On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.... On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity. That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
Does nostalgia have meaning? Certain schools of progressive thought maintain that it does not, that it’s the business of saps and numbskulls, with rock groups like KISS being prime evidence of the emotion’s vacuity. Here, essentially, is a rock band that continues to make a living almost exclusively because of how people feel about something they did nearly forty years ago—a criticism which over... the years has also been leveled at the Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, and numerous 1980’s hair rock bands whose famous power ballads accompanied so many of their once-maybe-still-mulletted concertgoers’ maiden voyages to first base. One of the common claims against these groups is that, on any given tour, their repertoire consists entirely of (a) two or three obligatory “new songs” which concert patrons tolerate on the unspoken promise of eventually getting treated to (b) the exact same songs that the band has been playing ad nauseam for three to four decades. Critics who approach these things from an entertainment perspective often find something to enjoy in these trips down memory lane—the spectacle, the light show, the parade of one classic song after another, things which generally reflect that an artist is seeking to give an audience exactly what it paid to see. But critics who approach them from an artistic standpoint find this sort of thing pathetic—cheap, unchallenging, a desperate pandering to people’s sad desire to relive long gone glory days.
Wallace did not hear subtle variations in no; he knew only one way to seduce: overwhelm. He would show up at Karr’s family home to shovel her driveway after a snowfall, or come unannounced to her recovery meetings. Karr called the head of the halfway house and asked her to let Wallace know his attentions were not welcome. Wallace besieged her with notes anyway. He called himself Sorrowful Werther.... She was Sainte Nitouche, the saint who cannot be touched, a reference to her favorite book, Anna Karenina. She felt an affinity for him, considered him brilliant but also unsound. One day, she remembers, he arrived at a pool party she was at with her family with bandages on his left shoulder. She thought maybe he had been cutting himself and wouldn’t show her what was underneath—a tattoo with her name and a heart. He clearly felt he had made a commitment there was no retreating from. The details of the relationship were not clear to others though: Wallace told friends they were involved; Karr says no. She too steered Wallace to a new course in his fiction. “His interest in cleverness was preventing him from saying things,” she remembers. She told him not to be such a show-off, to write more from the heart. One time when he told her that he put certain scenes into his fiction because they were “cool,” she responded: “That’s what my f--king five year old says about Spiderman.”
Of course, Walt could give the people what they want; with Skyler’s recent behavior, and the standards of awareness set by the other members of the family, an apparent suicide would not be impossible for him to explain. Yet I suspect that if the Skyler-haters actually saw this (think Anakin Skywalker force choking Padmé), even they would be forced to recognize that a line had been crossed for the... worse. They would realize that Walt is not a gangster or a mastermind; nor is he a man clinging desperately, heroically, tragically to life for the sake of his family. They would see that he is just a selfish, scared, over-the-hill man in a pork pie hat. Which is what makes Breaking Bad so good.
Where publishing is concerned, the Internet is both midwife and executioner. It has never been easier to reach large numbers of readers, but these readers have never felt more entitled to be informed and entertained for free. I have been very slow to appreciate these developments, and yet it is clear even to me that there are reasons to fear for the life of the printed book. Needless to say, many... of the changes occurring in publishing are changes that neither publishers nor authors want. The market for books is continually shifting beneath our feet, and nobody knows what the business of publishing will look like a decade from now.
Without question, a professional author website. Don’t misinterpret that as blogging. I mean a website, the hub of everything you do online, and the means by which anyone can learn about you, your books, and how to contact you. It’s never to soon to establish a website. Why? Because there’s a learning curve, because a website is a work in progress always, because you don’t want to start a website... on the day it’s supposed to produce results. Unpublished writers think they have nothing to put on their website, and maybe that’s true, but I don’t care. Create one anyway if you’re serious about a long-term career as an author. Don’t let it become that “thing” you put off because you don’t like dealing with technology. Get comfortable with having and cultivating an online version of who you are now. As time passes, you’ll start to experience how powerful having a website is. Opportunities and contacts will come to you that you couldn’t have imagined. And when that starts happening, you’ll start improving and customizing your site to bring more of what you want into your career. Do it. Start a site. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect anyway. But it’s your single most important marketing and advertising tool, aside from your professional partnerships/relationships.
So in honor of that self-immolating preamble, I give you the only useful advice I can muster: cultivate selective stubbornness. The writing life is filled with rejection and false starts, big risks and small payoffs. You've heard all this before. You know teachers will be disappointed, friends will disapprove, agents won't respond, publishers will scoff. Being selectively stubborn is a wonderful... shield against these assaults. By "selective" I mean paying attention to the right folks—a good writer can tell who's a right folk within minutes—and completely ignoring the rest. It also means not lying to yourself. Hemingway called it having a "built-in bullshit detector." I can't improve on that.
These days, you might start out by writing an unpaid piece for HuffPo or The Awl (and hope it goes viral), or blogging 12 times a day, as a job I interviewed for at Curbed last year required. You might be working from home, without an editor to mentor you. You might be earning no money, or never knowing what you will earn, month to month. This new model is in some ways more meritocratic, as it... relies upon objective measurements. And there are plenty of success stories. Choire Sicha, a former editor at Gawker who founded The Awl, maintains that The Awl’s model is no more disadvantageous to aspiring journalists than what it replaced. “I think working for free was always the case in journalism,” says Sicha. “You had to pay for graduate school, know the right people, or hustle your way up. There were slightly more paid newspaper internships, but they always went to a certain kind of student.”
It was, as the New York Times put it, “one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds,” in which Lehrer fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most reclusive and closely studied musicians in history – not to mention one who is still alive. (What’s more, a good portion of “Imagine” relies on Dylan’s approach to creativity. The first chapter of the first section is titled “Bob Dylan’s Brain” and centers on the singer-songwriter’s hesitation to parse his own creative process.)
A near-decade of two simultaneous foreign wars, topped off by the most brutal recession in two generations, has left federal and state budgets reeling. Compounding this, the current Republican-led poisonous political climate and Republican-orchestrated congressional melt-down has destroyed any chance of coherent, reasoned budget planning. In the face of these pressures, we have seen at least seven... years of flat or declining funding for federal science programs and state legislatures slashing educational funding across the country. Together, these forces are crunching universities, which ultimately turns into additional pressure on faculty. Faculty are being pushed ever harder to achieve higher levels of federal research funding precisely at the time when that funding is ever harder to come by. This turns into policies that hurt the university by putting the teaching mission at odds with the research mission and subjugating both to the quest for the elusive dollar. A recent UNM School of Engineering policy, for example, uses teaching load as a punishment to goad professors into chasing funding. (Indeed, the policy measures research productivity only as a function of dollars brought in. Strangely, research productivity doesn’t enter the picture, let alone creativity.)
I’ve long championed his blog, discussing its merits in an old episode of my podcast, so I was thrilled to learn he was writing a book. The book is titled ”Mystery Pill: Essays on Music and Childhood”. It’s a fascinating collection of humorous essays on the author’s serpentine path down the canons of music, through a series of childhood recollections. Richly humorous and brimming with wit, I’d be... raving about this book even if I didn’t kinda-sorta know the guy. It’s a must-read for music lovers, or anyone with an appreciation for an engaging, hilarious and well-crafted memoir.
With Wikipedia and its inadequate categories, one enters the realm of ontology. The word originally meant the philosophical study of the nature of being. In the context of information science, it has taken on a different meaning having to do with the modeling of reality. In essence, an ontology is an explicit, formal definition of a conceptual framework for any number of kinds of entities, as well... as any number of relationships between them. In contrast to a taxonomy, which is merely a hierarchical ranking of entities using a single relation, an ontology can have any number of hierarchical and nonhierarchical relationships between its entities. The key words, however, are “explicit” and “formal.” An ontology is by definition a model of reality that is amenable to logical representation.
Not only do Americans misperceive the level of inequality; they underestimate the changes that have been going on. Only 42 percent of Americans believe that inequality has increased in the past ten years, when in fact the increase has been tectonic. Misperceptions are evident, too, in views about social mobility. Several studies have confirmed that perceptions of social mobility are overly optimistic.
If the hardware has spread virally within physical space, the software is even more insidious. Thoughts, ideas, locations, photos, identities, friendships, memories, politics, and almost everything else are finding their way to social media. The power of “social” is not just a matter of the time we’re spending checking apps, nor is it the data that for-profit media companies are gathering; it’s... also that the logic of the sites has burrowed far into our consciousness. Smartphones and their symbiotic social media give us a surfeit of options to tell the truth about who we are and what we are doing, and an audience for it all, reshaping norms around mass exhibitionism and voyeurism. Twitter lips and Instagram eyes: Social media is part of ourselves; the Facebook source code becomes our own code.
Walt fails to write a narrative that works –—neither with words nor by dying. Walt believes he has failed because he cannot find the set of words, but his failure is his very belief that a set of words exists — that, in other words, narrative will absolve him. Contrast Walt’s view with that of Jesse. Jesse does not believe words can explain what he has done. Words merely reveal what is already there. “I accept who I really am,” Jesse says to Walt. “I’m the bad guy.”
Lack of fulfillment, of meaning. A complete loss of direction. Aspiration and hope: unfounded or misapplied; dreams dreamt false, squandered, or forgotten. All the depth and possibility of the most complex creation in the known universe –– the human mind –– drowned beneath a self-induced reality that is trivial, shallow, soulless. . . . That is the true implication of boredom. That is the reality... David Foster Wallace stared into for so long, and grappled with in The Pale King, no doubt with a burning hope for catharsis once it was finally put to the page before him.
Running Longreads has dramatically changed my online behavior. Or, perhaps more accurately, I launched the site because my online behavior had already changed: I had started "reading" the web, rather than just grazing and skimming. I was seeking out deeper, more substantive content that required more than a 5-minute investment.
I’m not disputing that Joseph McAndrew was a quiet guy who kept to himself. The article reports that he spent most of his time alone in his room. But McAndrew was not just introverted. He was deranged. He’d been struggling with mental illness, possibly schizophrenia, for many years. And herein lies the problem. People who suffer from psychoses often withdraw from the world. Technically, they are... “introverted” in the sense of having turned inward. BUT THEY ARE NOT INTROVERTS IN THE SENSE THAT MOST PEOPLE USE THAT WORD, to connote a person who has a rich inner life and prefers low-stimulation environments (the company of a close friend to a big group, a quiet game of tennis compared to bungee jumping.)
Your brain says: “Readers are going to understand everything in your story.” The reality: Once you know something, it’s tough to remember what it was like not to know it. Try this: Wander over to your office mate, captor, or barista and explain that you are going to knock on your desk to the rhythm of a song. It’s their job to guess the song. Use “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Thriller,” or some... other well-known song of your choosing. What do you think the odds are they will be able to identify the song? Try and report back… They didn’t get it, did they? And you were sure they would. When this experiment was run in a more formal setting, only 3 out of 120 songs were guessed correctly, and the tappers were shocked. The song was playing so clearly in their heads that they couldn’t imagine anyone missing it. That’s the Curse Of Knowledge (cue lightning and maniacal laughter).