A few months ago my buddy Michael Ventura asked me to write an essay for his new publication, La Petit Mort. Just last week I got the glorious, big-ass newsprint edition and found my piece, “River Talk,” reproduced faithfully. The design looks great, the illustration I cooked up wound up translating well visually, and I’m really grateful to have been involved and appearing alongside articles ranging from an ethical look at slum tourism to a primer on how to eat clean while traveling. The essay’s mostly about fishing, so head over to Current Flow State to read the whole thing.
I just finished a standout investigative piece that’s aged very well, Jamie Kitman’s look into leaded gasoline’s terrifying public health legacy, published by The Nation in 2000.
A few things struck me.
One is the continued prevalence of the cascading uncertainty rule, described here:
By relying on what Jerome Nriagu of the University of Michigan has called the cascading uncertainty rule (“There is always uncertainty to be found in a world of imperfect information”), the lead industry and makers and marketers of TEL gasoline additives were able to argue in 1925: “You say it’s dangerous. We say it’s not. Prove us wrong.” (Or, as Nriagu prefers, “Show me the data.”) They still do.
This is an almost classic misdirection that’s affecting how we judge huge dangers to society and public health, like vaccinations and global warming.
Meanwhile, a crusading scientist used techniques for determining this age of the earth to hypothesize how badly we were screwing it up by blanketing it with lead. Clair Patterson then gave what stands as a lasting caution against undue influence in research. This has recently been in the news, with Wall Street and academia cozying up.
“It is not just a mistake for public health agencies to cooperate and collaborate with industries in investigating and deciding whether public health is endangered,” Clair said. “It is a direct abrogation and violation of the duties and responsibilities of those public health organizations.”
I tend to use a lot of others’ research to make points; often, I can be lazy about sourcing. Was it the federal government, or a non-profit organization that’s providing that figure, or is it an entity motivated to make a specific commercial point? Research, both good and bad, can be easily manipulated. This served as a great reminder that concrete, civic-minded fact-finding is always going to serve the truth better than interested parties’ ‘findings’.
Around 2011, inspired by Steven Soderbergh, I started keeping track of notable works I read or watched. Here’s my list from 2013. I left a lot off, because a lot wasn’t notable (especially TV1 ). I didn’t include magazines or longer short reads (ie short stories not part of a collection) because that’s turned out to be too much notation for me. Suffice to say I enjoyed all the stuff on this list because I don’t finish things I don’t enjoy, unless I’m forced to give criticism of them (which I did rarely last year).
All caps, bold: MOVIE
All caps: TV SERIES
Quotation marks: “Play”
1/1, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
1/15, The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson
1/18, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
1/19, FOREIGN INTRIGUE (1956)
2/7, KLF: Chaos, Magic, Music, Money, JMR Higgs
2/9, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011)
2/10, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson
2/11, Blank Spots on the Map, Trevor Paglen
2/15, KLOWN (2010)
2/17, The Fish’s Eye, Ian Frazier
2/20, “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, Martin McDonagh
2/23, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Phillip K. Dick*
2/26, THE LONG GOODBYE* & PRIMER*
3/2, KNIVES INTO FORKS
3/3, A Governor’s Story, Jennifer Granholm and Dan Mulhern
3/6, Diary of a Superfluous Man, Ivan Turgenev
3/9, Endgame, Derrick Jensen
3/12, Good News, Edward Abbey
3/15, Earth House Hold, Gary Snyder
3/31, SPRING BREAKERS
4/9, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day
4/12, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
4/20, Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
4/21, STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS
5/11, Going Down, David Markson
5/19, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris
5/26, Capital, John Lanchester
6/14, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
6/15, Crow, Ted Hughes
7/26, The Shape of Content, Ben Shahn
8/10, Collected Stories, Richard Ford
8/14, I, Partridge, Alan Partridge
8/14, THE SHOUT
8/24, Fire in the Hole, Elmore Leonard
8/28, Pronto, Elmore Leonard
9/5, Riding the Rap, Elmore Leonard
9/7, UPSTREAM COLOR
9/9, DJANGO UNCHAINED
9/11, PACIFIC RIM
9/13, The Human Front, Ken Macleod
9/15, Consolations of the Forest, Sylvain Tesson
9/17, Changing the World is the Only Fit Work For a Grown Man, Steve Harrison
10/3, ANDROMEDA STRAIN*
10/6, La Place de la Concorde Suisse, John McPhee
10/31, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
11/2, ROOM 237
11/4, The Vagrants, Yiyun Li
12/2, Short Stories of Jack London: Authorized One-Volume Edition, Jack London
12/8, The Red Men, Matthew DeAbaitua
12/14, My Traitor’s Heart, Rian Malan
12/25, QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
12/26, HAPPY PEOPLE
- I have three episodes to go in Breaking Bad, don’t worry. [↩]
I’ve gotten a few questions about our holiday zine exchange and what I put together so I figured I’d post it here.
PATRONYM is a photonovella-style story about a rich industrialist’s last wishes in a post-famine world.
Anyway, enjoy it, complete with mock-inside-front-cover-ad, after clicking through.
A while back I read a post somewhere, I think on the IDEO blog, about their experiment with a saddle stapler. There was a story about how they furnished an alcove at the back of the office, and put out the stapler, commonly used to make crude staple-bound zines, and lo, amazing rainbows of creativity happened.
We ain’t them, so I decided to steal part of this idea, with 100% more <shudder> forced creativity, and lo the Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange was born. Everybody had a few months to conceive and execute a zine, using the tools at their disposal, and we’d swap them at the end of the year.
Counting our own issues of Contagious, Most Contagious, and all the the client-commissioned stuff, we made probably 10+ print publications this year. But not everyone has the chance to get dirty with pagination, design, concept and all the other fun parts of making their own magazine. Hell, I’m an editor and I don’t feel like I always do.
I can’t tell you how impressed I was when we exchanged them today. Writers, sales folk, whoever, it didn’t matter. The publications were from the heart and fun, which is all you really need for a good zine.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Noelle: Drink More Whiskey, a primer on everyone’s favorite brown liquid, its characteristics and varieties, where to drink it, recipes, etc., with samples
Kyle: Pittie’ful Zine, a look at the pit bull terrier’s origins, evolution and characteristics, including info on pits in American history
Erin: les hashtags en francais, a study of this year’s top celebrity Twitter arrivals, with hashtagged critiques of their work in French
Arwa: Notes From Goats: A pun-filled literary magazine, as authored by goats (ie critique of The Great Goatsby)
Chris: A Hell of a Lot of Mice: Music and miscellany, including an article on Willis Earl Beal, photos from NYC venues and part of Chris’ top 52 albums of 2013 summary.
I did a short sci-fi photonovela called PATRONYM on the JP Morgan of the clone era coming to terms with his legacy.
Methods as far ranging as In Design and Comic Life and even old fashioned cut-and-paste and hand-lettering brought these to life.
Best of all, they really did what every good solo publication should do: convey something about the creator.
I was having lunch today with a guy who runs the innovation department at a really large package goods company, and one of the things he said stuck in my mind. “We have the tools,” he said, “we just don’t use them.” Sometimes you have to figure out a way to get people to use the tools.
It was very exciting to see an organization I do some volunteer work with profiled by Helen Coster in The New York Times this year on Veterans Day. I would have never guessed the modifier that arrived along with my first appearance in the old grey lady would be “fly fishing guide,” but I’ll take it. I guess it’s a good impetus to finally get my casting instructor certification in order.
Please give the article a read to learn more about the sort of work we’re doing, and do get in touch if you’re interested.
We’ve had a huge outpouring of support since, including a bunch of people donating vintage fishing gear, which we resell to collectors to fund trips for vets.
There’s currently a great auction of vintage fiberglass and bamboo rods happening on eBay, from the collection of a man named Ed Travers. Ed’s rods, all in great condition, would make a wonderful holiday gift for the angler in your life, and a great way to give back to a worthy cause, so why not check them out? I’m helping administer the auction, and will be posting new rods every Tuesday for the next few weeks, with five sets in all available.
Maybe it’s the rumbling beats and Alison Goldfrapp’s melty smooth voice?
I like Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear stuff—it’s direct, and right out of the hardware launch playbook Apple wrote for the iPhone.1 And we might, on first glance, think that’s where Samsung’s big competition for the watch lies.
This near-final frame though, the two seconds it the camera lingers on Jamie, and what are we left with? An Android UI, telling us Ms. Glass is calling? That’s a brilliant bit of priming to link the Samsung gadget with its the real competitor in wearables. These categories don’t invent themselves, people.
- The work is also everywhere right now, with tons of media spend behind the launch. [↩]
Wow, a celebrity profile!
Pick up this summer’s Flaunt, the Context issue, to read a piece I wrote on Nicolas Jaar, one of the more interesting figures in dance music today. I tried to give a sense of the big ideas Jaar’s grappling with, and his perspective as an artist.
To get a sense of how that’s coming through in the music he’s making, check out his page on SoundCloud. The second issuance from his DARKSIDE project is out now, so you can give that a listen, too. That’s probably my favorite work of his.
Tetsuharu Kubota shot him quite well, I think. Apparently it was a cover story, but one of four. The cover of the copy I got has Beyonce. And includes a poster! Fancy.
One of the benefits of living in my part of Brooklyn is you can essentially pick up a graduate-level humanities education in books your neighbors discard on their stoops. I’ve been working my way through a stoop find, the collected stories of Jack London, and was earlier this week on “The League of the Old Men,” about Imber, a tribesman from the north who confesses to slaying dozens of pioneering whites to stem their corrosive effect on his culture.
Imber goes to town to present the white authority with his list of crimes, and finds that Howkan, a younger member of his tribe, is the chosen translator. The way Imber comes to understand Howkan’s literacy is exceptional; he relates it to the signals he reads from the land.
Howkan shook his head with impatience. “Have I not told thee it be there in the paper, O fool?”
Imber stared hard at the ink-scrawled surface. “As the hunter looks upon the snow and says, Here but yesterday there passed a rabbit; and here by the willow scrub it stood and listened and heard, and was afraid; and here it went with great swiftness, leaping wide; and here, with great swiftness and wider leapings, came a lynx; and here, where the claws cut deep into the snow, the lynx made a very great leap; and here it struck, with the rabbit under and rolling belly up; and here leads off the trail of the lynx alone, and there is no more rabbit,—as the hunter looks upon the markings of the snow and says thus and so and here, dost thou, too, look upon the paper and say thus and so and here be the things old Imber hath done?”
Meanwhile, I live for Ted Chiang’s work. His sense of how to mesh the prosaic of the everyday with the fantastic elements derived from possible futures is always totally enthralling. And, on the train yesterday, I dove into his newest, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” published here.
There are some thematic similarities in the two stories: memory, cultural dominance and the inevitable march of technology. Chiang’s is more about augmenting memories, and the possibility that technology will remember it for you, wholesale (couldn’t resist). It’s not quite virgin territory1, but Chiang covers it with the mastery he usually displays. But largely what jumped out at me was this description of literacy. Jijingi, from a tribe that’s without literacy, is learning from the missionary, Moseby, how to read. But first he must understand written language.
The missionary spoke as if his tongue were too large for his mouth, but Jijingi could tell what he was saying. “Yes, I understand.”
Moseby smiled, and pointed at the paper. “This paper tells the story of Adam.”
“How can paper tell a story?”
“It is an art that we Europeans know. When a man speaks, we make marks on the paper. When another man looks at the paper later, he sees the marks and knows what sounds the first man made. In that way the second man can hear what the first man said.”
Jijingi remembered something his father had told him about old Gbegba, who was the most skilled in bushcraft. “Where you or I would see nothing but some disturbed grass, he can see that a leopard had killed a cane rat at that spot and carried it off,” his father said. Gbegba was able to look at the ground and know what had happened even though he had not been present. This art of the Europeans must be similar: those who were skilled in interpreting the marks could hear a story even if they hadn’t been there when it was told.
The coincidence struck me as a bit ironic. No doubt I’ve read and forgotten other connections, other expressions of writing described to the illiterate. And no doubt, if I couldn’t forget, it would have only further lessened the impact of Chiang’s story, as I would have been constantly comparing variations on the same theme, a bizarre mental loop. Sometimes, like both authors contend, it’s better not to know.
Go read the Chiang story2 and tell me what you think.