In 2003, the BBC reported that a population explosion of Great Gerbils had destroyed more than 4 million hectares of grasslands in China's north-western Xinjiang region -- an area about the size of Switzerland. By 2005 the damage covered 5 million hectares, and the Xinjuang Regional Headquarters for Controlling Locusts and Rodents were reported to be breeding and attracting pairs of golden eagles to curb the gerbil population. So McSweeney's Joshuah Bearman was assigned to the story. His report: An Investigation Into Xinjiang's Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils, Which May or May Not be Locked in a Death-Struggle With the Golden Eagle, With Important Parallels and/or Implications Regarding Koala Bears, The Pied Piper, Spongmonkeys, Cane Toads, Black Death, [and] Text-Messaging..
The Disappeared. "How a fatwa changed a writer's life." A third-person autobiographical essay, by Salman Rushdie. [more inside]
J.R. Moehringer's essay discusses the end of football, the immortality of football, head injuries, and why what the sport means to America and to him.
"Confessions of an Ex-Mormon: A personal history of America’s most misunderstood religion." by Walter Kirn, author of Up in the Air and Lost in the Meritocracy. (Via)
"In Breaking Bad the villain is not sociology, but a human being; what destroys the mortals is not a system, but a fellow mortal."
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, recently touched on a couple of interesting aspects of the American Civil War. First, Racism Against White People briefly looked at how Southern intellectuals argued that Northern whites were of a different race. Then a subthread in the comments on that post spawned an investigation of American Exceptionalism in History and the notion of preserving democracy in the context of the American Civil War. After all, "if a government can be sundered simply because the minority doesn't like the results of an election, can it even call itself a government?" Definitely check out the comments of both posts.
You eat too fast, and I understand why your antidyspeptic pill-makers cover your walls, your forests even, with their advertisements.
In 1891 author and lecturer ”Max O’Rell” (being the pen name of one Léon Paul Blouet) published an amusing account of his travels through the States and Eastern Canada - "A Frenchman In America" - that, along with the charming illustrations, reflect on then popular national stereotypes and character and is presented on Project Gutenberg in its entirely. (via)
Essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider is no stranger to film criticism ( previously) but his thoughtful, surprising, detailed analysis of Lynch's The Straight Story and Spielberg/Kubrick's AI deserve special attention.
"It’s Amazing the Things We Know, That Are Actually Wrong” by Kate Elliott [A Dribble of Ink] Fantasy write Kate Elliott on the subject of diversity.
SF author and Mefi's Own Charles Stross talks about the future of "big idea" Science Fiction: If SF's core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next?
Cartoonist and Essayist Tim Kreider on the soothing effect of dangerous situations. (NYT)
"As a career patient, I’ve learned one thing at least: the importance of clinging to the rag-end of your sense of self, however you define it—intellect, sense of humor, generosity of spirit, a stoicism worthy of Seneca or Mr. Spock, or, in a writer’s case, the mind that makes sense of itself as a reflection in the mirror of language. In the M.A.S.H.-unit chaos of the E.R.; in the nowhere, notime of the hospital room; in the O.R., where the euphoria of oncoming anesthesia and the doting attentions of apparitions in scrubs make you understand, in an instant, the perverse seductions of Munchausen’s Syndrome as you ride into the stage-light radiance on your gurney like the Son of Heaven in his sedan chair, feeling for all the world like a pathological celebrity—in these moments of inescapable embodiment, I’ve learned to float free in my head, a thought balloon untethered from the body on the sickbed or the operating table."-A Season in Hell by (Mefite) Mark Dery [Previously]
Sure, the follies of art-speak are easy to laugh at, but often criticism of it begins and ends with a dismissive chuckle – which ignores profounder problems. Why should academic terminology be the default vehicle for discussing art? Why is there such an emphasis on newness, schism and radicality? Even when the art itself may be enjoyably throwaway, language pins it to deathlessly auratic registers of exchange. This suggests a subliminal fear that, if the subject in question is not talked up as Big and Culturally Significant, then the point of fussing over it in the first place might be called into question, bringing the whole house of cards tumbling down - Dan Fox, the associate editor of frieze magazine, discusses the contemporary art scene in detail.
“What a privilege it is to experience the ‘charmed’ life of another and as a result to appreciate what is valuable in our own.”
After 61 years of marriage, Charles D. Snelling killed his Alzheimer's-stricken wife before turning a gun on himself. Months before, in response to a David Brooks column, he submitted a 5,000-word personal essay where he reminisced on his life, his marriage, his wife's disease and his role as a caretaker.
If Batman is a child's fantasy, then Spider-Man is very much rooted in being a teenager. When we're first introduced to Peter Parker in Amazing Fantasy #15, he's an outsider who feels isolated from everyone around him. He's miserable and resentful, but not because of some sort of defining tragedy, but because that's how you feel when you're a teenager. When he gets the one thing he wants -- the power that makes him stronger, faster and more popular than anyone else -- he promptly screws up and loses one of the only people that truly cared about him. (via Chris Sims @ Comics Alliance)
Once Upon a Time in Bombay "It is said that Bombay is the Alexandria of India. Its geographical position and commercial relations bear evidently some resemblance to the great eastern entrepot of the Mediterranean. As the swampy Rhakotis, a mere fishing village which Alexander the Great transformed into the splendid city of Alexandria, the desolate islet of the Bombay Koli fishermen was changed into the present capital of Western India." -- J. Gershon da Cunha in Origin of Bombay (google book) [more inside]
To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: "Do what you love." But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated. From How to do what you love, by essayist (and programmer, and entrepreneur) Paul Graham.
Photographs of the Prison Chess series were taken in 2008 and 2009 in a maximum security facility of the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. [more inside]
If you like real-life crime drama, Burgled in Philly, by John Davidson, will keep you occupied for a few minutes. [more inside]
Two months after being kicked out by the NYPD in an early morning raid, the Occupy Wall Street protestors have returned to Zucotti/Liberty Plaza to meet new regulations that make protesting all but impossible. Meanwhile, OWS is looking for an accountant and NYC councilman Ydanis Rodriguez wants to donate his 5k stipend to the protestors. Yasha Levine of The Exiled writes about his arrangement hearing after being arrested during the Occupy LA raid and Political Cartoonist and Essayist Tim Kreider releases four essays he wrote during the first occupation of Zucotti/Liberty Plaza, "What OWS Wants" "Capitalism, A Bummer" "An Open Letter To The Tea Party." and "OWS: The Morning After." [more inside]
My Hard-Core Obsession (NSFW Text). Writer and frequent This American Life contributor Shalom Auslander for GQ on hardcore pornography, obsession, shame, self-loathing and the subjectivism of thinking too much.
The Browser has been mentioned before on Metafilter as a website that collects the best writing around the web. Over the past 3 days they've been posting their year end list of the best essays from 2011. The full annotated list is after the jump. [more inside]
An Essay On The Noble Science Of Self-Justification: "Timid brides, you have, probably, hitherto been addressed as angels. Prepare for the time when you shall again become mortal. Take the alarm at the first approach of blame; at the first hint of a discovery that you are any thing less than infallible:--contradict, debate, justify, recriminate, rage, weep, swoon, do any thing but yield to conviction. I take it for granted that you have already acquired sufficient command of voice; you need not study its compass; going beyond its pitch has a peculiarly happy effect upon some occasions. But are you voluble enough to drown all sense in a torrent of words? Can you be loud enough to overpower the voice of all who shall attempt to interrupt or contradict you? Are you mistress of the petulant, the peevish, and the sullen tone? Have you practised the sharpness which provokes retort, and the continual monotony which by setting your adversary to sleep effectually precludes reply?" For remember, "a lady can do no wrong."
"The rigorous division of websites into narrow interests, the attempts of Amazon and Netflix to steer your next purchase based on what you’ve already bought, the ability of Web users to never encounter anything outside of their established political or cultural preferences, and the way technology enables advertisers to identify each potential market and direct advertising to it, all represent the triumph of cultural segregation that is the negation of democracy. It’s the reassurance of never having to face anyone different from ourselves." – Charles Taylor, The Problem with Film Criticism
Just wait till we're alone together. Then I will tell you something new, something cold, something sleepy, something of cease and peace and the long bright curve of space. Go upstairs to your room. I will be waiting for you... As a rare October blizzard drifts a blanket of white across the Northeast just before Halloween, what better time to settle in and read (or watch) Conrad Aiken's most famous short story, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow." About a small boy who increasingly slips into an ominous fantasy of isolation and endless snow, it could be viewed as a metaphor about autism, Asperger's syndrome, and even schizophrenia before such conditions even had names. In addition to the 1934 short story, the tale has also been adapted as a creepy 1966 black-and-white short film (also at the Internet Archive) and as a Night Gallery episode (1, 2) narrated by Orson Welles. Or for a more academic take, see the essay "The Delicious Progress" examining Aiken's use of white as a symbol of psychological regression.
GQ: The Man Who Sailed His House. On the third day after the Japanese tsunami, after the waves had left their destruction, as rescue workers searched the ruins, news came of an almost surreal survival: Nine miles out at sea, a man had been found alone, riding on nothing but the roof of his house. [more inside]
Margaret Atwood defines science fiction "Is [the term science fiction] a corral with real fences that separate what is clearly 'science ﬁction' from what is not, or is it merely a shelving aid, there to help workers in bookstores place the book in a semi-accurate or at least lucrative way? If you put skin-tight black or silver clothing on a book cover along with some jetlike ﬂames and/or colourful planets, does that make the work 'science ﬁction'? What about dragons and manticores, or backgrounds that contain volcanoes or atomic clouds, or plants with tentacles, or landscapes reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch? Does there have to be any actual science in such a book, or is the skin-tight clothing enough? These seemed to me to be open questions."
Cruel America: It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut.
Dorothy Gambrell of Cat And Girl fame spends an awful lot of time talking about education, class, debt, money, and the hollow promise of aspirational media to discuss how much she hates Good Will Hunting
Leonard Michaels' "The Zipper": Rita Hayworth is never seen disrobed in the movie, though it is threatened more than once. The atmosphere of dark repression and mysterious forces – the mood or feeling of the movie – might be destroyed by the revelation of her body. It scared me as she began her striptease dance in the nightclub. I didn’t want everybody to see her body, or even to see that Rita Hayworth had a body. [more inside]
Categories as fundamental as fact and fiction, news and entertainment, gender and sexuality, have eroded away. In literature and architecture, in cuisine, in music, in fashion and furnishings, everywhere, everything—it’s fusion and mix. Barack Obama emerged as a literal embodiment of this age. To educated people, especially younger people with generally progressive views, other candidates suddenly looked parochial by comparison—or simply outdated. In his ethnicity and biography and in his personality and politics, Obama, the conciliator, was above all a combiner. Because he was from virtually everywhere—Kenya, Indonesia, Honolulu, Harvard, Chicago’s South Side—he was also from nowhere. The pastiche of his persona made him “his own man” in a new sense of the term.On the Politics of Pastiche and Depthless Intensities: The Case of Barack Obama
"Certainly, Uncle Sam, disowned by Pakistanis, has found innumerable devoted nephews in India. Indian and Pakistani perceptions of America now wildly diverge: A 2005 Pew poll conducted in 16 countries found the United States in the highest regard among Indians (71 percent having a favorable opinion) and nearly the lowest among Pakistanis (23 percent)." Why do India and Pakistan see America in such opposite ways?
Every Monday The Library of America features a free Story of the Week. It could be anything -- a short work of fiction, a character sketch, an essay, a journalist’s dispatch, a poem -- taken from from one of the hundreds of classic books in the LoA collection. Archive of 83 weeks so far.
Weekend At Kermie's: The Muppets' Strange Life After Death. Elizabeth Stevens asks:
What if, in 1990, instead of recasting Kermit—something that had been done to Mickey and Bugs Bunny before him—the Muppets had continued on Kermit-less, as "The Simpsons" did after Phil Hartman died. Recall Susan’s words on "Seasame Street" about Mr. Hooper in 1982: “Big Bird, when people die, they don’t come back.” Let’s say Robin showed up saying his uncle Kermit had passed away? Or, if that was too dark for Disney, what if Kermit had left show business to go off to start a family with Piggy? Someone else could lead the gang of weirdoes..
It would’ve made more artistic sense than what happened
So, I have come to take back the knife on behalf of us prudes, who quite often are only reserved, shy, terribly square people whose native restraint and weak knees are, in fact, generally accompanied by a deep love of personal freedom and diversity of opinion. Prudery comes in for a lot of flak because people imagine that the prudes want to impose limitations on the behavior of others, but they particularly, especially do not. The wimpy and yikes-prone, far from wishing to restrict or even to express an opinion regarding anyone else's private practices, are in reality possessed of a fervent, if doomed, desire to know as little about them as possible.
In Defense of Prudes, an essay by Maria Bustillos, from the Awl.
In Defense of Prudes, an essay by Maria Bustillos, from the Awl.
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.