Amazing Stuff 3

January 20, 2020 at 3:38 pm (By Amba) ()

© George Kuo-Wei Kao / Ocean Art

These undersea photos are past amazing, they’re astounding—for the beauty and strangeness of the creatures, for the technical brilliance of the photographs and the excruciating patience it must have taken to get them, and in a sadder way, for the evidence of our impact in every part of the ocean—the plastics that creatures cannot avoid breathing or swallowing, the strangling nets. Photographers no longer seek out the illusion of “untouched” nature. We’re forced to admit there is no such thing.

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell . . . ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur” (1877)

The rain bore a brand; it was a steer, not a deer. And that was where the loneliness came from. There’s nothing there except us. There’s no such thing as nature anymore. ~ Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (1989)


Smithsonian Magazine lets you scroll through the eons.

We once had orange skies and bright-green or blood-red waters, says Ferris Jabr, exploring the evolution of Earth’s palette.

The Ultimate Emotional Support Animal . . .

. . . if you consider the trope, “How do porcupines make love?” “Very carefully.”

Where the census begins, and why.

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Amazing Stuff 2

January 14, 2020 at 7:00 pm (By Amba) ()


I didn’t know this till just now: the new and, I think, heartening trend (tell me if I’m wrong) is to use robotic exoskeletons—first imagined in sci-fi movies, then used to empower people with disabilities—to increase the strength, speed, dexterity, and safety of human manufacturing and stock workers, instead of replacing them with all-out robots. The first link is to a serious in-depth article. Here’s a popular one. You want pictures?



It turns out that the subtlety of a human brain and senses is not that easily simulated and surpassed. Since wearing and partnering with these devices (also known as cobots) will require training and skill, one can be cautiously optimistic that these will be decently paying jobs. (The devices themselves can cost as little as $1,000 to $5,000; repair and rehab for a shoulder injury runs at least in the tens of thousands.)

Maybe humans won’t be rendered obsolete after all.

Only 700 people are left in the world who speak this Nepali language. Fifty of them live in one building in Brooklyn.

(Fascinating factoid: “Jackson Heights, in Queens, is the most linguistically diverse neighborhood in the entire US and one of the most in the world.”)

(Fascinating asides about one-block ethnic enclaves in NYC and how U.S. culture has grown at once bolder about preserving distinct identities and more relaxed about mixing them. “Interracial marriage [used to mean] an Italian Catholic marrying an Irish Catholic: both families got upset and agreed with each other that such a match was a bad idea.”)

Here’s a trick for actually seeing the Earth spin, from Earth.


. . . presented in the manner of military and diplomatic history.

H/T Ron Fisher / Cross-Posted on Purr View


There were 14 giant tortoises of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis on the Galápagos island of Española. Now there are 2,000. This Genghis Tortoise is the single, um, handed progenitor of roughly 40 percent of them.


That makes more tortoises on Española than there are people who speak the Nepali language Seke.

The best description of what New York City has become was penned by the late Elizabeth Wurtzel in 2013:


In 2019, this qualifies as amazing:

Only one actor of color was nominated, and no female directors are up for Best Director. Among the talents overlooked this year: Eddie MurphyJennifer LopezLupita Nyong’o,  Awkwafina, and Greta Gerwig.

White patriarchy reasserts itself in the Oscars. Drawing courage from similar developments in the 2020 presidential race?

I haven’t seen Awkwafina’s performance as an actor but I love her so much for this. (⚠︎ NSFW) Also her name.

I haven’t seen Awkwafina’s performance as an actor but I love her so much for this (! NSFW). And also her name.

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Amazing Stuff

January 9, 2020 at 10:37 pm (By Amba) (, )

Ronni Bennett more modestly calls hers “Interesting Stuff” (I am more into hyperbole) and I really recommend you bookmark her blog Time Goes By and search the sidebar for “Interesting Stuff” (a weekly feature) if you’re on the lookout for great finds to post to your friends. I admit to getting this one from her. It is . . . amazing.

One more of Ronni’s great finds. You’ll cheer on the valor and perseverance of this little mouse.

BIG REVEAL: Bananas are better cold!

h/t David Gottlieb

When David texted me this video, my response was, “Not to be essentialist or anything, but somehow you just know those aren’t female kangaroos.”

To which his response was: 😂😂

Fewer Than a Third of American Voters Can Point to Iran on a Map, Survey Shows

[poll taken AFTER assassination of Soleimani]

Just 28 percent of registered voters were able to accurately label Iran on a zoomed-in map of the Middle East and Europe . . . that figure dropped to 23 percent when voters were asked to identify the country on a larger, also unlabeled, global map. A graphic showing respondents’ guesses showed that some believed Iran to be in Africa, others said it’s in France, and some thought it was in the Irish Sea. The global map even showed that some respondents think Iran is in the United States. 

It helped to be affluent, educated, and/or male—women were almost twice as dumb as men on this question.


Can’t you see I’m trying to concentrate??

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Thoughts and finds 2

January 7, 2020 at 7:00 pm (By Amba) (, )

It’s actually funny to read grave and somber reports of world leaders “tweeting” threats at each other.

power tries to blind us to our power.” But, without being too starry-eyed, there are other models for human civilization than “the rule of men, the rule of profit, and the soul-crushing rule of religion (true idolatry),” models we don’t know enough about. So says a man whose young sweetheart was abducted and murdered decades ago, and who went on to study and write about Minoan civilization.

You may be tired of my flogging Claire Berlinski, and I wouldn’t blame you—she’s an odd taste even for me—but trust me, or don’t, there are good things in this post.

  1. Her first instincts are hawkish and she started out exulting on Twitter about Soleimani’s death, the first thing Trump had done that she agreed with. But she’s drastically toned that down as the shadow of possible consequences has lengthened over her. This post does a great job of enumerating all the salient factors that NOBODY KNOWS.
  2. She asked readers to free-associate the first five words that come to mind about the decade just past. And she publishes lots of the results. Try it yourself, if you like, before you read them. Mine were: Robots in all Christmas windows (That was when I knew in my gut that we’ve gone down the wrong road.)

Not interested in recaps (of more than five words), not interested in predictions. We have seen and we will see.

There is a book called Patriotic Gore. (I remembered only the title, so had to look it up. It’s by Edmund Wilson and is a study of the literature of the Civil War. Wilson served in the ambulance corps in France in WWI and ever after was as antiwar as it gets: opposing U.S. entry into WWII, calling postwar America “the United States of Hiroshima,” and refusing to pay his taxes.)

Probably because of that book title, the word “patriotic” itself has always been gory to me. It is red and black, like fresh and clotted blood. It has an aorta of vowels in its heart spelling “riot.”

I had no air conditioner my first summer in New York, 1968. I’d sit on the fire escape to cool off, and the Puerto Rican granddads in their sleeveless undershirts sat out on the sidewalk below, on folding chairs. 12th Street between A and B, before the East Village drowned in drugs. It was just a family neighborhood, but I dreamt of corpses laid out in rows on the sidewalk at night, their blood, darker than the dark, running down to the street. (Vietnam.) This song is the sound of that summer to me: sweaty flesh and the undirected yearning of new adulthood.

Morning rituals: Feed and clean up after the cats; sit down with breakfast; look at the weather app, look at the newsletters. Is it going to snow today? Is the world going to end today? Things it’s useful to know as you plan your day.

(Reading the news feels to me like a survival instinct—a useless vestige of the prompt to scan for predators before you came out of your cave. That instinct was aimed at local threats you could actually do something to prevent or avoid. Robbed of any immediate, actionable object, vigilance becomes chronic anxiety and scanning the news becomes an addiction. Rolf Dobelli thinks we should quit.)

Another beautiful song. Maybe this one is the sound of now. I don’t know, but I’m playing it over and over.

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Thoughts and quotes—sublime to ridiculous

January 5, 2020 at 1:49 am (By Amba) ()

“R. D. Laing once said there are three things human beings are afraid of: death, other people, and their own minds.” ~ via Michael Pollan

Looking at what’s going on in the U.S. and elsewhere, the world is being run by a coalition or symbiosis of fanatics and opportunists. The opportunists have figured out how to goad the fanatics and use their fear, hate, and hysteria as fuel—much higher octane than any ordinary conviction—to propel them into power. Because of this dependence on their fuel, the fanatics have the opportunists by the balls. They are the Saudis of psychic energy, who must be pandered to.

“An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

“It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

“It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

“It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”

~ Adrienne Rich (via Brain Pickings)

“The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness. . . .

“The unhappy one is absent. . . . It is only the person who is present to himself that is happy.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard (via Brain Pickings)

(Do go to that link and read the rest of that Brain Pickings.)

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. . . . At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

~ Bette Howland

Howland was a protegé, no doubt lover, and lifelong friend of Saul Bellow, who had high regard for her work and untiringly promoted her (ironically culminating in a MacArthur “genius grant” that made her so self-conscious she could no longer finish anything). He also wrote about her mercilessly as a character, Dita Schwartz, in his novel More Die of Heartbreak.

What would she have made of the furor over her rediscovered work? [Her son] Jacob suspects she would be irritated by the focus on gender, a perpetual theme in reviews and articles. ‘I can hear her voice saying, “I’m not just a woman writer, I’m a writer,’” he says. ‘She thought of herself as an American writer, and more specifically as a Chicago writer,’ working in the tradition of Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrell, Richard Wright.

And yet she was a woman writer, writing from her own distinct perspective—as a daughter, as a mother—and that fact shifts the Chicago literature canon, which is still “a boys’ club, a sausage fest,” as Savage puts it. Its beginning is often traced to Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago,” Savage says, “where he actually personified the city as a working-class man.” (Interestingly, the few women writers added to the canon in the more recent decades—Lorraine Hansberry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros—are all women of color.

I am so sick of the word “productive.” It turns an individual into an industry. That it is unironically presented as the virtue most to aspire to just shows that capitalism has penetrated and petrified our souls.

1/3/20 WWIII is in the wind this morning . . . but I still have to vacuum.

Why is a chunk of cheese more satisfying than a slice?

I think one reason I prefer posting on blogs, whether or not anyone reads them, is that I can FIND stuff I’ve posted again if I want to revisit it. In that sense it’s more like keeping a solipsistic journal, scrapbook, commonplace book.

Whoever thought we’d live to see this day?

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO if you don’t have boundaries! I’m here to tell you, boundaries are overrated. Like “productivity.” Beware of the pieties of any age.

High fliers have farther to fall.

(Reading in my mom’s memoir about the Great Depression, the suicides of speculators ruined in the Crash of 1929, and thinking of my late beloved neighbor Mamie Harmon, who lived through it, and who used to say in her scalding Southern accent, “WE need another DEPRESSION!”)

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