Archive for the ‘Worth Knowing’ category
By all accounts I’ve seen Charles Murray’s new book is important. David Brooks offers a pretty succinct summary of why:
His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricey, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.
The Smithsonian magazine’s Past Imperfect blog is just about perfect. Little bits of history well-told and well-documented. There’s a bit of an American and popular bent, but it doesn’t make it less awesome.
I found this because The Browser’s linked to multiple stories from it (which were all interesting, but didn’t exactly stand alone). Just today they linked to this one, which might have been able to stand alone, but then you might not have noticed how good its holder is.
I link to this story not because it’s exceptionally good (it’s not bad, just unexceptional), but because I find its subject rather interesting. I can’t help but feel affinity for people making points like this:
“The arrogance that says analysing the relationship between reasons and causes is more important than writing a philosophy of shyness or sadness or friendship drives me nuts. I can’t accept that.
“I had a line in the book I cut that said ‘The nirvana would be if the questions raised by Oprah Winfrey would be answered by the faculty at Harvard.’ The questions she asks are the most central – how do we live with other people, how do we cope with our ambitions, how do we survive as a society – though she fails to answer them with anything like seriousness.”
And though I would characterize it as similarly unexceptional, his most recent TED talk was recently made available.
I don’t do much news here these days — I have neither the time nor desire — but I think the latest deal that Warner Bros has hammered out with Netflix is such a perfect distillation of the whole mess they’re in that I can’t ignore this story. Not only you will you not be able to get a movie on Netflix until two months after the DVD goes on sale, you’ll now not even to be able to add it to your queue until a month after. Matt Drance makes the point succinctly:
It continues to punish the people who play by the rules with an insufferable customer experience. This is the sole reason piracy is up and profits are down: because doing it right totally sucks. And that’s apparently how the studios want it.
(via Ben Brooks)
Tom Vanderbilt has an enjoyable piece in Wired about the convergence between Google’s famous driverless car, and the progress toward a similar goal being made by traditional automakers. He spends some time, as well, considering the legal wasteland that exists around these technologies. The crucial point though:
[As we ride, Google’s driver-less] Prius begins to seem like the Platonic ideal of a driver, against which all others fall short. It can think faster than any mortal driver. It can attend to more information, react more quickly to emergencies, and keep track of more complicated routes. It never panics. It never gets angry. It never even blinks. In short, it is better than human in just about every way.
(via The Browser)
We made a group of single-celled organism start cooperating in a lab. This was one of those things that people were struggling to prove, but now it’s been done. I thought I’d let you know.
I enjoy occasional dips into the field of Marxist cultural analysis, but I know it’s not for everyone. If you like it too, or are just interested to try some, this piece by Slavoj Žižek highlights many of the best things that those theories can contribute to out modern understanding of the world. A sample:
If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran and then reaped the profit, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don’t own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the new bourgeoisie gets wages, and even if they own part of their company, they earn stocks as part of their remuneration for their work (‘bonuses’ for their ‘success’).
(via The Browser)
This is a great wide-ranging piece about parking, urban design, and the appeal to visitors of those methods used in various southern California cities. But it’s better that that kind of dry sentence, I swear. It starts with an interesting anecdote about the rather famous Disney Hall:
Yet before an auditorium could be raised, a six-floor subterranean garage capable of holding 2,188 cars needed to be sunk below it at a cost of $110 million—money raised from county bonds. Parking spaces can be amazingly expensive to fabricate. In aboveground structures they cost as much as $40,000 apiece. Belowground, all that excavating and shoring may run a developer $140,000 per space. The debt on Disney Hall’s garage would have to be paid off for decades to come, and as it turned out, a minimum schedule of 128 annual shows would be enough to cover the bill. The figure “128” was even written into the L.A. Philharmonic’s lease.
A very interesting consideration of a topic I’d never given much thought:
My grandmother literally never worked outside the home a day in her life. But she would have been bewildered by the intensive parenting of today’s “stay at home Moms”. When my mother got home from school, my grandmother gave her a cookie and told her to go outside and play. She was not supposed to come back until dinner — rain or shine, sleet or snow.
(vía More of What I Like)
David Brooks does a thing most years I like: he saves a bunch of long magazine pieces and puts them together in a few columns. The ones four years ago were one of the reasons I started this site. The first part of this is the title link, the here’s the second. The few piece I’d not read before but did like:
The story of how Martin Luther’s ideas went from a small bulletin-board post at a university to a religion-changing, war-causing force.
Tetzel, the indulgence-seller, was one of the first to respond to him in print, firing back with his own collection of theses. Others embraced the new pamphlet format to weigh in on the merits of Luther’s arguments, both for and against, like argumentative bloggers. Sylvester Mazzolini defended the pope against Luther in his “Dialogue Against the Presumptuous Theses of Martin Luther”. He called Luther “a leper with a brain of brass and a nose of iron” and dismissed his arguments on the basis of papal infallibility.
Jay Rosen asked himself some questions (over a year ago) about an idea he’s trying to spread about the American journalistic style:
In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.”
The initial idea is good, but the fleshing-out is worth sticking around for.
(via Chairman Gruber)
I link to this disproportionately popular article mostly because I linked to “I, Pencil” recently and it’s essentially the same thing, only food based. (And in this case, rather than having an irrelevant plea for privatized mail service tacked on at the end, we get one about home-grown turkey.) But it remakes a point I think absolutely vital:
Anyone who tells you that life was better in the past is a dummy. Anyone who dreams of self-sufficiency a fool. We live in a magical time filled with uncountable objects no person would ever dream of making on their own. Everything about our lives is a minor miracle; we’re far more deeply connected than we even realize.
That felt good. Thanks for listening, internet.
I’m increasingly aware of how much I like random bits of non-conclusive pondering. It’s not that it’s better than a conclusion, it’s that it’s more interactive. In that spirit, I enjoyed Sam Anderson’s essay about reaction videos:
It’s no accident that all of this started on YouTube in 2007 — at a moment when, and in a place where, human experience was beginning very visibly to splinter. Watching thousands of people react identically to “2 Girls 1 Cup” (“Come on!” they invariably shout, and “Why!?”) feels like a comforting restoration of order and unity. Which means that the most disgusting and offensive video ever to go viral was ultimately, oddly, a force of togetherness.
An interesting piece that touches on both the systemic problems that plague Shakespeare scholarship, and one of the more reasonably and novel theories about Sharespeare: that he was deeply involved in the criminal world that almost certainly surrounded his theatre.
It also raises another potential argument for the “Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare” folks. Perhaps the man was a simple street tough who scared the plays’s true author off from claiming their work. Unlikely, but interesting to contemplate.
(via The Browser)
This isn’t the first piece I’ve linked to about how bad conventional running footwear advice is (examples one & two), but it’s the one that’s made me think most seriously about actually taking up running again (I was probably 13 the last time I gave it any serious consideration). Christopher McDougal’s effusive praise for this ball-running teaching technique — the 100-Up — makes me wonder if he may have actually cracked it. Half of the technique:
I snapped a twig and dropped the halves on the ground about eight inches apart to form targets for my landings. The 100-Up consists of two parts. For the “Minor,” you stand with both feet on the targets and your arms cocked in running position. “Now raise one knee to the height of the hip,” George writes, “bring the foot back and down again to its original position, touching the line lightly with the ball of the foot, and repeat with the other leg.”
There’s a video on the page as well if, like me, you found that description a bit hard to visualize.
I’m not sure whether to blame myself, or America’s Zionist or nothing relationship to Israel (non-Zionists only really care about Israeli-Palestinian relations, not Israel itself), but I learned a lot about modern Israeli society from this story about the summer housing protests there. (Like for example, the fact that there were widespread protests.)
You may or may not know anything about Cargill, but chance are good that you regularly ingest something they touch. Famously the largest private company in the world, and rather secretive too, they’re a favorite of conspiracy theorists. This story skips most of the scare mongering, but is a very worthy introduction to the company for the uninitiated. The most interesting part of the story (to me), begins here:
“As far as how our corporate strategy works,” says Conway, “we don’t say, ‘We think the world’s going to look like this, let’s define our strategy for that world.’ We say, ‘We don’t know what the world’s going to look like. We need a strategy or a set of strategies that can be successful almost irrespective of what the world looks like.’” Which helps explain how Cargill got into the cocoa business in Vietnam.
(via The Browser)