Archive for May 2014

#  Going Soapless →

May 29th, 2014 at 17:01 // In Worth Considering 

This story isn’t so much about soap-less-ness as it is about a specific product, but as a person who’s been largely soapless — - I wash my hands, and use soap in the shower if the oily griminess is overwhelming, but otherwise avoid it — - for a few years I recommend it. The author’s conclusion about its effects:

My skin began to change for the better. It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink. As I took my morning “shower” — a three-minute rinse in a bathroom devoid of hygiene products — I remembered all the antibiotics I took as a teenager to quell my acne. How funny it would be if adding bacteria were the answer all along.

#  Looking for Ukraine →

May 29th, 2014 at 12:02 // In Worth Reading 

I’ve said it a number of times that I love when literary review send a reporter to conflict areas and let them be verbose and thorough in their impressions. Ukraine’s recent history and near-term reality is explained clearly and vividly by Tim Judah for the NYRB. His conclusion, though I encourage you to read it if you have the time:

But while it will be hard to agree on a date, it is already easy to say what is happening in people’s heads. Six months ago everyone here just went about their normal business. They were worried about the things that everyone worries about, and here especially: low salaries, scraping by, collecting money for all the bribes one has to pay, and so on. And then something snapped. The rotting ship of the Ukrainian state sprung a leak and everything began to go down. In people’s heads a new reality has gradually begun to take shape and, in this way, everyone is being prepared for war.

#  The Fire Lab →

May 29th, 2014 at 9:00 // In Worth Watching 

My first reaction was — no way these people are getting paid to do this! A really neat little artful 8-minute video from The Atlantic about the US Forest Service’s Fire Lab.

Bonus: the lab’s site is online at

(via Kottke)

#  On the Authorship of the Serenity Prayer →

May 28th, 2014 at 17:02 // In Worth Knowing 

I’d not been super aware of the controversy around quite possibly my favorite prayer of all time — here’s my essay from 2007 about it — but I was vaguely aware there was one. So when I stumbled across this little piece, where the originator of the controversy makes pretty explicit that he’s taken back his position, I was interested. I’ll save you the (interesting but not revelatory) detail, here’s his conclusion:

During the past five years, I have continued to research the genesis of the Serenity Prayer using the same kind of powerful databases of historical newspapers and books that I used to collect my initial eight pre-1943 occurrences. The list of eight has grown to several times that number. I have recently found five versions of the prayer from 1932 and 1933, the earliest of which I believe establishes to a high degree of confidence that Reinhold Niebuhr did originate the Serenity Prayer.

(Because professing love for a prayer might make one wonder, I was raised Catholic but would probably say today that I’m an atheist with strong Buddhist leanings. Not that Buddhism, as I see it, means anything about one’s belief in God.)

#  The Origins of “Privilege” →

May 28th, 2014 at 12:01 // In Worth Knowing 

I’m not generally a fan of text interviews — you lose all brevity of well-composed prose and gain only portability of text — but I love this topic and found the conversational tone effective. Joshua Rathman interviews the woman who coined the term “privilege,” Peggy McIntosh, in the sociological context:

I came to this dawning realization: niceness has nothing to do with it. These are nice men. But they’re very good students of what they’ve been taught, which is that men make knowledge. And I realized this is why we were oppressive to work with—because, in parallel fashion, Ihad been taught that whites make knowledge.

This is when you came up with the forty-six examples of white privilege?

I asked myself, On a daily basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn? It was like a prayer. The first one I thought of was: I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

#  What are some good habits? →

May 28th, 2014 at 9:05 // In Worth Considering 

I believe in habits, more than just about anything in life. A great little AskReddit thread about what habit to cultivate came about, and I recommend you give it a second. I’ve not investigated its veracity, but I particularly loves this list of “George Washington Carver’s 8 virtues”:

1st. Be clean both inside and out.

2nd. Neither look up to the rich or down on the poor.

3rd. Lose, if need be, without squealing.

4th. Win without bragging.

5th. Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.

6th. Be too brave to lie.

7th. Be too generous to cheat.

8th. Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.

#  Why Does The US Have So Many Prisoners? →

May 27th, 2014 at 17:01 // In Worth Knowing 

There are pretty charts, and a nice post, but really this piece from Vox is about one thing you may have already suspect:

Two big reasons — prosecution has become more efficient, and prison sentences have lengthened

#  Where Mathematics Symbols Came From →

May 27th, 2014 at 14:59 // In Worth Knowing 

I’d never really thought about it, but this is a nice little tour of some of the history of mathematic symbols.

Even our wonderful symbol for equality – you know, those two parallel lines – was not used in print before 1575, when the Welsh mathematician and physician Robert Recorde wrote an algebra book that he called the Whetstone of Witte. (We can only guess that the title is a pun on sharpening mathematical wit.) In it he wrote “is equal to” almost two hundred times for the first two hundred pages before finally declaring that he could easily “avoid the tedious repetition” of those three words by designing the symbol “=====” to represent them.

#  In Praise of Sudden, Unexpected Death →

May 27th, 2014 at 10:53 // In Worth Considering 

I recognize talking about death makes some squeamish, but I really enjoyed this thoughtful essay from Jacob M. Appel about what it means that so few people die suddenly and unexpectedly today:

Rather, my disquiet is principally for lost human dignity. Canadian right-to-die activist Gloria Taylor, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, recently wrote: “I can accept death because I recognize it as a part of life. What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes, my life.” Sudden death is a conclusion. Too often, I fear, the long goodbye devolves into a negation.

(via The Browser)

#  Refusing To Be Busy →

May 26th, 2014 at 16:00 // In Worth Considering 

I’ve some entries in the busyness archive, and we’ll throw this on the pile too.  It’s feels a little bit self-satisfied, but the basic point is undeniable and worthy of consideration:

We… choose some of what makes us “busy.” We choose Kumon. We choose the yoga class that’s just far enough from an after-violin-lesson pick up that it’s a rush every single time. We choose to let one child do swimming and the other soccer, on the same afternoon. We choose to add in the stop at the dry cleaner and the ATM. And maybe those choices make us feel rushed and unhappy, and maybe they don’t.

(via Farnam Street’s Brain Food newsletter)