Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
I-walked–2,000-miles-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale is a genre full of clichés. Crushing physical discomfort? Check. Naïve decisions that lead to near-disaster? Check. Ultimate success and personal transformation? Check. Check check check.
Friend of SRoB Rahawa Haile’s story is different. Haile — black, Eritrean, queer — hiked the Appalachian Trail alone in 2016, covering thousands of miles of wilderness dotted with pro-Trump signs and Confederate flags. Those oases of “civilization” were more terrifying than rattlesnakes and switchbacks. So was her return to an urban world in which Donald Trump had been elected president.
Every day I eat the mountains, and the mountains, they eat me. “Less to carry,” I tell the others: this skin, America, the weight of that past self. My hiking partners are concerned and unconvinced. There is a weight to you still, they tell me. They are not wrong. My footing has been off for days. There were things I had braced for at the beginning of this journey that have finally started to undo me.
Also read: Haile’s incandescent short essay on carrying books by black authors and the weight of the present moment across all 2,000 miles.
Did you love S-Town? I did. Like Maaza Mengiste, I listened “with my own childhood experiences in mind” — a wealth of stories and memories from Jackson, Gulfport, Meridian, some beloved, some angry, some sad. That’s what S-Town is meant to do, Mengiste says: make us think about how we’re living, who we are.
What if who you are is a gaping absence in the story, though? What if who you are is black? Here’s what S-Town sounds like to that set of ears.
This podcast is supposed to be about all those things we do not know of a person, all those things that we cannot imagine that make up their totality. In producing this podcast, however, the creators made an assumption that rings false, that frankly, rings white: that it is possible to move through this land and simply tuck race into a corner until it's convenient.
Eula Biss lives in one of Chicago’s “most diverse neighborhoods,” which means she and her husband, both academics, are able to afford an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. They are the leading edge of gentrification, and they dread the cultural and social losses that come with it. This will feel familiar to many Seattleites …
“Gentrification” is a word that agitates my husband. It bothers him because he thinks that the people who tend to use the word negatively, white artists and academics, people like me, are exactly the people who benefit from the process of gentrification. “I think you should define the word ‘gentrification,’” my husband tells me now.
I ask him what he would say it means, and he pauses for a long moment. “It means that an area is generally improved,” he says finally, “but in such a way that everything worthwhile about it is destroyed.”
Yonatan Zunger has been reflecting on the definitions of “right” and “wrong” for several decades. He has some good, practical advice for determining which is which, or at least thinking more carefully about the question. And some very clear views on the real-world consequences of muddy ethical thinking.
I’ve been regularly surprised at the depth of people’s urge not to discuss things like institutional racism or sexism, or generational poverty, or how power imbalances in society mean that seemingly “identical” behaviors are in no way identical. But if you fail to understand this, then you will routinely engage in “identical” behaviors which are anything but — for example, expecting that someone move in with their family until they can get back on their feet, when not everyone has a family they can do that with. The harm you cause this way may be entirely surprising and unclear to you, because you never learned about the things which cause your actions to lead to it. But if you had the chance to learn it and didn’t, then the moral bill is on you.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
This piece by Sam Tanenhaus is a vivid history of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, with direct lines via Pat Buchanan to Donald Trump’s victory last year. Judging by this retelling, politics has become considerably less witty — though no less petty. Time for the Twitterverse to up its game.
For [Garry] Wills, "Nixon's main problem, I think, was his nose," Buchanan recalls. He's serious. Nixon's ski-jump nose, beloved by caricaturists, was a staple of the period's cornball humor. Even Nixon worked up good-sport one-liners. ("Bob Hope and I would make a great ad for Sun Valley.") Wills, crammed beside him in a DC-3, under the dim overhead spotlight, was transfixed—not by the nose's fabled length but by "its distressing width, accentuated by the depth of the ravine running down its center, and by its general fuzziness . . . the nose swings far out; then, underneath, it does not rejoin his face in a straight line, but curves far up again, leaving a large but partially screened space between nose and lip" ...
For non-fans, sports are a blur of frantic movement punctuated by long, dull waits and nerve-shattering cheers and boos from true believers. It’s not easy to sell us on the storyline, but Kevin Alexander manages it in this piece on “Hard Men” — the bruisers and bullies who’ve held folkloric status on English soccer teams for decades and are now fading into history.
You can get a sense of their skill sets by looking at the nicknames of the Hard Men of the ’60s and ’70s, such as Chelsea’s Ron “Chopper” Harris and Liverpool’s Tommy “the Anfield Iron” Smith. (“Tommy Smith wasn’t born,” Bill Shankly once said, “he was quarried.”) My personal favorite is Leeds United’s Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter. Another Leeds Hard Man, Joe Jordan, was nicknamed “Jaws” because he refused to wear dentures after losing four teeth to a kick in the mouth.
In a short piece packed with literary gossip and impeccable research, Levi Stahl puts a forgotten tale of Vladmir Nabokov, butterflies, and a dying prospector under the microscope.
After more than four hours of hiking, the two were descending a steep slope covered by ice-crusted snow when they lost their footing and began to slide toward the edge. Nabokov managed to snag a rock with his butterfly net, and Laughlin was able to grab Nabokov’s shoe while rushing past him. The net held, and the men survived.
That was not the only time death came near Nabokov that summer.
One strategy for interacting with beloved authors is to avoid eye contact at all costs and leave the room if possible. Jonathan Carroll favors a different approach.
Like so many people, I happened onto one of Bukowski’s collections of poetry in a university used book shop. I stood there a long time, drinking down his poems for the first time like they were cold Coca Cola on a hot day. I’d never read anything like them and it was a thrilling experience. In my 20 year old college boy “I want to be a writer too someday” voice I wrote all of that to him. A few weeks later I received an envelope from the Sunshine Inn Motel in San Pedro, California.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Lake Powell, Lake Mead — we created these outsized watering holes by replacing natural wonders like Glen Canyon with human wonders like the Glen Canyon Dam. Now America’s manmade lakes are going dry. Rebecca Solnit (with Edward Abbey looking closely over her shoulder) asks what might reappear as the desert reclaims itself.
When the Sierra Club pronounced Glen Canyon dead in 1963, the organization’s leaders expected it to stay dead under Lake Powell. But this old world is re-emerging, and its fate is being debated again. The future we foresee is often not the one we get, and Lake Powell is shriveling, thanks to more water consumption and less water supply than anyone anticipated. Beneath it lies not just canyons but spires, crests, labyrinths of sandstone, Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, and burial sites, an intricate complexity hidden by water, depth lost in surface.
Dionne Searcey and photographer Adam Ferguson bring National Route 1 — the desert highway outside Diffa, Niger, where thousands have gathered to take shelter from the Boko Haram — vividly to life. Cheers to The New York Times for continuing its impressive experiments with digital, and especially for bending the medium to the story, rather than the other way around.
Construction stopped two years ago after attacks by Boko Haram spiked. [The road's] intended destination — oil fields near the border with Chad — is far away, about 80 miles beyond the choppy lip where the pavement suddenly cuts off, like an interrupted thought.
The Chinese are gone. Now, desperation spans the horizon instead: tens of thousands of ragged huts made from millet stalks, scraps of fabric, torn flour bags and sheets of tarp. From the air, they look like scattered piles of hay.
Many have been living here for more than two years.
Neil Gaiman reads in Seattle tonight, to a sold-out house. Here’s Ursula Le Guin with a charmingly curmudgeonly critique of Gaiman’s new and already beloved retelling of the Norse myths.
Gaiman plays down the extreme strangeness of some of the material and defuses its bleakness by a degree of self-satire. There is a good deal of humour in the stories, the kind most children like — seeing a braggart take a pratfall, watching the cunning little fellow outwit the big dumb bully. Gaiman handles this splendidly. Yet I wonder if he tries too hard to tame something intractably feral, to domesticate a troll.
Mike Monteiro, the acerbic conscience of the design industry, is perpetually pissed off, but that doesn’t make him wrong. On the role design plays in shaping history and the slippery self-deception of “creating change from the inside”:
I get that you like making things. But making things at the expense of someone else’s freedom is fucked. Not putting what you’re designing through an ethical test is not only just lazy, it’s dangerous. Feigning ignorance that ethics is not part of your job as a designer is no longer valid. Knowing that it’s part of the job and ignoring it is criminal.
Olivia Nuzzi published a long and detailed profile of Kellyanne Conway this week. It’s a can’t-look-away article, somewhere between trainwreck and victory march. (Side note: Like a lot of other people, I’m pretty sure I could manage to dislike Conway in person. Her particular brand of fact-bending makes my teeth itch.)
You should read the profile, which is crazy fascinating, but then follow up with this awesomely sardonic essay by Matt Taibbi on how neatly we’ve been suckered into co-creating, with Trump, a “WWE future where government is a for-profit television program.” Ahem.
Trump leans over and pauses to soak in the love, his trademark red tie hanging like the tongue of a sled dog. Finally he turns and flashes a triumphant thumbs-up. A chant breaks out:
"U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Reporters stare at one another in shock. They were mute bystanders seconds ago; now they're the 1980 Soviet hockey team. One turns to a colleague and silently mouths: "U-S-A? What the f ... "
A friendship forged in the kitchen — superstar chef Mario Batali on eating and cooking with superstar writer Jim Harrison. Would love to have been at a quiet corner table to observe these giants at dinner.
We once shared a slightly overlong supper at the Michelin three-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park, in New York, where he fidgeted through most of the complex meal, announcing early on in his loud baritone to the entire dining room, “Maaaario, you know I am much more of a trattoria kind of guy,” and finally sending his chicken back to the kitchen, because the chef had somehow denied him “THE FUCKING LEGS . . . where are THE FUCKING LEGS . . . ?”
Game designer/developer Ed Fries went searching for the ultimate Easter egg: an inside joke hidden so deeply in a vintage game that even its creator had forgotten how to trigger it. Fries scoured code, jury-built an emulator, and rebuilt a classic arcade machine to find it. (via Ars Technica)
I was kind of stunned. If this was true it would certainly predate the earliest video game Easter egg that I knew of and the one that is most often cited as being the first: “Adventure” for the Atari 2600 from 1979. I did a little searching online and found that there was an even earlier Easter egg in the game “Video Whizball” which was released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F game console.
But there was a problem. Ron didn’t remember exactly how to bring up the Easter egg. He remembered showing it off to some buddies at a county fair when the game first came out, but that was 40 years ago!
Malware is sort of like an Easter egg — if you cracked open the pastel treat and found a rotting yolk that emptied your bank account electronically. Or, in this case, helped tilt an election and change the shape of a country.
Garrett Graff traces the hunt for Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, or “Slavik,” the malware artist who designed the “the Microsoft Office of online fraud.” Great story of a breathtaking cat-and-mouse battle between Slavik and the investigators that tracked the elusive hacker from petty online theft to potentially influencing the US presidential outcome.
[Tillman] Werner, as it happened, knew quite a bit about Evgeniy Bogachev. He knew in precise, technical detail how Bogachev had managed to loot and terrorize the world’s financial systems with impunity for years. He knew what it was like to do battle with him.
But Werner had no idea what role Bogachev might have played in the US election hack. Bogachev wasn’t like the other targets—he was a bank robber. Maybe the most prolific bank robber in the world.
This one’s close to home. Arts culture and reviews are on the decline as news publications go digital-first — criticism just doesn’t drive the clicks and pageviews that are the darlings of the modern editorial office. Some publications are finding creative workarounds, like this Dallas bookstore and this book review site. But if we think the critic’s voice matters, we need to get smart about using data with intuition and experience, not instead of.
The drive to revamp cultural coverage has overtaken major newspapers, including the New York Times, just as the wider public has been rediscovering the virtue of traditional reporting. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential campaign, with its catastrophic feedback loop of fake news and clickbait, people have subscribed in surging numbers to so-called legacy publications. Do these chastened content-consumers really want culture pages dominated by trending topics? Or do they expect papers to decide for themselves what merits attention? One lesson to be learned from the rise of Donald Trump is that the media should not bind themselves blindly to whatever moves the needle.
Carvell Wallace covered the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, walking alone through a sea of ten-gallon hats, exploring the complex cultural roots of cowboy music, and asking what it means to put America first. He’s nailed the tone in this one: straightforward, generous, even a bit sentimental — but not letting anyone off the hook.
To hear Steiger talk about it, ranching — "cowboying," as he called it — is the most natural and beautiful thing in the world. Simple and spiritual. Honest and pure. This view explains why so many people make their pilgrimage to Elko every year, carrying guitars and banjos, fiddles and musical saws, dressed in white hats and turquoise, boots and fringe. They are in love with a lovely thing. It gives them a sense of place, a sense of belonging. It is a celebration of culture. It is, in many ways, a family reunion.
And for me, as always, I just see ghosts.
Print is a conversation; digital is a crowd. Now that we’re past the delirious early days of our fling with social media, it’s easier to see what the printed page is uniquely good for.
The love affair between print, politics, and protest is no new romance. Shuffle down the mag pile marked “protest” and you’ll find the underground press of the 60s and 70s, and feminist titles like Spare Rib. Reach further back and you’ll find the clandestine press of the French Resistance, British political pamphlets of the 18th century, and much more. But now that digital and social media provide so many other means for political protest and debate, why does print remain an essential part of the political media diet?
Why? For a multitude of reasons — unconscious bias, a clubby educational system, assumptions about where genius comes from — that boil down to “because they can be, and they make a lot of money while they’re doing it.” Thanks to Susan J. Fowler and other women who are speaking up, that’s changing. Liza Mundy interviewed dozens of women who’ve survived and succeeded in the tech industry for this story.
“Until we see changes in the way we work, I don’t think we’re going to crack this nut,” Correll says. “I worked with one company that insisted that the best way for good ideas to emerge was to have people on teams screaming their ideas at each other. When you watch these teams work, they literally scream at each other and call each other names. They believe this dynamic is essential to scientific discovery—absolutely essential. I said, ‘Could you at least say you disagree with someone without saying you think they are an idiot?’ ”
Muira McCammon spends hours daily reading about, looking at, and listening to the documented record of humanity at its worst. She turned her researcher’s eye on the survival strategies of her profession.
I kept asking Seccombe how he handled the psychological taxation of performing document analysis on so many pages of trial evidence about Nazi experiments in human freezing, oxygen deprivation (high-altitude), poison gas, and chemical sterilization. How did he endure the onslaught of details about the removal of bones for anatomical research, Jewish skeleton collections, forced sterilization programs, and the mass murder of civilians? I needed to know what he did to relax at the end of the day. “I try to leave the work behind,” he said, “but sometimes I still get nightmares.”
Nearly a year later, I still write to Seccombe almost weekly. When we really need a break, we tend to discuss our latest “canine-friendly moments.” Neither of us owns dogs. We just like to talk about them.
Isabella Rotman’s short comic about what it’s like to faint at the sight of blood is a stellar mix of styles — existential, autobiographical, and educational all at once.
Hat tip to Jason Kottke, whose personal take on a similar phobia is equally worth reading.
The New York Times’ “Insider” series is shamelessly geeky about how reporting happens. Here’s the behind-the-scenes on David Sanger and William Broad’s investigation of how the US is using electronc tools to sabotage North Korea’s missile program. A flash of insight based on two journalists’ unique expertise, hours in the stacks and stacks of drafts, and the thorniest possible negotiation.
Then came the sensitive part of these investigations: telling the government what we had, trying to get official comment (there has been none) and assessing whether any of our revelations could affect continuing operations. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, we traveled out to the director of national intelligence’s offices: a huge complex in an unmarked office park a few miles beyond the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Fairfax County, Va.
Another inside peek, this one into the colorful and sprawling sketchbooks where Oliver Sacks recorded, created, and refined. Maria Popova won privileged access to Sacks’s papers, not yet available in a public archive, and highlights a selection that’s delightful both for its variety and for its reflection of the constant, frenetic effort required to track Sacks’s agile and demanding mind.
Using whatever paper and writing instrument he had on hand, Dr. Sacks jotted down ideas as they occurred to him — unedited, un-self-censored flights of fancy, captured before they flew away and later domesticated into the thoughtful, exquisitely structured, immensely insightful formal writings for which he is so beloved.
To kill or not to kill — and how much to care along the way? The question is driving dissent through what you’d think (if you thought of it at all) would be the most quiet of professions: traditional mole-catching.
For a mole-catcher to be successful today, he or she must engage the client with the most romantic notions of his profession. This, at least, is the theory of Duncan Emmett, a mole-catcher in his 60s who has the long beard of a wizard. “If you take that magic away, if you take that showmanship away, then all you are left with is the killing,” Emmett told me at a dimly lit pub near his home in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. “Because you have to kill the mole, haven’t you? That isn’t an easy thing for a lot of people to bear.”
Donald Trump is definitely a Big Bad. So where’s our Buffy?
It’s probably no coincidence that most of the super-villains that succeed the Master don’t look like super-villains at all. After all, fangs and demony-red eyes aren’t nearly as terrifying as the qualities that define the Big Bads, who embody the ugliest of human traits—cruelty, obsession with loyalty, vengefulness, blazing conviction in their own superiority, an out-of-control temper. They want to remake reality to suit these whims.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat.
Wyatt Mason’s humility lifts this interview with Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits beyond its style-magazine setting. Maybe because Mason asks “some stupid questions,” each of the three musicians responds directly and unpretentiously, offering up their take on songwriting and the relationship between music and the world in times of crisis. E.g., this anecdote from Tom Waits’ days as a firefighter in Jacumba, California:
The captain says: ‘WAITS!!! Take that hose and start putting out some of these chickens.’ So there I am aiming at these flying, screaming, burning chickens, and I had never seen a chicken fly before, but boy can they fly. ... There had to be a hundred or so of them and the blast of water would douse the fire and they would come crashing to the ground — and then another and another. There was no time to think or prepare.”
Here it was, as Waits closed out his story, here it was again, here was where songs come from: “It was an emergency,” he wrote, “and when dealing with emergent behavior there is nothing to do but respond. I was in the moment. And it was not the fire I imagined or dreamed of. It was the fire I got.”
After the deaths of her daughter and husband, Katherine Keith re-taught herself to live on a thousand-mile dogsled race through the Alaskan wilderness.
Her parka finally zipped over her four other coats and two Smartwool shirts, she starts putting Velcro-strapped booties on her Alaskan huskies, a tedious task even in ideal conditions. It's like putting Velcro boots on a baby, only instead of two feet there are four and instead of one baby there are 11, and instead of being inside a warm nursery, she is outside in Alaska in February. She's barehanded, with fingers that have been wrecked by the cold for days already.
The danger of this cold is very real and goes beyond frostbitten finger tips. With more than 200 miles left in her first Yukon Quest, Katherine, 38, can't afford mistakes.
I’m not sure I agree with Jared Spool’s description of “design thinking” here. The term’s power, at IDEO and elsewhere, is less about changing perceptions of design, more about using design strategies to solve other kinds of problems — in transportation and education, for example. Still, it’s good to see someone call it out for what it is: useful jargon, but no magic bullet.
For the longest time, I didn’t get it. It seemed like we just added a new name to an old thing. Nothing was different. I thought it wouldn’t last.
But it did. Everywhere I’d go, there would be presentations where folks would talk about how they’ve introduced design thinking into their organization. (My wife and I would play this game. If we hear someone say “design thinking” in a presentation, we’d each try to be the first to say “I’M DESIGNING WITH MY THOUGHTS!”)
The British educational experience has a host of familiar touchpoints for readers: coming of age, empire building, and quidditch, to name just a few. Here’s a more current and less innocent lens from Andy Beckett. The PPE — a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics — has birthed generations of British political leaders. How did a single Oxford degree become so influential? And where is it leading England?
Oxford PPE remains opaque to outsiders. It is often mentioned in the media but rarely explained. Even to know what PPE stands for is to be unusually well-informed about British education and power – often, to be part of the same Oxford milieu as the PPEists. When I asked one former party leader what he got from the degree, he said with studied insouciance: “Why would you want to write about PPE?” As the establishment often says when scrutinised: nothing to see here.
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat.
Two good ones this week on a particular alt-right (or whatever) subculture:
Laurie Penny has spent solid time with Milo Yiannopoulis and his young male entourage, and her account from the tour bus during the Berkeley riot is mesmerizing and exceptionally well written. Make sure to pair it, though, with this counter by Aura Bogado, on what happens when you code white privilege as innocence.
In a similar spirit (if you’re not sure what that spirit is, go read Graham Greene’s “The Destructors”): Dale Beran’s piece on 4Chan, the online forum that birthed Gamergate, and how it grew from a few kids who liked anime to a worldwide collective with the power to change our country’s future.
Trump supporters voted for the con-man, the labyrinth with no center, because the labyrinth with no center is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them. A labyrinth with no center is a perfect description of their mother’s basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.
Trump’s bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behavior — what the left (naturally) perceives as his weaknesses — are to his supporters his strengths.
Simple to make, lightweight to ship, and a breeze to unload over EBay and Alibaba, counterfeit makeup is easy money. David Gauvey Herbert follows “Operation Big MAC,” a DEA-led initiative to take down cosmetic companies’ biggest enemy: the multitude of small-time sellers that are costing name brands billions every year. A crazy mix of high drama and petty theft, and maybe just a touch of schadenfreude for the original flim-flam industry ($20 for a tube of lipstick? how’d you talk us into that?).
Greenberg and rookie inspector MacDonald initiated surveillance on the family’s home. For months, two to four vehicles at a time would park nearby, watching business associates pick up inventory. Agents also tailed the couple as they drove around town. They went to school, the gym, and restaurants, but never seemed to hold 9-to-5 jobs. And yet over four years, investigators tallied $629,000 in cash deposits to the couple’s bank account, plus an additional $100,000 in Amazon sales.
Harold Denton was an archetypal American hero — cool under pressure, fearless when the chips are down — whose country called him to meet an equally archetypal crisis: a nuclear emergency on Three Mile Island. Do right, save the world. The Washington Post revisits his story.
News reports speculated on several apocalyptic scenarios, including the possibility that an explosion could rip through concrete walls four feet thick. The most serious risk was a meltdown, in which the reactor’s superheated core could burn through the building’s base and burrow into the earth.
Mr. Denton was monitoring events from NRC’s headquarters, but President Jimmy Carter said a federal official should be at the scene to take charge. On March 30, two days after the initial accident, Mr. Denton flew to Three Mile Island in a White House helicopter.
He found the power plant to be in “absolute chaos,” he told The Washington Post at the time.
I hadn’t thought to mourn the death of Google’s Ara, the modular phone project that closed last year, “hamstrung by time, money, and worst of all, reality” — until I read this. A phone full of water bears? Yes, ridiculous, but gloriously so. Also a very readable, very geeky inside look at the outer edge of tech innovation.
As Google neared completion of what would become a last-ditch effort at the shell for an Ara prototype, the company commissioned a team of Brooklyn engineers, designers, and artists to dream up the craziest idea imaginable and squish it down to fit inside a phone.
If you could build an entire phone out of blocks, like a high-tech Lego set, what would you create?
Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
This feels like the perfect week for Gabriel Snyder’s in-depth look at how the “failing @nytimes” is adapting to a rich but chaotic content environment. Since a leaked copy of the Times’ “Innovation Report” made unlikely headlines in 2014, the publication has engaged in an ongoing experiment to keep “Timesian” journalism relevant and pay-worthy.
Passion, tenacity, and resilience are what make reporting great; they may also be the keys to the paper’s survival in a digital, post-Trump world.
At stake isn’t just the future of a very old newspaper that has seen its advertising revenue cut in half in less than a decade — it’s the still unresolved question of whether high-impact, high-cost journalism can thrive in a radically changing landscape. Newspaper companies today employ 271,000 fewer people than they did in 1990 — around the population of Orlando — and with fewer journalists working with fewer resources, and more Americans getting their news on platforms where the news could very well be fake, the financial success of the Times isn’t an incidental concern for people who care about journalism. It’s existential.
Out of a flood of quick takes and Twitter threads around Michael Flynn’s resignation from the National Security Council, Nicholas Schmidle’s long-form profile knits it all together: the rocky first weeks of the Trump presidency; revelations from The Washington Post; and the inner workings of a “Byzantine court” administration. With so much attention on the star of our new national reality show, we need this reminder that the Trump administration is an outcome and not an aberration.
Flynn remembered Election Night fondly, a moment of triumph. “I like to think that I helped get Donald Trump elected President,” he told me. “Maybe I helped a little, maybe a lot.” One of Trump’s first major decisions was to appoint Flynn his national-security adviser, calling him “an invaluable asset to me and my Administration.” Flynn told me, “Service was something our family was always encouraged to do.” He went on, “I made some mistakes, but I’m still serving. It’s like being a priest, you know. I’ve been called to serve.”
And finally: Kevin Wong returns to the Sunday Post with an oral history of the iconic video game. A great story of three Minnesota teachers who created a classic teaching tool purely for the pleasure of it — and so much nostalgia for Gen Xers who learned about both BASIC and typhoid from a tiny blinking cursor.
"This would be a perfect application for a computer," I said. "Instead of shaking dice to determine how far you went, the program could take into consideration how much you spent on your oxen and your wagon and how much of a load you were carrying."
"Well," Don replied, with a tone of resignation, "That sounds great, but I need it next Friday."
To an incurable book snoop, this seems like the opportunity of a lifetime: Nick Holdstock was given free access to Doris Lessing’s books in order to inventory them after her death. It’s a massive project (Lessing’s collection, Holdstock says, “seemed untouched by what Walter Benjamin called ‘the mild boredom of order’”), to which he brings a storyteller’s eye, tracking Lessing’s studies, her eccentricities, and her ongoing conversation with the books she loved.
Best of all, Lessing had drawn faces next to several passages. They wore hats and had particular expressions. The eyes in the face drawn next to the tautological statement “It is not hidden knowledge but useless knowledge unless you have the capacity to use it”, were looking sideways at the text, perhaps doubtfully. No such equivocation was on the face drawn next to the sentence “You start by mastering the ability to learn”. It was smiling, its hat jauntily perched.
La Donna Pietra follows Fifty Shades Darker through six degrees of separation back to Jane Eyre and then examines the economic underpinnings of both. Smart and smartass and much more fun than you’d think.
Granted, Jane Eyre is rather short on explicit sex scenes. Likewise, Fifty Shades Darker is rather short on believable character development. That said, Jane Eyre also features characters telepathically calling to each other across great distances and ridiculous melodramatic plot contrivances about madwomen locked in attics, so it’s not like realism is much of a metric here.
There’s something irresistible about really good, creative swearing, maybe because the average joe (that’s me, not you) pulls from a small pool of threadbare curse words. Last week, Pennsylvania senator Daylin Leach delighted the Twitterverse by challenging Donald Trump in terms both blunt and unexpected.
Ben Zimmer tracks the origins of the headline-making epithet. Purely etymological interest, of course.
As Leach’s “fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon” line made the rounds on social media, he didn’t back down from the characterization (which was inspired by reports that Trump had threatened to “destroy the career” of a Texas state senator over the civil asset forfeiture issue). His spokesman Steve Hoenstine doubled down ...
Emily Temple-Wood joined the Wikipedia community as a 12-year-old and spent a decade on the receiving end of gender-based threats and harassment. Her solution? Relentlessly post profiles of her harassers’ greatest fear: strong, smart, successful women.
Jake Orlowitz, the head of The Wikipedia Library, was at the annual Wikimedia conference in Mexico City in July 2015 when he witnessed Temple-Wood’s anger and frustration boil over. “Out of nowhere, Emily turns red and chucks her cell phone against the wall,” recalls Orlowitz. “She was not in the mood for another death threat, and that’s what had come to her inbox. But at this point, it’s very clear that somehow, Emily is fueled by every challenge.”
This is fascinating: an unavoidably clickbait-y piece about a family’s attempt to reclaim their personal tragedy from social media. Tommie Woodward was killed by an alligator while swimming in a bayou in eastern Texas; posthumously, he became the butt of viral online mockery. It’s easy to see how irresistible the story of Tommie’s death would be — you’d have most readers at “gator” — but also: what a breakwater the Internet can be for simple human empathy. Thomas Golianopoulos does a good job balancing both threads.
Some outlets used an image from Tommie’s Facebook page of him chugging a Miller High Life while wearing a T-shirt that reads “Classy Motherfucker”; a news anchor for KFDM, the CBS affiliate in nearby Beaumont, breathlessly noted “the hundreds and thousands of pageviews and hundreds of comments” that the story generated on its website. Another circulated photo portrayed Tommie as the epitome of dudedom: grungy reddish-blonde chin strap beard, middle finger up, wearing a goofy cowboy hat, wraparound Guy Fieri shades, and a “This Guy Needs a Beer” shirt. On Facebook, strangers littered Tommie’s wall with comments like “lol rip dumbass” and “What. A. Dumb. Fuck.” A controversial hunt for the killer gator ensued, which only compounded the attention.
Tommie’s friends and family refuse to allow his final actions define the 28 years that preceded it. He loved Van Halen, Marilyn Monroe, and Ken Griffey Jr. He was good with his hands. He enjoyed assembling computers, building sandcastles with his nephew, fishing, swimming, camping, and grilling. He had an adoring big sister, a mom, a best friend, and an identical twin brother, Brian, all left to wrestle not just with grief over a freak tragedy, but also the aftermath of public humiliation.
Friend of the Seattle Review of Books Rahawa Haile did the absolutely amazing, inspiring, and so very, very hard thing she set out to do: she hiked the Appalachian Trail. Here's her first report back about what she chose to carry, and why it meant something important to her. Can we just say it? She's one of our biggest inspirations in a time when we need inspirations so bad.
For many, the Appalachian Trail is a footpath of numbers. There are miles to Maine. The daily chance of precipitation. Distance to the next campsite with a reliable water source. Here, people cut the handles off of toothbrushes to save grams. Eat cold meals in the summer months to shave weight by going stoveless. They whittle medicine kits down to bottles of ibuprofen. Carry two pairs of socks. One pair of underwear. Abandon enclosed shelters entirely and opt for a tarp. Everything pulls double duty when you are hauling it 2,189 miles over mountains whose trails consist of slick roots and sharp rocks. Pants zip off into shorts. (That second pair of socks can be worn as mittens.) Floss today is thread tomorrow for stitching deteriorating shoes when the next town with a decent outfitter is 80 miles away. Few nonessentials are carried on this trail, and when they are — an enormous childhood teddy bear, a father’s bulky camera — it means one thing: The weight of this item is worth considerably more than the weight of its absence.
Peter Pomeranstev on what some absolute assholes, mostly in power, like to joke about. What is it about fascists and fascination with penis size, bodily functions, and sex? I'm sure it has nothing to do with the roles their father's played in their lives.
Speaking of fascists, is anybody else totally wary of the term "AntiFas" for anti-fascists? It's a truncation that has little poetry, only saves one syllable, and is about as punk rock as saying you're AntiGlut when you try not to eat bread.
What do Trump, Putin, the Presidents of the Czech Republic and Philippines, right-wing anti-EU Europeans and the British Foreign Minister have in common? Ideology? Not always. Gender? Closer – but the answer is simpler: their sense of humour. These men all constantly joke about private parts, fucking and shitting, often partnered with boasts about excessive screwing, eating and drinking. Their bawdy lingo tells us more about their political strategy and strengths than any manifesto: populism and penis jokes go hand in hand.
Speaking of asshole fascists white supremacists (with special thanks to Nancy Pelosi this week), Seattle's own Willie Fitzgerald penned a very satisfying essay on American White Supremacist Fascist Asshole in Chief this week:
There’s something about this photo in particular that reminds me, against my will, of Terry Richardson. Maybe it’s Bannon’s blank, vacuous stare, as if the photographer had caught him mid-(probably very racist) thought. Maybe it’s the washed-out color palette, or maybe it’s that penumbral effect around his head and shoulder. This picture is like an inverse of Richardson’s American Apparel ads; it shows the objectifier, not the objectified. Instead of a billboard showing a wan young woman in a leotard, we get the man who listlessly ogles her on a billboard while his car is stopped in traffic.
The thing about Uber that drives most people I know crazy is their arrogance. Their corporate motto appears to be "it is better to ask forgiveness (by lawsuit) than ask permission." They more-or-less forced Portland to accept them, and they more-or-less did this wherever they wanted to expand. They seem, from the outside, immune to criticism or feedback.
So it was wonderful to see them blink during #DeleteUber, and do a political about-face that was startling in its abruptness. I guess that's what happens when you lose 200,000 customers overnight.
It's not like Lyft is gonna save you from ethical dilemmas — their investors include Peter Thiel and Carl Icahn, after all — but knowing that whatever ethically-challenged way of transportation you've used (and all of them have their own varying degrees of baggage) is bendable by public protest makes it feel like, just maybe, the consumers are calling the shots after all.
It took one ill-advised tweet from Uber, which announced surge pricing had been suspended around the airport, to finally force the company to re-evaluate its business practices. More than 200,000 users—under the hashtag #deleteUber—removed the app from their smart phones, and Vice reported that officials within Uber grew increasingly worried that the social media-driven movement would have a ‘significant impact’ on the company’s U.S. operations. Just six days later, Recode’s Kara Swisher reported that Kalanick, who also serves on President Donald Trump’s business advisory council, had excused himself from the group.
There are endless articles about this week's executive order limiting refugee entry into the United States, and you should read as many of them as you can stomach, and then keep reading. Trust credible sources, understand the legal and social issues, keep your eyes open despite your exhaustion and grief.
Donald Trump has taken or promised many scary, ugly actions in his first week in office, but this is the first with immediate and brutal human impact. Here's just one story: Kirk W. Johnson, founder of The List Project, on racing to unite a young Iraqi couple in the last hours before the refugee ban took effect.
I didn’t want to believe that our government would claw back a one-week-old visa from a Yazidi wife of an interpreter. For one thing, that would require a ruthless efficiency. Why would an Iraqi officer checking in passengers in Erbil care about what Trump had signed ten hours earlier? Why would the airlines care, so long as the ticket was paid for and the visa valid?
Khalas waited patiently for my answer. I asked what they wanted to do.
“We escaped ISIS at Sinjar!” he exclaimed. “How much harder can this be?”
I think we can all sympathize with Chuck Wendig, who was asked by one blog reader to go back to giving writing advice and for Pete's sake stop talking about Trump:
I’d rather talk about literally anything else. Otters! Bees! Cool new sex moves! Books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, ancient beasts that I have hunted through eldritch wood! I would much rather talk about writing, or cursing, or arting harder, or poop jokes, or pee jokes (though at least there, our current president allows me to pull double-duty). But I wake up every day and I just peek at the news with one half-lidded eye through gently lifted Internet blinds and boom, it’s like that scene in Terminator 2 where the nuclear blast annihilates everything.
Space law! Did anyone's heart not just leap up a little bit? Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the 'Outer Space Treaty,' a practical and also gloriously idealistic document that's guided international relations in space (in space) for the past half-century. Loren Grush has a quick review of the primary articles of space law and their application (and limits) as space travel becomes more common and commercial.
Right away, the Outer Space Treaty establishes that all nations should have free access to space, and that exploration of the cosmos should be a peaceful enterprise. Such exploration should also be done “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries,” quickly setting up the importance for international cooperation in the realm of space travel.
But immediately after creating this “fair use” of space, the treaty makes one important caveat: space and celestial bodies cannot be appropriated by a nation. That means a country can’t claim the Moon as its own ...
Most of us know which Peanuts character we are — and maybe, painfully, which character others consider us to be. But few have traced the history of a single character with as much persistance and understanding as Kevin Wong, who empathizes deeply with Marcie's insecurity, self-doubt, and struggle to navigate relationships with the strong and iconic personalities around her.
It took time, and a gradual building of confidence, to know that my acquaintances would respect me more, not less, for asserting myself. Marcie’s storylines were often built around this discovery. Through her longer arcs she learned the value of asserting her self-worth and identity, whether by sticking up for someone else, sticking up for herself, or just by vocalizing her opinions.
Reassuring somehow to know that the Central Intelligence Agency has sufficient respect for correct (or at least consistent) usage to nurture a style guide all its own. Geoffrey Pullman explores the CIA's stance on the Oxford comma, the apostrophe, and other questions critical to our national grammatical security. (via Language Hat)
Naturally I checked to see whether the CIA bans the passive voice. Given how often agency business require reference to events without revealing the identity of the participants, it seemed unlikely. The entry for “passive voice” turned out to be inscrutable: “See active voice.”
Piecing together the Sunday Post is usually easy and a pleasure; in fact, it’s an excuse and justification for the most idle pleasure possible: endless scrolling through the world of online content, mind half alert, fingers on autopilot.
But the Internet after the inauguration of our 45th president is no place for the idle or unalert. As much as Donald Trump has dominated the media, social and otherwise, since his presidential bid began, this week has been different. A single subject, on every front page and in every channel. Not a single voice, though — a cacophony. Anger, sorrow, and calls to arms; reflection, determination, and calls to hope.
What deserves to be heard in a week like that? Writing that clarifies, that provokes thought, that reveals. Writing that reminds us: the written word is a powerful voice. Use it.
Post-inauguration, George Will, pointedly, and David Remnick, thoughtfully, both remind us that our government has built-in protections against misuse, even with an “unenlightened statesman” at the helm — and that an informed and engaged citizenry is first among them.
But Dan Rather’s impassioned, outraged response on Facebook may be the definitive statement on the Trump inauguration (via Meena Jang at The Hollywood Reporter):
Of the nearly 20 inaugurations I can remember, there has never been one that felt like today. Not even close. Never mind the question of the small size of the crowds, or the boycott by dozens of lawmakers, or even the protest marches slated for tomorrow across the country. Those are plays upon the stage. What is truly unprecedented in my mind is the sheer magnitude of quickening heartbeats in millions of Americans, a majority of our country if the polls are to be believed, that face today buffeted within and without by the simmering ache of dread.
I have never seen my country on an inauguration day so divided, so anxious, so fearful, so uncertain of its course.
No rose-colored glasses for Margaret Atwood, who is well aware that artists are imperfect and their work is often trivial — and yet —
With the Trump era upon us, it’s the artists and writers who can remind us, in times of crisis or panic, that each one of us is more than just a vote, a statistic. Lives may be deformed by politics — and many certainly have been — but we are not, finally, the sum of our politicians.
In November, in response to the election outcome, Rebecca Solnit made her treatise Hope in the Dark freely available online. This week she writes again on hope and resistance: “There is another America rising and taking action, and it is beautiful.”
Among other examples, she highlights ongoing efforts by California’s legislation to protect its citizens as our nation’s values shift, starting with a bold and quickly viral statement published Nov. 9 of last year. Andy Kroll has the dramatic political (and human) story behind that statement:
At 6 a.m., Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff, got into his car to drive back up to Sacramento from L.A. He stopped at a Carl’s Jr. to help with a hangover and then started making calls. As drafts of the joint statement flew back and forth between the two offices, Reeves had each version read aloud to him while he was driving the I-5. Cut that line. Too slow. Good, good, good. Rendon’s people wanted more time, but Reeves insisted the statement go out as soon as possible. The staffs settled on a final draft at 10:57. Rendon and de León signed off an hour later, and at just past noon, the two offices hit send.
The statement, released in English and Spanish, had come a long way from de León’s phone call and Rendon’s late-night riffing. But the opening line had remained intact just as Rendon had first written it: “Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land ….”
I’m dead certain that when Warren Ellis said “science will fuck you,” what he meant was that science is splendidly and gloriously implacable, tenacious, and defiant. Science isn’t cold, uncaring facts — it’s art with evidence. Powerful stuff.
The New Scientist has a four-part special tracking intersections between scientific endeavor and the new administration, starting with a piece from Sally Adee on how activists and protestors can cover their electronic tracks as Trump expands surveillance.
Bill McKibbon, at Wired, reminds us that dismantling the Paris accord strikes not just at environmental action but at the “building blocks of our common home — science and diplomacy and also civility.”
And Elizabeth Lopatto, science editor at The Verge, speaks out on why their science coverage can’t and won’t ignore Donald Trump.
Science is a way of seeing that provides us with facts. What we do with those facts is deeply political. Determining whether pollution harms people is a matter of scientific inquiry, but deciding what to do in response to that data is politics. Who uses the water and land, and how? Those aren’t scientific questions — they’re political ones. Do we value the safety of our citizens or the profits of our corporations? What’s the balance between the two? Those are also political questions.
If you truly want nothing this weekend but to indulge in some righteous rage, here are two highly satisfying diatribes.
Jesse Berney is a little indignant:
Of course he’s getting rid of the NEA and the NEH. What use does Donald Trump have for the things that make life beautiful and good? He surrounds himself with gilded ugliness. He’s a billionaire who hangs a Renoir reproduction in the $100 million abattoir he lives in, because why would he want an original? He has enough money and fame to access to the finest tailors in the world, and his suits don’t fit. His hair is stupid.
And a gloriously breathless temper-tantrum from Joe Kloc. Not even sure to how excerpt from this, here’s one almost-random sample:
Trump, who once dumped a glass of wine on a journalist who wrote a story he didn’t like, told his supporters that journalists were “liars,” the “lowest form of humanity,” and “enemies,” but that he did not approve of killing them. “I’m a very sane person,” said Trump ...
Finally, in case you missed it (as the kids say), both of the co-founders of this publication have responded to the Trump inauguration and deserve the final word. Martin McClellan bears witness through the lens of Marcel Duchamp, and Paul Constant has marching orders for Seattle Review of Books readers:
If you think of an institution that you hold dear, chances are good that institution will be under attack over the next four years. It’s going to be brutal, and it’s going to happen on multiple fronts.
So here’s what you do. You pick the areas that you care the most about, that you understand really well. And then you fight for them.
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.