October 12, 2017

Miscellany #86

The science behind Mona Lisa’s smile.  How Leonardo da Vinci engineered the world’s most famous painting

-Monalisa

His greatest triumph of combining art, science, optics, and illusion was the smile of the Mona Lisa, which he started working on in 1503 and continued laboring over nearly until his death 16 years later. He dissected human faces, delineating the muscles that move the lips, and combined that knowledge with the science of how the retina processes perceptions. The result was a masterpiece that invites and responds to human interactions, making Leonardo a pioneer of virtual reality.

The magic of the Mona Lisa’s smile is that it seems to react to our gaze...In no other painting are motion and emotion, the paired touchstones of Leonardo’s art, so intertwined. The Mona Lisa’s smile came not from some divine intervention. Instead, it was the product of years of painstaking and studied human effort involving applied science as well as artistic skill. Using his technical and anatomical knowledge, Leonardo generated the optical impressions that made possible this brilliant display of virtuosity.

One mom’s ingenious way of getting her kids off their phones and into books.

“This week’s wifi password is the color of Anna Karenina’s dress in the book. I said the book, not the movie!! Good luck!

Contenders in the annual Sony photography awards next year. 
Photographer Diego Faus Momparler from Spain submitted this photograph of Cap de Formentor in Mallorca, taken with a  long exposure just before sunset.

 Mallorca Photo Winner

Solzhenitsyn’s cathedrals  Gary Saul Morson on the literary works of Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

In Russia, history is too important to leave to the historians. Great novelists must show how people actually lived through events and reveal their moral significance. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained in his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, literature transmits “condensed and irrefutable human experience” in a form that “defies distortion and falsehood. Thus literature . . . preserves and protects a nation’s soul.”

How would you walk down this hallway?

-Illusion Hallway Tile

British tile company Casa Ceramica have designed a novel optical illusion flooring system that uses real tiles to create a vertigo-inducing warped floor. The skewed checkerboard floor functions as the entryway to their showroom in Manchester, lending an Alice in Wonderland atmosphere to a generally traditional medium.

Dr. Robert Liston is famous for performing the only operation with a 300 percent mortality rate.

In the days before anesthesia, surgeons had to get creative with their surgeries in an attempt to save lives while minimizing a patient’s pain. One of the most effective ways was to perform the surgery as quickly as possible, sometimes in under five minutes.  There was an upside to this method, of course, as the less time a surgery took, the less likely the patient was to bleed out and the less likely they were to feel pain. However, there was also a downside, as accuracy would usually be sacrificed in favor of speed....Liston was particularly skilled at quick amputations. Where most surgeons at that time lost one in four patients, due to his speed and skill, Liston only lost about one in ten.

Robert Liston was performing a leg amputation on a patient who was lying flat on his table. As he brought down his knife, he was so focused on his speed that he took his surgical assistant’s fingers off along with the patient’s leg. As he swung the knife back up, it clipped a spectator’s coattails, and he collapsed, dead.  The patient and Liston’s assistant both died after their wounds became infected, and the spectator who collapsed was later discovered to have died of fright. The three death’s made Liston’s surgery the only one on record with a 300 percent mortality rate.

Migrating Painted Ladies Over Denver
Large quantities of migrating painted lady butterflies show up on radar over Denver on October 4, 2017.  Call them a swarm, a flutter, a rabble or a kaleidoscope of  butterflies, there's no collective noun big enough.

 Migrating Butterflies Denver



Entries to the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition
Harry Collins captured this photo of an Atlantic Puffin on the remote nesting island of Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine.

 Atlantic Puffin By Harry Collins


Giant Straw Animals Invade Japanese Fields After Rice Harvest  Repurposing rice straw left over from the harvest.

 Straw Lion Japan-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:10 PM | Permalink

"Restraint in public life is not a foundation of civilization. It is civilization"

One would not expect an article about manners in Geopolitical Futures.  But George Friedman makes the very good case that manners are very much a geopolitical matter.

Manners and Political Life  Restraint in public life is not a foundation of civilization. It is civilization.

I married a woman born in Australia, of that class that emulated English culture...Meredith, my wife, grew up elegant and restrained. The enormous body of rules she called good manners rigidly shaped and controlled her passions, which were many. She followed the rules she learned as a child partly out of a desire for others to think well of her, partly because she regarded these manners as the laws of nature. Restraint and propriety were the outward sign of a decent life. ... Good manners allowed her to be both free and civilized, in the English manner. Her obsession with manners imposed a civility that shaped the way in which people disagreed....

I learned from her that there was a time and place for everything. I learned that without manners, however arbitrary they might be, life was chaos. I learned that combat, in speech and deed, might sometimes be necessary, but that it must be bound by the rituals of civility, or everything is destroyed....Manners make it possible to disagree within a framework of ritual that the disagreement does not lead to unhealable breaches.

I grew up in the 1960s, when manners were held to be a form of hypocrisy, the sign of a false and inauthentic time.  The argument was that honesty was the highest virtue. Manners restrained honest expression and therefore denied us our authenticity. What came of this was an assault on the distinction between what we are in private and what we are in public. The great icon of this was Woodstock, where the music was less important than the fact that things that had been ruthlessly private had become utterly public. The shame that is attached to bad manners was seen as dishonesty, and unrestrained actions as honesty. The restraint of manners became mortally wounded....

Today, we are surrounded by politicians who have decided that honesty requires that they show how deeply they detest each other, and a public that feels free to display its contempt for any with whom it disagrees. Our opponents have become our enemies, and our enemies have become monsters. This has become true for all political factions, and all political factions believe it is true only for their opponents. The idea that it is proper to hide and suppress our malice because not doing so is bad manners has been lost on all levels. With this has been lost the idea that it is possible to disagree on important matters, yet respect and even honor your opponent. Or, put another way, what has been lost is the obligation to appear to feel this way. Manners, after all, do not ask you to lie to yourself, but merely to the rest of the world.

The idea that manners create inauthentic lives, lives in which true feelings are suppressed, is absolutely true. But it forgets the point that many of the things we feel ought to be suppressed, and many of the truths we know ought not to even be whispered. Indeed, the whisperer, when revealed, should feel shame. Without the ability to feel shame, humans are barbarians. It is manners, however false, that create the matrix in which shame can be felt. When we consider public life today, the inflicting of shame has changed from the subtle force of manners, to the ability to intimidate those you disagree with. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld said, “Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.” Today, vice feels little need to apologize.
....
What I have written here would seem to have little to do with geopolitics. It has everything to do with it. A nation has as its foundation the love of one’s own. That isn’t a saccharine concept. It is the idea that we are born in or come to a country and do not merely share core values with each other, but honor each other for being our fellow citizens, that our mutual bond is the fellowship of the nation. Underneath there may be much malice, but good manners require it be hidden. The collapse of manners undermines the love of one’s own and weakens the foundation of the nation. And since nations rise and fall, this is very much a geopolitical question.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink

Growing Older - the beauty, the realizations and some horrifying stories

Usula K. Le Guin on Growing Old

One rule of the game, in most times and places, is that it’s the young who are beautiful. The beauty ideal is always a youthful one. This is partly simple realism. The young are beautiful. The whole lot of ’em. The older I get, the more clearly I see that and enjoy it....And yet I look at men and women my age and older, and their scalps and knuckles and spots and bulges, though various and interesting, don’t affect what I think of them. Some of these people I consider to be very beautiful, and others I don’t. For old people, beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young. It has to do with bones. It has to do with who the person is. More and more clearly it has to do with what shines through those gnarly faces and bodies.....

As her mother lay dying

I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.  That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep.

What Does It Feel Like To Be 80 Years Old Knowing That Death Is Imminent?  by Stan Hayward.

I am in my 80s. To be this age is largely luck. To be this age and reasonably healthy with peace of mind is even luckier. To be this age, be healthy, and not lonely makes one feel so lucky that you want to gulp the moments down like a drowning man reaching air....I regret much but also realize that having regrets meant that I had opportunities to regret; I was lucky to have those opportunities....

When friends pass away, it is not just their presence that is lost, it is also the memories they have of you. The “Do you remember when…?” conversations that pepper the elderly reminiscences. Fear of death is actually rare and is commonly a joke. On the other hand, fear of losing one’s memories, faculties, or independence is real. We put a great value on having people who we can trust — especially to carry out wishes when we are gone. Making final decisions can be upsetting, particularly if they relate to young people who are distant in age and lifestyle yet close in relationship....

So, what is it like to be in your eighties? It is really not much different from being any age where your concerns are getting through the day. On the other hand, people have more importance than possessions; comfort more worth than ambition; trust more value than money; love more satisfying than immortality. Perhaps in some ways, one wants to leave the world as one entered it; without fear or pain; without anger or distrust; without possessions or debts; without demands or expectations; in innocence.

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker
Horrifying stories of how 'guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it'.

“The families were devastated that they couldn’t know if the residents were in surgery or hear anything about their health. They didn’t understand why they’d been taken out of the picture. They’d ask, ‘Can you just tell me if she’s alive?’ ” Liebo tried to comply with the rules, because she didn’t want to violate medical-privacy laws; as guardian, Parks was entitled to choose what was disclosed...

One senior  said that "strangers were making decisions about her fate. She felt as if she were frozen: she couldn’t influence what was happening. “I didn’t know what to do,” she told Scott. “I think I yelled for help. Help me.” The worst part, she said, was that she couldn’t find her family. “Honest to God, I thought you guys left me all alone.”
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Approximately ten per cent of people older than sixty-five are thought to be victims of “elder abuse”—a construct that has yet to enter public consciousness, as child abuse has—but such cases are seldom prosecuted. People who are frail or dying don’t make good witnesses—a fact that Shafer once emphasized at a 1990 U.S. congressional hearing on crimes against the elderly, in which he appeared as an expert at preventing exploitation. “Seniors do not like to testify,” he said, adding that they were either incapable or “mesmerized by the person ripping them off.” He said, “The exploitation of seniors is becoming a real cottage industry right now. This is a good business. Seniors are unable to fend for themselves.”...

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink