Waking up to… advice about not injecting disinfectants?

My alarm went off; I picked up my phone, and… failed to understand what it was trying to tell me. What it was trying to tell me didn’t have to be said.

Lyson warned me not to inject disinfectants into my body.

We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).
– a spokesperson for Reckitt Benckiser, the United Kingdom-based owner of Lysol (NBC news link)

Well, right. But… why would I need to be TOLD this?

And then I read the Guardian article (above), and received a terrible reminder that someone who doesn’t know what disinfectant does to living things routinely proposes BAD, BAD, ignorant actions (such as drinking poison) in news conferences where mass fatalities are played down and conspiracy theories are celebrated, and that these unfortunate spectacles should never, ever, ever be carried live on television.

Books: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red: the Murderbot Diaries
by Martha Wells
published by Tor
2017

Do you read Janelle Shane’s hilarious posts on training neural nets at aiweirdness.com? Or perhaps follow her on Twitter? Well, I do, and she kept writing about how much she LOVES Murderbot. And she is so fun! Which suggests to me that Murderbot might be fun.

I investigated. I read. I learned. MURDERBOT IS FUN.

Sorry, I didn’t meant to shout that. 🙂 But it’s TRUE! Martha Wells’ novella about a security unit that’s a little bit cloned human, and a lot of roboty parts, is fun to read. Murderbot itself is fun: it had… a bad run of luck that was very fatal for a lot of people, and doesn’t really trust its makers anymore. And loves video dramas. And is a little too smart for its job. And… then things get VERY INTERESTING in the unmapped bits of the planet that its clients are exploring…

It’s a page turner! (You can read a sample on the Tor website here.) And there are more volumes to turn, and a full length novel coming out, and now I’m going to need to read all of those. Because: Murderbot is fun.

Book: Vija Celmins: To Fix The Image In Memory, edited by Gary Garrels

Cover of Vija Celmins: to Fix the Image in Memory

Vija Celmins: To Fix The Image In Memory
edited by Gary Garrels
published by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in association with Yale University Press
2018

In late 2018 & early 2019, SFMoMA had a fantastic exhibit of the art of Vija Celmins, and that show led to the publication of this enormous, substantive catalog of her work. It contains essays with a broad range of interpretations of her catalog, high quality reproductions, a collection of insightful interview excerpts, AND a biographical timeline that is unusually well written. It is one of the better catalogs I’ve purchased, and after enjoying it in small servings since the viewing the exhibit in person TWICE (it was that good), I read it from end to end today.

There is something remarkable about Celmins’ artistic focus. She has created a range of work to show off her skills, but her long term commitment to drawing and painting certain subjects, such as the surface of the ocean or the depth of the sky, in a very particular method, has led to a profound body of work. It is remarkable to have such a range of skills, to have shown them off through solid early representational work in oil paints and remarkable sculptures (though she considered those drawings or paintings of a sort), and also to perform time-consuming, in-depth studies of a few subjects in graphite with such SATISFYING results, all while bucking other artistic trends, and maintaining a unique “voice.”

I’m old enough to have trained in architecture back when we actually drew (no, really), and so seeing such amazing work in graphite means something to me – it’s a medium I worked in for so many years… and she does wonders with it.

The graphite drawings in particular are inspiring and gorgeous in person. From afar, they are the sea; from up close, they are the texture of graphite on paper; and you can feel yourself slipping between the two understandings, especially around the edges, and being pleased with that experience.

Her pictures of the surface of another planet are also remarkable, and you realize after viewing several that you recognize specific rocks appearing in the drawings, because the rocky landscape is NOT a random drawing of high precision, but a high precision interpretation of a specific NASA image, methodically mapped out and reinterpreted in different weights of pencil, or from a closer point of view.

The reproductions would have been satisfying enough for me, but the texts, including the interview snippets on her NEED to do this work, and on the way drawing and painting on these projects became part of her way of living in awareness… it’s all quite informative.

I love her consistency; the way she challenged herself by changing media when the time felt right; the depths of the blacks in her drawn skies; the inverse skies she created recently… there is a lot to enjoy.

Great artist; great show; unusually satisfying catalog.

Book: Maria Merian’s Butterflies by Kate Heard

Cover of Maria Merian's Butterflies

Maria Merian’s Butterflies
by Kate Heard
published by Royal Collection Trust
2016

I LOVE scientific illustrations – they are a glorious combination of art and science! I received a postcard with a gorgeous botanical illustration on it by Maria Sibylla Merian, and decided I needed to learn more.

This remarkable illustrator was born in 1647, and devoted her life to the study and documentation of insects, along with the plants they feed on. She became fascinated by insects at age 13, and studied them throughout the rest of her life. Her father and stepfather both made their living by painting; she taught young girls (including her daughters) to paint, and her painter husband (one of her stepfather’s former apprentices) helped her publish her first book on entomology of local (northern European) insects. After several complex life changes, she wound up selling most of her possessions and taking one of her daughters to a Dutch colony in Suriname to study insects in their natural environments. That trip provided the content that she developed into the publications that became her major life’s work, which were collected by scientific societies, royalty (which is how this book came to be published by the Royal Collection Trust), and wealthy amateurs.

It’s not ONLY that she was a remarkable observer, or that she could draw and paint: she also had to master printing arts to be able to sell editions of her work (printmaking is another skill set entirely), and business to sell different variations of the results at different price points (discounted advanced subscription prices, higher prices after publication; uncolored prints for one price, prints hand-colored by her and her daughters for a higher price, and painted variations on vellum for luxury editions…) . She also collaborated with a botanist to provide in depth information about the included plants.

While this little book is just about 6×8″, the printing is on heavy stock and of high quality. Not only are her plates shown in their entirety with their original titles, but there are many pages of details, so you can enjoy the precision and skill of both her drawing and coloring. It’s the color and detail excerpts that really pulled me in.

collage of details from Marian Merian's Butterflies

The book covers her early work, as well as her work in Surinam. (Note that, while she was born in Germany, she lived in Amsterdam, and the colony she visited was under the control of the Dutch at that time. There is a lot of discussion now about the meaning of the “Dutch Golden Age,” especially since so much of the wealth of Amsterdam was generated by exploitation (the death rate of Dutch sailors working for the Dutch East India Company was shockingly high), colonialism, and slavery. It’s good that this concept of whose hard work the country’s success was based upon is ongoing.)

The Royal Collection Trust has images of their copy of her book on Surinam, which I’ll link to here for your enjoyment:

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) – Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

Maria Sibylla Merian travelled in 1699 with her younger daughter to Suriname in northern South America, to study the flora and fauna. The resulting natural history plates were published in Amsterdam in 1705, at her own expense.

I’m delighted with this book. I even inadvertently learned some things about moths! 🙂

Artist: Mimi O. Chun

I received a delightful art card, with a still life of vegetables. It was nicely composed, but also – the radishes had SEAMS! It was an arrangement of SEWN food sculpture!

The artist who created that is Mimi O. Chun, and she has a great portfolio that goes beyond food and includes social commentary on several topics, which I’m linking to here.

Creatures of Commerce – Mimi O Chun

Creatures of Commerce is a direct response to the discordant nature of 2018. It’s a series of chimeras mashing up creatures, culture, and capitalism. And while I’ve never before been one to indulge my surrealist impulses (it somehow feels like a slippery slope to nihilism), reality is doing a good job of inspiring them these days anyway.

Oh my

Pandemic news is so dire 
that *positive comments* by YouTube users (!) 
appear 
encouraging us 
to be cautious 
so we can live to see 
*the whole new season* 
of Killing Eve. 
<3

Book: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Cover of On Tyranny

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
by Timothy Snyder
published by Tim Duggan Books (Penguin Random House)
2017

This pocket-sized book of about 125 pages is written by a Yale History professor specializing in the Holocaust. Snyder relies upon this historical expertise to compare the language, speech, rallies, actions, and slogans of the US president elected in 2016 to those used by Nazis, Communists, and Fascists in a prior century. He finds many commonalities, and summarizes appropriate responses into twenty themes intended to support civil society over repressive authorities.

I read this when it was quite new, and found its warnings insightful; I read it again recently, and found it to be understated relative to our current circumstances.

What struck me more on the second reading is the idea that we are formally taught to believe that “progress” is inevitable; that the future is bright; that the seeds of the future were planted long ago, and all we need to do is step back and let it naturally grow. I recall being in high school and believing this, despite known systemic flaws in that plan. The idea is appealing, because it requires no real effort on any one individual’s part. If the future takes care of itself – how convenient is that? But I grew up, and could see clearly that having a future I’d actually want to live in requires effort.

Progress is NOT inevitable. Democratic institutions DO NOT defend themselves. People DO commit terrible crimes in the names of ideologies they can barely explain. Civilizations DO collapse.

Effort is always required to maintain good things. Always.

Book: The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Cover of The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
by Melinda Gates
published by Flatiron Books, NY
2019

I didn’t anticipate buying this book – I don’t generally think that billionaires do enough for the world, and I’ve read of the Gates’ many grants that appeared to push privatising the public school system – as if the ownership model of the schools, rather than the poverty of the students, the lack of pay for teachers, and the unfair, property-tax-based disparities that create a lack of funding for materials and facilities were not the issues to address in struggling districts! That said, I recalled that it was Melinda who took the initiative to engage in philanthropy, and who should take the credit for turning the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into a philanthropic force. Plus, empowering women IS a great idea! So I stood inside a real bookshop (likely Bookshop West Portal), and opened this book to a random page. I was immediately engrossed, and bought it.

This is a good book.

Melinda Gates writes very modestly about – yes, this is going to shock you – listening to people in difficult situations, and financially supporting the people’s own plans to solve their problems. No, really! This isn’t a, “we are rich, and we float down from the heavens and know best what people need” story AT ALL. Instead, this book involves lots of travelling, listening, supporting ideas that Melinda isn’t entirely sure make sense, trusting people, and then being amazed by the results. (A recurring joke in the book in the form of her asking her husband, “Did you know that we are funding a [community initiative that wasn’t in the grant proposal, but which is a successful intervention]?” in which the answer is no, but the results are great, provides upbeat laughs.)

It also took guts to stand up to the leadership of the Catholic Church, a faith which Mrs. Gates is a member of, to actively support (and fund, and speak on behalf of) family planning. Having the church call her out by name for helping women must have been a shock (WHO DOES THAT?!?), but she stood her ground, and speaks up strongly and with evidence for what a positive difference family planning makes for everyone.

This book is informative, interesting, really well written, and ultimately emotionally moving. People helping women succeed in a way that benefits society is a fantastic subject!

Billionaires aren’t off the hook with me, but this particular one comes across as a really great person who has the right idea and has put her beliefs into action in a very positive, effective way.

Recommended recipe: tomato rasam (tomato charu)

I eat constantly and enthusiastically! I am not ashamed of this. 🙂

Rasam is a soup from Southern India that I haven’t had great luck with in restaurants. It didn’t seem half as interesting as sambar, and I have been repeatedly disappointed by a sort of watery version that I’ve been served.

Yet, I’d optimistically made up a huge jar of rasam powder at some point, which has just been sitting in my spice cabinet in a nearly accusing way for several years. So, I decided to give rasam another try with this recipe, which incorporates lots of fresh tomatoes:

Tomato Rasam (Tomato Charu) from indianhealthyrecipes.com

This recipe is GREAT! I used slightly overripe fresh tomatoes, and found the soup flavorful, warming, and yet still light. I served it with a bit of rice, just to add some carbs and give the spices something to contrast to.

I will make this again!