Archive for March, 2011

On March 26, people and businesses in 134 countries took part in Earth Hour 2011, turning off their lights at 8:30 p.m. local time to bring attention to energy consumption, sustainability, and climate change issues.

The images below (starting with photo number two) are interactive — click on each image to turn off the lights

Earth Hour 2011 – Alan Taylor – In Focus – The Atlantic – StumbleUpon.

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The American Folk Art Museum transformed the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall with the installation of 650 red and white American quilts. They are all on loan from Joanna Semel Rose who requested the free exhibition as a gift for New York when her husband asked her for what she wanted for her 80th birthday.

“The title ‘Infinite Variety‘, though evocative and accurate, belies the sheer magnitude and and poetry of Mrs Rose’s accomplishment. The lyrical installation conceived by the New York-city based Thinc Design tosses these hundreds of quilts into space like so many playing cards, where they hover weightlessly, seemingly frozen in midair.”

Maria Ann Conelli, executive director, and Stacy Hollander, senior curator, American Folk Art Museum

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My favourite story this week was in The Wall Street Journal on London  commuters protesting about the removal of a poem that had been painted in the tunnel to Waterloo Station as it is heartening to know that people still care about beauty and art.

Sue Hubbard‘s poem “Eurydice”- appropriately based on the Greek myth in which Orpheus tries to retrieve his dead lover Eurydice from the Underworld – was put on the walls 10 years but recently painted over. This led to a huge outcry and its eventual resurrection :

Hubbard tells the paper :

“One man e-mailed me to say that he had proposed to his girlfriend as a result of reading it; and another message came from a woman who had seen it on her way to the hospital, where her daughter was dying. She said the poem had given her solace.”

– film maker Jonas Grimas has posted a short film Painting Eurydice on its replacement;

More visual inspiration:

– amazing video of A Guy, A Football, A Pole (3quarksdaily) ;

Information is Beautiful on the books everyone should read (The Guardian) ;

– the 10 amateur photographers whose pictures were chosen from more than 50,000 entries in this year’s Sony World Photography Awards (BBC).

It’s my birthday today so I am going to have a good weekend – I hope you do too.

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In memory of the great Elizabeth Taylor, Vanity Fair published a gallery of her most iconic portraits :

If ever there were a real-life Helen of Troy – a woman whose beauty could move political borders those thousand ships – it was Elizabeth Taylor.

However it doesn”t include my favourite photo of her – alongside Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – and they would get my vote as the most attractive pair of leads in film history:

She provides a lesson on living with passion and compassion.

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Manhattan maps

Yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of Manhattan’s street grid and The Wall Street Journal has a beautiful collection of historic, artistic and imagined maps of the city.

My favourite: geographer Howard Horowitz’s poem which forms an island of words in the shape of Manhattan.

On Grid’s Birthday, Beautiful Manhattan Maps – Metropolis – WSJ

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As someone with an absolutely terrible sense of direction it makes my life much easier that I live on Manhattan where the streets are laid out in a grid.

Although it seems very modern, the layout was certified by the city’s street commissioners with amazing foresight exactly 200 years ago on March 22, 1811.

The New York Times quotes 20th-century French philosopher, Roland Barthes, in an article on the anniversary:

This is the purpose of New York’s geometry. That each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.

via Manhattan’s Rectangular Street Grid Turns 200 – NYTimes.com.

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In a recent New Yorker article, The Information, Adam Gopnik divided books about the internet into three types – the Never-Bettters; the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers:

“The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.”

The vast gap between those who thrill and those who chill in a brave new world is wonderfully captured by Gary Shteyngart in Super Sad True Love Story.

The novel gives us a vivid vision of a very-near future New York which seems perfectly believable given the world of today– the US is at war with Venezuela; it’s economy is decoupling from the European Union and China-Worldwide; the streets are lined with credit poles which display your ranking each time you walk past; people are divided into HMWIs (high net-worth individuals) and the opposite LWNIs, destitute families beg for Healthcare vouchers while the rich are trying to live for ever, the young are steeped in pornography and women wear transparent onionskin jeans; the only TV channels are FoxLiberty-Prime and FoxLiberty-Ultra.

Reading physical books is frowned upon in a post-literate age where images are everything:

The world they needed was right around them, flickering and bleeping, and it demanded every bit of strength and attention they could spare.

As befitting a world where people only connect in the ether, the novel is told through emails and electronic diaries and Shteyngart captures the voices of characters of different genders, races, ages and moralities.

People wears äppäräts to constantly stream their lives and emotions to their viewing public and rank everyone around them while being ranked in return – when men look at a girl, the EmotePad picks up any change in their blood pressure and “that tells how much you want to do her” and Lenny Abramov can discover that out of seven men in a bar, he is ranked the seventh most attractive.

The central love story is supposedly between an almost-40 Lenny, the son of Russian immigrants;

a slight man with a gray, sunken battleship of a face, curious wet eyes, a giant gleaming forehead on which a dozen cavemen could have painted something nice, a sickle of a nose perched atop a tiny puckered mouth and from the back, a growing bald spot whose shape perfectly replicates the great state of Ohio, with its capital city, Columbus, marked by a deep-brown mole

and the 24-year-old daughter of Korean immigrants, Eunice Park.

However Lenny only seems to love Eunice because she is “super-young. Super-healthy. Asian. Life expectancy-very high” and Eunice only seems to want to move from one wealthy man  to another,  and feels “like a recycling bin sometimes, with all these things passing through me from one person to another, love, hate, seduction, attraction, repulsion, all of it.”

For me, the real love story for both Lenny and Eunice is their acknowledgment of ties to family and history, both of which are real compared to the world of data, streaming, viewing and ranking.

Eunice discovers she “was always a Korean girl from a Korean family with a Korean way of doing things, and I’m proud of what that means. It means that, unlike so many people around me, I know who I am” while Lenny discovers he still has the capacity to care “incessantly, morbidly, instinctually, counterproductively for the people who has made of me the disaster known as Lenny Abramov.”

And maybe that is the lesson of this novel. To remind us to care incessantly, morbidly, instinctually and even counterproductively for the real people around us rather than those who just flicker and bleep.

And maybe then the Never-Betters will be proved right.

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This week there have been many stories about the Japanese maintaining their civility and dignity as they struggle with the aftermath of the earthquake :

“Emergency centers, where more than 450,000 evacuees are being housed in stadiums or schools, are neatly organized, with people constructing origami boxes made of newspaper in which to nestle their shoes. This is a country where people do not wear shoes inside, and the habit extends to the little islands of blankets that each evacuated family claims in their emergency shelter” (Time’s Global Spin blog)

The stories reminded me of episode ten in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects about a Japanese clay jomon pot, made around 5,000 BC. Presenter Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, says:

Jomon pots are used as cultural ambassadors for Japan in major exhibitions around the world. Most nations look back to imperial glories or invading armies – and I think it’s extraordinary that a technologically, economically powerful nation like Japan proudly places the very origins of its identity in the early hunter-gatherers. As an outsider, I find the meticulous attention to detail and the patterning of the surface, and the long continuity of Jomon traditions, already very Japanese.

– author Marie Mutsuki Mockett gives us an insight into modern day Japan in her wonderful piece Memories, Washed Away ;

– the Daily Mail on the courage of the Fukushima fifty workers at Japan’s stricken nuclear plan ;

– CNN on how Japan’s religions confront tragedy ;

philosopher Alain de Botton on tsunamis and Stoicism ;

– an interesting take from Larry Elkin on the Japanese emperors’ speech explaining a constitutional monarchy to Americans :

We have seen many times how monarchs can inspire their people, raise morale and even change history, all without any real political power at all. Royals are at their best when suffering is greatest and they provide whatever relief they can.

Japan’s suffering is the greatest it has seen in a very long time. I hope their emperor can help the Japanese through these trials.

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The birth of a word

MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language – so he wired up his house with video cameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch “gaaaa” slowly turn into “water.” Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn.

Deb Roy: The birth of a word | Video on TED.com.

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Being musical is one of the many talents that I do not have. So in order to learn more I have been working through The Great Courses’ How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.

The lectures by Professor Robert Greenberg make the subject so approachable that I have unexpectedly become a huge fan of polyphonic Renaissance choir music (and I now actually understand what polyphonic means).

I subscribed to the Chorworks podcast and have just made my first choral download.  It is quite surreal to walk around the modern streets of Manhattan while listening to Latin singing.

I have become addicted to Magnificat‘s performance of Spem in alium, composed by Thomas Tallis in around 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each:

Simply managing 40 independent parts so that they sound well and don’t tread on each other’s toes is hard enough. But Tallis goes beyond simply managing. He uses his eight five-voice choirs in every conceivable combination, sometimes flowing into each other, sometimes set against each other, and saves the glorious 40-voice sound for dramatic high points. (The Telegraph)

Linn Records – Thomas Tallis: Spem in alium.

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