Stephen Fry Narrates Two Animated Videos Explaining How Fear, Loathing & Misinformation Drove the Brexit Campaign

For millions watching in the UK and around the world, anticipating the looming Brexit deadline over the past two years has been like watching the slowest train wreck in history. But for those not following the coverage daily, the impending UK secession from the European Union is mystifying. Just how many trains are there, and where are they coming from, and how fast, exactly, are they going?

From the future of food and drug imports, to the status of the “currently invisible” border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, to all of the legal minutiae no one mentioned during the campaign, the consequences of the recent failure of a Brexit deal could be disastrous. Were “leave” campaigners honest in their sale of Brexit to the voters? Did they have any idea how such a thing would work? Ample evidence shows the answer to both questions is an unqualified No.

The Vote Leave campaign director now describes the referendum as a “dumb idea.” Wealthy UK residents, including many a Brexit politician, are fast moving their assets out of the country. So how did Brexit get sold to voters if it’s such a potential catastrophe? The usual methods worked quite well, Stephen Fry explains in the video above.

By stoking xenophobic fears over migrants and refugees, Brexiteers, he says, created “false assumptions about the EU, some very dark, and some comical.” They were assisted in conjuring a “mythical EU dragon” by tabloid journalists who called migrants “cockroaches” and “feral humans.” Rhetoric indistinguishable from Nazi propaganda drove a spike in hate crimes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the insistence of many voters that their choice was not driven by racial animus, the Brexit campaign, like the Trump campaign, Fry says above, undeniably was. The consequences of these votes for migrant workers and refugees speak for themselves. In the UK, Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policies have deprived British citizens from migrant families of livelihoods and safety. Some have faced threats of deportation, a situation similar to that facing the children of Vietnam War refugees in the US.

Fry calls for identifying a “new enemy” of the people: misleading information like the false claim that the NHS would save 350 million pounds a week after Brexit and the repeated lies in the U.S. about undocumented immigrants, crime, and terrorism. “Perception of crime levels,” he says, “has become completely detached from reality,” especially since the biggest security threats come from hate crimes and right-wing violence, a situation reported on, warned about, and ignored, for several years.

As in the US, so in the UK: relentlessly repeated claims about “invasions” has created a very hostile environment for millions of people. Are the facts likely to sway those voters who were carried away by excesses of hate and fear? Probably not. But those who care about the truth should pay attention to Fry's debunking. The facts about immigration and other issues used to sell far right policies and politicians, as he outlines in these videos, are entirely different than what Brexit leaders and their counterparts in the US want the public to believe.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Vincent van Gogh never went to Japan, but he did spend quite a bit of time in Arles, which he considered the Japan of France. What made him think of the place that way had to do entirely with aesthetics. The Netherlands-born painter had moved to Paris in 1886, but two years later he set off for the south of France in hopes of finding real-life equivalents of the "clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects" of Japanese prints. These days, we've all seen at least a few examples of that kind of art and can imagine more or less exactly what he was talking about. But how did the man who painted Sunflowers and The Starry Night come to draw such inspiration from what must have felt like such exotic art of such distant a provenance?

"There was huge admiration for all things Japanese in the second half of the nineteenth century," says the Van Gogh Museum's visual essay on the painter's relationship with Japan. "Very few artists in the Netherlands studied Japanese art. In Paris, by contrast, it was all the rage. So it was there that Vincent discovered the impact Oriental art was having on the West, when he decided to modernise his own art."

Having got a deal on about 660 Japanese woodcuts in the winter of 1886-87, apparently with an intent to trade them, he ultimately held on to them, copied them, and even used their elements as backgrounds for his own portraits.

"My studio’s quite tolerable," he wrote to his brother Theo, "mainly because I’ve pinned a set of Japanese prints on the walls that I find very diverting. You know, those little female figures in gardens or on the shore, horsemen, flowers, gnarled thorn branches." More than a diversion, he saw in their radical difference from the rigorously realistic, convention-bound traditional European painting a way toward "the art of the future," which he was convinced "had to be colourful and joyous, just like Japanese printmaking." As he developed what he called a "Japanese eye" while living in Arles, "his compositions became flatter, more intense in colour, with clear lines and decorative patterns."

The Van Gogh Museum has digitized and made available to download Van Gogh's Japanese art collection, or at least most of them: you can read about the hundred or so "missing" works here, and you can view the 500 the museum has retained here. Every time you reload the front page, the selection it presents reshuffles; otherwise, you can browse the collection by subject, person and institution, technique, object type, and style. Some of the best-represented categories include landscape, actor print, spring, and female beauty. Whether the Japan-inspired Van Gogh (or colleagues who shared his interest, chiefly Paul Gauguin) succeeded in creating the art of the future is up to art historians to debate, but no one who sees his collection of Japanese art will ever be able to unsee its influence on his own work. Not that Van Gogh didn't admit it himself: "All my work," he wrote in a later letter to Theo, "is based to some extent on Japanese art."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Complex Math Made Simple With Engaging Animations: Fourier Transform, Calculus, Linear Algebra, Neural Networks & More

In many an audio engineering course, I’ve come across the Fourier Transform, an idea so fundamental in sound production that it seems essential for everyone to know it. My limited understanding was, you might say, functional. It’s some kind of mathematical reverse engineering machine that turns waveforms into frequencies, right? Yes, but it’s much more than that. The idea can seem overwhelming to the non-mathematically-inclined among us.

The Fourier Transform, named for French mathematician and physicist Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, “decomposes” any wave form into frequencies, and “virtually everything in the world can be described via a waveform,” writes one introduction to the theory. That includes not only sounds but “electromagnetic fields, the elevation of a hill versus location… the price of  your favorite stock versus time,” the signals of an MRI scanner.

The concept “extends well beyond sound and frequency into many disparate areas of math and even physics. It is crazy just how ubiquitous this idea is," notes the 3Blue1Brown video above, one of dozens of animated explorations of mathematical concepts. I know far more than I did yesterday thanks to this comprehensive animated lecture. Even if it all seems old hat to you, “there is something fun and enriching,” the video assures us, “about seeing what all of its components look like.”

Things get complicated rather quickly when we get into the dense equations, but the video illustrates every formula with graphs that transform the numbers into meaningful moving images.

3Blue1Brown, a project of former Khan Academy fellow Grant Sanderson, has done the same for dozens of STEM concepts, including such subjects as higher dimensions, cryptocurrencies, machine learning, and neural networks and essentials of calculus and linear algebra like the derivative paradox and “Vectors, what even are they?”

In shorter lessons, you can learn to count to 1000 on two hands, or, just below, learn what it feels like to invent math. (It feels weird at first.)

Sanderson's short courses “tend to fall into one of two categories,” he writes: topics “people might be seeking out,” like many of those mentioned above, and “problems in math which many people may not have heard of, and which seem really hard at first, but where some shift in perspective makes it both doable and beautiful.” These puzzles with elegantly clever solutions can be found here. Whether you’re a hardcore math-head or not, you’ll find Sanderson’s series of 3Blue1Brown animations illuminating. Find them all here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Making Sense of White Paintings: A Short Art History Lesson on Minimalism and the All-White Painting

“I could do that” goes the refrain of philistines at modern art galleries, sometimes followed by a “Hell, my dog/cat/baby/elephant could do that!” Sophisticates smirk knowing smirks. Oh no, sir or madam, they most certainly could not. But maybe everyone, at some level, comes across Agnes Martin’s White Stone or Jo Baer’s Untitled (White Square Lavender) and thinks it looks like someone “just took a tube of white paint and spread it on a canvas.”

It's tempting to imagine, notes Vox in the explainer video above, but “it’s not actually that easy.”

Oh, really? Enlighten us…. Why exactly did Robert Ryman’s all-white painting Bridge sell for $20.6 million dollars? This question may be answered in another video. Here, we get a little bit of art history—on the origins of the all-white painting in the minimalism of Kazimir Malevich (he preferred to call it “Suprematism”) and the development of Minimalism, capital "M."

Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum in New York says that “white isn’t ever a pure thing, white is always tinted in some way.” Of course we know this, she acknowledges, because we’ve marveled at the dozens of shades of white in the paint section of the hardware store. Attend to the subtle gradations of white, from warm to cool, and the range of textures, lines, patterns, shapes, and “subtle intricacies,” and the all-white painting begins to reveal itself as an almost living, breathing thing rather than a piece of decorative drywall.

Art historically, the variety of white paintings came about principally in the 50s as a response to Abstract Expressionism’s emotional excesses and the outsized gestural personalities of De Kooning and Pollock. Artists like Bauhaus alum Josef Albers and Minimalist purist Frank Stella proposed that “the art object” should “be as far removed from the author as possible.” No greater an attack could be launched on the idea of art as personal expression than the all-white painting.

This tendency toward total abstraction—reducing art to fields of color, non-color, and simple shapes—has made a lot of people very upset. Vox includes several clips of “men getting angry” at Minimalist art. The word “pretentious” pops up a lot. The all-white painting has even inspired a play, Yasmina Reza’s Art, about “a group of lifelong friends who are torn apart when one of them buys an all-white painting for $200,000.”

As for “I could do that”… in nearly every show she’s worked on in her career as a curator, Sherman remarks, “someone has said that.” Well, she says, yes, maybe you could. “But you didn’t.” So there. If looking at an all-white painting (or an all-black painting) makes you feel angry, annoyed, or dismissive, maybe, she says, try and get beyond that first impression and engage with the subtleties of the work. And maybe don’t ask how much the museum paid for it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strange Dancing Plague of 1518: When Hundreds of People in France Could Not Stop Dancing for Months

If you find yourself thinking you aren’t a victim of fashion, maybe take another look. Yes, we can consciously train ourselves to resist trends through force of habit. We can declare our preferences and stand on principle. But we aren't consciously aware of what's happening in the hidden turnings of our brains. Maybe what we call the unconscious has more control over us than we would like to think.

Inexplicable episodes of mass obsession and compulsion serve as disquieting examples. Mass panics and delusions tend to occur, argues author John Waller, “in people who are under extreme psychological distress, and who believe in the possibility of spirit possession. All of these conditions were satisfied in Strasbourg in 1518,” the year the Dancing Plague came to the town in Alsace—an involuntary communal dance festival with deadly outcomes.

The event began with one person, as you’ll learn in the almost jaunty animated BBC video below, a woman known as Frau Troffea. One day she began dancing in the street. People came out of their houses and gawked, laughed, and clapped. Then she didn’t stop. She “continued to dance, without resting, morning, afternoon, and night for six whole days.” Then her neighbors joined in. Within a month, 400 people were “dancing relentlessly without music or song.”

We might expect that town leaders in this late-Medieval period would have declared it a mass possession event and commenced with exorcisms or witch burnings. Instead, it was said to be a natural phenomenon. Drawing on humoral theory, “local physicians blamed it on ‘hot blood,’” History.com’s Evan Andrews writes. They “suggested the afflicted simply gyrate the fever away. A stage was constructed and professional dancers were brought in. The town even hired a band to provide backing music.”

Soon, however, bloody and exhausted, people began dying from strokes and heart attacks. The dancing went on for months. It was not a fad. No one was enjoying themselves. On the contrary, Waller writes, “contemporaries were certain that the afflicted did not want to dance and the dancers themselves, when they could, expressed their misery and need for help.” This contradicts suggestions they were willing members of a cult, and paints an even darker picture of the event.

Certain psychonauts might see in the 1518 Dancing Plague a shared unconscious, working something out while dragging the poor Strasbourgians along behind it. Other, more or less plausible explanations have included ergotism, or poisoning “from a psychotropic mould that grows on stalks of rye." However, Waller points out, ergot “typically cuts off blood supply to the extremities making coordinated movement very difficult.”

He suggests the dancing mania came about through the meeting of two prior conditions: “The city’s poor were suffering from severe famine and disease,” and many people in the region believed they could obtain good health by dancing before a statue of Saint Vitus. They also believed, he writes, that “St. Vitus… had the power to take over their minds and inflict a terrible, compulsive dance. Once these highly vulnerable people began to anticipate the St. Vitus curse they increased the likelihood that they’d enter the trance state.”

The mystery cannot be definitively solved, but it does seem that what Waller calls “fervent supernaturalism” played a key role, as it has in many mass hysterias, including “ten such contagions which had broken out along the Rhine and Moselle rivers since 1374,” as the Public Domain Review notes. Further up, see a 1642 engraving based on a 1564 drawing by Peter Breughel of another dancing epidemic which occurred that year in Molenbeek. The 17th century German engraving above of a dancing epidemic in a churchyard features a man holding a severed arm.

We see mass panics and delusions around the world, for reasons that are rarely clear to scholars, psychiatrists, historians, anthropologists, and physicians during or after the fact. What is medically known as Saint Vitus dance, or Sydenham’s Chorea, has recognized physical causes like rheumatic fever and occurs in a specific subset of the population. The historical Saint Vitus Dance, or Dancing Plague, however, affected people indiscriminately and seems to have been a phenomenon of mass suggestion, like many other social-psychological events around the world.

Episodes of epidemic manias related to outmoded supernatural beliefs can seem especially bizarre, but the mass psychology of 21st century western culture includes many episodes of social contagion and compulsion no less strange, and perhaps no less widespread or deadly, especially during times of extreme stress.

via Public Domain Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Musical Instruments in Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights Get Brought to Life, and It Turns Out That They Sound “Painful” and “Horrible”

Welcome to The Garden of Earthly Delights.

You’ll find no angelic strings here.

Those are reserved for first class citizens whose virtuous lives earned them passage to the uppermost heights.

Down below, stringed instruments produce the most hellish sort of cacophony, a fitting accompaniment for the horn whose bell is befouled with the arm of a tortured soul.

How do we know that's what they sounded like?

A group of musicologists, craftspeople and academics from the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments at the University of Oxford, took it upon themselves to actually build the instruments depicted in Hieronymus Bosch’s action-packed triptych—the hell harp, the violated lute, the grossly oversized hurdy-gurdy

...And then they played them.

Let us hope they stopped shy of shoving flutes up their bums. (Such a placement might produce a sound, but not from the flute’s golden throat).

The Bosch experiment added ten more instruments to the museum’s already impressive, over-1000-strong collection of woodwinds, percussion, and brass, many from the studios of esteemed makers, some dating all the way back to the Renaissance.

Unfortunately, the new additions don’t sound very good. “Horrible” and “painful” are among the adjectives the Bate Collection manager Andrew Lamb uses to describe the aural fruits of his team’s months-long labors.

Might we assume Bosch would have wanted it that way?

Brandon McWilliams, the wag behind Bosch’s wildly enthusiastic, f-bomb-laced review of thrash metal band Slayer’s 1986 Reign in Blood album, would surely say yes, as would
Alden and Cali Hackmann, North American hurdy-gurdy makers, who note that Bosch’s painterly desecrations were not limited to their personal favorite instrument:

Bosch and his contemporaries viewed music as sinful, associating it with other sins of the flesh and spirit. A number of other instruments are also depicted: a harp, a drum, a shawm, a recorder, and the metal triangle being played by the woman (a nun, perhaps) who is apparently imprisoned in the keybox of the instrument. The hurdy-gurdy was also associated with beggars, who were often blind. The man turning the crank is holding a begging bowl in his other hand. Hanging from the bowl is a metal seal on a ribbon, called a "gaberlunzie." This was a license to beg in a particular town on a particular day, granted by the nobility. Soldiers who were blinded or maimed in their lord's service might be given a gaberlunzie in recompense.

To the best of our knowledge, no gaberfunzies were granted, nor any sinners eternally damned, in the Bate Collection’s caper. According to manager Lamb, expanding the boundaries of music education was recompense enough, well worth the temporary affront to tender ears.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City tonight as host of Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Fender Stratocaster Made Out of 1200 Colored Pencils

Alder and Ash. These woods have traditionally made up the body of the Fender Stratocaster. Crayola colored pencils? They were never part of the mix ... at least until now.

Above, Burls Art gives it a go. In nine minutes, they take you through the making and playing of the Crayola Strat, from start to finish. Aficionados, feel free to argue over the tonal qualities of this new fangled creation.

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A New Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 That’s Only Readable When You Apply Heat to Its Pages: Pre-Order It Today

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a novel of a nearly bookless dystopian future in which "firemen" go around burning any last volumes they can find, lends itself well to highly physical special editions. Last year we featured an asbestos-bound, fireproof version, 200 copies of which were published at the book's first printing in 1953. The year before we featured an experimental edition perhaps even more faithfully reflective of the story's premise, one whose all-black pages only reveal the negative space around the text with the application of heat.

"Graphic design studio Super Terrain’s edition of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic Fahrenheit-451 took the internet by storm," writes Electric Literature, "thanks to a video showing how its all-black pages become readable text when exposed to an open flame."

Now, "for only $451  —  get it?  —  you can preorder one to keep on a specially-heated shelf in your home!" As noted in that post, you could also expose its text using something other than an open flame (a hair dryer, for example), but that would hardly put you as much in the mind of the novel's "firemen" with their book-eradicating flamethrowers. Whatever you use to heat up the pages, they revert right back to their carbonized-looking black as soon as they cool down.

In Fahrenheit 451, says Super Terrain's manifesto for this unusual edition of the novel, Bradbury "questions the central role played by books in culture and exposes the possible drifts of a society ruled by immediacy. This tyranny of happiness prevents any form of contestation that could be nurtured by reflexion, memory or culture in books or works of art." This black-paged book "could be part of Bradbury’s fiction as a trick to keep and hide away the books from the pyromaniac firemen. By setting the book on fire, the reader plunges into the novel and becomes the hyphen between reality and fiction." How relevant has all of this remained in our "time of continuous flow of images, selfies, fake news, tweets and other 'digest-digest-digests'"? Strike a match, flick on your lighter, or power up your hair dryer — all, of course, under adult supervision if necessary — and find out for yourself.

via Electric Literature

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses for lifelong learners, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Travel Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like Fundamentals of Project ManagementValue Investing: An IntroductionHow to Build Successful Startups: Learn Lessons Straight from Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs and Leadership by Design: Using Design Thinking to Transform Companies and CareersAnd there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts courses too. Take for example The Geology and Wines of California and FranceDrawing Inspiration: Developing a Creative Practice, and The Daily Photograph: Developing Your Creative Intuition.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 150 courses getting started this Winter quarter (next week), many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. The two flagship courses of the quarter include: Pivotal Moments That Shaped the Modern World and The Ethics of Technological Disruption: A Conversation with Silicon Valley Leaders and Beyond.

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Philip Glass Finishes His David Bowie Trilogy, Debuting His Lodger Symphony

Sometimes I feel
The need to move on
So I pack a bag
And move on
Move on

--David Bowie, “Move On”

We might have been calling it the Lake Geneva Trilogy, given David Bowie’s recuperative sojourn in Switzerland after the emptiness he felt in L.A. The first album in the Berlin Trilogy, Low, was mostly recorded in France, and the last album of the trilogy, Lodger, in Montreaux in 1979. But they were almost all written in, around, and about Berlin, where Bowie found what he was looking for—a more rarified form of isolation—or as he puts it, “virtual anonymity…. For some reason Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.”

Bowie’s wife Angela remembers that “he chose to live in a section of the city as bleak, anonymous, and culturally lost as possible…. He took an apartment above an auto parts store and ate at the local workingman’s café. Talk about alienation.” The feeling pervades all three albums to different effect, but Lodger takes things in a far edgier, more cacophonous direction. Removed from Bowie’s time of soaking up krautrock and producing his roommate Iggy Pop’s solo albums, recorded as his marriage dissolved, it is the sound of jaded cultural and relational dislocation.

“A lot more chaos was intended” on Lodger says Tony Visconti, and it is on these rocks that composer Philip Glass foundered for 23 years. In the 90s, he began his own trilogy, of symphonies based on the renowned Bowie/Eno/Visconti collaborations. Lodger hung him up because it “didn’t interest me at all,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. Despite its wild experimentalism, he heard "no original ideas on that record.”

Glass gravitated towards the melodies of the first two albums, releasing his Low symphony in 1993 and the equally inspired Heroes in ’96. Finally, just this week, he premiered Lodger, with venerable American composer John Adams conducting, in Los Angeles on what would have been Bowie’s birthday, January 8th.

Though Glass never shared his thoughts about Lodger with Bowie, he may not have needed to. Bowie himself felt that “Tony [Visconti] lost heart a little” during the recording “because it never came together as easily as both Low and “Heroes” had. This had a lot to do with my being distracted by personal events in my life," he says, though "I would still maintain thought that there are a number of really important ideas on Lodger.” It is on the ideas that Glass seized. “The writing was remarkable. It was someone who had created a political language for themselves.”

While Glass’s other Bowie symphonies drew directly from the albums’ music (the Low symphony opens with the cinematic theme from “Subterraneans”), “What I was going to do on Lodger,” says Glass, “had nothing to do with the music that was on the record.” He realized that he had been given “a whole piece by a very accomplished writer and artist who had a vision of the world” in the lyrics. Employing the unique voice of singer Angélique Kidjo, Glass made what he calls “a song symphony” using seven of the “texts” (he left off “Look Back in Anger,” “D.J.” and “Red Money”).

Glass takes these “poems” as he calls them and weaves them into his own musical fabric. He’s “unconcerned,” writes Randal Roberts at the L.A. Times “with what Bowie would have thought of his method,” but he remembers Bowie was most struck in his other symphonies by “the parts that didn’t sound very much like the original.” At the top of the post, hear “Warszawa” from Glass’s Low symphony and listen to his other Bowie-inspired pieces on Spotify. The Lodger symphony will make its European premier at the Southbank Centre in London in May of this year, and we should hope to see a recording released soon.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





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