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Entries for January 2021 (Archives)

 

Bubble Wrap Portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

Darian Mederos

Darian Mederos

Darian Mederos

Cuban-born Darian Mederos does oil portraits that look like they are covered in bubble wrap. You can check out more of his work on Instagram.

Scenes from the Second Civil War

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

In the hours after the January 6th terror attack on Congress, it seemed as though the early understanding was that a bunch of giddy goofballs — oops! — forced their way into the Capitol Building for funsies and photo ops. The stupid coup. As time passes and more photos & videos are released and reporting is done, the picture emerging is of a violent attack on members of Congress, their staff, and Capitol Police & other law enforcement officers by an armed & savage mob who narrowly missed assaulting, kidnapping, or even murdering members of Congress by mere minutes.

This is an account of the rioters’ siege of the Capitol Building from the perspective of the DC police. The terrorists likened their actions to those in 1776; it certainly was a war-like atmosphere:

“We weren’t battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel,” he said in the first public account from D.C. police officers who fought to protect the Capitol during last week’s siege. “We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene.”

Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs. Police said that chaotic and violent scene was captured in a video that would later spread widely on the Internet.

Rioters swarmed, battering the officers with metal pipes peeled from scaffolding and a pole with an American flag attached, police said. Both were struck with stun guns. Fanone suffered a mild heart attack and drifted in and out of consciousness.

All the while, the mob was chanting “U.S.A.” over and over and over again.

“We got one! We got one!” Fanone said he heard rioters shout. “Kill him with his own gun!”

This was a “coordinated assault”:

Looking over the chaotic scene in front of him from the Capitol steps, Glover grew concerned as the battle raged. There were people caught up in the moment, he said, doing things they would not ordinarily do. But many appeared to be on a mission, and they launched what he and the police chief described as a coordinated assault.

“Everything they did was in a military fashion,” Glover said, saying he witnessed rioters apparently using hand signs and waving flags to signal positions, and using what he described as “military formations.” They took high positions and talked over wireless communications.

Authorities would later learn that some former members of the military and off-duty police officers from across the country were in the pro-Trump crowd. Glover called it disturbing that off-duty police “would knowingly and intentionally come to the United States Capitol and engage in this riotous and criminal behavior against their brothers and sisters in uniform, who are upholding their oaths of office.”

Blue Lives Matter…until they have the gall to get in the way of what you feel entitled to:

“The zealotry of these people is absolutely unreal,” said Hodges, who suffered from a severe headache but otherwise emerged unhurt. “There were points where I thought it was possible I could either die or become seriously disfigured.”

Still, Hodges said, he did not want to turn to his gun.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day,” he said. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”

Two of the officers interviewed for this story spoke to CNN for this report:

Officer Michael Fanone found himself in the midst of the insurrectionists and then briefly shielded from harm by some of the rioters after shouting “I have kids”. He had this to say to those who protected him: “Thank you. But fuck you for being there.”

The Storm Is Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

From Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker, Among the Insurrectionists is an amazing and surreal account of how the January 6th domestic terror assault on Congress1 unfolded. (Note: This piece contains accounts of violence and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic language.)

The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776 — it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. … USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert — a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol — had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”

When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.

“Where the fuck are they?”

“Where the fuck is Nancy?”

No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.

Notably, the piece places the insurrection in the proper context alongside Trump’s campaign of misinformation (which began even before his Presidency and has focused heavily on election fraud) and as part of an escalating series of actions by militant fascist groups in DC and around the country.

In the days before January 6th, calls for a “real solution” became progressively louder. Trump, by both amplifying these voices and consolidating his control over the Republican Party, conferred extraordinary influence on the most deranged and hateful elements of the American right. On December 20th, he retweeted a QAnon supporter who used the handle @cjtruth: “It was a rigged election but they were busted. Sting of the Century! Justice is coming!” A few weeks later, a barbarian with a spear was sitting in the Vice-President’s chair.

Cause, effect. Here are more instances, from various times during the past few months:

It was clear that the men outside Harry’s on December 12th had travelled to D.C. to engage in violence, and that they believed the President endorsed their doing so. Trump had made an appearance at the previous rally, waving through the window of his limousine; now I overheard a Proud Boy tell his comrade, “I wanna see Trump drive by and give us one of these.” He flashed an “O.K.” hand sign, which has become a gesture of allegiance among white supremacists. There would be no motorcade this time, but while Fuentes addressed the groypers Trump circled Freedom Plaza in Marine One, the Presidential helicopter.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump’s histrionic exaggerations of the threat posed by Antifa fuelled conservative support for the Proud Boys, allowing them to vastly expand their operations and recruitment. The day after a Presidential debate in which Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Lauren Witzke, a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, publicly thanked the group for having provided her with “free security.”

Early returns showed Trump ahead in Michigan, but many absentee ballots had yet to be processed. Because Trump had relentlessly denigrated absentee voting throughout the campaign, in-person votes had been expected to skew his way. It was similarly unsurprising when his lead diminished after results arrived from Wayne County and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, Trump launched his post-election misinformation campaign: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

The next day, I found an angry mob outside the T.C.F. Center. Police officers guarded the doors. Most of the protesters had driven down from Macomb County, which is eighty per cent white and went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “We know what’s going on here,” one man told me. “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. … We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.

Mogelson has reported on wars in Afghanistan and Syria — and now in America. You should read the whole thing.

  1. I’ve seen many folks and media outlets refer to the events of January 6, 2021 as an attack “on the Capitol”. While that is technically correct, focusing on the venue obscures the true target: Congress. This was an attack on the entire legislative branch of the United States government. Being explicit about that point is important.

Sisters with Transistors: Electronic Music’s Unsung Heroines

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

Sisters with Transistors (great title!) is a documentary film by Lisa Rovner about the overlooked female pioneers of electronic music.

The history of women has been a history of silence.

As one of the film’s subjects, Laurie Spiegel explains: “We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial. Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others without having to be taken seriously by the male dominated Establishment.”

The film’s subjects, which you can read about here, include Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel. Oram, for example, was one of the founding members of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop:

With many of her country’s men serving in the second World War, she began her career in radio broadcasting in the early ’40s. Galvanized by the ongoing developments in audio technology, she devoted much of her free time to exploring new ways to make sounds with electronics. One of the founding figures of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, she was one of the earliest British composers to produce electronic sounds and compose from field recordings — Musique Concrete, the ancestry of today’s electronic music.

Sisters with Transistors has been playing at some online festivals but I couldn’t find any info about release dates or screenings in the US. Hopefully it will be out there soon? (via open culture)

This Sulawesi Warty Pig Is the World’s Oldest Figurative Artwork

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

cave painting of a pig

According to a study published this week, archaeologists have determined that a recently discovered cave painting of a warty pig is at least 45,500 years old. From the NY Times:

In a hidden valley on an Indonesian island, there is a cave decorated with what may be the oldest figurative art ever glimpsed by modern eyes.

The vivid depiction of a wild pig, outlined and filled in with mulberry-hued pigment, dates back at least 45,500 years, according to a study published on Wednesday in Science Advances. It was discovered deep inside a cave called Leang Tedongnge in December 2017, during an archaeological survey led by Basran Burhan, a graduate student at Griffith University and co-author of the new research. The animal in the painting resembles the warty pig, a species still living today on the island of Sulawesi where the cave is.

Still up for debate: who painted it? Not the individual who painted it — we’ll never know that — but what species painted it.

Human skeletal remains as old as 45,500 years have never been found in Sulawesi, so it is not clear that the artists were anatomically modern humans. The islands that are now called Indonesia were inhabited by different hominins — the broader family to which humans belong — over long periods of time. Some of these hominin remains date “to over a million years old,” said Rasmi Shoocongdej, an archaeologist at Silpakorn University in Thailand who was not involved in the study.

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

This is an astute observation by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, in the wake of the 1/6 terror attack on Congress:

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice — and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks — and all the more apparent yesterday — is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

If you have full-throated democracy in the contemporary American demographic landscape, a white supremacist Republican party can’t win elections in many states. So they subvert democracy itself by disenfranchising voters (what Ibram X. Kendi calls voter subtraction) and, when that fails, they spread misinformation about unfair elections, attempt to cancel hundreds of thousands of lawful votes cast by US citizens, and execute a poorly planned coup to terrorize lawmakers into capitulating to their demands. Either white supremacy goes or democracy does — that’s our choice. (thx, betty)

Lava Lamps Help Keep The Internet Secure??

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

Web performance and security company Cloudflare uses a wall of lava lamps to generate random numbers to help keep the internet secure. Random numbers generated by computers are often not exactly random, so what Cloudflare does is take photos of the lamps’ activities and uses the uncertainty of the lava blooping up and down to generate truly random numbers. Here’s a look at how the process works:

At Cloudflare, we have thousands of computers in data centers all around the world, and each one of these computers needs cryptographic randomness. Historically, they got that randomness using the default mechanism made available by the operating system that we run on them, Linux.

But being good cryptographers, we’re always trying to hedge our bets. We wanted a system to ensure that even if the default mechanism for acquiring randomness was flawed, we’d still be secure. That’s how we came up with LavaRand.

LavaRand is a system that uses lava lamps as a secondary source of randomness for our production servers. A wall of lava lamps in the lobby of our San Francisco office provides an unpredictable input to a camera aimed at the wall. A video feed from the camera is fed into a CSPRNG [cryptographically-secure pseudorandom number generator], and that CSPRNG provides a stream of random values that can be used as an extra source of randomness by our production servers. Since the flow of the “lava” in a lava lamp is very unpredictable, “measuring” the lamps by taking footage of them is a good way to obtain unpredictable randomness. Computers store images as very large numbers, so we can use them as the input to a CSPRNG just like any other number.

(via open culture)

This Is Not Who We Are?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

comic of This Is Not Who We Are?

A short tour of America’s fascist history from comic artist Keith Knight, who you can also find here. (via ibram kendi)

The Right’s “Respectable” Rioters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Adam Serwer writing at The Atlantic: The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’.

They were business owners, CEOs, state legislators, police officers, active and retired service members, real-estate brokers, stay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

The Big Lie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

From Timothy Snyder, an incredible piece on Trump, the coup attempt, and this fascist moment in American history. (Snyder, you may remember, wrote about 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism from the 20th century shortly after the 2016 election that he later turned into a book.)

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo. More productively, the philosopher Jason Stanley has treated fascism as a phenomenon, as a series of patterns that can be observed not only in interwar Europe but beyond it.

My own view is that greater knowledge of the past, fascist or otherwise, allows us to notice and conceptualize elements of the present that we might otherwise disregard and to think more broadly about future possibilities. It was clear to me in October that Trump’s behavior presaged a coup, and I said so in print; this is not because the present repeats the past, but because the past enlightens the present.

Snyder quotes Hannah Arendt in this piece and I’m going share a quote of hers I’ve shared before:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

I think about her last line all the time: “And with such a people you can then do what you please.” Like make them assault Congress on behalf of yourself and your political party. This was not Snyder’s closing paragraph, but I’m going to end this post with it:

The lie outlasts the liar. The idea that Germany lost the First World War in 1918 because of a Jewish “stab in the back” was 15 years old when Hitler came to power. How will Trump’s myth of victimhood function in American life 15 years from now? And to whose benefit?

The lie outlasts the liar. Read the whole piece; it’s great.

Congress Is Under Attack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Details from the 1/6 terrorist attack on Congress continue to trickle out. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not in the Capitol during the event, but said in an hour-long Instagram Live video that she had a “very close encounter” that day and thought she was going to die. Here’s Ocasio-Cortez quoted by Emma Gray:

“Wednesday was an extremely traumatizing event. And it was not an exaggeration to say that many members of the House were nearly assassinated.”

She also felt unsafe around other members of Congress — From Buzzfeed News:

The Democrat said that she worried during the storming of the Capitol about other members of Congress knowing her location and did not feel safe going to the same secure location as her colleagues because of members who believe in the QAnon collective delusion and “frankly, white supremacist members of Congress … who I know and who I have felt would disclose my location,” saying she was concerned there were colleagues “who would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped, etc.” She said that she “didn’t feel safe around other members of Congress.”

Not an unfounded fear — Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, gun nut and QAnon supporter, tweeted about Speaker Pelosi’s location while terrorists were storming the Capitol Building. And several Republicans refused to wear masks while in lockdown in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion and now three Democratic lawmakers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Members of Congress briefed by security and law enforcement agencies (FBI, DoD, DHS, Secret Service) say that more attacks are planned in the coming days and weeks:

“Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” that group of Democratic chairs said in a cryptic statement after the meeting on Tuesday. The briefing included the chairs and other top members of the House Oversight, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Armed Services and Intelligence panels.

“It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead,” the statement said.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns moments after a public FBI and Justice Department briefing revealed their belief that the Jan. 6 violence could be part of a much graver, well-organized “seditious conspiracy.”

What an remarkable collection of statements & events. This is not going away. Any elected official who supported this coup effort must resign or be removed from office. How can you “secure Congress” when members of Congress are part of the effort to subvert it?

FedEx Shipping Damage Creates Fractured Artworks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2021

Walead Beshty's FedEx artworks

Walead Beshty's FedEx artworks

Walead Beshty's FedEx artworks

Walead Beshty's FedEx artworks

Since 2007, artist Walead Beshty has been cleverly using FedEx’s shipping infrastructure to create a series of artworks. He constructs glass objects that fit exactly into FedEx’s shipping boxes and then ships them to galleries and museums without any protection against damage. Any cracks or breaks in the glass became part of the work upon display at its destination. According this interview, part of what interested Beshty about doing this project related to the proprietary sizes of FedEx’s boxes:

As for the corporate dimension, I was aware that standard FedEx boxes are SSCC coded (serial shipping container code), a code that is held by FedEx and excludes other shippers from registering a box with the same dimensions. In other words, the size of an official FedEx box, not just its design, is proprietary; it is a volume of space which is a property exclusive to FedEx. When thinking about the work, its scale and so on, it made sense to adhere to that proprietary volume, because, as a modular, it had a real and preexisting significance in daily life, it was common, specific, and immediately familiar. That is, it had an iconic resonance that a more arbitrary form or shape wouldn’t have.

And each time the work is shipped — say from one gallery to another — it’s unwittingly altered further by a system created by a massive multinational corporation:

Rather than thinking in terms of the Duchampian readymade, which is most often understood as operating iconically — as in the appropriation and repositioning of a static thing — I was thinking of readymade systems of production, of using pre-existing active systems to produce a work. No object is truly static anyway, so this opened up broader questions I had about the tradition of appropriation, the way it froze cultural signifiers and reapplied them to other contexts, treated images as dead, static things… The object isn’t treated differently than other FedEx packages, I simply used FedEx to transport an object that registers how the system treated it in aesthetic terms. The result is that the object is constantly changing. Every time the work is shipped it goes through a material transformation.

This Is Who We Are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2021

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding — the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery — the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people — as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups — America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.

The Cute New Burger King Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

I’d like to take a brief moment at the end of this weird and difficult week to appreciate this monogram that’s part of Burger King’s new brand identity.

Burger King monogram logo

B + K + burger = perfect. I hereby dub this new tiny logo “The Slider”. It was designed by Stephen Kelleher Studio; you can see some of their other “explorations” as they worked on refining the finished monogram. Reminds me of Sandwich’s excellent logo.

How the NY Times Got the Pentagon Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who was a Vietnam War correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize, and obtained the Pentagon Papers for the Times, died yesterday at the age of 84. In an interview to be published posthumously, Sheehan revealed for the first time how he obtained the classified report on the Vietnam War from Daniel Ellsberg.

He also revealed that he had defied the explicit instructions of his confidential source, whom others later identified as Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst who had been a contributor to the secret history while working for the Rand Corporation. In 1969, Mr. Ellsberg had illicitly copied the entire report, hoping that making it public would hasten an end to a war he had come passionately to oppose.

Contrary to what is generally believed, Mr. Ellsberg never “gave” the papers to The Times, Mr. Sheehan emphatically said. Mr. Ellsberg told Mr. Sheehan that he could read them but not make copies. So Mr. Sheehan smuggled the papers out of the apartment in Cambridge, Mass., where Mr. Ellsberg had stashed them; then he copied them illicitly, just as Mr. Ellsberg had done, and took them to The Times.

Over the next two months, he strung Mr. Ellsberg along. He told him that his editors were deliberating about how best to present the material, and he professed to have been sidetracked by other assignments. In fact, he was holed up in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan with the documents and a rapidly expanding team of Times editors and reporters working feverishly toward publication.

What a wild tale. Read the whole thing…the kicker is worth it. Thanks to the efforts of Ellsberg, Sheehan, and other journalists, you can now read the complete non-redacted report on the National Archives website.

“The Climate Crisis Will Be Steroids for Fascism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

For Gizmodo, Brian Kahn writes about what the 1/6 terrorist action at the Capitol Building means for the climate crisis.

Climate change is chaos by nature. It means more powerful storms, more intense wildfires, more extreme floods and droughts. It is an assault on the weakest among us, and decades of the right-wing mindset of small government have left the country with fewer resources to deal with the fallout. As the summer’s wildfires show, the far-right will be there to try to fill the power void. Those fires occurred in a predominantly white region.

There’s a strong strain of white nationalism and neo-Nazism that ran through Wednesday’s insurrection, and it’s easy to imagine what will happen when flames or storms hit places that are predominantly Black, brown, or Indigenous. In fact, we don’t need to imagine it at all. We’ve seen it in the gunman who showed up at a Walmart to kill immigrants whom he falsely blamed for putting strain on the environment. And we saw it in the white vigilante violence in the vacuum after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We’ve seen it so frequently, it even has a name: ecofascism.

After Wednesday, the boundaries of permissible violence have now expanded to a distorting degree, at a time of increasing climate instability. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other extremists literally took over the halls of power and got away with it. When climate change upends communities with far fewer defenses — communities that hate groups already scapegoat — the results will be catastrophic.

As we’ve seen with the pandemic, fascists will use climate chaos to assert dominance and snatch for power. Others will make vast sums of money — and inequality will continue to grow. Creating confusion with misinformation makes all of that easier to manage for these opportunists.

Brazilian Longboard Dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2021

This fun short film by Brett Novak features four skateboarders — Sara Watanabe, Ana Maria Suzano, Beatriz Gavelak, and Teresa Madeline — showing off their longboard dancing skills in Brazil.

The video showcases a style of riding where their wheels stay mostly on the ground, harkening back to skateboarding’s “history of freestyle flat-land skateboarding in the 70’s-80’s and the footwork that longboard surfers sometimes use”.

Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants by Elizabeth Twining (1868)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2021

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

plant illustration by Elizabeth Twining

Nicholas Rougeux has beautifully reproduced & remastered botanical illustrator Elizabeth Twining’s catalog of plants and flowers from 1868, Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants. Each of the 160 illustrations is accompanied by explanatory text from the original book and an interactive version of the image (click on the highlighted plant for more info).

Posters based on the illustrations are available and, get this, so are puzzles!

Free As In Frequent Flyer Miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Buried deep within Jamie Lauren Keiles’ NY Times article about frequent flyer miles and The Points Guy is this economic observation:

A major reason points-and-miles trips exist is because airlines turn a more stable profit by minting their own currencies than by selling actual airline seats. The flight seems almost ancillary to the financial transaction it enables — a trend across the whole economy, where the selling of goods or services serves to enable the collection of data, the absorption of venture capital funds or the levying of hidden transaction fees. In this scheme, posting to social media, or collecting points and miles, or ordering a taxi or a gyro on your phone, is merely a gesture to keep the whole process in motion. The real moneymaking happens behind the scenes, driven by a series of exchanges where value seems conjured from nothing at all.

But of course, value always comes from somewhere. If you trace the thread back on any one of these businesses, it’s always the same deal: The poor underwrite the fantasies of the middle class, who in turn underwrite the realities of the rich. When credit cards charge high interchange fees, they pass the cost of loyalty programs on to merchants, who in turn pass it back to customers by building the fees into their sticker prices. Those who pay with credit can earn it back in points. Those who pay with debit or cash wind up subsidizing someone else’s free vacation. According to a 2010 policy paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average cash-using household paid $149 over the course of a year to card-using households, while each card-using household received $1,133 from cash users, partially in the form of rewards. It remains a regressive transfer to this day.

Emphasis of the second to last sentence is mine.

Tips for a Better Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

On his blog, Conor Barnes shared an eclectic list of 100 Tips For A Better Life. I’m less keen on these sorts of lists than I used to be because they’re often written for people who already have pretty good lives and it’s too easy to imagine that a list advocating the opposite of each tip would also lead to a better life. To be fair, Barnes’ list acknowledges the difficulty with generalized advice:

31. The best advice is personal and comes from somebody who knows you well. Take broad-spectrum advice like this as needed, but the best way to get help is to ask honest friends who love you.

That said, here are some of the list items that resonated with me in some way.

3. Things you use for a significant fraction of your life (bed: 1/3rd, office-chair: 1/4th) are worth investing in.

I recently upgraded my mattress from a cheap memory foam one I’d been using for almost 7 years to a hybrid mattress that was probably 3X the cost but is so comfortable and better for my back.

13. When googling a recipe, precede it with ‘best’. You’ll find better recipes.

I’ve been doing this over the past year with mixed results. Google has become a terrible way to find good recipes, even with this trick. My version of this is googling “kenji {name of dish}” — works great.

27. Discipline is superior to motivation. The former can be trained, the latter is fleeting. You won’t be able to accomplish great things if you’re only relying on motivation.

My motivation is sometimes very low when it comes to working on this here website. But my discipline is off the charts, so it gets done 99 days out of 100, even in a pandemic. (I am still unclear whether this is healthy for me or not…)

46. Things that aren’t your fault can still be your responsibility.

48. Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.

Oh, this used to be me: “I’m this sort of person.” Turns out, not so much.

56. Sometimes unsolvable questions like “what is my purpose?” and “why should I exist?” lose their force upon lifestyle fixes. In other words, seeing friends regularly and getting enough sleep can go a long way to solving existentialism.

75. Don’t complain about your partner to coworkers or online. The benefits are negligible and the cost is destroying a bit of your soul.

Interpreting “partner” broadly here, I completely agree with this one. If they are truly a partner (romantic, business, parenting), complaining is counterproductive. Instead, talk to others about how those relationships can be repaired, strengthened, or, if necessary, brought to an appropriate end.

88. Remember that many people suffer invisibly, and some of the worst suffering is shame. Not everybody can make their pain legible.

91. Human mood and well-being are heavily influenced by simple things: Exercise, good sleep, light, being in nature. It’s cheap to experiment with these.

This is good advice, but some of these things actually aren’t “cheap” for some people.

100. Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.

Oof, this ended on a flat note. Many bad things seem to happen dramatically because we don’t notice the results of small bad decisions accumulating over time that lead to sudden outcomes. Like Hemingway said about how bankruptcy happens: gradually, then suddenly. Lung cancer doesn’t happen suddenly; it’s the 40 years of cigarettes. California’s wildfires are the inevitable result of 250 years of climate change & poor forestry management techniques. Miami and other coastal cities are being slowly claimed by the ocean — they will reach breaking points in the near future. Even the results of something like earthquakes or hurricanes can be traced to insufficient investment in safety measures, policy, etc.

The pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere, but experts in epidemiology & infectious diseases had been warning about a pandemic just like this one for years and even decades. The erosion of public trust in government, the politicization of healthcare, the deemphasis of public health, and the Republican death cult (which is its own slow-developing disaster now reaching a crisis) controlling key aspects of federal, state, and local government made the pandemic impossible to contain in America. (This is true of most acute crises in the United States. Where you find people suffering, there are probably decades or even centuries of public policy to blame.)

Bad news happens slowly and unnoticed all the time. You don’t have to look any further for evidence of this than how numb we are to the fact that thousands of Americans are dying every single day from a disease that we know how to control. So, endeavour to keep track of the bad things to avoid an inaccurate and unrealistically optimistic view of the world — it helps in making a list of injustices to pay attention to and work against.

The Look of the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Look Of The Book

A book? (I love books.) About book cover design? (I love book cover design.) By book cover designer Peter Mendelsund? (I love Peter Mendelsund. Platonically. More as a concept, really — we’ve never met.) And co-written by David Alworth? (I don’t know David Alworth but he seems like a solid chap.) The Look of the Book checks a lot of my boxes and might do so for you as well.

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

See also The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020.

GANksy - an AI Street Artist that Emulates Banksy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

street art made by an AI

street art made by an AI

street art made by an AI

GANksy is an AI program trained on Banksy’s street art.

GANksy was born into the cloud in September 2020, then underwent a strenuous A.I. training regime using hundreds of street art photos for thousands of iterations to become the fully-formed artist we see today. All of GANksy’s works are original creations derived from its understanding of shape, form and texture. GANksy wants to be put into a robot body so it can spraypaint the entire planet.

The results are cool but not super coherent — these look more like abstract NIN and Radiohead album covers than the sly & whimsical works Banksy stencils up around the world. With GANksy, you get the feel of Banksy’s art and the surfaces he chooses to put it on but little of the meaning, which is about what you would expect from training using a neural network based on style.

2000-Year-Old Snack Bar Unearthed in Pompeii

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Pompeii Snack Bar

Pompeii Snack Bar

This was widely shared last week but I wanted to post about it anyway in case you didn’t see it because it seems just so strikingly contemporary: a Roman snack bar from 79 ACE was recently unearthed in Pompeii.

In this new phase of excavation, the last section of the counter to be unearthed revealed other exquisite scenes of still life, with depictions of animals which were likely butchered and sold here. Bone fragments belonging to the same animals were also discovered inside containers embedded in the counter, which held foodstuffs intended for sale, such as in the case of the two mallard ducks shown upside down, ready to be cooked and eaten; a rooster; and a dog on a lead, the latter serving almost as a warning in the manner of the famed Cave Canem.

The photos are blowing my mind here. You never really think about the to-go food stall as an architectural archetype — much less one that’s 2000 years old — but all the elements are right there. It doesn’t look so much different from a hot food bar at an NYC bodega or Whole Foods. Archaeologists also found graffiti scrawled on the wall of the snack bar, just like that on the walls & tables of a place like John’s Pizzeria. You could completely imagine yourself standing there, two millennia ago, looking at the pictures and containers of what’s on offer, ordering some lunch, and chuckling at the graffiti with a pal.

The Last Documented Widow of a Civil War Veteran Has Died

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

On December 16, 2020, Helen Viola Jackson died in Marshfield, Missouri at the age of 101. She was the last known widow of a Civil War veteran, marrying 93-year-old James Bolin in 1936 at the age of 17.

James Bolin was a 93-year-old widower when Jackson’s father volunteered her to stop by his house each day and assist him with chores as she headed home from school.

Bolin, who was a private in the 14th Missouri Cavalry and served until the end of the war in Co. F, did not believe in accepting charity and after a lengthy period of time asked Jackson for her hand in marriage as a way to provide for her future.

“He said that he would leave me his Union pension,” Jackson explained in an interview with Historian Hamilton C. Clark. “It was during the depression and times were hard. He said that it might be my only way of leaving the farm.”

Jackson didn’t talk publicly about her marriage until the last few years and never applied for the pension — the last person receiving a Civil War pension from the US government died in mid-2020. As I wrote then, about the Great Span:

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns.

(via @jerometenk)

Wooden Satellites

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

Wooden Satellites

Researchers at Kyoto University and a Japanese forestry company have joined forces to develop orbital satellites made out of wood, purportedly to address the growing threat of space junk. The design will need to be resistant to dramatic changes in temperature and sunlight but will easy burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere upon reentry.

I love the idea of satellites made from wood — it seems like Victorian-era scifi. The harshness of space seems like a domain exclusively for metals and ceramics, but wood is a surprisingly versatile material used in many different severe environments on Earth. There’s no reason it couldn’t work in space as well — and if their traditional expertise in joinery is any indication, I trust the Japanese to figure out a way make it happen.

But as Ars Technica’s John Timmer notes, wooden satellites won’t meaningfully help with the space junk problem.

Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

The (unrelated) photo above is of toy company Papafoxtrot’s wooden scale models of NASA spacecraft.

Half-Century Mix: 50 Songs from the Last 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2021

DJ Earworm has made a chronological mix of songs, one from each year from 1970 to 2020.1 The Jackson 5 flows into Rod Stewart, Def Leppard into Milli Vanilli, Eric Clapton into Chumbawamba into The Verve, Shakira into Rihanna, and Ed Sheeran into Justin Bieber. Go on then, take a ride.

  1. Ok, the title says “50 Songs from the Last 50 Years” but 1970 to 2020 is really 51 years (and therefore 51 songs). This is a common counting challenge, source of many off-by-one errors in software engineering. The way I learned to deal with it in grade school math class (and how I still think about it) is: are you counting fence posts or the gaps between them? So, a person born in 1970 turned 50 years old in 2020 but a song from each year from 1970 to 2020 totals 51 songs.

    Anyway, I fudged the title to the nice round number of 50. I’m fun at parties!

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