Links: The new atomic age, universities, pens, The Joy of Drinking, and more!

* “The new atomic age we need,” a particularly useful piece given the venue.

* “Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs.” Or, alternately, “Four tough things columnists should do before writing about universities.” Can both be right? And at what margins? I tend to buy the first link more than the second.

* The Generic City: Boring landscapes impede on our biological need for intrigue. So why are so many buildings so hideous?

* University President: ‘This Is Not Day Care.’ A point that is useful and yet depressing that it is worth making.

* Why the ballpoint pen was such a big deal.

* What happens to countries that vote for socialists.

* SM on what’s happening among humanities peer-reviewed journals.

* In light of recent events: “A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths. ”

* The Joy of Drinking.

Links: James Wood, news and fiction, sexuality and narrative, the paperback, bars and babysitting

* James Wood: “On Not Going Home.”

* “Is the News Replacing Literature?” Unlikely, but high-quality analysis of the news often has a literary quality. But quantity still has a quality all its own and writing 800 words, 8,000 words, and 80,000 words are all very different beasts and having written pieces of all three lengths I can say that what works at one length won’t at another.

I’m also fond of saying that not-very-good nonfiction can still be useful while not-very-good fiction rarely is.

* Someone on Reddit “capture[s] the vagaries of sexual consent through a series of personal stories;” many people have such stories but few share them widely, for obvious reasons. See also “The power of conventional narratives and the great lie.”

* The tooth fairy and the traditionality of modernity.

* “How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read;” ebooks are now doing something analogous.

* Smartphone sales growth slows, presumably for obvious reasons: when I first got one I used it for the same stuff everyone else does: maps, looking up random stuff, sending/receiving naked pictures, listening to music, and maybe one or two other things. With the model I have now I do basically the same stuff, as well as find Citi Bike locations and coffee shops. The new version does some of those things slightly better / faster, but were it not a business expense I doubt I’d bother.

* “Bars are too loud and cafes too quiet.” Mostly, bars are too loud.

* “My bad baby sitters year;” mostly a lost world, especially when it comes to finding forbidden objects / photos.

Links: National security letters, car culture, hookup culture and moral panic, art, booze as muse, and more

* “What It’s Like to Get a National-Security Letter,” which should scare you.

* The End of Car Culture; I view this as a positive development.

* What makes a work of art seem dated.

* Booze as Muse; yes!

* Thoughts about rice and men.

* Programming for everyone. Cool.

* “Quinoa should be taking over the world. This is why it isn’t.” This describes me: “But it’s also about the demographics of the end-user in developed countries–the kind of people who don’t think twice about paying five bucks for a little box of something with such good-for-you buzz.”

* “Special Deal: The shadowy cartel of doctors that controls Medicare.” One problem with centralizing government control of certain industries is that a small number of hidden players can control a larger and larger share of the economy, making it difficult or impossible for non-insiders to compete.

* “There’s an awful lot wrong with moral panic stories about “hookup culture” on campus [. . . ] I’m also struck that [. . .] these stories fail to reflect the very sound basis for engaging in casual sex if you’re a college student, and the folly of pining away for the traditional relationships of yore.”

Links: eBooks, dubious love stories, polaroids, drinking, state-sanctioned murder, and more

* “The eBook – Déjà Vu All Over Again?” Make sure you read to at least the fourth full paragraph, which is where the punchline hits.

* “Before Sexting, There Was Polaroid: The arrival of instant film meant the end of snooping photo-lab technicians—which, in turn, homemade porn for everyone.”

* Women who drink; sounds like a fun essay collection.

* If “The Bipartisan Security Ratchet” doesn’t scare you, it should:

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review.

* Someone found this blog by searching for “pretentious fountain pens.” I would be more interested in an unpretentious fountain pen, if such a thing is possible in this age of rollerballs. Another person found it, although I doubt what they’re looking for, via “fucking asshole girl.”

* “[. . .] for all the valid complaints that one hears about the state of American college education, there’s a clear demand for it on the international stage so we must be doing something right.

* “Former NFL cheerleader, teen reportedly find ‘happiness.’” When I was in high school, I doubt I had a tenth of the game this kid must have.

* The Best Writing Teachers Are Writers Themselves.

* The Millions interviews Daniel Mendelsohn:

The Millions: There is a formula for criticism in the piece which says that knowledge + taste = meaningful judgment, with an emphasis on meaningful. What makes a critique meaningful? As you point out, a lot of people have opinions who are not really critics and there are lots of people who are experts on subjects who don’t write good criticism. If everyone is not really a critic, where is the magic?

DM: It’s a very interesting question. It is magic, it’s a kind of alchemy. We all have opinions, and many people have intelligent opinions. But that’s not the same. Nor is it the case that great experts are good critics. I come out of an academic background so I’m very familiar with that end of the spectrum of knowledge. I spent a lot of my journalistic career as a professional explainer of the Classics—when I first started writing whenever there was some Greek toga-and-sandals movie they would always call me in—so I developed the sense of what it means to mediate between expertise and accessibility.

Notice that word: “meaningful.” It’s not whether a critical take is positive or negative, good or bad; it’s above that, or beyond it, or some other spatial-reckoning metaphor. This is also what I strive to offer when I read my friends’ work, whether fiction or non.

Parties and sobriety

“I drank for years, and then I stopped drinking and discovered the sad truth about parties. A sober man at a party is lonely as a journalist, implacable of a coroner, bitter as an angel looking down from heaven. There’s something purely foolish about attending any large gathering of men and women without benefit of some kind of philter or magic dust to blind you and weaken your critical faculties. I don’t mean to make a big deal out of sobriety, by the way. Of all the modes of human consciousness available to the modern consumer I consider it to be the most overrated.”

—Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

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