Patricia Lockwood travels through the internet

Patricia Lockwood in the London Review of Books:

A few years ago, when it suddenly occurred to us that the internet was a place we could never leave, I began to keep a diary of what it felt like to be there in the days of its snowy white disintegration, which felt also like the disintegration of my own mind. My interest was not academic. I did not care about the Singularity, or the rise of the machines, or the afterlife of being uploaded into the cloud. I cared about the feeling that my thoughts were being dictated. I cared about the collective head, which seemed to be running a fever. But if we managed to escape, to break out of the great skull and into the fresh air, if Twitter was shut down for crimes against humanity, what would we be losing? The bloodstream of the news, the thrilled consensus, the dance to the tune of the time. The portal that told us, each time we opened it, exactly what was happening now. It seemed fitting to write it in the third person because I no longer felt like myself. Here’s how it began.

*

She opened the portal, and the mind met her more than halfway. Inside, it was tropical and snowing, and the first flake of the blizzard of everything landed on her tongue and melted.

Close-ups of nail art, a pebble from outer space, a tarantula’s compound eyes, a storm like canned peaches on the surface of Jupiter, Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, a chihuahua perched on a man’s erection, a garage door spray-painted with the words ‘STOP NOW! DON’T EMAIL MY WIFE!’

More here.

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The most villainous act in the history of human civilisation

Samantha Page in Cosmos:

Michael E Mann is one of two climate scientists who have been awarded the 2019 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University in the US and one of the most famous climate scientists in the world, is the man behind the infamous “hockey stick” graph, which came out in 1998 and for many became the first piece of understandable data that showed the effect humans were having on the climate.

The graph and Mann himself became lightning rods for climate sceptics and fossil fuel backers, thrusting him into a role of public persuader. For the past 20 years, he has tangled with politicians, Twitter users, and the occasional Russian hacker to help explain what, exactly, is happening to our climate.

More here.

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This Is How AIPAC Really Works

M. J. Rosenberg in The Nation:

One thing that should be said about Representative Ilhan Omar’s tweet about the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (more commonly known as AIPAC, or the “Israel lobby”) is that the hysterical reaction to it proved her main point: The power of AIPAC over members of Congress is literally awesome, although not in a good way. Has anyone ever seen so many members of Congress, of both parties, running to the microphones and sending out press releases to denounce one first-termer for criticizing the power of… a lobby?

Somehow, I don’t think the reaction would have been the same if she had tweeted that Congress still supports the ethanol subsidy because the American Farm Bureau and other components of the corn/ethanol lobby spend millions to keep this agribusiness bonanza going (which they do). Or that if she had opposed the ethanol subsidy, she would have been accused of hating farmers.

That’s American politics; the only difference between all the domestic lobbies that essentially buy support for their agenda is that AIPAC is working for a foreign government, a distinction but not much of a difference when the goal is to maintain a status quo that is not necessarily in the national interest.

More here.

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Eat Meat. Not Too Much. Mostly Monogastrics.

Linus Blomqvist in The Breakthrough:

For decades, environmentalists have been rightly concerned about the environmental impact of humanity’s food systems. Often, this has meant advocating for shifting diets — in particular, away from meat, given its outsized environmental impact.

A recent, much-publicized example is the EAT-Lancet Commission’s new report, whose flexitarian dietary guidelines include some, but not much, meat. But what’s often been missed in the discussion of these guidelines is that in terms of environmental impacts, how much meat you eat might matter less than what kind of meat you eat. What if shifting from one type of meat (beef) to another (monogastrics, like pork and poultry) offered environmental benefits at least as large as simply reducing meat consumption across the board?

As this figure shows, beef is simply much, much worse for the environment than all other forms of food, due mainly to enteric methane and the large amount of land required to feed cattle. The most meaningful distinction isn’t animal vs. plant — it’s beef (and other ruminants like sheep and goat) vs. everything else.

More here.

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Velvet Buzzsaw’s superfluous gallery of grotesques

Rachel Wetzler in The Baffler:

SATIRES OF THE ART WORLD written by incredulous outsiders are often damned before they begin: there’s virtually no absurdist caricature a screenwriter could invent that could suitably exaggerate its pretentiousness or barely concealed venality—these character flaws are played out daily in earnest. In 2015, a mentally ill attendee at Art Basel Miami Beach stabbed another visitor with an X-Acto knife; it took onlookers a few minutes to realize that the blood was real. At the ARCO Madrid art fair in 2007, members of the more-or-less uncategorizable art organization e-flux—under the heading unitednationsplaza—gathered an international gang of artists, curators, and critics to participate in a self-flagellating mock trial whose charges included colluding with the “new” bourgeoisie. The artist Santiago Sierra has, on several occasions, paid drug addicts and sex workers to tattoo black lines across their backs; Damien Hirst sold a skull encrusted with fourteen million British pounds’ worth of diamonds for fifty million pounds to a consortium of buyers that included himself; Tracey Emin transplanted her unmade bed into the Tate Modern. Art-world satire, in other words, tends to feel ham-fisted because it’s all such low-hanging fruit: it doesn’t take much effort to make contemporary art sound dumb—it’s already dumb, and no inflection is needed.

The newest entry into the canon of bad art-world satires is director Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw, which premiered on Netflix last weekend. All the familiar grotesques are here: greedy gallerists, ruthlessly ambitious assistants, tax-dodging collectors, a critic so accustomed to churning out self-serving aesthetic pronouncements that he can’t help but bitchily opine about a dead colleague’s casket. There are also architectural black outfits, Tom Ford eyeglasses, and capital-h Haircuts marching through sterile white galleries and pristine midcentury houses; people airkiss, backstab, and mistake a pile of trash on the floor for a revolutionary new artwork.

But Gilroy adds a genre twist: in Velvet Buzzsaw, the art bites back, taking supernatural revenge on those who would debase it for profit.

More here.

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Sunday Poem

Managed Diversity

Through predictive analytics I understood the inevitability of the caged-up babies
They keep coffins at the border for when the refugees get too far from home
How many thousands of bodies can we fit in a tent or a swimming pool
We can live without the unknown in front of us if we keep enough babies in cages
The cardboard box sleeps one kid comfortably
Two is snug   efficient   recommended in times of austerity
Relational values change in relation to market sentiments
This is the danger of having too much access to illegal bodies
Let’s pretend the illegal bodies are bankers
Let’s stick all the bankers in cages
Let’s shove shit in their mouths
Let’s pretend they are eating cryptocurrency
Let’s create a crisis let’s induce inflation
Let’s undervalue the cost of their bodies
I dream of an economy where one arrested immigrant is replaced with one dead
…. banker
I am not responsible for my dreams rather I am responsible for what I do with my
…. dreams
When the sleep medication wears off I am alone with the machines that watch me
The global economy brightens my room with the surveillance of my rotten assets

by Daniel Borzutzky
from the Academy of American Poets

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Malcolm X, “Message to the Grassroots”

From BlackPast.Org:

On December 10, 1963, while still the leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X gave a speech at a rally in Detroit, Michigan.  That speech outlined his basic black nationalist philosophy and established him as a major critic of the civil rights movement.  The speech appears below.

And during the few moments that we have left, we want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me — us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand. We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem. America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red, or yellow — a so-called Negro — you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you face this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences. When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists. You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist. You don’t catch hell ’cause you’re a Methodist or Baptist. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk. And you sure don’t catch hell ’cause you’re an American; ’cause if you was an American, you wouldn’t catch no hell. You catch hell ’cause you’re a black man. You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

So we are all black people, so-called Negroes, second-class citizens, ex-slaves. You are nothing but a ex-slave. You don’t like to be told that. But what else are you? You are ex-slaves. You didn’t come here on the “Mayflower.” You came here on a slave ship — in chains, like a horse, or a cow, or a chicken. And you were brought here by the people who came here on the “Mayflower.” You were brought here by the so-called Pilgrims, or Founding Fathers. They were the ones who brought you here.

More here.  (Note: Throughout February, we will publish at least one post dedicated to Black History Month)

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February 16, 2019

Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

Clive Thompson in the New York Times:

As a teenager in Maryland in the 1950s, Mary Allen Wilkes had no plans to become a software pioneer — she dreamed of being a litigator. One day in junior high in 1950, though, her geography teacher surprised her with a comment: “Mary Allen, when you grow up, you should be a computer programmer!” Wilkes had no idea what a programmer was; she wasn’t even sure what a computer was. Relatively few Americans were. The first digital computers had been built barely a decade earlier at universities and in government labs.

By the time she was graduating from Wellesley College in 1959, she knew her legal ambitions were out of reach. Her mentors all told her the same thing: Don’t even bother applying to law school. “They said: ‘Don’t do it. You may not get in. Or if you get in, you may not get out. And if you get out, you won’t get a job,’ ” she recalls. If she lucked out and got hired, it wouldn’t be to argue cases in front of a judge. More likely, she would be a law librarian, a legal secretary, someone processing trusts and estates.

But Wilkes remembered her junior high school teacher’s suggestion. In college, she heard that computers were supposed to be the key to the future. She knew that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a few of them. So on the day of her graduation, she had her parents drive her over to M.I.T. and marched into the school’s employment office. “Do you have any jobs for computer programmers?” she asked. They did, and they hired her.

More here.

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Saturday Poem

When Miguelito Should Have Been Sleeping

and his tías de México and his mother gathered around
the kitchen table, stories drifting toward his room
like cafecito vapor, he leaned against his door to listen.
When he first heard about how his orphaned grandmother
 
was her own godmother’s criada, how she would fall asleep
while scrubbing los pinche pisos—knees and knuckles
tired and raw from scratching against the cracked
clay floor—he imagined himself standing

next to his grandmother’s child-body: limp limbs, ragged-
heavy like a drenched mop’s clothed tentacles;
he imagined himself ordering the opening of the earth,
¡Ábrete! ¡Ábrete, trágatela ahora cuando está dormida! *

When he heard how his grandfather would shove a kicking
and screaming laughter into a plastic bag on those days
he left to work on foreign lands, but leave his daughters
without half a giggle because Miguelito’s grandfather

would need laughter more, he imagined himself
waiting for his grandfather’s hurried stride. He imagined
flinging himself toward the thick plastic, tearing it open
with a fork to let laughter bounce back into the bellies

of children because what are children without laughter?
When he learned how Fausto, the catechist, would lure children
into praying un “Padre nuestro” while their fathers were leaving
one by one, he wondered why his tías would say, Dios lo bendiga.**

But when he first heard about his mother clubbing
the neighbor’s stray pig to death when she was a child,
                     he wept, but not for the pig.

by Yaccaira Salvatierra
from Rattle Magazine #51, Spring 2016

 

*Open up! Open yourself, trap it now when you are asleep!
**God bless you

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Photons reveal a weird effect called the quantum pigeonhole paradox

Emily Conover in Science News:

In keeping with a mathematical concept known as the pigeonhole principle, roosting pigeons have to cram together if there are more pigeons than spots available, with some birds sharing holes. But photons, or quantum particles of light, can violate that rule, according to an experiment reported in the Jan. 29 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The pigeonhole principle states that, if three pigeons are roosting in two holes, one hole must contain at least two birds. Though seemingly obvious, the idea helps define the fundamentals of what numbers are and what it means to count things. But in the quantum realm, scientists had predicted that three “pigeons” — technically, quantum particles — could squeeze into two holes without any one particle sharing a hole with another, in what’s known as the quantum pigeonhole effect (SN Online: 7/18/14).

The “quantum pigeonhole effect challenges our basic understanding…. So a clear experimental verification is highly needed,” study coauthors Chao-Yang Lu and Jian-Wei Pan, physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, wrote in an e-mail. “The quantum pigeonhole may have potential applications to find more complex and fundamental quantum effects.”

In the study, three photons took the place of the pigeons.

More here.

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Bill and Melinda Gates: We didn’t see this coming

Bill and Melinda Gates in Gates Notes:

How would you describe 2018?

Was it what you expected?

We’d probably say no. From especially devastating natural disasters on the one hand to record numbers of women campaigning for office on the other, 2018 felt to us like a series of surprises. The world looking backward from today is very different from what we pictured a couple years ago looking forward.

A benefit of surprises is that they’re often a prod to action. It can gnaw at people to realize that the realities of the world don’t match their expectations for it. Some surprises help people see that the status quo needs to change. Some surprises underscore that transformation is happening already.

More here.

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Becoming Unbecoming

Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:

NOW THAT SHE IS NO LONGER presiding over the East Wing in the White House, Michelle Obama is grateful for the little things. One of them is toast, or rather toast she makes herself. As she recounts in her mega best-selling memoir, Becoming, nothing feels more liberating than tiptoeing to the kitchen of her own home and making toast, specifically cheese toast. It is a relief, she notes, to not have someone offer to make it for her, and a delight to walk to her back porch and eat it, alone and in shorts and with the Secret Service a hundred yards away. It is an endearing story, with its Oprah-endorsed (she told the story on Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations” podcast) appeal underscoring the everyone-loves-her charisma of the most admired woman in America. There is lots more of the same in Becoming; it is laden with curated-for-cuteness interludes. Indeed, sometimes you can almost hear the collective gasps of an invisible Oprah audience rise up from the page: they’re there when she tells of Barack staring at the ceiling one night in bed during their courtship and admitting he was thinking about “income inequality”; they cheer, too, when Michelle recounts how the couple was applauded by diners at a restaurant in New York when they went on a presidential date night; and they hem with smug approval when Michelle talks of laying down the law over family dinnertime at the East Wing regardless of what was going down at the West Wing.

There is nothing wrong about writing a book designed to please Oprah audiences; the office of First Lady has, over the decades, been a roost of soft-celebrity interlaced with doses of middle-class wifely virtue, the venue, so to speak, for a very American kind of royalty. Popularity is the job requirement, and the First Lady wins it by performing with convincing devotion the job of wife and mother that landed her there in the first place. Even Eleanor Roosevelt, arguably one of the most rebellious of First Ladies, had to bend to this demand in some way, obediently resigning from her position at the Democratic National Committee and promising not to air her political views in any future magazine articles. Wifely devotion and deliberate de-politicization appear to be de rigueur, then and now, so why should Michelle Obama deign to be any different?

Except that she is different. Becoming is (or at least intends to be) a story about evolution, of a woman transforming from what she was into what she is: America’s most recently recused first wife and mother-in-chief.

More here.

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Adorno in America

Corey Robin at his own website:

The history of the Frankfurt School in America is usually told as a story of one-way traffic. The question being: What did America get from the Frankfurt School? The answer usually offered: a lot! We got Marcuse, Neumann, Lowenthal, Fromm, and, for a time, Horkheimer and Adorno (who ultimately went back to Germany after the war)—the whole array of émigré culture that helped transform the United States from a provincial outpost of arts and letters into a polyglot Parnassus of the world.

The wonderfully counter-intuitive and heterodox question that animates Eric Oberle’s Theodor Adorno and the Century of Negative Identity is: what did the Frankfurt School get from America? To the extent that question has been asked, it has traditionally provoked a negative response. Not a lot. Adorno was notoriously unhappy in the US: the kitsch, the kitsch. And for those Frankfurters who may have found what they were looking for in the States, the suspicion has always been that they were somehow seduced and made less smart—less gloomy, less dialectical, less mandarin, less mitteleuropäisch—by their experience in the US. Witness Erich Fromm.

But Oberle refuses that argument. In a work of boundless ambition and comparable achievement, which combines close reading of familiar texts and synoptic intellectual histories that bring together unfamiliar texts, The Century of Negative Identity shows just how indebted the Frankfurt School, particularly Adorno and Horkheimer, was to its time in America.

More here.

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The Geography of Rebels Trilogy by Maria Gabriela Llansol

Tara Cheesman at The Quarterly Conversation:

Imagine if Don Mclean’s song American Pie was written about Christian mysticism instead of rock-n-roll. That’s my elevator pitch/description of the Portuguese writer, Maria Gabriela Llansol’s, English language debut: The Geography of Rebels Trilogy. Originally published as three separate books—The Book of CommunitiesThe Remaining Life, and In the House of July and August—it has been painstakingly translated by Audrey Young and released by the Texas indie publisher Deep Vellum in a single volume.

Anyone coming to Llansol with any kind of “normal” expectations at all will likely be disappointed. Plot, logical structure, continuity, a sense of linear time and/or space— you won’t find any of that here. At least not in any form that is readily apparent. Instead, Llansol immerses her readers in a shared hallucinatory vision, seemingly fueled by religious hysteria and open to multiple interpretations.

more here.

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James Baldwin, Restored

Hilton Als at The Paris Review:

Skipping along those tones mentally and emotionally, we’ve left the world of biography, in fact, and we enter the universe of pure metaphor. Growing up and as an artist, Baldwin had a great interest in masks, specifically the masks of blackness and maleness, the various roles we appropriate or condemn the better to define ourselves. In one of his last pieces of writing, he talked about the various projections that Michael Jackson, for instance, had to withstand and survive if he did not internalize what America deemed ugly, which is to say his blackness and his maleness. In Anthony Barboza’s extraordinary image from 1980, we have Jackson’s real pre–Michael Jackson face, the face God made for him and he did not make for himself. His internal life disfigured his body and his face in order to find some approximation of it in front of the camera and in front of the world, and it’s such a gift to have Barboza’s portrait before those decisions were made, and to see his extraordinary vulnerability and the beauty of his real face.

more here.

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