The End Is Nigh

Is it me, or is it a little ironic that World Emoji Day 2018 falls in the middle of Cannibal Week? I mean, a day set aside for the “celebration of all emojis” is a sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us, which in turn means we’re this close to a dystopian nightmare in which the only way to survive will be to hunt down and feast on our neighbors.

Which is why I’d rather spend my time over at Cult of Weird today, where I can read about Ratu Udre Udre, the Guinness world record holder for most prolific cannibal.* Or how “the people of Tasmania want the skull of their cannibal killer back.” Or—my favorite—”Missionary for Dinner.”

Or, if you’re just a little, you know…curious:

*Thinking about having a go at the Fijian chief’s title? You should probably get started. He ate as many as 999 people in his lifetime.

Rise of the Machines

Tim Berners-Lee has regrets. From the very beginning, it turns out, the inventor of the World Wide Web “understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation.”

Vanity Fair‘s Katrina Brooker has more:

His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice.

So what can we mortals do about it? I mean, that ship has sailed, right? The cat’s out of the bag. You can’t unring that bell.

Not according to Berners-Lee: “You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have a heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets.”

Weekend Recommendations

Thanks to a friend who lent me a copy, I’m finally reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Even if you’re not an introvert, I implore you to check it out.

Speaking of better late than never, a new musical discovery for me is the Austin-based duo Stars of the Lid. I recently picked up The Tired Sounds of… (2001) and And Their Refinement of the Decline (2007). Gorgeous stuff.

Last week, Z Nation was filming across the street from helveticka world headquarters. So naturally, I started watching it over the weekend (it’s streaming on Netflix). The show’s…not great. In fact, it’s laughably awful. But that’s just it: It’s so bad it’s good. Plus, Kellita Smith [wolf whistle].

Regardless of whether you choose to spend the weekend reading on the patio, blissing out to ambient drones, or bingeing on some good old-fashioned Zombie evisceration—or (gasp!) all of the above—be sure to pour yourself a glass or three of Dry Hills Distillery’s Bin 7 Wheat Whiskey. Temps will be in the 90s for a while, and you’re gonna want to stay hydrated.

Three for Thursday

Ethan Iverson interviews one of my favorite musicians; the New York Times features one of my favorite authors; the New Atlantis explores one of my favorite TV shows.

It’s a good day.

Summer Reading

There was a time—not too long ago, in fact—when I thought that jazz was a dead art form. (I also thought camera phones were a dumb idea, but that’s another story.) A short stint as a music critic, which meant I was always well-supplied with the latest releases, helped me see that jazz was as vibrant as it’s ever been. I just hadn’t been paying attention.

But it’s a lot of work staying on top of things, even when record labels are sending you free albums. Thankfully, guys like Nate Chinen make it easier. He’s got a new book coming out in mid-August, at the end of which will be a list he’s calling “The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far).” He’s posting that list, a few selections at a time and accompanied by samples, here.

I imagine traditionalists will be a little unhappy with some of Chinen’s choices. Like, say, this one. But as Sonny Rollins says, “Jazz lives on and on and on, folks.” And for that we should be thankful.

I’m Out

Your bloodcurdling, horrific, spine-tingling news of the day: “Spiders can physically detect electrostatic changes in their surroundings.” They “prepare for flight [emphasis mine] by raising their front legs into the wind, presumably to test how strong it is,” and use Earth’s electric field to launch themselves into the air.

How far? you ask. Oh, you know, only as far as two-and-a-half miles into the troposphere and 1,000 miles out to sea.

So, basically, this is a documentary:


Last year, the missus and I spent Independence Day with the good folks of Rachel, Nevada, at the Little A’Le’Inn. After getting directions to Area 51’s Back Gate, we were treated to a complimentary barbecue, lots of booze, a water fight, a participatory fireworks show, and a free place to set up camp for the night. And an invitation to come back in November to join everyone for Thanksgiving dinner.

This year? We fired an eighty-year-old homemade cannon across the waters of Lake Pend Oreille.

Oh, sure, there was family, food, beer, boating, and fireworks. But just look at that blast, would you? #murica

Today in History

In the following dispatch to the New York Times, Samuel Wilkeson gives an account of the “Confederate bombardment” at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863—probably the largest artillery bombardment of the entire Civil War. He wrote it beside the body of his son, killed in battle the previous day:

Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly [sic] absorbing interest—the dead body of an oldest born, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay?…

For such details as I have the heart for. The battle commenced at daylight, on the side of the horseshoe position, exactly opposite to that which Ewell had sworn to crush through. Musketry preceded the rising of the sun. A thick wood veiled this fight, but out of the leafy darkness arose the smoke and the surging and swelling of the fire.…

Suddenly, and about ten in the forenoon, the firing on the east side and everywhere about our lines ceased. A silence of deep sleep fell upon the field of battle. Our army cooked, ate and slumbered. The rebel army moved 120 guns to the west, and massed there Longstreet’s corps and Hill’s corps to hurl them upon the really weakest point of our entire position.

Eleven o’clock—twelve o’clock—one o’clock. In the shadow cast by the tiny farmhouse, sixteen by twenty, where General Meade had made his headquarters, lay wearied staff officers and tired reporters. There was not wanting to the peacefulness of the scene the singing of a bird, which had a nest in a peach tree within the tiny yard of the whitewashed cottage. In the midst of its warbling a shell screamed over the house, instantly followed by another and another, and in a moment the air was full of the most complete artillery prelude to an infantry battle that was ever exhibited. Every size and form of shell known to British and to American gunnery shrieked, moaned, whirled, whistled, and wrathfully fluttered over our ground.…Through the midst of the storm of screaming and exploding shells an ambulance, driven by its frenzied conductor at full speed, presented to all of us the marvellous [sic] spectacle of a horse going rapidly on three legs. A hinder one had been shot off at the hock.…During this fire the houses at twenty and thirty feet distant were receiving their death, and soldiers in Federal blue were torn to pieces in the road and died with the peculiar yells that blend the extorted cry of pain with horror and despair. Not an orderly, not an ambulance, not a straggler was to be seen upon the plain swept by this tempest of orchestral death thirty minutes after it commenced.

Man, Oh Manischewitz

Over at the Hedgehog Review (NB: sadly, they don’t actually review hedgehogs), Steve Lagerfeld assesses the rise of the contrarian crowd—then utterly eviscerates the democratization of outsiderness:

Much of what social critics decry as rampant individualism in contemporary America is really rampant crowd behavior. It is herds of people busily declaring that they are not part of the herd. Whether you’re a Satanist or an alt-right activist, you sign up for a total lifestyle package that includes a limited menu of approved ideas, clothing styles, and other badges you can choose from to express your individuality. What you get in return is an intense sense of belonging and identity—we’re all pariahs here! Americans once derived the satisfactions of association from traditional institutions—family, community, church, state, employers, unions. As the hold of these institutions has weakened, we have parceled out our belonging to ideas, images, and ideologies that allow us to feel part of a larger whole. Our commitment to them may not amount to much more than pasting a bumper sticker on the family SUV. Many people weave together an array of looser group identities, becoming Prius-driving vegan Democrats or hoodie-wearing tech libertarians, elaborating their identities with the clothes they buy, the foods they eat, and other badges of affiliation. A tattoo or perhaps a piercing may top off the ensemble, giving it all an overtly outlaw edge. Others opt for the more intense commitment and rewards of belonging to a contrarian crowd. And in recent years, even many casual affiliations have hardened into something more tribal and adversarial. Partisan loyalty, for example, was once a loose form of membership that most people inherited like the family photo albums. Now it is becoming more like a uniform one puts on to signal an array of commitments and defiant self-declarations.

“Banding together is a healthy human impulse,” Lagerfeld concludes. “Banding together in knots of narcissistic fury is not.”

As with most things of cultural significance or sociological import, however, our own Skooch was there first when he blogged in this very space about the mainstreaming of hipsterdom. And that was in August 2017, before it was cool.

Seems About Right

Normally, I wouldn’t just throw a link up here on the blog without some sort of explanation or witty commentary. But this, well…this is different. I’m not even sure what to say, other than here’s what you find when you drain a canal in Amsterdam.

Have a great weekend, y’all.


“From certain angles,” writes Nick Davidson over at Outside magazine, “it looks like we’re hanging over the precipice. Climate change-fueled disasters like monster hurricanes, megafires, and 100-year droughts are becoming ever more frequent. A solar superstorm could wipe out the grid, the New Madrid fault might go at any moment, and, of course, there’s always potential for a zombie flu epidemic.”

Still, in this era in which Everything Is Terrible™, it’s nice to know that some of us are focused on the important things in life. Like, say, how many exclamation marks are required in order to seem genuinely enthusiastic.

All Hail Long-Form Journalism

Years ago, when I was flirting with the rather ridiculous notion of pursuing an MFA in creative writing, I came across the advice of a writer whose work I admired. “You want to learn how to write?” he asked. “Read every back issue of the New Yorker.”

It was not only a lot cheaper than graduate school, he argued—at the time, you could purchase the entire archive on CD-ROM for around $500—but also a far more effective teacher.

Since then, political hackery, artistic predictability, and everything ever written by the criminally unfunny Andy Borowitz have made me doubt the veracity of the claim. But every so often I’m reminded of the magazine’s greatness. This week, it’s “The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger,” which you can read here.

I should probably re-up my subscription.

Monday Miscellany

Donald Hall died over the weekend. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, start here.

“Fashions have always come back around again, but now we are living through a kind of Dadaist cut-up of eras, in which brands and companies borrow from, adapt and disrupt any and all time periods; it’s all up for grabs, provided it’s old.” More on hipster nostalgia.

Madness from the American Library Association.

“What little we know for sure about [Jean-Michel] Basquiat can be said simply: An extraordinary painterly sensitivity expressed itself in the person of a young black male, the locus of terror and misgiving in a racist society. That, and rich people love to collect his work.”

“[T]he passing of another milestone on the road to true AI….”? Yawn.

Still a Tonic for Our Times

To anyone who knows her, it should come as no surprise that Courtney is responsible for sending me this link to all things Mister Rogers. She thought I’d dig the “guide to talking to children,” which features some of the rules for the show’s writers.

Truth is, the entire thing is worth reading and thinking about. (And be sure to watch the linked videos. With a hanky nearby, preferably.)

There’s only one thing I disagree with, and that’s the opening sentence: “The world could really use Fred Rogers right now.” But the world has always needed Fred Rogers, because the world has always been pretty stupid. Or, as the man himself put it somewhat more delicately, “not always a kind place.”

I suppose there are a couple of reasons I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show debuted when I was about eight months old—so I pretty much grew up with it—and I had a childhood that, well…let’s just say it needed help building the “solid emotional foundations and the ability to cope with life’s problems” that Rogers was shooting for.

“When I was a child,” writes Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians,  “I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” That’s all well and good, of course, but, as you eventually learn when you become a man—or a woman—Truth is Truth, no matter how old you are. Mister Rogers believed it, lived it, and spoke it. And I’m betting I could still learn a thing or two from him today.

Quote of the Day

Apparently Swiss-born British philosopher and “writer of essayistic books” Alain de Botton knows me personally: “Work finally begins,” he says, “when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”

Nine of Thirty

The 2017 annual report for Hecla Mining Company marks our 30th edition.

It was the summer of 1988 when we first received word that we were chosen to design the report – the same year our firm was founded. And since we’re celebrating helvetica’s 30th anniversary (all year long), it seems appropriate that an animation of all 30 annual report covers is in order.

Friday Afternoon Diversion

This, folks, is how you hook a reader:

Start with Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and a robot that loves you no matter what. Add a knighted British physicist, a renowned French neuroscientist, and a prominent Australian philosopher/occasional blues singer. Toss in a bunch of psychologists, mathematicians, anesthesiologists, artists, meditators, a computer programmer or two, and several busloads of amateur theorists waving self-published manuscripts and touting grand unified solutions. Send them all to a swanky resort in the desert for a week, supply them with lots of free coffee and beer, and ask them to unpack a riddle so confounding that it’s unclear how to make progress or where you’d even begin.

Then just, like, see what happens.

I mean really—how can you not want to continue? Read the rest of Tom Bartlett’s “Has Consciousness Lost Its Mind?” over at the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Today on the blog, a Benedictine Beatnik and his concrete poetry, and a newly discovered 1963 recording of the John Coltrane Quartet—”an epochal band in its prime”—is about to be released for the first time.

By the way, I have a birthday coming up, so if you’re wondering what to get me, well…let’s just say that the deluxe version (with the seven alternate takes) of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album is currently at the top of my list. And if you really want to curry favor with me, you’ll include one of these. Just saying.

War: What Is It Good For?

After the first two waves of Operation Steinbock, the Nazi’s final bomber offensive of WWII, “nearly 100 Londoners were wounded or dead. It was just the beginning of a deadly four-month air onslaught against Great Britain the likes of which the country hadn’t seen since the war’s grim early days.”

The novelist George Beardmore, who had been declared medically unfit for military service, was spending the war documenting its effects on his fellow Londoners. In a journal entry dated June 12, 1944—two weeks after Operation Steinbock ended and seventy-four years ago today—Beardmore reminds us of the totality of the devastation:

Other side-effects of bombs are the stripping of leaves from wayside trees, the deaths by blast of sparrows, chaffinches, etc., and the awful things that happen to cats and dogs. We had a man complain that thirty of his forty-odd small birds in a backyard aviary had been killed by blast, half a mile or so away from where the bomb had landed.

Stop! Grammar Time!

Let’s talk about compounds and hyphenation.

Y’all know what a compound is, right? Two or more words, put together, that form a new meaning—like, say, railroad (rail + road = new mode of transportation) or skateboard (skate + board = juvenile delinquents hanging out in empty swimming pools).

Both of these are what are called “closed” compounds; an example of the “open” form is high school. And when an open compound is used to modify another word, that’s when we need to start thinking about hyphenation.

Here’s what I mean:

I met a high school student on my way to work this morning.

High school is an open compound modifying student. Or, at least, that’s one way of reading it. The other way is to treat high school not as a compound, but as two distinct words—which changes the meaning dramatically: Either we’re talking about (a) a student who’s attending a high school (high school + student), or (b) one who has recently partaken of the Devil’s lettuce (high + school student). It’s what we like to call “ambiguity,” and it’s a bad thing in writing.

The good news? A hyphen solves the problem!

I met a high-school student on my way to work this morning.

See how that works? By connecting the two parts of an open compound with that little dash, we’re telling the reader that they belong together, thus eliminating any possibility of ambiguity.

Which brings us to open compounds in which the first word is an adverb ending in -ly.

“I want to up my fashion game,” said Skooch, “but I don’t know where to start.”
“You should pay attention to that Aaron guy,” said Courtney. “He’s one smartly dressed dude.”

In this case, while smartly dressed is indeed a compound modifying dude, there’s no risk of ambiguity here—smartly is already modifying dressed.

I know, I know, it seems complicated at first. But it’s actually pretty simple when you remember that clarity is the goal of all punctuation. When your reader is spending less time trying to decipher a particularly knotty passage, they’re ultimately getting more out of your writing.

Deep Breath, Everyone

On a day in which we mourn the passing of the inimitable Anthony Bourdain and learn that Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has just weeks to live, we’re also reminded, via the cesspool that is Twitter, that there exist on this Earth an inordinate number of assholes—people who revel in the misfortune of anyone they disagree with politically.

If you’re tempted to go down that path, maybe take just a moment to read Ian Marcus Corbin today. “Politics,” he writes, “may be a necessary evil—but talking incessantly about politics and viewing your countrymen solely through a political lens is an evil that we’re actively choosing, day by day. We should stop.”

Okay. Last politics post for a while, folks. Pinky swear.

It Matters

“Writers think I’m out to destroy their prose,” says Atlantic senior copy editor Karen Ostergren. “Laypeople think I’m a human version of spellcheck. Neither is right.”

Yes, copy editors are responsible for fixing the grammar and spelling in a piece, and that in itself is an important function.…But the responsibilities don’t stop there. The Atlantic’s copy editors think of our role as standing in for the reader. Before a magazine piece gets to the copy desk, it has gone through days or weeks or months of trimming, expanding, and rewriting with its main editor. It has ideally also been read by one or more of the magazine’s top editors to address any glaring holes.

She goes on to describe her team’s copyediting routine, ending with what I think is the most important—and by far the most difficult: “Take a deep breath and learn to move on.”

Today on the Blog: Something for Everyone

We don’t normally do politics around here. But “The High Price of Stale Grievances” by Coleman Hughes is a serious, well-written analysis of the tribalism that threatens to tear us apart. It’s definitely worth your time.

Not concerned about the possibility of racial balkanization? Think the recent breakdown in civil discourse is no big deal? Convinced the pendulum is about to swing the other way?

Maybe so—but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about. A werewolf was photographed outside Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Poetry Break

Cumberland Clark—the “Bard of Bournemouth”—was, according to Anthony Daniels, the second-worst poet in the English language.* How bad was he? “Wonderfully, gloriously, hilariously awful.”

As evidence, Daniels points us to the beginning of Clark’s “The West Overcliff Drive”:

Do you know the West Overcliff Drive?
If you don’t, there’s no doubt that you ought to.
With interest always alive,
It’s a place everyone should be brought to.

Now, I’ve written some pretty bad poetry (who hasn’t, really?) but I don’t think it’s quite the steaming pile that that is. So let me help you get the terrible taste out of your mouth with a little something from Langston Hughes:


Folks, I’m telling you,
birthing is hard
and dying is mean—
so get yourself
a little loving
in between.

*The worst? William McGonagall, obviously.

Hurts So Good

“When you drink good seltzer,” says Kenny Gomberg, third-generation owner of the last remaining seltzer factory in New York City, “you should not be able to gulp it down. Good seltzer should hurt.”

I suppose that, since it’s just city tap water and CO2, it’s all that pressure (60 lbs., according to Gomberg, which isn’t possible with the plastic bottles you get at the supermarket) that’s made New York seltzer such an iconic beverage.

Wonder if he ships to Spokane? Guess I need to get to Brooklyn before he fills his last bottle…

You Don’t Say

So there’s this thing called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how people who don’t know much about a given topic are the ones most confident that they do. (Yeah, most of us figured this out on our own back in middle school, but whatever. Social psychologists gotta eat too, you know.)

Where it really gets interesting, though, is in the realm of politics. Here’s Ian Anson, assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Many Americans appear to be extremely overconfident in their political knowledgeability, because they have no way of knowing how little they actually know about the world of politics (this is the so-called “double bind of incompetence”). But there’s a catch: when Republicans and Democrats engage in partisan thought processes, this effect becomes even stronger than before.

“I think,” continues Anson, in what ought to be in the running for understatement of the decade, “this has major implications for the breakdowns in political discourse we often observe in contemporary American democracy.”

So, basically, each side thinks the other side is stupid. Sounds about right.

A Very Fine Artist

On a morning walk in the Queen Anne area of Seattle earlier this year, my wife Linda and our daughter Haley discovered a Harold Balazs piece overlooking Puget Sound. A nearby plaque indicated that Harold was one of 11 artists represented in a tribute to a local patron. The serene setting was fitting, given that Harold had passed away three months prior.

I don’t recall the first time I actually met Harold, but I do remember taking a tour of his backyard art studio in the 80s with my father-in-law, a member of the Spokane Woodworker’s Guild at the time. Our paths crossed a few times when I helped organize an annual art event for the Mead Education Foundation, and again when we researched and designed a mid-century architecture exhibit at the MAC. Here he is, in 2011, before one of those interviews:

The Balazs home was full of creativity—including the work of several artist friends—and seeing Harold and Rosemary was always a treat. On my last visit, while sitting at their kitchen table, Harold wrote the following inscription in my copy of his recently published book The Family Album: “Remember only common things happen when common sense prevails.” His wisdom was as wonderful as his art.

Post-Memorial Day Miscellany

The great Andrew Ferguson on today’s “futile and stupid gesture from Starbucks.”

These days, efficiency is king. So what’s with all the pointless jobs? It’s political, argues David Graeber. “A population kept busy with make-work is less likely to revolt.”

Pythagoras—you know, that guy who came up with that theorem—had a cult. And they all thought fava beans contained the souls of the dead.

There’s one word you never want to say to a narcissist. You can probably guess what it is.

For philosophers, the subject of morality can be a bit of a sticky wicket: “Where’s the consistency? Where’s the theoretical framework? Where’s the argument?”

Apparently, Only Art Can Save Us Now

In the May 8 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Lauren Oyler asks an important question: What do we mean when we call art “necessary”? It’s “a discursive crutch,” she writes, “for describing a work’s right-minded views, and praise that is so distinct from aesthetics it can be affixed to just about anything….”

The prospect of “necessary” art allows members of the audience to free themselves from having to make choices while offering the critic a nifty shorthand to convey the significance of her task, which may itself be one day condemned as dispensable. The effect is something like an absurd and endless syllabus, constantly updating to remind you of ways you might flunk as a moral being.

It’s a bracing read, and—dare I say it—a necessary corrective.

Three Reasons to Eat Cake Today

Check this out: Richard Wagner and Arthur Conan Doyle share a birthday today, which, coincidentally, is the same day Sun Ra arrived on Earth from Saturn.

Oh—for you millennials who might be reading this, I should probably explain that Wagner is responsible for the single greatest work of art ever created, while Doyle is the reason Benedict Cumberbatch is a household name. And Sun Ra is, well…Sun Ra.

Happy birthday, gentlemen. The world would be a lot less interesting without you.

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