Looking for things to read, watch, or explore? Here are a few links that caught my eye this month.
Bill Gates has a plan to make the world a better place. That plan starts with fertilizer — or innovation, actually — and we can all get involved. (Here’s My Plan to Improve Our World — And How You Can Help, Bill Gates)
I am a little obsessed with fertilizer. I mean I’m fascinated with its role, not with using it. I go to meetings where it’s a serious topic of conversation. I read books about its benefits and the problems with overusing it. It’s the kind of topic I have to remind myself not to talk about too much at cocktail parties, since most people don’t find it as interesting as I do.
But like anyone with a mild obsession, I think mine is entirely justified. Two out of every five people on Earth today owe their lives to the higher crop outputs that fertilizer has made possible. It helped fuel the Green Revolution, an explosion of agricultural productivity that lifted hundreds of millions of people around the world out of poverty.
These days I get to spend a lot of time trying to advance innovation that improves people’s lives in the same way that fertilizer did. Let me reiterate this: A full 40 percent of Earth’s population is alive today because, in 1909, a German chemist named Fritz Haber figured out how to make synthetic ammonia.
My favorite writer just profiled my favorite actor. I want to live George Clooney's life. (George Clooney's Rules for Living, Tom Junod)
I have done a few of these things—celebrity profiles—before. I have interviewed famous people in hotel rooms and offices, in bars and in restaurants, even, once, on top of a bridge in Sydney, Australia. Where I have not often interviewed them is at their homes. The home is the turkey bacon of the celebrity profile. It generates, if not love, then at least a sense of gratitude akin to what a dog must feel when allowed on the couch. Leonardo DiCaprio met me in a vast hotel conference room, empty but for an end table and two chairs.
George Clooney invited me to his house.
Of course he did. What distinguishes Clooney from other famous people is that he reliably acts as you wish other famous people would act and does what you wish other famous people would do: often the right thing. His house is of a piece with its owner. It might be described as a man-cave writ large. It is slightly undomesticated. You have to climb to get there, up a switchbacked driveway sentried by security cameras and crowded with greenery that he refuses to cut. You can see why he says he does not have many intruders; you can also see why, when he does have intruders, he says, no shit, they usually do their intruding “dressed as trees.”
I'm lucky to have been able to work with this smart, courageous, and fascinating man some time ago, and I love his contention that those of us who own our scars are more interesting because of them. (He's So Unusual, Chris Stevenson)
It was in this epiphany that I realized that there are those of us who own our differences, our scars, and even our deficiencies with as much grace as we can muster – and, when we’ve had enough time, perhaps even with pride, where applicable. And I think we recognize each other. Because we’re usually the most interesting people in the room. I’d much rather spend time talking to someone who has a few scars, bumps, and wear and tear than the alternative. Because I find that those who have been kicked around by life a little bit have the best stories, the most to teach, and often – if only as a means of survival – the most wonderful senses of humour.
Storytelling is an art that I hope never goes away. I can listen to someone tell me stories about their day for hours on end. (Small Wonders, Andrew Tuck)
The fact is we like to hear people talk, to tell us about their discoveries or their adventures – and all free of multimedia distractions or PowerPoint slides. A politician who can articulate his beliefs is more powerful than a party’s commercial. A single victim who can reveal the impact of a crime can change more in a moment than a well-meaning organisation. We still have a very basic instinct to hunker around the fire and be told a story – even if we have to hand over a pile of crisp ones for the experience. The distracted digerati can be won over with a few wise words, even now.
The Rob Ford saga made me sad not just because it was a political nightmare for Toronto, but also that it made the world see our city as nothing more than the punchline for a joke, when it is so much more than that. (Rob Ford and the Crisis of Masculinity and What Mayor Rob Ford Knows About Toronto, Stephen Marché)
I saw an ad for an all-boys' school recently which was utterly brilliant in its sheer simplicity. It didn't tout the accomplishments of its students. It didn't mention the facilities available on its campus. It didn't brag about the excellence of its teachers or hint at the advantages that knowing other private school students might bring. Instead it made a basic statement: "We produce men with honor." That's it, I thought. That's exactly what I want for my son. Everything else — the extras, the field trips, the campus visits — they're nice, but ultimately they're dressing. What I want for my son is for him to become a man with honor. That is what matters. If he has honor, everything else will eventually fall into place. If he doesn't, nothing will work out even when things go well.
Honor is conspicuously missing from the spectacle of Rob Ford's pseudo-collapse this week. Comparisons with the Wire and with Breaking Bad have come fast and furious, but the truth is the Fords cannot be compared with those criminals. They're nowhere near as decent. Walter White, in the end, murdered and killed but he stayed true to his own sense of values, distorted though they may have been. He retained at least his self-respect. Omar on the Wire said it best: "A man must have a code." Not the Fords. The Fords disdain honor. They boast openly about how they have no code. "If you come after me, I'm going to come back at you" is their MO. They openly state that they practice "dirty" politics. Yesterday, before his brother's confession of crack use, the mayor's brother Doug openly attacked the chief of police, accusing him of corruption. The Police Chief took the high road and refused to respond. That's because he's a man with honor.
Pharrell Williams came out with some of the best beats of my generation, and then disappeared. Now he's back, and some say, even better. (Pharrell is the Future of Music. Again., Matt Diehl)
It's a risky strategy — letting go of past triumphs, pushing yourself and your collaborators beyond what they think they can accomplish, creating your own lane instead of following the YouTube traffic. But for Pharrell, it was the only way to move forward on his own. "You have to do that soul search, see what's there, and then amplify," he says. "Pushing towards that makes for something that feels like lightning in a bottle." Which, by its very definition, is elusive and unpredictable, but when it happens, the sky explodes and everyone sees (and hears) things in new and different ways. "Everything he did with, like, Justin and Britney made Pharrell a legend," says Cyrus. "But that wasn't really his time." Keep listening.
Like Mehnaz, I have (physically) moved dozens of times in my life, and I thrive on change of place, instead of being crippled by it. Moving emotionally is a whole other story. (Anatomy of a Survivor, Mehnaz Thawer)
On the steps of the IKEA, while we waited for my sister to bring the car to the loading dock, my eyes watered. A wave of the overwhelming past rushed over me in that cold parking lot. It was momentary, as I pondered about how many times we’ve had to start over.
My mother is the true survivor in all of this. I like to think that some of it is at least genetic. We have had no shortage of pulling socks up, getting to work, and getting it done (whatever it happens to be). We surveyed the house and quickly began the task of turning it into a home for my sister: obnoxious rug, a lot of lamps, an enviable display of mugs, and a good scrubdown of the whole place. I also noticed that survivors – whether our kind or those who have faced worse, have a few things in common that allow them to forge forward.
Yes, the Affordable Healthcare Plan roll-out has been an absolute mess. It doesn't mean that it's a bad idea, but it can definitely be better. (Some Thoughts About the Affordable Care Act, Richard Beck)
I felt, and still feel, that it's insane--freaking insane--that every American citizen does not have access to basic healthcare. It's unconscionable. It's a moral failure.
There is a huge--HUGE--gap in our safety net because health insurance is tied to full-time employment. Too many employers can game the system by hiring people just under full-time, making American workers work two jobs without getting insurance (or related benefits) from either employer. To say nothing of those who aren't employed or who would like to get private insurance but have preexisting conditions. The fact that you have to go through insurance companies to get healthcare in America is hugely problematic. Too many people are left out of the system. It needs to get fixed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about race and context. Anything this man writes, you need to read. (Richard Cohen in Context, Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Context can not improve this. "Context" is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear. And horse-shit is the context in which Richard Cohen has, for all these years, wallowed. It is horse-shit to claim that store owners are right to discriminate against black males. It is horse-shit to claim Trayvon Martin was wearing the uniform of criminals. It is horse-shit to subject your young female co-workers to "a hostile work environment." It is horse-shit to expend precious newsprint lamenting the days when slovenly old dudes had their pick of 20-year-old women. It is horse-shit to defend a rapist on the run because you like The Pianist. And it is horse-shit for Katharine Weymouth, the Post's publisher, to praise a column with the kind of factual error that would embarrass a j-school student.
Some people apologize when they don't respond to a text immediately. I wonder why: I always take time to process and craft responses — immediate replies seem hasty, unnecessary to me. (Yes I Saw Your Text, But Don't Expect Me To Respond Instantly, Andrew Torba)
Historically speaking when we wanted to communicate with another person we mailed them a physical letter without expecting a response for an extended period of time. Even as early as the invention of the telephone and email we generally expected a response within a few days, not a few seconds.
Today we are experiencing a dangerous cultural shift towards the expectation of instantaneous response.
Every so often there's an article about how people don't write letters anymore. As someone who sends 500-600 of them a year, I always wonder if they are accurate. But even I must acquiesce that us letter-writers are a dwindling breed. (The Death of Letter-Writing, Mason Currey)
A less remarked upon and equally worrisome question is what the death of letter writing — and its replacement by emailing — is doing to the process of creative writing itself. Before the advent of email, many writers maintained a healthy relationship with their correspondence; they found letter writing to be a useful complement to their main literary projects. Letters were not only a way to stay in touch with colleagues or test out ideas and themes on the page, but also a valuable method of easing into and out of a state of mind where they could pursue more daunting and in-depth writing.
Every year, Refe Tuma and his wife spend the month of November convincing their kids that their plastic dinosaurs come to life while they sleep. The results are absolutely hilarious.
Last month, over Halloween, I had the chance to see some seriously-elaborate, hand-made costumes. I'm fascinated by the people who have the kind of skill and patience to create them. PetaPixel has a quick look at the work of Klaus Pichler, who also has a fascination with these costumes.
You've all see the New York Subway Signs Experiment by now, but just in case you haven't, here it is. Now watch it and smile and laugh and remember that life is good.
How long until the Virgin America in-flight safety video song ends up on the Billboard top ten charts? I feel like listening to this every day.
Excited for the new Hunger Games movie? Like Sesame Street and Cookie Monster? Then you'll love The Hungry Games.
I would put almost every single photo from the National Geographic Photo Contest up on my wall. These are stunning.
Hotel creates world's largest ball pit. Sameer wants to jump into it.
Giorgio goes to Sonic drive-through window, serenades woman taking his order, leaves with delicious food and smiles. Lovely.
A few other quick links:
- Time for Christmas playlists. Made me dance.
- The logic of stupid poor people. Made me think.
- The man who invented the calendar. Made me giggle.
- Rule change: baseball at 16 games. Made me wonder.
- When did two-strapping get cooler than one-strapping? Made me reminisce.
- Vancouver is banning the doorknob. Made me consider.
- Why do leaves change color in the fall? Made me learn.
- How to find Waldo in every Where's Waldo puzzle. Made me chuckle.
- List of all-star soccer players that won't be playing in the World Cup. Made me gasp.
- A map of all the public radio coverage in the United States. Made me smile.
- This is a motherf**king website. Made me laugh out loud.
If you're looking for more fun links, videos, and photos, be sure to visit Squandrous.com. I update it almost every day.