Posts Tagged ‘blog: worth it’.

9 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here’s another short list of nonfiction articles I’ve read recently that I think are Well Worth Your Time. (Previous lists in this series.)

I read most articles using Instapaper, which is probably one of my top 5 most used apps. (Overcast, by the same guy, is also way up there.) I “Save later” whenever I see someone post an interesting link on Twitter or wherever, and then catch up with the reading before bed at night.

I am usually much farther behind in reading than I am excitedly saving!

And to be honest, it’s easy to drown in the talky-talky morass of endless discourse, especially in the category of news and current events.

So I do think you could NOT read any of these articles and still live a perfectly functional life… But I found these 9 pieces particularly interesting of late, and thought perhaps you might too. And only a couple of them relate to politics.

An update: I think the “Wondermark Q+A”  post will go up next week, so if you have any burning questions for me that you want to add to the list, get them in now!

How We Think About the Deficit is Mostly Wrong, Stephanie Kelton (NYT Op-Ed)

Suppose the government spends $100 into the economy but collects just $90 in taxes, leaving behind an extra $10 for someone to hold. That extra $10 gets recorded as a surplus on someone else’s books. That means that the government’s -$10 is always matched by +$10 in some other part of the economy. There is no mismatch and no problem with things adding up. Balance sheets must balance, after all. The government’s deficit is always mirrored by an equivalent surplus in another part of the economy.

The problem is that policy makers are looking at this picture with one eye shut. They see the budget deficit, but they’re missing the matching surplus on the other side. And since many Americans are missing it, too, they end up applauding efforts to balance the budget, even though it would mean erasing the surplus in the private sector.

Meet the Font Detectives who Ferret Out Fakery, Glenn Fleishman (Wired)

When Nawaz Sharif and his family came under scrutiny earlier this year thanks to revelations in the Panama Papers, the smoking gun in the case was a font. The prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Sharif, provided an exculpatory document that had been typeset in Calibri—a Microsoft font that was only released for general distribution nearly a year after the document had allegedly been signed and dated.

A “Fontgate” raged. While Sharif’s supporters waged a Wikipedia war over the Calibri entry, type designer Thomas Phinney quietly dropped some history lessons about the typeface on Quora, and found himself caught in a maelstrom of global reporting. Phinney said that because Calibri has been in use for several years, people have forgotten that it’s a relatively new font. This has made Calibri a hot topic in document forgery as fakers fail to realize that this default Microsoft Word typeface will give itself away.

How Liberals Fell in Love With The West Wing, Luke Savage (Current Affairs)

What is the actual ideology of The West Wing? Just like the real American liberalism it represents, the show proved to be something of a political weather vane throughout its seven seasons on the air…

Insofar as there is an identifiable ideology, it isn’t one definitively wedded to a particular program of reform, but instead to a particular aesthetic of political institutions. The business of leveraging democracy for any specific purpose comes second to how its institutional liturgy and processes look and, more importantly, how they make us feel—virtue being attached more to posture and affect than to any particular goal. Echoing Sorkin’s 1995 film The American President (in many ways the progenitor of The West Wing) it delights in invoking “seriousness” and the supposedly hard-headed pragmatism of grownups.

Never Write a Novel With an En-dash in the Title, Nicole Dieker (The Awl)

Never write a novel with an en-dash in the title. You’ll finally learn the alt code, after months of searching “en-dash” in another tab and copying the result every time you type your own novel’s name, but the real issue is that you’re going to be filling out a lot of forms, on Kirkus and Indiebound and Amazon, and half the forms will automatically convert your en-dash into a hyphen, and you’ll wonder if everyone who reads your title on one of those websites with one of those forms will assume you don’t know how to appropriately punctuate a date range.

You probably shouldn’t have a title with two sets of colons, either. You hadn’t planned to have to type The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 into all of those forms, because you always visualized it the way it would look on your novel’s cover. Only one colon, and a hard return. (Some of the forms let you submit the post-hard-return half of your title as a subtitle, and you wonder if splitting the title in some instances but not others will mess up your SEO.)

My Lousy Children Are Both Fake Geeks, Robert Jackson Bennett (Tor.com)

We all know that there is really only one reason we have kids. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole “walking bag of donateable organs and blood” part. But the real reason one has children, the true reason, is so that you can fill up their bizarre little brains with your own pet affections, vigilantly programming them to love the things you love, and also to love you, I guess. It’s like having a parrot, but instead of teaching them to say the things you want, it’s to have the emotional bonds to the pop culture that you want.

Friends, I am going to straight up say this right here—I have miserably failed in my efforts to indoctrinate my children with the appropriate pop culture references. Well, I say that have failed, but I feel like at least 70% of the burden of failure rests on my two very bad garbage sons, who have both proven to be just dogshit at liking the right things.

‘London Bridge is Down’: The Secret Plan for the Days After the Queen’s Death, Sam Knight (The Guardian)

For a time, she will be gone without our knowing it. The information will travel like the compressional wave ahead of an earthquake, detectable only by special equipment. Governors general, ambassadors and prime ministers will learn first. Cupboards will be opened in search of black armbands, three-and-a-quarter inches wide, to be worn on the left arm.

The rest of us will find out more quickly than before. On 6 February 1952, George VI was found by his valet at Sandringham at 7.30am. The BBC did not broadcast the news until 11.15am, almost four hours later. When Princess Diana died at 4am local time at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris on 31 August 1997, journalists accompanying the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, on a visit to the Philippines knew within 15 minutes. For many years the BBC was told about royal deaths first, but its monopoly on broadcasting to the empire has gone now. When the Queen dies, the announcement will go out as a newsflash to the Press Association and the rest of the world’s media simultaneously. At the same instant, a footman in mourning clothes will emerge from a door at Buckingham Palace, cross the dull pink gravel and pin a black-edged notice to the gates.

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Ursula K. Leguin

Many theorizers feel that the earliest cultural inventions must have been a container to hold gathered products and some kind of sling or net carrier…

Before — once you think about it, surely long before — the weapon, a late, luxurious, superfluous tool; long before the useful knife and ax; right along with the indispensable whacker, grinder, and digger — for what’s the use of digging up a lot of potatoes if you have nothing to lug ones you can’t eat home in — with or before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that brings energy home. It makes sense to me. I am an adherent of what Fisher calls the Carrier Bag Theory of human evolution.

This theory not only explains large areas of theoretical obscurity and avoids large areas of theoretical nonsense (inhabited largely by tigers, foxes, other highly territorial mammals); it also grounds me, personally, in human culture in a way I never felt grounded before. So long as culture was explained as originating from and elaborating upon the use of long, hard objects for sticking, bashing, and killing, I never thought that I had, or wanted, any particular share in it. (“What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization,” Lillian Smith observed.)

The Gun Industry’s Lucrative Relationship With Hollywood, Gary Baum & Scott Johnson (Hollywood Reporter)

A class of artisans sit at the crossroads where the gun meets Hollywood. They’re called armorers, and they have one foot firmly planted in each world. “Until they stop making films and outlaw weapons altogether, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” says Gregg Bilson Jr., president of the American Entertainment Armorers Association and head of the Independent Studio Services, one of Hollywood’s biggest prop houses…

And then there’s the Gatling’s descendent, the sixbarreled M134 Minigun, which fires 6,000 rounds a minute and initially was brought to market by General Electric as a helicopter-mounted weapon during the Vietnam War. Larry Zanoff — who periodically is called upon by law enforcement agencies and military branches to teach trainees about weaponry they might encounter in action — observes that more blanked shots likely were discharged in the service of filming 2001’s Black Hawk Down than there were real ones in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu incident that inspired it.

Every Story I Have Read About Trump Supporters in the Past Week, Alexandra Petri (Washington Post Op-Ed)

In the shadow of the old flag factory, Craig Slabornik sits whittling away on a rusty nail, his only hobby since the plant shut down. He is an American like millions of Americans, and he has no regrets about pulling the lever for Donald Trump in November — twice, in fact, which Craig says is just more evidence of the voter fraud plaguing the country. Craig is a contradiction, but he does not know it.

Each morning he arrives at the Blue Plate Diner and tries to make sense of it all. The regulars are already there. Lydia Borkle lives in an old shoe in the tiny town of Tempe Work Only, Ariz., where the factory has just rusted away into a pile of gears and dust…

In the corner, under a picture of George Washington that is cracked and broken and stained with tobacco juice, lies Herm Slabornik. Herm is encased in a cryogenic tube which will be unplugged if Trump gets his way. According to a note on his cryotube, he knows what Trump said about unplugging tubes but he does not think Trump would unplug him personally. He will vote for Trump again in 2020, provided he is not unplugged. Also, he hates Obamacare.

(Previous lists in this series.)

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!

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.

Zero.

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.

15 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Today’s comic was informed by an article I read, about one person’s experience with OCD, which I thought was very compelling. (Link just below.) So I think it’s time for another Extensive List Of Articles (Arguably) Well Worth Your Time! (Previously.)

Toss the links into your Instapaper or whatever! But do note: The McSweeney’s piece on grammar and the BBC piece on teeth have a ton of images that make them best read on their actual sites.

7 things I wish people understood about OCD (Vox)

The common media portrayal of people living with OCD is that they need to clean everything or have rituals — checking a door lock or light switch, for example — that they must repeat on a regular basis. This misses what OCD is actually about: it’s not about the rituals themselves, but what makes the rituals feel necessary.

Before I go to bed or leave the house, I have to check all the knobs on the stove to make sure they’re turned off. I have to touch every knob on the stove to make sure it’s not in the wrong position. This is something I have to do. If I leave the house without checking those knobs, whatever I’m setting out to do will be ruined, overwhelmed by anxiety and dread.

I don’t do this because I enjoy checking the stove or because the mere act of checking the stove gives me relief. I do this because I know that if I don’t check the stove, the house will catch on fire and the person and things I care most about will go down in flames — and it will all be my fault.

An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar. (McSweeney’s)

From time to time, writers may well find illustrative value in the lightest of phrases, sentences so weightless and feathery that they scarcely even seem to exist at all. These can convey details well beyond the crude thrust of the hulking active voice, and when used strictly as ornamentation, they needn’t actually convey anything at all.

As a thought experiment, let’s examine in extremely close detail a set of iterative changes that can be made to a single simple grammatical structure, turning it from a statement taken at face value into one loaded with unrealized implication…

The Most Misread Poem In America (The Paris Review)

[Robert] Frost once claimed his goal as a poet was “to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of ”; with “The Road Not Taken,” he appears to have lodged his lines in granite. On a word-for-word basis, it may be the most popular piece of literature ever written by an American.

And almost everyone gets it wrong…It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The dentures made from the teeth of dead soldiers at Waterloo (BBC)

In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries “everyone was dabbling in dentistry”, says Rachel Bairsto, curator of British Dental Association’s museum in central London. From ivory turners to jewellers, chemists, wigmakers and even blacksmiths.

Among the wealthy, sugar consumption was on the rise and early attempts at teeth-whitening — with acidic solutions — wore away enamel… And so human teeth, set in a denture, were more desirable. But the number of live donors was finite, and grave robbers could offer only limited supplies.

The prospect of thousands of British, French and Prussian teeth — sitting in the mouths of recently-killed soldiers on the battlefield at Waterloo — was an attractive one for looters.

PC Comedy and Paul Revere (Medium) Contains a discussion of sexual violence and animal cruelty.

The “PC in comedy” debate has been going on for a long time now, and there’s a tendency — on both sides — to let “the ideas are bad” become “the people with the ideas are bad.” In some cases, it’s true. Some people really do harass, abuse, or seek to harm people in the name of being “funny.” Or, potentially, in the name of being “right.” But I think this conflation of person and idea undercuts the debate, or at least limits its potential…

So you call them garbage, and they call you garbage, and since the only possible response to “you’re garbage” is “nuh-uh,” it just becomes a chorus of people on every side of the issue saying “I’m not garbage” over and over and over.

“Picture yourself as a stereotypical male” (MIT Admissions)

I’m guessing that you’re familiar with common notions that men are spatial and logical thinkers, while females are more verbally proficient. A man being tested for spatial ability might assume that he’s going to have an easier time than a woman of otherwise equal intelligence, his conclusion based not on sexism but on objective science. And statistically speaking, he’s right…

Soon after participants described themselves with either the male- or female-associated traits, they were asked to take a mental rotation test presented as independent of the first part of the study, supposedly to measure their personal spatial aptitude…As it turns out, there is zero statistically significant gender difference in mental rotation ability after test-takers are asked to imagine themselves as stereotypical men for a few minutes. None.

Why the Rich Love Burning Man (Jacobin)

Burning Man is earning a reputation as a “networking event” among Silicon Valley techies, and tech magazines now send reporters to cover it. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Alphabet are foaming fans, along with conservative anti-tax icon Grover Norquist and many writers of the libertarian (and Koch-funded) Reason magazine. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even went so far as to claim that Burning Man “is Silicon Valley.”

…In a just, democratic society, everyone has equal voice. At Burning Man everyone is invited to participate, but the people who have the most money decide what kind of society Burning Man will be — they commission artists of their choice and build to their own whims. They also determine how generous they are feeling, and whether to withhold money.

My Letter From Oliver Sacks (The Morning News)

In November 2002, Oliver Sacks wrote me a letter.

Dr. Sacks did not write to me out of the blue. It was a reply to a letter I had written him. I had a specific question about neurology and vision and I couldn’t find the answer myself. I realized that if anyone knew the answer, he would. So I asked and he answered.

A Short Lesson in Perspective (Linds Redding)

Many years ago, when I first started to work in the advertising industry, we used to have this thing called The Overnight Test. It worked like this: My creative partner Laurence and I would spend the day covering A2 sheets torn from layout pads with ideas for whatever project we were currently engaged upon –- an ad for a new gas oven, tennis racket or whatever. Scribbled headlines. Bad puns. Stick-men drawings crudely rendered in fat black Magic Marker. It was a kind of brain dump I suppose.

…It’s remarkable how something that seems either arse-breakingly funny, or cosmically profound in the white heat of its inception, can mean absolutely nothing in the cold light of morning.

Your Brain Is Primed To Reach False Conclusions (FiveThirtyEight)

Psychologists have a name for the cognitive bias that makes us prone to assigning a causal relationship to two events simply because they happened one after the other: the “illusion of causality.”

…This finding might seem like nothing more than an interesting psychological quirk if it didn’t make us so vulnerable to quackery. Many so-called “alternative” remedies exploit the illusion of causality, Matute said, by targeting conditions that naturally have high rates of spontaneous recovery, such as headaches, back pain and colds. Quack cures remain popular in part because they bestow a sense of empowerment on people who are feeling miserable, by giving them something to do while they wait for their problem to run its course.

When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle’s Masterpiece (The Public Domain Review)

John Cannon, a teenaged agricultural laborer, bought a book called Aristotle’s Masterpiece for a shilling in 1700…

It is, however, one of the best-selling books ever produced in English on sex and making babies. First published in London in 1684, it went through hundreds of editions in England and America. It was still for sale, largely unchanged, into the 1930s and beyond. References to the work pop up in the historical record like some kind of Zelig figure, often on the margins of unexpected moments.

The Late, Great Stephen Colbert (GQ) — I don’t know why this was given such a negative title, by the way.

When I raised the idea that he was one of the country’s few public moral intellectuals, and that there were plenty of people out there wondering how that role might express itself in the new show, he said, “I have a morality. I don’t know if it’s the best morality. And I do like thinking. If people perceive that as a moral intellectualism, that’s fine. That’s up to them to decide. A friend of mine once said, ‘If someone says you’re influencing them, then you’re influential. It’s not up for you to say. You can’t take that away from them.’ But it’s entirely not my intention. This I promise you. Because that’s a short road to being a comedian in all seriousness. ‘As a comedian, in all seriousness, let me not entertain you.’ ”

Slow Poison: Even if the police don’t kill me, a lifetime of preparing for them to just might. (Pacific Standard)

If stopped by the police, I thought to myself, I would set my phone to record audio and put it on the passenger seat. I would send a tweet that I was being stopped and had every intention of complying with the police officer. I would turn on Periscope and livestream the stop, crowdsourcing witnesses. I would text my family and tell them that I was not feeling angry or suicidal, that I was looking forward to seeing them soon. There would not be time to do all of these things, but maybe if I prepared in advance I could pull off one or two of them. What all of these plans had in common were that none of them were meant to secure my safety, but rather to ensure that my death looked suspicious enough to question.

I was figuring out how to enter evidence into the inquiry of my own death.

How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy (Bloomberg View)

Contrary to what critics imagine, most Americans in fact go to college for what they believe to be “skill-based education.”

A quarter of them study business, by far the most popular field, and 16 percent major in one of the so-called Stem (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Throw in economics, and you have nearly half of all graduates studying the only subjects such contemptuous pundits recognize as respectable.

The rest, however, aren’t sitting around discussing Aristotle and Foucault.

Solitude and Leadership: If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts (The American Scholar)

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things — the leaders — are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops…

That’s the first half of the lecture: the idea that true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions. But how do you learn to do that? How do you learn to think?

…I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea.

Okay everyone, read up, and then make yourself a quiz, and then quiz yourself! If you did well, YOU PASS THE CLASS.

12 Articles Well Worth Your Time

FIRSTLY: Hey Los Angeles! I’m performing improv with my team The Audience, tonight (Friday the 12th) at the Gangbusters show in Hollywood! Then, on Monday night in Santa Monica!

SECONDLY AND MOSTLY: Here’s some articles I’ve read recently that I think you might find interesting or thought-provoking! These are all things that I’ve read and NOT REGRETTED READING, which I feel is as good a standard for recommendation as any.

I dumped ’em into my Instapaper to read in bed on my iPad, I recommend you do the same or something equivalent. Or whatever, it’s a free country!…OR IS IT? Read these articles, and see!

The Mary Sue Interview: Kate Beaton On Step Aside, Pops, Her Fantastically Feminist Follow-Up To Hark! A Vagrant

I want to make a comic about [Ida B. Wells] but I don’t, because I respect her so much, and there’s nothing funny about a lot that she went through and fought against. Nothing at all. I’m thinking, “I can’t make some stupid poop comic about this woman!” That would be out of line for the respect I have for her. But more time passes, and I start to look at my work, and I’m thinking that if you leave out these people whose lives were hard and who were overlooked in history, and instead you just go for the easy targets, you’re just making comics about dead white presidents and leaving stories like Ida’s out yet again. It’s not like my comics are some kind of cultural masterpiece, they’re just dinky comics, but you know what I mean? So I made comics about Ida, and they are in the book, and I hope I did a good job, because I wanted to celebrate her.

Cached Thoughts – Less Wrong

If you did need to write realtime programs for a hundred billion 100Hz processors, one trick you’d use as heavily as possible is caching. That’s when you store the results of previous operations and look them up next time, instead of recomputing them from scratch. And it’s a very neural idiom—recognition, association, completing the pattern.

It’s a good guess that the actual majority of human cognition consists of cache lookups…

In modern civilization particularly, no one can think fast enough to think their own thoughts. If I’d been abandoned in the woods as an infant, raised by wolves or silent robots, I would scarcely be recognizable as human. No one can think fast enough to recapitulate the wisdom of a hunter-gatherer tribe in one lifetime, starting from scratch. As for the wisdom of a literate civilization, forget it.

But the flip side of this is that I continually see people who aspire to critical thinking, repeating back cached thoughts which were not invented by critical thinkers…

Is Coding the New Literacy?

Much like cooking, computational thinking begins with a feat of imagination, the ability to envision how digitized information—ticket sales, customer addresses, the temperature in your fridge, the sequence of events to start a car engine, anything that can be sorted, counted, or tracked—could be combined and changed into something new by applying various computational techniques. From there, it’s all about “decomposing” big tasks into a logical series of smaller steps, just like a recipe.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

The Art of Richard Thompson book excerpt: Thompson and Bill Watterson talk comics

BILL WATTERSON: When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts, so I wanted to be the next Charles Schulz. I didn’t understand what that meant of course, but it seemed like a plan. You came to your comic strip from a different path, however.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Yeah. Off in my own little world of being a pretend cartoonist. Without a plan.

Four Myths About Creativity

Some people think that a solution must be new and different in order to be creative. How superficial. Being new and different is not the necessary ingredient. Solving the problem is what is necessary. (By definition, “new and different” has already been done.) So don’t worry about it.

Rebellion for its own sake isn’t edgy or groundbreaking; it’s tired and hackneyed, and no more original or creative than the adolescent hormones that produce those feelings. Breaking rules is not the hallmark of creativity, solving problems is.

Forgotten Failures of African Exploration

The exploration of Africa by the British is a story that has been told time and again, often in tiresome detail. We have shelves full of biographies of famous explorers like David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, along with countless other books on the subject. These tales of adventure invariably end in the hero’s triumphant return to “civilization” or brave death in “darkest Africa”. Such stories were popular with the Victorian public, and they remain popular today. Yet some major African expeditions have never received much attention. These were expeditions that ended in ignominious failure. Because they undermine the triumphalist narrative of the European encounter with Africa, they have been all but erased from historical memory. For this reason alone, they deserve revisiting. They also happen to tell us a lot about what the British hoped to achieve in Africa, and why it proved such a challenge.

All in All, Another Brick in the Motte

The motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

When Women Wanted Sex Much More than Men (And How the Stereotype Flipped)

…Women were considered to be temptresses who inherited their treachery from Eve. Their sexual passion was seen as a sign of their inferior morality, reason and intellect, and justified tight control by husbands and fathers. Men, who were not so consumed with lust and who had superior abilities of self-control, were the gender more naturally suited to holding positions of power and influence…

By positioning themselves as naturally chaste and virtuous, Protestant women could make the case for themselves as worthy moral and intellectual equals. They could carve out a space for themselves to participate in political life as social reformers advocating for moral causes like charity for the poor and prohibition.

The Galaxy-Sized Video Game

…Planets in the universe will be the size of real planets, and they will be separated from one another by light-years of digital space. A small fraction of them will support complex life. Because the designers are building their universe by establishing its laws of nature, rather than by hand-crafting its details, much about it remains unknown, even to them. They are scheduled to finish at the end of this year; at that time, they will invite millions of people to explore their creation, as a video game, packaged under the title No Man’s Sky.

Finally, to wrap up and for extra credit, the essay that everyone should read carefully once a year: Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.

Happy reading! THAT SHOULD KEEP YOU BUSY A WHILE