After each of his victories as a matador, John Fulton would paint a portrait of the bull he had slain using its own blood, after the manner of the hunter-painters who had decorated the cave walls of Altamira.
Fulton grew up in a Philadelphia rowhouse but became captivated by the bullring after seeing the 1941 Tyrone Power film Blood and Sand. “The movie so stirred his sense of gallantry and romance that he decided on the spot to become a bullfighter,” reported the New York Times. “If a Rita Hayworth was the reward, he told friends years later, it was worth the effort and the risk.”
He spent a year at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, won a scholarship to a Mexican art school, and began to study bullfighting. In 1956 he went to Spain, where he became the first American to qualify as a matador and spent 40 years fighting professionally in the ring.
The paintings were decidedly a sideline, as he regarded bullfighting itself as an art. “It is the most difficult art form in the world,” he once said. “You are required to create a work of art spontaneously with a semi-unknown medium, which can kill you, in front of one of the most critical audiences around. And it all leaves only a memory.”
Wednesday Book Reviews!
A delightful quick history of the telegraph, which shows that much of the things we think are unique to the Internet were present about 150 years ago, including “online” communities, and predictions that connectivity would free information and bring about peace. Whoops!
I guess you’d categorize this as an early work (late 80s) in the modern futurology movement. The book is somewhat about the particular idea of creating superior robot descendants of humanity, but a more appropriate title would be something like “A brief history of computing up to 1988, followed by a bunch of stuff Hans Moravec thinks about.” On the whole, it’s pretty good! A lot of the speculations are obviously a bit out of date, and in some ways this is very interesting when we think about modern futurologists.
For example, Moravec thought that by the year 2000 we’d have a general purpose robot assistant. This wasn’t just a blind guess, either. He made estimates comparing neuronal and computer processing power, and thus guessed we’d have a robot assistant computer brain within 10 years of when the book was written. This not only hasn’t happened, but the closest thing we’ve got is the Roomba (or, perhaps the Baxter industrial bot). Makes you wonder about these people predicting full brain emulation by the 2030s or so.
This is a collection of short essays by the great utilitarian philosopher, Peter Singer. I found it enjoyable and stimulating, but I find I am just not prepared to get onboard this form of hardcore utilitarianism, which says “Action X would increases total human happiness. Thus, not doing it is unethical.” Partially, this is because this sort of statement at least seems non-obvious to me. But, more importantly, I think it’s often hard to know the consequences of actions, especially in the longterm. I’m willing to buy the idea that a dollar I spend on cake would bring more pleasure if given to a starving poor person overseas. But, it’s not clear to me that this sort of thing is true in the big picture. For instance, if it’s true that buying Chinese consumer electronics will ultimately raise the Chinese living standard, is it unethical for me not to buy them?
Another for instance - is it obvious that $50,000 buying meals for poor people overseas is more ethical (in a consequentialist sense) than spending that money on a scholarship for someone who will improve renewable energy, thus benefiting everyone, including the hypothetical overseas poor? Now, in fairness, these are short essays meant for public consumption. Singer can’t address every possible objection, and for all I know he handles these sorts of complaints elsewhere. On the whole, a worthy read.
Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (Dick) I’m getting to where I can’t take any more Philip K Dick non-scifi works. They’re not bad, they’re just all the same. Narcissistic men and flighty women have difficulty getting along in a post-war consumerist society. It’s not bad, and the characters and scenes are good, but there’s just no core here. In fairness, most of these books weren’t released in Dick’s lifetime, so there wouldn’t have been a public to get tired of him repeating the same plot elements. But, as I try to read his entire corpous, it gets a bit tiresome.
Atomic Accidents (Mahaffey) This book. It’s a treasure, really. Sometimes, pop science books are written by people like me - interested non-experts who can turn a phrase. That’s fine, and I like those books. But, now and then you get a book where someone pours a lifetime of expertise and stories beteween the covers. That’s what Mahaffey has done. This book is mostly a sequence of discussions of exactly what happened at particular nuclear accidents (ranging from nuclear power to nuclear bombs). The depth of his research is sometimes staggering. He also has funny stories, and he provides insights into the psychology of disasters in general.
That said, it’s thick. It’s thick and although it CAN be consumed by people who aren’t well-versed in nuclear power, it’s gonna send you to wikipedia a lot. And, especially in the middle of explanations about nuclear plants, it can get really tough to follow. Here’s a sample sentence from page 344, which I wrote down to illustrate the point: “In the 177FA design, B&W had replaced the troublesome Crosby PORV with a Dresser 31533VX30.”
One gets the idea that there exists some nuclear engineer who reads “Crosby PORV” and bursts out laughing at the very idea of such a thing. Personally, I found I just had to accept that, as someone without a graduate degree in nuke stuff, there were parts that flew over my head. That said, Mahaffey is such a charming writer, so obviously in love with his subject, it can be enjoyable even when it’s hard to follow.
especially for the mouseover text
Roman craftsmen made a remarkable coup around 300 A.D. — they produced a cup that is red when lit from behind and green when lit from the front. The effect occurs because the glass contains tiny proportions of gold and silver nanoparticles that reflect light of certain wavelengths. The workers themselves may have discovered the technique by accident, and may not have understood it fully; only a few pieces of 4th-century Roman glass display this “dichroic” property. Art historian Donald Harden called it “the most spectacular glass of the period, fittingly decorated, which we know to have existed.” It now resides in the British Museum.
In a review for the New Yorker in 1959, film critic Kenneth Tynan mistakenly referred to “the late Eric Blore,” and the magazine’s famously vigilant fact-checking department failed to note that the English comic actor was still alive.
Blore’s lawyer demanded a retraction, and a chastened Tynan prepared an apology, which was scheduled to appear in the following issue.
After that issue had been printed, though, the actor really did die … so while that day’s newspapers were reporting Blore’s death, the New Yorker was apologizing for saying he was no longer alive.
And also, the extent to which those manufacturing jobs are “good jobs”? That’s because of fucking UNIONS you shitheads, the same organizations you just voted to continue to attack.
Client: Have you done a
wedding video before?
Me: Yes! I am working on one right know, as a matter of fact.
Client: YOU’RE AT A WEDDING RIGHT NOW?
Me: (awkwardly laughing) No, no, I am editing one right now.
Client: Oh, okay, cool.
Wednesday Book Reviews!
I vaguely remember reading this as a kid, but I picked it up again on a friend’s suggestion and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s really not so much a history of the world as a bit of illustrated info on a bunch of really interesting points in time. The one strike against it is that it’s often, well, a bit wrong. Some of this is because it’s simply out of date, but (for example) at one point he mentions the infamous Aquatic Ape hypothesis, and it wasn’t (I don’t think!) as a joke.
One of the great Vietnam memoirs, which I hadn’t yet read. This book is a bit more dreamlike than some of the others, dealing not just with war stories, but with his attempt to adjust back to society afterward despite an injury that leaves him paraplegic. In a sense, that makes this book a bit more unique (and perhaps timely) than a lot of other Vietnam memoirs, in that it’s really more about what war does to you *after* you get home.
This is A+ non-fiction. This book is a history of the idea that you can sell attention for money, using content as merely the attractor of the attention. Wu traces the whole history of this concept from early newspaper sales tactics, through war propaganda techniques, on through Google, Facebook, and so forth. One thing I really appreciate is that Wu isn’t explicitly arguing that the paradigm of attention sales is a bad one - he’s asking us to deal with what it means. I wish everyone in tech would take a peek at this book.
I agree with this white man.
Make America Good Even Once Jeez
Probably a better point.
My political pitch to racists is already, “hey, if you chill with hating people of color, I will do my best to get you health care and financial help” so maybe chill with telling me I need to be nicer to them.
interesting if somewhat terrifying idea
Is it unjust to adopt a constitution that binds both ourselves and future members of our society? We need a set of fundamental laws to regulate ourselves, but is it fair to extend that to future citizens? Shouldn’t they have the right to choose their own rules?
Thomas Jefferson thought so. In a 1789 letter to James Madison, he held that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living”: He thought a constitution (or any law) should expire automatically when succeeding generations make up a majority of the population. “The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished … in their natural course with those who gave them being,” he wrote. “This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. … If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”
There’s a tension here: In order for a constitution to be successful, it has to define the organization of its society and the freedoms of its citizens, and these rules need to remain in effect for at least several generations in order to produce a healthy liberal democracy. “But those born under a perpetual constitution are expected to acquiesce to the foundational norms approved by their predecessors with neither their consent nor their participation,” writes McGill University political philosopher Víctor M. Muñiz-Fraticelli. “If a constitution is discussed, negotiated, and approved by citizens who are, necessarily, contemporaries, what normatively binding force does it retain for future generations who took no part in its discussion, negotiation, or approval?”
(Víctor M. Muñiz-Fraticelli, “The Problem of a Perpetual Constitution,” in Axel Gosseries and Lukas H. Meyer, eds., Intergenerational Justice, 2009.)
I don’t even want to speculate how a weird white kid with a fetish for law enforcement voted.