By the time I got back to the apartment, greeted by a smiling baby, it was 11:30 a.m. I’ve been up for five hours, haven’t done a lick of work, and have to feed the baby again at noon.
Commutes are nearly inescapable, mostly reviled, and scientifically proved to be bad for us. While Eric Jaffe at Citylab makes the case that no commute at all is actually a bad thing too, that is not a problem that most of us have. But are there not some hidden gems, some small pleasures in the daily trek?
For a while, I was one of the so-called mega-commuters, covering sixty miles thrice a week with a combination of bicycle and train travel. It was stupid, but because I am fundamentally an optimist, I tried to focus on the happy parts: exercise! quiet time! seeing the sun rise! At the time, I would have told you that I actually didn’t mind it, but now that I have a five-minute bicycle commute, I can say that it sucked. Still, it had its charms.
Short commute notwithstanding, in my current job I sometimes have to travel to far-flung parts of my state (you wouldn’t think Connecticut had far-flung parts, but it does). Today, needing to go from Hartford to Stamford, I chose a two-hour train ride over an hour-and-a-half drive and carried my computer so I could do work on the way. I would say it was pretty great, except that when I arrived at Stamford, I found out that one of the other lawyers involved in my case was sick and had called the court to reschedule, so I just turned around and went back to the train station. Still, the fruitless voyage got me to thinking about the little aesthetic pleasures that make even awful commutes tolerable. Herewith, a few examples:
There’s an uproar happening right now in plus-size clothing. Fashionista started it by asking a provocative/insulting question,
what if the problem with the plus-size industry isn’t with faceless businessmen, but with the customers themselves? … Sarah Conley, a plus-size blogger and retail consultant, explains that when retailers are approached by customers to feature more true plus-size models, the companies will often conduct tests. One such brand displayed the exact same clothes on a size 8 model and a size 14 model on its website; the size 8 model sold better every time.
“As much as we think we want to see people who look like us, it’s not really showing through in customer behavior, which is really unfortunate,” she explains. “I think that people who say they want to see a more diverse group of women, whether it’s body shape or size, they’re not always following those wishes and demands with their credit cards.”
In the same way, the higher-priced items that customers clamor for — items designed by big names, items with more tailoring and trendier items — “don’t sell.” There’s also the issue of impermanence: “Everyone I spoke with agreed that women who are told that their body shape should be considered temporary, always in need of a new diet or weight loss plan, aren’t exactly going to plunk down $300 for a dress that, ideally, won’t fit them in a month.”
Jezebel weighed in, so to speak, and gave Fashionista a succinct answer: no. For one thing, sez Jez,
When plus-size blogger Gabi Gregg launched a swimwear collection with Swimsuits For All, the line sold out in hours. Women were more than happy to spend money on fashionable garments designed to flatter their bodies. Again, how can consumers buy clothes that don’t exist?
I have come under some criticism of late for being uncharitable toward the rich. To be more precise, I offhandedly wrote, alluding to Ester’s piece on trust fund kids, that my policy concerning people born rich is to distrust them. Commenters took me to task for that, and rightly so: it is foolish and wrong to suppose that affluence, in and of itself, defines character. As one commenter noted, mine was “exactly the kind of ignorance several writers on the Billfold would preach against if it were any other kind of discrimination.”
I think that commenter was right, and I said so in comments and a note appended to the post in question. I also said, “We could have a separate discussion about whether there is any moral imperative on the inheritors of wealth to do something selfless and worthwhile with their money, or about the attitudes that may or may not prevail among them about whether they deserve their good fortune.” Several commenters later suggested that yes, that is a discussion worth having. This came to mind over the weekend, when I was engaged in that most proletarian of leisure activities, camping and reading the New Yorker. So let’s start our discussion about the moral obligations of the wealthy with a focus on how they help people with acute need.
I suppose I should not expect a worldview untouched by a certain elitism when I read the New Yorker, but more and more, I notice that there is an archetypal story about rare diseases and how progress is made in their cures. It goes like this:
1. An upper-middle-class couple notices something unusual about their infant child. 2. Doctors are either flummoxed and unhelpful or convinced that it is a terminal illness. 3. The parents refuse to accept the doctors’ assessment and devote large sums of money to (a) organizing and lobbying for more research on the illness; and (b) making all kinds of costly changes to their home, lives, and routines to accommodate their ill child and make the child’s life more enriching. 4. Progress in treatment results from the parents’ tireless efforts.
This sequence became clear to me while reading Seth Mnookin’s piece, “One of a Kind” in the July 21, 2014, issue. The article focuses on a couple, a college professor and an M.B.A., whose son has an extraordinarily rare genetic disease, and their ultimately successful quest to push the medical establishment toward more data-sharing and collaboration to develop treatments. (Spoiler: the disease isn’t quite as rare as previously believed.) The article is great and fascinating: in addition to following a family with the surname Might and involving a glycobiologist who is actually named Hudson Freeze, it illustrates how more base human motivations (researchers’ desire for sole credit on publications; institutions’ need to compete for scarce funding) can impede medical progress. It also has a happy-ish ending: the Mights’ son is showing surprising progress as he gets older; research is progressing.
But all that progress is predicated on the fact that this terrible disease befell not just Matt and Cristina Might’s child, but the child of Matt and Kristen Wilsey as well. The Wilseys, we learn, “are one of the most prominent families in San Francisco.”
I quit my job a month later, but I did not write about it! It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which sounds ridiculous but it is true. After I did it, though, everything was better.
Okay fine I am going to watch this documentary. While applying one of the thousands Burt’s Bees products I get in my stocking for Christmas every year and then never use, because chapstick is a scam.
Today in The Atlantic, the story of Rolf Larsen, one of the few people to own “an entire top-level domain.” He’s in charge of .global, and he’s auctioning off the domain names in hotel ballrooms with the help of celebrity auctioneer Charles Hanson.
Here’s what Atlantic writer Leo Mirani has to say about Hanson:
A minor celebrity, he has previously auctioned Queen Victoria’s underpants for $9,000, and, in 2012, a piece of toast from the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981. “We’re on the runway. Let’s open up and let’s lift off,” he beseeched the crowd as he pitched flights.global, which sold for $5,000.
People are seriously flying from around the world to get a piece of that dot-global action. For the rest of us, we can take heart in the fact that people don’t really type URLs into address bars anymore; we just type the name of the business or website we want to visit and let the browser take care of it for us—or we navigate the internet through apps. Knowing a website’s URL is a bit like knowing someone’s phone number; useful, maybe, but kind of outdated.
Photo: Terry Johnston
There is massive new Pew Research Center poll (185 glorious pdf pages) that dissects the attitudes of Americans on all sorts of things. There is much to mull over, starting with the study’s division of the American populace into eight ideological groups: Solid Liberals (all left all the time; like me, more or less), Steadfast Conservatives (fiscally and socially conservative), Business Conservatives (corporatist, but not so down on gays and immigrants), Young Outsiders (socially liberal Republicans), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (left-leaning, working class, disillusioned), Next-Generation Liberals (like the Solid Liberals, but unconvinced of the need for social programs or anti-discrimination legislation), Faith and Family Left (like the Solid Liberals, but homophobic), and (boringly) Bystanders, who are what they sound like: disengaged and uninformed.
These groups break down mostly as you’d expect (although the right is more polarized than the left). The study is full of charts that show the spread of each group’s opinions across some typical left-right divide, and they all pretty much look like this one: