Octo-Blog Of The Day

Oct 25 2014 @ 1:29pm

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Jonathan Crow’s Veeptopus is everything you could want from a portrait series of US Vice Presidents being mauled by cephalopods. (Above is Charles W. Fairbanks, second-in-command to Teddy Roosevelt.) Katherine Harmon Courage, octo-blogger extraordinaire, recently interviewed Crow about the project:

KHC: Why the veeptopus? By that I mean, why vice presidents—not presidents, baseball commissioners, or Swedish royal family members? And why with octopuses—not giant moths, sloths, or cuttlefish?

JC: The Vice Presidency is sort of an absurd job. It bestows all the pomp and import of the United States Government—the most powerful political body in the world—but the job itself, as defined by the Constitution, is vague and poorly defined. All it requires is for the veep occasionally preside over the Senate and check on the president’s health. Basically, the VP spends his term struggling to define himself while waiting for death. How existential can you get?

I added the octopuses because I thought they were funny. I could say it’s a metaphor for the morally corrosive nature of power or Capitalism or something like that. But the real answer is, I just think they’re funny. And they also drape so much better than wombats.

KHC: I love that each octopus seems to approach the role of headpiece with a very different attitude. How did you decide what the positioning would be? Was it partially dictated by the veep’s legacy?

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Looking Back At Berryman

Oct 25 2014 @ 12:38pm

On the centenary of John Berryman’s birth, Daniel Swift reflects on his poetic legacy:

Berryman has not been canonized, quite; he has not continued to receive the respect, even awe, accorded to his great contemporaries Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. This may be because he appears a little less serious than them. He is certainly funnier than they are, constantly mirthful about the process of critical celebration and literary canonization. “[L]iterature bores me, especially great literature,” complains “Dream Song 14.” “Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes / as bad as achilles,” it continues, and the joke is only half that Henry [the "sad man" character in his collection The Dream Songs] is no Achilles. It is also in the mismatch of classical literature and teenage ennui, balanced by the voice.

Swift goes on to argue that Berryman’s eventual suicide shouldn’t overshadow his work:

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The View From Your Window Contest

Oct 25 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 our previous contests here. Also, regular players adept at using Google Earth or Satellite View should check out Yousuke Ozawa’s effort to collect an alphabet made entirely from overhead views of buildings.

A Short Story For Saturday

Oct 25 2014 @ 11:24am

This weekend’s short story, E.M. Forster’s “Arthur Snatchfold,” was written in 1928 but published only in 1972, two years after Forster’s death. The reason why? Like his novel Maurice, also published posthumously, the story deals with homosexuality – though this is a story that you don’t want to say too much about, for fear of spoiling its surprises. Here is how it begins:

Conway (Sir Richard Conway) woke early, and went to the window to have a look at the Trevor Donaldsons’ garden. Too green. A flight of mossy steps led up from the drive to a turfed amphitheatre. This contained a number of trees of the lead-pencil persuasion, and a number of flowerbeds, profuse with herbaceous promises which would certainly not be fulfilled that weekend. The summer was heavy-leaved and at a moment between flowerings, and the gardener, though evidently expensive, had been caught bending. Bounding the amphitheatre was a high yew hedge, an imposing background had there been any foreground, and behind the hedge a heavy wood shut the sky out. OF course what was wanted was colour. Delphinium, salvia, red-hot-poker, zinnias, tobacco-plant, anything. Leaning out of the baronial casement, Conway considered this, while he waited for his tea. He was not an artist, nor a philosopher, but he liked exercising his mind when he had nothing else to do, as on this Sunday morning, this country morning, with so much ahead to be eaten, and so little to be said.

The visit, like the view, threatened monotony. Dinner had been dull. His own spruce gray head, gleaming in the mirrors, really seemed the brightest object about. Trevor Donaldson’s head was mangy, Mrs Donaldson’s combed up into bastions of iron. He did not get unduly fussed at the prospect of boredom. He was a man of experience with plenty of resources and plenty of armour, and he was a decent human being too. The Donaldsons were his inferiors—they had not travelled or read or gone in for sport or love, they were merely his business allies, linked to him by a common interest in aluminium. Still, he must try to make things nice, since they had been so good as to invite him down.

Read the rest here. You can check out this story, among others, in Forster’s The Life to Come: And Other Stories. Previous SSFSs here.

Face Of The Day

Oct 25 2014 @ 10:48am

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In an interview about his series Circo El Salvador, Steven Laxton describes his inspiration for a project that “captures the magical moments behind the scenes of El Salvador’s traveling circuses”:

I was looking for a new personal series, something with depth that interested me and would also lend itself to my personal style and technique. Over dinner a friend was raving about these gypsy circus families. I expressed interest, so he invited me down. I booked my tickets not really knowing much about them and not even having seen a photo of them.

I went to El Salvador the first time for three weeks on a mission to find and possibly photograph these circuses. As they have no fixed address and no travel itinerary or contact info, they were very hard to find. They literally move on a whim. I was about to go home without even seeing, let alone photographing, a circus. The day before I flew out, our detective work payed off, and I found one. As soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to come back as soon as possible and make it my next project. I loved what I saw: humble yet beautiful artists. It seemed to resemble what I imagine the gypsy circuses of yesteryear in Europe would have been like.

Check out other photographs from the series here. For more of his work, see Laxton’s website here or follow him on Instagram and Twitter here and here.

It’s A Hard Smock Life

Oct 25 2014 @ 10:19am

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A new analysis of Census Bureau data indicates that art students have a mere 1-in-10 chance of becoming working artists. And that’s not all:

Most surprising was the lack of overlap between working artists and arts graduates. In the United States, 40 percent of working artists do not have a bachelors degree in any field. Only 16 percent of working artists have arts related bachelors degrees. Though arts graduates may acquire additional opportunities and skills from attending art school, arts graduates are likely to graduate with significant student loan debt, which makes working as an artist difficult, if not impossible. … Although there are 1.2 million working artists over the age of 25 in this country, there are only 200,000 working artists with arts-related bachelors degrees. The majority of working artists have median earnings of $30,621, but the small percentage of working artists with bachelors degrees in the arts have median earnings of $36,105.

But Alexis Clements is skeptical:

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Why Women Belong On Mars

Oct 25 2014 @ 9:28am

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Last year, Kate Greene and five teammates simulated living conditions on Mars for a NASA-funded project (the experiment actually took place on a volcano in Hawaii). What she noticed while collecting and managing data:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

Female astronauts, Greene suggests, may simply be more cost-effective than male ones:

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Heidi Tworek proposes a fix for grade inflation in the US:

Why not simply have fewer grades and accept that the majority of students might receive the same mark? The United Kingdom’s system only has three classes of grades: first, second, and third (although second is split into 2:1 and 2:2). A first denotes work of outstanding quality. In 2012 to 2013, 19 percent of students graduated with a first. An overwhelming 76 percent of students received a second-class degree (51 percent earned a 2:1, 25 percent a 2:2). Only 5 percent were given a third.

The U.K. is not immune to disputes about grade inflation. But it’s telling that the most common grade by far is still a second, not a first. When employers all accept that a second-class degree already provides a stamp of quality, it removes the narcissism inherent in minor differences. There are also fewer incentives for professors to assign higher grades if students recognize that the majority of them will receive the same mark.

Forget overzealous regulators; according to Ryan Avent, the biggest obstacle to widespread use of driverless vehiclesover the next decade or two at any ratemay be the effects of rapid technological progress in other parts of the economy”:

As a recent special report explains, technological change over the last generation has wiped out many middle-skill jobs, pushing millions of workers into competition for low-wage work. That glut has contributed to stagnant wages for most workers, and low pay has in turn reduced the incentive to firms to deploy labour-saving technology. … [C]heap labour could pose a formidable threat to the driverless car. The cost of the sensors and processors needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle is falling and is likely to fall much more as production ramps up. Yet the technology is still pricey, especially compared with a human, which, after all, is a rather efficient package of sensory and information-processing equipment. At low wages, a smartphone-enabled human driver is formidable competition for a driverless vehicle.

The Psychology Of Heroes

Oct 25 2014 @ 7:34am

Katy Waldman cites new research on the subject. One finding? Heroes tend not to over-think it:

In a study out last week in the journal PLOS ONE, Yale researchers recruited more than 300 volunteers to read statements by 51 contemporary “heroes.” These men and women had all received the Carnegie Hero Medal for “civilians who risk their lives to save strangers”; the experimenters wanted to know whether they had acted without thinking or after exerting “conscious self-control” in order “to override negative emotions like fear.”

The volunteers—and a computer algorithm, for safesies—analyzed the medal winners’ statements for evidence of careful thought, or of unpremeditated action. Overwhelmingly, they found that day-savers rescue first and reflect second. As Christine Marty, a 21-year-old student who wrested a trapped senior citizen from her car during a flash flood, said, “I’m thankful I was able to act and not think about it.” Study author David Rand noted that people playing economic games are similarly less likely to share resources when they ruminate about their moves, but more generous when they don’t take time to consider strategy.

Waldman goes on to note previous studies that shed light on the thoughts of altruistic risk-takers:

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