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Entries for March 2018 (Archives)


The cult of Trump and America’s increasingly authoritarian government

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

I missed Andrew Sullivan’s review of Cass Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide and Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America (also edited by Sunstein) but I think Sullivan’s twin conclusions are spot on: Trump is likely unimpeachable1 and America is steadily headed towards an authoritarian government.

The result is that an unimpeachable president is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

That is an astonishing passage, not only because of the allegation that 225+ years of American democracy is now effectively over because the Constitution does not include the necessary checks to prevent it, but also because it rings true.

  1. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Trump will resign or be impeached…or willingly leave the White House under any circumstance.

Errol Morris on Stephen Hawking, “a king of infinite space”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

From an interview with Errol Morris on his friend Stephen Hawking (about whom he made a documentary), Morris shares why Hawking’s A Brief History of Time resonated with so many people beyond the scientific community.

I read the book on the plane on the way over. I was surprised, because I had been told that it was a book about theoretical physics and cosmology. But it was something much more than that. It was a work of literature.

He had done something strange and unusual and powerful. He had described himself and his own situation in terms of his science. Hawking’s greatest discovery — Hawking Radiation — was, in its own way, a tour de force. He was combining elements from general relativity, from quantum mechanics, and from thermodynamics in a new way. There’s something extraordinary about it, but what was most extraordinary about it is that here you have this entity, a black hole, from which nothing can escape. The gravitational field is so strong, surrounded by an event horizon. Nothing can escape from the black hole. Nothing inside that event horizon can get out.

What did Hawking show? Hawking showed that black holes are not entirely black. Radiation can escape from a black hole. He showed the mechanism through which this could occur.

At the same time, he’s telling you that he’s been condemned to this chair, to motor neuron disease, to ALS, and is really unable to talk. He’s lost his ability to speak, and now has to use a computer device, a clicker, a screen with a built-in dictionary and cursor. Despite the disease, he’s not trapped inside of himself. He’s able to communicate. He would always cite the famous line from Hamlet, “Bounded …”

“… in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.”

The whole thing is well worth a read. Like this bit about Hawking’s voice double:

Q: What was the process of working on the film with him like? Not all of those passages are from the book. Were you sending him questions?

A: Yes. He was writing answers, and some of the material was taken from lectures that he had given. Some of it was written for the film. I called him the first nontalking talking head. It became pretty clear that you had to assemble a dictionary of Hawking shots, but there’s no point in interviewing him for those, because it’s not synced. It’s a voice synthesizer. He gave us the voice synthesizer so we could just assemble his voice in the office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he insisted on calling “the pseudo-Cambridge.” There’s nothing like this project.

Q: Wait. He sent you the synthesizer so he could send you an answer and then you could feed it through the synthesizer to get the sound of his voice delivering the answer?

A: That’s correct.

John Oliver on Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2018

Using Beanie Babies, Chicken McNuggets, and the comedy talents of Keegan-Michael Key, John Oliver tries to explain the wild world of Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency, the latter of which he describes as “everything you don’t understand about money combined with everything you don’t understand about computers”.

My favorite part was the explanation of how difficult hacking the blockchain is: “[like] turning a Chicken McNugget back into a chicken”.

This was very hard to keep watching after Oliver started detailing cryptocurrency scams and charlatans trying to take advantage of people. One of Oliver’s targets, Brock Pierce, was actually canned from the company he co-founded after the segment aired.

Isle of Dogs cast interviews

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2018

As a promo for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, snippets from the cast interviews were animated using the dog characters played by Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Bob Balaban, and others. It’s amazing how much some of the dogs’ features & expressions mirror those of the actors who provide the voices. The bit starting at 2:30 with Jeff Goldblum is just straight flames.

Recipes by algorithm

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

Cover:Cheese is a website charting the progress of EMMA, the Evolutionary Meal Management Algorithm. This is what it sounds-like: a relatively basic attempt to automatically generate food recipes from other recipes.

The trick is, since it’s not just wordplay, and the results can’t be processed and validated by machines alone, somebody’s gotta actually make these recipes and see if they’re any good. And a lot of them are… not very good.

med okra
lot sugar
boil: sugar
okra sugar

NOTE: This one is still around. Don’t make it. You basically end up with a pan full of mucus

But there are some surprises. Apparently eggplant mixed with angel’s food cake is pretty tasty. Or at least, tastier than you might guess. Anyways, at least the algorithm is learning, right?

Translating Homer in public

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

siren vase 2.jpg

I can’t claim to have finished Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey by Homer — epic poems are, well, epic — but I’m a huge fan of everything I’ve read, and especially Wilson’s Twitter feed, which is often devoted to explicating some small bit of Homeric text and comparing her approach to that of other translators.

Here, for example, she takes on the depiction of the Sirens. I’m going to pick and choose a few tweets, but you should read as much of the thread as you can.

This last observation prompted a haunting distillation by Lev Mirov of Odysseus’s journey and his encounter with the Sirens:

Back to Wilson, who translates the brutally short passage of the sirens this way:

She explains:

Translation is hard, but translation in public is harder and better. There’s a richness in the commentary, and also a reckoning with the accretion of meanings that have come down through past readings, that you don’t often get without diving into scholarly apparatus. It’s not just peeling back the plaster; it’s trying to understand the work that plaster did in holding the whole structure together. Just remarkable.

A world-historical theory of tool use

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

early tools.jpg

I love reading and rereading about the origin of humanity. I love that it’s not settled science: we’re still making new discoveries about when humans first left Africa, how and when we interbred with other hominins, and what makes us human in the first place. It’s just the coolest story, which is also every story.

Popular Science has a really nice new primer on the current state of research on early humanity. Embedded in it is a series of studies on tool use by early humans in Kenya that caught my attention. Basically, the tools got smaller and more portable, the materials used were more exotic (sourced from farther away), and they were decorated with pigments.

“That’s where there’s a similarity to technology in recent times; things start out big and clunky and they get small and portable,” says Richard Potts, head of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and a co-author of the papers. “The history [of] technology has been the same ever since.”

I wonder, though, if all three vectors hold up across history: greater portability, greater range of materials, and greater decorative value.

I suspect the null hypothesis would be that technologies that work tend to stay roughly the same over time. (For most of early human history, our tools didn’t change up that much, which is exactly why the burst of activity in east Africa is noteworthy.) You need something to shake things up: either sudden availability of new materials, or a deprivation of old ones (like the Bronze Age collapse, which eventually helped usher in the Iron Age).

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

“One of the things we see is that around 500,000 years ago in the rift valley of southern Kenya, all hell breaks loose. There’s faulting that occurs, and earthquake activity was moving the landscape up and down. The climate record shows there is a stronger degree of oscillation between wet and dry. That would have disrupted the predictability of food and water, for those early people,” Potts says. “It’s exactly under those conditions that almost any organism—but especially a hunter-gatherer human, even an early one—would begin to expand geography of obtaining food or obtaining resources. It’s under those conditions that you begin to run into other groups of hominins and you become aware of resources beyond your usual boundaries.”

A literal world map

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Literal World Map

Literal World Map

Literal World Map

This is a map of the literal translations for the names of the world’s countries (bigger size). Some of the translations include:

Panama: Place of Abundant Fish
Paraguay: People Born Along the River
Namibia: The Vast Place
Ethiopia: Land of Burnt Faces
Egypt: Temple of the Soul of Ptah
Spain: Land of Many Rabbits
Hungary: 10 Arrows
Qatar: Land of Tar
Israel: He That Striveth with God
Thailand: Land of the Free
Nauru: I Go to the Beach
Australia: Southern Land

A spreadsheet of the translations and their sources is available here. See also a world map of every country’s tourism slogan. (via @danielhale)

Update: See also the Etymological Map of Africa. (via @danielhale)

Update: Two things. 1. This is not my map. I didn’t make it…it seems that (based on the logo in the lower right-hand corner) an Australian credit card comparison company did, but I can’t find any record of them having posted it anywhere online. 2. I have gotten many messages indicating the map is incorrect in one aspect or another, so you might want to take the whole thing with a healthy grain of salt (despite the research).

A surgery resident analyzes medical scenes from TV & movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Annie Onishi is a general surgery resident at Columbia University and Wired asked her to break down scenes from movies and TV shows featuring emergency rooms, operating rooms, and other medical incidents. Spoiler alert: if you seek medical treatment from a TV doctor, you will probably die. Secondary spoiler alert: that adrenaline-shot-to-the-heart scene in Pulp Fiction is not as implausible as you might think, even if some of the details are wrong.

“To share something is to risk losing it”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Remember the Broccoli Tree and its eventual fate?

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.

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.

In a short video, John Green shares his perspective on the loss of the tree and the meaning of sharing with others in the age of social media.

To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree. […] And the truth is, if we horde and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we’re alone in the loss.

“Oh my god!” People’s reactions to looking at the Moon through a telescope.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh took a telescope around the streets of LA and invited people to look at the Moon through it. Watching people’s reactions to seeing such a closeup view of the Moon with their own eyes, perhaps for the first time, is really amazing.

Whoa, that looks like that’s right down the street, man!

I often wonder what the effect is of most Americans not being able to see the night sky on a regular basis. As Sriram Murali says:

The night skies remind us of our place in the Universe. Imagine if we lived under skies full of stars. That reminder we are a tiny part of this cosmos, the awe and a special connection with this remarkable world would make us much better beings — more thoughtful, inquisitive, empathetic, kind and caring. Imagine kids growing up passionate about astronomy looking for answers and how advanced humankind would be, how connected and caring we’d feel with one another, how noble and adventurous we’d be.

A recap and photos of National School Walkout Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

National Walkout Day

I didn’t get to follow National School Walkout Day as closely as I wanted to yesterday, but I just wanted to say on the morning after that I am very much in support of these kids, very proud of them, and deeply ashamed that ours is a country that has to regularly lean so hard on some of our most vulnerable members of society to get people and politicians to react to gross social injustice.

Buzzfeed has a great roundup of action from around the country, including 16-year-old Justin Blackman, who was the only one to walk out at his school…and ended up with millions of people supporting his efforts online. The Atlantic’s In Focus has gathered 35 photos of the walkout from around the nation.

Ohio teenager’s raw photographs of his high school friends

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Colin Combs

Colin Combs

The New Yorker is featuring a selection of photos taken by high school senior Colin Combs, mostly of him and his friends in Dayton, Ohio, “sometimes called the heroin capital of the United States”.

Minimalism is the necessary ethos of both his concept and his process. His equipment consists of expired film and cheap or disposable cameras, which Combs receives from patrons, including Wolfgang Grossmann, a school security guard, and Amy Powell, his photography teacher. Powell, who sent The New Yorker a selection of Combs’s images last December — the magazine later had dozens of rolls developed — has indulged her student’s autodidacticism, a trait that some educators might mistake for disobedience. “Sometimes he won’t do the assignments for class,” she said recently, laughing. “But he is always so hungry, prolific, constantly shooting. I’ve never had a student produce as much.”

The piece compares Combs’ work with that of Nan Goldin; parallels with the work of Larry Clark (NSFW), Ryan McGinley (NSFW), and Harmony Korine are also present. I went to see the Stephen Shore show at MoMA the other day (very recommended) and Combs’ photos making their way to the New Yorker reminded me of a 14-year-old Shore asking Edward Steichen, then MoMA’s curator of photography, to review his portfolio. Steichen purchased three photos from him.

You can follow Combs’ work on Instagram or read more about his work in the local Dayton paper.

Gorgeous 8K video of the aurora borealis dancing in the skies during a lunar eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

8K resolution. Time lapse. 360º view. Aurora borealis. Lunar eclipse. I’m not really sure how you could pack much more into this video. Probably best experienced with some sort of VR rig, but for those of us without access to such a thing, watching it several times on a large screen while dragging the view around is a more than adequate substitute. If seeing the aurora borealis in person wasn’t already on your bucket list, it is now. Dang. (via the kid should see this)


posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Kottke Twenty

kottke.org is 20 years old today. Holy shit! On March 14, 1998, I launched a new episode of 0sil8 called “Notes”. 0sil8 was a previous website of mine, started in 1995 or 1996. The site’s format was episodic: every month or two the design and content was completely different. With Notes, I wanted to have somewhere to write regularly for my friends, modeled after the online diaries that were growing in popularity at the time. Weblogs were a thing, one of the many types of regularly updated personal sites that were in existence then; they wouldn’t take off and begin to consume all media for another year or two. In December 1998, I registered kottke.org (kottke.com was taken and I wasn’t a network so .org it was) and sometime later moved Notes over, where it’s been ever since. And now it’s one of the oldest regularly updated sites on the web.

I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about actual real life.1 I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments — a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” — has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity. When kottke.org turned 10, my post marking the anniversary ended with “I’ll see you in 2018”. In my recollection, that line was somewhat serious but also partially somewhere between a joke and a dare. Like, “how has this thing lasted 10 years, why not go for 20?” So…why not go for 30? 40? I’ll see you for sure in 2028 and perhaps even in 2038. Thank you so very much for being here with me, I surely don’t deserve such fine company.

P.S. And if you’ll indulge me for a moment in a brief shameless sale pitch, if you have found something valuable here over the past 20 years, please consider supporting the site with a membership. Member support has put the site on a stable financial path into the future and has personally re-energized my involvement and commitment to the site. Thanks!

  1. This is still arguably the case.

Physics giant Stephen Hawking dead at age 76

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Lego Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, who uncovered the mysteries of black holes and with A Brief History of Time did more than anyone to popularize science since the late Carl Sagan, has died at his home in Cambridge at age 76. From an obituary in The Guardian:

Hawking once estimated he worked only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford. In his finals, he came borderline between a first- and second-class degree. Convinced that he was seen as a difficult student, he told his viva examiners that if they gave him a first he would move to Cambridge to pursue his PhD. Award a second and he threatened to stay. They opted for a first.

Those who live in the shadow of death are often those who live most. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease, and witnessing the death from leukaemia of a boy he knew in hospital, ignited a fresh sense of purpose. “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said. Embarking on his career in earnest, he declared: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

From Dennis Overbye’s obit in the NY Times:

He went on to become his generation’s leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them.

That work led to a turning point in modern physics, playing itself out in the closing months of 1973 on the walls of his brain when Dr. Hawking set out to apply quantum theory, the weird laws that govern subatomic reality, to black holes. In a long and daunting calculation, Dr. Hawking discovered to his befuddlement that black holes — those mythological avatars of cosmic doom — were not really black at all. In fact, he found, they would eventually fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear over the eons.

Nobody, including Dr. Hawking, believed it at first — that particles could be coming out of a black hole. “I wasn’t looking for them at all,” he recalled in an interview in 1978. “I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.”

That calculation, in a thesis published in 1974 in the journal Nature under the title “Black Hole Explosions?,” is hailed by scientists as the first great landmark in the struggle to find a single theory of nature — to connect gravity and quantum mechanics, those warring descriptions of the large and the small, to explain a universe that seems stranger than anybody had thought.

The discovery of Hawking radiation, as it is known, turned black holes upside down. It transformed them from destroyers to creators — or at least to recyclers — and wrenched the dream of a final theory in a strange, new direction.

“You can ask what will happen to someone who jumps into a black hole,” Dr. Hawking said in an interview in 1978. “I certainly don’t think he will survive it.

“On the other hand,” he added, “if we send someone off to jump into a black hole, neither he nor his constituent atoms will come back, but his mass energy will come back. Maybe that applies to the whole universe.”

Dennis W. Sciama, a cosmologist and Dr. Hawking’s thesis adviser at Cambridge, called Hawking’s thesis in Nature “the most beautiful paper in the history of physics.”

Roger Penrose, the eminent mathematician and physicist who collaborated with Hawking on discoveries related to black holes and the genesis of the universe, wrote a lengthy scientific obituary for Hawking in The Guardian.

Following his work in this area, Hawking established a number of important results about black holes, such as an argument for its event horizon (its bounding surface) having to have the topology of a sphere. In collaboration with Carter and James Bardeen, in work published in 1973, he established some remarkable analogies between the behaviour of black holes and the basic laws of thermodynamics, where the horizon’s surface area and its surface gravity were shown to be analogous, respectively, to the thermodynamic quantities of entropy and temperature. It would be fair to say that in his highly active period leading up to this work, Hawking’s research in classical general relativity was the best anywhere in the world at that time.

And then there was that time Hawking threw a party for time travellers but didn’t advertise it until after the party was over (to ensure only visitors from the future would show up).

Tonight is perhaps a good night to watch Errol Morris’ superb documentary on Hawking (with a wonderful Philip Glass soundtrack) or build a version of Hawking out of Lego.

Holy mountains haloed by drone light

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

Reuben Wu Halo

Reuben Wu Halo

Reuben Wu Halo

Oh, I love these photos by Reuben Wu. As part of his project Lux Noctis, Wu flies drones in circles around mountain peaks and takes long-exposure photos, creating these beautiful haloed landscapes. Wu spoke to Colossal about his interest in zero-trace land art:

Recently Wu has evolved his process of working with the drones to form light paths above topographical peaks in the mountainous terrain. “I see it as a kind of ‘zero trace’ version of land art where the environment remains untouched by the artist, and at the same time is presented in a sublime way which speaks to 19th century Romantic painting and science and fictional imagery,” said Wu to Colossal.

Broad Band, Claire Evans’ book about “The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

I’m looking forward to reading Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans. Addie Wagenknecht recently did an interview with Evans about the book.

The easy thing is to say that Broad Band is a feminist history of the Internet. That’s what I’ve been telling people. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s a history of the Internet told through women’s stories: boots-on-the-ground accounts of where the women were, how they were feeling and working, at specific, formative moments in Internet history. It emphasizes users and those who design for use, while many popular tech histories tend to zero in on the box. I’ve always been fascinated with what happens after hardware hits the market; it’s what we do with it that counts.

When I first heard of the book, I thought immediately of Halt and Catch Fire, a connection that Adi Robertson picked up on as well.

Robertson: It’s funny how much this book reminded me of Halt and Catch Fire.

Evans: Yes! Oh my god. One of my great regrets about the timing of me writing this book is that Halt and Catch Fire is over now, and I can’t con my way into a consulting job on that show. It was so fun being deep in the process of researching arcana and internet history and then seeing these little nuggets appear in a more glamorous form on my favorite TV show. It kind of felt surreal. But definitely made me feel like I was headed in the right direction.

National Geographic: “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

As part of their issue on race, National Geographic asked historian John Edwin Mason to dive into their archives to examine the magazine’s past coverage of people of color, both in the US and abroad. What he found was not pretty.

What Mason found in short was that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured “natives” elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages — every type of cliché.

Unlike magazines such as Life, Mason said, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture.

“Americans got ideas about the world from Tarzan movies and crude racist caricatures,” he said. “Segregation was the way it was. National Geographic wasn’t teaching as much as reinforcing messages they already received and doing so in a magazine that had tremendous authority. National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized. That was a color line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

Some of what you find in our archives leaves you speechless, like a 1916 story about Australia. Underneath photos of two Aboriginal people, the caption reads: “South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”

A laudable move, particularly for a publication owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Puzzle twins

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

Puzzle Twins

Puzzle Twins

Puzzle Twins

For her project entitled Within 15 Minutes, artist Alma Haser made identical jigsaw puzzles out of portraits she’d taken of identical twins and then swapped every other piece when putting them together, creating these serendipitously fragmented portraits. She said of her first attempt last year:

So today for no apparent reason I thought I’d test out a crazy idea I had. For the project I have been switching just the faces of the identical twins, but today I decided to see what it would look like to swap every other pieces with reach other. Completely entwining the beautiful @being__her sisters. And wow, what an effect! It really make you double take at their faces, trying to decipher one for the other.

You can follow Haser’s work, including the twin puzzles, on Instagram.

I and You: a short appreciation of Martin Buber’s ‘Ich und Du’

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

When I was in college, I was crazy about Martin Buber. Well, really, I was crazy about Friedrich Nietzsche, and I was dating an evangelical Christian, provisionally going to her church, so I needed a way to put the two together. Buber’s book Ich und Du (I and Thou) was it.

It’s tricky to translate, in one of those “here are some basic differences between English and German” ways. German has two pronouns for you; “du” is the informal one, “sie” the plural or formal. “Sie” is also a third-person pronoun. But “du” is the way you address God, so it winds up turning into “thou.” Still, there’s nothing all that archaic about “du”; you’d call your pets “du.” Kind of like how Freud’s “ich” and “es” become “ego” and “id,” but are really just “I” and “it.” It’s a weird bit of business.

Anyways, Aeon has a new essay on Buber’s I and Thou by a grad student, MM Owen, that’s making me think of picking up Buber again. Here’s his breakdown of the basic insight.

Human existence is fundamentally interpersonal. Human beings are not isolated, free-floating objects, but subjects existing in perpetual, multiple, shifting relationships with other people, the world, and ultimately God. Life is defined by these myriad interactions ­- by the push and pull of intersubjectivity. This conception ties to Buber’s belief in the primacy of the spoken word. One of his life’s great projects was the 37-year process of producing an idiosyncratic German translation of the Bible wherein, to do justice to its oral roots, the text was divided into ‘breath measures’. For Buber, the act of speech embodied the deep-set interrelatedness of human beings. In speech, as in life, no ‘I’ is an island.

I and Thou argues that within this elementally networked reality there are two basic modes of existence: the I-It, and the I-Thou. These two stances make up our basic ‘twofold attitude’. In the I-It mode, an ‘Ego’ approaches another as an object separate from itself. This type of engagement is driven by a sort of instrumentalism; the object is engaged primarily as something to be known or used, and its nature is always mediated through the subject’s own self-regard. From the I-It stance, we don’t engage with things in their entirety. Instead, we engage with a web of distinct and isolated qualities notable for how they are useful to us. Buber regarded this kind of self-centred outlook - typified, in his view, by proto-existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche - as a grave error.

By contrast, in the I-Thou relationship, rather than simply experiencing another, we encounter them. A subject encounters a fellow subject’s whole being, and that being is not filtered through our mediated consciousness, with its litter of preconceptions and projections. ‘No purpose intervenes,’ as Buber put it. The I-Thou stance has a purity and an intimacy, and is inherently reciprocal. In relation to others, he argued, we can step into an intersubjective space where two people coexist in (and co-contribute to) what he called the Between. In this Between lurks the vital, nourishing experience of human life, the real sacred stuff of existence. As he put it: ‘All real living is meeting.’

A close reading of Miyazaki’s sound design in The Wind Rises

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

I recently rewatched a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, although “watched” is a bit of a misnomer. I was playing them in the background while I was working, or reading, or trying to sleep, so really I was re-listening to them, and not especially closely.

This almost feels like a sin for movies as beautiful as these, but it did help me notice something. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind looks different from Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises, sure; however, it sounds way different. The music, the foley effects, the subtler cues, the sheer sound density are completely different from one end of the career to another.

This made me wonder whether somebody had charted this transformation. I didn’t quite find that, but I did find an outstanding series of blog posts specifically on the sound design in The Wind Rises, which stands in nicely. It’s not well copyedited, but it’s attentive and insightful. A few samples:

Jiro enters his airplane, adjusts his aviator gloves and starts the artisanal machine. By now we have noticed the sound effects of the valves and exhaust pipes made of human mouth sounds and with vocalisations. The first engine starts and it’s clear that human voice is used to portray this activity. But once the propeller activates a low rumble sound effects is introduced, and a sound effect of a servo ascending is applied to the airplane rising, triggered by Jiro’s pulling the lever, and it’s in harmony with the music score. One occurrence with the sound that emphasises the oneiric dimension of this scene is the ‘dreamy’ quality of the reverb applied on the last blow of the machine lifting before it goes crossing the skies [00:02:03].

Here’s a clip a little later in the sequence — I’d never recognized that the dream engine sounds were being made by human mouths, but once you hear it, it’s perfect.

Or consider the earthquake, detail by detail:

It is now that we are in the presence of the horror lived in this earthquake and sound plays such a big role with all its brutality. Different to the traditional approach of western film, the main elements heard are a composition of :

  • horrified human screams on a higher-pitch range,
  • medium-low pitch throat growls and groans like coming from a big beast,
  • that moves upwards in pitch as the image from the houses undulates from a farther plane to a closer one.
  • an earthy impact stinger

These elements are introduced a couple of frames before we see the houses being ripped apart.

In the next scene the audience is shown, through close-ups, how the ground is animated in brutal waves breaking and disrupting the order of all man-made constructions. We no longer hear the horrifying screams and the sound designer paints the scene with sound of the ground disrupting, by utilising rumbles and earth debris. The sounds here are in the same universe as those indicated on Jiro’s first dream - choir-like sounds mimicking up and down movements, in which the upwards vocalisations are like rising stingers.

It really helped me appreciate these movies again, as sonic masterpieces.

What America looked like before the EPA, in photos

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

Popular Science has a series of photos taken by EPA staff in the early years of the agency after it was formed in the 1970s, that have since been digitized.

It’s pretty grim stuff: abandoned cars in Jamaica Bay, broken candy-glass unreturnable bottles everywhere, and one mill after another belching out smoke and dumping refuse in the rivers.

The Atlas Chemical Company, by Marc St. Gil

Oxford Paper Company, by Charles Steinhacker

Burning barge on the Ohio River, by William Strode

Mary Workman holds a jar of undrinkable water from her well, and has filed suit against the Hanna Coal Company - by Erik Calonius

Given that there’s been a renewed, serious push this year to dismantle or undermine the EPA, it’s worth revisiting just why we needed an agency to protect the environment to begin with.

Stevie Nicks sings “Wild Heart” on set

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

Thanks for following along this week while I filled in here! As my final post, it seems important to share the best YouTube video ever*.

Here you have songbird Stevie Nicks, every makeup artist’s worst nightmare, belting out an early version of her song “Wild Heart” during an Annie Leibowitz cover shoot for Rolling Stone in 1981. If this sends you down a rabbit hole of live versions of “Silver Springs” and corresponding levels of emotion between Buckingham and Nicks, I don’t blame you.

*Feel free to tell me otherwise or to keep in touch on Twitter.

“Stronger Shines the Light Inside”

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018


Photographer Angie Smith spent over a year telling the stories of refugees resettled in Idaho, a state that (according to census data) is over 89% white. Her resulting work, Stronger Shines the Light Inside, focuses on the commonality on the human experience and the strength of community.


Smith’s work will be on view at an upcoming show in Los Angeles, opening April 11, at 1520 N. Cahuenga Boulevard from 6-9pm.

Remembering the Thomas Guide

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018


For anyone who loves maps, history, or the history of maps, Airtalk did a segment this week on the beloved Thomas Guide.

During the year I spent in LA in 2004, I have distinct memories of frantically flipping from page to page in the Thomas Guide as co-pilot. You had to memorize the page numbers of the areas you frequented because they were not always in order (a north/south jump would sometimes take you thirty pages off). After a few months of this, we had pages fall out of the spiral-bound guide that we were always shoving back in the book. It was really the only way to navigate the maze of sprawl here other than printing out turn-by-turn directions from Mapquest (which we also did).

Like a (wo)man without a country

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

The animated short “Your Black Friend,” based on the comic series by Ben Passmore, is a humorous and heartbreaking look at a very real topic. The film was temporarily removed from Facebook due to alt-right trolls earlier this year.

A special hardcover collection of Passmore’s comics series is out soon. It’s a vivid look at life and race in the backdrop of New Orleans.

(thanks Pete)

The charisma of lovable weirdo Jeff Goldblum

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018


Read this homage to Jeff Goldblum in its entirety (preferably out loud, with a close friend) and then re-watch The Big Chill.

Edward Norton (‘Grand Budapest Hotel,’ 2014; ‘Isle of Dogs,’ out in March): A friend of mine was on a flight and was seated next to Jeff. She was reading a book and became aware that Jeff seemed to be looking at what she was reading. She said hello, and he asked her if she was enjoying the book.

Jeff Goldblum: It was some good book she was reading! [It was ‘The Private Lives of the Impressionists.’]

Norton: Jeff said, “I don’t know if this would interest you—and if not, of course no problem—but I’m very good at reading books aloud, and if you’d like I’d be happy to read it to you.” She said, “Sure.” She had about 90 pages left, and Jeff read her the rest of it out loud. She said his reading was excellent.

Jeff Goldblum: We got out of the plane, and her boyfriend, Evan Goldberg, who writes with Judd Apatow, contacted me and said, “Look, I’m going to propose to that girl that you sat next to. I’ve written her a poem that’s kind of the proposal. And I want to drive her over to your house and have you read it to her. Can we come over at 7:30 in the morning tomorrow?” “Sure!”

Evan Goldberg: We drove up to the Hollywood Hills in a limo for the proposal haiku.

Jeff Goldblum: I’m in my robe. Ding-dong! Evan goes, “Here, darling, Jeff has something to read to you.” I read, “Dearest angel…would you be my wife?” And there you go. They’re married.

He keeps up with posts tagged #JeffGoldblum on Instagram, pours orange juice over his corn flakes, and smells good. Of course I love the Parker Posey anecdote: partying with Carrie Fisher in the 90s, movie night and a private piano concert with Goldblum and Rosario Dawson. A must read.

Still Processing on location

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018


Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris take a field trip to see the new Obama portraits in DC in the latest episode of their stellar podcast Still Processing and it’s beautiful. Wortham and Morris address the controversy over Michelle’s portrait and delight in Barack’s and are brilliant as always.

A piece only a Vermonter could write

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

A guide to the proper usage of the word “dank.”

The protean adjective (or adverb if you want to slink dankly along) is now used for so much more than to merely describe things that are “unpleasantly moist.” In modern usage, dank can be used to pinpoint particular qualities in marijuana, beer, and internet humor, or as a general term of praise. If that sounds confusing, it can be.

On the history of PDFs and political subterfuge

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

“The history of our generation will probably be in PDF form.”

(via Corrina)

Van Morrison and the Boston counterculture in 1968

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018


Van Morrison wrote his spare, stringed magnum opus Astral Weeks during his time among the late 60s LSD-fueled counterculture in Boston. Ryan H. Walsh’s new book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 covers the nine months Morrison spent in Cambridge, as well as a cast of characters both known and not. Among those orbiting Morrison were commune/cult leader Mel Lyman, members of the Velvet Underground, who played the Boston Tea Party club 15 times that year, and Carly Simon’s younger brother, Peter.

The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after “burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of the occult who believed in automatic writing.

From stories of gigs on Cape Cod where Morrison and his band improvised what became “Moondance,” to him quietly crooning about Cambridgeport “like he’s talking about a misty hobbit village,” Walsh’s book seems to give context for Boston being more culturally significant within the late 60s era than most people give it credit for.

(Image of Van Morrison performing at Spring Sing on Boston Common in 1968 via WBUR.)

Rewriting the NY Times Obit section

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

The paper of record somehow failed to note the passing of Diane Arbus, Nella Larsen, Sylvia Plath, and twelve other equally influential women over their 167 years of publication. They updated this for International Women’s Day in their series Overlooked.


The whole package is worth a read, but I love the story of Mary Ewing Outerbridge who (probably) brought tennis to the US.

Outerbridge explained that the items were for a game called Sphairistiké, which is Greek for “playing at ball.” She had seen British Army officers engaged in a match during a vacation in Bermuda and was entranced by the graceful strokes and fluid motions. She told the agents she was taking the gear back home, to Staten Island, to teach her friends and family to play.

Also noteworthy: Jane Eyre author Charlotte Brontë.

While Brontë did not get an obituary in The New York Times, her husband, who died 51 years later, did. The article was just five lines long, and the headline said it all: “Charlotte Bronte’s Husband Dead.”

After 40 years, an Indian architect wins the Pritzker

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018


Balkrishna Doshi is the first-ever Indian to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The 90-year-old modernist architect studied under Le Corbusier in Paris and later worked together in India, and collaborated with Louis Kahn, but Doshi was the one to adapt their work to the culture, climate, and topography in India.


Doshi was a vital, though largely unheralded partner in creating India’s meccas for modern architecture. He translated Le Corbusier and Khan’s plans to Indian construction standards and found ways to weave pre-fab materials with artisan-made elements.

“A lot has been said and continues to be said about the shadow of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn on the city and the country at large, but it was Doshi who grounded their ideas in the soil of India and turned them into something entirely new,” explains Avinash Rajagopal, editor-in-chief of Metropolis magazine.

Don’t move to Los Angeles

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 07, 2018


As a nice coda to yesterday’s post on gentrification in Los Angeles, the adroit Ann Friedman tells us how not to ruin her adopted city.

I like to think I’m one of the good transplants. (Don’t we all?) I came to California seven years ago when most New Yorkers were still turning up their noses at this city. I had a local job — not a work-remote situation. I befriended my neighbors. I patronized burrito joints that were not endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. I got a public library card. I learned the bus routes near my house. I made sure to vote in local elections.

Image via Rafa Esparza, who asks “What can citizenship outside of colonization and more in tune with cultural stewardship look like?”

This is the question for L.A.’s economically privileged new arrivals: How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?

Also insert “New York” and “San Francisco,” above.

Privacy at the margins

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 07, 2018


Privacy and privilege go hand in hand. This collection of scholarly articles in The International Journal of Communication edited by Dr. Alice Marwick and danah boyd takes us to Appalachia, India, Azerbaijan, and among Aboriginal communities. The nine articles are a deep dive into surveillance, coercion, and consent among those typically marginalized.

For many people, privacy is not simply the ability to restrict access to information, but the ability to strategically control a social situation by influencing what information is available to others, how this information is interpreted, and how it will spread. Needless to say, networked technology complicates these dynamics, to the point where most people find themselves constantly negotiating between disclosure, concealment, and connection.

The stark reality is that achieving privacy is especially difficult for those who are marginalized in other areas of life. Parents argue that they have the right to surveil their children “for safety reasons.” Activists who challenge repressive regimes are regularly monitored by state actors. And poor people find themselves forced to provide information in return for basic services. Meanwhile, privacy is increasingly important as data-hungry algorithmic systems are introduced into every part of society, gobbling up data about people and their practices to feed decision-making systems in sectors as varied as criminal justice, advertising, transportation, and news delivery. The privilege to “opt out” of these data-oriented systems is increasingly unattainable.

“LA is the best”

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 07, 2018

If you’re back east enjoying a snow day today, might I recommend cozying up with the brilliant Ingrid Goes West? Documentary of the year 2017, IMHO.

(Yes, that is Ice Cube, Jr.)

Spike Jonze is very good at making ads

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

Huh, weird. Spike Jonze made a video of me in my living room last night.

I’m fully here for FKA Twigs being the face of dancing your way out of depression.

F*** hipsters

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018


My former colleagues Andrew Romano and Garance Franke-Ruta took a look at recent protests led by Defend Boyle Heights and the larger radical anti-gentrification movement they’ve inspired. Coffee shops are being targeted and galleries shutting down from harassment on the east side of Los Angeles.

Gentrification isn’t new, nor is anti-gentrification activism. So why are these groups taking to the street now?

Millennials are, simply put, “facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression,” as HuffPost’s Michael Hobbes recently put it. They’ve taken on at least 300 percent more student debt than their parents did. They’re about half as likely to own a home as young adults were in 1975. One in five is living in poverty. Based on current trends, many of them won’t be able to retire until they’re 75. Jobs have become gigs; college is exorbitant, starting salaries are paltry the social safety net is shredded.

And all of these trends are especially acute among the poorer, nonwhite millennials who tend to live in major cities. Between 1979 and 2014, for instance, the poverty rate among young high school-only graduates more than tripled, to 22 percent, and roughly 70 percent of black families and 71 percent of Latino families don’t have enough money saved to cover three months of living expenses.

Frank Ocean interviews statistics rapper Timmy T

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018


Frank Ocean interviews Timothée Chalamet and it’s brilliant.

FO The time period of 20th Century Women seems close to Call Me By Your Name, that ’80s time period. Did you get into these past eras of fashion and shit when you were doing the film?

TC Absolutely. I’m a total “nostalgist” and Call Me By Your Name’s director, Luca, grew up in that time period. In fact, the book is set in ‘88 and he changed it to ‘83 because he said that was the year in your life you can hear music from. In the movie, there’s Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, or just the Bach or Beethoven—those are all songs from Luca’s youth, what it was like for him in Italy in the ’80s. Also, in 1988, the AIDS crisis had already hit and that was part of the reasoning for making [the film] a little bit earlier too, so it wasn’t as intense, and could be a little more utopic. What a tragedy for movies now that if you want to be contemporary, phones have to be involved, with texting and FaceTime. I don’t know if [the characters in] Call Me By Your Name would ever have that relationship if there was passive-aggressive commenting and “likes.” They actually had to talk, figure each other out, and struggle with their emotions.

I believe the children are our future

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

Watching the teenagers from Parkland, Florida instigate change and challenge leadership has been inspiring, to say the least. If anything, it’s a reminder that while it’s probably too late for our generation to make any real change, the kids these days are on it.

Tim Kreider’s op-ed Go Ahead, Millennials, Destroy Us encourages this new crop of activists. (thx Jessa)

My message, as an aging Gen X-er to millennials and those coming after them, is: Go get us. Take us down — all those cringing provincials who still think climate change is a hoax, that being transgender is a fad or that “socialism” means purges and re-education camps. Rid the world of all our outmoded opinions, vestigial prejudices and rotten institutions. Gender roles as disfiguring as foot-binding, the moribund and vampiric two-party system, the savage theology of capitalism — rip it all to the ground. I for one can’t wait till we’re gone. I just wish I could live to see the world without us.

Emma Gray’s timely book The Girl’s Guide to the Resistance: A Feminist Handbook on Fighting for Good is relevant for kids of all genders who want to get involved (though soon enough, they’ll be writing the books explaining change to us).

In this week’s series from The Cut, How To Raise a Boy Michael Kimmel says that instead of shaming bad behavior, we should focus on positive growth.

Fathers: If you want a story to tell your sons, tell that story, the time you did the wrong thing because you were scared. That’s the story we grown men must tell our sons. We must tell them for their sake, because it can help them acknowledge the ways that they, too, may feel pulled between their own values and those of others. But we must also tell them for our own sake, so that we can finally acknowledge the damage done to us, done to our hearts, our souls, by the demands of trying to deny our humanity and be real men.

Anthony McCall’s large-scale sculpture, cinema, drawing objects

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018


Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn is currently showing six large-scale pieces by local artist Anthony McCall. The main hall of the massive warehouse space is blacked out and filled with haze for the show of his Solid Light Works series, which he began work on in 1973. The pieces require thirty feet of clearance from the floor to ceiling for the vertical and horizontal cones of light.


McCall regards these works as occupying a place somewhere between sculpture, cinema, and drawing: sculpture because the projected volumes must be occupied and explored by a moving spectator; cinema because these large-scale objects are not static, but structured to progressively shift and change over time; and drawing, because the genesis of each installation is a two-dimensional line-drawing.

Solid Light Works explore the intersections of light, movement, drawing, and space that form evanescent and ever changing three-dimensional forms that exist not only as “objects” in space but also as environments to be experienced.

In anticipation of the show’s closing, Pioneer Works will stay open all night on Saturday. I hope someone’s sending a street style photographer to capture the crowd.

Katja Blichfeld’s personal reinvention

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018


We should all be talking more about High Maintenance, a show sort of about weed but really about the human condition. 

Last season’s episode “Grandpa” is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV, but do yourself a favor and start with their original webisodes and work your way up to the current season on HBO. ”Rachel” is also not to be missed (Dan Stevens plus Rachel Comey, swoon).

Emily Gould’s recent profile on co-creator Katja Blichfeld
 gives a look at half of the real-life (former) couple behind the show. I particularly like the story of her career trajectory.

Before she was known for High Maintenance, Blichfeld was a casting director, a job at which she was very successful (she won an Emmy for her work on 30 Rock) and at which she arrived via an indirect path. Born in Long Beach, California, to Danish parents, she grew up attending Evangelical Christian schools, where she was taught that much of pop culture was the devil’s doing. “Like I couldn’t watch The Smurfs,” she explains, “because of witchcraft and sorcery.” She spent a couple of semesters at Long Beach City College, dropped out, moved to Chicago, worked in admin at a university, and then, in 2004, followed a relationship that had begun on Friendster to New York. “We were watching a lot of movies together, and the way that I would talk about movies was always very actor-centric. And I remember this person saying, ‘You should be a casting director.’” Blichfeld decided she’d try to get an internship. She made a list of people she wanted to work for, topped with Jennifer McNamara, who had just won a bunch of awards for her work on Sex and the City: “She, being a casting director — you know, very good at seeing potential — saw it in me, lucky me, and took me on.

The life-imitates-art-imitates-life aspect of Blichfeld’s breakup and the show really gets me, too.

On the psychology (and business) of color

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute’s executive director, teaches an annual class on trend forecasting and the psychology of color. She joined Pantone after publishing her 1983 book “Alive With Color,” and she created the color clock concept.

Eiseman believes that our reaction to colors “goes beyond the psychological into the physiological” and that colors carry inherent messages that all humans innately understand — the whispers of that “ancient wisdom.” She doesn’t deny the important influence of memory and social factors on color perception, but often, she says, “our response is involuntary, and we simply have no control over it.” 

Last October, Eiseman published her 10th book, “The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition,” her boldest statement yet on the psychology of color — and one that might rightly be displayed in the self-help section. Consider a chapter titled, “Personal Colors: What Do They Say About You?” which offers a kind of chromatic horoscope that locates truths not in the cosmos but in the spectrum of visible light.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Pantone Color of The Year comes to be, Bruce Falconer’s exploration of the business of color is the place to start.

N.B. I’m pretty sure lilac will be the next millennial pink, but I’m no expert.

The data behind Hollywood’s sexism

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

Dr. Stacy Smith, one of the creators of the inclusion rider, spoke at TEDWomen in 2016 about the epidemic of invisibility in Hollywood. She uses hard data to break down how women and minorities are not just underrepresented in film, they’re erased, and just how pernicious this is for all of us.

Storytelling is so important. Stories tell us what societies value, they offer us lessons, they share and preserve our history. Stories are amazing. But stories don’t give everyone the same opportunity to appear within them, particularly not stories compartmentalized in the form of American movies.

Dr. Smith and her team have done more than 30 investigations over the past ten years on diversity in entertainment. Follow the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at @inclusionists.

Guest editing this week: Chrysanthe Tenentes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

[Hello gang. I am off this week and am very pleased that my pal Chrysanthe Tenentes will be taking over while I’m gone. We haven’t caught up in awhile, so I’m eager to learn what she’s thinking about these days and what she’s been working on. Welcome, Chrysanthe! And I’ll see the rest of you rascals next week. -jason]

Longtime reader, first time guest editor here…I’ve been mostly behind the scenes working on content strategy and other editorial projects the past few years but you may know me from Brooklyn Based, where I was co-founder, Foursquare, where I was an early hire, or The Shed story salon, which I run with friends in Brooklyn. I’m currently on the west coast, consulting for a few clients and about to launch LA IS OK. I’m on Twitter and most things as eqx1979, which is a reference to the alternative radio station I listened to in high school (heart you forever WEQX) and that Smashing Pumpkins song that I apparently liked enough to use in my ICQ screen name that then became all my screen names.

But enough about me, let’s get back to the links! I’m very much looking forward to spending the week with you all.

Miyazaki’s layouts for Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite Miyazaki movie, and maybe my favorite movie, outright; I wrote a little bit about why in this essay.

Every frame of the film is magnificent, as these layouts help to show (I’m only including one, from one of my favorite scenes, plus the finished version; there are more at the Ghibli Collector Tumblr).



(Via Thomas Houston.)

A week without plastic

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

a week of plastic.jpg

The Guardian asked four writers to try to minimize their use of plastic and keep a diary of how much they used over a week. To no one’s surprise, it’s difficult to avoid plastic altogether, but I suspect anyone would be stunned at just how much of it there is.

Before going to bed I wash my face with micellar water (which comes in a plastic bottle), use an interdental tooth brush (plastic), and take out my monthly contacts (plastic). I’ve barely done anything today, but the pile in the corner of the kitchen is getting bigger. On day two, the plastic onslaught continues; now I’m looking for it, I see it everywhere. Thanks to a cold, I go through multiple plastic-wrapped packets of tissues. A pizza delivery arrives with unnecessary plastic cutlery and a plastic-wrapped chocolate bar. I get my (acrylic) nails done, receive some clothes from Asos which come in plastic packaging, as does the ink for my printer…

Five days in and I’m amazed to realise how much I have accrued, from the Amazon delivery which arrives wrapped in bubbles and film, to the balloons we blow up for my flatmate’s birthday (latex, not plastic, but very much single use). The morning after her party, the flat is full of plastic cups, straws and bottles; soon thrown away in several plastic bin bags. I need some help; I speak to Andrew Pankhurst, a consumer campaigns manager from Zero Waste Scotland. He takes a look at my diary and has a few tips, from sharing printer cartridges with flatmates to putting a recycling bin in the bathroom. Could I possibly remove plastic from my everyday life?

This reminds me of something materials scientist Deb Chachra told me once: that as petroleum gets harder and harder for us to find economically, we might start to worry less about peak gasoline than we do about peak plastic.

Hacking the lottery

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

Jerry and Marge Selbee were a semi-retired couple in rural Michigan who ran a convenience store. Among their biggest sellers were lottery tickets. One day, Jerry realized that if you only played on certain “roll-down” days (when a four-out-of-six winner would get part of a five-out-of-six prize, and so on), the odds weren’t just better for players; they were positive. You just had to buy a lot of tickets.

Lottery terminals in convenience stores could print only 10 slips of paper at a time, with up to 10 lines of numbers on each slip (at $1 per line), which meant that if you wanted to bet $100,000 on Winfall, you had to stand at a machine for hours upon hours, waiting for the machine to print 10,000 tickets. Code in the purchase. Push the “Print” button. Wait at least a full minute for the 10 slips to emerge. Code in the next purchase. Hit “Print.” Wait again. Jerry and Marge knew all the convenience store owners in town, so no one gave them a hard time when they showed up in the morning to print tickets literally all day. If customers wondered why the unassuming couple had suddenly developed an obsession with gambling, they didn’t ask. Sometimes the tickets jammed, or the cartridges ran out of ink. “You just have to set there,” Jerry said.

The Selbees stacked their tickets in piles of $5,000, rubber-banded them into bundles and then, after a drawing, convened in their living room in front of the TV, sorting through tens or even hundreds of thousands of tickets, separating them into piles according to their value (zero correct numbers, two, three, four, five). Once they counted all the tickets, they counted them again, just to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. If Jerry had the remote, they’d watch golf or the History Channel, and if Marge had it, “House Hunters” on HGTV. “It looked extremely tedious and boring, but they didn’t view it that way,” recalled their daughter Dawn. “They trained their minds. Literally, they’d pick one up, look at it, put it down. Pick one up, put it down.” Dawn tried to help but couldn’t keep pace; for each ticket she completed, Jerry or Marge did 10.

Naturally, of course, the couple hits trouble when they shift their game to Massachusetts and bumps up against a group of MIT students who have the same idea. Hijinks ensue.

The history of “I am,” “to be,” “it was”

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

Arika Okrent is one of my favorite writers. She’s a linguist who specializes in breaking down experientially rich but conceptually knotty problems in language for a lay audience. For the last few years she’s been writing for Mental Floss — see “The Evolution of ‘Two’,” this short essay on Plains Indian Sign Language, or especially her series of YouTube videos, of which the bit on irregular verbs up top is one.

Anyways, now she’s contributing to Curiosity, and one of her first essays is on the history and structure of that most irregular and polysemic of English verbs, “to be.

Most verbs stay basically the same in different grammatical roles. “Walk” looks like “walks” and “walked.” But the word “be” looks nothing like the word “am,” which looks nothing like the word “were.” This unusual circumstance came to be over thousands of years and can be traced back to an ancient ancestor of English.

That ancestor had three different verbs that gave rise to the different forms. “Am” and “is” go back to one of them. “Be,” “being,” and “been” go back to another verb meaning “to become” or “grow.” “Was” and “were” go back to yet another verb meaning “remain” or “stay.” Over thousands of years, these concepts and forms coalesced into a verb with a single identity, but hundreds of specific meanings.

The sounds of an Antarctic glacier

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2018

Peter Neff is part of a team drilling ice cores from glaciers in Antarctica to look at how the climate has changed. But after they’ve done their work, they have a little fun dropping chunks of ice down the bore holes to make really cool noises (sound on, headphones recommended).

Oh, that *peeewwww* as it hits the bottom! See also the wonderful sounds of black ice skating, an incredible photo of the black ice covering an Antarctic lake, and “Whumph”: the sound of settling Antarctic snow.

Is Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son the most disturbing painting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2018

In the latest installment of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak explains why Francisco Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son is so disturbing, not only from the standpoint of the subject matter but also the circumstances surrounding its creation.

I am especially fond of Art History Nerdwriter because the first video of his I ever watched was on Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates. I’ve been a fan ever since.

How ants build bridges using very simple rules

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2018

Check out these army ants building an ant bridge across a gap that suddenly widens:

Army ants have tiny brains and no one’s in charge. So how do they organize themselves into building bridges? They rely on their strength in numbers and simple rules.

To see how this unfolds, take the perspective of an ant on the march. When it comes to a gap in its path, it slows down. The rest of the colony, still barreling along at 12 centimeters per second, comes trampling over its back. At this point, two simple rules kick in.

The first tells the ant that when it feels other ants walking on its back, it should freeze. “As long as someone walks over you, you stay put,” Garnier said.

This same process repeats in the other ants: They step over the first ant, but — uh-oh — the gap is still there, so the next ant in line slows, gets trampled and freezes in place. In this way, the ants build a bridge long enough to span whatever gap is in front of them. The trailing ants in the colony then walk over it.

See also How many stupid things become smart together.
(via fairly interesting)

Flowers freezing, flowers burning, flowers blooming

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2018

In his short film Dance Dance, director Thomas Blanchard represents all four seasons by showing flowers blooming, submerged in water that freezes over, burning, and shrouded in clouds of colorful inks. I could have watched the flowers freezing over part for many more minutes. (via colossal)

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