Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘policy’

23 MAY, 2013

Delicious Vintage Food PSA Posters

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Save the sugar, eat your oatmeal, know your onions, and other tips from Uncle Sam.

Spending countless hours digging through archives isn’t without its rewards — namely, such semi-serendipitous finds as gorgeous black-and-white photos of NASA facilities, vintage ads for libraries and reading, yesteryear’s science ads, and mid-century posters from the Golden Age of Travel. My latest addition comes from the public domain images of the U.S. National Archives: a handful of delicious vintage food PSA posters, a number of which were later included in the book Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives (public library), based on the National Archive exhibition titled What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.

Pair with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 uses for turkey leftovers.

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01 OCTOBER, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Susan Sontag, Harper Lee, and Other Literary Greats on Censorship

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A century of conviction celebrating the freedom to read.

Some history’s most celebrated works of literature have, at various times and in various societies, been banned — from Arabian Nights to Ulysses to, even, Anaïs Nin’s diaries, to name but a fraction. To mark Banned Books Week 2012, I’ll be featuring excerpts from once-banned books on Literary Jukebox over the coming days. But, today, dive into an omnibus of meditations on and responses to censorship from a selection of literary heroes from the past century.

Kurt Vonnegut writes in his almost-memoir, A Man Without a Country (public library):

And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And yet libraries have had a track record for exercising censorship themselves. When Virginia’s Hanover County School Board removed all copies the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird (public library) in 1966 on the grounds that it was “immoral,” Lee wrote the following letter to the editor of The Richmond News Leader, found in Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird:

Monroeville, Alabama
January, 1966

Editor, The News Leader:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Harper Lee

In 1985, when the Public Library in Nijmegen decided to remove Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness (public library) after a complaint from a reader, declaring it “very sadistic, occasionally fascist and discriminatory against certain groups (including homosexuals),” a local journalist reached out to the author for a response. Bukowski immediately fired off an altogether brilliant letter, which included a direct shot at the essence of censorship:

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

In a poignant and heated exchange with the editor of Esquire in 1975, E. B. White considers media sponsorship as a form of censorship that hinders the free press, and argues:

For a citizen in our free society, it is an enormous privilege and a wonderful protection to have access to hundreds of periodicals, each peddling its own belief. There is safety in numbers: the papers expose each other’s follies and peccadillos, correct each other’s mistakes, and cancel out each other’s biases. The reader is free to range around in the whole editorial bouillabaisse and explore it for the one clam that matters — the truth.

In September of 1965, Susan Sontag wrote in her diary, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980:

I am against censorship. In all forms. Not just for the right of masterpieces — high art — to be scandalous.

But what about pornography (commercial)?
Find the wider context:
notion of voluptuousness à la Bataille?
But what about children? Not even for them? Horror comics, etc.
Why forbid them comics when they can read worse things in the newspapers any day. Napalm bombing in Vietnam, etc.

A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.

Lemony Snicket writes in The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) (public library):

The burning of a book is a sad, sad sight, for even though a book is nothing but ink and paper, it feels as if the ideas contained in the book are disappearing as the pages turn to ashes and the cover and binding — which is the term for the stitching and glue that holds the pages together — blacken and curl as the flames do their wicked work. When someone is burning a book, they are showing utter contempt for all of the thinking that produced its ideas, all of the labor that went into its words and sentences, and all of the trouble that befell the author.

In Mrs. Warren’s Profession (public library), George Bernard Shaw puts it in the most deterministic terms possible:

All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.

In June of 1945, Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary:

The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: it created hypocrisy, perversion, fears, sterility.

Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451 (public library):

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

When a New Hampshire high school banned John Irving’s “inappropriate” The Hotel New Hampshire (public library), Irving sent an indignant letter to the head school librarian, ending with the following parenthetical:

Real readers finish books, and then judge them; most people who propose banning a book haven’t finished it. In fact, no one who actually banned Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” even read it.

In fact, Salman Rushdie himself recently reflected on censorship in The New Yorker:

The creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today.

For a weeklong celebration of the freedom to read, tune into Literary Jukebox for some favorite excerpts from censored books, thematically paired with music.

Public domain images courtesy of Flickr Commons

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09 JANUARY, 2012

How the Dutch Got Their Bike Paths

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What The Netherlands can teach us about child safety and mass protests as effective policy-benders.

We’ve come a long way since the time of Victorian don’ts for women on bicycles as the humble bike has become an agent of economic and cultural change. This fascinating short documentary traces the rise of The Netherlands’ famous bicycle paths and examines the sociocultural factors that enabled it, from mass protests to government policy. A living testament to the “build it and they will come” ethos, these safe cycling paths not only vastly improved the city’s traffic system efficiency, but they also helped address an oil and economic crisis, lower carbon emissions, and reduce child casualties by 350%, all thanks to intelligent and focused policy decisions — something to think about as we head into an election year in the tragically car-centric U.S.

The solution was found in the political will on a national and municipal level, with both decision-makers and planners, to deal with this situation by turning away from car-centric policies and making way for alternative transport like cycling.”

Cycling protest tour, Amsterdam, 1979.

Painting cycle lanes, Amsterdam, 1980

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13 JULY, 2011

Highlights from TED Global 2011, The Stuff of Life: Day Two

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How to get eaten by mushrooms, why we’re all African, and what language has to do with genetics.

It is Day Two in our ongoing coverage of TED Global 2011, titled The Stuff of Life. (Previously: highlights from Day One; two sets of must-read books by this year’s speakers; remarkable work TED Fellow Nathalie Miebach.) Gathered here are the most noteworthy highlights of Day Two, in photos and soundbites.

SESSION 4: FUTURE BILLIONS

Historian Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and presenter of the excellent six-part BBC series of the same name, which is now available online in its entirety, opened with some striking insights on wealth and the global economy. Most of the world’s wealth was made after the year 1800 and is currently owned by people we might call “Westerners” — economic historians call this The Great Divergence, and it reached its zenith in the 1970s. But, Ferguson argued, it’s not geography or national character: it’s ideas and institutions.

There are six killer apps that set the West apart from the rest: competition, the scientific revolution, property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society, and work ethic. These killer apps can be ‘downloaded” — they’re open-source. Any society can adopt these institutions.” ~ Niall Ferguson

Historian Niall Ferguson

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The biggest story of our lifetime is the end of Western predominance.” ~ Niall Ferguson

Political economist Yasheng Huang

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Political economist Yasheng Huang explored the parallel economic growth of China and India, examining why China has grown twice as fast as India in the past 30 years. He pointed out the difference between the statics of a political system and the dynamics of a political system — statically, China is strictly authoritarian, but dynamically, it has shifted from more authoritarian to more democratic. Women, Huang argued, play a significant role in strong societies, with 60-80% of China’s workforce being female.

In a surprise visit, economist Tim Harford — whom everyone should follow on Twitter and who authored the excellent new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure — delivered one of the most striking and captivating talks of the day. (Bonus points for calling Hans Rosling “the Mick Jagger of TED,” which couldn’t be more accurate.)

Undercover economist Tim Harford

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Harford explored the mind-boggling scale of consumer choices we face daily and juxtaposed it with the conditions under which our brains evolved.

If you wanted to count every product and service available in New York, all 10 billion of them, it would take you 317 years. The society in which our brains evolved had about 300 products and services.” ~ Tim Harford

Perhaps most importantly and urgently, Harford argued for repeated trial-and-error as the only way to eradicate our culture’s God complex, insisting — much like Isaac Asimov did some three decades ago — that schools need to start teaching children that there are some problems with no correct answer, encouraging trial-and-error as the vehicle of learning.

Comedian Robin Ince

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The universe is pointless. Brilliant, that means you can come up with your own purpose!” ~ Robin Ince

Street artist JR stopped by for a quick update on his wonderful Inside Out Project, the product of the $100,000 TEDPrize he won last fall.

Street artist JR

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Anti-hunger activist and UN World Food Programme director Josette Sheeran opened with a striking statistic: This morning, 1 out of 7 people on earth didn’t know how to find breakfast. Most of us, she pointed out, don’t have to go too far back in our own lineage to find an experience of hunger, usually a mere two or three generations away.

Anti-hunger leader Josette Sheeran

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger.” ~ Josette Sheeran

Sheeran focused on the central disconnect of these devastating statistics: We know how to fix this. A child can be saved every 22 seconds if there was breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life. In countries where girls don’t go to schools and meals are offered in schools, there’s a 50/50 enrollment rate for girls and boys, a transformation in attendance that shows food not only helps keep a girl in school, but also enables her to eventually give birth to a healthier child because malnutrition is set generation to generation.

We shouldn’t look at the hungry as victims, but as the solution — as the value chain to fight hunger.” ~ Josette Sheeran

SESSION 5: EMERGING ORDER

Session 5, Emerging Order, was curated by The Rational Optimist author Matt Ridley and opened with geneticist Svante Pääbo, who explored our ancestral origins.

Geneticist Svante Pääbo

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

From a genomic perspective, we are all African.” ~ Svante Pääbo

As former Brain Pickings contributor Brian W. Jones keenly pointed out, Pääbo echoes this fantastic print by Milton Glaser produced for the SVA and benefitting the One Campaign for improving conditions in Africa and eradicating poverty.

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel spoke about social learning as a springboard to cumulative cultural evolution, calling it “visual theft” that enables us to learn from the mistakes of others by observing their behavior and stealing their ideas for problem-solving. Language, Pagel argued, evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft as a piece of social technology for enhancing the benefits of cooperation. Since the love of language is a standby here, his point that language is the most potent and valuable trait that ever evolved resonates deeply.

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Language is the voice of our genes.” ~ Mark Pagel

Sand artist Joe Castillo

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Sand artist Joe Castillo, despite the tragically non-ironic beret, delivered an absolutely mesmerizing live performance of an evolving sand-painted narrative, shape-shifting into faces from different ethnicities and culminating in a global vision for world peace. Here’s some of his prior work, to scratch the itch until his TED talk goes live:

SESSION 6: THE DARK SIDE

Cyberworld investigator Misha Glenny

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

There are two types of companies in the world — those that know they’ve been hacked, and those that don’t.” ~ Misha Glenny

Underworld investigator Misha Glenny delivered a message of urgency: We are at the beginning of a mighty struggle for control of the Internet. He suggested that many hackers either exhibit characteristics consistent with Asperger’s syndrome or developed their hacking skills during their teenage years, before their moral compass had fully developed, but concluded with the slightly ambivalent message — perhaps honed for the highly pro-hacker TED crowd — that we need to embrace hacker culture rather than condemn it.

The Internet embodies a complex dilemma that pits the demands of security with the desire for freedom.” ~ Misha Glenny

Glenny’s forthcoming book, DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You, is already on pre-order and a clear must-read addition to these 7 essential books on the future of the Internet.

Cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen produced a brief history of computer viruses — with many of the early ones bearing a striking visual similarity to some of today’s generative art — and exposed some today’s stealthiest virus techniques, such as “keyloaders” that silently sit on your computer, recording everything you type, including credit card information and personal data.

I see beauty in the future of the Internet, but I’m worried that we might not see that because of online crime. I’ve spent my life defending the net and I believe that if we don’t fight online crime, we run the risk of losing it all. We have to do this globally, and we have to do it now.” ~ Mikko Hypponen

In what was part comic relief, part powerful illustration of his central point, Hypponen whipped out an old-timey overhead projector for a part of his presentation, to better illustrate our options for when we do lose the things we take for granted. He concluded by proposing and “Internetpol” — Interpol for the Internet, a bastion of cyber security and investigator of cyber crime.

Lie detector Pamela Meyer

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Lie detector Pamela Meyer shared some insights from her book, Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, including hands-on tips for telling a fake smile from a real one, the body language of a lie from the body language of truthfulness, and more.

Lying is our attempt to bridge the gap between how we wish we could be and what we’re really like.” ~ Pamela Meyer

SESSION 7: BODIES

Movement expert Daniel Wolpert argued that the only reason we have a brain is to produce adaptable and complex movement, since movement — from the contractions that underpin our speech and facial mimicry to the actions that allow us to exert force — is the only way to affect the world around us.

Movement expert Daniel Wolpert

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of the fascinating The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, revealed some fascinating theories and statistics behind why and how we kiss. (Did you know, for instance, that two thirds of people tilt their head to the right when they kiss, and it has no correlation with righthandedness?)

Biologist and writer Sheril Kirshenbaum

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We’re interpreting the world through our mouths more than we realize. Our lips are packed with nerves and signals.” ~ Sheril Kirshenbaum

TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee delivered what was positively one of the wildest yet most thought-provoking talks to date. With her Infinity Burial Project, she is advocating for a movement she calls “decompiculture” — environmentally friendly, gentle ways of disposing of our dead bodies, an antidote to the chemical-laden, highly toxic burial and cremation processes of how we handle the dead today. Lee is training a unique strain of mushroom to decompose and remediate toxins in human tissue in a process that’s equal parts scientific exploration and philosophical quest to come to terms with her own mortality.

TED Fellow Jae Rhim Lee

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

By trying to preserve our dead bodies, we deny death, poison the living and further damage the environment.” ~ Jae Rhim Lee

Introducing UP from Jawbone

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The makers of Jawbone revealed an exclusive first look at UP, a jaw-dropping sensor-based wristband that tracks your sleep patterns and eating habits to deliver data that optimizes your everyday life for greater well-being — a promising new personal data tracking tool in the arsenal of the quantified self.

Singer Alice Russell

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Musician extraordinaire Alice Russel closed the evening with her utterly magnificent voice, best described as Adele meets Ella. Her most recent album, Pot of Gold, is an absolute gem.

For highlights from the final two days of TEDGlobal 2011, keep an eye on our friends at the TED Blog, or follow along on Twitter between 8:30AM and 7PM GMT for the live feed.

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