Posts Tagged ‘blog: things you should check out’.

10 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here’s another roundup post of things I’ve read recently and found interesting! (Previous lists, all chock full of good readin’, are here, here, and here.)

The last time I posted a list like this, back in March, I promised that the next one would be “ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME.”

Now, if you’re like me, you vacillate between being grotesquely fascinated with our current political theater-fire and completely disgusted by the entire catastrophe. A lot of the articles I’ve saved in my own Instapaper queue over the intervening months have been related to Trump, or the Trump phenomenon, or an examination of some facet of the whole Trump thing…

A GOOD TIME TO NOTE: I was asked, and was pleased, to contribute to a little book called
The Ghastlytrump Tinies, spearheaded by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games. It’s an Edward Gorey parody book, printed in limited edition, which can be yours for either regular cash money or a donation to help defeat Trump at the polls:

ghastly indeed

AND SO. For this list in particular, I decided that articles expounding at length on The Trump Thing are pretty easy to find, and if you’re interested you’ve probably already read your fill. Here are a few good ones if you really would like more perspectives on Trump.

The list below is populated with articles I found interesting about politics, but by design, none of them are elaborate meditations on Trump per se. You’re welcome.

The Day We Discovered Our Parents Were Russian Spies (The Guardian)

Alex presumed there had been some mistake –- the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father’s consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake.

But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.

The Long Con (The Baffler)

Via the battery of promotional appeals that overran my email inbox, I mainlined a right-wing id that was invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value. […]

Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. […]

The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place –and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

This is how the CIA botched Iraq post-9/11: Bob Gates, careerist sycophancy, and the real history of the Deep State (Salon)

Two days later, after a decent interval, we say, “Mr. President, we have to tell you, with all respect to your blue-suited generals, the Ho Chi Minh trail doesn’t look anything like I-66 or I-95. You can’t see most of it from the air, with the [jungle] canopy and stuff, and besides it’s not one, it’s about 161 trails. No matter how many big bombs, you’re not going to be able to interdict the flow of men and supplies. And No. 2, we know Ho Chi Minh. Sam here literally took him into Hanoi after the war [World War II] on his shoulders. He’s a nationalist before he’s a communist. He’s not going to give up. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, No. 3, nobody ever gives up just on the bombing.”

So what’s the lesson from that? The lesson from that is, man, we did our job! But the president? Well, the president had other considerations. He didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. So he disregarded our advice and became the first president to lose a war. […]

From my perspective as an intelligence officer, undue weight is given to political considerations of a domestic variety. That’s why we didn’t end Vietnam when we should have. That’s why we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. Domestic considerations prevail. The system is such that that’s the way it should be. So what’s the answer? We have to elect presidents with integrity and with some kind of feel for who their advisers should be.

God and Country (MTV)

You probably haven’t heard of the Constitution Party. They have no seats in the House or the Senate, and probably never will. They don’t have any spokespeople telegenic enough for Fox News. They’ve only been around since 1991, and they’ve only been called the Constitution Party since 1999. (They were the Taxpayers’ Party before that.) Basically, it’s a party for conservatives who think Republicans are too secular. […]

Constitution Party candidates don’t win anything, and they don’t make a big show out of losing anything. I hadn’t heard of them, either, until about two weeks before the convention. And about all I knew walking in was that their current chairman is named Frank Fluckiger and their vice-chairman is named Randy Stufflebeam. These cannot be real names. These can only be rival magicians in a World War II–era English children’s novel.

Trump, the University of Chicago, and the Collapse of Public Language (The New Yorker)

…I couldn’t see where ideological disputes actually arose. Protesters painted themselves as grass-roots liberals, speaking up for poor, creative, or countercultural outsiders. The techies involved also considered themselves grass-roots liberals, creating apps to fight the Man, effect philanthropic efficacy, and support the same outsiders.

I stayed in the Bay Area awhile, interviewed forty or fifty people, watched protests, attended tech events and community meetings, and flew to New York City to tear out my hair. Writing long articles always involves muscle strain, but the parturition of this piece (which ran in the summer of 2014) was excruciating, because the material seemed to lack any conceptual edges. The ferment had been billed in the press as a “culture war.” And yet the two sides of the conflict — in terms of beliefs, ideological lineage, and language — were almost entirely the same.

I’m With The Banned (Welcome to the Scream Room)

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We met four years ago, before he was the self-styled “most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” when he was just another floppy-haired right-wing pundit and we were guests on opposing sides of a panel show whose topic I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Afterwards we got hammered in the green room and ran around the BBC talking about boys. It was fun.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I hate him and everything he stands for, the more he laughs and asks when we’re drinking. I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.

The Secret Justice System That Lets Executives Escape Their Crimes (BuzzFeed)

Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.

Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”

And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals.

This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world.

None Dare Call It Treason (The Nation)

The Court majority, after knowingly transforming the votes of 50 million Americans into nothing and throwing out all of the Florida undervotes (around 60,000), actually wrote that their ruling [in Bush v. Gore] was intended to preserve “the fundamental right” to vote. This elevates audacity to symphonic and operatic levels. The Court went on to say, after stealing the election from the American people, “None are more conscious of the vital limits on its judicial authority than are the members of this Court, and none stand more in admiration of the Constitution’s design to leave the selection of the President to the people.” Can you imagine that? As they say, “It’s enough to drive you to drink.” […]

Varying methods to cast and count votes have been going on in every state of the union for the past two centuries, and the Supreme Court has been as silent as a church mouse on the matter, never even hinting that there might be a right under the equal protection clause that was being violated. Georgetown University law professor David Cole said, “[The Court] created a new right out of whole cloth and made sure it ultimately protected only one person — George Bush.”

All right. Lots of those were kind of depressing.

We’ll end with this last one, which is no less honest about the political realities we face, but which, rather than leave me despondent and floundering in a whirlpool beyond my control or comprehension, left me reeling — but in a useful way, in a way that reordered my thinking on a lot of issues, in a similar way to Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind (discussed here).

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup (SlateStarCodex)

If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people…boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.

What is going on here?

Enjoy the reads!

Here Is The Little Mermaid ‘Kiss the Girl’ Minor Key Cover You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Here it is. (by Chase Holfelder)

Previously: Here Is The Soulful Acoustic Smash Mouth Cover You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Check out: The artwork of Dominic Wilcox

I really enjoyed this short film, The Reinvention of Normal, about the artist Dominic Wilcox.

Wilcox makes strange objects, such as a soccer ball that you can put fruit inside so it becomes a smoothie as you kick it around.

He makes a lot of things like that, and he describes in the film how making a lot of things quickly has helped him tap into his creative instincts in a clarifying way.

As a person who derives an immense amount of joy from puttering around in my own workshop, making a lot of stupid things that occasionally end up not always being stupid, I am quite drawn to this line of thinking.

“I enjoy the playfulness,” he says, over footage of a car he designed covered completely in stained glass. “and just doing things — even though they’re completely ridiculous sometimes. So what? Let’s do the ridiculous. And by doing the ridiculous, something else might come of it!”

Here’s another video, as well, of him giving a talk at a conference… The first seven minutes are the same video above, and then there’s another bit with him explaining and demonstrating some of the strangers things he’s made, like the stained-glass car, or a set of GPS-enabled bespoke-leather shoes.

“It’s always difficult to describe what I am,” he says in the talk. “I work between art, design, invention, technology, craft… Really, I’m just a person who’s trying to be as creative as I possibly can be.”

Check out: GeoGuessr, the Google Maps game

My newest obsession is GeoGuessr, a game that places you at a random point in the world (via Google Maps Street View) and makes you guess where you are.

let's do!!

You can navigate around as much as you like, looking for identifying clues (such as signs or landmarks) before making your guess. You can play specific maps (restricted to a country or even a city), or let it plop you down anywhere that Google has mapped. You can also play specific challenges created by other people.

This is basically the perfect game for me. I don’t really want to fight bosses or solve reflex-based challenges; I just want to wander around and explore and discover things. And the fact that you’re exploring the real, actual world is so much fun, for someone like me who’s into geography: you start looking at billboards and bus signs and pieces of trash on the side of the road as if they are clues placed for you in a video game, freighting it all with a larger meaning that’s barely outside your grasp, believing that you can unravel the puzzle with the clues you were meant to find.


There are a lot of roads in the world, so when set to random, I’ve found that GeoGuessr often lands me on some lonesome highway in the middle of nowhere. To me, that first moment feels just as quest-like as the start of any video game (except the NPCs are very unhelpful).


These are challenging rounds, to be sure. Yesterday I clicked through a windy, backwoods Australian road for ten or fifteen minutes before finding any sort of signage that I could read. It’s not fun, for most definitions of fun, but it was absolutely interesting.


You can navigate around in Street View, and you can also explore the world map in as much detail as you like. (But the game never shows you where you are, of course, and you can’t search on the map.)

Much of the time, I end up poring over the map in eye-watering close-up, scanning unknown regions for an Argentine or Turkish town name that matches one I’ve found in Street View.

It’s a game that you can always win, if you’re patient and nitpicky enough. I’m not, every time. But when I can figure it out, it’s extremely satisfying.

ahhhh, relaxing

No video game designed by a human (except maybe Desert Bus) would make you click through a Mexican desert for twenty minutes before you got to anything useful, or reward the player who’s able to look through a map of Brazil for the longest time.

But I accept it in GeoGuessr, because the game world is the real world. If I don’t know enough about the real world to identify a name, or a landmark, or a type of terrain quickly, then it becomes a chance to figure it out. I am pretty good at recognizing languages on signs, and yesterday I learned all about how the Japanese organize their highway numbering systems vs. how the French do it.

It’s not all desolate roads, of course. You often land in cities, or once, the game spawned me inside an enclosed Tunisian parking lot with no route back out to the main road. (I got a very poor score on that round.) The game navigation is limited to what Google has mapped, so some areas are poorly photographed, or the navigation is incomplete. That, I think, is all part of the fun.

That said, let’s be clear: clicking around through a map of France or Wales or Texas looking for a specific road number or town name — on a map that hides small towns and roads when you’re zoomed out — is tedious.

But doing so has the effect of showing me how big the world really is, which I think we sometimes forget. I love it for that.

Play GeoGuessr in your browser, for free.

Loads of people play GeoGuessr on YouTube, too.

11 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here is (what I believe is) another Extensive List Of Articles (Arguably) Well Worth Your Time!

When I read something interesting that I think you might like to see as well, I leave it open in my Instapaper queue. It’s been a while since I made a post like this, so now there’s a huge bramble-bush of links in there, growing and multiplying.

Below, find a few afternoons’ worth of reading for you, of a variety of things on a variety of topics. The only quality they share is that I found reading them worth the time it took to do so.

Oh, and I’ll also say, none of these articles are about presidential politics, I promise. I’ll save those for a whole separate list.

(Previous reading lists here and here.)

Your Letters Helped Challenger Shuttle Engineer Shed 30 Years Of Guilt (NPR) Note: this story has a version in audio format, as well. Listening is recommended, if you can.

When NPR reported Bob Ebeling’s story on the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, hundreds of listeners and readers expressed distress and sympathy in letters and emails…

“It’s going to blow up,” a distraught and defeated Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, when he arrived home that night.

And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died. Cold weather and an O-ring failure were blamed, and Ebeling carried three decades of guilt.

“That was one of the mistakes God made,” Ebeling, now 89, told me three weeks ago at his home in Brigham City, Utah. “He shouldn’t have picked me for that job. But next time I talk to him, I’m gonna ask him, ‘Why me? You picked a loser.’ ”

Jim Sides listened to the NPR story in his car in Jacksonville, N.C.

“When I heard he carried a burden of guilt for 30 years, it broke my heart,” Sides, an engineer, says. “And I just sat there in the car in the parking lot and cried.”

Stop Trying To Be Creative (FiveThirtyEight)

In one experiment a bipedal robot programmed to walk farther and farther actually ended up walking less far than one that simply was programmed to do something novel again and again, Stanley writes.

Falling on the ground and flailing your legs doesn’t look much like walking, but it’s a good way to learn to oscillate, and oscillation is the most effective motion for walking. If you lock your objectives strictly on walking, you won’t hit that oscillation stepping stone.

Stanley calls this the “objective paradox” — as soon as you create an objective, you ruin your ability to reach it.

She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’ (NY Times)

Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me; my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes. Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.

The author goes on to tell her that she is special in some way, that his passion is an unfamiliar feeling that she has awakened in him, the important suggestion being that she has brought this upon herself. He will speak of her as an object with “shiny hair” or “sparkling eyes” — testing the waters before commenting upon the more private parts of her body. Surprisingly, he often acknowledges that he is doing something inappropriate.

How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker)

Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless…

It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?…

The Turks simply did not think that their opponent would be mad enough to come at them from the desert. This was Lawrence’s great insight. David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.

Bang Bang Sanity (Stonekettle Station)

Laws against theft and murder don’t stop theft and murder, they give society legal options when theft and murder occur.

Saying new gun laws won’t end gun violence is a non sequitur. Of course gun laws won’t end gun violence.

Laws don’t stop crime, however, what well written laws do is to put responsibility where it belongs – on the criminal.

Well written laws are about pragmatism.

For example, we all know that laws against drinking and driving won’t stop drunk driving, but they weren’t intended to. We know it’s going to happen. People are going to drink and drive and kill themselves and each other. We know we can’t eliminate it completely. That’s the pragmatism part.

Instead, drunk driving laws were intended to do two things, 1) give us legal recourse as a society, 2) make us responsible for our antisocial behavior – which in turn leads over time to a change in culture…

We need gun laws that give society legal recourse by making each gun owner/user personally accountable for their own actions.

For Love and Honor: Hollis Frampton to Donald Richie (Letters of Note)

In December of 1972, Donald Richie, then film curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote to artist Hollis Frampton and suggested that they organise a retrospective of his work at this most prestigious of museums.

To an artist of any standing, this would be a tempting offer; however, Frampton took issue with one particular line in the proposal, a single detail of Richie’s which rendered the suggestion entirely unattractive: “It is all for love and honor and no money is included at all…”

Unwilling to work without financial reward, Frampton responded at length with a rousing letter, reprinted below in full, that has since become legendary in the art world for reasons which are plain to see.

Lawyering Is About Service, Not Self-Actualization (Popehat)

People traditionally recognized as being in need of social justice are also the people in most dire need of competent legal representation.

When they have a few days to contest an eviction or they’ve been arrested and may lose their job, they don’t need someone who is exquisitely prepared to explain and denounce the racist and oppressive structures that led to their unfortunate predicament.

They need someone who knows what he or she is doing. They need someone who knows all of the petty substantive and procedural rules of landlord-tenant law and how the local court actually operates.

They need someone who can swiftly assess whether an arrest or interrogation was unlawful and formulate a plausible and effective plan for dealing with it.

They need someone who knows how to get things into evidence in court even under pressure on their feet when the judge is being difficult and the opposing counsel is making nonsensical objections. They need a grubby little practitioner.

When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages (Toronto Star)

Before he crunched his numbers, the consensus among his fellow air force researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within the average range on most dimensions. After all, these pilots had already been pre-selected because they appeared to be average sized. (If you were, say, six foot seven, you would never have been recruited in the first place.) The scientists also expected that a sizable number of pilots would be within the average range on all 10 dimensions. But even Daniels was stunned when he tabulated the actual number.


Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. One pilot might have a longer-than-average arm length, but a shorter-than-average leg length. Another pilot might have a big chest but small hips. Even more astonishing, Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

My Wife and I Are (Both) Pregnant (New York Magazine)

Emily: Exactly three weeks after we found out I was pregnant Kate called me at work and was like, “Guess what?” I fell off my chair. I was sitting on the floor, alternating between laughing hysterically and hyperventilating and crying. It was so overwhelming.

Kate: We were like, “Oh my God, we just overshot this. We can’t live in a one-bedroom apartment with two babies!”…

Emily: I really loved being pregnant. It was very easy for me. I felt good, I was very happy. I didn’t have any issues at all besides the fact that my feet grew so much that I had no shoes. Everything has been very easy for me and nothing has been easy for her. I’ve really had to try to not feel bad about that because I don’t want to feel sorry for her. It’s not that I don’t have sympathy, of course I feel deeply for her, but I didn’t want that emotion to be a part of either of our pregnancies. And I didn’t want to not have a great pregnancy because I felt bad about it.

Kate: The pro and con of having your wife, another woman, go through pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood in tandem with you is that you can’t help but compare.

Star Wars Is a Postmodern Masterpiece (Slate)

Star Wars is a Western. Star Wars is a samurai movie. Star Wars is a space opera. Star Wars is a war film. Star Wars is a fairy tale.

A Jedi craves not such narrow interpretations. In fact, Star Wars­­­—the original 1977 film that started it all—is all these things. It’s a pastiche, as mashed-up and hyper-referential as any movie from Quentin Tarantino. It takes the blasters of Flash Gordon and puts them in the low-slung holsters of John Ford’s gunslingers. It takes Kurosawa’s samurai masters and sends them to Rick’s Café Américain from Casablanca. It takes the plot of The Hidden Fortress, pours it into Joseph Campbell’s mythological mold, and tops it all off with the climax from The Dam Busters. Blending the high with the low, all while wearing its influences on its sleeve, Star Wars is pretty much the epitome of a postmodernist film.

Best of Luck: A brief introduction to death (The Awl)

The last thing I remember before the cardioversion was the anesthesiologist saying, “This is only going to take a second, but you do not want to be awake to feel it.” When I came to, my heart was back to a normal rhythm and there was an electrode burn on my sternum about the size and shape of a deck of cards. It lingered for weeks, scabbing over and itching and reminding me of the time they powered me down.

Lots of stuff for you here! Some creativity, some inspiration, some death, some life.

Next roundup post, some time in the future: ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME. Go ahead and delete your bookmark now, I guess, or else pour yourself a fifth and have it ready.