Fri, May 31, 2013
Alex Payne
A startup is just a means to an end. Consider the end, and don’t seek to revel in the means. What do you care about? Who do you want to help? Does a startup make meeting your goals easier or harder? Where will it leave you when your goal is met? Where will it leave you if it isn’t?
Sam Sifton, New York Times
Family is where you find it. For restaurant people, family is often the people at work: Method-actor captains and decent-sculptor waiters; tattooed chefs de partie, willowy hostesses, bookish sommeliers and the four cousins from Puebla who keep the whole enterprise afloat. They gather once a day in the dining room, well before your dinner, to eat their own.
Thu, May 30, 2013
Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
Pardon the pun, but Roxana Robinson’s new novel, “Sparta,” which takes us deep inside the troubled head of a Marine returning from four years of active duty in Iraq, really is a tour de force. Robinson, whose varied bibliography ranges from a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe to her preceding novel, “Cost,” about a family dealing with a son’s heroin addiction, surprises us again with the unexpected subject.
Josh Ozersky, The New York Observer
Having seen this cycle in action a few times, the best New York restaurateurs have fallen into a certain preventative rhythm, creating wonderful restaurants every two years or so, thus guaranteeing the continuing success of their older efforts, which are, at least, then bathed in the reflected light of their cuter baby brothers.
Wed, May 29, 2013
Adam Platt, Grub Street
When he’s asked, as he often is these days, about the much-anticipated smackdown between Danny Meyer’s East Coast Shake Shack franchise and his West Coast Umami Burger, which is coming this summer to a New York neighborhood near you, Adam Fleischman likes to make a few things clear. First off, he wants New Yorkers to know that his L.A. Umami ­Burger empire—which has grown, in just four short years, from a $40,000 ­investment to a multimillion-dollar enterprise with madly popular, ever-multiplying outlets in San Francisco and Miami—isn’t a burger joint in the usual ho-hum, ­utilitarian way.
Mark Bittman, New York Times
I’m reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle two weeks ago; there were about six ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.
The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.
Lesley Chesterman, Nuvo
Tucked away on a dark side street at number 6 rue Bailleul, Spring doesn’t grab you at first sight. Yet in the three short years since it opened, it has become one of the hottest tickets in town. What’s the appeal? First, perhaps, it’s far from the usual storybook Parisian restaurant. The look is minimalist, as in concrete floors and unadorned white stone walls; the style here is centred on the plate. The set menu changes weekly, and the room’s ambience surrounding all that lovely fare is fun—far from the usual temples de la haute gastronomie we’ve come to expect in Paris.
Joe Yonan, Washington Post
The idea stems from his doctor’s suggestion six years ago that in order to reverse a course headed toward diabetes and heart disease, Bittman should go vegan. The patient — perhaps in a Larry David mood this time — balked. “I asked, ‘Can’t I compromise?’ Sid looked at me and said, ‘You’re a smart guy. Figure something out.’ ”
Tue, May 28, 2013
David Lehman, Slate
Mon, May 27, 2013
Sam Carter, New Republic
What happens when the dictators are gone?
Ron Rosenbaum, Smithsonian Magazine
She is a star professor of the stars, a cosmological celebrity, and only in part because she is the first female theoretical physicist tenured at Harvard . It was really her conjecture in the late ’90s about string theory’s “extra dimensions” that gained her prominence in the field. She garnered more attention for her explication of the Higgs boson quest, and for her subsequent writings attempting to explain to the rest of us what she does and how exciting it is to do it, most recently Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
And now she thinks she and her Harvard physics colleagues have found something new. What she is excited about is “dark matter,” which—along with “dark energy”—makes up the vast majority of the known universe. The current estimate is that 70 percent of the universe is dark energy and 26 percent dark matter. Which adds up to 96 percent. Meaning that what we see and know adds up to a measly 4 percent.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
The year is 1974. A precocious little girl is playing outdoors with a toy circus she’s built when a spooky gent with a limp approaches her. She shows him the bumblebee that, in her imagination, is a lion. He pulls its wings off. He would hurt her too, but little girls bore him.
“I’ll see you when you’re all grown-up,” he promises. “Look out for me, O.K., sweetheart? I’ll come back for you.” Thirteen years later he does.
Sun, May 26, 2013
Claudia Hammond, Salon
Life speeds up when we get older and slows down when we are terrified. Unlocking the mysteries of time perception.
Rob Hoerburger, New York Times
Such a surplus of options can lead to a kind of cultural snobbery, the denigration of an artist or art form simply because you missed it the first time around. More than one prominent music critic, for instance, didn’t anticipate the fireball that was Adele in 2011 and then, several platinum certifications later, wrote begrudging mea culpas that basically said, “I guess she’s O.K.”
I was guilty of this kind of critical elitism. Until a year and a half ago, I had never seen an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” Yes, that “Big Bang Theory.”
Jonny Geller, The Observer
I think his defiant gesture of support for booksellers is well-intentioned but missing the point. It is not what readers want.
Elizabeth Day, The Observer
Lamwaka, 35, is one of a new wave of Ugandan fiction writers. Her work has been published in several anthologies and she has been nominated for several international prizes. The tale of her brother's abduction inspired a powerful short story called "Butterfly Dreams", in which a young girl is abducted by the LRA: "You caressed your scars as if to tell us what you went through," Lamwaka writes. "We did not ask questions."
Sat, May 25, 2013
Richard Johnson, The Guardian
What's for dinner? Where will you eat it? And who will eat it with you? Michael Pollan reckons that the answers to these questions could determine our survival as a species. In his own case, the answers are: meatballs, round the table, with his family.
Emily Parker, New York Times
The need for a robust literary outcry would seem as great as ever. But what has happened to Russia’s famous tradition of dissident literature — and to its readers?
Frances Itani, Washington Post
Last friends are old friends, make no mistake. Anyone who has read previous books by British writer Jane Gardam will slide effortlessly into this novel. And anyone who has not read Gardam (she is responsible for more than 20 books) is encouraged to read “Old Filth” and “The Man in the Wooden Hat,” the first two novels of this wonderfully entertaining trilogy.
Fri, May 24, 2013
Matthew J.X. Malady, Slate
One hundred and eighteen miles north of London, in the town of Boston, England, there lives a retired newspaperman named John Richards who is experiencing an unusually rotten spring. Richards is the founder and chairman of something called the Apostrophe Protection Society. His world, at least as related to the tiny mark that denotes possessives and the omission of letters from certain words, appears to be crashing down around him.
Alexander Chee, The Morning News
What will you miss about Germany and Leipzig, he asks.
It is a sweet sort of question, oddly aspirational—You will miss us, yes? Here I am at the halfway mark. The winter has been dark, the snow, seemingly endless. I have just delivered a novel I’ve been working on for almost a decade, the day before. I almost don’t know how to miss anything. To answer is to answer with a fiction.
The beer and the bread, I say, with a bit of a laugh. Also the quiet.
The months pass and then I am back in the U.S., and I have real answers. But we should still begin with the beer.
Clint Rainey, Grub Street
Explosive worldwide growth raises questions in the minds of customers about a business's identity, consistency, and brand dilution — unfamiliar territory for Meyer, a Manhattan luxury restaurateur who "has created new restaurants as though they were each his first and only" and who preaches a mantra of “slow down.” That's at least in part why Meyer and his team make a point to refer to Shake Shack as the "anti-chain" chain.
Thu, May 23, 2013
Peter Frick-Wright, Sierra Club
There are many environmental reasons to eat insects. But first you have to get past the ick factor.
Anna Weaver, Slate
Why, America, do we treat Spam like the school outcast who’s just too square for our liking? We’ve been buddy-buddy with hot dogs and pepperoni for ages just because they’re the sporty meats at carnivore college. If more people gave Spam a chance, they’d see that it not only tastes better than hot dogs, it also aligns quite nicely with current foodie trends. They’d also see that it’s an exciting ingredient with boundless culinary potential. (Hint: You’re an idiot if you eat it straight out of the can.)
Wed, May 22, 2013
Dan P. Lee, New York Magazine
This is not a rendering. It is a launching pad in the New Mexico desert for rocket planes that will send you into space for $200,000. It opens later this year.
Tue, May 21, 2013
Mike Jay, London Review Of Books
Memory creates our identity, but it also exposes the illusion of a coherent self: a memory is not a thing but an act that alters and rearranges even as it retrieves. Although some of its operations can be trained to an astonishing pitch, most take place autonomously, beyond the reach of the conscious mind. As we age, it distorts and foreshortens: present experience becomes harder to impress on the mind, and the long-forgotten past seems to draw closer; University Challenge gets easier, remembering what you came downstairs for gets harder. Yet if we were somehow to freeze our memory at the youthful peak of its powers, around our late twenties, we would not create a polished version of ourselves analogous to a youthful body, but an early, scrappy draft composed of childhood memories and school-learning, barely recognisable to our older selves.
Jay Rayner, The Observer
Was it the 42 courses at El Bulli or that freshly boiled crab in West Mersea? Or maybe it's all about the people who were there.
Mon, May 20, 2013
David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, Salon
Austerity kills -- radical cuts destroy economies and lives, and the honest numbers and economics keep proving it.
Joan Acocella, New Yorker
Dante in translation and in Dan Brown’s new novel.
Jane Mayer, New Yorker
Public television’s attempts to placate David Koch.
Sun, May 19, 2013
William Flesch, Los Angeles Review Of Books
To put the question simply, if God exists, how could “He” know that we existed? How could He know that we weren’t merely animated matter, zombies, or biological machines, like the pedagogical mannequin, a Turing machine affectlessly oppressing the seekers after truth in the dream world of Giulio Tononi’s Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul? How could God know that we were living souls, and not just perfect simulations?
Michael Pollan, New York Times
Medicine used to be obsessed with eradicating the tiny bugs that live within us. Now we’re beginning to understand all the ways they keep us healthy.
Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times
I woke to a nudge. “The pilot’s going to make an announcement,” the flight attendant said. I palmed at my eyes, nodded and looked around, feeling my hangover creep back in. The girl next to me was flicking at her nails while she paged through a fashion magazine. I slumped back against the window after the flight attendant passed. White clouds blanketed the sky floor.
I sat up suddenly. Wait — since when do they wake you up for a pilot talk?
Sat, May 18, 2013
Ellen Ullman, New York Times
How can you resist a book whose first chapter begins: “Have you ever peeked inside a friend’s trash can? I have.” Trash is like “one’s sex life,” the book continues, “the less said about it, the better.”
Yet the Internet can convert this private affair into an object of public surveillance, and Evgeny Morozov tells you how.
John Schwartz, New York Times
If you spend a lot of time with audiobooks, you start paying close attention to the people who read them.
Fri, May 17, 2013
Bill Wasik, Wired
In our houses, cars, and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.
Mat Honan, Wired
“I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out,” he had said. “What is the effect on society? What’s the effect on people? Without having to deploy it into the normal world.”
I realized I was the only one aboard, and the boat was driving itself.
Damien Walter, The Guardian
We live more and more of our life through the screens of laptops and smartphones, but how do we represent this on the page?
Thu, May 16, 2013
Ruth Graham, Poetry Foundation
How did poetry become an essential part of American wedding ceremonies—and why is it so hard to choose a poem of one’s own?
Wayne Curtis, The Smart Set
Pedestrians and cars have had a complex relationship for more than a century. It’s not exactly a predator and prey thing, but there’s an interesting and complex dynamic at work.
Wed, May 15, 2013
Michael Saler, The Times Literary Supplement
The child may be father to the man, but how did a girl become mother to the monster? We continue to ask that of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) before she turned twenty. It is a startling work from someone so young, combining profound philosophic disquisitions with melodramatic blood and thunder.
Julia Moskin, New York Times
These are the people who believe a golden-brown crust and juicy meat can never be achieved at the same time. Who think frying chicken requires special equipment and hazmat suits. Who think fried chicken is in a special circle of dietary hell.
Who are wrong.
Tue, May 14, 2013
Sara Morrison, Columbia Journalism Review
Meet Jessica Lum, a terminally ill 25-year-old who chose to spend what little time she had practicing journalism.
Olivia Cronk, Spolia
Mon, May 13, 2013
Leon Neyfakh, New Republic
It is very easy to sound like a cheeseball when talking about social media. This is especially true if you’re talking about how it’s changing the world, or how it’s making all of us more creative, or how it’s opening up previously unimaginable ways of relating to others. There are lots of people who talk this way, and for the most part, they are cheeseballs.
Margaret Atwood, 73, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is not one of these people. But she walks a much finer line than you’d expect, especially since she is known primarily for her work as a conjurer of dark, dystopian fiction about the future.
Ben Marcus, New Yorker
Nathan Heller, New Yorker
Has the future of college moved online?
Ted Heller, The Weeklings
I’m sure that publishers (and book cover designers) loathe the advent of the Kindle and Nook if only because, well, there goes a tremendous free source of advertising (the book on the lap, the book basking in the sun on the beach towel, the book bulging suggestively out of the handbag). That form of advertising, though, never worked for me.
Lisa Levy, Los Angeles Review Of Books
Is the very idea of an intelligent self-help book a paradox? It is certainly trying to serve two demanding masters: philosophical speculation and practical action. After all, readers don’t pick up self-help books just to ruminate on life’s dilemmas, but to be guided to solutions. The new series of self-help books published by the London-based School of Life, co-founded by the Swiss-born popular philosopher Alain de Botton, echoes the school’s lofty approach to problems, claiming to be “intelligent, rigorous, well-written new guides to everyday living.” Yet to peruse the School of Life’s calendar of classes is to fall into a vortex of jargon pitched somewhere between the banal banter of daytime talk shows and the schedule for a nightmarish New Age retreat.
Sun, May 12, 2013
Melissa Mohr, Salon
As society evolves, so do our curse words. Here's how some of the most famous ones developed -- and a few new ones.
Ian Buruma, The New York Review Of Books
At a time when American groups would often dress down—affluent suburban kids disguised as Appalachian farmers or Canadian lumberjacks—Bowie quite deliberately dressed up. In his words: “I can’t stand the premise of going out [on stage] in jeans…and looking as real as you can in front of 18,000 people. I mean, it’s not normal!” Also in his words: “My whole professional life is an act…I slip from one guise to another very easily.”
Ari Daniel Shaprio, BBC
"My supervisor said: 'Look, just imagine you're the first scientist to come to the scene. How would you interpret it?'"
So Romilio took a fresh look at all those footprints, and he thinks the scientists before him misinterpreted the evidence.
Sat, May 11, 2013
Eric Banks, Bookforum
Two books seek to explain how our minds work their way through the maze of consciousness.
Michael Symmons Roberts, The Guardian
Joan Silber, New York Times
In Jennifer Haigh’s linked stories, restlessness and regret loom over a Pennsylvania coal-mining town for generations.
Michael Deacon, The Telegraph
Renowned author Dan Brown woke up in his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house – and immediately he felt angry. Most people would have thought that the 48-year-old man had no reason to be angry. After all, the famous writer had a new book coming out. But that was the problem. A new book meant an inevitable attack on the rich novelist by the wealthy wordsmith’s fiercest foes. The critics.
Fri, May 10, 2013
Christopher Riley, The Telegraph
In these days of frivolous entertainments and frayed attention spans, the people who become famous are not necessarily the brightest stars. One of the biggest hits on YouTube, after all, is a video of a French bulldog who can’t roll over. But in amongst all the skateboarding cats and laughing babies, a new animated video, featuring the words of a dead theoretical physicist, has gone viral. In the film, created from an original documentary made for the BBC back in the early Eighties, the late Nobel Prize-winning professor, Richard Feynman, can be heard extolling the wonders of science contained within a simple flower.
Thomas Jones, The Guardian
They're conventions not rules, however, and different conventions apply to different kinds of discourse: constructions that are unacceptable in so-called Standard English and wouldn't find their way into the LRB or the Guardian – a reinforcing double negative, say – are more than fine in other registers (eg "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more").
Bearing all that in mind, here are nine conventions (the number as arbitrary as everything else) that are more or less worth adhering to, depending on context, though none of them are hard-and-fast rules (and, yes, I have tried to discreetly break most of them in this preamble).
Thu, May 9, 2013
Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer
Stewart Brand was at the heart of 60s counterculture and is now widely revered as the tech visionary whose book anticipated the web. We meet the man for whom big ideas are a way of life.
Wed, May 8, 2013
Steve Fishman, New York Magazine
The almost president has become the ultimate Davos Man, a moral entrepreneur and richer than Mitt Romney.
Julia Moskin, New York Times
Until recently, the American food revolution seemed to bypass this region, leaping from Chicago to Philadelphia without making stops in places like Toledo, Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh.
Now, the region is linked by a group of educated, ambitious chefs who are building a new kind of network. Its scale is tiny compared with the steel and shipbuilding empires of the region’s past. But they are nonetheless convinced that an interdependent web of chefs, butchers, farmers, millers, bakers and brewers will help bring the local landscape back into balance.
Tue, May 7, 2013
Terri Witek, Slate
C. Drew Harvell, New York Times
I’ve been a marine biologist my entire professional life, spending more than 25 years researching the health of corals and sustainability of reefs. I’m captivated by the magic of sessile invertebrates like corals, sponges and sea squirts — creatures vital to the ecosystem yet too often overlooked in favor of more visible animals like sharks and whales.
The filmmaker David O. Brown and I want to change that. To make a documentary, “Fragile Legacy,” we are on a quest to lure these elusive and delicate invertebrates in front of the camera lens.
Christopher Pilny, Salon
“You are the first man I have ever seen working at Victoria’s Secret,” said a customer walking up to the cash register. I’d hear this a lot over the next year. For a while, I’d tell customers that I was, in fact, the first man to work at Victoria’s Secret, adding that GQ had recently named me “The Ponce de Leon of Panties.” But seeing as this was my first day on the job, I didn’t have that kind of confidence yet. That would come later.
Mon, May 6, 2013
Ma Jian, The Guardian
In China, procreation and childbirth are, like every facet of human life, deeply political.
Janet Maslin, New York Times
Mr. Lanier bucks a wave of more conventional diatribes on Big Data to deliver Olympian, contrarian fighting words about the Internet’s exploitative powers. A self-proclaimed “humanist softie,” he is a witheringly caustic critic of big Web entities and their business models.
Sun, May 5, 2013
Anie Lowrey, New York Times
The end of extreme poverty might very well be within reach. “It’s not by any means pie-in-the-sky,” says Scott Morris, who formerly managed the Obama administration’s relations with development institutions. When I asked Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist, if the target seemed feasible, he said, “I absolutely believe so.” And Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, the powerful Washington policy group, told me, “In many ways, it’s a very modest goal.”
In part, this is because the bar is set very low.
Mick Hume, Spiked
George Orwell could have been killed twice in the Spanish Civil War. Once when he was shot in the throat by General Franco’s fascist forces; then when he was hunted by official Communist agents who, with the backing of Stalin’s Soviet Union, stabbed the revolution in the back and imprisoned, tortured and killed leading leftists and anarchists who were ostensibly on the same Republican side. Orwell learned the hardest way that the war against fascism in Spain was also a civil war against Stalinism.
Sat, May 4, 2013
Peter Brannen, Slate
Two new books look at how we turn food into poop—and what happens to it afterward.
L.V. Anderson, Slate
An academic book about the evolution of restaurants sheds new light on the moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism.
Thomas Laqueur, The Guardian
This book was born when Peter Stanford's children made him get a dog. He had been, he says, "as much a cemetery avoider as the next person", but now he had a reason to take walks in the local graveyard where the dog could do its business and the owner could have deep thoughts. All of us will die; fame is unlikely to endure and oblivion is the common fate; detox diets and "countless visits to the gym" are of no avail. The moods of the weather and the whims of the dog, the sound of woodpeckers tapping and the sight of a strange tomb or a bizarre inscription filled Stanford's head with questions: who first thought of erecting individual memorials for the dead; when did we switch from burying the dead en masse in neolithic barrows and move to individual graves? "In short, how do we read a graveyard?"
Alan Lightman, New York Times
In one of the more fanciful conceptions of nature, the British physicist and philosopher Julian Barbour proposed that the world is just a “heap of moments,” each an instant of frozen time. There is no order to the moments, no sequence, no cause-and-effect relationship. We exist only from moment to moment. If we experience time passing, it’s because this particular moment has memories of another moment woven into it. Some moments are interesting: they contain complexity, stars and planets, life. Others are boring: they contain only energy, or perhaps nothing at all.
In his new book, “Time Reborn,” Lee Smolin, a physicist and author of “The Life of the Cosmos” (1997) and “The Trouble With Physics” (2006), recounts Barbour’s cosmology with some admiration and then goes on to offer even more radical ideas of his own.
Thu, May 2, 2013
Doug Mack, The Morning News
The internet is an unrelenting enabler of our flaws and an unforgiving archive of them—so should you google your new love interest, or hold off? And what if they google you first?
Wed, May 1, 2013
Emily Weinstein, New York Times
The Dining section had brought together Mr. Pollan (whose latest book, “Cooked,” was published last week) and Mr. Moss to make a tasty, reasonably healthy lunch. But there was a stipulation: they had to use ingredients that could be found at just about any grocery store. There would be no farmers’ market produce, no grass-fed beef or artisanal anything.
It’s not so tough a task for someone with basic cooking skills and savvy about the products on the shelves. But, as both men suggest in their books, that’s no longer a given among Americans.
Pete Wells, New York Times
One of the most compelling meals I’ve had on the job was served to me early this spring by a restaurant here called Saison. About a year ago, I had one of the most maddening meals in my career, also at Saison.
Both times, I found myself asking a question that comes up increasingly often at the high end of American dining: How much are we willing to pay for an extraordinary dinner?
Liz Jobey, Financial Times
However unlikely it sounds, that a writer would revisit a work he or she finished decades ago and risk uncovering its errors, to say nothing of the potential agony of rereading a younger self, this is exactly what they have done. The resulting copies, with their anecdotal scribbles, deleted paragraphs and occasional exclamations of self-loathing, are to be auctioned at Sotheby’s next month in aid of the writers’ charity English PEN, which defends the rights of writers and readers and promotes freedom of expression around the world.