Essays

I’ve had some interesting conversations lately, in which I’ve made vague reference to a couple of articles that have informed my thinking on a variety of subjects. Here they are, in no particular order, because maybe you’d like to read them too.

  • “Home From Nowhere”, by James Kunstler.

    “Is Main Street your idea of a nice business district? Sorry, your zoning laws won’t let you build it, or even extend it where it already exists. Is Elm Street your idea of a nice place to live — you know, houses with front porches on a tree-lined street? Sorry, Elm Street cannot be assembled under the rules of large-lot zoning and modern traffic engineering. All you can build where I live is another version of Los Angeles — the zoning laws say so.”

  • “Big And Bad”, by Malcolm Gladwell.

    “… the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I’m safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That’s why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it’s soft, and if I’m high, then I feel safe.”

  • “After Savagery” by Matthew Yglesias.

    “Truman, FDR, and Churchill lived in what was, despite Grand Theft Auto, an almost unimaginably more brutal era than our own. A time when the “good” side in a war could be composed of a global empire and a apartheid quasi-democracy working in alliance with Joseph Stalin. And they really were the good side, because the enemy was just that bad.”

  • “Expert Judgement On Markers To Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion Into The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant”, a 1993 report to the Sandia National Laboratories on the long-term demarcation of nuclear waste storage facilities. (Large PDF)

    “This is not a place of honor. No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here. Nothing valued is here. This place is a message and part of a system of messages. Pay attention to it! Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.”

  • “Common Fraud” and “Prophetable Colors” by Teresa Nielsen-Hayden.

    From the latter: “What’s the big deal with khaki? It gets dirty too easily, and for a lot of people it’s an unbecoming color. But there’s only so much new black clothing you can sell a happy consumer who already has a closet full of black-and-coordinates; so the clothing industry pushed khaki remorselessly.”

    From the former: “Never doubt that it’s worth their while to lie to you. When you’re talking about really big corporations and really big money, it’s worth their while to lie to you very, very elaborately.”

  • “The Submarine”, by Paul Graham.

    “The main reason PR firms exist is that reporters are lazy.”

So, I hope you found those as interesting as I did, because I liked them a lot.

2 Comments

  1. Mike Bruce
    Posted October 22, 2005 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    You are my hero!

    I’ve been looking for this for ever, and not until I saw your link to Kunstler did I remember where I saw it. It’s on his website, and not in that article, but I knew it was the same guy.

    Most of the Gladwell articles are worth reading. Even when he’s wrong (or just insufficiently convincing), he’s still a good and entertaining writer. His piece on US healtcare is pretty good, e.g.

    Paul Graham is often right, and often wrong, and always certain that he’s right. So he tends to rub me the wrong way, even though I read all the essays.

    I’ve not read the rest of them, but I will. I’m on a neverending search for new reading material.

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted October 22, 2005 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Kunstler’s regularly-updated Clusterfuck Nation weblog is always an interesting, and often a very disturbing, read.

    “After Katrina, nobody will take claims of governmental competence seriously. The new assumption will be that when shit happens you are on your own. In this remarkable three weeks since New Orleans was shredded, no Democrat has stepped into the vacuum of leadership, either, with a different vision of what we might do now, and who we might become. This is the kind of medium that political maniacs spawn in. Something is out there right now, feeding on the astonishment and grievance of a whipsawed middle class, and it will have a lot more nourishment in the months ahead.”

    Heavy stuff.