Each night, an Obama aide hands the President a binder of documents to review. After his wife goes to bed, at around ten, Obama works in his study, the Treaty Room, on the second floor of the White House residence. President Bush preferred oral briefings; Obama likes his advice in writing. He marks up the decision memos and briefing materials with notes and questions in his neat cursive handwriting. In the morning, each document is returned to his staff secretary. She dates and stamps it—“Back from the OVAL”—and often e-mails an index of the President’s handwritten notes to the relevant senior staff and their assistants. A single Presidential comment might change a legislative strategy, kill the proposal of a well-meaning adviser, or initiate a bureaucratic process to answer a Presidential question.
If the document is a decision memo, its author usually includes options for Obama to check at the end. The formatting is simple, but the decisions are not. As Obama told the Times, early in his first term, Presidents are rarely called on to make the easy choices. “Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard,” he said. “Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.”
With Martin’s system, each crewmember gets a cell phone that operates using a prepaid SIM card; they also get a two-week plastic pill organizer filled with 14 SIM cards where the pills should be. Each SIM card, loaded with $50 worth of airtime, is attached to a different phone number and stores all contacts, text messages and call histories associated with that number, like a removable hard drive. This makes a new SIM card effectively a new phone. Every morning, each crewmember swaps out his phone’s card for the card in next day’s compartment in the pill organizers. After all 14 cards are used, they start over at the first one.
Of course, it would be hugely annoying for a crewmember to have to remember the others’ constantly changing numbers. But he doesn’t have to, thanks to the pill organizers. Martin preprograms each day’s SIM card with the phone numbers the other members have that day. As long they all swap out their cards every day, the contacts in the phones stay in sync. (They never call anyone but each other on the phones.) Crewmembers will remind each other to “take their medicine,” Martin said.
People’s desire to eat more meat as they get more wealthy is so deeply embedded in most cultures (and getting lots of protein may even be a biological impulse inherent in all of us) that it is not something that is amenable to outside influence. As with climate change, the only pragmatic option is to concentrate efforts to fulfil people’s desires and demands in a way that protects natural ecosystems as far as possible – not to try to challenge patterns of consumption per se by insisting that they are unsustainable, even if this appears to be the case in the short term. Such an approach has failed in the past and will continue to fail in the future.
The figure of the passenger waiting for a bus that may or may not ever arrive is a visual cliche. Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.
Ensconced in the buttery leather driver’s seat, I am reminded of Emerson: “Things are in the saddle,” he wrote, “and ride mankind.” The truth is we have gradually been distancing our level of active engagement with the process of operating a car. We automated the shifting of gears. We went from manual steering to power steering and then finally to “drive-by-wire,” in which the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the tires was replaced by a series of electrical impulses. We gave up paper maps for digital navigation systems. The hazards of parallel parking have been ironed out by ultrasonic sensors. This year, electronic stability control is standard on vehicles sold in the US for the same reason antilock brakes are standard in Europe: Its algorithms can perform better than humans in emergency maneuvering.
Each of these developments generated a brief period of resistance, which faded quickly as the new system began to seem natural. We do not feel as if we have lost something essential. On the contrary, in the same way that it would now feel strange to be in an elevator run by a human operator, it’s the absence of technology that begins to feel uncomfortable. Incrementally, more of the things that we think are innate to the driving experience—steering, braking, accelerating—will be out of our hands.
In 2007, a little over a month before the iPhone was scheduled to appear in stores, Mr. Jobs beckoned a handful of lieutenants into an office. For weeks, he had been carrying a prototype of the device in his pocket.
Mr. Jobs angrily held up his iPhone, angling it so everyone could see the dozens of tiny scratches marring its plastic screen, according to someone who attended the meeting. He then pulled his keys from his jeans.
People will carry this phone in their pocket, he said. People also carry their keys in their pocket. “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”
After one executive left that meeting, he booked a flight to Shenzhen, China. If Mr. Jobs wanted perfect, there was nowhere else to go.
One time Ina sent Jeffrey to the store to pick up charcoal and he suffered a minor on-camera meltdown, fretting that he’d choose the wrong type or size bag, or, worse, come back with a Tupperware container full of clamshells like he did that one time, and then, when he finally arrived home with his purchase, Ina opened up the sack of briquettes to reveal that Nervous Jeffrey had squeezed them all into diamonds and the two of them laughed and laughed but you can’t grill steaks on diamonds and something cold in Ina’s eyes sent a shiver up Jeffrey’s spine.
Next to agreeable work as a means of attaining happiness I put what Huxley called the domestic affections—the day to day intercourse with family and friends. My home has seen bitter sorrow, but it has never seen any serious disputes, and it has never seen poverty. I was completely happy with my mother and sister, and I am completely happy with my wife. Most of the men I commonly associate with are friends of very old standing. I have known some of them for more than thirty years. I seldom see anyone, intimately, whom I have known for less than ten years. These friends delight me. I turn to them when work is done with unfailing eagerness. We have the same general tastes, and see the world much alike. Most of them are interestd in music, as I am. It has given me more pleasure in this life than any external thing. I love it more every year.
Sometimes when I’m feeling blue I walk through the lobby of a hotel I could never afford to stay in. Ask the concierge where I can get a quality shoeshine. Sit in an overstuffed leather chair and nod as I pretend to read the newspaper. Check my watch. You do that for half an hour and you feel like you have your shit together. Everyone there assumes you know what you’re doing in this life and why wouldn’t they? They have nothing to gain from poking holes in the lies you tell yourself.
About six months after I decided I was gay, I got married. Nothing fancy, just city hall and a small party afterwards, and then Tim and I bought a nice place in a nice part of town and went about with our lives. We cooked meals or ordered out. We puttered around the house, not fixing things quite as well as we hoped. We slept in the same bed and usually Tim took too much of the covers.
Then one day we were eating Japanese food and talking about redoing the patio, and Tim looked in my eyes and I looked in his, and we just knew. We had to marry a third guy.
I reached the cosmetics section of the trade floor. Makeup, meant for corpses, was being applied by airbrush to a (still-living) elderly woman. She sat there on a stool, still and frail-seeming, eyes closed in the manner of anyone getting a makeover, as the presenter sprayed her with the makeup. No one seemed to consider this odd or in poor taste. Why would they? To those in the business of death, the distinction between the living and the dead is a simple matter of economics. Someone is much more valuable to them dead than alive, and the elderly among us are futures to be counted on for next year’s bottom line. I thought of the embalmer’s neighbor, the one with bruised hands. Who were we fooling? One day we will all die, and these people are the ones who will be paid to dispose of us. In this light, their preparation and commitment to self-improvement is both beautiful and professional.
In the upper reaches of the British establishment, euphemism is a fine art, one that new arrivals need to master quickly. “Other Whitehall agencies” or “our friends over the river” means the intelligence services (American spooks often say they “work for the government”). A civil servant warning a minister that a decision would be “courageous” is saying that it will be career-cripplingly unpopular. “Adventurous” is even worse: it means mad and unworkable. A “frank discussion” is a row, while a “robust exchange of views” is a full-scale shouting match. (These kind of euphemisms are also common in Japanese, where the reply maemuki ni kento sasete itadakimasu—I will examine it in a forward-looking manner—means something on the lines of “This idea is so stupid that I am cross you are even asking me and will certainly ignore it.”)
In August, during the run-up to the Ames straw poll, some Iowans were baffled to turn on their TVs and see a commercial that featured shots of ruddy-cheeked farm families, an astronaut on the moon and an ear of hot buttered corn. It urged viewers to cast write-in votes for Rick Perry by spelling his name with an “a” — “for America.” A voice-over at the end announced that the commercial had been paid for by an organization called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, which is the name of Colbert’s super PAC, an entity that, like any other super PAC, is entitled to raise and spend unlimited amounts of soft money in support of candidates as long as it doesn’t “coordinate” with them, whatever that means. Of such super-PAC efforts, Colbert said, “This is 100 percent legal and at least 10 percent ethical.”
JOHN KING: Wolf, I’m happy to say that I have a kitchen table, and the numbers show that of those people concerned about our economic future, 64% have a kitchen table. That number jumps to 87% when you count breakfast bars, removable folding tables, and sheets of plywood laid across two sawhorses.
WOLF BLITZER: James Carville in Washington?
JAMES CARVILLE: I eat in the tub!
(This was the funniest thing I have read in a long time.)
The company issued a statement that read: “Due to overwhelming demand of hot product offerings on BestBuy.com during the November and December time period, we have encountered a situation that has affected redemption of some of our customers’ online orders.”
Let’s parse that sentence for a moment. The company “encountered a situation”—that is, it was a passive victim of an external problem it couldn’t control, in this case, customers daring to order products it acknowledges were “hot” buys. This happened, inconveniently for Best Buy, during “the November and December period,” that is, the only months that matter to a retailer. For obvious reasons, the statement ties itself in knots trying to avoid mentioning that the “situation” occurred during the holidays.
The situation that Best Buy “encountered” has “affected redemption” of some orders. Best Buy doesn’t fill online orders, it seems. Rather, customers “redeem” them. So it’s the customers, not Best Buy, who have the problem. And those customers haven’t been left hanging; they’ve only been “affected” in efforts to “redeem” their orders. It’s not as if the company did anything wrong, or, indeed, anything at all.
Now we were truly at Disney World. A person didn’t come here every day! What is the scene here? Hello, primary colors; hello, quickly fading microdramas of passing human faces, incessantly deciding whether to make eye contact; hello, repeating stalls and gift shops. We were walking on the balls of our feet. The surface of things had become porous and permitted of the potential for enjoyment. Where were our womenfolk and Lil’ Dog? Let’s find them. Let’s be good fathers. Tomorrow was Father’s Day. Oh, my God, I didn’t even remember that!
“We don’t need to remember that,” Trevor said. “We are that.”
After 36 years, Shoup’s writings—usually found in obscure journals—can be reduced to a single question: What if the free and abundant parking drivers crave is about the worst thing for the life of cities? That sounds like a prescription for having the door slammed in your face; Shoup knows this too well. Parking makes people nuts. “I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain,” he says. “How to get food, ritual display, territorial dominance—all these things are part of parking, and we’ve assigned it to the most primitive part of the brain that makes snap fight-or-flight decisions. Our mental capacities just bottom out when we talk about parking.”
Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.
So, what if we compare Obama with a real alternative? Not to Republicans—that’s too easy—but to Democratic presidents as they lived and breathed?
We are excited to continue our core mission of connecting people with solutions at our new home. Please realize that this is so vague a statement as to be completely meaningless. But we just made so much money that at the moment we genuinely believe this horseshit. In reality, you will never hear about us or anything we create ever again. We are probably going to end up, like, implementing a new scrollbar for Google Reader or something.
Like real world resourcefulness, conversational resourcefulness often means doing things you don’t want to. Chasing down all the implications of what’s said to you can sometimes lead to uncomfortable conclusions. The best word to describe the failure to do so is probably “denial,” though that seems a bit too narrow. A better way to describe the situation would be to say that the unsuccessful founders had the sort of conservatism that comes from weakness. They traversed idea space as gingerly as a very old person traverses the physical world.
Anthropologist Mary Douglas has a nice definition for dirt, saying it is “matter out of place.” A fried egg on the plate is fine, but a fried egg all over my hands is dirty. Hyde continues to say that dirt is always a byproduct of creating order: to create a place for things means that there will be situations where things will be out of place. And this is why Louis CK’s comedy is dirty: the thoughts, as dark and natural as they may be, are put out of place. The secrets are told on stage in front of others, but it’s through that vocalization that we begin to understand ourselves and our relationship to the world we live in. Shame is diffused through its publication and distribution. Shame is reduced through its sharing. By pointing out the dirt, and realizing that the things themselves aren’t dirty but just out of place, we begin to see that the lines can be redrawn and order rethought.
From all accounts, superb quality is a feature of much North Korean contraband: methamphetamine of extraordinarily high purity; counterfeit Viagra rumored to exceed the bona fide product in its potency; supernotes. It’s an impressive product line for a regime that can barely feed its people. When I discussed this with Asher, he let out a sigh. “I always say that if North Korea only produced conventional goods for export to the degree of quality and precision that they produce counterfeit United States currency, they would be a powerhouse like South Korea, not an industrial basket case.”
We can ask 2 questions: What are the rules now, and what should they be? Regulations can be beneficial or they can be harmful. There are many rules we don’t have which ought to exist, and many that do exist which should be repealed.
If Uber is doing something which is not permitted to regular taxis, we can either stop Uber from doing that thing, or we can allow regular taxis to partake in the same behavior. As I said in my Post editorial, I’ve never used Uber, don’t plan to, and don’t care that much about Uber specifically as a company. But if they are competing unfairly against taxis, then let’s let taxis compete against Uber rather than shutting down the competition.
When deciding which approach take, the Taxicab Commission should bear in mind one and only one principle: What’s good for customers? The degree to which Uber is ‘eating into the business’ of existing taxis is immaterial, and Linton should not be making decisions on that basis.
“This is what’s terrible, is like, I forget the first line of a song, and then I’ll do it, like, twice, and somebody’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, he did the thing where he forgets the first line.’ No, my friends. Would that I were doing the thing where I forget the first line. No, I’m doing the thing where he shot too much speed when he was a teenager. I’m doing the thing where he used to drink whole fifths of vodka as an impressive party trick. I’m doing the thing where I stay awake for three days at a time because it feels kind of awesome. Front row: can anybody up here give me the first line of Up The Wolves?”
- John Darnielle at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, May 16, 2008