Heard, read and seen

An image of Totoro, comprised of the entire screenplay written by hand in Japanese.

• My favorite anecdote from Emma Cline, author of The Girls, interviewed by Vendela Vida at City Arts and Lectures. Cline grew up in a family with 7 children, and on their birthdays each kid would get their very own box of cereal. They’d write their names on the box with a sharpie and guard it with their lives.

• I serve on the board of McSweeneys, the publisher of the Internet Tendency, a humor web site, the McSweeneys Quarterly Concern , a literary magazine, and lots of lots of literary fiction, poetry, non-fiction, children’s books and books that make the world better. The Quarterly and the Books are in actualy, physical print, beacons of beauty in a world starved for gorgeousness.  Certainly your holiday gift recipients should have some ideas, some poetry, some love, some beauty?

 

No difference at all

“I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summer, collecting litter in the park alongside the East River near the Williamsburg Bridge. I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all.”

from A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2000 Index Cards, and Learning Languages

When I acquired 2000 index cards, my friends asked what they were for. Lots of things, but here I am using them for watercolored mnemonics for French phrases. Having conceded that Finnish is unmasterable, not only because of its grammatical complexity but because an English speaker in Helsinki never has a chance to speak it, I reconceived of myself not as a failed Finn, but as a potential European and decided I would master at least one European language. I was closer in French than Spanish so I’ve been working at it. Easy language, and solid literature too! To study languages I recommend two books, The Practice of Practice, which is about learning music, but is applicable to any learned skill, and Fluent Forever, which. It was from the latter book I derived this flash card method.

Another homeschooling parent told me her son learned his excellent, fluent Chinese by watching Chinese soap operas, and I was gratified to discover that you can watch most things on Netflix in French with French subtitles. I switched my movie viewing to French, my reading to French,  my podcasts to French, my dreams to French…

What happened in the 70s?

Jyri posted an article on Facebook, Where Inequality Took Root: “In the mid-70’s, we traded in our post-World War II social contract for a new one, where ‘greed is good.'”  This amazing graph shows something big happened in the 1970s to prevent workers from sharing the gains of productivity in the workplace, but the question is, what?

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Jyri conjectures that personal computing may have had something to do with the changes.However, I think that was a small part of the changes going on in the United States at the time. The bigger changes were social.

There was a great deal of change during the 70s in terms of womens’ rights, gay rights, civil rights and also, significantly, immigration. For example, after Hart-Celler was passed, the ethnic makeup of the U.S. changed dramatically, viz, this data from Wikipedia:

“Prior to 1965, the demographics of immigration stood as mostly Europeans; 68 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s came from Europe and Canada. However, in the years 1971–1991, immigrants from Hispanic and Latin American countries made 47.9 percent of immigrants (with Mexico accounting for 23.7 percent) and immigrants from Asia 35.2 percent. Not only did it change the ethnic makeup of immigration, but it also greatly increased the number of immigrants—immigration constituted 11 percent of the total U.S. population growth between 1960 and 1970, growing to 33 percent from 1970–80, and to 39 percent from 1980–90.”

My mother’s family immigrated from the Philippines to the United States when people from non-European countries were subjected to more stringent requirements than Europeans, and very few were allowed in. They believe they were admitted to the U.S., for example, because they had had a great deal of higher education, and graduate degrees from American universities.

The graph above can tell a thousand stories, and it is hard to point to any single factor. Personal computing may have changed the workplace dramatically, but I think it is likely that the social contract changed because the social construct changed. More women, more minorities, more foreign-born citizens were taking their places in American society and there was a growing sense of threat to entrenched power.

Women’s Eyebrow Fashions

Women in the courts of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) painted their eyebrows green; the standard of beauty was brows as delicately curved as the antennae of moths. Foreheads were powdered yellow with massicot, a lead oxide, for yellow was the color of vitality.

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There are at least 24 hairstyles mentioned in the poetry, some a foot high, held together by lapis lazuli hairpins, clattering with pearls, with silk flowers and birds of gold perched on the top. As the empire was crumbling, the most popular styles had names such as “Deserting the Family” and “Uprooting the Grove”.

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Yang Kuei-fei, the emperor Hsan Tsung’s beautiful courtesan whose machinations set off a civil war, kept a tiny jade fish in her mouth.

–Eliot Weinberger, Oranges and Peanuts for Sale

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Anti-Psychiatry and Community Care

One thing that visitors from other countries–-we see a lot of Finns in our house––notice is that there are a lot of homeless people on our streets here in San Francisco, and that many of them are clearly mentally ill.

I was reading this article on Mute (whose tagline is the intriguing “WE GLADLY FEAST ON THOSE WHO WOULD SUBDUE US”) on the anti-psychiatry activities of an Italian psychiatrist in the 1960s, Franco Basaglia, and a book about him, The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care.

All of this led me to look up the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, and then to this Timeline of Deinstitutionalization and its Consequences–all which made made ever clearer that mental health care in this country has gone from abuse to neglect, that more people in need of care are on the streets or in jails rather than in hospitals, all of which is a terrible crime against already suffering people.

Basaglia: ‘It seems important that people know that beyond “health” and “illness” there are human beings and there are contradictions that we cannot master individually.’

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