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Why agreeing in improv is so much better than arguing

I have an improv confession: I’m an arguer.

I have a bad, albeit common, habit of reacting to offers by protesting, taking an opposite point of view of someone in the scene, or otherwise introducing conflict.

Arguing is different from — and maybe more insidious than — straight-up denial, which is usually called out quickly. You can be an arguer for much longer than a denier because arguing doesn’t seem like a violation of “the rules;” because it’s often an honest reaction to an offer; and because conflict can lead to great scenes (given the right context and improvisers).

But I want to stop arguing, or at least learn to argue less. After a bunch of recent arguing scenes and a workshop with Michael McFarland that focused on agreement, I finally get why agreement opens so many more possibilities than argument* — and turns your scene partner’s offer into a gift of an endowment.

Consider a scene I was in this week. My scene partner handed me a putter and a mini golf ball. Told me to go ahead and putt.

Then he put a gun to my head.

My character freaked out — and boy did I commit to freaking out! I even remembered to establish a relationship (“Uncle Tim, this is NOT why I came to visit you!”).

Then not much else happened.

How did we go from such a brilliant offer — the kind of inspired, so-random-he-couldn’t-have-planned-it choice that makes improv scenes so great — to such a not-great (if not-terrible) scene? I didn’t do anything “wrong.” I reacted in an honest way (wouldn’t you freak out at a gun to the head?); I established a relationship; I didn’t deny (no “Uncle Tim, why are you pointing a banana at me?”).

The problem with arguing is it usually represents a normal, average, rational person’s normal, average, rational reaction. But the average person is boring! So taking the average person’s perspective in an improv scene greatly increases the chance that the scene will be boring.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to explore characters for whom the irrational (to us average folks) is the normal reaction?

The key is to expand our notion of what “reacting honestly” means. In the mini golf scene, I was reacting honestly as someone who would get freaked out when a gun is pointed at them at a mini golf game — i.e., as an average person. But what if I reacted honestly as someone who doesn’t get freaked out by this? Think of the kind of characters that agreement would have opened up:

  • Danger-seeking golfer trying out a new motivational strategy
  • Dad so bored of suburban life that he gets his kicks from taking life-threatening risks at children’s activities
  • Colleagues at some job that holds life-threatening activities at  orientation/retreats

The details would have emerged organically. I could have even accepted reluctantly (golfer whose career is on the skids and will try anything to get back on top, even if he’s wary). But at that point, the details are ancillary — the character is already established and emphatically not-boring, simply by accepting the offer!

In other words, agreeing with an offer that your first instinct is to argue with is like getting an endowment for free.

Meantime, arguing instead of agreeing is like an anti-endowment, an anti-deal. The deal of a character who argues “I oppose a gun to my head”  is simply “I don’t want to die.” But that kind of deal — or common argumentative-reaction deals like “I’m unhappy that you cheated on me,” “I AM good at X,” “I don’t want to be fired,” etc. — is often a dead end because it’s a basic, inherent deal of every rational person on the planet. Common, everyday human deals are boring and don’t define characters.

Arguing also leads to:

  • Standoff scenes that are like watching bulls butt heads, as McFarland put it (possibly quoting someone else?).
  • Scenes that get stuck on plot details because one character argues against doing something that the other character suggests.
    • I think of these as tip-the-cow scenes: Another recent scene I was in featured a character inviting her grandson’s fiancee to tip a cow as a family initiation, and the grandson and fiancee resisting. To which Mikael Johnson, who was coaching that practice, said: “Just tip the cow!!!” The scene would have been much better if the grandson and fiancee accepted the offer because people who happily participate in cow-tipping family rituals are bound to be more interesting than those who think such rituals are odd.

As with everything in improv, understanding something is much different than successfully and routinely doing it. But I hope I can start to be more of an agree-er and less of an arguer.

Why the ‘bloggers aren’t journalists’ Oregon court ruling isn’t so bad

The journosphere is taking note of a U.S. District Court ruling in Oregon that “has drawn a line in the sand between ‘journalist’ and blogger,'” as Seattle Weekly’s Curtis Cartier put it in a post that (I think) broke the story.

“Now … we see why ‘who’s a journalist?’ is so wrong-headed,” tweets Jay Rosen in response to the news. Clay Shirky chimes in: “Bloggers have no right to speech unless they’re part of the ‘official media establishment’? Ethiopia,Belarus &…Oregon.”

I can’t tell from those tweets if they read the actual ruling, but I did — and it actually doesn’t seem that bad. Rather than representing a luddite judge’s ignorant dismissal of a new medium, the ruling seems to lay the groundwork for a fairly expansive legal definition of journalism.

In the ruling, Judge Marco A. Hernandez upholds a defamation claim against blogger Crystal Cox, rejecting Cox’s seven defense arguments. The initial journosphere reactions have focused on Hernandez’s rejection of two of those arguments: that Cox shouldn’t have to reveal the source of this column because she is protected by Oregon’s media shield law; and that Cox should be protected from damages claims because she is “media.” In both cases, Hernandez rejects the arguments on the grounds that Cox is not “media.”

Hernandez’s rejection of Cox’s shield law defense seems to rest on a literal reading of Oregon’s shield law, which applies to people affiliated with a “newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

Hernandez says, correctly, that Cox is not affiliated with any of the above; therefore she is not “media” according to Oregon’s law. It seems reasonable that the judge applied the law as written rather than expanding the interpretation of the law to include online media. If Oregon had updated its shield law to cover the Internet, as Washington state has done, perhaps Hernandez would have ruled differently.

But it’s Hernandez’s rejection of Cox’s second media defense that, to my mind, actually gives hope for future expanded legal definitions of “media” and “journalist”:

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story.

If Hernandez believed that you need to have a Columbia J-school degree or work at the New York Times to be considered a journalist, he would have stopped at No. 2. But he doesn’t stop there — instead, he offers five additional criteria that could define someone as a journalist. These criteria aren’t based on a credential or business card — or a particular medium — but on practices, values, and standards.

By doing this, the ruling smartly avoids saying “bloggers aren’t journalists.” It merely says “this blogger is not a journalist.” By listing criteria 3-7 and avoiding any mention of specific media, Hernandez is basically saying: “Bloggers may be journalists — but to be considered as such, they have to do something that could fit a standards/practices-based, medium-agnostic definition of journalism.”

It’s easy to quibble with Hernandez’s choice of canonized practices and standards (I can see some in the journosphere taking issue with No. 6 in particular) or say his criteria aren’t expansive enough. But to the extent that “journalist” and “media” need to be defined in the law, Hernandez’s approach seems like the right one. And his criteria seem as hopeful a starting point* as any.


* Note: I’m not up to speed on other definition-of-journalist case law. I’m sure there have been other rulings that offer their own criteria for such definitions.

The real problem with ‘The Rising’: It’s not actually about 9/11 (or anything at all)

As a fan of Bruce Springsteen revisionism, I was happy to see John Cook’s Gawker post challenging the canonization of Springsteen’s The Rising as “the closest thing we have to an official soundtrack to 9/11”:

The Rising is a failure. It purports to document a nation’s rupture and guide us toward salvation—”here the poet, not unlike the priest and community during Mass, opens a window in space and time for communion with the dead themselves: the dead who alone, perhaps, can transform the rage of the living and awaken in us a vision of something more than more of the same,” is how one Catholic critic recently put it. You can almost feel the weight of Springsteen’s duty on the record—these are his people, these firefighters. This is his backyard. A nation turned its weary eyes to the Boss, and he keenly felt the need to answer. But the answer was overwrought, grandiose, bombastic. He went big. We didn’t need anymore big things.

Cook’s right that The Rising is a failure, but he doesn’t quite get at the reasons why. The Rising isn’t just big and overwrought. It’s lyrically vague to the point of being a 9/11 album in name only. Absent the marketing push that announced the album as Springsteen’s big 9/11 statement, The Rising could be interpreted as being about pretty much anything (or nothing at all).

I wrote about the Boss’s 9/11 dodge in a 2003 piece for the Valley News in New Hampshire. (It’s actually a section from a larger essay about that year’s Grammy Awards.) I think it holds up pretty well.

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Unexpected sentences from the Jan. 31 New Yorker

I thought of Ironhead last month as well, while standing in the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel, where a special meeting of the league’s Head, Neck, and Spine Injury committee was convening in one of the function rooms. Bert Straus, an industrial designer with a background in bathroom fixtures, dental-office equipment, and light-rail vehicles, was showing off a prototype of a new helmet called the Gladiator, whose primary selling point is that it has a soft exterior.

— Ben McGrath, “Does Football Have a Future?”  Emphasis mine: I love that there are industrial designers who specialize in bathroom fixtures, dental-office equipment, and light-rail vehicles. This guy must be pretty unique to know about all three. (Also — interesting article.)

On February 11, 2004, he made a presentation to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the Army’s premier laboratory for biodefense research. Hours later, a researcher at Fort Detrick accidentally stuck herself in the thumb with a needle while injecting mice with the Ebola virus. Ebola has gruesome symptoms that often cause the victim to bleed to death; there is no licensed vaccine or therapeutic drug to stop it.

— David E. Hoffman, “Going Viral” (subscriber-only). Emphasis mine: How can you work with live Ebola virus and not a) wear mithril gloves, or b) be extra careful so you don’t inject yourself with Ebola??? (Another interesting article.)

Groupon Stores is another big blow to local news organizations’ revenue hopes

Figuring out how to better serve local businesses and connect those businesses to readers is a big part of local news organizations’ hopes and ideas for making money online.

Facebook’s Deals platform, announced in November, was a blow to these hopes. Now Groupon has piled on with its Groupon Stores platform.

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Presidents who looked like actors

This is what I learned during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery’s presidential portraits room: Many of our presidents looked like actors or movie/TV characters.

Some of the presidents looked like creepy characters, some like dashing actors.

I think McKinley looks like an older Don Draper (same piercing glare). Others think he looks like a vampire.

Our character-actor presidents.

More on Ticketfly’s service charges

Damon at Ticketfly sent a prompt response to my open letter about paying $8.75 in service charges on a $20 ticket. Here is Damon’s response, and my reply.

Greetings Josh,
Thank you for writing in and giving us the opportunity to answer your questions.

Ticketfly provides a service, for a fee. Ordering through Ticketfly couldn’t be easier and you can do it from the comfort of your home or office!

Tickets purchased on are typically subject to a per ticket convenience charge and a non-refundable per order processing fee. In many cases, delivery prices will also be owed.

As we do not collect any of the ticket face value, we use the fee to pay for hardware, employees, training and so on. Basically, the fee is what keeps us running. If you wish to avoid paying the service fee, please contact the venue or promoter of the event to see if they offer tickets directly. This also explains your comparison to companies like Amazon. They do, in fact almost every “retail” outlet, charge a fee. For them it’s called “Mark Up”. Because they own the product they are selling, that mark up is where they get the money to pay their employees, train their staff, pay their rent and so on.

Ticketfly does not claim to be the cheapest ticketing alternative, but we are striving to be the better ticketing alternative.

Please do let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank You
Damon @ Ticketfly

My reply:

Hi Damon,

Thanks for the prompt reply, and for explaining what the service fees pay for.

However, this doesn’t answer all of my questions.

True, Ticketfly does not claim to be the cheapest ticketing alternative. But as I quoted in my first email, the company clearly recognizes that people are frustrated with ticketing services (citing “downright absurd” practices) and makes claims to being different (“We plan to get rid of all those hidden fees”).

Given this:

1. Why does the site talk about killing hidden fees if you still charge those fees?
2. What are some examples of “downright absurd” ticketing practices that Ticketfly does not engage in?
3. What does being a “better ticketing alternative” mean if you charge similar fees as other ticketing companies — fees that are by far the most frustrating thing about buying tickets?

Further, you say that “Ticketfly provides a service, for a fee” — i.e., letting consumers buy tickets “from the comfort of your home or office.” But there are thousands upon thousands of e-commerce websites that provide the same service — letting consumers buy something online — without charging “service” or “convenience” fees on top of the product price. (Of course, in many cases it’s *cheaper* to buy something online versus by phone or in a store.) The vast majority of these sites also have various hardware and overhead costs, but still don’t tack on extra fees.

Given this,

4. How is Ticketfly’s business (or the ticketing business in general) so different from nearly all other online businesses that the company has to charge consumers this fee?


An open letter to Ticketfly, on the occasion of paying $8.75 in service charges for a $20 ticket

Dear Ticketfly,

As a music fan who has long been frustrated by Ticketmaster’s fees and service charges, I was glad to see this statement on your About page before I purchased a ticket recently:

[W]e’ve spent a lot of time examining what works in ticketing and what is downright absurd. We plan to get rid of all those hidden fees and we won’t charge you to print your ticket at home – after all it is your printer and paper!

So I have a few questions:

  • Why did buying a $20 ticket to the Julian Casablancas show at DC’s 9:30 Club require paying a $4.75 Service Fee and a $4 Order Processing fee? (Total cost: $28.75. Service charges’ percentage of total cost: 30 percent.)
  • Exactly what services does the $4.75 fee cover?
  • Why is there an order processing fee, when I ordered via your automated online system rather than speaking to a live ticketing agent? There is no order processing fee when I buy from other websites, whether the purchase is from the site proprietor (e.g. a ticket from, a book from or from a third party using the site as a middleman (e.g. an item from an Amazon Marketplace or Etsy seller). Why is Ticketfly different in this regard?
  • Why do you include the statement about hidden fees on your About page if you charge the same kind of hidden fees as Ticketmaster does?
  • Can you explain why these fees are not “downright absurd”?

Josh Korr

Bonsai trees are much cooler than Mr. Miyagi led me to believe

This is going to sound ignorant, but until today my knowledge of bonsai trees was based entirely on The Karate Kid.

If I had to guess, I’d have said a bonsai tree was some dwarf species or a bush that looks like a tiny tree. A little kitschy, no big whoop. But today Melanie and I went to the National Arboretum’s Bonsai and Penjing Museum, and my ignorance was slightly diminished at the same time my mind was officially blown.

As any non-ignorant person (or Wikipedia reader) must have already known, bonsai (the Japanese term) or penjing (the Chinese term) refers to “the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees, or of developing woody or semi-woody plants shaped as trees, by growing them in containers” (I would have used a more authoritative source’s definition, but I can’t find one on the American Bonsai Society’s website).

I guess the “semi-woody plants shaped as trees” part could be the “bush shaped like a tiny tree” that I had in mind. But most of the specimens at the Arboretum are literally miniature trees.

Walking through the exhibit is like walking through the forest sets of A Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline. Except in this case, the trees aren’t painted models with popcorn for blossoms — they’re actually trees!

The other cool thing is that a bunch of the trees are 100 or more years old. One is from the mid 1600s! The age combined with the warped perspective makes the whole exhibit pretty dizzying.

Here are two examples from the Arboretum. But you don’t get the same vertiginous sense of scale unless you’re standing in front of them — or rather, over them.

Update: Here’s a photo that gives a better sense:

Josh and a bonsai

If you’re in the D.C. area and, like us, have overlooked the Arboretum because of all the higher-profile things to see in these parts, I highly recommend a visit. (The rest of the grounds are very pretty, too.)

Sidenote: Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Mr. Miyagi??? Wha?

Scientology’s Dear Leader complex

The “church” of Scientology reached a strange kind of mainstream success this decade. Sure, Tom Cruise’s summer of 2005 and indoctrination video might have raised some eyebrows. But Scientology’s reputation seems to have become “the wacky-but-harmless religion that Tom Cruise and John Travolta belong to.”

I’d chalk that up to a few factors: Star power and obsequious entertainment media. American culture’s general shift toward multiculturalism and, for the enlightened majority post-9/11, religious tolerance. A shrug-your-shoulders, post-modern “Scientology is no more bizarre than other religions” attitude among potential cynics. And, of course, the fruits of the group’s notoriously litigious/personally invasive stance toward pretty much anyone who had anything bad to say about Scientology in the ’80s and ’90s.

The St. Petersburg Times’ recent expose, on Scientology’s staff culture of intimidation and abuse allegedly driven by leader David Miscavige, won’t change all that. But if Scientology’s fortunes and reputation decline in the coming years, the paper’s stories recounting defectors’ accusations should mark a turning point.

The group had one possible strategy for persuasively rebutting the Times stories: deny everything. Instead, the hapless response turned into a classic emperor-has-no-clothes moment — the ostensibly matured Scientology revealed (or re-revealed) as a pitiful personality cult that no one should even consider taking seriously again.

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Sarah Palin and SNL’s cowardice

Tina Fey’s awesome Sarah Palin sketches have made Saturday Night Live worth watching this season, even as the show continues its overall post-Will Ferrell stagnation. (Digital shorts and an 80 percent brilliant cast don’t make up for the slavish adherence to a rigid, outdated sketch-comedy model.)

But if the real Palin appears on next week’s show — as has been rumored and now allegedly confirmed by the New York Post’s Cindy Adams — then Saturday Night Live will have proven its intellectual bankruptcy and moral cowardice once and for all.

When it comes to politics, SNL has always focused more on “cuddly caricature-making than worthy satire,” as Slate’s Troy Patterson wrote earlier this year. Patterson quotes Russel L. Peterson’s book Strange Bedfellows: How Late-Night Comedy Turns Democracy Into a Joke:

“The show’s political ‘characters’ are as one-dimensional and ‘lovable’ as any of the other catchphrase-spouting mannequins Lorne Michaels might hope to spin off onto the big screen (Jason Sudeikis as George W. Bush and Darrell Hammond as Dick Cheney in—Night at the Roxbury II).”

This is somewhat defensible in normal times. It’s at best irresponsible in elections like this one. Here’s Peterson again, via Patterson:

“By avoiding issues in favor of personalities and by ‘balancing’ these shallow criticisms between conservatives and liberals, late-night comics are playing it safe but endangering democracy.”

With Sarah Palin, SNL found a politician so shallow and farcical that personality-based satire was actually appropriate. The McCain campaign’s policy proposals deserve plenty of criticism, but the biggest problem with Palin isn’t her policies (or her abuse of power, or her serial lying). It’s that she’s absurdly unprepared for the vice presidency and apparently has little grasp of policy in the first place — that she’s a farce, as Andrew Sullivan put it. In this respect, SNL‘s take on Palin was spot-on: a fauxlksy, beauty-pageant contestant who thinks winks and ignorance are appropriate for a vice presidential candidate.

If Lorne Michaels gives Palin a cameo and SNL‘s writers don’t protest, they will be undermining their own criticism. A cameo would say “Hey, never mind those silly Tina Fey sketches! It’s not so bad that a vice presidential candidate is dangerously unprepared — if it were, we’d never have let her appear on the show!”

If SNL‘s writers and performers do this, they are apologists, not satirists.

If they shrug off their previous personality-based criticism but also won’t criticize the McCain campaign’s policy proposals or recent mob incitement, they simply have nothing to say. (Mocking McCain’s doddering mannerisms and making bogus Williams Ayers mentions, as they did in a debate sketch Thursday, does not count as satire, either.)

And if they put Palin on, they are cowards twice over. First, for mercilessly mocking her on national TV but pretending everything’s peachy when she comes on the show. Second, for not believing a single word they say.

So what’s it going to be, Saturday Night Live: Should we take you seriously, or are you just a big joke?

Why substance-free campaigns and journalism are bad for America

I’ve written before about annoyingly substance-free political journalism (and the substance-free politics on which it’s based). Here are two perfect articulations of why this kind of journalism and politics isn’t just annoying — it’s bad for America. First, from Andrew Sullivan:

We have war criminals as president and vice-president, and a constitution staggering after one serious terror attack. But the campaign is about whether Obama is like Paris Hilton.

The threat of Rove and his ilk is not that their petty, deceptive and irresistibly subjective tactics are evil in a petty, deceptive, childish kind of way. It’s that their venial sins distract from their mortal ones. It’s the mortal ones we have to be worried about. And the mortal ones that they are getting away with.

And from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

The housing market is collapsing, Iran is pursuing the bomb, climate change is peeking over the horizon–and we are discussing power-bars and Honest Tea. Look, all campaigns do their share of unfair attacks. And at the end of the day, it’s Obama’s job to come back with a devastating counter. He’s excelled at that all year. I expect him to do no less here. But–and I this will sound totally syrupy and naive–I really thought John McCain was a little better than this.

Jonathan Chait explains the political side of this state of affairs in his latest New Republic column:

In the late 1980s, the popular revolt against government that had bubbled up in the mid-’60s began to peter out, sapping the power of straightforward anti-government appeals. And, starting in 1992, Democrats ruthlessly purged nearly all their political liabilities by embracing anti-crime measures, welfare reform, and middle-class tax cuts, and, more recently, by abandoning gun control. What’s left is a political terrain generally favorable to Democrats, which has, in turn, forced Republicans to emphasize the personal virtue of their nominees.

And so, every four years, we have a Democratic candidate campaigning on health care, the minimum wage, education, Medicare, or Social Security, and a Republican candidate campaigning on themes like Trust, Courage, and so forth.

Why journalists play along with this game is another matter.

UPDATE: Michael Grunwald pushed back against this nonsense in a good Time column Monday, and Obama himself had a pretty good rejoinder at a town hall meeting (hat tip: The Plank):

You can’t say [Psbpsbpsb] in the newspaper

I know newspapers like to “protect” readers from “coarselanguage (i.e. language real-life people actually speak in their real lives), but I had no idea that you couldn’t say “nuts” (i.e. “balls”, e.g. “Those are balls”) in the newspaper.

Well, apparently you can’t! Even if Jesse Jackson says he wants to “cut [Barack Obama’s] nuts off”! At least not if you’re the New York Times.

Jeffrey Goldberg says what needs to be said:

What we have then is a story about a controversy concerning Jesse Jackson’s words that refuses to print the most relevant word. Even though I’m a member of the MSM, I sometimes see why people might go elsewhere for news. At least bloggers believe that their readers are emotionally equipped to handle the presence of the word “nuts” in a sentence.

Gawker has a fun roundup of previous words the Times has avoided, and wonders if there are any “examples of the Times censoring ‘doody’ or ‘wiener’.”

I see that the Washington Post also avoided the horrible word. Kudos to the L.A. Times for having the balls to print “nuts.”

(Incidentally, I’m glad to see that the Barry Louis Polisar song that inspired this post’s title is available for download at Amazon’s MP3 store.)

In which I return and go linkblogging

So it turns out that moving to a new city tends to take time away from blogging. Who knew?

Over the past few weeks I’ve traded sunny Florida for tornado-filled (maybe) Washington D.C. and the familiarity of daily newspaper journalism for the unpredictable excitement of journalism startups. And while there seems to be a distinct lack of manatees here, living in the city is already awesome. (Anyone else have a pastry chef for a neighbor?)

But the blogging hiatus can’t last forever, so I’m going to ease back into things with some good old linkblogging. Here are some good stories I’ve been reading lately:

  • Whilst responding to two worthreading posts by Megan McArdle about why journalism is healthy even if newspapers aren’t, Doug Fisher makes an interesting point that I’ve never heard before: that one of modern newspapers’ main functions has been to “aggregate social costs.” Fisher writes:

The Colonial and even the Civil War-era press had been an unruly thing, prone to vicious attack. The practical matter, however, was that it was largely impractical to sue individual small publishers for sullying your reputation. The resources were not there

As the newspaper and its news organization evolved, they also developed the necessary deep pockets to right social wrongs their journalists might cause.

The rise of the large media company also provided a central place for legal action, promoting efficiency. In return, it made an implicit social contract (too often violated, but still) that it would strive to meet a certain level of professionalism, both to society (by providing a legal and managerial collar around unruly journalists, for instance) and to the journalists (by providing a living wage and decent benefits, ease of production and distribution, and a certain modicum of legal protection in most cases).

  • In previous posts I’ve wondered why newspapers don’t try to take on Craigslist’s free classifieds. Bob Wyman (also via Doug Fisher) argues that doing so at this point would be the equivalent of trying to start a small internet service provider to take on Comcast and Verizon. In other words, that ship has sailed and taken newspapers’ ad revenue with it.
  • At Hitsville, Bill Wyman (not to be confused with Bob Wyman or that Bill Wyman) makes the case that there’s still such a thing as selling out — and that rock musicians shouldn’t do it. Discuss.
  • I hope to one day win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. And with these tips from recent winner Patrick House, I hope to soon enter for the first time and be just not-funny enough to achieve my dream.
  • The New Yorker and the New Republic have simultaneous stories about the revolt against terrorism by former al-Qaida members and other former jihadis, include influential figures whose past writings provided ideological and religious justifications for Islamic terrorism. The New Yorker story is one of Lawrence Wright’s deeply reported tours de force (see here for another); the New Republic piece, by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, is more of a reported essay (as is TNR’s wont). Both are must reads for anyone interested in the future of the Middle East — and the future in general.
  • Steven Pinker has a terrific New Republic essay on the danger and idiocy of conservative fearmongering about bioethics.

Life is not, in fact, like a sitcom (or, What I learned from Carolyn Hax)

I’m a little late to this one, but I finally read “Marry Him!” — a buzz-fishing article in last month’s Atlantic that ostensibly makes the case for settling for a spouse instead of holding out for Mr. Right. Here’s the gist:

Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).


My advice is this: Settle!

What stands out from the article isn’t the fact that author Lori Gottlieb herself hasn’t settled (she’s a 40-something who, along with a friend, decided to have a baby with donor sperm “in fits of self-empowerment” — surely the best reason to have a baby). Or her attempt at ironically defusing the shock and vitriol she just knew her taboo-busting article would provoke (“Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.”) Or her repeated undermining of her case for settling.

No, the most notable aspect of the story is that Gottlieb is dispensing romantic advice even though she seems to be the kind of person who believes that life is like a romantic comedy. Or rather, that romantic comedies are true to life, and that adults should draw their lessons about life and love from TV and the movies.

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