scientists encode and store data within DNA, rain wallpapers, country music circles back around to hip-hop

This SciAm article from last year – Tiny Biocomputers Move Closer to Reality – notes some breakthroughs edging us toward the realization of biological based computers or biocomputting. The concept is both realistic and a worthy practical goal. It is realistic in the sense that to a very large degree computers and biological systems are about moving electrons around in a predetermined way. While perusing some videos about cell function the other day I came across several, almost inevitable comments talking about the beauty, mystery and irreducible complexity of biological systems such as the cell. While I would agree that cell functions are elegant, the irony apparently escaping the commenters that the video explained the unexplainable complexity of which they refer. A carbon or hydrogen atom is the same whether it is part of a AMD processor or part of the mitochondria or a star a million light year away. The ions exchanged between gradients that signal your muscles and allow coordinated movement, again are the same if they’re in a human, an elephant or a bacteria on some yet to be discovered earth-like planet. If one can combine elements to produce a desired compound or combine compounds that shuttle electrons around to produce images on a screen then it is possible to manipulate biological systems – made of macromolecules – to perform a predetermined set of instructions, like say kill a cancer cell. Though cells are tremendously complex, it is not radically different from reverse engineering a program to see the code. Scientists encode, store and erase digital data within the DNA of Escherichia coli bacteria

“It took us three years and 750 tries to make it work, but we finally did it,” said Jerome Bonnet, PhD, of his latest research, a method for repeatedly encoding, storing and erasing digital data within the DNA of living cells.

Bonnet, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, worked with graduate student Pakpoom Subsoontorn and assistant professor Drew Endy, PhD, to reapply natural enzymes adapted from bacteria to flip specific sequences of DNA back and forth at will. All three scientists work in the Department of Bioengineering, a joint effort of the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine.

In practical terms, they have devised the genetic equivalent of a binary digit — a “bit” in data parlance. “Essentially, if the DNA section points in one direction, it’s a zero. If it points the other way, it’s a one,” Subsoontorn explained.

[  ]...In the computer world, their work would form the basis of what is known as non-volatile memory — data storage that can retain information without consuming power. In biotechnology, it is known by a slightly more technical term, recombinase-mediated DNA inversion, after the enzymatic processes used to cut, flip and recombine DNA within the cell.

The team calls its device a “recombinase addressable data” module, or RAD for short. They used RAD to modify a particular section of DNA with microbes that determines how the one-celled organisms will fluoresce under ultraviolet light. The microbes glow red or green depending upon the orientation of the section of DNA. Using RAD, the engineers can flip the section back and forth at will.

Irreducible complexity is not just an anarchism, it is a meaningless phrase. Something cannot be beyond understanding if you understanding more about it every year and learn to manipulate it. Part of the motivation for the belief in complexity that is beyond human understanding is sentimentality. That part of the reason for the depth of emotional investment is sweet in its own way – a romantic ideal in the tradition of Frankenstein and similar concerns about the excesses of science. Though the other reason, the prime motivation is a misguided idea that removing the mystery removes the mystical aura of the origination of life, the promises or contract that concerns unjustified beliefs and eternal redemption and bliss for a life well lived. Back in the 15th century when Leonardo De Vinci was curious about the anatomy of human beings and thought perhaps he might actually see the human soul in his dissections of corpses, especially of newborns who had died in birth. Since the church believed the soul was mysteriously fused into the material body at birth, they worried that Leonardo might find or publish speculation that would contradict the church’s doctrine. So 1500 years later, despite knowledge of the human body down to the number of carbons in a DNA base, quite a few people still find room to inject their faith-based ideas into how the body works. Knowledge does tend to secularize beliefs over time, but it does not necessarily extinguish them.

rain wallpaper

rain on branches wallpaper

Country Music Hollers Back at Hip-Hop

One of the easiest ways to set about explaining who you are is to explain who you are not. As Tichi noted, for country music, this enterprise has historically taken the shape of positioning rural social values against urban mores. What intensifies this longstanding tradition, however, is a pattern I noticed about five years ago. A lot of popular country songs that valorize rural life do so, somewhat improbably, by appropriating elements of hip-hop culture and rap music—the most “urban” of all music in the American imagination. The result? In satirizing musical and lyrical gestures drawn from a genre rooted historically in African American visions of the city, the songs launch a targeted critique of urban modernity and postmodernity that inescapably, though perhaps incidentally, also targets black cultural expression. On the flip side, when pondering exactly who possesses agency in this complex transaction, one considers the perspective voiced by Michael Eric Dyson in his essay “This Dark Diction Has Become America’s Addiction.” Dyson suggests that due to the globalization of black cultural products, particularly rap music, the colonized have become the colonizer, shifting the historic balance of power towards the marginalized. So, is country music poaching, or is rap music dominating? Probably the answer is—yes.

This is part of a much longer essay that looks mostly at some of hypocritical, frequently borrowed and sometimes just plain false narratives of country music. Though like many essays it deals in generalities – even though she uses some good examples to make her point. Though that only defines country music so far. If you listen to some Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Kelly Willis, some country blues like The Cowboy Junkies or the Iris Dement video I posted the other day, there is not this false dichotomy of the virtuous country versus the sinful city. Their songs are more about personal experience interwoven with universal themes about – everything – love, justice, individuality, loss, hard times. The songs used as examples by Tipton are certainly pandering to the down home, salt of the earth, allegedly real Americans of “fly over'” country versus the city slickers. I’ve lived in fly over country and cities. people tend to be just people – they’re sinners and saints, and that can change from morning to afternoon and back again by evening regardless of them wearing overalls and a John Deere cap or a two thousand dollar suit. Sure some rappers are crude, but go out drinking with a redneck sometime. And rappers can be just as much pandering hypocrites as the country singer who lives in a two million dollar house outside Nashville. Versus rappers who talk about the hood and keeping it real who have a mansion in L.A. and a butler. This is all in keeping with the general American love of mythologizing their sub-culture – cowboys, Wall Street hedge fund managers, suburban housewives, truckers, southern writers, Jewish intellectuals from the north-east, San Francisco poets, amateur stock car racers, all high school kids. They all have their own quirks of language and handy bag of cultural references.

Charging Thunder and his dog. By Gertrude Käsebier, circa 1900. Charging Thunder was probably a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Käsebier took quite a few photographs of American Indians.

the plutocratic overlords are doing well at macy’s, road through wheat field wallpaper, retro photographs

Tis the season to give working class Americans a lesson in thankfulness to their Galtian masters, Macy’s CEO to American People: Drop Dead

Macy’s is a powerful symbol of Thanksgiving, with its festive parade and freakishly large floats. But Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren is part of a group of greedy, unpatriotic CEOs who would like to seize this moment of American hardship and tear the rug out from under hard-working families. Moms, dads, grandparents, kids—he’d like to take a little something from each of you. Especially if you’re poor: he’d really like to get into your purses.

Lundgren and a coalition of other big-time CEOs are lobbying Congress to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits so that they can enjoy tax breaks. Obviously, Lundgren did not take Econ 101, which would have demonstrated to him that reaching into the pockets of people will leave them without enough dollars to buy your products. It’s very simple, Mr. Lundgren. Your job and your stores are supported by the spending power of the American consumer. Robbing that consumer by hacking away at hard-earned retirements and healthcare is not going to help your bottom line.

Jobs, not austerity, is the path to a healthier economy. Just ask Europe.

I did some quick on-line research and found that Macy’s and its subsidiaries have annual sales of $26 billion. They have about 170,000 employees.That means each employee generates about $153,000 of that annual sales figure. That 170,000 might be all their hourly employees, not including management, but I went ahead and  subtracted about 10% of those as counting as management. That left 153,000 workers making $9 an hour – I rounded up from these figures which showed averages under $9 an hour. That means that Macy pays about $62 million in hourly labor per year. This is obviously not scientific, but does put us a in the ball park of sales versus costs of labor. That leaves $26 billion in sales minus $1.4 million for labor, with twenty-eight billion nine hundred ninety-eight million six hundred thousand. The retail industry average for overhead is about 45%. That is a tricky figure. In Macy’s case they have stores across the country. Their New York stores likely costs more than say a store in the mid-west. Still, 45% is not an unreasonable average to assume. So we 45% of that $26 billion which leaves $14.3 billion. Minus hourly employee wages from that leaves $14.2 billion. So it is not that Macy’s cannot pay their employees a living wage or that Macy’s cannot afford their share of payroll taxes like Medicare. They’re just hogging money.

Fox Attacks Unions for Bargaining for Better Pay and Benefits for Their MembersAnother day on Fox, another day of divide and conquer and attack workers as being overpaid, or unreasonable for wanting to earn a living wage and maybe retire with some dignity before they drop dead. Capitalism’s weakness is not that it is intrinsically immoral. It is that it is amoral. In order for it to work well we all have to believe in the social contract. That means not treating workers as disposable wage slaves in order to make a very few people extraordinarily wealthy. Certainly wealthier far beyond any work they do or expertise they possess.

road through wheat field wallpaper

An interview with photographer Robert Frank – “If An Artist Doesn’t Take Risks, Then It’s Not Worth It.” (2007)

RJ: Of course, your way of taking photos is different from Walker Evans, mostly he used large-format camera while you used Leica, 35mm camera. And your photographic style is more spontaneous while his photos are more formal. And some of your photos are even out of focus. Technically speaking, some people think your photos are badly framed. But I think in a way you purposely wanted to do that to break away from the formalities and the conventions of the traditional way of taking photos. So what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to taking photos?

RF: You are free and you risk something by taking a photograph. It’s not taking a snapshot of your sister. You risk because this is maybe not the way people think one should photograph. So you go out on a more different road. There is a risk involved in that. And I think if an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.

WW II era safety poster

Genetic Tribe of One by Suzanne Farrell Smith

Now—what’s less-than-point-zero-one percent of the fourteen thousand people who also have asthma, microtia, and AB Negative blood come to? Me. A single side-specimen of the human species. So uncommon that if she—I—were to die of salmonella from the chicken, or e coli from the vegetables, or ink poisoning, or from a superbug that infects a tiny little paper cut, or anthrax picked up at the post office, or alcohol poisoning from too much drinking gin, or from heatstroke due to being under so many bedtime layers, or from a lightning strike in foul weather, or from getting caught up in some attack on any of the diplomats with a hotel room in Tudor City, the world would be robbed of its only AB Negative corn-adverse asthmatic who has a crumpled right ear.

Nicely written piece, the whole thing is worth a read if you’re into writing or science.

Life – women outdoors from 1930 to 1960. Like has a few photographs that are free for public non-commercial use – hard not to notice the Life logo. This is just from one of thousands of artsy photos they took of people. This one was under the general category of women outdoors. The original was in bad shape so I cleaned up some noise and gave it a warm tint.

beach wear, late 1950s. this is from my collection of old photos. I’m not sure what’s up with the guy’s swim suit. Was he planning to do some tricks on a flying trapeze in between swims.

Michigan Republicans Propose Tax Credit For Fetuses … After Eliminating Tax Credits For Actual Children

Oh, and there’s also this new development, as reported in the Guardian: Michigan is now proposing a tax credit for unborn fetuses of 12 weeks gestation. If the measure becomes law it would be the first of its kind in the US. One of the main sponsors of the fetus tax credit bill, Jud Gilbert (R-Algonac), said the rationale behind it was to recognize that mothers have additional bills to pay.

You’re recognizing the fact that people have additional expenses, another person to take care of. Money saved there could be contributed to doctor’s bills and all kinds of things.

Which totally makes sense!! Because, yeah, parenthood does cost a lot of money. Well, it almost makes sense —  except for the fact that Michigan shredded tax credits for actual, air-breathing human children last year.  Gilbert and the other main sponsor of the fetal tax-credit bill, Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R- Kent County), both voted in favor of eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit for children.

This kind of reasoning is consistent with the Republican general view that the mass of humanity are the filthy and undeserving, but the abstract picture they hold in their head of a mass of cells is something that the government should control and care for until born. At which point the child just becomes another leech on society.

This is more or less a commercial for CHANEL. Though it is also a wonderful tribute to Marilyn Monroe,

neural ensembles form thoughts and memory, early winter river wallpaper, only the neurotic ask to be treated badly

Comparisons between computer processors and the brain have been around so long that they’re a conceptual cliché. I’ve been trying to avoid making that comparison for a few hours. One of the problems is that while brains in Blue whales or humans are not computing machines, they do have some things in common. Findings like this make the similarity that much more reasonable. Not at the very abstract thinking level, not at the level that produces inspired areas of inquiry or that create the odd mental chaos of our dreams, but at the level of electrical signals producing certain phenomenon, Brain waves encode rules for behavior

One of the biggest puzzles in neuroscience is how our brains encode thoughts, such as perceptions and memories, at the cellular level. Some evidence suggests that ensembles of neurons represent each unique piece of information, but no one knows just what these ensembles look like, or how they form.

A new study from researchers at MIT and Boston University (BU) sheds light on how neural ensembles form thoughts and support the flexibility to change one’s mind. The research team, led by Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, identified groups of neurons that encode specific behavioral rules by oscillating in synchrony with each other.

The results suggest that the nature of conscious thought may be rhythmic, according to the researchers….

One definition of memory in computing is the use of a physical device used to store programs or a series of instructions which can be called upon on a temporary or permanent basis. The physical events that allow that to happen require electric pulses and code. The brain requires electro-chemical pulses and a code.

The researchers identified two neural ensembles in the brains of monkeys trained to respond to objects based on either their color or orientation. This task requires cognitive flexibility — the ability to switch between two distinct sets of rules for behavior.

“Effectively what they’re doing is focusing on some parts of information in the world and ignoring others. Which behavior they’re doing depends on the context,” says Tim Buschman, an MIT postdoc and one of the lead authors of the paper.

As the animals switched between tasks, the researchers measured the brain waves produced in different locations throughout the prefrontal cortex, where most planning and thought takes place. Those waves are generated by rhythmic fluctuations of neurons’ electrical activity.

When the animals responded to objects based on orientation, the researchers found that certain neurons oscillated at high frequencies that produce so-called beta waves. When color was the required rule, a different ensemble of neurons oscillated in the beta frequency. Some neurons overlapped, belonging to more than one group, but each ensemble had its own distinctive pattern.

Interestingly, the researchers also saw oscillations in the low-frequency alpha range among neurons that make up the orientation rule ensemble, but only when the color rule was being applied. The researchers believe that the alpha waves, which have been associated with suppression of brain activity, help to quiet the neurons that trigger the orientation rule.

“What this suggests is that orientation was dominant, and color was weaker. The brain was throwing this blast of alpha at the orientation ensemble to shut it up, so the animal could use the weaker ensemble,” Miller says.

The findings could explain how the brain can create any appropriate behavioral response to the countless possible combinations of stimuli, rules and required actions, says Pascal Fries, director of the Ernst Strungmann Institute for Neuroscience in Frankfurt, Germany.

“We likely compose the appropriate neuronal assembly on the fly through synchronization,” says Fries, who was not part of the research team. “The number of combinatorial possibilities is enormous, just like the number of possible 10-digit telephone numbers is.”

How are the orientation rules or the neurons that handle those rules coordinating with the ensemble of cells to handle recognition and response. Good question. That is one of the big mysteries of cognitive ability. If some neurons make some permanent or semi-permanent changes to remember how to respond to the shape of an object first, and then evaluate color, what deeper mechanism is signaling them to do so – the core of our hard-drive.

early winter river wallpaper

Ruth Marcus really needs to find some honest work, Is Paula Broadwell’s wardrobe fair game?

Some readers — some female readers, to be precise — chided me for sexism. “Why is it okay to imply that a woman who wears a halter top to show off her guns on ‘The Daily Show’ must be a seductress?” asked one e-mailer. “That is dangerously close to the mind-set that suggests women who are raped are somehow responsible because of the way they dress. Shame on you.”

Another reader, in a letter to the editor, wondered, “Are black silk halter tops the mark of some sort of vindictive, national security-threatening evildoer? Or was Marcus resorting to stereotypes?” Her conclusion: “Dumping on Broadwell because of how she dresses does a disservice to all women.”

These are reasonable points, reasonably made. So let me explain why my response is to double down on the halter comments.

I’ve read this argument in many forms over the years. Men have a uniform – suits, law enforcement or military uniforms. Women do not so they need to be very careful about not appearing to look sluttish. How can someone be so aware of social norms and not understand them. If men started wearing dresses and lip-gloss and women all stared wearing loose jeans with their shirt tales out would that change the truth or falsehood of what they say. No. What they say has merits or it does not, regardless of externalities. because we’re human and have perceptual biases does not mean that the truth changes. Women have more freedom in some ways, less in others – they can wear dresses or suits. So people like Ruth will have to do some mental work – like setting aside socially ingrained perceptions and seeing the substance of the person first and their fashion choices down the line. This is not about defending certain behaviors that M’s Broadwell has engaged in, that is another issue, only not to judge her by how she decided to dress. Marcus, perhaps unknowingly is making the pro burka argument. let’s cover all women up so sex can supposedly be removed from the viewers mind -male or female. The problem with a woman dressed in a sack or cardboard box is that once a man knows it’s a woman, his brain is going to go into female perception mode. While the prejudices invoked are slightly different, the same is true of women judging other women.

Of course Petraeus is responsible for his misconduct; my point was that he should have looked at her and known better. But she should have known better, too. No woman is responsible for being raped, no matter what’s she’s wearing. We are responsible, however, for the way in which we present ourselves publicly. We are asking for sexist treatment when we dress like sex objects.

No they’re not. While some people can be tremendously shallow and judgmental about fashion, how you judge someone is based frequently based on learned societal norms, not an essential reality. I somehow doubt that Marcus goes weeks without bathing and wears a baggy sweatsuit and old sneakers into the office. Some related history, When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

Little Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits primly on a stool, his white skirt spread smoothly over his lap, his hands clasping a hat trimmed with a marabou feather. Shoulder-length hair and patent leather party shoes complete the ensemble.

We find the look unsettling today, yet social convention of 1884, when FDR was photographed at age 2 1/2, dictated that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, also the time of their first haircut. Franklin’s outfit was considered gender-neutral.

But nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. Thus we see, for example, a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.

Why have young children’s clothing styles changed so dramatically? How did we end up with two “teams”—boys in blue and girls in pink?

Art deco facade of Penn Way Drug Store, Miami, Florida. I’m not sure when the store was originally built, but the photo was taken in 1980. Those levered windows are a south Florida trademark.

Art deco center area looking from the south. Rockaway Point, NY. Again, not sure about the build date. The photo was done in 1990 by Jack E. Boucher. I’m ambivalent about a lot of art deco bric-a-brac, but the architecture has a wonderful timeless quality about it. It is so timeless that it ends up in a lot of science fiction films. Gattica is a very good example.

This is just one of the wonderful photo collections at this blog, Vintage Guitars

Sorry, but you’ll have to put up with some ads to watch this video. H/T to here and a review, Reviewed: Sing the Delta by Iris Dement

Religion is another reoccurring theme throughout Dement’s music (she’s the youngest of fourteen children raised in a conservative, tight-knit Pentecostal family). On Sing the Delta Dement examines her lapsed faith while still managing to find solace in the world around her. In “There’s a Whole Lotta Heaven” she sings, “We don’t have a prophet to tell us what our future holds / We’ve only got each other and the love we carry in our souls.”

Some how I got into a southern soulful mood this week, don’t worry I’ll snap at least partly out of it soon.

no hostess hohos but plenty of drones, black and white shoreline, news fit to print

Drones for “urban warfare” – Manufacturers are targeting U.S. police forces for sales, as drones move from the Middle East to Main Street

In November 2010, a police lieutenant from Parma, Ohio, asked Vanguard Defense Industries if the Texas-based drone manufacturer could mount a “grenade launcher and/or 12-gauge shotgun” on its ShadowHawk drone for U.S. law enforcement agencies. The answer was yes.

[  ]…In short, the business of marketing drones to law enforcement is booming. Now that Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up U.S. airspace to unmanned vehicles, the aerial surveillance technology first developed in the battle space of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is fueling a burgeoning market in North America. And even though they’re moving from war zones to American markets, the language of combat and conflict remains an important part of their sales pitch — a fact that ought to concern citizens worried about the privacy implications of domestic drones.

Some movies that immediately came to mind where the police used drones were the original movie version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 411 and the loosely adapted film version of P.K. Dick’s Minority Report. In both police and their drones are used to stifle civil liberties. Since police are asking and suppliers are willing to have such concerns doesn’t require much tin foil. At one time SWAT teams were for dangerous situations that required military type assault skills to both contain someone who was dangerous and to keep civilians safe. Now they are routinely used – sometimes just for drug raids – innocent deaths have become routine in turn. While some studies suggest that we’re becoming a less intelligent nation, there are quite a few tech savvy people out there. What happens when there is an it becomes a contest between civil liberties advocates and the drone cheerleaders. The amateur techies design weapons to take down the drones or find ways to hack their guidance systems. The government reacts with laws against writing certain software, building certain devices or crippling the average consumer computer so that it cannot be used to write what they define as malicious code. Who is held responsible when the first innocent person is killed by a drone. here we are in the age of Google street view and GPS and SWAT teams are raiding the wrong address.

According to that article it is predicted that law enforcement drones to be used on civilians will be a $6 billion industry by 2016, just three years from now. Law enforcement, not being a private enterprise will get that money from tax revenue. Yet there is resistance to shoring up Social Security and Medicare. People still complain that public education needs more money. Certainly true in school districts where the average income in at or below the median.

With 56 domestic government agencies now authorized by the FAA to fly drones in U.S. airspace, law enforcement is leading the way in the adoption of unmanned vehicles. According to documents published last week by Electronic Frontier Foundation, 22 of the authorized agencies are primarily law enforcement departments, while another 24 entities (mainly universities) have law enforcement functions under them.

Among the domestic users are the Department of Homeland Security, which flies a fleet of nine drones over the country’s northern and southern borders, and the FBI. A Bureau spokesman declined to comment on the nature and purpose of the FBI’s drones saying that he could not discuss “investigative techniques.”

Not to be an alarmists, but this already seems like a done deal. All urban areas are under video surveillance, they are considered public spaces, thus individuals are not thought to have a right to privacy in such areas. To that we’ll have drones. I sense that like so many industries in the past,  there is so much money at stake, the profit motive will drive lobbying. The lobbing, as usual, will give the largest and loudest voice to a hand full of industries in how that legislation is shaped.

black and white shoreline

Some short takes: Strange: Why Do Conservative Red States Have More Traffic Fatalities? The short cynical answer that first pops into your head is true and so is the cause in terms of mind-set.

Fiona Apple Cancels South American Tour to Be With Her Dying Dog. If you’ve never been close to a pet this may sound like melodrama. Those of us who have had dogs know that they become part of the family. They’re like kids with bushy tails. They love you like no human ever will, without qualification.

Knuckleheads in the news, George Eliot writing desk stolen from Nuneaton museum.

John McCain (R-AZ) writes a lot of books in which he talks about honor. Proof you do not have to be an expert on something to get your writing published: Office of the DNI cut “al Qaeda” reference from Benghazi talking points, and CIA, FBI signed off

Maybe we’ll all be gone in a month and none of these earthly concerns will matters anyway. Though since science usually triumphs over myths I will still pay the utility bill, Mayan Apocalypse Countdown: 1 Month ‘Til Doom

there is bad irony and good irony, old creek bridge wallpaper, washington and franklin were heretics

When culture critics talk about modern irony they’re usually talking about people who have adopted being smart-ass as a lifestyle. So called hipsters tend to get called out a lot on this, though being smart-ass is and always has been part of American culture. Mark Twain was brilliant, but he was a master of smartassness. Though to his great virtue he never created his life around it. By the time most people are in their mid-twenties irony, the smart-ass brand of irony does tend to wear thin. We all engage it sometimes, but we don’t wear it like a watch. In that sense I can relate to some of this, How to Live Without Irony

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

He is an easy target for mockery. However, scoffing at the hipster is only a diluted form of his own affliction. He is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt. One need only dwell in public space, virtual or concrete, to see how pervasive this phenomenon has become. Advertising, politics, fashion, television: almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.

I get that or I think I do. Even though it is a cultural issue and phenomenon mostly of larger cities – New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta. Genuineness and sincerity are certainly a relief when you live in western culture where those qualities, as goofy as they can be at times, go wanting. Though she may go a bridge too far in the blanket condemnation of irony. The kind she talks about is usually in pockets of people. I’ve seen more on The New Girl and Happy Endings – where they made fun of the same ironic hipsters she is talking about, than I have in my daily life. Classic irony is indispensable. To see it and know it, is to cope with modern hypocrites like conservatives, stiff backed irreligious fundamentalists, wealthy people complaining about how hard they have it, people with almost no sense of humor who think they’re funny, repair people who swear they’ll be there by noon, catching every fu*king traffic light, paying $65 for a pair of jeans, a guy that does not know how many homes he owns…Who wants to live in a society that has decided that seeing the irony  is now socially forbidden. Irony is far less bloody than going postal and it doesn’t stain your new shirt.

Ya see what I mean, @bradplumer, The number of 97-year-olds attacking people with swords in Japan is on the rise

old creek bridge wallpaper

 

This is a wonderful and very long  article about decoding some documents from an old secret society in the 18th century, They Cracked This 250 Year-Old Code, And Found a Secret Society Inside. I already knew this, but in case anyone else missed in the white washed babble that passes for history in our high school texts,

They also frequently didn’t care about their adherents’ Christian denomination, making these orders—especially the biggest of them, Freemasonry—an implicit threat to the authority of the Catholic Church. In 1738 Pope Clement XII forbade all Catholics from joining a Masonic lodge. Others implied that the male-only groups might be hotbeds of sodomy. Not long after, rumors started that members of these orders actually worshipped the devil.

These societies were the incubators of democracy, modern science, and ecumenical religion. They elected their own leaders and drew up constitutions to govern their operations. It wasn’t an accident that Voltaire, George Washington, and Ben Franklin were all active members. And just like today’s networked radicals, much of their power was wrapped up in their ability to stay anonymous and keep their communications secret.

food in the context of time and culture, old advertisements

Over at a suggested lesson plan at the National Endowment for the Humanities it states, “Ancient cultures provide some of our deepest connections to the humanities, drawing life from that distant time when the study of history, philosophy, arts, literature, and language itself began.” It goes on onto to suggest that  the study of Sophocles’ Antigone, with its universal themes of gender conflicts, war, grief and ethics is a great way to connect to those times and see how some basic aspects of humanity have changed little over the few thousand years since that play was written. While many people really get into Antigone – most of my class did in a survey of Western Literature, some, especially high school students find the classics tremendously dull. They find the language outdated rather than eloquent. They don’t see what the big deal is about a dead body and religious rites being performed. Certainly not worth all the drama. Yet a seventeen year old westerner that listened to the news about how the bodies of mercenaries or private security contractors if you like, were treated at yet Fallujah in 2004 probably got upset. Thinking how tragic, how barbaric the whole incident was. That tendency to only relate to what happens in the context of one’s life is pretty common. It seems to me to lessen somewhat as people get older because they start to see how rapidly change takes place. How many of the books and movies they like remain relevant even though no one in To Kill a Mockingbird uses a cell phone, we still see and hear the racism. No one in Woody Allen’s Sleeper, even though it is about the future, uses a laptop to surf the net, but it is still funny. Anyway i was thinking about how people see and evaluate culture and food in the context of their lifetimes the other day when all the news about Hostess and Twinkies broke. My first thought, other than being concerned about the loss of jobs for the employees, was the people feeling all nostalgic about the Twinkie. The Twinkie? Besides the bleached white flour and sugar are enough preservatives and chemicals to keep it fresh in your nuclear fall-out bunker for years. I’ve eaten Twinkies, but when I was a kid I liked something Hostess makes or did, I’m not sure if they still do, a turnover, not made with peaches or apples, but chocolate pudding. So I’m guilty too, just over a different product. It turns out that our taste buds have been targeted for dumping down, just like television has largely dumped down the news from informing people, to what some people have called infotainment. At Your Convenience

Some convenience foods actually predate the 20th century, among them canned soups, fruits and vegetables; gelatin dessert mixes; ketchup and other prepared condiments; pancake mixes; ready-to-eat breakfast cereals; sweetened condensed milk. After the First World War, these and more found their way into the kitchens of eager young housewives, with manufacturers often promoting their innovative products via free recipe books.

There’s no denying that flavor, texture and nutrients suffered, but people began to rely on these conveniences, and their tastes simply changed to accommodate. It was, after all, an era of scientific progress.

By 1937, as another world war threatened, the timing was perfect for the arrival of a processed, canned meat product called Spam. Currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, Spam was all but guaranteed to make a name for itself when the U.S. government included it in war rations to be shipped overseas to Allied troops. It was economical, had a long shelf life, needed no refrigeration, and was ready to eat straight from the can.

The processed meat product won a place in pantries back home as well, and for all the same reasons. During wartime, women joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers to fill in for all the men-turned-soldiers. This left less time to cook, and many of the newly employed were ready for quick, cheap, modern and convenient time-savers at the end of the day.

After the war, women (whether or not they were still employed outside the home) were encouraged to embrace the frozen, dehydrated, canned and boxed foods that promised to save time in the progressive modern era and allow more time for new leisure options—for example, watching television.

We all grew up in a largely Twinkified culture. A good cake, like my grandmother made, she sifted the flour herself or one from a decent bakery makes a Twinkie taste like cat food in comparison. Yet people have always had the choice, spend the time making something good or cutting corners because at the end of a long day few people feel like going to too much trouble to cook. If you grew up having never tasted a homemade apple pie, one of Hostess’s apple turnovers probably taste pretty good because you don’t have any reference outside that experience.

Inevitably people began combining various convenience foods: a package of noodles, a can or two each of condensed mushroom soup, tuna and peas, some crumbled potato chips on top, and voilà—the tuna casserole was born. And for the ultimate side dish, a baked mixture of canned green beans, condensed mushroom soup and dehydrated fried onions. What could be simpler?

[  ]….Advertising companies and the growing convenience-food industry made sure that eating the modern way became the fashionable way. Real, fresh food in its natural form no longer seemed desirable. With the advent of frozen products in addition to canned, foods were widely and consistently available year-round. There was no need to rely on seasonal or regional crops, and prices remained fairly stable from winter through autumn. In keeping with this revolutionary new approach, a fish dinner—which might once have consisted of fresh, delicate lake perch with a butter sauce and in-season vegetables—now meant reheated frozen fish sticks with instant mashed potatoes, canned peas and Jell-O salad.

There is more at the link, but that is a brief synopsis of how contemplating the loss of bad food became something to be depressed about, oh no the Twinkie is gone, the end of an era.

*Someone is likely to buy Hostess and continue production.

Below are some old advertisements. Some of the products are no longer in demand, some are just not made anymore and one is obviously racist stereotyping.

Thompson’s vegetable cattle powder For diseases of horses, cattle, hogs & sheep. 1868.

 Dewdrop bitters – the great American stomach regulator. 1868. Bitters is actually an alcoholic beverage flavored with herbs. People still drink bitters and it is used in some cocktails for flavoring. The advertising angle is ageless, the pretty woman with the lecherous old man.

Saint Ronald Reagan selling  cigarettes. Reagan would go on to sell a poisonous brand of conservatism to the American public.

Carhart & Brother celebrated B-D & T roasted coffee, 1907. To me this is a beautifully done advertisement. Great colors and composition. Though you have to overlook the ridiculous, “De missus won’t hab nuthin’ else’ tag line.