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The Sunday Post for August 14, 2016

The world’s first website went online 25 years ago

25 years and a week ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created a basic text page with some hyperlinks. It was a simple description of his “WorldWideWeb (W3)" project. Cara McGoogan describes how he imagined the possibility of sharing information across the world. Here we are a quarter of a century later with over a billion websites online, using Google as a verb, and lamenting how many email accounts we have. Tim Berners-Lee might not ring a bell for many, but he garnered significant attention after appearing in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.

Berners-Lee wanted the World Wide Web to be a place where people could share information across the world through documents and links navigated with a simple search function.

The first step to making that a reality occurred on August 6, 1991, and was hailed with little fanfare when Berners Lee launched the first web page from his NeXT computer at CERN's headquarters in Geneva.

When an Island’s Lone Caretaker Leaves

An intriguing man-in-nature vs. the government story: Mauro Morandi has lived alone on Budelli — a small Mediterranean island — for a quarter of a century, but because of legal conflicts, Italy is considering his eviction. Livia Albeck-Ripka notes the symbolism of the situation. It is a tale conveying the importance of environmental protection and of the respect that should exist in humans’ relationship with nature.

In 1991, Italy’s ministry of environment declared Budelli’s pink beach a place of “high natural value.” By 1999, the beach was closed to visitors entirely. Tourists could still wander along a track behind the Spiaggia Rosa, but were no longer permitted to swim in the ocean or touch the sand. Morandi watched over the beach’s fading coastline and took the opportunity to teach visitors—those interested, at least—about its ecosystem. “I welcome tourists who want to know the fool who lives in solitude,” he says. “I speak to them of beauty, love for nature, the peculiarity of the Spiaggia Rosa.” Once, he got into a fistfight with picnickers who came to Budelli armed with deckchairs and inflatable toys—garish metaphors for humanity’s failure to respect the natural world, in his view. “We must get on our knees in front of this wonder of nature,” he sighs. “We must safeguard it.”
I'm an OB-GYN treating women with Zika: This is what it’s like

As Zika cases increase and people demand for more research, the new disease and its international spreading keeps racking up fear and bewilderment. Christine Curry and others in the medical field have had to develop ways to confirm diagnoses, inform infected mothers of the risks, and plan for a baby’s birth if the case calls for it.

As a medical student, I remember reading books about the early days of the HIV epidemic and wondering what it was like for doctors to take care of patients who had a new, unknown disease. It seemed to me like it would be frightening for both patients and doctors alike. I didn’t expect that early in my career as an OB-GYN, I would be caught in the middle of another new disease outbreak – Zika.
Meet the California Couple Who Uses More Water Than Every Home in Los Angeles Combined

Josh Harkinson details how Lynda and Stewart Resnick came to own America’s second-largest produce company, and they seem like terrible people: they use an exorbitant amount of California’s water, the state’s most precious (and scarce) resource. However, they donate millions to charity and invest more millions into their community, Lost Hills, funding assorted things like sidewalks and health clinics. Despite being health- and philanthropy-oriented, skeptics still call them out on being “the top 1 percent wrapped in a green veneer ... of social justice.”

The Resnicks have amassed this empire by following a simple agricultural precept: Crops need water. Having shrewdly maneuvered the backroom politics of California’s byzantine water rules, they are now thought to consume more of the state’s water than any other family, farm, or company. They control more of it in some years than what’s used by the residents of Los Angeles and the entire San Francisco Bay Area combined.

The Sunday Post for August 7, 2016

A Terrifying Journey Through the World’s Most Dangerous Jungle

The Darién Gap, an expanse of wilderness between Colombia and Panama, has seen countless deaths and disappearances. Snakes and guerrillas fill the jungle, but despite these perils, thousands of migrants from all over the world attempt to cross it in hopes of eventually reaching the US. Jason Motlagh faced the risks and trials of the journey leading up to and through the Darién Gap to document the experience.

As traditional pathways to the U.S. become more difficult, Cubans, Somalis, Syrians, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, and many more have been heading to South American countries and traveling north, moving overland up the Central American isthmus. The worst part of this journey is through the Gap. The entire expanse, a roadless maze that travelers usually negotiate on foot and in boats, is dominated by narco traffickers and Cuba-backed guerrillas who’ve been waging war on the government of Colombia since 1964. Hundreds of migrants enter each year; many never emerge, killed or abandoned by coyotes (migrant smugglers) on ghost trails.

Our attempted trip is possible only because we’re traveling with the permission of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist rebels who control access to the most direct line through the Gap — an unmarked, 50-mile, south-to-north route that’s also used to move weapons and cocaine. Following months of negotiations, FARC commanders based in Havana have agreed to let us attempt the trek and visit a guerrilla camp, so long as we keep the main focus on migration, not politics. After five decades of fighting, at a cost of more than 220,000 lives on both sides, FARC and the Colombian government are in the final stages of a peace deal that would end Latin America’s longest-running insurgency. No more complications are needed.

Thank you, President Obama, for being a feminist

Lucia Graves notes that many find it difficult to take a magazine like Glamour seriously when it discusses politics or anything that isn’t fashion/makeup. Which is why it’s even more important that President Obama wrote a piece about feminism for it.

He delves into intersectionality in a way that only the country’s first black president could, channeling Michelle’s struggle as America’s first black Flotus to eschew the two stereotypes waiting to swallow her identity: that of “angry” black woman on one hand, and that of docile first lady on the other.

And he’s doing it not to be politically correct as Trumpian thinking would have you believe, but because it gets at something powerful, which is the universality of fighting sexism and constrictive gender identities. “Rigid notions of identity isn’t good for anybody – men, women, gay, straight, transgender, or otherwise,” he wrote. “These stereotypes limit our ability to simply be ourselves.”

From Clerk to Postmaster at One of the U.S.’s Oldest Post Offices

Since Benjamin Franklin became Postmaster General 200 years ago, the US Postal Service has seen incredible change. In a short interview with Cindy Mason, current Postmaster at Hinsdale Post Office, Bourree Lam unearths the joys of being a Postmaster and the optimism Mason has for the future of the Postal Service.

Email has certainly come into play with the Postal Service. People don't write letters the same way that they used to. However, that doesn't mean that we still don't fill a very important part. We will be changing ourselves, and can I tell you what we're going to look like in 10 years? Not exactly. But I see us continuing to be a delivery service: Because of all the rural areas, we are still going to be a very important part of the fabric of the country. I do believe that the Postal Service is going to change, but it’s still going to be a viable place to work in the future.
The art of the great political speech

Tara Sonenshine makes the case for passion, preparation, and positioning as the key to a good speech. She also reminds us that brevity often works well: think of the Gettysburg Address and Maya Angelou’s poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. (Donald Trump’s RNC speech was the longest since 1972. Just saying.) Sonenshine also discusses the element of storytelling in a speech. (Read what our own Paul Constant wrote about Trump’s broken narrative).

Speechwriting and speech-giving lie in the craft of storytelling. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. A great speech is a story and contains stories within the body of the speech, delivered with the art of a narrator — someone you might enjoy listening to read an audiobook. Will that be the case this summer? Will any speech be memorable?

The Sunday Post for July 31, 2016

The subtle art of translating foreign fiction

This collection of interviews by Rachel Cooke provides an interesting insight to translators’ thoughts, writing processes, and how they became translators. Some think of translation as its own art, while others adhere to the original text as best they can.

There is no such thing as a literal translation – languages are entirely different systems and you can’t impose Spanish on English or vice versa. English has its own structure and its own lexicon and Spanish has its own structure and its own lexicon, and they don’t occupy the same space. If it’s a question of my not being able to translate a passage because there are words I don’t know and I can’t find them anywhere, I can’t find them online and I can’t find them in my dictionaries, then I’ll ask the author. And if the author is no longer with us, then I will wing it, as we say, and just do the best I can.
How Exhaustion Became a Status Symbol

It’s undeniable that “I’m exhausted” is a common phrase and very much a part of our lives. I think I said it twice or thrice just yesterday. Even in high school and college, students smugly complain that they pulled an all-nighter, or that they’re running on an obscene amount of coffee/Red Bull. Hannah Rosefield discusses Anna Katharina Schaffer’s Exhaustion: A History and how being tired means prestige.

Today, exhaustion still hints at status, but of a different sort. To say that you’re exhausted is to telegraph that you’re important, in demand, and successful. It’s akin to the humblebrag of ruefully describing yourself as “so busy” — naturally, since exhaustion follows from busyness. In Schaffner’s telling, the associations of exhaustion with prestige have crystallized in the form of burnout. First used in the 1970s to describe exhaustion suffered by workers in the social sector, “burnout” was characterized by increased cynicism and apathy, and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment. Since then, its application has widened to include all worn down, overburdened workers, especially in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, where burnout is a subject of regular media debate. Burnout, caused by workplace conditions rather than by a worker’s mental and physical composition, is depression’s more palatable, more prestigious cousin. As the German journalist Sebastian Beck puts it: “Only losers become depressive. Burnout is a diagnosis for winners, or, more specifically: for former winners.”
'Stronger Together' and 'I Am Your Voice' — How the Nominees' Convention Speeches Compare

A few NYT writers assembled an interesting visual of the speeches at the RNC and DNC from these last couple of weeks. Look at the breakdown of the nominees’ speeches, with everything from their tone, to topics, to attacks on each other. They also analyzed the VPs’ speeches. For more visuals: Politico published some graphs depicting people’s reactions to Trump and Clinton’s speeches, including how confident they are that each candidate will win/lose this November.

Making an argument for how poorly things are going in the country is to be expected from a nominee whose party has not been in the White House recently. But Donald J. Trump’s speech was particularly grim, offering a collection of statistics and anecdotes on crime and violence.

In her speech, Hillary Clinton responded directly to Mr. Trump’s dim portrait of the United States, reflecting on the “courage” and “common purpose” of its founders and the contributions of its troops, police officers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and mothers.

The first Harry Potter book wasn’t perfect, but it was magic

I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of a Harry Potter book. But Constance Grady lays it down—the series starts with the British boarding school trope and evolves into a coming-of-age hero’s journey. It all started 19 years ago, and today — July 31 — is Harry’s birthday, celebrated by the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It seems readers simply can’t let go of the story. Also, props to JK Rowling for not letting editors change the title of the first book to Harry Potter and the School of Magic.

Rowling has a knack for crafting exact, specific details that make a world feel solid and lived-in. The witch Harry passes in Diagon Alley who’s complaining about the price of dragon liver, Ollivander measuring the space between Harry’s nostrils to fit him for a wand, the cart full of magical candies on the Hogwarts Express: It all comes together to create the sense of a vast, breathing world with its own rigorous rules and systems, one that keeps on existing when Harry’s not looking. It’s teeming with life, and it’s enchanting.

The Sunday Post for July 24, 2016

I’m With The Banned

This piece is terrifying and I admire Laurie Penny for experiencing this. Milo Yiannopoulos’ joie de vivre comes from the tsunami-sized waves of attention he receives. Whether it’s good or bad attention is unimportant. Being banned from Twitter is great news for those he abuses and offends, but it’s seemingly even better news for Milo because the spotlight is his once more. So it’s technically a win-win, but infuriatingly so.

Just as we set off, news breaks that Milo has been suspended from Twitter. A frenzy of jubilant activity: this is a huge win for Milo and his brand. He’ll be trending worldwide within the hour.
Why Calvin and Hobbes is Great Literature

Before I discovered crosswords and Will Shortz in high school, and before I become an English major in college, I would thumb through the paper and fold it every which way to get to the comics. That is completely expected from kids — comics and cartoons are considered light entertainment, as Gabrielle Bellot points out. But Calvin and Hobbes, which ran from 1985 to 1995, actually deals with pretty important themes, and its creator Bill Watterson allowed the comic strip to be whatever people needed it to be.

In Watterson’s words, Hobbes’s true nature is never fully defined by the strip, which is one of its beauties; Hobbes is a kind of ontological marvel, and yet utterly mundane all the same, for he is whatever he needs to be for whomever is perceiving him.

Calvin and Hobbes feels so inventive because it is: the strips take us to new planets, to parodies of film noir, to the Cretaceous period, to encounters with aliens in American suburbs and bicycles coming to life and reality itself being revised into Cubist art. Calvin and Hobbes ponder whether or not life and art have any meaning — often while careening off the edge of a cliff on a wagon or sled.

‘I Feel a Deep Sense of Remorse,’ Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Says

Alan Rappeport highlights some pieces of an interview with Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter in the 80s. That The Art of the Deal is a work of fiction comes as no surprise, frankly. And isn’t it comforting to know that Schwartz would rename our presidential candidate’s biography The Sociopath?

"I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is," Mr. Schwartz said. "I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization."
Shedding light on the dark web

The internet is wide and deep and has way more hidden corners than I imagined. But there’s also the dark web, where anything goes. Mostly it’s used for illicit and prescription drugs, but it’s amusing to see some people use it for ebooks and gift cards. Keep on keeping on, whoever you are.

Online drug markets are part of the “dark web”: sites only accessible through browsers such as Tor, which route communications via several computers and layers of encryption, making them almost impossible for law enforcement to track. Buyers and sellers make contact using e-mail providers such as Sigaint, a secure dark-web service, and encryption software such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). They settle up in bitcoin, a digital currency that can be exchanged for the old-fashioned sort and that offers near-anonymity during a deal.

The Sunday Post for July 17, 2016

The Suit That Couldn’t Be Copied

Akhil Sharma tracks his attempt to copy one of Davide Taub’s suits, crafted so excellently they even “suggest a controlled intelligence.” Sharma’s piece is surprisingly fascinating and sheds light on various aspects of being a designer on Savile Row.

When I saw Taub’s clothes, I was struck with desire. I have always dressed like a schlub; to do otherwise feels like competing to make myself attractive, which feels like setting myself up for humiliation. But I had the sense that if I wore a garment by Taub, I would become a different person. It was this desire — combined with the fact that one of his overcoats starts at around six thousand dollars, and one of his suits at eight thousand — that made me wonder if I could get a tailor in some less expensive part of the world to copy one of his garments.
Don’t Blame My ‘Broken Windows’ Theory For Poor Policing

George Kelling and James Q. Wilson co-authored a theory in the early 80s which essentially states that small signs of disrepair and lack of care in a community — such as broken windows — can lead to more serious issues. This criminological theory has garnered a lot of attention recently as the spotlight shines on policing — good and bad. But Kelling says his theory has been seriously misunderstood and is here to clear things up. This YouTube video about a “spot-fixing” project in India reflects Kelling’s idea that good policing seeks to address a community’s broken windows.

First of all, broken windows was never intended to be a high-arrest program. Although it has been practiced as such in many cities, neither Wilson nor I ever conceived of it in those terms. Broken-windows policing is a highly discretionary set of activities that seeks the least intrusive means of solving a problem — whether that problem is street prostitution, drug dealing in a park, graffiti, abandoned buildings, or actions such as public drunkenness. Moreover, depending on the problem, good broken windows policing seeks partners to address it: social workers, city code enforcers, business improvement district staff, teachers, medical personnel, clergy, and others. The goal is to reduce the level of disorder in public spaces so that citizens feel safe, are able to use them, and businesses thrive. Arrest of an offender is supposed to be a last resort — not the first.
At Sea, and Seeking a Safe Harbor

In her New York Times essay, Hugo House student Putsata Reang discusses identity in an incredibly compelling way. She attempts to reconcile a sense of self and loyalty to her mother, a struggle present in several of her life’s most important moments.

We’re left wedged inside too tight a space, Ma and me. If I am to be a good Cambodian daughter, I must sacrifice an essential part of who I am and lose my partner, who loves me with her full nurturing force. If I am true to myself, I cause Ma to lose a fundamental part of who she is as a Cambodian mother.

I see no middle ground, no safe harbor for us to come ashore together. But I know who I am, and how I am like her. I know that same impulse of hope in Ma is alive in me, beating beneath my ribs, something she breathed into my soul on a wayward ship so long ago.

Do no harm

Hospitals have seen thousands of deaths — nearly 10,000 in 2013 — caused by a preventable infection. Sarah Kliff explores the history and progress of central line infections, caused by bacteria entering a central line catheter that goes directly to a patient’s heart.

Researchers showed that doctors could significantly reduce, and in nearly all cases eliminate, central line infections if they followed a short safety checklist.

Central line infections fell 46 percent between 2008 and 2013, a huge success for public health. At the same time, these figures exasperate experts: Given everything we know about preventing central line infections, why do they happen at all? And why did they happen, four times, to Nora?

The Sunday Post for July 10, 2016

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid

Rufi Thorpe’s article is a jarringly honest reflection on her attempt to reconcile art, motherhood, and marriage. It exemplifies the vulnerability that comes with good writing and reveals a litany of thoughts that open a window into the multifaceted life of an individual woman.

For me, the conflict between motherhood and my life as a writer is not so much Brooks’ fear that art’s job is to unsettle, while a mother’s job is to make safe. I unsettle and disturb my children all the time. I remain unconcerned that my safe, middle-class life as a stay at home mom makes me less edgy or interesting. I view my own interestingness as being directly related to the thoughts I think and the work I do rather than the aesthetics of my leisure time. After all, Wallace Stevens was an executive at an insurance company. The idea that parenting is any more boring than working at an insurance agency is absurd.

Still, there is a concern that the stank of uncool motherhood will befoul the beautifully tormented artist. It is, I think, this same stank that women’s magazines would like to occasionally excise from my work. In the novel Dept. of Speculation, which seems to be an epicenter for these sorts of worries in the Geist, Jenny Offill’s protagonist and narrator writes: “My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.”

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness

This hot topic in literature and psychology is incredibly polarizing. While some hate the “tortured genius” idea, others vehemently defend it. But new angles and studies continue to emerge, as Maria Popova discusses in her article about Nancy Andreasen.

Once she became a psychiatrist, having come from a literary world “well populated with people who had vividly described symptoms of mental illness,” Andreasen decided to apply everything science had uncovered in the decades since Ellis’s work and design a rigorous study on the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Andreasen had attended the University of Iowa Medical School and had completed her residency in psychiatry there — a somewhat fortuitous circumstance that presented her with the perfect, quite convenient sample pool for her study: the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, one of the most prestigious creative-writing programs in the world, which has included such distinguished faculty as Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard since its inception in 1936.

Andreasen’s study had a couple of crucial points of differentiation over Ellis’s work and other previous efforts: Rather than anecdotal accounts in biographies of her subjects, she employed structured, first-person interviews; she then applied rigorous diagnostic criteria to the responses based on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of modern psychiatry.

Police Shootings Won’t Stop Unless We Also Stop Shaking Down Black People

Under the layers of outrage and explanations of police shootings is one less-addressed reason: the fiscal element behind the frequent emergence of new names, hashtags, and protests. Jack Hitt explains that police feel pressured to bring in more revenue for the city or state, which leads to cases such as San Diego, where African Americans and Latinos — who comprise less than one third of the population — make up almost two thirds “of those searched during a traffic stop.”

There is still no comprehensive study to determine just how many cities pay their bills by indenturing the poor, but it is probably no coincidence that when you examine the recent rash of police killings, you find that the offenses they were initially stopped for were preposterously minor. Bland's lane change signal, DuBose's missing plate. Walter Scott had that busted taillight — which, we all later learned, is not even a crime in South Carolina. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. When Darren Wilson was called to look into a robbery, the reason he initially stopped Michael Brown was for walking in the street — in Ferguson, an illegal act according to Section 44-344 of the local code. Between 2011 and 2013, 95 percent of the perpetrators of this atrocity were African American, meaning that "walking while black" is not a punch line. It is a crime.
The American Dream Is Alive in Finland

Bernie Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist ignited a lot of debate and defense of American ideals. Uri Friedman talked to Anu Partanen, a Finn who published a book claiming that these American Dream ideals are in fact better executed in Nordic countries. However, she moved to the US in 2008 under the impression she would find more work as a journalist. Friedman covers Partanen’s argument and her contradictory move to New York City.

Partanen’s principal question is the following: What’s the best way for a modern society to advance freedom and opportunity? She explains that Nordic governments do so by providing social services that the U.S. government doesn’t—things like free college education and heavily subsidized child care. Within that big question, Partanen poses more pointed questions about contemporary life in the United States: Is “freedom” remaining in a job you hate because you don’t want to lose the health insurance that comes with it? Is “independence” putting your career on hold, and relying on your partner’s income, so you can take care of a young child when your employer doesn’t offer paid parental leave or day care is too expensive? Is “opportunity” depending on the resources of your parents, or a bundle of loans, to get a university degree? Is realizing the American Dream supposed to be so stressful?
‘The Arrangements’: A Work of Fiction

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a short story for the New York Times Book Review, and it’s amazing. Mrs. Dalloway Trump family editon follows Melania Trump's day of arrangements.

Melania decided she would order the flowers herself. Donald was too busy now anyway to call Alessandra’s as usual and ask for “something amazing.” Once, in the early years, before she fully understood him, she had asked what his favorite flowers were.

“I use the best florists in the city, they’re terrific,” he replied, and she realized that taste, for him, was something to be determined by somebody else, and then flaunted.

The Sunday Post for July 3, 2016

5 Reasons Why Moby-Dick Just Won’t Die

Thankfully, my high school English teacher decided we’d skip the technical chapters on how to behead a whale. But Mark Beauregard explains why Melville’s Moby Dick as a whole is still relevant 165 years later.

To be an American in 2016 is to feel threatened from within and without. We have anxiety about our role in the world and our responsibilities to other Americans, which some people want to solve by electing a monomaniacal Captain Ahab (Trump) to take the helm and some people want to solve by electing a radical populist Ishmael (Sanders). The whole symbolic architecture of Moby-Dick, with its unresolved, polarized conflicts perfectly suits our moment.
Can Reading Make You Happier?

Ceridwen Dovey, like many, has felt the oppressive, heavy panic upon realizing how many books there are in this world and how little time there is to read them. This woe remains a big challenge in Susan Elderkin’s and Ella Berthoud’s project as bibliotherapists. Berthoud sent Dovey a questionnaire, asked questions about her personal life, and at last sent a “reading prescription.” They’ve also compiled a medical book with reading suggestions for all kinds of ailments.

I worked my way through the books on the list over the next couple of years, at my own pace — interspersed with my own “discoveries” — and while I am fortunate enough to have my ability to withstand terrible grief untested, thus far, some of the insights I gleaned from these books helped me through something entirely different, when, over several months, I endured acute physical pain. The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is — but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind.
Is the Idea of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ a Sign of Social Privilege?

One of the appealing aspects of art is its accessibility: anyone can paint, write, create. But maybe not, as Pankaj Mishra and Rivka Galchen suggest. Galchen points out that art takes time and time is luxury. Mishra throws in the effect of anti-intellectual governments and threats to take away funding if artists don’t prove loyal to the state.

The angriest artist-rebel of course was Wagner, who identified the comfortable opera-going philistines of the bourgeoisie as the cause of all evil. “I desire to shatter,” he declared, “the power of the mighty, of the law, and of property.” During the 1848 revolutions, Wagner was accused of setting fire to his own opera house in Dresden. Flaubert, the poet among novelists, transmuted disgust with the bourgeoisie into a monastic dedication to his austere art. Thomas Mann worked up a stern vision of the artist’s necessary isolation: “He is mistaken,” he wrote in “Tonio Kröger,” one of his many fictions about tormented composers and writers, “who believes he may pluck a single leaf from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with his life.”
This is what happens to footballers’ brains when they miss penalties

The entire Argentina — and Messi — supporting part of the population collectively cringed when he missed the penalty kick against Chile last Sunday. Shocked headlines, crying emoticons, and Lionel Messi’s announcement of his resignation filled the internet. What psychologists call the “ironic error” — doing exactly what you’re focusing on not doing — is pretty common, as Recep Gorgulu and Tim Woodman explain.

When the brain seeks to make the body perform in a particular desirable way, it relies on two processes — an operating process and a monitoring process.

The operating process is responsible for identifying all the steps that will allow us to achieve a desired outcome. If you are going to take a penalty, this would include taking the usual number of steps back, thinking of the spot where you want to hit the ball, running up, planting your non-striking foot next to the ball, and scoring where you were aiming. Simple, right?

At the same time, a monitoring process is subconsciously at work. It is like a radar sweep searching for information on what could go wrong, in this case hitting the post. Once it has identified such risks, it informs the operating process to try harder to find information that will make things go to plan so you can still score the penalty.

The Sunday Post for June 26, 2016

Road Tripping While Female

Road trips have been a fascination for decades. They are trips with endless possibilities, a chance to venture into the unfamiliar to find yourself. But as Bernadette Murphy points out, the presence of female road-trippers in literature is severely lacking. Jack Kerouacs fill the niche of road narratives, and always with exciting adventures. With women, however, the narratives focus more on the dangers of the road.

That film just turned 25, and the fact it remains as one of the only female-centered road trip narratives to have entered the lingua franca in the past quarter century implies that women either don’t have an interest in being on the road or, more tellingly, that they feel unsafe doing so. We know that women certainly face more life challenges, not having the same freedom as men if we have children and other home-based responsibilities. But the few stories of female road trips that do make it onto the larger cultural stage are more likely to be cautionary tales than celebrations of life and personal growth.

Which begs the question: Why is it that road trips, when undertaken by men in literature, seem to be about expanding one’s life and its context, about seeing the bigger world and how the man fits into it, and yet when undertaken by women, are most often in flight from dangerous situations, and seldom, if ever, for pure adventure?

The Psychology of Brexit

You've seen the economic analyses, the apocalypse memes, and the shocked tweets. But how do you explain Brexit from a psychological viewpoint? What were the voters thinking? Thomas Hills, Ph.D., teaches psychology at the University of Warwick and studies the decisions we make throughout our lives. He says, "Underlying the Brexit vote is a story as old as time."

Many have characterized the emotional divide as a split between the Angry and the Scared. The Angry wanted to throw the negotiating table at the EU, and they made claims that often ended with an implicit WTF. The Scared were worried about the consequences of leaving and provided evidence of a similar but different style. These often showed lines going up and down and through the top or bottom of charts. Everyone knows that lines should never rapidly approach the edge of a chart.
Sound check: the quietest place in the U.S.

In bustling cities, we often forget about the comfort of silence. Fortunately, Washington has the quietest square inch in the Lower 48 and it seems Seattleites appreciate it enough to fight for its protection. Samantha Larson hikes to this square inch and interviews Gordon Hempton, the acoustic ecologist that now champions the protection of these untouched environments.

But the quiet spaces — defined not by their lack of sound, which could include birdsong and wind rustling leaves, but their lack of manmade noise — are quickly disappearing. By some estimates, noise pollution affects more than 88 percent of the contiguous U.S.

According to Hempton, the slice of forest I visited has less noise pollution than any other spot in the American wilderness, which is why he chose it as the “One Square Inch of Silence” he wants to sonically protect, with a law that would prohibit air traffic overhead.

Invisibilia: Is Your Personality Fixed, Or Can You Change Who You Are?

An interesting excerpt from NPR's Invisibilia podcast. Alix Spiegel considers the story of a prisoner who claims he is a completely different person from the one that committed a ghastly crime. Our society loves the subject of personalities - we take BuzzFeed quizzes, read our horoscopes, and put our Myers-Briggs type in our Tinder bios. What if personalities aren't as stable as we thought, as psychologist Walter Mischel suggests?

Dan says it took him about two years to reconfigure his personality. He wanted to be less aggressive, less impulsive, more conscientious. He says he's now a different person. But he knows most people won't see him that way.

"I'm forever going to be a criminal," he says, "which I'm not. I've become a completely different human being at this point."

Delia Cohen had a hard time accepting that Dan had changed; you hear those words so often from people, and they're often not true. But she decided to suspend her disbelief and work with him on the TEDx project. They started exchanging emails.

The Sunday Post for June 18, 2016

What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?

A minimum guaranteed income is a hot topic right now, in advance of technological changes, like self-driving trucks, that are likely to put huge amounts of people out of work in very short order. That will be a huge hit on an already stretched-thin safety net. What if, instead, we just gave people money? That way, they can survive, they can get by, they can live a decent life, and have the resources to be trained in other work they will find more fulfilling. Andrew Flowers explores the concept in this article.

Werner posed a pair of simple questions to the crowd: What do you really want to do with your life? Are you doing what you really want to do? Whatever the answers, he suggested basic income was the means to achieve those goals. The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.
‘Could he actually win?’ Dave Eggers at a Donald Trump rally

Eggers is a good journalist — maybe he had preconceived notions of what he would find at a Trump rally, but he went, as an attendee instead of credentialed, to meet people and form an educated opinion of the people that are boosting the rise of the Donald.

I spent five hours at the Donald Trump rally in Sacramento, California, on 1 June. I spoke to and overheard dozens of the rally’s attendees, not as a journalist but as one ticketholder to another – I was dressed in jeans, workboots and wore a Nascar hat – and found every last one of the attendees to be genial, polite and, with a few notable exceptions, their opinions to be within the realm of reasonable. The rally was as peaceful and patriotic as a Fourth of July picnic.

And yet I came away with a host of new questions and concerns. Among them: why is it that the song Trump’s campaign uses to mark his arrival and departure is Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer?” Is it more troubling, or less troubling, knowing that no one in the audience really cares what he says? And could it be that because Trump’s supporters are not all drawn from the lunatic fringe, but in fact represent a broad cross-section of regular people, and far more women than would seem possible or rational, that he could actually win?

A rare, risky mission is underway to rescue sick scientists from the South Pole

An extraordinary tale of logistics and danger, from Sarah Kaplan.

Two small bush planes are flying to the South Pole this week to evacuate workers at the Amundsen-Scott research station — a feat rarely attempted during the middle of the Antarctic winter.

Kelly Falkner, the director of polar programs for the National Science Foundation (which runs the South Pole station), said that at least one seasonal employee for contractor Lockheed Martin requires medical treatment not available at the station and needs to be flown out. A second worker may also be rescued. Falkner couldn't provide further details about the medical motivation behind the rescues for privacy reasons.

Why It's Time to Repeal the Second Amendment

David S. Cohen in Rolling Stone calls for full repeal. He's not alone: the calls are rising after Orlando from people fed up with the ludicrous and absolutist rhetoric of the NRA. If you won't deal with common sense, then we'll start talking about the bigger deal: banning guns altogether. There's nothing in the Constitution that says we can't.

The Second Amendment needs to be repealed because it is outdated, a threat to liberty and a suicide pact. When the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, there were no weapons remotely like the AR-15 assault rifle and many of the advances of modern weaponry were long from being invented or popularized.

Sure, the Founders knew that the world evolved and that technology changed, but the weapons of today that are easily accessible are vastly different than anything that existed in 1791. When the Second Amendment was written, the Founders didn't have to weigh the risks of one man killing 49 and injuring 53 all by himself. Now we do, and the risk-benefit analysis of 1791 is flatly irrelevant to the risk-benefit analysis of today.

Good Bones

Maggie Smith's remarkable new poem went viral this week, as people processing grief and confusion and frustration over the shooting in Florida. It's a wonderful piece, and gives one hope about the future of poetry that such a finely wrought work can mean so much to so many people so soon.

The Sunday Post for June 12, 2016

Cities Like Seattle Are Recklessly Unprepared For Self-Driving Cars

New Seattle-based publidation Scout takes on the infrastructure of self-driving cars. It asks a vital question: in the modern days of rapid technological change, how can the traditionally slow process of civic change catch up to technology and ideas that will benefit the city?

Timelines for the arrival of consumer-ready self driving cars range from two to 20 years. Even if 20 years go by before Americans trade in their driver’s licenses, the fact that only one out of every 17 cities is even thinking about self-driving cars is shocking. Transit infrastructure, from roads to light rail, takes years to plan, billions in investment, and decades to build.

At best, cities omitting autonomous vehicles from transit planning represents a failure of imagination. At worst, it’s gross civic negligence.

Does Literary Criticism Have a Grade Inflation Problem?

Alex Shehard looks at LitHub's new Book Marks service, a review aggregator (the Seattle Review of Books is one of the source sites for Book Marks), and argues that the grades of the books are elevated on the site.

This is not a new debate. Literary criticism has been routinely lambasted for its niceness, its lack of intellectual rigor, and its mediocrity. n+1’s first issue took on The Believer, which “[differed] in at least one particular from, say, the New York Review of Books, in that its overt criterion for inclusion is not expertise, but enthusiasm.” Writing in Slate in 2012, the critic Jacob Silverman decried the effect of social media on reviewing, arguing that it made incisive criticism more difficult because your potential targets were almost always connected to you in some way: “Reviewers shouldn’t be recommendation machines, yet we have settled for that role, in part because the solicitous communalism of Twitter encourages it.” (In 2013, meanwhile, Clive James took to The New York Times to tell Americans that they simply weren’t good at writing hatchet jobs.)
Head in the cloud

Sophie McBain, in the New Statesmen, looks at whether we're losing our ability to remember things now that we can store them all in our external hand-held brain.

do not remember my husband’s tele­phone number, or my best friend’s address. I have forgotten my cousin’s birthday, my seven times table, the date my grandfather died. When I write, I keep at least a dozen internet tabs open to look up names and facts I should easily be able to recall. There are so many things I no longer know, simple things that matter to me in practical and personal ways, yet I usually get by just fine. Apart from the few occasions when my phone has run out of battery at a crucial moment, or the day I accidentally plunged it into hot tea, or the evening my handbag was stolen, it hasn’t seemed to matter that I have downloaded most of my working memory on to electronic devices. It feels a small inconvenience, given that I can access information equivalent to tens of billions of books on a gadget that fits into my back pocket.

The Sunday Post for June 5, 2016

Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker

The letter that has taken the internet by storm. It's a stunning, heartbreaking, and brutal read — the judge in the case (who is up for re-election this year) gave the convicted rapist six months and probation, because a longer sentence would have "a severe impact on him". As this letter so rightfully points out, the punishment doesn't come near to fitting the crime.

I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.
On the run with my dad

Spokane writer Shawn Vestal in a piece from the Guardian about his unusual upbringing with his dad.

That Sunday afternoon. Dad called us all into the living room and told us that he had done something terrible. The sheriff’s deputies would be coming the next day to arrest him for a crime he did not specify. Because he couldn’t bear that, he said, he was going to get in his car and leave, and he wanted us to follow him. We packed and Mom drove us north through a snowy night, following Dad across the border and into Canada, where we spent a week hiding from the law.
The Lost Secret Sign Language of Sawmill Workers

Sarah Laskow on the language sawmill workers developed as a way to communicate over the din of the machinery.

The core of the sawmill workers’ sign language was a system of numbers, standardized across the industry. Those signs were shared in a technical notebook, and, the linguists wrote,”in the view of the management, that was about all there was to the language.” But it covered much more ground than technical communication. Workers could talk about quitting time, lunch time, and cigarette breaks. They could talk about sports and the bets they placed on games. They could talk about their wives, cars, and colleagues. They could tell jokes and comment on what was going on around them without their bosses ever knowing.
Mr. and Mrs. B

Novelist Alexander Chee, once a member of ACT UP, on a job he held as a private waiter for William F. Buckley, who once wrote that AIDS victims should be tattoed for easy identification.

In 1997, I began working as a waiter for William F. and Pat Buckley. I was the picture of a New York cater-waiter: 5′ 10″, 165 pounds, twenty-nine years old, clean-cut. I took the job because I looked good in a tuxedo and couldn’t stand the idea of office work unless it was writing a novel. It was the easiest solution to my money problems when I returned to New York after getting my MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and I’d already been doing it for two years when I was called to work for the Buckleys. Cater-waitering paid $25 an hour plus tips and involved working everything from the enormous galas in the Winter Garden to People magazine lunches to openings at the Guggenheim. The tuxedo and the starched white shirt—and the fact that each assignment was at a different, often exclusive, place—all made me feel a little like James Bond. Sometimes my fellow waiters and I called it the Gay Peace Corps for how we could come into places, clean them up, make them fabulous, throw a party, and leave. And I liked that when I went home, I didn’t think about the work at all.

The Sunday Post for May 29, 2016

Title Fight

Tony Tulathimutte in the Paris Review on who gets to name a novel.

The history of writers fighting for their book titles is extensive and bloody; so powerful is the publisher’s veto that not even Toni Morrison, fresh off her Nobel win, got to keep her preferred title for Paradise, which was War. (For her most recent book, God Help the Child, she favored The Wrath of Children.) Who knows why George Orwell’s editor thought Nineteen Eighty-Four was more commercially viable than The Last Man in Europe, or why the industry’s gerund fetish turned Helen Simpson’s Hey Yeah Right Get a Life into the insipid Getting a Life? Commercial interests even beyond the publishing house can get involved, as in the famous case of DeLillo’s White Noise, which was to be Panasonic until the corporation’s lawyers intervened.
Frog and Toad and the Self

Bert Clere takes a look at Arnold Lobel, and his beloved books of the two friends who are so very different. We have spent a lot of time with Frog and Toad in our house.

Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn’t all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of being themselves.
The fall of

Kelsey Sutton and Peter Sterne with a long piece looking into what's happening with the overtly sensational and more-liberal-than-thou at the moment (it ain't good).

Over the last several months, POLITICO has interviewed more than two dozen current and former Salon employees and reviewed years of Salon’s SEC filings. On Monday, after POLITICO had made several unsuccessful attempts to interview Salon CEO Cindy Jeffers, the company dropped a bombshell: Jeffers was leaving the company effective immediately in what was described as an “abrupt departure.”
13, right now

Jessica Contrera spent some time with a 13 year-old to see what the modern life of a brand new teenager is like, phone in hand, reactions poised, hearts and likes accumulating.

She slides into the car, and even before she buckles her seat belt, her phone is alight in her hands. A 13-year-old girl after a day of eighth grade.

She says hello. Her au pair asks, “Ready to go?”

She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.

The Sunday Post for May 22, 2016

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

A peek inside the designer's mind, and how navigation and other tricks by designers and companies trick you into feeling like you have choice, when in fact you're being guided through a very specific experience. The author, Tristan Harris, was Google's design ethicist, so is deeply familiar with all the techniques.

By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.
The empty brain

More brain stuff! In Aeon, Robert Epstein looks at the brain, and as the subtitle says "Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer".

Our shoddy thinking about the brain has deep historical roots, but the invention of computers in the 1940s got us especially confused. For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer.

To see how vacuous this idea is, consider the brains of babies. Thanks to evolution, human neonates, like the newborns of all other mammalian species, enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively. A baby’s vision is blurry, but it pays special attention to faces, and is quickly able to identify its mother’s. It prefers the sound of voices to non-speech sounds, and can distinguish one basic speech sound from another. We are, without doubt, built to make social connections.

We’re in an amazing black cultural moment. Can we avoid the backlash?

Syreeta McFadden in the Guardian, looking at the exposure and relevance of black culture in popular media, and how white America is bound to respond (Donald Trump sure seems to be a paranoid freakout to our first black President to this observer).

This artistic triumph isn’t a new movement, then, but rather reads like one because this time around, creators aren’t making work that over explains black life or that makes white society comfortable, centered or even included. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was made to speak to black women. Larry Wilmore’s N-word use at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner wasn’t meant for the white people it offended. Shonda Rhimes is the most successful showrunner in television, creating space for black actors to feature complex representations of black life. Claudia Rankine’s critically acclaimed volume, Citizen, explicitly interrogates micro aggressions that shape black life in America.
What does it mean when we call women girls?

Robin Wasserman on the popularity of books with "girl" in the title, and what it's like to be an author who wrote one.

As a dedicated contrarian—someone whose few attempts at trend-chasing have culminated in baroque, Wile E. Coyote-esque failure—little makes me feel more alien in my own skin than finding myself accidental avatar of a cultural fad. Which is to say, I’m not really the zeitgeist type. And yet it seems I’ve written a book with “girl” in the title. First prize: Free ride on the bandwagon, like it or not.

The Sunday Post for May 15, 2016

Democracies end when they are too democratic.

A long piece from Andrew Sullivan about democracy under populism, and how Trump works into all of it.

Many contend, of course, that American democracy is actually in retreat, close to being destroyed by the vastly more unequal economy of the last quarter-century and the ability of the very rich to purchase political influence. This is Bernie Sanders’s core critique. But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultrarich has been mostly a dud. Barack Obama, whose 2008 campaign was propelled by small donors and empowered by the internet, blazed the trail of the modern-day insurrectionist, defeating the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary and later his Republican opponent (both pillars of their parties’ Establishments and backed by moneyed elites). In 2012, the fund-raising power behind Mitt Romney — avatar of the one percent — failed to dislodge Obama from office. And in this presidential cycle, the breakout candidates of both parties have soared without financial support from the elites. Sanders, who is sustaining his campaign all the way to California on the backs of small donors and large crowds, is, to put it bluntly, a walking refutation of his own argument. Trump, of course, is a largely self-funding billionaire — but like Willkie, he argues that his wealth uniquely enables him to resist the influence of the rich and their lobbyists. Those despairing over the influence of Big Money in American politics must also explain the swift, humiliating demise of Jeb Bush and the struggling Establishment campaign of Hillary Clinton. The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics.

Mandy Brown, on bots and gender, and reading from literature into life.

In fact, it’s not hard for me to imagine a straight line (or at least a moderately meandering one) between a generation of bot makers who anoint their creations with gendered names and personalities and the impossible reverie that is the singularity: could the very notion of the singularity be the embodiment of the oppressors fear that the oppressed will one day rise up and slay them? Perhaps the attention some men apparently spend on wondering whether AI will eventually surpass them should be instead spent on noticing the fact that women already have.
Are we sex-literate? Why we should all be writing more about pleasure

Joanna Walsh argues that sex-literacy comes from writing and reading about sex, and that is a feminst idea.

In the UK, according to the association for PSHE teachers, “‘Personal, Sexual Health and Economic’ education is a non-statutory subject on the school curriculum”. It’s a frequent but unresolved complaint that children are taught no more than the mechanics of sex, and are sent out into adulthood with little beside biological basics, except warnings of STDs and other consequences. “Thou shalt not [is] writ over the door” of the Garden of Love, just as it was when the poet William Blake questioned why our “joys and desires” should be bound by prohibitions and prescriptions. But what constitutes sex-literacy, and why does it matter?
When The Data Bubble Bursts, Companies Will Have To Actually Sell Things Again

Douglas Rushkoff on the far reaches of advertising and marketing.

The trouble is, if everyone is in it for the advertising dollar, who is left to advertise? At no point in history has advertising, marketing, and research ever accounted for as high a percentage of GDP, or total economic activity (and that's being extremely generous). But right now, it's pushing at the very top of that range. The reason it can't go higher is that only so much economic activity can go to promoting the rest of our economic activity. The coming crash in the tech market—and quite possibly beyond—will be triggered by the growing realization that every company in the world can’t be a marketing company.

The Sunday Post for May 8, 2016

‘You Want A Description Of Hell?’ Oxycontin’s 12-hour Problem

Intense, tragic, and deep special report by Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion, and Scott Glover in the LA Times, about OxyContin and Perdue Pharma, and how marketing the drug as a 12-hour remedy lead to abuse and bad prescription practices.

But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.
California Notes

When Joan Didion publishes a new essay, we link it. I think that's a good standing rule. Here she starts with the Patti Hearst trial, and meanders around that state she wrote about most:

At the center of this story there is a terrible secret, a kernel of cyanide, and the secret is that the story doesn’t matter, doesn’t make any difference, doesn’t figure. The snow still falls in the Sierra. The Pacific still trembles in its bowl. The great tectonic plates strain against each other while we sleep and wake. Rattlers in the dry grass. Sharks beneath the Golden Gate. In the South they are convinced that they have bloodied their place with history. In the West we do not believe that anything we do can bloody the land, or change it, or touch it.
The House Is a Home

Sarah Galvin on her memories of Hugo House, now that the old building is slated to be demolished.

Though it bills itself simply as “a place for writers,” the Hugo House is actually a gateway to another dimension. The non-profit was founded in 1996 by Linda Breneman, Frances McCue and Andrea Lewis with the hope of creating a hub for Seattle’s diverse, burgeoning community of writers and readers. Named after working-class, Seattle-born poet Richard Hugo, it has consistently honored the spirit it was named in, providing resources and community to writers of every stripe.
How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech

Alexis Hancock, looking at her experience in tech as a black woman, and how not only was her work not appreciated, how the idea of imposter syndrome was used to keep her marginalized.

I believed in the rhetoric. I thought the process of self-acceptance would mean professional acceptance by my peers. I thought I would stop experiencing negative actions in tech once I could just believe in my worth, and show it to others. I thought that if I worked hard enough and completed enough projects, I would eventually reach a point where I didn’t feel like a fraud. And to cope with the racist and sexist comments along the way, I just focused on reaching that point of power, when my accomplishments would shine brightly. But I’d fallen into a trap.

The Sunday Post for May 1, 2016

Uncanny Valley

I have mixed feelings about this form — we've seen them before, notes from inside the boom industry. It's personal essay, not reportage, it's a confession from the one who accepted the paycheck and now feels that the price of this betrayal to their college idealism is exposure of their lush corporate lifestyle. We've read them from inside Wall Street and Hollywood, Real Estate, and now the tech boom. A lot of them from the tech boo.

Didn't it start from inside the factory? The genius with the blue collar job who wanted to make it writing truthy things about truth for the people who love truth? Bukowski inside the Post Office? (Which has its own set of problems, believe me.) But then it jumped from the blue collar punching up to the college graduate in privilege punching sideways.

The conceit is that the writer is an outsider among true believers, who will never buy into the mantras the company chant, that the writers at least confess to moving their lips along with.

These were my thoughts when I kept stumbling over links to Anna Wiener's piece in N+1 this week. What saves it, though, is her writing and detail. She inhabits the form, but makes it good, and that is definitely worth a link (and, Wiener will always have my ear after doing an amazing piece on Ellen Ullman for the New Republic earlier this year).

Morale is down. We are making plenty of money, but the office is teeming with salespeople: well-groomed social animals with good posture and dress shoes, men who chuckle and smooth their hair back when they can’t connect to our VPN. Their corner of the office is loud; their desks are scattered with freebies from other start-ups, stickers and koozies and flash drives. We escape for drinks and fret about our company culture. “Our culture is dying,” we say gravely, apocalyptic prophets all. “What should we do about the culture?”
The Case Against Reality

Amanda Gefter interviews the fascinating cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman:

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like. Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.
Noir Is Protest Literature: That’s Why It’s Having a Renaissance

Nicholas Seeley on what it is about noir that we can't leave alone.

What is it about crime films and novels from the 1940s and ’50s that calls to us so strongly? True, we are also drowning in superheroes, wandering dumbly through an endless series of post-apocalypses, smothered by the advances of paranormal romance… Each of these gluts derives, in part, from the scope of today’s near-infinite media universe, which offers space for just about anything to have a renaissance, but to the degree it includes mainstream as well as cult success, each also taps into specific cultural desires and anxieties of the moment. There are reasons why noir was powerful to begin with, and why it’s coming back now.

The Sunday Post for April 24, 2016

The Real Story of How Amazon Built the Echo

A long piece by Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg about how the Echo came to be, and how it came to be a hit, despite pundits prognosticating sure failure.

When it launched, Amazon’s critics jumped to mock the company. Some called it a useless gimmick; others pointed to it as evidence of Amazon’s Orwellian tendencies. Then something weird happened: People decided they loved it. Amazon never releases data about how its products are selling, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners issued a report this month saying that Amazon had sold more than 3 million devices, with 1 million of those sales happening during the 2015 holiday season. About 35,000 people have reviewed the speaker on, with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.
Nude Bookplates: Should They Exist?

Thank you Dan Piepenbring, for bringing us the serious issues of yesterday.

It’s time. I must bring to your attention the least essential controversy of 114 years ago: nude bookplates.
Digital Couture Is Actually a Thing

Virginia Postrel takes us inside how modern designers are using computers and 3-D printing to change fashion.

For designers willing to work closely with technologists, however, digitally driven production techniques are enabling new aesthetic and functional forms. Unlike wearables, which incorporate computing into garments and accessories, here the fashion, not the technology, is the focus.

The Sunday Post for April 17, 2016

'I Don't Know Whether to Kiss You or Spank You': A Half Century of Fear of an Unspanked Woman

Yet another longform piece on the infantalization of women due to the patriarchy as represented by media expressions of spanking as punishment (but not sexual pleasure). Jeez. Seems like we're getting ten of these a week, these days. Andrew Heisel takes us well-in-hand with this one, from Jezebel.

In early 1946, a woman from Carmel, California wrote the Hollywood fan magazine Screenland to say how much she had enjoyed the recent Christmas release Frontier Gal — not just for its lovely performers and dazzling Technicolor vistas, but for saving her marriage by teaching her husband to spank her.

After he’d returned from the war, she’d struggled to warm up to him again, she wrote, which caused a problem—and here was the solution. “In desperation, after seeing the show, he tried little Beverly’s philosophy,” wrote Mrs. J.B.M. “Daddies spank mamas because they love them. While this old-fashioned approach probably wouldn’t work in all cases, it did for us, and I would appreciate an opportunity to publicly thank Universal and Frontier Gal.”

How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell

Kashmir Hill has been following this story for some time, and this installment on her investigations is the craziest yet. Innocent, and bewildered, people getting blamed fro everything under the sun, thanks to a GPS anomaly, and choice.

For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All in all, the residents of the Taylor property have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why.

The dark side of Guardian comments

There are some people who still believe in internet comments. There are people who think that they are redeemable, and there are people who think that they are working. But there are many who think comments aren't worth the trouble anymore (notice the lack of them here, for example). The Guardian goes in deep about the dark side of comments.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

Is empty nose syndrome real? And if not why are people killing themselves over it?

Joel Oliphint reporting for Buzzfeed on a strange side-effect from a common nasal surgery, and the dire consequences for those suffering from it.

During his ear, nose, and throat residency at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Steven Houser shadowed his attending physician during nasal surgeries and sometimes handled initial consultations with patients during clinic visits. One day toward the end of his residency in the late ’90s, Houser examined the chart of a middle-aged woman who was complaining of nasal blockage, congestion, and difficulty breathing. The attending doctor had operated on her turbinates years earlier. She’d had plenty of time to heal, so Houser assumed the patient must have hit her nose or maybe developed a polyp. But when he examined her, he was surprised to see that her nose wasn’t blocked at all. (“You could drive a truck through there,” Houser says.) Her septum was straight. There were no holes or other oddities, but her turbinates — those tubular, bony structures inside the nose — were significantly reduced from the surgery. The woman told Houser that for some reason, she could breathe easier when she had a cold.

Houser was baffled. How could this woman have trouble breathing when her nose was wide open? And why would a cold make her feel less blocked? He described the situation to his attending physician, who then went into the room without Houser. After the appointment, the attending physician hemmed and hawed and never provided a good explanation. He told Houser not to worry about it.

The Sunday Post for April 10, 2016

The Voyeur's Motel

Let's talk about Gay Talese. When asked last week to name female journalists he admired, he balked, then doubled-down. Not using Twitter, or any social media, a New York Times piece reported that Talese was unaware of the controversy his words inspired until informed a few days later. After that reporting, the New York Times Public Editor responded to the Time's executive editor Dean Baquet talking smack about the very artice.

Then, deputy editor of the Washington Post's Outlook section, Marisa Bellack, published a piece saying she was Talese's teaching assistant, but quit due to his sexism.

All this in the same week that the New Yorker published Talese's first long article in years. It raises so many isseus that the Post came back to Taleseland to question the ethics of it.

Once you finish investigating the planets colliding in orbit around the article's author, you may have time to turn to the article itself, which is an absolute doozy.

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.
The Reckoning

Pamela Colloff offers a long look at Claire Wilson, a victim of the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas, and how that tragic day affected her life.

On the list of those killed, she located the name of her boyfriend, Thomas Eckman. Her gaze fell on Tom’s picture, in which he sat in the formal pose of all mid-century yearbook photos, smiling broadly, his tie tucked into his V-neck sweater. Claire stared into his eyes, tracing the contours of his face. Holding the magazine in her hands, she felt some reassurance that what she had witnessed on campus that day had actually happened.
‘He Brutalized For You’

Michael Kruse looks at the odd friendship, and mentorship, between McCarthy sideman Roy Cohn, and a young Donald Trump.

Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals. Interviews with people who knew both men at the time say the relationship ran deeper than that—that Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.

The Sunday Post for April 3, 2016

Is This the End of the Era of the Important, Inappropriate Literary Man?

Jia Tolentino, in a long detailed article in Jezebel, goes inside the Iowa Writers Workshop to examine a man accused. She looks both from the perspective of how historically many men in power used their position for sexual privilege with students, but also how the method of accusation should support believing women, but maybe with a higher bar than anonymity. Fascinating read.

In public, everyone says that Thomas Sayers Ellis, 52, formerly of Case Western and Sarah Lawrence, a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop this semester, is brilliant. Even the people who find him off-putting and unprofessional tend to agree. He’s charismatic and surprising, a protest poet, a real intellectual, unafraid to cause alarm. His style is enjambed, urgent, and rhythmically afire; in the late ‘80s, he founded the Dark Room Collective to promote writers of color, and he’s been known as an activist ever since. He attracts women; several women I talked to said he had “groupies.” But in late February, a group of women came together to say that he’s abusive, that he preys.
On The 13 Words That Made Me A Writer

Sofia Samatar on the language of fantasy that made her want to write it.

There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble. These words made me a writer. When I was in middle school, my mother brought home a used paperback copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. “I thought this looked like something you might like,” she said.
Real Talk With RuPaul

E. Alex Jung interviews the most Queenly of the drag queens.

Congratulations on the 100th episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. With the eighth season, how do you keep things fresh? We're always inspired by the queens. And because it's like a school, we get a new crop of kids every single year — that's how it stays fresh. This year especially, it's the children's Drag Race. These are the kids who grew up watching it, and their whole drag aesthetic comes from the show. So it's an interesting shift. And we knew this would come if we stayed on the air long enough — we'd see what we produced in the public. And they're beautiful! They're smart. We have to actually work harder to stay one step ahead of them.

A Field Guide to Male Intimacy

Max Ross on the father's in his life, and his relationships with them.

When my car’s battery died on a bitterly cold January day, my father refused to come to my apartment in south Minneapolis to give me a jump. He drives a Tesla and claimed (not quite accurately) that using it to power a regular car would cause it to short-circuit. “Plus, it’s nasty outside,” he said, “and, as you know, your father is a wuss.” Luckily my stepfather, Kevin, agreed to help. He is bald, clean-shaven, slender, friendly and handy. An agricultural engineer, he has a master’s degree in weed science and subscribes to journals such as “Wheat Life.” He always knows what time it is. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he said. He arrived at my apartment in 15 minutes.