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Rant of the Day

The answer to the question posed by the title of this piece is No. Full stop. You don’t have a duty to read anything. So feel free to ignore anyone who tries to guilt you into reading whichever “marginalized” group they pretend to speak for.

Read because you enjoy it. Or don’t. Whatever.

But honestly, if you’re sitting around keeping score on the gender or sexual orientation or melanin content of authors on someone else’s reading list, you might want to consider picking up a hobby or two—and leaving the rest of us the hell alone.

Freshman year in college, Christmas break…

I loved, loved, loved this movie when I first saw it at the old Orchard Tri Cinemas in Lewiston, Idaho.

I mean, take a look at this sweet trailer. Could you get any more 80s?

It’s a real shame you can’t stream one of the American Film Institute’s 400 movies nominated for the top “100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.” (Here’s a pretty good explainer as to why.)

Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Even in a world dominated by Netflix, Prime, Hulu, et al., you still need to own physical media if you want the good stuff.

Breaking News

Following up on Tuesday’s post, which included some tasty cicada recipes for the whole family, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration offers a word of caution.

Which raises some important questions: Are cicadas sky lobsters? Or are shrimp just…seabugs?

Summer’s Here

An interactive timeline of the history of ice, courtesy of the International Packaged Ice Association? Don’t mind if I do.

Of particular note is the entry from 1945:

Some in the industry recount a long-standing rumor that during World War I, while many husbands were off at war, wives became perhaps too friendly with the accommodating ice man. They say the tremendous success of the home refrigerator was spurred by returning service men anxious to replace the icebox, and thus the ice man who delivered it.

Now I understand the title of the Eugene O’Neill play—and the (blessedly brief) fascination with this dude:

Miscellany

Does an orchestra conductor matter? Consider the New York Philharmonic. After Bernstein left in 1973, writes Norman Lebrecht, “Pierre Boulez brought six years of modernist chic, followed by decades of torpor with Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Alan Gilbert and the incumbent Dutchman Jaap van Zweden (yes, who?). None of these baton wagglers grabbed the city by the love-handles the way Bernstein did, or tuned into its rhythms. Yet the Philharmonic plays on. It sounds more or less the same….”

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So this is a cool story. I’ve been in and around that area countless times—hiking, fishing, swimming—and had no idea. While we’re at it, National Geographic on our very own Channeled Scablands and the high school teacher who “dared to question the scientific dogma of his day.”

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Thomas Nagel on moral epistomology: “not the kind of epistemological question posed when we consider how to respond to a general scepticism about morality, or about value, but an epistemological question internal to moral thought.”

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Speaking of epistemic frameworks, here’s Tim Hsiao to remind you that your lived experiences aren’t special: “One cannot prove or disprove generalizations simply based on personal experiences. This is a pretty basic rule of statistical reasoning that seems to have been lost on many people who should know better.”

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Writing advice from the great Raymond Carver.

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Good to know: “The ‘humane’ way to kill cicadas is to place them in the freezer for a few hours. You then want to blanch them in boiling water for 5 minutes, cooking their insides solid and making sure any nasty bacteria they may be carrying are killed off.” But first, of course, “you want to make sure you get a cicada when it’s good and ripe.”

Stop! Grammar Time!

From today’s edition of the Spokesman-Review:

You’ll catch Drew Marquis on Saturday mornings at the Hood River farmers market patiently slicing brisket as a line snakes beyond his table. The Texas-style barbecue menu of Grasslands Barbecue—which also includes smoked turkey breast, sausages oozing with cheese and pulled pork—has been wowing locals since Marquis and his wife, Nicki, moved to the Columbia River Gorge area in February.

Now, a civilized style guide—like, say, Chicago, Garner’s, or Strunk & White—would call for the serial comma: “which also includes smoked turkey breast, sausages oozing with cheese, and pulled pork.” But because AP style rejects common sense, readers are led to believe that Drew Marquis, through some sort of culinary dark arts, has managed to create sausages oozing with both cheese and pulled pork.

That would indeed be amazing. And if it were true, I’d be on my way right now. But something tells me it’s not.

This, folks, is why I insist on the serial comma. There’s simply no reason not to use it. With it you have clarity; without it, confusion and—in this case, anyway—cruelly dashed hopes.

Pretty Sure This Is How Zombie Outbreaks Begin

I’m…I’m just gonna reproduce this paragraph in its entirety:

When Einstein died, in 1955, his brain was removed during an unsanctioned autopsy at a hospital in Princeton. Later, at the University of Pennsylvania, a pathologist named Thomas Stoltz Harvey sliced it up for research purposes but kept some of the slivers for himself. In 1988, Harvey—who’d since been stripped of his medical license—moved to Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, where he presented one of the slivers to local author William S. Burroughs, after whose death in 1997 it passed into the possession of…I’m going to stop now, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. Let’s just say that when I was in Lawrence, teaching at KU, this was a thing that still happened, a hazing that was also an homage: You scooped the bit of Einstein’s brain out of the jar and shook off the excess formaldehyde; then, you put some salt in the crook of your thumb and licked it, after which you took down a shot of cheap room-temperature tequila and sucked on the brain-bit until your mouth went numb—until the formaldehyde paralyzed your lips and tongue and you couldn’t be understood, you couldn’t even feel yourself trying to make language.

Here’s the article from which it was taken.

Quote of the Day

I dont think we can separate the art from the artist,” writes the inimitable Nick Cave, “nor should we need to.” More wisdom from “The Prince of Darkness”:

That bad people make good art is a cause for hope. To be human is to transgress, of that we can be sure, yet we all have the opportunity for redemption, to rise above the more lamentable parts of our nature, to do good in spite of ourselves, to make beauty from the unbeautiful, and to have the courage to present our better selves to the world.

While we’re at it, Cave’s latest album, Carnage, is crazy good.

Shots Fired

“Something is terribly wrong with architecture,” writes Nathan J. Robinson in Current Affairs. “Nearly everything being built is boring, joyless, and/or ugly, even though there is no reason it has to be.” Worse, he adds, is that architects themselves seem unable to see the problem. Indeed, they perpetuate it by continuing to hand out awards for “pretentious and bland” work.

Robinson’s take isn’t a popular one—amongst some people, anyway:

There are so many incredible possibilities for architecture, but the minimalist consensus has got it stuck in a rut, spinning its wheels, producing weird new shape after weird new shape, because people are afraid they’ll be called backward if they admit they like mosaics and gargoyles and friezes and stained glass and other cool stuff. I like pretty colors or I like old things makes you a child, an idiot, someone to be laughed at.

That’s no exaggeration. I’ve published many controversial opinions, but the most vitriol I get is…from architecture snobs who think it is wrong and bad to have a negative reaction to things they have deemed correct. It’s truly vicious. If you’re going to join those who publicly admit they don’t like contemporary architecture, you’re going to be called stupid and reactionary and completely missing the point.

Like everything else, it seems, architecture has been politicized.

“Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.”*

If you would have told me that today I would sit, mesmerized, for more than six and a half minutes watching a video of somebody building a LEGO machine for making domino runs, I would have thought you mad. And yet here we are.

I wish my mind worked like this. Hell, I wish my mind just…worked.

Speaking of human ingenuity, here’s a look at 120 years of electronic music. And here’s a photo essay about the construction of Golden Gate Bridge.

*Miguel de Unamuno, Essays and Soliloquies, 1925.

Evidence-Free Assertion of the Day

“Reading a book requires, by today’s dismal standards, an enormous investment of time and attention,” writes Austin Kleon, “and the writer either honors that investment or suffers the consequences.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

Reading a book requires exactly as much time and attention as it always has. And if you’re too busy to read—hint: you’re not, because nobody is—that’s your problem, not the writer’s.

Look, if you don’t want to read, fine. Like kimchi or Throbbing Gristle or a college education, it’s not for everyone. But that’s on you. Just admit you’re a narcissist and quit projecting on the rest of us.

Even more mystifying is the notion that reading is somehow an investment. This is the language of the self-improvement fetishists; those who read not because it’s enjoyable but because it’ll make them more efficient or more productive or more likely to win an argument.

And therein lies the problem. Reading used to be viewed as an end in itself; now it’s more likely to be seen as a means to an end—a transactional relationship between author and content consumer. Just as we’ve done with our phones and our playlists and our social media feeds, we somehow think that our reading experiences ought to likewise be customized and “curated.” Which means if we don’t like ’em, we just look for alternatives that conform to our expectations and flatter our sense of self-worth.

What a boring way to live.

Various and Sundry

Ben Dreyfuss just launched a newsletter called Good Faith, “where every Monday and Friday you can read new posts about how everyone is well-intentioned, stupid, and desperately in need of checking out from politics.” Amen.

Remember Vantablack? A team of Purdue University engineers has now created a paint so white it reflects up to 98.1 percent of sunlight.

Speaking of white, beat-deafness is actually a thing.

“Few questions divide the world of science from the world of metaphysics as dramatically as that of the origin of Egypt’s great pyramids,” writes Brian Dunning. On the one hand, he explains, there are Egyptologists, “an international army of academics and cross disciplinary scientists who have lived and worked at the site for centuries, who find that the pyramids were built by the ancient Egyptians….” On the other? Well…

John McWhorter has a new book out, from which an essay in the New York Times and a piece over at the Atlantic have been excerpted. Fascinating stuff.

I don’t believe in fate, but man, the Sarker family sure seems destined for a life of crime.

Perfection

Remember Prince’s guitar solo during the performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony? There’s a brand-new director’s cut on YouTube:

If there were any doubt as to the Purple One’s awesomeness, this—the shredding commences at the 3:29 mark—ought to put those dark thoughts to bed for good.

Have a Cab and a Smile

Behold! The unlikely story of Taylor California Cellars, “Coca-Cola’s forgotten foray into the wine industry.”

I was just a kid back then, but I remember the Judgment of Paris and, two years later, Wine Spectrum’s purchase of Monterey Vineyards, which was just 20 minutes down the road from where I lived. (Well…I remember the adults in my life talking about it, at least. It seemed like a pretty big deal at the time.)

Turns out it was a pretty big deal. According to NPR, California wasn’t the only beneficiary: “In the aftermath of the tasting, new vineyards bloomed around the U.S. (think Oregon, Washington and Virginia) and the world—from Argentina to Australia.”

But back to Taylor California Cellars:

What’s ironic is that Coke was actually naming names in their ad campaign, saying that, according to the experts, Taylor was better than [insert competitor here]—which is exactly how Pepsi had been grabbing market share from Coke since 1975.

And it worked—though apparently not well enough. In 1982, when the above commercial aired, Coke’s stock rose 49.63%. The next year, they got out of the wine business entirely, selling their Wine Spectrum portfolio to Joseph E. Seagram & Sons for a cool $200 million.

Makes me think it’s not just the 1976 Paris tasting we have to thank for the “blooming” of vineyards around the world. Coke’s involvement—short though it was—likely also had a huge effect in bringing wine to the masses.

Let’s Get Philosophical

This, from a Twitter user named Jared, apparently took the social media platform by storm a year ago—but because I’m perpetually behind on pretty much everything (Happy Valentine’s Day, honey!), it was new to me:

The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing. To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it. No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will fine you or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by returning the shopping cart. You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct. A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it. The Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society.

Truth. Simple as that.

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