One week after joining the Black Panthers, Alfred Woodfox was arrested for robbery. Implicated in the murder of a prison guard, he spent 41 years in solitary confinement, longer than any American in history. His story, documented by Rachel Aviv, is one of extraordinary strength of mind — and the willful persistence of independence despite unbelievable social and physical constraints.
On February 19, 2016, his sixty-ninth birthday, Woodfox packed his belongings into garbage bags and put about a hundred letters in a cardboard box. He put on black slacks and a black bomber jacket that a freed Angola prisoner had sent him.
Not until he was outside did he believe that he was actually going to be freed. It was a warm, clear, sunny day. He squinted and held the hem of his jacket. When he reached the front gate, he raised his fist and gave a closed-lip smile to a small crowd of supporters.
Michael led him to his car, a blue Corvette. Woodfox shuffled when he walked, as if shackles still connected his feet. Biting his lip and crying, Michael helped his brother into the passenger seat and showed him how to fasten the seat belt.
Robert McCrum has a delightfully bookish profile of Heather Wolfe, whose contribution to Shakespeare scholarship should but probably will not close the age-old question of who wrote the most celebrated plays in the English language. Among her other work is “Project Dustbunny,” which analyzes hair, dust, and skin to trace the habits of 17th century readers. Dr. Wolfe, we are at your feet.
Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.
Petty pleasure or genuine act of defiance, there’s something viscerally satisfying about Richard Prince’s decision to disown his own creation after its purchase by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Prince has been called a flim-flam man and worse for selling art based on images lifted from Instagram, but like the artists who have refused to perform at the inauguration on January 20 — and unlike Silicon Valley’s tech elite — he’s hitting Trump in the only place that seems to hurt: the president-elect’s delicate ego.
Jerry Saltz on learning to fight on a new cultural and political battlefield.
Even if this en masse disowning is only an isolated action, limited to those artists lucky enough to live off their work, just a drip in the middle of this building shitstorm of a presidency, I gleaned an artist trying to take back his name, his work, do something, anything. To do this in a time that is calling to us all to take action rather than to simply default, using our energies to criticize how others use their energy.
Prince's act of disownership opens up an incredible window of resistance.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, a cautionary tale for American media from Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev.
This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice ... Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.
If you can set aside the irony of yet another online essay railing against the Internet — which is gutting our attention spans, killing our ability to experience the sublime, and probably kicks puppies when nobody’s looking — Craig Mod has some good reminders about what happens when we turn on the content spigot and why we should occasionally turn it off.
Today, I could live on Twitter all day, everyday, convincing myself I was being productive. Or, at least inducing the chemicals in the mind that make me feel like I’m being productive. Read more news. Send more replies. Start more threads. Each incoming reply activating a corresponding dopamine pop. Largely pushing nothing in the world forward.
Maybe I lost my attention because I’m weak, lonely, pathetic. Maybe everyone else has total control; they can resist all the information spun by algorithms — all the delicious dopamine hits in the form of red circles. Bing! Maybe it’s just me.
But … I want my attention back.
In room 111 of the Seattle Public Library central service center, Donald Vass works with glue, iron, paper, and wood to repair books damaged by age, overuse, and mechanical handling. With no apprentice in training, he may be the last to practice the almost medical art of book-mending on our library’s aging circulation.
And that’s a shame: not just because the craft is beautiful, but because the practice of repair reflects an attitude of compassion and care that we badly need right now.
Mr. Vass said the skills of book mending took him 15 years to master — how to diagnose a book’s ills, what to patch and what to leave alone, how to hide evidence of a repair. He uses hypodermic needles to shoot bits of wheat paste into the corners of dog-eared covers to stiffen them, and an old-fashioned screw press to hold pages in place while adhesives dry.
He talks of his repaired books — 60 to 80 a month — as if they were children heading out into a dangerous, unpredictable world.
“I’m reluctant, many times, to send them out because I know what they’re going to be up against,” said Mr. Vass, a soft-spoken man who is used to working alone.
In another small room, this one in Anchorage, Kathy Burek practices a very different craft: she autopsies wild animals to find out how they died. Burek has an otter’s-eye view on climate change (in this case, otter 13, tagged and followed and ultimately found on a beach with no identifiable cause of death). For a few days, Christopher Solomon played Watson to this Sherlock Holmes of the Alaskan ecosystem.
We arrived at a lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where Burek is an adjunct professor. The room was small, with white walls, a steel table at the center, and a drain in the floor. Burek pulled on a pair of rubber Grundens crabbing bibs the color of traffic cones, stepped into the tall boots from the minivan, and pulled her hair back. She could have been headed for a day of dip-netting for sockeye on the Kenai. An assistant laid out tools.
A big pair of garden shears sat on the counter, as foreboding as Chekhov’s gun on the mantle.
“You’re probably gonna want to put on gloves for this,” she said.
Midrank comedian and ex-Intel engineer Dan Nainan lied about his age to the media. And then again, and again, and again, until the lie itself became news. In this Moebius strip of a story, Ben Collins tracks Nainan’s protean public personas and confronts him with the truth. But the truth is no match for Dan Nainan …
Finally, I laid it all out. I have official state documents with his real age on them. They’re public records. His timeline with Intel doesn’t make any sense. He gives different ages at different times depending on which publication he’s talking to. It’s all over. It’s OK. The jig is up.
So tell me, are you 35 or 55?
Then a pause.
“I’m 35,” he said. “The mistake is in my birth record.”
An excellent perspective from Jed Gottlieb on how the migration of arts criticism out of newspapers and into niche publications affects the audience for art itself — and why show reviews should continue to appear side-by-side with the score from Friday’s homecoming game.
Arts publicists see the scope of the problem with even more clarity than writers. For decades they have used radio, TV, and newspapers to break clients in new markets. Radio and TV cater to eager fans—people who listen to alternative rock radio want to hear new alternative rock; viewers who tune into Conan are willing to embrace an unknown stand up comic. But papers traditionally speak to a wider audience ...
“Newspapers are where most investigative journalism originates from, so it’s scary,” music publicist Jim Flammia of All Eyes Media says. “But it’s also scary for me professionally because I need places for our artists to get covered. My artists make their money on the road, so regional coverage is more important than national coverage, and that regional coverage comes from newspapers.”
To close on a slightly different note: This week Jason Kottke highlighted photographer Michael Wolf, especially the series Architecture of Density, which captures “the immense scale of [Hong Kong’s] apartment buildings and the smallness of the apartment they contain,” and Tokyo Compression, images of Japanese train commuters, “smushed into cars dampened by the heat of humanity.” These are great images that — a little like Edward Burtynsky’s — lead us right into the uncanny valley of our increasingly crowded, increasingly globalized world.
This piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a little late to the Sunday Post but is so darned good we can’t resist. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are an arms race in the tech sector right now. Most progress is incremental, but the breakthroughs — like Deep Blue’s victory over Fan Hui — are both exhilarating and terrifying. Now Google Translate has another.
Epic geekery, global collaboration, and a translation of The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Order a second cup and settle in for this one.
Pichai has an affection for the obscure literary reference; he told me a month earlier, in his office in Mountain View, Calif., that Translate in part exists because not everyone can be like the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who learned Sanskrit to read the Bhagavad Gita in the original. In London, the slide on the monitors behind him flicked to a Borges quote: “Uno no es lo que es por lo que escribe, sino por lo que ha leído.”
Grinning, Pichai read aloud an awkward English version of the sentence that had been rendered by the old Translate system: “One is not what is for what he writes, but for what he has read.”
To the right of that was a new A.I.-rendered version: “You are not what you write, but what you have read.”
It was a fitting remark: The new Google Translate was run on the first machines that had, in a sense, ever learned to read anything at all.
In one last look back, Maggie Nelson’s gleeful, thoughtful, sex-fiend celebration of Prince’s Purple Rain.
Did I want to be Prince or be with Prince? I think the beauty is, neither. He made it O.K. to feel what he was feeling, what I was feeling. I wanted to be a diminutive, profuse, electric ribbon of horniness and divine grace. I bought a white shirt with ruffles down the front and wore it with skintight crushed-velvet hot pants, laid a full-length mirror on the floor, and slithered on top of the mirror, imitating Prince’s closing slither on the elevated amp in “Darling Nikki.” Yeah, he’s telling Apollonia to come back, but you can tell he doesn’t really give a shit about Apollonia. He’s possessed by something else, his life force onstage. Half naked, wearing only black bolero pants and a black kerchief tied over the top part of his face, his torso slick with sweat, Prince is telling us a story. An important one.
Kevin Nguyen is angry at Book Twitter, primarily and unfortunately for being Book Twitter. Agree or disagree, a powerful read alongside Simon and Schuster’s recent announcement.
After the election, there was no soul searching on Book Twitter. No one questioned the power structures of publishing. Can we talk about how one of the Big Five publishers is owned by News Corp? Often the publishing of things like Bill O’Reilly’s twisted histories is justified as a means to support literary fiction. But does anyone ask if that trade-off is worth it?
Elizabeth Abel, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, handed her housekeys to a colleague for the duration of her sabbatical in Paris. When the rent stopped coming, she asked him to leave. It was the first act in months-long struggle to reclaim her home and a tragicomedy of academic indignation.
Ian Gordon documents Abel’s experience with the dark side of the sharing economy.
Abel peered behind him into her living room, which was practically empty. Most of her furniture was gone: a dining table and four chairs, two easy chairs, an antique piece. Her books and rugs were nowhere to be seen. Even the artwork had been taken off the walls.
As Abel walked around the place she'd called home for three decades, she had the distinct feeling that her life had been erased.
Stop worrying about whether grandma is joining dinner or is dinner — punctuation has subtler tricks up its sleeve. Megan Garber reports on the rise of the scare quote: the sardonically raised brow, the sneer, and the cowardly sidestep of this ugly political moment.
Those little marks, hovering miasmically over our civic discourse, also suggest, in the aggregate, the unsettling fragility of language. Scare quotes aren’t just about distance; they’re also about disruption. They are a little bit belligerent, and a little bit anarchic. They want to destabilize, to make us question the things we thought we shared — indeed, to question who the “we” really is in the first place.
Few Seattle Review of Books readers will have missed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ epic, admiring, furious essay on Barack Obama’s presidency and the choice our country made just one eternal month ago:
The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history. I was shocked at my own shock. I had wanted Obama to be right.
I still want Obama to be right. I still would like to fold myself into the dream. This will not be possible.
The climate change conversation is dominated by catastrophic weather patterns, extinction events, and photos of folorn polar bears. Behind the scenes, powerful economic forces are in play: deep investment around the world in the industries that support and rely the use of fossil fuels, and the risk of financial catastrophe on a global scale.
Alex Steffan argues that we already have the tools we need to meet the carbon restriction goals set in Paris last December, and with immense economic benefits. So whose interests, exactly, are served by keeping the carbon bubble full of hot air?
Scores of experts warn that the Carbon Bubble is one of the biggest threats to the global economy. The way to increase the resilience of global markets, they say, is to act on climate, but to do so with bold-yet-predictable pacing. If we do that — they say — we will still see the Carbon Bubble deflate, but markets should be able to adjust, and panic can be avoided. Climate action will stave off financial disaster as well ecological catastrophe.
This is a win-win for everyone, except those heavily invested in those Carbon Bubble assets now ... For them, the larger the Carbon Bubble swells, the more money they make.
An archeological dig revearls an ancient city under a quiet field in southern Illinois. Fearless reporter Annalee Newitz took shovel in hand to search for the cause of Cahokia’s demise.
The bones were the worst, because there were so many of them that it halted our digging dozens of times. We had to be careful to determine that these weren't human bones, because human remains must be reported immediately. Though we'd already identified these as deer bones, archaeologists will sometimes do a lick check to be sure. Lick check? I stared at Baires in bewilderment. “Do you want to lick it?” she asked.
On the 20th anniversary of the seminal article by economist W. Brian Arthur, Rick Tetzeli revisits the theory of increasing returns and how it’s fueled the success of tech giants from Microsoft to Amazon to Uber. With a cameo by Cormac McCarthy:
"I mailed the draft down to Cormac, who was in El Paso or somewhere like that. When I didn’t hear from him, I called him up and said, ‘Did you like my increasing returns article? It’s for the Harvard Business Review.’ There was kind of a silence on the line. And then he said, ‘Would you be interested in some editing help on that?’"
A week after Patti Smith performs “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, two short takes — barely a mouthful each — on music, joy, and protest:
Composer John Luther Adams has built his life’s work on what he hears through an open window.
I began sketching on my first trips in Alaska. That summer of 1975, I began sketching immediately, writing down birdsongs as best as I could and trying to capture, to translate, to evoke something of the feeling of the air and the light and the wind. Initially, I began with a kind of landscape painting in music and immediately I thought, “Well, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
And a sketch in the margins of a circa 1500 folio of the Consolation of Philosophy captures the constancy — over centuries — of delight as an act of defiance.
As if to remind us of the necessity not only of philosophy, but also of song in dark times, our anonymous reader drew a “rockstar lady,” whose pose connotes nothing but pure joy. We could juxtapose her with the joyful guitar poses of any number of modern blues and rock stars, who have played through any number of dark times.
It’s been a week of interesting and deliberate visual storytelling: this Time Magazine cover, for example, and this selection from the National Geographic 2016 photography contest winners.
But the week’s must-see is a breathtaking photo essay by Daniel Berehulak documenting the antidrug campaign launched by Philippine president President Rodrigo Dutert in June. In just over a month, Berehulak photographed 57 men and women killed by the police and by vigilantes for real or supposed drug crimes.
The New York Times deserves credit for creating an immersive and haunting digital experience, one that draws additional power by linking to Google’s “street view” of the sites where many of the images were taken. This really happened. It happened here.
Fair warning: the piece includes photographs that are hard to look at and very difficult to forget.
I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers' summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”
He said in October, “You can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.”
Real maple syrup: more expensive than oil and the coveted (though sticky) jewel at the heart of a Canadian cartel, a black market, and the most unlikely theft conceivable. A holiday story from Rich Cohen transforms our view of North America’s favorite pancake-topper.
Once a year, FPAQ [the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers] takes an inventory of the barrels. Gauvreau was near the top of the stack when one of the barrels teetered, then nearly gave way. “He almost fell,” Cyr said, pausing to let the picture form. A small man, astride a tower of syrup, realizing, suddenly, there’s nothing beneath his feet. Normally, weighing more than 600 pounds when filled, the barrels are sturdy, so something was clearly amiss. When Gauvreau knocked on the barrel, it tolled like a gong. When he unscrewed the cap, he discovered it empty. At first, it seemed like this might have been a glitch, a mistake, but soon more punk barrels were found—many more.
Inspiration and heart from Patton Oswalt, best known for comedy, now learning to be a single dad as well.
You will never be prepared for anything you do, ever. Not the first time. Training and practice are out the window the second they meet experience. But you'll get better. I have subjective yet ironclad knowledge of this.
This is my first time being a single father. I've missed forms for school. I've forgotten to stock the fridge with food she likes. I've run out of socks for her. I've run out of socks for me. It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning. I said, “Whoops, my bad,” and fixed it and kept stumbling forward. Now I know where to buy the socks she likes. I asked two parents at her school to help me with forms and scheduling. I'm getting good at sniffing out weekend activities and scheduling playdates and navigating time and the city to get her and myself where we need to go every day. I work a creative job, but I live a practical life. If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.
We’re closing this week with two articles on the Internet and how it influences us — not in the spirit of alarm, but in the spirit of recognizing just what kind of water it is that we’re all breathing … and what we can do about it.
Reading Google’s predictive search can be a dreamy, funny, near-poetic experience. Plug in “why” and the engine suggests “why him,” “why is the sky blue,” “why not both,” “why are flags at half mast.” Try “why did”: Why did I get married? Why did the chicken cross the road? Why did Rome fall? Should I cut my hair? Text him? Upgrade to Sierra?
Less dreamy — and more terrifyingly influential — are the predictions for “are Jews,” “are women,” and “are Muslims,” as Carole Cadwalladr discoveres. She traces how the strategies used by content marketers across every industry may be supporting a shadow network of right-wing influence and information.
Our complicity, our credulity, being consumers not concerned citizens, is an essential part of that process. And what happens next is down to us. “I would say that everybody has been really naive and we need to reset ourselves to a much more cynical place and proceed on that basis,” is Rebecca MacKinnon’s advice. “There is no doubt that where we are now is a very bad place. But it’s we as a society who have jointly created this problem. And if we want to get to a better place, when it comes to having an information ecosystem that serves human rights and democracy instead of destroying it, we have to share responsibility for that.”
In the context of this and this, Kristen V. Brown offers hope: A free Internet doesn’t have to harbor bullies. Github is one of the world’s most ardently open open-source communities, with a culture of unfettered action and speech. But in 2014, they decided not to accept sexism and harassment as just the “dangers and pitfalls of online life” — in part because they realized that a culture of discrimation could never be truly open.
Trolls have become the scourge of the internet era. The sad fact of the matter is that the internet is chock full of a**holes; something really ought to be done about it.
But how do you rid the online world of violent verbiage and hatred when violence and hatred so thoroughly permeate the world itself?
Brown’s piece makes it clear that reducing online abuse is far more complicated than flipping a switch down at Twitter HQ. Now imagine that complexity magnified through the power of the presidential office. But creating healthy online communities is a choice, and it’s one we have an obligation to make.
Sometimes you try to turn off the relentless media engine that is the Donald Trump pre-presidency, just for a few hours – then get an eloquent reminder of why none of us can afford the luxury.
This piece by Nigerian novelist and MacArthur Genius Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the call to action we need right now. Clear-eyed, urgent, and right:
Now is the time to counter lies with facts, repeatedly and unflaggingly, while also proclaiming the greater truths: of our equal humanity, of decency, of compassion. Every precious ideal must be reiterated, every obvious argument made, because an ugly idea left unchallenged begins to turn the color of normal. It does not have to be like this.
A truck crashes in the desert near Mexico, and the survivor becomes a human palimpsest: without a name, a memory, or a voice, he offers to fulfill the dream of reunion for families separated by a border. At the end of this gently investigatory piece by Brooke Jarvis, there’s an answer to his mystery — but one that breaks as much as it mends. A great human story, and a revealing look at the surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) vast network that helps immigrant families find members lost in a border crossing.
People began to contact the hospital, to ask detailed questions about his moles or his scars ... Each had a son or brother or husband or cousin or friend who’d headed northward and then disappeared, leaving no answers about what might have happened to him, whether he was dead or incarcerated or suffering somewhere, whether he’d abandoned them. In the anguish of their uncertainty, they looked to the man in the bed and saw hope. They peered into his empty past and saw the possibility of themselves.
The first year, there were dozens of these families. Eventually, there would be thousands.
First off, did everyone else already know that Google’s code of conduct has shifted from “Don’t be evil” to “Do the right thing”? One can only imagine the hours of corporate copywriter angst inspired by that change … while speculating on the subtle moral distinction.
Regardless, you should read this piece about Jigsaw,
Google’s Alphabet’s tech incubator intended to tackle “geopolitical challenges.” Tech innovation for social good has been on the rise for some years, but we may be reaching a boiling point — e.g., the recent entry into the philanthropic fray by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
These tech juggernauts bring invaluable expertise and ingenuity to the table — but not necessarily the nuance and experience that the nonprofit sector has learned over decades. Worth watching.
Jigsaw wants to be politically neutral, but it also wants to make an impact by assisting activists and journalists engaged in the messy business of real-world politics. That is not an easy balance to strike. If its products work, they could have complicated knock-on effects — for example, empowering a regime’s critics to spread their message online, thereby shifting the local balance of power and perhaps even provoking violent unrest.
And so, while Jigsaw is clear on its core values, it could benefit from clarifying its procedural philosophy. Should Jigsaw base its choices simply on whether they go hand in hand with “good” principles, like opposition to censorship, or should its decisions be judged by their consequences?
And now, an epic quest in a completely different vein: the story of a video game whose price rose to the hundreds of thousands — though even its most ardent collectors acknowledge that it’s just not very much fun. Justin Heckert tracks lives changed and pocketbooks emptied by the rare (and almost unplayable) Stadium Events.
It was a blurry photo, but the words stamped on the side of the case came through clear enough: BANDAI AMERICA, INC. STADIUM EVENTS. 6PCS. Tom posted the picture on NintendoAge.com, the largest online gathering place for fans and collectors, with the title: After years of waiting ... it is here and it's beautiful!
"That's when the frickin' s---storm happened," Tim says. "I should've kept my big mouth shut."
Oh, the agony of a public typographical error! After Fidel Castro’s death, the Internet was abuzz (admittedly business as usual) over CNN’s obituary, which included the telling line: “Fidel Castro outlived six of those presidents … [[Note: Change to seven if George H.W. Bush dies before Castro]].”
A flurry of articles followed to unpack the practice of keeping advance obits for public figures on file — and update them over the course of a life. The New York Times has one of the best, told by the 16 journalists who shared responsibility for the newspaper’s final words on Fidel.
For years, as we weathered one scare after another that Fidel Castro had died, I kept the Cuba plan close at hand. We had lists of every Times reporter who either had experience with or family ties to Cuba. Some would go straight to Miami; others would try various routes to Cuba, even though no one had visas. The former executive editor, Bill Keller, and I made a pilgrimage to Havana in 2009 to plead for better access, to no avail, although I did have my copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” signed by Gabriel García Márquez, a career highlight.
We even had a plan to sneak someone in via the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel launched the revolution in 1953 and proclaimed victory in 1959 ...
Hat tip to the inimitable Jason Kottke for unearthing this piece by Tom Whitwell of Fluxx. While it puts this column at risk of joining the year-end list frenzy (and also of linking to a list from a list), Whitwell’s collection of insights is charming, unusual, and perfect for Sunday-in-December browsing. A few favorites below.
- 8. Australian musicians have performed with a synthesiser controlled by a petri dish of live human neurons: “The neurons were fed dopamine before the gig and went ballistic. The interaction with the drummer was very tight. The drum hits are processed into triggers and sent to the neurons.”
- 14. A Californian company called Skinny Mirror sells mirrors that make you look thinner. When installed in the changing rooms of clothes shops, they can increase sales by 18%.
- 28. Tuareg guitar players really like Dire Straits.
- 33. When they launched, both Mastercard and Visa were not-for-profit membership organisations.
- 42. Japan Airlines serves KFC to economy class travellers during the Christmas season. The in-flight KFC has 15% more salt to compensate for the lower pressure and humidity.
Sean Brock is a James Beard-winning chef with a string of successful restaurants, a killer guitar collection, and a connoisseur's taste for bourbon. He also has a little-understood condition that's stealing his eyesight—and the cost goes up each time he walks into a kitchen. This profile by Brett Martin is heartwrenching, and telling about what we value.
There are approximately 16,000 photos on Brock's iPhone. By rough estimation, about 10 percent of those are of various iterations of matsutake and cobia. Another 20 percent are of Ruby, his French bulldog. And the rest are of eyes.
There are bruised eyes. Battered eyes. Eyes leaking actual tears of bright red blood. There are eyes with stitches and eyes with bandages. Eyes drooping as though dragged down by ﬁshhooks and eyes goggling in a grotesque simulation of surprise. Eyes hidden behind patches, shielded by stained gauze, buried beneath great sockfuls of ice.
All of them are Brock's eyes.
Aaron Orbey on how terror on the screen keeps real-life horror at bay.
We say of most tragedies that enough time will distance us. As the years have elapsed, I’ve continued searching for the worst I can witness onscreen, testing myself with images of agony that seem crueller than my own, worlds in which the unthinkable is valid. I’ve never gotten around to seeing “Forrest Gump,” but I’ve savored “The Forest,” in which an American woman tracks her troubled twin sister to the haunted woods of Aokigahara. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is still on my list of films to see, but I rather liked “Dead Snow,” in which Nazi zombies terrorize seven Norwegian vacationers on the slopes of Øksfjord. No carnage can startle me these days, but smaller sights—a toddler asleep, slanted on his dad’s chest—might bring me to tears. When I Google my father, the Turkish word for murder auto-fills after his name.
Tim Parks rejects the chance to translate the Decameron into modern English in deference to a colleague who's been dead four hundred years. A smart and self-deprecating poke at the assumption that modern translations are best for the modern ear.
Reading this, I experienced exactly the pleasures I feel reading Boccaccio in Italian. Albeit nearly three hundred years after the original was written, Florio still moves in a world where the whole thing makes sense, doesn’t need to be quaint. And he is a supreme stylist too. He can find exactly the idiom in the English of his time. However good a translator might be today, I doubt whether the same level of conviction is possible. Certainly, I didn’t feel I could achieve it.
Still in post-election shock, the media is in a frenzy of self-examination, both defensive and recriminatory, over its role in Donald Trump's victory. Here are two very different takes.
First, an excellent dive into how fake news gets created from the New York Times. It's easy to demonize social media, but any digital enterprise that drives profit through clicks should be thinking just as hard about its ethical firewalls as its paywalls right now.
Second, an example of exactly the right kind of soul-searching from Seattle NPR station KUOW, on the decision to reject the term "alt-right":
Yiannopoulous insists that just 2 to 3 percent of people identifying with the alt-right are truly racist. But others who identify as alt-right disagree with him – they are REAL racists, they repeat, who don’t like Jews and don’t believe in the Holocaust. They have ridiculed Yiannopoulous, who is gay, and whose mother is Jewish.
Which is why we are avoiding "alt-right" in favor of white supremacy or white nationalism.
On a happier note, Margaret Hamilton, the software engineer whose code helped take Apollo to the moon and back, was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week. In a detailed piece from last year, Robert McMillan tells the story of Hamilton's last-minute save:
Right around Christmas 1968—five days into the historic Apollo 8 flight, which brought astronauts to the moon for the first-ever manned orbit—the astronaut Jim Lovell inadvertently selected P01 during flight. Hamilton was in the second-floor conference room at the Instrumentation Laboratory when the call came in from Houston. Launching the P01 program had wiped out all the navigation data Lovell had been collecting. That was a problem. Without that data, the Apollo computer wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get the astronauts home. Hamilton and the MIT coders needed to come up with a fix; and it needed to be perfect.
This David Remnick piece has received a lot of, rightful, attention this week. Imagine being one of the most capable, measured, and successful presidents of the modern age, and handing off to the hot gilded mess approaching the front gates. The horror.
But Obama has remarkable statesmen like resolve, and as he told a crowd recently, "I’m going to be constrained in what I do with all of you until I am again a private citizen.”
This quote, especially, is telling:
The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without…” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”
I wasn’t counting on that beer anytime soon. But after the sitdown with Trump, Obama told staff members that he had talked Trump through the rudiments of forming a cabinet and policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy, health care—and that the President-elect’s grasp of such matters was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best. Trump, despite his habitual bluster, seemed awed by what he was being told and about to encounter.
A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino asks looks into the idea of regret and why we might need it.
Some thinkers have portrayed regret as a humanizing emotion. The 20th-century moral philosopher Bernard Williams pointed out that, in instances where a person hurts another through no fault of her own (to use his example, a truck driver who runs over a child), we still expect her to feel remorseful. She will feel the weight of the event more intensely than any spectator. Other people, Williams writes, will try to comfort her, “but it is important that this is seen as something that should need to be done, and indeed some doubt would be felt about a driver who too blandly or readily moved to that position” of comfort.
Others hold the commonsense view that regret over a past event you can do nothing about is a waste of time when you can actually do something instead.
The one and only, musician and producer extraordinaire, T Bone Burnett gave a keynote address to AmericanaFest
This country has been led by artists from Thoreau and Emerson through Walt Whitman to Woody Guthrie, through Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, to Presley and Dylan to The Last Poets and Kendrick Lamar. The Arts have always led the Sciences. Einstein said that Picasso preceded him by twenty years. Jules Verne put a man on the moon a hundred years before a rocket scientist did. Medieval stained glass windows are examples of how nanotechnology was used in the pre-modern era. Those artists were high technologists, and many other things- they were aestheticians, ethicists, conjurers, and philosophers, to name a few.
They took risks. Risks a technocrat could never take. Artists risk everything in everything they do. Risk is what separates the artist from the artisan. Art is not a career, it is a vocation, an inclination, a response to a summons.
The Theranos whistleblower is the grandson of former secretary of state, George Schultz. This is a fascinating look inside power, companies, and families. Great reporting from John Carreyrou at the Wall Street Journal.
After working at Theranos Inc. for eight months, Tyler Shultz decided he had seen enough. On April 11, 2014, he emailed company founder Elizabeth Holmes to complain that Theranos had doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks.
The reply was withering. Ms. Holmes forwarded the email to Theranos President Sunny Balwani, who belittled Mr. Shultz’s grasp of basic mathematics and his knowledge of laboratory science, and then took a swipe at his relationship with George Shultz, the former secretary of state and a Theranos director.
“The only reason I have taken so much time away from work to address this personally is because you are Mr. Shultz’s grandson,” wrote Mr. Balwani to his employee in an email, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Well, I was going to go election-free today. I thought: "wouldn't it be nice to read around the thing, to not have to face it every moment. Why can't we have a Sunday morning without the election?"
I still think that's a fine goal, but to be honest, the best things published this week are about the election. Everybody is thinking about the election. Everybody is writing about the election.
So, let us go there, too, not with panic, but with a desire to learn and understand.
And who better to start with then one of our most prescient and thoughtful writers, Teju Cole, who published this in the New York Times Magazine.
It is a Sunday afternoon in a provincial town in France. Two men meet at a cafe. One of them, Berenger, is half-drunk. He is being berated by his companion, Jean. All of the sudden, they hear a great noise. When they and other townspeople crane their necks to figure out what’s going on, they see a large animal thundering down one of the streets, stamping and snorting all the way. A rhinoceros! Not long after, there’s another. They are startled. It’s outrageous. Something must be done. What they begin to do is argue heatedly about whether the second rhino was the first one going past a second time or a different one, and then about whether the rhinos are African or Asiatic.
Alec MacGillis, in ProPublica, about those voters all politicians have overlooked, who broke for Trump in a big way. By the way, ProPublica is an important institution, a non-profit news gathering organization. Consider tossing them a few dollars, if you can.
Hand-wringing among Democrats about the party’s declining support among white working-class voters goes back a long time, to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that signing the Civil Rights Act would sacrifice the allegiance of white Southerners. Then came the rest of the historical litany: the crime wave, riots and anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, the consolidation of suburban white flight, Nixon’s Silent Majority, Reagan Democrats, NAFTA, gun control, the War on Coal, and on and on. By this year, many liberals had gotten so fed up with hearing about these woebegone voters and all their political needs that they were openly declaring them a lost cause, motivated more by racial issues than economic anxiety, and declaring that the expanding Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and college-educated white voters obviated the need to cater to the white working class.
But this assessment suffered from a fatal overgeneralization. The “white working class” was a hugely broad category — as pollsters defined it, any white voter without a four-year college degree, roughly one-third of the electorate. Within that category were crucial distinctions, especially regional ones. Democrats in national elections had lost most white working-class voters in the Deep South — indeed, virtually all white voters there — a long time ago. They had in the past decade and a half seen much of Greater Appalachia, stretching from the Alleghenies to Arkansas, follow suit, to the point where West Virginia, one of just five states that Jimmy Carter won in 1980, went for Mitt Romney by 26 percentage points in 2012. It was hard to see how the Democrats were going to win back coal country like Logan County, W.V., which Bill Clinton won with 72 percent in 1996 but where Obama got only 29 percent in 2012.
An older piece, by Emmett Rensin, in Vox about liberalism's attitude towards the world. It sure seems like a lot of people who voted for Trump complain about how poorly liberals think of them.
There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them.
Elizabeth Drew looks at how we could have all been so certain Hillary would win, and how we were all so shocked that she didn't.
In late September, I ran into Newt Gingrich and, out of curiosity, I asked him how he thought the election would turn out. “There’ll be a surge for Trump at the end,” he said. “There’s only so far that Hillary can go; too many people don’t like her.” I dismissed this as spin, forgetting that for all his erratic nature Gingrich is a bit of a visionary. Until it happened in 1994, no one outside his small circle believed that he could turn the House of Representatives—in Democratic hands for forty years—into a Republican bastion; hardly anyone took seriously the idea that Gingrich, the rowdy back-bencher, could become speaker. How deeply he believed what he told me about Trump’s chances, I didn’t and still don’t know, but I think my reaction suggests how a great many people thought about this election, up until Tuesday evening: no way it could happen. So it wouldn’t.
And finally, I am totally with Maris on this:
Leonard Cohen. All the cover versions of "Hallelujah" were bullshit.— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) November 11, 2016
But, after last night, I'm with her on this too:
Except maybe Kate McKinnon's?— Maris Kreizman (@mariskreizman) November 13, 2016
Alexander Chee on Elena Ferrante's upcoming new book.
The bar for every writer of fiction is that the novel is an invented thing. And yet each time we write, novelists are treated like spiritualists who rip off the grief-stricken — as though our inventions are some sort of hustle. Surely you must have some experience like this: Tell us about it. On tour for my first novel, a reader asked, “How much of this is autobiographical?” I replied, nearly snarling, “If you knew, would you believe it more or less?”
No amount of not taking guns away will convince some people that nobody's coming to take their guns away. But even if you believe the 3% belief — mistakenly thinking that only 3% of the population of the United States fought the Revolutionary War (with a population of 2.5 million in the colonies, and about 145,000 joining in militias, and 231,000 in the Continental Army — although those totals span the war and no individual battle saw near those numbers — it was more like 15%) — you would have to be close to 9.5 million to take the same action now. Finding 9.5 million Americans to take up arms, especially in times of relative prosperity, based on conspiracy theories is a tall order.
But of course, these men, like other "patriots", believe what they want irregardless of the weighty evidence that they are wrong, historically, and about the current political climate. Patriotism is a faith and a dogma, and the symbol of their sect is crossed firearms.
For example. let us consider the figure of Mr. Devin Bowen:
This session was held on 14 acres owned by Devin Bowen, a machinist who was having a miserable day even before the deputies forced him to drop his pistol.
The door of his trailer — the one with a sign that reads, “If You Don’t Live Here, Don’t Come Here” — was smashed in that day. Three rifles, a crossbow, 13,000 rounds of ammunition and an 800-pound gun safe were taken — not by federal agents, but by local thieves. Worse, Mr. Bowen was coughing up blood from an unknown malady. He soothed his throat by chugging cold Coca-Colas.
Mr. Bowen’s comrades urged him to see a doctor, prompting a sour discussion about yet another conspiracy they see: the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Bowen waved them off. He was more concerned about Muslim immigrants’ imposing Shariah law. “You cannot come to my country and shove your religion down my throat,” he said, coughing.
In a world where the GOP candidate hires firms with workers literally convicted of voter fraud and appeals (successfully) a court choice that his campaign cannot intimidate voters, and where a GOP state chair accuses polls of only staying open late so that "certain people" can vote, it's maddening to see the racist, classicist, and anti-democratic local Republican leadership so nakedly try to squash minority votes. There is no other way: all Americans who believe in Democracy should vigorously support as many people voting as possible. It's ludicrous to suggest otherwise.
Olivia Pearson, known around town as Miss Libby, surged with pride when she ferried her 18-year-old nephew to the polls to cast his first-ever ballot for Barack Obama in 2012. But now the former parole officer, civil rights activist, and grandmother has been charged with improperly helping him to vote. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
Her prosecution is one skirmish in the intense and increasingly bitter nationwide struggle between Democrats’ efforts to mobilize voters — especially people of color — and Republicans’ attempts to crack down on what they say is voter fraud in an election that Trump has repeatedly claimed is “rigged.” Her case comes amid the pitched electoral battle for the state of Georgia, long a rock-solid Republican bastion where polls show Donald Trump holds only a slim lead over Hillary Clinton. Republican officials in Georgia have encouraged ordinary citizens to lodge voter-fraud complaints through, for example, a dedicated website. Prosecutions remain rare but, critics charge, can send a message so chilling it suppresses voter turnout.
What do you do when David Duke shows up to your party and you want to get rid of him, but can't?
A few stalls and many crowds of drunk people across the grounds, Theresa Crosby, Deutsches Haus' executive director, sat behind a raffle booth, wearing a dirndl and ruffled bloomers. "He has been here uninvited," she told me. "He was told that he cannot hand out anything political, and he could not ask people to wear stickers and things like that." For emphasis, she ran down the list of her rules for all political figures, but most of all for this particular 66-year old candidate for the United States Senate: "You cannot pass out any literature, you cannot put any stickers on people, you cannot hold court, you cannot make any announcements. If you go around and people come up to you, that's fine, but you cannot go around and harass our people."
A long, intense, and detailed look at the types of people who join militias, and the sorts of things they do inside. More investigative reporting like this, please.
Becoming a militia member began with opening a new Facebook account. I used my real name, but the only personal information I divulged on my profile was that I was married and that I had held jobs as a welder and a prison guard for the Corrections Corporation of America. A "Don't Tread on Me" flag was my avatar. I found and "liked" militia pages: Three Percenter Nation, Patriotic Warriors, Arizona State Militia. Then Facebook generated endless suggestions of other militia pages, and I "liked" those too. To keep my page active, I shared other people's posts: blogs about President Barack Obama trying to declare martial law, and threats of Syrians crossing the border. I posted memes about American flags and police lives mattering. Then I sent dozens of friend requests to people who belonged to militia-related Facebook groups. Some were suspicious of me: "Kinda have a veg profile, so I got to ask why you want to be my friend????" one messaged. Many, however, accepted my friend requests automatically. Within a couple of days, I had more than 100 friends, and virtually any militia member who looked at my page would likely find that we had at least one friend in common.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Mexicans and tourists can pay a modest fee to find out just what it is like for people attempting to cross the border going North. This long comic is great storytelling, and how fascinating and unreal that you can just pay to find out how badly poor and desperate people are treated.
Amazing that the term "Patient Zero" was actually "Patient [letter] O", and due to internal CDC miscommunication, a meme and term was made.
The paper is a technical feat, but also has a powerful human side: It definitively clears the name of “Patient Zero,” a gay French-Canadian flight attendant named Gaëtan Dugas who for decades has been accused of bringing the virus to North America.
Dugas was hired by Air Canada in 1974, and his job took him to dozens of cities across North America. In 1980, he was diagnosed with skin cancer, just a year before the Centers for Disease Control flagged a mysterious cluster of infectious diseases in five young and previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles.
Dugas, known simply as Patient “O” (for “Outside of California”) in the CDC papers, was near the center of the cluster. A mistake in CDC communications, however, labeled him as Patient “0.”
I will always stand proud next to those of you who stand proud for milk chocolate.
I generally enjoy milk chocolate, for basic reasons of flavor and texture. For roughly the same reasons, I generally do not enjoy dark chocolate.
Those are just my boring preferences, but preferences, really, won’t do: This is an age in which even the simplest element of taste will become a matter of partisanship and identity and social-Darwinian hierarchy; in which all things must be argued and then ranked; in which even the word “basic” has come to suggest searing moral judgment. So IPAs are not just extra-hoppy beers, but also declarations of masculinity and “palatal machismo.” The colors you see in the dress are not the result of light playing upon the human eye, but rather of deep epistemological divides among the world’s many eye-owners. Cake versus pie, boxers versus briefs, Democrat versus Republican, pea guac versus actual guac, are hot dogs sandwiches … It is the best of times, it is the RAGING DUMPSTER FIRE of times.
Charlie Warzel, in BuzzFeed, on the history and intention of Twitter's abuse problem.
“What was once lauded as a virtue has now become the company’s Achilles’ heel — it’s the axis around which all this shit with harassment rotates,” a former senior employee told BuzzFeed News. Nearly all former employees BuzzFeed News spoke to in the course of reporting this story said the same thing. “The whole ‘free speech wing of the free speech party’ thing — that’s not a slogan, that’s deeply, deeply embedded in the DNA of the company,” Twitter’s former head of news, Vivian Schiller, said. “The people that run Twitter … are not stupid. They understand that this toxicity can kill them, but how do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line? I would actually challenge anyone to identify a perfect solution. But it feels to a certain extent that it’s led to paralysis.”
Anna Maria Barry-Jester's long, and fascinating, story on the politics of eliminating an insect species by genetic tweaking.
There are 48 breeds of mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, the string of islands that sweep off the southern tip of Florida and toward the Gulf of Mexico like a flyaway hair. Several of the mosquito types are an extreme nuisance, swarming and biting with fervor. The one Ryan was looking for, however, stands out for its stealth, affection for residential areas and ability to carry viruses that infect humans: the Aedes aegypti. It was the cause of a 2009–11 outbreak of dengue fever, a virus that can cause flu-like symptoms and debilitating pain, in Key West. And it’s the same mosquito that’s wreaking havoc in southern Florida, where the Zika virus is hitching rides between humans in tourist-filled Miami Beach and other nearby neighborhoods. Ryan found 10 breeding sites on this single property.
The species is also at the center of an intense debate about genetically modified mosquitoes. In November, a small group of Florida voters will wade into the center of that debate and make a decision that could have lasting effects in the U.S. and around the world.
I know, I know — we don't want to hear more about Trump (although, Ezra Klein's piece about how Hillary played him like a fiddle in all three debates is a satisfying read), but stick with this piece. There is more subtle things going on here.
In short, this is an important piece, by Robinson Meyer, a preview of what's to come, and an alert — but, also a process of how to deal with it. Erin Kissane broke down the 5 ways she thought this piece was important on Twitter, and I stand behind what she says 100%.
Spend enough time with some of the worst-case climate scenarios, and you may start to assume, as I did, that a major demagogue would contest the presidency in the next century. I figured that the catastrophic consequences of planetary warming would all but ensure the necessary conditions for such a leader, and I imagined their support coming from a movement motivated by ethnonationalism, economic stagnation, and hatred of immigrants and refugees. I pictured, in other words, something not so far from Trump 2016.
I just assumed it wouldn’t pop up until 2040.
Trump is, in essence, a double case—a preview of what’s to come and a way to practice dealing with it. He represents a test that the leaders of a major American political party are failing, and that the electorate may only narrowly pass. He is showing us how ill-prepared the United States is for post-climate demagoguery, and he gives us an opportunity to improve our societal immune response.
How might we do that? His rise also suggests a number of defense mechanisms. Obviously, the first is that climate change must be mitigated with all deliberate speed. But he also suggests certain cultural mechanisms. Some Americans may favor more restrictive immigration policies, but—in order to withstand against future waves of mass migration (and humanely deal with the victims of climate change)—racist fears must be unhooked from immigration restrictionism. In other words, as a matter of survival against future authoritarians, white supremacy must be rejected and defeated.
A great appreciation of one of my very favorite paintings.
The Arnolfini Portrait is one of those paintings that everyone swears they’ve never seen nor heard of until they see it. “Oh! That one!” they always say. “The one with the pregnant lady wearing that heavy green dress!” They are right about one thing: the dress looks equal to the task of curtaining a large bay window. But they are wrong to assume the woman is pregnant.
Not only did Van Eyck have a habit of painting women to look like they were with child even when they were without, but it was also fashionable at the time to look pregnant when you were not. Faking the harvest to attract the seed, so to speak. It’s untidy logic but still makes more sense than thigh gap.
The rhetoric of hate and divisiveness lead to hate and divisiveness. Trump is nothing less than the dismantling of American sanity.
Over the summer, some 3,000 therapists signed a self-described manifesto declaring Trump’s proclivity for scapegoating, intolerance and blatant sexism a “threat to the well-being of the people we care for” and urging others in the profession to speak out against him. Written and circulated online by University of Minnesota psychologist William J. Doherty, the manifesto enumerated a variety of effects therapists report seeing in their patients: that Trump’s combative and chaotic campaign has stoked feelings of anxiety, fear, shame and helplessness, especially in women, gay people, minority groups and nonwhite immigrants, who feel not just alienated but personally targeted by the candidate’s message.
The manifesto also made a subtler point: that all the attention heaped on Trump is actually making it harder for therapists to do their jobs. Trump’s campaign is legitimizing, even celebrating, a set of personal behaviors that psychotherapists work to reverse every day in their offices: “The tendency to blame ‘others’ in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities, and then battle these ‘others,’ instead of taking the healthier, more difficult path, of self-awareness and self-responsibility,” as Doherty wrote. Trump also “normalizes a kind of hyper-masculinity that is antithetical to the healthy relationships that psychotherapy helps people achieve.” Not to mention that his comments in the 2005 tape, Doherty says, are consistent with the behavior of a “sexual predator.”
A fascinating bit of biology, and how the natural world works on building blocks that influence and spread like blue dye in an ocean of water.
If you pick a random species of insect and look inside its cells, there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll find bacteria called Wolbachia. And if you look at Wolbachia carefully, you’ll almost certainly find a virus called WO, lying in wait within its DNA. And if you look at WO carefully, as Seth and Sarah Bordenstein, from Vanderbilt University, have done, you’ll find parts of genes that look like they come from animals—including a toxin gene that makes the bite of the black widow spider so deadly.
How on earth did this nested set-up evolve? How did a spider gene end up in a virus that lives inside bacteria that live inside the cells of insects?
Lots of discussion about this lately, from all sides — liberals complaining that the Silicon Valley billionaires are playing with the fabric of our reality. But, I see this more akin to a tradition of philosophical inquiry: let's look at what is possible, and this new theory holds their attention not because it's true, per se, but because it fits. We only know what we know until we don't know it. Observing the world, and our place in it, is part of the great human tradition.
When Elon Musk isn’t outlining plans to use his massive rocket to leave a decaying Planet Earth and colonize Mars, he sometimes talks about his belief that Earth isn’t even real and we probably live in a computer simulation.
“There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality,” he said at a conference in June.
There is no world, as far as I'm concerned, in which all the love given to Ursula K Le Guin, as of late, is misplaced.
The history of America is one of conflicting fantasies: clashes over what stories are told and who gets to tell them. If the Bundy brothers were in love with one side of the American dream—stories of wars fought and won, land taken and tamed—Le Guin has spent a career exploring another, distinctly less triumphalist side. She sees herself as a Western writer, though her work has had a wide range of settings, from the Oregon coast to an anarchist utopia and a California that exists in the future but resembles the past. Keeping an ambivalent distance from the centers of literary power, she makes room in her work for other voices. She has always defended the fantastic, by which she means not formulaic fantasy or “McMagic” but the imagination as a subversive force. “Imagination, working at full strength, can shake us out of our fatal, adoring self-absorption,” she has written, “and make us look up and see—with terror or with relief—that the world does not in fact belong to us at all.”
A wonderful piece by Anca Szilágyi on the cultural history and meaning of plums.
In the beginning, there was găluşti cu prune — plum dumplings. My mother’s mother, in August, plum season, steaming up the kitchen, boiling them in a big pot. These were the days before summer camp, before air conditioning. An electrical storm was coming. She warned me not to turn on the television or switch on the light. I thought that if I even touched the window, there would be a blue electric shock. The dumplings that survived the boiling she fried in sugar and breadcrumbs. The disintegrated balls — white lumps of potato dough and misshapen chunks of plums — she set aside for me. The whole ones — perfect, round, sparkling — were for my parents.
A plum dumpling is a perfect universe: the first encounter with granular, sugary crumbs; the dense, substantial wrapping that you sink your teeth into; and the juicy, sweet, and sometimes tart Italian prune plum center that veers toward sublime.
Ruth Franklin argues that Shirley Jackson was successful because of her children, not despite them.
In June 1948, Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” — a dark fable about a ritual stoning conducted in an apparently ordinary village — roiled the readers of The New Yorker, generating more mail than the magazine had ever before received in response to a work of fiction. A few months later, Jackson arrived at the hospital to deliver her third child. The clerk asked for her occupation. “Writer,” she replied. “I’ll just put down housewife,” came the response.
Adam Gidwitz on the quality of children's books, and what adults and kids think makes them "good".
The conundrum of the “good” children’s book is best embodied by the apparently immortal—or maybe just undead—series “Goosebumps,” by R. L. Stine. “Goosebumps” is a series of horror novellas, the kid’s-lit equivalent of B-horror movies. It’s also one of the most successful franchises in the business, selling over three hundred and fifty million copies worldwide—which is a ludicrous, almost obscene, number. And here’s a secret from the depths of the publishing industry: neither marketing nor publicity nor movie tie-ins can move three hundred and fifty million copies. The only way to sell that many copies is if millions of kids actually and truly want to read the books. The conclusion is obvious: “Goosebumps” books are good, right?
Rich Rennicks has an appreciation of artist Lynd Ward in the New Antiquarian.
The so-called graphic novel — which may be no more than a successful rebranding of comics — has become a very popular genre, with its own bestseller list in the New York Times, and growing shelfspace in new book stores. In light of this new-found prominence and respectability, it's interesting to look back at the precursors to the graphic novel, the stages the idea of the illustrated novel-length story went through before settling into the form we current know. One of these stages was the wordless novel, in particular the work of American Lynd Ward, who was both an influential illustrator of children’s books (he won a Caldecott Award) and a pioneer of the wordless novel.
What a wonderful piece by Michael Chabon on his son Abe, and his love of fashion. This is one you want to stay around for the ending, but I found the whole thing so charming, honest, and beautifully written that reaching the end was no issue at all.
Abe was just a kid who loved clothes. He loved talking about them, looking at them, and wearing them, and when it came to men's clothing, in particular the hipper precincts of streetwear, he knew his shit. He could trace the career path of Raf Simons, from Raf to Jil Sander to Dior and now to Calvin Klein. He could identify on sight the designers of countless individual articles of men's clothing—sneakers, shirts, jackets, pants—and when he didn't know for sure, the guesses he made were informed, reasoned, and often correct. He seemed to have memorized a dense tidal chart of recent fashion trends as they ebbed and flooded, witheringly dismissing a runway offering as “fine, for 2014” or “already kind of played out last year.” His taste as reflected in the clothes he wore was impeccable, interesting, and, in its way, fearless.
John Metta explaining why he speaks with emotion when he speaks about race, and what his response was to a man who asked if he could "rise above emotions" and have an "intellectual discussion". This is some prime unpacking.
Culture is how we pass information about our world across generations. It’s why our children speak our language, it’s how they learn from us. Culture is why some humans eat with a fork, and some eat with chopsticks. Culture explains why someone standing really close while they talk to you might feel threatening to a European, but comforting to a West African. Culture defines what acceptable volumes are when speaking, and how women are expected to act in social situations. … The society here in America needed a way to justify the enslavement of a people for no other reason than they looked a bit different. Like the Normans, they used culture to do it. Slaves were made to speak English but were forbidden to read and write. In fact, the myth was promoted that they were slow and couldn’t even be taught.
An excerpt from GS Motola's photography book exploring gender equality in Iceland.
It is important to acknowledge that both women and men were analysing the behaviour of the bankers, not blaming men specifically. Icelanders believed the problems were caused by untempered hyper-masculine behaviours, such as aggression, competitiveness, risk-taking and a lack of emotional awareness. Feminine qualities, such as risk-aversion, openness, emotional awareness and empathy might have averted the disaster. They were not saying that men are the problem and women are the solution — both sexes exhibit masculine and feminine behaviours and can exhibit imbalances of either as encouraged or discouraged by a culture’s gender construct. But the fact remains that banking culture in Iceland, like elsewhere, is overwhelmingly masculine. This balance of behaviours and qualities affects not only the world of banking and finance, but the world at large.
A story by Zan Romanoff about being best friends through thin and thick.
When a mutual friend called six months into Allison’s pregnancy to say that something had happened, I was too shocked to cry. The baby had died in utero: Her death was the result of a rare complication with the umbilical cord, the kind of accident that doctors take great pains to assure you occurs so infrequently that it doesn’t bear worrying about. It probably won’t happen. And there’s nothing you can do about it if it does.
Sady Doyle unpacks the gendered responses to the first woman to be a major party candidate.
No, Hillary Clinton is not a flawless person — or politician. You can complain about her secrecy, her hawkishness, or her husband all for good reason. But Clinton is, according to available biographical evidence, normal. Ordinary, even. She’s like countless women of her generation: Caught between the second wave of feminism and the marital norms of a pre-feminist age, driven to prove herself but cautious about seeming “pushy” or radical, aspiring to lead the nation into the 21st century yet baffled by her own fax machine. Her soul contains little poetry, and less mystery. Her flaws exist on an identifiably human scale.
Latonya Pennington, in The Establishment, on black women playing rock music, and being recognized for it.
Why are the contributions of black musicians like these so rarely acknowledged? In part, it has to do with monolithic stereotyping of black musicians and black music listeners—the association of current black musicians and black music fans in the United States with only hip-hop, R&B, and pop. In her book What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, music journalist Laina Dawes states that the monolith stereotype is the result of the whitewashing of rock music, as well as the black community’s need to preserve cultural bonds and appear respectable.
Andrew Sullivan talking to how a steady stream of instant media nearly ruined his health.
If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”
Bill Rauch looks into resistance from certain corners in the South in telling the true story of the Reconstruction, after the Civil War.
The National Park Service has also commissioned a study to explore creating official commemorative sites—and two places that are likely high on the list are Beaufort, South Carolina, and Natchez, Mississippi. That study is currently in its “final review” phase within the agency and is expected to come out in the next few months, probably right after the November elections. Reflecting the most recent historiographical thinking on Reconstruction, the long-awaited study will no doubt also emphasize the controversial era’s role as the essential precursor of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.
One of the great tragedies of a good obituary is that someone needs to die in order for it to be read. I've seen a number of Albee plays, but knew very little about the man himself.
Sent to an adoption nursery in Manhattan before he was three weeks old, baby Edward was placed with Reed Albee, an heir to the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville theaters, and his wife, Frances, who lived in Larchmont, N.Y. The couple had no children and formally adopted Edward 10 months later, naming him Edward Franklin Albee III after two of his adoptive father’s ancestors.
Patrician and distant, the Albees were unsuited to dealing with a child of artistic temperament, and in later years Mr. Albee would often recall an un-nourishing childhood in which he felt like an interloper in their home. In a 2011 interview at the Arena Stage in Washington with the director Molly Smith, he said that his mother had thrown out his first play — he described it as “a three-act sex farce” — which he wrote at age 14.
Nicolson Baker has written a book about education, after going undercover and working in a school district as a substitute teacher. This is the part of the book review site where we link to another book review.
At 700-plus pages, Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids is a surprisingly hefty contribution to the life-of-a-teacher genre, especially given that Baker clocked only 28 days in the classroom—a place he’d love to liberate kids from. (He enjoyed a 1970s school-without-walls progressive education himself. ) Scattered across three months and six schools, grades K–12, each of those days is chronicled with the moment-by-moment vividness that Baker has made one of his trademarks. In his novel The Mezzanine, for example, he plumbs an office worker’s thoughts during an escalator ride; fireplace rituals receive punctilious attention in A Box of Matches. Well before his teaching stint has ended, Baker the substitute has shifted into saboteur mode—the reporter as mischief-maker.
A hard personal story about obligation and family.
The last time I saw my father alive I was 22 years old and working at the Metropolitan Opera. I wasn't making much money but that is a relative statement, given that I had an apartment in Manhattan instead of a double-wide in mid-Michigan, like most of my childhood friends. It was the first time I truly believed I was not just getting out but staying out of the poverty that haunted our family tree.
The phone call came on a Tuesday while I was at work. This was long before I learned not to answer calls from numbers I didn't recognize. It was a hospital. My father had fallen and broken his back, and since he lived alone, no one had found him for 24 hours. He was still alive, somehow, when a cleaning lady discovered him at the bottom of the stairs and called 911. The hospital social worker found my phone number in his wallet. It was the only number of any kind that he had on him.
Talking about race in America means talking about race in America:
Two essential quotes come up often among the black women in my professional cohort. The first is one that we attribute to Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” The other is from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals: “Your silence will not protect you.” We trade these quotes to nudge one another toward self-advocacy in situations when speaking up for ourselves might be difficult—such as in work or social settings where we are in a minority as women of color and our experiences of sexism or racism may be minimized or disbelieved, if we are vocal about them.
Hello Sunday Post readers! Thanks to our intern Rebecca Garcia Moreno for handling your picks of Sunday reads over the Summer. She did a great job. Back now to your regularly scheduled recommenations....
Christopher Goffard's absolutely bonkers, and incredible, six-part story from the LA Times, reproduced here in full, about people who do shitty things.
They were outside Plaza Vista School in Irvine, where she had watched her daughter go from kindergarten to fifth grade, where any minute now the girl would be getting out of class to look for her. Parents had entrusted their own kids to Peters for years; she was the school’s PTA president and the heart of its after-school program. Now she watched as her ruin seemed to unfold before her. Watched as the cop emerged from her car holding a Ziploc bag of marijuana, 17 grams worth, plus a ceramic pot pipe, plus two smaller EZY Dose Pill Pouch baggies, one with 11 Percocet pills, another with 29 Vicodin. It was enough to send her to jail, and more than enough to destroy her name.
Rebecca Moss is an artist that was traveling on a Hanjin ship when the company declared bankruptcy, and now she's stuck at sea and the boat can't arrange to come into port. Kevin Griffin fro the Vancouver Sun has an interview with her.
Rebecca Moss is the British artist stranded on the Hanjin Geneva owned by the Hanjin shipping line that filed for receivership Wednesday. She was on board as part of the 23 Days at Sea Residency organized by Access Gallery in Vancouver.
Lenny Ponzer's six-year-old son was murdered at Sandy Hook. Now, conspiracy theorists keep harassing him, and his family, convinced that his son not only didn't exist, but was a fiction made for some nebulous government conspiracy.
It didn’t take much longer for Pozner to find out that many people didn’t believe his son had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video, titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed,” which asked questions like “Wouldn’t frantic kids be a difficult target to hit?,” had been viewed more than 10 million times.
There are a lot of guns in this country. And obviously a lot of shootings. And the only way to trace a gun, as Jeanne Marie Laskas uncovers, is through an amazingly inefficient system reliant on thousands upon thousands of boxes filled with records. Also, computers and searchable digital files are not allowed. Laskas’ interviews with Charlie Houser and his team at ATF show the fascinating and overlooked side of gun tracing.
We have more gun retailers in America than we do supermarkets, more than 55,000 of them. We're talking nearly four times the number of McDonald's. Nobody knows how many guns that equals, but in 2013, U.S. gun manufacturers rolled out 10,844,792 guns, and we imported an additional 5,539,539. The numbers were equally astounding the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that.
By law, the system must remain intricate, thorny, and all but impenetrable. Matching a firearm to a person — tracing a gun — is therefore a needle-in-a-haystack proposition that depends on Form 4473. To the people at the tracing center, locating that document is the whole object of the game. It's the holy grail. The form has the gun purchaser's signature on it, his or her address, place and date of birth, height, weight, gender, ethnicity, race, and, sometimes, Social Security number (“Optional, but will help prevent misidentification,” says box 8).
Roger Ailes is paranoid, ultra-surveillant, and power-abusing. With about 12 self-admitted career train wrecks, this one is the biggest one yet, and Gabriel Sherman details it extensively. There are dozens of allegations dating back to the 60s from women who Ailes has sexually harassed. It’s about time someone called him out on his predatory behavior and the misogynistic atmosphere he created in and beyond the Fox News offices.
Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News. When Ailes made harassing comments to her about her legs and suggested she wear tight-fitting outfits after she joined the network in 2005, she tried to ignore him. But eventually he pushed her too far. When Carlson complained to her supervisor in 2009 about her co-host Steve Doocy, who she said condescended to her on and off the air, Ailes responded that she was “a man hater” and a “killer” who “needed to get along with the boys.” After this conversation, Carlson says, her role on the show diminished. In September 2013, Ailes demoted her from the morning show Fox & Friends to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.
Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, is a local known for his online comics. Susan Kelleher discovers that the force behind these incredibly successful comics sits and creates for 12 hours, fundraises to spite attorneys, and organizes weird races around Seattle — among other talents.
Inman’s comics have won an Eisner Award, the Pulitzer Prize of the comics industry (he’s nominated again this year). Where other cartoonists struggle to eat, Inman owns a million-dollar home in Seattle with a captain’s view of Puget Sound.
In a different time and place, the trajectory of Inman’s life thus far would be positively freakish. But the former computer programmer occupies a rare intersection of art and technology, a social space where he can sit at home in his pajamas and watch in real time as his comics connect with millions of people around the world.
A short and nerdy piece about the subjunctive “were” and a few cases against it. It’s worth a read if, like me, you’re the snob in your friend group who corrects people’s grammar (and should maybe reconsider). Would that English weren’t so weird.
The English “were” is the runt of the subjunctive litter, used on just one verb, just some of the time, and not by everyone. And some experts reckon this is not a subjunctive at all. “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language”, by Geoffrey Pullum and Rodney Huddleston, calls counterfactual “were” the “irrealis”, rather than the subjunctive, and says that it is an unstable remnant of an earlier system.
The issues that plague Thai education — especially surrounding language — reflect the more general underlying conflicts between various identities, as Adam Ramsey investigates and points out.
In an exhaustive 2012 report into the conflict in southern Thailand, the International Crisis Group highlighted the “marginalisation of [deep south] culture, history, religion and language” as a major force fuelling the violence.
The education policy has long embittered the majority Patani-Malay speaking community of Thailand’s four southernmost provinces. As well as consistently producing some of the poorest literacy scores in the country, families in the south see the enforced Thai-language curriculum as an attempt to further marginalise a key facet of their own identity: their own language.
Though exciting at first, this basement restaurant with a supposed years-long waitlist becomes gradually less legitimate the more you try to learn about it. Journalists can’t confirm celebrity visits and numbers don’t add up. Nick Paumgarten writes about his fifteen course meal with a stubbornly self reliant and secretive chef.
If Damon Baehrel is in some measure a fairy tale, what, exactly, isn’t true? And, if it isn’t entirely on the level, what’s the hustle? What’s he up to, out there in the woods? The perception of exclusivity and privileged access enables him to charge big-city prices, but if he were serving only a handful of diners each week it wouldn’t add up to a huge haul. For what, then?
Baehrel has concocted a canny fulfillment of a particular foodie fantasy: an eccentric hermit wrings strange masterpieces from the woods and his scrabbly back yard. The extreme locavore, pure of spade and larder. The toughest ticket in town. Stir in opacity, inaccessibility, and exclusivity, then powder it with lichen: It’s delicious. You can’t get enough. You can’t even get in.
It’s not a hypothetical — Argentina and Venezuela have already experienced this. And as Seth Masket points out, “Democracies, it seems, are surprisingly fragile in the absence of functional parties.” A lack of parties can lead to violence, such as the American Civil War after the last death of a major political party. As the 2016 elections approach, people are wondering if the death of the Republican Party is imminent. And if so, what will it bring?
What makes a party die? The answer, Lupu argues, is an interaction of forces. It's not just when the economy goes sour while one party is in charge. That will certainly hurt a party, but its most ardent supporters will stick with it even in tough times. Nor is it when a party suddenly changes its brand.
But a combination of those two can be fatal. If a party radically shifts its policy positions, it can alienate its most ardent supporters, who won't be there the next time the party is blamed for something that goes wrong.
From its inception to its completion, Maus took Art Spiegelman 13 years, and this month marks the first volume’s 30th anniversary. The two-part graphic novel is arguably as wide-read as Elie Wiesel’s Night — at least in schools, where it’s become a common item on reading lists.
Today, amid the massive boom in graphic novels, it can be easy to forget how much of a game-changer "Maus" was.
The comic installments ran in serial form in RAW, the indie "graphix" magazine launched in 1980 by Spiegelman and his editor-wife, Francoise Mouly, now art editor at the New Yorker. That’s where rock-star cartoonist Chris Ware ("Building Stories") first read it. "Probably more than any other single comic, it made me see not only the potential for complex, moving and intelligent storytelling in comics, but also galvanized my own resolve to become a graphic novelist," he says.
According to Alia Wong, DC ties with Hawaii for the nation’s lowest public school attendance rate. That’s why almost every president sent the first kids to private school — except Jimmy Carter, whose decision to enroll his daughter in a predominantly black DC public school carries significant symbolic weight.
Scrutinizing where Malia and Chelsea and Amy went to school as first kids is a reminder that even presidents face the kinds of decisions that everyday parents have to make in an increasingly heterogenous school landscape. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s a reminder of the disconnect that often separates public-school classrooms from the people who decide what happens in them: Given how much power the president of the United States wields over the nation’s public schools, it’s noteworthy how few of the country’s soon-to-be 45 commanders-in-chief actually had real, personal stakes in the public-education systems they helped—or will soon help—shape.
The responses to Chloe Angyal’s tweet about not reading any white authors in 2016 are hardly surprising, but still rather shocking. Her article perfectly describes the realities reflected in the abusive replies and underscores the importance of her project.
I don’t imagine that merely reading differently and hoping that others will do the same will end racism or sexism. It’s going to take 500,000 things — big and small, public and private, individual and systemic — to do that. I also don’t think it’s showy or superficial to, as a member of a dominant group, make it known to other members of that group when you’re actively working to correct inequities. To hold yourself, and other members of that group, accountable. That’s not going to instantly transport us to a better future — no one thing will — but it is, hopefully, a stop along the road.