Last week, Africa Is a Country, a blog that documents and skewers Western misconceptions of Africa, ran a fascinating story about book design. It posted a collage of 36 covers of books that were either set in Africa or written by African writers. The texts of the books were as diverse as the geography they covered: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique. They were written in wildly divergent styles, by writers that included several Nobel Prize winners. Yet all of books’ covers featured an acacia tree, an orange sunset over the veld, or both.
"In short," the post said, "the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
A little-known aspect of the juvenile justice system requires young offenders to pay for their own prosecution and incarceration.
As a 10-year-old in northern Idaho, Anne Helen Petersen was fascinated by celebrity culture. She’d tear through gossip magazines, giving ratings to different issues. Fast-forward 20 years, and she’s turned her obsession into a career reporting on media, writing about everything from the role of the paparazzi to Jennifer Lawrence’s “cool girl” image to the women in True Detective. Her forthcoming book, Scandals of a Classic Hollywood, was borne out of a series of essays for The Hairpin.
Petersen also teaches film and media studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington—her courses cover subjects from celebrity gossip to Mad Men to Hollywood stardom. She spoke with me about her approach to teaching media studies and why she’s leaving academia to write features for Buzzfeed.
Read more. [Image: National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons]
The rickety Amazing Spider-Man 2 has critics debating just how many superhero movies America can handle. This was the subject of Samuel Adams’s weekly survey at CriticWire, which led RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz to write a forceful essay declaring: “This genre is where imagination goes to drown itself.”
He levels many popular arguments against superhero movies, ranging from valid critique of some action cinematography to easy comparisons with junk food. But the fact that there are real criticisms to be made of the movies the genre has produced doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the genre, or that we should expect it to peter out soon.
The truth is, there aren’t nearly enough superhero movies available. By historical standards, we’re so deprived of superhero movies that there’s probably a shadow war being fought between paranormal forces of good and evil over the matter.
Read more. [Image: Columbia]
As facial recognition systems improve, they will get better at identifying people at different ages, even very young children.
Only the federal government can grant amnesty. But cities and counties can effectively opt to stop deportations—and increasingly, they are.
Read more. [Image: Jim Young/Reuters]
If a fingerprint can tell someone who you are, a “breathprint” could reveal how you’re doing.
For the past two decades, Dweik has been studying the molecular patterns in breath that can reveal what’s happening inside the body. In the same way that a pocket of air above the water level in a closed container carries signature molecules that reflect the composition of that water, our breath is directly linked to what’s happening in our blood.
"A lot of people just think breath is what’s in your lungs," Dweik told me. "We realize now that anything in your body that is eventually in the blood can be measured in your breath."
That includes diseases like lung cancer, liver disease, heart disease, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease, all of which have “really distinct signatures in the breath,” Dweik says. And the medical implications are major: Breath-testing devices—think of them as Breathalyzers that detect disease rather than alcohol—can be just as accurate as traditional blood testing or biopsies, only cheaper and far less invasive.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Great books—books that change the way we see the world, books that spur us along our paths as people and cultures—are, in their way, patents. They are innovations made manifest. They are ideas that are claimed by an author on behalf of the rest of us. They are cultural products that concern themselves, when they are at their very best, with hammocks.
The artist and developer Sam Lavigne has taken these connections to a delightfully logical conclusion. Over at github, he posted a program that renders texts—literary, philosophical—as patent applications. “In short,” Lavigne explains, “it reframes texts as inventions or machines.”
So! Kafka’s The Hunger Artist becomes “An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy.” Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology becomes “A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth.” And—my personal favorite—The Communist Manifesto becomes “A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement.”
Read more. [Image: Sam Lavigne]
A tale of two definitions of entrepreneur—one thriving, one flailing.
"It would scare me to death to have him work there."
Terry Monkaba is talking about her son Ben, and the prospect of him finding a job at a Las Vegas casino. Many parents might feel that way, but Monkaba’s anxiety goes deeper. That’s because Ben, 28, has Williams Syndrome.
Once called “cocktail personality syndrome,” Williams Syndrome—particularly as it affects children—has captivated science writers for the past decade. In 2008’s Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks describes visiting Berkshire Hills Music Academy, where he was immediately received by unusually friendly children. “They all seemed extraordinarily sociable and inquisitive,” he writes, “and though I had met none of these campers before, they instantly greeted me in the most friendly and familiar way—I could have been an old friend or an uncle, rather than a stranger.”