What my dad gave me 2008_Rockfeller Center_001

Chris Burden. What My Dad Gave Me, Rockefeller Center, NY. 2008.


“I have always wanted to build a model skyscraper using Erector parts. The model skyscraper, built from a toy and 65 feet in height, takes on the dimensions of a full sized building. The circle of actual buildings inspiring a toy in 1909, which is then used to build a model skyscraper the size of an actual building…”

More here, here, and here.

No Can Go

by Misha Lepetic

The Spectacle is not a collection of images,
but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
~ Debord

ApocamonNow that Pokémon Go has had a few weeks to work its way through our collective psychosocial digestive tract, we can begin considering the effects of this latest, and by far most successful, manifestation of augmented reality (AR). Because it has been so successful, it's worth asking the big questions. Does Pokémon Go really make us more social? Does it make us better as individuals, or as a society? What gets amplified, and what gets obscured? (Hereis a brief overview of how Pokémon Go works.)

It's worth mentioning that augmented reality broke into the national consciousness in the form of a game. Educational tools have a limited audience and their effectiveness is difficult to measure. Workplace applications are either niche or still undercooked – for example, if we're to go by this recent video by AR darling Magic Leap, work seems to entail checking the weather and stock prices, at least until you're interrupted by your kid sharing his school report on Mt. Everest. After buying some spiffy orange boat shoes, there's not much left to do but look up and zone out to the jellyfish languidly passing across the ceiling. Clearly, this is a job that is safe from automation.

Games, on the other hand, are the perfect vessel for distributing a technology such as AR. Software is a contained system; it is built according to specifications and anticipates a gamut of interactions. There are rules – visible or invisible – that tell you what the system may or may not do. And engagement with the system is based on the fact that identity and progress can be established and measured, with performance compared and contrasted with other players.

All of this makes software ideal as the substrate for the gamification of, well, everything. If you've ever used Uber, you can see the available cars trundling along the streets in your vicinity. Once you complete your ride, you rate your driver. What's a rather lesser-known fact is that your driver rates you. Silicon Valley abhors a data vacuum, and a great way to get people to provide data about anything is to make a game out of it. The genius of this is that, consequently, people are really convinced that it's just a game.

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“Sad Steps” toward a Sedate Style

by Olivia Zhu

ScreenHunter_2208 Sep. 12 12.15Grumbling and stumbling in the night: this is Philip Larkin’s self-introduction in “Sad Steps,” dissatisfied with his aging and driven awake by a compelling need to urinate. Over the course of the poem, however, his evident discomfort with growing old is replaced with first a burst of poetic dynamism before ending with a settled acceptance of his lot. These transformations take place under the poem’s moon, an ever-present and unemotional image that prompts the speaker to confront, correct, and ultimately console himself. His psychological shifts are paired and illustrated with corresponding changes in the poetic language, ranging from the types of phrasing to the use of punctuation to descriptions of distances. Larkin communicates his increased contentment with his varying portrayals of the moon and his environment, clarifying that he understands not merely the inevitability of growing old, but also the linguistic lessons that can only be learned with age.

The poet examines his assured aging first by casting himself as small in comparison to the world that surrounds him. The sky is “cavernous” and the moon is “high,” situating the speaker far below either. This very careful placement makes it impossible for Larkin—someone who has difficulty returning to bed at night—to have any effect on the heavens, let alone the passage of time. Critic Nicholas Marsh agrees, suggesting that the speaker’s realization of his physical size in proportion to that of the universe “reminds him of his own insignificance and mortality” (124). Moreover, the moon is incredibly powerful in “Sad Steps.” It is emotionally striking and compelling, certainly, but it is also described as a cannonball that “dashes through clouds that blow,” making it unlikely that the speaker would be able to resist its momentum and pull. Just as the moon wanes after it waxes, so must Larkin. He recognizes his youth “can’t come again,” so unlike youthful “others,” he is not “undiminished.” The period in which he was able to be strong is over, and all young people are aware of the “pain” of the prospect of growing older. The speaker has cast aside the “thick curtains” of the very beginning of the poem, no longer living in some form of denial, to stare openly on the moon and remind himself of who he is now.

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Monday Poem

Don W. in Manhattan

—eating the dust of 2001 Quixote 02

Dining in Soho alone, a man
served by a girl with lip studs, nose ring,
and serpent tattoo uncoiling
from deep cleavage,
sees the new man of La Mancha,
in dim light across the room,
seated with his back to the street:

This new La Mancha man
topples a pepper mill with his fork
gesturing to his wife, Sancha,
vowing he'll avenge New York

Sancha smiles and re-sets the mill in place
among constellations of pepper stars
strewn across formica space

Between them supper's done:
spent dinnerware, filaments of flaked filo
circling half a buttered bun,
remnants of dense moussaka,
and that pepper mill now standing like a dustbowl silo
near languid cubes in tepid water

Don Doble U, enemy of disorder,
sweeps a hand through this small universe
upending the pepper mill once more
and plows a thousand minuscule black galaxies
into his cupped palm
and dumps them on the floor

He takes his tined baton
between forefinger and thumb
and sets a cadence in the atmosphere
thumping on his different drum

Then Don (el hombre fútil),
maestro of mishap,
conducts the ice and water glass
into long-suffering Sancha's lap

Jim Culleny; 2001

Food, Art and Emotion: The Art Menu at Topolobampo

by Dwight Furrow


The question of whether food preparation can be a fine art turns on two issues:

  1. Does food have the rich assortment of meanings typical of fine art? and

  2. Does food express emotion in the same sense that music or painting does?

As I argued in American Foodie, both these questions depend on whether food can function as a complex symbol or metaphor. Food exemplifies or shows what it's trying to say via its flavors and textures, just as a painting displays its meaning in colors, lines, and brush strokes or a piece of music in its melodic/harmonic structure and timbres. As a conceptual matter these questions can be answered in the affirmative. However, the problem is that chefs must satisfy hunger, cater to taste preferences, and make a profit, and these practical constraints often limit their artistic aspirations.

Thus, when restaurants make an effort to highlight the artistic aspirations of their chefs, it is a special occasion, so I could not resist a trip to Chicago to sample the Art Menu of Rick Bayless and his chefs at his restaurant Topolobampo. Bayless is the acclaimed auteur of refined Mexican cuisine. Each summer his chefs create a tasting menu in which each dish expresses an emotion. The chefs then select works of art from the restaurant's collection of Mexican art that expresses the same emotion as each dish—all explained and depicted in a helpful brochure that is given to guests who order the menu. This is a fascinating experiment in cross-modal metaphor that if successful adds another data point favoring the artistic credentials of food.

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Disproving 9 of the Biggest 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

Jack Holmes in Esquire:

ScreenHunter_2205 Sep. 12 01.57An extraordinary event requires an extraordinary explanation. But for some, the idea that 19 men could commandeer four commercial airliners in a coordinated attack and use them as 400-ton missiles to destroy such massive buildings still doesn't make sense. Even 15 years after the fact, there are still plenty who cannot believe that these symbols of American power—military, economic, and, had they not been stopped, political—were so fundamentally vulnerable to destruction. People want more, and when the official accounts aren't satisfying, they begin to look elsewhere.

There are still plenty of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and no matter what you tell them, they will tell you the attacks on September 11, 2001 did not happen the way our government or our media claim. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it was an inside job. They will tell you the government let it happen. They will tell you the buildings couldn't have fallen that way, or the Air Force could have stopped the whole thing if they wanted to.

There are an untold number of theories about what really happened that day. They are the subject of a well-known documentary film, and they have spawned countless websites. Most of them are weird, and some are almost comical. But exploring these theories involves venturing into the darkest corners of our imagination, where confusion and despair bleed into reactionary paranoia, and the enduring sacrifice of the innocent people who died that day is almost cheapened by slander and suspicion.

Below are nine of the most prominent theories, as well as the evidence explaining why they simply don't add up.

More here.

Mourning 9/11 Fifteen Years Later

Ingrid Norton in the Boston Review:

Norton-9-11_bodyIn late May 2002 the fifty-eight-ton steel column was shrouded with black cloth, covered in an enormous American flag, and lowered onto a specially made truck bed. Its journey was accompanied by a slow procession of emergency workers and officials, a dirge of bagpipes, and trumpeters playing “Taps.” The removal of the column marked the end of eight and a half months of recovery work, in which several billion pounds of debris and human remains were removed from the wreckage of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan. At the time, a coalition of victims’ families—WTC Families for a Proper Burial—was protesting the removal of the site’s ash, mud, and metal to the Fresh Kills landfill, where forensics experts poured over it to extricate the remains. Against this backdrop, the ceremony of the column’s removal served as a kind of proxy funeral.

May 2002 was the month that my parents and I moved from uptown Manhattan to a former bank building on Wall Street. We had been lured by the rent abatements that Michael Bloomberg, the new mayor, offered to spur development in Lower Manhattan in the wake of the September 11 attacks. My parents and I sometimes shared the subway with 9/11 clean-up workers, their clothes and boots stained with the ash and dust that would later be found to cause chronic respiratory illness as well as cancer. Our apartment was a block and a half away from the New York Stock Exchange, thought to be a likely future terrorism target. Police toting assault rifles and submachine guns patrolled our block; large metal barriers had been embedded in the street to stop truck bombs.

More here.

Consciousness and Downward Causation

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

For many people, the phenomenon of consciousness is the best evidence we have that there must be something important missing in our basic physical description of the world. According to this worry, a bunch of atoms and particles, mindlessly obeying the laws of physics, can’t actually experience the way a conscious creature does. There’s no such thing as “what it is to be like” a collection of purely physical atoms; it would lack qualia, the irreducibly subjective components of our experience of the world. One argument for this conclusion is that we can conceive of collections of atoms that behave physically in exactly the same way as ordinary humans, but don’t have those inner experiences — philosophical zombies. (If you think about it carefully, I would claim, you would realize that zombies are harder to conceive of than you might originally have guessed — but that’s an argument for another time.)

The folks who find this line of reasoning compelling are not necessarily traditional Cartesian dualists who think that there is an immaterial soul distinct from the body. On the contrary, they often appreciate the arguments against “substance dualism,” and have a high degree of respect for the laws of physics (which don’t seem to need or provide evidence for any non-physical influences on our atoms). But still, they insist, there’s no way to just throw a bunch of mindless physical matter together and expect it to experience true consciousness.

People who want to dance this tricky two-step — respect for the laws of physics, but an insistence that consciousness can’t reduce to the physical — are forced to face up to a certain problem, which we might call the causal box argument. It goes like this. (Feel free to replace “physical particles” with “quantum fields” if you want to be fastidious.)

  1. Consciousness cannot be accounted for by physical particles obeying mindless equations.
  2. Human beings seem to be made up — even if not exclusively — of physical particles.
  3. To the best of our knowledge, those particles obey mindless equations, without exception.
  4. Therefore, consciousness does not exist.

Nobody actually believes this argument, let us hasten to add — they typically just deny one of the premises.

But there is a tiny sliver of wiggle room that might allow us to salvage something special about consciousness without giving up on the laws of physics — the concept of downward causation.

More here.

Mark Thompson’s New Book on the Use and Misuse of Rhetoric

James Fallows in the New York Times:

41qM4KSoTTLIn the “Afterthoughts” to his book about the decline of public language in politics, Mark Thompson mentions something that for me clarified the 12 chapters that went before. Thompson, who grew up in England and was director-general of the BBC before taking his current job as chief executive of The New York Times Company, was invited in 2012 to give a series of lectures on the “art of public persuasion” at Oxford, his alma mater. From those lectures and subsequent discussions, he writes, “Enough Said” arose.

Knowing the book’s genesis is useful in understanding the kind of value it has, and what it does not do. To oversimplify, the most influential nonfiction books usually exist either to tell a story, as with “Seabiscuit” and “All the President’s Men,” or to advance an argument, as with “Silent Spring” and “The Feminine Mystique.” Ideally they combine the two, as for example Michael Lewis did with his tale of the origins of the 2008 financial crisis, “The Big Short.”

Lecture series, and books derived from them, are different in that their assumed interest comes from watching a thinker engage with a set topic and seeing what insights emerge, rather than expecting a clear narrative or argument to ring through. That’s the case with “Enough Said.” Given Thompson’s standing as a past leader of one of the world’s dominant news organizations and the current head of another, what he thinks about the interactions among politicians, citizens and the press is by definition important. I don’t think this book will change the continuing debates about “bias” and “objectivity,” the separation of the public into distinct fact universes, the disappearing boundary between entertainment and civic life, the imperiled concept of “truth” or the other important topics it addresses. But it offers many instructive allusions, useful judgments and important refinements on these themes — and provides reassurance by its mere existence that someone in the author’s position is grappling so earnestly with such questions.

More here.

Joseph Stiglitz Says Standard Economics Is Wrong. Inequality and Unearned Income Kills the Economy

Joseph Stiglitz in Evonomics:

Joseph-E.-Stiglitz_avatar_1457763065-175x175In the middle of the twentieth century, it came to be believed that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’: economic growth would bring increasing wealth and higher living standards to all sections of society. At the time, there was some evidence behind that claim. In industrialised countries in the 1950s and 1960s every group was advancing, and those with lower incomes were rising most rapidly.

In the ensuing economic and political debate, this ‘rising-tide hypothesis’ evolved into a much more specific idea, according to which regressive economic policies— policies that favour the richer classes— would end up benefiting everyone. Resources given to the rich would inevitably ‘trickle down’ to the rest. It is important to clarify that this version of old-fashioned ‘trickle-down economics’ did not follow from the postwar evidence. The ‘rising-tide hypothesis’ was equally consistent with a ‘trickle-up’ theory— give more money to those at the bottom and everyone will benefit; or with a ‘build-out from the middle’ theory— help those at the centre, and both those above and below will benefit.

Today the trend to greater equality of incomes which characterised the postwar period has been reversed. Inequality is now rising rapidly. Contrary to the rising-tide hypothesis, the rising tide has only lifted the large yachts, and many of the smaller boats have been left dashed on the rocks. This is partly because the extraordinary growth in top incomes has coincided with an economic slowdown.

More here.

The Unique Sound of the Cricket

Stephane Mallarme in The Paris Review:

Stéphane Mallarmé died 118 years ago today. He wrote the letter below to his friend Eugène Lefébure, in May 1867, at age twenty-five, when he was working as a teacher in the provinces. It was, apparently, stressful, and Mallarmé came to feel that he’d entered “the Void”—a liberating (albeit terrifying) abyss of constant, torturous renewal.

Portrait_of_stephane_mallarme_manetThis is what I heard my neighbor say this morning, as she pointed to the window on the opposite side of the street from her: “Gracious me! Madame Ramaniet ate asparagus yesterday.” “How can you tell?” “From the pot she’s put outside her window.” Isn’t that the provinces in a nutshell? Its curiosity, its preoccupations, and that ability to see clues in the most meaningless things—and such things, great gods! Fancy having to confess that mankind, by living one on top of the other, has reached such a pass!!—I’m not asking for the wild state, because we’d be obliged to make our own shoes and bread, while society permits us to entrust those tasks to slaves to whom we pay salaries, but I find intoxication in exceptional solitude … I’ll always reject all company so that I can carry my symbol wherever I go and, in a room full of beautiful furniture just as in the countryside, I can feel myself to be a diamond which reflects everything, but which has no existence in itself, something to which you are always forced to return when you welcome men, even if only to put yourself on the defensive …

I think that to be truly a man, to be nature capable of thought, one must think with one’s entire body, which creates a full, harmonious thought, like those violin strings vibrating directly with their hollow wooden box. As thoughts are produced by the brain alone (which I so abused last summer and part of this winter), they now appear to me like airs played on the high part of the E-string without being strengthened by the box,—which pass through and disappear without creating themselves, without leaving a trace of themselves. Indeed, I no longer remember any of those sudden ideas I had last year.

More here.

Robert Pinsky on How a 16th-Century Poem Inspired the Clarity of the Prose in Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air”

Robert Pinsky in Slate:

41jfvzl72yl._sx336_bo1204203200_.jpg.CROP.article250-medium._sx336_bo1204203200_Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir by an unknown author, became a best-seller for an unusual —almost unheard-of— reason: the quality of its writing.

By “quality” I mean excellence, but also a specific mode of narrative and meditation that Kalanathi achieves, a peculiar, calm intensity: a certain immediacy. No doubt that methodical intensity owes something to medical training. The book is, after all, a brilliant young neurosurgeon’s account of his own fatal illness. (His wife Lucy Kalanithi, also a physician, tells the end of the story in an epilogue.) A compelling subject, but the writing is crucial, in a way that derives from Kalanithi’s interest in poetry. Reviewers, including Anna Reisman in Slate, have justly praised the writing as “poetic,” but a poetry of understatement more than image, and precise abstractions— rather than heightened color—inform When Breath Becomes Air.

The title comes from a 16th century poem by Fulke Greville that demonstrates that feeling of profound calm combined with immense urgency, concentrated into just six lines:

You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone:
Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! then make time, while you be,
But steps to your eternity.

Finality, here, demands language this direct about its subject. The poem is also direct with the reader.

More here.

How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45-Year Study of Supersmart Children

Tom Clynes in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2204 Sep. 10 17.43On a summer day in 1968, professor Julian Stanley met a brilliant but bored 12-year-old named Joseph Bates. The Baltimore student was so far ahead of his classmates in mathematics that his parents had arranged for him to take a computer-science course at Johns Hopkins University, where Stanley taught. Even that wasn't enough. Having leapfrogged ahead of the adults in the class, the child kept himself busy by teaching the FORTRAN programming language to graduate students.

Unsure of what to do with Bates, his computer instructor introduced him to Stanley, a researcher well known for his work in psychometrics—the study of cognitive performance. To discover more about the young prodigy's talent, Stanley gave Bates a battery of tests that included the SAT college-admissions exam, normally taken by university-bound 16- to 18-year-olds in the United States.

Bates's score was well above the threshold for admission to Johns Hopkins, and prompted Stanley to search for a local high school that would let the child take advanced mathematics and science classes. When that plan failed, Stanley convinced a dean at Johns Hopkins to let Bates, then 13, enrol as an undergraduate.

Stanley would affectionately refer to Bates as “student zero” of his Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), which would transform how gifted children are identified and supported by the US education system.

More here.


David Remnick in The New Yorker:

Remnick-TrumpandPutinALoveStory_01-1200Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Donald J. Trump are locked in a humid political embrace, which seems, at first glance, unlikely. Putin grew up in postwar Leningrad. In the dismal courtyard of his building on Baskov Lane, a hangout for local thugs and drunks, he and his childhood friends pursued their favorite pastime: chasing rats with sticks. His father, a wounded veteran, beat him with a belt. Putin’s way up, his dream, was to volunteer for the K.G.B. Donald Trump encountered few rats on his lawn in Jamaica Estates. Soft, surly, and academically uninterested, Donald was disruptive in class—so much so that his father, a real-estate tycoon of the outer boroughs, shipped him off to military school when he was thirteen. He did not set out to serve his country; he set out to multiply his father’s fortune. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same,” Trump has said. “The temperament is not that different.”

Decades later, Trump has praised Putin as a forceful leader, a “better leader” than Barack Obama; Putin hardly conceals his hope that Trump will win election to the White House. What would be more advantageous for Putin than to see the United States elect an incompetent leader who just so happens to be content to leave the Russian regime to its own devices, particularly in Europe? Even as non-Democrats have variously described their own nominee as a “con,” a “bully,” and a “borderline” 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Putin has acted as a surrogate from afar, dropping clear hints at his preference, slyly declaring Trump “bright” and “talented without doubt.”

More here.