Shields & Brooks on the NSOTU

My favorite part of watching the American news is always the commentary of Mark Shields and David Brooks... One's a little bit country and the other's a little bit rock & roll, and they frequently don't agree, but both are intelligent men whose opinions I respect tremendously.

To wit, their assessments of Obama's Non-"State of the Union" Address yesterday and the GOP response... Enjoy!

Carnival in Venice

I've written, usually not very positively, about the Venetian Carnivale before. Imagine 80,000 tourists crammed into Piazza San Marco for the opening of Carnival, in a city which has a rather elderly population now of about 65,000... and you'll understand why it can all be a bit traumatic for the residents!

Nevertheless, Carnival's ongoing blog coverage from Venice Daily Photo made me want to go back through my old archives and pull out the pictures of the first Venetian Carnival I ever attended, exactly 15 years ago this season.

They're taken from my travel diary of that year, that anno mirabilis, the first time I had ever left the country and the first time I came to Venice. I hope you get to enjoy vicariously even a small part of the wonder and the spectacle even now, a decade and a half later, that I experienced at the time...

Friendly Monsters in Vintage Family Photos

What a charming idea, and a hoot to boot!

Vintage photographs improved with monsters by Relleno De Mono.

UPDATED: Fortune Cookies

I'm one of those people who fondly collected the best fortunes from fortune cookies in my wallet, with the whimsical idea that the ones kept in the wallet are the ones that will (or the ones I'd like to see) come true.

But in a slim wallet there's no longer any room for the fortunes... I figure immortalizing them digitally would be the next best thing. Hence my small homage to this terse but artistic literary form!

UPDATED (7/27/2010): I now twitter my worthwhile fortune-cookie fortunes instead of pocketing them!

Michelangelo's Amphibians

Clipped this out of some mag years ago... I guess Ribit Productions has since done lots of different takes on froggilicious fine art. In the meantime, enjoy all the Michelangelo froggy goodness here!

T.E.D.: Day Two Talks (Distilled and Hyperlinked)

Oliver Sacks recounted his adventures with patients who suffer from Charles Bonnet Syndrome, who are losing their sight or hearing but who nevertheless experience sensory visual or auditory hallucinations. (Might this phenomenon have had some impact on the creation of prehistoric cave paintings, he mused quickly, ala How Art Made the World.) "We see with our brains," he said. "Some people call that imagination."

Then, as you might imagine for a session entitled "See," artists presenting on their installations thereafter predominated...
Olafur Eliasson, author of the New York City waterfalls and the green dye project, started with optical illusions of residual colors, making us viewers "co-producers" of the resulting artwork.
Ed Ulbrich explained the mind-blowingly infinitely intricate process behind the creation of the digital persona of the old/young Benjamin Button.
Golan Levin, a former graduate student from the MIT Media Laboratory, creates work that explores the intersection of abstract communication and interactivity, including art that looks back at the viewer. (I loved the program that turned human negative space into digital objects!)
Daniel Libeskind presented his architectural projects, which he aims to be above all democratic.

The rest of the day seemed to feature mostly scientists...
Louise Fresco had the incredible presence of mind to bake bread onstage while speaking about how - after 10,000 years - nutritious bread stopped being an accessible staple for people. "To those who have to go without 2 meals a day," as she quoted Gandhi, "God can only appear as bread." "Please ask your government to provide an integrated food policy," she urged.
• Anthropologist Nina Jablonski presented on what she says is our most evident and accessible proof for evolution, the various colors of our skin. The darker the skin color, the more resistant it is to UVB rays, but the harder for it to absorb vitamin B, a testament to our collective ancestral immigration out of Africa.
Although as a historian of medicine, I can tell you that premodern surgeons weren't all quacks like amazing roboticist Catherine Mohr suggested in the preface to her research, she's in the process of developing the latest generation of the incredibly advanced DaVinci laparoscopic surgical robot!
Robert Full is a biologist studying how geckos climb up walls and use their tails as a fifth leg for climbing and even as a rudder for gliding, and roboticists are using this information for prototypes of the mega-cool mecho-gecko!

Finally, Sarah Jones stunned with her consumate portrayal of half a dozen characters from her own life's history that populate her one-woman stage show! Her wonderful (and my favorite!) character based on her Jewish great-aunt is viewable here.

Last but not least, earlier in the day bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert cleverly talked about how genuis can - in a sense - ruin genuises, that is, unless they can manage to divorce themselves from it. The video from this spectacular TED presentation is already available here!

Other blog coverage of TED's second day can be found at...
Via My Heart's in Accra:
Via White Africa:

My next post will be on the TED Prizes!

T.E.D.: Day One Talks (Distilled and Hyperlinked)

Other blog coverage of TED's first day can be found at...
Via White African:
Via My Heart's in Aggra:

When the Lagoon Froze Over... Scientists Reconstruct the Coldest Winter on Record

In the winter of 1708-9, Venetian artist Gabriele Bella recorded the hijinks that ensued when the city's lagoon froze over between Venice's northern waterfront of the Fondamente Nuove and the island of San Cristoforo della Pace (which would later be incorporated with the nearby island of San Michele and become the official cemetary of Venice).

Why did it happen? We may soon have a better idea. Slashdot notes that...
"In England they called it the Great Frost, while in France it entered legend as Le Grand Hiver, three months of deadly cold that fell over Europe in 1709 ushering in a year of famine and food riots. Livestock died from cold in their barns, chicken's combs froze and fell off, trees exploded and travelers froze to death on the roads. It was the coldest winter in 500 years with temperatures as much as 7 degrees C below the average for 20th-century Europe. Now as part of the European Union's Millennium Project, Scientists are aiming to reconstruct the past 1000 years of Europe's climate using a combination of direct measurements, proxy indicators of temperature such as tree rings and ice cores, and data gleaned from historical documents."

The Emerald City of Great Ideas!

I just spent the last four days with T.E.D., the conference which started out 25 years ago being just about Technology, Entertainment and Design, but has since infinitely transcended these original boundaries, becoming an annual, extraordinary meeting of the minds, driving us all to become together much, much greater than the sum of our individual parts.

Over the next couple of days, I thought I'd distill here as best I could the best of what I saw! I hope it can manage to inspire you to learn more about these deeply fascinating ideas...

First of all, wanna know more about T.E.D.? Here's an intro, courtesy of the BBC!

The Six Emotional States of Mainers

From an old Down East magazine... Thought it was so funny/true that I kept it for posterity. Enjoy!