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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Notability Blues, by Stephen Harrison, Slate

Wikipedia is committed to the notion of an encyclopedia, a written compendium of important human information—not a directory, a soapbox, a vanity press, or anything else the site has pledged not to be. As such, only those topics that rise to a certain level of “notability” or importance can have a Wikipedia entry. It’s a policy that makes sense but is difficult to apply in practice. Back in 2007, then Slate writer Timothy Noah chronicled the demise and eventual rescue of his own Wikipedia page; it appeared that the mere act of writing about it in the press had helped him meet the notability standard.

Now, as we approach the end of Women’s History Month, it’s worth considering whether rigid application of Wikipedia’s notability guideline contributes to the online encyclopedia’s notorious gender gap.

A Philosophical Approach To Routines Can Illuminate Who We Really Are, by Elias Anttila, Aeon

There are hundreds of things we do – repeatedly, routinely – every day. We wake up, check our phones, eat our meals, brush our teeth, do our jobs, satisfy our addictions. In recent years, such habitual actions have become an arena for self-improvement: bookshelves are saturated with bestsellers about ‘life hacks’, ‘life design’ and how to ‘gamify’ our long-term projects, promising everything from enhanced productivity to a healthier diet and huge fortunes. These guides vary in scientific accuracy, but they tend to depict habits as routines that follow a repeated sequence of behaviours, into which we can intervene to set ourselves on a more desirable track.

The problem is that this account has been bleached of much of its historical richness. Today’s self-help books have in fact inherited a highly contingent version of habit – specifically, one that arises in the work of early 20th-century psychologists such as B F Skinner, Clark Hull, John B Watson and Ivan Pavlov. These thinkers are associated with behaviourism, an approach to psychology that prioritises observable, stimulus-response reactions over the role of inner feelings or thoughts. The behaviourists defined habits in a narrow, individualistic sense; they believed that people were conditioned to respond automatically to certain cues, which produced repeated cycles of action and reward.

Spacesuits Were Never Designed To Fit Everyone, by Marina Koren, The Atlantic

At first glance, this seems like a massive oversight. Shouldn’t NASA have figured out which size spacesuit their astronauts needed before they launched, and had appropriate gear waiting for them on the ISS? And how is it that the world’s premier space agency can dress two men for spacewalks without issue, as it did several times last year, but not two women?

To answer these questions, it helps to start at the beginning. Not the Big Bang—we’ll save that for another day—but the 1960s, when NASA first started launching astronauts to space.

Can Food Tours Stray From The Beaten Path Without Ruining The Experience?, by Ligaya Mishan, New York Times

Once, Americans abroad were suspicious of foreign delicacies, scurrying back to the safety of their hotels and ships for a bland simulacrum of dishes they could get back home. But for a growing number of leisure travelers — those privileged enough to cross borders not out of necessity, but for pleasure — food has become essential to an encounter with another culture, from olive oil in Slovenia to poi (pounded taro root) in Hawaii to kokoretsi (lamb-intestine sandwiches) in Turkey.

Today’s wanderers have been called to the gospel of Anthony Bourdain, the irreverent chef and writer whose ecumenical pursuit of food in all its incarnations (blood and guts included) was chronicled in the TV series “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” until his death last June.

In This Novel, Bringing A 700-Page Script To The Screen Is A Writer’s White Whale, by Sarah Lyall, New York Times

You are French. You are the author of several successful novels. You have written an impractical 700-page screenplay about “the mystical honeycombed interior” of Herman Melville’s mind. You are 50 years old, have a net worth of 20 euros and are about to be evicted from your apartment.

What now? If you are the narrator of the French novelist Yannick Haenel’s “Hold Fast Your Crown,” a story of madness, art, alcohol and creativity, you repair to your bedroom with a six-pack to watch one of your favorite movies, “Apocalypse Now,” while musing on its significance to you and perhaps to life itself.

‘Immediate Song’ Is A Lush, Sparkling Book Of Poetry, by Sarah Huener, Chicago Review of Books

Spare, thoughtful, direct, musical — when asked to describe the kinds of poems I like, these are some of the first adjectives I come up with. Reading this book, I kept finding the same words to describe Don Bogen’s writing. Immediate Song, his recent fifth poetry collection, is so far up my alley it sometimes felt a little strange to be reading it — am I still an impartial reader if I’m part of the target audience for the book? Regardless, I found this to be an undeniably masterful collection of smart and beautiful poems.

Poem Written With An Arrowhead In My Mouth, by Timothy Donnelly, New England Review

Again the sound of quartz pounding quartz