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 I 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.)