The fly strikes against the window-pane until at last she learns that, though invisible, there is an obstacle there.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Giotto had some very ugly children. Someone having asked him why he made such lovely faces in his paintings and such ugly children in his life, he answered, “My children are night work. My pictures are my day work.”

– Paul Gauguin, Gauguin’s Intimate Journals

The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme, and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.

― Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)

Where have all the insects gone?

Farhad Manjoo: “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. They are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

On women in publishing: “A 2016 survey of the gender divide in US publishing found 78% of the industry is female (no UK-wide survey has yet been done). But the same survey found that, at executive or board level, 40% of respondents were men.”

“I told him I thought Alien 3 was underrated. He looked at me as if I’d brought up a family bereavement.”

Peter Conrad: “Trump is the very epitome of thoughtlessness. Beneath that curvaceous quiff, behind that permatanned pout, his mind is a broiling elemental chaos.[…] In 2013 he proudly retweeted a message that called him ‘the most superior troll on Twitter’: he assumed that he’d been paid a compliment.”

“To celebrate Mother’s Day, KFC published Tender Wings of Desire, a novella following the love affair between Lady Madeline Parker and Colonel Harland Sanders.” What a time to be alive.

Peter Berger on Jewish humour as a marker of sophistication: “I once went on a walk in Tokyo, entered a theater in which one of Woody Allen’s films was playing, in a dubbed Japanese version. The audience was almost all Japanese. They laughed at all the right places. Did they understand the film and know what was funny, or were they coached?”

“As of fall 2013, 43% of the 1.5 million faculty who teach at degree-granting postsecondary institutions [in the US] were white males and 35% were white females. The percentages for other racial groups stand in stark contrast to these numbers: Black men, for example, represented 3% of full-time faculty, whereas 6% were men of Asian/Pacific Islander descent. […] Why does American higher education lack diversity?

What do Coco, Rocky, Lola and Max have in common? They’re all popular dog names in New York City.

Carmen Aguirre: “Yes, far too often women who are sexually assaulted are disbelieved. Which is why I understand and see the reasoning behind the ‘I Believe Women’ slogan. It is a powerful statement. It is a strong political position. It is a rhetorical tool, but is not an actual, automatic truth. If we see it as such, it is an inherently tyrannical position that has historically been used to imprison and murder poor men of colour. For these reasons I much prefer ‘I Listen to Women.’ ”

“To the outside world, a moshpit looks like the nonsensical activity of a Neanderthal – which it is.”

Vinson Cunningham: “Because life is boring, and there wasn’t always such a thing as Netflix, and—let’s face it—good entertainment is way too hard to find, Saartjie Baartman, a young South African slave woman, was brought first to England and later to France, where in the early nineteenth century crowds gathered with the sole intention of looking at her butt. […] It was large, Ms. Baartman’s behind, astonishingly big, and for a public held rapt by several spells – phrenology, white supremacy, and, in all seriousness, probably just a crippling amount of boredom—it proved irresistible, if only for a moment.”

Elyse Graham: “One of the notable online trends of 2015 entailed people making videos of cats being scared by cucumbers. It turns out that cats are scared of snakes, which cucumbers resemble—so if you surreptitiously put a cucumber near a cat and wait for the cat to notice, you’ll be treated to a nice little freak-out. The trick is cruel, of course; as animal experts warned, it stresses the cat out. Then again, deriving enjoyment from a cat’s suffering (Katzen-Schadenfreude?) is a form of entertainment that goes back for centuries.”

Yo Zushi defends the indefensible: “Critics may howl when something deemed trashy captures the public imagination – for instance, the music of Ed Sheeran, who recently topped the charts with his album Divide, despite warnings from reviewers about its ‘flagrant sense of scheming’ and ‘deeply uncool whiteness’ – but our relationship with culture is a personal matter. There’s no shame in loving what a bunch of journalists have decided is a bit rubbish.”

From Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism”:

Many forms of donning a black identity are insulting because they are just that—the donning of a black identity. I take it that those who don a black identity do not express a genuine identification with blackness. Rather, they assume a black physical appearance, or appropriate certain exaggerated or maliciously concocted features of black culture for a brief period of time, usually for questionable ends. Yet we are examining the possibility of a person who genuinely identifies as black. This is completely different from someone who identifies as white but who pretends to be a black person precisely for the purpose of ridicule and reinforcement of racial stereotypes. The latter is appropriately deemed pretense because it relies on the fact that this person’s core identity is not who she publicly and permanently purports to be. Someone who genuinely identifies as black and feels that she is black is not pretending to be black. A person who genuinely identifies as black is thus not likely to don a black identity for a few hours or even days, weeks, and months, intending thereafter to resume a white identity. Instead, such a person is more likely to try to live as a black person, day in day out, year in year out, in perpetuity. Dolezal may well have been putting on a black identity for nefarious purposes. But the possibility that she was not is a reminder that we must keep these different ways of assuming an identity morally distinct. Someone who genuinely identifies with blackness could perhaps be viewed as affirming blackness instead of insulting it, insofar as this suggests it is desirable to be black. In a world where the worth and value of blackness is routinely denied, perhaps Dolezal’s transition could therefore be viewed in a positive light.

See also Jesse Singal’s “This Is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like,” written in response to the outcry provoked by Tuvel’s article.

Emma Smith: “Shakespeare is the apex predator in a cultural ecosystem where he has no rivals, only prey. The literary rabbits and deer and mice need to watch out.”

Sarah Boxer: “Bloggers assume that if you’re reading them, you’re one of their friends, or at least in on the gossip, the joke, or the names they drop. They often begin their posts mid-thought or mid-rant—in medias craze. They don’t care if they leave you in the dust. They’re not responsible for your education. Bloggers, as Mark Liberman, one of the founders of the blog called Language Log, once noted, are like Plato. The unspoken message is: Hey, I’m here talking with my buddies. Keep up with me or don’t. It’s up to you.”