stuff and things


Apr, 2013

California’s Silicon Valley is a microcosm of America’s new extremes of wealth and poverty. Business is better than it’s been in a decade. Facebook, Google and Apple have minted hundreds of new tech millionaires. But not far away, the homeless are building tent cities along a creek in the city of San Jose. Homelessness rose 20 percent in the past two years, food stamp participation is at a 10-year high, and the average income for Hispanics, who make up a quarter of the population, fell to a new low of about $19,000 a year — in a place where the average rent is $2000 a month.

[ORIGINAL: By Moyers & Company, via UpWorthy]


Apr, 2013

Excerpts from Boston Review’s interview with Larissa MacFarquhar:

David Johnson: How did you become interested in extreme cases of moral virtue?

Larissa MacFarquhar: I’ve been interested in them for a long time, but one of the things I read that got me thinking in a more systematic way was the philosopher Susan Wolf’s essay “Moral Saints.” [PDF] She argues that our conceptions of perfect moral virtue (what she calls saintliness) and of a well-lived life are irreconcileable, so one of them has to go. She is basically anti-saint—she concludes that it’s our view of morality that has to go. I tend towards the other conclusion, but her essay was very useful in framing the question. It seemed to me, though, that you couldn’t think about the problem only in the abstract. If you want to consider the cost of making certain ethical decisions, you have to see how they play out in actual lives. So that’s why I decided to write about people who have a very demanding sense of moral duty and live their lives accordingly.


DJ: So are you writing a defense of moral saints?

LM: More or less, yes. And part of the book will be a history of a kind of counter-morality that opposes what I’m calling saintliness. (Obviously that term has religious connotations, but I don’t intend those; I mean extreme morality.) I find the people I’m writing about extremely admirable, and I’m puzzled by the suspicion they attract. When I started working on this project I was simply interested in what a life lived according to certain kinds of moral strictures looked like. But when I wrote about people who had donated one of their kidneys to a stranger, I was astonished and fascinated to hear about how much hostility they had encountered, and I wanted to think about what was behind that.

DJ: Outsiders were suspicious.

LM: They were. But in all sorts of different ways. Some thought people who appeared to be extremely ethical must be somehow cheating—that they couldn’t actually be doing all those good things. Others believed they were doing those things, but they found that so weird that they thought they must have some kind of mental illness—that they must lack the ordinary component of desires or feelings, or that there was something robotic about them.


DJ: Susan Wolf is certainly right that we find moral saints problematic. But what are we getting wrong when we view them skeptically?

LM: If the suspicion is hypocrisy, I think we underestimate the sort of people I’m writing about—it’s entirely possible to live an extremely ethical life without being hypocritical. But besides that, I think people overvalue certain kinds of sins. For instance, many people have said to me, when they hear who I’m writing about, ‘Well, don’t they just act morally to make themselves feel better? Don’t they get all self-righteous and overly proud of themselves?’ I think that pride and self-righteousness are far less important than most people seem to think they are. I think that if you’re doing something that’s hard to do and good to do, and that makes you feel proud, I just don’t see why that’s so terrible. One kidney donor told me that his donation made him feel better about himself—that it was one really good thing he’d done in his life, which he had otherwise made a pretty complete mess of. Some psychologists think you shouldn’t donate in order to feel better about yourself, but it strikes me as an excellent reason!

What’s more, I think what is criticized as self-righteousness or preachiness is often the result of a desire to further whatever cause the person is engaged in. If a person held back from talking about his cause out of a desire to appear less self righteous, that would be its own problem—and a much more serious one. The people I’m going to talk about tonight encounter this problem all the time and they wrestle with it.


DJ: One thing I find is that for people not brought up in religious households, religion seems bizarre. They can’t understand how anybody could even care about the problems that religious people focus on. How have you approached religious figures that you’ve written about? How have you grappled with the fact that you haven’t had the same internal tensions or experiences that they’ve had?

LM: The people I’m writing about are very unlike me in a whole range of ways, so that’s just one of them. I deal with it the same way I would deal with anything else, which is to listen to what they say and try to ask the right questions. I do ask what difference God makes to their ethical beliefs, but it’s as hard for them to imagine a world without faith as it is for me to imagine a world with it.

Kimberley Brown-Whale, a Methodist minister whom I wrote about in my kidney donor piece, described a difference between religious people such as herself and secular people that was very enlightening. She said that if you believe in God, you believe in grace, and so you don’t think it’s up to you to fix the world—that’s God’s business. Your job is to do your duty as best you can, but there’s never this sense that if I don’t do it, there will be disaster. God is in control, and God’s love will see the world through. Whereas for secular people, it’s all up to us. We’re alone here. That’s why I think that, for secular people, there can be an additional layer of urgency and despair.

I also think that, within many religious traditions, there is a much more of an acceptance of suffering as a part of life and not necessarily always a terrible thing, because it can help you become a fuller person. Whereas, at least in my limited experience, secular utilitarians hate suffering. They see nothing good in it, they want to eliminate it, and they see themselves as responsible for doing so.

Link to the full interview at Boston Review. [via Leiter Reports]


Apr, 2013

Directed by Ryan Staake (

Dominos & Kinetics: Kinetic King (Tim Fort)
Production Companies: Pier Pictures and Pomp&Clout (
Directors of Photography/Steadicam: TS Pfeffer & Robert McHugh
Gaffer/AC/DIT: Jacob Ritley
Post Production: Pomp&Clout
Sound Design: Aaron Wallace

Shot at The Ohage House, St. Paul, MN (
Arrow Wireless HDMI transmitter graciously provided by Paralinx (

Behind The Scenes:

[via co.CREATE]


Apr, 2013

One of my favorite fashion videos of last year was “A Date With The Night” which introduced me to the work of Rebecca Hart (also known as Rebecca Bone) and director Tom Mitchell. The duo team up again in GRINDHOUSE, effectively emulating the grungy style of 1970s exploitation films. This piece fits right in with similar homages to the genre such as those from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

Directed, Filmed and Edited by
Tom Mitchell

Rebecca Hart
Twitter: @RebeccaxHart
Instagram: @RebeccaxHart
Tumblr: rebeccaxhart.tumblr
Model Mayhem:

Music © Varèse Sarabande


Apr, 2013

Vimeo works. Blip works. DailyMotion works. Porn sites work. YouTube? Needs special attention.

YouTube’s performance has been going downhill for over a year now. It started gradually. Videos would take longer and longer to buffer. It used to be possible to pause a video and allow it to load for a while so that it would play all the way through without stopping. Then that stopped working. Pausing the video also paused the buffering. Videos would only buffer as the video was playing and then only a few seconds ahead. Later, videos would buffer partially and stop.  Buffer a little then stop. Buffer. Stop. Red light. Green light. Until the five minute video was finally complete…twenty minutes later.

Even as annoying as that scenario was, somehow I built up the mental  fortitude to deal with it without complaint. First world problems. But recently, YouTube videos have literally become unwatchable. That’s not hyperbole. True story: I attempted to watch a few videos and each refused to even play! Even after refreshing the browser, clearing the cache and all that other nonsense techs tell you to do that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.

YouTube totally gave up. It just quit. Rolled over on its back and died. This is a massive problem for a video site to have. Videos should be watchable as opposed to not watchable IMHO.

And I’m not the only one who has experienced this issue. In fact, my experience is predated by many others. There are countless threads on the Google Groups forums going as far back as 2009. Clearly this issue is widespread and growing. Not just in the U.S. But also worldwide.

The strongest theories regarding the reason for this issue include: YouTube servers misbehaving, YouTube having a scaling issue or a glitchy update, and/or ISP throttling. But so far, the theories are really just guess work. No one seems to have any hard evidence of any theory because YouTube is mum about the issue and ISPs are tight lipped, leaving users to seek out and discover a solution for themselves. One thing seems clear however: the problem doesn’t appear to be you, dear Internet User. Your Internet speed is not the problem. The size of the video you’re trying to view is not the problem. Your browser is not the problem. Your operating system is not the problem. It is a YouTube/ISP problem. And it doesn’t appear that they are rushing to fix it.

Of all the various solutions being tossed around—not by YouTube or ISPs, but from fellow users like you and me—most didn’t work for me at all. One worked temporarily (Thank you, Mitch). Another is currently working for me (Thank you, Ashish ). But I’m not confident any solution is going to be permanent. Workarounds have a history of being temporary. Because they don’t get to the heart of the problem, which is the job of YouTube and the ISPs.

But thank you to all the users seeking and sharing solutions. As of now, I’m back to watching cats play with vacuums and twerkin’ videos.


Apr, 2013

From Jezebel:

“Sketches,” a new project from Dove, is an interesting look at self-esteem and ingrained standards of beauty. As seen in the clip above, the experiment involves women sitting down in a room with forensic artist Gil Zamora. They are separated by a curtain: He doesn’t see them; they can’t see what he’s doing. Zamora asks the women to describe their faces, feature by feature.

“Tell me about your chin,” he prompts.

“It kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile,” one woman says.

After Zamora is finished drawing each woman, a stranger who has just met each of the women who have been drawn comes in and Zamora starts a new sketch, based on the stranger’s description. The end result? When the women described themselves, the sketches showed faces full of “flaws”; when a stranger described them, the sketches were more accurate and more flattering. In the video, one woman tears up as she realizes her self-description resulted in a “fatter, sadder” version of herself, while a stranger saw her as “open, friendly and happy.”

Dove explains:

Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. At Dove, we are committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. So, we decided to conduct a compelling social experiment that explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see.

We know this. We know this! We know that we’re inundated with zillions of cultural cues, thanks to advertising, magazines, movies and TV shows. Skin should be clear, wrinkle-free and poreless, faces symmetrical, noses straight and pert, teeth Chiclet-white, hair shiny, cheekbones prominent, eyes big and framed by long lashes. We know this. We know a woman’s self-esteem plummets after looking at a woman’s magazine or Facebook — and even plus-size models make women feel like crap. Brands and magazines release lists of the most beautiful or the sexiest women and they are always thin, with symmetrical faces, narrow noses and wide eyes. Our culture breeds an atmosphere in which it feels like makeup is not a choice. A woman can always be improved, is never good enough the way she is. The number one go-to insult for a woman is always “fat and ugly,” since our society rewards, praises and exalts the thin and pretty. The entire system is set up to have us believe they are the only ones “worth” something.

Dove has been committed to the social mission of building positive self-esteem for years; in 2004 the brand launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty; in 2006 the Dove Self-Esteem Fund was started. The company actually conducted a similar experiment in 2009 and 2011. All well and good, but let’s not forget: Dove is owned by Unilever. Unilever sells the infamous skin-lightening cream Fair and Lovely in India. Unilever also shills Axe, the bodyspray for men that often employs sexist advertising. (And yes, Unilever also owns Ben & Jerry’s, yum.)

That said, the experiment does reinforce some truths, both sad and interesting. Women are conditioned to play down our looks; as discussed, most of us seldom utter the words “I’m pretty.” On the other hand, women aim to please and are conditioned to be polite, so of course the strangers described the women using flattering terms and didn’t say, “she had deep wrinkles in her forehead,” or “her eyes were small,” even if they noticed. Or maybe they did notice, but didn’t feel it was important. The underlying lesson — that we’re hard on ourselves and stuff like a protruding chin or large forehead isn’t a big deal unless you make it a big deal — is one worth learning and holding on to. The experiment definitely leaves you wondering how you would describe yourself, and how it might vary from the way others would describe you. It’s unclear whether or not this sells Dove soap/lotion/bodywash, but it certainly raises brand awareness, and you might just look at the shelf and think, you know what, Dove cares about my feelings, I’ll try this deodorant that’s supposed to make my armpits better.

Oh, and as a YouTube commenter points out:

This experiment probably has the opposite results for men.

Dove ‘Sketches’ Examines Women’s Perception of Themselves [AdRants]

Dove Real Beauty Sketches [Dove]

Earlier: Why Don’t Women Say ‘I’m Pretty?’ Here Are Ten Reasons


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