Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 23rd, 2021

How ‘Things’ In Fiction Shape the Way We Read

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I’ve long realized that I in effect outsource my memory to things I own. Looking at, holding, or interacting the thing activates memories that otherwise are hard to locate and recall. This function of possessions — as part of my memory and identity — is why losing one’s possessions in a house fire has an impact far beyond the financial loss. Some things are an extension of one’s self — or a part of one’s self.

In The Nation Sophie Haigney reviews the book The Death of Things: Ephemera and the American Novel , by Sarah Wasserman. She writes:

n the prefurnished apartment where I have spent most of the last year, I am surrounded by things that seem to vibrate strangely with something like life. On my desk, there are three interchangeable coffee mugs and another, for unknown reasons, that is special to me. There is a lamp that came with the apartment, whose bulb needs to be fussed over every time I turn it on. There are my beloved books, some of them dragged with me from apartment to apartment since college, gathering grime and dust on the shelves. There are certain objects of sentimental value—a reproduction of a painting that I bought at a museum last January, which I have propped against the wall. There is an empty plastic bottle of sparkling water, of which I am ashamed, and which will get crushed in next week’s recycling but which will also likely endure in another form like most plastics on the planet. Indeed, much of this stuff may, bizarrely, outlast me. Alternately, like a wine glass I knocked over last week while vacuuming, some of it may get smashed to smithereens.

Much of our material world is caught somewhere between disposability and permanence. It is not always clear what will last or what won’t; we stumble upon old stuffed animals from childhood that have strangely endured beyond the versions of ourselves that played with them. Or some things have an afterlife in new forms, one guaranteed by recycling or alteration. “Consumer habits shaped by a national ideology of progress and innovation have given rise to a frequently binary relationship to objects: either they persist, archived or curated to help stabilize individual and collective memory and identity, or they are disposable, cast out of sight and out of mind,” writes scholar Sarah Wasserman in her recent book, The Death of Things. “But between these two poles exists a greater number of objects that are neither quite lost nor quite present; neither dead nor alive, they are instead dying, coming to us in an ongoing state of ceasing to be.”

In The Death of Things, Wasserman writes about these paradoxes of permanence and transience that define our relationships with many objects. She describes the shifting material landscape of 20th-century America, and the changing relationship between Americans and their stuff during a time defined by the rise of cheap consumer goods, an increasingly globalized economy, wars and violence of all kinds, and changing cities defined by urbanization, gentrification, and displacement. The Death of Things is not entirely about the American relationship with trash, nor is it a book about hoarders and collectors and others trying to hang onto the fragments of the past. It is instead, she writes, “a book about books about disappearing objects,” a literary study that explores the way objects’ disappearance and persistence has been represented on the page, especially in 20th century novels. Wasserman’s incisive book considers what fiction can tell us about living among things that are so frequently disposable, such that we “confront at every turn not so much the death of things, but their perpetual dying.” The Death of Things manages to show us quite a lot, too, about how fiction can serve as its own kind of cache—one that doesn’t preserve ephemera, exactly, but creates its own kind of afterlives for fading things.

The pages of 20th century American literature are stuffed with stuff. When you begin to read for things, you will encounter them constantly: baseballs, bric-a-brac, books within books. There are dolls, chairs, paperweights, cans of ground coffee, red wheelbarrows. The plethora of objects on the page has fueled a branch of academic inquiry dubbed “thing theory”—a capacious subfield that ties together strands of material culture studies, art history, and literary studies, among other arenas. In his foundational book, A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (2003), Bill Brown proposes a rereading of texts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to “ask why and how we use objects to make meaning, to make or re-make ourselves, to organize our anxieties and affections, to sublimate our fears and shape our fantasies.” Brown reads for the relationship between things and ideas, and puts forth an account of literary objects that extends beyond commodity fetishism, a reading that stretches toward the strange vibrations of matter in literature and our lives.

Versions of this heuristic are flourishing in other humanities disciplines, too, among them philosophy and political science, often challenging the traditional distinctions between subject and object. There is a whole genre of popular literature dedicated to “object lessons” and investigations of “the private lives” of everything from coffee cups to car engines. Indeed, Wasserman asks, “Who really thinks of matter as static and stable anymore?”

Wasserman is not really reading for the presence of the thing but its absence, or more precisely its disappearance. Unlike other thing theorists, she is not so much interrogating the way we live among objects but rather . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 4:37 pm

Now I know what a 5 over 1 is, and why new apartment buildings tend to look the same

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 4:21 pm

Why has nuclear power been a flop?

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Jason Crawford’s blog Roots of Progress has a very interesting post that begins:

To fully understand progress, we must contrast it with non-progress. Of particular interest are the technologies that have failed to live up to the promise they seemed to have decades ago. And few technologies have failed more to live up to a greater promise than nuclear power.

In the 1950s, nuclear was the energy of the future. Two generations later, it provides only about 10% of world electricity, and reactor design hasn‘t fundamentally changed in decades. (Even “advanced reactor designs” are based on concepts first tested in the 1960s.)

So as soon as I came across it, I knew I had to read a book just published last year by Jack Devanney: Why Nuclear Power Has Been a Flop.

What follows is my summary of the book—Devanney‘s arguments and conclusions, whether or not I fully agree with them. I‘ll give my own thoughts at the end.

The Gordian knot

There is a great conflict between two of the most pressing problems of our time: poverty and climate change. To avoid global warming, the world needs to massively reduce CO2 emissions. But to end poverty, the world needs massive amounts of energy. In developing economies, every kWh of energy consumed is worth roughly $5 of GDP.

How much energy do we need? Just to give everyone in the world the per-capita energy consumption of Europe (which is only half that of the US), we would need to more than triple world energy production, increasing our current 2.3 TW by over 5 additional TW: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and he invites discussion.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 4:15 pm

Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.

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Julia Belluz reports in Vox:

This story is one in our six-part series The Pandemic Playbook. Explore all the stories here.

Every January or February, Le The Linh and his wife pack their children into their car and drive 80 miles to visit family in Haiphong, a port city east of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, for Lunar New Year. But this time, as they reached the last stretch of the Hanoi-Haiphong Highway, a police officer approached and pointed them toward a group of guards in face masks under a makeshift tent. It was one of 16 checkpoints erected around Haiphong to control travel into and out of the city ahead of the Tet Festival holiday.

They joined a lineup of other travelers, nervously waiting for their turn in the rain. When they reached the front, the officials asked for proof of their travel plans, residency, and Covid-19 status.

“Don’t worry!” Linh exclaimed tensely. He could show, with his identity card, that they lived in an area that had no coronavirus cases recently.

The family was among the lucky ones let through. Travelers from areas near Haiphong that had recently recorded Covid-19 cases got turned away; a group of young people on motorbikes who tried to circumvent the checkpoint were arrested; still others chose not to travel at all, opting to meet family over FaceTime or Zalo (Vietnam’s answer to WhatsApp).

As the pandemic took hold last year, travel restrictions quickly proliferated — they were the second-most-common policy governments adopted to combat Covid-19. According to one review, never in recorded history has global travel been curbed in “such an extreme manner”: a reduction of approximately 65 percent in the first half of 2020. More than a year later, as countries experiment with vaccine passportstravel bubbles, and a new round of measures to keep virus variants at bay, a maze of confusing, ever-changing restrictions remains firmly in place.

But few countries have gone as far as Vietnam, a one-party communist state with a GDP per capita of $2,700. The Haiphong checkpoints timed for Tet were the equivalent of closing off Los Angeles to Americans ahead of Thanksgiving — within a country that was already nearly hermetically sealed. Last March, the government canceled all inbound commercial flights for months on end, making it almost impossible to fly in, even for Vietnamese residents.

Today, flights are limited to select groups, like businesspeople or experts, from a few low-risk countries. Everybody who enters needs special government permission and must complete up to 21 days of state-monitored quarantine with PCR tests. (Positive cases are immediately isolated in hospitals, regardless of disease severity.)

This strict approach to travel, global health experts say, is directly connected to Vietnam’s seeming defeat of Covid-19. Thirty-five people have reportedly died in total, and a little more than 2,700 have been infected with the virus during three small waves that have all been quickly quashed. Even on the worst days of the pandemic, the country of 97 million has never recorded more than 110 new cases — a tiny fraction of the 68,000 daily case high in the United Kingdom, which has a population one-third smaller than Vietnam, or the record 300,000-plus cases per day only the US and India managed to tally.

Last year, Vietnam’s economy even grew 2.9 percent, defying economists’ predictions and beating China to become the top performer in Asia. .. .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including god photos.

The US, of course, chose another path. To date, the US has seen 32,725,095 cases and 584,942 deaths.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 4:06 pm

Stranded sailor allowed to leave abandoned ship after four years

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As I read this BBC report by Paul Adams, I was thinking of the Indian crew of the Evergreen cargo ship that got stuck in the Suez canal and wondered how long they would be forced to remain on that ship. The report begins:

Mohammed Aisha joined his “cursed” ship, the MV Aman, on 5 May 2017.

Today, after spending almost four years on board stranded off the Egyptian coast, he was freed and flown home to Syria. So how does he feel?

His text, from the aircraft on the tarmac at Cairo airport, was brief.

“Relief. Joy.”

And then came a voice message.

“How do I feel? Like I finally got out of prison. I’m finally going to be rejoined with my family. I’m going to see them again.”

It marks the end of an ordeal which has taken its toll on Mohammed’s physical and mental health. He was, after all, condemned to a life without power, sanitation or company.

It began in July 2017, when the MV Aman was detained at the Egyptian port of Adabiya. The cargo ship was held because it had expired safety equipment and classification certificates.

It should have been easy enough to resolve, but the ship’s Lebanese contractors failed to pay for fuel and the MV Aman’s owners in Bahrain were in financial difficulty.

With the ship’s Egyptian captain ashore, a local court declared Mohammed, the ship’s chief officer, the MV Aman’s legal guardian.

Mohammed, who was born in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus, says he wasn’t told what the order meant and only found out months later, as the ship’s other crew members started to leave.

For four years, life – and death – passed Mohammed by. He watched as ships sailed past, in and out of the nearby Suez Canal.

During the recent blockage caused by the giant container ship Ever Given, he counted dozens of ships waiting for the traffic jam to ease.

He has even seen his brother, a fellow seafarer, sail past more than once. The brothers spoke on the phone but were too far apart even to wave.

In August 2018, he learned that his mother, a teacher responsible for his excellent English, had died. That was Mohammed’s low point.

“I seriously considered ending my life,” he told me.

By August 2019, Mohammed was alone but for the occasional guard and trapped on a vessel with no diesel and, consequently, no power. He was legally obliged to stay aboard and was unpaid, demoralised and feeling increasingly unwell.

He said the ship was like a grave at night.

“You can’t see anything. You can’t hear anything,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a coffin.”

In March 2020, a storm blew the Aman off its anchorage. The ship drifted five miles (8km), eventually running aground a few hundred metres from the shoreline.

It was terrifying at the time, but Mohammed thought it was an act of God. Now he was able to swim ashore every few days, buy food and recharge his phone.

Astonishing as Mohammed’s story is, his experience is not unique. In fact, seafarer abandonment is on the rise. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including a discussion of the Evergreen ship and the (enormous) scope of the problem.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 3:55 pm

A good walk, with spring showing all around

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A reasonable walk — 6428 steps — and a beautiful day. These are some of the sights along the way.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Phoenix Artisan Ascension with CK-6 First Night on Earth

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You will be unsurprised to read that my shave this morning was excellent, thanks to Grooming Dept pre-shave, a wonderfully gentle Mühle silvertip, and Phoenix Artisan’s superb CK-6 soap — plus a certain amount of skill gained through practice. The CK-6 soap I used was First Night on Planet Earth, whose fragrance is:

Top Notes: Raspberry, Pine Resin, Lavender, Basil, Bergamot, and Sicilian Cedrat
Middle Notes: Carnation, Leather, Sandalwood, Patchouli, and Geranium
Base Notes: Leather, Tonka Bean, Amber, Benzoin, Oakmoss, and Bourbon Vanilla Bean

The soap seems to have been discontinued, but it may return (presumably renamed “Second Night on Planet Earth”).

One sign that DE razors and traditional shaving are, I think, here to stay is the number of new DE razors that appear on the market. Some use an old design, generally somewhat modified (as with Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension family), and some with a new design (as with the Henson Shaving AL13). Although the Ascension is based on an old design, that design has been tweaked and then realized using modern materials and manufacturing methods. The result is a truly excellent modern DE razor.

The fact that new razors are emerging in response to demand indicates a healthy and growing market.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 8:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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