This week’s roundup includes Picasso’s most famous painting, a call for an Internet rating system, a look at American beliefs about evolution, and more. Enjoy!
Appomattox: How did Ulysses S. Grant become an embarrassment of history and Robert E. Lee a role model? – “To millions of Americans, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, Lee is a role model and Grant is—despite his gifted generalship and consequential presidency—an embarrassment. What happened? How did the hero of the war become a quasi-ignominious figure, and how did the champion of Southern slavery become, if not the war’s hero, its most popular figure?” Slate
A Beginner’s Guide to Invisibility – – “In nature, the most successful invisibility technology, after being invisible, is camouflage. Perhaps you have seen a stick insect sitting on a stick, or a leaf-shaped katydid hanging from a branch—but probably you have not, so well do they blend in. Yet theirs is nature’s least and lowest kind of camouflage. When a flatfish hovers in the water, Ball tells us, sensors on its underbelly register the color and brightness of the surface below—information the fish uses to reproduce the look on its upper body, so that it matches its background. Some cephalopods see that trick and raise it, rather literally: they can change not only color but also texture, developing bumps or ridges (or, conversely, smoothing out) to mimic their surroundings. You can kill an entire workday watching videos of octopuses emerging from their hidden state; they look as if they have opened a door in space-time and are sliding back into the ocean from some other dimension.” The New Yorker
Should we be suspicious of the Anthropocene? – “This is why, from the earth sciences to English departments, there’s a veritable academic stampede to declare that we live in a new era, the Anthropocene – the age of humans. Coined by the ecologist Eugene Stoermer in the 1980s and brought to public attention in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen, the term remains officially under consideration at the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London.” Aeon
| Defending Darwin – “We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.” Orion Magazine
The Meme as Meme – Issue 23: Dominoes – – “Why the sudden fame? The truth is that Little hadn’t become famous: His meme had. According to website Know Your Meme, which documents viral Internet phenomena, a meme is “a piece of content or an idea that’s passed from person to person, changing and evolving along the way.” Ridiculously Photogenic Guy is a kind of Internet meme represented by LOL cats: that is, a photograph, video, or cartoon, often overlaid with a snarky message, perfect for incubating in the bored, fertile minds of cubicle workers and college students. In an age where politicians campaign through social media and viral marketers ponder the appeal of sneezing baby pandas, memes are more important than ever—however trivial they may seem.” Nautilus
The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct | – “The biggest extinction event in planetary history was driven by the rapid acidification of our oceans, a new study concludes. So much carbon was released into the atmosphere, and the oceans absorbed so much of it so quickly, that marine life simply died off, from the bottom of the food chain up. That doesn’t bode well for the present, given the disturbingly similar rate that our seas are acidifying right now. Parts of the Pacific, for instance, are already so acidic that sea snails’ shells begin dissolving as soon as they’re born.” Motherboard
Rich Teens Use Instagram, Poor Teens Facebook – – “Once they’re wired, teens are most likely to sign on to Facebook. But teenagers are diversifying their use of social networks, with seven in ten saying they use more than one site. And six in ten teens say that they most often use a platform other than Facebook, such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, or Vine. “Facebook remains a dominant force in teens’ social media ecosystems,” the study concludes. But it’s not the dominant force. “ NYMag
The cruel and unusual history of America’s quest for the perfect execution – – “In a survey of nearly 9,000 executions that have happened in the United States, legal studies scholar Austin Sarat found that lethal injection was by far the most error-prone mode of execution of them all. While 3% of all executions have been botched since 1900, over 7% of lethal injections haven’t gone according to plan. Shooting people kills them more quickly and reliably than electrocuting, gassing, or poisoning them. But it’s harder to watch or read about than lethal injection.” Quartz
The case for an Internet ratings system – “There might be difficulties, but ah! – the rewards we might reap. I’m dreaming of two Internets, one where civility is at the very least improved by an explicit promise from publishers, and another where, heck, if you feel like duking it out with some trolls, have a ball. I’m imagining streams of information where the juveniles and scoundrels are excluded, having been unwilling to own up to their rotten behavior like a free citizen, and where the signal-to-noise ratio of more sober voices is, by design, improved. Then at night, if you want to hang out with the people and get decadent, you throw the W switch, have a couple of beers, and see what happens. But overall, there could be a simple, elegant way to reduce some of the more toxic behaviors showing up online.” Eric Garland
Art of the Week
Guernica is a mural-sized canvas on oil painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso completed by June 1937.The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is known as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. Standing at 11 feet tall and 25.6 feet wide, the large mural shows the suffering of people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos. The painting is believed to be a response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalist. Upon completion, Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed, and believed to have helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.
Poem of the Week
To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible
Germ of new life, whose powers expanding slow
For many a moon their full perfection wait,—
Haste, precious pledge of happy love, to go
Auspicious borne through life’s mysterious gate.
What powers lie folded in thy curious frame,—
Senses from objects locked, and mind from thought!
How little canst thou guess thy lofty claim
To grasp at all the worlds the Almighty wrought!
And see, the genial season’s warmth to share,
Fresh younglings shoot, and opening roses glow!
Swarms of new life exulting fill the air,—
Haste, infant bud of being, haste to blow!
For thee the nurse prepares her lulling songs,
The eager matrons count the lingering day;
But far the most thy anxious parent longs
On thy soft cheek a mother’s kiss to lay.
She only asks to lay her burden down,
That her glad arms that burden may resume;
And nature’s sharpest pangs her wishes crown,
That free thee living from thy living tomb.
She longs to fold to her maternal breast
Part of herself, yet to herself unknown;
To see and to salute the stranger guest,
Fed with her life through many a tedious moon.
Come, reap thy rich inheritance of love!
Bask in the fondness of a Mother’s eye!
Nor wit nor eloquence her heart shall move
Like the first accents of thy feeble cry.
Haste, little captive, burst thy prison doors!
Launch on the living world, and spring to light!
Nature for thee displays her various stores,
Opens her thousand inlets of delight.
If charmed verse or muttered prayers had power,
With favouring spells to speed thee on thy way,
Anxious I’d bid my beads each passing hour,
Till thy wished smile thy mother’s pangs o’erpay.
—Anna Lætitia Barbauld