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This week disproportionately features Jason Kottke and The Atlantic…in a good way
This piece is very good and got a lot of attention this week:
I was undergoing a Great Pandemic Friendship Reckoning, along with pretty much everyone else. All of those hours in isolation had amounted to one long spin of the centrifuge, separating the thickest friendships from the thinnest; the ambient threat of death and loss made me realize that if I wanted to renew or intensify my bonds with the people I loved most, the time was now, right now.
But truth be told, I’d already been mulling this subject for quite some time. When you’re in middle age, which I am (mid-middle age, to be precise—I’m now 52), you start to realize how very much you need your friends. They’re the flora and fauna in a life that hasn’t had much diversity, because you’ve been so busy—so relentlessly, stupidly busy—with middle-age things: kids, house, spouse, or some modern-day version of Zorba’s full catastrophe. Then one day you look up and discover that the ambition monkey has fallen off your back; the children into whom you’ve pumped thousands of kilowatt-hours are no longer partial to your company; your partner may or may not still be by your side. And what, then, remains?
With any luck, your friends. According to Laura Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, I’ve aged out of the friendship-collecting business, which tends to peak in the tumbleweed stage of life, when you’re still young enough to spend Saturday evenings with random strangers and Sunday mornings nursing hangovers at brunch. Instead, I should be in the friendship-enjoying business, luxuriating in the relationships that survived as I put down roots.
And I am luxuriating in them. But those friendships are awfully hard-won. With midlife comes a number of significant upheavals and changes, ones that prove too much for many friendships to withstand. By middle age, some of the dearest people in your life have gently faded away.
You lose friends to marriage, to parenthood, to politics—even when you share the same politics. (Political obsessions are a big, underdiscussed friendship-ender in my view, and they seem to only deepen with age.) You lose friends to success, to failure, to flukish strokes of good or ill luck. (Envy, dear God—it’s the mother of all unspeakables in a friendship, the lulu of all shames.) These life changes and upheavals don’t just consume your friends’ time and attention. They often reveal unseemly characterological truths about the people you love most, behaviors and traits you previously hadn’t imagined possible.
Those are brutal.
And I’ve still left out three of the most common and dramatic friendship disrupters: moving, divorce, and death. Though only the last is irremediable.
The unhappy truth of the matter is that it is normal for friendships to fade, even under the best of circumstances. The real aberration is keeping them.
About 5.9 million years ago, due to a combination of tectonic movements and changes in climate, the Mediterranean Sea mostly dried up for over 600,000 years. The Messinian salinity crisis may have raised global sea levels by as much as 33 feet and decreased the salinity of the world’s oceans, raising the freezing point. And then, much more suddenly, it was refilled in less than two years in the Zanclean Flood.
Two years to refill the whole Mediterranean! Apparently the water level rose at 30 feet per day, fed by a river that carried 1000 times more water than the Amazon at velocities exceeding 88 mph. When the water reached a barrier near present-day Sicily, it flowed into the eastern basin via a mile-high waterfall in which the water was moving at 100 mph. The weight of so much water moving into the area so quickly would have triggered seismic activity, resulting in landslides that could have produced tsunamis with wave heights of 330 feet. So much wow!
Anyway, watch the PBS Eons video above for the whole story. And then check out this animation of what the drying up and the flood may have looked like.
I was midway through an experiment—sample size: 1—to see whether I could change my personality. Because these activities were supposed to make me happier, I approached them with the desperate hope of a supplicant kneeling at a shrine.
Psychologists say that personality is made up of five traits: extroversion, or how sociable you are; conscientiousness, or how self-disciplined and organized you are; agreeableness, or how warm and empathetic you are; openness, or how receptive you are to new ideas and activities; and neuroticism, or how depressed or anxious you are. People tend to be happier and healthier when they score higher on the first four traits and lower on neuroticism. I’m pretty open and conscientious, but I’m low on extroversion, middling on agreeableness, and off the charts on neuroticism.
Researching the science of personality, I learned that it was possible to deliberately mold these five traits, to an extent, by adopting certain behaviors. I began wondering whether the tactics of personality change could work on me.
I’ve never really liked my personality, and other people don’t like it either. […]
And while there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, we tend to underestimate how much we’d enjoy behaving like extroverts. People have the most friends they will ever have at age 25, and I am much older than that and never had very many friends to begin with. Besides, my editors wanted me to see if I could change my personality, and I’ll try anything once. (I’m open to experiences!) Maybe I, too, could become a friendly extrovert who doesn’t carry around emergency Xanax.
I gave myself three months.
Sal Piacente is an expert in casino game protection (aka he thwarts cheaters & people who are beating the house) and in this video, he shows us some literal tricks of the trade while reviewing card & dice gambling from movies like Rain Man, Rounders, The Sting, Austin Powers, and Casino. Fascinating.
Sharp would seem to be privy to some pretty good information. A few years ago, as his profile began to rise as a data analyst, he started soliciting N.F.L. teams with statistical reports filled with bullet points and visualizations. He showed me a note that a general manager sent in response, on team letterhead: “I agree with you, our players and some of our younger coaches are much more ‘visual’ based than words and #s. Your mix of graphs and colors makes your data easy to digest.” The retired N.F.L. executive Joe Banner, who served as the C.E.O. of the Cleveland Browns and as the president of the Philadelphia Eagles, partnered with Sharp, taking a small fee in exchange for introducing him to front-office contacts and helping him to negotiate consulting deals. Sharp was soon advising at least two N.F.L. teams about strategy.
“Not to be egotistical, but there’s nobody else in the betting space who can talk about the N.F.L. like me and also works with teams,” Sharp told me. That dual role has raised eyebrows among at least some of his peers. An employee in the analytics department of an N.F.L. team, who requested anonymity because he did not have permission from his employer to speak about work, told me, “I’ve had conversations with other analysts asking how in the world he’s allowed to consult for any team, let alone multiple teams, and bet his own money.” The analyst was left thinking either that Sharp was overstating his credentials or that the league, in its haste to embrace gambling, was overlooking what seemed to him a blatant conflict of interest. (The N.F.L. did not respond to repeated requests for comment.) When the professional gambler Haralabos Voulgaris, a computer-modelling expert who made millions betting on basketball, took a job as director of quantitative research and development with the Dallas Mavericks, of the N.B.A., in 2018, he was contractually obligated to give up gambling. (Voulgaris left the Mavericks this fall amid reports of management infighting). Mark Cuban, the team’s owner, told me it’s possible that more teams will look to accomplished gamblers for analytics help. “That said,” he added, in an e-mail, “there is absolutely no chance any team would work with an active gambler. That is a recipe for disaster.”
Americans are pessimistic about one of the weirdest economies in recent memory, and their negativity is largely due to inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that prices increased 7.5 percent year-over-year in January 2022, the highest figure since 1982, and as such, more expensive milk, furniture and cars — and the fear that their prices will continue to skyrocket — are likely to remain top of mind for Americans.
This, of course, has led to a lot of finger-pointing as to who — or what — is to blame for the price increases we’re seeing. Democrats have blamed supply chain deficiencies due to COVID-19, as well as large corporations and monopolies. Republicans, meanwhile, have attacked President Biden’s legislative agenda, claiming that his signature pieces of legislation — most notably the American Rescue Plan featuring $1,400 stimulus checks paid directly to many Americans — are to blame. And to be sure, whether fair or not, most Americans do blame Biden.
But what is responsible for inflation in the U.S.? Is it all about the pandemic supply chain, as many Democrats claim, or corporate greed? Or does it have more to do with Biden’s policies, as Republicans have posited?
This entire piece is wonderful:
The expression "sweating like a pig" doesn't really make sense if you know anything about pigs. Like the fact that they can't sweat. […]
But any “toxins” would be present in vanishingly small amounts for the simple reason that the sweat glands are not connected to the bloodstream. And that is where toxins lurk. Yes, we do harbour them. Sampling of blood or urine reveals traces of hundreds of compounds that originate from the likes of cosmetics, cleaning agents, medications, car exhaust, flowers, cat litter, wood stoves and food. But our liver and kidneys do a great job of getting rid of most of these. Sweat glands need not apply for employment. They are unequipped to help.
But of course a lack of understanding of toxicology and physiology does not deter the promoters of various quack detoxication regimens. There are foot baths and patches that supposedly suck out toxins. Exactly what these toxins are is never mentioned, nor is any evidence of their removal provided.
Yep, I was fooled:
The winners of the Best Illusion of the Year Contest for 2021 have been announced and among the top 3, the one that really baked my noodle is the second place winner, Michael A. Cohen’s Changing Room Illusion.
That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth. But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view. Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.
Words men know but women don't and vice versa.
As a man I have to say... are those real words women know? I don't know a single one. I do know quite a few of the male words, but not all.