Funny Gifts, Toys, Novelties and Weird Stuff. | Archie McPhee

“For more than 30 years Archie McPhee has been bringing strange and amazing things to the world. We design and manufacture the kinds of impractical items that make life better.”

https://mcphee.com/

Has your gift game gone soft and you cannot think of an appropriate gift? Know someone that has everything?

Get them an Underpants Wallet, J.P. Patches Lunch Box, or The Cult of Unicorn Fez as a subtle hint that they better speak up if they want good gifts.

Public Opinion Polls, Media & Market Manipulation

“Behind the scenes, a small group of people had a secret—and billions of dollars were at stake. Hedge funds aiming to win big from trades that day had hired YouGov and at least five other polling companies, including Farage’s favorite pollster. Their services, on the day and in the days leading up to the vote, varied, but pollsters sold hedge funds critical, advance information, including data that would have been illegal for them to give the public. Some hedge funds gained confidence, through private exit polls, that most Britons had voted to leave the EU, or that the vote was far closer than the public believed—knowledge pollsters provided while voting was still underway and hours ahead of official tallies. These hedge funds were in the perfect position to earn fortunes by short selling the British pound. Others learned the likely outcome of public, potentially market-moving polls before they were published, offering surefire trades.”

—Cam Simpson, et al. “The Brexit Short: How Hedge Funds Used Private Polls to Make Millions.” Bloomberg. June 24, 2018.

Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag

“30. I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards. Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat…

44. I understood that moving from the condition of a prisoner to the condition of a free man is very difficult, almost impossible without a long period of amortization.”

—Varlam Shalamov. “Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag.” The Paris Review. June 12, 2018.

h/t kottke.org.

Belief vs. Doubt

“Franzen thinks that there’s no way for a writer to do good work — to write something that can be called “consuming and extraordinarily moving” — without putting a fence around yourself so that you can control the input you encounter. So that you could have a thought that isn’t subject to pushback all the time from anyone who has ever met you or heard of you or expressed interest in hearing from you. Without allowing yourself to think for a minute.

It’s not just writers. It’s everyone. The writer is just an extreme case of something everyone struggles with. “On the one hand, to function well, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities and summon enormous confidence from somewhere. On the other hand, to write well, or just to be a good person, you need to be able to doubt yourself — to entertain the possibility that you’re wrong about everything, that you don’t know everything, and to have sympathy with people whose lives and beliefs and perspectives are very different from yours. ‘The internet was supposed to do this for people, but it didn’t. ‘This balancing act’ — the confidence that you know everything plus the ability to believe that you don’t — ‘only works, or works best, if you reserve a private space for it.'”

—Taffy Brodesser-Akner. “Jonathan Franzen Is Fine With All of It.” The New York Times Magazine. June 26, 2018.

Strikes me as the same idea discussed in the “It is the Worry That Made the Work Good” post a few days ago, i.e., you need to have optimism that a solution can be found and skeptical in the approaches you have tried thus far.

After Atlas, Malthus Shrugged

“In 2014 I was visiting a university in Alaska, and happened to sit in on a lecture by the Norwegian policy expert Willy Ostreng about the new geopolitics of the Arctic. After talking about climate change in the Arctic and the increased accessibility to oil and gas, he embarked on a detailed elucidation of the various stakeholders, rivalries, potential for conflict, and developments for exploration. The hall was filled with political science majors, obediently writing down everything, and I kept waiting for some bright-eyed undergraduate to ask how it was possible that the forces that had caused the destabilization of the Arctic were now considering destabilizing it further. But the questions were only about the political and economic details of the situation. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I raised my hand. Citing the increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and the dire predictions of climate scientists, I asked how it was even possible that nations and corporations were considering the commercialization of the Arctic Ocean. Surely our energies would be better spent actively resisting such policies. The audience looked at me as though I had three heads. Ostreng was silent for a moment, then he said: “We will regret it. We will regret it, but this is reality.”

These are some of the most chilling words I’ve ever heard, rivaled only by the obedient silence of the students. One problem with our collective silence on the subject of climate change is that while we pretend life is going to go on as usual, there are others who are deliberately planning for control of a climate-changed world. Imagine a highly militarized, totalitarian, automation-based, habitat-destroying, water-starved future of perpetual war within and among nations, with captive populations ground down by scarcity and failing infrastructure, held in thrall by contrived loyalties and addictions peddled by mass media, where mass extinctions and the deaths of millions of refugees are barely noted except with a Malthusian shrug of the shoulders—while the super-rich live in fortified, climate-protected luxury bunkers or occupy a greening Antarctica and fly to the corporate-owned moon for vacation. It sounds like a bad science fictional dystopia. But some of the steps along that path have already been taken.”

—Vandana Singh, “The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement.” Strange Horizons. September 11, 2017.

Quite possibly the best book review I’ve ever read.

Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World

“I wish, rather, to explore the reasons why so many people choose to commit slow suicide by immersing themselves in the herd mentality and following a way of life that leads to inauthenticity and despair; why so many people so easily and early give up their dreams of a life of freedom for a proverbial mess of pottage, which these days can be translated to mean a consumer’s life, one focused on staying safe by embracing conventional bromides and making sure to never openly question a system based on systemic violence in all its forms; why, despite all evidence to the contrary, so many people embrace getting and spending and the accumulation of wealth in the pursuit of a chimerical “happiness” that leaves them depressed and conscience dead. Why so many people do not rebel but wish to take their places on this ship of fools.”

—Edward Curtain. “Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World.” Countercurrents. June 22, 2018.

Politics as Cult

“…members of “totalistic” cults—those that consider their ideology the one true path—share four key characteristics. They 1) espouse an all-encompassing belief system; 2) exhibit excessive devotion to the leader; 3) avoid criticism of the group and its leader; and 4) feel disdain for non-members.”

—Tom Jacobs. “A Cult Expert Finds Familiar Patterns of Behavior in Trump’s GOP.” Pacific Standard. June 21, 2018.

I know people with liberal politics love diagnosing what is wrong with Trump and the Republican party in the United States. But, this criteria is every bit as relevant to Democratic politics as the GOP in the United States. Believe that your country has no business spending a half a trillion dollars a year on the military and maintaining almost 1,000 military bases abroad? Both major U.S. political parties subscribe to that notion and cannot even entertain the possibility that it might not be a good idea to spend this way on war.

It is the Worry That Made the Work Good

“To write good software you must simultaneously keep two opposing ideas in your head. You need the young hacker’s naive faith in his abilities, and at the same time the veteran’s skepticism. You have to be able to think how hard can it be? with one half of your brain while thinking it will never work with the other.

The trick is to realize that there’s no real contradiction here. You want to be optimistic and skeptical about two different things. You have to be optimistic about the possibility of solving the problem, but skeptical about the value of whatever solution you’ve got so far.

People who do good work often think that whatever they’re working on is no good. Others see what they’ve done and are full of wonder, but the creator is full of worry. This pattern is no coincidence: it is the worry that made the work good.”

—Paul Graham. “Being Popular.” paulgraham.com. May 2001.

Optimism that a solution to whatever problem you are tackling can be solved, and skepticism in whatever solution you’ve managed to find or create, thus far, is perhaps one of the great lessons of how to approach life.