Archive for the ‘the atlantic’ tag
You really don’t know yourself until you know how other people see you. Whether or not that’s true, I really enjoyed this brief description of how travel books seek to explain my country to the world.
But maybe the topic that gets the most attention in these books is food, which they praise for its quality and variety (and portion size) in a tone of near-disbelief. As in any culture, the niceties of dining — especially at someone’s home — can get complicated. Here, from Wikitravel, is some sage advice on a ritual that even I did not realize was so complicated until I read this passage:
When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.
An interesting and brief little history of product placement. It’s one of those forces that we take for granted today, but this was a new observation to me:
“The Paradox of Product Placement,” in which the titular conundrum is defined: “If you notice, it’s bad. But if you don’t notice, it’s worthless.”
I feel like I either linked or read something about this idea before, but could find no record. In any case, Paul Romer’s idea is both appealing and problematic:
By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. … To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.
One of the most important and least understood industries in the world is the one that makes all those “natural and artificial flavors”; this decade old excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation gives a fantastic glimpse inside.
(via Justin Blanton; and yes, this URL is multiple kinds of wrong, but I like the story enough to deal with it)
Brian Christian tells the story of his battle to beat out computers and people to come out of a Turing Test as “most human.” Along the way he shares some interesting thoughts about what it means to be human. Highly recommended.
(via Andy Baio)
The essay’s over six years old, but I just read it:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If you shouted “ME!” to most of that paragraph, you’ll likely to love the piece. If you identify as an extrovert, you’re likely to find at least a few of Rauch’s paragraphs off-putting. But it’s unquestionably worth a read by everyone.
Also good, an interview with Rauch from 2006.
I’ve not read a book in a while and I’ve not missed it. But a good magazine article, those I have missed in their absense. This one, from 1991, is a good one. Take, for example, this excellent bit on weeks:
The week mocks the calendar and marches relentlessly and unbroken across time, paying no attention to the seasons. The British scholar F H. Colson, who in 1926 wrote a fascinating monograph on the subject, described the week as an “intruder.” It is an intruder that arrived relatively late. The week emerged as the final feature of what became the Western calendar sometime in the second or third century A.D., in ancient Rome. But it can be glimpsed in different guises—not always seven days long, and not always continuous—in many earlier civilizations.
And a bit about the psychology of weekends:
We have invented the weekend, but the dark cloud of old taboos still hangs over the holiday, and the combination of the secular with the holy leaves us uneasy. This tension only compounds the guilt that many of us continue to feel about not working, and leads to the nagging feeling that our free time should be used for some purpose higher than having fun. We want leisure, but we are afraid of it too.
(via Andrew Sullivan)
Steven Pinker has a brief and enjoyable essay, arguing essentially that, in the most recent Atlantic. The most interesting bit (profanity ahead!):
This progression explains why many speakers are unaware that sucker, sucks, bites, and blows originally referred to fellatio, or that a jerk was a masturbator. It explains why Close the fucking door, What the fuck?, Holy Fuck!, and Fuck you! violate all rules of English syntax and semantics—they presumably replaced Close the damned door, What in Hell?, Holy Mary!, and Damn you! when religious profanity lost its zing and new words had to be recruited to wake listeners up.
This stuff fascinates me. And the obligatory link to the Helvetica cover concept.
Barbara Wallraff — The Atlantic’s new language blogger — says that the singular they becoming standard is the best of four bad options.
Write “he” about a nonspecific person and you’re a sexist. Write “she” and you’re a flaming feminist. Write “he or she” and you’re a pedant. Write “they” and you’re an ignoramus.
For The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook will try to scare you about how astroids will kill us. The title links to the video (because I have “reader’s block”), but the text of the story is also online.
There are so many of them that we’re ignoring the road. So says John Staddon:
And I began to think that the American system of traffic control, with its many signs and stops, and with its specific rules tailored to every bend in the road, has had the unintended consequence of causing more accidents than it prevents. Paradoxically, almost every new sign put up in the U.S. probably makes drivers a little safer on the stretch of road it guards. But collectively, the forests of signs along American roadways, and the multitude of rules to look out for, are quite deadly.
Despite my ambivalence about that thesis, I do enjoy his railing against stop signs: “The four-way stop deserves special recognition as a masterpiece of counterproductive public-safety efforts.”
The Atlantic — even as they wait many weeks to get their currently-in-print magazine online — has put online their 1958 feature on Burma. It at least worth a quick glance. I thought this bit, from the section on naming, was interesting:
One or more of a Burmese child’s names is almost certain to show the day on which he was born—a survival from our belief that human destiny is linked with the stars. Certain letters of the alphabet are ascribed to each day, so that a “Thursday’s child” would have one name beginning with our P, B, or M.
(via James Fallows)
Jeffrey Goldberg got a blog at The Atlantic yesterday. His first post included a number of clever lines. Like:
Friends tell me that I will take naturally to blogging because I am in possession of many poorly considered opinions about issues I understand only marginally.
Sounds like a passable description of this blogger.
Ta-Nehisi Coates essay about Bill Cosby sometimes diverges too far into how the two men disagree, but on the whole is at least worth a look. An interesting passage:
The notion of the Great Fall, and the attendant theory that segregation gave rise to some “good things,” are the stock-in-trade of what Christopher Alan Bracey, a law professor at Washington University, calls (in his book, Saviors or Sellouts) the “organic” black conservative tradition: conservatives who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention, but whose black-nationalist leanings make them anathema to the Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh. When political strategists argue that the Republican Party is missing a huge chance to court the black community, they are thinking of this mostly male bloc—the old guy in the barbershop, the grizzled Pop Warner coach, the retired Vietnam vet, the drunk uncle at the family reunion. He votes Democratic, not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels—in fact, he knows—that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him. This is the audience that flocks to Cosby: culturally conservative black Americans who are convinced that integration, and to some extent the entire liberal dream, robbed them of their natural defenses.
James Fallows, who’s living in China, reposted these words from a recent story in The Atlantic. It’s probably as much cute as insightful, but I enjoyed it.
I think if more Americans came to China right now and saw how hard so many of its people are struggling just to survive, they too might ask: What are we thinking, in considering China an overall threat? Yes, its factories are formidable, and its weight in the world is huge. But this is still a big, poor, developing nation trying to solve the emergency of the moment. Susan Shirk, of the University of California at San Diego, recently published a very insightful book that calls China a “fragile superpower.” “When I discuss it in America,” she told me, “people always ask, ‘What do you mean, fragile?’” When she discusses it here in China, “they always ask, ‘What do you mean, superpower?’”
Ross Douthat tackles how and why modern Hollywood pictures look relatively similar to those of the Vietnam era.
This doesn’t mean that the current paranoid, doom-ridden mood in cinema and television was manufactured in Hollywood and foisted on an unwilling public. Up to a point, at least, Hollywood is meeting Americans where they are. Mistrust of government and disquiet about the country’s future have risen to Vietnam-era levels, and reviving ’70s-style paranoia and pessimism is a natural way for the culture industry to connect with a public coping, once again, with a military quagmire, rising oil prices, prophecies of ecological doom, and corruption in high places.
There’s a fascinating and — to me — counter-intuitive article in March’s The Atlantic. Christopher Leinberger makes this interesting contention:
For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.