This month’s “art pick” are sketches by Alexey Feodosievich Wangenheim, who was the first head of the Soviet Union’s weather bureau in the 1930s, and drew these while spending the rest of his life in the Gulag.
Maya civilisation, at its peak some 1,500 years ago, covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, with an estimated population of around five million.
”With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there,” said Mr Estrada-Belli, “including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”
The archaeologists were struck by the “incredible defensive features”, which included walls, fortresses and moats.
They showed that the Maya invested more resources into defending themselves than previously thought, Mr Garrison said.
One of the hidden finds is a seven-storey pyramid so covered in vegetation that it practically melts into the jungle.
The game-changing technology here appears to be Lidar.
Readers of this “series” know that I only keep my New York Times subscription for the archives access, so here is the historical interest piece: there was actually a moment, in 1979, when the then-chairman of the Federal Reserve, said quite frankly in an interview:
“The standard of living of the average American has to decline,” he said. “I don’t think you can escape that.”
My “long read” pick of the month: Lapham’s Quarterly has an article called The Ghost and the Princess, discussion Descartian origins of the mind-body split-view, the “princess” being Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, with whole Descartes corresponded on this subject (!)
The New Yorker found one of its fiction pieces was interpreted as journalism
When we look to our texts to teach us not how to think, but what to think, we suffer for it — as artists and consumers of art, but also as citizens. We further collapse the distinction between truth and lies, fact and fiction …
Shout out to one of my frequently used productivity tools: DevonThink
“Let me furnish the amusements of the nation and there will be need of very few laws,” P. T. Barnum, the great impresario of the circus, told the New York Sun in 1880. In his essay “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” Norman Mailer noted a strange depression at the 1960 Democratic convention, which didn’t make any sense until he saw John F. Kennedy in the flesh:
“I understood the mood of depression which had lain over the convention, because finally it was simple: the Democrats were going to nominate a man who, no matter how serious his political dedication might be, was indisputably and willy-nilly going to be seen as a great box-office actor, and the consequences of that were staggering and not at all easy to calculate.”
We are now living in the world Barnum and Mailer predicted. The United States has become a histriocracy. We are ruled by celebrity. Whether or not Trump himself is in power will not change this fact.
I’m going to keep plugging Inherent Vice as something you should watch, this time through a Youtube montage.
Fun to hear Frank Herbert talk (!) about the “origins of Dune” (original recording, from Feb 1969)
If you still aren’t persuaded of the extra-ordinary intelligence of octopuses, read this
If you’re up for a long-form article on liberty, individuals etc. try this piece
For us, too, bearing the duties and responsibilities of freedom without being prepared for them poses great dangers, especially the danger of abandoning our liberty in return for security or the passing pleasures and distractions of our abundant age. This danger is avoidable only if we take the long way to liberty, the way that prepares us through the practice of responsibility and through the formation and refinement of our souls.
Since I’ve only now started watching “Stranger Things” (yeah, I watch everything late these days, I’m now okay with that), a couple of links to recent New Yorker articles on on (1) Dungeons and Dragons, and (2) how Lovecraft endures.
You either get very excited about stuff like this, or you don’t: a bunch of papyrus was discovered from during the time the great pyramids were being constructed! (so, mundane “normal life” stuff, along with mundane details of the build, but … isn’t that cool?)