A couple of good, and very different, things to read this week, and then some new music.
Book Excerpt: Octopus: The Footed Void by Caspar Henderson
It turns out octopuses are really fascinating. (And no, the plural is not “octopi”— the root is Greek, not Latin. Henderson uses “octopods,” which may be the more correct plural, but he seems also to be using to refer to multiple species or types of octopus, not just multiple individuals, so I am going to stick with “octopuses”). I am not actually surprised by this so much as suddenly aware that I have given them very little thought or attention. Did you know that their suckers are taste buds? That there is an octopus species in which females are ten thousand times larger than males? That some species of octopus are as good at recognizing symbols as small children? Me neither. This is a really interesting read, and it also contains phrases like “bathypelagic tutu,” which made me both chuckle and look up the word “bathypelagic,” as a result of which I now know more than I did (not saying much) about ocean zones. I definitely now want to read the book from which this was drawn.
Article: The Singularity of Fools by David Rieff
This is kind of a review essay about several new books that make predictions about the future, but really its a critique of a particular strain of techno-optimism. Many of these writers (the exception being Evgeny Morozov, whose new book actually makes kind of similar argument to Rieff’s here) see technology as the answer to all of the world’s problems, ignoring the fact that similar predictions have been made, repeatedly, in the past, and been proved wrong. They extrapolate from trends in one area, like Moore’s law, and assume that the same kinds of developments apply to everything. Most importantly (at least from my point of view), the assume that the only questions left to answer are “how” questions, rather than “what” or “why”— that is, they think that everybody more or less agrees on what needs to happen, and the only obstacles are technical ones of method and efficiency. I have written about the confusion between political questions and technical ones here, so I won’t go into it here; suffice to say that by ignoring the political element of the problems they want to address— the questions of value that lie at the root of many of these issues— the techno-optimists make things sound much, much easier than they really are.
Song: “Fragment 2” by These New Puritans
These New Puritans’ last album, Hidden, was one of my favorites of 2010. A mix of straightforward indie rock, carefully arranged woodwinds, and (often) relentless, heavy percussion was unique but accessible, even catchy. They have a new record coming out June 10, and this is the first single. It’s not their best song ever, honestly, but it gives you a sense of what their about, and it’s enough to make me excited about the new album.
Song/Video: “Sea of Love” by The National
I did a little rave about The National last month, when the first single from their forthcoming album was released, so I won’t do it again. Here is another song from that album, with a pretty nice video. It’s probably not good critical practice to say what my favorite album of the year is going to be in May, but the odds are strongly in favor of it being this one.
Song: “#Beautiful” by Mariah Carey and Miguel
I am ambivalent toward both Mariah Carey (Glitter?) and, actually, Miguel (mostly because of a certain song on his last record), but its impossible to deny that they both have skills. The hashtag in the title of the song makes me retch (how are we supposed to say it? Am I supposed to say “hashtag” out loud every time I refer to the song verbally?), but really, it’s a solid, catchy, a kind of old-fashioned bit of pop R&B— more “My Girl” than The Weeknd. Good way to start the summer, which— after I grade one last paper— I am doing today.