Sensory Enthnography Lab

First heard about what was going on at this place from this Vulture article:

The most exciting documentary films being made today come not from a brand-name auteur or even some up-and-coming, Sundance-anointed visionary. Rather, they come from a place called the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, which sounds more like somewhere an ophthalmologist might send you than a source of great filmmaking.

Less a lab and more a collection of like-minded individuals, the Sensory Ethnography Lab’s (SEL) first widely distributed release was the experimental documentary Sweetgrass, an observational, immersive, quietly lyrical portrait of a 150-mile journey involving a group of Montana cowboys and a massive herd of sheep, directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash. The film didn’t contextualize; it didn’t feature talking heads; it didn’t try to inform, as so many nonfiction films try to do. Rather, it just let us soak in the experience of this grueling, majestic journey.

Reading The Boston Globe while back home, all the movie critics included Manakamana on their top tens:

On the one hand, grateful they called my attention to this movie.  On the other: kind of bullshit to get me excited about a movie that it’s not exactly easy to see.  Serves me right I guess for not following the ethnographic documentary scene a little more closely.  Maybe I never shudda left Cambridge at all.

Stumbling in the direction of a solution


Inspector Timothy Dowd, right, at work in July 1977, told reporters that his job as the leader of the special task force hunting the Son of Sam serial killer was “to prepare to be lucky.” Credit Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

NY Times obituary of Timothy Dowd, the detective in charge of finding Son Of Sam:

Ms. Begg said in an in­ter­view on Mon­day that her fa­ther had dis­dained tele­vi­sion dra­mas about the po­lice be­cause they were un­re­al­is­tic about po­lice work — all ex­cept one, she said: “Colum­bo.” That se­ries, es­pe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in the 1970s, starred Pe­ter Falk as an un­tidy, seem­ing­ly dis­tract­ed de­tec­tive in Los An­ge­les who solved cas­es by pok­ing around in a prac­ticed but ran­dom fash­ion and stum­bling in the di­rec­tion of a so­lu­tion.

“That’s how it’s done,” she said her fa­ther ex­plained to her.

In the biggest case of his ca­reer, when he fi­nal­ly came face to face with the killer, In­spec­tor Dowd said he knew he would be able to dis­cuss the crimes with him.

“I told him we had nev­er abused him or crit­i­cized him in the press, and he agreed,” In­spec­tor Dowd said at the time.

And Mr. Berkowitz’s first words to him?

“In­spec­tor, you fi­nal­ly got me. I guess this is the end of the trail.”


Who was it who recommended this to me?  Hayes?  Thanks!  It’s on Netflix Instant.

Heyerdahl’s third wife was Miss France 1954:


Charlie Starkweather

Kids in the midwest only get to see even modest levels of glamour if they happen to be on school trips to one or another of the midwestern cities: K.C., Omaha, St. Louis, the Twin Cities.  In some, clearly, this lack of glamour festers.  Charles Starkweather, in speaking about his motive for killing all those people, had this to say: “I never ate in a high-class restaurant, I never seen the New York Yankees play, I never been to Los Angeles…”



Roads by Larry McMurtry


I can’t get enough of these Larry McMurtry non-fiction books, as I’ve discussed before and another time and one other time.  In this book, McMurtry drives American highways, writing down anything that occurs to him or seems interesting:

The most interesting thing that ever happened to me in southern Oklahoma happened when I was a boy.  My backwoods uncle Jeff Dobbs took me deep in the woods, to the cabin of an aged Choctaw preacher, an old man said to have the power to draw out tumors.  In his small cabin there were long rows of Mason jars, each containing a tumor that had been drown out.  It was dim in the cabin.  I couldn’t see what was in the jars very clearly, but it definitely wasn’t string beans or pickled peaches.  I was very impressed and not a little frightened.  Uncle Jeff knew a few words of Choctaw — listening to him talk to the old man was when I first realized there were languages other than English.

More than fifty years after I peered at them in the gloom of the old preacher’s cabin, the shelves of tumors reappeared in Pretty Boy Floyd, the first of two novels I wrote with Diana Ossana.  This time “the cancers,” as they are referred to, appear as decoration in a backwoods honky-tonk.

He muses on how the great travel writers tend be into only one type of landscape (McMurtry’s is the plains):

Charles Doughty lived almost his whole life in a wet country but wrote his great book about the desert – the same deserts would later draw the best out of Wilfred Thesiger, St. John Philby, T. E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Freya Stark.  Aurel Stein, Sven Hedin, Charles Marvin, Mildred Cable and Francesca French (the nuns of the Gobi), Curzon, and Ney Elias returned again and again to central Asia.  Humboldt, Alfred Russell Wallace, and Henry Bates took their genius to the Amazon; while Mr. Darwin looked hard wherever he went.  Certainly, when it came to those finches in the Galapagos, he looked every bit as hard as Picasso looked at Matisse.

Charles Doughty

But even the ocean interests McMurtry, an epic reader:

My drives across the American land had taken me far enough that I had begun to feel a vague urge to try a different mode of travel.  For the past month or so I had been reading the leisurely, tolerant travel books of the English zoologist F. D. Ommanney, a man who knows a lot about fish, and a lot, also, about the world’s oceans and the people who live beside them – particularly the island peoples of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.  F. D. Ommanney was a fish finder, a man who, in the years after World War II, puttered around in remote oceans attempting to estimate whether a given stretch of ocean contained fish enough to make commercial fishing profitable.  I think, though, that what he cared about was the sea, not the fishing.  In books such as A Draught of Fishes, The Shoals of Capricorn, Eastern Windows, and South Latitude, he describes his journeys through the seas and islands so appealingly that a landlocked person such as myself begins to feel that he has really been missing something: that is, the world’s oceans, along whose trade routes – invisible highways – the great ships proceed.

The appeal of F. D. Ommanney’s books – fairly popular in the 1950s but mostly forgotten now – is their intimacy with the sea and its ways, and also with the ways of people whose lives are bound to the sea.  Conrad and Melville wrote powerfully of the oceans, but their works don’t exactly bring one into an intimacy with the world of waters.  In Conrad and also in Melville the sea is too powerful, too often the environment of crisis, to be merely appealing.  Though these great writers see the ocean’s beauty they rarely allow the reader to be unaware that this beauty comes with a threat, moral or physical or both.

Ommanney is not a novelist – he is just a man with a deep interest in the natural world, particularly with the world of the ocean; through many travels he preserves a fond curiosity about the lives of peoples of the islands, people who can scarcely imagine a life apart from the sea.

Fragrant Harbour

While driving in Arizona, this occurs to McMurtry:

Near Wilcox there’s a famous tourist stop advertising THE THING – in fact an Anasazi mummy.

(actually this article seems to suggest it’s a fake made by a well-known maker of sideshow artifacts)

The Thing

McMurtry gets going on the Plains Indians wars, and Ranald Mackenzie:

Mackenzie was a highly effective officer, one of the most skilled and determined to fight on the plains frontier.  But he was not a happy man.  Juste before he was to marry, in 1883, he went crazy and spent the remaining six years of his life in an insane asylum in New York State.  Ranald Mackenzie’s insanity is one of the strange, haunting mysteries thrown up by the frontier conflicts.  Many pioneer women went crazy, and it was not hard to see why; the women were not necessarily overdelicate, either.  The living conditions were just too bleak, too isolating.  But the insanity of Ranald Mackenzie, one of the most disciplined and succesful officers to participate in the campaigns of the plains frontier, is evidence that the price of winning the west was not simple and not low, even for the winners, not when one considers that Ranald Mackenzie, the soldier who took the surrender of Quanah Parker and the Kwahadi Comanches, ended his days in a nuthouse, in 1889, not long before the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Wikipedi tells us: “He bought a Texas ranch and was engaged to be married; however, he began to demonstrate odd behavior which was attributed to a fall from a wagon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in which he injured his head. Showing signs of mental instability, he was retired from the Army on March 24, 1884 for “general paresis of the insane”.[5]”

Driving in LA, some reflections on the movie biz:

The studio executives I would go and talk to about one project or another were seldom even half my age.  Now they were only a little more than a third my age.  I was in my sixties, the were in their twenties.  SOme of them seemed puzzled that an older person would still be writing screenplays.  If I happened to mention, by way of illustration, a movie made as long ago as the 1950s – twenty years before any of them were born – they looked blank and, in some cases, a little disdainful.  I might as well have been talking about the Dead Sea scrolls.  There is always a listener (the executive) and a note taker at these meetings.  If I mentioned Touch of Evil or Roman Holiday the note taker would dutifully take a note.

I don’t know why this age gap surprised me.  Hollywood, as I said, has always been about beauty and desire, neither of which is entirely comfortable with age.  Garbo was not wrong to retire.

Near Acoma, New Mexico:

Coronado came past these pueblos as he sought the cities of gold, which means that the Indians of this region have experienced an unusually long colonial oppresion.  Acoma, the sky city built on top of a 365-foot bluff, revolted in 1599 and killed a party of tax collectors sent by Governor Juan de Onate, who proved to be a revengeful man.  He overwhelmed the Acomas, took several hundred prisoners, and cut one foot off any male over twenty years old, probably raking in a lot of seventeen- and eighteen-year old feet in the process…

I’ve been to Acoma many times, where the concessionaires are – to put it mildly – not friendly; and I’ve visited, at one time or another, most of the pueblos near Albuquerque.  I’m not comfortable there and am even less comfortable in the communities north of Santa Fe.  These are all places where the troubles are old and the troubles are deep.  The plains below the Sangre de Christo may be supremely attractive visually, as they were to Miss O’Keefe, but socially they are very uncomfortable – the result of that long oppression.  North of Santa Fe is where the toughest of the Indians and of the Spaniards survived.  It’s not a good place to have a car break down – not if you’re an Anglo.

Merry Christmas

Esther [Judy Garland] finally gets to meet John properly when he is a guest at the Smiths’ house party, although her chances of romancing him don’t go to plan when, after all the guests are gone and he is helping her turn off the gas lamps throughout the house, he tells her she uses the same perfume as his grandmother and that she has “a mighty strong grip for a girl”…

At the ball, Esther fills up a visiting girl’s (Lucille Ballard, played by June Lockhart) dance card with losers because she thinks Lucille is a rival of Rose’s. But when Lucille turns out to be interested in Lon, Esther switches her dance card with Lucille’s and instead dances herself with the clumsy and awkward partners. After being rescued by Grandpa, she is overwhelmed when John unexpectedly turns up after somehow managing to obtain a tuxedo, and the pair dance together for the rest of the evening. Later on, John proposes to Esther and she accepts.

Esther returns home to an upset Tootie. She is soothed by the poignant “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Tootie, however, becomes more upset at the prospect of the family’s move and runs downstairs, out into the cold to destroy the snowmen they have made. Mr. Smith sees his daughter’s upsetting outburst from an upstairs window.

Remember to let your kids smoke a cigarette.

Stand up for The Interview (as a movie)

There’s a strain I’ve noticed in pieces about The Interview of offhandedly dismissing the movie itself.

Here’s Ross Douthat, for example:

But if you care about the movies, then what’s happened to Seth Rogen and James Franco’s comedy is also related to the depressing story that Harris has to tell. Not because a coarse comedy about two idiot celebrities assassinating the North Korean dictator represents some kind of brilliant alternative to the sameness of sequels, but because its fate will become (already has become, in fact) a cautionary tale in an industry that’s already so risk-averse, so fearful of political controversy, so determined to make movies that sell equally well in every overseas market, that the North Koreans themselves were one the last available real-world villains for its blockbusters.

Or Clooney:

This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot.

I already took this fight to Twitter, vs. The National Review Online’s AJ Delgado:


(source is Box Office Mojo)

I don’t get it.

I have a clear bias here: I have never met but like Franco and Rogen and I like people involved in The Interview.  But I don’t think that’s what got me steamed.

The Interview, to me, seems like a bold, interesting movie starring two actors who’ve been making cool, interesting choices for over a decade.

Yeah, it’s easy to make fun of James Franco’s pretentiousness (and what were you like at 22?). But you know what? a) he’s done it better than you and b) fuck you. Here’s a dude who’s using his fame to explore whatever art or avenue engages his curiosity. What do you want from the guy? He’s spending his time and energy experimenting, exploring, and improving himself.

And Rogen? Here is a consistently positive, jolly presence in American public life who’s sharp and self-effacing and honest. Watch him speak bluntly to Letterman about smoking weed:

Are you as open about your habits, crutches, and pleasures?

These guys are both terrific actors, they are smart, and they are entrepreneurial.

They made a bold, risky movie. Yeah, it’s got dumb jokes in it. All successful movie comedies have dumb jokes in them. All comedy that’s worth anything risks being silly.

But these guys are making what they love. Franco and Rogen are unabashed about their love of dumb fun laughs. Along the way, the movie they made also appears to be about fame, global politics, the intersection of news and entertainment, friendship, male insecurity — how many A list actors with the clout to make stuff are consistently picking projects as inventive as these guys?

Look, I haven’t seen the movie. Maybe it’s terrible. Maybe it’s amazing. Probably, like 90% of movies, it’s in between. But I don’t like a knee jerk critical reaction that it’s dumb. (I don’t really like critics at all, to be honest.) If you think The Interview sucks, then you star in one of the best TV shows ever, go on to make cool, fun, talked-about and also wildly profitable comedies, or win an Oscar for single handedly carrying a pretty experimental movie that not only was a huge hit but also cinematically daring and innovative, and build the clout to create your own $44 million projects on the strength of your talent and very perceptive grasp of what stories an audience of millions wants to see.

(I guess Clooney has done all that.  OK, Clooney gets a pass.)

But of course, you can’t think The Interview sucks because you haven’t gotten to see it!

What cheesed me off, of course, is that I think all this shows a snobbish, lazy, kneejerk, snarky lack of respect for comedy, and how hard it is to make comedy.

In these distressing times, we should be honoring our comedians.  Even if they do make a lot of dick jokes.

Nothing will detect and respond to the reality of fear as swiftly as a market

On The Interview, Stephen Carter’s take worth reading:

Despite all the calls for Sony to stand up to the blackmail in the name of artistic freedom, it seems to me that the criticism is misdirected. Nothing will detect and respond to the reality of fear as swiftly as a market, and here the market has spoken. The relevant market actors are moviegoers. Theater owners are guessing that with “The Interview” in their multiplexes, holiday audiences will stay away in droves. From everything.

I’d like to think the owners are mistaken. I’d like to think that were “The Interview” in the theaters, millions of us would flock to the mutiplex and watch a movie — any movie — as an act of protest, to show the world we aren’t afraid. But I can’t say that in predicting the opposite the theater owners have made a wrong call. And if they’re right, so is Sony.

(ht Andrew Sullivan, where the guest editors are doing a great job imo.  Journalistic bias: guy who wrote The Interview Dan Stirling is former co-worker/friend, I root for him to get rich from this funny movie.)


Contains WILD spoilers! 

1) This movie has a high degree of difficulty.

I read 2/3s of the book Wild – abandoned it before I finished, but I did the same thing with Eat Pray Love and then years later started over and found it very impressive.  Perhaps a similar fate awaits Wild & me.

At least two top-notch women I know swear by Tiny Beautiful Things.  I like reading interviews with Cheryl Strayed, she seems like the real deal.

In books you can get into somebody’s head.  That is their killer advantage, and why I don’t think books are going anywhere anytime soon.  You just can’t do that in a movie.  Wild the movie does a pretty good job of this, but it’s sort of just doomed, imo.  This is a story about a person’s journey from one mental state to another, with most of the work done internally.  Very hard to dramatize.

While there are good tricks towards doing that in this movie, it comes up a little short on the radical innovations needed to tell that story in a movie.  Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay: a dude who is good at this kind of thing, his books make excellent movies, but maybe a true writer-director could’ve worked the solutions even tighter?

[One particular note: it seemed to me like all the cutaways should’ve cut a few beats earlier.  You’re always like, “ok, here we go, we’re about to cutaway to Cheryl’s childhood.”]

2) The story has a motivation problem.  

Cheryl decided to do this, herself.  No one made her, asked her, even cares if she accomplishes her goal.  So when she faces difficulty or problems, it easy to think “well, you’re the one who decided to hike the PCT, dumdum.  Why should I care about this?”

In a story, a person sets out to do something and arrives at a win/lose/draw (thanks to John Gardner for articulating that for me).  What would count as a win in this story?  Getting to Ashland?  No, who cares about Ashland, nothing but hippies in Ashland.   The goal of this story is: Cheryl restoring herself (whether or not she knows that’s the goal at the start).

But: that’s an internal goal, how will you show it in a movie?  It’s easier to answer these questions in a book, where Cheryl can articulate her reasons and get you with her and make you see that this particular journey is important even if nothing tangible’s at stake.

3) Still, pretty good movie.

Despite all that I thought the ending was pretty satisfying.  It’s hard to make a pretty good movie.  When Reese Witherspoon yells “FUCK YOU BITCH!” I thought that was good acting.

Sometimes I think all the hugely successful actresses [Reese, Anne Hathaway, etc.] are such intense people that when they act like normal people their instinct is to be way too intense.  I would argue Julianne Moore might be the best at not doing this.  Think how hard that must be: to act intense but not at your full-bore intense because you somehow intuitively understand that your own “full bore” is too strong for the screen.  Acting is crazy hard.

Like all criticism should, let this come with a disclaimer: it’s easy to be a critic hard to make a thing, makers > critics x1000!

4) Interesting sex stuff in this movie.  

I do remember in the book being jarred by the period of sexual degradation and heroin, hadn’t realized that was part of the tale.  It was new territory, I felt, in exploring a woman’s sexual… could we call it addiction?  self-punishment?  Cheryl’s not not in control at that point, right?  But she also isn’t having a great time.  It’s fucked up, she knows it’s fucked up.  But it’s not fucked up because she’s a slut, it’s fucked up because she’s not being the woman she wants to be (right?).

Whatever, it made me think/was also slightly titillating/made me feel kind of bad for the husband she was compulsively cheating on.  What are the nice guy husbands of America to make of Eat Pray Love and Wild, two biggest women’s memoirs of the last ten years, that both start with a woman leaving her nice guy husband for sexual adventuring?

How often in a movie do you see sex that is intended to be not rape but also not fun?

5) The music in this movie is kind of good but also kind of sucks.

That’s my take anyway.  What if I told you that in 2014 we were making an epic movie about a woman’s adventure across America?  Would you say that scattered samples of Simon & Garfunkel is the best we could do?  Fuck no!   Why didn’t they get some awesome woman to make a badass score like Eddie Vedder did for the man-equivalent, Into The Wild?

6) There’s a weird shoutout to REI in this movie.  

Where Reese calls them to get new boots and is like “you’re my favorite company ever.”  Maybe Cheryl really felt that way.  I have a bunch of stuff from REI, but sometimes I think their business model is based on making you think going outdoors is more expensive and complicated than it really is to sell you more junk.  Which, weirdly: in the same scene where Cheryl learns about REI’s return policy, the dude is like “you don’t need all this shit.”

Former REI CEO Sally Jewell is Secretary of the Interior.

Strikes me as a very Obama kind of pick: on the one hand, kind of hip and modern and innovative, but on the other hand she was still the CEO of a huge corporation.

7) Wild and Eat Pray Love are in long American literary tradition of spiritual narrative.

If I were a grad student at Yale I’d write my Ph. D. on this, trace it all back through Emerson and Puritan religious narratives and captive narratives of 18th century New England and I’d be the smartest boy in the seminar.  Since I’m not in grad school though I can make my point in one sentence which is that things that seem radical and new are often just new versions of an old tradition, we’re not so different from the past or as wildly inventive as we think we are, etc.

8) Is this how women go through life?  Constantly having to wonder if a random dude is a rapist?

Damn, that might be the most important aspect of Wild, seeing the world through a woman’s eyes, showing that tension of life.  When I walk around at 11pm or so in my neighborhood and I see women walking their dogs it always feels very tense.  My instinct to somehow indicate I am not a rapist usually just seems to make the problem worse.

ANYWAY: one reason I was excited to see Wild is I’ve been to many of the settings along the Pacific Crest Trail on fishing trips.  Here, for example, is a photo of Kennedy Meadows:


Kennedy Meadows is like a plateau high up in the Sierras.  To get there you drive up a crazy 27-mile twisty road up from the 395.  If you find yourself there, be sure to stop at The Grumpy Bear:


They’re happy to teach you about jerking meat:


Don’t get it confused with the other Kennedy Meadows up in Sonora.


While I was up there I crossed the PCT and wondered if it would be interesting to film a couple seconds of walking on it:

If you’d like to see Wild, but only have ten seconds, my film gets at similar themes but with more nauseating camerawork.

Australia forever

From Vulture’s* timeline of “How The Interview Got Made”:

October 27, 2014
Clark sends an even-more-toned-down version of the ending to the film’s international distributors. Most take the softer cut, but the Australian distributor requests the unedited version, saying it would prefer to “sock it to ’em.”

* yes in general I agree it’s wrong to read these private emails


Just great.

“What Happened When Marissa Mayers Tried To Be Steve Jobs”

This article, by Nicholas Carlson in the upcoming NY Times magazine, is one of the best business articles I’ve ever read (note: I don’t read that many business articles).

Here’s where the story really begins:

But as Alibaba’s stock soared, Yahoo’s dropped, an indication that the market seemed to concur with Jackson’s analysis: Yahoo’s core business was worth less than zero dollars.

That’s bad.  Next sentences:

A week later, Smith published an open letter calling for Yahoo to divest itself of its Alibaba assets, return the money to its shareholders and then merge with AOL. Redundancies could be eliminated, thousands of people could be fired and two former Internet superpowers would be downsized into a single and steady (if uninspiring) entity that sold ads against its collective online properties — news, blogs and Web products like email, maps and weather. “We trust the board and management will do the right thing for shareholders, even if this may mean accepting AOL as the surviving entity,” Smith wrote.

(Note that “could be fired” — non-business readers like me often gotta remind themselves that in business articles it’s often assumed that firing people is positive.)

The article goes on with punchy, succinct, clear explanations the challenges of tech companies, and specifically the challenge Mayers faced, and I don’t envy her:

Previous Yahoo C.E.O.s had underinvested in mobile-app development, plowing money into advertising technology and web tools instead. A couple of days into the job, Mayer was having lunch at URL’s when an employee walked up to her and introduced himself as Tony. “I’m a mobile engineer,” Tony said. “I’m on the mobile team.”

Mayer responded to Tony, “Great, how big is our mobile team?” After some back and forth, Tony replied that there were “maybe 60” engineers. Mayer was dumbfounded. Facebook, for instance, had a couple of thousand people working on mobile. When she queried the engineering management department, it responded that Yahoo had roughly 100. “Like an actual hundred,” Mayer responded, “or like 60 rounded up to 100 to make me feel better?” The department responded that it was more like 60.

But then it starts to unravel:

Mayer subsequently immersed herself in the redesign. Months into her tenure, she was meeting with Sharma’s team regularly in a conference room that started to look more like a design studio: projectors hung from the ceiling, rendering screens displayed on the wall. All around, dozens of foam core boards were pinned with ideas. Mayer would regularly interrogate designers about the minutest details of display and user experience. By early December, one day before Yahoo Mail was set to release, she convened a meeting at Phish Food, a conference room in the executive building of Yahoo’s campus, to talk about the product’s color. For months, the team had settled on blue and gray. If users were going to read emails on their phones all day long, the thinking went, it was best to choose the most subtly contrasting hues. But now, Mayer explained, she wanted to change the colors to various shades of purple, which she believed better suited Yahoo’s brand.

Well, see, purple sucks?  More great detail:

During a breakfast with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, Mayer asked if there might be any partnership opportunities between the magazine and Shine, Yahoo’s site for women. According to Mayer’s own telling of the story to top Yahoo executives, Wintour lookedappalled.

I bet she did!

Reuters photo stolen from NY Post article “Anna Wintour Has A Sense Of Humor Over Drag Parody Show”

Bad to worse:

Yahoo Tech would sometimes go weeks without running a single ad.

Don’t know much about this, but that sounds terrible.

This delinquency eventually became a problem outside Yahoo. At a major advertising event in the South of France, Mayer sat for an interview with Martin Sorrell, the C.E.O. of WPP, one of the world’s largest agencies. In front of a filled auditorium, Sorrell asked Mayer why she did not return his emails. Sheryl Sandberg, he said, always got back to him. Later, Mayer was scheduled for dinner with executives from the ad agency IPG. The 8:30 p.m. meal was inconvenient for the firm’s C.E.O., Michael Roth, but he shuffled his calendar so he could accommodate it. Mayer didn’t show up until 10.

Fuck that.  Worse:

Mayer’s largest management problem, however, related to the start-up culture she had tried to instill. Early on, she banned working from home. This policy affected only 164 employees, but it was initiated months after she constructed an elaborate nursery in her office suite so that her son, Macallister, and his nanny could accompany her to work each day. Mayer also favored a system of quarterly performance reviews, or Q.P.R.s, that required every Yahoo employee, on every team, be ranked from 1 to 5. The system was meant to encourage hard work and weed out underperformers, but it soon produced the exact opposite. Because only so many 4s and 5s could be allotted, talented people no longer wanted to work together; strategic goals were sacrificed, as employees did not want to change projects and leave themselves open to a lower score.

This got ugly:

During the revamping of Yahoo Mail, for instance, Kathy Savitt, the C.M.O., noted that Vivek Sharma was bothering her. “He just annoys me,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t want to be around him.” Sharma’s rating was reduced. Shortly after Yahoo Mail went live, he departed for Disney. (Savitt disputes this account.)

Then this part is deeply weird:

As concerns with Q.P.R.s escalated, employees asked if an entire F.Y.I. could be devoted to anonymous questions on the topic. One November afternoon, Mayer took the stage at URL’s as hundreds of Yahoo employees packed the cafeteria. Mayer explained that she had sifted through the various questions on the internal network, but she wanted to begin instead with something else. Mayer composed herself and began reading from a book, “Bobbie Had a Nickel,” about a little boy who gets a nickel and considers all the ways he can spend it.

“Bobbie had a nickel all his very own,” Mayer read. “Should he buy some candy or an ice cream cone?”

Mayer paused to show everyone the illustrations of a little boy in red hair and blue shorts choosing between ice cream and candy. “Should he buy a bubble pipe?” she continued. “Or a boat of wood?” At the end of the book, Bobby decides to spend his nickel on a carousel ride. Mayer would later explain that the book symbolized how much she valued her roving experiences thus far at Yahoo. But few in the room seemed to understand the connection.

Strange.  But man, what great writing in this article.

Let’s give the last word to Aswath Damodaran:

Aswath Damodaran, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, has long argued about the danger of companies that try to return to the growth stage of their life cycle. These technology companies, he said, are run by people afflicted with something he calls the Steve Jobs syndrome. “We have created an incentive structure where C.E.O.s want to be stars,” Damodaran explained. “To be a star, you’ve got to be the next Steve Jobs — somebody who has actually grown a company to be a massive, large-market cap company.” But, he went on, “it’s extremely dangerous at companies when you focus on the exception rather than the rule.” He pointed out that “for every Apple, there are a hundred companies that tried to do what Apple did and fell flat on their faces.”

from New York University’s beautifully done website:


Credit Suzanne Hanover/Columbia Pictures


Great detail from this NY Times interview with Franco and Rogen:

Did you know you’d be friends right away when you met on “Freaks and Geeks”?

FRANCO I was just writing some poems about it. It sounds silly, but I think they’re actually pretty good. There was a period where Seth, Jason [Segel] and I all went to Jason’s house, and they would sit at one end of the room and smoke weed.

ROGEN He literally would sit in the corner.


Did that camaraderie continue after the show?

FRANCO There was a point where most people on the show didn’t like me, because I took myself too seriously. I thought I was Marlon Brando or something. Then I pushed Busy [Philipps, a co-star] over, by accident. So everybody didn’t like me, I think, except for Seth.

ROGEN When the show ended, I didn’t talk to you for years. We kind of went our separate ways, for a long time.

FRANCO I ran into Judd [Apatow] at this film festival in Austin. He’s like, “Why don’t you come back to the comedy world?” And I was like, “Yes. I need to change something, because I’m miserable.” I was not happy as an actor, and I went and did “Pineapple Express,” and it was like, Oh, it’s Seth, and I know Seth. I could take huge swings. That made all the difference

Fist City

Loretta has such an admirable way of getting right to the point.


NYTimes article about “Bulletproof,” a fad/product:

The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr. Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat.

and this sticks out:

Being Bulletproof means never traveling light. After a MacGyver attempt to make coffee in a Chicago hotel room, Brandon Routh, who plays the superhero The Atom on the CW show “Arrow,” now carries ground beans, containers of clarified butter, a silicone squeeze bottle of MCT oil, plus a hand blender and Aeropress filter.

“My energy levels are through the roof compared to what they used to be,” said Mr. Routh, who learned of the drink at a bachelor party, of all places. He added: “My lines just kind of sink in and they’re there when I need them.”

Here’s the thing about my human brain: Routh’s endorsement will end up “counting,” in my brain, certainly sticking way longer, than any carefully researched, cautiously presented bit of scientific evidence.

Already I’m like “well, who’s to argue with Routh?  Why would he lie?  Am I so arrogant as to not TRY butter coffee?”

(Separate thing: what is with our infatuation with the spiritual powers of Tibet?  A strong case could be made that Tibet is a violent, backwards, cruel theocracy historically run by puppet child-monks under control of death-obsessed masters.)

© Joseph F. Rock / National Geographic Image Collection.

Pope News [updated]

photo found here by googling “cute dogs”

From USA Today:

Pope Francis continues to show he’s anything but traditional. During a recent public appearance, Francis comforted a boy whose dog had died, noting, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

Theologians say Francis—who took his papal name from the patron saint of animals, St. Francis of Assisi—was only speaking conversationally.

If that’s how the Pope speaks conversationally that’s rad.

** UPDATE **

Apparently, not true.

How great is the Washington Post’s photo for this story?:

In this photo provided by Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets members of the Italian national council for the blind and visually impaired, at the Vatican on Saturday. (AP)



Not well informed on the torture report, so thanks to Andrew Sullivan for calling my attention to this NYT piece:

For all the publicity the Bush administration gave Mr. Padilla, the committee revealed that the government never took his dirty bomb plot seriously. It was based on a satirical Internet article titled “How to Make an H-Bomb,” and the plot involved swinging a bucket full of uranium over one’s head for 45 minutes. One internal C.I.A. email declared that such a plot would most likely kill Mr. Padilla but “would definitely not result in a nuclear explosive device.” Another called Mr. Padilla “a petty criminal” and described the dirty bomb plot as “lore.”

Easy to forget who you’re supposed to be rooting for as you read this thing.  The goofy gang that can’t shoot straight or the fiendish torturers who’re hiding the pathetic results of their evil in a tedious bureaucratic report?

Possible to do this and still be an idiot.

From Dana Milibank in The Washington Post:

[TNR owner Chris] Hughes is no idiot (he reads Balzac in French)

Yo Monkeytrial!

This post is in response to my East Coast buddy Monkeytrial, who says:

We haven’t been to the moon in 42 years, and the richest 1 percent of humans own half the world’s assets.

I’d like to read a discussion of the psychological implications of growing up in a time of dramatic technological progress (my parents’ generation) versus consumer-focused incrementalism (my own). If any of my zero readers know and could link, much appreciated.

Hmm!  Let’s think about the idea that technological progress has slowed from a rapid rate 1940-1970 to a stagnation now.

Is this true?

What does it mean?

I don’t have exactly what Monkeytrial is looking for.  But through the glory of the Internet, we can converse via blog.

Some uncooked ideas inspired by him.  First, a rec:

Check out Peter Thiel.


If not exactly this, he is obsessed with similar problems.  He talks about ’em in his book which I recommend, thought-provoking to the max. Dude is thinking interesting thoughts at a rapid rate:


Even more on Monkeytrial’s theme is this essay, from National Review (I know, I know):

When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. Today’s advocates of space jets, lunar vacations, and the manned exploration of the solar system appear to hail from another planet. A faded 1964 Popular Science cover story — “Who’ll Fly You at 2,000 m.p.h.?” — barely recalls the dreams of a bygone age.

Another roundup of Thiel pessimism.  This one seems to really nag at him:

The Empire State Building was built in 15 months in 1932. It’s taken 12 years and counting to rebuild the World Trade Center.

(Well, was that an engineering problem, or a political one?  I don’t know a ton about New York City politics in the ’30s, but from what I understand, between former governor Al Smith as president of Empire State Inc., FDR as governor, Jimmy Walker as mayor, and James Farley supplying the building materials there was more or less a semi-benevolent mafia running the city.)

Maybe: we work in levels, like an orbiting electron?

Like, maybe we humans make big jumps, and then plateau for awhile?  Nothing happened in Europe between 5oo and 1300 AD (let’s say) and then there was the Renaissance.  Maybe what DFW’s characters speculate about tennis applies?:

“‘He’s talking about developing the concept of tennis mastery,’ Chu tells the other three. They’re on the floor indian-style, Wayne standing with his back against the door, rotating his head to stretch the neck. ‘His point is that progress towards genuine Show-caliber mastery is slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament.’

‘Is this right Mr. Wayne?’

Chu says ‘…that because you proceed toward mastery through a series of plateaus, so there’s like radical improvement up to a certain plateau and then what looks like a stall, on the plateau, with the only way to get off one of the plateaus and climb up to the next one up ahead is with a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there.’

‘Plateaux,’ Wayne says, looking at the celing and pushing the back of his head isometrically against the door. ‘With an X. Plateaux.’

Maybe: we got scared by the speed of what we were doing. 

Nukes, etc.

This caused us to pull back on investment/energy in areas like nuclear engineering where there may have been big if scary advances to make?

Maybe: we were really just plucking low hanging fruit.

The Tyler Cowen theory, that there was a lot of low-hanging economic fruit, esp. in the resource rich United States, and we ate it all up and now it’s gone.

Maybe: globalization happened in one big boom.  

Like, it was a closer to a one-time event than an enduring process, and it already happened, between say 1960 and 1989, as China opened, containerization blasted international shipping forward.  The revolution is over, we already got the major results in the form of Wal-Mart and so on, now it’s just a matter of economic water shifting across the world until all the glasses (countries) are level, and that’s gonna look like reverse progress from here in the US.

Maybe: it only looks bad here in the US.  

Sure, it seems like technological progress has stalled out since 1970~ here in the US, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like that in China, India,  dunno parts of Africa, where changes from 1970-now are as rapid as 1945-1970 in the US?

Maybe: tech “progress” isn’t necessarily good.

Maybe the jarring nature of it, the disorienting and alienating effects, level out the material gains?  Maybe we’re feeling some kind of technological hangover and we’re all kinda cooling it?

What about social/cultural progress?

Food.  I’m eating better every year.  The food a person in Los Angeles or New York can access is insanely better than it was in 1970 in terms of variety and quality.  Here’s literally the first pic I found when I googled “Food 1970:”

Sex.  Sexual freedom is insane now.

Art.  There’s pretty much no limit on what you can do artwise in the Western World – a guy inflated a buttplug in the middle of Paris and the President of France stuck up for him.

Drugs, alternative lifestyles, dressing weird – it’s becoming pretty much a field day. Whether that’s “good” or “bad” is another puzzle but we are “progressing” very rapidly in a direction.

In less ambiguous ways, there’s been massive social progress.  We’re getting more inclusive.  Here’s a clearly stated example Aisha happened to put on This. today: Shonda Rhimes putting racial/gender/representational progress in sharp terms she receives the Sherry Lansing Award:

Look around this room. It’s filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something.

15 years ago, that would not have been as true. There’d have been maybe a few women in Hollywood who could say yes or no. And a lot of D girls and assistants who were gritting their teeth and working really hard. And for someone like me, if I was very very VERY lucky, there’d have been maybe one small show. One small shot. And that shot would not have involved a leading actress of color, any three dimensional LGBT characters, any women characters with high powered jobs AND families, and no more than two characters of color in any scene at one time — because that only happened in sitcoms.

30 years ago, I’d think maybe there’d be a thousand secretaries fending off their handsy bosses back at the office and about two women in Hollywood in this room. And if I were here, I would serving those two women breakfast.

50 years ago, if women wanted to gather in a room, well it had better be about babies or charity work. And the brown women were in one room over there and the white women were in a room over here.

What if: technological progress – the speed of it, especially – itself aggravated the wealth inequality.

Twitter was created eight years ago.  It’s now worth roughly $24 billion.  Have people ever, in the history of the world, gotten that rich that fast?

Also: the last period of insane technological progress culminated in a horrifying cataclysm.

World War I, where all those terrific machines were turned to gassing and machine-gunning each other.  Then, when they were done with that, they ramped up to the next one: twice as cataclysmic (but on the other hand, very fertile for creating more technological progress).

So, maybe we should just count our stars we’re lucky we dodged that and closed out a tech boom peacefully.

And: Why should we expect things to be linear?

Maybe this Thiel idea that technological progress has “stalled” is like the weird thinking of an Asberger’s robot, human history is chaotic and works in undiagnosable, epileptic fits and starts that can’t be rationally charted.

Did the rapidity of change make us (sanely enough) feel more unsettled about predicting the future? 

Maybe that itself acted as some kind of check on technological progress?  The optimism of a 1960s Popular Mechanics cover

feels dated today.

Anyway, I guess my point is: check out Monkeytrial.

reblog from bookbinderlocal455

gotta remember this re: consuming internet.

stirs something within you

i think about this constantly in marfa, where there is a non-stop stream of performance and art, which sometimes rob one of time to pursue his/her own work. via pitchfork:

“One of the problems of our modern world is that there’s a lot of things to work through, but, at some point, everybody should take a pause from that and make something, so that it’s not just all one-way traffic. Human beings aren’t meant to be solely consumers—eventually, something has to come out. Otherwise, I don’t really see what the point of all that consumption is. The idea behind watching things and listening to things is that it stirs something within you, and hopefully that will stimulate you to then create your own thing.”

Jarvis Cocker