Published on 3 Apr 2015
Wednesday interviews at a cutthroat Hollywood agency.
April 23, 2015
April 20, 2015
I think the nastiest drink I’ve ever drunk in my life was some stuff called mezcal in a Mexican market town. It’s made, I find, from the same aloe-like plant that gives us tequila, of which mezcal is a kind of downmarket version, if you can imagine such a thing. When I bought my bottle at the grocer’s it had a small packet tied to the neck. Inside was what looked like a shrimp in talcum powder. “What’s that?” I asked my American friend. “That’s the worm,” he said, “the best part. You can try it without.” I tried it without. My head filled with a taste of garage or repair shop — hot rubber and plastic, burnt oil and a whiff of hydrochloric-acid vapour from the charging engine. When I sold Mack the rest of the bottle he emptied in the pounded-up worm, recapped, shook, and poured himself a tumbler of greyish liquid with little pink shreds in it. Give me Tizer any day.
I haven’t yet sampled Ruou Tiet De, a North Vietnamese mixture of rice alcohol and goat’s blood, or Central Asian koumis, fermented from mare’s and camel’s milk. Sake, a sweetish rice beer from Japan, goes well with Japanese food, so if you happen to like eating raw fish and seaweed this is obviously your tipple. You drink it warm. I may say that when I heated some on the stove recently to check that it was as horrible as I remembered, it took all the deposit off the lining of the saucepan.
You needn’t go as far afield as that to find a drink offensive to any person of culture and discrimination, especially if mixes are on the agenda. In South Wales you’re likely to find them throwing down Guinness with Lucozade and Ribena, or Mackeson and orange squash — not in the more refined areas, true. In Scotland they put fizzy lemonade in their whisky. Yes, in respectable places in the Highlands there are quart bottles of the stuff on the bar alongside the Malvern water and the siphon. The objection is not that it’s vulgar, but that, of course, it kills the Scotch and tastes frightful.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
April 19, 2015
Scott Alexander recently attended a local psychiatry conference, with some essential themes being emphasized:
This conference consisted of a series of talks about all the most important issues of the day, like ‘The Menace Of Psychologists Being Allowed To Prescribe Medication’, ‘How To Be An Advocate For Important Issues Affecting Your Patients Such As The Possibility That Psychologists Might Be Allowed To Prescribe Them Medication’, and ‘Protecting Members Of Disadvantaged Communities From Psychologists Prescribing Them Medication’.
As somebody who’s noticed that the average waiting list for a desperately ill person to see a psychiatrist is approaching the twelve month mark in some places, I was pretty okay with psychologists prescribing medication. The scare stories about how psychologists might prescribe medications unsafely didn’t have much effect on me, since I continue to believe that putting antidepressants in a vending machine would be a more safety-conscious system than what we have now (a vending machine would at least limit antidepressants to people who have $1.25 in change; the average primary care doctor is nowhere near that selective). Annnnnyway, this made me kind of uncomfortable at the conference and I Struck A Courageous Blow Against The Cartelization Of Medicine by sneaking out without putting my name on their mailing list.
But before I did, I managed to take some notes about what’s going on in the wider psychiatric world, including:
– The newest breakthrough in ensuring schizophrenic people take their medication (a hard problem!) is bundling the pills with an ingestable computer chip that transmits data from the patient’s stomach. It’s a bold plan, somewhat complicated by the fact that one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia is the paranoid fear that somebody has implanted a chip in your body to monitor you. Can you imagine being a schizophrenic guy who has to explain to your new doctor that your old doctor put computer chips in your pills to monitor you? Yikes. If they go through with this, I hope they publish the results in the form of a sequel to The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.
– The same team is working on a smartphone app to detect schizophrenic relapses. The system uses GPS to monitor location, accelerometer to detect movements, and microphone to check tone of voice and speaking pattern, then throws it into a machine learning system that tries to differentiate psychotic from normal behavior (for example, psychotic people might speak faster, or rock back and forth a lot). Again, interesting idea. But again, one of the most common paranoid schizophrenic delusions is that their electronic devices are monitoring everything they do. If you make every one of a psychotic person’s delusions come true, such that they no longer have any beliefs that do not correspond to reality, does that technically mean you’ve cured them? I don’t know, but I’m glad we have people investigating this important issue.
… they have a way of teaching languages in Germany that is not our way, and the consequence is that when the German youth or maiden leaves the gymnasium or high school at fifteen, “it” (as in Germany one conveniently may say) can understand and speak the tongue it has been learning. In England we have a method that for obtaining the least possible result at the greatest possible expenditure of time and money is perhaps unequalled. An English boy who has been through a good middle-class school in England can talk to a Frenchman, slowly and with difficulty, about female gardeners and aunts; conversation which, to a man possessed perhaps of neither, is liable to pall. Possibly, if he be a bright exception, he may be able to tell the time, or make a few guarded observations concerning the weather. No doubt he could repeat a goodly number of irregular verbs by heart; only, as a matter of fact, few foreigners care to listen to their own irregular verbs, recited by young Englishmen. Likewise he might be able to remember a choice selection of grotesquely involved French idioms, such as no modern Frenchman has ever heard or understands when he does hear.
The explanation is that, in nine cases out of ten, he has learnt French from an Ahn’s First-Course. The history of this famous work is remarkable and instructive. The book was originally written for a joke, by a witty Frenchman who had resided for some years in England. He intended it as a satire upon the conversational powers of British society. From this point of view it was distinctly good. He submitted it to a London publishing firm. The manager was a shrewd man. He read the book through. Then he sent for the author.
“This book of yours,” said he to the author, “is very clever. I have laughed over it myself till the tears came.”
“I am delighted to hear you say so,” replied the pleased Frenchman. “I tried to be truthful without being unnecessarily offensive.”
“It is most amusing,” concurred the manager; “and yet published as a harmless joke, I feel it would fail.”
The author’s face fell.
“Its humour,” proceeded the manager, “would be denounced as forced and extravagant. It would amuse the thoughtful and intelligent, but from a business point of view that portion of the public are never worth considering. But I have an idea,” continued the manager. He glanced round the room to be sure they were alone, and leaning forward sunk his voice to a whisper. “My notion is to publish it as a serious work for the use of schools!”
The author stared, speechless.
“I know the English schoolman,” said the manager; “this book will appeal to him. It will exactly fit in with his method. Nothing sillier, nothing more useless for the purpose will he ever discover. He will smack his lips over the book, as a puppy licks up blacking.”
The author, sacrificing art to greed, consented. They altered the title and added a vocabulary, but left the book otherwise as it was.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
April 18, 2015
April 15, 2015
The childless option is “an experiment unprecedented in human history . . . A kind of existential vanguard”
James Lileks on the people who choose not to have kids:
When the New York Times runs a piece by someone explaining why she didn’t have children, runs a feature on authors who have banded together in a book to celebrate child-free lives (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids), and runs a review of the book a while later, you know it’s a matter that consumes the thoughts of the nation. Well, part of the nation. Okay, a few thousand people on the Upper East side. So it’s a big deal.
Without reading any of the pieces, you can probably guess why people don’t have kids.
- You put it off to pursue a career, and refrigerated your eggs for so long the doctor warned you the baby would look like that Olaf snowman from Frozen.
- You had fertility problems that were your own, or your mate’s li’l swimmers behave like guys who quit halfway into a 10K charity run and find a sports bar to watch the game.
- You are a man who warns every prospective mate, “Baby baby don’t get hooked on me, because you’ll just love them and then you’ll set them free,” in case she didn’t get the message from your customized van with the water-bed and the orange shag.
- You are part of a couple who realized that children simply do not fit into your busy world of travel, concerts, literary salons, and pretending he’s not gay.
- You don’t want ’em. They make messes. Cats’ll do.
Okay? Sure, okay. Not everyone should reproduce, and we should celebrate those who know themselves well and decided to be childless. It’s their choice. We should be sympathetic to those who find themselves childless against their wishes, and pay heed to their observations about how society regards them. We should be a bit suspicious of those whose proclamations on the child-free life have the tiresome characteristics of the Braying Atheist, or those who say they don’t want kids because they’ve seen what it does to other women in Park Slope in Brooklyn. I mean the money they spend on strollers.
But one suspects the book goes a bit too far in exalting the barren-loin option. According to the NYT review, it “concludes with Tim Kreider’s rousing defense of the child-free as ‘an experiment unprecedented in human history … A kind of existential vanguard, forced by our own choices to face the naked question of existence with fewer illusions, or at least fewer consolations, than the rest of humanity, forced to prove ourselves anew every day that extinction does not negate meaning.'”
April 12, 2015
To Hanover one should go, they say, to learn the best German. The disadvantage is that outside Hanover, which is only a small province, nobody understands this best German. Thus you have to decide whether to speak good German and remain in Hanover, or bad German and travel about. Germany being separated so many centuries into a dozen principalities, is unfortunate in possessing a variety of dialects. Germans from Posen wishful to converse with men of Wurtemburg, have to talk as often as not in French or English; and young ladies who have received an expensive education in Westphalia surprise and disappoint their parents by being unable to understand a word said to them in Mechlenberg. An English-speaking foreigner, it is true, would find himself equally nonplussed among the Yorkshire wolds, or in the purlieus of Whitechapel; but the cases are not on all fours. Throughout Germany it is not only in the country districts and among the uneducated that dialects are maintained. Every province has practically its own language, of which it is proud and retentive. An educated Bavarian will admit to you that, academically speaking, the North German is more correct; but he will continue to speak South German and to teach it to his children.
In the course of the century, I am inclined to think that Germany will solve her difficulty in this respect by speaking English. Every boy and girl in Germany, above the peasant class, speaks English. Were English pronunciation less arbitrary, there is not the slightest doubt but that in the course of a very few years, comparatively speaking, it would become the language of the world. All foreigners agree that, grammatically, it is the easiest language of any to learn. A German, comparing it with his own language, where every word in every sentence is governed by at least four distinct and separate rules, tells you that English has no grammar. A good many English people would seem to have come to the same conclusion; but they are wrong. As a matter of fact, there is an English grammar, and one of these days our schools will recognise the fact, and it will be taught to our children, penetrating maybe even into literary and journalistic circles. But at present we appear to agree with the foreigner that it is a quantity neglectable. English pronunciation is the stumbling-block to our progress. English spelling would seem to have been designed chiefly as a disguise to pronunciation. It is a clever idea, calculated to check presumption on the part of the foreigner; but for that he would learn it in a year.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
April 11, 2015
An older article at Wine Folly gives you some useful tactics should you ever be trapped by one of the worst kind of party bores, the wine snob:
A know-it-all wine snob can ruin a wine experience by forcing the “right” agenda down your throat, along with the “right” wine. Wine is one of those things about which some people obsess the arcane minutia. Snobbery is when that obsession bleeds into casual social circumstance. We’ve all been to a party where a wine snob is talking down their nose at the complimentary 2-Buck Chuck. Their condescending words spewing forth from their mouth like vomit, pushing amiable party-goers into reluctant participants in a one-sided debate.
Here are some tricks to shut that jerk up, open the floor to everyone’s tasting experiences, and most importantly: not be a wine snob yourself.
Rule #4 Fight Fire with Fire
If you are left with no more outs, it’s time to silence the beast. Remember how I said don’t be a jerk? Well, sometimes a little sarcastic snobbery is in order.
Dealing With a Snob: You call that a platitude?!?!?
If put on the spot, keep repeating “Interesting…very interesting” after every sip. Nod your head knowingly.
Say, “OH WOW” at awkward times to intentionally interrupt them.
Hold your glass up to the light and admire the wine. If someone asks you what you see simply respond, “it’s just very surprising.”
Wait for them to describe the wine, then smile and while shaking your head encouragingly say “Yeah, you’re close, keep trying.”
AKA, like when Crocodile Dundee says: “You call that a knife? This is a knife”
Oh, so they like a wine from 2006 (enter vintage)?
Response: I don’t drink wine that young.
They favor Italian (or region)?
Response: What a shame, given the situation over there (BE VAGUE!) … Defer if confronted, it’s really not classy discussing such dated news after all …
Oh, they think this wine has an interesting nose on it?
Response: It must be hard to tell drinking out of that glass.
Did they just spew a pretentious wine description at you?
Response: *wince* Really? Huh. Do you smoke?
(UNSUBSTANTIATED ACCUSATIONS ARE UNASSAILABLE!)
April 7, 2015
April 1, 2015
Published on 1 Apr 2015
Watch this behind-the-scenes video on the making of our Custom Bench Planes.
March 29, 2015
Lastly, in this book there will be no scenery. This is not laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read. When Gibbon had to trust to travellers’ tales for a description of the Hellespont, and the Rhine was chiefly familiar to English students through the medium of Caesar’s Commentaries, it behooved every globe-trotter, for whatever distance, to describe to the best of his ability the things that he had seen. Dr. Johnson, familiar with little else than the view down Fleet Street, could read the description of a Yorkshire moor with pleasure and with profit. To a cockney who had never seen higher ground than the Hog’s Back in Surrey, an account of Snowdon must have appeared exciting. But we, or rather the steam-engine and the camera for us, have changed all that. The man who plays tennis every year at the foot of the Matterhorn, and billiards on the summit of the Rigi, does not thank you for an elaborate and painstaking description of the Grampian Hills. To the average man, who has seen a dozen oil paintings, a hundred photographs, a thousand pictures in the illustrated journals, and a couple of panoramas of Niagara, the word-painting of a waterfall is tedious.
An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an eighteenpenny book of photographic views than from all the works of Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together. I also remember his saying concerning this subject of scenery in literature, that he would thank an author as much for writing an eloquent description of what he had just had for dinner. But this was in reference to another argument; namely, the proper province of each art. My friend maintained that just as canvas and colour were the wrong mediums for story telling, so word-painting was, at its best, but a clumsy method of conveying impressions that could much better be received through the eye.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
March 24, 2015
Frank J. Fleming thinks he’s found the magic formula for writing science fiction books that will appeal to today’s more sensitive, enlightened readers:
What makes good science fiction? Is it a fast-paced story? Interesting characters? Unpredictable twists and turns?
Unfortunately, I had those outdated ideas in mind when I wrote my first novel, Superego. But as we all know, the true purpose of science fiction now is inclusiveness. Entertainment is okay, I guess, but what we really need to focus on is making sure everyone feels cared for and included and that no one feels weird, no matter how weird they are.
This is difficult for me as a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. I’m basically committing a hate crime just by existing. I’m not even sure that in this day and age I should be allowed to write science fiction. Still, I decided to examine my novel to determine how inclusive it is.
I first used the Bechdel Test, as that’s a nice objective measure. I ran into a problem right away, though, because Superego is written in the first-person perspective of a male character. It’s like I didn’t even try. Still, there are a number of named female characters in the story, and a few times they do speak to each other. Most of the time, they’re talking about the main (male) character, but I did locate a short conversation between two women about one getting the other a chair.
Boom! Passed the Bechdel Test. It’s a very feminist novel.
March 23, 2015
Mark Steyn linked to this rather amusing communication from the British embassy in Moscow, back in 1943:
If it’s not quite legible, he also provided a text version:
The Foreign Office
6th April 1943
My Dear Reggie,
In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.
We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.
Sir Archibald Clark Kerr
James Lileks on the omnipresent stories headlined like this: “Respiration: you’re doing it wrong”.
If there’s one thing that makes me want to go all Cagney and push a grapefruit in the Internet’s face, it’s the phrase “You’re Doing It Wrong.” It’s been a popular cliché with tiresome, bossy millennials for a few years, and every week brings more news of things you have performed incorrectly. These are never important things. One doesn’t read YOU’RE UNBLOCKING THAT CLOGGED ARTERY WRONG. It’s always “Putting cans in the fridge: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” written in the tone of someone standing behind you with corn-chip dust on his shirt and beard, smirking because you totally don’t know that putting the cans upside down recirculates the carbonation. Moron.
The other way to write the headline is helpful: Here’s a smart new way to do something you do all the time. (Such things are called “life hacks” by people who were not slapped enough by their editors in front of everyone.) But it’s not enough to find a new way; the old way has to be WRONG, and YOU are WRONG for DOING IT. This leads the author’s peers to find something else that everyone is doing wrong, and crow about it on some website that summons buzz and infuses the most banal innovation with virulence. How’s that piece about how everyone’s buttering their toast wrong doing? Forty-six thousand shares! Toast-buttering will never be the same!
This is why many adults read the stories of overeducated millennials stooped with college debt working crap jobs and writing piecework blather for fizzy websites, and are not overly burdened by pity.