“Chimpanzee super strength and human skeletal muscle evolution”, (2017-06-26):
Significance: Chimpanzee “super strength” has been widely reported since the 1920s although a critical review of the available data suggests that the chimpanzee-human muscular performance differential is only ~1.5 times. Some hypothesize that this differential reflects underlying differences in muscle mechanics. Here, we present direct measurements of chimpanzee skeletal muscle properties in comparison with those of humans and other terrestrial mammals. Our results show that chimpanzee muscle exceeds human muscle in maximum dynamic force and power output by ~1.35 times. This is primarily due to the chimpanzee’s higher fast-twitch fiber content, rather than exceptional maximum isometric force or maximum shortening velocities. We suggest that muscular performance capabilities declined during hominin evolution in response to selection for repetitive, low-cost contractile behavior.
Since at least the 1920s, it has been reported that common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) differ from humans in being capable of exceptional feats of “super strength”, both in the wild and in captive environments. A mix of anecdotal and more controlled studies provides some support for this view; however, a critical review of available data suggests that chimpanzee mass-specific muscular performance is a more modest 1.5 times greater than humans on average. Hypotheses for the muscular basis of this performance differential have included greater isometric force-generating capabilities, faster maximum shortening velocities, and/or a difference in myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform content in chimpanzee relative to human skeletal muscle. Here, we show that chimpanzee muscle is similar to human muscle in its single-fiber contractile properties, but exhibits a much higher fraction of MHC II isoforms. Unlike humans, chimpanzee muscle is composed of ~67% fast-twitch fibers (MHC IIa+IId). Computer simulations of species-specific whole-muscle models indicate that maximum dynamic force and power output is 1.35 times higher in a chimpanzee muscle than a human muscle of similar size. Thus, the superior mass-specific muscular performance of chimpanzees does not stem from differences in isometric force-generating capabilities or maximum shortening velocities—as has long been suggested—but rather is due in part to differences in MHC isoform content and fiber length. We propose that the hominin lineage experienced a decline in maximum dynamic force and power output during the past 7–8 million years in response to selection for repetitive, low-cost contractile behavior.
[Keywords: chimpanzee, human, muscle, myosin heavy chain, muscle modeling]
“The Worst Story I Ever Heard: The Davises are like any other family, only instead of a son, they raised a chimpanzee. As with Travis, the chimp that attacked a woman who's finally speaking out, for years everything seemed fine. Then something strange and horrifying happened—though not necessarily what you'd think”, (2009-11-11):
[The story of a couple who raised a chimpanzee (Moe) as their surrogate son. After many years, Moe was taken away from them because he bit another person. They visited Moe in the sanctuary which also sheltered other chimps. One day they brought Moe a birthday cake, and the other chimps were watching Moe eat the cake. Those others were out of their cage for some reason. They viciously attacked and mauled the man, biting off his face and genitals before they could be stopped, and didn’t even go for the cake.]
Synnott got the biggest response from a story set in Oman, where the team had traveled by sailboat to visit the remote mountains of the Musandam Peninsula, which reaches like a skeletal hand into the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Coming upon an isolated village, they went ashore to mix with the locals. “At a certain point”, Synnott said, “these guys start yelling and they’re pointing up at the cliff. And we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And of course I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure I know.’”
Up came the photograph for the gasp from the crowd. There was Honnold, the same casual dude who was sitting on stage in a grey hoodie and khakis, now looking like a toy as he scaled a huge, bone-colored wall behind the town. (“The rock quality wasn’t the best”, Honnold said later.) He was alone and without a rope. Synnott summed up the villagers’ reaction: “Basically, they think Alex is a witch.” When the Explorers Hall presentation concluded, the adventurers sat down to autograph posters. Three lines formed. In one of them, a neurobiologist waited to share a few words with Synnott about the part of the brain that triggers fear. The concerned scientist leaned in close, shot a glance toward Honnold, and said, “That kid’s amygdala isn’t firing.”
…Inside the tube, Honnold is looking at a series of about 200 images that flick past at the speed of channel surfing. The photographs are meant to disturb or excite. “At least in non-Alex people, these would evoke a strong response in the amygdala”, says Joseph. “I can’t bear to look at some of them, to be honest.” The selection includes corpses with their facial features bloodily reorganized; a toilet choked with feces; a woman shaving herself, Brazilian style; and two invigorating mountain-climbing scenes. “Maybe his amygdala is not firing—he’s having no internal reactions to these stimuli”, says Joseph. “But it could be the case that he has such a well-honed regulatory system that he can say, ‘OK, I’m feeling all this stuff, my amygdala is going off,’ but his frontal cortex is just so powerful that it can calm him down.”
…Absence Of Fear: Scans compare Honnold’s brain (left) with a control subject’s (right), a rock climber of a similar age. Crosshairs mark the amygdala, a group of nuclei involved in generating fear. As both climbers look at the same arousing images, the control subject’s amygdala glows, while Honnold’s remains inert, showing no activity whatsoever.
There is also a more existential question. “Why does he do this?” she says. “He knows it’s life-threatening—I’m sure people tell him every day. So there may be some kind of really strong reward, like the thrill of it is very rewarding.” To find out, Honnold is now running through a second experiment, the “reward task”, in the scanner. He can win or lose small amounts of money (the most he can win is $22) depending on how quickly he clicks a button when signaled. “It’s a task that we know activates the reward circuitry very strongly in the rest of us”, Joseph says. In this case, she’s looking most closely at another brain apparatus, the nucleus accumbens, located not far from the amygdala (which is also at play in the reward circuitry) near the top of the brainstem. It is one of the principal processors of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that arouses desire and pleasure. High sensation seekers, Joseph explains, may require more stimulation than other people to get a hit.
After about half an hour, Honnold emerges from the scanner looking sleepily doe-eyed. Raised in Sacramento, California, he has a refreshingly frank manner of speaking, and an oddly contradictory demeanor that might be described as intensely laid back—his nickname is No Big Deal, which is his assessment of almost every experience he undergoes. Like most expert climbers, he is leanly muscled, more like a fitness buff than a body builder. The exceptions are his fingers, which permanently look as though they’ve just been slammed in a car door, and his forearms, which bring to mind Popeye.
“Looking at all those images—does that count as being under stress?” he asks Joseph. “Those images that you saw are used pretty widely in the field for inducing fairly strong arousal responses”, Joseph replies. "Because, I can’t say for sure, but I was like, whatever“, he says. The photographs, even the”gruesome burning children and stuff" struck him as dated and jaded. “It’s like looking through a curio museum.”
Rams is a documentary portrait of Dieter Rams, one of the most influential designers alive, and a rumination on consumerism, sustainability, and the future of design…In 2008, Gary interviewed Dieter for his documentary Objectified, but was only able to share a small piece of his story in that film. Dieter, who is now 86, is a very private person; however Gary was granted unprecedented access to create the first feature-length documentary about his life and work.
Rams includes in-depth conversations with Dieter, and deep dives into his philosophy, his process, and his inspirations. But one of the most interesting parts of Dieter’s story is that he now looks back on his career with some regret. “If I had to do it over again, I would not want to be a designer”, he’s said. “There are too many unnecessary products in this world.” Dieter has long been an advocate for the ideas of environmental consciousness and long-lasting products. He’s dismayed by today’s unsustainable world of over-consumption, where “design” has been reduced to a meaningless marketing buzzword.
Rams is a design documentary, but it’s also a rumination on consumerism, materialism, and sustainability. Dieter’s philosophy is about more than just design, it’s about a way to live. It’s about getting rid of distractions and visual clutter, and just living with what you need. The film features original music by pioneering musician and producer Brian Eno.
“Free Movie Of the Week”, (2020):
Filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his documentaries free worldwide during the global COVID-19 crisis. Each Tuesday we’ll be posting another film here. We hope you enjoy them, and please stay strong.
March 14 to 21: Helvetica
March 24 to 31: Objectified
March 31 to April 7: Urbanized
April 7 to 14: Rams
April 14 to 21: Workplace (2016, 64 minutes) is a film about the past, present, and future of the office…
April 21 to 28: TBA
April 28 to May 5: TBA
[Oh You Pretty Things is a web shop run by a collective of filmmakers and visual artists based in Brooklyn NY. We make films, art, books, posters, photographs, clothing, and other fine stuff.]
Micro-table / coat pocket radio, thermoplastic cabinet 5 15⁄16×3 5⁄16×1 5⁄8 inches / 151×84×41 mm 2-band MW/LW radio, six transistors (OC44, 2× OC45, OC75 2× OC72) + OA70 diode Superheterodyne circuit Four 1.5-volt “AA” cells
Braun’s first pocket transistor radio, designed by Dieter Rams and produced in 1958. An identical-looking model, the T31, was introduced in 1960 and employed seven transistors.
Much has been made in recent years about the Braun T3 having been the design inspiration for the original Apple iPod—that’s pretty clear by now: Apple’s chief industrial designer Jon Ive is well known for his love of Dieter Rams’s designs, and a number of his Apple product designs bear unmistakable direct influences from classic Braun product designs.
“Olivetti Valentine”, (; ):
It came with a slide-on case that ingeniously fastens to the back plate of the typewriter with rubber straps. Unfortunately, over time these would often dry out, crack, and break off. This example still has them intact, but given its age, it’s not a good idea to rely on them to carry it around!
The body is made largely of shiny ABS plastic, while the case has a heavy matte texture, and some key structural pieces, such as the ends of the platen, are of painted metal. The bright orange caps of the ribbon reels perk up the actual mechanism, something which in other typewriters is typically hidden from view…The large fold-out handle on the back of the machine (what becomes the top when carrying it in its case) overtly invites picking up the Valentine and taking it along for a joy ride, much as the handle on the first Mac signified the same intent. The case itself was custom-designed to match the aesthetic, unlike most typewriter cases of the day, which were nondescript black or gray plastic, or perhaps semi-soft vinyl. This is another example of Sottsass’ thinking about the whole user experience (as we would call it today).
…The Valentine was conceived as competitor to the inexpensive units coming on to the market from Japan. Sottsass had some interesting ideas about how to simplify and lower the cost of the machine, such as not having lower case letters (EVERYTHING WOULD BE SHOUTING IN UPPER CASE!), removing the bell that went “ding” at the end of the line, and using an inexpensive plastic for the case. Olivetti rejected all these as too radical, and used the higher-quality ABS plastic for the case, which pushed the price up higher than Sottsass had wanted.
“[F]or use in any place except in an office, so as not to remind anyone of the monotonous working hours, but rather to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly colored object on a table in a studio apartment. An anti-machine machine, built around the commonest mass-produced mechanism, the works inside any typewriter, it may also seem to be an unpretentious toy.”
“The Olivetti Valentine typewriter”, (2012-11-29; ):
“Dear Valentine, this is to tell you that you are my friend as well as my Valentine, and that I intend to write you lots of letters”, says the user guide of the familiar red typewriter. This purposefully heartwarming greeting sets the tone for Ettore Sottsass’ typewriter. The blood-red Valentine was a fun, light-hearted and smooth-operating symbol of the 1960s Pop era, and its use of bright, playful casing for a piece of traditional office equipment was arguably a precursor to Apple’s 1998 Bondi Blue iMac. “When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism”, said Sottsass. “It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.”
The Valentine—created for the Italian brand Olivetti—was designed in collaboration with the British designer Perry King and entered production in 1969. It was not a commercial success. The Valentine was technically mediocre, expensive and failed to sell to a mass audience, yet still became a design classic. Valentines can be found in the permanent collections of London’s Design Museum and MoMA, the typewriter being accepted into the latter just two years after its launch. The product’s critical success was unhindered by its functional limitations because its design focused as much on its emotional connection to users as it did on practical ease of use.
Sottsass set out his stall early on. One of the initial advertising campaigns for the design featured posters by the graphic designer and founder of New York magazine, Milton Glaser. Glaser used a detail of Piero di Cosimo’s renaissance painting, Satyr Mourning over Nymph. In the poster, the Valentine typewriter is placed next to a red setter, an elegant, rambunctious dog; man’s best friend. The suggestion was that Sottsass’ portable accessory could be just as loyal and convivial. How the product performed was arguably irrelevant. It was about how it made you feel.
The Valentine was available in white, green and blue, but its most famous form was red: lipstick-bright ABS plastic casing, with black plastic keys and white lettering. “Every colour has a history”, said Sottsass, “Red is the color of the Communist flag, the colour that makes a surgeon move faster and the color of passion.”
The distinctive colour was calculated to bring vibrancy and fun into the office world of the 1960s. Sottsass said that the Valentine “was invented for use any place except in an office, so as not to remind anyone of monotonous working hours, but rather to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly coloured object on a table in a studio apartment.” The ideas that later manifested themselves in Sottsass’ 1970s Memphis movement—the Milan design group known for its brightly coloured postmodern furniture—were already evident in the Valentine typewriter. Sottsass gave a standardised piece of office equipment personality.
Although, the designer would later dismiss the Valentine—comparing it to “a girl wearing a very short skirt and too much make-up”—its design was an elegant summation of his belief that successful, long-lasting product design was not solely connected to performance, but rather owed as much to the emotional force of a design.
Vitsœ was founded in 1959 to manufacture the designs of Dieter Rams, of Braun’s golden years’ fame, a luminary designer who’s championed functional, considered design for well over 60 years. The company is best known for its production of Rams’ 606 Universal Shelving System, a do-it-all, have-forever modular system that can take the form of a few shelves or host an entire inventory of a university library. “I don’t regard this as a piece of architecture. I regard it as a way of thinking”, says Mark Adams, Vitsœ’s managing director, as he shows us around the firm’s Leamington Spa headquarters, which the company moved into in late 2017. “We developed the design with academics for years before building anything”, he says, explaining that the plan was essentially finished before it was handed to architects only at the delivery stage.
…At their new headquarters, Mark is fastidiously explaining elements of the building’s construction and evidence of those decades of work becomes apparent. With restrained enthusiasm he reels off details about the beech laminate veneer used for the building’s frame that he found in a German factory six years ago; about not building to conventional sustainable building standards, which he calls “box ticking exercises”; and he later gently explains how buildings are designed the wrong way around when it comes to thermal insulation. “Ours is designed a bit like if it had a Gore-Tex jacket on: it can release moisture, but it stays insulated.” This, Mark says, is better for people’s wellbeing: “Being hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter is better for your immune system.” That expenditure of time and consideration has resulted in a building in which not a single artificial light needs to be turned on during the day—the building’s party trick, if indeed it has one. Inside, daylight is utilised and amplified, pouring in through the overhead skylights in the sawtooth roof, illuminating the beech frame in splendid fashion.
The building, which amorphously combines manufacturing and office space, along with apartments for internationally-visiting staff, and a restaurant-quality canteen, is truly a mixed-use space. Looking down to the far end, it’s not uncommon for a member of Motionhouse contemporary dance troupe to launch into view above the workstations. “I think it’s completely logical that arts and commerce should be totally interwoven”, proclaims Mark.
…Mid-way into lunch, Mark interjects, inviting us to see how many phones we can spot. We look around and see no vacant faces staring at screens, but rather groups of people chatting and eating at communal tables, while outside a game of pétanque gets underway.
“The Humble Programmer (EWD340)”, (1972; ):
[ACM Turing Lecture 1972 by famously opinionated mathematician Edsger W. Dijkstra]
…I had to make up my mind, either to stop programming and become a real, respectable theoretical physicist, or to carry my study of physics to a formal completion only, with a minimum of effort, and to become…, yes what? A programmer? But was that a respectable profession? For after all, what was programming? Where was the sound body of knowledge that could support it as an intellectually respectable discipline? I remember quite vividly how I envied my hardware colleagues, who, when asked about their professional competence, could at least point out that they knew everything about vacuum tubes, amplifiers and the rest, whereas I felt that, when faced with that question, I would stand empty-handed. Full of misgivings I knocked on van Wijngaarden’s office door, asking him whether I could “speak to him for a moment”; when I left his office a number of hours later, I was another person. For after having listened to my problems patiently, he agreed that up till that moment there was not much of a programming discipline, but then he went on to explain quietly that automatic computers were here to stay, that we were just at the beginning and could not I be one of the persons called to make programming a respectable discipline in the years to come? This was a turning point in my life and I completed my study of physics formally as quickly as I could.
…To put it quite bluntly: as long as there were no machines, programming was no problem at all; when we had a few weak computers, programming became a mild problem, and now we have gigantic computers, programming had become an equally gigantic problem. In this sense the electronic industry has not solved a single problem, it has only created them, it has created the problem of using its products. To put it in another way: as the power of available machines grew by a factor of more than a thousand, society’s ambition to apply these machines grew in proportion, and it was the poor programmer who found his job in this exploded field of tension between ends and means. The increased power of the hardware, together with the perhaps even more dramatic increase in its reliability, made solutions feasible that the programmer had not dared to dream about a few years before.
…Automatic computers have now been with us for a quarter of a century. They have had a great impact on our society in their capacity of tools, but in that capacity their influence will be but a ripple on the surface of our culture, compared with the much more profound influence they will have in their capacity of intellectual challenge without precedent in the cultural history of mankind.
“The Aesthetic-Usability Effect”, (2017-01-29):
Users are more tolerant of minor usability issues when they find an interface visually appealing. This aesthetic-usability effect can mask UI problems and can prevent issue discovery during usability testing. Identify instances of the aesthetic-usability effect in your user research by watching what your users do, as well as listening to what they say.
It’s a familiar frustration to usability-test moderators: You watch a user struggle through a suboptimal UI, encountering many errors and obstacles. Then, when you ask the user to comment on her experience, all she can talk about is the site’s great color scheme:
During usability testing, one user encountered many issues while shopping on the FitBit site, ranging from minor annoyances in the interaction design to serious flaws in the navigation. She was able to complete her task, but with difficulty. However, in a post-task questionnaire, she rated the site very highly in ease of use. “It’s the colors they used”, she said. “Looks like the ocean, it’s calm. Very good photographs.” The positive emotional response caused by the aesthetic appeal of the site helped mask its usability issues.
Instances like this are often the result of the aesthetic-usability effect.
Definition: The aesthetic-usability effect refers to users’ tendency to perceive attractive products as more usable. People tend to believe that things that look better will work better—even if they aren’t actually more effective or efficient.
Apple keeps doing things in the Mac OS that leave the user-experience (UX) community scratching its collective head, things like hiding the scroll bars and placing invisible controls inside the content region of windows on computers.
Apple’s mobile devices are even worse: It can take users upwards of 5 seconds to accurately drop the text pointer where they need it, but Apple refuses to add the arrow keys that have belonged on the keyboard from day-one.
Apple’s strategy is exactly right—up to a point:
Apple’s decisions may look foolish to those schooled in UX, but balance that against the fact that Apple consistently makes more money than the next several leaders in the industry combined.
While it’s true Apple is missing something—arrow keys—we in the UX community are missing something, too: Apple’s razor-sharp focus on a user many of us often fail to even consider: The potential user, the buyer. During the first Jobsian era at Apple, I used to joke that Steve Jobs cared deeply about Apple customers from the moment they first considered purchasing an Apple computer right up until the time their check cleared the bank.
…What do most buyers not want? They don’t want to see all kinds of scary-looking controls surrounding a media player. They don’t want to see a whole bunch of buttons they don’t understand. They don’t want to see scroll bars. They do want to see clean screens with smooth lines. Buyers want to buy Ferraris, not tractors, and that’s exactly what Apple is selling.
… Let me offer two examples of Apple objects that aid in selling products, but make life difficult for users thereafter.
The Apple Dock: The Apple Dock is a superb device for selling computers for pretty much the same reasons that it fails miserably as a day-to-day device: A single glance at the Dock lets the potential buyer know that this a computer that is beautiful, fun, approachable, easy to conquer, and you don’t have to do a lot of reading. Of course, not one of these attributes is literally true, at least not if the user ends up exploiting even a fraction of the machine’s potential, but such is the nature of merchandizing, and the Mac is certainly easier than the competition.
The real problem with the Dock is that Apple simultaneously stripped out functionality that was far superior, though less flashy, when they put the Dock in.
Invisible Scroll Bars:
“Gee, the screen looks so clean! This computer must be easy to use!” So goes the thinking of the buyer when seeing a document open in an Apple store, exactly the message Apple intends to impart. The problem right now is that Apple’s means of delivering that message is actually making the computer less easy to use!
…the scroll bar has become a vital status device as well, letting you know at a glance the size of and your current position within a document…Hiding the scroll bar, from a user’s perspective, is madness. If the user wants to actually scroll, it’s bad enough: He or she is now forced to use a thumbwheel or gesture to invoke scrolling, as the scroll bar is no longer even present. However, if the user simply wants to see their place within the document, things can quickly spiral out of control: The only way to get the scroll bar to appear is to initiate scrolling, so the only way to see where you are right now in a document is to scroll to a different part of the document! It may only require scrolling a line or two, but it is still crazy on the face of it! And many windows contain panels with their own scroll bars as well, so trying to trick the correct one into turning on, if you can do so at all (good luck with Safari!) can be quite a challenge…(The scroll bars, even when turned on, are hard to see with their latest mandatory drab gray replacing bright blue and are now so thin they take around twice as long to target as earlier scroll bars. When a company ships products either before user testing or after ignoring the results of that testing, both their product and their users suffer.)
…Industrial design: Borrow the aesthetic, ignore the limitation
While Apple has copied over the aesthetics of industrial design into the software world, they have also copied over its limitation: Whether it be a tractor, Ferrari, or electric toaster, that piece of hardware, in the absence of upgradeable software, will look and act the same the first time you use it as the thousandth time. Software doesn’t share that natural physical limitation, and Apple must stop acting as though it does.
1982-perlis.pdf: “Epigrams on Programming”, (1982-09-01; ):
[130 epigrams on computer science and technology, published in 1982, for ACM’s SIGPLAN journal, by noted computer scientist and programming language researcher Alan Perlis. The epigrams are a series of short, programming-language-neutral, humorous statements about computers and programming, distilling lessons he had learned over his career, which are widely quoted.]
8. A programming language is low level when its programs require attention to the irrelevant….19. A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing….54. Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy.
15. Everything should be built top-down, except the first time….30. In programming, everything we do is a special case of something more general—and often we know it too quickly….31. Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it….58. Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it….65. Make no mistake about it: Computers process numbers—not symbols. We measure our understanding (and control) by the extent to which we can arithmetize an activity….56. Software is under a constant tension. Being symbolic it is arbitrarily perfectible; but also it is arbitrarily changeable.
1. One man’s constant is another man’s variable. 34. The string is a stark data structure and everywhere it is passed there is much duplication of process. It is a perfect vehicle for hiding information.
36. The use of a program to prove the 4-color theorem will not change mathematics—it merely demonstrates that the theorem, a challenge for a century, is probably not important to mathematics.
39. Re graphics: A picture is worth 10K words—but only those to describe the picture. Hardly any sets of 10K words can be adequately described with pictures.
48. The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland; but that’s because it’s the best book on anything for the layman.
77. The cybernetic exchange between man, computer and algorithm is like a game of musical chairs: The frantic search for balance always leaves one of the 3 standing ill at ease….79. A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God….84. Motto for a research laboratory: What we work on today, others will first think of tomorrow.
91. The computer reminds one of Lon Chaney—it is the machine of a thousand faces.
7. It is easier to write an incorrect program than understand a correct one….93. When someone says “I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done”, give him a lollipop….102. One can’t proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.
100. We will never run out of things to program as long as there is a single program around.
108. Whenever 2 programmers meet to criticize their programs, both are silent….112. Computer Science is embarrassed by the computer….115. Most people find the concept of programming obvious, but the doing impossible. 116. You think you know when you can learn, are more sure when you can write, even more when you can teach, but certain when you can program. 117. It goes against the grain of modern education to teach children to program. What fun is there in making plans, acquiring discipline in organizing thoughts, devoting attention to detail and learning to be self-critical?
Akhnaten, Philip Glass’ “Egyptian opera”, opening at the Metropolitan Opera this weekend, premiered in 1984 and since then has been produced in many different stagings, primarily in European cities, where the composer has a very large and enthusiastic audience. Akhnaten’s American production story has been much more modest.
…Someone at the party had told Glass that I was studying Egyptian language and culture. He sought me out, introduced himself and asked if I knew anything about Akhnaten, the “heretic Pharaoh.” The party had put me in a jocular mood and my immediate response was “know about him? I just saw him!” I explained that I had only recently returned from Cairo, where the massive statue of Akhnaten in the Cairo Museum was the Egyptian artifact that had made the deepest impression on me. (Later I realized that in my response I was channeling a skit in 2000 Year Old Man in which Carl Reiner asks Mel Brooks if he had known Joan of Arc. “What do you mean knew her”, said Brooks, “I dated her!”) Our initial conversation about Egypt and Akhnaten lasted for more than an hour.
In his remarkably creative way, Glass had been reading widely about Egypt and Akhnaten. He had studied James Henry Breasted’s authoritative History of Egypt and he read Freud’s speculations about Akhnaten in his last book, Moses and Monotheism. We agreed to meet the following week to continue our conversation. I told Glass that for our next meeting I would bring pictures of Akhnaten, his wife Nefertiti, and of his artistic creations. For Akhnaten was an artist and poet, as well as a Pharaoh—or at least that was the claim of some experts. Our subsequent meetings at which I was introduced to Glass’ theater and music collaborators, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell, went very well. They had worked with Glass on Satyagraha and were collaborating with him on the creation of Akhnaten. Asked by Glass if I would be able to serve as a researcher on his Egyptian project, I said yes.
…His formulation was: “Einstein as the man of science, Gandhi as the man of politics, Akhnaten as the man of religion.”
In his 1987 book, Music by Philip Glass, the composer explained his fascination with the heretic king: “On becoming Pharaoh, he declared a new religion based upon Aten, associated with the sun, but not actually the sun itself, a very important point theologically. His new god was supreme and alone, making Akhnaten the first declared monotheist in history….Finally, by not completely identifying his god with the physical sun but emphasizing his independent nature, Akhnaten’s god is the first truly abstract god head we know.” Glass knew that not all historians of religion and culture agreed with this description. But for Glass, the main point was that “Akhnaten had changed his (and our) world through the force of his ideas and not through the force of arms.”
Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams”, a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closure…A day after canceling upcoming performances due to concerns around the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it would stream encore presentations from the award-winning Live in HD series of cinema transmissions on the company website for the duration of the closure. The new offering will begin on Monday, March 16 with the 2010 HD performance of Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and starring Elīna Garanča in the title role and Roberto Alagna as Don José. All “Nightly Met Opera Streams” will begin at 7:30pm and will remain available via the homepage of
metopera.orgfor 20 hours.
- Monday, March 16—Bizet’s Carmen
- Tuesday, March 17—Puccini’s La Bohème
- Wednesday, March 18—Verdi’s Il Trovatore
- Thursday, March 19—Verdi’s La Traviata
- Friday, March 20—Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
- Saturday, March 21—Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
- Sunday, March 22—Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
The Birth of a Nation set the pace for a century of Wagnerian aggression on film. More than a thousand movies and TV shows feature the composer on their soundtracks, yoking him to all manner of rampaging hordes, marching armies, swashbuckling heroes, and scheming evildoers. The “Ride of the Valkyries” turns up in a particularly dizzying variety of scenarios. In “What’s Opera, Doc?”, Elmer Fudd chants “Kill da wabbit” while pursuing Bugs Bunny. In John Landis’s The Blues Brothers (1980), the “Ride” plays while buffoonish neo-Nazis chase the heroes down a highway and fly off an overpass. Most indelibly, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) upends Griffith’s racial duality, making white Americans the heralds of destruction: a helicopter squadron blares the “Ride” as it lays waste to a Vietnamese village.
Action sequences are only one facet of Wagner’s celluloid presence. A colorful—and often shady—array of Wagner enthusiasts have appeared onscreen, from the woebegone lovers of Robert Siodmak’s noir Christmas Holiday to the diabolical android of Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. The composer himself is portrayed in more than a dozen movies, including Tony Palmer’s extravagant, eight-hour 1983 bio-pic, starring Richard Burton. But the Wagnerization of film goes deeper than that. Cinema’s integration of image, word, and music promised a fulfillment of the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art”, which Wagner propagated at one stage of his career. His informal system of assigning leitmotifs to characters and themes became a defining trait of film scores. And Hollywood has drawn repeatedly from Wagner’s gallery of mythic archetypes: his gods, heroes, sorcerers, and questers…Wagner’s influence is nowhere more enduring than in the realm of myth and legend. He manipulated Teutonic and Arthurian myths with consummate dexterity, understanding how they could resonate allegorically for modern audiences. “The incomparable thing about myth is that it is always true, and its content, through utmost compression, is inexhaustible”, he wrote. Wagner’s master array of borrowed, modified, and reinvented archetypes—the wanderer on a ghost ship, the savior with no name, the cursed ring, the sword in the tree, the sword reforged, the novice with unsuspected powers—lurks behind the blockbuster fantasy and superhero narratives that hold sway in contemporary Hollywood.
…This contradictory swirl of associations mirrors the composer’s fractured legacy: on the one hand, as a theatrical visionary who created works of Shakespearean breadth and depth; on the other, as a vicious anti-Semite who became a cultural totem for Hitler. Like operagoers across the generations, filmmakers have had trouble deciding whether Wagner is an inexhaustible store of wonder or a bottomless well of hate. But that uncertainty also mirrors the film industry’s own ambiguous role as an incubator of heroic fantasies, which can serve a wide range of political ends. When Hollywood talks about Wagner, it is often—consciously or not—talking about itself.
…Bayreuth’s technical achievements predicted cinematic sleights of hand. In the Ring, magic-lantern projections evoked the Valkyries on their flying steeds; in Parsifal, the Grail glowed with electric light. Clouds of steam generated by two locomotive boilers smoothed over changes of scene, in anticipation of the techniques of dissolve and fade-out. Wagner’s music itself provides hypnotic continuity. When the action of Das Rheingold shifts from the Rhine to the area around Valhalla, the stage directions say, “Gradually the waves turn into clouds, which resolve into a fine mist.” In the score, rushing river patterns give way to shimmering tremolos and then to a more rarefied texture of flutes and violins—what the scholar Peter Franklin describes as an “elaborate upward panning shot.” In the descent into Nibelheim, the realm of the dwarves, the sound of hammering anvils swells in a long crescendo before fading away. This is like a dolly shot: a camera moves in on the Nibelungs at work, then draws back.
Decades of research have highlighted the amygdala’s influential role in fear. We found that inhalation of 35% CO2 evoked not only fear, but also panic attacks, in three rare patients with bilateral amygdala damage. These results indicate that the amygdala is not required for fear and panic, and make an important distinction between fear triggered by external threats from the environment versus fear triggered internally by CO2.
Handel’s tale of intrigue and impropriety in ancient Rome arrives in cinemas on February 29, with star mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the controlling, power-hungry Agrippina and Harry Bicket conducting. Sir David McVicar’s production ingeniously reframes the action of this black comedy about the abuse of power to “the present”, where it should loudly resonate. The all-star cast features mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey as Agrippina’s son and future emperor Nerone, soprano Brenda Rae as the seductive Poppea, countertenor Iestyn Davies as the ambitious officer Ottone, and bass Matthew Rose as the weary emperor Claudius. This live cinema transmission is part of the Met’s award-winning Live in HD series, bringing opera to more than 2,200 theaters in more than 70 countries worldwide.
This production was originally created by the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie / De Munt Brussels and adapted by the Metropolitan Opera. Sung in Italian. Estimated Run Time: 3 hrs 35 mins.
- Conductor: Harry Bicket
- Narciso: Nicholas Tamagna
- Poppea: Brenda Rae
- Agrippina: Joyce DiDonato
- Kate Lindsey: Nerone
- Ottone: Iestyn Davies
- Pallante: Duncan Rock
- Claudio: Matthew Rose
World Premiere: Teatro San Giovanni Crisostomo, Venice, 1709
This early Italian opera of Handel was a success that secured the composer’s international reputation and played a large role in paving the way for his lucrative and high-profile subsequent career in London. While he continued to develop artistically for the next 50 years, his entire life’s genius is perfectly evident in this first great operatic accomplishment. Even today, the issues at stake in Agrippina—the power plays, sexual politics, and cults of personality played out against a fickle public—continue to resonate.
2019-lichter.pdf: “Mismatches in the Marriage Market”, (2019-09-04; ):
Objective: This article provides an assessment of whether unmarried women currently face demographic shortages of marital partners in the U.S. marriage market.
Background: One explanation for the declines in marriage is the putative shortage of economically attractive partners for unmarried women to marry. Previous studies provide mixed results but are usually focused narrowly on sex ratio imbalances rather than identifying shortages on the multiple socioeconomic characteristics that typically sort women and men into marriages.
Methods: This study identifies recent marriages from the 2008 to 2012 and 2013 to 2017 cumulative 5-year files of the American Community Survey. Data imputation methods provide estimates of the sociodemographic characteristics of unmarried women’s potential (or synthetic) spouses who resemble the husbands of otherwise comparable married women. These estimates are compared with the actual distribution of unmarried men at the national, state, and local area levels to identify marriage market imbalances.
Results: These synthetic husbands have an average income that is about 58% higher than the actual unmarried men that are currently available to unmarried women. They also are 30% more likely to be employed (90% vs. 70%) and 19% more likely to have a college degree (30% vs. 25%). Racial and ethnic minorities, especially Black women, face serious shortages of potential marital partners, as do low socioeconomic status and high socioeconomic status unmarried women, both at the national and subnational levels.
Conclusions: This study reveals large deficits in the supply of potential male spouses. One implication is that the unmarried may remain unmarried or marry less well-suited partners.
2012-henrich.pdf: “The puzzle of monogamous marriage”, (2012; ):
The anthropological record indicates that approximately 85% of human societies have permitted men to have more than one wife (polygynous marriage), and both empirical and evolutionary considerations suggest that large absolute differences in wealth should favour more polygynous marriages. Yet, monogamous marriage has spread across Europe, and more recently across the globe, even as absolute wealth differences have expanded.
Here, we develop and explore the hypothesis that the norms and institutions that compose the modern package of monogamous marriage have been favoured by cultural evolution because of their group-beneficial effects—promoting success in inter-group competition. In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (1) the spousal age gap, (2) fertility, and (3) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide.
These predictions are tested using converging lines of evidence from across the human sciences.
[Keywords: cultural group selection, monogamy, polygyny, marriage, norms, institutional evolution]
“Trope: 'Kick the Dog'”, ():
When a character does something evil, cruel or very mean for no apparent gain, because the author wants to demonstrate that he’s not a nice guy and shift audience sympathy away from him.
Why this trope works could be expressed in the words of William Cowper: “I would not enter on my list of friends (though graced with polished manners and fine sense, yet wanting sensibility) the man who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.” In other words, a cruel act, no matter how trivial, establishes someone as a cruel person. Conversely, the creator may show a character being kind for no apparent gain, to demonstrate that the character is a nice person and someone the audience is meant to cheer for. Both devices are used to help the audience become emotionally invested in the story.
What separates this trope from a character’s other evil or cruel acts is that this bit of evil is gratuitous. It doesn’t get the character anything or even advance the plot. The sole reason for this story beat existing is to place one or more characters squarely on the wrong side of the Rule of Empathy.
Alban Berg’s bleak opera “Wozzeck” might not seem suited to the holiday season. One of the least cheerful pieces in the repertory, it tells the story of an impoverished and increasingly delusional soldier, driven to murder and suicide. Yet this time of year is also a moment to take stock. And few works look at life with more searing honesty than “Wozzeck.” The issues that drive this wrenching, profound opera are especially timely: the impact of economic inequality on struggling families; the looming threats of war and environmental destruction; the rigid stratification—almost the militarization—of every element of society.
…The opera—which unfolds in 15 short, episodic scenes—is played atop a set (designed by Sabine Theunissen) built of platforms connected by rickety walkways, evoking a bombed-out city amid consuming chaos. Silent actors, most in gas masks, keep appearing here and there. An almost continual montage of animation, drawings and projections, mostly in black and white, appear on and behind the set: images of blown-up churches and buildings; military maps; charcoal drawings of bedraggled people morphing into spectral stick figures; despoiled rivers and hills. In the first scene, rather than shaving his officious captain, as indicated in the libretto, Wozzeck here is operating a small movie camera that projects cartoonish images of people on a small screen. Mr. Kentridge said in a recent interview with The New York Times that he conceived the action of the opera as taking place within that projection.
…The carousing at a seedy tavern, where the crazed Wozzeck shows up after stabbing Marie, was all the more eerie for the multilayered setting and the ominous costumes (by Greta Goiris), with the crowd in gas masks, a bitter premonition of the war to come…One of the daring elements of the production is the depiction of Wozzeck and Marie’s young son as a simple puppet, wearing ragged clothes and a gas mask. Mr. Kentridge said in the interview that using real children in crucial roles can be distracting. But I have found it moving to see a boy in the role—especially in the final scene when, riding a hobby horse, he finally follows the townspeople, who have discovered the body of his mother offstage. Mr. Kentridge’s use of a puppet seems like a solution in search of a problem.
Your judgment of the new Metropolitan Opera production of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”, which runs through January 22nd, may depend on how you classify it. The director is the South African artist William Kentridge, who is steeped in the Central European Expressionist milieu from which Berg’s ferocious anti-military opera emerged. If the staging is considered as an entry in Kentridge’s multimedia œuvre, it delivers a potent distillation of signature motifs: brusque drawings and prints of wounded faces and ravaged landscapes; stop-action animation of spasmodically jerking figures; photographic collages and cinematic montages. If, however, you measure the work against the emotional breadth of Berg’s opera, you may find it wanting. On opening night, I admired the virtuosity of the director’s technique but wished that he had paid more heed to the desperate inner lives of the characters.
…Although the Great War looms over every moment of the staging, it never becomes clear whether we are experiencing Wozzeck’s nightmarish premonitions of the conflict or his shell-shocked recollections of it. Characters often wear gas masks, hobble on crutches, and have bandages on their heads. Maps of troop movements in Flanders are projected onto a large screen behind the stage. The sets, designed by Sabine Theunissen, deploy sculptural accumulations of junk to render the locales where Wozzeck experiences successive humiliations: a captain’s quarters, a doctor’s laboratory, a tavern garden, a soldiers’ barracks. Greta Goiris, the costume designer, applies fantastical touches to drab uniforms and workaday wear. A blood-red gown for Marie stands out against a mostly black-and-white color scheme.
…Kentridge is at his best when crowds fill the stage, matching the teeming density of his visual aesthetic. His most bravura gesture comes in Act III, as Wozzeck staggers away from the pond where he has murdered Marie and into a bar full of drunkenly dancing figures. Berg prepares the change of scene with two enormous orchestral crescendos on the single note B, the second louder than the first. Kentridge made the inspired decision to have dancers enter during the second crescendo, both on the stage and on the screen at the back. They appear to be emanating from the concentrated beam of sound. Much less successful is Kentridge’s illustration of the overpowering final interlude, which follows Wozzeck’s death, by drowning. The triple-forte climax of the passage was marked by a groaningly obvious sequence of explosions on the screen.
The unremitting focus on war iconography blotted out the opera’s main narrative thrust: the deterioration of Wozzeck’s mind in the grip of military routine. Crucially, in Büchner’s scenario, the soldier is not at war but serving in a town regiment; violence explodes from the machinery of the system. The baritone Peter Mattei, who took the lead role, is one of the finest singing actors in opera, but in this staging he had little opportunity to trace the character’s arc toward madness; too often he seemed like an extra in a larger tableau. Elza van den Heever, as Marie, was similarly sidelined by the pervasive imagery of masculine aggression. Psychology has never been Kentridge’s strong suit as a director—it was also a blind spot in his previous Met productions, of Shostakovich’s “The Nose” and of Berg’s “Lulu”—but here the characterizations are weaker than ever. It’s instructive to compare this brilliant but somehow hollow affair with “The Head and the Load”, Kentridge’s monumental theatrical tribute to African soldiers who served in the Great War.
Willem Dafoe [detective]: “When I entered the movie I remember they were already in production….When I arrived for my first scene with Christian Bale, he was fantastic. And I think he’s excellent in the movie. It’s one of his best roles. He was like a machine. And I mean it in the best way….His rhythms, his clarity, his control were just incredible.”
Mary Harron [director]: “We were filming the business-card scene and I remember that Josh Lucas and Justin Theroux came up to me after one of the takes and said he breaks into a sweat at the same time…every time.”
Matt Ross [who plays co-worker Luis Carruthers]: “With the business-card scene, I think we all knew we were participating in something that had the potential to be iconic.”
…Guinevere Turner [screenwriter]: “A cool thing that Mary told me relatively recently is that in the scene where the detective that Willem plays and Christian are having lunch at Smith & Wollensky’s—and it’s really tense, and Bateman’s sort of losing his mind—she directed Willem to do several takes where he was sure that Patrick had done it and then several takes where he absolutely didn’t think he’d done it. And then she intercut the two styles. That, I think, is genius.”
Willem Dafoe: “I remember her telling me to play it those different ways. And then she cut it together in a way that was ambiguous where she kind of had her cake and ate it too….That lifted up the scene.”
Mary Harron: “I’ve done that with a few other things…when you’re really on the edge of ambiguity, when you’re not sure what a character’s motivation is.”
“Film Review: The Haunting (1963)”, (2017-10-31):
Gidding hints that the house itself is doing the haunting, implying that the architectural environment is responsible for reflecting back the fears of those within, teasing out their vulnerabilities, feeding upon them, and making them manifest. The house becomes a monster, a maleficent presence that resents its human tenants. If the house can be read as a metaphor for the body, as is often the case in Gothic mansions and castles, then the occupants become its consciousness, the archetypes inhabiting its ego and id. Then the house inevitably suffers from a mental schism, a multiple personality disorder. The characters become those internal voices of nagging doubt and paranoia for the house… and it eventually suffers a mental breakdown.
Despite filming in England, the setting remained as New England. Ettington Park in Stratford-upon-Avon was the spooky mansion that Robert Wise chose for Hill House’s exteriors, reputedly selected from a list he sourced from the British Psychical Research Society of buildings considered to be genuinely haunted. This is the first ‘character’ to appear in the film, emerging out of darkness and looking very eerie indeed, due to the inventive use of infra-red film stock.
It’s been argued that the house is the true star of the film, and I have to admit it turns in a memorable ‘performance’. This, though, has more to do with marvellous production design by Elliot Scott and the huge labyrinthine sets built at Borehamwood. Corridors were made to converge or open out, creating a subtly expressionistic feel and rooms were constructed slightly askew, sometimes with walls that angled inward. Scott went on to design Labyrinth (1986) and the first two Indiana Jones sequels.
…The Haunting is regularly included in Top 10 lists of the scariest films ever made. But the special effects are limited to only a few ingenious mechanical effects, as the terror is mostly the result of brilliant sound-design, clever use of shadows, and inventive camerawork.
Wise chose to shoot the film in Panavision’s wide format and every shot makes full use of it, with beautiful compositions and plenty of visual interest across every inch of the screen. The otherworldly atmosphere and ominous tracking shots, enhanced by special lenses, work in tandem with the subtly distorted sets.
Wise had some problems sourcing the wide-angle lenses he needed, mainly because they didn’t exist at that time. He wanted the interior to look deep, dark, and foreboding, seeming to move as if we were within a living thing. The available lenses just weren’t cutting it for him. He badgered Bob Gottschalk, president of Panavision, until he let slip that wider-lenses were in development at their optics labs. Gottschalk explained that they were early prototypes and the lenses caused unacceptable distortions. This was exactly what Wise wanted! After signing a disclaimer to waive any legal repercussions, he became the first director to use such wide angles, imbuing Hill House with its unique and disquieting visual personality.
The unique look of the film goes a long way to creating the brooding atmosphere, but the sound design was the real breakthrough. The slightest creak of floorboard or sigh of draught makes audiences hold their breath to better listen, and then cacophonous groans and thuds really get the heart racing.
…Of course, our emotional involvement hinges on the performances of the actors. It seems that the personal circumstances and attitudes of the actors already reflected the characters they were to play. Harris admits that she was suffering from a bout of depression during filming, and this inadvertently helped her play the central role of the sensitive Eleanor, who feels isolated and shunned by her colleagues, and so becomes victim to the seductively malign atmosphere of the house. Her performance is both fragile and disturbingly unhinged in turns. The voice-over she provides, to share her character’s paranoia, might have looked corny on paper to those American studio executives, but Harris delivers it so perfectly that it draws the sympathies of the audience. We feel for her, even as she seems to succumb to madness and becomes the willing victim.
The Haunting stands alongside Night of the Demon (1957) and The Innocents (1961) as a defining classic in the cinema of the supernatural. It has never been surpassed and its ‘presence’ is palpable in most intelligent psychological horror films to this day. If special effects had been used more extensively, then it surely would have dated, but keeping the focus on mood and the psychological aspects of the narrative has ensured it remains as effective as ever.
It’s the best Halloween film I could recommend.
The incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City…The increase in the number of physical assaults against Orthodox Jews in New York City is a matter of empirical fact. Anti-Semitic hate crimes against persons, which describes nearly everything involving physical contact, jumped from 17 in 2017 to 33 in 2018, with the number for the first half of 2019 standing at 19, according to the NYPD’s hate crime unit. Jews are the most frequent targets of hate crimes in New York City, and have been for some time (although this number is somewhat skewed by the fact that swastikas, which are by far the city’s most common hate incident, are automatically categorized as an anti-Jewish hate crime)…these seemingly random incidents—just the first few days of May saw an unprovoked attack in Lefferts Park in which a woman tried to pull off her victim’s sheitel, two violent assaults on Hasidic men in Williamsburg, and a possible attempted vehicular attack in the same neighborhood—is part of a typhoon of violence that in other contexts might call for a Justice Department Civil Rights Division investigation. The fact that the victims are most often outwardly identifiable, ie., religious rather than secularized Jews, and the perpetrators who have been recorded on CCTV cameras are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, inverts the perpetrator-victim dynamics with which most national Jewish organizations and their supporters are comfortable. A close look at these cases reveals no apparent connection to neo-Nazis, the alt-right, Donald Trump, jihadism, the BDS movement, or any other traditional cause of anti-Jewish behavior.
…Past spikes were seemingly less nebulous in origin. About five years ago, the so-called “knockout game”—a trend of teenagers committing or filming public sneak attacks—resulted in approximately 19 assaults on Jews in the city, according to Evan Bernstein, the New York and New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The knockout game was definitely a real thing”, Molinari said, though he noted that the fact the attacks were apparently motivated by a quest for social media fame usually undermined the chances of pursuing hate crimes charges, including when visible Jews were the target.
This latest wave has no evident organizing principle behind it aside from pure hostility against targets that are unmistakably Jewish. In March, a 32-year-old man kicked a double stroller in Crown Heights and was charged with child endangerment. In late 2018, a 26-year-old man who turned out to be a former intern for then City Council Speaker Christie Quinn set fires at a remarkably pluralistic range of Jewish institutions in Brooklyn. In another odd and widely publicized incident, someone smashed the glass storefront of a crowded Chabad house, the only shul in the non-Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, at around 1:30AM. on a Saturday morning in February and then escaped with the help of a driver waiting around the corner. “We don’t see patterns of perpetrators committing crimes”, says Molinari. “For the most part, 360 crimes are being done by 360 very diverse people,…there’s no connective tissue between any of these perpetrators.” Not a single incident during the spike has been traced to a white supremacist group or any other organized entity.
…One Jewish community activist who met with the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said that at the time of the meeting in mid-June there was no director, no dedicated staff, and nothing to show of the office outside of fairly preliminary efforts. As of early July, it was still unclear exactly what this entity will actually do, and there was no official launch date. Deutsch refrained from speculating about the reasons for any hesitation on de Blasio’s part, at times implying that the mayor’s staff might not have kept him updated or engaged on the issue. “Sometimes people are too busy, they’re inundated with issues that come up every single day”, he said. “That’s why you have staff.” At best, this means that the administration’s seeming complacency toward violent anti-Semitism is the result of lagging intraoffice communication, rather than any intentional policy on anyone’s part. At worst, it means De Blasio is actively avoiding the issue. In any case, much remains to be done. When asked about the office, an officer in one of the NYPD precincts where several attacks had occurred said, “we have nothing to do with that.” Molinari said he had been involved in one meeting with the mayor’s office about the effort. “The police commissioner and the higher-ups are all determining how exactly to implement that and what our place is going to be”, he said. None of the victims or community leaders mentioned in this article reported any substantial contact with anyone regarding the new office.
An honest reckoning with the problem carries plenty of its own risks. The spike in incidents complicates the current national political narrative around anti-Semitism, which maps a narrow left-right paradigm on to Jews and their terrorizers. The overwhelming majority of the alleged perpetrators in New York are either black or Hispanic, and casting anti-Semitism as an issue pitting Jews against various other minority groups threatens to re-agitate problems that many in the Jewish and surrounding communities hope no longer exist….Yaacov Behrman, a Crown Heights-based educator and member of the local community board, believes that a sociological study of attitudes toward Jews among the city’s young people is an essential first step to countering anti-Semitism. Such an investigation might involve anonymous questionnaires administered in public schools. He doubts it will ever happen. “Personally I think the city is scared of what they’re gonna find and never do it”, he told Tablet. “I think the city is concerned they’ll find anti-Semitism numbers are very high in Brooklyn.”
Aaron Smith-Teller works in a kabbalistic sweatshop in Silicon Valley, where he and hundreds of other minimum-wage workers try to brute-force the Holy Names of God. All around him, vast forces have been moving their pieces into place for the final confrontation. An overworked archangel tries to debug the laws of physics. Henry Kissinger transforms the ancient conflict between Heaven and Hell into a US-Soviet proxy war. A Mexican hedge wizard with no actual magic wreaks havoc using the dark art of placebomancy. The Messiah reads a book by Peter Singer and starts wondering exactly what it would mean to do as much good as possible…
Aaron doesn’t care about any of this. He and his not-quite-girlfriend Ana are engaged in something far more important—griping about magical intellectual property law. But when a chance discovery brings them into conflict with mysterious international magic-intellectual-property watchdog UNSONG, they find themselves caught in a web of plots, crusades, and prophecies leading inexorably to the end of the world.