There was a lot of news this week. Highlights: Contact, the beauty of math, high fidelity angst, hair transplants in Turkey, Brittney Griner, Jonquel Jones and the WNBA, Boris Johnson resigned, Shinzo Abe was assassinated, the rise of mass shootings in the US, and Elon Musk doesn’t want to buy Twitter anymore.
One of my friends is obsessed with Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and the golden record. She is always thinking about love and the “paradox between science and religion, between science and belief, between science and faith,” as Matthew McConaughey describes a theme of Contact in this oral history about the movie. In the intro, interviewer Rachel Handler writes that the 1997 movie “was a lightning-in-a-bottle project, the kind of thing big movie studios barely made before and would probably never make again — intellectually challenging, emotionally messy, heavy with metaphor, wherein nobody shoots an alien in the face in front of an American flag.” Deeply philosophical, the film asks “questions [that] nagged at the cast and filmmakers, too, who regularly engaged in debates about God, the universe — even lines of dialogue that felt a little too sacrilegious,” all of which comes through with the nearly two dozen people interviewed for this history.
I come from a math family. Two of my grandparents were math professors. My father studied math. My sister is an engineer who is constantly working on some derivation. Growing up, I was always math inclined. I don’t know how I chose to study art, but art just happened to be the thing that stuck.
June Huh just won the Fields Medal—the highest award in mathematics—for his ability “to get the seemingly disparate fields of geometry and combinatorics to talk to each other in new and exciting ways.” After dropping out of high school to be a poet, Huh found his way to math during the end of his undergraduate career, finding that math offers “the ability to search for beauty outside himself, to try to grasp something external, objective and true, in a way that opened him up more than writing ever had.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been rereading Agnes Martin’s Writings. I’ve always had an auditory response to Martin’s work, and in Writings, Martin talks about experiences that are “wordless and silent.” When I think of pure sound, high fidelity, or “the degree of exactness with which something is copied or reproduced,” I think of Martin’s paintings.
T Bone Burnett’s company, NeoFidelity, created a new audio format known as the Iconic Original using a lacquer that is 90 atoms thick “to create what might be the ultimate analog format — a needle-wear resistant, CD-silent acetate said to exceed the warmth and liveliness of vinyl.” The Iconic Original “is the newest response to an anxiety as old as the music recording industry itself: fidelity angst.” And while it might currently be the highest fidelity format, “every new piece of technology adds greater complexity to the uncertainty of fidelity.”
That I think of Martin’s paintings is, however, erroneous. Martin’s paintings are the generators of sounds—or silence—in and of themselves, and not copies of previous iterations.
I spend a surprising amount of time on barber shop Instagram, but I often (attempt to) draw the algorithmic line at hair transplantation—I can’t take the blood. From my perusing, however, I’ve seen from afar the scale and intensity of men’s hair care, including the occasional hair transplant. Turkey is the center of the global hair transplant industry. Alex Hawkins never thought he would get a transplant, but at some point he shifted from being curious to needing a transplant and, after extensive research, found himself in Turkey, which “now sees between 1.5 million to 2 million medical tourists per year, mostly for hair transplants, plastic surgery, dental work, and weight loss treatments.”
Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to charges of possessing vape cartridges containing hash oil, and said, “there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.” While in an American context the plea might not make sense, Russian courts have a conviction rate of over 97 percent, and experts think it is “a strategic bid for a lenient sentence.”
Politico’s The Recast talks to University of Pennsylvania PhD candidate Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, who studies “Black experiences in the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine” about Griner’s detainment and the scholar’s “assessment of the White House’s strategy, the role that race and sexuality play in this particularly precarious geopolitical moment — and how this will affect the midterms.”
I grew up doing water sports and my ability to do anything on land is embarrassingly low. Over the pandemic, with restricted access to pools, I decided to teach myself how to shoot a basketball. This slow process has turned me into a fledgling WNBA fan.
Jonquel Jones is one of the stars of the WNBA, but most people, outside of diehard fans, don’t know her name. Apart from the WNBA notoriously underpaying their players, who “supplement their income by playing overseas during the offseason,” the league struggles to represent its diversity. Eighty percent of players are women of color and “even as the WNBA itself — players, teams and leadership — has become the most LGBTQIA+ inclusive professional sports league in the United States,” players like Jones, who is “Black, gay and self-described as more masculine” have trouble attracting brands for sponsorships.
7. Democracy Now!: “The Inevitable Has Happened”: Boris Johnson to Resign as PM After Mounting Scandals, Resignations
Boris Johnson has resigned as British Prime Minister and head of the conservative party “following a wave of departures from his government, including senior Cabinet members. The party will choose a new leader and the country’s next prime minister in the coming days.” However, Johnson will continue to serve until a new leader is selected, and he “has begun reassembling a new cabinet to fill the posts left vacant by this flood of resignations.” Since beginning his term in 2019, Johnson has been highly criticized for his policies, including his pro-Brexit stance. “The inevitable,” as University of Cambridge professor Priya Gopal described it, happened after “Johnson faced increasing criticism for promoting a member of the Conservative Party who was accused of sexual misconduct.”
I mostly follow British politics on Twitter, and I gotta say this exchange on the platform was one of the funniest things I saw this week.
8. Democracy Now!: Assassination: Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Shot Dead. Will Killing Push Japan Further to the Right?
The former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was assassinated on Friday in the city of Nara. Abe was giving a speech at the time. The shooting came as a shock as “Japan’s strict gun control laws prevent almost everyone from possessing guns. In 2021, there were 10 shooting incidents in Japan, just one gun death, while the U.S. typically records 45,000 gun deaths each year.” The longest-serving PM in Japan’s history, Abe was heralded as a leader of democracy abroad. However, he was a divisive figure in his home country, as professor Koichi Nakano explains in this interview. In many ways Abe could be compared to Trump, and “the liberal left has been looking at him as the person who really … endangered liberal democracy as we know it today, in terms of suppressing press freedom, in terms of suppressing academic freedom, and also ignoring the constitutional rules and also often stepping away from accountability in the National Diet, which is our parliament.”
There was a mass shooting at a Fourth of July Parade in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. The shooting was the most recent in a rising trend across the country. Based on data from The Violence Project, journalists Anastasia Valeeva, Wendy Ruderman, and Katie Park analyze the trend and the different definitions of a mass shooting.
Elon Musk announced that he is trying to pull out of his $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, saying that the social media platform “was in ‘material breach’ of their agreement and had made ‘false and misleading’ statements during negotiations.” Twitter still wants to close the deal, so “both Twitter and Musk will have to make their case to a judge about whether or not the agreement was breached, but Musk will have to meet a high bar to back out.”