I’ve been saying that college is obsolete for a very long time. I dropped out in 2000, because even back then I could see that it was a really poor value proposition. I didn’t predict this because I’m some crazy genius, but because I’m willing to discard emotional attachment and stare plainly at the facts.
School is oturageously expensive, leaving graduates with a debt (or net expenditure) of tens of thousands of dollars— sometimes even one or two hundred thousand. There are some things that are worth that amount of money, but for many people school isn’t one of them. In fact, apart from very specific cases, I think that school is a bad thing, not worth doing even if it was free.
That’s not to say that school has no benefits whatsoever. It does, and although I left with zero additional skills after my three semesters there, I had a good time and benefited from the social aspect. The problem is that you can’t just compare college to doing nothing at all. You have to compare it to what you COULD have done.
Let’s say that when you turn eighteen, it’s a good idea to take four years to develop yourself. College is one way to do that. If we were to construct an alternative way to do that, what could it look like? One of the biggest weaknesses of school is how inflexible it is, so one of the greatest benefits of designing your own curriculum is that you could come up with one that uniquely suits you. That said, here’s a plan that I think would benefit many people MORE than school would. Let’s call it the Hustler’s MBA.
1. Learn poker. To an outsider, poker seems like a form of degenerate gambling. It can be, but that’s not its nature. One of the most valuable skills I’ve learned in life is how to assess hundreds of factors, choose the important ones, evaluate them to make a decision quickly, and then execute that decision. Poker teaches this extremely well. So does pickup, incidentally. Poker develops your logic like nothing else I’ve experienced, and it develops your math skills to a lesser degree. It also teaches a skill I can’t quite define, but would best describe as learning how hard you can push. I’ve found all of these skills to be very useful in life.
Poker will cost you money at first. Let’s say $5000 in the first year. After that you’ll be able to make between $45-60 per hour for the rest of your life. That’s about $85,000 per year, which adjusts for inflation because as money is inflated, the stakes to keep the game interesting will go up. You will also receive “raises” because you’ll always improve as a player and be able to play better stakes. If you’re dedicated to poker, getting this good is virtually guaranteed. I’ve been through the process and it’s not particularly hard. Can school guarantee you a job that pays this well?
Besides being able to make $85k/year, you could also play for six months and make $40k a year. Ultimate flexibility. I don’t think that poker is the best career in the world, because it doesn’t give back to society, but I do think that it’s an excellent backup plan. Knowing that I can always support myself playing poker gives me the freedom to work on big projects without fear.
2. Travel a lot. For the first year, learn a foreign language that interests you. Start with three months of Pimsleur tapes, then get a local tutor. That should cost about $1000 for the first year, and will yield results FAR greater than a class in school. After the first year your self-education will be paid for by poker, so start traveling for three months every year. That should cost around $8k at the most, probably more like $5-6k. When traveling, education comes to you in the form of perspective. You understand other cultures and other people, and will get to practice your foreign language in its native setting. I would also combine travel with watching documentaries about the history of that place. I learned a lot about Rome after visiting, and now I’m kicking myself for not educating myself first.
3. Read every single day for at least an hour. Books get lumped in with other reading like magazines and blogs, but they’re actually far more valuable. The amount of value an author compresses into a book is often astounding. There are books I’ve paid $10 for that have completely changed my life. If you read for 1-2 hours on average, you’ll read around a hundred books per year. I do this now and find it to be one of the most valuable uses of my time. Read at least 50% non-fiction, but fiction is good, too. In school you would probably read 12 books a year at most.
4. Write every single day. Write blog posts, work on a book, write how you’re feeling, or write short stories. I don’t think it really matters. Writing every day helps you develop and refine your thoughts, as well as learn to communicate with others. Almost any field you’ll go into will require communication, so you may as well get good at it. After you write, record a video yourself explaining what you wrote. This will help with public speaking and conversation. After the first year at the very latest, start publicly posting your work. This teaches you to ship and to integrate feedback.
5. Learn to program, even if you don’t want to be a programmer. Programming develops logic and efficiency, amongst other things. Even an intermediate understanding of programming will allow you to be a creator. Programming languages are the languages of the future, so even if you aren’t a programmer yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll be working with them. Speaking someone’s language is nice when you’re working with them, right?
6. Do something social. College is really excellent for making people social, and it’s the one aspect in which don’t expect my plan to exceed school. If you’re a guy, consider getting into pickup. If you’re a human, take group art classes, yoga, dance, or go to meetup groups. Social skills are some of the most important skills you can learn, and they can only truly be developed through social interaction. This interaction has to be in person, too… online chatting can be beneficial, but it’s not enough. Traveling will help you be social as well, especially if you stay in hostels.
7. Eat healthy. When you eat healthy, your brain functions better and you’re safeguarding its longevity. Developing yourself is at least as much about good habits as it is about learning skills. And like all habits, the earlier you start, the better. I’d say that the minimum to shoot for here is cutting out all sweeteners and refined grains. Besidses the obvious health benefits, eating healthy will help you build discipline, which is an absolutely essential life skill.
8. Follow curiousity and spend money on it when necessary. These things that I’ve included so far are the baseline— the new liberal arts education. They leave you plenty of time in your day to follow whatever you’re interested in. Don’t force it and try to learn investment banking because you think it would make a good career. If you’re interested in butterflies, learn about butterflies. The rest of the curriculum is enough to make sure that you’ll always be able to provide for yourself and will be a well rounded person, so consider this section your speculative learning. Maybe you’ll find something you’re passionate about, which will become your career, or maybe you’ll just become a really interesting person who knows a lot about a lot of things. Either way is fine. Don’t be afraid to spend money on tutors, classes, equipment, seminars, or travel.
9. Start a business after two years. With a full two years of self-education under your belt, you should have something useful to contribute to society. School makes you go from sheltered learning mode straight into real-world career mode. I think a better way is to have a transition, and to couple productivity with learning. Having that habit will ensure that you continue to perfect your craft as you get older. Your business can be anything— a tech startup, publishing books you’ve written, giving speeches, making clothing and selling it online, whatever you’re into. Read some business books before starting it and try to make money. One of the most common complaints I hear from graduates of traditonal school is that nothing they learned was actually applicable to real ife. Everything you learn from starting a business IS.
This is a modern curriculum that, on average, will produce people better prepared for real life than college. Obviously, it won’t work if you want to be something that requires certification like a doctor or lawyer. The beauty of it is that it has a negative cost (you will make money due to poker, and hopefully your business), and can be funded initially with $5000 for poker. A few months into the second year, you will have paid off the poker debt and begun to self fund your life.
Will this work for you? There’s no guarantee, but I see people work pretty hard at school, and if that same effort were put towards the Hustler’s MBA, I thnk the chance of being self-sufficient and prepared for “real life” is about 90%. I’d estimate that non-laywer/doctor college is somewhere around 50-70%. So, like anything, this plan is not totally foolproof, but I think it’s a lot better and cheaper than the alternative.
There’s a big taboo around telling people not to go to college. I find myself adhering to it, not ever suggesting that younger members of my family should drop out or skip school entirely. But maybe the time has come for us to look at college objectively, really quantify what goes in and what comes out, and evaluate it on its merits alone, rather than its historical value or its societal aura.
Using social video improve our understanding of complex events. Rashomon would allow visitors to study an event from multiple perspectives, zooming in on particular moments to examine sequences in detail.
With the Rashomon tool, activists, journalists, investigators, and ordinary citizens will be able to assemble a more complete view of contested events than could be gained by single-source video footage alone. This comprehensive perspective will better inform the public about the succession of events and could contribute to more just outcomes of court proceedings or investigative commissions. This capacity is valuable in numerous contexts, from the Occupy protests or other political demonstrations in the United States to the deadly clashes between rebels and government forces in the Middle East. We anticipate that the multi-perspective chronologies the Rashomon tool produces will be viewed by tens of thousands of citizens, as well as legal professionals. For example, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center is collecting video footage of clashes between government and rebel forces in the region. A tool like Rashomon could help strengthen evidentiary claims of war crimes or other atrocities, should the leaders be brought before the International Criminal Court or other tribunal. Our goal is to have the tool successfully used to address and resolve two or more controversies arising from important events within the first two years.
Zhang Yue, founder and chairman of Broad Sustainable Building, is not a particularly humble man. A humble man would not have erected, on his firm’s corporate campus in the Chinese province of Hunan, a classical palace and a 130-foot replica of an Egyptian pyramid. A humble man, for that matter, would not have redirected Broad from its core business—manufacturing industrial air-conditioning units—to invent a new method of building skyscrapers. And a humble man certainly wouldn’t be putting up those skyscrapers at a pace never achieved in history.
In late 2011, Broad built a 30-story building in 15 days; now it intends to use similar methods to erect the world’s tallest building in just seven months. Perhaps you’re already familiar with Zhang’s handiwork: On New Year’s Day 2012, Broad released a time-lapse video of its 30-story achievement that quickly went viral: construction workers buzzing around like gnats while a clock in the corner of the screen marks the time. In just 360 hours, a 328-foot-tall tower called the T30 rises from an empty site to overlook Hunan’s Xiang River. At the end of the video, the camera spirals around the building overhead as the Broad logo appears on the screen: a lowercase b that wraps around itself in an imitation of the @ symbol.
In person, Zhang himself seems to move at an impossible time-lapse clip. He’s almost always surrounded by Broad employees, all wearing identical white button-front shirts (the uniform for the corporate office) and all offering papers for him to review or sign. When I arrive, he’s issuing a steady barrage of instructions while spinning himself around in his office chair. When he’s finally ready to start the interview, he abruptly stops spinning and, without looking at me, barks out, “Begin!”
The pace of Broad Sustainable Building’s development is driven entirely by this one man. Broad Town, the sprawling headquarters, is completely Zhang’s creation. Employees call him not “the chairman” or “our chairman” but “my chairman.” To become an employee of Broad, you must recite a life manual penned by Zhang, guidelines that include tips on saving energy, brushing your teeth, and having children. All prospective employees must be able, over a two-day period, to run 7.5 miles. You can eat for free at Broad Town cafeterias unless someone catches you wasting food, at which point you’re not merely fined but publicly shamed.
So far, Broad has built 16 structures in China, plus another in Cancun. They are fabricated in sections at two factories in Hunan, roughly an hour’s drive from Broad Town. From there the modules—complete with preinstalled ducts and plumbing for electricity, water, and other infrastructure—are shipped to the site and assembled like Legos. The company is in the process of franchising this technology to partners in India, Brazil, and Russia. What it’s selling is the world’s first standardized skyscraper, and with it, Zhang aims to turn Broad into the McDonald’s of the sustainable building industry.
“Traditional construction is chaotic,” he says. “We took construction and moved it into the factory.” According to Zhang, his buildings will help solve the many problems of the construction industry. They will be safer, quicker, and cheaper to build. And they will have low energy consumption and CO2emissions. When I ask Zhang why he decided to start a construction company, he corrects me. “It’s not a construction company,” he says. “It’s a structural revolution.”
Compared with the West’s elegant modular buildings, Zhang’s skyscrapers are aesthetically underwhelming, to say the least. On a tour of the T30, my guide gestures at a scale model and says, “It’s not very good-looking, is it?” To create a sufficiently spacious lobby for the hotel, an awkward pyramid-shaped structure had to be attached to the base. Inside, the hallways are uncomfortably narrow; climbing the central stairway feels like clanging up the stairs of a stadium bleacher.
It’s worth noting, though, that the majority of apartment buildings going up in China are equally ugly. Broad’s biggest selling point, amazingly enough, is in the quality. In a nation where construction standards vary widely, and where builders often use cheap and unreliable concrete, Broad’s method offers a rare sort of consistency. Its materials are uniform and dependable. There’s little opportunity for the construction workers to cut corners, since doing so would leave stray pieces, like when you bungle your Ikea desk. And with Broad’s approach, consistency can be had on the cheap: The T30 cost just $1,000 per square meter to build, compared with around $1,400 for traditional commercial high-rise construction in China.
The building process is also safer. Jiang tells me that during the construction of the first 20 Broad buildings, “not even one fingernail was hurt.” Elevator systems—the base, rails, and machine room—can be installed at the factory, eliminating the risk of a technician falling down a 30-story elevator shaft. And instead of shipping an elevator car to the site in pieces, Broad orders a finished car and drops it into the shaft by crane. In the future, elevator manufacturers are hoping to preinstall the doors, completely eliminating any chance that a worker might fall.
While Jiang focuses on bringing Broad buildings to the world, her boss is fixated on the company’s most outlandish plan—the J220, a factory-built 220-floor behemoth that would just happen to be the tallest building in the world. It’s hard to say for sure that the 16-million-square-foot plan isn’t entirely a publicity stunt. But Zhang has hired some of the engineers who worked on the current height-record holder, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, and Broad has created two large models of “Sky City” (as the J220 has been nicknamed). The foundation is scheduled to be laid in November at a site in Hunan; if everything goes well, the building will be complete in March 2013. All in all, including factory time and onsite time, construction is expected to take just seven months. Again, that’s assuming it really happens: When my guide at the T30 plugs in one of the models and the lights flicker on, he tells me, “My chairman says we have to attract eyes. We have to shock the world.”
But if all Broad ever does is build 30-story skyscrapers—in 15 days, at $1,000 per square foot, with little waste and low worker risk, and where the end result can withstand a 9.0 quake—it will have shocked the world quite enough.
In 2012 America, as she points out, women are better educated than men (women earn the majority of bachelor’s and graduate degrees); an escalating number of single women younger than 30 earn more than their male peers; and nine of the 10 U.S. job industries with the most projected growth are women-dominated. This last figure has resulted from various societal shifts, ranging from a late-20th-century fall in manufacturing jobs to the rise of such lucrative, almost exclusively female professions as psychotherapy. (Indeed—do you know a male therapist? I don’t, and my last therapist charged a murderous $275 an hour.)
In nearly 40 percent of American marriages, the wife earns more than the husband. Data indicate that this power inversion can trigger not just problems with gender identity but a troubling amount of male infidelity (peculiar new trend: women who are financially dependent on their husbands tend to be faithful, while, paradoxically, financially dependent men tend to stray). One 2010 study showed that when a woman’s contribution to household income tops 60 percent, the couple is more likely to divorce.
But Mundy sunnily believes a bright day will dawn once households with a female primary breadwinner become the new American majority, as data suggest they will. Just as the workplace will become more feminized (let’s chant the shibboleth together: on-site-child-care-paid-parental-leave-flextime), the home will become more masculinized. In short: Could the next wave be Adam and Eve snuggling together over a Desert Storm–camouflage Miele vacuum cleaner?
(Editor’s note: I, for one, welcome our new female overlords.)
By DAVID BROOKS NY Times Published: September 10, 2012
You’re probably aware of the basic trends. The financial rewards to education have increased over the past few decades, but men failed to get the memo.
In elementary and high school, male academic performance is lagging. Boys earn three-quarters of the D’s and F’s. By college, men are clearly behind. Only 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to men, along with 40 percent of master’s degrees.
Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent. In Friday’s jobs report, male labor force participation reached an all-time low.
Millions of men are collecting disability. Even many of those who do have a job are doing poorly. According to Michael Greenstone of the Hamilton Project, annual earnings for median prime-age males have dropped by 28 percent over the past 40 years.
Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.
Over the years, many of us have embraced a certain theory to explain men’s economic decline. It is that the information-age economy rewards traits that, for neurological and cultural reasons, women are more likely to possess.
To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks.
But, in her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.
Rosin reports from working-class Alabama. The women she meets are flooding into new jobs and new opportunities — going back to college, pursuing new careers. The men are waiting around for the jobs that left and are never coming back. They are strangely immune to new options. In the Auburn-Opelika region, the median female income is 140 percent of the median male income.
Rosin also reports from college campuses where women are pioneering new social arrangements. The usual story is that men are exploiting the new campus hookup culture in order to get plenty of sex without romantic commitments. Rosin argues that, in fact, women support the hookup culture. It allows them to have sex and fun without any time-consuming distractions from their careers. Like new immigrants, women are desperate to rise, and they embrace social and sexual rules that give them the freedom to focus on their professional lives.
Rosin is not saying that women are winners in a global gender war or that they are doing super simply because men are doing worse. She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men. There’s a lot of evidence to support her case.
A study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that small businesses owned by women outperformed male-owned small businesses during the last recession. In finance, women who switch firms are more likely to see their performance improve, whereas men are more likely to see theirs decline. There’s even evidence that women are better able to adjust to divorce. Today, more women than men see their incomes rise by 25 percent after a marital breakup.
Forty years ago, men and women adhered to certain ideologies, what it meant to be a man or a woman. Young women today, Rosin argues, are more like clean slates, having abandoned both feminist and prefeminist preconceptions. Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and their movement.
If she’s right, then men will have to be less like Achilles, imposing their will on the world, and more like Odysseus, the crafty, many-sided sojourner. They’ll have to acknowledge that they are strangers in a strange land.
Epidemiologists have now homed in on a series of factors that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, including being migrant, being male, living in an urban environment, and being born poor. One of the more disconcerting findings is that if you have dark skin, your risk of falling victim to schizophrenia increases as your neighborhood whitens. Your level of risk also rises if you were beaten, taunted, bullied, sexually abused, or neglected when you were a child. In fact, how badly a child is treated may predict how severe the case of an adult person with schizophrenia becomes—and particularly, whether the adult hears harsh, hallucinatory voices that comment or command. The psychiatrist Jean-Paul Selten was the first to call this collection of risk factors an experience of “social defeat,” a term commonly used to describe the actual physical besting of one animal by another. Selten argued that the chronic sense of feeling beaten down by other people could activate someone’s underlying genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia.
All this—the disenchantment with the new-generation antipsychotics, the failure to find a clear genetic cause, the discovery of social causation in schizophrenia, the increasing dismay at the comparatively poor outcomes from treatment in our own health care system—has produced a backlash against the simple biomedical approach. Increasingly, treatment for schizophrenia presumes that something social is involved in its cause and ought to be involved in its cure.
“Telegraph Avenue,” Michael Chabon’s rich, comic new novel, is a homage to an actual place: the boulevard in Northern California where Oakland — historically an African-American city — aligns with Berkeley, whose bourgeois white inhabitants are, as one character puts it, “liable to invest all their hope of heaven in the taste of an egg laid in the backyard by a heritage-breed chicken.” The novel is equally a tribute to the cinematic style of Quentin Tarantino, whose films its characters study and discuss, and whose preoccupations pepper its pages: kung fu, cinematic allusions and the blaxploitation films of the 1970s; and an interest in African-American characters and experience. Chabon and Tarantino make an unlikely duo; while the latter’s films tend toward gaudy eruptions of violence, Chabon bends Tarantino’s sensibility to a warmhearted novel about fatherhood in which the onstage violence consists of two graphic childbirth scenes and a 15-year-old boy whacking a chubby thug with a wooden sword. A self-help book in the style of Andrei Tarkovsky would be hardly more oxymoronic.
Yet Chabon has made a career of routing big, ambitious projects through popular genres, with superlative results — in “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” he used the history and tropes of comics to render the convulsions of American life during and after World War II; the more recent “Yiddish Policemen’s Union” is a thought experiment, in the form of a noirish whodunit, about an alternate Jewish state. The scale of “Telegraph Avenue” is no less ambitious: Chabon sifts through the layers of Oakland’s archaeology, from the Miwok Indians, “dreaming the dream, living fat as bears, piling up their oyster shells,” and the arrival of a black middle class (thanks in part to the Pullman Company, which hired black men as porters in its sleeper cars) to the wildness of the Black Panther days and the summer of 2004, when the novel is set in a technological eddy that makes it feel 10 years earlier.
The father (and son) at the center of “Telegraph Avenue” is one Archy Stallings, a sometime bassist who is African-American and Oakland-raised. With his white best friend, Nat Jaffe, Archy owns a store called Brokeland Records, selling used vinyl on the site of a former barbershop whose old-timers and nostalgics it has inherited. Like many characters in “Telegraph Avenue,” Archy and Nat belong to “a league of solitary men united in their pursuit of the lost glories of a vanished world.” They are holdouts, unplugged and awaiting, in a state of dread, what Archy calls “the great wave of late-modern capitalism.”
Archy also dreads fatherhood. In the novel’s opening pages, Gwen, his pregnant wife, catches Archy cheating on her, setting in motion one of several parenting plots that converge around Archy like a swarm of angry wasps: his own feckless, absentee father, Luther Stallings, a onetime blaxploitation star finally clean after years of drug abuse, arrives in town scheming about a comeback underwritten by his blackmail of a shady local politician over their shared Panther history; Archy’s illegitimate 14-year-old son, Titus, whose existence he’s barely registered, also washes up in Oakland, and falls into a sexual relationship with Nat’s beloved gay teenage son, Julius; and Archy’s surrogate father, an elderly organ player, is crushed to death under his keyboard while trying to heft it for a political gig starring State Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. As if all of that weren’t enough, Gwen, a midwife in business with Nat’s wife, explodes at a racist doctor, causing a chain of repercussions. And Brokeland Records finds itself in the path of the encroaching empire of Gibson Goode, a former N.F.L. star who plans to break ground on a slick new mall (with a music store selling vinyl) two blocks away.
There are pathos and suspense in these tribulations, but the world of “Telegraph Avenue” is safe, symmetrical and fundamentally comic. At times the humor arises from Tarantino-esque exchanges among would-be gangsters; during a stakeout near a doughnut shop, a hoodlum muses: “It’s a longitudinal study… . Bear claw is my, what you call, control… . If the bear claw’s good, the standardize doughnuts be even better.” The most amusing passages exploit the mash-up of races and cultures in Oakland and Berkeley; on the day of the organ player’s funeral, Archy and Nat are questioned about their fulfillment of the dead man’s musical wishes (he would have wanted a “Chinese” group called the Green Street band):
“I had to go in a different direction. Hired this outfit, Bomp and Circumstance, you know them?”
“They got the set list together, they know how the Chinese do it, the hymns and whatnot.”
“But still … lesbians ain’t quite what he asked for, either.”
Much of the wit in “Telegraph Avenue” inheres in Chabon’s astonishing prose. I don’t just mean the showy bits: a 12-page-long sentence that includes the observations of an escaped parrot, or the lovely, credible scene from Obama’s point of view. I mean the offhand brilliance that happens everywhere: a woman’s sun-tanned shins “shining like bells in a horn section.” Titus’s memories, “a scatter of images caught like butterflies in the grille of his mind.” The interior of the gondola on Gibson Goode’s zeppelin: “On the spectrum of secret lairs, it fell somewhere between mad genius bent on world domination and the disco-loving scion of a minor emirate.” Or Archy, forgiven by his wife in the moment of losing his father figure: “Somewhere in the midst of the continent of shock and grief that was Archy Stallings, a minor principality rejoiced.”
Chabon has always struck me as a joyful writer — his own pleasure and curiosity are part of the reading experience. This time, his curiosity may surpass the reader’s; “Telegraph Avenue” feels over-dense, larded with digressions that hamper the acceleration of its complicated plot. When Gwen first discovers Archy’s infidelity: “ ‘It’s the indignity of it,’ she heard herself telling him, invoking a key concept of her mother’s code of morality with such stone likeness that it chilled her, spiders walked on the back of her neck, you might as well swing the camera around and show Rod Serling standing there behind a potted banana tree in an eerie cloud of cigarette smoke.”
Because a woman in mid-tirade would seem unlikely to pause and imagine herself on camera with Rod Serling, the observation is merely distracting. The same can be said of some of the novel’s abundant asides about musical recordings and theories, and its pileups of pop cultural references, as when Gwen detects in the speaking style of a white lawyer who likes to act black “the discarded materials of rap records, Grady Tate on ‘Sanford and Son,’ a touch of Martin Lawrence and then at the core, something really questionable, maybe Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader on ‘The Electric Company.’ ”
It’s a testament to Archy’s magnetism, and the buoyancy of Chabon’s material, that the plot lifts off despite this extra weight. And when, in its moving final pages, the Internet is fully invoked, the arrival feels hopeful in a way that already seems nostalgic. The teenage boys continue their defunct relationship as made-up characters online, where race, gender and sexual orientation are not burdens, but choices. For Archy and Nat, online commerce offers the chance to reach vinyl-record lovers around the globe who are eager to acquire (as a vintage card seller puts it) “what small piece of everything you had ever lost that, you might come to believe, they would restore to you.”
It isn’t the fetishists who find their losses restored in “Telegraph Avenue,” but the alienated fathers and sons: Archy and the father who abandoned him; Archy and the son he abandoned along with his newborn son, whose experience of fatherhood still hangs in the balance. In the end, Chabon’s novel suggests, what has the power to fill the void inside us isn’t artifacts, but paternity. In fact, it may have been Dad who was missing in the first place.
By MARK BITTMAN NY Times Published: September 4, 2012
THE last time I ate in a four-star white-tablecloth restaurant, I was frustrated and unhappy. (Bear with me; I’m not asking for sympathy.)
This wasn’t an isolated incident: It simply isn’t what I want anymore. It’s become painful, not in the visiting-the-dentist sense, but in the “you have to go to synagogue; it’s Yom Kippur” sense, a long, drawn-out affair in which even the obviously beautiful and enjoyable parts — the $10,000-a-week flower arrangements, the custom glassware and china and sometimes even the carefully prepared if almost always overly subtle (to my taste) food — were overwhelmed by the sheer tedium.
These are temples of ceremony, with (normally absent) chefs as priests; they’re circuses without clowns or trapezes.
Start with the obligatory greeting. Even done well, it can feel white-tooth phony; done badly, you feel slighted. Move on to the choices of water. Really? We have to talk about that?
The drink order. The presentation of the menus and then the wine list. The visit of the wine guy, if you appear as if you’ll open your wallet even further. The discussion of the menu. The waiting to order. The opening of the wine, the flourish, the tasting, the nod, the waiting for the wine guy to leave.
The waiting for the amuse-bouches, which were originally meant to keep you happy while you were waiting for those first few things to happen and now usually happen long after you’ve already become grumpy because, after all, it’s a restaurant and you’re hungry. (Whatever happened to a few pieces of salami and some olives sitting on the table, or a couple of pickles, even?)
Three hours later, there is no sense of wonder or excitement or even an attack on your hunger; your appetite simply diminishes and then gives up. Nor is there a single conversation between you and your companion(s) that is left uninterrupted for more than five minutes. All this for $200.
There are, I think, better entertainments. If the food isn’t mind-blowing, what’s the point?
Shame on me, I know, for failing to enjoy something so luxurious. But this isn’t the Grand Canyon; unless each time somehow surpasses the time before, it loses its luster.
It’s not just white-tablecloth restaurants, either. There is the general unpleasantness of the über-hip places that I had once enjoyed and that, like marijuana, I eventually pretended to. The standing in line, the loud music and the impossibility of conversation, the intentionally horrible seats, and (I’m sorry to say, but this is my experience) the declining quality of the food. I have an alternative: I can cook. Most times I choose to do so.
What does impress? What do I really like? A place that does something well and doesn’t mess with it. A place where I might get a bowl of pasta with pesto or, God forbid, a steak frites or a hot ginger-laced stir-fry over real rice at a price that doesn’t make me laugh. A place that will make me think I didn’t waste my time leaving the house.
It’s about expectations and consistency. Whatever I expect from a four-star restaurant has become unachievable. When it was all new, 30 or 40 years ago, when I first ate in France and Italy, or at the late Jean-Louis Palladin’s in the Watergate or at Lafayette when Jean-Georges Vongerichten first came to New York, I couldn’t believe what was happening. O.K., I’m jaded. No sympathy for that, of course; I get that. But I know I’m not alone.
The question is, what remains? What works in a restaurant? Obviously if the food isn’t delicious, everything else will just seem annoying, and that happens quite a lot.
But it takes more. Personalization helps: I recently visited a Madrid restaurant called La Tasquitas de Enfrente. The food was terrific, but equally impressive was that the chef took three to five minutes to get each table’s order, even at the tables of first-timers. Obviously this meant he was spending less time on the line. But he was coaching people, trying to figure out what they might like, engaging. He gave everyone a sense of “this is your place”-ness. It was about what might please you, engage you, make you come back, of course. He was trying to make it your place.
I want “my” place, don’t you? A place with a working chef, not a cookie-cutter spinoff and certainly not a circus. A place where the food is at least as good as what I can do at home and preferably better, and consistently so; one that’s pleasant; one where I’m vaguely known as a repeat customer, but not falsely fawned over; one where I can pay without thinking about what that chunk of money might have gone to instead.
My place right now is a Japanese hole in the wall. (I’m keeping it that way by not naming it. Sorry.) There’s no celebrity chef, no publicity, no hipness other than that exuded by the young servers. It couldn’t be less trendy and to prove it, I’ll tell you that: a) it’s in Midtown, and b) it’s populated almost exclusively by expat and visiting Japanese. I suspect it’s in a Japanese guidebook to New York.
How did I find it? It’s across the street from the back door of what was once my building. It’s ugly: the tables are Formica, with standard cafe chairs; the napkins are paper; and the cash register, which is at the back of the kitchen, is wrapped in plastic to keep the grease off the keys.
But I’ve never taken or sent anyone there who didn’t leave happy. The food is quite good (I can’t cook it nearly so well), although you wouldn’t call it mind-blowing. The chef has not changed in the six years since I started going there, and he makes a monstrous vat of what I think is pork-bone stock every day (I don’t ask questions; I just want to enjoy). Its texture glazes, and its flavor pervades many of the dishes. There is wonderful ramen.
There are even better rice dishes, really glistening bowls of sweet short-grain rice piled high with curry sauce (not my thing) or fried pork (better) or chop suey (a stir-fry of about 30 little bits of things, from cabbage to squid to shiitakes, all with thickened pork broth), which is pretty much what I order. The gyoza are better than average, and there’s a dish of chicken livers and leeks that’s quite nice. There is a great little sake list, so that at night you can linger a little while — maybe an hour, total, as opposed to the 30 minutes it takes to eat lunch — and do some giggling.
The servers know me as the non-Japanese guy who comes in often and doesn’t like to sit in the front; they say hello and send me to the back. The chef and cooks nod. They cook their fine food. The servers bring it. I eat it. A server comes and refills the water glass; she might ask if I want more sake. (They never ask how things “are tasting.”)
Eventually I pay the bill, without regret ($29 for two the other day, and that was four dishes), and I go home happy, satisfied and full.
I can’t wait to get started on this exciting new advertising campaign for your product/service. It is truly a great opportunity.
By entering into this freelance contract with me, I agree to provide you with the following materials for your new advertising campaign:
A mood board session, in which my team will provide you with 2-3 mood boards that, while appearing to be simple pictures clipped from magazines and then pasted onto black foam core, are, in actuality, THE FUTURE FOR YOURBRAND’S DIRECTION. These pictures will be edgy and artsy and will take your brand into a new edgy and artsy direction. There will be at least two photographs of Ashton Kutcher.
A dozen made up words related to your product that will “draw consumers in.” These shall include, but not be limited to, words with the following suffixes: “–tastic,” “-tacular,” and “–riffic.” Also, while you probably already know this, I was the one who came up with the word “crumbelievable” in 2007 to describe the Keebler company’s new line of coffee cake cookies. It goes without saying that following the institution of this new word as a product line tagline, sales proceeded to go through the roof.
A logo exploration that includes at least five unique logo designs. These will consist of differently sized circles and in one case the words will be rotated to a landscape rather than a portrait view. If you want your actual company name below the logo, that will be part of round two and will require additional dollars and conceptual exploration time.
Five conceptual print advertising ideas that don’t actually contain your logo or company name at all.
Three television storyboards for proposed television commercials. The explosions, large groups of people, and time of year you will see depicted in these storyboards will be occurrences that can only be shot in New Zealand, so these three ideas must be shot in New Zealand in order to be an effective advertisement for your product/service. This is non-negotiable.
At least one media-agnostic concept that involves a Rube Goldberg machine.
A direct mail concept that you won’t open or ever see. (It’s actually a piece of my son’s lined notebook paper with sketches of monsters on it, not that it matters.)
A web homepage layout, which will be a rough sketch with black pen on white paper, on which I will have taken the liberty to draw boxes to indicate where you should put your web content. If you’d like to see this concept “come to life,” it will require an additional estimate and 5 more weeks of conceptual exploration time.
A mobile device layout, which is a new offering. This will be a slightly smaller version of the web homepage layout. This, as a “new media” offering, is not part of the standard scope of work and will require additional funds and weeks of conceptual exploration time.
Fourteen unique PR stunts that include ways to build a “buzz” for your brand. Half of these will be ideas for celebrity endorsements or involvements that aren’t possible either because you can’t afford them, the celebrity actually hates your product/service, or because the celebrity is dead or fictional or trademarked (e.g., Aquaman). The remaining seven will all involve putting a large billboard somewhere in Times Square in various locations.
Two-to-Six “viral” ideas that involve a cat.
Please find enclosed my contract, which I request that you sign and return at your earliest convenience.
Again, my sincerest thanks for considering me for this project.
Sincerely, Andrew Gall Freelance Advertising Professional
When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher. Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part, done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our head is, however, really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal — that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk. Such, however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read themselves stupid. … And just as one spoils the stomach by overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment. For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.
I believe much of photography is already a commodity and I plan to speak about it during the ASMP Symposium next Thursday the 27th in New York at the Times Center. The topic for the event (more details here) is “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists” which is a topic I’ve been thinking and writing about since I started this blog. the ASMP goes on to say “the rules of the game have changed and it’s no longer business as usual in today’s crowded visual arts marketplace” which to me leads to an obvious conclusion: photography is a commodity.
Commodification is a scary thought. It means you are competing on price and racing to the bottom.
Ok, so that’s the bad news. But, there’s an upside. Before we get to that, let’s destroy this cliché that I hear all the time how “photographers brought it on”, because they didn’t do something to prevent it. All the bitching and whining about weak willed photographers who wont hold the line and clients who wont pay the fees. Commodification is a natural market process. You cannot stop this.
To see the upside you need to take a more nuanced view of photography. You need to consider photography services a value chain and the act of taking a picture, what I like to call being a “camera operator”, as one part of this value chain. You also need to understand that commodification occurs when the improvements to a product overshoot the needs of the client. Better equipment and techniques matter little to the majority of clients. There will always be exceptions, but sadly, it seems we are all past the point of good enough (even if in some parts of the industry good enough is distirbingly low). Nevertheless, don’t dwell on it. Technology that blew your mind ten years ago is now completely commodified. It can’t be stopped.
The upside is that if you have commodification, somewhere else in the value chain a reciprocal process of de-commoditization is at work. In the book I’m reading now (The Innovator’s Solution) author Clayton M. Christensen goes on to say that “commoditization destroys a company’s ability to capture profits by undermining differentiability, de-commoditization affords opportunities to create and capture potentially enormous wealth.”
You just have to find the spot in the value chain where performance is not yet good enough, where you can differentiate yourself by being better than the others. Exciting, right?
I have lots of thoughts on this that I will get into during the symposium but here’s one simple observation.
Not too long ago your personality mattered little in photography. You could be the most abhorrent dick-wad and land all the work you wanted if your photography was awesome. I see plenty of evidence now that this is not longer possible. An art director I sat on a panel with even said “the top 5 photographers for a car shoot are all qualified to do the job. it comes down to personality as to who will get the job” Personality is one tiny part of the value chain, but it’s now more important than the photography. That’s astounding.
Sad if you enjoy operating cameras, but very exciting if you enjoy the entire value chain of photography services. My favorite photographers to work with have always been the creative problem solvers. Now I can clearly see the de-commodization at work.
We have all held leaves, driven miles to see their fall colors, eaten them, raked them, sought their shade. Since they are everywhere, it’s easy to take them for granted.
But even when we do, they continue in their one occupation: turning light into life. When rays of sunlight strike green leaves, wavelengths in the green spectrum bounce back toward our eyes. The rest—the reds, blues, indigos, and violets—are trapped. A leaf is filled with chambers illuminated by gathered light. In these glowing rooms photons bump around, and the leaf captures their energy, turning it into the sugar from which plants, animals, and civilizations are built.
Chloroplasts, fed by sun, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients, do the leaf’s work. They evolved about 1.6 billion years ago when one cell, incapable of using the sun’s energy, engulfed another cell—a cyanobacterium—that could. That cyanobacterium became the ancestor of every living chloroplast. Without their chloroplasts plants would be left like the rest of us, to eat what they find. Instead they hold out their green palms and catch light. If there is magic in the world, surely this is it: the descendants of tiny creatures in leaves, capable of ingesting the sun.
If you gather a bouquet of leaves to consider their magic, it is hard to overlook their diversity and, if you are the curious sort, to wonder why there exists such a preponderance of forms. Some leaves don’t seem to be leaves at all, having become flower petals, thorns, or the spines on a cactus. But even an ordinary oak leaf, dandelion leaf, and grass blade differ in size, thickness, shape, hue, texture, taste, and nearly every other feature.
Leaves are large, small, thick, thin, compound, simple, curved, or lobed. And these terms just begin to describe the differences botanists have tried to catalog in their rich poetry of obscure adjectives—pinnate, ciliate, barbellate, bearded, canescent, glabrous, glandular, viscid, scurfy, floccose, arachnoid, and my favorite, tomentose (covered with woolly hairs). But putting the variety of structures aside, most leaves do essentially the same thing: They exist in the main to hold chloroplasts aloft. How can so many different geometries all perfectly capture the sun?
The work of natural selection offers a key to the puzzle. Desert leaves tend to be small, thick-skinned, waxy, or spiny‚ just like leaves in salty regions or other harsh lands—clear examples of the relatively few ways evolution can deal with a lack of water. Rain forest plants often have narrow leaves, with long, thin “drip tips,” to drain away excess water. In cold places one finds leaves with teeth—like birches and cherries—though why this particular pattern exists is the subject of debate.
Some of the most extreme examples of the way natural selection shapes leaves can be found at high elevations in the tropics, where nights are consistently cold and damp and the days hot and dry. Scramble high enough above the tree line in the mountains of Africa, Asia, Hawaii, and the Americas, and you will see thick towers of plants crowned by mops of living and dead leaves.
In a poetic moment botanists named these lovely circular leaf arrangements “giant rosettes.” The thick living leaves of these rosettes shelter new buds. They’re hairy too, which adds insulation. The dead leaves help the plants withstand freezing at night and, simultaneously, save the night’s cold dew for the dry day. Remove those decaying leaves from rosettes at high elevations and the plants can freeze to death, naked without their dead-leaf fur.
In many environments natural selection tends to favor a limited number of similar forms again and again, given the genes it has to work with. Sometimes there really does seem to be just one or a few best ways to deal with a particular set of conditions. If rosettes are not convincing, consider the meat-eaters. In nutrient-poor bogs, plants have repeatedly turned to animals to supplement what the soil alone cannot provide. They have evolved rolled leaves, sticky hairs, mucous pools, or snap traps, all for capturing live prey. A bog is a terrifying place to be a fly.
But if climate and nutrient availability were the only explanations for leaf diversity, all of the leaves in a particular environment—a desert, a mountaintop, your backyard—would tend to be the same. Of course they are not. Many of the qualities of the leaves in your yard or salad are due to the limits of genes and time. Not all plants have the genetic variation it takes to become, under the natural selection imposed by desert conditions, a cactus. Conditions change. Species move. Every leaf is a work in progress. One suspects, for example, that leaves are evolving now to deal with the conditions in cities—pollution, drought, intense heat, and animal waste—but it may require more generations for natural selection to stumble, death by death, upon the more successful forms.
Other specific traits may have to do with the battles that have gone on among plants each day for more than 400 million years. Plants fight for nutrients and water in the soil, and they fight for sunlight in the canopy. Competition is why trees grow tall, stems become trunks, and forests grow dense. Trees have evolved in the struggle of plant against plant many times, in vastly different lineages. The highest leaves win, and so trees tend to evolve to be as tall as possible, given the limits of physics and precipitation. Without competition, every forest would be a thick film of green life.
The battles among plants have changed their stems and their veins. Leaves with more veins can carry more water to the chloroplasts, allowing the chloroplasts to make more sugar and the plants to grow faster. These species in turn can hold their leaves aloft to occupy more space in the sky and consume more sunlight before others get to it. Through time the plants that were able to produce more and more veins in their leaves won many battles and some wars.
Leaves with densely branched patterns of veins are also able to grow more quickly. The veins of a maple leaf, for instance, are like the roads of a city; they go everywhere and often intersect. They traffic in nutrients and water. The maple leaf can quickly get what it needs to continue to feed from the sun. Other leaves are not so lucky. Amid the seething competition for space in tropical forests, pity the single-veined leaf.
Plants have more to cope with than competition from other plants. The evidence of animals eating leaves is almost as ancient as the evidence for leaves themselves. In fossil dinosaur poop one finds evidence of ancient leaves. In fossil leaves one finds the holes made by ancient mouths. Nothing on life’s menu is more popular. Moths, butterflies, beetles, fungi, monkeys, sloths, and great loping monsters like cows, bison, and giraffes eat the hard-earned greenery of plants, which, for all of their ingenuity, have never figured out how to run away.
So leaves resort to self-defense. Some plant leaves have become specialists in deadly tricks. Grass blades evolved the ability to accumulate the silica from the soil—becoming like tiny glass slivers, which ruin the teeth of browsers like cows one bite at a time. Other plants use chemicals to make themselves unpalatable or even poisonous. Sometimes the weapons are visible: latex oozing out of a vein or tingly hairs projecting from leaf blades. Other times they lurk unseen, waiting for the unsuspecting victim, be it the larva of a moth or an undiscriminating sheep.
Climate, competition, defense—these evolutionary saws and scissors can explain much of the diversity of leaves. Yet if you pick up two leaves in your backyard, most of what differs between them—the details naturalists have spent thousands of years naming—remains unaccounted for. Evolution can whittle similar forms again and again when confronted with similar circumstances. But through innovation and chance, evolution can also work in the abstract: Jackson Pollock dashing paint on the canvas of life. We should not expect to understand every tomentose blade or arachnoid lobe. Sometimes it is enough to step back and know a masterwork when we see one, whether it hangs in a museum or from its petiole on the branch of a park tree. Not that leaves care whether you notice; the blessing they convey comes each day with the rise of the edible sun.
Catching a frisbee is difficult. Doing so successfully requires the catcher to weigh a complex array of physical and atmospheric factors, among them wind speed and frisbee rotation. Were a physicist to write down frisbee-catching as an optimal control problem, they would need to understand and apply Newton’s Law of Gravity.
Yet despite this complexity, catching a frisbee is remarkably common. Casual empiricism reveals that it is not an activity only undertaken by those with a Doctorate in physics. It is a task that an average dog can master. Indeed some, such as border collies, are better at frisbee-catching than humans.
So what is the secret of the dog’s success? The answer, as in many other areas of complex decision-making, is simple. Or rather, it is to keep it simple. For studies have shown that the frisbee-catching dog follows the simplest of rules of thumb: run at a speed so that the angle of gaze to the frisbee remains roughly constant. Humans follow an identical rule of thumb.
Catching a crisis, like catching a frisbee, is difficult. Doing so requires the regulator to weigh a complex array of financial and psychological factors, among them innovation and risk appetite. Were an economist to write down crisis-catching as an optimal control problem, they would probably have to ask a physicist for help.
Yet despite this complexity, efforts to catch the crisis frisbee have continued to escalate. Casual empiricism reveals an ever-growing number of regulators, some with a Doctorate in physics. Ever-larger litters have not, however, obviously improved watchdogs’ frisbee-catching abilities. No regulator had the foresight to predict the financial crisis, although some have since exhibited supernatural powers of hindsight.
So what is the secret of the watchdogs’ failure? The answer is simple. Or rather, it is complexity. For what this paper explores is why the type of complex regulation developed over recent decades might not just be costly and cumbersome but sub-optimal for crisis control. In financial regulation, less may be more.
An Attempt At Exhausting A place in the Financial District
ymfy: A truck pulls up, obscuring my view of the street. It says “Dynamic Pacific Enterprise” on the side in large and small caps. A man and a woman sit next to me at the bar looking out into the street. She tells him about her dream, which is to become a surf instructor. She tells him first she needs to learn how to surf. An old woman seems to be studying my face. She is looking at a menu taped on the window. I become an Asian mannequin. This guy has the most monotone voice in the world. I close my eyes and imagine Dilbert. I try to tune him out. A beautiful Asian woman walks by, I try to picture her naked. I can’t. Fake Paul Krugman strolls by. He has a double-breasted coat, camel colored. An old Asian lady wearing a hairnet drags along a huge tote bag. I can’t get this banal talk these two are having out of my head. Dilbert tells her about the time he tried to save himself, and how he was heartbroken in the process. I don’t know if I should laugh at him, or feel sorry for myself. I choose ridicule. Pigeons fly in and out of view.
(Editor’s note: This was scrawled into a notebook of mine over a year ago, transcribed for you today.)
“We all have the potential to fall in love a thousand times in our lifetime. It’s easy. The first girl I ever loved was someone I knew in sixth grade. Her name was Missy; we talked about horses. The last girl I love will be someone I haven’t even met yet, probably. They all count. But there are certain people you love who do something else; they define how you classify what love is supposed to feel like. These are the most important people in your life, and you’ll meet maybe four or five of these people over the span of 80 years. But there’s still one more tier to all this; there is always one person you love who becomes that definition. It usually happens retrospectively, but it happens eventually. This is the person who unknowingly sets the template for what you will always love about other people, even if some of these loveable qualities are self-destructive and unreasonable. The person who defines your understanding of love is not inherently different than anyone else, and they’re often just the person you happen to meet the first time you really, really, want to love someone. But that person still wins. They win, and you lose. Because for the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else.”—Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman