The View From Your Window Contest

Aug 30 2014 @ 12:00pm

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You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.

Browse previous contests here.

A Short Story For Saturday

Aug 30 2014 @ 11:13am
by Dish Staff

This weekend’s short story selection is Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” which begins with these arresting paragraphs:

Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders – a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.

With the line still doubled around the rope, one of the tellers stuck a “POSITION CLOSED” sign in her window and walked to the back of the bank, where she leaned against a desk and began to pass the time with a man shuffling papers. The women in front of Anders broke off their conversation and watched the teller with hatred. “Oh, that’s nice,” one of them said. She turned to Anders and added, confident of his accord, “One of those little human touches that keep us coming back for more.”

Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the presumptuous crybaby in front of him. “Damned unfair,” he said. “Tragic, really. If they’re not chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions.”

Read the rest here. For more of Wolff’s short fiction, including “Bullet in the Brain,” check out his collection Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories. Previous SSFSs here.

Face Of The Day

Aug 30 2014 @ 10:35am
by Dish Staff

dish_davidsamuelstern

David Samuel Stern creates dizzying portraits by weaving together two separate vellum prints:

This way of abstracting the images does not only offer his subjects a way to hide within themselves, but also turns digital photography into physical objects by adding geometric texture. Being poets, choreographers, artists or programmers, all of the models featured in “Woven Portraits” are creative types in their own field.

How one of Stern’s models described his reaction to first seeing the woven portrait a few years ago:

I find it interesting; it captures some kind of duality, or time/motion – reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s portraits, even in it’s literal hard edged grid. I like how the image fluctuates, it almost forces me not to focus. And in fact, while looking at it I like to actually take my eyes in and out of focus, the piece seems to encourage viewing through multiple ways of perceiving with the eye.

See more of Stern’s work here.

Auto-Admiration?

Aug 30 2014 @ 10:02am
by Dish Staff

Jesse Bering reviews research suggesting that not only can people accurately match dogs’ faces to their owners, but also that “our faces also bear an uncanny resemblance to the frontend views of our automobiles.” Participants in a study were given a picture of a car and asked to rank its possible owners on a scale of 1 to 6:

[T]he authors suspected that the judges in their study would be able to match cars dish_carfaces3 with their correct owners above chance levels. And that’s what they found. “The real owner was in fact assigned rank 1 most frequently,” they write, “and rank 6 least frequently.” This proved true regardless of the subjects’ sex and age. There were an equal number of male and female judges, and they ranged widely in age—from 16 to 78 years. In case the sheer bizarreness of these data hasn’t quite registered, let me put it to you more bluntly: The average person can detect a physical similarity in the “faces” of cars and their owners. …

Implied in these results is the startling fact that most car owners are unwittingly purchasing cars that look like them. If that’s the case, figured [researchers Stefan] Stiegar and [Martin] Voracek, then is it possible that judges can even take it one step further, matching dogs to their masters’ cars? After all, we know now that it’s not a myth: dogs really do look like their owners. And since we choose both cars and dogs that physically resemble us, shouldn’t our dogs and our cars look alike too? Here, frankly, the data just get weird. Nevertheless, they’re genuine. In their third and final study, the authors added 36 portraits of dogs into the mix. Half of these were of purebreds, and the others were mutts. In a twist to the previous studies, a new group of judges saw an image of a car (again, either the front, side, or rear view) and beneath that, six individual dogs. Subjects ranked each dog on the likelihood of its master being the owner of the car shown. Amazingly, the participants were able to pull this feat off as well.

Meanwhile, Laura Bliss considers the oddly human attachments people form to their vehicles:

Read On

by Dish Staff

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An 11-year-old DFW superfan recreated Infinite Jest with Legos:

[English professor Kevin] Griffith and his son [Sebastian] had the idea to “translate” Infinite Jest into Lego after reading Brendan Powell Smith’s The Brick Bible, which takes on the New Testament. “Wallace’s novel is probably the only contemporary text to offer a similar challenge to artists working in the medium of Lego,” they write, grandly, on their website. …

Sebastian didn’t read Infinite Jest himself. “Let me be clear – Infinite Jest is not a novel for children,” says Griffith. “Instead, I would describe a scene to him and he would recreate it in a way that suited his vision. All the scenes are created by him and he then took photos of them using a 10-year-old Kodak digital camera he received for a present long ago. I think that having the scenes reflect an 11-year-old’s perspective gives them a little extra poignancy, maybe.”

The caption for the above image is from page 409 of Infinite Jest: “Clipperton plays tennis with the Glock 17 held steadily to his left temple.” Meanwhile, Matthew Nolan looks for lessons from DFW about why American men aren’t playing the sport better:

Read On

Map Of The Day

Aug 30 2014 @ 8:37am
by Dish Staff

School Demographics

Reed Jordan spotlights our schools’ racial segregation:

Despite our country’s growing diversity, our public schools provide little contact between white students and students of color. We’ve mapped data about the racial composition of U.S. public schools to shed light on today’s patterns at the county level. These maps show that America’s public schools are highly segregated by race and income, with the declining share of white students typically concentrated in schools with other white students and the growing share of Latino students concentrated into low-income public schools with other students of color.

In every state but New Mexico and Hawaii, the average white student attends a school that is majority white. This is unsurprising for large swaths of the Northwest, Great Plains, Upper Midwest and Northeast, which are home to very few kids of color. But even in diverse states like Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, few white children attend diverse schools.

On Learning New Things

Aug 30 2014 @ 7:35am
by Bill McKibben

It turns out that Ta-Nehisi Coates spent the summer just down the hill, at Middlebury College where Sue and I both hang our hats. In the summer Middlebury’s famous language school–which makes students sign a pledge that they’ll only speak the language they’re studying all summer–takes over the campus, and this year Mr. Coates was studying French. And studying the act of learning something new, which is an easier process to see (if not to do) past a certain age. His stay resulted in a brilliant essay in the new Atlantic, which has a lot of smart things to say about race in America, the inequality of influence in our culture, and the smugness with which white people caricature African-American attitudes towards education. I, um, learned a lot reading it, and look forward to re-reading it more than once. (It’s also a subtle and persuasive follow-up to his groundbreaking piece on reparations earlier in the year).

Politics aside, it also describes the learning process with wit, rigor, and a kind of joy that makes one want to (as soon as the Labor Day weekend has passed) go out and work hard to learn some new thing!

One afternoon, I was walking from lunch feeling battered by the language. I started talking with a young master in training. I told her I was having a tough time. She gave me some encouraging words in French from a famous author. I told her I didn’t understand. She repeated them. I still didn’t understand. She repeated them again. I shook my head, smiled, and walked away mildly frustrated because I understood every word she was saying but could not understand how it fit. It was as though someone had said, “He her walks swim plus that yesterday the fight.” (This is how French often sounds to me.)

The next day, I sat at lunch with her and another young woman. I asked her to spell the quote out for me. I wrote the phrase down. I did not understand. The other young lady explained the function of the pronouns in the sentence. Suddenly I understood—and not just the meaning of the phrase. I understood something about the function of language, why being able to diagram sentences was important, why understanding partitives and collective nouns was important.

In my long voyage through this sea of language, that was my first sighting of land. I now knew how much I didn’t know. The feeling of discovery and understanding that came from this was incredible. It was the first moment when I thought I might survive the sea.

Death To Monarchs, Ctd

Aug 29 2014 @ 8:33pm
by Sue Halpern

Monarch

Finally a little good news to offset the bad news in my earlier post about the precipitous decline of the eastern monarch butterfly population. The first is that this year’s population appears to be more robust than last year’s, which plummeted to an all-time low. Monarch watchers at Ontario’s Point Pelee Park, a traditional migratory jumping off point for the butterflies on their way to Mexico, have seen many more monarch butterflies and monarch caterpillars, as has Professor Chip Taylor of the University of Kansas who runs the monarch conservation organization Monarch Watch. Taylor estimates that the numbers could be up by thirty or forty percent, though he points out that even so, the increase won’t offset last year’s precipitous decline.

Awareness of the monarch’s plight has reached the highest echelons of government, which is the other bit of good news. In a letter circulated today, the naturalists Gary Nabhan and Ina Warren who have spearheaded Make Way For Monarchs, an international effort to protect the monarch from, especially, the deleterious effects of habitat destruction, note that “The White House has appointed Fish and Wildlife Director Ashe to head up the ‘high-level working group’ to work with Mexico and Canada on recovery plans, and 14 federal agencies have formed work groups and “communities of practice” to reorient their work plans toward monarch recovery.”

The Executive may not have a plan to deal with ISIS. It may be backing off on immigration reform and pretending it never heard of the Keystone XL pipeline, but at least it understands the value of monarchs.

(Photo by Joel Olives.)

Abortion By Mail

Aug 29 2014 @ 8:02pm
by Dish Staff

Emily Bazelon profiles doctor and reproductive-rights activist Rebecca Gomperts, who “started Women on Web, a ‘telemedicine support service’ for women around the world who are seeking medical abortions.” Why Gomperts’ work matters:

Almost 40 percent of the world’s population lives in countries, primarily in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Persian Gulf, where abortion is either banned or severely restricted. The World Health Organization estimated in 2008 that 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place that year worldwide, leading to about 47,000 deaths. To reduce that number, W.H.O. put mifepristone and misoprostol on its Essential Medicines list. The cost of the combination dose used to end a pregnancy varies from less than $5 in India to about $120 in Europe. (Misoprostol is also used during labor and delivery to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, and global health groups have focused on making it more available in countries with high rates of maternal mortality, including Kenya, Tanzania, India, Nepal, Cambodia, and South Africa.) Gomperts told me that Women on Web receives 2,000 queries each month from women asking for help with medical abortions. (The drugs are widely advertised on the Internet, but it is difficult to tell which sites are scams.)

The Slums Of The Future, Ctd

Aug 29 2014 @ 7:41pm
by Dish Staff

We know that the world’s slums are growing, but are the world’s major urban centers growing into slums? Joel Kotkin details the massive social, economic, and environmental challenges facing most emerging megacities:

Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

Read On