- Ariella Azoulay writes about Tamar Lanier’s continuing push to have the photos of his ancestors, Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, returned to her family from Harvard University. Writing for Boston Review, she explains:
Until Lanier stepped forward and claimed that these were her ancestors, the daguerreotypes had been assumed to be the private property of Harvard University. That Lanier’s multiple attempts to communicate with representatives of university institutions were rebuffed testifies to the gravity and endurance of the institutional afterlife of slavery. Harvard’s dismissal of Lanier brings to mind Jewish German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s observation that when history is written by the victorious at the expense of the victims and survivors, the spoils become “cultural treasures.” Only the victorious are permitted to claim as legally theirs what was seized from others. The latter were deprived of their freedom and rights and continue to live under the institutional conditions that make their grievances go unheard. Should academic institutions base their ownership claim on the victors’ justice?
- Do we eat what we fear? An essay by Ligaya Mishan and Anthony Cotsifas in the New York Times Style Magazine explores that topic:
In the 1992 essay “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” the cultural theorist bell hooks argues, “It is by eating the other” — what is foreign or alien to us — “that one asserts power and privilege.” This goes beyond animals, for the system that allows us to consume, that gives those of us with resources food and other necessities and luxuries in abundance, rests on the stark truth that some of us will thrive while others starve. The anthropologist Dean MacCannell suggests, in “Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers” (2002), that late capitalism “is an only partly sublimated form of cannibalism,” the greatest of all food taboos. If in the past warriors would eat the heart of their enemy to prove their dominance, today those in the highest ranks feed off the labor and lives of those below. Workers are treated as subordinate to the commodities they produce, while globalization slowly neutralizes and erases cultural difference, MacCannell writes, “not merely by doing away with it but by taking it in completely, metabolizing it, transforming it into [waste] and eliminating it.”
- Dream Hampton, who was the executive producer of Surviving R. Kelly, a docu-series that helped raise awareness about those victimized by the celebrity musician, talked to CBS News about her reaction to this week’s verdict. As an important aside, it’s worth mentioning that sexual assault survivors in journalism are still waiting for a reckoning.
- The Journal of Visual Culture has published a robust portfolio about Palestine, which you can check out on their website as a PDF.
- Elisabetta Povoledo reports on the restoration of the late Pietà by Michelangelo and what it tells us about the artist:
An analysis of the marble during the restoration revealed that it did not come from Carrara, Michelangelo’s go-to quarry in Tuscany, as had been supposed, but from quarries in Seravezza, about 10 miles away.
Restorers also saw firsthand why Michelangelo might have left the work unfinished. The marble is imperfect, not one uniform color throughout the block, and contains traces of pyrite, a sulfide mineral that reacts with metal, which would explain why sparks flew when Michelangelo hammered away. The marble block also revealed fractures and minute cracks that would not necessarily have been visible when Michelangelo began to sculpt, but easily shattered when struck. One such fracture may have surprised Michelangelo while he was carving the left arms of Christ and the Virgin Mary; a flaw so unsurmountable that Michelangelo may have been forced to throw in the chisel, as it were.
- A new study suggests falling into a black hole may turn you into a hologram. Writing for Discover, Marika Taylor explains (and it’s not exactly straightforward to those new to the topic):
It took two decades for scientists to come up with a solution. They suggested that the information stored in a black hole is proportional to its surface area (in two dimensions) rather than its volume (in three dimensions). This could be explained by quantum gravity, where the three dimensions of space could be reconstructed from a two-dimensional world without gravity — much like a hologram. Shortly afterwards, string theory, the most studied theory of quantum gravity, was shown to be holographic in this way.
Using holography we can describe the evaporation of the black hole in the two-dimensional world without gravity, for which the usual rules of quantum mechanics apply. This process is deterministic, with small imperfections in the radiation encoding the history of the black hole. So holography tells us that information is not lost in black holes, but tracking down the flaw in Hawking’s original arguments has been surprisingly hard.
- The interesting story of how one dogged reporter, Kalyn Kahler (who sounds like such a pro), tried to find out which MLB veteran paid his teammates to get vaccinated:
I’m an NFL reporter. I don’t have the first idea of how to cover Major League Baseball, and I don’t have sources among players. So I went through the agents. I made a list of every player on that team’s roster and I started calling the MLBPA to track down their agents. The MLBPA does not have a searchable database to find out who represents a specific player. The NFLPA provides reporters with this database, and it’s one of the most helpful tools in the business. In baseball, reporters have to call the MLBPA’s main office line, and even then, they will only look up three player agents per day for you. After one of the two nice women who always answered the phone there told me I was limited to just three players, I asked why this arbitrary limit existed. Is it because you don’t have time to do more? She said it’s always just been that way.
At one point, I had called so many days in a row that one of the women told me that this service may not be available for much longer, because agents had been complaining about it.
- It’s Fat Bear week at the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska and it even has a bracket:
- ProPublica doing the good work and reporting that the super rich are exploiting special trusts to avoid estate taxes. Jeff Ernsthausen, James Bandler, Justin Elliott, and Patricia Callahan report:
More than half of the nation’s 100 richest individuals have used GRATs and other trusts to avoid estate tax, the analysis shows. Among them: former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; Leonard Lauder, the son of cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder; Stephen Schwarzman, a founder of the private equity firm Blackstone; Charles Koch and his late brother, David, the industrialists who have underwritten libertarian causes and funded lobbying efforts to roll back the estate tax; and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs. (Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective is among ProPublica’s largest donors.)
More than a century ago amid soaring inequality and the rise of stratospherically wealthy families such as the Mellons and Rockefellers, Congress created the estate tax as a way to raise money and clip the fortunes of the rich at death. Lawmakers later added a gift tax as a means of stopping wealthy people from passing their fortunes on to their children and grandchildren before death. Nowadays, 99.9% of Americans never have to worry about these taxes. They only hit individuals passing more than $11.7 million, or couples giving more than $23.4 million, to their heirs. The federal government imposes a roughly 40% levy on amounts above those figures before that wealth is passed on to heirs.
For her part, Powell Jobs has decried as “dangerous for a society” the early 20th century fortunes of the Mellons, Rockefellers and others. “I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that,” she told The New York Times last year. “Steve wasn’t interested in that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”
Nonetheless, after the death of her husband in 2011, Powell Jobs used a series of GRATs to pass on around a half a billion dollars, estate-tax-free, to her children, friends and other family, according to the tax records and interviews with her longtime attorney. By using the GRATs, she avoided at least $200 million in estate and gift taxes.
Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.