At the far end of the room, the two cups of water
On the floor, the master explained, were for them
To purify their mouths with before the tea was served.
They were next told to lie on their bellies and inch
Towards the cups, ensuring a proper humiliation.
The monks protested—they had come to see their friend
Through to the end, to see his soul released,
Poured like water into water—and where, after all,
Was the unmatched view he had promised them?
(Quoting my favorite lines would have given it all away, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.)
I’ve been following Tom Steinberg’s great work at establishing better communications channels and feedback loops between citizens and the UK government for a while now. You can find out more about these projects at the mySociety website.
In his latest newsletter, he featured a project that applies the HotOrNot meme (which is often judgmental, demeaning, humiliating and masochistic when rating people) to places in the UK:
“ScenicOrNot helps you to explore every corner of England, Scotland and Wales, all the while comparing your aesthetic judgements with fellow players.”
The site presents a photo, and prompts viewers to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, from not scenic to scenic.
One-dimensional assessments of anything are always dicey, but I can see many merits in this particular project:
It’s interesting to learn how others perceive a place. Is there anything close to general agreement about what it means to be scenic? I rated a field of ripening barely a 7, 2.5 points above the average.
Many of the photos used are not of touristy locations, so it may be the first time that a particular cattle-gate has been rated or thought about in these terms.
Aggregating such opinions could have all sorts of uses, from finding attractive places you didn’t know about, to directing beautification efforts at blighted areas.
According to the same newsletter, mySociety is working on:
“A Really Great Secret Project that uses that scenicness data we’ve been gathering and which we think you’re going to Quite Like”
The project is being funded by a local public art group, with the city’s blessing. Marcus Young is St. Paul’s Artist-in Residence. Young too was walking down the sidewalk, head-down in Minnesota fashion, when he began to notice how construction companies stamp their work. “It’ll say Knutson Construction, or Standard Sidewalk, and one day I just thought ‘Hey, that’s an opportunity for art,’” he says.
The article has a gallery with photos of the process and final results.
My brain was designed to inhabit a fairly small social network of maybe a few dozen other primates — a tribe. Beyond that size, I start to get overwhelmed.
And yet here I am in a world of over 6 billion people, all of whom are now inextricably linked together. I don’t need to travel to influence lives on the other side of the globe. All I have to do is buy a cup of coffee or a tank of gas. My tribe has grown into a single, impossibly vast social network, whether I like it or not. The problem, I believe, isn’t that the world has changed, it’s that my primitive caveman brain hasn’t.
I am fantastic at seeing differences. Everybody is. I can quickly pick out those who look or behave differently, and unless I actively override the tendency, I will perceive them as a threat. That instinct may have once been useful for my tribe but when I travel, it’s a liability.
When I dance with people, I see them smile and laugh and act ridiculous. It makes those differences seem smaller. The world seems simpler, and my caveman brain finds that comforting.
To mark its 70th issue, Kyoto Journal has turned inward, examining 21st-century Kyoto in a special issue entitled Kyoto Lives. The deliberate ambiguity of the title refers to the lives of the forty-one Kyoto residents interviewed, and also affirms that Kyoto, in its latest incarnation, is still very much alive.
Kyoto Journal #70
Among the numerous highlights are Sugihara Iona:
“There is a more humble feeling about Kyoto; a sense that she was built by hands, not money.”
Edith Shiffert’s poetry, including this haiku:
Those flower petals
from roots in earth, stems in light
Self too roots and lifts
And Christian Orton’s photos of the Kamo river at night. (Four images are included in the magazine. Many more are featured on his website.)
What excites him even more is using his treasures to make mind-expanding connections. He loves juxtapositions, like placing a 16th-century map that combines experience and guesswork—”the first one showing North and South America,” he says—next to a modern map carried by astronauts to the moon. “If this is what can happen in 500 years, nothing is impossible.”