What I'm Reading (Oct. 15)

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Natural vs artificial, John Brown's smoldering memory, and school is not a super-spreader event.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

“Hmm, is there a difference? A great idea changes the way I see things and there is joy in that transformation. Ideas can touch the heart, and an emotional encounter or moment does the same — it changes how one senses and perceives the world. I sense that this imposed binary, “feel” versus “think,” is akin to what Hernando Colón discovered as he sought to bring order to his thousands of books. By creating somewhat artificial definitions and categories he had bestowed order and utility, but he had closed off part of the imagination. The Dewey Decimal System is a series of dams, halting and restricting imagination and connection.”

David Byrne as interviewed in the NY Times Review of Books

Discerning natural from artificial and understanding the possible meaning has long been a concern at the American Council on Science and Health.  

“Two hundred years ago, Fredric Accum became the first chemist to tabulate a list of food grievances into a book. A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons (1820) called out “counterfeiting and adulterating tea, coffee, bread, beer, pepper, and other articles of diet.” Accum framed the problems in starkly moralistic terms: nefarious, mercenary, criminal, unprincipled, fraudulent, and evil. And that was just the preface. He drew his biblical epigraph, “There is death in the pot,” from Kings 4:40. His frightening cover graphic showed a hollow skull and intertwined snakes. This would be the tip of the spear: In the decades ahead, a new library emerged of anti-adulteration, pro-purity compilations.”

Here is another take on a subject near and dear to us. From Wired, Your Food Isn’t ‘Natural’ and It Never Will Be

We live in interesting times. Among the things we seem to have lost are a historical perspective and our sense of humor. The latter is the most important because it makes it far easier to deal with our present and possible futures. Then I ran across this.

“Like many reviewers – and apparently Ethan Hawke, who plays Brown in the Showtime series – I laughed loud and hard when I read “The Good Lord Bird.”

That said, the laughter was a bit unsettling. How and why would someone make this story funny?

At the Atlantic Festival, McBride noted that humor could open the way for “hard conversations” about America’s racial history. And Hawke’s hilarious portrayal of Brown, along with his commentary about the joys of playing this character, suggests he shares McBride’s belief that humor is a useful mechanism for fostering discussions about both slavery and contemporary race relations.

While one might reasonably say that the history of American race relations is so horrific that laughter is an inappropriate response, I think Hawke and McBride may be on to something.

One of humor’s key functions is to change people’s way of seeing, to open the possibility for a different understanding of the subject of the joke.”

Here is a short history of John Brown, described by the author as a “floating signifier – a shape-shifting historical figure molded to fit the political goals of those who invoke his name.” From The Conversation, In ‘The Good Lord Bird,’ a new version of John Brown rides in at a crucial moment in US history

It’s now October. We are starting to get an evidence-based picture of how school reopenings and remote learning are going (those photos of hallways don’t count), and the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19."

From The Atlantic, Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders