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Couple of heavy reads for y’all today.

Over at Cabinet magazine, Justin E. H. Smith takes stock of his soul: “My dad,” he writes, “was a computer guy, my mom was a rural family-law attorney, known to accept chickens and goats from destitute clients in lieu of legal tender; I am a philosopher. And we’ve all spent our lives, with varying degrees of success, chasing after that sweet, sweet cash.”

And Agnes Callard continues her series of columns on public philosophy at The Point with a look at thoughts and prayers: “I refuse to beg God. As I see it, God already knows what I want, and doesn’t need my advice on how to run the universe.”

If that’s a all bit much, you may find Jessica Riskin’s The Defecating Duck, or, the Ambiguous Origins of Artificial Life an amusing read—particularly if you’re familiar with your Voltaire. “Without the shitting duck,” he wrote, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “there would be nothing to remind us of the glory of France.”

And speaking of such things, does anyone—anywhere—need to be told this? Really?

Finally, a new music recommendation: We’re New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

“No matter where I’ve worked,” writes Molly Young in perhaps the greatest takedown of corporate-speak I’ve ever read, “it has always been obvious that if everyone agreed to use language in the way that it is normally used, which is to communicate, the workday would be two hours shorter.”

Only she prefers the term garbage language to corporate-speak or jargon or buzzwords, “because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.”

It really is a devastating piece, and you really ought to read the entire thing. Especially for the closing statement.

Quote of the Day

Words of wisdom from the great James Hubert “Eubie” Blake:

“Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind—listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.”


Yay! Technology!

“High-rez music streaming is one of the finest developments in the history of hi-fi,” writes Jim Austin over at Stereophile. There are no serious downsides, he adds. So embrace it:

If you care about musician incomes, the best thing you can do is subscribe to a music streaming service, or more than one, and listen. The logic is air-tight: Streaming is taking over music distribution—whether we want it to or not—and the more money streaming services make, the more money musicians make from streaming.

Now I know it’s not technically high-rez, but one thing I’ve experienced since subscribing to Apple Music is the joy of a month’s worth of nearly unfettered discovery for the cost of a single album. And yet I still buy physical copies of the stuff I really dig. So there are benefits even with the lower-quality services.

Case in point: A friend recently introduced me to the Danish band Heilung. Thirty seconds later, I’d downloaded all three of their albums and started listening. This would have taken months back in the days when I was swapping cassette tapes through the mail.

Like I said a couple of days ago, we truly live in the best of times.

Social Media for the Win

There is a Twitter account called Wiki Titles Singable to TMNT Themesong. It is, as its name suggests, a bot that chronicles—hourly, mind you—the titles of wiki articles that can be sung to the theme song from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To wit: “Sisters of the Infant Jesus,” “Microsoft Solutions Framework,” “Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects,” et al. As of this writing, the account has nearly 50,000 followers.

We truly live in the best of times.

What to Watch

By my count, it’s been eighteen days since we last posted anything new around here. You’d think that that would prompt some inquiries into our well-being, but it would appear that nobody noticed.


Blade Runner: The Final Cut is currently streaming on Netflix. Now, I yield to no one in my love for the original theatrical release, which I first saw as a callow youth back in 1982. The difference? I found the The Final Cut, which came out in 2007, to be far more sci-fi and less noir. It’s also director Ridley Scott’s preferred version – the one that more closely hews to his vision. (There are a lot of versions, too, so this is very important.)

Thirty-eight years later, it still holds up. And it’s still one of my all-time favorite movies.

The New Puritans

In light if this steaming pile of stupidity—in which one of the “concerns” raised against American Dirt is that the “controversial” book, which is apparently about Mexican migrants, was written by a white American (gasp!)—I think it’s important for all you pearl-clutchers out there to read this timely essay by George Packer.

Oh. Wait. That would require y’all to embrace complexity rather than simply “bask in the warmth of a blinding glow” of your own moral certainty. Or, you know, to actually read the book before sanctimoniously denouncing it.

Never mind.

Frequently Asked Questions about Your Craniotomy

“If you’re reading this page,” writes Mary South, “chances are you’ve recently heard that you need to have a craniotomy. Try not to worry. Although, yes, this is brain surgery, you’re more likely to die from the underlying condition itself, such as a malignant tumour or subdural hematoma. Think of it this way: insomuch as being alive is safe, which it is not, having a craniotomy is safe.”

Go Phil Go!

Remember when President Jimmy Carter led a multi-nation boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics when the Soviets refused to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan?

Sure, the boycott itself was ultimately a failure—and the commies ended up boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles games in retaliation anyway—but at least there were principles behind the president’s action. Nowadays, you can’t swing a cat without hitting some smug, self-righteous twit calling for a boycott for anything from holding an untenable political position to thinking Bad Thoughts™.

So naturally I was pleased to hear that Philip Pullman is bringing some respectability back to boycotting. If there’s one thing all literate people can agree on, it’s that the Oxford comma is good and noble, and should be preserved at all costs.

Down with the Brexit 50p coin!

“Inexpensive, widely available, and completely familiar.”

When I was a kid, my over-educated nerd of a stepfather grew orchids for fun. The greenhouse in the back yard was where he propagated ’em; the house, where there was at least one in every room, was where they were displayed. My favorite was a brilliant pink cattleya kept on the back of the toilet in the master bathroom—too rare, I was told, to risk placing in the living room, where either my sister or I was sure to knock it over.

This was back in the 1970s, mind you, when such an activity was still considered, at best, eccentric—if not outright weird. I was probably the only kid in school who could tell the difference between a phalaenopsis and an epidendrum, but couldn’t tell you who won the World Series that year.


I was thinking about this the other night when the missus and I were at Trader Joe’s. There were scores of orchids lining the windows, all in bloom, all beautiful, and all for sale—cheap. And I got to wondering, What’s happened in the last 45-odd years that’s turned what used to be an expensive hobby for amateur botanists into something that you can actually afford to toss aside when it’s done blooming?

As usual, Atlas Obscura has the answer.

Monday Miscellany

A word of warning: Unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, don’t—really, just don’t—visit The Dick Cavett Show‘s YouTube channel.

From the we-all-make-mistakes file—specifically, page 97 of Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest: “And if [Wu-Tang Clan’s Rza] viewed the main function of the sample as something to be manipulated, it almost didn’t matter what it’s original form was.”

Agnes Callard on the philosophy of small talk.

Still here? Dick Cavett too pedestrian for you? Try Firing Line, then.

Another stellar Guardian Long Read: “What links an eccentric Oxford classics don, billionaire US evangelicals, and a tiny, missing fragment of an ancient manuscript? Charlotte Higgins unravels a multimillion-dollar riddle.”

Vindication Is Mine

Pssst: Like multitasking, unicorns, and Donald Trump’s self-made real estate empire, brainstorming is a myth.

I know, it doesn’t fit the stereotype of creative spaces “filled with fidget toys and Post-it notes in an array of colors, all meant to absorb some of the energy of a group of fast-thinking, well-dressed hipsters deep in ideation mode.” (Confession: I’m neither fast-thinking nor well-dressed, I’m too old to be a hipster, and if anyone uttered the word “ideation” within twenty feet of me, fisticuffs would ensue.)

The big news here is that “a survey of 20,000 creatives from 197 countries suggests that, in fact, a majority [emphasis mine] of these professionals—including writers, musicians, photographers, and podcasters—find that brainstorming is largely unhelpful for solving a creative challenge.”

I always just assumed I was alone in my dislike of the practice. While I prefer to work through problems on my own—preferably on a walk, where I’m free from office distractions—I’ve known more than a few designers and writers and suchlike who rely on that collaborative give-and-take to fully flesh out their ideas.

Nice to know I’m not a weirdo.

Mere Wordnerdery

Wilfred M. McClay is my spirit animal:

Like a lover of endangered species, the lover of endangered words jumps for joy when he sees a word being rescued, and is grateful when a writer restores to currency a semantic possibility that had fallen into desuetude. It is as if a lovely antique table has been rediscovered after many years of gathering dust up in the attic, and when brought downstairs and cleaned up and polished, imparts a splendor and unbought grace to the room that no shiny new object could possibly match.

That is all.

Shots Fired!

Pretty sure I’ve said this before, but there are few things more satisfying than a well-written, well-argued takedown of an overrated hack—particularly when said hack’s celebrity is entirely unearned. To wit: “Banksy is a talented graphic designer with a flair for self-promotion, no more or less. He is not an artist.”

That’s Alexander Adams over at The Critic, whose scathing indictment about the “cosy culture warrior and peddler of pedestrian homilies” is concerned not so much about the quality of Banksy’s oeuvre as it is in the answer to “how did such banality hoodwink so many people?”

It’s a good question.

Stop! Grammar time!

Oof. “Best known as the drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock trio, Rush, [Neil] Peart was also a successful man of letters, a novelist, an autobiographer, and an essayist,” writes Bradley J. Birzer.

The great Benjamin Dreyer calls the comma following trio the “only” comma – used to “set off nouns that are, indeed, the only of of their kind in the vicinity.”

To illustrate, let’s say that I have three children: a daughter named Beulah and two sons, Beauregard and Bubba.

My daughter, Beulah, is a Mensa scholar.

Now, the inclusion of Beulah’s name here is unimportant. I could just as easily have written “My daughter is a Mensa scholar” because I have only one daughter.

My son Bubba eats paste.

Bubba, in this case, is providing essential information, identifying which of my two sons is the paste eater.

If that doesn’t help, check out Dreyer’s “Best Illustration of the Necessity of the ‘Only’ Comma I’ve Ever Managed to Rustle Up”:

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage, to Michael Wilding
Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton

See the difference? That one little piece of punctuation can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

Let’s go back to what Birzer wrote. The two commas on either side of Rush indicate that the name of the band is, in fact, inessential – because there is only one Canadian rock trio! Forget for a moment that that may as well be true given Rush’s supreme awesomeness; the fact remains that it isn’t true.

Remember: Only use the “only” commas when the noun you’re referring to is the only one of its kind.

Oh, and by the way, please, please don’t let my pedantry—or the name of the publication—stand in the way of an otherwise great article by Birzer. It’s a nice remembrance of a truly influential man.

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