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Iran’s Qajar Dynasty, Modernized

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Qajar, Shadi Ghadirian

Qajar, Shadi Ghadirian

For her photo series Qajar, Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian styled her subjects and their backgrounds as they would have appeared in portraits taken during Iran’s Qajar Dynasty in the 19th century. But each subject is also posed with a contemporary object like a boombox, bicycle, soda can, or vacuum cleaner. Ghadirian says of her work: “My pictures became a mirror reflecting how I felt: we are stuck between tradition and modernity.”

Black Photo Booth

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Black Photo Booth

Mariame Kaba has been collecting photo booth portraits of black people for years and built a website that displays a selection of them.

I’ve been collecting found images of Black people for many years. Some of my favorites are photo booth portraits. They often show Black people of different ages, genders, classes in serious and also playful poses. Usually, there are no names listed so these anonymous people invite the viewer to use their imagination in crafting a story about their lives.

Tonight’s Classic Radiohead Concert Is From 1994

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Since early April, Radiohead has been putting video of one classic concert a week up on YouTube (playlist here). Tonight’s show, which starts streaming at 5pm ET, is from a really interesting point in the band’s evolution. In May 1994, Radiohead had released only one album (Pablo Honey) and no one knew whether they were going to be anything more than a one-hit wonder. At the time, the group was in the midst of recording The Bends and the setlist contains several songs from that album, including Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, My Iron Lungs, and Just.

The release of The Bends and the reception to it established Radiohead as a group to be taken seriously and set the stage for OK Computer launching them into the critical stratosphere. As Jonny Greenwood later recounted: “That’s when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band”. Really excited to watch this one.

Welcome to American Capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

From an April 17th Facebook post by Paul Field, a succinct summary of how the pandemic exposes American deficiencies. It’s tough to not just quote the whole thing, so here’s the beginning:

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you need to know how silly you look if you post some variation of, “Welcome to Socialism…”

You are not seeing Socialism. What you are seeing is one of the wealthiest, geographically advantaged, productive capitalist societies in the world flounder and fail at its most basic test. Taking care of its people.

This crisis is not about the virus.

This crisis is about the massive failure of our, “Booming economy,” to survive even modest challenges. It is about the market dissonance of shortages in stores, even as farmers/producers destroy unused crops and products. This crisis is about huge corporations needing an emergency bailout within days of the longest Bull Market in our history ending and despite the ability to borrow with zero percent interest rates.

The pandemic has revealed that American democracy and our economic system is extremely fragile. Ok, unless you’re wealthy, in which case you’re going to be fine, all part of the plan, etc.

Postmastectomy Tattooing Helps Women with Breast Cancer Heal

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Postmastectomy Tattoos

Postmastectomy Tattoos

David Allen is a tattoo artist who does postmastectomy tattooing. He works with women who survive breast cancer to design and implement tattoos that cover scarring from mastectomies, transforming what might be seen as a destructive disfigurement into something creative and beautiful. Here’s Allen writing for The Journal of the American Medical Association (abstract):

I am a tattoo artist who works with women after they’ve had mastectomies to transform their sense of disfigurement and loss of control into feelings of beauty and agency. On a good day, I can heal with my art.

The women with breast cancer with whom I work share a feeling that they’ve been acted upon — by cancer, the health industrial complex and its agents, the sequelae of their treatments. Their physical and psychological points of reference are destabilized, having changed so quickly. A successful tattooing experience establishes a new point of reference, a marker that’s intimately theirs that replaces their sense of rupture and damage with an act of creation and, in my work, images of natural life.

Allen even does “solidarity tattoos” for his clients’ partners and friends. You can see more of his postmastectomy work on Instagram.

NASA & SpaceX Scheduled to Launch Astronauts Into Orbit From US Soil for First Time in 9 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

NASA and SpaceX are scheduled to launch two astronauts into orbit this afternoon from the United States for the first time in nine years. The launch is scheduled to take place at 4:33 p.m. EDT. We’ll be watching for sure!

SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, May 27 for Falcon 9’s launch of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration (Demo-2) mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This test flight with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the Dragon spacecraft will return human spaceflight to the United States.

The mission is also the first time a private company will carry humans into orbit. You can watch the launch in the stream above with commentary (the coverage has already started — the astronauts just suited up and are on their way to launchpad 39A and now Kelly Clarkson is singing the National Anthem from her house) or with just the audio feed from Mission Control. And you can read more about the mission here.

Update: The launch got scrubbed for today — poor weather conditions. The next launch window is Saturday, May 30 at 3:22pm ET.

Full-Day Rotation of the Earth Around a Stationary Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Last year I posted a pair of videos showing a sky-stabilized rotation of the Earth around the starry sky. Because the Earth is our vantage point, we’re not used to seeing this view and it’s pretty trippy.

Now Bartosz Wojczyński has created a video showing full-day rotation of the Earth with footage shot in Namibia. The rotation is sped up to take only 24 seconds and is repeated 60 times to simulate about 2 months of rotation. I find this very relaxing to watch, like I’m riding in a very slow clothes dryer.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo.

Errol Morris’s Next Documentary Is About Psychedelic Guru Timothy Leary

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

The next documentary film from Errol Morris is about LSD advocate Timothy Leary and will debut on Showtime later in the year. The film is still untitled but is based on a memoir by Joanna Harcourt-Smith called Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story.

A FILM BY ERROL MORRIS (w/t) asks the question why Leary, the High Priest of LSD, became a narc in 1974 and seemingly abandoned the millions he urged to turn on, tune in and drop out. Was his “perfect love” Joanna Harcourt-Smith a government pawn, as suggested by Allen Ginsberg? Or was she simply a rich, beautiful, young woman out for the adventure of a lifetime? Morris and Harcourt-Smith will reexamine this chaotic period of her life and explore the mystery of the Leary saga: his period of exile, reimprisonment and subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Devotion or selfishness? Perfect love or outright betrayal? Destiny or manipulation?

This is Morris’s second foray into the topic of LSD — his 2017 Netflix series Wormwood explored the use of the drug by the CIA.

“New” Philip Glass Music, Rediscovered After 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts

In 1970, right in the middle of his minimalist period, Philip Glass composed a work called Music in Eight Parts. It was performed a few times and then lost to the sands of time.

It’s theorized that after Glass’s 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach landed the composer in a fair amount of debt, Glass was forced to sell a number of scores. In Glass’s archive, only fragmentary sketches of MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS remained as evidence of the piece’s existence. Glass “never intended this early music to last” and yet these pieces have ended up being some of his most appreciated. MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS is immediately recognizable as being of Glass’s minimalist musical language in full stride and it is played with absolute mastery by the specialists of this repertoire.

The manuscript was rediscovered in 2017 and plans were made to perform the work in a series of European concerts. The pandemic intervened, so several members of the Philip Glass Ensemble each recorded their parts at home and they’ve released a recording online (Spotify, Apple Music).

You can see some of the individual recordings in the middle part of this video:

The cover art is by Sol LeWitt, who used to send Glass random $1000 checks. See also a writeup of the music in the NY Times, listen to a snippet of an archival performance of the piece from the 70s, and the manuscript itself, which sold at auction in 2017 for $43,750.

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts score

Knight Rider for 8 Cellos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

This is a video of the Knight Rider theme song arranged for 8 cellos by Samara Ginsberg. You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not. When I was in college, a friend who DJ’d campus parties used to throw the Knight Rider theme on and people always went nuts for it. Because it BANGS.

The Country with the Best Covid-19 Response? Mongolia.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Mongolia Covid-19 response

Several countries have had solid responses to the Covid-19 pandemic: Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. But Indi Samarajiva thinks we should be paying much more attention to Mongolia, a country of 3.17 million people where no one has died and no locally transmitted cases have been reported.1 Let’s have that again: 3.17 million people, 0 local cases, 0 deaths. How did they do it? They saw what was happening in Wuhan, coordinated with the WHO, and acted swiftly & decisively in January.

Imagine that you could go back in time to January 23rd with the horse race results and, I dunno, the new iPhone. People believe you. China has just shut down Hubei Province, the largest cordon sanitaire in human history. What would you scream to your leaders? What would you tell them to do?

You’d tell them that this was serious and that it’s coming for sure. You’d tell them to restrict the borders now, to socially distance now, and to get medical supplies ready, also now. You’d tell them to react right now, in January itself. That’s 20/20 hindsight.

That’s exactly what Mongolia did, and they don’t have a time machine. They just saw what was happening in Hubei, they coordinated with China and the WHO, and they got their shit together fast. That’s their secret, not the elevation. They just weren’t dumb.

When you go to World In Data’s Coronavirus Data Explorer and click on “Mongolia” to add their data to the graph, nothing happens because they have zero reported cases and zero deaths. They looked at the paradox of preparation — the idea that “when the best way to save lives is to prevent a disease rather than treat it, success often looks like an overreaction” — and said “sign us up for the overreacting!”

Throughout February, Mongolia was furiously getting ready - procuring face masks, test kits, and PPE; examining hospitals, food markets, and cleaning up the city. Still no reported cases. Still no let-up in readiness. No one was like “it’s not real!” or “burn the 5G towers!”

The country also suspended their New Year celebrations, which are a big deal in Asia. They deployed hundreds of people and restricted intercity travel to make sure, though the public seemed to broadly support the move.

Again — and I’ll keep saying this until March — there were still NO CASES. If you want to know how Mongolia ended up with no local cases, it’s because they reacted when there were no local cases. And they kept acting.

For example, when they heard of a case across the border (ie, not in Mongolia) South Gobi declared an emergency and put everyone in masks. The center also shut down coal exports — a huge economic hit, which they took proactively.

As you can see, at every turn they’re reacting like other countries only did when it was too late. This looked like an over-reaction, but in fact, Mongolia was always on time.

I have to tell you true: I got really upset reading this. Like crying and furious. The United States could have done this. Italy could have done this. Brazil could have done this. Sweden could have done this. England could have done this. Spain could have done this. Mongolia listened to the experts, acted quickly, and kept their people safe. Much of the rest of the world, especially the western world — the so-called first-world countries — failed to act quickly enough and hundreds of thousands of people have needlessly died and countless others have been left with chronic health issues, grief, and economic chaos.

  1. If you look at the list of cases at the bottom of this article (translated by Google), you can see that every reported case is from people coming into the country who were tested and quarantined.

Squirt Gun Baptisms

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Water Gun Baptism

Water Gun Baptism

Social distancing priests are performing baptisms with water guns. This is definitely a metaphor for something but I don’t know what. Or like something out of a Tarantino screwball comedy — “And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my Super Soaker CPS 2000 upon thee…” Love the social distancing though. More here.

US Covid-19 Death Toll Nears 100,000

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2020

NY Times Covid-19 Front Page

That’s the front page of the NY Times today, listing the names of hundreds of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19 (the full listing is of ~1000 names and continues inside the paper).

NY Times Covid-19 Obituaries Detail

Here’s a more readable PDF version and an online version that scrolls and scrolls and scrolls. They compiled the list by going through obituaries from local newspapers from around the countries.

Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.

Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:

“Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … “

“Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … “

“Florencio Almazo Morán, 65, New York City, one-man army … “

“Coby Adolph, 44, Chicago, entrepreneur and adventurer … “

Every one of these names was a person with a whole life behind them and so much more to come. Each has a family and friends who are mourning them. Here are a few more of their names and short stories:

Romi Cohn, 91, New York City, saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo.

Jermaine Ferro, 77, Lee County, Fla., wife with little time to enjoy a new marriage.

Julian Anguiano-Maya, 51, Chicago, life of the party.

Alan Merrill, 69, New York City, songwriter of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Lakisha Willis White, 45, Orlando, Fla., was helping to raise some of her dozen grandchildren.

In the past five months, more Americans have died from Covid-19 than in the decade-plus of the Vietnam War and the death toll is a third of the number of Americans who died in World War II. When this is over (whatever that means), the one thing we cannot do is forget all of these people. And we owe to them to make this mean something.

Bill Gates’ Pandemic Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As he does every year, Bill Gates has shared his reading list for this summer. This time around, he’s included more than his usual five picks and many of the recommendations have a connection to the ongoing pandemic.

Of The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, he says:

This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma. Eger was only sixteen years old when she and her family got sent to Auschwitz. After surviving unbelievable horrors, she moved to the United States and became a therapist. Her unique background gives her amazing insight, and I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

He also recommends The Great Influenza by John Barry, Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

For years, I was a skeptic about meditation. Now I do it as often as I can — three times a week, if time allows. Andy’s book and the app he created, Headspace, are what made me a convert. Andy, a former Buddhist monk, offers lots of helpful metaphors to explain potentially tricky concepts in meditation. At a time when we all could use a few minutes to de-stress and re-focus each day, this is a great place to start.

Gates also recommended some TV shows and movies — Netflix’s Pandemic but also Ozark. He read Cloud Atlas recently — I wonder if he’s seen the movie by the Wachowskis (which is underrated IMO)?

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back Into the Water…

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As summer ramps up in North America, people are looking to get out to enjoy the weather while also trying to keep safe from Covid-19 infection. Here in Vermont, I am very much looking forward to swim hole season and have been wondering if swimming is a safe activity during the pandemic. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan wrote about the difficulty of opening pools back up this summer:

The coronavirus can’t remain infectious in pool water, multiple experts assured me, but people who come to pools do not stay in the water the entire time. They get out, sit under the sun, and, if they’re like my neighbors, form a circle and drink a few illicit White Claws. Social-distancing guidelines are quickly forgotten.

“If someone is swimming laps, that would be pretty safe as long as they’re not spitting water everywhere,” says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University. “But a Las Vegas-type pool party, that would be less safe, because people are just hanging out and breathing on each other.”

This story by Christopher Reynolds in the LA Times focuses more on transmission via water (pool water, salt water, river/lake water).

“There is no data that somebody got infected this way [with coronavirus],” said professor Karin B. Michels, chair of UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology, in a recent interview.

“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean,” said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”

As long as you keep your distance of course:

Rather than worry about coronavirus in water, UCLA’s Michels and USC’s Cannon said, swimmers should stay well separated and take care before and after entering the pool, lake, river or sea.

“I would be more concerned about touching the same lockers or surfaces in the changing room or on the benches outside the pool. Those are higher risk than the water itself,” Michels said. “The other thing is you have to maintain distance. … More distance is always better.”

Sorta related but not really: ten meters is definitely more distance.