The modern university should be less divided, not more: Rebutting "Let's Abolish Social Science"


Leonardo wouldn't have done well at the New University

Michael Lind’s call for the abolition of the social sciences and his vision of a future university in which the humanities and sciences are housed in separate facilities that turn their backs on each other is a sad indictment of the state of American education. That such a proposition could even be entertained demonstrates the failures of our discipline-based silos, our relentless competition for resources, and our ossified structures of knowledge. But this cleaving of science from humanities is based on a deep misunderstanding not only of the social sciences, but also of the sciences as a whole and their relation to the arts and humanities.
More… “Abolish the Walls”



Norman Rockwell’s depiction of a bustling small-town journalism office (a nearly extinct species) is being sold by its owner, the National Press Club. More than half a century after the painting was donated by the artist, the organization has decided to sell it in order to fund future endeavors. Oh, the irony. (Washington Post)

In the wake of the 11th mass shooting since President Obama took office, officials and media near Umpqua Community College and across the country have abstained from naming the shooter unless absolutely necessary. Their hope: If his name doesn’t go down in infamy, maybe other would-be copycats won’t follow in his footsteps. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Try to think about yourself in four dimensions. What form does your path through space-time take? The answer may take you all the way to the source of human consciousness. (Nautilus) •

Two theories of world literature


Goethe, the father of world literature

Can world literature exist? It depends on what is meant by world literature.

The phrase Weltliteratur was coined by Goethe. The German polymath told his disciple Johann Peter Eckermann in 1827: “I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at times to hundreds and hundreds of men…. National literature is now a rather unmeaning term, the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach.”

But what is world literature? World literature comes in two alternate, conceivable versions: contemporary world literature and global classicism. Contemporary world literature is the literature of contemporary societies — particularly works of literature that obtain an international reputation. Global classicism might be described as contemporary literature inspired by the multiple traditions of the premodern regional literate civilizations of Eurasia, including the Chinese, Indian, Greco-Roman, Euro-Christian, and Muslim.
More… “World Books”

October 5th has a history of monkey business.



On this day in 2007, Barry Neild wrote about his fear of a real-life Planet of the Apes. Two years later, Andrea Calabretta told the story of how her love for cute primates led to an unfortunate encounter with and subsequent wariness of the furry creatures. It seems as though we have a history of stories about close encounters of the simian kind posted on October 5th — read them both and keep it going.

More… “Primate Instincts”

India's fair complexion obsession


India's fair complexion obsession

When Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in 2014, she was the first Indian American in the pageant’s history to win. But she wasn’t America’s – or even India’s – favorite. Tweets such as “I swear I’m not racist, but this is America” and even “9/11 was four days ago and she gets Miss America?” followed her victory. In India, rather than celebrating a daughter’s success in the land of the gore lok, the white people, many were perplexed when they noted the color of her skin. They considered her complexion too dark to be beautiful. Had she entered the Miss India pageant, she would have been advised to “fix” her skin tone.

My family is from India, and I, along with many Indian-American women, can empathize with Nina. We face confusion from the Americans (“But where are you from?”) and scrutiny from the motherland, which we visit only once every few years but remain fiercely connected to regardless. India is my second home, Pune city in Maharashtra state is my favorite city in the world, and I am proud of my Indian heritage. Yet I have developed deep resentment specifically for India’s obsession with fair skin. In my earlier trips, relatives “recommended” that I stay out of the sun, and they emphasized that a “dark face” is not an attractive one. I, at 10 years old, told them about genetics, but the comments didn’t stop. While India has a range of skin tones, varying from olive to chocolate brown, the vast majority falls at the latter end of the spectrum and ironically envies the small percentage on the other side.
More… “Fair Game”


The slow march of "peak" color.

Today, the damp wind outside the Smart Set office has a not-so-summery edge. It’s got us all talking about fall food and fashions (soups and sweaters, respectively) and looking forward to October days with a little less rain and a little more sunshine. To best take advantage of those days, let Jesse Smith be your guide to a little-known branch of the autumn tourist industry.

Not everyone sees fall as so gloomy, or fall foliage viewing as so formless an activity — state tourism and environmental agencies, for instance. Where you see red and orange and yellow, they see green, and they’re all scrambling to grab as much as they can from what are affectionately known in New England as leaf peepers. It sounds like a pretty dog-eat-dog industry. •

Read It: Peepin’ Ain’t Easy by Jesse Smith



From Mad Men and White Collar to Dirty Jobs and Grey’s Anatomy, TV may tell us a lot about how we view our work — and, moreover, how we should. For some, it’s just a job, but for others, it’s a life calling. Maybe we can learn more about our professions by staying on the couch than we can by joining the workforce. (Aeon)

Ad blockers are gaining popularity, maybe because they can save mobile users more than just the headaches caused by strobe-like video ads. A new report by the New York Times shows that, depending on the ratio of advertising to content, blockers can shave seconds off loading times and cents off data bills for each page. (The New York Times)

There’s a constant battle to explain why the rising price of a college education seems to raise demand, defying the usual models. There’s a term for this — a Veblen good — and it’s got mostly to do with the price of prestige. (The Baffler)

Is it time for “he” and “she” to go the way of “Miss” and “Mrs.”? Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin argues that gender, like marital status, should not be brought up in journalistic stories unless pertinent. Here’s a historical and political case for the singular “they.” (In These Times)

Looking for something to read this weekend? Sink into some science. (Seed Magazine) •


Beets don't kale my vibe

If you’ve lately been thinking about becoming a vegetarian, today might be just the day to make the switch. It’s World Vegetarian Day! In case you need just a bit more reason to give up bacon and steak, we brought back Stefany Anne Golberg’s piece on brutal vegetarianism.

I offer an outline for an Eating Animals sequel entitled A 21st Century, Balls-out Decadent Explosion of Naughty Vegetarian Food Exploration Appealing to Degenerates, or for short VEGETABALLS. It will be written by an intrepid vegetable adventurer who wears a cabbage hat and lamé hotpants, a postmodern-molecular-gastronomist-Shackleton of beans who couldn’t care less about tradition and “the earth.” VEGETABALLS  is for a vegetarianism of chocolate, vodka, fries, and habanero sauce that shows how you can be a selfish drunk fat slob and still do your part to limit the unnecessary suffering of animals. •

Read It: A Modest Proposal by Stefany Anne Golberg

On the boys of YouTube


From top: Joey Graceffa and Tyler Oakley; Marcus Butler; Connor Franta.

One of the small corners of YouTube not dominated by cat videos belongs to the downright oddest and most dismaying cultural oddities of the 21st century: the YouTube boy-celebrity. They aren’t real celebrities; you’ve never heard of them, the entirety of their careers to date has begun, escalated, and flourished without touching your life in any way. But in their insular world, their experience mimics actual celebrity to an uncanny degree: these YouTube boy-celebrities have publicists, social media managers, endorsement deals, and copyrighted brands. They have flunkies whom they feel free to humiliate, overwork, and confront with screamed demands. They pack tens of thousands of hysterical fans into auditoriums for live events like VidCon and Summer in the City. They know how to hold microphones onstage in Dean Martin-old pro styles; they’re visibly terrified during manager-mandated mingles with their audiences; quite a few have been embroiled in sex scandals; they have, almost to an individual, at some point in the last four years yelled the stereotypical celebrity line, “Do you know who I am?”

We don’t know who they are, and their brand optimization management teams aren’t happy about that fact. The central problem with the kind of cross-branding those management teams yearn for derives from the typical YouTube boy-celebrity origin story: a cute, epicene young thing buys a bargain digital camera, sets it up in his bedroom, and proceeds to vamp for attention. They did nothing else but vamp; unlike all previous incarnations of the teen-boy heartthrob crush, these boys were offering only themselves, only these four-minute windows into their bedrooms. David Cassidy and his brother Shaun had to at least make a token effort to sing and act; likewise the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, who had serious professional dance coaches to learn those intricate floor shows. Even Justin Bieber (discovered on YouTube) made a pretense of having — or wanting to have — musical talent. Not so the YouTube boy-celebrity: with him, all pretense of purpose is stripped away, leaving only the hair, the eyes, the lips … what you see is quite literally the extent of what you get.
More… “Boy Toys”

Fashion and Logos in 2010


Shopping for Handbags

Ralph Lauren is dismounting the Polo Pony and handing over the reigns to new CEO Stefan Larsson. One of the United States’ largest fashion empires has grown over the past half century from a few ties being sold out of a drawer in the Empire State Building to a brand with a logo that can be recognized across the world. Take a look back at Paula Marantz Cohen’s piece on the meaning and breeding of iconic fashion logos like Lauren’s Polo Pony.

Ralph Lauren, the seeming epitome of the English country gentleman, was originally Ralph Lifshitz from the Bronx, who started his empire with a necktie store in 1970. Lauren went on to devise the Polo Pony logo (more to the point than the Izod crocodile) and to exploit the idea of graded merchandise more brazenly than anyone had before. He separated his goods into strata: purple at the top (appointment only), with black and blue labels, then Polo and Rugby, and finally, Ralph Lauren Sport bringing up the rear. •

Read It: Lo’ and Behold by Paula Marantz Cohen