Category Archives: Quotes

If Clean Food Is for Everyone, Why Are Its Gurus All Young, Pretty Women?

Our notions of health and wellness (both charged terms these days, one might add) are still stuck in a paradigm that wouldn’t be out of place in ancient Greece; what goes on inside us must somehow be visible and recognizable on our bodies’ surface. In her Guardian essay on the rise of orthorexia — the obsession with consuming pure, “perfect” foods — Bee Wilson traces the history of a recent-yet-oh-so-familiar publishing trend: using youthful, traditionally good-looking women to sell both specific products (hello, coconut-and-oat energy balls!) and an amorphous, ever-shifting “clean” lifestyle.

Every wellness guru worth her Himalayan pink salt has a story of how changing what you eat can change your life. “Food has the power to make or break you,” wrote Amelia Freer in her 2014 bestseller Eat. Nourish. Glow. (which has sold more than 200,000 copies). Freer was leading a busy life as a personal assistant to the Prince of Wales when she realised that her tummy “looked and felt as if it had a football in it” from too many snatched dinners of cheese on toast or “factory-made food”. By giving up “processed” and convenience foods (“margarine, yuck!”) along with gluten and sugar, Freer claimed to have found the secrets to “looking younger and feeling healthier”.

Perhaps the best-known diet-transformation story of all is that of Ella Mills — possessor of more than a million Instagram followers. In 2011, Mills was diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome, a condition characterised by dizziness and extreme fatigue. Mills began blogging about food after discovering that her symptoms radically improved when she swapped her sugar-laden diet for “plant-based, natural foods.” Mills — who used to be a model — made following a “free-from” diet seem not drab or deprived, but deeply aspirational. By the time her first book appeared in January 2015, her vast following on social media helped her to sell 32,000 copies in the first week alone.

There was something paradoxical about the way these books were marketed. What they were selling purported to be an alternative to a sordidly commercial food industry. “If it’s got a barcode or a ‘promise’, don’t buy it,” wrote Freer. Yet clean eating is itself a wildly profitable commercial enterprise, promoted using photogenic young bloggers on a multi-billion-dollar tech platform. Literary agent Zoe Ross tells me that around 2015 she began to notice that “the market was scouring Instagram for copycat acts — specifically very pretty, very young girls pushing curated food and lifestyle.”

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New York City’s Final Frontier: Underground

Doing construction in New York City is dangerous and expensive. Cut the pavement in the wrong place and crews can rupture gas lines. Hit a water main, short a backup generator. These sorts of mistakes cost the city $300 million each year. Worse yet are natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy — where floods caused a three-day blackout and left two hospitals without power — and threats like buried chemical tanks and national security issues. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Greg Milner follows the people who are creating the city’s first three-dimensional subsurface infrastructure map to create a safer city that can self-regulate and grow more efficiently, and where agencies and private utilities can coordinate. In a very real sense they are pioneers, of a frontier that lays below our feet. Detailing pipes, cables, sewers, wires and electric lines, even soil types, the map will be the first of its kind, and if it works, it could make New York a model for the world’s future smart cities.

Because of data from satellites, we can now map the world down to about 6 inches. We’ve almost reached the point Jorge Luis Borges describes in his short story “On Exactitude in Science,” in which cartographers built “a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” But the world beneath our feet remains shrouded in darkness. “Light and radio waves don’t go through dirt like they do air,” says George Percivall, chief technical officer for the Open Geospatial Consortium, which is helping to develop global standards for underground mapping. “The next frontier, in both a literal and figurative sense, is underground.”

New York City’s daunting infrastructural labyrinth is like the “Here be dragons” decorating ancient maps. Underneath the 6,000 miles of asphalt and concrete road lie thousands of miles of water, sewer, gas, telecommunications, and electrical infrastructure. And let’s not forget the 500 miles of underground subway tracks or Con Edison’s 100-mile steam delivery system. In its entirety, it’s known to no one. The individual details of the vast underground are hoarded and guarded by the various stakeholders. Con Edison has its electrical map; the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) keeps track of water and sewer pipes; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could tell you where the transit tunnels are; and so on.

Imagine the city as a living organism, a body consisting of various systems—respiratory, nervous, skeletal—that share the same space and even intertwine. Now imagine surgery performed on that body by a surgeon who knows the location of only one system, who looks at the body and sees only blood vessels or bones. This is the odd condition of New York—a body subject to what, viewed through a wide lens, looks like perpetual triage. Each year, for repairs or to facilitate construction, the streets are sliced open 200,000 times—an average of almost 550 cuts per day, or 30 per street mile every year.

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The Sun Was Going and the World Was Wrong

At The Atlantic, Ross Andersen excerpts Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 personal essay, “Total Eclipse,” from her new collection, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New.

Dillard writes in exquisite detail about the haunting, surreal experience of witnessing the last solar eclipse to have been visible on the mainland of the United States on February 26th, 1979, after driving with her husband five hours inland in Washington State to catch the view from a hill top.

The full text of the essay will remain on the site for free until next Tuesday, August 22 — the day after “The Great American Eclipse,” which is inspiring eclipse tourism, and lots of astrological predictions.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams, and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountaintops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on Earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a 19th-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were finespun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.

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Can Apple End Smartphone Addiction?

According to Tristan Harris, it’s going to take more than infinite willpower for billions of people to resist the infinite scroll of the attention economy. It’s going to take regulation, reform, and Apple becoming something of an acting government.

Harris — a former Google design ethicist and the founder of Time Well Spent, a nonprofit that encourages tech companies to put users’ best interests before limitless profit models — insists that our minds have been hijacked in an arms race for our attention. He also insists that, with the help of a Hippocratic Oath for software designers, we can win.

“YouTube has a hundred engineers who are trying to get the perfect next video to play automatically,” Harris says in a new interview with WIRED‘s editor in chief Nicholas Thompson. “Their techniques are only going to get more and more perfect over time, and we will have to resist the perfect.”

See? This is me resisting:

In an interview with WIRED, Thompson and Harris discuss why now is the moment to invest in reforming the attention economy.

THOMPSON: At what point do I stop making the choice [to use Facebook or Google or Instagram]? At what point am I being manipulated? At what point is it Nick and at what point is it the machine?

HARRIS: Well I think that’s the million-dollar question. First of all, let’s also say that it’s not necessarily bad to be hijacked, we might be glad if it was time well spent for us. I’m not against technology. And we’re persuaded to do things all the time. It’s just that the premise in the war for attention is that it’s going to get better and better at steering us toward its goals, not ours. We might enjoy the thing it persuades us to do, which makes us feel like we made the choice ourselves. For example, we forget if the next video loaded and we were happy about the video we watched. But, in fact, we were hijacked in that moment. All those people who are working to give you the next perfect thing on YouTube don’t know that it’s 2 am and you might also want to sleep. They’re not on your team. They’re only on the team of what gets you to spend more time on that service.

Again, the energy analogy is useful. Energy companies used to have the same perverse dynamic: I want you to use as much energy as possible. Please just let the water run until you drain the reservoir. Please keep the lights on until there’s no energy left. We, the energy companies, make more money the more energy you use. And that was a perverse relationship. And in many US states, we changed the model to decouple how much money energy companies make from how much energy you use. We need to do something like that for the attention economy, because we can’t afford a world in which this arms race is to get as much attention from you as possible.

The opportunity here, is for Apple. Apple is the one company that could actually do it. Because their business model does not rely on attention, and they actually define the playing field on which everyone seeking our attention plays. They define the rules. If you want to say it, they’re like a government. They get to set the rules for everybody else. They set the currency of competition, which is currently attention and engagement. App stores rank things based on their success in number of downloads or how much they get used. Imagine if instead they said, “We’re going to change the currency.” They could move it from the current race to the bottom to creating a race to the top for what most helps people with different parts of their lives. I think they’re in an incredible position to do that.

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Instagram Wants to Make the Internet a Nicer Place to Be

Is it possible to make the internet a kinder place? Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom thinks so. In Wired, Nick Thompson reports on how Instagram has been working to clean up its photo sharing platform, creating tools for users to close comments on certain posts and ban offensive words—or, in one notable case, offensive emojis:

In mid July 2016, just after VidCon, Systrom was faced with just such an ophiological scourge. Somehow, in the course of one week, Taylor Swift had lost internet fights with Calvin Harris, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian. Swift was accused of treacherous perfidy, and her feed quickly began to look like the Reptile Discovery Center at the National Zoo. Her posts were followed almost entirely by snake emoji: snakes piled on snakes, snakes arranged numerically, snakes alternating with pigs. And then, suddenly, the snakes started to vanish. Soon Swift’s feed was back to the way she preferred it: filled with images of her and her beautiful friends in beautiful swimsuits, with commenters telling her how beautiful they all looked.

But Instagram can’t build that world with simple technical fixes like automated snake emoji deletion.

This was no accident. Over the previous weeks, Systrom and his team at Instagram had quietly built a filter that would automatically delete specific words and emoji from users’ feeds. Swift’s snakes became the first live test case. In September, Systrom announced the feature to the world. Users could click a button to “hide inappropriate comments,” which would block a list of words the company had selected, including racial slurs and words like whore. They could also add custom keywords or even custom emoji, like, say, snakes.

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There’s No Overtime In This Game

Georgia Cloepfil is only in her mid-twenties, but she is already contemplating the end of her soccer career. The opportunities — and pay — just aren’t there for most women, and the body can only take so much. In her essay at n+1, “Beat the Clock,” she contemplates a life dedicated to a sport that can’t reciprocate.

At times I really am overwhelmed with unmitigated gratitude. Ambition, negotiation, tough-minded feminism—these give way to moments of childish joy. Professional soccer had never been more than a private dream, a subconscious curiosity. Now I get paid to do something I have loved since I was 4 years old. Other than my family, is there anything else I have loved so unconditionally, for so long?

I hobble around the kitchen, searching for a remedy for my constant foot pain and my sore knee. I am home over the holidays for a three-month offseason. “Life is long, Georgia,” says my 60-year-old mother. She is coaxing me to retire, to move on to a pursuit that won’t disintegrate my body with such persistent logic. I want to cry. My soccer life feels so short. Because it is so short.

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Why the Most Beautiful Poems Defy Understanding

At The Walrus, Matthew Zapruder examines his relationships with poetry and with his father. Despite being two men with great facility for precise language, they were unable to use it to bridge the distance between them. In likening poems to people, Zapruder says that the most beautiful thing about the poems most important to him is that their meaning cannot fully be articulated.

I have found that the poems which have meant the most to me, to which I return again and again, retain a central unsayability, a place where the drama of truly looking for something essential that can never quite be reached is expressed. Somewhere in the poem, or at its end, knowingness stops. You can feel the intelligence in the poem truly exploring, clambering along the words and down the page, and also that intelligence stopping at what cannot be known. Those moments where a limit is reached can often be the greatest, and most honest, in poetry. They can come first as a surprise, then immediately afterward feel inevitable, at least for a little while.

This is why asking for a certain kind of knowledge—that way of knowing we automatically, and justifiably, expect from other texts, anything other than a poem—limits our experience with poetry. If we imagine a poem as something to be answered or solved, we will most likely find ways to do so. But I think we would be better off to think of “understanding” in a poem as an ongoing process of attention.

Simone Weil writes that attention is the purest form of generosity. A generous, open, genuinely focused attention moves us through the poem, just as it moves us through an experience, through a friendship, through anything else that means and keeps on meaning. If a poem is really good, you can’t really say what it’s “about,” that is, what its central “message” is, any more than you can do so for a painting or a piece of music or a person or a mountain.

A poem is like a person. The more you know someone, the more you realize there is always something more to know and understand. A final understanding could probably only begin upon permanent separation, or death. This is why we come back to certain poems, as we do to places or people, to experience and re-experience, to see ourselves for who we truly are, and to continue to be changed.

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Dear Chief Justice John Roberts: Our Country Has Not Changed

Rescue workers aiding victims of the car attack in Charlottesville.

President Trump’s embrace of racist extremism is not just troubling for our country in the present moment, it’s even scarier when you consider the politicos who see it as a winning campaign strategy for 2018 and beyond. Picture all the baby Trumps mimicking their grotesque idol, and weep for our republic.

To understand this extremism, and to fight it, we must return to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The killing in Charlottesville, the violent outbursts by emboldened white supremacists, and Trump’s utter failure to condemn domestic terrorism, offers yet another chance to reflect on how we got here. We can start with recent Supreme Court history, when it struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which allowed nine, mostly Southern states, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “our country has changed,” and he argued that many of the “extraordinary measures” in the Voting Rights Act were no longer justified.

Yet here we are in 2017: camouflaged racists with semiautomatic weapons marched through Charlottesville, and one of them plowed his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

On Sunday, a discussion began on Twitter as to whether Roberts (and Justice Anthony Kennedy) would like to revisit their decision.

Ari Berman’s outstanding 2015 book Give Us the Ballot offers a deep history of voter suppression in the United States, and it makes clear that we must fight the rights for all Americans to vote if we are to ever take the country back from a President and a party that winks at the white supremacy.

Republicans may “privately wince” at Trump’s moral failure, but their actions to disenfranchise voters lit the torches in Charlottesville. They fostered an environment where the white vote matters more, and convinced those voters they are under attack from people who don’t look like them. In his book, Berman explains that Obama’s 2008 election led to a spate of new, restrictive state voting laws:

In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states, with twenty-seven new laws taking effect in nineteen states, nearly all of them controlled by Republicans. The right to vote had become deeply politicized. The country hadn’t seen anything like it since the end of Reconstruction, when every southern state placed severe limits on the franchise.

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of new barriers to the ballot box were not a coincidence. “The proposal of restrictive voter-access legislation has been substantially more likely to occur where African-Americans are concentrated and both minorities and low-income individuals have begun turning out at the polls more frequently,” reported a study from the University of Massachusetts–Boston.

“As minorities grow in the political process, it’s in the interest of one of the parties to tamp down voter turnout,” said Mel Watt. “It’s the same system that other people went through when there were poll taxes and literacy tests. This is just another iteration of that.”

Before 2010, only Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri had passed strict voter ID laws. Nine states controlled by Republicans adopted them following the 2010 election: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The accelerated push for voter ID laws didn’t emerge from nowhere. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, the tart-tongued first director of the Heritage Foundation, convened a gathering of fifteen thousand evangelical Christians for Ronald Reagan. Acolytes described Weyrich as “the Lenin of social conservatism.” He said in his speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

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The Fallacy of the Olympics

The Olympics have a problem. Countries that have bid and won the “honor” of hosting the games are finding it increasingly difficult to manage the after effects — from rampant growth to financial demands — that accompany inviting the world for a late summer visit every four years.

The last host city that substantially profited from hosting the Olympics was Los Angeles, which “earned” $93 million some thirty-plus years ago when it hosted the 1984 games. The southern California event set the template for Barcelona and Atlanta, two cities that re-envisioned their respective downtowns and central hubs thanks to the Olympics, but in the years since, it has been increasingly more difficult for host countries to justify pursuing the games, leaving too many empty and unusable stadiums in the wake.

Take Brazil. A thriving economy and a commitment to athletic excellence led Brazil to target landing the 2016 games, but the subsequent combination of a recession and various scandals have left the South American country — the first ever to land the Olympics — in tatters. Wayne Drehs and Mariana Lajolo of Doubletruck, ESPN.com’s longform vertical, explored what has happened to Brazil just one year after the Olympics left Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and its other cities:

The opening ceremony in Brazil’s famed Maracanã was the most watched in Olympic history. More than 2.5 billion people from around the globe tuned in as 11,000 athletes marched on the stadium floor holding a cartridge of soil and a seed from a native Brazilian tree. The athletes placed the cartridges into mirrored towers. Olympic organizers called the procession “Seeds of Hope,” explaining the containers would be planted as part of an Athlete’s Forest in the Deodoro neighborhood of Rio.

But now, just over a year later, there is perhaps no greater example of the Rio Games’ complicated legacy. The seedlings sit in planting pots under a sheer black canopy on a farm 100 kilometers from Rio. Prior to last week, Marcelo de Carvalho Silva, the director of Biovert, the company responsible for the seeds, hadn’t heard from Olympic organizers in months. He had no idea what the plans were for the seeds, but he painstakingly watched over them for free, knowing what it would mean for his company — and the country — if something happened to them.

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Where In the World is O.J. Mayo?

It has been more than a year since O.J. Mayo, thought at one point to be the second coming of LeBron James, was “dismissed and disqualified” from the NBA for 24 months after he violated the league’s anti-drug policy.

Mayo wasn’t a once-in-a-generation talent, but he was pretty close; the guard had the speed, physicality, and athletic creativity that even other elite athletes lacked, and when he was drafted out of USC as the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, the thought was Mayo was destined for a myriad of future All-Star games. Those prognostications never materialized, and in light of the NBA’s ruling, Mayo has taken a step back from the game.

According to Ryan Jones of the Bleacher Report, who first profiled Mayo for Slam as a dominant high schooler at Huntington (WV) High School, Mayo has essentially disappeared:

 The basketball world doesn’t know what’s going on with Mayo, nor is it particularly interested in trying to find out. With his present a mystery and his basketball future in serious doubt, his past was the one thing it seemed possible to understand.

It’s not that Mayo has kept a low public profile — he has separated himself from both the basketball world and his own circle, or at least those whom Jones tried to contact to see how Mayo has spent his time away from the NBA. What’s bizarre about Jones’ feature is that Mayo was in the prime of his career at the time of his suspension, nearing 30 and, though recovering from injuries, still a valuable contributor for the Milwaukee Bucks. That he would incur the suspension is in itself shocking — only one other player in the past decade (Chris “Birdman” Andersen) suffered the same punishment — but to then completely disappear is a more shocking matter.

We’re no longer talking about a child, of course. O.J. Mayo will be 30 in November. He will have earned about $45 million in eight NBA seasons. At this point, there is no measure by which he is not an adult, responsible for his choices, good and bad. The stakes now go beyond trivialities like academic eligibility and mere reputation. This is about his career. His life.

Thinking about all this brought me back to something Mayo said 10 years ago, on that summer afternoon in Los Angeles. “What’s the average time you live on earth—like 60, 65 years?” he asked. “Basketball’s gonna take up half of it. I’d like to be successful in the other half, too.”

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