Archive for March, 2011
Sterne's starling has been much on my mind recently, so it is not surprising that this is the bit of Perry that especially caught my attention:
The history of a poem such as “The Caged Goldfinch”, not one of the central masterpieces but absolutely pure Hardy, demonstrates all the virtues he discovered in keeping mum:Within a churchyard, on a recent grave,It is a poem all about not knowing what is going on: the poem knows so little about the subject on which it has elected to speak that it hardly exists at all; and, since seeing people out of their depth can always be funny, it is “a little joke” in one way, amused at the thought of bringing the graveyard manners of Thomas Gray and Robert Blair into the sceptical, hesitant voice of modernity. But there is a real perplexity at work in the poem as well, feelings too unassuaged for the spirit of a joke wholly to absorb them. When Shelley (whom Hardy greatly admired as one might regard one’s opposite) addresses a skylark you know he is finding a way of speaking about his own selfhood and song. But the identification in Hardy’s poem between the trapped bird and the clueless figure of the poet, quite unable to perform in the high old Shelleyan style, is left implicit and the poem’s element of self-exposure remains tantalizingly oblique.
I saw a little cage
That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence save
Its hops from stage to stage.
There was inquiry in its wistful eye,
And once it tried to sing;
Of him or her who placed it there, and why,
No one knew anything.
I especially loved the "intensely Sebaldian" aspect of the book, and of course also the narrator's "well-stocked mind" (to borrow a few choice Woodean phrases); I defy you to read the review and not feel that this is a novel that must be read, but that will also be uniquely pleasurable to read! Another of Wood's sentences partly explains why I read this book in a sort of fanatical state of breathless attention, feeling that it had been written peculiarly and particularly for me out of all possible readers: "This is one of the very few scenes I have encountered in contemporary fiction in which critical and literary theory is not satirized, or flourished to exhibit the author’s credentials, but is simply and naturally part of the whole context of a person."
But now that the short list has been announced for the Young Lions Fiction Award, I am free to say that this was the award I was reading for earlier in the year. I won't say anything about books I read and didn't like (I have studiously avoided mentioning them here!), and the structure is such that one hasn't necessarily read all of the finalists, so I can only say that the two I did read from this list of five, John Brandon's Citrus County and Patricia Engel's Vida, were both highly worthwhile (my personal preference was slightly for the latter, but both are really worthy of recognition). And the book that I was startled didn't make it onto the short list (but it is the nature of group decision-making and consensus that things go this way) was one that I truly loved, Rosecrans Baldwin's You Lost Me There. Highly recommended!
I scrapped the post because it was kind of self-indulgent, and also because nobody cares, and also because nobody likes to hear a thin girl complain about her body image.
But instead, having remembered that Game of Thrones airs soon, I thought - Man, why don't I make a post and ask people to help me brainstorm tall, muscled and big women? Then, IDK, I could try to write some about each one of them. Or something. Let's note: this isn't just about height, and it's not just about size, and it's not just about being muscular - it's about all three. I want to hear about the chicks who would totally be the tank in your WoW party.
For me, there are four important big muscled ass-kicking women in fandoms -
TAURA, my favorite, my darling, who I can forgive Lois McMaster Bujold almost anything for, because she is so kickass and she gets to sex up a much shorter guy, and this is presented as something totally normal and fine;
STARBUCK, because who doesn't love Starbuck? Who is one of the only female characters I can think of that gets to just haul off and punch somebody - not that this is admirable behavior, but it's so refreshing to see a woman get to react to things in a stereotypically male way, because hello, sometimes we do really want to haul off and punch somebody, and also, I love how the camera doesn't shy away from showing her muscle tone;
XENA, who may have to wear ridiculous leather armor but who is nevertheless an official HBIC;
BRIENNE OF TARTH, yes, from Game of Thrones. Poor Brienne gets the short end of the stick all the time, but I really like how GRRM has handled Jaime's reactions to her - it felt realistic, if somewhat cruel. She's not a HBIC, she's not confident enough for that, but man, she's got heart and she's got courage, and I love her relationship with Catelyn, and how she sees that women can be strong in many ways.
If they screw Brienne up in the Game of Thrones series, assuming they get that far, I will actually cry. I'm feeling pretty good about it so far - they've done a good job wtih the other roles. But it still makes me nervous.
Who are your favorite big-ass muscled fightin' ladies?
Duane Swierczynski's delightful time-travel Philadelphia noir Expiration Date, which I liked very much (I wanted to introduce it to Charlie Williams' Stairway to Hell!)
Emily St. John Mandel's The Singer's Gun, which I also liked very much (it reminded me of several other books, though in a generalized sense that makes it hard to name them - that was the only thing that would stop me from raving about it - it's really good, though)
Finally, Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water, which I liked certain aspects of very much (but I wanted more about swimming!) - I don't think I can give it an unadulterated rave, for my taste it's too much on Kathy Acker-Lance Olsen lines, a bit too literary, composed and presented in pieces - but I particularly liked the last stretch, which achieves more tranquility amidst chaos and disruption and also homes back in on the swimming stuff that was what mainly made me pick it up in the first place. Certainly a book one can't easily put down...
Google unveiled a new addition to its search engine yesterday. It’s called +1 and it’s easiest to conceptualize as a Facebook Like button for search results. Though it’s not a network in the way we’ve come to think about them, it does bring Google searches some social intelligence, at least based on your Gmail and Reader contacts.
The tech world isn’t quite sure what to make of it all. Here are three quick takes from tech bloggers.
Whether they’ll admit it or not, Google is at war with Facebook for control of the web. Facebook is coming at it from a social perspective, Google from a data perspective. But the two sides have been inching closer to one another. Facebook isn’t fully doing search — yet. But their social ad play is also a huge threat to Google. Probably even a bigger threat, since that’s the way Google makes the vast majority of their money. And +1 is a big attempt to keep pace with Facebook in that regard.
So yes, it’s good that Google is adding social signals to search — that’s a smart thing to do. And like Om, I am kind of wondering why they didn’t do it a lot sooner, since search is still 90 percent of what Google does (from a financial sense, at least). But that focus is part of the problem: everything the company does is still seen through the lens of search, which is why it has so much trouble understanding how social features work (see Buzz) and sees social as something that can be “bolted on” to its existing services.
The real problem right now, tough, is that there are only so many buttons users can click on on any given site and unless they know where their recommendations go, chances are they won’t bother using this feature much.
With +1, your friends will see your “likes” on search results pages and on your Google Profile. I doubt that there is a lot of traffic to anybody’s Google Profile today, so why would I feel inclined to add more content to it? Instead, when I send a recommendation to Facebook or Twitter, I know exactly where it goes and who sees it.
At the height of the Cold War, the sprawling, decentralized suburban landscape of the United States was seen by many military planners as a form of spatial self-defense. As historian David Krugler explains in This Is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War, "urban dispersal" was viewed as a defensive military tactic, one that would greatly increase the nation's chance of survival in the event of nuclear attack.
Specially formatted residential landscapes such as "cluster cities" were thus proposed, "each with a maximum population of 50,000." These smaller satellite cities would not only reshape the civilian landscape of the United States, they would make its citizens, its industrial base, and its infrastructure much harder to target.
"This might seem the stuff of Cold War science fiction," Krugler writes, "but after World War II, many urban and civil defense planners believed cluster cities, also called dispersal, should be the future of the American metropolis."
These planners, like the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, imagined atomic firestorms engulfing American cities and advocated preventive measures such as dispersal. Just one or two atomic bombs could level a concentrated metropolitan area, but cluster cities would suffer far less devastation: enemy bombers could strike some, but not all, key targets, allowing the unharmed cities to aid in recovery.Krugler points out that this suburban dispersal was not always advised in the name of military strategy: "Many urban planners believed dispersal could spur slum clearance, diminish industrial pollution, and produce parks. Not only would dispersal shield America's cities, it would save them from problems of their own making."
However, the idea that urban dispersal might be useful only as a protective tactic against the horrors of aerial bombardment overlooks other threats, including earthquakes and tsunamis.
Earlier this week, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan was advised "to decentralize Japan" out of fear of "Tokyo annihilation danger." Indeed, we read, the recent 9.0 earthquake, tsunami, and partial nuclear meltdown at Fukushima together suggest that "the nation must reduce the role of its capital city to avert an even greater catastrophe."
Takayoshi Igarashi, a professor at Hosei University, explains: "I told the prime minister that nationwide dispersal is the first thing we need to do as we rebuild. We have no idea when the big one’s going to hit Tokyo, but when it does, it’s going to annihilate the entire country because everything is here." His conclusion: "The lesson we need to take away from this disaster is that we have to restructure Japan as an entire nation"—a seismic decentralization that relies as much on horizontal geography as on vertical building code. This could thus be "the nation’s biggest investment in urban planning in decades."
The idea that urban design might find a reinvigorated sense of national purpose in response to a threat in the ground itself is fascinating, of course, perhaps especially for someone who also lives in an earthquake zone. But the prospect of large-scale urban dispersal remaking the urban landscape of Japan—that Tokyo itself might actually be broken up into smaller subcities, and that future urban planning permission might be adjusted to enforce nationwide sprawl as a form of tectonic self-defense, from megacity to exurban lace—presents an explicit spatialization of Japanese earthquake policy that will be very interesting to track over the years to come.
(Spotted via @urbanphoto_blog).
It’s always a good day when we get to a Peel session by the Fall. Their fourth one was aired March 31, 1981; here’s one of its highlights, a revised version of “Cash ‘n’ Carry” segueing into a variation on “Do the Hucklebuck,” a.k.a. “C ‘n’ C - Hassle Schmuck.” Genius. “You wouldn’t even know the sun was up unless there was a press release on it!”
I’ve been playing this era of the Fall a lot lately. I think there were a couple of months recently when I barely listened to the Fall at all. That had to be rectified.
by Carl Wilson
Since I haven’t been able to do a full-blown post for a little while, I thought I’d share one of the pieces I have written lately in the B2TW spirit – my review for The Los Angeles Times of the new Britney Spears album, Femme Fatale. It starts like this:
“In the annals of radical art, there are ‘multiple use’ names such as Luther Blissett, Monty Cantsin and Karen Eliot that anyone is invited to adopt as noms de plume. They’re meant to assert a communal conception of creativity, as opposed to the Western myth of individual genius, and to let imaginations explore taboo territories under cover of anonymity. The name Britney Spears may be ready to join that anti-pantheon. [...]“
I’d like to note that the headline is a little misleading: I’m not actually saying that this mindblowingly danceable album lacks “anything deeper” – just that the meaningful elements are on two levels that are not conventionally where people look for depth: First, in the actual textures and dynamics of the music, which are more experimental and have a wider range of reference points than a lot of people expect from a Britney record (although at least since Blackout that’s been a mistake). Second, perhaps more importantly, in the way that listeners bring their own meanings to her music now because of their own attachment to her death-and-resurrection narrative, her public passion play, so vague in its outline but so dramatic in its peak moments. This kind of extra-textual experience is often dismissed as illegitimate, gossip-level interaction with any kind of art – indeed, as if the amount of it available is inversely proportional to a work’s legitimacy as art. But we’re way past the point where that’s viable.
Hope you like the piece.
Google. RIM. Apple. Amazon. All four companies find themselves in the privileged position of running the platform that powers various devices, and this week, they’ve all encountered the complexities of their gatekeeper status. A post on the Future of the Internet blog highlights exactly what that means for you and your phone or iPad or Kindle.
In the end, all four platforms decided what exactly their users own. Users buy a device, but what that device actually does is a service controlled by the platform. This service is subject to change at the platform’s discretion if, for example, it harms the device or doesn’t fit the company’s business model – and subject to change if senators, courts, advocacy groups, or anyone else can pressure the platform to take action.
The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which is responsible for some of the most sublime images we have, only requires about two kilowatts of electricity. That’s about 17,500 kilowatt-hours a year. That’s nothing. The Department of Energy found that an average American household used about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year in a comprehensive study from 2001.
So, imagine one of those huge suburban manses with a heated indoor pool and eight bedrooms. It uses as much power as Chandra needs to peer across the universe at things like the remnants of a supernova.
Squire’s Hits From 3,000 Years Ago album came out March 31, 1981. Here’s “Does Stephanie Know?” from it.
As the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded over the last few weeks, a small group of heroic figures emerged in media coverage: the workers battling to keep the plant from melting down. While company and government executives came off looking bad, the bravery of the workers who became known as the Fukushima 50 was unassailable, and confirmed what everyone wants to believe about the strength of the human spirit when confronted with a horrific and terrifying task.
But there was always something about that narrative which was a little too clean. It’s not that the workers aren’t courageous. But the magical media bubble that came to surround them had a Jessica Lynch-like intensity. The story became societal wish-fulfillment more than reality. Now the real story is beginning to come out in bits and pieces, as we can read in today’s New York Times:
Many of them — especially the small number charged with approaching damaged reactors and exposing themselves to unusually high doses of radiation — are viewed as heroes, preventing the world’s second-worst nuclear calamity from becoming even more dire.
But unlike their bosses, who appear daily in blue work coats to apologize to the public and explain why the company has not yet succeeded in taming the reactors, the front-line workers have remained almost entirely anonymous.
In the interviews and in some e-mail and published blog items, several line workers expressed frustration at the slow pace of the recovery efforts, sometimes conflicting orders from their bosses and unavoidable hurdles like damaged roads.
Read the full story at the New York Times.
It’s always a good day when we get to a Peel session by the Fall. Their fourth one was aired March 31, 1981; here’s one of its highlights, a revised version of “Cash ‘n’ Carry” segueing into a variation on “Do the Hucklebuck,” a.k.a. “C ‘n’ C - Hassle Schmuck.” Genius. “You wouldn’t even know the sun was up unless there was a press release on it!”
A hacked Kinect and custom software were used to make this visually-striking video for Echo Park’s track, “Young Silence.” Read more about it here.
After the horrible earthquake and tsunami that wiped out much of the northeastern seaboard of Japan, making hundreds of thousands homeless, killing at least 8,000 people, and leaving stores empty of basic supplies, Westerners experienced a wave of respect for the people of Japan, as one question made the rounds of Western media: "Why is there no looting in Japan?"
Ed Park posed the question in his blog for The Telegraph, noting the impressive way in which the Japanese had banded together in a communal effort to survive.
Lately I look like this (photo by Laird Hunt):
*"This is an SFGate.com City Brights Blog. These blogs are not written or edited by SFGate or the San Francisco Chronicle. The authors are solely responsible for the content."
Mitchell worked on the novel, which was originally to be called either “Tomorrow Is Another Day” or “Tote the Weary Load,” in fits and starts from 1925 to 1935. She wrote on blank newsprint and composed the book out of order, beginning with the last chapter and picking up other sections as her mood suited her. The finished chapters she put in individual manila envelopes, sometimes with grocery lists scrawled on them, and stored in a closet. Very few people saw them or even knew what she was doing. —NYT
[Side note: Reading this, I was fixated on that title, Tote the Weary Load...had I heard that one before? then I realized I was thinking about Toad the Wet Sprocket (apparently still around).]
As it turned out, there was a lot more than just that neat stack. "They brought me literally bins and drawers and wire baskets," Pietsch says. "Just heaps of pages. There was no order to them." He went back to New York City with a duffel bag full of them. —Lev Grossman, Time
Regarding Monday’s post about The Shining screening backwards and forwards superimposed here’s a clip that reveals that Stanley Kubrick almost certainly had it in mind to make the film a mirror, with scenes echoing each other at equal points. Also, David Wolf just created Mac App that plays films backwards and forwards.
Minnie Ripperton LP (back) as found. Submitted by Jive Time Records.
During the Reagan Administration, that is to say, more than 25 years ago, a company called Luz International built a complex of solar thermal power plants out in the Mojave Desert. After the company was hit by a series of legislative handicaps and tax-related problems, Luz went out of business in the early 1990s. They’d managed to vastly reduce the cost of solar thermal electricity and were responsible for the vast majority of the world’s solar capacity.
About a decade later in the early 2000s, Luz reformed and reassumed its position as a global leader in solar under the name BrightSource. The company is now building a new massive solar farm near Ivanpah, California.
But in the intervening years, which saw an increasing acceptance of climate science, very little happened in solar thermal research. Large-scale solar power plant developers lost a decade in their race to compete with fossil fuels. In this video, I tell the condensed story of Luz, which I cover more extensively in my book, Powering the Dream.
These limits are described as "light propagation delays."
[Image: Global map of "optimal intermediate locations between trading centers," based on the earth's geometry and the speed of light, by Alexander Wissner-Grossl and Cameron Freer].
It is thus in traders' direct financial interest, they suggest, to install themselves at specific points on the Earth's surface—a kind of light-speed financial acupuncture—to take advantage both of the planet's geometry and of the networks along which trades are ordered and filled. They conclude that "the construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes across the Earth’s surface" is thus economically justified, if not required.
Amazingly, their analysis—seen in the map, above—suggests that many of these financially strategic points are actually out in the middle of nowhere: hundreds of miles offshore in the Indian Ocean, for instance, on the shores of Antarctica, and scattered throughout the South Pacific (though, of course, most of Europe, Japan, and the U.S. Bos-Wash corridor also make the cut).
These nodes exist in what the authors refer to as "the past light cones" of distant trading centers—thus the paper's multiple references to relativity. Astonishingly, this thus seems to elide financial trading networks with the laws of physics, implying the eventual emergence of what we might call quantum financial products. Quantum derivatives! (This also seems to push us ever closer to the artificially intelligent financial instruments described in Charles Stross's novel Accelerando). Erwin Schrödinger meets the Dow.
It's financial science fiction: when the dollar value of a given product depends on its position in a planet's light-cone.
[Image: Diagrammatic explanation of a "light cone," courtesy of Wikipedia].
These points scattered along the earth's surface are described as "optimal intermediate locations between trading centers," each site "maximiz[ing] profit potential in a locally auditable manner."
Wissner-Grossl and Freer then suggest that trading centers themselves could be moved to these nodal points: "we show that if such intermediate coordination nodes are themselves promoted to trading centers that can utilize local information, a novel econophysical effect arises wherein the propagation of security pricing information through a chain of such nodes is effectively slowed or stopped." An econophysical effect.
In the end, then, they more or less explicitly argue for the economic viability of building artificial islands and inhabitable seasteads—i.e. the "construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes"—out in the middle of the ocean somewhere as a way to profit from speed-of-light trades. Imagine, for a moment, the New York Stock Exchange moving out into the mid-Atlantic, somewhere near the Azores, onto a series of New Babylon-like platforms, run not by human traders but by Watson-esque artificially intelligent supercomputers housed in waterproof tombs, all calculating money at the speed of light.
[Image: An otherwise unrelated image from NOAA featuring a geodetic satellite triangulation network].
"In summary," the authors write, "we have demonstrated that light propagation delays present new opportunities for statistical arbitrage at the planetary scale, and have calculated a representative map of locations from which to coordinate such relativistic statistical arbitrage among the world’s major securities exchanges. We furthermore have shown that for chains of trading centers along geodesics, the propagation of tradable information is effectively slowed or stopped by such arbitrage."
Historically, technologies for transportation and communication have resulted in the consolidation of financial markets. For example, in the nineteenth century, more than 200 stock exchanges were formed in the United States, but most were eliminated as the telegraph spread. The growth of electronic markets has led to further consolidation in recent years. Although there are advantages to centralization for many types of transactions, we have described a type of arbitrage that is just beginning to become relevant, and for which the trend is, surprisingly, in the direction of decentralization. In fact, our calculations suggest that this type of arbitrage may already be technologically feasible for the most distant pairs of exchanges, and may soon be feasible at the fastest relevant time scales for closer pairs.For more, read the original paper: PDF.
Our results are both scientifically relevant because they identify an econophysical mechanism by which the propagation of tradable information can be slowed or stopped, and technologically significant, because they motivate the construction of relativistic statistical arbitrage trading nodes across the Earth’s surface.
(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for the tip!)
The 1911 Triangle Waist Factory fire elicited an outpouring of sympathy and helped humanize eastern European immigrant industrial workers in the eyes of affluent white Americans, but reforms aimed at bakeries demonized the workers who the country's single most important food. In today's post, Aaron Bobrow-Strain, chair of the Department of Politics at Whitman College and author of the forthcoming book White Bread, looks at how reforms in food safety did little to help the workers in that industry, and how fear continues to adversely affect workers in today's food chain.
Last weekend, thousands of people attended events commemorating the one-hundred-year anniversary of Triangle Waist factory fire, which killed 146 young immigrant garment workers just off New York's Washington Square Park. The centennial commemorations, coming at a moment when worker organizing is vilified and under attack across the country, were a chance to remind Americans of the suffering and struggle it took to win basic workplace protections that we take for granted (at least for now).
Child labor laws, workplace safety regulations, sprinkler systems in office buildings, and limits on the length of the work week can all be traced back, at least in part, to the outpouring of anger and sympathy that followed the Triangle fire. As David von Drehle notes in his classic account of the fire and its aftermath, key provisions of the New Deal can even be traced to the tragedy of March 11, 1911. Union workers and non-union workers alike, we all owe a debt to the women who died in the Triangle fire and the labor reformers who took up their cause.
But there is also a lesson in the Triangle fire for millions of Americans who care about working to make a better food system. And, sadly, it is not so inspiring.
After the fire, 400,000 people—almost one in ten New Yorkers—took to the streets, joining a funeral procession for the fallen workers. In the weeks and months that followed, union and upper class social reformers demanded action. Pressure built on the government and businesses to do something to prevent similar tragedies. Charges were filed, blame circulated, and blue ribbon investigatory committees were appointed. Of all the inquiries, the most far-reaching was conducted by the newly created New York Factory Investigating Committee.
Garment factories figured prominently in the Committee's investigations, of course, but the Committee extended its mandate to include other industries—particularly small neighborhood bakeries. This focus might sound a little strange today, when we associate small local bakeries with community, pleasure, and authentic eating. But the reality then was a bit different.
Poorly capitalized and facing cutthroat competition, small immigrant bakeries slashed any cost possible. They stretched and whitened cheap flour with plaster of Paris, borax, ground bones, pipe clay, chalk, alum, and other nefarious compounds. They sold underweight loaves, and they worked laborers as hard as they could. Immigrant bakery employees typically worked 14+ hours a day during the week and 24 hours on Saturday. And they worked underground in damp, super-heated and unventilated cellar bake rooms. As the lyrics of an 1884 union anthem from St. Helen, Oregon, asked, "Full eighteen hours under the ground, Toiling and making bread! Shut off from air and light and sound, Are we alive or dead?"
Beginning in the 1870s, labor organizations were able to bring these abuses to light and raise public outcry about "Slavery in the Baker Shops." Sensational descriptions of unventilated and pestilent cellar bakeries filled local newspapers and echoed through the city's lecture halls. Sanitary inspectors painted pictures of dark, vermin-infested caves with raw sewage dripping from pipes into dough mixing troughs, street dust and horse manure blown onto dough, bread cooling on dirt floors, and whole families sleeping on rag piles in bakeries, alongside their chickens. In the worst cases, bakers worked ankle-deep in water and sewage when storms backed up city drains.
But the outcry was not what unions had hoped for. Rather than rousing sympathy for exploited workers, unions and their allies succeeded in focusing the country's outrage on dirty bread and the dirty hands that made it. By the time of the Triangle fire, small local bakeries were terrifying symbols of physical and social contagion in the minds of middle and upper class consumers.
Thus, although social reformers like Frances Perkins hoped that the tragedy's aftermath would spur changes for immigrant food workers, the Committee had other ideas.
When it came to garment factories and other industrial workplaces, the Committee worked to protect workers. When it came to bakeries, the Committee worked to protect consumers—often at the expense of bakery workers who were consistently reviled as the cause of New York's bread problem, rather than its biggest victims.
With a few exceptions, committee members darted around witnesses' appeals for workplace safety regulations, restating the bakery problem as a question of how best to control immigrant workers. One public health doctor who testified before the committee observed that nearly 100 percent of New York immigrant bakery workers showed signs of tuberculosis, bronchitis, and other lung infections. But the Factory Inspection Committee took this as evidence of bakers' poor hygiene, not unsafe working conditions. As city Health Commissioner Ernst Lederle argued, "cellar bakeries themselves were not the problem," the problem was that "the people were dirty and careless."
Anxiety about small bakeries was a gift to the country's growing number of large industrial bread manufacturers, and they fanned the flames of fear, running advertising about the risk of catching typhus and tuberculosis from immigrant bakery bread. But were small local bakeries really that unsafe for consumers?
Probably not—and this is what makes it interesting. Reading pages of testimony and the reports of sanitary inspectors one thing comes clear: while many other pieces of the American food supply—like milk and meat—were, in fact, threatened by germs, bread was fairly sanitary. Sensationalist reports of contaminated bread were just that: sensationalist.
Affluent New Yorkers were not really anxious about bread, they were anxious about unfamiliar immigrants touching food. The bread coming out of small local bakeries wasn't really a public health threat—at least not a threat to consumers.
But, as Frances Perkins argued at the Factory Investigating Committee hearings, bakeries were a threat to the health of bakery workers. Fixated on a potent combination of fear of germs and fear of immigrants (two things that often go together in America), social reformers had a hard time seeing this, however, even amidst the upwelling of sympathy following the Triangle fire.
While young female immigrant garment workers could be portrayed as helpless innocents (despite their active involvement in strikes and struggles to win rights), "swarthy" male bakery workers could not be allowed to touch the nation's food.
In the end, prompted by the Factory Investigating Committee, New York and jurisdictions around the country passed laws regulating sanitary conditions in small bakeries. The laws, designed to ease consumer anxieties, in some cases made life harder for immigrant bakery workers. For example, many cities passed sanitation regulations making it illegal for workers to sleep in bakeries, but didn't address the 14-18 hour workdays that prompted bakers to grab whatever sleep they could, wherever they could.
What lessons can we draw from this story today? As hard as it's been for American workers to win work place safety protections, it's been harder for food chain workers. It shouldn't be that difficult to see that improving conditions for food workers can only increase the safety of food for consumers, but racialized fears of immigrant hands touching the nation's sustenance often get in the way.
Stanley Meisler is the author of When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. Meisler was a foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for three decades. He was also deputy director of the Peace Corps’s Office of Evaluation and Research in the mid-1960s. Meisler, who lives in Washington, D.C., has written for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, the Nation, and Smithsonian, and periodically posts news commentaries on his Web site.
March 1st marked the 50th birthday of the Peace Corps, but the anniversary celebrations are continuing for another six months, culminating in September when thousands of former Volunteers descend on Washington to lobby Congress, exchange memories, discuss the future, and party.
In a sense, the half year of celebration parallels the gestation of the Peace Corps 50 years ago. President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. But the Peace Corps was no more than an idea and a hope then. The President gave his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, the enormous and complex assignment of molding a new agency out of an exciting but cloudy idea.
A madcap six months followed. Shriver hired a staff (preferring those who broke the bureaucratic mold like mountain climbers and sea captains), and the team sifted thousands of applications, selected potential Volunteers, rushed them to universities for high-speed training, and dispatched them overseas. The crucial job of persuading foreign presidents and prime ministers and royalty to invite the Volunteers, of cajoling Congress to approve and fund the new agency, and of sustaining the American public’s enthusiasm fell on the charming, irrepressible, idealistic Shriver.
On August 30, the first contingent of Volunteers landed in Ghana in West Africa. On September 21, Congress passed the Peace Corps Act by overwhelming votes. President Kennedy signed it into law the next day.
There are now more than 200,000 former Peace Corps Volunteers (who prefer to call themselves “returned Volunteers”), and many belong to associations based on where they now live like Boston Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers or where they once served like Friends of Cameroon. These associations are sponsoring celebrations throughout the 50th anniversary year. Some like the early Ghana and Philippines Volunteers have published books about their experiences during the first year of the Peace Corps.
Universities, especially those with large numbers of Peace Corps alumni, have already staged symposiums, exhibitions and ceremonies in honor of the 50th anniversary. These include the University of Michigan, UCLA and the University of Wisconsin. Others joining them in the months ahead include Portland State University, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, Bowdoin and Boston College.
In mid-summer, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrates different ethnic cultures for a couple of weeks every year, will honor the Peace Corps this year by featuring crafts, foods, music and drama from groups helped by the Volunteers overseas.
The National Peace Corps Association, the main organization of former Volunteers, usually sponsors a national celebration in September every five years. There was one exception: The 40th anniversary events had to be postponed for a year because of the shock over the terrorism of 9/11 in 2001.
The association has scheduled a varied program in Washington September 21-25 including a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill, a symposium on the future of the Peace Corps, the laying of a wreath at the grave of President Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery, and a formal Gala with television news commentator Chris Matthews (a former Volunteer in Swaziland) as emcee.
Aside from the official activities sponsored by the National Peace Corps Association, there are a host of other events including separate reunions of Volunteers from many of the Peace Corps countries, a luncheon at the Library of Congress honoring Peace Corps authors, and pre-game ceremonies at the baseball park of the Washington Nationals.
It is a full anniversary year.
View all of the videos included in this post and more in our When the World Calls YouTube Playlist.
Interesting to look at the various ways libraries are reacting in policy fashion to the HarperCollins “You can have 26 checkouts at this price” decision. Library Journal has a recent round-up.
As amazing as Fringeworthy's central concept is, its rules left something to be desired. Characters possess a large number of stats, both generated and derived. There are also skills, the list of which is quite extensive, including such invaluable ones as "Food Processing" and "Cosmetology," among many, many more. This level of detail is found throughout the rules, with lots of attention given to combat, damage, and weaponry as you might expect from a game of this period. However, there's also similar detail given to most other subjects, including disease and the nutritional value of various foods.
(Actually, it's always on a roll...)
Dave Hickey, “Romancing the Looky-Loos”
Thanks to Andrew for the gift of Hickey’s book, Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy.
The Birthday Party’s Prayers on Fire album came out March 30, 1981. Here’s “Zoo-Music-Girl” from it.
The Endgames’ Peel session was broadcast March 30, 1981. Here’s “Both Of Us” from it.
If you're going to do a new logo for a place as cutting-edge and futuristically groovy as the MIT Media Lab, you better bring your A game.
The German/New York design firm TheGreenEyl landed that gig and they came up with a solution that is simultaneously unique, identifiable, and infinitely variable.
The logo consists of three black squares, each one projecting a kind of square beam of color. But here's the clever bit -- each person at the Media Lab -- professor, staffer, or student -- can claim their own personalized version of the logo, via a web based logo creation interface. They can also generate one-of-a-kind logo animations. (You can see examples in TheGreenEyl's demo video).
UPDATE: A friend who attended the Media Lab says that customizable business cards are nothing new there. He says back in 2000 he was able to pick the stripe colors on his cards.
by Margaux Williamson
(My friend Amy Lam asked if I wanted to go see this at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto. I had seen it before, but only once on my television. We ran into our friend Jon Davies in the theatre and sat next to him. After the movie Jon told us that this particular Vagabond screening had a no-popcorn-allowed policy. Amy and I were pretty surprised by this information though we hadn’t wanted any popcorn.)
Vagabond is about a young female drifter named Mona who lives mostly in a tent that she carries on her back, having abandoned the accepted needs, requirements and rules of polite society. Vagabond could also easily be described as a movie about filmmaker Agnès Varda’s curiosity with a young female drifter. It is one of Varda’s first movies to combine a documentary approach with fictional content – an interest that eventually drew her out of the “French New Wave Legend” category and into the “Influential Contemporary Genius” category.
The movie begins with Mona’s dead body lying in the cold landscape of a French vineyard. Varda tells us, from behind the camera, that this young woman seemed to have come from nowhere and that now she is gone without anyone coming to claim her body. Varda tells us that she wants to know what her story was – as best as it can be understood. She says she wants to gather information from the people who came across Mona in her drifting in order to find Mona’s story.
And so we start again – with the living Mona coming out of the water. The movie follows the rest of her actions and her interactions (and the testaments of those who interacted with her) until her death. It all takes place in the south of France. Some of the interview subjects offer their judgments of Mona and reveal their prejudices – others express admiration and curiosity. These reactions may not be surprising, but it is compelling that most of the admiration and curiosity comes from the women, old and young. Many of the performers are non-actors. Perhaps it is because Varda is so adapt at directing “play” that the performances from the non-actors fit in so seamlessly with the “actors” and with the loose and direct style of the whole movie. There is a real sense that everyone is “at play” at telling an incredibly serious story.
The characters include Mona’s employers for a short time, lovers for a brief moment, hitched rides that end quickly, and casual companions who are easily lost. These characters end up circling each other, too, at different times and places. It starts to look like a small world with cause and effect. We see a community being created through Mona even as she holds herself away from it. These intricately webbed interactions seem a little bit more fairy tale than realistic but we understand this fairy tale is based on evidence from the real world. Along with Varda, we are telling ourselves a story about Mona too. It is often challenging avoiding the human tendency to make stories – to make order out of random interactions. This movie does not repress the urge to connect the dots. It is the movie’s primary pleasure.
In the narrative hunt to learn who Mona is, we start to see a map of the south of France as traced by Mona – the rich people, the labourers, the small towns, the vineyard landscapes. Mona doesn’t let anyone (not even the audience) into her thoughts and feelings. We feel grateful for this, grateful for this expanse of land outside human neurosis.
We feel grateful too that Varda is more curious about Mona than pitying. Maybe it’s because Mona wants no help, represses nothing and desires little that there is a notable lack of tension around her. Her brutal honesty and lack of social discretion and generosity do her no favours – we see her get kicked out early from a ride because she insults the driver’s car, unprompted. But we also know that she wasn’t really going anywhere anyway so it made no difference that she got kicked out. Her lack of repression combined with her lack of need creates a palatable absence of social anxiety – at least for Mona and for us in the audience who may be inclined to feel sorry for her.
The original French title for this movie translates as “with no roof and no law”. Unfortunately, living without rules comes with its own joyless burden. Boredom trails Mona’s lack of social anxiety like a disease. It is boring to not need anything – to not give anything. We only see Mona’s desire ignited, and boredom lifted, on the rare occasions that she drifts by a radio and hears rock n’ roll.
Like the differing opinions of Mona help by the characters she comes across, the audiences will have a million different opinions about Vagabond. For me, it made me think that too much freedom from society can feel less like rock n’roll and a lot more like a muddy, boring entropy.
Here's some eye-candy for a Tuesday evening: Arc en Ciel, a new building in Bordeaux, France—part residential, part office—by Bernard Buhler Architects, spotted via Architizer.
[Images: Arc en Ciel by Bernard Buhler Architects].
With a building as eye-catching as this one, it's quite difficult to imagine a rationale behind adding graphics to the exterior glass windows—like children's drawings, or some vague gesture toward "street art"—which looks both kitschy and unnecessary.
[Images: Arc en Ciel by Bernard Buhler Architects].
After all, the graphics-free windows look fantastic—but c'est la vie.
[Image: Arc en Ciel by Bernard Buhler Architects].
Successfully, to my mind—based entirely on a scan of some photographs on the internet—the colored exterior glass works not only to vivify the building's urban site but to bring a constantly changing series of hues, like a colored bar code, onto the interior walkways. I would love to see this place lit from within at night, a sight the available photographs don't offer.
[Images: Arc en Ciel by Bernard Buhler Architects].
Anyway, the building looks cool; that's about all I have to say. I will add, however, that I'm struck by how extraordinarily better the actual, constructed building is, compared to its rendering, seen below.
[Image: Arc en Ciel by Bernard Buhler Architects].
All the more evidence that rejecting (or embracing) a building's outward formal characteristics on the basis of renderings is not necessarily a good idea.
See many more images over at Architizer.
“Bitter in childhood, sweet in adolescence, tragic in old age.”
-Marlene Dietrich, quoted in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (photo circa 1937)
Your Host - "The Unreliable Narrator"
Andy, Hailey, Scott and Kim Jong Killah - "Brand Aid" http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/38425
xintra: With a song in my eye, a spring in my heart and a trembling lower lip, I present my last Critical Shopper, with Love : http://nyti.ms/fsza1O
Photographer Hugh Symonds recently got in touch with a series of images called Terra Amamus, or "dirt we like," in his translation, exploring mining operations in Cornwall.
"The granite moors of Cornwall," Symonds explains, "were formed around 300 million years ago. Geological and climatic evolution have created a soft, white, earthy mineral called kaolinite. The name is thought to be derived from China, Kao-Ling (High-Hill) in Jingdezhen, where pottery has been made for more than 1700 years. Study of the Chinese model in the late 18th century led to the discovery and establishment of a flourishing industry in Cornwall."
You could perhaps think of the resulting mines and quarries as a landscape falling somewhere between an act of industrial replication and 18th-century geological espionage.
[Image: Photo by Hugh Symonds].
As Symonds points out, kaolinite is actually "omni-present throughout our daily lives; in paper, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, paints, kitchens, bathrooms, light bulbs, food additives, cars, roads and buildings. In an extraterrestrial, 'Icarian' twist, it is even present in the tiles made for the Space Shuttle."
Indeed, the photograph that opens this post shows us the so-called Trevisco pit. Its kaolinite is not only "particularly pure," Symonds notes; it is also "the oldest excavation in the Cornish complex."
Even better, it is the "quarry from which the clay used for the Space Shuttle tiles came from." This pit, then, is a negative space—a pockmark, a dent—in the Earth's surface out of which emerged—at least in part—a system of objects and trajectories known as NASA.
Of course, the idea that we could trace the geological origins of an object as complex as the Space Shuttle brings to mind Mammoth's earlier stab at what could be called a provisional geology of the iPhone. As Mammoth wrote, "Until we see that the iPhone is as thoroughly entangled into a network of landscapes as any more obviously geological infrastructure (the highway, both imposing carefully limited slopes across every topography it encounters and grinding/crushing/re-laying igneous material onto those slopes) or industrial product (the car, fueled by condensed and liquefied geology), we will consistently misunderstand it." These and other products—even Space Shuttles—are terrestrial objects. That is, they emerge from infrastructurally networked points of geological extraction.
[Images: Photos by Hugh Symonds].
In John McPhee's unfortunately titled book Encounters with the Archdruid, there is a memorable scene about precisely this idea: a provisional geology out of which our industrial system of objects has arisen.
"Most people don't think about pigments in paint," one of McPhee's interview subjects opines. "Most white-paint pigment now is titanium. Red is hematite. Black is often magnetite. There's chrome yellow, molybdenum orange. Metallic paints are a little more permanent. The pigments come from rocks in the ground. Dave's electrical system is copper, probably from Bingham Canyon. He couldn't turn on a light or make ice without it." And then the real forensic geology begins:
The nails that hold the place together come from the Mesabi Range. His downspouts are covered with zinc that was probably taken out of the ground in Canada. The tungsten in his light bulbs may have been mined in Bishop, California. The chrome on his refrigerator door probably came from Rhodesia or Turkey. His television set almost certainly contains cobalt from the Congo. He uses aluminum from Jamaica, maybe Surinam; silver from Mexico or Peru; tin—it's still in tin cans—from Bolivia, Malaya, Nigeria. People seldom stop to think that all these things—planes in the air, cars on the road, Sierra Club cups—once, somewhere, were rock. Our whole economy—our way of doing things. Oh, gad! I haven't even mentioned minerals like manganese and sulphur. You won't make steel without them. You can't make paper without sulphur...We have rearranged the planet to form TVs and tin cans, producing objects from refined geology.
[Image: Photo by Hugh Symonds].
What's fascinating here, however, is something I touched upon in my earlier reference to geological espionage. In other words, we take for granted the idea that we can know what minerals go into these everyday products—and, more specifically, that we can thus locate those minerals' earthly origins and, sooner or later, enter into commerce with them, producing our own counter-products, our own rival gizmos and competitive replacements.
I was thus astonished to read that, in fact, specifically in the case of silicon, this is not actually the case.
In geologist Michael Welland's excellent book Sand, often cited here, Welland explains that "electronics-grade silicon has to be at least 99.99999 percent pure—referred to in the trade as the 'seven nines'—and often it's more nines than that. In general, we are talking of one lonely atom of something that is not silicon among billions of silicon companions."
Here, a detective story begins—it's top secret geology!
A small number of companies around the world dominate the [microprocessor chip] technology and the [silicon] market, and while their literature and websites go into considerable and helpful detail on their products, the location and nature of the raw materials seem to be of "strategic value," and thus an industrial secret. I sought the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, which produces comprehensive annual reports on silica and silicon (as well as all other industrial minerals), noting that statistics pertaining to semiconductor-grade silicon were often excluded or "withheld to avoid disclosing company proprietary data."Welland thus embarks upon an admittedly short but nonetheless fascinating investigation, hoping to de-cloud the proprietary geography of these mineral transnationals and find where this ultra-pure silicon really comes from. To make a long story short, he quickly narrows the search down to quartzite (which "can be well over 99 percent pure silica") mined specifically from a few river valleys in the Appalachians.
[Image: Photo by Hugh Symonds].
As it happens, though, we needn't go much further than the BBC to read about a town called Spruce Pine, "a modest, charmingly low-key town in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, [that] is at the heart of a global billion-dollar industry... The jewellery shops, highlighting local emeralds, sapphires and amethysts, hint at the riches. The mountains, however, contain something far more precious than gemstones: they are a source of high-purity quartz." And Spruce Pine is but one of many locations from which globally strategic flows of electronics-grade silicon are first mined and purified.
In any case, the geological origin of even Space Shuttle tiles is always fascinating to think about; but when you start adding things like industrial espionage, proprietary corporate landscapes, unmarked quarries in remote mountain valleys, classified mineral reserves, supercomputers, a roving photographer in the right place at the right time, an inquisitive geologist, and so on, you rapidly escalate from a sort of Economist-Lite blog post to the skeleton of an international thriller that would be a dream to read (and write—editors get in touch!).
And, of course, if you like the images seen here, check out the rest of Symond's Terra Amamus series.
Stanley Meisler, author of When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years, discusses the Peace Corps, its history, and its diminished presence today. Watch here or on YouTube.
The Dutch company Bolefloor has come up with a method to give any hardwood floor a more natural feel. Their floor-boards are not cut into straight strips like traditional hardwood floors. Rather, they are cut into long sinuous curves that follow the natural grain of the wood. This makes each of their floors unique creation that reflects the way trees actually grow.
The floors are made of oak, and can be stained in a variety of shades. The company is currently looking for dealers and hope to have their floors available in April. Full details at bolefloor.com
Artist Gerry Judah's paintings are massively and aggressively three-dimensional, piling up, away, and out from the canvas to form linked cities, ruins, and debris-encrusted bridges, like reefs.
[Images: By Gerry Judah].
They are perhaps what a tectonic collaboration between Lebbeus Woods and Jackson Pollock might produce: blasted and collapsing landscapes so covered in white it's as if nuclear winter has set in.
[Image: By Gerry Judah].
As the short film included below makes clear, Judah embeds entire architectural models in each piece, affixing small constellations of buildings to the canvas before beginning a kind of archaeological onslaught: layering paint on top of paint, raining strata down for days to seal the landscape in place and make it ready for wall-mounting.
And then the paintings go up, sprawling and counter-gravitational, like ruins tattooed on the walls.
[Image: By Gerry Judah].
For more work—including pieces executed in red and black—see Judah's website (including his bio, which suggests larger architectural and theatrical influences).
(Thanks to Jim Rossignol for the tip!)
Executive timeout mat
You’ve seen the video of the slow loris getting tickled, I’m sure. The little primate raises his arms above his head as a disembodied hand scratches under his armpits. I’ll admit it. I love the slow loris video along with the six million other people who’ve watched it on YouTube. But now a story out in the Independent UK may make me reconsider the innocuousness of the funny video.
Apparently, demand for live slow loris is rising across the world, at least partially due to the immense popularity of the videos. And that doesn’t bode well for the endangered species, Adam Sherwin reports:
The creature’s new-found fame is now stoking demand among children to turn the wild animal into must-have living toys. But the primate is no pet.
Poachers steal infant lorises from their parents in the wild to sell at open-air markets in Indonesia, where they are traded for as little as £10. The export market is most lucrative in Japan, where lorises stolen to order sell for £3,500.
The trade is now expanding into the US and Europe, with illegally smuggled lorises reported in the United Kingdom. But many do not survive the journey. “The only reason the loris isn’t biting the person holding it in the video is because it has had its teeth ripped out with pliers,” said Chris Shepherd of Traffic Southeast Asia, which campaigns against the trade in primates.
One conservationist at Oxford was even calling for YouTube to take the slow loris videos down to help tamp down interest in the Indonesian animals.
Talk about a buzzkill: watching a video of a cute animal on the Internet may — in some small way — lead to it being ripped from its mother, abused, and sold on the global market.
I guess I’ll have to stick with the donkey sanctuary webcam.
Last night’s radio show had a nice line pulling through it. Began with some powerful Marrakchi sounds and lifted into the ether from there. As the comments grew increasingly surreal.
Mon. 3/28/11 7:25pm max: hey rupture I was curious as to your thoughts on odd future
Mon. 3/28/11 7:27pm /r: I’D LIKE TO SEE AN “ODD” FUTURE IN WHICH A GROUP OF YOUNG BLACK WOMEN MADE SOME CRAZY ART AND RECEIVED A FRACTION OF THE ATTENTION HEAPED ON ODD FUTURE. #GENDER
. . .
Mon. 3/28/11 8:02pm k:/: will definitely be returning to this show, louder than i can play it in my office. wow. my mind is official blown. thanks much.
Mon. 3/28/11 8:03pm max: No you didn’t misunderstand, get the Audiobook version of Pale Blue Dot if you want Sagan reading Sagan. He doesn’t read the whole thing but theres a solid couple hours of Sagan reading Sagan, it’s pretty awesome even if the info is out of date
Mon. 3/28/11 8:03pm CARL SAGAN?!: Somewhere out there, /r, in the multiverse, that book is waiting for me to find a wormhole so that I can get to it and read it.
. . .
Mon. 3/28/11 8:05pm streets ahead: last night, a cosmologist saved my life
Hamid Zahir (track 1)
Bnat El Bahji (track 7)
Rainbow Arabia Boys and Diamonds Boys And Diamonds Kompakt
Busta Rhymes + Lil Wayne Look At Me Now Chris Brown’s intro verse removed!
Egyptrixx Rooks Theme Bible Eyes Night Slugs
Blawan Bohla Bohla EP
Alpha & Omega Who Is The Ruler Riddimentary Greensleeves
Burial Stolen Dog Street Halo Hyperdub
Beans Mellow You Out (feat Tunde Adebimpe) End It All Anticon
Jay Weed On The Nile (Lamin Fofana remix) NEW DUTTY NEW ARTZ
matthewdavid All You’ll Never Know International EP Brainfeeder
Peaking Lights Tiger Eyes (Laid Back) 936 Not Not Fun
Pangaea Won’t Hurt Inna Daze/Wont Hurt Hessle Audio
L’Xtrmst.Zen ZiggyZa ZiggyZi Also Records
Egyptrixx Recital B (version) Bible Eyes Night Slugs
Laurel Halo Metal Confection (Oneohtrix Point Never Edit) King Felix