Our story picks of the week, from the Dallas Morning News, Narratively, The Atlantic, The Awl and GQ, with a guest pick by Rebecca Hiscott.
A look at the culture and politics of something we all do: poop:
Consider the difficulties of your everyday life if you had to wade through wet fields or even an idyllic garden to get to a leafy area to shit or to an outhouse to take a crap, and if you couldn’t simply flush it away with a quick movement of the hand but had to worry about the sanitary requirements of seeing that the shit didn’t simply turn into a disease-harboring pile or smear your clothes or return with you into the home.
Consider what your day would look like if you had to go in a bucket, constantly rake over your own shit and that of others, being careful to cover it with enough composting material so that it didn’t simply turn into, well, a pile of shit that, again, spread disease amongst everyone in your household.
For many millions of people, shit is not something you hold on to but rapidly want to get away from, as soon as you’re done. For the eager shit activists in cities like Chicago and New York, composting is a way to prove their fealty to the planet or their credibility.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6409 words)
In 2011, we highlighted an essay called “Weekend at Kermie’s,”
by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens
, published by The Awl
. Stevens is now back with a new Muppet-inspired Kindle Serial called “Make Art Make Money,”
part how-to, part Jim Henson history:
"The real breakthrough in Henson’s career—the thing that would make him a mogul—was Sesame Street. It debuted in 1969, a good fifteen years into Henson’s television career. Because it taught children across the country, Henson became a household name, and through Sesame Street toys, Henson became a millionaire. In short, merchandizing is the 'secret' to Henson’s success. However, licensing toys, to Henson, felt like selling out. Before he became a mogul, he had to find a good reason to do so."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4102 words)
"The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.
"The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.
"The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.
"Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. 'Ahhhh,' it thinks. 'Yes. A goatee.'"
PUBLISHED: July 25, 2013
LENGTH: 5 minutes (1312 words)
Can one find clarity at a Kundalini Yoga retreat? A first-person account from the Summer Solstice Sadhana Celebration:
"Japji was written sometime in the 16th century by Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Sikh gurus. It was written in Gurmukhi. It takes about twenty minutes to recite and what it mostly says is A. it is good to chant God’s name and B. you can’t comprehend how great God is so you need to chant his name and C. doing so is the only way you will really make any headway in life, so don’t bother trying to figure life out, really, it’s too complicated, so you should just chant God’s name.
"I don’t believe in God, really, or maybe I do. Either way, metaphorically, that all makes a lot of sense to me."
PUBLISHED: July 10, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4637 words)
This week's picks include stories from the Cincinnati Enquirer, The Walrus, Texas Monthly, Outside and The Awl, plus a guest pick by Rustin Dodd.
S.I. Newhouse's contentious appointment of Robert Gottlieb as the editor of The New Yorker in 1987, and what Gottlieb did to bring the magazine into a new era:
"Orlean was an early Gottlieb-era hire. 'She came in off the street,' said McGrath, her Talk of the Town editor (though, she noted, Gottlieb was often her second reader). 'She came into my office and, in the space of a twenty-minute conversation, she had about a hundred ideas for stories, and about eighty of them were good.'
"Orlean laughed about this. 'By the standards of The New Yorker I was being brought in off the street. I had a book contract; I was writing for Rolling Stone and The Boston Globe, so that's hilarious. That's so classic of The New Yorker to feel that if you weren't at The New Yorker you were essentially homeless and living hand-to-mouth on crap.'
"'When I got there the mood was not very nice,' she said. Orlean was unusual among New Yorker writers, most of whom, she said, had spent their careers at the magazine and hadn't written for other publications. 'It's a little bit like, I wasn't a virgin, and more typically people came to The New Yorker as virgins. They came into their adulthood there.' The place was cliquey, she said, but that has since dissipated, in no small part because Gottlieb brought in so many writers who 'weren't born in the manger.' At this point, 'that aristocratic, inbred feel—that if you weren't there from birth you didn't deserve to be there—has really dissolved.'"
PUBLISHED: July 3, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4379 words)
Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs are currently being heralded as the future of affordable education. But what kind of education will it actually provide?
"Everybody loves the idea of lowering the barriers of entry to education; it's the easiest sell in the world, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit, pushes all the right buttons. Khan's success thus paved the way for MOOC providers to employ a rhetoric of inclusiveness, simplicity, low cost, and metrics, metrics, metrics: the same reasoning that today drives everything from 'philanthrocapitalist' foundation spending to high-stakes standardized testing.
"But the shortcomings of the Khan approach will be evident to anyone who cares to have a go at 'US History Overview 1: Jamestown to the Civil War,' the 18:28 minute video-with-voiceover class I chose at random from the Khan website. Within the first two minutes Khan has disposed of over a century, blowing past Jamestown ('a kind of commercial settlement') and Plymouth Rock ('we always learned this in school, you know, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower sailing the oceans blue and all the rest') and 'fast-forwarding' to 1754. It's not even a flashcard approach; it's a series of lacunae, startlingly free of insight or context, mentioning not one single book or author, and only one political or religious figure (George Washington) in the nine minutes I watched. I've seen more informative cereal boxes."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 31, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4608 words)
What if there were a flagship McDonald's store that served all the variations of country-specific fast food items found in chains from around the world?
"Everyone talks about how globalization 'McDonalds-izes' the world, but the funny thing about a place like New York is that you can get basically every kind of food *except* whatever they serve at the foreign outposts of our proud American chains. I would say I know more people who have had a lamb face salad from the Xi'an Famous Foods in the Golden Mall in Flushing than have had the poutine from the Montreal McDonalds, never mind something you really have to travel for, like a Chicken Maharaja Mac. Frequently, when I travel outside of the USA, my trips to the local McDonald's are the most genuinely foreign-feeling and disorienting part of the trip. I went to Paris last year. There are probably ten restaurants within walking distance of my old Williamsburg apartment that are varyingly obsessive imitations of Parisian bistros, Parisian bars, Parisian brasseries. If they were hung in museums, the wall texts next to them would say 'School of Keith McNally.' But there is not a single place in New York that serves a Croque McDo."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2406 words)