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kottke.org posts about lists

25 Reasons to Keep on Making Stuff in Times of Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

In an epic GIF-laden thread on Twitter, author Chuck Wendig lays out “25 REASONS TO KEEP ON MAKING STUFF IN THIS TIME OF RAMPANT ASSHOLERY”.

1. Because you need to escape the fuckery, and what you make is a door. A book, a piece of art, even an excellent meal — it’s a doorway out. It’s the tunnel dug out behind the Rita Hayworth poster in your prison cell.

3. Because creation is #resistance. Making things is additive. And in a subtractive time such as this, you must balance the void with its opposite. That is an act of defiance. And we need more defiance.

9. Because it’s therapy. It’s therapy first for you, and if you share it, eventually for us, too.

20. Because when you make stuff, you improve yourself. And we need you in fighting shape. YOU MUST BE A WHETTED BLADE READY TO SLICE THROUGH SHENANIGANS, CHICANERY, AND GARBAGE.

24. Because art is beauty. Stories, poetry, craftwork, food, it’s all beautiful and this ugly world needs a dollop of beauty. There is beauty in both the act and the result of making stuff. So kick the shitstorm out of the sky with an aggressive rainbow counterattack.

See also Austin Kleon’s upcoming book Keep Going (and related talk) and How to Be Productive in Terrible Times.

The Ubiquitous Collectivism that Enables America’s Fierce Individualism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

Forbes recently released their 2019 “30 Under 30” list of “the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada” who are also under 30 years old. A persistent criticism of the list is that many of the people on it are there because of family or other social advantages. As Helen Rosner tweeted of last year’s list:

My take is: all 30 Under 30 lists should include disclosure of parental assets

In a piece for Vox, Aditi Juneja, creator of the Resistance Manual and who was on the 30 Under 30 list last year, writes that Forbes does ask finalists a few questions about their background and finances but also notes they don’t publish those results. Juneja goes on to assert that no one in America is entirely self-made:

Most of us receive government support, for one thing. When asked, 71 percent of Americans say that they are part of a household that has used one of the six most commonly known government benefits — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, or unemployment benefits.

And many people who benefit from government largesse fail to realize it: Sixty percent of Americans who claim the mortgage-interest deduction, which applies to homeowners, say they have never used a government program. If you’ve driven on public roads, gone to public school, or used the postal service as part of your business — well, we all rely on collective infrastructure to get ahead.

And then she lists some of the ways in which she has specifically benefitted from things like government programs, having what sounds like a stable home environment, and her parents having sufficient income to save money for her higher education.

I went to public schools through eighth grade. My parents were able to save for some of my college costs through a plan that provides tax relief for those savings. I stayed on my parent’s health insurance until I was 26 under the Affordable Care Act. I have received the earned income tax credit, targeted at those with low or moderate income. I took out federal student loans to go to law school.

Juneja’s piece reminds me of this old post about how conservatives often gloss over all of the things that the government does for its citizens:

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

And also of mayor Pete Buttigieg’s idea of a more progressive definition of freedom:

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Lists like 30 Under 30 reinforce the idea of American individualism at the expense of the deep spirit & practice of collectivism that pervades daily American life. America’s fierce individuals need each other. Let’s celebrate and enable that.

How AI Agents Cheat

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

This spreadsheet lists a number of ways in which AI agents “cheat” in order to accomplish tasks or get higher scores instead of doing what their human programmers actually want them to. A few examples from the list:

Neural nets evolved to classify edible and poisonous mushrooms took advantage of the data being presented in alternating order, and didn’t actually learn any features of the input images.

In an artificial life simulation where survival required energy but giving birth had no energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle that consisted mostly of mating in order to produce new children which could be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children).

Agent kills itself at the end of level 1 to avoid losing in level 2.

AI trained to classify skin lesions as potentially cancerous learns that lesions photographed next to a ruler are more likely to be malignant.

That second item is a doozy! Philosopher Nick Bostrom has warned of the dangers of superintelligent agents that exploit human error in programming them, describing a possible future where an innocent paperclip-making machine destroys the universe.

The “paperclip maximiser” is a thought experiment proposed by Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University. Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”.

But some of this is The Lebowski Theorem of machine superintelligence in action. These agents didn’t necessarily hack their reward functions but they did take a far easiest path to their goals, e.g. the Tetris playing bot that “paused the game indefinitely to avoid losing”.

Wes Anderson’s Movies, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Rushmore List

For NME, Sophie Charara ranks Wes Anderson’s nine feature films in order of greatness. Her top 3 picks are correct, I think, but I’d shift the order a little. Here’s my list, which is a tiny bit objective but mostly really really subjective.

1. Rushmore
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Fantastic Mr Fox
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Isle of Dogs
7. Bottle Rocket
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Darjeeling Limited

Honestly, 4-8 could have gone in any order for me and The Darjeeling Limited is not that far off.

A List of the 100 Most Important Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

After consulting dozens of authors, critics, and voracious readers, Vulture has come up with A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon, aka a list of the 100 most important books of the 21st century (so far).

Any project like this is arbitrary, and ours is no exception. But the time frame is not quite as random as it may seem. The aughts and teens represent a fairly coherent cultural period, stretching from the eerie decadence of pre-9/11 America to the presidency of Donald Trump. This mini-era packed in the political, social, and cultural shifts of the average century, while following the arc of an epic narrative (perhaps a tragedy, though we pray for a happier sequel).

The top vote-getter is somewhat surprising: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. Also represented high on the list are The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Novels, and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I spotted a bunch of my other favorites on the list as well: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, My Struggle: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and The Harry Potter books. You can imagine the rest of the list as well: Roth, Franzen, Jesmyn Ward, Didion, Atwood, Marlon James, etc.

Would love to see a similar non-fiction list. Off the top of my head: The Warmth of Other Suns, 1491, Sapiens, The Emperor of All Maladies, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, The Black Swan, The Sixth Extinction, The Devil in the White City, Between the World and Me, and Moneyball would all deserve consideration.

Every US President at their worst

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

On Twitter, @InstantSunrise wrote an entertaining thread “in which I drag every single US president in order”. She starts off with The Founding Fathers:

Thomas Jefferson: Motherfucker owned slaves, and was a rapist, committed forced removal against Native Americans. Started an actual war in North Africa and a trade war with Britain that would eventually escalate into an actual war.

Andrew Jackson is deservedly dragged more than most:

Ohhhhhh my god. This absolute motherfucker garbage president. Literally committed genocide. Owned slaves, gave govt. jobs to people who gave him money. Decided that a central bank was a bad idea and closed it in 1837, breaking the entire economy.

Teddy Roosevelt gets a B/B-:

Did some good busting trusts and monopolies with his big dick energy. Discovered that if you bait the media with “access” they’ll eat up whatever shit you say. Had a lot of policies that were racist as shit, like banning all Japanese ppl from entering the US.

Woodrow Wilson gets a Jackson-esque OMG:

Ohhhhhh my god. Dude was like super fucking racist. So racist that his election emboldened racists enough where they literally revived the KKK. His AG, Palmer, loved to deport leftists for no reason. There’s so much shit about Wilson I can’t fit it into 280 chars.

I think she could have gone in on Nixon a bit harder (for creating the war on drugs for example):

Created the southern strategy and stoked racial tensions. Sabotaged the peace negotiations for Vietnam in order to get elected, then prolonged the war. Bombed the shit out of Laos and Cambodia for no real reason. Also watergate.

Only Lincoln and John Quincy Adams get off relatively unscathed.

Barack Obama’s end-of-summer reading list for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2018

Earlier this year, before a trip to Africa, President Obama shared a recommended reading list for this summer heavy on African authors.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

With the end of summer approaching (**heavy sobbing**), Obama posted a list of books he’s personally been reading over the past few months.

Tara Westover’s Educated is a remarkable memoir of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in Idaho who strives for education while still showing great understanding and love for the world she leaves behind.

Set after WWII, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is a meditation on the lingering effects of war on family.

With the recent passing of V.S. Naipaul, I reread A House for Mr Biswas, the Nobel Prize winner’s first great novel about growing up in Trinidad and the challenge of post-colonial identity.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.

The 23 best films of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday proposes a list of movies made in the 2000s that should be added to the canon of the best films ever made. Many of my favorites are on there — The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fog of War, Spirited Away, There Will Be Blood, Children of Men.

Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of the P.D. James novel evinced the perfect balance of technical prowess, propulsive storytelling, complex character development and timeliness when it was released in 2006. But its depiction of a dystopian near-future — what we ruefully now call the present — has proved to be not just visionary but prophetic. Its predictive value aside, it stands as a flawless movie — a masterwork of cinematic values at their purest, with each frame delivering emotion and information in equally compelling measure.

Dunkirk, from just last year, is a bold inclusion…I love that movie but it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up. You can compare this list with two older lists: Dissolve’s and BBC Culture’s.

Update: The NY Times did a similar list last year, with There Will Be Blood and Spirited Away taking the #1 and #2 spots. (thx, paul)

From Errol Morris, a list of 10 things you should know about truth & photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2018

In 2011, writer and filmmaker Errol Morris summarized the main points in Believing Is Seeing, his book on the nature of truth, belief, and reality in photography with a series of tweets.

1. All photographs are posed.

2. The intentions of the photographer are not recorded in a photographic image. (You can imagine what they are, but it’s pure speculation.)

3. Photographs are neither true nor false. (They have no truth-value.)

4. False beliefs adhere to photographs like flies to flypaper.

5. There is a causal connection between a photograph and what it is a photograph of. (Even photoshopped images.)

6. Uncovering the relationship between a photograph and reality is no easy matter.

7. Most people don’t care about this and prefer to speculate about what they believe about a photograph.

8. The more famous a photograph is, the more likely it is that people will claim it has been posed or faked.

9. All photographs are posed but never in the same way.

10. Photographs provide evidence. (The question is of what?)

Morris expanded on the third item in his list in a 2007 NY Times piece.

In discussing truth and photography, we are asking whether a caption or a belief — whether a statement about a photograph — is true or false about (the things depicted in) the photograph. A caption is like a statement. It trumpets the claim, “This is the Lusitania.” And when we wonder “Is this a photograph of the Lusitania?” we are wondering whether the claim is true or false. The issue of the truth or falsity of a photograph is only meaningful with respect to statements about the photograph. Truth or falsity “adheres” not to the photograph itself but to the statements we make about a photograph. Depending on the statements, our answers change. All alone — shorn of context, without captions — a photograph is neither true nor false.

(via austin kleon)

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2018

In 1998, author and media critic Neil Postman gave a talk he called Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. Here are the five ideas Postman shared that day, which are all still highly relevant today:

1. All technological change is a trade-off. For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.

2. The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others.

3. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. Every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.

4. Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible.

5. Media tend to become mythic. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers — they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context.

His first idea about technology is perhaps the most apropos to the current moment:

The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.

Think of the automobile, which for all of its obvious advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape. Or you might reflect on the paradox of medical technology which brings wondrous cures but is, at the same time, a demonstrable cause of certain diseases and disabilities, and has played a significant role in reducing the diagnostic skills of physicians. It is also well to recall that for all of the intellectual and social benefits provided by the printing press, its costs were equally monumental. The printing press gave the Western world prose, but it made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of communication. It gave us inductive science, but it reduced religious sensibility to a form of fanciful superstition. Printing gave us the modern conception of nationhood, but in so doing turned patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion. We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman — that is to say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate.

Perhaps the best way I can express this idea is to say that the question, “What will a new technology do?” is no more important than the question, “What will a new technology undo?” Indeed, the latter question is more important, precisely because it is asked so infrequently. One might say, then, that a sophisticated perspective on technological change includes one’s being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs of great technologies.

Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.

It is nearly impossible to read these paragraphs and not think about how social media (and the internet more generally) has shaped our culture in both good and bad ways…and those who still believe that services like Facebook or Twitter are “unmixed blessings”. The rest of the talk is equally thought-provoking and enlightening.

P.S. Postman made these remarks about 2 weeks after I started publishing kottke.org 20 years ago. At that time, very few people I knew or interacted with online saw anything but the positive aspects of the internet and personal publishing online. Should we have seen the weaponization of the internet coming? Perhaps. But then again, not a lot of people who enjoyed the simple pleasures of Howdy Doody, I Love Lucy, and Lassie could have anticipated the government-shaping toxicity of Fox News and cable news in general.

10 useful foreign language words without direct English translations

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

From The Guardian, 10 of the best words in the world that don’t have direct English translations. From Spain, “sobremesa”:

Lunch — and it is more usually lunch than dinner — will long since have yielded to the important act of the sobremesa, that languid time when food gives way to hours of talking, drinking and joking. Coffee and digestivos will have been taken, or perhaps the large gin and tonic that follows a meal rather than precedes it here.

The sobremesa is a digestive period that allows for the slow settling of food, gossip, ideas and conversations. It is also a sybaritic time; a recognition that there is more to life than working long hours and that few pleasures are greater than sharing a table and then chatting nonsense for a hefty portion of what remains of the day.

And from Iran, “Ta’arof”:

It is an etiquette that is seen almost in all aspects of Iranian life, from hosts insisting on guests taking more food from the table, to the exchanges in the bazaar. “How much is this carpet?” asks Ms A after choosing her favourite in the shop. “It’s worthless, you can just take it,” responds the seller, quite disingenuously.

Although Ms A in reality cannot take the carpet out of the shop without paying for it, the seller might insist up to three times that she should just do that, until the amount of the price is finally mentioned.

Here’s one not from the piece that I’ve seen floating around Twitter in recent days: the Japanese word “tsundoku”, which means to purchase books but never read them, letting them pile up on shelves or nightstands.

Seven bits of advice from Kurt Vonnegut to people living 100 years in the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

In 1988, at the behest of Volkswagen, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter of advice to people living on Earth 100 years in the future. In it, he urged people to live more in harmony with the natural world through these seven steps:

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
7. And so on. Or else.

(via open culture)

Barack Obama’s 2018 Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2018

President Obama is heading to Africa this week for the first time since he left office. In preparation, he shared a recommended summer reading list that’s heavy on African authors. Here’s the full list:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history — and then go out and change it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

The Return by Hisham Matar
A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes
It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.

One of the books on my summer reading list is The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu, recommended to me by a reader a few months ago.

Each of us has a deep need to forgive and to be forgiven. After much reflection on the process of forgiveness, Tutu has seen that there are four important steps to healing: Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and renewing or releasing the relationship. Forgiveness is hard work. Sometimes it even feels like an impossible task. But it is only through walking this fourfold path that Tutu says we can free ourselves of the endless and unyielding cycle of pain and retribution.

100 Useful Things

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2018

100 Useful Things

100 Useful Things

100 useful things “is an expanding collection of durable objects presented by the people who use them every day”.

We believe things come to life when they are used. In a tiring world of perishable items that easily break, this is our tribute to durable objects designed and produced so well that their owners may never have to change them again. 100 useful things tell the stories about the extraordinary items people use all the time and keep forever.

The site currently showcases just over 20 objects, some ordinary and others classic (like the Leica M6 camera, the Braun ET66 calculator, and the Nelson platform bench), each accompanied by a story from that particular item’s owner.

I got my Leica camera when I was assisting fashion photographer Mikael Jansson in 1996. I took all my photos with a point-and-shoot camera, but Mikael thought it was about time for me to buy a real camera, so I went and bought the absolute best camera for ambient light you could get. Henri Cartier-Bresson style. Since then I’ve been using it all the time. It’s a very durable camera.

Kurt Vonnegut on how to write a good story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

In this 90-second video, Kurt Vonnegut provides eight guidelines for writing a good short story.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

This appears to be a reading of the introduction to a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction; in it, the list is referred to by the author as “Creative Writing 101”.

See also Vonnegut explaining the shapes of stories. (thx, jeannie)

The Ten Stages of Genocide

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2018

From Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University, a list of the ten stages of genocide that all societies move through when the group in power decides to murder a large group of people, typically on the basis of ethnicity. For each stage, Stanton has helpfully listed preventative measures.

4. Dehumanization: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. The majority group is taught to regard the other group as less than human, and even alien to their society. They are indoctrinated to believe that “We are better off without them.” The powerless group can become so depersonalized that they are actually given numbers rather than names, as Jews were in the death camps. They are equated with filth, impurity, and immorality. Hate speech fills the propaganda of official radio, newspapers, and speeches.

To combat dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be jammed or shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.

(via @libyaliberty)

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

In Here Are the 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People, Cloe Madanes gives us some advice at how to succeed at self-sabotage (or, really, how to avoid it).

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

See also seven helpful tips on how to be miserable.

Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

Russian writer Varlam Shalamov spent 15 years, from 1937 to 1951, in a Soviet gulag (forced labor camp) for engaging in “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist activities”. He wrote a book of short fiction about his experience called Kolyma Stories. He also wrote down 45 things he learned while in the gulag.

1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.

15. I realized that one can live on anger.

17. I understood why people do not live on hope — there isn’t any hope. Nor can they survive by means of free will — what free will is there? They live by instinct, a feeling of self-preservation, on the same basis as a tree, a stone, an animal.

26. I realized that you can achieve a great deal-time in the hospital, a transfer-but only by risking your life, taking beatings, enduring solitary confinement in ice.

30. I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards. Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat.

44. I understood that moving from the condition of a prisoner to the condition of a free man is very difficult, almost impossible without a long period of amortization.

Freddish, the special language Mister Rogers used when talking to children

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Maxwell King, the former director of the Fred Rogers Center and author of the forthcoming book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, shared an excerpt of the book with The Atlantic about how much attention Rogers paid to how children would hear the language on the show. For instance, he changed the lyrics on Friday’s installment of the “Tomorrow” song he sang at the end of each show to reflect that the show didn’t air on Saturdays.

Rogers was so meticulous in his process for translating ideas so they could be easily understood by children that a pair of writers on the show came up with a nine-step process that he used to translate from normal English into “Freddish”, the special language he used when speaking to children.

1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.

2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.

3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.

4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.

5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.

6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.

7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.

8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.

9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

These are boss-level communication skills. Steps 6 & 8 are particularly thoughtful. Using language like “your favorite grown-ups” instead of “your parents” is often decried these days as politically correct nonsense but Rogers knew the power of caring language to include as many people as possible in the conversation.1

You can also see Rogers’ care in how he went back and fixed problematic language in old shows.

But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent.

Fred Rogers understood more than anyone that paying attention and sweating the details is a form of love. It was never enough for him to let you know that he loved you. He made sure to tell you that he loved you “just the way you are” and that made all the difference.

  1. As opposed to those who, for instance, refuse to use people’s preferred pronouns or can’t bring themselves to use “they/their” instead of “he/his” in writing. Those refusals are also an exercise of power, against individuals or marginalized groups, based on fear, uncertainty, and hate.

A Summer 2018 reading list for America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

The other day, Erika Hall asked on Twitter: “If you could assign every American to read one book over the summer, what would it be?” I love these kinds of questions because it puts people into the shoes of teachers, curators, librarians, or, for the particularly strident, benevolent dictators. For many people, the question actually being asked is: “What do you want America to be? “Here are some of the answers worth mentioning:

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen.

When I first read this thread, someone gave an answer that I thought was pretty much spot on and now I can’t find it. They didn’t recommend a specific title but instead suggested that everyone read a simple book about kindness. I don’t know what that book would be, but in my imagination, it’s like a book version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I would totally read that this summer.

See also a reading list for the resistance.

Ten guidelines for nurturing a thriving democracy by Bertrand Russell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In December 1951, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a piece for the NY Times Magazine titled The Best Answer to Fanaticism — Liberalism with a subhead that says “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” At the end of the article, he offers a list of ten commandments for living in the spirit of liberalism:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Over the past few years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep an open mind about many issues, particularly on those related to politics. Remaining curious and generous about new & different ideas, especially in public, is perhaps more challenging than it was in Russell’s time. We are bombarded on all sides by propaganda, conspiracy theories, and broadly discredited theories from the past pushed upon us by entertainment news outlets and social media algorithms — we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason.

We can’t reasonably be expected to give serious consideration to ideas like “the Holocaust didn’t happen”, “the Earth is flat”, “the Newtown massacre was faked”, “let’s try slavery again”, “vaccines cause autism”, and “anthropogenic climate change is a myth” — the evidence just doesn’t support any of it — but playing constant defense against all this crap makes it difficult to have good & important discussions with those we might disagree with about things like education, the role of national borders in a extremely mobile world, how to address our changing climate, systemic racism & discrimination, gun violence, healthcare, and dozens of other important issues. Perhaps with Russell’s guidelines in mind, we can make some progress on that front.

The 100 best one-hit wonders

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2018

Today’s playlist is The 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs:

You can read the rationale behind all 100 picks on Consequence of Sound.

The standard definition (determined by who, Right Said Fred?) of a one-hit wonder is a band who has cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 only once. What, you had a late-career single make 41? Sorry, thanks for playing, but charting 41 isn’t the same as 40, right? Um, no … maybe? It gets no easier when you have to wade through dozens of other Billboard charts that count for everything except, apparently, determining a one-hit wonder. And what about all those charts in other countries — yeah, we ignored them. Great, this list is making us xenophobic now.

But that’s getting pretty damn technical, and we’re not numbers people here. Because, technically, Beck is a one-hit wonder. As are the Grateful Dead and even Radiohead if they hadn’t snuck in at 37 with “Nude” back in 2008. Very lucky, Mr. Yorke. Can you imagine if you scrolled through a list of the 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs and found Beck sitting at the top spot? You’d collectively crash our site’s server in a contest to see which commenter could say the cruelest thing about our music knowledge, mothers, and cats.

“Technically, Beck is a one-hit wonder.” Also, I feel that Sir Mix-a-Lot should have made the list.

The top 100 stories that changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2018

BBC Culture recently polled authors, journalists, and other literary types from 35 different countries and asked them “to nominate up to five fictional stories they felt had shaped mindsets or influenced history”. From the responses, they compiled a list of 100 stories that shaped the world. Here’s the top 5:

5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)

The Harry Potter series, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Jane Eyre are also included in the top 20. Oddly, the Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, Koran, and other religious texts are nowhere to be found on the list. A story like the four gospels of the New Testament has surely changed the world much more than all of the other titles on the list combined. (via fave5)

Bill Gates’ reading recommendations for Summer 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2018

As he does every year, voracious reader Bill Gates has recommended five books worth reading this summer. Gates’ recommendations often have a Wizard bent and the video he produced for the list probably had a greater budget than the amount I’ve spent on running kottke.org over the past 5 years:

The book I’m most curious about is Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian. I’ve long wanted to check out his Big History course (due to another Gates rec) and this seems like a good way to do that.

David created my favorite course of all time, Big History. It tells the story of the universe from the big bang to today’s complex societies, weaving together insights and evidence from various disciplines into a single narrative. If you haven’t taken Big History yet, Origin Story is a great introduction. If you have, it’s a great refresher. Either way, the book will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe.

Here are his four other recommendations:

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling.

The Songs of the Years, 1925-2018

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2018

Back at the end of 2010, Ben Greenman created a playlist for the New Yorker’s holiday party that featured one song from each year of the magazine’s existence ordered chronologically.

At the party, the mix worked like a charm. Jazz and blues greeted the early arrivals, and as the party picked up, the mood became romantic (thanks to the big-band and vocal recordings of the late thirties and forties), energetic (thanks to early rock and roll like Fats Domino and Jackie Brenston in the early fifties), funky (James Brown in 1973, Stevie Wonder in 1974), and kitschy (the eighties), after which it erupted into a bright riot of contemporary pop and hip-hop (Rihanna! Kanye! M.I.A.! Lil Jon!).

After Greenman’s list was published, others created playlists from it on Rdio, YouTube, and Spotify. I listened to this playlist a lot on Rdio back then; it was the perfect way to time travel through the 20th and early 21st centuries in just a few hours.

I was reminded of the list yesterday after Laura Olin asked about favorite Spotify playlists and discovered that Tom Whitwell’s playlist was still around. He’d created it back in the early days of streaming music services, when Spotify was available only in Europe, so some of the songs had gone missing and others, like those by Michael Jackson & The Beatles, who didn’t allow their music on streaming services then. With Whitwell’s kind permission, I went in and tidied up the list, finding the proper song for every year but 1993 (“Return of the Crazy One,” by Digital Underground, which is available on YouTube…on the playlist it’s represented by “Doowutchyalike”).

Not content to have the list trapped in amber for eternity, I emailed Greenman to see if he had any thoughts on music from the intervening years. Although he’s no longer a staffer at the New Yorker, he generously sent me his selections for 2011-2018.1

2011: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
2012: “Call Me Maybe”by Carly Rae Jepsen
2013: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
2014: “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” by Run the Jewels
2015: “WTF” by Missy Elliott
2016: “Hotline Bling” by Drake
2017: “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar
2018: “This is America” by Childish Gambino

You can listen to the full playlist embedded above or here on Spotify. Greenman shared some thoughts on updating the list:

The original list was occasioned by a party: the magazine’s 85th anniversary. Almost a decade has passed, and many things have changed. It feels like a less celebratory time, darker and less hopeful in some ways. But pop music persists. In extending the list from 2010 to the present, I tried to think about how those short bursts of sound still give us moments of joy, and how certain bursts attach themselves to certain moments in history.

I love this playlist and am so glad it’s back and updated. Big thanks to Ben and Tom for making this happen.

P.S. If you duplicate this playlist on Apple Music, Tidal, etc., send me a link. Or even better, if you’re inspired to create your own Songs of the Years playlist, send along those links too. I would love to hear alternate musical journeys through that era — e.g. playlists featuring only black artists or only women would be amazing.

Update: John Stokvis recreated the playlist on Apple Music. Apple had the correct Digital Underground song, but not De La Soul’s “Me, Myself & I”, so Stokvis subbed in “She Drives Me Crazy” from The Fine Young Cannibals. Here’s the Google Play playlist, courtesy of @neuroboy…looks like Google has every song.

A bit off-topic but still within rhyming distance, Aaron Coleman made a playlist of songs with years in the title from 1952-2031. He acknowledges that some of the songs are “terrible”.

  1. I convinced him to put Drake in there, so if you’re not feeling “Hotline Bling” for 2016, you can blame me. (My rationale: Drake was it for those few years, so you have to have him on there somewhere. Besides, it’s tough to pick just one song from “Lemonade” and it’s not on Spotify anyway.)

    Also, May is a bit early to choose a song for 2018, but “This is America” might hold up. If it doesn’t, maybe Greenman can revisit at the end of the year.

The Great American Read: a list of America’s 100 best-loved novels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

The Great American Read is an upcoming eight-part PBS series about books and reading. The show is built around a national survey that asked a group of “demographically and statistically representative” Americans what their most-loved English language work of fiction was. Here’s the trailer:

The full list of available books is on the web site. Along with the usual suspects of Great Literature™ (The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Little Women) and beloved children’s classics (the Harry Potter series, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web), there are some interesting and not-so-surprising choices as well: The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah, the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Another Country by James Baldwin.

A list of must-read books you don’t have to read

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

The editors of GQ have compiled a list of 20 notable books that you don’t actually have to read, despite their inclusion on various must-read lists. For each one, they suggest a replacement. So:

Don’t read: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Do read: Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

Don’t read: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Do read: Earthsea Series by Ursula K. Le Guin

Don’t read: The Ambassadors by Henry James
Do read: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

Two editors independently recommended ditching Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with Tommy Orange saying:

Mark Twain was a racist. Just read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was a man of his time, so let’s leave him there. We don’t need him.

Blogging is most certainly not dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

A few weeks ago, I asked the readers of the Noticing newsletter to send in links to their blogs and newsletters (or to their favorite blogs and newsletters written by others). And boy, did they! I pared the submissions list down to a representative sample and sent it out as last week’s newsletter. Here’s a smaller excerpt of that list…you can find the whole thing here.

Several people wrote in about Swiss Miss, Subtraction, Damn Interesting, Cup of Jo, sites I also read regularly.

Ted pointed me towards Julia Evans’ blog, where she writes mostly (but not exclusively) about programming and technology. One of my favorite things about reading blogs is when their authors go off-topic. (Which might explain why everything on kottke.org is off-topic. Or is everything on-topic?)

Bruce sent in Follow Me Here, which linked to 3 Quarks Daily, a high-quality blog I’d lost track of.

Marcelo Rinesi blogs infrequently about a little bit of everything. “We write to figure out who we are and what we think.”

Futility Closet is “a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible”. (Thx, Peter)

Michael Tsai blogs about technology in a very old school way…reading through it felt like a wearing a comfortable old t-shirt.

Sidebar: the five best design links, every day. And Nico Lumma’s Five Things, “five things everyday that I find interesting”.

Pamela wrote in with dozens of links, among them visual blog But Does It Float, neuroscience blog Mind Hacks, the old school Everlasting Blort.

Elsa recommends Accidentally in Code, written by engineer Cate Huston.

Madeleine writes Extraordinary Routines, “sharing interviews, musings and life experiments that explore the intersection between creativity and imperfection”.

Kari has kept her blog for the last 15 years. I love what she wrote about why she writes:

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

Social media is as compelling as ever, but people are increasingly souring on the surveillance state Skinner boxes like Facebook and Twitter. Decentralized media like blogs and newsletters are looking better and better these days…

A great list of science books written by women

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2018

Scientist and educator Joanne Manaster has compiled a growing list of science books written by women (with a rule of one book per author). Some of the books and authors featured are:

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Biomimicry by Janine Benyus.

My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin.

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin.

Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette.

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova.

The Invention of Nature by
Andrea Wulf.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach.

The Human Age by Diane Ackerman.

Manaster is soliciting suggestions on Twitter for authors she may have missed.

How to Keep Going

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

I really enjoyed listening to Austin Kleon’s recent talk about how to press forward when doing creative work, even when times get challenging. He talked about ten strategies for keeping yourself moving forward. In addition to “you’re allowed to change your mind”, I particularly liked “forget the noun, do the verb” (don’t worry about being a writer, focus on writing) and “the ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary” (because sometimes I feel like 80% of what I do on this here site is pay more attention than everyone else…like, that’s the secret sauce).

Update: Kleon posted a transcript of his talk on Medium. Here’s a list of his 10 ways to keep going:

How To Keep Going