About Caterina Fake

Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

Virgina Woolf, Literature and The Body

Leslie Jamison writes about the body in The Atlantic, and in the article this quote from Virginia Woolf’s Essay “On Being Ill:

Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night, the body intervenes…

Isolation and the Homestead Act

I had never understood why the farmlands of the US had been settled in such a sparse and isolated way, whereas the farming communities in Europe seemed closer, more convivial, centered around village life. It turns out it was mostly due to the Homestead Act, passed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which granted land to homesteaders, 160 acres each, from unappropriated federal land.

I’ve been reading the autobiography of Loren Eiseley, “All the Strange Hours”, and found the explanation. In it he wrote:

The medical observers of the early century had a good deal to say about the life of women in soddies, on lonely homesteads, and what it could do to them. Americans made a mistake they have been paying for ever since. In response to the Homestead Act they have been strung out at nighttime into a vast solitude rather than linked to the old-world village with its adjoining plots.

Sod House

A Milton, North Dakota, photographer took this picture of John and Marget Bakken and their two children, Tilda and Eddie, in front of their sod house in Milton in 1898. John Bakken was the son of Norwegian immigrants, who homesteaded and built a sod house in Milton in 1896. This sod house was used as the basis for the design of the Homestead Act Commemorative Stamp in 1962.

Most people ign…

Quote

Most people ignorantly suppose that artists are the decorators of our human existence, the esthetes to whom the cultivated turn when the real business of the day is done…Far from being merely decorative, the artist’s awareness is one of the few guardians of the inherent sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit that we have.

– Robert Motherwell

Parenting, Communities and Crime

I came across a 1995 article by David T. Lykken attempting to make the case – both sensible and crazy – that society should require parents to be licensed before they can have children, an argument propounded by a libertarian, not a totalitarian, if I am understanding the last paragraph. John Stuart Mill is utilized for choice quotes, and a lot of interesting statistics about criminality are bandied about. Blame for the rise in the number of delinquents, punks and desperadoes is put on the shoulders of absent dads, single moms, and incompetent parents, as you would expect. Lykken is known for his work in twin studies, and lie detection.

1995 is the middle of a precipitous decline of crime in America, rather than an explosion of rape and murder, but such things are difficult to see as they are occurring.

crime rates falling 1990s

This graph is from Steven Levitt’s famous article, later developed into the bestseller “Freakonomics”, linking legalized abortion and the drop in crime. With Levitt, the bad-parents-create-bad-children argument is implied.

This is all interesting stuff. However, I found the most interesting part of the Lykken article to be a paragraph in the middle, about the role of community in shoring up poor parenting. It takes a village, after all:

Good parents, who are able to maintain the affection and respect of their children and whose offspring admire them and value their good opinion, can be reasonably certain that their values and ways of socialized behaving will be adopted by the next generation. The children of less effective, less competent parents will be more likely to adopt the customs and values of the peer group. [Small, close-knit] communities will achieve the same result. In urban or suburban communities, the offspring…will be somewhat more at risk…as the community grows in size and in mutual estrangement, the likelihood increases that there will be a few neglected, undisciplined or feral children in the peer group-faux-adult role models to whom a child not closely tied to home and parents may be drawn, and by whom that child will be influenced….we can reasonably conjecture that the relative importance of the peer group in shaping the values and behaviors of a given child is inversely proportional to the competence of that child’s parents.

I am interested in this because I am wondering how a community can grow to be “small and close knit” in an urban setting, since, the future is urban:

urbanization by continent

And it is not only urban, but peer-oriented and media-oriented, rather than family- or community-oriented. I think that Lykken was right about a lot of things – we seem to have created a veritable garden of sociopathy – but wrong about the solution. Licensing parents implies an Orwellian state. Lykken suggests parents who parent without a license would be implanted with antifertility drugs, sent to institutions to learn parenting…No, no.

A less fraught, more effective and scalable way to help society raise healthy, sane children would be to figure out how to support the creation and maintenance of communities.

The Blue House, by Tomas Transtromer


It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush, from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

Sitting Shiva for Stan, and Shared Memories

A lovely and wonderful man, Stan Berger, died the day before yesterday after a long illness, and I went to sit shiva with his family and friends last night. I have been a very close friend of his daughter for 17 years now and spent a lot of time with her dad over the years, when she was living at his house after starting her new company, having Passover seder with his mother in Brooklyn, and seeing him on holidays and birthdays. He was a kind and loving man, with a brilliant mind, and a professor at Berkeley. His love for his daughters is what I remember most about him. His love was enormous, and unconditional. He celebrated them every time they met, with new joy. He held them during times of sadness, protected them when they felt threatened. He sustained them through the bad boyfriends, the pierced noses, the regrets and mistakes. He was in awe of their intelligence, their accomplishments, their beauty, their social lives, their boyfriends. Some of the love he had for his daughters was reflected on their friends too, and I was one who basked in his loving glow. “He was so proud of you,” Maya said, out of the blue. As if he were my own dad. I loved him too.

We sat shiva, and celebrated his life. Telling stories, remembering, and correcting others memories (“Let me tell you what his brother had hidden in the bedroom of their apartment!” “What! You applied to Oxford? I didn’t know that…” “He was the one who hired me into the department at Berkeley!” “He supported the student movement, but didn’t participate. He was a new, young professor. Back then it was like this…”). Sharing memories all night long.

Today I ran across an article referring to research done around transactive memory, a fancy way of saying that we share our memories with our spouses and partners, colleagues, children, parents and friends, that they are part of us by virtue of their memories of shared experiences. It was an idea developed by psychologist Daniel Wegner, who died in July of this year. The making of memories, keeping them, and telling the stories over and over is the very material of our lives. Our memories are jogged, amended and embellished by the memories of others, and this shared memory is one of the greatest benefits of long-term relationships. After a death, or a divorce, or a division, part of you is lost, because the shared memories are lost. “What was that story he used to tell me at bedtime when I was small?” After he dies, you can’t ask him anymore, and it is so much loss.

We’re sad, and we celebrate. We celebrate the memories we have, and the memories we made. Goodbye, Stanley Berger, Goodbye.

Changing “the only game that exists”

Gloria Steinem was asked by Yahoo whether she thought Miley Cyrus’ recent risqué performance and video were setting the feminist movement back, and she replied, “I don’t think so.”

I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, “This is why China wins.” You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.

Another, complementary game that exists for young men is the sports game, addressed in this week’s issue of The Atlantic, in the cover story How Sports are ruining High School.

(Via HuffPo)

How the World will End: Possibilities

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

– Robert Frost

Last year I met a man who did catastrophe analysis for the Federal government. He spent his days thinking about what disasters were possible, calculating their probability and doing estimates of their cost in human life, as percentages of GDP, and as breaches of national security. What a way to spend your days! As I listened to him talk my imagination was blooming with a thousand mushroom clouds, and a thousand dystopian scenarios. It was fascinating.

I just found the notes I jotted down later, which tell a story of the world ending in a thousand ways. Here they are:

Societal collapse

  • Access to water
  • Population growth
  • Inequality

Climate Change
Caldera under Wyoming, the Yellowstone Bulge (See Yellowstone is rising on swollen “Supervolcano”. )
Undersea Range
Ocean acidification
Nuclear Strike

  • North Korea
  • China
  • The rapidly declining population of Russia

Cyber Attack

  • Power Grid
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Military

Pandemic
For Total Destruction, 80% of GDP:ASTEROID

Senseless Kindness

“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”

― Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate