Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Charlotte Brontë miniature magazine, flax age vs. iron age, the problem with “landscape urbanism,” China’s new drone tech, US exporting homophobia, and more.

Charlotte Brontë penned a miniature magazine in 1830, at age fourteen, and she hand-wrote six issues of a petite periodical. Thankfully, the Brontë Society placed the winning bid ($777,000) and it’s quite marvelous. More images (and a video about this) at Colossal (via Colossal)

The National Gallery’s Christine Lalonde, Greg Hill and Rachelle Dickenson, with Canada-based curators Carla Taunton, Candice Hopkins and Ariel Smith working as consultants, curated “Àbadakone” with the help of a team of national and international advisors. One of the most challenging issues in curating an exhibition under a contemporary global Indigenous banner is being attentive to local contexts. Indigeneity is defined by local conditions and local histories of colonialism and imperialism, so curating works from all over the world in a way where these nuances aren’t lost among a global framework is incredibly important. During a tour of the exhibition, Hill said: “The idea of Indigeneity globally is not a universal notion, so that’s why we describe it as Indigenous nations, ethnicities and tribal affiliations. There are all these different terms that are in use in different areas in the world, and the application of one word to fit so many different contexts, it’s impossible and it’s colonial. I run into it almost every day: which word we use in English or French to represent all this, and I’m a little frustrated with it. I want to use the term Onkwehónwe, because that comes from my Indigenous language [Kanyen’keha], and that means the ‘Original Peoples.’”

  • The impeachment hearings have dominated headlines this week, and over at Buzzfeed there’s a smart piece by Ryan Broderick that explains that there are two different impeachments going on right now:

But there are two impeachment hearings unfolding in the nation’s capital. One, carried out by the Democrats, is designed to ascertain the truth as to whether Trump sought a “quid pro quo” deal with Ukraine to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential election in exchange for aid money. The other, being carried out simultaneously by the Republicans, is quite different. Instead of trying to learn the truth, it seeks to create not just a counternarrative but a completely separate reality.

Each round of GOP questioning is not meant to interrogate the witnesses, which today included Sondland, but instead to create moments that can be flipped into Fox News segments, shared as bite-size Facebook posts, or dropped into 4chan threads. Their alternate universe — built from baseless online conspiracy theories and reading the tea leaves of Trump’s Twitter feed — dominates Fox News and Facebook. And the Republicans’ strategy, as confusing and bizarre as it may seem to those on the outside, is working.

On September 12th, 1940, a small dog called Robot and his human companions, four French children, discovered a hole under the roots of a storm-felled tree. Beneath it was the Lascaux cave complex, the walls of which were covered with a painted, heaving cavalcade of oxen, horses, aurochs, and stags, which date back to around 15,000 BC.

While these paintings have become famous, and act as a kind of shorthand for the sophistication of our early ancestors, this wasn’t the only craft Lascaux’s inhabitants were engaged in. One night in 1953, Abbé Glory, a French pre-historian, idly picked up what he took to be a piece of rubble on the floor of the Lascaux cave. The rubble turned out to be a solidified lump of clay and calcite and it unexpectedly broke open, like a Fabergé egg, in his palm. Inside was a perfectly preserved imprint of a long piece of Paleolithic cord. Around 12 inches of this same imprinted cord has since been discovered, revealing it to be made of two-plied strands of some kind of vegetable fiber, neatly S-twisted together.

Intriguingly, a 2013 discovery in southeast France has led to tentative suggestions that Homo sapiens may not have been the first species to have made string. A tiny sliver of twisted fibers—just 0.028 inches long—was found in a site occupied by Neanderthals 90,000 years ago, well before sapiens arrived in Europe.

The High Line and its imitators are examples of “landscape urbanism,” a growing design movement that places green space in collision with old infrastructure. As the abandoned railways, ports and bridges of the 20th century rust and grow over with grasses, a group of architects has dreamed up seductive new ways to use them. Landscape architect James Corner, a designer of the High Line, has said the park is “a lot like a gallery and a museum” where “the city is now the exhibit.”

It’s true that these spaces are like museums: What’s on display is a powerful, nostalgic vision of the urban wilderness, now tamed. In districts that were derelict just 20 years ago, millions visit to gawk at the attractions. “We made the crazy credible,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit that runs the path. “We’ve also proved that these things create value.”

But WASP culture did not wake up to its own obsolescence until its aesthetic power was no longer valued by society at large. By the early 1990s, it seemed like most WASPs would retire quietly to the country, destined for a slow disintegration, taking their rituals with them. 

But it is often at the moment when a tradition might slip into the aether that it is championed most vociferously, and debutante presentations have steadily increased in popularity since the late 1990s. Though the debutante ritual has always had nostalgia for better days built into its structure, the differences between old and new money presentations in New York was clear in the 80s and early 90s. That difference is minimal today. Some people from old money families have figured out that they can discuss their money and are doing so enthusiastically.

Though the film itself lacked depth, Jamie Johnson’s 2003 documentary, Born Rich, embodies the moment in the early 2000s at which a discreet older culture and a flashier new culture began to meld. The film ostensibly seeks to explore the taboo about talking about one’s wealth, cleverly creating a venue in which to do so. Johnson features a publicity-seeking Ivanka Trump alongside some WASP mainstays, the latter of whom had apparently realized that now was the time to come out of hiding to embrace the new display culture, before all was lost, and they could no longer dine out on their social credentials.

The three-year probe strongly indicates that house hunting in one of the nation’s most segregated suburbs poses substantial risks of discrimination, with black buyers chancing disadvantages almost half the time they enlist brokers.

Additionally, the investigation reveals that Long Island’s dominant residential brokering firms help solidify racial separations. They frequently directed white customers toward areas with the highest white representations and minority buyers to more integrated neighborhoods.

They also avoided business in communities with overwhelmingly minority populations.

It’s looking more and more like the Marciano Art Foundation’s closure may be permanent. The MAF opened May 5, 2017 and closed Nov. 6, 2019, a run of 30 months … The San Francisco venue of the Museum of Ice Cream opened Sep. 2017 and is still in operation, a run of 26 months. If the latter stays open through March 2020, while the Marciano remains closed, an actual pop-up museum will have been around longer than the MAF.

By means of an unscientific longitudinal survey of Muslim households I have conducted since childhood, I have observed a greater than zero quantity of wines and spirits sitting in cabinets and even on mantles. In my experience a particular pattern emerges, oriented around one particular bottle: the square, amber figure of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky, with its diagonal seal and striding Scotsman embossed in its glass surface.

The British-Pakistani novelist Hanif Kureishi, who was born in London, noticed something like this during his first visit to Pakistan in the early 1980s, upon attending high-society parties in Karachi:

Every liberal in England knows you can be lashed for drinking in Pakistan. But as far as I could tell, none of this English-speaking international bourgeoisie would be lashed for anything. They all had their trusted bootleggers who negotiated the potholes of Karachi at high speed on disintegrating motorcycles, the hooch stashed on the back. Bad bootleggers passed a hot needle through the neck of your bottle and drew your whisky out. I once walked into a host’s bathroom to see the bath full of floating whisky bottles being soaked to remove the labels, a servant sitting on a stool serenely poking at them with a stick.

This phenomenon often comes as a surprise to Westerners, but not to most Muslims, including me. I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in a culturally Muslim family. My parents didn’t drink during my youth, although towards the end of his life, my father began to believe in the apocryphal British remedy of brandy for symptoms of minor ailments. As a child, I had always expected that I would never drink alcohol. I didn’t believe in god, but my family life was structured by elements of Islam the way most white American households are by Christianity. We didn’t eat bacon for breakfast, have a tree at Christmas, or drink. We didn’t pray either, but that never stopped anyone from putting up a Christmas tree.

It’s not that the protests haven’t taken a toll on the protesters. Many are tired. Some surveys suggest that more than 80 percent of the people of Hong Kong may have been exposed to tear gas—an astonishing figure. Some neighborhoods close to protest sites have been so repeatedly drowned in the noxious clouds that the protesters held a rally on behalf of their pets. “I can’t put a mask on my dog,” one resident tearfully explained to me, as others distributed posters of puppies and kittens in protest gear: wearing helmets and masks, and holding bottles of Pocari Sweat, the electrolyte mixture that has become the unofficial drink of the protests. (Electrolyte drinks are great if you are walking long distances in humid weather, as so many in Hong Kong do almost every weekend.)

Almost every protest results in videos of protesters being beaten by the police. Many are live-streamed, to horrified viewers. Thousands have been arrested. Fearful accounts are coming out of the police stations, alleging torture, sexual assault, and rape. On Telegram, many protesters claim that some recent suicides are actually murders by the police that have been disguised as suicides. (It’s not clear whether these claims are anything more than just rumors, misinformation, or a tendency to believe the worst.) When being arrested, it is not unusual for protesters to shout their name, in the hopes of lawyers and family being able to reach them, and some yell that they are in no way suicidal. If they aren’t heard from again, they want to make sure it’s clear who’s to blame.

The location-tracking part of that process depends on one piece of technology not owned by the data companies: your smartphone.

“I would expect that almost everyone has at least one app on their phones that sends location data to third parties,” says Serge Egelman, a digital security and privacy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies how apps gather consumer data.

“Your device is constantly broadcasting unique identifiers,” Egelman says. For instance, your phone transmits Bluetooth and WiFi MAC addresses to help it discover and communicate with wireless networks and other devices. Some location brokers make use of small, inconspicuous devices that can pick those numbers out of the air to identify the phones that wander by. These devices are scattered across public spaces. (You may be sitting near one right now.)

But then there’s this. Enjoy:

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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