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This Life

James Wood wrote a tremendous review of Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom called If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything. Since I’ll be quoting a review that quotes the book, we’re two degrees removed from the source, but I don’t have the book yet and there are tons of ideas here I want to mark. Here’s one:


Avoiding Narrative

“What Old Age Is Really Like” by Ceridwen Dovey in The New Yorker:

As Helen Small writes in ”The Long Life,” her study of the literature and philosophy of old age, “declining to describe our lives as unified stories … is the only way we can hope to live out our time other than as tragedy.” Lively describes the frustrations of autobiographical memory in old age. “The novelist in me—the reader, too—wants shape and structure, development, a theme, insights,” she writes. “Instead of which, there is this assortment of slides, some of them welcome, others not at all, defying chronology, refusing structure.”


tweet - 19 April, 2015

Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker:

Iceland got used, in the bad years, to receiving tumid little lectures from outsiders on how such simple people allowed themselves to get caught up in a big, bad world beyond their ken—though the truth is that, while Iceland obviously did silly things with banks, they were the same kind of silly things with banks that the masters of civilization were doing in downtown Manhattan. The big difference was that the Icelanders switched gears faster and got over it sooner and, for good measure, put some of their bankers in jail.


This has been making the rounds today, and I don’t usually post something just to link to it (anymore), so you will understand that this is for future reference. Semicolons; So Tricky by Mary Norris at the New Yorker, quotes from a book called “Punctuation..?”:


Wall Street & the Middle Class

John Cassidy’s “What Good is Wall Street? from The New Yorker is full of great parts. Here’s one:

During the credit boom of 2005 to 2007, profits and pay reached unprecedented highs. It is now evident that the bankers were being rewarded largely for taking on unacknowledged risks: after the subprime market collapsed, bank shareholders and taxpayers were left to pick up the losses. From an economy-wide perspective, this experience suggests that at least some of the profits that Wall Street bankers claim to generate, and that they use to justify their big pay packages, are illusory.


Whales Rock



Malcolm Gladwell debunks college ranking systems in the New Yorker:

… at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of those factors. And why? Because a group of magazine analysts in an office building in Washington, D.C., decided twenty years ago to value selctivity over efficacy, to use proxies that scarcely relate to what they’re meant to be proxies for, and to pretend that they can compare a large, diverse, low-cost land-grant university in rural Pennsylvania with a small, expensive, private Jewish university on two campuses in Manhattan.


Choking versus Panicking

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great piece for the New Yorker called “The Art of Failure — Why some people choke and others panic.” The thesis here is that choking is a reversion to basic instruction — the mechanical, poorly-coordinated, unadaptable precepts from one’s basic instruction in a skill. Sports is a great example: as one choke’s, one shows less and less of the practiced grace that come with experience and more and more of the mechanical, simplistic movement characteristic of the novice. The second part of the thesis is this: panicking is a reversion not to basic instruction but to basic instinct. A panic surpasses all training and heads right into lizard-brain survival territory. Here’s a great quote:


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Gladwell on Alcohol

Recently, I was waiting in our dental school reception area to meet with Patient Financing and I opened up the February New Yorker. In it was a brilliant essay about the intersection of society and alcohol by Malcolm Gladwell, entitled Drinking Games. Gladwell’s anecdotal and anthropological evidence reveals that the effects of alcohol are not uniform — our reaction to being drunk is heavily influenced by… what we are expected to do when drunk. Here’s an awesome quote:


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Sunny reading

Reading the New Yorker (thanks, Katy!) with the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window may be the single best way to spend an hour of a cold winter afternoon.

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McAllen, Texas Healthcare

In the healthcare article of the year, Dr. Atul Gawande has done some outstanding reporting: he has described the core problems of the United States’ healthcare system. He has also pointed out beacons for reform to pursue — the foremost being the Mayo Clinic right here in Rochester, Minnesota:


Banksy Quote

I originally set out to try and save the world, but now I’m not sure I like it enough.

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Depth of Field

Depth of Field

These black and white conversions look great with text.

Literature Geekery

I’ve been reading more and more of The New Yorker lately, so I’ve been seeing a lot of their famous one panel comics that have been in their pages for years. These cartoons are selected quite carefully, as shown in a recent article about the cartoon editor of the New Yorker; from what I can tell, the cartoons are selected to be subtle, clever, and not laugh out-loud funny. They are therefore things you can glance at more than once and find entertainment.