The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

Robot Cars Are Totally Soulless, and Other News

May 18, 2016 | by

“The Man Catcher,” an early effort at pedestrian safety.

  • Books can be difficult—so many words, and usually they’re the same color. But what if we made them different colors? The Folio Society’s new edition of The Sound and the Fury presents the text “in fourteen different colors that represent different time zones in the narrative,” and this one guy is super excited about it: “Colored text … feels like a breakthrough for publishing. It’s a playful approach perfectly attuned to our era. Learning in general has already moved away from dusty tomes of monochrome text to brighter, shinier and more interactive methods. In a time of short attention spans and digital distractions, could multicolored publishing work for other difficult books? Would Gravity’s Rainbow be more popular with a rainbow-colored makeover? Would Proust’s interminable sentences be easier to navigate if they switched back and forth from one color to another, allowing the reader a sense of a light at the end of each tunnel?” (Because that’s why we read Proust: for the occasional sense of relief.)
  • If you’ve kept yourself up at night pondering the ethical dilemmas of driverless cars—like, if they’re going really fast and there’s a kid in the road, and they can either plow over the kid or jerk the wheel and kill you, the passenger—you might have even bigger problems to worry about. Daniel Albert writes: “I’m optimistic about our robot-car future. It will be really cool. But make no mistake that the development of driverless cars will flow from the same combination of forces that have carried us from the Model T to the Tesla. For some 120 years those forces have favored not mobility precisely, but automobility: a system that melds moving from place to place with industrial production and consumerism. Promoters of autonomous vehicles promise that they will defeat those forces, will wipe the slate clean. History suggests that they might also be consumed by them … Robot cars will be neither moral nor immoral in the narrow sense premised in the thought experiments now being conducted and sold as valuable. They will not exist outside of the current automotive ecosystem. They will instead enter an automotive landscape that instantiates myriad ethical choices made in the past and rehearsed daily.”

No Regrets

April 27, 2016 | by

Marietta Peabody Tree, from the cover of No Regrets.

My mother has been on somewhat of a socialite kick lately. For a while, when I talked to her, she was reading No Regrets: The Life of Marietta Tree. “Someone who ought to have had a lot of regrets,” was her acid review. From there, she moved on to a biography of the famous Cushing sisters. Read More »

Diamonds and Pearls

April 25, 2016 | by

From a 1916 Vanity Fair cover.

“How are you?” asked a smiling acquaintance on the street. 

“Well, I’m pretty down about Prince—but aren’t we all?” I said reprovingly. 

“Oh yes,” she murmured. “Of course.” I saw her blinking quickly in an effort to summon tears. “It’s the end of an era, isn’t it?” Read More »

The Sweet Smell of Success

March 31, 2016 | by

Perfume ad, ca. 1920.

It all started about a month ago. A close friend was celebrating a big birthday, and I planned to buy her a set of nice lotions and potions in a pricey scent I knew she loved. So I looked up the address of the shop, walked across the park, headed uptown, and entered its ritzy, expensively perfumed confines. The man standing inside didn’t look up.

“Hello,” I said.

He ignored me for an uncomfortably long moment, then looked up and said, “Did you want something?” Read More »

The Melons of Yesteryear, and Other News

July 31, 2015 | by


Giovanni Stanchi, Watermelons, peaches, pears and other fruit in a landscape, 1645–72.

  • Today in obsolete fruits: a seventeenth-century still life by Giovanni Stanchi reveals the extent to which selective breeding has altered the watermelon—nay, life!—as we know it. Look at Stanchi’s painting and you’ll see a smaller, rounder, whiter fruit that today would never make it to market. We’ve demanded bigger, redder, juicier, more oblong melons. What have we wrought?
  • Samuel Delany has been writing for more than half a century now, and a new collection of his early work reminds of how he’s changed the genre of science fiction: “Delany came of age at a time when the genre was indeed characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes. From the beginning, Delany, in his fiction, pushed across those boundaries, embraced the other, and questioned received ideas about sex and intimacy … Even now, when graphic sex and challenging themes are hardly unusual, Delany’s rapturous sexuality and his explorations of race within the trappings of science fiction have the power to startle.”
  • Everyone critiques social media by suggesting that it forces us to turn ourselves into products—the presumption is that we’d prefer a service that allows for some more boundless, less prepackaged form of “self-expression.” But the problem might be more insidious than that: it might be that “users enjoy becoming the product … The self, as a product, loses its enchantment for us and needs to be revitalized to the extent that it becomes familiar, known, understood. We love ourselves only as a novelty, a mystery, not as a staple product. We want to be able to apprehend ourselves as a new, desirable thing that we can consume and enjoy. This makes us feel relevant, marketable. We can imagine someone buying into the idea of us, and that helps us buy into ourselves. But inevitably our desire for ourselves needs to be renewed, and we will need to be repackaged.”
  • Jacob Fugger, a banker born in 1459, was known as “Jacob the Rich.” He got this nickname because he was very, very rich. In fact, he may well have been the richest man who ever lived: “Fugger was able to obtain control of commodities such as silver, from Austria, and copper, from Hungary. He built a smelter to refine the copper and traded it himself quite pitilessly … He helped finance a Portuguese scheme to relocate the pepper and spice trade to Lisbon, a move so successful that it delivered a fatal blow to the commercial stature of Venice. He also had a thirst for information about trade and commerce that led him to create a network of couriers whose reports to Augsburg were printed and distributed to clients in the form of a primitive newspaper. Fugger had invented the world’s first news service.”
  • But let’s not forget that there are plenty of obscenely wealthy people today and that, unlike Fugger, many of them have been photographed. Myles Little, an editor, has compiled pictures of the upper crust in “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” and the results are startling—even more so than you’d expect. In part this is because Little strove to make the show “posh”: “I wanted to borrow the language of privilege and wealth by including beautiful photos, beautiful, precious objects, but I wanted to use that language to subvert wealth, and critique wealth and privilege.”

The Law of Jante

February 11, 2015 | by

How an irritable Danish author left an enduring mark on the national character.


Aksel Sandemose in 1963. Photo: Leif Ørnelund

Your modern-day Dane is not what you would call a God-fearing creature. The Danish church, though never formally separated from the state (as happened in Sweden), plays an ever-diminishing role in the lives of the vast majority of Danes, with Sunday attendance experiencing an apparently inexorable decline, divorce increasing, and church leaders gently shunted into the margins of the popular discourse. You would imagine, then, that the teachings of Martin Luther would hold little currency in Danish society today, yet many of the core principles of Lutheranism—parsimony, modesty, disapproval of individualism or elitism—still define the manner in which the Danes behave toward one another and view the rest of the world, thanks in part to the enduring influence of an improbable literary figure.

Aksel Nielsen was a sensitive and sickly child who grew into a weak and stunted young adult. The son of a smith, he was born in 1899 in the somnolent North Jutland town of Nykøbing on the island of Mors. He received a rudimentary education at the local school until 1916, when, at the age of seventeen, he went to sea on a schooner bound for Newfoundland.

This was the first of many flights from reality upon which the bookish Aksel would embark during his life: the next came just a few weeks later on the other side of the Atlantic, where he jumped ship. But, with the world now at war, Nielsen’s habit of scribbling secretively in his notebooks late at night in his bunk bed, combined with his strange accent, aroused suspicion in Canada. His workmates began to think he might be a German spy. Once again he fled, this time back to Denmark, via Spain, working to pay his passage on a ship. Read More »