November 25, 2011

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Steve Jobs's death on October 5 shocked the world, even though his illness guaranteed it sooner than later. Millions realized how significantly he changed our lives and the Internet was abuzz with expressions of sadness and gratitude. I was super impressed by TIME's last-minute decision to stop the presses with three hours left to close and recreate the issue to commemorate his death. A reflection from TIME's art director describes the process in more detail; it's really amazing. The cover photo was so moving. It was perfect, capturing Steve Jobs on the floor of his living room with his Mac, before he could imagine the success he would experience in the coming decades.

But it was Newsweek's commemorative issue that blew me away. Granted, I think they had more time to put it together. While TIME's issue was not entirely devoted to Steve Jobs (I believe they still ran much of the original intended content), Newsweek pulled together a wide range of excellent editorial solely devoted to the man. It included, yeah, the typical articles reiterated everywhere about both his early life (adoption, high school partnership with Steve Wozniak, dropping out of college, LSD in India, etc.), and how he ultimately changed the world with his innovation and eye for good design. But it also included an essay about Steve's relationship with Laurene Powell Jobs, the "apple of his eye," and an essay about his relationship with Bill Gates. It included an excerpt from his famous Stanford University commencement speech, another from a conversation between him and screenwriter/producer Aaron Sorkin, and an in depth look at the disease that killed him. Several infographics tracked: his magazine covers, his "geek chic" fashion, the businesses he transformed (computers, movies, videogames, music, phones), the gadgets he created, and his flops. It included an essay about the geniuses who came before him and a thought-provoking essay about the geniuses who we will never know. Quotes demonstrated how Steve Jobs foresaw many innovations. I loved the excellent photography of worldwide tributes and of the young Steve. The sad mac on the inside cover: minor detail but nice touch. It was a well-rounded tribute to Steve Jobs's life and career, and I really enjoyed reading it and recommend to all. (Try to find a print issue, because articles are nearly impossible to find on the Daily Beast)


When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7.30 in the morning and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for "prepare to die". It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumour. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful, but purely intellectual, concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

November 24, 2011

It often takes a disaster to get people thinking about their power

If someone had pitched the cover story about the Ashkenazi Jews to me, I'm not sure I would have run with it. But it worked and lended itself to a great cover (and great opening spread photograph).

I really liked Robert Sullivan's "A Slight Chance of Meltdown." It alerted me to the conflicts surrounding Indian Point, a nuclear power plant so close to home. I thought Sullivan did a great job of presenting both sides of the conflicts and demonstrating that, we kind of lose either way. (At least until we find alternative sources of energy).

"It often takes a disaster, or the threat of one, anyway, to get people thinking about their power--otherwise they just plug in or charge it overnight, without giving a second thought to where those electrons are born."

"The magnitude-5.8 quake in Virginia hit in the vicinity of the North Anna nuclear plant with twice the amount of ground movement the structure was designed for, cracking a wall of a reactor's containment unit and shifting the concrete pads under casks that store used nuclear fuel. It was the first time an operating U.S. nuclear plant experienced a tremor that exceeded its design parameters."

"If there was a fire in the reactor, then Indian Point would, by regulation, begin to shut down. Fortunately, if the sprinkler system was damaged in the quake, then workers could turn to the additional fire requirement and backup generators installed after 9/11. Unfortunately, the scenario that involves enough shaking to damage the reactor building also involves damage to the buildings containing the emergency fire equipment. Indian Point would then call in local fire officials, who, Entergy boasts, are well prepared to deal with radiation releases. But suppose this quake has damaged area transportation routes. Suppose trees and wires are down and the plant is running on backup power. Suppose emergency officials are dealing with other buildings that have collapsed on emergency equipment: A 2001 study argued that a magnitude-7 quake in nearby Bergen County would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000. In this scenario, the fire spreads and the reactor is no longer under control."

"As far as releases of radiation go, the NRC mandates only a ten-mile evacuation area for Indian Point. In other words, official policy states that New York City would be spared any sizable risk from a meltdown. But perhaps it's more sensible to look at what the NRC had to say in Japan. After the Fukushima meltdown, the NRC told Americans living there to clear out of a 50-mile zone. Subsequently, the Japanese government declared huge swathes of land uninhabitable for decades. The local 50-mile equivalent is a circle defined by Kingston to the north; Bridgeport, Connecticut, to the east; the Delaware Water Gap to the west; and the southern tip of Staten Island to the south. It includes all of the 8.2 million people living in New York City."

"If you agree with the governor that this small risk of contamination of 2.7 percent of the U.S. population is not worth the benefit of nuclear power, then you have to come up with some other way to replace the 2,000 megawatts of energy Indian Point currently provides to New York City and Westchester." The image of a dark Times Square mentioned later in this graf was pretty powerful. Never even thought about how much energy is required to keep Times Square lit, more today than ever before, I think.

"Entergy poses a good question: If you are against the possible destruction of New York City by Indian Point, and also against the as-yet-unquantifiable possibility of watershed damage caused by fracking, and at the same time against summer blackouts and all their attendant public-health and safety issues, is there anything left to be for?"

Also thought Gabriel Sherman did some great reporting for his story about Elisabeth Murdoch; James Murdoch (her brother) resigned from the boards of News Group's newspapers yesterday. Think this family has a long way to go before any good is associated with their name.

I also haven't really mentioned the Strategist section, but it's always solid. Loved Art of the Feast, the holiday food guide. Almost decided to make one of the featured dishes for today, but yeaaaahh, not happening.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2011

In those days, nothing happened without men.

Loved this issue's cover story, an oral history to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launch of Ms. magazine. I love oral histories! Sometimes it's just better to let the sources tell the story. Aside from learning about how this magazine changed so many women, liberating them, giving them a voice, I really enjoyed learning about the challenges of starting the magazine. Doing so in the face of that adversity made it all the more interesting. But just the tidbits about brainstorming the name of the magazine, the covers, story ideas. I loved that. Coming up with the money. The conflicts about representing diversity--how they wanted to more often but had to consider their Southern readers. The letters to the editor and commentary after the first preview issue (especially the negative ones). I don't identify myself as a feminist. (Not even sure what it means today). I'm not sure of what kind of woman I would have been in the 1970s. I'm not sure I would have been the bra-less, sign-bearing, vocal protester (though who knows). But I think I would have loved the provocative, thought-provoking, intelligent nature of the magazine. It went there. Also, what really hit home was the mention of the limited opportunities women had to become journalists. Not until I read it did I realize there was a time when being a journalist would not have been an option for me.

Pogrebin: In those days, nothing happened without men. You needed one man to be nice to you and then maybe you could run with it.

Milton Glaser (New York design director, 1968–77): We worked right out of the office and started simultaneously doing our weekly magazine. We really felt, all of us, that we were on the brink of a moment in time.

Steinem: It had a universality because it’s harking back to a mythic image—the many-armed Indian God image. And it solved our problem of being racially “multibiguous” because she’s blue: not any one race. (on the cover)

Pogrebin: We chose Ms. because it could be explained and justified—since “Mister” or “Mr.” doesn’t communicate a man’s marital status, why should women carry “Miss” or “Mrs.,” as if to advertise their availability as mates?

Louise Bernikow (contributor, 1970s): The story was my politics-is-personal moment. I grew up knowing “girls couldn’t,” and when it came to being writers, I knew that I couldn’t be a reporter for the New York Times or Newsday; I could only be a researcher. But I had never put it together in terms of the pyramid that the story reveals.

President Nixon to Henry Kissinger on White House Audiotapes, 1972 
Nixon: [Dan Rather] asked a silly goddamn question about Ms.—you know what I mean?
Kissinger: Yeah.
Nixon: For shit’s sake, how many people really have read Gloria Steinem and give one shit about that?

New York Times Headline, March 22, 1972:
“In Small Town U.S.A., Women’s Liberation Is Either a Joke or a Bore.”

Gillespie: The magazine, despite its flaws, provided so many words that had been missing. So many silences finally broken. Ms. changed lives, changed attitudes, helped to create and change laws, policies, practices.


I was also thoroughly amused by the 2,000+ word feature about rats in New York City. Rats have become kind of an inside joke with a few of my friends. They always come up in conversation somehow and we freak. One of my friends has experienced unpleasant encounters. Did you know rats can collapse their skeletons to fit through a hole no bigger than a quarter?

November 20, 2011

Our class war will rage on without winners indefinitely.

The Class War Has Begun by Frank Rich is excellent and my favorite of this issue. I feel about Occupy Wall Street and the protesters about the same way that Sam Graham-Felsen in Noreen Malone's "The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright" feels: "Even just the physical style, the types of chants, the stuff that they're eating, the granola--it's just so derivative of the sixties," he said. "It's like, 'Guys, let's do something that's more our generation.'" I'm just annoyed with them, frankly. I get it. But I think they're going about it the wrong way. But anyway. It was really refreshing to read this article by Frank Rich that evaluated the movement by using historical context and a different perspective.

Excerpt "Elections are supposed to resolve conflicts in a great democracy, but our next one will not. The elites will face off against the elites to a standoff, and the issues animating the class war in both parties won't even be on the table. The structural crises in our economy, our government, and our culture defy any of the glib solutions proposed by current Democrats or Republicans; the quixotic third-party movements being hatched by well-heeled do-gooders are vanity productions. The two powerful forces that extricated America from the Great Depression--the courageous leadership and reformist zeal of Roosevelt, the mobilization for World War II--are not on offer this time. Our class war will rage on without winners indefinitely, with all sides stewing in their own juices, until--when? No one knows. The reckoning with capitalism's failures over the past three decades, both in America and the globe beyond, may well be on hold until the top one percent becomes persuaded that its own economic fate is tied to the other 99 percent's. Which is to say things may have to get worse before they get better." 

The annotations are also excellent! And as an intern, I helped! I retrieved the first, congressional testimony, "Don't Forget Me for a Job," from the Center for Legislative Archives. Was told that editor in chief Adam Moss was so moved by the testimony he cried. I transcribed part of the second, "The Coffee Summit," as well as met Eliot Spitzer and got him the coffee when he came to the office to do the interview (ha, bizarre, but true). 

"The Romney Economy" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells is also a good read, as is Logan Hill's profile of Anton Yelchin (I helped transcribe most of this interview and I hated Anton Yelchin by the end of it, haha. Thought Logan did a good job of illustrating Anton's essence in so few words without imposing any of his own opinions and letting the readers interpret for themselves. To Anton's credit, I've heard Like Crazy was amazing).

November 11, 2011

If the answer matters, you've got your answer.

Another excerpt from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. In honor of Veterans Day? I don't know.

"You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let's say, and afterward you ask, "Is it true?" and if the answer matters, you've got your answer. For example, we've all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies. Is it true? The answer matters. You'd feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it's just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen--and maybe it did, anything's possible--even then you know it can't be true, because a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie, another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth. For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it's a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, "The fuck you do that for?" and the jumper says, "Story of my life, man," and the other guy starts to smile but he's dead. That's a true story that never happened." (p. 80).

November 10, 2011

Managing our decline.

"The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright," in the October 24 issue of New York Magazine aimed to analyze the current post-recession "post-hope" generation. I really wanted to love it. I had the biggest issue with her sources. Noreen Malone placed too much of herself, her experiences, her sister, her friends and acquaintances, in an article that was supposed to describe a group comprised of an entire generation, people from all walks of life. She seemed to know most of the sources beforehand (with the exception of Yaphet Murphy, an Occupy Wall Street protester later eliminated from the article for lying about his age, and thus, not fitting into the demographic). They all looked the same: white, Brooklyn residents (We all know which parts right? One, she described, had a "Brooklyn beard." What does that even mean?), members of middle class (or higher) families, who followed their dreams (woodworking or English, for example) and are now either stuck and hating it or stuck and loving it. No interviews with minorities, community college students, few with residents of the outer boroughs. No interviews with people of the generation who have perhaps beaten odds (low-income families) but found success through perseverance and hard work (they're out there).

I think she wrestles a lot with her point. I think she feels the way the title implies, that we're sort of alright, but is told otherwise by her research, sources, society. She ends by explaining a term she's often heard of: managed decline. "That's what we're doing when we decide that we can be okay with having more unpredictable careers and more modest lifestyles, if that's what's in store: Even as we hold out hope that something will reverse the trajectory, we are managing our decline, we are making do."

I agree. But between the awful transitions, beers with her Brooklyn sources/friends, analyses of songs from indie artists I'm sure most of our generation has not heard of, and one awful lamp metaphor, she did not support her conclusion.


It seems like most of the commenters for this story agreed.

More from this issue:

1. After the Rapture by Dan P. Lee -- Kind of amazing to me that Harold Camping was able to convince thousands that the world would end, first on May 21, and then on October 21. Dan P. Lee describes when Camping had a stroke: "As Camping was eating, God entered his body--for it would have to have been this way, there was no other possibility--coalescing several cells into a tiny clot of lipids that traveled through his bloodstream by the beating of his heart to a narrow bend in a tiny vessel in his brain. As Shirley stood by him in the dining room, the ambulance en route, inside his skull, God began suffocating Camping's brain cells." So good.

2. "I Was No Longer Afraid to Die. I was Now Afraid Not to Die." by Boris Kachka -- First, kind of weird that the title is a quote from the article. Second, I confess. I had no idea who Joan Didion is... still really don't, as I didn't read the whole article. But I loved the lede: "Reading Joan Didion on any subject is like tiptoeing across a just-frozen pond filled with beautiful sharks. You look down and pray the ice will hold. Meeting her is not a vastly different experience. Opening the door to her cavernous Upper East Side apartment, the writer murmurs a monotone "hello" but doesn't shake hands. There's bottled water, she says, waving in the direction of a double-size Sub-Zero in her double-size kitchen. She wears a sun-faded white sleeveless skirt-suit fashioned from the raw silk curtains in her old house in Brentwood. She is 76 but looks older. She has always been birdlike, five two and wire-thin, but never quite this frail. Her arms are translucent river systems of veins. Her face is worn, unyielding. "She doesn't express it," says her agent and friend Lynn Nesbit, but you can see the pain in her face.""

3. How to Survive a Zombie Attack by Dan Kois -- I was both amused by and extremely impressed with this five-page spread. Might be my favorite part of the issue. I would have probably argued that five pages is too many to devote to zombies, but it really works. It called on the expertise of a wide range of people, including Stephen King, professors, neuroscientists, producers and museum curators, to give useful advice for hypothetical (impossible?) situations. It was extremely well-done, educational, and fun to read.