If there was cause for celebration, it didn’t last that long. Earlier this year, Google followed up with another announcement–that it planned to discontinue development of the Nik Collection, and essentially let it wither on the vine.
Now here’s the latest chapter in the story. A seemingly good one. The image processing company DxO has acquired the Nik Collection from Google. Jérôme Ménière, DxO’s founder and CEO, declared in a press release, “DxO revolutionized the image processing market many times over the years with its innovative solutions, and we will continue to do so with Nik’s tools, which offer new creative opportunities to millions of photographers.” Apparently the Nik Collection gets to live another day.
Also on the DxO website they’ve announced plans for a future iteration of the Nik Collection, saying “The new ‘Nik Collection 2018 Edition’ will be released mid-2018, please leave your email below to be informed when it’s available.” Whether that 2018 edition will stay free remains to be seen.
A fond and appreciative portrait of one of American journalism’s superstars, “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” may not contain any revelations that will surprise those who’ve followed Didion’s eloquent, often autobiographical writing over the years. But the fact that it was made by her nephew, actor/filmmaker Griffin Dunne, gives it a warmth and intimacy that might not have graced a more standard documentary.
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Over the course of this tumultuous year, new CIA director Mike Pompeo has repeatedly indicated that he would move the Agency in a “more aggressive direction.” In response, at least one person took on the guise of former Chilean president Salvador Allende and joked, incredulously, “more aggressive”? In 1973, the reactionary forces of General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende, the first elected Marxist leader in Latin America. Pinochet then proceeded to institute a brutal 17-year dictatorship characterized by mass torture, imprisonment, and execution. The Agency may not have orchestrated the coup directly but it did at least support it materially and ideologically under the orders of President Richard Nixon, on a day known to many, post-2001, as “the other 9/11.”
The Chilean coup is one of many CIA interventions into the affairs of Latin America and the former European colonies in Africa and Asia after World War II. It is by now well known that the Agency “occasionally undermined democracies for the sake of fighting communism,” as Mary von Aue writes at Vice, throughout the Cold War years. But years before some of its most aggressive initiatives, the CIA “developed several guises to throw money at young, burgeoning writers, creating a cultural propaganda strategy with literary outposts around the world, from Lebanon to Uganda, India to Latin America.” The Agency didn’t invent the post-war literary movements that first spread through the pages of magazines like The Partisan Reviewand The Paris Reviewin the 1950s. But it funded, organized, and curated them, with the full knowledge of editors like Paris Review co-founder Peter Matthiessen, himself a CIA agent.
The Agency waged a cold culture war against international Communism using many of the people who might seem most sympathetic to it. Revealed in 1967 by former agent Tom Bradenin the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, the strategy involved secretly diverting funds to what the Agency called “civil society” groups. The focal point of the strategy was the CCF, or “Congress for Cultural Freedom,” which recruited liberal and leftist writers and editors, oftentimes unwittingly, to “guarantee that anti-Communist ideas were not voiced only by reactionary speakers,” writes Patrick Iber at The Awl. As Braden contended in his exposé, in “much of Europe in the 1950s, socialists, people who called themselves ‘left’—the very people whom many Americans thought no better than Communists—were about the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.”
No doubt some literary scholars would find this claim tendentious, but it became agency doctrine not only because the CIA saw funding and promoting writers like James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway as a convenient means to an end, but also because many of the program’s founders were themselves literary scholars. The CIA began as a World War II spy agency called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). After the war, says Guernica magazine editor Joel Whitney in an interview with Bomb, “some of the OSS guys became professors at Ivy League Universities,” where they recruited people like Matthiessen.
The more liberal guys who were part of the brain trust that formed the CIA saw that the Soviets in Berlin were getting masses of people from other sectors to come over for their symphonies and films. They saw that culture itself was becoming a weapon, and they wanted a kind of Ministry of Culture too. They felt the only way they could get this paid for was through the CIA’s black budget.
McCarthy-ism reigned at the time, and “the less sophisticated reactionaries,” says Whitney, “who represented small states, small towns, and so on, were very suspicious of culture, of the avant-garde, the little intellectual magazines, and of intellectuals themselves.” But Ivy League agents who fancied themselves tastemakers saw things very differently.
Whitney’s book, Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, documents the Agency’s whirlwind of activity behind literary magazines like the London-based Encounter, French Preuves, Italian Tempo Presente, Austrian Forum, Australian Quadrant, Japanese Jiyu, and Latin American Cuadernos and Mundo Nuevo. Many of the CCF’s founders and participants conceived of the enterprise as “an altruistic funding of culture,” Whitney tells von Aue. “But it was actually a control of journalism, a control of the fourth estate. It was a control of how intellectuals thought about the US.”
While we often look at post-war literature as a bastion of anti-colonial, anti-establishment sentiment, the pose, we learn from researchers like Iber and Whitney, was often carefully cultivated by a number of intermediaries. Does this mean we can no longer enjoy this literature as the artistic creation of singular geniuses? “You want to know the truth about the writers and publications you love,” says Whitney, “but that shouldn’t mean they’re ruined.” Indeed, the Agency’s cultural operations went far beyond the little magazines. The Congress of Cultural Freedoms used jazz musicians like Louie Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Dizzy Gillespie as “goodwill ambassadors” in concerts all over the world, and funded exhibitions of Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Willem de Kooning.
The motives behind funding and promoting modern art might mystify us unless we include the context in which such cultural warfare developed. After the Cuban Revolution and subsequent Communist fervor in former European colonies, the Agency found that “soft liners,” as Whitney puts it, had more anti-Communist reach than “hard liners.” Additionally, Communist propagandists could easily point to the U.S.’s socio-political backwardness and lack of freedom under Jim Crow. So the CIA co-opted anti-racist writers at home, and could silence artists abroad, as it did in the mid-60s when Louis Armstrong went behind the Iron Curtain and refused to criticize the South, despite his previous strong civil rights statements. The post-war world saw thriving free presses and arts and literary cultures filled with bold experimentalism and philosophical and political debate. Knowing who really controlled these conversations offers us an entirely new way to view the directions they inevitably seemed to take.
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today,” wrote Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger. “You are arranging what is in Fortune’s control and abandoning what lies in yours.” That still much-quoted observation from the first-century Roman philosopher and statesman, best known simply as Seneca, has a place in a much larger body of work. Seneca’s writings stand, along with those of Zeno, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, as a pillar of Stoic philosophy, a system of thinking which emphasizes the primacy of personal virtue and the importance of observing oneself objectively and mastering, instead of being mastered by, one’s own emotions.
The Stoics found their way of life beneficial indeed in the harsh reality of more than 2,000 years ago, but Stoicism loses none of its value when practiced by those of us living today.
“At its core, it teaches you how to separate what you can control from what you cannot, and it trains you to focus exclusively on the former,” writes self-improvement maven Tim Ferriss in his introduction to The Tao of Seneca, the three-volume collection of Seneca’s letters, illustration and lined modern commentary, that he’s just published free on the internet. (For instructions on how to upload them to your Kindle, see this page.)
Ferris suggests making Seneca “part of your daily routine. Set aside 10–15 minutes a day and read one letter. Whether over coffee in the morning, right before bed, or somewhere in between, digest one letter.” He also adds that “Stoicism has spread like wildfire throughout Silicon Valley and the NFL in the last five years, becoming a mental toughness training system for CEOs, founders, coaches, and players alike,” evidencing a results-oriented approach that may divide Stoicism enthusiasts, many of whom believe that the true Stoic should never consider the product, which will always lie outside one’s realm of control, but only the process. But even the ancients would surely agree that any prompt to action is worth taking, especially when it asks the cost of not a single coin — drachma, denarius, penny, or bit.
Writer Owen Phillips may be a solid data analyst, but I suspect he’s not much of a knitter.
The software he used to run a scientific analysis of 22 years worth of Fred Rogers’ sweaters ultimately reduces the beloved children’s television host’s homey zip-front cardigans to a slick graphic of colorful bars.
A knitter would no doubt prioritize other types of patterns – stitch numbers, wool weight, cable variations…the sort of information Mister Rogers’ mother, Nancy, would have had at her fingertips.
As Mister Rogers reveals in the story of his sweaters, his mom was the knitter behind many of the on-air sweaters Phillips crunched with R code. Whether their subtly shifting palette reflects an adventurous spirit on the part of the maker or the recipient’s evolving taste is not for us to know.
After Mrs. Rogers’ death, producers had to resort to buying similar models. Many of her originals had worn through or been donated to charity events.
“Not an easy challenge in the 80’s and 90s,” Margy Whitmer, a producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood told Rewire. “It certainly wasn’t in style! But we found a company who made cotton ones that were similar, so we bought a bunch and dyed them.”
(A moment of silent gratitude that no one tried to shoehorn Fred Rogers into a Cosby Show sweater…)
It would be interesting to see what Phillips’ code could do with faulty viewer memories.
His input for the Mister Rogers’ Cardigans of Many Colors project was a chart on super fan Tim Lybarger’s Neighborhood Archive detailing the hue of every sweater Mister Rogers changed into on-camera from 1979 to 2001.
Moments ago, the National Archives released a trove of 2,800 documents that will shed more light on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. According to the Archives, the release includes “FBI, CIA, and other agency documents (both formerly withheld in part and formerly withheld in full) identified by the Assassination Records Review Board as assassination records.” You can find the documents here.
This data dump was meant to include even more documents. But, according to TheNew YorkTimes, Donald Trump “bowed to protests by the C.I.A. and F.B.I. by withholding thousands of additional papers pending six more months of review.” If those ever see the light of day, we’ll let you know.
If you’ve ever deliberately studied the English language — or, even worse, taught it — you know that bottomless aggravation awaits anyone foolish enough to try to explain its “rules.” What makes English so apparently strange and different from other languages, and how could such a language go on to get so much traction all over the world? Whether you speak English natively (and thus haven’t had much occasion to give the matter thought) or learned it as a second language, the five-minute TED-Ed lesson above, written by Yale linguistics professor Claire Bowern and animated by Patrick Smith, will give you a solid start on understanding the answer to those questions and others.
“When we talk about ‘English,’ we often think of it as a single language,” says the lesson’s narrator, “but what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common with each other, or with the writings of Chaucer? And how are any of them related to the strange words in Beowulf?”
The answer involves English’s distinctive evolutionary path through generations and generations of speakers, expanding and changing all the while. Along the way, it’s picked up words from Latin-derived Romance languages like French and Spanish, a process that began with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. So also emerged Old English, a member of — you guessed it — the Germanic language family, one brought to the British isles in the fifth and sixth centuries. Then, of course, you’ve got the Viking invaders bringing in their Old Norse from the eighth to the eleventh centuries.
English thus came to its characteristically rich (and often confusing) mixture of words drawn from all over the place quite some time ago, leaving modern linguists to perform the quasi-archaeological task of tracing each word back to its origins through its sound and usage. Go far enough and you get to the tongues we call “Proto-Germanic,” spoken circa 500 BC, and “Proto-Indo-European,” which had its heyday six millennia ago in modern-day Ukraine and Russia. English now often gets labeled, rightly or wrongly, a “global language,” but a look into its complicated history — and thus the history of all European languages — reveals something more impressive: “Nearly three billion people around the world, many of whom cannot understand each other, are nevertheless speaking the same words, shaped by 6,000 years of history.”
Quick fyi: Next year, an archive of 6,000 letters by Marcel Proust will be digitized and made freely available online. The letters come from the collection of Philip Kolb, a Proust scholar from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. According to The New York Times, “the first tranche of the letters, several hundred related to the First World War, are expected to be published online by Nov. 11, 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.” We’ll update you when the letters actually appear online.
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