Remember when, back in the day, I used to post pics of my market haul? I was inspired by the excellent book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats which shows photographs of families from around the world with a week’s groceries.
Well, today I did what passes for a Christmas shop at my place, which is to say I went to the shops with the main intention of buying tasty things to see me through the next week or so, and without being too finicky about the budget. I wound up spending $93, which is about the national average for an adult’s food for the week, but way more than my usual (which is half that or less). That’s okay; I got lots of tasty stuff, plus I restocked a few pricier items that I’ve run out of lately.
The hott podcast Serial concluded this week with its twelfth episode, an episode that crystallized for me why I like it. For all the complaints – that it is white privilege in distilled radio form; that it is really about its host, Sarah Koenig – it is a pretty good dramatization of the historical process.
And it’s not only because this week one of the intrepid reporter/producers descended into an actual archive to retrieve a critical document and, despite some gratuitous mockery of the archivists, gave a sense of what it’s actually like to do that and why you would want to.
It’s ultimately because Koenig held herself to a standard of argument that’s similar to what historians use. She repeatedly questioned herself as she pursued her research over the course of months; she tried to disprove her hunches even as she followed them, and ultimately concluded with “what we know” – which is distinct from “what really happened” (yes, she goes all Ranke on us).
Here’s how she ends (SPOILERS):
What do I think? If you ask me to swear that Adnan Syed is innocent, I couldn’t do it. I nurse doubt. I don’t like that I do, but I do. I mean, most of the time, I think he didn’t do it. For big reasons, like the utter lack of evidence, but also small reasons – things he’s said to me, just off the cuff, or moments when he’s cried on the phone and tried to stifle it so I wouldn’t hear, or just the bare fact of why on earth would a guilty man agree to let me do this story, unless he was cocky to the point of delusion.
I used to think that when Adnan’s friends told me, “I can’t say for sure he’s innocent, but the guy I knew? there’s no way he could have done this” – I used to think that was a cop-out, a way to avoid asking yourself uncomfortable, disloyal, disheartening questions.
But I think I’m there now too, and not for lack of asking myself those hard questions, but, because as much as I want to be sure, I’m not.
Like Linda Holmes, I was afraid Koenig was going to end up with “a contemplation on the nature of the truth.” But she didn’t. She came down on, I can’t say for sure, but the guy I know, there’s no way he could have done this.
Which is what historians generally end up with. We can’t know for sure, but neither should we let radical skepticism stop us from saying what we know. We state the truth as we know it, leaning on the probabilities – “this does not mean,” as Barzun and Graff remind us, “‘a doubtful kind of truth’ but a firm reliance on the likelihood that evidence which has been examined and found solid is veracious[.]”
Koenig has done what few historians have successfully achieved: she has made the process of research and analysis itself a compelling narrative. Mostly when historians go that route, it’s because they’re dealing with a murder or a like crime, in which case we can depend on readers wanting to follow the narrative of discovery the same as they might with a police procedural. (See e.g. the still-brilliant Return of Martin Guerre. Also, Ari Kelman manages it in his book on the Sand Creek massacre, because he’s dealing with competing narratives about violent deaths much as a detective would deal with competing alibis.)
But absent that kind of substance, it’s difficult to arrange a narrative in which the analysis is itself the story.
The first part of this video, the bit with the molten sugar and cooling table, is the most interesting, but the whole thing is worth a watch.
Reminds me of the lettered rock made at Teddy Grays.Tags: food how to video
A major study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has found a significant link between autism and the exposure of the mother to high levels of air pollution during the third trimester of pregnancy.
Researchers focused on 1,767 children born from 1990 to 2002, including 245 diagnosed with autism. The design of the study and the results rule out many confounding measures that can create a bias, Weisskopf said. The researchers took into account socioeconomic factors that can influence exposure to pollution or play a role in whether a child is diagnosed with autism.
The fact that pollution caused problems only during pregnancy strengthened the findings, since it's unlikely other factors would have changed markedly before or after those nine months, he said in a telephone interview.
The ultimate cause of autism remains a mystery in most cases, said Charis Eng, chairwoman of the Lerner Research Institute's Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. While the Harvard study isn't definitive and the findings could be coincidental, it's not likely given the large size and the precise results, she said in a telephone interview.
"The truth is there has to be gene and environmental interactions," said Eng, who wasn't involved in the study. "I suspect the fetus already had the weak autism spectrum disorder genes, and then the genes and the environment interacted."
It would be a huge help (and I am not in any way being facetious about this) if Jenny McCarthy and all the other celebrity "vaccines cause autism" folks threw their weight behind cleaning up pollution the way they attacked vaccination. Redeem yourselves. (via @john_overholt)Tags: autism Jenny McCarthy medicine science
The picks for the finest magazine covers of the year are starting to trickle out. Coverjunkie is running a reader poll to pick the most creative cover of 2014. Folio didn't pick individual covers but honored publications that consistently delivered memorable covers throughout the year; no surprise that The New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek were at the top of the heap.
See also the best book covers of 2014.Tags: best of best of 2014 design lists magazines
It’s a cliche to blog about how seldom you blog, so I won’t. Instead I’ll just take the opportunity to reflect a bit on 2014 in terms of my home life.
It’s been a dog of a year. It’s been difficult to focus on anything much, let alone communicate about it. The first half of the year I was buried in personal stuff, and the second half of the year had more of that and then a lot of travel and busy-ness piled on top.
Most days I’m happy if I eat regular meals. I’ve had some great food this year, but mostly it just seems like a slog, trying to balance my body’s need for fuel, my inner self’s food-related hangups and issues, and the logistics of having food in the house, and having space and time to prepare it. I’ve had to cut myself a fair bit of slack on convenience foods and on food waste. Sometimes it’s better to buy a pile of fruit and vegetables just so I have them as an option, even if in the end I don’t eat them all and some of them wind up in the compost. Or to open a jar of something perishable so I can eat well now, even if I’m going away tomorrow or the next day and know I can’t finish it.
When times are hard I just keep trying to slog through it, do what I can, and remember nobody’s standing over me with a clipboard awarding points or writing down criticisms in red pen.
Some things I cooked/ate this year and didn’t post to the blog:
I’ve been doing a lot, a lot, of knitting and other crafts. Not least because I’ve had periods where all I can do is watch soothing TV and do something calm and repetitive. I’ve not been good at posting about it, though, nor updating Ravelry, and I have to admit that I’ve been casting on an awful lot of things for the “whee!” feeling of a new project, and not completing them. By my count I currently have at least 17 WIPs, most of which haven’t yet hit the “half done” mark.
I’ve instituted a kanban board on the wall of my living room for my craft projects (with an extra, innovative “> 1/2 DONE” column, because casting on and then putting it aside is a big issue for me) so I can see how many I have to finish. Sadly, it doesn’t work all that well to stop me casting on new things, because I just conveniently “forget” to add a sticker for the new project. Sigh. Oh well, at least every so often I can bring it up to date and it helps me remember what I have going, better than a pile of mystery project bags in the coffee table drawers ever could.
A week or so back I decided to try and reduce my WIPs considerably. My new rule (and let’s see how long I stick to it) is to have one large and one small/portable project out and work-on-able at any time, choosing the easiest to complete at any given time, according to the debt snowball method. Right now I’m working on a pair of fingerless mitts made from the tail ends of two colours of Mountain Colors Bearfoot, and a deathly dull product-knitting slog: a black hoodie in Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic 8 ply and in mostly stocking stitch. Both are made-up patterns, the hoodie being vaguely EPS-based, and the mittens basically just tubes with thumb-trick thumbs.
My only escape from the “get through some bloody WIPs” effort is that I’ve told myself that I can knit hats for charity using wool from my charity-knitting basket, which I gathered up from all the odd scattered places and put in one pile last week. A hat usually takes about 2 evenings and is a quick distraction if I really must cast on something new. There’s at least a dozen hats worth of wool there, or roughly one for each reasonably-finishable project on the WIP list. (Some of the WIPs aren’t reasonably finishable, as they’re things like a mitred sock yarn blanket that will take years to gather odds and ends to make, or are super low priority, like the charming half-finished Scandinavian cross stitch table runner I found at a craft swap day — I have no qualms about that sitting quietly where it is for a long time.)
As for the garden… it’s a mess, and I’m late with planting everything, and that’s okay. I’m eating from it if not every day, then definitely every few days, and I have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant coming along nicely for later in the summer. No clipboard, no red pen, right?
One thing that has been going well for me is that I’ve been making a pretty steady practice of getting rid of stuff. Somehow I’ve got to a point where it gives me a good, clean feeling to finish something and not have it any more, or to put something unused in the pile for the op shop (which seldom gets bigger than I can carry in my bike basket). Yesterday I had a momentary bout of “what if I applied for this amazing job and had to move house again?” and it made me think even more about how much stuff I have that I don’t need. I’m not going to apply for the job, but it did give me a kick in the pants about all my stuff.
A friend’s recently been talking up a decluttering guru who talks about getting rid of things that don’t spark joy, and it’s been good for me to think of my excess stuff in that way. It makes it much easier to say “no”. I don’t think I’m anywhere near Japanese minimalism (lol, no) but it does make it easier to get rid of things I’m keeping out of a sense of “ought”.
Finally, today I got a cleaner in, and she’s going to be coming regularly. I’ll be interested to see how much it changes my sense of overwhelmedness and whether it helps me get back on a more even keel with some of the other stuff I want to spend my energy on. I’ll give it a few months and then evaluate the costs/benefits; it’s a big chunk of my fairly tight budget, but I hope a worthwhile one for my mental health, which in turn is good for my so-called “actual” work.
I’m not going to make any new year’s resolutions, because they don’t work well for me. But here’s hoping 2015 is a good one!
I think that anyone who sits down to read the Wieseltier decades of critical reviews in The New Republic will notice that at some mysterious philosophical level a great many of those hundreds of essays seem to cohere. It is not because they display a particular ideological bent or follow a political line. Something deeper is at work, which I do not know how to describe. (It is a task for a philosopher-historian.) I note a nearly uniform predisposition against the doctrines of determinism, whether they be scientific or economic or identity-political. There has always been, in any case, an intellectual ardor, as if the entire “back of the book” were asmolder with passion—a passion for the creative labors of certain species of writers and artists and thinkers. For the uncorruptible ones, for the ones-of-a-kind, for the people who are allergic to fads and factions and the stratagems of self-advancement. Perhaps the entire section has been animated by the belief, keen and insistent and unstated, that humanity’s fate lies in the hands of those people. This is not the sort of belief that researchers will declare one day to be scientifically confirmed. But it has the advantage of generating a hot-blooded criticism—occasionally cruel or trigger-happy, but always intense, which means thrilling.
I can’t help wondering if Berman is making some class of a highly elliptical bid to be nominated for the Bad Sex Award (subsection on intellectual affairs). Discuss, if you really have to.
I guess the short answer is: this is something I've been learning about and working on for the past 5 years, and I've been trying to improve my own practice around it, and to speak to people when they do faily things and I think I can usefully help out as an ally. The other thing, I suppose, is that I don't really engage much with "mainstream feminism" if by that you mean the sort of institutionally established liberal feminism that's out there; my feminism is Internet feminism, informed by fandom and geekdom and twitter and tumblr, and I'm not very involved in the stuff that actually gets covered in mainstream media or gets funding from mainstream bodies or whatever. And the feminism I am involved in is pretty aware of "other hierarchies and oppressions" most of the time, I hope.
Anyway I think this answer crosses over a bit with what I wrote for transcendancing under how my feminism has changed over time so I'll just point you there as well.
Sorry I couldn't write more :(
I will spare you the remainder of the play-by-play. Recuperation mode's now in effect and I just have a nasty cough, exhaustion, and a bit of brain fog that I'm struggling to clear away.
Suffice it to say, I'm fucking shelling out for that jab next year and every year forthcoming. I don't care about the cost or how much they try to tell me I don't need it. Know what I don't need? Over a week and a half of being fucking miserable and useless, missing appointments and work and holiday prep. That's what I don't need.
I did manage to read a lot, though, and watch some TNG, including the episode referenced in my Dreamwidth icon. I'm hoping to get blog posty about my reads soon.
* I seriously suspect it's flu as Matt's not been ill, thank god, and he gets the jab on the NHS for medical reasons.
[vid] This Love (alive back from the dead) [Pushing Daisies]
"Stop saying that! I'm not a murderer!" A Pushing Daisies AU.
music: "This Love", Taylor Swift, from 1989
content notes: some canon-typical deaths and silly body horror; no outside source
stream at tumblr;
( lyrics )
From Mallory Ortberg, some reviews of children's movies penned by objectivist Ayn Rand.
Tags: Ayn Rand Mallory Ortberg movies
A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children's game. -No stars.
For those who have missed me talking about it before, ILYS is a web-based writing tool that helps promote word flow. They let you set a word count goal and do not let you edit your work until you reach it. The psychology behind this is that editor-mode in your brain is more critical than writer-mode. Self-doubt, analysis paralysis, impostor syndrome... all of these things can force writer-brain into hiding. Editing can require you to be ruthless that is toxic to the actual act of creativity, so ILYS helps you build a firewall between them.
The feature that makes ILYS into a real killer app in my mind, though, is the one I see less talk about from the psychological side, and that is: it doesn't let you see what you're writing. The classic version gave you one letter at a time, which I think was important for sort of building trust? The new and improved version has a "ninja style" where all you can see is your word count, which ticks upward like a high score every time you get another word out.
It sounds kind of scary, it sounds kind of ridiculous... but man, few things are more daunting than a blank white page. You can sneak a peek at what you've been writing (useful if you get interrupted and lose your place), but while you're typing, you're not looking at what you've written, which means you're not judging it, either.
Anyway, while I was working yesterday, I noticed there was a feedback form on the dashboard that was just a box saying "Talk to us!" So I did. I explained that the multi-story saving feature wasn't what I'd hoped it would be and without the ability to re-open saved stories/previous sessions and edit them, it wasn't very useful for how I use the site.
The thing is, I've been using ILYS, but I haven't bothered with the saving feature for much of the writing I've done on the site, because I've found it easier to transfer it to an editor while it's unsaved.
Anyway, I got a reply within minutes suggesting that more robust save features were in the works but asking me if I could describe in more detail what I was looking for, so I did. Michael thanked me for my feedback and for the clear context I provided for it, and outlined some improvements he'll be making to meet my needs, which he said he would be implementing shortly.
Now, since ILYS launched their pro version after NaNo ended, I have noticed what I would call a steady commitment to improvement. Little things here and there show that people are paying attention and tightening the bolts. The one that stands out to me is that at launch, I couldn't type HTML tags (because it would automatically encode the angle brackets as their own HTML macros), but that was fixed pretty quickly.
This was phenomenal, though. The level of responsiveness and attentiveness was outstanding. It sounds like something like what I was looking for would have been on its way anyway, which I had kind of expected? But he took the time to listen to what I was looking for and then tell me what he was thinking for addressing it, and then assured me it was a priority. That is some top-notch customer service right there.
During the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick commissioned well-known film score composer Alex North to do the score for the film. North had previously done scores for A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and later received an honorary Oscar for his lifetime of work. As production progressed, Kubrick began to feel that the temporary music he used to edit the film was more appropriate. From an interview with Kubrick by Michel Ciment:
However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you're editing a film, it's very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. When I had completed the editing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had laid in temporary music tracks for almost all of the music which was eventually used in the film. Then, in the normal way, I engaged the services of a distinguished film composer to write the score. Although he and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks (Strauss, Ligeti, Khatchaturian) and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.
And so the temporary music became the iconic score we know today. For comparison, here's how North's original score would have sounded over the opening credits and initial scene:
Selections from North's original score were later released publicly. Here's a 38-minute album on Rdio:
Kubrick was absolutely right to ditch North's score...it's perfectly fine music but totally wrong for the movie, not to mention it sounds totally dated today. The classical score gives the film a timeless quality, adding to the film's appeal and reputation more than 45 years later. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)
Update: Two additional facets to this story. North first learned that Kubrick ditched his score at the NYC premiere of the film; he was reportedly (and understandably) "devastated". And even when Kubrick was artistically satisfied with the music he chose, negotiations to procure the rights weren't necessarily smooth.
2) Kubrick's associates did obtain licenses from Ligeti's publishers and from record and radio companies, although they were not forthcoming about the pivotal role assigned to the music in the film; 3) Ligeti learned about the use of his music not from his publishers but from members of the Bavarian Radio Chorus; 4) he attended a showing of the film with stopwatch in hand, furiously scribbling down timings -- thirty-two minutes in all;
Kubrick was undoubtably of the "shoot first, ask questions later" school of negotiation. (via @timrosenberg)Tags: 2001 Alex North movies music Stanley Kubrick
There's no blue pigment present in the wings of the morpho butterfly. So where does that shimmering brilliant blue color come from? It's an instance of structural color, where the physical structure of the surface scatters or refracts only certain wavelengths of light...in this case, blue.
Eye color is another example of structural color in action. Eyes contain brown pigments but not blue. Blue, green, and hazel eyes are caused by Rayleigh scattering, the same phenomenon responsible for blue skies and red sunsets. Blue eyes and blue skies arise from the same optical process...that's almost poetic. (thx, jared)Tags: color physics science video