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Waxing Nostalgic

Several years ago, Pitchfork ranked the top 100 albums of the 1980s. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good assessment, but they’ve since decided to revisit the topic – because the original “represented a limited editorial stance we have worked hard to move past; its lack of diversity, both in album selections and contributing critics, does not represent the voice Pitchfork has become.”

Normally, that sort of flapdoodle would be enough to send me in the opposite direction. I mean, diversity? Who cares? It’s either good music or it isn’t. But since they decided to double down and name the top 200 albums of the decade, well…I couldn’t not click on the link, obviously. And I’ve got to admit, it’s a better list. See what you think.

Miscellany

Over at the New Yorker, Douglas Preston writes about a young paleontologist who “may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth.”

Let us now praise the humble pigeon.

Six months after Germany’s surrender brought an end to World War II in Europe, 31-year-old historian Hugh Trevor-Roper was charged with putting the kibosh on rumors that Adolf Hitler was still alive. And though “[t]he theater in which the action took place was closed; the actors were few and known; there were no seats for the public or the press; no reviews; no bulletins,” his account of the regimes’s last days has yet to be challenged. Unless you count this.

Dostoyevsky: patron saint of hitchhikers?

We’re doomed.

Sports!

Larry Silverberg, a dynamicist at North Carolina State University – and an expert in the modeling of physical phenomena – has been studying free throws. For 20 years. And he’s learned that a successful free throw comes down to four factors:

First, and most important, is the speed at which you release the ball. It’s also the most difficult to master.

Second is shooting straight. I know, you’d think that’d be at the top of the list, but apparently not.

Third is release angle. According to Silverberg, the best angle of trajectory falls somewhere between 46 and 54 degrees from the horizon, depending on how tall you are.

Fourth? Backspin. Three backward rotations per second, to be precise.

All of which points to the most important of Silverberg’s findings: If you want to be a Steve Nash-level free-throw shooter, all you’ve got to do is practice.

Abandon all hope…

“Hell,” Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, “is other people.” I think he may have been on to something.

But is it? In Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Torment, Marq de Villiers argues that hell is “just a state of mind, a radical separation from god,” and that the very idea of hell has fallen out of favor – even among the faithful. Michael Coren has more over at The Walrus.

Heck, maybe hell is just way more prosaic than fire and brimstone and eternal wrath. Like the kind of place where the peanut butter jar is perpetually empty and the radio station is only tuned to Bon Jovi. That’s some serious torment.

Miscellany

It took Estelle Betzold Doheny nearly 40 years to acquire a Gutenberg Bible. Yet when it finally arrives, “she resists the impulse to rip into the box, leaving it untouched overnight so she can open it with appropriate ceremony the next day.” And I get peeved when Amazon is late.

Michael J. Agovino sees some similarities between jazz and soccer. Eh…maybe.

“It is highly unlikely,” writes Bo Winegard, “that any political party has a monopoly on truth.” There’s a lot to like about the centrist manifesto he published a couple of years ago. Like this:

The past is like an old, unused, and rotting library; the books are full of wisdom, but the building is ruined by insects and decay. The conservative wants to keep the library; the centrist wants to keep the books; and the progressive wants to burn the whole thing down and start over.

Larissa Diakiw visited Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery – the “Disneyland of Death” – and she has some thoughts.

Scott Walker, who “started as an icon and only grew more human,” has died. Pitchfork weighs in on his legacy. (Side note: Soused, Walker’s 2014 collaboration with Sunn O))), is one of the most terrifyingly beautiful albums of recent memory.)

Music Monday

Been listening to some new-ish stuff I picked up in Portland a couple of weeks ago. David Torn’s Sun of Goldfinger (2019) is unlike any of his previous ECM releases. Mary Halvorson continues to dazzle on Code Girl (2018), which features Amirtha Kidambi on vocals. Ólafur Arnalds’ re:member (2018) is gorgeous (likewise Silent Light, last year’s solo offering from guitarist Dominic Miller). The Pineapple Thief’s latest, Dissolution (2018), is the first with new drummer Gavin Harrison, formerly of Porcupine Tree and still touring with King Crimson.

Less new to the rest of the world but new to me: Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet (2006), Ulver’s Wars of the Roses (2011), and Steve Reich’s Four Organs • Phase Patterns (1971), all of which offer varying degrees of awesomeness.

As for what I’m looking most forward to this year, well…this is gonna be pretty amazing. No idea when it’s due to drop, though.

Now and Then

In January 2014 helveticka moved to its current location – a 1930 building that’s housed a number of tenants over the last 89 years. In fact, just before our arrival, it was home to Johnston Printing, a family-owned offset printing operation we’d used for more than 30 years. Back in the 40s, though, P-W Trailer Supply Co. did business here.

Thanks to the prolific commercial photographer Charles A. Libby, images of P-W’s handiwork were captured in 1941. Today, we have access to 150,000 of his negatives – a fifth of which are available digitally – at the Joel E. Ferris Research Archives of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. We’ve tapped into that collection on more than one occasion for our exhibit-related projects.

Poetry Break

SEPARATION
W. S. Merwin*

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

*Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, recipient of the National Book Award, and 17th United States Poet Laureate, died last Friday at the age of 91. “Separation” was published in the January 1962 issue of Poetry magazine. 

Megathrust!

Planning a summer vacation on the Oregon coast? Maybe you should have a Plan B.

“Roughly 100 miles off the West Coast,” writes Michael J. Totten, “running from Mendocino, California, to Canada’s Vancouver Island, lurks the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca Plate is sliding beneath the North American Plate, creating the conditions for a megathrust quake 30 times stronger than the worst-case scenario along the notorious San Andreas, and 1,000 times stronger than the earthquake that killed 100,000 Haitians in 2010. Shockwaves will unleash more destructive force against the United States and Canada than anything short of nuclear war, a giant asteroid strike, or a civilization-threatening super-volcano.”

It’s not a question of if, but when. And we’re definitely due. Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, says it’ll be “the worst natural disaster in American history,” with conceivably more American deaths in a single hour than an entire decade of the Vietnam War.

“Three urban areas,” adds Totten, “home to millions of people across an international boundary, will be more cut off from the civilized world than even the wilderness areas. They’ll be Walking Dead landscapes, minus the zombies.”

“The Great PNW” my arse.

Etymology Wednesday

This is pretty cool (and by “cool” I mean fun for word nerds and, for everyone else, a painful reminder that word nerds exist): “How we got the terms postlude, prelude, and interlude.”

As you may have guessed, they’re all related to lude, an obsolete English word that traces all the way back to 1694 – which, in turn, has its origins in Latin. Curious, I looked up allude, collude, delude, and elude, and, sure enough, it’s the same root.

As for Quaalude, well…the jury’s still out.

The Great Database in the Sky

Just when I thought the nerds of Silicon Valley couldn’t get any weirder, news of a super-secret brain-trust of highly credentialed scientists and academics committed to a near-religious belief in the reality of UFOs starts making the rounds.

One of these cranks, a guy who goes by the name of “Tyler D.,” actually “believes that his time working for the space program, absorbing the emanations of strange and powerful machines, altered the ‘frequencies’ of his body and made it receptive to the communications of nonhuman intelligence.”

It gets weirder.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Bad news, folks: Naturalist Adrian Shine, who has led the Loch Ness Project since 1973, says Nessie doesn’t exist.

“The fact is that well over a thousand honest and sober people have seen monsters in Loch Ness,” says Shine. “Yet over 80 years of expeditions have failed to fine [sic] them. Either we’re fairly bad at what we do or there’s another reason for that.”

Oh well. At least Bigfoot is definitely still a thing.

WTF Is Wrong with Us?

Well, this is depressing:

Most of us now discriminate against members of the other political side explicitly and implicitly—in hiring, dating, and marriage, as well as judgments of patriotism, compassion, and even physical attractiveness, according to recent research.

It gets worse: Nearly half of Democrats say they’d be unhappy if their child married a Republican, 15 percent of Republicans think the country would be better off if large numbers of Democrats “just died,” and 20 percent of both parties agree that many members of the other side “lack the traits to be considered fully human.”

I don’t understand. And I mean that I literally don’t understand. What kind of a person are you who demonizes another for the crime of holding an opinion different from your own? A terrible person, that’s what.

If that describes you, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. You can start by learning from the residents of Watertown, New York.

Murder, Mayhem, and…Mapmaking?

In addition to torturing dissidents, starving millions of their own people to death, and running several countries’ economies into the ground, it turns out the commies were pretty good at cartography. In fact, the Soviet military’s secret program “was one of the greatest mapping endeavors the world has ever seen.”

Beginning in the 1940s, the Soviets mapped the world at seven scales, ranging from a series of maps that plotted the surface of the globe in 1,100 segments to a set of city maps so detailed you can see transit stops and the outlines of famous buildings like the Pentagon…. It’s impossible to say how many people took part in this massive cartographic enterprise, but there were likely thousands, including surveyors, cartographers, and possibly spies.

“Possibly” spies? C’mon. Some of these maps were better than our own. The only way to achieve that kind of detail is through espionage. Not that it mattered, of course. After all, we still won the Cold War.

Infinitesimal Deviations

In War and Peace – “the greatest of all novels” – Tolstoy “shows us how our minds work even though memory omits what makes no sense.” Gary Saul Morson explains:

When Prince Andrei’s wife is dying in labor, he waits in the next room listening to her pitiful, animal screams. He feels unendurable guilt as she suffers. At last he hears the shriek of an infant, and his first thought is “why have they taken a baby in there?” He is so focused on his wife’s suffering that he forgets—only for a split second, of course—why she is suffering. He will never remember this absurd first reaction, immediately corrected; once again, only Tolstoy would notice it.

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