Weekend Reading: Publishing, Conspiracies, Tech Behaving Badly, MLMs

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. How Capitalism Changed American Literature (PublicBooks.org)

Both essays tell partial truths. By missing corporate conglomeration, they miss the whole. The two paths paved by the period—which subsume and reorient realism or avant-garde, MFA or NYC—were nonprofit or commercial. Two different ways of structuring publishers’ finances created a split within literature, yielding two distinct modes of American writing.

2. Why Is It So Hard to Reach the Christian Conspiracy Theorist? (David French)

And so I feel I should change my response to the question that launched this piece. When you fear for the mind and heart of your conspiracy-committed mother or uncle or son, don’t wait. Engage. But don’t engage immediately with argument, but instead with the fellowship and love that makes the heart want to turn towards truth. You become the person who loves them, accepts them, and helps provide that vital sense of virtuous purpose. 

The conspiracy theory is often the symptom of an underlying disease—a disease of hate or fear that robs a person of joy. The fierce anger and furious purpose of the conspiracy mindset is a hollow replacement for the peace and faith found not just in truth, but in truth communicated by a loving and empathetic family and friends. 

3. Clubhouse is Suggesting Users Invite Their Drug Dealers and Therapists (Medium)

Granting an app access to your contacts is ethically dicey, even if it’s an app you trust. If you’re like most people, the contacts in your phone include not just your real-life friends, but also old acquaintances, business associates, doctors, bosses, and people you once went on a bad date with. For journalists, they might also include confidential sources (although careful journalists will avoid this). When you upload those numbers, not only are you telling the app developer that you’re connected to those people, but you’re also telling it that those people are connected to you — which they might or might not have wanted the app to know. For example, say you have an ex or even a harasser you’ve tried to block from your life, but they still have your number in their phone; if they upload their contacts, Clubhouse will know you’re connected to them and make recommendations on that basis.

4. 12 Ways that MLMs Impact Society (MLMtruth.org)

Multilevel marketing is often ridiculed for its exaggerated promises of income freedom. People often gasp at some of the, admittedly rare, cases where individuals have lost 100s of thousands of dollars, relative to the others that have invested in the scheme. For nearly a decade, writers like the Finance Guy, Sequence Inc, Talented Ladies Club and Ethan Vanderbuilt have offered an incredibly thorough analysis of the financial consequences of becoming a distributor in nearly every major direct selling company.

Today we want to highlight those costs that aren’t captured in this financial analysis. This list is neither exhaustive or ordered in any particular manner.

This is a looonnng read. It is stitched together in one large post to illustrate just how large of an impact these companies have, and how little understanding we all have of their true COST.

Weekend Reading: Seriously… deep fried water

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. Understand Your Horse’s Eyesight (Horse & Rider)

Full disclosure: I don’t think I’ve been on a horse since I was about twelve. I haven’t been near a horse since I was pregnant with Anselm. But it turns out that horse eyesight is super weird! Now you know!

2. Chef Invents Deep Fried Water (The Science Explorer)

#PeakAmerica right here.

3. The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months (The Guardian)

Peter went to work for his father’s company, yet the sea still beckoned, and whenever he could he went to Tasmania, where he kept his own fishing fleet. It was this that brought him to Tonga in the winter of 1966. On the way home he took a little detour and that’s when he saw it: a minuscule island in the azure sea, ‘Ata. The island had been inhabited once, until one dark day in 1863, when a slave ship appeared on the horizon and sailed off with the natives. Since then, ‘Ata had been deserted – cursed and forgotten.

But Peter noticed something odd. Peering through his binoculars, he saw burned patches on the green cliffs. “In the tropics it’s unusual for fires to start spontaneously,” he told us, a half century later. Then he saw a boy. Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature leaped from the cliffside and plunged into the water. Suddenly more boys followed, screaming at the top of their lungs. It didn’t take long for the first boy to reach the boat. “My name is Stephen,” he cried in perfect English. “There are six of us and we reckon we’ve been here 15 months.”

4. These Photos Show Russian in an Entirely Different Light (Culture Trip)

On assignment from Tsar Nicholas II, the pioneer of color photography Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky spent almost a decade travelling across the Russian Empire. Using his ingenious method to create color pictures, the photographer documented the life of the country that ceased to exist in 1917.

In 1909 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, who was already known for a color portrait he had done of Leo Tolstoy, was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II himself to carry out a groundbreaking photographic survey, which the photographer would later refer to as his life’s work.

Weekend Reading: Happy Birthday, Missed Diagnoses, Avocados, Scammer Linguistics

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. “Happy Birthday: is public domain, former owner Warner/Chapell to pay $14M (Ars Technica)

The settlement is a result of a lawsuit originally filed in 2013 by filmmaker Jennifer Nelson, who challenged the “Happy Birthday” copyright. “Happy Birthday” has the same melody as “Good Morning to You,” a children’s song dating to the 19th Century. But despite the song’s murky early history, music publisher Warner/Chappell has stuck to its story that the song was copyrighted in 1935, and a royalty had to be paid for any public use of it—until now.

2. The lost girls: ‘Chaotic and curious, women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us’ (The Guardian)

On a good day, it’s like watching a train whizz past you while you’re trying to read the text on the side and make out faces in the windows. On a bad, a bird might land in front of you. Curious, you pull out your phone, Google the bird and get stuck in a “pigeons of the world” vortex. You discover cassowary eggs are bright green and in 2005, UK police found a leg of swan in the Queen’s Master of Music’s freezer. Two terrine recipes later, the train has long passed and night has fallen. Dazed, you sink under a dark cloud of self-loathing, lamenting another lost day. You don’t remember what kind of bird it was.

The default assumption about ADHD is that it’s what makes little boys disruptive. But it can also make little girls feel like they’ll never be good enough. Statistics have traditionally shown ADHD is more prevalent in males, but recent research suggests this could, in part, be due to misdiagnosis. Unsurprisingly, ADHD in women is hugely under-researched – females weren’t even adequately included in findings until the late 90s. And it wasn’t until 2002 that we got our own long-term study.

3. How to Grow Avocados (WikiHow)

Avocados — the smooth, creamy, nutrient-filled fruit that is essential to dishes like guacamole, can be grown from the pit that is leftover after eating the fruit. Though avocado trees grown from a pit can take quite some time to produce fruit of their own (sometimes as long as 7-15 years), growing an avocado tree is a fun, rewarding project that leaves you with a great-looking tree in the meantime.

4. The Life-Changing Linguistics of Nigerian Scam Emails (Jstor Daily)

It’s well-known that most of the emails are composed by nonnative speakers of English, as is clear from the many grammatical and punctuation mistakes, broken syntax, missing words, and malapropisms (“the will to personify the façade to its practical conclusion” for “pursue the charade”). With so many mistakes, how can this language really fool anyone? Often, victims know the message comes from a nonnative speaker, or they may be nonnative English speakers themselves and may not always recognize grammatical errors. These are the ludicrous linguistic warning signs that helpfully remove most people who are savvy enough to escape the trap and leave the much smaller percentage who stay to be intrigued, starry-eyed, by an implausible story.

Weekend Reading: this one’s just a mish-mash

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. The State of Jell-O Salad in America (HuffPo)

Wyman believes that part of the appeal of Jell-O salad is that it takes the curse off of eating vegetables. “I actually think Jell-O today might do well to advertise simple Jell-O salad recipes to young moms who are trying to get their kids to eat more veggies made with Sugar-Free Jell-O,” Wyman writes. “That’s what Michelle Obama would be talking about if she really wanted to make a dent in childhood obesity and get kids to eat all those veggies she’s growing at the White House.”

2. In a rural Wisconsin village, the doctor makes house calls — and sees some of the rarest diseases on Earth (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

He was 28 years old with a bad car, a growing family and $30,000 in unpaid student loans. The average salary for a family doctor in America was then around $80,000, enough to settle down and begin paying off his debt. 

But the people of La Farge wanted De Line — needed him. Their offer: $20,000.

That would have to cover DeLine’s annual salary, the salary of an assistant to answer the phones and handle billing, plus all the clinic equipment and expenses. “The clinic” itself was an empty, dilapidated building with orange carpeting on some of the walls and a couch that looked like it had been sitting in someone’s garage.

DeLine took the offer.

3. 27 Days in Tokyo Bay: What Happened on the Diamond Princess (Wired)

Arma had spent more than 25 years at sea. Just five months earlier, in these same waters, he had faced his most arduous trial yet, white-knuckling the Diamond‘s helm against Typhoon Faxai. He had held the bow straight into 100-mph winds, lest they catch the cruise liner’s massive flank and fling it around like a toy boat in a Jacuzzi. He accepted the sea’s hierarchy—“You can’t beat Mother Nature, but you can come to a compromise”—so all night he negotiated, gunning the engines and thrusters to keep the 115,875-ton behemoth in place, the nautical version of running on a treadmill. You didn’t hear about a Princess cruise ship slamming into a cargo vessel or capsizing last September, because he succeeded.

“We got through Faxai. We’ll get through this,” a staff captain told Arma upon hearing of the virus aboard the ship. Arma preferred Faxai. This new coronavirus wasn’t something he knew how to navigate.

4. The Last Days of Target (Canadian Business)

The magnitude of what was at stake began weighing on some of those senior officials. “I remember wanting to vomit,” recalls one participant. Nobody disagreed with the negative assessment—everyone was well aware of Target’s operational problems—but there was still a strong sense of optimism among the leaders, many of whom were U.S. expats. The mentality, according to one former employee, was, “If there’s any team in retail that can turn this thing around, it’s us.” The group was riding a wave of momentum, in fact. They had overcome seemingly endless hurdles and worked gruelling hours to get to this point, and they knew there were costs to delaying. The former employee says the meeting ultimately concerned much more than when to open the first few stores; it was about the entirety of Target’s Canadian launch. Postponement would mean pushing back even more store openings. Everyone else in attendance expressed confidence in sticking to the schedule, and by the time the meeting concluded, it was clear the doors would open as promised. “That was the biggest mistake we could have made,” says the former employee.

Weekend Reading: a friendly reminder that the internet is not real life

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. Orthographic Media (Robin Sloan)

Before electronic media, news was attenuated by the friction and delay of transmission and reproduction. When it arrived on your doorstep, a report of a far-off event had an “amplitude” that helped you judge whether or not it mattered to you and/or the world.

That’s not the case with social media, where even tiny, distant events are reproduced “at full size” on your screen. This has been true of electronic media for a long time—I’m thinking of all the local TV news broadcasts that have opened with the day’s grisliest murder—but/and there was, before social media, at least an argument that it was important to have good “news judgment” if you were responsible for putting events on screens, particularly at the highest levels.

2. Yep, I Did Change (Erick Erickson’s Confessions of a Political Junkie)

The good news is I’ve read the back of the Book. It is supposed to be this way and there is nothing you can do to stop it except to be on the winning team. To be on the winning team requires you to do something you very much do not want to do and that is to love your neighbor. I have read the passage and there are no caveats. If your neighbor is a Democrat or gay or Muslim or your childhood tormentor, scripture says you have to love them. It doesn’t say it will be easy.

Washington is not going to save you. Trump is not going to save the country. But Jesus will save you and I am, at this point in my life, way more interested in eternity than the temporary.

That does not mean I think you or I should surrender. That does not mean we should stay home. I’ll vote and I’ll encourage others to vote. But I’m not going to slip into despair and think the world is over if my side loses because Team Jesus does not lose.

3. Navigating Online Controversy In An Age Of Unrelenting, Exhausting, Ubiquitous Bullshit: The American Dirt Story (Singal-Minded)

There were certain problems with how American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins that is currently one of the hottest-selling titles on Amazon, and which was chosen by Oprah for her super-famous book club, was written and publicized.

But how severe were those problems? And which of them were actual, you know, problems, rather than the inevitable outrage-overgrowth that instantly sprouts, kudzulike, during any sort of online pileon, suffocating reasoned conversation?

If you read most journalistic coverage of this controversy, you will not be informed. If anything, you will end up more misinformed than you were when you started. And that’s a useful problem to explore given where journalism is right now. I haven’t read American Dirt, so I can’t speak directly to the plot. But the book itself isn’t actually the point I’m interested in: Rather, I want to talk about the nature of how this controversy — and seemingly every controversy, these days — is being covered by mainstream media outlets.

4. The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter (Vulture)

Many members of YA Book Twitter have become culture cops, monitoring their peers across multiple platforms for violations. The result is a jumble of dogpiling and dragging, subtweeting and screenshotting, vote-brigading and flagging wars, with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other.
Representatives of both factions say they’ve received threats or had to shut down their accounts owing to harassment, and all expressed fear of being targeted by influential community members — even when they were ostensibly on the same side. “If anyone found out I was talking to you,” Mimi told me, “I would be blackballed.”

Dramatic as that sounds, it’s worth noting that my attempts to report this piece were met with intense pushback. Sinyard politely declined my request for an interview in what seemed like a routine exchange, but then announced on Twitter that our interaction had “scared” her, leading to backlash from community members who insisted that the as-yet-unwritten story would endanger her life. Rumors quickly spread that I had threatened or harassed Sinyard; several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling “a washed-up YA author” engaged in “a personalized crusade” against the entire publishing community (disclosure: while freelance culture writing makes up the bulk of my work, I published a pair of young adult novels in 2012 and 2014.) With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse.

Weekend Reading: All the colours of the past

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. Why We Should See The Middle Ages In All Its ‘Garish’ Colors (Forbes)

She told me over email that she draws heavily on material culture in both her teaching and her research. She continuously confronts a preconception about the past as monochrome or, at best, sepia-toned. Luckily, that’s a vision that’s easy enough to dispel.

One of her favorite images to teach with is the 15th-century Kilcoe Castle in Ireland, now home to the actor Jeremy Irons, restored using an authentic style of limewashing to seal the exterior from the water. And there it stands once again, now a majestic salmon-pink.

2. Clothes in Medieval England (Ancient History Encyclopedia)

Clothing was usually made from wool, although silk and brocade items might be saved for special occasions. Outer clothing made from goat or even camel hair kept the rich warm in winter. Fur was an obvious way to improve insulation and provide decorative trimmings, the most common were rabbit, lambskin, beaver, fox, otter, squirrel, ermine, and sable (the latter three became a standard background design in medieval heraldry such was their common use). More decoration was achieved by adding tassels, fringes, feathers, and embroidered designs, while more expensive additions included precious metal stitching and buttons, pearls, and cabochons of glass or semi-precious stones. The taste for colours was the brighter the better, with crimson, blue, yellow, green and purple being the most popular choices in all types of clothes.

3. The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture (The New Yorker)

In the nineteen-nineties, Brinkmann and his wife, Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, who is an art historian and an archeologist, began re-creating Greek and Roman sculptures in plaster, painted with an approximation of their original colors. Palettes were determined by identifying specks of remaining pigment, and by studying “shadows”—minute surface variations that betray the type of paint applied to the stone. The result of this effort was a touring exhibition called “Gods in Color.” Versions of the show, which was launched in 2003, have been seen by three million museumgoers in twenty-eight cities, including Istanbul and Athens.

The replicas often deliver a shock. A Trojan archer, from approximately 500 B.C., wears tight pants with a harlequin pattern that is as boldly colored as Missoni leggings. A lion that once stood guard over a tomb in Corinth, in the sixth century B.C., has an azurite mane and an ochre body, calling to mind Mayan or Aztec artifacts. There are also reconstructions of naked figures in bronze, which have a disarming fleshiness: copper lips and nipples, luxuriant black beards, wiry swirls of dark pubic hair. (Classical bronze figures were often blinged out with gemstones for the eyes and with contrasting metals that highlighted anatomical details or dripping wounds.) Throughout the exhibition, the colored replicas are juxtaposed with white plaster casts of marble pieces—fakes that look like what we think of as the real thing.

4. America in Color (Smithsonian/YouTube). No excerpt to publish here since these are films — but they are super neat.

America in Color – 1920

America in Color – 1930

America in Color – 1940

America in Color – 1950

America in Color – 1960

How Colorized Historical Footage is Painstakingly Made