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Fear and Loathing in the Trump White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Bob Woodward’s much-anticipated book, Fear: Trump in the White House, comes out next week. The Washington Post somehow “obtained” a copy (did they swipe it off Woodward’s desk?) and provided a summary of some of the book’s main points.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

The degree to which the people around Trump handle and describe him like a small child is still, after more than a year and a half of this nightmare, completely batshit insane and unbelievable. Arrested development.

Update: All other considerations about the anonymous NY Times opinion piece written by “a senior official in the Trump administration” aside, it’s another example of Trump being treated like a toddler by his staff.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

“Half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back” … “literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next” — is he 3 or 72?

Barack Obama’s end-of-summer reading list for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2018

Earlier this year, before a trip to Africa, President Obama shared a recommended reading list for this summer heavy on African authors.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

With the end of summer approaching (**heavy sobbing**), Obama posted a list of books he’s personally been reading over the past few months.

Tara Westover’s Educated is a remarkable memoir of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in Idaho who strives for education while still showing great understanding and love for the world she leaves behind.

Set after WWII, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is a meditation on the lingering effects of war on family.

With the recent passing of V.S. Naipaul, I reread A House for Mr Biswas, the Nobel Prize winner’s first great novel about growing up in Trinidad and the challenge of post-colonial identity.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.

10 wonder-filled years of Legal Nomads

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

In 2008, corporate lawyer & city slicker Jodi Ettenberg quit her job to travel the world for a year…and then just never went back to her old job (or self). For 10 years, she traveled and ate her way through the world, documenting her adventures at Legal Nomads. For the 10-year anniversary of the site, Ettenberg has posted a retrospective highlighting some of her most memorable times.1

Writing in a true voice was important. Presenting a glimmering version of yourself that doesn’t feel real is an easy path to discontent. You can follow your passion all you want, but if you’re not expressing it authentically, in a way that is indisputably you, the gap will catch up with you. The space between who you are and who you express yourself to be exists in varying degrees. But if it’s too large, especially if your work involves sharing your thoughts creatively, the disparity can easily engulf you.

As I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit over the last couple of years, this post about The Overview Effect, Mindfulness, and Travel particularly caught my eye.

You cannot ignore the happenings in other places, or stick your head in the sand, because it’s too late — you’ve stepped away and looked at the planet in a different light. (Or, as I said to someone recently “once you’re a pickle you can’t go back to being a cucumber.”) While far less vivid or spectacular than a space trip, travel does tend to push people to think about the forest through the trees and to constantly pin current observations against past experiences. We all do this, naturally. But I think that the more you see, the more you have to compare ‘against’, which then permanently alters your views of the planet and of its people. The ultimate example of this, of course, is seeing it all from above, an orb glowing in the darkness of space.

This reflection on her travels in Mongolia also had my head nodding.

I included this post because nothing since has compared to the magic of simply watching the identity I had dissolve, replaced by pure wonder. Who I was shortly prior didn’t matter, because everything in front of me felt so intensely new that it blotted out anything familiar.

These wonder-filled moments, large and small, have happened to me while traveling, looking at art, lost in the company of others, watching heavenly bodies eclipse each other and even while working on this here website…and that’s a perfect succinct description of how it feels when it happens.

  1. Even though writing is a difficult task for her these days. Nevertheless, she persisted indeed.

The return of The Fantastic Four

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 09, 2018

FF1 - Origin.png

All superhero origin stories are preposterous. For that reason, as much as in spite of it, they are repeated again and again, to make them myths, something truer than mere credibility can allow.

The Fantastic Four’s origin story has been repeated more times than maybe any superhero’s but Batman’s. And it remains totally preposterous. The smartest man in the universe takes his best friend, girlfriend, and girlfriend’s teenage brother in a rocket he’s built, but forgot to shield against cosmic rays? And the rays give each of them different kinds of monster powers? It’s beautifully absurd.

But the 1961 Fantastic Four #1 remains one of the most important comics ever, primarily for injecting (get this) realism into superhero comics. Not because the characters looked like real people, but because they acted like real people transformed into monsters might act. They bickered, they got depressed, they ran into money problems; they tried to figure out their place in the world, which increasingly included things more preposterous than them. And that formula — a real family, in a real New York City, peeled open to reveal all the cosmic wonder underneath and just out of reach, changed storytelling forever.

This is all to say, there’s a brand-new Fantastic Four #1. (It’s at least the sixth “number one” issue released under that title.) The FF have been on hiatus in the comics for a few years; I wrote about why in this essay in The Verge from around that time. Now, since Disney/Marvel will soon own the Fantastic Four’s film rights again, we can probably expect yet another reboot in the movies as well. (Maybe even in the teaser after the end of the second half of Infinity War? I’m just spitballing.)

Like a lot of fans, I’m wary but excited. When the FF is really good — the 102-issue long original run by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the early reboot by writer/artist John Byrne, the expansionist canvas of writer Jonathan Hickman — it really is the world’s greatest comic magazine. It makes comics bigger than any movie, big in the way only a two-dimensional artform can be. When the FF is not so good, it feels like all of its nostalgic Cold War-era ideas have passed by their sell date, a shabby stew of worn-out plots and bad guys too hammy for cartoons.

In comics and the movies, it’s all execution-dependent. Still, bringing back the Fantastic Four gives both the Marvel Comics Universe (which, some exceptions aside, has not been at its best for a while) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is rapidly running out of characters and stories to turn to) someplace new to go. It’s just a bit of historical irony that the future turns out to be where it all got started in the first place.

Watching an art conservator restore a damaged painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

There’s something so relaxing about watching art conservator Julian Baumgartner restore this damaged painting, a self-portrait by Italian painter Emma Gaggiotti Richards. I love how he paints tiny cracks in the damaged areas to match those in the rest of the painting.

There are many more videos and photos of Baumgartner’s restoration process on Instagram and YouTube. (via the kid should see this)

Putting the Talmud online

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 21, 2018

Babylonian_Talmud,_Seder_Zera'im.jpg

Sefaria is a free online resource for Jewish texts, specifically the Talmud, which (amazingly) wasn’t previously easily available online. This Washington Post article describes the effort behind getting the texts and their translations up and on the web.

The Talmud is notoriously hard to follow, even if you understand Aramaic. For most readers, a straight translation will not be useful, as additional, contextualizing information, based on expertise with the tradition and text, is necessary to follow the arguments.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz created one of the three seminal works in this regard, but it was under copyright and being published by Koren Publishers.

After a prolonged negotiation process, and a substantial gift from the William Davidson Foundation, Sefaria was able to secure the copyright. Then, they ceded their rights and made it available free to the public, a move common to nature conservancies but vanishingly rare in the publishing world, since copyright and exclusivity are major guarantors of revenue.

“Sefaria argues that these texts are our collective heritage; therefore they should be available to everyone for free,” Sarna said.

“You have access to something that Jews, for hundreds of years did not, whether it was banned, or they didn’t understand, or they couldn’t buy books,” said Rabbi Levitansky.

Making the texts available in digital form, for free, enables a lot of new use cases for the Talmud, from using code to find “fuzzy links” between different bits of the texts, to democratizing the audience. Younger, less observant readers now have access to a wider range of textual material and discussion than they did before. The text also serves as a discussion platform: its most-viewed “source sheet” is called “Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?

I don’t know whether, as Joshua Foer has it, a digital version of the Talmud is an “advance akin to the writing down of the oral tradition after the fall of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 and the advent of the printing press.” It is, however, a very welcome transformation of a text that’s accustomed to great transformations.

And it also gets back to something I remember from the great In Our Time episode on the Talmud: that Talmud isn’t a book you read so much as a thing you do — or as Foer says, a “giant, unending conversation that spans millennia, continents, and is very much still going on to this day.”

Mini Museum, a collection of micro-fragments of archaeological and historical artifacts

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2018

Mini Museum

Every wanted a chunk of the Moon, a bit of the Space Shuttle that’s been in orbit, an ancient fossil, or a 14th century knight’s sword? Mini Museum sells tiny fragments of rare and interesting artifacts encased in lucite, each one a tiny journey through the history of Earth.

You’ll visit the bright highlands of the Moon, witness devastating and cataclysmic events here on Earth, and examine hundreds of millions of years of evolution. You’ll turn your attention to the march of human civilization. The collection ends by turning back toward the promise of space and marveling at the wonder of life.

Their fourth edition includes items like dinosaur food from 280 million years ago, a bit of rock from the quarry used to build Stonehenge, a piece of Muhammad Ali’s speed bag, and a tiny chunk of an actual human heart. I wonder how they got permission to sell that last one… Can anyone sell a small hunk of a human body?

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

In Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited, Rob Weychert extends a 1974 project by Sol LeWitt called Variations on Incomplete Open Cubes that displayed 122 different ways that cubes with one or more edges missing could be depicted. Weychert’s project expands the number of incomplete cube possibilities to 4,094 by challenging LeWitt on three aspects of the original: dimensionality, contiguity, and rotation. See the about page for the explanation.

All of LeWitt’s cubes are contiguous; each part is connected to at least one other part. Since the cubes were intended to be physically fabricated, this appears to be a logistical concern: In the physical world, a detached part floating in space would be impossible. (It’s not clear, however, why detached, grounded parts were not permitted.)

Here’s how Weychert did it, complete with downloadable source code.

This is every TED Talk

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2018

From CBC’s This Is That, a satirical presentation that is

I’m now going to come back to the center of the stage and give you some unremarkable context about how I became a thought leader. If it’s ok with you, I’d like to pace while telling you this story.

I chuckled throughout this, but deep down I’d love to have the stage presence to give a talk like this. Whenever I’ve done talks in the past, my brain always convinces me that I’m about to be eaten by a lion — “flee flee flee!” — and I end up doing my best impression of the squeaky-voiced teen from The Simpsons.

Update: In 2014, Will Stephen did a talk at TedxNewYork that’s very similar to the one above, perhaps even a bit better.

White men speaking confidently gets you 85% of the way to a compelling talk, irrespective of content. (via @h4emtfr)

Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

NPR does this thing called Tiny Desk Concerts where they bring musicians and bands into the office to play behind a desk. Recent guests have included T.I., Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews, and the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Ma played selections from Bach’s suites for cello, which he’s been playing for almost 60 years, and talked about the value of incremental learning.

Why did Laurence Olivier return so often to Shakespeare’s Othello? Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon? Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell — about life, about themselves.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his great inspiration, and in turn part of his own life story, to an enthusiastic audience packed around the Tiny Desk on a hot summer day. Ma is returning, yet again, to the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Mount Everest for any cellist. He has just released his third studio recording of the complete set and is taking the music on a two-year, six-continent tour. Ma’s first recording of the Suites, released in 1983, earned him his first Grammy.

Amazingly, when Ma was only 7 years old, he played in a benefit concert for an audience that included President John F. Kennedy. Composer Leonard Bernstein introduced Ma, saying in part: “Now here’s a cultural image for you to ponder as you listen. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots.”

Even though he’s only 62 years old, Ma is a great example of The Great Span in action, linking JFK and YouTube and Lil Buck together across seemingly disparate stretches of American history. When he plays a duet with the first virtuoso robotic cellist sometime in the next 20 years, Ma will have more than secured his spot in The Great Span Hall of Fame.

Finalists in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2018

Each year to promote wildlife conservation, the folks behind The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards select the funniest photos of animals doing goofy things from hundreds of entries from around the world. The Guardian has a selection of photos from 2018’s finalists.

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

The galleries of finalists & winners from past years is also worth looking through. So many good ones in there, but this particularly caught my attention:

Wildlife Comedy

Update: There’s a book featuring photos from the contest.

The Other Side of the Wind

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Netflix is finally releasing The Other Side of the Wind, a film by Orson Welles that has been unfinished since filming was completed in the mid-70s. Here’s how Netflix describes the movie:

Surrounded by fans and skeptics, grizzled director J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (a revelatory John Huston) returns from years abroad in Europe to a changed Hollywood, where he attempts to make his comeback: a career summation that can only be the work of cinema’s most adventurous filmmaker, Orson Welles.

And here’s Wikipedia’s take:

Starring John Huston, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and Oja Kodar, it is a satire of both the passing of Classic Hollywood and the avant-garde filmmakers of the New Hollywood of the 1970s. The film was shot in an unconventional mockumentary style in both color and black-and-white, and it incorporated a film-within-a-film that spoofed the work of Michelangelo Antonioni.

You can also read about the many trials and tribulations of the film’s production on Wikipedia.

Update: As a companion to The Other Side of the Wind, Netflix is releasing a documentary about Welles at the end of his career as he labored to make the film. Here’s the trailer for They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead:

The documentary is directed by Morgan Neville, whose most recent film was Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about Fred Rogers.

A New Twitter Feature: Smart Accounts

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Last night, Twitter gave its users the option to switch back to a purely chronological timeline.

Meanwhile, today we updated the “Show the best Tweets first” setting. When off, you’ll only see Tweets from people you follow in reverse chronological order. Previously when turned off, you’d also see “In case you missed it” and recommended Tweets from people you don’t follow.

That’s good! Most users probably benefit from the algorithmic timeline, but not everyone wants to use the service that way (I certainly don’t).

Whenever Twitter changes their mind like this, it always reminds me of a missed opportunity by the company to give people more ways to discover new things on Twitter while keeping the service simple. They’ve tried the Discover feature, sticking likes from friends in the timeline, “in case you missed it”, recommended followers, Moments, Trends, etc. etc. And despite these things being at least somewhat interesting some of the time, many people freak out because they don’t have any control over whether this stuff pops up in their timelines.

What Twitter should do instead1 is use the same simple mechanism people already use to control their timelines: following and unfollowing. Instead of adding tabs to the interface or throwing random stuff into everyone’s timeline for the greater good, those things should be accounts you can follow. Call them Smart Accounts because they would be based on each user’s particular activity. Then users would be able to have a fully chronological timeline but also see tweets from their Smart Accounts according to their particular preferences.

Here’s an example. Seeing likes from people you follow is fun and interesting…the serendipity and relevance factors are high.1 The “Likes from Friends” Smart Account would post tweets that your friends have liked recently and you could set how many you wanted to see each day.

More examples:

- In Case You Missed It. Just like the current feature, except you can follow/unfollow and control the frequency.

- Trends. An account that posts tweets related to trending stories…or maybe it just alerts you that “Mario Kart” is trending. You can see global trends, location-based, or tailored just for you.

- Threads. See X number of the most popular threads posted in my extended network each day.

- Who to Follow. Every day (or X number of times/day), this account would suggest an account to follow.

- Moments. I never ever go to the Moments tab but I would definitely follow an account that periodically tweeted out the five best Moments from my extended network each day.

- Promoted Tweets. This is a Smart Account everyone would have to follow. But maybe you could pay a subscription fee to be able to unfollow?

I would pretty much follow all of those accounts in some way…and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Twitter has all kinds of interest data that you could slice up in interesting ways and feed back into the system. A “Longreads” account that tweets out a long magazine or newspaper article that’s bubbling up in your network each day before your commute home? A “Book Stack” account that recommends books that people in your network have tweeted about recently. A “Smart Smart Accounts” account that recommends new Smart Accounts to follow (*Inception Horn*). A “Random Follow” account that automagically follows a different recommended account each day…then unfollows them and follows a new account the next day. Likes from My Friends’ Friends. Trending Videos. Meme Factory. Check Out My Soundcloud. So many possibilities.

Twitter wouldn’t want these accounts to get lost in the shuffle — they need to keep that engagement high — so maybe they’d have special status in the app somewhere: a tab that replaces Moments and they’re listed first on the Following page? Perhaps a few Smart Accounts are turned on by default when you make a new account. Maybe users could pin the tweets from select Smart Accounts to the tops of their timelines (much like Twitter was forcing on people with the algorithmic timeline).

But the point of all this is that Twitter would have a way to deliver new & engaging features powered by their algorithmic special sauce to their users in a very familiar and simple way without always mucking up people’s expectations: by simply clicking the follow button.

  1. I mean, besides banning Nazis.

  2. I should know, I ran a beloved service called Stellar for a few years where people could follow each others likes. Many people miss it and I really do too. In fact, the whole Smart Accounts idea came from Stellar. There were “house” accounts you could follow that fed interesting posts and links back into the system. It kept things simple — every feature is just a followable account — but also gave everyone controlled access to different interesting parts of the data set, increasing the level of serendipity. If I’d had the time and the money and a more stable Twitter API, Stellar would have been very Smart Accounts-driven. And it would have been fucking amazing. (Can you tell how much I like this idea?!)

New York City Street Tree Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Nyc Street Tree Map

The NYC Parks department maintains an online map of the city’s street trees — currently 678,674 mapped trees from 422 different species.

Our tree map includes every street tree in New York City as mapped by our TreesCount! 2015 volunteers, and is updated daily by our Forestry team. On the map, trees are represented by circles. The size of the circle represents the diameter of the tree, and the color of the circle reflects its species. You are welcome to browse our entire inventory of trees, or to select an individual tree for more information.

The map only shows trees that grow on land under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks. This includes trees planted along sidewalks or other public rights-of-way. You might not see trees that are planted on rights-of-way maintained by the NYC Department of Transportation, or by the state or federal government. You will also not see trees planted on private property.

Each tree on the map is clickable; when you do so, you can see the tree’s species, diameter, and the ecological benefits. (For example, this large oak tree along Central Park West provides $540 of ecological benefits each year…from capturing storm runoff to removing air pollutants.) You can also keep track of your favorite trees, join a tree care group to help take care of the city’s trees, or record activities you’ve done to care for trees in your neighborhood.

It’s easy to become a tree steward! We host volunteers all year long. We can train you in basic activities such as watering trees, adding mulch and soil, and removing weeds and litter; as well as advanced activities such as installing a tree guard, expanding tree beds, and installing or removing stone or brick pavers.

When Melbourne, Australia assigned each of their trees an email address to report problems, people started writing love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Each of NYC’s trees has a ID number too…let’s give them email addresses! (via @halobrien_wa)

Offering a more progressive definition of freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is a progressive Democrat, Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to recast concepts that conservatives have traditionally “owned” — like freedom, family, and patriotism — in more progressive terms.

You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Clean drinking water is freedom. Good public education is freedom. Universal healthcare is freedom. Fair wages are freedom. Policing by consent is freedom. Gun control is freedom. Fighting climate change is freedom. A non-punitive criminal justice system is freedom. Affirmative action is freedom. Decriminalizing poverty is freedom. Easy & secure voting is freedom. This is an idea of freedom I can get behind.

Ancient Denisovan/Neanderthal human-hybrid discovered

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

Wow! Genetic analysis of a human bone fragment found in Siberia reveals that her parents belonged to two different groups of humans: her father was Denisovan and her mother Neanderthal.

A female who died around 90,000 years ago was half Neanderthal and half Denisovan, according to genome analysis of a bone discovered in a Siberian cave. This is the first time scientists have identified an ancient individual whose parents belonged to distinct human groups. The findings were published on 22 August in Nature1.

“To find a first-generation person of mixed ancestry from these groups is absolutely extraordinary,” says population geneticist Pontus Skoglund at the Francis Crick Institute in London. “It’s really great science coupled with a little bit of luck.”

Luck is right…what a needle in a haystack.

The Community of The Tables

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

The Tables is a short documentary about the ping pong tables in NYC’s Bryant Park and the cast of characters who play there frequently — homeless folks, pro players, bike messengers, and a guy who uses a block of wood for a paddle.

Every US President at their worst

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

On Twitter, @InstantSunrise wrote an entertaining thread “in which I drag every single US president in order”. She starts off with The Founding Fathers:

Thomas Jefferson: Motherfucker owned slaves, and was a rapist, committed forced removal against Native Americans. Started an actual war in North Africa and a trade war with Britain that would eventually escalate into an actual war.

Andrew Jackson is deservedly dragged more than most:

Ohhhhhh my god. This absolute motherfucker garbage president. Literally committed genocide. Owned slaves, gave govt. jobs to people who gave him money. Decided that a central bank was a bad idea and closed it in 1837, breaking the entire economy.

Teddy Roosevelt gets a B/B-:

Did some good busting trusts and monopolies with his big dick energy. Discovered that if you bait the media with “access” they’ll eat up whatever shit you say. Had a lot of policies that were racist as shit, like banning all Japanese ppl from entering the US.

Woodrow Wilson gets a Jackson-esque OMG:

Ohhhhhh my god. Dude was like super fucking racist. So racist that his election emboldened racists enough where they literally revived the KKK. His AG, Palmer, loved to deport leftists for no reason. There’s so much shit about Wilson I can’t fit it into 280 chars.

I think she could have gone in on Nixon a bit harder (for creating the war on drugs for example):

Created the southern strategy and stoked racial tensions. Sabotaged the peace negotiations for Vietnam in order to get elected, then prolonged the war. Bombed the shit out of Laos and Cambodia for no real reason. Also watergate.

Only Lincoln and John Quincy Adams get off relatively unscathed.

Recently digitized and declassified videos of nuclear tests

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2018

For the past six years, physicist Greg Spriggs and a team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been tracking down films of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in order to digitize and declassify them.

“You can smell vinegar when you open the cans, which is one of the byproducts of the decomposition process of these films,” Spriggs said. “We know that these films are on the brink of decomposing to the point where they’ll become useless. The data that we’re collecting now must be preserved in a digital form because no matter how well you treat the films, no matter how well you preserve or store them, they will decompose. They’re made out of organic material, and organic material decomposes. So this is it. We got to this project just in time to save the data.”

You can find over 400 of the films they’ve restored so far on LLNL’s YouTube account.

Aretha Franklin’s soul roots and gospel power

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2018

In this video for Vox, Estelle Caswell explores Aretha Franklin’s unique blend of pop, soul, and gospel, particularly in her cover songs and live performances.

Aretha Franklin will always be the Queen of Soul. In the 1960s songs like “Respect” became the symbol for political and social change. It’s likely the reason her music moved so many people wasn’t necessarily the lyrics, but the way she delivered them.

Aretha was raised in the church, and her life and music was rooted in gospel music. You can hear this so clearly in her live performances and covers, where every musical decision she made was in the moment.

Listen to any one of Aretha’s songs and you’ll understand the power of gospel music, but her live performance of “Dr. Feelgood” and her cover of “Son of a preacher man” are a great place to start.

Holy moly, what a voice.

The Origami Simulator

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2018

Origami Simulator

This origami simulator built by Amanda Ghassaei is really cool. The simulator lets you explore how different origami patterns are constructed by moving & rotating them around on the screen and folding & unfolding them. You can even import and export your own patterns. (via kelli anderson)

The (mostly) true story of hobo graffiti

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

TIL that the hieroglyphic hobo code probably wasn’t used as extensively as the internet suggests. However, hobos and tramps did tag bridges, water towers, and train cars with tramp writing, which usually consisted of their moniker (i.e. their hobo name), the date, and the direction they were heading in.

Hobos, or tramps, were itinerant workers and wanderers who illegally hopped freight cars on the newly expanding railroad in the United States in the late 19th century. They used graffiti, also known as tramp writing, as a messaging system to tell their fellow travelers where they were and where they were going. Hobos would carve or draw their road persona, or moniker, on stationary objects near railroad tracks, like water towers and bridges.

More on hobo graffiti from CityLab. (via open culture)

Detroit’s own Queen: Aretha Franklin at history’s crossroads

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 17, 2018

Detroit Free Press - Aretha Franklin.jpg

There are many very fine obituaries and appreciations of Aretha Franklin, who passed away this week at 76. I have two favorites.

The first is a whip-crack of an essay by the New York Times’s Wesley Morris that, better than most, taps into Franklin’s own musical energies.

Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym. Obviously, she was far more than that. We’re never going to have an artist with a career as long, absurdly bountiful, nourishing and constantly surprising as hers. We’re unlikely to see another superstar as abundantly steeped in real self-confidence — at so many different stages of life, in as many musical genres….

The song owned the summer of 1967. It arrived amid what must have seemed like never-ending turmoil — race riots, political assassinations, the Vietnam draft. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his championship title for refusing to serve in the war. So amid all this upheaval comes a singer from Detroit who’d been around most of the decade doing solid gospel R&B work. But there was something about this black woman’s asserting herself that seemed like a call to national arms. It wasn’t a polite song. It was hard. It was deliberate. It was sure.

The second essay, for NPR by dream hampton, “Black People Will Be Free’: How Aretha Lived The Promise Of Detroit,” is more slowly wound, and less about the music than the time and place that produced Franklin and in which she flourished. It bleeds like a wound, a wound the size of a city, where the Industrial Revolution met the Great Migration and became the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s impossible to talk about Aretha without talking about her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin of Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church. Born to Mississippi sharecroppers, Franklin began preaching and soul singing as a teenager. Just after World War II, he, like so many black Southerners who were fleeing racial terror and looking for work, found himself in Detroit. Mayor Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, called him a “preacher’s preacher.” And when Franklin died from gunshot wounds after being robbed in his home in 1979, Mayor Young said his “leadership of the historic freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by his side in June of 1963 — and involving some 125,000 people — provided the prototype for Dr. King’s successful march in Washington later that summer.”

It is important to understand the tradition of black liberation theology, a term coined by James H. Cone, that sought to use scripture to center black self-determination. In Detroit, pastors like C.L. Franklin and Albert Cleage of the Shrine of the Black Madonna used black liberation theology to help a growing black city to imagine itself powerful. They used their churches to launch the campaign of Detroit’s black political class, including Coleman Young. At the same time, Rev. Franklin’s church remained a touch point for even more radical organizing. He opened New Bethel to black auto workers who were waging a class struggle within a racist United Automobile Workers union. He gave shelter to Black Panthers who were targeted by J. Edgar Hoover’s crusade against them. Later leaders of the fractured Black Power movement like the late Jackson, Miss. mayor (and Detroit native) Chokwe Lumumba gathered at New Bethel to form the Republic of New Afrika.

A new sound rooted in older sounds; a new politics rooted in older politics; a new, triumphant individualism rooted in the liberation of entire communities. In all these things, Aretha stood at the crossroads of history. Maybe no one else could have done it.

“Final Offer”, a Sci-fi Short about Interstellar Negotiation

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

In Mark Slutsky’s short sci-fi film “Final Offer”, a traffic ticket lawyer awakens in a doorless room and discovers he’s there to make a deal with an interstellar attorney that could affect all life on Earth. I liked this…there was a tinge of My Cousin Vinny to it.

See also Slutsky’s “Never Happened” about a Black Mirror-esque business trip fling.

The Harriet Tubman $20 Stamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Frustrated that the US Treasury Department is walking back plans to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, Dano Wall created a 3D-printed stamp that can be used to transform Jacksons into Tubmans on the twenties in your pocketbook.

Tubman $20 Stamp

Here’s a video of the stamp in action. Wall told The Awesome Foundation a little bit about the genesis of the project:

I was inspired by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and subsequently saddened by the news that the Trump administration was walking back that plan. So I created a stamp to convert Jacksons into Tubmans myself. I have been stamping $20 bills and entering them into circulation for the last year, and gifting stamps to friends to do the same.

If you have access to a 3D printer (perhaps at your local library or you can also use a online 3D printing service), you can download the print files at Thingiverse and make your own stamp for use at home.

Wall also posted a link to some neat prior art: suffragettes in Britain modifying coins with a “VOTES FOR WOMEN” slogan in the early 20th century.

Votes For Women Coin

Update: Several men on Twitter are helpfully pointing out that, in their inexpert legal opinion, defacing bills in this way is illegal. Here’s what the law says (emphasis mine):

Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The “with intent” bit is important, I think. The FAQ for a similar project has a good summary of the issues involved.

But we are putting political messages on the bills, not commercial advertisements. Because we all want these bills to stay in circulation and we’re stamping to send a message about an issue that’s important to us, it’s legal!

I’m not a lawyer, but as long as your intent isn’t to render these bills “unfit to be reissued”, you’re in the clear. Besides, if civil disobedience doesn’t stray into the gray areas of the law, is it really disobedience? (via @patrick_reames)

Update: Adafruit did an extensive investigation into the legality of this project. Their conclusion? “The production of the instructional video and the stamping of currency are both well within the law.”

Stan & Ollie

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Stan & Ollie is an upcoming film about the legendary comedy duo of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the twilight of their career, starring Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy. I would not necessarily have picked those two actors — I’m not sure who I would have picked instead…perhaps the latter day Stan and Ollie (Tucci & Platt) — but damned if they don’t fill out those roles well.

I’m excited for this one. As kids, we didn’t watch a lot of TV aside from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, but we did watch all sorts of stuff from the black & white era that my dad was into: Abbott & Costello, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd. But my favorite was always Laurel and Hardy. I don’t remember laughing harder at anything as a kid than The Music Box:

The history and future of data on magnetic tape

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 31, 2018

IBM Magnetic Tape.jpeg

Maybe it’s because I’m part of the cassette generation, but I’m just charmed by IBM researcher Mark Lantz’s ode to that great innovation in data storage, magnetic tape. What could be seen as an intermediate but mostly dead technology is actually quite alive and thriving.

Indeed, much of the world’s data is still kept on tape, including data for basic science, such as particle physics and radio astronomy, human heritage and national archives, major motion pictures, banking, insurance, oil exploration, and more. There is even a cadre of people (including me, trained in materials science, engineering, or physics) whose job it is to keep improving tape storage…

It’s true that tape doesn’t offer the fast access speeds of hard disks or semiconductor memories. Still, the medium’s advantages are many. To begin with, tape storage is more energy efficient: Once all the data has been recorded, a tape cartridge simply sits quietly in a slot in a robotic library and doesn’t consume any power at all. Tape is also exceedingly reliable, with error rates that are four to five orders of magnitude lower than those of hard drives. And tape is very secure, with built-in, on-the-fly encryption and additional security provided by the nature of the medium itself. After all, if a cartridge isn’t mounted in a drive, the data cannot be accessed or modified. This “air gap” is particularly attractive in light of the growing rate of data theft through cyberattacks.

Plus, it writes fast (faster than a hard drive), and it’s dirt cheap. And hard drives are up against some nasty physical limits when it comes to how much more data they can store on platters. This is why cloud providers like Google and Microsoft, among others, still use tape backup for file storage, and why folks at IBM and other places are working to improve tape’s efficiency, speed, and reliability.

Lantz describes how the newest tape systems in labs can read and write data on tracks 100 nanometers wide, at an areal density of 201 GB per square inch. “That means that a single tape cartridge could record as much data as a wheelbarrow full of hard drives.” I’ve never needed a wheelbarrow full of hard drives, but I think that is pretty cool. And I’m always excited to find out that engineers are still working to make old, reliable, maybe unsexy technologies work better and better.

Do Me a Favor: Register to Vote.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2018

Hello everyone. Today is my birthday, and I’m taking the day off. My pal Tim will be here tomorrow to share some knowledge and perspective with you.

Since it’s my birthday, I think the rule is that I get to ask you a favor. If you’re an eligible US citizen, please take just two minutes to register to vote in the November elections. If you believe you’re already registered, please check your status because some areas of the country are aggressively removing people from electoral rolls. If you’re all set, please reach out to a friend, family member, or coworker to make sure they’re registered. In conclusion:

Fucking Vote

Thank you.

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

Culled from thousands of entrants from more than 140 countries around the world, here are the winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards. What’s really interesting is that many of the winners were not shot on iPhone 8 or iPhone X but with iPhone 7s and 6s and even 5s. That’s a good reminder of Clayton Cubitt’s three step guide to photography: “01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.”

That said, the increase in photo quality from the first contest in 2008, just a year after the iPhone launched, is welcome. The initial iPhone had just a 2 megapixel camera with a mediocre lens while the iPhone X packs a 12 megapixel resolution and an incredible lens.

Photos above by Huapeng Zhao and Alexandre Weber.

Rituals of democracy

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

At The Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum argues that a decline in democracy isn’t just about voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and radical inequality, but also the decline of smaller civic institutions. The 19th century saw a boom in democratic governance of public/private associations, not just local and federal government:

By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more of these associations mirrored the federal government in form: Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies. “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.

The model proved remarkably adaptable. In business, shareholders elected boards of directors in accordance with corporate charters, while trade associations bound together independent firms. Labor unions chartered locals that elected officers and dispatched delegates to national gatherings. From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives…

This nation of presidents—and judges, representatives, and recording secretaries—obsessed over rules and procedures. Offices turned over at the end of fixed terms; new organizations were constantly formed. Ordinary Americans could expect to find themselves suddenly asked to join a committee or chair a meeting. In 1876, an army engineer named Henry Robert published his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, and it improbably became a best seller; within four decades, more than 500,000 copies were in print. It was, a Boston newspaper declared, “as indispensable as was the Catechism in more ecclesiastical times.”

We were, as the University of Georgia’s Walter Hill said in 1892, “a nation of Presidents.” And the decline of those traditions, those rituals of democracy, tracks a corresponding decline in respect for and interest in political democracy. That, at least, is Applebaum’s take.

I’m less sure. I think the history and sociology of these voluntary associations is fascinating, and deserves to be part of what we talk about when we talk about democracy writ large. But I think (and I would guess this would probably be taken as a friendly amendment) we also have to think about the transformations in other institutions we know are connected to democracy, like the media, public schools, and public institutions like libraries. Places that don’t necessarily have elected officers, but likewise help preserve certain rituals of democracy that we all have to learn in order to interact in a democratic society. How we read, how we think, how we share space — all of this matters, the anthropology as much as the law.

In other words, there’s a formal and informal side to democracy, and neither one of them is necessarily more important than the other. Not to mention that elections and officers are features of only a certain kind of democracy, and there are other, more radical forms of democracy that are available to us — all of which were experimented with in the 18th and 19th centuries too, by anarchists, socialists, and other people who didn’t take the US’s electoral model has having definitively solved the question of what a democratic society might look like.

The broader truth I take from this is that, to borrow from Aristotle, we are what we do repeatedly. If we’re not a nation of Presidents any more, it means we’ve become a different kind of democracy, not necessarily an un-democracy. And that’s significant. We’ve mutated into something else: a different kind of mass democracy, linked together by a different set of institutions with a different set of principles, leading to a different set of possibilities.

The trailer for HBO’s My Brilliant Friend miniseries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

I loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels so much that that I almost couldn’t bring myself to watch the trailer for HBO’s upcoming miniseries adaptation of the first book. But I did and I’m…cautiously optimistic? Eight episodes, premieres in November. Oh god, I hope this is good.

P.S. Seriously, this series is probably my favorite read from the last five years. Phenomenal. (via @rkgnystrom)

Go back in time to the Byzantine Empire

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

Antoine Helbert

Antoine Helbert

Antoine Helbert

French illustrator Antoine Helbert is a great fan of the architecture of Byzantium and has created more than two dozen intricate drawings of buildings and monuments in the capitol city of Constantinople spanning a period of almost 1000 years from the 4th century to the 13th century. (via open culture)

Seven Species So Endangered that Their Remaining Members Could Fit in a Single NYC Subway Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Some animals are so endangered that fewer than 100 members of their species remain in the world. For The Guardian, Mona Chalabi depicted the remaining members of seven of those species fitting into their own NYC subway car.

Subway Species

The data was taken from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Web Design Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

Ok, if you started using the web 15-25 years ago, prepare yourself for the nostalgic blast of the Web Design Museum.

Web Design Museum

I remember all of these from back in the day — what a trip. Even kottke.org circa 1999 made it in there.

A Shot-By-Shot Remake of Toy Story 3 by Two Teen Superfans

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

Since 2011, brothers Morgan and Mason McGrew have been working on a shot-by-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. They’ve built sets, borrowed garbage trucks for scenes, and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours shooting stop motion animation of their army of Toy Story dolls & action figures. They’ve made enough progress on the film to release a trailer and it looks great!

For way too many years now, my brother and I (with the support of our awesome family and friends) have been working on a shot-for-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. This project has been an incredible undertaking, and we’ve made the decision to have this complete by 2019. At this time, I’m not quite sure what a release will look like, but I do know that this has to be done by next year. We’re both pursuing college and full-time careers right now, and it’s time to wrap this side-project up.

It looks like the brothers were around 11 and 14 when they began filming. You can check out the project’s Facebook page for information and updates.

See also Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Some Cool Projects I’ve Noticed on Kickstarter Recently

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I seem to have a bunch of links to Kickstarter campaigns up in browser tabs right now so instead of dripping them out over the next few days as Quick Links, I thought I’d do a mini roundup here.

Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders: Geology & Evolution. The latest in the Stardust series of books authored by 12-year-old Bailey Harris and her father, Douglas. Harris got the idea for the first book watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and she was off to the races. Both of her previous books have been enjoyed in our household.

Alexander von Humboldt - Illustrating Nature. This is a reissue of a book from a previous successful campaign. I have a couple of Kronecker Wallis’ beautifully designed books about science, including this one — they do good work.

I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions. We’re massive fans of the Rebel Girls books and podcast in our house, so this is a no-brainer.

DRYP - an app that keeps your plants alive & happy. DRYP is an iOS app that “tells you when to water your plants AND helps you cure them when they’re sick”. Yes, please.

4-Mation: The Interactive 3D Zoetrope. A little tough to explain…watch the first few seconds of the video to get it.

THE SONGULARITY. From Botnik Studios, this is “an impending full-length pop album co-created by humans and machines” with lyrics generated by a predictive text program seeded with “Scottish folk ballads, Amazon reviews, Carrie Underwood, The Elements Of Style and more”.

Our President Was Called Barack. This children’s book about Barack Obama was funded on Kickstarter in 2017 and they still have a few copies left for sale.

How constraints lead to creativity: making music for Super Nintendo games

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2018

In this short video, Evan Puschak talks about how music is made for Super Nintendo games. That system was first released in 1990 and the audio chips could only hold 64 KB of information, only enough room for beeps, boops, and very short samples. But composers like David Wise, whose soundtrack for the Donkey Kong Country series of games is on many lists of the best video game music, were able to make the SNES sing despite its limited capabilities.

Jamie Lee Curtis Recreates the Psycho Shower Scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Jamie Lee Curtis Psycho

For an episode of a TV show called Scream Queens, Jamie Lee Curtis recreated the shower scene from Psycho performed by her mother, Janet Leigh, with a shot-for-shot homage. Even though they had limited time to shoot, Curtis and the crew took the recreation very seriously.

Falchuk began contemplating having Munsch in the shower as an homage to Curtis’ mother. “I thought, ‘Can I do this? Do I need to ask her?’ I didn’t want to offend her but at the same time this would be so awesome,” remembers Falchuk. “So then I wrote it and then got a text from her very quickly after she read the script. Her text was, ‘We need to do this shot-for-shot.’ Then, typical Jamie Lee, she started sending me all the websites and Tumblrs that have each shot laid out and storyboarded.”

What a photo! Curtis’ scene is not quite shot-for-shot, but you can see a screencapped video of it on YouTube and compare to the original.

An Ultra-High Resolution Map of Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Antarctica Detailed Map

Antarctica Detailed Map

Antarctica Detailed Map

Using years of satellite data and photography, researchers have constructed an extremely detailed terrain map called the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica that maps 98% of the continent down to a resolution of 8 meters. That makes it the most detailed terrain map of any continent. The NY Times has the skinny on the new map.

Previous maps of the continent had a resolution similar to seeing the whole of Central Park from a satellite. With this new data, it is now possible to see down to the size of a car, and even smaller in some areas. The data is so complete that scientists now know the height of every feature on the continent down to a few feet.

“If you’re someone that needs glasses to see, it’s a bit like being almost blind and putting on glasses for the first time and seeing 20/20,” said Dr. Howat.

The team used 187,585 images collected over six years to create the map.

“Until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica,” said Dr. Howat.

Why Meat is the Best Worst Thing in the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

For hunter gatherers living 10,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals converted spare land and vegetation humans couldn’t eat into caloric energy, creating a surplus & stability that led to more trade possibilities and capabilities for human groups. But as the world’s population speeds past 7.4 billion, land and water use has become more and more constricted. The production of meat and dairy is inefficient, so that’s created a lot of problems and shortcuts: factory farming, huge land & resource use, oversized contribution to climate change. In this video, Kurzgesagt examines the cons (and pros) of meat and dairy consumption:

If you’d like to read more about the moral implications of our food chain, more than one friend has referred to reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as “life-changing”.

How We Could Build a Moon Base Today

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

This video explores how humans could begin to colonize the Moon today, using currently available technology.

We actually do have the technology and current estimates from NASA and the private sector say it could be done for $20-40 billion spread out over about a decade. The price is comparable to the International Space Station or the budget surplus of Germany in 2017.

That’s also only 12-25% of the net worth of Jeff Bezos. I don’t know whether that’s more an illustration of the relative affordability of building a Moon base or of Bezos’ wealth, but either way it’s a little bit crazy that the world’s richest man can easily afford to fund the building of a Moon base and somehow it’s not happening (or even close to happening).

A Relaxing Acrobatic Performance to Debussy’s Clair de Lune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

Choreographer & acrobat Yoann Bourgeois and pianist Alexandre Tharaud have collaborated on a performance that combines a trampoline, a staircase, and Claude Debussy’s most famous composition, Clair de Lune. Even though I’ve seen a performance from Bourgeois before and knew what was coming, that first drop onto the trampoline was startling.

Three is a trend: slowly shredding some pow to classical music and Clair de Lune in the moonlight. (via @alexchabotl)

Every Owen Wilson “Wow” In Chronological Order

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Yeah, I’m not sure what else needs to be explained here, it’s what it says on the tin, etc. Owen Wilson likes saying “wow” in movies, people like pointing out that Owen Wilson likes saying “wow” in movies, and this is a collection of those moments. Purple monkey dishwasher.

No Jail Time: The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

This short film by Lance Oppenheim is uncomfortably fascinating. It’s about sentencing mitigation videos, short films produced by defense attorneys to help sway judges into giving their clients lighter sentences than the guidelines suggest. Oppenheim’s subject is Doug Passon, an attorney who helps “lawyers incorporate powerful and persuasive moving pictures into the litigation process”.

Lance Oppenheim’s short documentary, No Jail Time: The Movie, profiles Passon and his controversial practice in all its variegated shades of gray. In the process, the film offers a meta-analysis of objectivity in the realm of narrative nonfiction. “Passon treats sentencing videos in an artful manner nearly indistinguishable from narrative-driven, fictional films,” Oppenheim recently told The Atlantic. According to Oppenheim, defense attorneys and sentencing video makers are increasingly drawing inspiration from true-crime entertainment, such as The Jinx and The Thin Blue Line, “to bend the rules of reality in the courtroom with visual storytelling.”

There’s even a film festival for sentencing mitigation videos. (!!!) You can view a few examples of Passon’s videos on his site.

P.S. You may remember Oppenheim as the director of this short film, Meet the Happiest Guy in the World, which is about a man who has lived on a cruise ship for the past 20 years.

Enhance!

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2018

Enhance

Nicole He has built a voice-controlled game called Enhance in which you speak commands to zoom & enhance images to look for secret codes, just like a detective on a CSI TV show. I bet if you try this in your open plan office, your coworkers will look at you like you’re nuts for a sec but will soon gather around, shouting their own commands at the computer. After all, everyone wants to enhance:

New No’s by Paul Chan

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2018

After the 2016 election, artist and writer Paul Chan wrote the following poem that he called “New No’s”.

No to racists
No to fascists
No to taxes funding racists and fascists

No mercy for rapists
No pity for bigots
No forgiveness for nativists
No to all those

No hope without rage
No rage without teeth
No separate peace
No easy feat

No to bounds by genders
No to clickbait as culture
No to news as truths
No to art as untruths

No anti-Semitic anything
No Islamophobic anything
No progress without others
No meaning without meaning

No means no
No means no
No means no
No means no

I ran across this several times at The Whitney; it’s part of their great exhibition An Incomplete History of Protest. The exhibition is closing next week and the poem is difficult to find online (Chan’s own publishing company, which was selling posters of the poem, seems to be defunct at the moment), so I wanted to preserve a copy here.

Update: The notable prior art for this piece includes Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto, Ad Reinhardt’s No War, and The No Manifesto for Poetry Readings and LISTSERVs and Magazine and ‘Open Versatile Spaces Where Cultural Production Flourishes’. (via @joeld)

The Fish Copter, Cactus Binky, and Other Clever Visual Mashups

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

I love these fun visual mashups created by French creative agency Les Créatonautes. (via colossal)

The 23 best films of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday proposes a list of movies made in the 2000s that should be added to the canon of the best films ever made. Many of my favorites are on there — The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fog of War, Spirited Away, There Will Be Blood, Children of Men.

Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of the P.D. James novel evinced the perfect balance of technical prowess, propulsive storytelling, complex character development and timeliness when it was released in 2006. But its depiction of a dystopian near-future — what we ruefully now call the present — has proved to be not just visionary but prophetic. Its predictive value aside, it stands as a flawless movie — a masterwork of cinematic values at their purest, with each frame delivering emotion and information in equally compelling measure.

Dunkirk, from just last year, is a bold inclusion…I love that movie but it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up. You can compare this list with two older lists: Dissolve’s and BBC Culture’s.

Update: The NY Times did a similar list last year, with There Will Be Blood and Spirited Away taking the #1 and #2 spots. (thx, paul)

Hand-Pulled Noodle School

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

Lanzhou, a city in northwestern China, is well-known for its beef noodle soup…and the shops serving them. In order to keep those shops well-stocked with chefs who can produce perfect hand-pulled noodles at a fast pace, the Gansu Dingle Noodle School offers training to people from all walks of life in the art of noodle making. This short film by Jia Li profiles a group of students at the school as they learn their new trade.

For Vice’s Munchies series, Clarissa Wei travelled to Lanzhou to visit another noodle school there and found out just how difficult it is to learn noodle-making.

Noodle school holds classes three times a day, seven days a week. You stand there with your classmates and pull dough, at least 100 times a day. Students aren’t given recipes; the secret to success lies in rote repetition. There are three different course lengths: 15 days, 30 days, and 40 days. Tuition includes housing and food. Most people are Chinese nationals, though Li says that in recent years an influx of foreigners have come in pursuit of the perfect noodle. The school also teaches soup basics, pickling, and beef stewing techniques.

“We’ll have over 20 different types of herbs in the broth,” he says. “And our flour is custom-made and imported in from Henan. They have different levels of elasticity depending on what we request.”

Rest In Pancakes, Kenny Shopsin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2018

Shopsins

Word is filtering through the NYC food community that Kenny Shopsin has passed away. Together with his wife and children, Shopsin was the proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store, an iconic NYC restaurant, an establishment.

Calvin Trillin wrote a profile of Shopsin and the restaurant for the New Yorker in 2002.

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

“They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

“I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

Kenny’s daughter Tamara published a memoir recently called Arbitrary Stupid Goal…I read it last month and loved it. The book is not only a love letter to her family’s restaurant and the old West Village (which is now almost entirely gone), but also to her father, who is featured on nearly every page.

Shopsin published a cookbook back in 2008, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.

“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.” Thus speaks Kenny Shopsin, legendary (and legendarily eccentric, ill-tempered, and lovable) chef and owner of the Greenwich Village restaurant (and institution), Shopsin’s, which has been in existence since 1971.

Kenny has finally put together his 900-plus-item menu and his unique philosophy-imagine Elizabeth David crossed with Richard Pryor-to create Eat Me, the most profound and profane cookbook you’ll ever read. His rants-on everything from how the customer is not always right to the art of griddling; from how to run a small, ethical, and humane business to how we all should learn to cook in a Goodnight Moon world where everything you need is already in your own home and head-will leave you stunned or laughing or hungry.

Much love to the Shopsin family right now.

Update: Several people wrote in mentioning I Like Killing Flies, a 2004 documentary about Shopsin. There are a few clips of it floating around on YouTube. The NY Times filmed Shopsin making his macaroni and cheese pancakes, one of the hundreds of items on the restaurant’s menu.

Update: The NY Times has an obituary of Shopsin and Helen Rosner wrote Remembering Kenny Shopsin, the Irascible Chef-King of Lower Manhattan for the New Yorker. Yesterday, Kenny’s daughter Tamara posted a photo of her dad on Instagram with the following caption:

@shopsinsnyc will be open Wednesday. My dad won’t be there in body but he will be there. I love you dad.

Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

The old white people of America have a message for the young adults of America: we’ll be dead soon but if you don’t vote, you’re letting us determine what kind of world you’ll live in.

Everything’s fine the way it is. Trump…that was us. He’s our guy. Tax cuts for the rich? Hell yeah, I’m rich as fuck. Climate change? That’s a “you problem”…I’ll be dead soon. Sure, school shootings are sad, but I haven’t been in a school for 50 years.

A look at the voter participation rates in Presidential election years confirms that the 65 and older cohort votes at a much higher rate than the 18-29 group.

Voting By Age

If young people voted at a higher rate, our government would look a lot different. (via df)

On the nature of wormholes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Are wormholes science or just science fiction? As this video by Kurzgesagt shows, they’re actually a little bit of both. Einstein and string theory both posit that these “short cuts” through spacetime could exist, but finding or building a stable wormhole, a la Star Trek, is another matter altogether.

In the description of the video, they link to a pair of papers published by Michael Morris and Kip Thorne in the late 80s: Wormholes, Time Machines, and the Weak Energy Condition and Wormholes in spacetime and their use for interstellar travel: A tool for teaching general relativity. For a high school physics class, I gave a presentation on wormholes & time travel and I’m pretty sure I used at least one of those papers as a reference. The presentation also included a clip of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The teacher gave me a B+ — he felt the presentation was excellent (*guitar riff*) but that I had, in spite of the movie clip, “lost most of the other students” and should have chosen a more suitable topic.

The original demo of Imagine by John Lennon

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

A demo version of Imagine, unheard for decades, was recently uncovered in an archive of Lennon audio tapes. You can listen to the beautifully spare rendition here:

While sifting through boxes upon boxes of the original tapes for Yoko Ono, engineer Rob Stevens discovered something truly remarkable that had gone unnoticed all these years. “Early 2016, during the gestation period of this project, I’m in the Lennon archives with my people going through tape boxes that have labeling that’s unclear, misleading, or missing entirely”, says Stevens. “There’s a one-inch eight-track that says nothing more on the ‘Ascot Sound’ label than John Lennon, the date, and the engineer (Phil McDonald), with DEMO on the spine. No indication of what material was on the tape. One delicate transfer to digital later, the “Imagine” demo, subsequently enhanced superbly by Paul Hicks, appears within this comprehensive set. It was true serendipity.”

Compare it to the remastered studio version and a live version.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

I could definitely get into that. For those unwilling to imagine no possessions, the demo, along with several others, appears on a collection coming out in the fall: preorder on Amazon or iTunes. (via @tedgioia)

Solving the spaghetti problem

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 17, 2018

If you’ve ever tried to snap dried pasta in half, you know that it’s hard to get just two even pieces; what you usually get instead is macaroni shrapnel everywhere. It turns out this is due to fundamental physical forces of the universe when applied to a straight rod. The initial break creates a snap-back effect that creates additional fractures.

crack-control-1.gif

Apparently, this used to drive Richard Feynman nuts. Here’s an excerpt from No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman, where computer scientist Danny Hills describes Feynman’s obsession:

Once we were making spaghetti, which was our favorite thing to eat together. Nobody else seemed to like it. Anyway, if you get a spaghetti stick and you break it, it turns out that instead of breaking it in half, it will almost always break into three pieces. Why is this true — why does it break into three pieces? We spent the next two hours coming up with crazy theories. We thought up experiments, like breaking it underwater because we thought that might dampen the sound, the vibrations. Well, we ended up at the end of a couple of hours with broken spaghetti all over the kitchen and no real good theory about why spaghetti breaks in three. A lot of fun, but I could have blackmailed him with some of his spaghetti theories, which turned out to be dead wrong!

It turns out that controlling the vibrations does have something to do with controlling the breakage, although putting the rod underwater won’t help. Two young physicists, Ronald Heisser and Vishal Patil, found that the key to breaking spaghetti rods into two pieces is to give them a good twist:

If a 10-inch-long spaghetti stick is first twisted by about 270 degrees and then bent, it will snap in two, mainly due to two effects. The snap-back, in which the stick will spring back in the opposite direction from which it was bent, is weakened in the presence of twist. And, the twist-back, where the stick will essentially unwind to its original straightened configuration, releases energy from the rod, preventing additional fractures.

“Once it breaks, you still have a snap-back because the rod wants to be straight,” Dunkel explains. “But it also doesn’t want to be twisted.”

Just as the snap-back will create a bending wave, in which the stick will wobble back and forth, the unwinding generates a “twist wave,” where the stick essentially corkscrews back and forth until it comes to rest. The twist wave travels faster than the bending wave, dissipating energy so that additional critical stress accumulations, which might cause subsequent fractures, do not occur.

“That’s why you never get this second break when you twist hard enough,” Dunkel says.

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It’s not exactly practical to twist spaghetti 270 degrees before you break it in half, just to end up with a shorter noodle. And linguini, fettucine, etc., have a different physics altogether, because they deviate more strongly from the cylindrical rod shape of spaghetti. But it’s cool to have one of these everyday physics problems apparently solved through a relatively simple trick.

How Cookie Cutters Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

Cookies shaped like Christmas trees are made by pressing a tree-shaped cookie cutter into dough. But how are cookie cutters made? Like this:

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A post shared by Cookiecutter.com (@otbp_cookiecutters) on

I love how the machine’s little hands come together like in a Little League huddle just before the team takes the field. Aaaaaand, BREAK! Let’s get out there and make some cookies! (via colossal)

My Recent Media Diet, Special In Denial That Summer’s Over Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. This installment has a few things on it from a trip to NYC and is also very movie-heavy. In addition to the stuff below, I also finished Sharp Objects (HBO series, not the book) and Star Trek: Voyager, both of which I reviewed last time. I’m almost done with Origin Story…might do a whole separate post on that one. Up next in the book department: Now My Heart Is Full, The Good Neighbor, or Fantasyland.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout. I’m not a particular fan of the series, but this was so fun that maybe I should be? Love the practical effects. (B+)

Bundyville. This podcast came highly recommended by a reader but as soon as Cliven Bundy opened his mouth to speak I realized I did not want to spend a single second of my life in this asshole’s ville or town or mind or anything. Maybe this makes me intolerant or incurious? Not sure I particularly care…there are worthier things I can choose spend my time on. (-)

Radiohead at TD Garden, 7/29/2018. I somehow won the Ticketmaster lottery and got floor tickets, so we were about 35 feet from the stage. Cool to see my favorite band that close. (A)

MFA Pastels

French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault, MFA Boston. I don’t have much experience with viewing pastels but these seemed simultaneously alive and dreamy. (A-)

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. One of our culture’s recent great storytellers. It’s dated (and cringeworthy) in places, but that Bourdain voice and perspective is right there on the page, almost fully formed. In the chapter about Tokyo, you also get to witness the prototype for Bourdain’s third and, arguably, greatest career as a culinary and cultural observer of far-flung places. Pro tip: get the audiobook read by the man himself. (A)

My new electric toothbrush. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? My teeth feel (and probably are) so much cleaner now! (A-)

Holedown. I’ve spent too many hours playing this. It sucks I hate it it’s so good and I can’t stopppppppp. (A-/D+)

David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney. A strong show about an artist I didn’t know a lot about going in. (B+)

The Problem We All Live With

Celebrating Bill Cunningham exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition was in a small room and featured very few photographs, so I was a little disappointed. But I did get to see the Norman Rockwell/FDR exhibition, including this arresting painting. (B)

Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. Even though I have the book, the original photos were worth seeing in person. (B+)

Eighth Grade. The feelings generated by watching this film — dread, crushing anxiety — closely approximated how I felt attending 8th grade. Well played. (B+)

Sorry to Bother You. If you haven’t seen this, don’t watch or read anything about it before you do. Just watch it. (A-)

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. This had me thinking about all sorts of different things. Recommended. (A)

Succession. This wasn’t quite as good as everyone said it was, but I still enjoyed it. My tolerance for watching rich, powerful, white assholes, however entertaining, is waning though… (B)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly more spare than the TV series but still powerful and unsparing. (A-)

The Dark Knight. If not the best superhero movie ever, it’s close. (A-)

Crazy Rich Asians. A romantic comedy with a strong dramatic element rooted in family & cultural dynamics, women who are strong & interesting & feminine in different ways, and a wondrous setting. Also, put Awkwafina in every movie from now on. (A-)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Fred Rogers was a relentless person, a fantastic example of a different kind of unyielding masculinity. I sobbed like a baby for the last 20 minutes of this. (A)

BlacKkKlansman. Messy. I didn’t really know what to feel about it when it ended…other than shellshocked. Was that the point? (B+)

Tycho’s 2018 Burning Man Sunrise DJ set. Always an end-of-the-summer treat. (A)

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I watched this movie at least 100 times in high school. Despite not having seen it in probably 20 years, I still knew every single line of dialogue — inflections, timing, the whole thing. (A+)

Foggy hikes. (A+)

American Animals. This is like Ocean’s 11 directed by Errol Morris. Stealing things is more difficult than it seems in the movies. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

A full-scale Lego supercar that actually drives

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Over the past few months, a team at Lego has been building a full-scale model of a Bugatti Chiron supercar using only Lego Technics pieces — aside from the wheels, tires, and a few other key components. They got the look of the car down, but the truly impressive thing is that the car actually drives, powered by an electric engine made up of over 2300 Power Function motors. The Lego press release has the details.

Bugatti Lego

The model is the first large scale movable construction developed using over 1,000,000 LEGO Technic elements and powered exclusively using motors from the LEGO Power Function platform. Packed with 2,304 motors and 4,032 LEGO Technic gear wheels, the engine of this 1.5 tonnes car is generating 5.3 horse power and an estimated torque of 92 Nm.

The doors open and close, the spoiler moves up and down, the headlights work, and the all-Lego speedometer works — what a goofy and amazing accomplishment. cc: my Lego- and supercar-loving son

If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, then What’s the Point of Capitalism?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

In a thought-provoking essay, Umair Haque asks the question If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, Then What’s the Point of Capitalism?

Some systems are self-perpetuating. Like a forest. Like a river. Like an ocean. But some systems are self-annihilating. Like a fire. Like a storm. Like an epidemic. They burn themselves out. We tend think of capitalism as the former — but we are wrong. It is the latter — a self-destroying, not a self-sustaining, system. If we’re all really just trying to escape it — then what else could it be? After all, that means there will probably come a day when we do make our escape — and on that day, poof! — capitalism, at least in the sense above, winks out, like a storm, or a fire. So if we see for a moment through the great lens of human history — first there was tribalism, and we escaped it, then feudalism, and we escaped that — today now there’s capitalism, which we’re currently trying to escape, all over again. But while kings and knights might have not been so keen on escaping feudalism, what’s striking about capitalism is that we’re all trying to escape it — even most of the capitalists — because it makes us so miserable, mean, and foolish.

Humans don’t want money — that’s never been the goal — they want freedom from exploitation and the freedom to pursue meaningful lives free from fear and anxiety. Haque then argues that given humanity’s current levels of wealth, technology, and social structures, it is not only possible to provide everyone with those freedoms without the need for capitalism but it’s inevitable.

These three things, technology, finance, and public goods, have finally matured and developed to a degree that freedom from capitalism isn’t just possible. It’s becoming inevitable. What’s really happening as these three forces intersect? Society’s surplus is being reinvested back in precisely the very things we are really after — instead of being skimmed off by predatory elites. Freedom from exploitation, freedom from control, freedom to find, realize, and develop ourselves. We haven’t had the means, mechanisms, or tools, in the long history of humankind, to ever really achieve those on a mass scale yet. But we have them now.

Read the whole thing — it’s not that long and it’ll give you something to think about as you work.

Michael Lewis’ New Book: Trump vs. the Federal Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

At this point, reading about how incompetent the Trump campaign and White House have been and continue to be — perhaps knowingly, given the viewpoint of some of his advisors and backers about wanting to weaken the federal government — is getting tiring, but Michael Lewis is always worth paying attention to. His newest book, The Fifth Risk, is about how unprepared the incoming Trump administration was to govern the country, to “take control of the portfolio of existential risks managed by the US government” as he puts it. The Guardian has an excerpt:

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy — the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain — but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Ho. Ly. Shit. Incredibly, Lewis’ very next line is: “That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble.” — which makes Chris Christie the most tone-deaf individual in the world? (Probably…Christie was fired the next day, a complete surprise to him.)

The book comes out tomorrow…you can pre-order from Amazon here.

Music and depression

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 09, 2018

Consuming media when you’re depressed is a delicate business. Too much emotion, too much novelty, too much engagement can be overwhelming. You want familiarity, but you don’t want to spiral into rumination on your own past. You want reassurance, you want escape, you want meaning and meaninglessness. You want something that can square the circle of proximity and distance when your own thoughts feel all too unfamiliar, yet too close.

For me, it’s doo-wop, and/or old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But writer Blair Thornburgh loves sea shanties, and she makes a compelling case for why they were so moving to her during her own depression.

In the shanties, there are gals: the gals o’ Dublin Town, the gals o’ Chile, New York gals, Spanish ladies, the girl in Portland Street, Maggie May, Lucy Long, Susiana Brown. There is food—salt beef, salt bread, oatcake, codfish—and (of course) there is drink: grog, rum, whiskey, lime juice, beer. There are ports in Quebec, Bonnie Scotland, South Australia, ‘Frisco Bay. There is longing, there is forward motion, there is purpose; a shore behind and a shore before.

But there is also endlessness, the futility of a horizon that spills wave over wave. A life adrift is the only life that can endure, one journey after another the only way to earn your keep. There is certainty without stability, there is solid ground only briefly under your feet. Then poor old Jack must understand / There’s ships in docks all wanting hands; / So he goes on board as he did before, / And bids adieu to his native shore. / For he is outward bound, hurrah, he is outward bound.

The language of depression can be curiously maritime. It comes in waves; it drowns us; it’s the Mariner’s albatross around our necks. We long for smooth sailing, for hope on the horizon, an even keel. And the summer I stopped taking Seroquel, my depression was a riptide. I could see the shimmering okayness of everything around me, all the way to the edge: I was employed, insured, well-fed, loved. And yet it was useless to me: I was either plunged into hopelessness, or dying slowly of thirst.