Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design

https://kottke.org/18/05/raymond-loewys-1934-chart-of-the-evolution-in-design

Raymond Loewy, Evolution

From legendary designer Raymond Loewy, a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

Tags: design   Raymond Loewy

David Foster Wallace was terrible to women

https://kottke.org/18/05/david-foster-wallace-was-terrible-to-women

In an Atlantic piece titled The World Still Spins Around Male Genius, Megan Garber writes:

The notion that the women’s stories about his behavior were somehow a nuisance, though — the notion that things would be so much simpler, macrocosmically, had they kept their experiences to themselves — remains with us. I know that because, shortly before The New Yorker published its story about Eric Schneiderman, the poet and memoirist and essayist Mary Karr published her own story on Twitter. This one was about David Foster Wallace. It was about the writer stalking her and abusing her and, in general, refusing to take no for an answer. As Karr elaborated, in one tweet that reads, in the #MeToo context, as its own form of starkly tragic poetry: “tried to buy a gun. kicked me. climbed up the side of my house at night. followed my son age 5 home from school. had to change my number twice, and he still got it. months and months it went on.”

The added tragedy of all this — kicked, climbed, son, gun, months — is the fact that Karr was not, specifically, making allegations. As Jezebel’s Whitney Kimball pointed out, “The fact that [Wallace] abused [Karr] is not a revelation; this has been documented and adopted by the literary world as one of Wallace’s character traits.” D.T. Max’s 2012 biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, documented those abuses: Wallace, Max alleges, once pushed Karr from a vehicle. During another fight, he threw a coffee table at her. Karr, in her tweets, was merely repeating the story she has told many times before. A story that has been treated — stop me if this sounds familiar — largely as a complication to another story. In this case, the story of the romantically unruly genius of one David Foster Wallace.

You can read Karr’s thread for more stories…many more chimed in there (and elsewhere online) to share that Wallace slept with his students and was a serial womanizer.

I don’t know where to start in writing about this. But as someone who has written about his books, stories, and essays extensively for more than a decade — no writer’s work has been more important and influential to me than Wallace’s has — I think it’s important to state plainly for the record that David Foster Wallace, for a significant portion of his adult working life, was physically abusive and terrible to women.

Tags: David Foster Wallace   Mary Karr   Megan Garber

More trippy audio illusions

https://kottke.org/18/05/more-trippy-audio-illusions

Hot on the heels of the Yanny/Laurel audio illusion, many people shared other illusions that are just as weird and fun.

The McGurk effect pairs different mouth movements with speech, and you tend to hear different things with different mouth movements.

In this video, you hear the word for whatever object is on the screen (bill, mayo, pail) even though the audio doesn’t change:

And in this one, whichever word you focus on, “green needle” or “brainstorm”, that’s what you hear:

What all of these effects demonstrate is that there are (at least) two parts to hearing something. First, there’s the mechanical process of waves moving through the air into the ear canal, which triggers a physical chain reaction involving the ear drum, three tiny bones, and cochlear fluids. But then the brain has to interpret the signal coming from the ear and, as the examples above show, it has a lot of power in determining what is heard.

My kids and I listen to music in the car quite often (here’s our playlist, suggestions welcome) and when Daft Punk’s Get Lucky comes on, my son swears up and down that he hears the mondegreen “up all Mexican lucky” instead of “up all night to get lucky”. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear “Mexican lucky” but mostly my brain knows what the “right” lyric is…as does his brain, but it’s far more convinced of his version.

Tags: audio   video

The coup has already happened

https://kottke.org/18/05/the-coup-has-already-happened

I’ve been thinking about Trump’s presidency in terms of a coup to come, but Rebecca Solnit makes a compelling case for that event already being in our rear view mirror.

A lot of people are waiting for something dramatic to happen, some line to be crossed, an epic event like the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller III that will allow them to say that now we have had a coup and now we are ready to do something about it.

We already had the coup.

It happened on November 8, 2016, when an unqualified candidate won a minority victory in a corrupted election thanks in part to foreign intervention. Any time is the right time to pour into the streets and demand that it all grinds to a halt and the country change direction. The evidence that the candidate and his goons were aided by and enthusiastically collaborating with a foreign power was pretty clear before that election, and at this point, they are so entangled there isn’t really a reason to regard the born-again alt-right Republican Party and the Putin Regime as separate entities.

Tags: 2016 election   Donald Trump   politics   Rebecca Solnit   USA

Imaginary insects based on Star Wars characters

https://kottke.org/18/05/imaginary-insects-based-on-star-wars-characters

Star Wars Insects

Star Wars Insects

Star Wars Insects

Illustrator Richard Wilkinson is drawing a series of insects inspired by Star Wars and other pop cultural items.

This project was born out of a fascination with collecting, cataloguing and classifying.

It draws inspiration from classic Natural History illustration but explores the subjects that we love to collect and classify from the modern world: Films, TV, Video Games, Comics, Vehicles, Sneakers, Brands etc.

The first book of the series, working title: “Arthropoda Iconicus Volume I: Insects From A Far Away Galaxy”, is a collection of insects that bear a subtle yet uncanny resemblance to characters and vehicles from the worlds favourite space opera.

You can check out more on his Instagram and a few are available as prints in his online shop. (via colossal)

Tags: art   movies   remix   Richard Wilkinson   Star Wars

The United States of Guns

https://kottke.org/18/05/the-united-states-of-guns-4

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 10 people in Santa Fe, Texas today. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

Tags: guns   USA

Noticing Excerpt: Getting lost on the internet

https://kottke.org/18/05/noticing-excerpt-getting-lost-on-the-internet

Each week (more or less), I write a newsletter for Kottke.org called Noticing that summarizes the previous week, looks for deeper connections between some of the material, and expands on one or more of the shorter quicklink posts that didn’t get the full blogpost treatment the first time around. Here’s an excerpt from this week’s newsletter, on the internet and wasted time.

If all art aspires to the condition of music, then all media aspires to the condition of television. Television is passive and active, shallow and comprehensive, cheap and expensive, gratuitous and mandatory — an easy way to waste time, where you can find anything you want, but it all just sort of happens to you, without frustration or interference.

Dan Nosowitz’s “I Don’t Know How To Waste Time on the Internet Anymore” strikes a chord partly because it shows how the web has become too much like TV (too much corporate control, homogeneity, amateurs playing at being professionals in all the wrong ways), but also not enough like TV (delivering easy entertainment in bingeable quantities). You can still get lost down a rabbit hole on the web, but you have to work at it, and the results aren’t as satisfying as they used to be.

A lot of this rings very true to me. Some of it is unquestionable: the bottoming out of the ad market, and everything that caused that, has made it really hard for niche, indie web sites with an unusual point of view to survive. The commercial websites and traditional publishers who colonized that space are a lot more same-y and predictable.

Social media also transforms our experience. You used to be able to come across a blog or forum post, in your RSS feed or straight up navigating in your browser, and have a relatively fresh and unmediated reaction to it. You could then share that reaction on your blog or wherever. Even the blog style favored generous blockquotes as much as it did hot takes. Now everything feels a lot more picked-over. Something like Yanny vs. Laurel, by the time you actually listen to it for yourself, you’ve seen friends scream at each other at the top of their lungs, a half-dozen quickly-manufactured memes, a dozen or so copycat posts, and five or six scientific explainers or web spelunkers who’ve traced the auditory hallucination’s journey from the web’s bowels to its front pages. All of the moves have been mapped out. There aren’t a lot of surprises any more.

Trust me: I spend most of the week looking for things that I hope will surprise and delight Kottke readers for the one day of the week I manage the site. They don’t just float to the top.

So what does this mean? Paradoxically, wasting time is now more work. You can certainly do it — the web is as full of nonsense as it ever was — but you have to look a little bit harder. You have to learn some new things. You have to find your own corners charting unmonetizable enthusiasms. It’s not just going to happen to you. You have to dig your own rabbit holes.

The other thing is that I’ve come to treasure people who are genuinely inventive and interactive on social media. Finding people who will riff with you and are skilled at interjecting weirdness and intellect is becoming more valuable, to me, than people who have the precisely titrated level of anger or the perfect bon mot at whatever new atrocity has just crossed the stream. That sort of thing is valuable, but there’s a glut of it.

Relatedly: the other other thing is that when the world sucks, the web sucks. The whole country is broken. Fun is harder to find all over. Yet somehow, we do what we can.

Tags: Noticing   social networks   weblogs

A year-by-year history of economic growth and pollution in the Roman Empire

https://kottke.org/18/05/a-year-by-year-history-of-economic-growth-and-pollution-in-the-roman-empire

Lead emissions and Roman history.png

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzes deep ice cores in Greenland for traces of lead pollution in antiquity. This pollution, the scholars claim, matches the production of Roman silver coins from impure alloys from mines in what’s now modern Spain. In short, we can see Roman monetary production, and by proxy, peaks and valleys in the economy throughout the Roman world, on an extremely granular basis, captured year-by-year in arctic ice.

In 218 B.C., for instance, when Rome fought with Carthage in the Second Punic War, lead pollution appears to fall—and then it rises, abruptly, as Roman soldiers seized Carthaginian mines in southern Spain and put them to use. It also detects nonviolent events: When Rome debased its currency, reducing the amount of silver in each denarius coin in 64 A.D., lead pollution in the air fell…. When compared with other studies, research suggests that Western Europe may have seen higher lead emissions during the Pax Romana than at any time prior to the Industrial Revolution, nearly 1,800 years later.

Which is, of course, part of the lesson: one argument holds that lead pollution, both in the air, in water pipes, and other uses throughout Rome, eventually slowly poisoned and destroyed the Roman Empire, along with plagues, imperial overreach, and political dysfunction. Our civilization, however, is at least documenting its own destruction in the written record in much greater detail.

Tags: climate science   Rome

Against political analogies

https://kottke.org/18/05/against-political-analogies

It’s a common and (on its face) rhetorical move: take something that’s happening now and map it onto the past. Better yet, take something atrocious that’s happening now and show how it maps onto something atrocious in the past, ideally affecting the very people who are now supporting the atrocities. “See?” this trope says: “what you’re doing to other people is exactly what was done to you.”

That’s the basic structure of “resistance genealogy,” as seen in clashes over immigration. “Tomi Lahren’s great-great-grandfather forged citizenship papers; Mike Pence’s family benefited from “chain migration”; James Woods’ ancestors fled famine and moved to Britain as refugees,” etc.

Rebecca Onion argues, convincingly, that this doesn’t work:

The chasm between the life and experiences of a white American, even one who’s descended from desperate immigrants of decades past, and the life of this Honduran mother is the entire point of racist anti-immigration thought. Diminishment of the human qualities of entering immigrants (“unskilled” and “unmodern” immigrants coming from “shithole” countries) reinforces the distance between the two. People who support the Trump administration’s immigration policies want fewer Honduran mothers and their 18-month-olds to enter the country. If you start from this position, nothing you hear about illiterate Germans coming to the United States in the 19th century will change your mind.

Besides underestimating racism, it flattens out history, and assumes that if people only knew more about patterns of historical racism, they might be convinced or at least shamed into changing how they talk about it. Everything we’ve seen suggests that isn’t the case.

I’m going to take this one step further and say this is a weakness in most resorts to historical and political analogies deployed as a tool to understand or persuade people about the present.

For example, consider Donald Trump saying, regarding immigrants trying to enter the United States, “these aren’t people, these are animals.” This is a disgusting thing to say and way to think — and not just because German Nazis and Rwandan perpetrators of genocide used similar language in a different context, and regardless of whether he was using it to refer to immigrants in general or members of a specific gang. It’s bad, it’s racist, it’s shitty, and you really don’t need the added leverage of the historical analogy in order to see why. But that leverage is tempting, because it shows off how much we know, it underlines the stakes, and it converts bad into ultra-bad.

This hurts me to say, because I love history and analogies both. But there’s a limit to how much they can tell us and how well they work. And playing “gotcha!” is usually well beyond the limits of both.

Tags: Donald Trump   history   politics

1927 documentary on how to dial a telephone

https://kottke.org/18/05/1927-documentary-on-how-to-dial-a-telephone

This charming short film (part documentary, part cartoon) explains how to use a dial telephone:

If you think about it, there are a lot of moving parts to this interface besides just using the dial! You have to know how a telephone directory works; you have to know what a dial tone, a ring, and a busy signal all indicate; plus, you have to know the etiquette and conventions of telephone conversations, all of which requires a certain amount of training. It’s certainly much easier on the user’s side to use an operator to make a telephone connection. But before computers, you can’t do that at scale. Think of all that knowledge and training, now evaporating before a new UI paradigm.