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The Incalculable Loss of Black Lives to Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

Incalculable Loss

On Sunday May 24, the NY Times gave over their entire front page to listing the names of hundreds of victims of Covid-19 in the US. It was an iconic gesture that focused people’s attention on both the overall death toll and the stories & lives of the individual people who had been killed by the disease.

The Incalculable Loss Project has repurposed this design to honor some of the 7,000 Black Americans killed by police since 2000 and to ask why media outlets like the Times haven’t given “the same attention to this epidemic as they did Covid-19”. Each person’s name is accompanied by the name of the officer’s police department and the current status of the investigation into the killing (overwhelmingly “pending investigation”).

Incalculable Loss

Trailer for Season Four of The Handmaid’s Tale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Season four of The Handmaid’s Tale is coming to Hulu in 2021. I found season 3 to be increasingly outlandish — not in terms of the depicted fascist policies and behaviors of Gilead (Atwood has stated that in her books & the TV series, all events have a precedent) but just in terms of “How the hell is June still alive and working in Gilead?!” Also, the use of closeups of Elisabeth Moss’s facial expressions to convey emotion was overused to the point of cliche. But I will definitely give season four a shot, especially now that we know where the series is ultimately headed.

The Death of Rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2020

Oh god, I needed this video in my life this morning. Watch as Uncle Roger (a character created by comedian Nigel Ng) hilariously critiques a BBC Food video about how to cook fried rice. Spoiler alert: the cook drains the rice in a colander and then rinses it with water. Oh, and no MSG.

If you sad in life, use MSG. If you happy in life, use MSG. Put MSG in everything, it’ll turn it better. You just get a baby? Put MSG on baby, it’ll be better baby, smarter.

On Instagram, Uncle Roger shared how to cook rice properly.

Uncle Roger have many white friend tell me they use saucepan. Saucepan? Haiyaaa. World War II is over, use technology. Proper Asian use rice cooker.

(via @jennyyangtv <— this thread is an entertaining read as well)

Update: Uncle Roger meets up with the woman who cooked the egg fried rice in the BBC video:

How to Process Our Collective Global Trauma

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

Do you feel tired, scared, angry, sad or numb? Are you having trouble concentrating or sleeping? How about all of the above? Because of the events of the last few months — *gestures around at the pandemic, violence against Black people, climate change, global inequality, , etc. etc. etc.* — many people are experiencing trauma on an individual level as well as together on a collective level. Erin Biba interviewed psychologist Dr. Renée Lertzman, an expert on large scale trauma, about what we can do to address how we’re feeling in order to move past feeling like shit and become more useful to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

The next really important piece is stabilizing ourselves with the bigger context. Really putting things in perspective that this is an event that is in fact legitimately destabilizing. It is stretching all of us in ways we haven’t anticipated and it’s important to have that context to make sense of what we’re experiencing and why. This is in fact, my brain is struggling to process what’s going on because it’s on a level that’s so beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before, so I’m struggling to even know how to be. Of course, I’m feeling this way, These are global events that are having all kinds of unexpected and traumatic impacts. How we live with that level of uncertainty is huge. Everyone is outside of their levels of tolerance right now.

“I’m struggling to even know how to be” is a really accurate summary of how I’ve been feeling recently. See also What To Do About Our Collective Pandemic Grief Before It Overwhelms Us and Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving.

Fixing Racial Bias in Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2020

For her series Counternarratives, artist and media critic Alexandra Bell takes newspaper articles and layouts from the NY Times that demonstrate racial bias and fixes them. For example, Bell took the notorious double profile of Michael Brown and his killer Darren Wilson and placed the focus entirely on Brown:

Counternarratives Alexandra Bell

In this video, Bell explains her process:

I think everything is about race. Black communities, gay communities, immigrant communities feel a lot of media representations to be inadequate, biased. There’s a lot of reporting around police violence and black men, and I realized a lot of the arguments that we were having were about depictions. I started to wonder how different would it be if I swapped images or changed some of the text.

See also Kendra Pierre-Louis’ recent article for Nieman Lab: It’s time to change the way the media reports on protests. Here are some ideas.

Teacher Tells Off Neil Armstrong for Faking the Moon Landing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In a letter recently published in a new book, A Reluctant Icon: Letters to Neil Armstrong, a teacher wrote a letter to the first human to set foot on the Moon accusing him of making the whole thing up.

Armstrong Letter Hoax

To which Armstrong replied:

Armstrong Letter Hoax

(via the excellent Letters of Note)

A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

From January to the end of June, over 500,000 people died of confirmed cases of Covid-19. In order to demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic, James Beckwith made a time lapse map of each Covid-19 death.

Each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included.

As was the case with the pandemic, the video starts slow but soon enough the individual sounds and blips build to a crescendo, a cacophony of death. The only way this could be made more ominous & upsetting is by including the first song off of Cliff Martinez’s Contagion soundtrack as a backing track. As Beckwith notes in the description: “It is likely a sequel will need to be made.” (via open culture)

A Decade of Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2020

For the past 10 years now, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been capturing an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds. To celebrate, NASA created this 61-minute time lapse video of all ten years, with each second representing one day in the Sun’s life. They have helpfully highlighted some noteworthy events in the video, including solar flares and planetary transits.

12:24, June 5, 2012 — The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Won’t happen again until 2117.

13:50, Aug. 31, 2012 — The most iconic eruption of this solar cycle bursts from the lower left of the Sun.

43:20, July 5, 2017 — A large sunspot group spends two weeks crossing the face of the Sun.

See also Gorgeous Time Lapse of the Sun.

Nirvana Performing Smells Like Teen Spirit in a Music Store a Week Before Its Release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2020

On September 16, 1991, about a week before the band’s breakthrough album Nevermind was released, Nirvana played a 45-minute in-store set at Beehive Records in Seattle. When I watch videos like this (here’s the Notorious BIG rapping on a street corner at 17 and a 17-year-old LL Cool J playing to a mostly empty gym1), I look at the crowd just as much or more than the performers. Do the people in that music shop audience know they’re witnessing an early performance of one of the last great consequential rock songs or do they only realize it later?

Hell, I suppose you could ask the same question of the performers: did Cobain or Biggie or LL Cool J know at the time that they were going to blow up in a matter of weeks and months? In Cobain’s case, he may have. From a biography called Heavier Than Heaven:

Two days later, Nirvana held an “in-store” at Beehive Records. DGC expected about 50 patrons, but when over 200 kids were lined up by two in the afternoon — for an event scheduled to start at seven — it began to dawn on them that perhaps the band’s popularity was greater than first thought. Kurt had decided that rather than simply sign albums and shake people’s hands — the usual business of an in-store — Nirvana would play. When he saw the line at the store that afternoon, it marked the first time he was heard to utter the words “holy shit” in response to his popularity. The band retreated to the Blue Moon Tavern and began drinking, but when they looked out the window and saw dozens of fans looking in, they felt like they were in the movie A Hard Day’s Night. When the show began, Beehive was so crowded that kids were standing on racks of albums and sawhorses had to be lined up in front of the store’s glass windows to protect them. Nirvana played a 45-minute set — performing on the store floor — until the crowd began smashing into the band like the pep rally in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.

Kurt was bewildered by just how big a deal it had all become. Looking into the crowd, he saw half of the Seattle music scene and dozens of his friends. It was particularly unnerving for him to see two of his ex-girlfriends — Tobi and Tracy — there, bopping away to the songs. Even these intimates were now part of an audience he felt pressure to serve. The store was selling the first copies of Nevermind the public had a chance at, and they quickly sold out. “People were ripping posters off the wall,” remembered store manager Jamie Brown, “just so they’d have a piece of paper for Kurt to autograph.” Kurt kept shaking his head in amazement.

Kurt retreated to the parking lot for a smoke and some downtime. But there, the day became even more freakish when he saw two of his old Montesano schoolmates, Scott Cokely and Rick Miller, holding copies of “Sliver.” Though Kurt signed signed hundreds of autographs that day, none made him feel more surreal than putting his signature on a single about his grandparents for two guys from the town his grandparents lived in. They talked about their mutual friends from the harbor, but the conversation made Kurt wistful — Cokely and Miller were a reminder of a past Kurt thought he had left behind. “Do you get back to the harbor much?” Cokely asked. “Not very often,” Kurt replied. Both Cokely and Miller were confused when they looked at their singles and noticed Kurt had signed them “Kurdt.”

Kurt later cited this exchange as one of the first moments he realized he was famous. Yet rather than comfort him, this realization set off something just short of a panic. Though he had always wanted to be famous — and back when he was in school in Monte, he had promised his classmates one day he would be — the actual culmination of his dreams deeply unnerved him. Krist would recall this particular show — a free show in a record store a week before the album’s official release date — as a turning point in Kurt. “Things started to happen after that,” Krist said. “We weren’t the same old band. Kurt, he just kind of withdrew. There was a lot of personal stuff that was going on. It got complicated. It was more than we bargained for.”

  1. And also Chance the Rapper and the Beastie Boys before they were famous.

White Noise, a Film About “the Seductive Power of Extremism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

The Atlantic is releasing their first feature-length documentary later this month.1 The film is called White Noise and it’s about the white nationalist movement in the US. Director Daniel Lombroso spent four years embedded in the “alt-right” movement to figure out how it works.

Progressives like to believe that racism is an opiate of the ignorant. But the alt-right’s leaders are educated and wealthy, groomed at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The more time I spent documenting the movement, the more ubiquitous I realized it was. I bumped into one subject dancing in Bushwick with his Asian girlfriend, and another walking around DuPont Circle hitting a vape. Their racism is woven into the fabric of New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris, just as much as Birmingham, Alabama, or Little Rock, Arkansas.

During a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, I began to understand how the alt-right works. Evan McLaren, a lawyer, wrote master plans on a whiteboard. A band of college kids poured whiskey for Spencer, adjusted his gold-framed Napoleon painting, and discussed the coming “Identitarian” revolution. Spencer offered a sense of historical purpose to his bored, middle-class followers. In his telling, they weren’t just “white Americans,” but descendants of the Greeks and Romans. “Myths are more powerful than rationality,” Spencer told me. “We make life worth living.”

White Noise is about the seductive power of extremism. Hatred feels good. But the fix is fleeting. As the film progresses, the subjects reveal the contradictions at the heart of their world. Southern advocates for traditional gender roles, but resents the misogyny and sexism of her peers. Cernovich warns that “diversity is code for white genocide,” but has an Iranian wife and biracial kids. Spencer swears he’ll lead the white-nationalist revolution — until it’s more comfortable for him to move home to live with his wealthy mother in Montana. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise: Follow us, and life will be better.

I mean, I’d roll my eyes if these assholes weren’t so effective and dangerous.

The film is premiering online at AFI on June 20. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available (which seems odd) but I’ll update this post if one materializes.

  1. And probably last? The Atlantic laid off their entire video staff in mid-May, including the director and producer of this film.

Are They Police? Or an Army?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

Nick Baumann on the militarization of the American police:

“You create this world where you’re not just militarizing the police — you equip the police like soldiers, you train the police like soldiers. Why are you surprised when they act like soldiers?” Rizer, a former police officer and soldier, said. “The mission of the police is to protect and serve. But the premise of the soldier is to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them. When you blur those lines together with statements like that … It’s an absolute breakdown of civil society.”

American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But “they don’t care,” he said.

In 2015, after the militarized police response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama restricted the sales of military equipment by the Pentagon to police departments.

Mr. Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon program in late 2014 after the police responded to protests with armored vehicles, snipers and riot gear. The images of police officers with military gear squaring off against protesters around the country angered community activists who said law enforcement agencies were reacting disproportionately.

In addition to the prohibitions on certain military surplus gear, he added restrictions on transferring some weapons and devices, including explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields.

The Pentagon said 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets had been returned since Mr. Obama prohibited their transfer.

In 2017, Donald Trump fully restored the practice of transferring military goods to police, grenade launchers and all.

Update: Would just like to note that the 1033 Program was signed into law by Bill Clinton, has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, and was greatly expanded under Obama.

A recent study show that, under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops — 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to the local police at his high point year of 2008.

(thx, chuck)

Pok√©mon Grandpa’s Incredible Phone Array

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Chen San-yuan, a Taiwanese man who has been nicknamed Pokémon Grandpa, has affixed an array of 64 phones to his bike in order to play dozens of simultaneous games of Pokémon Go.

Pokemon Grandpa

When I first posted about Chen back in Nov 2018, his mere 15-phone setup looked like this:

Pokemon Grandpa

How much bigger can he go? He’s averaging adding ~2.5 phones per month to the array (assuming linear growth, which I’m not sure we can, but let’s start there) so he could reach 100 phones by August 2021. Stay tuned!

Racism Is Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

In yesterday’s post about police abolition, I linked to a two-part podcast conversation between Chenjerai Kumanyika and Ruth Wilson Gilmore. I listened to the first part yesterday afternoon after posting and it was excellent, full of serious knowledge and deep context about a massive and complex American problem. But I wanted to focus here on something from the closing moments of the episode that I had never heard before: Gilmore’s definition of racism. Acknowledging that it’s a “mouthful”, she defined racism in her book Golden Gulag as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death”.

I do not have the expertise or desire to wade into the often-contentious debate about what racism is or is not (see here for instance), but what I like about Gilmore’s take is how it explicitly includes the consequence of racism as an integral part of the definition. Racism is death — there’s a sense of moral urgency when you describe it like that, a clarity that’s absent if you’re just talking about a belief in the superiority of one race over another or even the systemic application or sanction of such prejudice.

The Story Behind the 1968 Olympics Protest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2020

You’ve probably seen the photograph: Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US nation anthem during the medals ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. But as this video explains, their protest was a part of a larger effort to use the Olympics to highlight racial inequality in American sports and society.

After watching the video, you might be interested in reading about the aftermath of the protest. Smith and Carlos were both suspended from the US team and expelled from the Games. They were both subject to abuse from the American press and received death threats. Australian Peter Norman, who had come in second and supported the protest, was ostracized in his own country. But when Norman died in 2006, both Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at this funeral.

Anthony Fauci: USA on Track for 100,000 Covid-19 Cases Per Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

US Covid Stupid Graph

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, told a Senate committee today that the US could be heading towards 100,000 new reported cases of Covid-19 per day. 100,000 cases per day. Yesterday the US recorded about 40,000 new cases.

“It is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that,” he said.

“What was thought to be unimaginable turns out to be the reality we’re facing right now,” Fauci said, adding that “outbreaks happen, and you have to deal with them in a very aggressive, proactive way.”

Fewer than 20 countries have recorded more than 100,000 cases in total. Canada, for instance, has confirmed about 106,000 Covid-19 cases since the outbreak began.

Public health and infectious diseases experts, who have been gravely concerned about the way the U.S. response has unfolded, concurred with Fauci’s assessment.

Bars and restaurants are reopening around the country without any serious effort to test/trace/isolate/support. In the absence of strident guidance from the federal government, people are worrying less about social distancing and wearing masks to protect others. As this guy says, it’s just a matter of math:

“It’s unfortunately just a simple consequence of math plus a lack of action,” said Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious diseases dynamics researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “On the one hand it comes across as ‘Oh my God, 100,000 cases per day!’ But then if you actually look at the current case counts and trends, how would you not get that?”

Absolutely nothing has changed about the virus, so its spread is determined by pretty simple exponential growth.

Limiting person-to-person exposure and decreasing the probability of exposures becoming infections can have a huge effect on the total number of people infected because the growth is exponential. If large numbers of people start doing things like limiting travel, cancelling large gatherings, social distancing, and washing their hands frequently, the total number of infections could fall by several orders of magnitude, making the exponential work for us, not against us. Small efforts have huge results.

We’ve known for months (and epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have known for their entire careers) what works and yet the federal government and many state governments have not listened and, in some cases, have actively suppressed use of such measures. So the pandemic will continue to escalate in the United States until proper measures are put in place by governments and people follow them. The virus will not change, the mathematics will not change, so we must.

Graph at the top of the post via Rishi Desai.

“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

The Dangers of Running While Black

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2020

In this special video edition of the Code Switch podcast, host Gene Demby explores the dangers of running while Black and why the safety of Black runners has not been given the same sort of attention as the safety of white women. The most striking bit of the video for me was right in the beginning when Demby debunks the myth of “all you need to run is a pair of shoes”.

When we runners talk about running — or let’s be real — when we evangelize about it, we talk a lot about how democratic it is. But it’s not really that simple. You’re gonna want gear, which costs money. Then there’s the issue of actual physical space. You want sidewalks that aren’t jagged, trails that aren’t overgrown, air that’s clean enough to breathe. (So ideally you don’t live near landfills or power plants or factories.) So yeah… all you need are shoes. And space. And money. And time. Oh and you also need something from the people around you — the sense that you belong in that space. Women don’t always get that luxury. And neither do runners of color.

Even a seemingly simple thing like running and who can do it is affected by decades of policy decisions that disproportionately favor residents of predominantly white neighborhoods.

How Iceland Beat Covid-19 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

One of the countries with the best response to Covid-19 has been Iceland. The country didn’t lockdown nor do many people wear masks, but they have virtually eliminated the virus through a vigorous program of test, trace, and isolate that was coordinated by public-health authorities. Iceland’s numbers were high in the beginning (the virus was carried into the country from people returning from vacation) but they acted quickly and aggressively — Elizabeth Kolbert has the story for the New Yorker.

Möller pulled up a series of graphs and charts on her laptop. These showed that, per capita, Iceland had had more COVID-19 cases than any other Scandinavian country, and more than even Italy or Britain. There was an outbreak in a nursing home in the town of Bolungarvík, in northwestern Iceland, and one in the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the southern coast, which seemed to have started at a handball game. (In Europe, handball is a team sport that’s sort of a cross between basketball and soccer.)

“The numbers in the beginning were terrible,” Möller said. She attributed the country’s success in bringing the caseload down in part to having got an early start. The “trio,” along with officials from Iceland’s university hospital, had begun meeting back in January. “We saw what was going on in China,” she recalled. “We saw the pictures of people lying dead in emergency departments, even on the street. So it was obvious that something terrible was happening. And, of course, we didn’t know if it would spread to other countries. But we didn’t dare take the chance. So we started preparing.” For example, it was discovered that the country didn’t have enough protective gear for its health-care workers, so hospital officials immediately set about buying more.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

For Slate’s 2015 podcast series The History of American Slavery, Andrew Kahn created an interactive visualization of the 20,000+ voyages that made up the Atlantic slave trade that lasted 315 years. A video of the interactive map is embedded above.

As we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747 — less than 4 percent of the total — came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

Roughly 400,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the United States before the practice was banned in 1808. The ban was mostly (but not entirely) enforced and yet in 1860, the population of enslaved persons was almost 4 million in the South. That’s because the 1808 ban, according to Ned & Constance Sublette’s book The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, was a form of trade protectionism that protected the forced breeding of enslaved peoples by American slaveowners. From a review of the book:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? “The South,” the Sublettes write, “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.” Slavers called slave-breeding “natural increase,” but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, “most of it in the North,” the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South’s total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

You can read more about the economics of slavery in this post from 2016, including how American banks sold bonds that used enslaved persons as collateral to international investors. (via open culture)

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

This Is What I Know about Art by Kimberly Drew

Author, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew has published This Is What I Know About Art, a book aimed at young adults about her experience studying art history in school and then working in the art world. In a piece for Teen Vogue, Drew outlined why she wrote the book.

For far too long, people across the globe have suffered due to the direct effects of colonialism, patriarchy, state violence, and so much more, but it is our art and creativity that have helped us to communicate our collective rage. Art has helped us build bridges intergenerational so that we do not feel alone — and so we can make sure that we do not forget our own history.

And from the introduction to the book:

I am not your typical art historian. I am not your typical activist. I am still learning what art and protest mean to me. And so, this book is more about my journey through art toward activism. This book is about discovery, confusion, and progress.

I love how she ties “discovery, confusion, and progress” together here — a powerfully messy combination for growth.

Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

In a his book out today, Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?, oncologist & bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel compares the outcomes of several countries’ health care systems.

The US spends more than any other nation, nearly $4 trillion, on healthcare. Yet, for all that expense, the US is not ranked #1 — not even close.

In Which Country Has the World’s Best Healthcare? Ezekiel Emanuel profiles 11 of the world’s healthcare systems in pursuit of the best or at least where excellence can be found. Using a unique comparative structure, the book allows healthcare professionals, patients, and policymakers alike to know which systems perform well, and why, and which face endemic problems. From Taiwan to Germany, Australia to Switzerland, the most inventive healthcare providers tackle a global set of challenges — in pursuit of the best healthcare in the world.

In his ranking of 11 countries profiled, China and the United States are, respectively, dead last and second-to-last in providing health care for their citizens. In the case of the United States at least, that failure is on display with our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Stolen: Unfinished Portraits of Black People Killed By Police Officers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Adrian Brandon’s Stolen is a series of portraits of Black people who have been killed by police officers. He colors each portrait in for as long as the person was alive: 1 minute of coloring for each year of their life. (From top to bottom: Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown.)

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Adrian Brandon Stolen

Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered, so I colored his portrait for 12 minutes. As a person of color, I know that my future can be stolen from me if I’m driving with a broken taillight, or playing my music too loud, or reaching for my phone at the wrong time. So for each of these portraits I played with the harsh relationship between time and death. I want the viewer to see how much empty space is left in these lives, stories that will never be told, space that can never be filled. This emptiness represents holes in their families and our community, who will be forever stuck with the question, “who were they becoming?”

Brandon is revisiting this series on Instagram with portraits of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. Here’s a time lapse video of the creation of Taylor’s portrait.

Palo Alto, a Previously Unreleased Thelonious Monk Live Album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

A Thelonious Monk live album that was recorded in 1968 is set to be released for the first time on July 31, 2020. You can hear the first single from the album on YouTube, Spotify, or several other places. (The song is now unavailable — see the update below.)

The story behind the performance is a little nutty — a student hired Monk to play at his high school and many folks didn’t buy tickets until the jazz great actually pulled into the parking lot.

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, racial tensions across the country rose. Palo Alto, a largely white college town in California, was not immune to the events of the day. Danny Scher, a rising junior at Palo Alto High School, had a dream to bring Thelonious Monk to Palo Alto to perform and help bring about racial unity in his community as well as raise funds for his school’s International Committee. After somehow securing Monk’s services to perform on Sunday, October 27, Scher initially had trouble selling tickets and convincing people that Monk was even going to show up. With many twists and turns along the way and several hundred people waiting in the school’s parking lot to await Monk’s arrival before purchasing tickets, the concert eventually happened and was a triumph in more ways that Monk or Scher could have imagined. This is a recording of that historic concert.

(via, who else?, @tedgioia)

Update: One of the high school’s custodians took charge of tuning Monk’s piano and recording the session. A crowdsourced effort is underway to identify and recognize his efforts.

Update: The album’s release has been “indefinitely delayed”.

“I received word that there was a dispute between the estate and Monk’s previous label,” Scher said during a phone conversation on Monday, July 27. So the release has been taken off of the schedule indefinitely “due to circumstances beyond the label’s control,” according to a statement by Impulse! Records. Co-producer Feldman was unable to provide any further information at this time.

The album’s first single has been scrubbed from all the streaming services as well.

Nile Rodgers Tells the Story of the Iconic Riff on Bowie’s Let’s Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

In this video from Fender, the legendary producer/composer/guitarist Nile Rodgers sits down with his iconic Stratocaster and talks about how he took a folky tune that David Bowie came up with and turned it into the jazzy backbone of the pop song Let’s Dance, arguably Bowie’s biggest hit. Listening to where the song started off before Rodgers started tweaking, it’s hard for this musical simpleton to recognize that it’s even the same tune.

Update: Rodgers told a variation of this story in 2015.

America’s 400-Year-Old “Shape-Shifting, Unspoken, Race-Based” Caste System

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

In this long and interesting piece for the NY Times, The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson explains America’s Enduring Caste System.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

The article is an adapted excerpt from her forthcoming book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents:

Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people — including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others — she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

The Warmth of Other Suns is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past decade, so I’m very much looking forward to her new one.

Acceptable Risk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

Acceptable Risk

Some Americans obviously aren’t troubling themselves with this but many of us are constantly running risk calculations in our heads for every little thing we do and don’t do during the course of the week during the pandemic.

Is it ok to visit the grocery store more than once this week? Can my kid have a playdate with her friend? Has her friend’s family been careful about seeing other people and how do I even ask them about it without sounding judgmental? Should I order that thing online or go to the store for it? Is it safe to take a roadtrip to a neighboring state? (Where the hell are we supposed to stop to use the bathroom?) Can I get a haircut? Do I need to order that thing online or do I just want it? Should schools reopen in the fall? And if they do, should I send my kids? Is eating at a restaurant safe for the staff? Can a friend come over for dinner? Can my son safely play in a baseball league? Will there be too many people not wearing masks in the store that I need to visit to get this one thing? Should I keep going to my favorite coffee shop when the barista just can’t seem to keep his mask up over his nose?

It goes on and on and on and IT’S EXHAUSTING. Comic from XKCD.

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.

What Is Intelligence?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

How is it that I am sitting here writing this right now and you are sitting there reading this at some later point which seems like now to you? These behaviors are the result of a series of interconnected processes that have evolved over billions of years that we collective call “intelligence”.

In this video, Kurzgesagt takes a crack at explaining the simple view of intelligence as “a mechanism to solve problems” that involves several aspects: information, memory, learning, knowledge, creativity, the use of physical tools, the ability to plan for the future, and culture. As usual, their extensive list of sources provides more details and opportunities for further exploration.

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.

The Pandemic and the American Mountain of Dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

For his piece The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything in The Atlantic, James Fallows talked to many scientists, health experts, and government officials about the US government’s response to the pandemic. In the article, he compares the pandemic response to how the government manages air safety and imagines what it would look like if we investigated the pandemic catastrophe like the National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane crashes.

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

And he continues:

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that — when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell — will be a central part of the history of our times.

But he rightly pins much of the blame for the state we’re in on the Trump administration almost completely ignoring the plans put into place for a viral outbreak like this that were developed by past administrations, both Republican and Democratic alike.

In cases of disease outbreak, U.S. leadership and coordination of the international response was as well established and taken for granted as the role of air traffic controllers in directing flights through their sectors. Typically this would mean working with and through the World Health Organization — which, of course, Donald Trump has made a point of not doing. In the previous two decades of international public-health experience, starting with SARS and on through the rest of the acronym-heavy list, a standard procedure had emerged, and it had proved effective again and again. The U.S, with its combination of scientific and military-logistics might, would coordinate and support efforts by other countries. Subsequent stages would depend on the nature of the disease, but the fact that the U.S. would take the primary role was expected. When the new coronavirus threat suddenly materialized, American engagement was the signal all other participants were waiting for. But this time it did not come. It was as if air traffic controllers walked away from their stations and said, “The rest of you just work it out for yourselves.”

From the U.S. point of view, news of a virulent disease outbreak anywhere in the world is unwelcome. But in normal circumstances, its location in China would have been a plus. Whatever the ups and downs of political relations over the past two decades, Chinese and American scientists and public-health officials have worked together frequently, and positively, on health crises ranging from SARS during George W. Bush’s administration to the H1N1 and Ebola outbreaks during Barack Obama’s. As Peter Beinart extensively detailed in an Atlantic article, the U.S. helped build China’s public-health infrastructure, and China has cooperated in detecting and containing diseases within its borders and far afield. One U.S. official recalled the Predict program: “Getting Chinese agreement to American monitors throughout their territory — that was something.” But then the Trump administration zeroed out that program.

Americans, and indeed everyone in the world, should be absolutely furious about this, especially since the situation is actively getting worse after months (months!) of inactivity by the federal government.

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.

Live TV Coverage of the Apollo 11 Landing and Moon Walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2020

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

Fifty-one years ago today, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon and went for a little walk. For the 12th year in a row, you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk on a small B&W television, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser today, July 20th, and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm - 10:51:26 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Set an alarm on your phone or calendar!

This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done online…here’s what I wrote when I launched the project in 2009:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

In 2018, I wrote about what to watch for during the landing sequence.

The radio voices you hear are mostly Mission Control in Houston (specifically Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who acted as the spacecraft communicator for this mission) and Buzz Aldrin, whose job during the landing was to keep an eye on the LM’s altitude and speed - you can hear him calling it out, “3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.” Armstrong doesn’t say a whole lot…he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Note the change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility Base”. :)

The Pandemic’s Epidemic of Loneliness

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

In The Price of Isolation for Rolling Stone, Alex Morris writes about how trends toward increasing social isolation in America left us ill-prepared to face weeks and months of time by ourselves during the pandemic. Studies have shown that humans in isolation are less healthy and less able to fight off disease than when other humans are around. This part in particular really really resonated with me:

Sometimes, though, the body can be tricked. When Cole and his colleagues started looking for ways to combat the physical effects of loneliness, they didn’t find that positive emotions made a difference at all. But one thing did: “It was something called eudaimonic well-being, which is a sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of a commitment to some kind of self-transcendent goal greater than your own immediate self-gratification. People who have a lot of connection to some life purpose? Their biology looked great.” Even when researchers compared lonely people with purpose to social butterflies without it, purpose came out on top. In other words, it’s possible when we’re doing things to better our society, the body assumes there’s a society there to better. We’re technically alone, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Which has profound implications in the moment in which we currently find ourselves, a moment when the physical isolation and disconnection the virus has inflicted is now layered over the clear divisions and systemic inequities that have always plagued our country. In the midst of our solitude, we’ve been confronted with the terrible knowledge that people of color are dying of the virus at the highest rates and that 40 percent of families making less than $40,000 a year have lost their livelihoods. We’ve been confronted with the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. We’ve been confronted with the lie that the virus is a great equalizer. We’ve witnessed the many ways it isn’t.

See also We’re All Lonely Together and An Epidemic of Middle-aged Male Loneliness.

Dinnerware Smashing in Slow Motion Accompanied by Bach

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

Optical Arts conceived this video as a “live action musical animation” of cups, plates, and glasses smashing and un-smashing accompanied by the toccata section of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous organ piece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I thought it was fully CGI at first (as The Morning News reported), but then I found the making of video on the project page and it’s not — they filmed all the glasses and dished smashing at extremely high speeds between 1000 and 5000 frames/second on Phantom cameras.

I don’t know about you, but this video is what it looks like inside my head lately. Smash smash smash! (via the morning news)

The Claudia Kishi Club

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2020

The Claudia Kishi Club is a short documentary by Sue Ding about the impact of the Claudia Kishi character from The Baby-Sitters Club book series on a group of Asian-American creatives. They read the books when they were kids and in the film, they reflect on the importance of Claudia in shaping their perceptions of themselves in an era where Asian-American characters were rare in books, movies, and TV.

The six people interviewed in the film are novelist Sarah Kuhn, YA author CB Lee, Naia Cucukov (executive producer of the Netflix series The Babysitter’s Club), comic book artist & author Yumi Sakugawa, blogger Phil Yu, and Gale Galligan (author of The Baby-Sitter’s Club graphic novels, which my daughter loves).

The Claudia Kishi Club is now streaming on Netflix, the trailer is embedded above, and here’s a clip.

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)

It’s Self-Portraits All the Way Down

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2020

Artist Seamus Wray is painting a series of self-portraits of himself painting previous self-portraits, Inception-style. Here’s the first painting:

Seamus Wray Portraits

And then the most recent one (cats are increasingly involved):

Seamus Wray Portraits

You can see the full progression so far on his Instagram. The influence of MC Escher is obvious here, but the two things that sprung to mind more immediately for me were Annie Wong’s “time-tunnel artwork” (she takes periodic photographs of her and her son with the previous photograph in the background) and Macaulay Culkin wearing a t-shirt of Ryan Gosling wearing a t-shirt of Macaulay Culkin. Oh, and the Droste effect.

Zuck the Butcher

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Kara Swisher argues that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “cannot hold on to such enormous power and avoid responsibility when things get tough”. She uses an analogy about a butcher shop to explain the problem at the heart of Facebook:

This week, I finally settled on a simpler comparison: Think about Facebook as a seller of meat products.

Most of the meat is produced by others, and some of the cuts are delicious and uncontaminated. But tainted meat — say, Trump steaks — also gets out the door in ever increasing amounts and without regulatory oversight.

The argument from the head butcher is this: People should be free to eat rotten hamburger, even if it wreaks havoc on their gastrointestinal tract, and the seller of the meat should not be the one to tell them which meat is good and which is bad (even though the butcher can tell in most cases).

Basically, the message is that you should find the truth through vomiting and — so sorry — maybe even death.

She goes on to say:

In this, Mr. Zuckerberg is serving up a rancid meal that he says he’s not comfortable cooking himself, even as his hands control every aspect of the operation.

What’s particularly interesting about this analogy (and Swisher is possibly referencing this between the lines here) is that in 2011, Zuckerberg’s “annual challenge” was only eating meat from animals that he had personally killed.

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.

This project later led to a meme-worthy video of him smoking meat in his backyard and Zuckerberg inviting fellow tech CEO Jack Dorsey over to feast on a goat he’d raised and killed.

Dorsey said he and Zuckerberg waited around 30 minutes for the goat to cook in the oven. Afterward, Zuckerberg believed the meal was ready and the two sat together to eat.

“We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold,” said Dorsey in Rolling Stone. “That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad.”

Surreal. If all this were from the screenplay of a proposed The Social Network sequel, there’s no way this movie gets greenlit. (via daring fireball)

It Is Time for Reparations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

In a piece for the NY Times called What Is Owed, Nikole Hannah-Jones argues that because of its sanction of slavery and subsequent legalized racial segregation and discrimination, it is time for the United States government to pay its debt to Black Americans in form of reparations.

To summarize, none of the actions we are told black people must take if they want to “lift themselves” out of poverty and gain financial stability — not marrying, not getting educated, not saving more, not owning a home — can mitigate 400 years of racialized plundering. Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.

“The cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

This piece is one of the best things I’ve read this year. It is clear, focused, powerful, and persuasive. There is no amount of money that anyone could ever pay to make up for the 400+ years of absolute shit rained down on Black people by the United States of America and its precursors, but nevertheless, reparations are the only just and moral way forward for the United States.

P.S. Here’s the Duke study mentioned in the excerpt above: What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap. And the book containing a detailed plan for reparations mentioned by Hannah-Jones is From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (ebook).

Update: Terry Gross interviewed Hannah-Jones on Fresh Air about reparations.

I think that reparations can’t just be any one thing. I think that you have to have targeted investment in Black communities and Black schools that have been generationally under-resourced. You certainly need to have a commitment to strong enforcement of existing civil rights laws, because reparations don’t do any good if you’re still facing rampant employment and housing and educational discrimination. But the center of any reparations program has to be cash payments. The only thing that closes a wealth gap is money.

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.”

The 1850s Map that Made Modern Epidemiology

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In 1854, Dr. John Snow produced a map of a London cholera outbreak which showed deaths from the disease concentrated around a water pump on Broad Street. The prevailing view at the time was that cholera spread through dirty air, but Snow hypothesized that it was actually spread through water and constructed this early medical data visualization to help prove it.

John Snow Cholera Map

Through a mix of personal interviews, clever detective work, and data analysis that included tables and a famous map, Snow managed to stop the outbreak and convince local public health officials, eventually, that cholera could be transmitted through water, not a miasma. Since his breakthrough study, the map has become an iconic piece of epidemiological history, as an illustration of keen detective work, analysis, and visual representation with a map that, even today, tells a story.

Aside from the cluster of deaths around the pump (which could be argued were the result of a miasma cloud and not contaminated water), stories of nearby people who didn’t get sick (brewers who drank the beer they produced rather than well water, people in buildings with their own wells) and far away people who died because they had drunk water from the well were also essential in proving his theory:

I was informed by this lady’s son that she had not been in the neighbourhood of Broad Street for many months. A cart went from broad Street to West End every day and it was the custom to take out a large bottle of the water from the pump in Broad Street, as she preferred it. The water was taken on Thursday 31st August., and she drank of it in the evening, and also on Friday. She was seized with cholera on the evening of the latter day, and died on Saturday

You can read more about John Snow and how his map changed science and medicine in Steven Johnson’s excellent Ghost Map.

Dr. Seuss Reimagined for the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Designer Jim Malloy has reimagined the books of Dr. Seuss for the coronavirus age by altering the titles & cover illustrations and changing the author to “Dr. Fauci”. You can check out the results on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. (via print)

Overview Timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2020

Overview Timelapse

From the creators the Daily Overview website that showcases beautiful & educational satellite imagery of Earth, comes a new book about the Earth’s changing landscape. Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth is a book of satellite imagery that shows how landscapes change over time due to things like volcanic eruptions, climate change, population growth, and massive construction projects.

With human activity driving this transformation faster than ever, visible signs can now be seen across the planet. With more than 250 new, mesmerizing images such as sprawling cities and the patterns created by decades of deforestation, this book offers a fresh perspective of change on Earth from a larger-than-life scale.

Here’s a layout from the book that shows the construction of the Beijing Daxing International Airport over the course of several years:

Overview Timelapse

You can preorder Overview Timelapse from Bookshop.org and pick up their previous books as well: Overview and Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition.

Window Swap

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2020

Well this is lovely: Window Swap lets you experience other people’s views from around the world in the form of videos taken from their windows.

Window Swap is here to fill that deep void in our wanderlust hearts by allowing us to look through someone else’s window, somewhere in the world, for a while.

Very relaxing. See also Virtual Travel Photography in the Age of Pandemic and Let’s Go for a Stroll Outside. (thx, rion)

The 2020 Audubon Photography Award Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

Audubon 2020 Contest

Audubon 2020 Contest

From more than 6000 submissions, the National Audubon Society has selected the winners of The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, featuring some of the best bird photography of the year. The top photo, of a cormorant diving for dinner, is by Joanna Lentini and the second photo, of a thirsty hummingbird, was taken by Bibek Ghosh.

Update: They’ve released the top 100 images form the competition; so much good stuff in there.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Speaks on the House Floor About Abusive Behavior Towards Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2020

Earlier this week, Republican Representative Ted Yoho accosted Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol Building and called her “disgusting”, “crazy”, “dangerous”, and, as a parting shot, a “fucking bitch”. After Yoho offered a non-apology on the House floor, Ocasio-Cortez responded to both the incident and his remarks in a short speech before the House.

The video is only 10 minutes long — I urge you to watch the whole thing if you haven’t seen it. It’s masterful. Here are some excerpts from the transcript.

This is not new, and that is the problem. Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams, and that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, and an entire structure of power that supports that. Because not only have I been spoken to disrespectfully, particularly by members of the Republican Party and elected officials in the Republican Party, not just here, but the President of the United States last year told me to go home to another country, with the implication that I don’t even belong in America. The governor of Florida, Governor DeSantis, before I even was sworn in, called me a “whatever that is”. Dehumanizing language is not new, and what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern. This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others.

I do not need Representative Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly he does not want to. Clearly when given the opportunity he will not and I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women, but what I do have issue with is using women, our wives and daughters, as shields and excuses for poor behavior. Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

As a reminder, properly apologizing to someone requires:

1. An expression of regret - this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
4. A declaration of repentance.
5. An offer of repair.
6. A request for forgiveness.

As Ocasio-Cortez correctly notes, Yoho’s attempt does not make the grade.

And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote, he apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.

Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country. It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol. It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit, admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us.

Again, I urge you to watch the whole thing — it’s full of powerful truths expertly and passionately delivered. Among many thoughts I had while watching it, one in particular kept rising in my mind: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will one day be President of the United States and we will be very lucky to have her.

Update: Ocasio-Cortez didn’t write out her speech ahead of time; she jotted down a few notes just minutes before she started speaking.

AOC Speech Notes

Many have asked me if my speech was pre-written. The answer is no. But in some ways, yes. Yes because this speech was a recounting of thoughts that so many women and femme people have carried since the time we were children. It flowed because every single one of us has lived this silent script: stay silent (why?), keep your head down (for whom?), suck it up (to whose benefit?). But my chosen words were largely extemporaneous. I got to the House floor about ten minutes before my speech and scribbled down some quick notes after reflecting on what had transpired over the last few days. Pictured here are all the notes I had, and from there I improvised my composition and spoke live.

For Some, the Effects of Covid-19 Last for Months

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2020

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong interviewed several people who, like thousands of others around the world, have been experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 for months now, indicating that the disease is chronic for some. Thousands Who Got COVID-19 in March Are Still Sick:

I interviewed nine of them for this story, all of whom share commonalities. Most have never been admitted to an ICU or gone on a ventilator, so their cases technically count as “mild.” But their lives have nonetheless been flattened by relentless and rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform simple physical tasks. Most are young. Most were previously fit and healthy. “It is mild relative to dying in a hospital, but this virus has ruined my life,” LeClerc said. “Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting. What small joys other people are experiencing in lockdown-yoga, bread baking-are beyond the realms of possibility for me.”

One of those who has been sick for months is Paul Garner, a professor of infectious diseases:

It “has been like nothing else on Earth,” said Paul Garner, who has previously endured dengue fever and malaria, and is currently on day 77 of COVID-19. Garner, an infectious-diseases professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, leads a renowned organization that reviews scientific evidence on preventing and treating infections. He tested negative on day 63. He had waited to get a COVID-19 test partly to preserve them for health-care workers, and partly because, at one point, he thought he was going to die. “I knew I had the disease; it couldn’t have been anything else,” he told me. I asked him why he thought his symptoms had persisted. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s happening in my body.”

Garner wrote about his experience for BMJ.

The illness went on and on. The symptoms changed, it was like an advent calendar, every day there was a surprise, something new. A muggy head; acutely painful calf; upset stomach; tinnitus; pins and needles; aching all over; breathlessness; dizziness; arthritis in my hands; weird sensation in the skin with synthetic materials. Gentle exercise or walking made me worse — I would feel absolutely dreadful the next day. I started talking to others. I found a marathon runner who had tried 8 km in her second week, which caused her to collapse with rigors and sleep for 24 hours. I spoke to others experiencing weird symptoms, which were often discounted by those around them as anxiety, making them doubt themselves.

We still have no idea what the long-term effects of this disease are going to be. But it is definitely not the flu. And I remain unwilling to risk myself or my family getting it.

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.

Always Stand on the Side of the Egg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

In 2009, novelist Haruki Murakami controversially accepted the Jerusalem prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society in the aftermath of Israeli military action in Gaza. In his acceptance speech, he related a story about something he keeps in mind while writing:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others — coldly, efficiently, systematically.

You can read the whole speech here. (via @robinsloan)

Doublespeak: Language Designed to Mislead While Pretending Otherwise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2020

Linguist William Lutz, former editor of the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak, went on CSPAN in 1989 to promote his book, Doublespeak. The video above is a 7-minute distillation of his thoughts on what he calls “language designed to mislead while pretending not to”. (Watch Lutz’s full interview here.)

You can read the first chapter of Doublespeak; an excerpt:

Doublespeak is not the product of carelessness or sloppy thinking. Indeed, most doublespeak is the product of clear thinking and carefully designed and constructed to appear to communicate when in fact it doesn’t. It is language designed not to lead but mislead. It is language designed to distort reality and corrupt thought… In the world created by doublespeak, if it’s not a tax increase, but rather “revenue enhancement” or “tax base broadening”, how can you complain about higher taxes? If it’s not acid rain, but rather “poorly buffered precipitation”, how can you worry about all those dead trees?

See also On Bullshit and Donald Trump. (via dunstan)

The Best Book Design of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The AIGA has announced the winners of its annual 50 Books / 50 Covers competition for books published in 2019. The competition recognizes excellence in both book design and book cover design — some of the winners placed in both categories. You’ll notice there are not a lot of books here that you’d find on the front table of the bookstore — the winners tend to be from smaller publishers and/or academic in nature and/or about art or design. For lists containing more mainstream books, check out the lists from the NY Times, Buzzfeed, and Lithub.

The books pictured above (from top to bottom) are Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan, Love Drones by Noam Dorr, Signal. Image. Architecture. by John May, and False Bingo by Jac Jemc.

A Mind Sang

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2020

A Mind Sang is an inventive short film about “perception, rebirth, and transformation”. What I most liked about watching was how effortless it was to see the transitions between all the optical illusions — but it wasn’t too easy. A great sense of pacing by filmmaker Vier Nev. Read an interview with Nev about his film on Vimeo’s blog. (via @mikeindustries)

Inside the Epicenter of the Pandemic Baking Boom at King Arthur Flour

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

King Arthur Flour

Marker’s David Freedman has a great look at how Vermont’s own King Arthur Flour has dealt with a massive increase in demand for their best-in-class flour and other challenges during the pandemic. The piece is a textbook example of what Tim Carmody calls the systemic sublime.

The company knew something weird was going on when they noticed a 600% sales jump almost overnight and started seeing different kinds of questions coming into their consumer call center.

So tricky and specific are some of the bread-baking questions that even though Ely is one of the bread specialists working the hotline, she sometimes puts callers on hold and yells over the cubicle walls to colleagues for second opinions.

But in early March, Ely noticed a change in the questions. Partly it was an increase in the sheer number of calls, a jump that seemed more sudden and pronounced than the normal mild pre-Easter build-up. But even stranger was how many of the callers seemed, well, clueless. How do you tell if bread is done? Do I really need yeast? And strangest of all: What can I use instead of flour?

In a matter of weeks, the employee-owned company transformed several aspects of their business and tripled their flour output in order to keep up with the demand.

As a first step to ramping up the flow of flour to consumers, King Arthur added one to two shifts at all its facilities and contracted with an additional fulfillment center. It shifted most of its long-distance product transportation from rail to trucks, which are more expensive per bag but add speed and flexibility. It stopped international sales to divert all incoming inventory to U.S. customers. To make shipping operations more efficient and get orders out the door faster, the company switched to all “ship-complete” shipping — that is, if one item in a multi-item order was temporarily out of stock, the entire order was held until the item was back in stock.

The company also managed to find a new partner that could mill and bag more flour. The wrinkle was that the partner was only set up to fill three-pound plastic bags, not King Arthur’s five- and 10-pound paper bags. So King Arthur quickly whipped up a new three-pound plastic bag and threw it up on the website as a new product. That move alone would add up to a half-million new units a month to the company’s shipments.

The company has also done right by their employee-owners:

Altogether, three-quarters of the company’s employees were sent home. In many cases, the work went with them, as was the case with the Baker’s Hotline, and with most managers. Many of those whose jobs couldn’t be performed at home were trained to help out with tasks that could. So far, not a single employee has been furloughed; everyone is being paid — including 12 employees who stay busy sewing masks for other employees.

They’ve helped out companies they supply as well:

While home baking was taking off, bakeries were being closed down, sharply reducing demand for the big bags of flour. (To help keep some of them afloat, the company has spent $30,000 so far during the pandemic paying some of its bakery customers around the country — including Empire Baking — to bake bread and donate it to local good causes. Its own bakers have been doing the same for essential workers and those in need in Norwich.)

And I love the photos that accompany the article by Stephanie Gonot — that must have been a fun & messy photoshoot to do at home. (via @robinsloan)

Covid-19 Superspreading Events and “Speech Superemitters”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

From Christie Aschwanden’s Scientific American article about How ‘Superspreading’ Events Drive Most COVID-19 Spread comes this speculation by a group of scientists that the way in which some people talk or breathe might spread many more potential coronavirus-carrying droplets than other people.

The scientists also have found intriguing evidence that a small subset of people may behave as “speech superemitters” — individuals who consistently broadcast an order of magnitude more respiratory particles than their peers. “It is very difficult to identify who is going to be a superemitter ahead of time,” he says. “One of the superemitters was a very petite young woman. And I was a bigger, bulkier guy and was not a superemitter.”

I don’t know why I find this so interesting, but I do. Add “speech superemitter” to the list of new Covid-19 vocabulary.

Map of Pangaea with Modern-Day Borders

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Pangaea Country Map

Pangaea is a supercontinent that formed on Earth about 335 million years ago and began to break up about 175 million years ago, eventually forming the familiar continents of today. Massimo Pietrobon made a map that shows where our modern country borders would appear on Pangaea. Check out the full-size version here.

See also Locate Modern Addresses on Earth 240 Million Years Ago. (via @owacle)

The Top 50 Sports Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

On the occasion of ESPN’s hit documentary The Last Dance finishing up, Axios’ Kendall Baker shared his list of the top 50 sports documentaries of all time.

It’s unsurprising that Hoop Dreams comes out on top — I need to make some time to watch that again. OJ: Made in America comes in at #2 and is indeed excellent, one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in recent years. But is it actually a sports documentary? It’s about a guy who used to play sports… The Last Dance finishes in third place; I haven’t seen it yet1 but my guess is that’s too high, especially considering Jordan had a lot of control over the finished product.

Loved seeing some of my other favorites on there too: Senna, When We Were Kings, Pumping Iron, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Minding the Gap (which should have been way higher on the list). (via @mikeindustries)

  1. I don’t know if this is happening to you during all of this, but I have limited energy at the end of the day for any form of televisual entertainment that’s supposed to be “good”. So even though I was a massive Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan in the 90s, I haven’t worked up the energy to tackle this yet. I guess part of me is also anxious about how invested I was in that story back then and what it might dredge up for me, feelings-wise.

Lego Nintendo Entertainment System

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2020

Lego set of the Nintendo Entertainment System

As a child of the 80s, this Lego set of the Nintendo Entertainment System activates a very ancient and primal region of my brain. As you can see in this short video, the set includes a controller, a cartridge that you can put into the machine, and a vintage TV with a hand-crank that you can use to “play” Super Mario Bros.

Research on How to Stop Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

From Samuel Sinyangwe, a thread about research-based solutions to stop police violence. Body cams & police training programs don’t reduce police violence, but demilitarization, stricter use-of-force policies, and better police union contracts do (among other things).

More restrictive state and local policies governing police use of force are associated with significantly lower rates of police shootings/killings by police. This is backed by 30+ years of research.

Demilitarization. Police depts that get more military weapons from the federal govt kill more people. You can stop that from happening through local and state policy. Montana (Red state) has gone the furthest on this.

Police Union Contracts. Every 4-6 years your police dept’s accountability system is re-negotiated. Purging misconduct records, reinstating fired officers, dept funding- it’s in the contract. Cities with worse contracts have higher police violence rates.

You can learn more about this research at Campaign Zero.

Baseline, a Decades-Long Film Series About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2020

Taking a page from The Up Series, director John Sutter is making a series of films that revisit four geographic locations every 5 years until 2050 in order to document the effects in those areas due to climate change. The name of the series is Baseline and it’s a reference to the concept of shifting baselines, which the trailer above defines as “a phenomenon of lowered expectations in which each generation regards a progressively poorer natural world as normal”. The four areas the films will focus on are Alaska, Utah, Puerto Rico, and the Marshall Islands.

Sutter did a TEDx Talk about shifting baselines and climate change — the clip he shows right at the beginning featuring the shifting sizes of fish caught in Key West, Florida is astonishing.

He also wrote a piece about the series and the Alaskan village featured in it.

New Cartoons from The Far Side’s Gary Larson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

Gary Larson New Work

In 1995, after his massively popular single-panel cartoon The Far Side had run daily in newspapers for 15 years, cartoonist Gary Larson retired at the top of his game and scarcely a peep has been heard from him since. Until recently. Back in September, Larson launched a website for The Far Side with a daily archival cartoon. But then yesterday, Larson revealed that he’s been working on some new stuff with “a digital tablet” (likely an iPad).

The “New Stuff” that you’ll see here is the result of my journey into the world of digital art. Believe me, this has been a bit of a learning curve for me. I hail from a world of pen and ink, and suddenly I was feeling like I was sitting at the controls of a 747. (True, I don’t get out much.) But as overwhelmed as I was, there was still something familiar there — a sense of adventure. That had always been at the core of what I enjoyed most when I was drawing The Far Side, that sense of exploring, reaching for something, taking some risks, sometimes hitting a home run and sometimes coming up with “Cow tools.” (Let’s not get into that.) But as a jazz teacher once said to me about improvisation, “You want to try and take people somewhere where they might not have been before.” I think that my approach to cartooning was similar — I’m just not sure if even I knew where I was going. But I was having fun.

There are only three new pieces so far, but I’d guess more are on the way. The new stuff is more painterly and definitely has that drawn-in-Procreate feel to it, but the Larson’s trademark humor is very much in evidence.