times’ David Leonhardt explained back in March during another Republican repeal effort:

When Barack Obama ran for president, he faced a choice. He could continue moving the party to the center or tack back to the left. The second option would have focused on government programs, like expanding Medicare to start at age 55. But Obama and his team thought a plan that mixed government and markets — farther to the right of Clinton’s — could cover millions of people and had a realistic chance of passing.

They embarked on a bipartisan approach. They borrowed from Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts, gave a big role to a bipartisan Senate working group, incorporated conservative ideas and won initial support from some Republicans. The bill also won over groups that had long blocked reform, like the American Medical Association.

But congressional Republicans ultimately decided that opposing any bill, regardless of its substance, was in their political interest. The consultant Frank Luntz wrote an influential memo in 2009 advising Republicans to talk positively about “reform” while also opposing actual solutions. McConnell, the Senate leader, persuaded his colleagues that they could make Obama look bad by denying him bipartisan cover.

Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Harry Reid, said basically the same thing on Twitter:

The votes were party-line, but that was a front manufactured by McConnell. He bragged about it at the time. McConnell rarely gives much away but he let the mask slip here, saying he planned to oppose Obamacare regardless of what was in the bill. Those who worked on and covered the bill know there were GOP senators who wanted to support ACA — but McConnell twisted their arms. On Obamacare, Democrats spent months holding hearings and seeking GOP input — we accepted 200+ GOP amendments!

For reference, here was the Senate vote, straight down party lines. Hence the “ramming” charge…if you didn’t know any better. Luckily, Snopes does know better.

According to Mark Peterson, chair of the UCLA Department of Public Policy, one easy metric by which to judge transparency is the number of hearings held during the development of a bill, as well as the different voices heard during those hearings. So far, the GOP repeal efforts have been subject to zero public hearings.

In contrast, the ACA was debated in three House committees and two Senate committees, and subject to hours of bipartisan debate that allowed for the introduction of amendments. Peterson told us in an e-mail that he “can’t recall any major piece of legislation that was completely devoid of public forums of any kind, and that were crafted outside of the normal committee and subcommittee structure to this extent”.

The Wikipedia page about the ACA tells much the same story.

Beep Beep

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Beep Beep Stained Glass

I love this Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote stained glass piece from Saudi Arabian artist Rashed Al Shashai. The piece is not actually stained glass but acrylic over a light box, but stained glass is the effect he was going for (see this image search for “Islamic stained glass”).

See also the rules of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, e.g. “The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going ‘meep, meep.’” (thx, stephen)

The trailer for Score, a documentary film about movie soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Score is a feature-length documentary film about the music in movies.

This celebratory documentary takes viewers inside the studios and recording sessions of Hollywood’s most influential composers to give a privileged look inside the musical challenges and creative secrecy of a truly international music genre: the film score.

Looking at the list of people they interviewed for the film (Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Mark Mothersbaugh, etc.), it’s apparent that women composers get about as much work in Hollywood as do women directors. The movie’s gotten good reviews though and is currently available on Amazon and iTunes. (via @veganstraightedge)

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murdering a friend and who died in prison from suicide earlier this year, was found to have “a severe form” of CTE, a brain disease linked to repeated head trauma that has also been found in many other former NFL players.

Researchers who examined the brain determined it was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” said a lawyer for Hernandez in announcing the result at a news conference on Thursday. Hernandez was 27.

Hernandez played three seasons in college and only three in the NFL, yet the damage to his brain was similar to “players with a median age of 67 years”. If you’re a young football player in college or the NFL right now, you have to be looking at this situation pretty hard right now.

See also: Don’t Let Kids Play Football, what the ball boy saw, I’m quitting football, NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuries, Junior Seau’s family sues NFL over concussions, how professional football might end (sooner than you think), and a message in an NFL player’s suicide.

The Flying Martha, a wind-up flying passenger pigeon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

Flying Martha

Design studio Haptic Lab just launched a Kickstarter campaign for The Flying Martha Ornithopter, a rubber-band-powered passenger pigeon that flies by flapping its paper wings.

Made in the likeness of the extinct passenger pigeon, the Flying Martha is symbolic of humanity’s role in a rapidly changing world. The passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird species on the planet, with an estimated population of 3-5 billion birds. No one could have imagined that the entire species would disappear in one human lifetime. Extinctions will become more commonplace in the next century as the climate crisis deepens. But we’re still hopeful that a balance is possible; the passenger pigeon is a symbol of that hope.

The Flying Martha, named after the last known passenger pigeon, has wings made of mulberry paper, a wingspan of 16 inches, and weighs only 12.5 grams. I ordered one, ostensibly for my kids, but who am I kidding here…I’m really looking forward to playing with this.

If you blow air through sand, it behaves like a liquid

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

If you take a bin full of sand and blow air up through the bottom of it, the sand behaves like a liquid. The bubbles were freaky enough when I watched this for the first time, but when the guy reached in to submerge the ball and it buoyantly popped right to the surface, my brain broke a little bit. This video from The Royal Institution explains what’s going on:

Note that this is a different effect than non-Newtonian liquids (which are also very cool).

First trailer for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

Here’s the first real look at Wes Anderson’s new stop motion animated movie, Isle of Dogs, out in March 2018.

Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.

Prediction: Anderson is going to get some criticism on the cultural context of this movie. (via trailer town)

Are we living in a simulation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

In the 1990s, futurist and AI researcher Hans Moravec suggested that our Universe might be a simulation.

Assuming the artificial intelligences now have truly overwhelming processing power, they should be able to reconstruct human society in every detail by tracing atomic events backward in time. “It will cost them very little to preserve us this way,” he points out. “They will, in fact, be able to re-create a model of our entire civilization, with everything and everyone in it, down to the atomic level, simulating our atoms with machinery that’s vastly subatomic. Also,” he says with amusement, “they’ll be able to use data compression to remove the redundant stuff that isn’t important.”

But by this logic, our current “reality” could be nothing more than a simulation produced by information entities.

“Of course.” Moravec shrugs and waves his hand as if the idea is too obvious. “In fact, the robots will re-create us any number of times, whereas the original version of our world exists, at most, only once. Therefore, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely we’re living in a vast simulation than in the original version. To me, the whole concept of reality is rather absurd. But while you’re inside the scenario, you can’t help but play by the rules. So we might as well pretend this is real - even though the chance things are as they seem is essentially negligible.”

And so, according to Hans Moravec, the human race is almost certainly extinct, while the world around us is just an advanced version of SimCity.

In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom examined the matter more closely:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.

In the above (as well as in this follow-up video by Vsauce 3), Kurzgesagt explores these ideas and their implications. Here’s the one that always gets me: If simulations are possible, there are probably a lot of them, which means the chances that we’re inside one of them is high. Like, if there’s one real Universe and 17 quadrillion simulated universes, you’re almost certainly in one of the simulations. <neo>Whoa.</neo>

Gorgeous aerial photography by Niaz Uddin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Niaz Uddin

Niaz Uddin

Niaz Uddin

Well cripes, these are just beautiful…click through to Niaz Uddin’s site to see more (some of which are available as prints). Tfw you wish you were a drone.

I also noticed on his Instagram that he beautifully captured the total eclipse in Oregon as well. (via colossal)

Ridley Scott talks about when Rachel and Deckard meet in Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Ridley Scott’s favorite scene in Blade Runner is when Deckard meets Rachel in Tyrell’s office. In this video, he breaks the scene down and highlights some of the most interesting aspects of the production.

In all my films, I’ve been accused of being too visual, too pretty, and I’m going, well, we are dealing in pictures so how can I be too visual?

A digital trove of 1000s of images of early hip hop photos, posters, and ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Cornell University has a hip hop collection with tens of thousands of objects in it: photos, posters, flyers, magazines, etc. Much of the collection is only available on site in Ithaca, NY by appointment, but parts of it have been digitized, like these party and event flyers:

Created entirely by hand, well before widespread use of design software, these flyers preserve raw data from the days when Hip Hop was primarily a live, performance-based culture in the Bronx. They contain information about early Hip Hop groups, individual MCs and DJs, promoters, venues, dress codes, admission prices, shout outs and more. Celebrated designers, such as Buddy Esquire (“The Flyer King”) and Phase 2, made these flyers using magazine cutouts, original photographs, drawings, and dry-transfer letters.

And the archive of Joe Conzo Jr., who photographed groups, parties, events, and the like in the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s (but FYI, the Conzo archive interface is more than a little clunky and there’s lots of non-hip hop stuff to wade through):

In 1978, while attending South Bronx High School, Conzo became friends with members of the Cold Crush Brothers, an important and influential early Hip Hop group which included DJs Charlie Chase and Tony Tone and MCs Grandmaster Caz, JDL, Easy AD, and Almighty KayGee. Conzo became the group’s professional photographer, documenting their live performances at the T-Connection, Disco Fever, Harlem World, the Ecstasy Garage, and the Hoe Avenue Boy’s Club. He also took pictures of other Hip Hop artists and groups, including The Treacherous 3, The Fearless 4, and The Fantastic 5.

These rare images capture Hip Hop when it was still a localized, grassroots culture about to explode into global awareness. Without Joe’s images, the world would have little idea of what the earliest era of hip hop looked like, when fabled DJ, MC, and b-boy/girl battles took place in parks, school gymnasiums and neighborhood discos.

And most recently a portion of the Adler Hip Hop Archive, compiled by journalist and early Def Jam executive Bill Adler:

The Adler archive contains thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, recording industry press releases and artist bios, correspondence, photographs, posters, flyers, advertising, and other documents. These materials offer an unprecedented view into Hip Hop’s history and are made available here for study and research.

Fair warning: don’t click on any of those links if you’ve got pressing things to do…you could lose hours poking around.

The physics of sushi

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Master sushi chefs in Japan spend years honing their skills in making rice, selecting and slicing fish, and other techniques. Expert chefs even form the sushi pieces in a different way than a novice does, resulting in a cohesive bite that doesn’t feel all mushed together. In this short video clip from a longer Japanology episode on sushi, they put pieces of sushi prepared by a novice and a master through a series of tests — a wind tunnel, a pressure test, and an MRI scan — to see just how different their techniques are. It sounds ridiculous and goofy (and it is!) but the results are actually interesting.

Solar system artwork featuring the precise locations of the planets on the day of your birth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

Solar System Birthday Map

Spacetime Coordinates sells prints, metal mementos, and t-shirts that feature the planets of the solar system in the exact locations they were in on the date of your birth (or other significant date). For their new Kickstarter campaign, they’re offering color prints.

While not as pretty as these prints, you can check what the solar system looked like for any date here.

When I was a kid, I spent far too many hours mucking around in Lotus 1-2-3 trying to make a spreadsheet to calculate how often all the planets in the solar system would line up with each other (disregarding their differing planes, particularly Pluto’s).1 I could never get it working. Turns out that a precise alignment has probably never occurred, nor will it ever. But all the planets are “somewhat aligned” every 500 years or so. Neat! (via colossal)

  1. I spent many more hours making a spreadsheet of every single baseball card I owned and how much it was worth, updated by hand from Beckett’s price guide. Time well spent?

Lego Grand Theft Auto

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

This video by Nukazooka of Grand Theft Auto being played by Lego characters is uncommonly well done. It looks more or less like the Lego Movie but made with a fraction of the budget.

Off-topic, but on their Twitter account I also discovered this cool 5-second video illustrating how air moves due to a passing semi truck. I can’t stop watching this!!

Monograph by Chris Ware

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

Monograph Chris Ware

Monograph by Chris Ware is a monograph of Chris Ware’s life and work written and illustrated by Chris Ware. Got that? I liked the official description of the book from the Amazon page:

A flabbergasting experiment in publishing hubris, Monograph charts the art and literary world’s increasing tolerance for the language of the empathetic doodle directly through the work of one of its most esthetically constipated practitioners.

Kirkus liked it and Zadie Smith blurbed “there’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware”. Instant preorder.

Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

The Black List, the humble origins of a Hollywood kingmaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

For Vox, Phil Edwards profiled The Black List, an annual listing of the best Hollywood scripts that have yet to be produced.

Phil Edwards has a chat with Franklin Leonard, the creator of The Black List, Hollywoods’ famous anonymous survey of unproduced screenplays. The Black List isn’t a guarantee that a script will be produced, however, it does give overlooked scripts a second shot of getting on the big screen. A handful of academy award- winning-films found their second chance on the Black List. And in an industry brimming with multi-year contracted sequels, and well-established franchises, the Black List survey has become one of the few places in Tinseltown where one-off scripts have a chance to make it to the big screen.

Scripts that have gone on to be made into movies include Spotlight, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, and a Mel Gibson talking beaver movie I’d never even heard of.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a previously unpublished children’s book by Mark Twain

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

Prince Oleomargarine

To Mark Twain’s posthumously published works, add one more: a book for children called The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. Twain jotted down notes for the book — which was discovered a few years ago in the Twain literary archive — but never finished the story. Doubleday bought the rights and worked with Philip and Erin Stead (an author and illustrator, respectively) to complete the story and turn it into a book.

In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished…until now.

Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work.

The Steads introduced several changes to the story, including making the book’s hero black. This New Yorker piece by Mythili Rao explores how much artistic license should be taken with a story that ultimately has Twain’s name on it.

“I was surprised by that,” Bird told me, when I asked him about the Steads’ interpretation of the character. “I just didn’t see the textual evidence for it. If Mark Twain wanted to make somebody black, he would make them black. He was not shy about dealing with matters of race.” When Twain told his daughters bedtime stories, he often incorporated household objects or magazine illustrations in the narrative. In his journals, he wrote, “The tough part of it was that every detail of the story had to be brand-new — invented on the spot — and it must fit the picture.” (Susy, in particular, was an “alert critic.”) The journals suggest that Johnny, a recurring character in Twain’s bedtime stories, was based on a rather clinical William Page illustration of the male figure that the Clemens daughters spotted in an April, 1879, issue of Scribner’s Monthly magazine. It seems likely that neither Twain nor his daughters imagined Johnny as the Steads do.

Pure joy: a colorblind man sees color for the first time

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

66-year-old William Reed was born colorblind. For his birthday, his family bought him a pair of Enchroma sunglasses, which allows wearers with red-green colorblindness to see colors. His reaction when he puts the glasses on for the first time is something else, especially when you consider how grumpy and curmudgeonly he starts out. I lost it when he started rubbing and clapping his hands together and waving his arms…he is feeling all of the feels right there.

Update: Here’s a nice video explanation of colorblindness and how those glasses work for some people.

(thx, david)

Climate change could be making our food less nutritious

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

A potential link between human-driven climate change and the nutrients in our food has some scientists worried. More study is needed, but here’s what may be happening. Plants are bingeing on the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which causes them to contain fewer nutrients and more sugar. Plants with fewer nutrients result in animals with fewer nutrients…and the humans who eat both are receiving fewer nutrients from eating the same amount of food.

Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live the same way humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth’s atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century-essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

If you’re someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn’t be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it’s good for plants, and what’s good for plants is good for us.

“A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth,” the Texas Republican wrote. “This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food.”

But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

Beautiful 30-day time lapse of a cargo ship’s voyage

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

Jeffrey Tsang is a sailor on a cargo ship. On a recent voyage from the Red Sea to Sri Lanka to Singapore to Hong Kong, he set up a camera facing the bow of the ship to record the month-long journey. From ~80,000 photos taken, he constructed a 10-minute time lapse that somehow manages to be both meditative and informative. You get to see cargo operations at a few different ports, sunrises, thunderstorms, and the clearest night skies you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended viewing. (via colossal)

Where did rap’s now-ubiquitous “Migos flow” come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Contemporary rap music has come to be dominated by a style called the “Migos flow” (after the group Migos, who made the style famous in a song called Versace). This video looks at where the style originated and why it’s become so popular.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m loving these music-deconstruction videos by Estelle Caswell (the most recent ones are part of a Vox series called Earworm), especially the ones about rap & hip-hop because a) I am listening to more and more of it and know relatively little about it, and b) the more I learn, the more I feel that the people making this music are/were goddamn geniuses.

P.S. Caswell made a playlist of songs that use the triplet flow.

P.P.S. Here’s Migos rapping the children’s book Llama Llama Red Pajama over the beat of Bad and Boujee:

A visual history of lunchboxes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Lunchboxes 01

Lunchboxes 02

Lunchboxes 03

I have rarely clicked on a link as quickly as this one for A Visual History of Lunchboxes. For Design Observer, John Foster looked through the National Museum of American History’s online collection of lunchboxes and pulled out some gems.

My childhood lunchboxes didn’t make either collection’s cut. In grade school, I carried this Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox before switching to a red plastic Return of the Jedi lunchbox for the first couple years of middle school.

This haggard-looking eagle is a metaphor for American democracy right now

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Haggard Eagle

This eagle represents how many of us feel about the repeated attempts on the freedom and well-being of American citizens by the majority Republican Congress and the current Presidential administration: victimized but still resolute and proud. We feel you, eagle…it seems as though it’s already been years since January 20.

This photo was taken by Klaus Nigge on Amaknak Island in Alaska and has put Nigge in the running for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. (via in focus)

An appreciation of Norm MacDonald’s comedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

In a new video, Evan Puschak explores the comedy of Norm MacDonald. Even if you don’t care for MacDonald’s work, you may come away from this with more respect for his comedy and craft. Me? I can’t even tell if MacDonald is funny anymore…I hear that deadpan-but-smiling voice and I just start to laugh in a purely Pavlovian way.

How to Talk Minnesotan: The Power of the Negative

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

In the Upper Midwest, particularly in Minnesota and the northern part of Wisconsin (where I’m originally from), there’s a tendency to never say exactly what you’re thinking. Which, dontcha know, can lead to some misunderstandings when communicating with people who didn’t grow up in the area. This short video, taken from a longer documentary on How to Talk Minnesotan, demonstrates how a Minnesotan speaker uses negative words (e.g. bad, not, can’t, worse) to express positive feelings. For example, a translation of the phrase “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it!!” into Minnesotan yields:

A guy could almost be happy today if he wasn’t careful.

Radiohead: Lift

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

What’s that? You want to see Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke riding in an elevator accompanied by a revolving cast of odd people getting on and off at even stranger floors of an apartment building? Ok, here you go. The song is fan-favorite Lift, which was first recorded in the late 90s but not officially released until this year on OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. The video contains a few Easter eggs for hardcode fans, including some cameos:

Perhaps some of Radiohead’s notoriously devoted fans will recognize Thom Yorke’s girlfriend, Italian actress Dajana Roncione, in the opening of the band’s new music video for “Lift.” Accompanying her, and pushing all of the buttons on the lift, is Yorke’s daughter Agnes.

Bilbo Baggins, The Drug Lord of the Rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Bilbo Smoke

In a epic series of tweets, Matt Wallace reveals the secret truth behind the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: it’s a story about Middle Earth’s drug wars.

Here it is, straight-up: The Hobbit economy makes no fucking sense unless Hobbits are running a secret drug empire spanning Middle Earth.

That’s right, the unassuming, perpetually dismissed and ignored ‘harmless’ little Hobbits. They are the Walter White of Middle Earth.

It all started with Sauron. He was indeed trying to conquer Middle Earth……’s illegal pipe weed drug trade. He was the original kingpin.

So the Elves — NOTORIOUSLY anti-pipe weed, the Elves — band together to topple Sauron’s massive drug empire. And they do.

Enter Hobbits, seizing an opportunity. No one would EVER suspect them. They fill the Sauron gap, start manufacturing/distributing pipe weed.

The genius move is they UTILIZE their profile among the other races. They’re openly like, “Yeah pipe weed it’s a harmless lil Hobbit habit.”

“You know us Hobbits,” they say, “smokin’ our pipe weed, being lazy an’ shit.” They turn their illicit product into a comical affectation.

Meanwhile, the Hobbits are stringing humans OUT on pipe weed. Making mad gold. Everyone’s got a dope house filled with gourmet cheese.

See also other alternate tellings of familiar stories: A People’s History of Tattooine (and other Star Wars theories), Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy, and Daniel is the real bully in Karate Kid.

SpaceX blooper reel for their reusable rocket booster

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Now that SpaceX has successfully landed their reusable orbital rocket booster a number of times, they can look back with humor in this blooper reel of their somewhat less successful early efforts. New technology always requires trial and error (and error and error)…just ask NASA and the US government testing rockets back in the earlier days of the space program:

Downsizing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is coming out with his latest film in December. Downsizing, which stars Kristin Wiig, Matt Damon, and Christoph Waltz, is about a world where humans are able to shrink themselves down to five inches tall.

When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.

I’ve been waiting on this one since posting about nano sapiens last year:

When humans get smaller, the world and its resources get bigger. We’d live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars that use less gas, eat less food, etc. It wouldn’t even take much to realize gains from a Honey, I Shrunk Humanity scheme: because of scaling laws, a height/weight proportional human maxing out at 3 feet tall would not use half the resources of a 6-foot human but would use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of the resources, depending on whether the resource varied with volume or surface area. Six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources.

I’m sure the movie skews more toward a generic fish-out-of-water tale rather than addressing the particular pros and cons of shrinking people down to the size of hamsters (e.g. cutting human life span by orders of magnitude), but I will still be first in line to see this one.

When eating at Pizza Hut was an experience

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Retro Ramblings remembers when, in the 80s, eating at Pizza Hut was an experience and not just a matter of grabbing a bite at a fast food joint.

From the moment you walked in the place, you knew it was something special. You knew this was going to be something you’d remember, and it all started with the decor. The interior didn’t look like a fast food joint with it’s huge, sprawling windows, and cheap looking walls, or tiled floors. When you walked in, you were greeted by brick walls, with smaller windows, that had thick red fabric curtains pulled back, and a carpeted floor. It just felt higher-class than walking into McDonalds or Burger King.

The booths were high-backed, with thick padded vinyl seats and back rests. The high backs was also different from your usual eating out experience. These high backs gave you a sense of privacy, which was great for a date night. Also great for a date night were the candles on the tables. Those little red glass candles that were on every table, and were lit when you got to your seat. It was a little thing, but when added to everything else, it was quite the contribution. Your silverware was wrapped in a thick, cloth napkin that beat the heck out of the paper napkins everyone else was using at the time. And you could always count on the table being covered by a nice, red and white, checkered table cloth.

Pizza Hut was the #1 eating-out destination for me as a kid. My family never ate out much, so even McDonald’s, Arby’s, or Hardee’s was a treat. But Pizza Hut was a whole different deal. Did I enjoy eating salad at home? No way. But I had to have the salad bar at Pizza Hut. Did I normally eat green peppers, onions, and black olives? Nope…but I would happily chow down on a supreme pizza at Pizza Hut. And the deep dish pan pizza…you couldn’t get anything like that in rural Wisconsin, nor could you easily make it at home. Plus it was just so much food…you could eat as much as you wanted and there were still leftovers to take home. Plus, with those high-backed booths, you could play paper football without having the extra points go sailing into the next booth.

Halt and Catch Fire music playlist for season 4

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Season four of Halt and Catch Fire finds the show in the 90s and the music has changed accordingly. Here’s the official playlist on Spotify.

See also the playlists for season 3, 1985, 1984, and many more from the show, including playlists for each main character.

Objects, a coffee table book of artifacts related to the New York City subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

NYC Subway objects

NYC Subway objects

From the team that brought us the reissues of the NASA Standards Manual and the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual comes New York City Transit Authority: Objects by Brian Kelley (@ Amazon), a book full of photographs of artifacts related to the NYC subway and other transit systems in the city.

Kelley started collecting MTA MetroCards in 2011, and he quickly became fascinated by other Subway-related objects. This catalogue is the first of its kind — presenting a previously uncollated archive of subway ephemera that spans three centuries.

Kelley posts photos of many of the artifacts he’s found on Instagram.

A man got to have a code

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

In a multi-part series, ScreenPrism will be looking at the codes and values of some of the main characters in The Wire. The first installment is about Jimmy McNulty, who is “good po-lice” but also doesn’t always take personal responsibility for his actions (“what the fuck did I do?”).

The first ever sketch of Wonder Woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Original Wonder Woman

This is the first ever sketch of Wonder Woman by H.G. Peter from 1941. On the drawing, Peter wrote:

Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle — when in perspective or in profile, he doesn’t show up clearly — the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption. Peter

The Wonder Woman character was conceived by William Moulton Marston, who based her on his wife Elizabeth Marston and his partner Olive Byrne. (Reading between the lines about WW’s creation, you get the sense that Elizabeth deserves at least some credit for genesis of the character as well.) On the same drawing, Marston wrote back to Peter:

Dear Pete — I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes — red + white. With eagle’s wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it — don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher — more like crown — see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning - WMM.

From Wikipedia:

Wonder Woman was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston (pen name: Charles Moulton), and artist Harry G. Peter. Olive Byrne, Marston’s lover, and his wife, Elizabeth, are credited as being his inspiration for the character’s appearance. Marston drew a great deal of inspiration from early feminists, and especially from birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger; in particular, her piece “Woman and the New Race”. The character first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942. The Wonder Woman title has been published by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.

William, Elizabeth, Olive seemed like really interesting people. They lived together in a polyamorous relationship (which I imagine was fairly unusual for the 1940s) and William & Elizabeth worked together on inventing the systolic blood pressure test, which became a key component in the later invention of the polygraph test. Olive was a former student of William’s and became his research assistant, likely helping him with much of his work without credit.

Update: The upcoming film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biographical drama about the lives of William, Elizabeth, and Olive. Here’s a trailer:

The Imaginary Worlds podcast also had an episode on the genesis of Wonder Woman (featuring New Yorker writer Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman):

(via @ironicsans & warren)

Time lapse of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Wall Drawing 797 is a conceptual artwork by Sol LeWitt consisting of instructions that anyone can use to make a drawing. I found this at The Kid Should See This1 and I cannot improve on their description:

How does one person’s actions influence the next person’s actions in a shared space? Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings explore this intricate visual butterfly effect in the collaborative art entitled Wall Drawing 797, a conceptual piece that can be drawn by following LeWitt’s instructions. (He died in 2007.)

“Intricate visual butterfly effect” is such a good way of putting it. I have a huge wall right above my desk…I kind of want to make my own Wall Drawing 797 now.

  1. You should be reading The Kid Should See This even if you don’t have children. It’s always so good and interesting.

Beyonce’s How To Make Lemonade box set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

How To Make Lemonade Beyonce

Last month, Beyonce released a collector’s edition box set of her latest album called How To Make Lemonade. The set is $300 and includes Lemonade on vinyl as well as downloadable digital versions of the audio and visual albums. But the star of the show here is the 600-page coffee table book full of photos, stories, and poetry about the making of the album.

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade is still my favorite album of the past few years.

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

New study: natural selection is getting rid of mutations that shorten human life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A massive genetic study led by Hakhamanesh Mostafavi, an evolutionary biologist at Columbia, suggests that evolution is weeding out certain genetic mutations in humans that shorten people’s lives.

Mostafavi and his colleagues tested more than 8 million common mutations, and found two that seemed to become less prevalent with age. A variant of the APOE gene, which is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, was rarely found in women over 70. And a mutation in the CHRNA3 gene associated with heavy smoking in men petered out in the population starting in middle age. People without these mutations have a survival edge and are more likely to live longer, the researchers suggest.

This is not, by itself, evidence of evolution at work. In evolutionary terms, having a long life isn’t as important as having a reproductively fruitful one, with many children who survive into adulthood and birth their own offspring. So harmful mutations that exert their effects after reproductive age could be expected to be ‘neutral’ in the eyes of evolution, and not selected against.

But if that were the case, there would be plenty of such mutations still kicking around in the genome, the authors argue. That such a large study found only two strongly suggests that evolution is “weeding” them out, says Mostafavi, and that others have probably already been purged from the population by natural selection.

Studio Ghibli characters in real world scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A South Korean video editor named Kojer took characters from Studio Ghibli films and digitally inserted them into real world scenes and background. So you get to see Ponyo running on a lake, Totoro waiting in the rain on an actual train platform, the Catbus running through a real meadow, and Howl’s castle moving through a city.

This is super-cool…the effect is nearly seamless. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he did the rotoscoping, touch-ups, background replacement, and shadow work on the animated characters:

It’s incredible how much the tools and technology have advanced when one person using off-the-shelf software on a single computer can do what took months to accomplish using traditional cel animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Tycho’s 2017 Burning Man DJ set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

Every year at Burning Man, Tycho does a 2-hour DJ set coinciding with the sunrise. Here’s 2017’s installment. You can also go back and listen to sunrise sets from 2016, 2015, and 2014. There, now your whole day is chill.

Study: watching Fox News has big effect on voting patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

What would happen if you brought a tiny piece of the Sun to Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Kurzgesagt asks and answers the question: what happens if we bring the Sun to the Earth? Since the density and makeup of the Sun varies, they go over scenarios of sampling a house-size chunk from four different spots of the Sun: the chromosphere, the photosphere, the radiative zone, and the core. The answers range from “not much” to “well, that was a terrifically bad idea”.

The life cycle of a t-shirt

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

In a video for TED-Ed, Angel Chang takes us through the life cycle of a typical t-shirt, from cotton to rags, with a focus on the embodied energy of the manufacture and use of a shirt. For instance, because of how it’s produced and shipped around the world, clothing production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

See also Planet Money’s T-shirt Project.

A metaphor for Summer 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Summer 2017 Fire

Amateur photographer Kristi McCluer took what will probably be one of the most iconic photos of 2017 of the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.

“I don’t golf at all,” Kristi McCluer said over the phone on Thursday morning. Instead, she said, “I have spent a great part of my life in the Columbia River Gorge, hiking.”

So when the Eagle Creek fire began, she decided she needed to see it for herself.

“I was actually going to drive up to the Bridge of the Gods,” McCluer said. But she saw a parking lot and decided to pull in. After being told she couldn’t park there because it was actually a road, she found a real parking lot that was nearly empty.

“Around the corner was this golf course,” she said, “and you could see the fire.”

So she started snapping pictures.

I was amazed to discover that it wasn’t Photoshopped. For a similar metaphorical punch, see also Theunis Wessels mowing his lawn in Alberta, Canada while a tornado spins in the background (photo by Cecilia Wessels).

Man Mowing Lawn Tornado

2017: this is fine. (via @mccanner)

You Were Never Really Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

You Were Never Really Here is a thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix as an enforcer for hire. The film is based on a short novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name.

A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel.

Oh, and Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack. Looking forward to this one. (via @craigmod)

The pattern for color names from around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

If you look at the basic colors from a variety of cultures & languages from around the world, there are differences in the number of colors represented in each language. Some languages only have words for black, white, and red while others have words for more than 10 basic colors. Surprisingly, there’s a pattern behind the development of these color words across many of these languages: the words for colors were often invented in the same order.

See also one of my favorite segments of Radiolab on the color blue.

The intricate wave structure of Saturn’s rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

Saturn Waves by Cassini

On one of its final passes of Saturn, the Cassini probe captured this image of a wave structure in Saturn’s rings known as the Janus 2:1 spiral density wave. The waves are generated by the motion of Janus, one of Saturn’s smaller moons.

This wave is remarkable because Janus, the moon that generates it, is in a strange orbital configuration. Janus and Epimetheus (see “Cruising Past Janus”) share practically the same orbit and trade places every four years. Every time one of those orbit swaps takes place, the ring at this location responds, spawning a new crest in the wave. The distance between any pair of crests corresponds to four years’ worth of the wave propagating downstream from the resonance, which means the wave seen here encodes many decades’ worth of the orbital history of Janus and Epimetheus. According to this interpretation, the part of the wave at the very upper-left of this image corresponds to the positions of Janus and Epimetheus around the time of the Voyager flybys in 1980 and 1981, which is the time at which Janus and Epimetheus were first proven to be two distinct objects (they were first observed in 1966).

The photograph is also an optical illusion of sorts. The rings appear to be getting farther away in the upper lefthand corner but the plane of the photograph is actually parallel to the plane of the rings…it’s just that the wavelength of the density wave gets shorter from right to left.

Update: Here are those density waves converted into sound waves. The first set sounds like an accelerating F1 car.

Lego New York

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

Lego New York

From J.R. Schmidt, a rendering of New York City in Lego. Prints are available. Be sure to check out his other work as well…cool stuff.

See also Christoph Niemann’s I Lego NY book. (thx alastair)

Graphing the hidden thresholds of everyday life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

Unendurable line is a short film by Daihei Shibata which shows the movement of objects like springs, magnetically attracted objects, spinning tops, and stacked blocks accompanied by a real-time graph of the movement. A bit tough to explain…just watch it. Reminds me of Bret Victor’s live coding. (via colossal)

1000 marathons to spiritual enlightenment

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The monks of Mount Hiei in Japan perform a spiritual practice called Kaihōgyō in the form of a 1000-day pilgrimage that’s spread out over seven years. There’s secrecy around the practice so it’s difficult to know the precise details, but the gist is that each year, a monk undertaking the practice spends 100 days (or more!) walking 25 miles (or more!) in the middle of the night (because monks have their regular duties and chores to do during the day), stopping at more than 250 sites to recite prayers. That’s 25 miles each day, mind you.

And then there’s this, thrown in about 2/3rds of the way through, just for good measure:

After 700 days, the Kaihogyo practitioner faces what Mitsunaga calls an exam. He enters a hall and prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.

“Put simply, you just have to give up everything and pray to the Immovable Wisdom King,” he says. “By doing this, he may recognize you and allow you to live for nine days.”

The practitioner interrupts his prayers every night to come to a small fountain and get an offering of water for Fudo Myo-o. Toward the end of the nine days, the practitioner is so weak, he must be supported by fellow monks.

Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.

You can read more about at Wikipedia, The Guardian, and Nowness.

The death (and possible rebirth?) of the fade-out in pop music

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The fade out used to be ubiquitous in pop music and the technique has some advantages over other ending methods. In one study, participants tapped along to the beat for a couple seconds after songs with fade outs ended, as if the fade out helped the song live on after it had ended. What musician wouldn’t want that? So why has the fade out fallen out of favor in the past few years?

Also, I love the lo-tech origin story of the fade out: composer Gustav Holst had someone close a door on a choir during a performance in 1918.

Composer Gustav Holst understood the power of the fade-out and employed one of the first at a 1918 concert. For the “Neptune” section of The Planets, Holst had the women’s choir sing in a room offstage. Toward the end, he instructed, the door should be closed very slowly: “This bar is to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.” Given the subject matter — Neptune was thought to be the most distant planet in the solar system — Holst’s attempt to conjure the remoteness of the planet and the mysteries of the cosmos makes sense.

The technology for recorded music wasn’t any more evolved…if you wanted to fade a sound out, you had to physically carry the recording device (the phonograph or microphone) away from the audio source.

Inside Music, an interactive musical exploration & remix tool from Song Exploder and Google

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

Inside Music is a Web VR tool from Google and Song Exploder that lets you explore how songs from Perfume Genius, Phoenix, Ibeyi, and others are put together. Here’s a short video explanation:

You can turn different parts of each song off and on…guitars, bass, vocals, etc.; it’s cool to isolate different parts of each song. This works pretty well in the browser but I would imagine it’s a whole different deal if you have a VR rig.

Google has put the code for Inside Music on Github so if you’re a musician, you can explore your own songs in VR or put them up on the web for others to explore.

100+ exceptional works of journalism from 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

Each year, in one of my favorite media traditions, Conor Friedersdorf picks dozens of articles, essays, podcasts, and stories from the previous year “that stood the test of time”. Here’s his just-published installment for this year.

Friedersdorf has a keen eye (and ear) for good stories. Shamefully, I’ve read maybe 10% of the articles listed here…I’ve dropped my longform reading in recent years in favor of books, TV, and being out in the real world. Maybe on my next vacation, instead of a book, I’ll tackle this list instead.

“What people mean when they say all white people are racist”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal recently fired Munroe Bergdorf for her comments regarding the white supremacist terror acts in Charlottesville. Bergdorf, a black transgender model hired as the face of the company’s diversity campaign, wrote on Facebook:

Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people.

Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this s***.

In a piece for Quartz, Aamna Mohdin explains what people mean when they say all white people are racist; it involves institutional/systemic racism vs. individual racism (the media tells us much more about the latter than the former) and who holds the power in American society.

It’s complicated. In a follow-up statement, Bergdorf said she was addressing society as a whole and a system “rooted in white supremacy-designed to benefit, prioritize and protect white people before anyone of any other race.” She argues that white people are socialized to be racist, just as men are socialized to be sexist. The onus is on each person to “unlearn” that socialization, she adds.

What Bergdorf appeared to be talking about is systemic racism — the kind based in historical inequities that has ongoing wide-reaching effects, from economic marginalization to daily microaggressions to unequal treatment in the criminal justice system — as distinct from individual racism.

J.R.R. Tolkien reads from The Hobbit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

In 1952, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien showed him a tape recorder, which the author had never seen before. Delighted, Tolkien sat for his friend and read from The Hobbit for 30 minutes “in this one incredible take”. The audio is split between these two videos (with visuals and music added later):

Given the circumstances, the clarity of this recording is pretty remarkable. Give it a listen for at least the first two minutes…hearing Tolkien do Smeagol/Gollum’s voice is really cool. (via open culture)

W.E.B. Du Bois on Robert E. Lee’s legacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

In 1928, the writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a short piece about the legacy of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Each year on the 19th of January there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing — one terrible fact — militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like the New York Times may magisterially declare: “of course, he never fought for slavery.” Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

See also W.E.B. Du Bois on Confederate Monuments.

Mr. Robot season 3

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

I was lukewarm on season 2 of Mr. Robot but am hoping, based on this trailer, that season 3 is a return to form for the show. See also the teaser trailer.

Oh, and you can reacquaint yourself with last season in just 7 minutes. Handy!

Drinking a vintage bottle of Coke from 1956

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Mark and his friend Anton recently cracked open a Coca-Cola that was bottled in 1956, back in the era of Chuck Berry, sock hops, and Marty McFly’s first time travel destination. I don’t want to totally spoil the results of their taste test, but let’s just say that Coke appears to be even more impervious to the ravages of time than a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

Cool fact: bottle caps in 1956 were lined on the inside with cork, like these caps for sale on Etsy.

The Moon 1968-1972

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Apollo 11 Flag

The Moon 1968-1972 is a slim volume of photographs from the Apollo missions to the Moon that took place over four short years almost 50 years ago. The book contains a passage by E.B. White taken from this New Yorker article about the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.

The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.

2017 fall foliage map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

2017 Foliage Map

It’s September 1st and currently 52° here in VT (low tonight of 38°) which means summer is over. :| But luckily fall is pretty great here as well. Once again, SmokyMountains.com has the best fall foliage prediction map around.

The 2017 Fall Foliage Map is the ultimate visual planning guide to the annual progressive changing of the leaves. While no tool can be 100% accurate, this tool is meant to help travelers better time their trips to have the best opportunity of catching peak color each year.

Here’s my favorite VT foliage shot from last year, taken half a mile from my house, right out of my car window on the way to pick up the kids at school:

Vt Foliage 2016

The Tree Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Tree Alphabet

The Tree Alphabet was made by Katie Holten and was used in her book, About Trees (Amazon), which features writing from Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Robert Macfarlane.

In ABOUT TREES, Katie Holten invites us to enter some of these forests. She has created a Tree Alphabet and used it to translate a compendium of well known, loved, lost and new writing. She takes readers on a journey from ‘primeval atoms’ and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500 year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to Emerson’s language of fossil poetry, unearthing a grove of beautiful stories along the way.

The Trees font file is available for free download and prints of the Tree Alphabet are available as well.

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