THURSDAY | 16 MAY 2013

RACE

PRECISELY HOW NOT TO ARGUE ABOUT RACE AND IQ

Freddie Deboer | L’Hôte

So this Heritage Foundation immigration report, and its author’s history when it comes to race and IQ, has prompted my politically-minded Facebook friends to give an absolute clinic on how not to respond on this issue. The response has been: this lunatic thinks that Hispanic Americans score lower on IQ tests and other standardized tests of intelligence than white Americans! How wrong! Only a racist could say that different races score differently on IQ tests. Which is playing precisely into the hands of the Steve Sailers of the world. The problem with people who argue for inherent racial inferiority is not that they lie about the results of IQ tests, but that they are credulous about those tests and others like them when they shouldn’t be; that they misunderstand the implications of what those tests would indicate even if they were credible; and that they fail to find the moral, analytic, and political response to questions of race and intelligence.

. . . It amazes me how often I interact with white liberals who, despite being perfectly correct on the merits, talk about race in a state of absolute panic. I hate to cast aspersions but I sometimes suspect people I know secretly find the case against racism to be weak, and are afraid that if they have to argue, somehow, the racists will win.

Bullshit. The case against inherent racial inferiority is correct. The moral and analytic argument is on our side. You have to have the guts to confront the facts and make the case. Just as no one supposes that the racial achievement gap in grades, graduation rate, and college are somehow proof of racial inferiority, no one should mistake the perceived IQ gap as meaning something when it doesn’t. Don’t be afraid, and don’t play their game. Stop getting panicky about race talk and engage. It’s your moral responsibility.

WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY THAT RACE IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT

Ta Nahesi Coates | The Atlantic

Our notion of what constitutes “white” and what constitutes “black” is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a “Southern race” and not see the Civil War, the creation of an “Irish race” and not think of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing, the creation of a “Jewish race” and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of “whiteness” or “blackness,” not even today. It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn’t really “black” but “half-white.” One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord.

RACE AND IQ. AGAIN

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

What on earth are these “liberals” so terrified of, if not the truth? Instead of going on racist witch-hunts, why don’t they question what IQ means, how great the cultural and environmental impact can be (very considerable), whether such tests should guide public policy at all, or examine how “race” as a social construct does not always correlate to specific variations in human DNA. Note how the terms “race” and “historical ethnicity” are not the same things, as Reihan does. Or do what the scholar Dana Goldstein has done – criticize Richwine’s dismissal of education and poverty as factors affecting IQ in his dissertation.

But please don’t say truly stupid things like race has no biological element to it or that there is no data on racial differences in IQ (even though those differences are mild compared with overwhelming similarity). Denying empirical reality is not a good thing in any circumstance. In a university context, it is an embrace of illiberalism at its most pernicious and seductive: because its motives are good.

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STORYTELLING

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THE PRESENTS SANDI CARROLL: I WAS A SPY IN CHINATOWN

Sandi Carroll | mothstories | youtube

In Chinatown, even the criminals aren’t what they seem.

Sandi Carroll is an actor, teacher and the Artistic Director of Brooklyn-based theater company, the Mud/Bone Collective. She’s also a co-founder of the comedy group Logic Limited, Ltd. where many of her old spy tricks have come in handy. She made her Broadway debut last year and can be seen in the upcoming films Rabbit Hole and The Adjustment Bureau. Learn more at sandicarroll.com

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RETIREMENT

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HOW THEY DO IT ELSEWHERE

Steven Greenhouse | The New York Times

In Australia, there is nearly universal participation among workers in a 401(k)-type retirement plan because of a government mandate. In the Netherlands, pension laws require that workers’ 401(k)-like plans be converted into lifetime annuities to ensure they do not spend down all their savings before they turn 75 or 80.

In Britain, the government has pressed retirement fund managers to keep administrative fees on many plans to less than half the average in the United States.

A new report ranking various countries’ retirement systems gives the United States a C, considerably worse than the A received by Denmark and the B-plus given to the Netherlands and Australia. The study, by the Mercer consulting firm and the Australian Center for Financial Services, weighs adequacy of benefits, breadth of coverage and other factors, and points to numerous weaknesses in the American system.

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ART

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JUST IN TIME, A LEBANESE ARTIST’S WORK IS SHOWN AT THE TATE MODERN

Nina Siegal | The New York Times

saloua raouda choucair amazonSaloua Raouda Choucair did everything in her life early, or late.

Her first exhibition in Beirut in 1947 is thought to be the first-ever show of abstract art in the Arab world. She had her only child at age 40 — rare in the 1950s. Now, at age 97, she is having her first major museum retrospective, at the Tate Modern in London.

“All the timings were wrong with my mother so I’m not surprised this happened so late,” said her daughter, Hala Schoukair, now 56. “She started with abstraction when people in Beirut were just discovering Impressionism. In the ’60s, no one was paying attention to her and then when they started paying attention, the war started. Even if there was some good attention, something always went a little wrong.”

choucair tate

saloua raouda choucair - blue module

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COOKING

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CHOCOLATE CHILE GRAVY

Saveur

This thick, spicy chocolate sauce is perfect spread on french toast or sliced, toasted bread.

103-recipe_chocolate-chili-gravy_1200x800

LAMB KORMA

Elise Bauer | Simply Recipes

The-Honey-Thief-by-Najaf-Mazari-&-Robert-HillmanAre you a lover of books? My father, the English teacher, instilled in us an appreciation for literature. When I find a book I love I want to yell about it from the mountain top. Instead, my friends are the beneficiaries of this enthusiasm, since I typically find every excuse to send them a copy of the new favorite. Last year the book my friends received was The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post. This year it will be The Honey Thief, a beautifully written collection of fictional stories by Najaf Mazari, a Hazara Afghani refugee living in Australia, and his collaborator, novelist Robert Hillman.

In The Honey Thief, the authors carry us along, weaving one story into another, like a tapestry, rich in humor and humanity, of a world so different from ours—the Afghanistan we don’t see in the news. At the very end of the book there is a small collection of recipes, told as if you were right there in Mazari’s kitchen. Here’s an excerpt from the lamb qorma recipe:

Okay, the onions. In Afghanistan, we rarely fashion a meal without onions. What the world was like before onions were invented, I cannot imagine. So, the onions, three of them. Peel them to preserve as much of the outer flesh as possible….Once the onions are peeled, chop them up but not too fine. You need chunks of onion, not thin slices. Now heat some cooking oil in a big saucepan. I am serious when I say a big saucepan. For dishes like this, a big saucepan is your friend. Do you want to fill a smaller saucepan to the very brim? No.

and later,

This is going to take two hours. Read a book. Every fifteen minutes, put the book down and stir the saucepan. In this last hour, you are stirring the qorma, and you are reading your book. You started at two-thirty in the afternoon. Now it’s five in the afternoon. Turn off the qorma. If you are of my faith, wash and pray. If you are not, do whatever you must.

All of the recipes read like that, many with rough approximations of the amounts. For the following lamb korma (or qorma) recipe, we’ve stripped the recipe down to its essentials, making it easier to follow, but not nearly as entertaining as the original.

lamb korma
RECIPE HERE

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ARCHITECTURE

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A PROPOSAL TO MAKE MICRO APARTMENTS A LITTLE MORE LIVEABLE

Emily Badger | The Atlantic Cities

So how do you turn the micro apartment into something more humane (without, that is, exponentially driving up the costs that make micro apartments necessary in the first place)? One model has been to try to create shared common spaces. Sure, you don’t have a living room, but there’s an all-purpose lounge in the basement!

“When you have to go down four stories to use it, it’s not very useful,” says Chris Marciano, who recently finished his bachelor’s at Northeastern University, on his way to becoming a master’s student in architecture there this fall. As part of a project alongside classmates Mark Munroe and Ryan Matthew, Marciano designed an alternative: shared living spaces between micro-apartments that enable them to temporarily scale up into something larger:

shared space micro lofts

“You offer these little pockets in between units, and then it becomes useful,” Marciano says. His proposal, shown above, sits somewhere in between a multi-bedroom apartment, a studio and a dormitory. “This is a housing typology that doesn’t really exist.”

In his scheme, 419 square-foot private quarters are paired around a reconfigurable social space for dining or entertaining. Each unit still has its own private entrance, its own bathroom, its own kitchenette and small balcony. But some of the walls around the shared space can also be reconfigured to create either one seamless outdoor space, or an expanded balcony for one unit and a private living room for the other.

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RECYCLING

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A CITY THAT TURNS GARBAGE INTO ENERGY COPES WITH A SHORTAGE

Gary Tagliabue | The New York Times

OSLO — This is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden. It even has designs on the American market. “I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Pal Mikkelsen, in his office at a huge plant on the edge of town that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”

Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.

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EDUCATION

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WHY RECESS MIGHT BE THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE DAY

Sara Goodyear | Atlantic Cities

“The play really looked different from what I remembered,” says Vialet. “I have a really high tolerance for chaos, but there is good chaos and bad chaos, and this chaos made me uneasy. It made the kids uneasy, too. I was thinking on an empathic level, if I was a kid, I wouldn’t want it to be like this.”

School administrators told her that the upset resulting from recess often spilled over into the rest of the school day, taking time away from instruction and making it harder for kids to learn.

So Vialet started to develop a simple play program focused on a few structured games and on building the social skills of kids who came from tough neighborhoods, sometimes from families where stability was not a given. Full-time paid coaches help to create an environment where sharing and cooperation are the highest values, rather than winning, and where bullying is not tolerated. Students from the older grades are enlisted as “junior coaches,” gaining leadership experience and modeling good behavior for their peers.

DRIVING STUDENTS INTO SCIENCE IS A FOOL’S ERRAND

Colin Macilwain | Nature

The United States spent more than US$3 billion last year across 209 federal programmes intended to lure young people into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The money goes on a plethora of schemes at school, undergraduate and postgraduate levels, all aimed at promoting science and technology, and raising standards of science education.

. . . But taken together, these schemes — which allocate perhaps $600 to each child passing through the US education system — constitute bad public policy. Government promotion of science careers ultimately damages science and engineering, by inflating supply and depressing demand for scientists and engineers in the employment market.

WANT SCIENTIFICALLY LITERATE CHILDREN? GET OUT OF THEIR WAY

Neil deGrasse Tyson | Big Think | youtube

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DATA

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THE ART OF DATA VISUALIZATION: HOW TO TELL COMPLEX STORIES THROUGH SMART DESIGN

Dan Colman | Open Culture

The Art of Data Visualization: How to Tell Complex Stories Through Smart Design

in Creativity, Design, Media, Technology | May 15th, 2013 Leave a Comment

The volume of data in our age is so vast that whole new research fields have blossomed to develop better and more efficient ways of presenting and organizing information. One such field is data visualization, which can be translated in plain English as visual representations of information.

The PBS “Off Book” series turned its attention to data visualization in a short video featuring Edward Tufte, a statistician and professor emeritus at Yale, along with three young designers on the frontiers of data visualization. Titled “The Art of Data Visualization,” the video does a good job of demonstrating how good design—from scientific visualization to pop infographics—is more important than ever.

In much the same way that Marshall McLuhan spoke about principles of communication, Tufte talks in the video about what makes for elegant and effective design. One of his main points: Look after truth and goodness, and beauty will look after herself.


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ROBOTS

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IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE BURGEONING ROBOT MIDDLE CLASS

Illah Nourbakhsh | MIT Technology Review

t is time for not just economists but roboticists, like me, to ask, “How will robotic advances transform society in potentially dystopian ways?” My concern is that without serious discourse and explicit policy changes, the current path will lead to an ever more polarized economic world, with robotic technologies replacing the middle class and further distancing our society from authentic opportunity and economic justice.

So how do we deal with the impending mass migration of robots into our middle class? Perhaps we should start by talking about it over dinner (robots don’t eat with us yet). I submit to you four dinnertime conversation starters, each of which I believe captures something essential to understanding why the impending Robot Revolution may be nothing like the Industrial Revolution.

LYNDON BATY AND THE ROBOT THAT SAVED HIM

Luke Darby | The Dallas Observer News

If he has his act together, Lyndon has already powered on in the copy room by the time the bell for first period rings, and has already begun the long, slow trek down the school’s single hallway, arriving at his first class, chemistry, before the tardy bell rings five minutes later. But he was a little slow getting going today, so by the time he arrives at Mr. Deville’s room — it’s the one farthest from the copy room, if that buys him any sympathy — the door is already shut, and the halls of Knox City High are mostly empty.

Since he doesn’t have arms he can’t turn the handle to open the door. He used to crank up the volume and yell, but that didn’t really work either, so over time he learned to adapt, to use his unique gifts to solve the problem. He would back up, creating enough room to pick up speed, and then ram the door at full throttle. It wasn’t too violent a collision, but it was enough to shake the door with the force of a hard knock, and after a few minutes someone always came to his aid.

“Hey, Lyndon.”
Oh, good, there’s another boy in the hall today.
Lyndon gets to spare the door and his paint job.
“Can you open Mr. Deville’s door for me?”

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ART

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A NEW ILLUSTRATION OF HYBRID BEASTS AND IMAGINARY CREATURES BY IMARGINAL

Christopher Jobson | Colossal

I had to pick up my jaw when this image first appeared in my inbox this morning. The density, detail and subject matter was so instantly compelling I was fascinated to learn about the artist behind it. As it turns out, this is the latest illustration from a duo of illustrators from Brazil named Fernando Moraes and Raone Ferreira who work under the collective title Imarginal. The two have a unique style of working in tandem on artworks such as the piece above which took three months of 8-10 hour days to complete and measures 1 x 0.7 meters (a little over 3 feet wide). I’m told via email that their illustrations are “characterized by overvaluation of details, imaginary creatures and ideas hybridism, thought by two different minds and made in four hands, using nankin [cotton fabric], poscas [markers] and even magnifiers on paper, wood or walls.” To see how they work together you can watch this video and see a gallery of their work here.

imarginal-1
imarginal-2
imarginal-3
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IMMIGRATION

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NORTH CAROLINA NEEDED 6500 FARMW0RKERS, ONLY 7 STUCK IT OUT

Dylan Matthews | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

Clemens’s study focuses on the agricultural industry in North Carolina, and more specifically on the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA), which supplies manual laborers to North Carolina farms. The NCGA is the nation’s largest user of the H-2A guest worker program, which is designed with agricultural workers in mind. Under that program’s regulations, Clemens explains, NCGA “must submit an application to the US Department of Labor proving that it has actively recruited US natives and native workers will not take NCGA jobs.”

That data is interesting, because it describes the labor market before any immigrant workers are recruited. That, as Clemens says, “allows us to assess the willingness of native workers to take farm jobs before they can even be offered to foreign workers, meaning that this study does not miss any impact caused by people who self-select out of an area or occupation because of competition with foreign workers.”

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ECONOMICS

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A MEASURE OF WELL BEING

Mary Hoff | Ensia

Around the world, nations define their well-being in terms of gross domestic product — the value of the goods and services they produce. However, GDP is a far-from-perfect proxy because it does not take into account the value of the ecosystems that sustain us. But what could we use instead? The Inclusive Wealth Index, which factors in the value of goods and services generated by nature as well as by humans, has bubbled to the surface as a promising alternative. But IWI is problematic, too, because nature’s worth is difficult to quantify. Partha Dasgupta, one of the developers of IWI, and Gernot Wagner, Environmental Defense Fund economist and author of But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World, offer two views on the dilemma.

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AGRICULTURE

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PURSUING THE PROMISE OF PERENNIAL GRAINS

Margaret Buranen | Ensia

Plant scientists at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., are convinced they are on the path to finding the best way to feed an exploding world population. They are working to create new perennial varieties of grains that will flourish in a prairielike ecosystem and yield results comparable to annual crops.

Early farmers had hungry people to feed and no knowledge of genetics or agronomy. They simply began cultivating whatever crops grew the fastest. That meant annual plants — plants that grow for a single season — were the crop of choice instead of perennials, such as long-lived grasses, for agriculture’s first steps. Annual varieties have large yields, but land for growing them has suffered since their cultivation began.

“We started mining the soil carbon,” says plant scientist Wes Jackson, president of the nonprofit institute. “In order to grow annual grain crops using plows, you have to destroy nature’s economy. Agriculture has been eroding land for 10,000 years.”

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GEOGRAPHY

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NAYPYIADAW ON HUDSON: ISOLATED CAPITALS ARE MORE CORRUPT

Joshua Keating | Foreign Policy

Two recent papers by Filipe Campante of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Quoc-Anh Do of the Singapore Management University argue that geographically isolated capital cities are more prone to corruption. (This certainly fits with the anedotal evidence of countries like Myanmar, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria, that have moved their capitals to more isolated locations.)

The first paper looks at U.S. states, finding that those who are farther from major population centers — think Albany, Annapolis, Jefferson City, Trenton, or Springfield — have higher rates of public officials being convicted for corruption offenses. This is likely related to the fact that less isolated capital cities have more politically engaged citizens living nearby and the goings-on in the statehouse get more scrutiny from media outlets headquartered nearby. As an example, the authors compare the cases of former New York State Senate Majority leader Joseph L. Bruno and Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. Both men were convicted of similar corruption charges around the same time, but the Massachusetts papers of record — the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald devoted far more coverage to DiMasi than the New York Times, New York Post, and New York Daily News did for Bruno scandal.

The authors also note that this is all very ironic, given that capitals were often initially moved away from major commercial centers in order to discourage corruption.

The second paper, written with Bernardo Guimares of the Sao Paolo School of Management finds a similar pattern for international capitals. This time, they add in the causal factor that isolated national capitals are safer from rebels:

Motivated by a novel stylized fact { countries with isolated capital cities display worse quality of governance { we provide a framework of endogenous institutional choice based on the idea that elites are constrained by the threat of rebellion, and that this threat is rendered less e ective by distance from the seat of political power. In established democracies, the threat of insurgencies is not a binding constraint, and the model predicts no correlation between isolated capitals and misgovernance. In contrast, a correlation emerges in equilibrium in the case of autocracies. Causality runs both ways: broader power sharing (associated with better governance) means that any rents have to be shared more broadly, hence the elite has less of an incentive to protect its position by isolating the capital city; conversely, a more isolated capital city allows the elite to appropriate a larger share of output, so the costs of better governance for the elite, in terms of rents that would have to be shared, are larger. We show evidence that this pattern holds true robustly in the data. We also show that isolated capitals are associated with less power sharing, a larger income premium enjoyed by capital city inhabitants, and lower levels of military spending by ruling elites, as predicted by the theory.

In addition to these factors, I wonder if part of the issue may be the ability to attract qualified — and not corrupt — civil servants. No offense to Albany or Abuja, but I’m guessing the governments based in Boston, or Denver, not to mention Paris and Tokyo, might have an easier time attacting the best and the brightest.

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SOCIAL ENGINEERING

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AUGMENTING SOCIAL REALITY IN THE WORKPLACE

Ben Waber | MIT Technology Review

Unlike augmented reality, which layers information on top of video or your field of view to provide extra information about the world, augmented social reality is about systems that change reality to meet the social needs of a group.

For instance, what if office coffee machines moved around according to the social context? When a coffee-pouring robot appeared as a gag in TV commercial two years ago, I thought seriously about the uses of a coffee machine with wheels. By positioning the coffee robot in between two groups, for example, we could increase the likelihood that certain coworkers would bump into each other. Once we detected—using smart badges or some other sensor—that the right conversations were occurring between the right people, the robot could move on to another location. Vending machines, bowls of snacks—all could migrate their way around the office on the basis of social data. One demonstration of these ideas came from a team at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. In their “Slothbots” project, slow-moving robotic walls subtly change their position over time to alter the flow of people in a public space, constantly tuning their movement in response to people’s behavior.

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MUSIC

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VIDEO: MUSIC SCENE BLOSSOMS IN FORMER TALIBAN STRONGHOLD

Zarghuna Kargar | BBC News

All forms of music were banned from social gatherings, TV, and radio while the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan from the mid-90’s until 2001.

But in the post-Taliban years, music and songs are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

In Kandahar the Benjo in particular is becoming one of the more popular instruments with music-lovers again.

SOUTH AFRICAN HIP HOP

Tom Devriendt | Africa Is a Country

A Swedish-South African collaboration between Kwaai, Driemanskap, Syster Sol, Mofeta, Kristin Amparo, Cleo and Kanyi. Video by (photographer) Luke Daniel and Neil Wigardt:

Also shot in the Cape flats: this video for Pharoahe Monch in Mitchell’s Plain:

An American-South African Hip-Hop collaboration between HHP, Omar Hunter El, Asheru, Benn Chad, OneTwo, Projector, Zubz, Cassper Nyovest, Nomadic, Element Lehipi Khalil on “Animals”:

THE HANDSOME FAMILY

Alec Wilkinson | The Culture Desk | The New Yorker | amazon

The Handsome Family is a Mr.-and-Mrs. outfit, essentially, consisting of Brett and Rennie Sparks, who live in New Mexico. This month they have a new record called “Wilderness,” their tenth. Neil Young once said that after his first hit, he grew bored with the encounters he had in the middle of the road and decided to head for the ditch, where the ride was rougher but he met more interesting people. The Handsome Family are ditch people.

handsome family - wilderness

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