If you are like me and love the National Parks, but hate the crowds, you might appreciate A Night Under the Stars. It’s a look at when people are spending the night the most in each national park. It’s pretty interesting to see when each park is most popular (and by extension, which periods should be low population but still nice to visit). Found via the inimitable Kottke.
As you might be aware, the West Coast of the United States has been on fire for the past few weeks. It was getting to be fire season anyway (how the hell is that a season now???), and then some ridiculously strong, dry winds swept in and really caused some escalation – estimates were up to 5 million acres burned as of a few days ago. Multiple towns and residential areas are just ashes.
When the wind finally died down, it came as a mixed blessing: while it slowed the growth of the fires, the still air and inversion that came with it meant that all the smoke just sat and collected, leading to some of the worst air quality measurements ever recorded, and put Portland at the top of the rankings for having the worst air quality in the world, for several days.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a natural disaster without the crazies coming out, too. This time, it was overzealous vigilantes roaming around armed, setting up illegal roadblocks, who had got it into their heads that anti-fascists were starting fires and looting in the fire zones. Even after the FBI debunked it. Because we’re at that level of delusional bullshit out here.
We’re due to get rain tonight. This should help cut the smoke a lot and reduce the fires. Of course, it’s also expected to cause flash floods and landslides throughout the burned areas, since there’s no longer vegetation to help hold things together.
Still looking forward to the rain, though.
This year, man. It’s a mess. The world’s on fire, figuratively and literally. I’m not going to iterate through all of the things that are seriously fucked up right now – I don’t think it would help, and frankly you probably are already aware. On a macro level, it feels like we’re teetering on a knife’s edge in so many different spheres, whether it’s political, economic, social, environmental, or other areas. Depending on your point of view, in some spaces, it even feels like the edge has already slipped. On a personal level, though, I’ve been relatively lucky. It’s 2020 and I’m at Squam, so let’s take stock.Continue reading “Squam 2020”
Over at the Atlantic, Daniel Markovits discusses how Meritocracy harms everyone. While many of the examples he cites are centered around the wealthy elite, that’s kind of the point – it’s already clear to people not in that caste that the notion of meritocracy, while good in concept, is a sham in practice. As soon as the criteria for “merit” become understood, it is gamed by those who are in a position to do so, further entrenching the already wealthy (but with a slightly more palatable veneer than the up-front nepotism of previous systems).
Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity. According to one study, only one out of every 100 children born into the poorest fifth of households, and fewer than one out of every 50 children born into the middle fifth, will join the top 5 percent. Absolute economic mobility is also declining—the odds that a middle-class child will outearn his parents have fallen by more than half since mid-century—and the drop is greater among the middle class than among the poor. Meritocracy frames this exclusion as a failure to measure up, adding a moral insult to economic injury.Daniel Markovits
I agree that it’s a problem, and I don’t really know a good solution. It sounds like the author has some ideas (some of which sound a little… optimistic to me). It’s clear that things are coming to a head, though, and something is going to have to change.
If you’re just not a morning person, science says you may never be, over at Vox. This is from a few years ago, but I only came across it relatively recently: there’s increasing evidence that whether you’re a night person or a morning person has a genetic component, and fighting it can have significant impacts on your health. A salient bit:
Even people who are slightly more oriented to the evening — people who would like to sleep between 1 am and 9 am, say — may be faced with a difficult choice: Listen to your body, or force it to match the sleep habits of most everyone else?
Research has been gaining insight on that question. It turns out our internal clocks are influenced by genes and are incredibly difficult to change. If you’re just not a morning person, it’s likely you’ll never be, at least until the effects of aging kick in.
And what’s more, if we try to live out of sync with these clocks, our health likely suffers. The mismatch between internal time and real-world time has been linked to heart disease, obesity, and depression.Brian Resnick, Vox
For the record, I’ve always been a night owl. When left to my own devices (extended periods where I was setting my own schedule), I tend to go to bed around 2am and then get up around 10am. That’s still just 8 hours, but because it’s offset from the schedule most of society runs at, it still comes across as oversleeping. (These days, a mixture of work and the dog keep me getting up earlier… but I also find myself feeling like I need a nap more often, as well.)
It reminds me of something from The Devil’s Dictionary:
DAWN, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
When I last wrote (back in February 😅), who’d have thought we’d be on the precipice of a global pandemic? Obviously, my rambling about upcoming travel is now irrelevant (work summit til maybe this Fall? Or later? And the wedding until next spring). The rest of the post still holds pretty true, though.
Everything happening right now is a lot for a lot of people, and that’s pretty understandable. There’s the pandemic itself, of course, where even if you’re not too worried about yourself, you’re probably still worried about friends or family who are at a higher risk. And then the knock-on effects this has on society as a whole – millions unemployed, unexpected and ill-prepared-for financial challenges, impacts on infrastructure, and so on – is a whole source of stress on its own.
For me, it’s not been too terrible. As I’ve noted before, I’m on anti-depressants, which also reduce anxiety, and that certainly helps. Also, my day-to-day isn’t all that different from before. I’m a bit of a recluse and an introvert by nature, so while it would certainly be nice to see my friends, it doesn’t weigh on me as much as I know it does for others. I still go walk Cecil, so I still get at least an at-a-distance view of the world, and I have roommates, so I even still see some people face to face. I still have my job, working from home. I’m still worried about friends and family who are or may be impacted by all this, obviously, but the ones I’ve checked in with are taking reasonable precautions, which means there’s not much that extra fretting will do.
There’s definitely some generalized anxiety and stress that exists in the background, but for me, more than anything it just feels surreal. It’s like the photo of a man mowing his lawn while a tornado is in the background – you know there’s total pandemonium nearby, but your own life still marches on: bills have to be paid, work has to be done, lawns have to be mowed. It’s a ridiculously privileged position to have, but there it is.
It’s the topic of the moment, on everyone’s mind, seeping into every conversation, but I’m going to try and not dwell on it much past this post. That said, I’d love to hear from you (by whatever method you see fit). Are you doing okay?
I dropped off the face of the earth for a bit, there. Trust me, it’s me, not you. I was already distracted last summer and fall, and then for the winter I just straight up went dark. But it’s nearly spring, it’s 2020, the trees are budding and the early flowers are blooming, and it’s time to wake up and shake the dust off. So grab a hot chocolate, find a cozy sunbeam to curl up into, and let’s catch up.Continue reading “I’d Rather Be Hibernating”
From the Guardian: Snapping point: how the world’s leading architects fell under the Instagram spell. We’ve always had architecture-as-spectacle – if anything, Instagram is just the latest in a series of driving forces. But it’s still worth thinking about. Something the author notes:
Configuring buildings and public spaces as selfie sets may well work for tourism promotion and the buzz of a launch, but once the novelty factor has worn off, the whimsy can grate and the flimsiness become all too apparent. The urge for quick, affordable spectacle often leads to stick-on, paper-thin cladding materials that look good in photographs, but weather terribly. The stained, peeling facades of the last decade stand as a grim testament to prioritising photographability over function.Oliver Wainwright
Art is wonderful, and public art is essential. It enhances and enriches the spaces we inhabit. But when we insert an overtly capitalist motivation of cashing in on a craze, we sacrifice the care and consideration in how we craft this art.
Something this also gets me thinking about is replication. That is, our penchant for seeing an interesting photo, and striving to replicate it. This isn’t new, and in many cases is designed (consider things like Yosemite, where you round a corner and get a reveal of El Capitan or Half Dome. You stop, and say “Wow,” and take a picture. This experience was designed, over a century ago, and is part of why we have 400 million nearly identical shots of these locations). It just bums me out, for some vague reasoning I can’t quite put a finger on, that rather than being inspired by an interesting photo, there is this impetus to simply replicate it. I should probably chew on that a bit.
Over at the Guardian: From lizarding to lingering: how we really behave in public spaces. It’s pretty fascinating work done by the SWA Group. As noted in their summary:
This research project revisited the primary city of writer William H. Whyte’s Street Life Project and seminal study The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980). It sought to understand how the types of new public spaces have changed some 40 years after he published his book and companion film, what has changed in how people use public realm spaces, and what makes well used spaces.SWA Group
I think it’s interesting to juxtapose their findings with the expectations created by architects, urban planners, and similar when making mockups of their planned spaces. (Expectations versus reality.) Also interesting to think about how this could be applied not just for building more effective spaces, but for presenting more realistic crowd scenes in film or other types of performance.
The 2019 XOXO Festival was last week, and I’ve been chewing on it since then. I wouldn’t say I’m done thinking about it, but it’s time to start putting some thoughts into words.Continue reading “XOXO 2019”