Sunday, October 29, 2017

How slowness helped Martin Luther change the world

Modern professional culture encourages collaboration through instant communication and globalized networks. But [Martin] Luther’s legacy as one of history’s most influential thinkers shows us that there are certain epic projects — such as the systematic rethinking of foundational dogmas — that require time to mature and space to germinate before they are safe for universal exposure. Without that window, they die. ...

...when he produced his more provocative set of theses in October 1517, it took more than a month for any feedback to roll in — despite Luther’s efforts to move things along by sending personal copies to local bishops. ... still traveled by horse and cart in the 16th century, and this fact was critical for Luther. Indeed, it probably saved his life and his ideas — because it meant that he could win over the town before the district, his fellow monks before strangers, Germans before Italians. ...

What sympathy he attracted in his early days was owed, in part, to the intellectual and social capital he’d earned from those who knew him personally and had heard him preach. Many of these friends and admirers took extraordinary risks to defend him, which in turn gave others courage do the same — a cycle that gradually expanded his sphere of support outward from Wittenberg. ...

It wasn’t until early 1518 that Pope Leo X looked at the 95 theses. Having limited access to timely German news, he seriously underestimated their significance and passed off the matter to the Augustinians for resolution at their next annual meeting. ...

It wasn’t until early 1521 that he was formally excommunicated — more than three years after he composed his 95 theses. And by then, as we now know, it was too late to snuff out his influence.

Saul Bellow, in his introduction to Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” makes the memorable point that great and important writing is possible only when one is able to shut out “the noise of history.” This is what Luther managed to do when he created his 95 theses, his translations and the other texts that became part of the Reformation’s early canon. ...

Five hundred years later, there are few writers, artists, designers or intellectuals who do not feel impelled to deliver regular updates on their work online, or at weekly grad seminars, shareholder meetings or workshops with colleagues. ...

These networks make us more professionally productive and accountable. But they also can make us more cautious, since we know that any new idea can expose us to instant censure from complete strangers in other parts of the world who know nothing of our local circumstances. This phenomenon goes by different names — groupthink, political correctness, herd mentality. But in every form, it serves the interest of the orthodox and frustrates the heretic.
--Jonathan Kay, Washington Post, on taking time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why are honeycrisp apples so expensive?

Oftentimes, Honeycrisps are more than four times as expensive as other varieties of apples. ...

There are many reasons that add to the cost of Honeycrisp apples, and it all starts on the farm.

The Honeycrisp variety was developed by the University of Minnesota, which still holds the patent. So for every Honeycrisp yielding tree a grower buys, they have to pay a $1 royalty to the University of Minnesota. That’s not the case for more common and older varieties like Red Delicious.

The trees which grow Honeycrisp apples are relatively weak and yield very large fruit, so they require a trellis system to hold them up and keep their branches from breaking or hitting the ground.

One of the appealing things about Honeycrisp is its thin skin. It adds to the crunch and allows people to enjoy the meat of the apple without breaking their teeth. But that also means the apples bruise more easily, and can be damaged by their own stems during processing.

Nick Schweitzer says workers are asked to pick them slowly and more carefully than other types of apples. Instead of being paid by the bin of apples, they’re paid by the hour. Workers are also required to clip the stem as closely as they can to the apple so it won’t bend and puncture the skin as its transported.

Unlike varieties that tend to ripen at the same time on the tree and only require one picking, Honeycrisp tend to ripen at varying intervals and require three pickings before the season ends in November. That means more time spent in the fields for smaller yields. It also means that growers have to suspend picking operations on one variety and move their workers to the Honeycrisp trees in order to catch the apples at their peak.

In addition, they also require more calcium sprayings to prevent an affliction called “bitter pit.”
--Brett Thomas, WoodTV, on a high-maintenance diva

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happiness is found in community, not solitude

Having spent the last few years researching and writing a book about happiness and anxiety in America, I’ve noticed that this particular strain of happiness advice — the kind that pitches the search for contentment as an internal, personal quest, divorced from other people — has become increasingly common. ...

This isolationist philosophy is showing up not just in the way that many Americans talk about happiness, but in how they spend their time. People who study these things have observed a marked increase in solitary “happiness pursuits” — activities carried out either completely alone or in a group without interaction — with the explicit aim of keeping each person locked in her own private emotional experience.

Spiritual and religious practice is slowly shifting from a community-based endeavor to a private one, with silent meditation retreats, mindfulness apps and yoga classes replacing church socials and collective worship. ...

But while placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people. Nearly half of all meals eaten in this country are now eaten alone. Teenagers and young millennials are spending less time just “hanging out” with their friends than any generation in recent history, replacing real-world interaction with smartphones.

And it’s not just young people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that the average American now spends less than four minutes a day “hosting and attending social events,” a category that covers all types of parties and other organized social occasions. ...

All in all — and that includes daily bouts of nagging, arguing and whining — the average American spends barely more than half an hour a day on social communication. Compare that to time per day spent watching television (three hours) or even “grooming” (one hour for women, and just over 44 minutes for men). ...

But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.

And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Understanding Sens. Flake vs. Murkowski vs. Collins' situations

[Senator Jeff] Flake is very conservative. But as I wrote in July, Flake has made no significant effort to use his official powers to block Trump's agenda even on issues where he sits to the president's right, like trade.

Instead, Flake's opposition to Trump has consisted almost entirely of complaining, and now he's not even bothering to seek reelection to the Senate, where he could do something about whatever Trump is doing.

Flake behaves like he is helpless. That's because he is helpless. And he should think some more about why he is so helpless.

Flake is helpless because there's no real constituency in America for what he favors: low taxes and spending, openness to immigration and trade, international collaboration where America honors its commitments, and polite public behavior.

There is one coalition of voters that favors a much larger and more active government than Flake wants. Many of these voters share a portion of Flake's values (they may share his commitment to openness and politeness, for example) but they also oppose him on various social issues where he is conservative and they are liberal. Flake does not have a home in the Democratic Party with these voters.

The other coalition of voters is the one Flake relied on all along to get elected. But it turns out they don't care very much about some of the policy ideas Flake thought were important. And they outright oppose him on others, like immigration. And many of these voters have come to view nastiness and crudity as virtues, since they think politeness norms have been weaponized by an establishment that wants to exclude them — or just because they are jerks.

It was essentially an accident that Flake and elected officials like him were able to harness the Republican electoral coalition for so long to back an agenda that excluded policies those voters cared about (like immigration restriction) and included ones they opposed (like cutting Medicare). Now that's over, and he has nowhere to go.

A look at the non-helpless anti-Trump senators gives a clue about why Flake can't seem to do anything about the things he cares about.

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have broken extensively with Trump to much greater effect than Flake. Their defections have worked because their formulation of personal decency plus policy moderation is saleable to a large slice of the electorate. ...

Collins and Murkowski are able to be a lot more soft-spoken than Flake; their anti-Trump actions have done most of the talking. They've had a lot of effect on policy in Trump's America. And they don't seem to intend to leave the Senate anytime soon.
--Josh Barro, Business Insider, on power through bases of leverage

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Was the iconic V-J Day kiss sexual assault?

Late summer, 1945. In the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 100,000 people lay dead, casualties of the United States’ decision to drop a pair of atomic bombs. But in Times Square on Aug. 14, a much different vibe prevails: Japan has surrendered, and the victors are celebrating — drinking, shouting and dancing in the streets.

An American sailor named George Mendonsa spontaneously takes hold of a complete stranger, 21-year-old Austrian-Jewish refugee Greta Zimmer [Friedman], bends her backward, plants a kiss on her mouth and continues on his way. Unbeknown to either, famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt has captured the encounter. The resulting image, published soon after in Life magazine, came to symbolize the exuberance of that moment, in a country overflowing with vigor and youth, at a time when anything seemed possible. ...

In 2012, a London-based blogger who uses the pseudonym Leopard wrote a provocative post on Crates and Ribbons titled “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,’” arguing that Mendonsa’s actions should not be idealized as romantic. To the writer, the kiss represented nothing short of a sexual assault.

The post highlights a series of comments from Greta Friedman’s 2005 Veterans History Project interview, which addresses the issue of what we would now call consent. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Friedman said at the time. “The guy just came over and grabbed!” adding, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” Leopard also cited a CBS News interview in which Friedman said of Mendonsa, “I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip (sic).” ...

Josh Friedman says that his mother is well aware of the discussion, and has expressed a nuanced reaction. Greta Friedman has become friendly with Mendonsa over the years and her son says she considers him to be “a lovely person.” When CBS News reunited the two in Times Square for the interview cited on Crates and Ribbons, Friedman appears to be at ease with the former sailor. She has declined to fault Mendonsa for his actions — taking into account his overwhelming admiration for the nurses on the Bunker Hill — though she is not unsympathetic to the contemporary critique.

“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street,” Josh Friedman says. “(But) she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”
--Andy Martino, New York Daily News, on the past, a foreign country

The great San Francisco auto burglary debate

In San Francisco, where no automobile parked on the street is immune from glass-smashing thieves, some people have taken to posting signs on car windows announcing that there are no valuables inside.

The hope, of course, is that a thief will read the notice and decide: "Huh. No valuables in this one. I guess I'll break into some other car."

On Tuesday, a Reddit user posted a photo of such a sign and posed the question "Do you think it works?" to the Reddit community. A lively debate ensued.

"Sounds a lot like something that someone with valuables in their car would say," wrote a skeptical Maddox83a.

But iamthewaffler disagreed, citing personal experience.

"It's strong signaling that works VERY well," the commenter wrote. "The intended victim for thefts from cars are people who are from out of town, other "safer" parts of SF, etc who don't know that certain areas are very prone to car break-ins. If you have bothered to print out a sign and put it in your window, that shows you know exactly what neighborhood you're in and the chances of anything valuable being in your car are extremely low." ...

About 85 vehicles are reported to have been broken into every day in the city, according to SFPD data for this year. That includes only cars whose owners reported the crime. The actual figure is doubtlessly higher.

This year a total of 17,970 vehicle break-ins were reported from Jan. 1 to July 31, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2016. ...

A few Reddit users suggested that car owners forget about the sign and simply leave the car doors unlocked. But that prompted stories of homeless people sleeping in vehicles overnight, doing drugs and/or having sex in them, and even using backseats as a toilet.
--Mike Moffitt, SFGate, on the country's most beautiful city

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Columbus, Ohio is America's retail laboratory

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a scorching day outside, hot even for late summer in Ohio, and yet I was freezing. I had stepped inside the EB Ice Box, a meat-locker-like display at the Eddie Bauer store here that was cooled to 13 degrees Fahrenheit. The metal-sheathed room looked out onto the promenade of an upscale shopping mall, and featured a large block of ice for a bench. Even though I was wearing a down jacket (the room is meant to be a place where customers can test Eddie Bauer wear), the frigid air had gotten under my skin.

The ice box was a gambit designed to attract the one thing so many stores like Eddie Bauer seem to be missing these days — customers.

For shoppers, this city of 860,000 smack in the middle of a swing state, can feel like an alternate reality, a place where up is down and down is up. Frumpy department stores feature personal shopping services and boutique wellness amenities. Workaday grocery stores like Kroger offer exotic fruits and freshly baked artisan breads.

Even the fast-food business is living in the future. McDonald’s is offering table service from friendly waiters. Robots are taking orders at Wendy’s. Chipotle started a chain that serves hamburgers. ...

A combination of demographics, geography and luck turned Columbus into the nation’s consumer laboratory. This Rust Belt city has historically been a microcosm of the national population’s age and ethnicity, ranking fourth among metropolitan areas in its resemblance to the United States over all, according to data compiled by WalletHub. ...

Ohio State University’s 65,000 students mean young shoppers are always on hand. Columbus is within a day’s drive of nearly half of the United States population, making it a convenient hub for distribution. The city’s relatively small size and contained media market make it affordable for companies to run advertising campaigns and measure their effectiveness. And its relatively low profile allows brands to try something and fail — without the scrutiny they would draw in New York or Los Angeles.

Perhaps most important, a robust network of retailers and service providers — from big brands like Abercrombie & Fitch to small design firms that focus on store layouts — has taken root in Columbus. Today there are more fashion designers in Columbus than in any other American city besides New York and Los Angeles.
--David Gelles, NYT, on the advantages of being in the middle

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Who tends to be happier with their marriage?

People are being pickier about who they marry and waiting longer to tie the knot. And with half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s gotten a lot easier to exit unpleasant unions. So, the state of the American marriage should be happier than ever, right?

Instead, the quality of American marriages has dropped significantly. While most Americans say they’re  still “very happy” in their marriages, the number is down from the early 1970s, from 68 percent to 60 percent.

More men say they’re happier with their marriages than women do, for example. That’s consistent with other research suggesting that men tend to get more out of being married than women. Not surprisingly, religiosity—which usually emphasizes family and fidelity—also appears to play a role in marital happiness.

It’s more difficult to pinpoint why Americans with extreme political views are happier than moderates. “It’s possible that the people with more extreme political views are more likely to have a spouse who agrees with them,” Cohen said.

Of all the factors analyzed by Cohen, however, the one with the greatest effect on Americans’ marital happiness was economic status. ... it turns out there’s a 17-point gap between the happiness in lower- and upper-class marriages.

--Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, on correlates of marital happiness

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How to write a Nobel Prize winning novel in 4 weeks

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.

So [my wife] Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one. ...

This, fundamentally, was how The Remains of the Day was written. Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on. ...

I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash.

I should say that by the time I embarked on the Crash, I’d consumed a substantial amount of “research”: books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars, many pamphlets and essays from the time, including one by Harold Laski on “The Dangers of Being a Gentleman”. I’d raided the second-hand shelves of the local bookshop (Kirkdale Books, still a thriving independent) for guides to the English countryside from the 1930s and 50s. The decision when to start the actual writing of a novel – to begin composing the story itself – always seems to me a crucial one. How much should one know before starting on the prose? It’s damaging to start too early, equally so to start too late. I think with Remains I got lucky: the Crash came just at the right point, when I knew just enough.
--Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian, on just doing it

The Wu-Tang Clan's cryptocurency

A good indication of the froth in the cryptocurrency market is that Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan is launching a cryptocurrency called Cream Cash, and it's not called Wu-Tang Coin because someone else already has that name. (I mean, it's probably called Cream Cash because that's a better name, but the fact is that there's already a Wu-Tang Coin.) The history of the Great Crypto Boom of '17 will include a whole chapter on Wu-Tang-themed coins, and that chapter will have multiple independent narratives. Really I would not have predicted in 1994 how much of 2017's financial news would involve the Wu-Tang Clan. They really rule everything around cash.