smarterbits

Dustin Lance's Writing Process

The meticulous and laboured research phase seems overkill at first, but the newfound familiarity to the subject that results from it makes putting the final product together feel effortless. As in sports, there’s a muscle memory to the creative process.

A Theory of Jerks

The moral and emotional failure of the jerk is obvious. The intellectual failure is obvious, too: no one is as right about everything as the jerk thinks he is. He would learn by listening. And one of the things he might learn is the true scope of his jerkitude – a fact about which, as I will explain shortly, the all-out jerk is inevitably ignorant. Which brings me to the other great benefit of a theory of jerks: it might help you figure out if you yourself are one.

The LeBron James Profile That Nike Killed

When I asked him what he wanted his life to be like when he retired, not at 35 after basketball, but at 70 or 75, after his business or movie or political careers, he said, “Hopefully … I‘ll have myself a big boat which I can sail off to the Mediterranean with my friends and my family and we can hit every coast that we want to hit.” Of course, the Mediterranean was below us, spread out flat and blue towards the horizon, with nothing on it but a few large yachts; and I remember thinking, But this is what you‘re already doing.

The only ill-willed, PR nightmarish thought about LeBron James you could take away from this article—and really the example supra is the only I could find—is that he kinda seems disconnected from his reality. Except it’s the same kind of incongruent and rather normal surface level statements (”I want a job which doesn’t feel like work.”) we are all prone to give in answer to benign questions (”What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?”) because we (young people/young men) have such a hard time articulating the emotional truth behind them (”I want a job that’s satisfying and fulfilling and which doesn’t feel like an entirely separate but obligatory component of my life whose only byproduct is regret and frustration”).

I don’t doubt LeBron is aware he already gets to live a Mediterranean life. What he means to say, I think, is that he hopes for one which isn’t unremittingly premeditated, orchestrated, intervened in, meddled with, glossed over, and otherwise marionette-ed by operatives concerned only with extracting maximal financial value and myth-building from his person, and who to no one’s surprise would be rather diametrical in their opposition to LeBron audibly articulating said awareness with anything less than total obfuscation or demonstrating anything resembling relatable human emotion and vulnerability. The irony being that what could be the most inspiring and exciting about LeBron James—and what I think Benjamin Markovits is grappling with in his article—is that he is in fact nostalgic,vulnerable, and as human as the rest of us.

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

Unfortunately, he never comes out and says exactly which dictionary he’s getting all this juice out of. But I was desperate to find it. What was this secret book, this dictionary so rich and alive that one of my favorite writers was using it to make heroic improvements to his writing?

I did a little sleuthing. It wasn’t so hard with the examples McPhee gives, and Google. He says, for instance, that in three years of research for a book about Alaska he’d forgotten to look up the word Arctic. He said that his dictionary gave him this: “Pertaining to, or situated under, the northern constellation called the Bear.”

And that turned out to be enough to find it.

I’m still cleaning bits of my brain from the wall. There was a speed record made today in books reaching my Amazon wish list.

Writing Tips From the CIAs Style Guide

Certainly lots of interesting intelligence related predilections to find, but the majority of this writer’s guide is made of stuff anyone can benefit from. For instance, ever notice how pervasive redundancies still remain throughout all types of writing? Also news to me: NA stands for not available and not, as I’ve always used it, not applicable.

First Lab-Grown Burger Unveiled

Amar Toor, reporting for The Verge:

Researchers from the Netherlands unveiled a burger made entirely from lab-grown stem cells Monday, cooking and tasting the test tube meat at a media event in London. Dr. Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, heralded today’s public tasting as an important step toward wide-scale adoption of synthetic meat — a transition that some see as a solution to looming environmental and agricultural crises.

I’m excited about the possibilities for these kinds of projects. There’s so much upside if we can get past, as Toor points out, the many hurdles standing in the way.

The article instantly reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake, where its characters skeptically witness the rise of lab grown meat in their own not-too-distant future:

Next they went to NeoAgriculturals. AgriCouture was its nickname among the students.

"This is the latest" said Crake.

What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.

"What the hell is it?" said Jimmy.

"Those are chickens," said Crake. "Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, weave to a growth unit."

"But there aren’t any heads," said Jimmy. He grasped the concept — he’d grown up with sus multiorganifer, after all — but this thing was going too far.

"Those kids are going to clean up," said Crake after they’d left.

We Are Shocked, Shocked...

David Simon, of wire-taping television fame:

For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.

I like Simon’s tone, his rousing “Hello!”, more than his “relax it’s just an old dog showing us new tricks” attitude, especially seen against the PRISM hyperbole (Simon’s response is directed specifically at the Verizon data surveillance. PRISM isn’t something to dismiss or ignore. A log of my phone calls is not a log of my internet metadata. But seditiousness without reason or reflection on our part is equally bad. Despite having discovered something over the last week that’s cause for suspicion and alarm, we still don’t know if anything illegal has happened, if any wrongdoing or abuse has taken place, or heard any plain spoken explanation of what exactly is going on. Faced with this complexity it’s easier to assume it must be bad; that PRISM was created by nefarious people and intended only for abuse and malicious behaviour. The worst-case scenario can be the only scenario.

And if we decide that’s the truth of it, as Simon points out, then we ought to eat our own bullshit. Privacy should matter now as much as it did when we deemed spending our evenings on Reddit pouring over—sans oversight—thousands of pictures in search of terrorists acceptable use of our metadata. Privacy can’t be a switch we turn on and off as it suits us, and it can’t be conversation we only want to have after we’ve suffered the consequences.