The web is full of great things to read, great videos to watch, great links to explore. Here are a few of my favorites that I discovered this past month:
I don't always read advice columns, but this one about finding meaningful work is one of the most important things I've read. Very poignant for me, especially now:
How do people live? The body aches from standing and it aches equally from sitting, so after work I have gone to yoga class and the instructor’s voice has said jump back and put your butt up in the air, and I have done it, and I have done a push-up and put my butt up in the air again. With my butt up in the air, I have meditated on how everything is an illusion and tried to learn to detach from my boredom with bending over, jumping back, and putting my butt up in the air, trying not to think about the possibility that one of yoga’s most important historical functions has been to help people cope with a caste system cultivated by the Aryan invaders of India in 1500 BCE and institutionalized by the British invaders in the 19th and 20th centuries, a system organized by color like South Africa during apartheid, in which the lightness of your skin coincided with your class and thus the kind of labor you might do. To believe that because you were born dark-skinned and a servant you must remain a servant until your next reincarnation is perhaps easier when you have learned to endure repetitive compulsory movements, especially when the dominant movement is to prostrate yourself with your butt up in the air, while practicing detaching from your desires. I have tried not to think about the fact that more and more Americans are finding this practice incredibly helpful, if not necessary, to keep this whole thing going. If you’re not the kind of man who wants to wear leggings and put your butt up in the air to learn to relax about repetition, there are other ways to reenact the feeling of becoming a kind of butt-fucked puppet, mindlessly reaching for the same things over and over again, bending over and even finding a kind of mystery or mystification in the empty repetition of bending: cigarettes, video games, whiskey shots, elliptical trainers, internet porn and what’s Franco doing, what’s that super-giant shark doing, what’s that kitten doing, what’s hotforyrcock97 doing, but when you go back to work on Monday, all this does nothing to change your essential condition.
A few quick thoughts on how to organize a personal library, from a rumination on how to be (or appear) well-read:
As hinted, the first rule of library organization is that the books should be alphabetized by author, such that the well-read person’s shelf might go like so—Susan Sontag’s nonfiction, Vladimir Sorokin’s thrillers, Terry Southern’s complete works, some Muriel Spark and Art Spiegelman and Mickey Spillane, a lot of Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck’s nonfiction, a couple Stendhals, and Laurence Sterne’s Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman … It’s simple and elegant and yields nifty juxtapositions, and the only question is whether Mary McCarthy and Carson McCullers and their ilk should go before Thomas Macaulay or after William Maxwell.
Exceptions to this rule are few and fairly obvious: You are permitted to break from the abecedarian plan to shelve anthologies, reference texts, how-to books, and miscellany. It’s best to shelve literary biographies alongside the works of their subjects. You are encouraged to put the cookbooks in the kitchen, the cocktail books at the bar, the dirty books within reach of the sex swing, and the fiction of Sontag and Steinbeck out on the curb.
If you encounter the shelves of a person who arranges his books by color, the most correct observation is, “Oh, that’s cute.”
I went through this, earlier this summer. A reflection on the slow loss of a friendship:
Then. It was effortless for us to hold on. Now. It takes a minute, a concrete thought to extend my hand and find yours across the continent in the dark and vice versa. It happens.
When I was in high school, my friend Andrew and I created personas that mocked the sad state of sports broadcasting. This piece in The Paris Review captures that sentiment well:
After a prolonged TV spectacle like college football’s Bowl Week (whose contests last year included the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the Taxslayer.com Bowl, the latter being only a slight improvement on the all-time most absurd Galleryfurniture.com Bowl), watching English Premiership matches or Six Nations rugby on BBC feels like a cultural upgrade. There’s less advertising. There’s less analysis of bullshit statistics (“Headed into this matchup, the Kentucky Wildcats are 11-3 in games played within four days of their coach’s annual colonoscopy”). And, on British television, the commentators’ linguistic repertoires don’t feel as inhibited; there’s more room for an occasional flourish. Why can’t we have a color analyst like Ray Hudson, who, in his exuberance, will announce that we’ve just witnessed “a Bernini sculpture of a goal,” or claim that watching Lionel Messi “softens the hard corners of our lives”?
I haven't really thought about the racism in American cinema, but after reading this piece by David Dennis, Jr, I can't help but notice it everywhere:
Not only are all the main characters White, but the servants, thieves and assassins are played by Africans. Guys. This is racist. Ridley Scott is one of those guys who’s apparently hellbent on historical accuracy but doesn’t care enough to cast a person of color as Moses or a goddamn African queen while simultaneously filling out the rest of the movie with Black servants and thieves. I could even accept him going the Louis CK route of “the best actor gets the job regardless of if race makes sense” and casting Merly Streep as Tuya, Guillermo Del Toro as Moses and Choi Min-Sik as Rhamses for all I care. But to make the main characters White and everyone else African is cinematic colonialism. It’s creating a piece of historical “art” that carries on oppressive imagery that’s helped shackle entire countries and corners of the world.
I’m so goddamn sick of Hollywood and its acceptance of these oppressive images. If studies have shown the way that perpetual violence in movies begets violence in America, then what about perpetual maintenance of the White savior standing over the ethnic servant/villain/imbecile? What damage is this creating for the American psyche? How am I supposed to feel when all the messiahs, last samurais, African kings and saviors are White?
I have a very conflicted relationship with Weird Al (long story), but his recent resurgence has made me wonder why he has such a widespread appeal:
Anxiety starts early for pop audiences. For decades, I have had twenty-somethings tell me that they don’t know what’s on the charts, haven’t listened to any new artists since college, and don’t “know anything about music.” They feel confused by how quickly the value of their knowledge of what’s current fades. Weird Al’s songwriting process, almost without exception, is to confront that anxiety and to celebrate it. Yankovic will take a mysterious and masterful song and turn it into something mundane and universal. He makes the grand aspirational concerns of teen-agers in Lorde’s “Royals” into a story that includes a lesson about the hygienic advantage of taking food home in aluminum foil. (You’ll see the rhyme there.) Charli XCX’s boast of being “classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch,” in Azalea’s “Fancy,” becomes an ad for a handyman who can resurface your patio in Yankovic’s “Handy.”
I fell horrible for saying this, but seeing a charity use the sidewalk clipboard people try to solicit funding makes me much, much less likely to support them. There are better ways to reach your audience than accosting them on the street:
However, and this is very important, the Clipboard People must be ignored with EXTREME PREJUDICE. This is because Clipboard People are grifters, who, in the name of various causes (Gay Rights, the Environment), have only a single aim: to get your credit card number authorized for recurring payments to a "charity." In fact, the majority of that money does not go to the charity, but goes to pay the salary of the Clipboarder, and the evil canvas organizations that employ them. Even worse, the Clipboarders are themselves exploited—often young idealists from less vicious places, they are brought to New York on the promise of helping a charity they believe in, only to find out they've been dragooned into a commission-based predatory marketing scheme.
This scam is more evil than most because it is done in the name of legitimate charities, and targets the nicest, most generous people on the streets. The assholes amongst us are immune, of course, because they don't bother to even make eye contact, but sensitive, thoughtful liberals who just want to support your right to Gay Marriage or save a Polar Bear from drowning end up with a $30 monthly charge on their credit cards. On average, it takes about 8 months before they realize that they've been had, and that almost all of the money they've given hasn't even gone to the charity. Then they cancel and probably turn their back on the progressive movement, become neoconservatives, and move to the Upper East Side. It's a sad story, and it's all because of the Clipboard People.
I'm not going to say much about this because it's something I've been grappling with in other parts of my life, but William Falk absolutely nails it when it comes to the need for better vacation structures in North America:
No one should be shamed for taking a vacation. To get away is restorative, and essential to mental and physical health. Only in America do we equate workaholism with virtue and view time spent at the shore or in the mountains or in the desert as time wasted — as evidence of laziness. Americans work more hours and take less vacation than citizens of any prosperous country in the world; most workers in Europe (including the highly productive Germans) get six paid weeks off. Whole countries shut down in August. This is sensible and, indeed, civilized.
I'm glad that more and more people are starting to appreciate the beauty of brutalist architecture; I've always been enthralled by it, but my fandom is definitely not shared by most:
So much of the criticism of Brutalism treats it like a failed quiz—a problem to be solved, a problem for which there are correct answers, not a piece of history that could be preserved and improved upon. Innovative, courageous renovations have saved Brutalist structures in Houston and Boston; the MacArthur Genius architect Jeanne Gang came up with a plan for adapting Prentice Women's Hospital, but by then it was too late.
Some important thoughts about depression have been shared this past month, and many of them are helping explain depression to those who don't understand what it's like to suffer from it:
The point here is simple: I didn’t realize I had depression until a magic pill made my depression recede. I thought everyone felt the way I did. Until I realized that this wasn’t how everyone walked around feeling all the time, I thought, in effect, that everyone had depression.
That’s the same thought I had this morning, because — having not taken these damn pills in a while, which yes, I am going to remedy today, or at least I will try, because I can already feel the inertia flexing its obscene muscles — my defenses came down. Without me even realizing it, the depression silently cried hell yeah! and came rushing back. And one of the things depression is really good at doing is disguising itself as normality. At saying that it isn’t what it really is. At refusing to acknowledge that you’re not wearing your glasses, at saying “no, no, there were never individual leaves on that tree. It’s always been a green blob. Everyone in the whole world only sees green blobs.”
I've always conducted myself with the idea that being kind and polite is the best way to approach any situation. Paul Ford agrees, and tells you how to do just that, easily:
People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.
It took me a long time to get into emoji, and I still use it sparingly, but pieces like this one make me want to re-explore how emoji could change the way we communicate:
This “emojis are the end of language” complaint, usually seen in the comments below articles rather than in the articles themselves, is a variation on the more common theme “emojis are dumb and make us dumber,” painting a picture of the entire human race as a horde of blithering idiots unable to communicate without typing pictures. It’s a bit bleak, and doesn’t really put a lot of faith in us as individual people with our own brains and agency, but the flip side is that in this potential future the entire human race is communicating with each other. Could it really be that the great promise of the World Wide Web has been achieved by the likes of unamused face, blowing kiss face, and smiley poop? It’s a disconcertingly simple solution. Emojis are small in size but huge in reach—perhaps nothing so tiny has been so universally known since Walt Disney introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. This strange incongruity might be part of why we can’t seem to stop talking about emojis.
A lot of smart people have been talking about how to fix education recently, and post-secondary education is in need of serious change, too:
The education system has to act to mitigate the class system, not reproduce it. Affirmative action should be based on class instead of race, a change that many have been advocating for years. Preferences for legacies and athletes ought to be discarded. SAT scores should be weighted to account for socioeconomic factors. Colleges should put an end to résumé-stuffing by imposing a limit on the number of extracurriculars that kids can list on their applications. They ought to place more value on the kind of service jobs that lower-income students often take in high school and that high achievers almost never do. They should refuse to be impressed by any opportunity that was enabled by parental wealth. Of course, they have to stop cooperating with U.S. News.
More broadly, they need to rethink their conception of merit. If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.
Affinage, a short film about the making of cheese. Deliciously brilliant:
The Beastie Boys’ So What’cha Want, performed by The Muppets. Perfect:
Bruce Wayne, before he was Batman:
Something needs to be done about the militarization of our police:
Lake Erie is a body of water that is near and dear to my heart, and it's slowly slipping away from us, again:
A few more, before you go:
- Does anyone really like the honeydew melon in their fruit platter? The answer is no.
- A statistical appreciation of the Washington Generals and Harlem Globetrotters. I was lucky to watch the Globetrotters play the Generals when I was a kid, and I still remember the showmanship of it all.
- Words like brainiac and mentor all came from literary characters. The Guardian has a great roundup of some of the best ones.
- Toronto has some of the worst beer selection in baseball. Anyone who has been to a Blue Jays game is nodding their head in understanding.
- If you like space, you'll love this interactive video about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project.
- It has been a slow decline so we haven't all noticed it, but New York is no longer the mecca of basketball.
- Lise and I have been catching up on a lot of TV series recently, and we've been enthralled by the recent state of title design.
- This article perfectly encapsulates why shaming strangers on the internet without their knowledge or context makes me feel so uncomfortable.
- "Asterisks help us show that we know when we’ve made a mistake, but they only can be used to correct mistakes we know we are making."
In case that's not enough, check out Squandrous.com. There's more to see there, almost every day.