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some of the things I read while eating breakfast in antisocial isolation


What Does It Mean to Trademark a Color?

The signature shade of Marrakesh’s Jardin Majorelle is legally protected—but the deep blue hue is also common in Moroccan culture.


French painter Jacques Majorelle, who designed the buildings and gardens now known as Jardin Majorelle, trademarked its striking color before his death in 1962. Embiggenable. Explore at home.


IT IS EASY TO SEE why Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s iconic tourist attractions. The lush garden, cactus-dotted landscape, bamboo arches, lily ponds, and, most of all, its signature blue buildings make it feel like an oasis in the heart of Marrakesh, a desert city of reds and browns.

Most people might describe the paint as a striking cobalt or aquamarine but legally, it is known as Majorelle blue and trademarked under this brand name with the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property. This raises an interesting question about how and why an entity has the rights over a color that has long been a part of Morocco’s heritage.

The story of Jardin Majorelle starts with the celebrated French painter Jacques Majorelle who lived a large part of his life in Morocco back when it was a French protectorate. He bought a plot of land in Marrakesh, and in the 1930s he started building the landscaped garden and house using Moorish and Cubist architecture. Majorelle was inspired by the vibrant shades of aquamarine blue prevalent in Morocco, be it intricate floor tiles, window edges of a kasbah, or turbans won by Amazigh men.


in the desert city of Marrakesh, known for its red hues, Jardin Majorelle stands out. Embiggenable.

Toward the end of his life, Majorelle sold the estate when he fell into financial distress. Fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé later bought and restored it. Today, Foundation Jardin Majorelle manages the space and opens it to the public.


Why the Fed wants to crush workers

Fall of Rome speedrun.


The US Federal Reserve has two imperatives: keeping employment high and inflation low. But when these come into conflict — when unemployment falls to near-zero — the Fed forgets all about full employment and cranks up interest rates to “cool the economy” (that is, “to destroy jobs and increase unemployment”).

An economy “cools down” when workers have less money, which means that the prices offered for goods and services go down, as fewer workers have less money to spend. As with every macroeconomic policy, raising interest rates has “distributional effects,” which is economist-speak for “winners and losers.”

Predicting who wins and who loses when interest rates go up requires that we understand the economic relations between different kinds of rich people, as well as relations between rich people and working people. Writing today for The American Prospect’s superb Great Inflation Myths series, Gerald Epstein and Aaron Medlin break it down:

How the Federal Reserve Protects the Top One Percent
Our central bank operates by and for the financial elite.

Recall that the Fed has two priorities: full employment and low interest rates. But when it weighs these priorities, it does so through “finance colored” glasses: as an institution, the Fed requires help from banks to carry out its policies, while Fed employees rely on those banks for cushy, high-paid jobs when they rotate out of public service.

Inflation is bad for banks, whose fortunes rise and fall based on the value of the interest payments they collect from debtors. When the value of the dollar declines, lenders lose and borrowers win. Think of it this way: say you borrow $10,000 to buy a car, at a moment when $10k is two months’ wages for the average US worker. Then inflation hits: prices go up, workers demand higher pay to keep pace, and a couple years later, $10k is one month’s wages.


We Tried to Call the Top Donors To George Santos’ 2020 Campaign. Many Don’t Seem To Exist.

The list of matters to investigate keeps growing.


IN SEPTEMBER 2020, George Santos’ congressional campaign reported that Victoria and Jonathan Regor had each contributed $2,800—the maximum amount—to his first bid for a House seat. Their listed address was 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson Township, New Jersey.

A search of various databases reveals no one in the United States named Victoria or Jonathan Regor. Moreover, there is nobody by any name living at 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson. That address doesn’t exist. There is a New Mexico Street in Jackson, but the numbers end in the 20s, according to Google Maps and a resident of the street.

Santos’ 2020 campaign finance reports also list a donor named Stephen Berger as a $2,500 donor and said he was a retiree who lived on Brandt Road in Brawley, California. But a spokesperson for William Brandt, a prominent rancher and Republican donor, tells Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years and “neither he or his wife (the only other occupant [at the Brandt Road home]) have made any donations to George Santos. He does not know Stephen Berger nor has Stephen Berger ever lived at…Brandt Road.”

The Regor and Berger contributions are among more than a dozen major donations to the 2020 Santos campaign for which the name or the address of the donor cannot be confirmed, a Mother Jones investigation found. A separate $2,800 donation was attributed in Santos’ reports filed with the Federal Election Commission to a friend of Santos who says he did not give the money.



Five Real ‘Area 51’ Stories That Sound Like Conspiracy Theories


This year marks the 10th anniversary of the government acknowledging Area 51. That’s right — though people have been raving and theorizing about the mysterious Nevada Air Force facility for decades, not till 2013 did the government ever officially admit its existence. Even in 2012, when Zero Dark Thirty hit screens and baffled audiences with a scene in which Chris Pratt readies himself at Area 51 to kill Osama bin Laden, the place wasn’t real, as far as official government word went.

Maybe scientists aren’t cloning alien sex princesses there. But yeah, Area 51 — or Groom Lake, to use its equally-spooky-actually formal name — really is filled with secrecy and shenanigans. Like…

5. The Government Switched Out Decades-Old Wreckage Stored in Area 51 to Cover Up a Different Plane Crashing in California
The military tests new aircraft at Area 51. For example, in the 1960s, they were working on a silent helicopter that could slip into North Vietnam. Conspiracy theorists would go on to rave madly about “black helicopters,” but the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse is real, and it was tested at Area 51.

It’s even black. The legends spoke true.

This helicopter, dubbed “The Quiet One,” flew into North Vietnam undetected, so a couple commandos could tap a phoneline. Despite carefully scheduling the mission based on when the Moon was in its most favorable phase, the mission didn’t go perfectly. For one thing, the men were expecting a wooden telephone pole, so they’d brought climbing gear that drove nails into wood, but they instead faced a pole made of concrete. Still, they pulled off the mission in the end, and the U.S. got intel through that pipeline for six months.

The public doesn’t learn about such classified aircraft, not till years later, if ever. In the 1980s, rumors circulated about some new stealth fighter the military was working on. The military kept mum about the plane, the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which first took off from Area 51 in 1981. Then came a little hitch. In 1986, one of these F-117s crashed in Sequoia National Forest in California. The crash killed the pilot, Major Ross Mulhare, and the fire burned 150 acres. The military restricted airspace around the crash site and kept armed guards circling the place on foot to keep anyone from investigating.

That is the secret to stealth. Keeping a low profile.

They couldn’t maintain that perimeter forever, and when they left, gawkers would come by to explore the wreckage. The government had to remove all traces of the F-117, but that wasn’t enough. They needed to leave the looters something to pick through. So, they transported to the site bits of a different fighter jet, the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. This plane had crashed decades earlier, and the military had stored its remains at Area 51. Why had they stored it? In case of this very contingency, we suppose.



Asteroid Measurements Make No Sense

Is this space rock the size of a train car or 22 penguins?


A couple of newly discovered asteroids whizzed past our planet earlier this month, tracing their own loop around the sun. These two aren’t any more special than the thousands of other asteroids in the ever-growing catalog of near-Earth objects. But a recent news article in The Jerusalem Post described them in a rather eye-catching, even startling, way: Each rock, the story said, is “around the size of 22 emperor penguins stacked nose to toes.”

Now, if someone asked me to describe the size of an asteroid (or anything, for that matter), penguins wouldn’t be the first unit that comes to mind. But the penguin asteroid is only the latest example of a common strategy in science communication: evoking images of familiar, earthly objects to convey the scope of mysterious, celestial ones. Usually, small asteroids are said to be the size of buses, skyscrapers, football fields, tennis courts, cars—mundane, inanimate things. Lately, though, the convention seems to be veering toward the weird.

Also this month, the same Jerusalem Post reporter, Aaron Reich, described another pair of asteroids as “approximately the size of 100 adult pugs.” Last year, a Daily Mail article wrote that an asteroid that had recently disintegrated in Earth’s atmosphere was “about half the size of a giraffe.” A scientific magazine, capitalizing on that article’s popularity, announced that astronomers would launch a “new asteroid-classification system based on animal sizes”—then revealed that it was only joking, dismissing the idea as “nonsense.” But maybe we shouldn’t scoff at the practice of comparing asteroids to penguins or other delightfully odd things. Asteroids, like other space objects and phenomena, can be tricky to contextualize. Maybe there’s room for whimsy. A new era of asteroid communication may be upon us.

Scientists don’t have formal guidelines for describing the nature of asteroids on a human scale. “It’s a real challenge to try and communicate physical properties of something that people aren’t going to actually lay eyes on or have any personal experience with,” Eric Christensen, a University of Arizona astronomer who oversees a program that detects near-Earth objects, told me. “Nobody’s ever visited an asteroid, so not even astronauts have firsthand experience of what it’s like.” And if they did, they probably wouldn’t think, Ah, yes, just as I expected—it’s as tall as 40 sea turtles stacked like a sleeve of crackers.


Yale University Prank One of Greatest In History

How two men tricked a stadium full of geniuses.


I hate pranks.

Usually.

They’re too mean-spirited and involve humiliating people in front of a crowd under the guise of humor.

However — I can make an occasional exception, and this one is hard to top. It’s also highly underappreciated.

Insert two Yale students, Mike Kai and David Aulicino. They became friends that year and were already prone to funny pranks.


The pranksters with their soon-to-be-used material.

It was 2004

They were brainstorming ideas for the coming football game with their longtime rival, Harvard.

They wanted to do something that involved the crowd, would dupe people en masse, and that every student would remember forever.

Their prank took nearly a year to plan. There were several critical moments where they were nearly caught. But once executed, it proved well worth all the risk.


George Santos’s lies continue to mount, but his constituents still support him, whoever he is.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show for making this program available on YouTube.


Who knocked down Cat Shrine and Torii?

Ed. 誰が猫の神社とトーリをノックダウンしたのですか?


THE LAST TAB . . .

Battle of the botanic garden: the horticulture war roiling the Isle of Wight

When a US businessman took over a beloved garden a decade ago, he decided on a radical new approach, all in the name of sustainability. But angry critics claim it’s just plain neglect.


Ventnor Botanic Garden on the Isle of Wight. Embiggenable. Explore at home.


JOHN CURTIS’S ENEMIES – AND FOR A MAN WHO runs a mid-sized botanical garden on the Isle of Wight, he has surprisingly many – have a tendency to refer to him as “the American Businessman”, a phrase that, for many islanders, carries overtones of rapaciousness and cultural barbarism. He would rather not have quite so many adversaries, but neither does it seem especially to disturb him to be the object of simmering ill will on the island. He is not in the business of deliberately goading his detractors, but he tends, in his discussion of the increasingly public argument unfolding around his stewardship of the garden, toward a certain easygoing, sprightly provocation. “I’m a lightning rod,” as he put it to me in our first conversation, and on several occasions thereafter.

Curtis is a slight man in his early 60s with a neat, greying beard and nimble features. He is an intent listener and a rapid and agile talker. He doesn’t strike you as the sort of person who would wind up running a botanic garden on the Isle of Wight, or anywhere else for that matter. Such is his quality of flinty refinement that it is easy to imagine him a senior partner at a white-shoe Manhattan law firm, dispensing astringent wisdom to a younger colleague over a tumbler of scotch at the Yale Club. He was born into one of Connecticut’s oldest families, and is a direct descendent of the Puritan preacher John Winthrop, who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, and whose A Model of Christian Charity sermon – popularly known as the “City upon a hill” speech – is a core text of American exceptionalism.

Curtis, too, presents himself as something of a pioneer, conducting a grand historical experiment in the field of botanical gardening. For over a decade now, he has owned and managed Ventnor Botanic Garden, a relatively minor but beloved institution on the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. From its foundation in 1970 until it was sold to Curtis in 2012, the garden was publicly owned, and run by the Isle of Wight council. The significance of VBG has always had primarily to do with the microclimate in which it sits. Positioned on the southernmost tip of the island, and sheltered from the north winds by the chalk hills rising above the Channel, Ventnor is 5C warmer than the British average temperature. (The place is pitched to visitors as “Britain’s hottest garden”.) The microclimate, too, is at the heart of Curtis’s controversial management, and of the densely acrimonious controversy that surrounds it.


John Curtis, owner and manager of Ventnor Botanic Garden.

At a typical botanic garden, plants from all over the world are cultivated by a team of vigilant gardeners, by means of watering, artificial heating and chemical intervention. Since Curtis’s takeover, very little of this kind of thing – which is loosely understood by the term “gardening” – has been going on at Ventnor. Instead, what is being employed is a set of practices Curtis has branded “the Ventnor Method”. Rather than the rigorous superintending of a typical botanic garden, plants at Ventnor are allowed to grow naturally where they sow. Thanks to the garden’s microclimate, species native to Australia and South Africa and the Mediterranean, which would perish in mainland soil, are able to thrive at Ventnor with little intervention. And it is this comparatively laissez-faire approach to the upkeep of the garden that lies at the core of the controversy. Curtis and his team claim that they are refraining from unnecessary intervention; his critics claim they are in fact failing, utterly and disastrously, to garden, and that as a result, the place has degenerated into an unsightly mess. Last year, a former Ventnor curator claimed that it had deteriorated to such an extent that it “does not now deserve the title ‘botanic’”. He added: “Huge strides will have to be made to rescue the garden from what appears to be an inexorable slide into ruin.”

Ed. Is it sustainability or neglect? That’s for the courts to decide.

Ed., etc. Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Likely, if I find nothing more barely uninteresting at all to do.

Ed., etc. I didn’t have time to do this today.


Assimilation Complete