Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twila Paris

[ed. A note to readers: I'll be attending to a family emergency for a while. Here's a favorite song of my Mom's (and my grandfather)].

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Corner House
Artist: unknown

Wayne Thiebaud

Swimming On The Hot Side

I first heard about nuclear diving while I was getting my hair cut in downtown Manhattan. My stylist seemed out of place in an East Village salon, so I asked her where she lived. Brooklyn? Queens? Uptown?

“Upstate,” she answered. “I commute two hours each way a few times a week.”

I asked her why, and she stopped cutting.

“Well, my husband has kind of a weird job,” she said. “He’d rather not live around other people.”

I sat up in the chair. “What does he do?”

“He’s a nuclear diver.”

“A what?”

“A diver who works in radiated water at nuclear power plants.”

I turned around to look at her. “Near the reactors?”

“The reactors, fuel pools, pretty much anywhere he’s needed.”

“And is he . . . OK? I mean . . .”

“Is it safe? Well, he says it is. They monitor his dosage levels and all that. Sometimes they’re too high, and he’s not allowed to dive. That’s why we live out in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, I’d rather he didn’t do it. Who wants a glowing husband?” She laughed, a bit sadly.

I told her I was a writer and asked if I could meet him. She said probably not. Most divers don’t like talking about their work, and their bosses discourage the ones who do. “I think it all comes down to the radiation,” she said. “It spooks people. It spooks me! Not that the rest of the job is a picnic. The non-contaminated diving they do—around the huge intake pipes that bring water into the plants—is even more dangerous. Sometimes they get sucked in.” Her husband had survived the day-to-day hazards of his job, she said, but I wondered about the long-term effects. “Has he ever gotten sick?”

“You’d have to ask him.”

“But you said he won’t talk to me.”

She put her scissors down. “He gets chest pains.”

“From the radiation?”

“He says probably not, but what else could it be from? He’s still young.”

She wrote down her husband’s e-mail address, and I tried over the course of the next few weeks to get him to talk to me. He wrote back eventually, but only to say that he was busy servicing a reactor in California. Maybe he’d get in touch when he had more time. By then I was hooked, though. What kind of person knowingly dives in contaminated water? I spent months sending queries to divers I found online, but none of them would talk either. Then came the Fukushima disaster, which changed the nuclear-energy landscape almost overnight. On a hunch, I started contacting plant operators rather than individual divers. An article about the hazards (and heroics) of nuclear diving might not be a plant manager’s idea of great publicity, but it sure beat images of helicopters dumping seawater on crippled Japanese reactors. Someone at the D.C. Cook nuclear power plant in Bridgman, Michigan, agreed. More than a year after that East Village haircut, I was invited to see a dive in person.

by David Goodwillie, PopSci |  Read more:
Photo: David Goodwillie

The Persistence of Memory

Memories don't really have a beginning, a middle and an end. They're more like vignetted sensations, impressions and paraphrases, where the most prominent detail might be sticky fingers from handling a bunch of wheat. If you could only live with one memory for all eternity, which would it be? That's the question Hirokazu Koreeda's "After Life" asks, while also showing us what makes something memorable.

The film begins simply. Somewhere in the Japanese countryside, the recently departed arrive at a place that's a bit like a halfway house. Here, they're told they must purge all of their memories save one, which they'll live with forever. They're paired with counselors who help them sift through their emotional filing cabinets and pick a defining moment. It'll then be recreated in a short film that the dead get to direct, star in and watch.

Among the newly deceased, there's always that one guy who keeps harping on about sex, only to settle on a modest, intimate memory that usually involves a loved one. Sex is a potent "in the now" experience, but upon reflection, it's everything around it that either gives it meaning or renders it meaningless. And the memory you live with forever has to have meaning.

The film also subtly argues that meaning can't be manufactured. When one teenage girl declares she'd like to reproduce Disney's Splash Mountain, her counselor Shiori points out its conformity. Many young girls choose that ride, it turns out. In the end, the teenager changes her mind and opts for that time when she rested her head on her mother's lap and smelled her perfume.

Most of the memories hardly require any dialogue because they're so personal and introspective. They capture feelings, ambiance, texture, the very thrill of living. One man chooses his daily childhood tram ride on his way to school, with a hot wind blowing through the first-seat window. Another wants to go relive the first time he flew a Cessna and the way the cotton-like clouds brushed past him so quickly. One senile lady is showered with falling cherry blossom flowers, since blooms are the only thing her child's mind delights in.  (...)

Meanwhile, the counselors are resolving their own issues in this purgatory, of sorts. They're here because they weren't able to decide on an ultimate memory. Until they can, they're forced to help others pick theirs.

by Olivia Colette, Chicago Sun Times |  Read more:

The Brain on Love

A relatively new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint. But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.

As the most social apes, we inhabit a mirror-world in which every important relationship, whether with spouse, friend or child, shapes the brain, which in turn shapes our relationships. Daniel J. Siegel and Allan N. Schore, colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently discussed groundbreaking work in the field at a conference on the school’s campus. It’s not that caregiving changes genes; it influences how the genes express themselves as the child grows. Dr. Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, refers to the indelible sense of “feeling felt” that we learn as infants and seek in romantic love, a reciprocity that remodels the brain’s architecture and functions.

Does it also promote physical well-being? “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,” Dr. Siegel says, “point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.”

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

by Diane Ackerman, NY Times |  Read more:
Illustration: Olimpia Zagnoli

Foodie-ism, as Youth Culture

Chang arrives at the tiny Thai place with her friends Jasmine, a stylist, and Marcos, a graphic designer. They, too, have their food bona fides: Marcos snaps quick photos of each dish as it is placed on the table; Jasmine’s phone holds carefully curated favorite-restaurant lists for New York and L.A. Both are a little older—30-plus to Chang’s 27—but Chang is clearly the group’s leader. She has picked the place, orders for everyone (shrimp salad, deep-fried catfish, and crispy pork off the restaurant’s “secret menu”), and generally steers the conversation toward the plates in front of us.

Petite and stylish, with a self-­consciously goofy smile, Chang works in online and social-media marketing. She is, in culinary parlance, a civilian—her job has nothing to do with New York’s sprawling food industry or with the chattering class that’s gathered around it. Her leisure time and modest discretionary income, however, are devoted almost entirely to food and restaurants.

“I’m not a foodie, I just like what I like,” she says. “Yes, I know, it’s just like hipsters saying, ‘I’m not a hipster.’ ” (The cliché cracks her up.) “But it’s like when my boss says, ‘Oh, you’re such a foodie.’ I’m like, Oh God. When I hear the word foodie, I think of Yelp. I don’t want to be lumped in with Yelp.” Just then, her iPhone goes off, and I glimpse her screen saver. It’s a close-up photo of a pile of gnarly, gristly pig’s feet, skin singed and torn, half-rendered fat and pearlescent cartilage beaming back the flash. The dish is from a tiny food stall in Taipei, she tells me. “It’s braised in a soy-based sauce, and they serve it on rice with pickled mustard greens.”

There have, of course, always been people in this town for whom food is a serious cultural pursuit. Traditionally, they have been older, white, and affluent. Knowing the newest and finest restaurants to frequent and where to find the very best things to eat have long been essential New York status markers. One of the main hallmarks of twentysomething life, on the other hand, has typically been to not give a shit what and where you eat. As recently as the late nineties, a steady diet of burritos and takeout Chinese, with an ironic-but-not-really TV dinner thrown in now and then, was part of the ­Generation X ethic. An abiding interest in food was something for old people or snobs, like golf or opera. The notion of idolizing chefs, filling notebooks with restaurant “life lists,” or talking about candied foie gras on a date was out-and-out bizarre.

Lately, however, food has become a defining obsession among a wide swath of the young and urbane. It is not golf or opera. It’s more like indie rock. Just like the music of, say, Drag City bands on a nineties campus, food is now viewed as a legitimate option for a hobby, a topic of endless discussion, a playground for one-upmanship, and a measuring stick of cool. “It’s a badge of honor,” says Chang. “Bragging rights.” She says she disliked M.Wells, last year’s consensus “It” restaurant, partly because of “the fact that everybody loves it, and I just don’t want to believe the hype.” The quest for ever greater obscurity, a central principle of the movement, reaches a kind of event horizon in Chang’s friend James Casey, the publisher of an idiosyncratic annual food magazine called Swallow. Lately, Casey has been championing the theory that mediocre food is better than good, the equivalent of a jaded indie kid extolling the virtues of Barry Manilow.

Food’s transformation from a fusty hobby to a youth-culture phenomenon has happened remarkably fast. The simultaneous rise of social networks and camera phones deserves part of the credit (eating, like sex, is among the most easily chronicled of pursuits), but none of this would have happened without the grassroots revolution in fine dining. “You can now eat just as quality food with a great environment without the fuss and the feeling of sitting at the grown-up table,” says Chang’s friend Amy, who is, incidentally, a cook at the very grown-up Jean Georges.

by Michael Idov, New York Magazine |  Read more:
Illustrations by Gluekit. Photographs courtesy of Diane Chang.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Crawford, Aerial Nudes

My Mom Won’t Stop Driving

Just over a year ago, my siblings and I (and our spouses) jointly convinced our then 86-year-old mother to move to an upscale, continuing-care community. She had become a prisoner in her home of 40-plus years, afraid to go out if inclement weather was even a remote possibility (so in effect the entire winter). She’d become frail and had balance and vision issues, and she’d had a few falls, broken her arm, dislocated her shoulder, etc. But the clincher for us was that her memory and judgment were becoming increasingly impaired. An MRI (which she resisted mightily, but finally submitted to) showed that she’d had two mini-strokes, which the neurologist felt accounted for the balance and memory problems. He did not feel she had Alzheimer’s disease. I agree she’s not demented, but she is impaired, and we all felt she was one accident away from a catastrophe.  (...)

Now the issue at hand is getting Mom to give up her car. She has macular degeneration with very impaired vision, but apparently not crossing the line into legal blindness. But there’s no doubt she’s a menace on the road, and she often forgets how to work her car, e.g., how to turn on the windshield wipers. She sees our pressing her to stop driving as yet another instance of our cruelty and desire to take away her freedom. She says she doesn’t care if she dies in a car accident, and when we point out that she might hurt others, she sniffs that that’s unlikely to happen.

by Cary Tennis, Salon |  Read more:
Illustration: Zach Trenholm/Salon

World Water Day

March 22, is World Water Day, an event established by the United Nations in 1993 to highlight the challenges associated with this precious resource. Each year has a theme, and this year's is "Water and Food Security." The UN estimates that more than one in six people worldwide lack access to 20-50 liters (5-13 gallons) of safe freshwater a day to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. And as the world's population grows beyond 7 billion, clean water is growing scarcer in densely populated areas as well as in remote villages. Collected here are recent images showing water in our lives -- how we use it, abuse it, and depend on it. [36 photos]

An aerial view during a media tour by oil company Royal Dutch Shell shows an illegal oil refining site with the runoff from crude oil covering the banks along the Imo River, 30 km (20 miles) west of Nigeria's oil hub city of Port Harcourt, on September 22, 2011. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)

Water from a leaky fire hose rains down on neighborhood residents as they attempt to put out a fire that had already burned dozens of homes, in the New Building slum neighborhood in central Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on January 23, 2012. As firefighters struggled to get enough water pressure to make their firehoses work, residents fought the fire with buckets of waste water and used mallets to tear down homes in the fire’s path. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

World Water Day
via: The Atlantic

Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers

Hall and Oates - I Can't Go For That - Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers - Van Sessions 

Very likeable acoustic cover version of the song, performed in a moving van. Bonus points for the use of a kazoo …

via: PK

A Collection of Kisses

A young couple kisses in the fountain during the celebration of International Women's Day, at Revolution Square in Mexico City, on March 8, 2012. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images).

One of the most intimate human gestures, a kiss can convey greetings, give comfort, express joy, and above all, show love. Gathered from news photos over the past few months, this collection of kisses features playful moments, emotional reunions, public displays of affection, and some pure expressions of love. [37 photos]

via: The Atlantic

Jason Derulo (7th Heaven Radio Edit / Tonic Remix VDO)

Filing a Lawsuit? There Might be an App for That

Poland has created an online court that allows plaintiffs and defendants to carry their cases to completion entirely on the web. According to Polish-speaking "geek of all trades" Daniel Janus, the Sixth Civil Division of the Lublin-West Regional Court in Lublin, Poland has jurisdiction over the entire country of Poland, and handles only cases concerning payment claims.
It has proven immensely popular, having processed about two million cases in its first year of operation.
Lawyers who are already concerned about dwindling employment prospects, you may now run for the exits.

The really crazy thing is that the world's first all-digital court doesn't just have a website -- it also has an API. Which means that, if you wanted to, you could create an mobile app that would make it convenient for you to sue someone. In a society as litigious as ours, that is either the ultimate deterrent or a recipe for a nightmarish future in which even the least slight is litigated on the spot.

The English-language explanation of the workings of Poland's e-court makes the system sound breathtakingly efficient:
The claimant (party who brings the action) communicates with the Court exclusively electronically by means of a system dedicated to the electronic writ of payment proceedings.
If the official concludes that the claim is well-grounded the electronic system prepares a draft of the order which is subsequently signed by the official using the electronic signature. (special individual code assigned to court officials considering cases). In the event where the claim appears groundless, no payment order (writ of payment)follows, and the case is transferred to the competent court for detailed consideration.
 by Christopher Mims, Technology Review |  Read more:

No Pulse: How Doctors Reinvented The Human Heart

Meeko the calf stood nuzzling a pile of hay. He didn’t seem to have much appetite, and he looked a little bored. Every now and then, he glanced up, as though wondering why so many people with clipboards were standing around watching him.

Fourteen hours earlier, I’d watched doctors lift Meeko’s heart from his body and place it, still beating, in a plastic dish. He looked no worse for the experience, whisking away a fly with his tail as he nibbled, demonstrably alive—though above his head, a monitor showed a flatlined pulse. I held a stethoscope to his warm, fragrant flank and heard, instead of the deep lub-dub of a heartbeat, what sounded like a dentist’s drill or the underwater whine of an outboard motor. Something was keeping Meeko alive, but it was nothing like a heart.

As many as five million Americans suffer some form of heart failure, but only about 2,000 hearts a year become available for transplant. The obvious solution to that scarcity is to build an artificial heart, and how hard could that be? The heart’s just a pump, after all, and people have been making pumps since the Mesopotamians invented the shadoof to raise river water 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. Doctors started thinking seriously about replacing the heart with a machine around the time Harry Truman was president.

To understand why they still haven’t succeeded, pick up a two-pound barbell and start curling it. Two pounds: nothing. But see how long you can keep it up. Twenty minutes? An hour? Two? Your heart does that all day and all night—35 million beats a year—for as long as you live, without ever taking a rest. Manufacturing a metal and plastic heart capable of beating that way for more than about 18 months has so far proved impossible.

The problem is the “beating” part. Among the first to envision an artificial heart was, amazingly, the ventriloquist Paul Winchell. When not in front of a TV camera manipulating his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, Winchell was developing patents, some 30 in all, including one for an artificial heart that he invented with Dr. Henry Heimlich, of the eponymous anti-choking maneuver. Back then, and up through the famous Jarvik-7—the first machine to replace a human heart, in 1982, albeit briefly—inventors could only imagine imitating the heart’s lub-dub. That is, they envisioned filling a chamber with deoxygenated blood returning from the body and pumping it out to the lungs to be infused with oxygen—lub—and then drawing that good red blood back into a second chamber and pumping it back out to the body—dub.

by Dan Baum, PopSci |  Read more:
Image: Artificial Heart Jack Thompson

Monday, March 26, 2012

Astor Piazzolla

It’s True: Cities are Meaner

When Casey Neistat filmed himself trying to steal his own bike earlier this month, he was pretty sure that no one would try to stop him. “That comes from having five bikes stolen in New York,” he says.

He was right. Dozens of pedestrians hurried by as he destroyed his bike lock with hacksaws and power tools on various busy sidewalks, seeming to confirm a stereotype about New Yorkers: “People are so busy that we keep our heads down and go to work,” he says. “People are so caught up in their own (life) that they’re not concerned with yours.”

Are New Yorkers — and city folk in general — really so busy and self-absorbed that we have no concern for others? Do we lack a moral compass? Is Rick Santorum right? For more than 50 years, “urban psychologists” have been faking seizures, dropping cash and breaking into cars in broad daylight to see if strangers would intervene. They’ve discovered two things. One is that people in rural areas do indeed get involved more readily than urbanites. But they’ve also concluded that this has very little to do with morality.

The linchpin of this theory is the Bystander Effect, which suggests that our failure to react is caused by the urban environment. It was first established in 1968 after the notorious murder of Kitty Genovese, the young Queens woman who was killed while dozens of witnesses looked on. But in the decades since, our knowledge of the Bystander Effect has evolved even further. Now we can even predict which people — in which cities — are most likely to help out a stranger.

Psychologist Dr. Harold Takooshian sees strong evidence of the Bystander Effect in Neistat’s bike-theft experiment. “When it comes to this fellow with the bike,” he says, “there are several reasons the people don’t intervene.”

by Will Doig, Salon |  Read more:
Photo: R McKown via Shutterstock/Salon

Uemura Shoen, Japanese, 1875-1949

Listening to Xanax

In my Brooklyn kitchen last December, not long after a report circulated about veterinarians using Xanax to treat post-traumatic-stress disorder in military dogs, a neighbor mentioned that she had begun to carry Xanax in her purse after her first child entered kindergarten, for relief from the uncontrollable separation anxiety she felt each time she boarded the subway and headed to work. “It was just so obvious that time was passing, and I could never get it back,” she told me. Another friend, the breadwinner in her family, started taking Xanax when she saw that she was about to get laid off, then upped her dose when she did. Around Thanksgiving, I found myself sitting on a plane next to a beautiful young FIT graduate in a rabbit-fur vest. Before takeoff, she neatly placed a pillbox on her knees, plucked out a small tablet, and swallowed it. “Control issues,” she said sweetly, giving me a gorgeous smile. As we became airborne, she reached out and clutched my hand.

If the nineties were the decade of Prozac, all hollow-eyed and depressed, then this is the era of Xanax, all jumpy and edgy and short of breath. In Prozac Nation, published in 1994, Elizabeth Wurtzel describes a New York that today seems as antique as the one rendered by Edith Wharton. In the book, she evokes a time when twenty­somethings lived in Soho lofts, dressed for parties in black chiffon frocks, and ended the night crying on the bathroom floor. Twenty years ago, just before Kurt Cobain blew off his head with a shotgun, it was cool for Kate Moss to haunt the city from the sides of buses with a visage like an empty store and for Wurtzel to confess in print that she entertained fantasies of winding up, like Plath or Sexton, a massive talent who died too soon, “young and sad, a corpse with her head in the oven.” (...)

Anxiety can also be a serious medical problem, of course. It sometimes precedes depression and often gets tangled up with it (which is why Prozac-type drugs are prescribed for anxiety too). But anxiety has a second life as a more general mind-set and cultural stance, one defined by an obsession with an uncertain future. Anxious people dwell on potential negative outcomes and assume (irrational and disproportionate) responsibility for fixing the disasters they imagine will occur. “What’s going to happen?” or, more accurately, “What’s going to happen to me?” is anxiety’s quiet whisper, its horror-show crescendo the thing Xanax was designed to suppress. Three and a half years of chronic economic wobbliness, the ever-pinging of the new-e-mail alert, the insistent voices of prophet-pundits who cry that nuclear, environmental, political, or terrorist-generated disaster is certain have together turned a depressed nation into a perennially anxious one. The editors at the New York Times are running a weekly column on anxiety in their opinion section with this inarguable rationale: “We worry.”

Panicked strivers have replaced sullen slackers as the caricatures of the moment, and Xanax has eclipsed Prozac as the emblem of the national mood. Jon Stewart has praised the “smooth, calm, pristine, mellow, sleepy feeling” of Xanax, and Bill Maher has wondered whether the president himself is a user. “He’s eloquent and unflappable. He’s so cool and calm.” U2 and Lil Wayne have written songs about Xanax, and in her 2010 book Dirty Sexy Politics, John McCain’s daughter Meghan copped to dosing herself and passing out the day before the 2008 election “still in my clothes and makeup.” When news outlets began reporting that a cocktail of alcohol, Valium, and Xanax might have caused Whitney Houston’s death, it felt oddly inevitable. Coke binges are for fizzier eras; now people overdo it trying to calm down.

Anxiety can be paralyzing and life-­destroying for those who suffer it acutely. But functional anxiety, which afflicts nearly everyone I know, is a murkier thing. Not quite a disease, or even a pathology, low-grade anxiety is more like a habit. Its sufferers gather in places like New York, where relentlessness and impatience are the highest values, and in industries built on unrelenting deadlines and tightrope deals. The shrinks say that these people—urban achievers—retain a superstitious belief in the magical powers of their worry. They believe it’s the engine that keeps them going, that gives them an edge, that allows them to work weekends and at five o’clock in the morning, until at last it becomes too much. That’s where the pills come in.

by Lisa Miller, New York Magazine |  Read more:
Illustration by Lola Dupré, based on an original photograph by Shaun Kardinal 

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

 by William Shakespeare
Image: UNCG

Top Ten Myths About Introverts

[ed. Sounds about right.]

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

This list was inspired by the book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Laney.

by Jerry Brito via:
Image via Social Natural

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stories to Live With

We tell stories about the dead in order that they may live, if not in body then at least in mind—the minds of those left behind. Although the dead couldn’t care less about these stories—all available evidence suggests the dead don’t care about much—it seems that if we tell them often enough, and listen carefully to the stories of others, our knowledge of the dead can deepen and grow. If we persist in this process, digging and sifting, we had better be prepared for hard truths; like rocks beneath the surface of a plowed field, they show themselves eventually.

The story of my brother’s life is complicated by the fact that in my earliest memories there is no such thing as him or me. My brother was born one year and nine days after me, and although I was older, I have no recollection of life before he arrived. Growing up on a small family farm, we were alone in our play, and before the age of five it was always Dan and me together, sneaking strawberries from the garden, building snowmen in the yard until the darkness fell and our cheeks stung from the cold, whispering in our bunk beds at night. We were more than accomplices, much more even than friends; we were all the other had.

My going to school a year before him loosened that bond, as did overheard jokes about our paternity, for though we were close in age we soon became very different people, to the point where that was our most notable characteristic, the one other people fixated on—our difference. The contrast began but did not end with our physical appearance: his hair was red and his skin pale, while I had our mother’s olive complexion and black hair. Our personalities and interests formed as distinctly as our features. As a teenager my major obsession was sports. I trained for basketball and track in the humid clamor of the school weight room; I pored over copies of the Sporting News after I finished my homework at night. Dan focused his efforts on the wood shop, becoming skilled enough to hire on during summers with his shop teacher, with whom he built furniture and cabinets. As a wrestler, he viewed my passion for basketball as something of a retreat from manlier pursuits. Insofar as my teenage mind believed anything with bedrock conviction, it was that the fast-break style of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Showtime years was the pinnacle of team-sport artistry, and Dan responded by claiming that the Detroit Pistons—known as the Bad Boys, for their intimidating physicality and brutish antics—were his favorite team. Sports fandom, I see now, was an incidental part of his life, a wholly reactionary stance. He spent the weekends tinkering with cars, an investment of time and energy that confounded me, since he would smash them during races at the county fair each August, undoing all his hard work in a few loops around the track.

Our divergent life choices after graduation surprised no one, each of us serving as a foil for the other. He entered the blue-collar workforce, installing fiber-optic cable, while I, sensitive and brooding, went to college thinking I’d become a writer. People no longer joked about how different we were. After a certain point, it was too obvious to be funny.

by Philip Connors, Lapham's Quarterly |  Read more:
Image: Balloons above the Rio Grande in Alberquerque. Photography by mnchilemom, vi Flickr.

Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello

The Last Drop

Water is often seen as the most basic and accessible element of life, and seemingly the most plentiful. For every gallon in rivers or lakes, fifty more lie buried in vast aquifers beneath the surface of the earth. Yet at least since the cities of ancient Sumeria went to war over control of their rivers—long before tales of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Flood described in the Bible—water has been a principal source of conflict. (The word “rivals” even has it roots in fights over water, coming from the Latin rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.”) By 2050, there will be at least nine billion people on the planet, the great majority of them in developing countries. If water were spread evenly across the globe, there might be enough for everyone. But rain often falls in the least desirable places at the most disadvantageous times. Delhi gets fewer than forty days of rain each year—all in less than four months. In other Indian cities, the situation is worse. Somehow, though, the country has to sustain nearly twenty per cent of the earth’s population with four per cent of its water. China has less water than Canada—and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years.

Most of the world’s great civilizations grew up around rivers, and few forces have so clearly shaped the destiny of human populations. When full and flowing, rivers have brought prosperity to the cities and nations they feed. Harnessing the power of a major river has been a signature of progress at least since Rome built its first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, more than two thousand years ago. New York, London, and Rome would have disappeared long ago without the Hudson, the Thames, and the Tiber. In the twenty-first century, though, no river can satisfy the demands of the world’s biggest cities. The fourteen million residents of New Delhi consume nine hundred million gallons of freshwater each day; the city supplies nearly seven hundred million gallons from rivers and reservoirs, but more than a third of it is lost to leaks within the ten-thousand-kilometre system of dilapidated pipes and pumping stations. Some of the rest is siphoned off by an increasingly brazen water mafia, which then sells it to people in slums like Kesum Purbahari who are supposed to get it for free.

When you can’t get enough water from the surface of the earth, there are really only two alternatives: pray for rain or start to dig. In India, Africa, China, and much of the rest of the developing world, people are digging as they never have before. Nearly two billion people rely on wells for their water, some of which is easily accessible. Far more lies trapped in the pores of rocks, or buried hundreds of metres below tons of ancient shale and metamorphic debris. Sturdy drills and cheap new pumps have made much of that water available—liberating millions of farmers from centuries of dependence on rain. The freedom comes at a cost, though, because once groundwater is gone it is often gone for good.

There were two million wells in India thirty years ago; today, there are twenty-three million. As the population grows, the freshwater available to each resident dwindles, and people have no choice but to dig deeper. Drill too deep, though, and saltwater and arsenic can begin to seep in. When that happens, an aquifer is ruined forever. Wells throughout the country have become useless. Brackish water has even infiltrated parts of Punjab, the northern state that is India’s most important agricultural region. As sources dry up and wells are abandoned, farmers have turned on each other and on themselves. Indian newspapers are filled with accounts of fights between states or neighbors over access to lakes and reservoirs, and of “suicide farmers,” driven to despair by poverty, debt, and often by drought. There have been thousands of such suicides in the past few years.

by Michael Specter, The New Yorker |  Read more:
Image via:

Social Graph vs. Social Class

[ed. A companion article with less emphasis on the societal implications of social networks and more focus on individual branding effects can be found here:]

I’ve hated the term social graph since Facebook first seized upon it in 2007 to try to legitimate and intellectualize their project of subsuming people’s social lives. But it turns out the term, which describes the map of connections sustained by a network, may be useful in drawing a distinction between the sort of social organization that social media serve to reinforce and the class-based analyses they work to prevent.

Social media support, obviously, a view of society as a network, in which individual “nodes” define themselves (and their worth) in terms of their difference from other nodes. Each individual’s value lies in developing and expressing that difference, finding comparative advantage relative to others. There has to be something unique that you provide to make you worth linking to, though that uniqueness may consist of the unique access you provide to a bunch of other people as well as the unique information you are in a position to supply. At any rate, establishing connections to others serves to spread awareness of that difference, meaning that the relations charted in that network (aka the social graph) draw lines of competition as well as of mere affiliation.

The connections between people are not uniformly reciprocal; the attention and information flowing along the link between people is not even or balanced. Some are followers, some are followed. Some gain value from their connections given their placement in society to make profitable use of what they glean from the network, whereas others can be relatively taken advantage of by their connections, giving up valuable information (possibly inadvertently) while reaping little of its benefits. Networks allow for co-optation as much as cooperation.

All this means that individuals in the network are faced with an ongoing tactical situation. They are under pressure to constant innovate the nature of their identity in the network to find new advantages, invent new differences, propagate new bases for how they can be judged to their advantage and new implied hierarchies to dominate (e.g. “I’m the person with the coolest Deep Purple bootleg blog”; “I’m the quickest to retweet that post”; “I invented a meme that combines Deleuze passages with pictures of Rihanna”; etc.). They also need to make sure they are establishing the right sorts of connection and managing them appropriately so that some or all of its value accrues to them. Given the nature of the value of communication and the sort of consumerist innovation that goes on in manipulating language and symbols (making memes, inventing styles, etc.), the value of virality (or of fashionability or of novelty or what ever you want to call it) is constantly being produced in networks but is not so easily captured. Networks incubate immaterial labor and Virnoesque virtuosity, in which people “perform their own linguistic faculties” to create social value. Networks can circulate that value, which itself is a kind of productive process adding more value. But networks disguise agency; the collective production of value through network effects and the like make it hard to determine whether any individual involved with the processes (which are ongoing, especially with smartphones serving as immaterial labor gleaners) are being exploited.

 by Rob Horning, Marginal Utility |  Read more:

The Hunger Games

Fans give the three-fingered salute of District 12. The gesture is one of admiration, meaning thanks or goodbye to one’s beloved. (photo: Doug Kline / © 2012

[ed. For a different perspective (more cinematic than sociological) read this:]

I was certain I was going to hate it. All of my four kids have been fans of the series of books by Suzanne Collins since before they were cool; therefore when the movie was announced, we all knew the midnight screening on the night of release was a must-do.

But in the run-up to last night’s trip to the IMAX theater, the reviews I read and heard helped confirm my feeling that this would be a disgusting movie: violent, gratuitous in every way, repulsive to my social conscience.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

I tend to approach these cultural phenomena with a concern that my comfort level will be jolted. What I should be concerned about is what these phenomena say about our culture, and in the case of The Hunger Games, what it says about the generation that elevated the story to its current status. With an eye to the latter, I drove home early this morning with a deep satisfaction that my kids were smarter than I was at their age, and that their generation understands something mine did not.

First: yes, the movie is violent, and disturbingly so. The story is one about a future world in which a wealthy ruling class dominates a world that it is linked to, but separate from, itself through overwhelming police and military power, and entertainment that both enthralls and intimidates the underclasses. The focus of the story is an annual gladiatorial ritual in which representatives from the “districts” under domination give up children to a tournament of slaughter and death. Yes, this movie is based around images of children killing each other.

It is a valid question to ask: why must we tell stories that constantly elevate the level of violence necessary to grab our attention? Why is it now necessary to portray children killing other children, and children dying by each others’ hands? This is indeed an important question for our society to wrestle with. But more importantly, we should direct our moralizing to the question the film itself seeks to ask: why are we satisfied to be part of a society that finds it necessary to feed upon its young?

by Steven D. Martin, On Being Blog |  Read more:

Isley Brothers

Aelita Andre, Coral Nebula, acrylic & mixed media on canvas.

The Tyranny of a Dog's Turds

The Marine Conservation Society has reported a large increase in the volume of dog excrement found on British beaches wrapped in bags: for the UK as a whole, a rise of 11% in a single year, 2010 to 2011; for Scotland, the figure is 71%. From south of the border, devo max suddenly seems insufficient.

Most people's reaction to such a statistic is, I imagine, one of uncomplicated revulsion. For dog owners the thought of dog shit evokes a mixture of feelings: revulsion, naturally, but also shame, frustration, self-reproach – how did I allow myself to get into this situation? – and in the end, resignation.

For any dog owner, shit is a major issue, but even among ourselves the subject is hard to discuss. Hence the variety of language, euphemistic, infantilising or loftily medical – all the usual nonsense, plus a few dog-only ones: doggy-doo, business, mess ... This is the opposite of linguistic richness. In the park, we exchange discreet nods and unfinished sentences when an owner has not noticed their dog doing its duty – "Oh look, he's, umm ..." Then, with a display of gratitude, the owner rushes to the spot, pulls out a bag (the fancy bespoke article, lightly scented and biodegradable, or a ragged Tesco carrier), picks the stuff up, and drops it in the nearest bin.

The gratitude is real; though to non-owners it may sometimes seem that the world is drowning in turds, the imperative to pick up your dog's shit has been hammered into most dog owners. Good citizenship aside, to fail to locate your dog's excrement is a source of shame – you're making all of us look bad.

So it is that on winter evenings I find myself grubbing around in darkness, groping for a stray turd by the light of my mobile phone. Sometimes you give up on your own dog's droppings and take what you can find – there's usually something, and that way you've at least left the net level of faeces unchanged. In autumn, wet earth and piles of leaves turn the hunt into an agony; we bless the colder, drier weather which brings the tell-tale column of steam.

by Robert Hanks, The Guardian |  Read more:
Photo: Toby Melville/PA

Invisible Man

Chinese artist Liu Bolin, painted from head-to-toe, stands suitably camouflaged in front of Freedom Tower, where the Twin Towers once stood, in New York. Hiding In New York, his latest exhibition, has just opened at the Eli Klein Gallery in the city.

Other works displayed in Liu's fourth solo exhibition include the artist camouflaged in front of panda toys; standing in the Yellow River in China; and hiding in a supermarket surrounded by Coca-Cola bottles and other top brands.

Previous work has included him blending into an iconic red British telehpone box and standing attention next to a cannon.

Liu claims his art makes a statement about his place in society and sees himself as an outsider whose artistic efforts are not appreciated, especially in his home country.

He has previously said: 'Some people call me the invisible man, but for me it's what is not seen in a picture which is really what tells the story.

'After graduating from school I couldn't find suitable work and I felt there was no place for me in society.

'I experienced the dark side of society, without social relations, and had a feeling that no one cared about me, I felt myself unnecessary in this world.

'From that time, my attitude turned from dependence into revolting against the system.'

by Graham Smith, Mail Online | More pictures here:

Airport Security Since 9/11: More Harm Than Good?

It has been many years since commercial flying was a glamorous experience, especially for those squashed in economy class. But the experience changed for the worse after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001. The exact nature of the weapons used by the terrorists to take control of the four planes will probably never be known, but their effectiveness jolted governments into much closer consideration of their airport-security procedures.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established two months later to improve security across America's transport systems: luggage screening was widely increased; cockpit doors were strengthened; and passengers were refused entry to the flight deck. In the years since, authorities have responded to further attempted attacks by adding new layers of security. Thanks to Richard Reid's mid-flight efforts to detonate a bomb in his shoe in late 2001, many passengers now have to remove their shoes when passing through security so they can be separately scanned. The arrest in August 2006 of a group of would-be bombers intending to blow up planes using liquid explosives led to the banning of liquids, aerosols and gels of any significant size from hand luggage. And Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's December 2009 effort to blast a hole in a plane using explosives hidden in his underwear led indirectly to the roll out of full-body scanning machines at numerous airports.

Much has been done, and much money has been spent. So this debate is considering whether the changes made to security have actually made the situation worse—that they annoy passengers is not really in question. Are we less safe now than we were before 9/11? Many regular flyers will have their own stories of indignities suffered at the hands of airport-security staff; and the media revels in tales of the young, the old and the infirm being taken aside for intimate and humiliating searches for banned items. What sensible end does this serve, ask the critics. The whole apparatus of security at airports is sometimes derided as theatre, designed to give the appearance of security, while actually distracting attention and funding from other ways of keeping bombs and bad people off planes. Perhaps more money should be spent on intelligence gathering to try to ensure would-be terrorists don't even make it to the airport, or get jobs in sensitive roles. However, there has been no successful attack on a plane since 9/11, so perhaps we should be ready to give credit to the procedures now in place. They are responses to real threats, many of which the public will never know about, and they require passengers to suffer minor hassles for the good of all. Surveys show that passengers will accept more inconvenience if it makes them feel safer, and airport security does this.

Bruce Schneier, a security expert, is tasked with defending the motion. He says that neither the TSA nor its foreign counterparts have foiled a single terrorist plot in ten years, and that the security procedures put in place since 9/11 are not sufficient to stop well-financed, well-organised terrorists. He condemns developments in airport security as backward looking and overly specific, and argues for a return to the style of security in place before the 9/11 attacks, with money spent instead on investigation and emergency response.

He is opposed by Kip Hawley, who was the head of the TSA between July 2005 and January 2009. Mr Hawley defends the outfit, and says the ten years of safe flying it has overseen show that its methods are indeed working. He admits that the cost to passengers of increases in airport security has been great, but says these procedures are much more adaptable than their forebears, and that a programme made up of multiple layers of security, such as is being developed now, stands a greater chance of success.

Over the next ten days our guests will present further arguments and, I hope, answer the points made by their opponents. But the result of this debate rests in your hands: do not be afraid to vote immediately, as you can change your mind at any time. And once you have cast your vote, please add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. This debate may be American in tone—that is where the 9/11 attacks took place; that is where our debaters are from—but I would ask those of you familiar with airport security in other countries to take part with gusto, and make your experiences and opinions known.
by Adam Barnes, The Economist Debates |  Read more:

Why Women Still Can't Enjoy Sex

Slut. I used to fixate on the unfairness of the accusation, particularly given that it seemed to be issued with no particular rhyme or reason other than the accuser’s desire to be hurtful. But recent events (including Limbaugh’s outburst) have made me realize that this isn’t about the kind of sex women are having or even the amount. It’s about the fundamental view that women should have only a peripheral relationship to sex and certainly no active engagement with it – and that these two things will determine if she’s a Lady worthy of respect or a Slut deserving of contempt.

In the subconscious social view, Ladies are naturally disengaged from their sexuality in any kind of human way at all. They view their sexuality peripherally through the gauzy veil of fluttering, dreamlike vistas and romantic fantasies and never, ever as a visceral event involving sweat, dirt and animalistic howls. Those who seek to take charge of their sexuality by, say, accessing birth control aren’t responsible adults making responsible decisions about their future – rather, they’re bitches on heat planning (planning!) grunting sexual encounters to satisfy their craven, unladylike lust for dick. And they pose a threat to masculinity because, given their addiction to birth control, they might now sleep with someone who’s not you.

You can screw these Sluts – but how can you respect them when they have no respect for themselves?

But it’s not just extreme conservatives who diminish women this way. Discomfit around women and sex permeates our culture, and the act itself has become a darkly comic battleground. Otherwise fair-minded women perpetuate the idea of Woman as Gatekeeper, warding off the advances of men and only buckling out of necessity – or worse, pity. This has less to do with women’s natural disdain for sex and more to do with a cultural expectation of how women should participate sexually.

Rather than a fulfilling pursuit in and of itself, Ladies should view sex as a gift to be bestowed upon a worthy suitor. It’s something that should vaguely interest them because it feels good (particularly under the masterful hand that guides them) but its role pales in comparison to the ultimate objective.


On the fraught path to love, sex is something ladies agree to, not something they do, and those of us who engage too excessively with the latter are pityingly accused of demeaning ourselves in order to find affection, or satisfy our own tragic lack of self esteem.

The conversation is lost in the problematic discussions of double standards. Women become Sluts when they engage in the same kind of behaviour as men, who are apparently called ‘studs’ although I haven’t heard that used since about 1983. But a double standard implies two different treatments of the same thing, and the core issue is that men and women at a base level still aren’t viewed as being the same. Worse, women are just as guilty (if not more so, on occasion) of depicting other women as Sluts in order to leverage themselves into the role of Ladies.

And so the accusation of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ or ‘prostitute’ is less about how much sex women are supposedly having and how we judge it differently to men, and more to do with how much we demonise women’s enjoyment of sex in general. Think about that for a moment. In order to diminish women in our culture, we accuse them of enjoying sex. Worse, we accuse them of wanting it.

by Clementine Ford, DailyLife |  Read more:
image via:

Lucho Bermúdez

Luis Ricardo Falero

Image: 1st Class, 2011, Xu Bing’s tiger-skin rug made with 500,000 “1st Class” brand cigarettes at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

In his fascinating new book 1493, Charles C. Mann writes about the unprecedented global movements of people, animals, plants, raw materials, and products after the Europeans colonized the Americas, transforming culture, society, and ecology around the world. From the Andes to the Philippines, Spain to China, Africa to Virginia, Mann charts the trans-continental movement of slaves, soldiers, pirates, traders, earthworms, honeybees, potatoes, chocolate, silk, silver, rubber, and viruses too numerous and creepy to count, to mention but some of the subjects in his lively discussion. Among this litany of paradigm-shifting products, though, one—native to the Americas and quickly dispersed to Europe, Asia, and Africa—was particularly addictive. Tobacco, Mann writes, represented “the first time people in every continent simultaneously became enraptured by a novelty.”

Thus was launched the cult of the cigarette, fittingly described by Richard Klein in his book Cigarettes Are Sublime as “the first modern object,” inspiring everything from opera (think Carmen) to advertising and package design that aimed to advance subliminal seduction to new levels.

Now comes Chinese artist Xu Bing, who had become, to put it mildly, obsessed with tobacco during his time in the American South, first as an artist-in-residence at Duke a decade ago and more recently preparing his current show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, The Tobacco Project. Xu Bing, who currently has works using the medium of 9/11 dust on West 22nd Street and Chinese calligraphy at the Morgan Library, harnesses the cigarette as surface, sculptural material, and globally distributed graphic-design project. He created objects ranging from a tiger-skin-pattern rug made of more than half a million cigarettes standing on end; to a 440-pound compressed block of tobacco with the raised text “Light as Smoke”; to books made out of tobacco leaves printed with texts and sometimes including tobacco beetles; to trading cards for his “Puff Choice” brand; to a specially made long cigarette burned on a reproduction of a 12-century Chinese scroll.

by Robin Cembalest, LMPS |  Read more:

Hello, Cruel World

The 1.7 million members of the Class of 2011 witnessed, within the four-year span of their college careers, one of the greatest bull markets in United States history and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Last spring, they shed their caps and gowns and joined a kind of B.A. bread line. Unemployment among recent liberal-arts graduates, at 9.4 percent, was higher than the national average, and student-loan debt, at an average of nearly $25,000, had reached record levels. Worse still, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was reporting that only 5 of the 20 jobs projected to grow fastest over the coming decade would require a bachelor’s degree. Though the statistics still show that a college degree correlates with both higher income and lower unemployment in the long run, diplomas didn’t seem very valuable when they were handed out last May.

Graduating seniors at schools like Drew University in Madison, N.J., have felt the stresses of the job market acutely. For all its merits — including a much-admired theater department and a prestigious Wall Street internship program — Drew ranks 94th among 178 private liberal-arts colleges on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list. The middle of the collegiate pack is not where you want to be when you’re competing for a diminishing number of entry-level jobs.

Members of Drew’s Class of ’11 are typical of their peers nationally in that their success in the job market seems to have less to do with their G.P.A.’s or their persistence and more to do with their family connections, fields of study, networking skills and luck. How else to account for the unemployed Phi Beta Kappa waiting by a silent phone? Or the anthropology major who is forgoing grad school to become a dog groomer? Or the English major who can’t earn enough money to make the monthly payment on her $128,000 student loan? (Drew is unusually expensive; tuition plus room and board run more than $50,000 a year.) Equals on campus, the 309 members of Drew’s Class of ’11 are already being divided into the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Seven months after graduation, The Times Magazine spoke with 226 of them about their rough journey into the real world.

by Nathaniel Penn, NY Times |  Read more:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Art and Science of Violin Making

The Violin Maker from Dustin Cohen on Vimeo.

Sam Zygmuntowicz is a world-renowned luthier, or maker of stringed instruments. Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma play his instruments. In 2003, a violin he made for Isaac Stern sold at auction for $130,000–the highest price ever for an instrument by a living luthier. To sum up Zygmuntowicz’s stature as a builder of fine instruments, Tim J. Ingles, director of musical instruments for Sotheby’s, told Forbes magazine: “There are no more than six people who are at his level.”

Zygmuntowicz is the subject of a 2007 book by John Marchese called The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop. In one passage, Marchese writes about the mysterious acoustical qualities of the violin, which he likens to a magic box:

The laws that govern the building of this box were decided upon a short time before the laws of gravity were discovered, and they have remained remarkably unchanged since then. It is commonly thought that the violin is the most perfect acoustically of all musical instruments. It is quite uncommon to find someone who can explain exactly why. One physicist who spent decades trying to understand why the violin works so well said that it was the world’s most analyzed musical instrument–and the least understood.

The most famous, and fabled, stringed instruments are those that were made in Cremona, Italy, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by Antonio Stradivari and a handful of other masters. In Zygmuntowicz’s workshop in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, there is a bumper sticker that says, “My other fiddle is a Strad.” Behind the joke lies a serious point. Zygmuntowicz wants great musicians to use his instruments–not because they are cheaper than a Stradivarius, but because they are better. He’s trying to break a barrier that has been firmly in place for centuries. “I call it the ‘Strad Ceiling,’” he told NPR in 2008. “You know, if someone has a Strad in their case, will they play your fiddle?”

Although Joshua Bell owns a Zygmuntowicz, he mostly calls on the luthier to make fine adjustments to his Stradivarius. But Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet told Forbes that he actually prefers his Zygmuntowicz to his 1686 Stradivarius in certain situations. “In a large space like Carnegie Hall,” he said, “the Zygmuntowicz is superior to my Strad. It has more power and punch.” In spite of the mystique that surrounds Stradivari and the other Cremona masters, Zygmuntowicz sees no reason why a modern luthier couldn’t make a better instrument. “There isn’t any ineffable essence,” he told the The New York Times earlier this year, “only a physical object that works better or worse in a variety of circumstances.”

via: Open Culture

Paul Jenkins
Phenomena Amber Sight, 1968

Native Hawaiians Provide Lessons In Fisheries Management

Roughly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. As I stand on a beach in Hawaii and look out over the vast, blue expanse in front of me, I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. My brain wrestles with numbers far beyond its capacity to visualize. In that moment, it is incomprehensible that even seven billion humans could deplete such a boundless and unimaginable resource. Yet, I know that we are. We are emptying the oceans of their fish, one species at a time.

Today, 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fully exploited, overexploited or have already collapsed. Combined, the world’s fishermen catch 2.5 times the sustainable number of fish every year. Scientists predict that if current trends continue, world food fisheries may collapse entirely by 2050. “We are in the situation where 40 years down the line we, effectively, are out of fish,” explains Pavan Sukhdev, special advisor to the UN Environment Programme.

What we need are better management strategies. Now, researchers from the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University are turning to the past for advice. Loren McClenachan and Jack Kittinger used historical records to reconstruct fish catches for the past seven hundred years to see if earlier civilizations did a better job than we are at managing their fisheries. The authors were able to characterize historical catch rates in the Florida Keys and Hawaii by reviewing a variety of historical sources, including species-specific catch records from the 1800s and archaeological reconstructions of population densities and per-capita fish consumption.

“Seven hundred years of history clearly demonstrate that management matters,” said Loren McClenachan, co-author of the study and assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. In Florida, fisheries were characterized by years of boom and bust through sequential collapse of high-value species, many which are still endangered or extinct today. The Keys fisheries were set up for failure – unlike other historical island communities, the Keys were highly connected to other markets, increasing fisheries demand. Furthermore, they have historically lacked a centralized management system. But, while fisheries in the Florida Keys have always been poorly supervised, fisheries in Hawaii were once far better than they are today.

“Before European contact, Native Hawaiians were catching fish at rates that far exceed what reefs currently provide society,” said Kittinger, co-author and early career fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions. Native Hawaiians pulled in over 15,000 metric tons of fish per year, and these high yields were sustained over several hundred years, despite a dense Hawaiian population. “These results show us that fisheries can be both highly productive and sustainable, if they’re managed effectively.”

by Christie Wilcox, Scientific American |  Read more: