Bureaucratic Alchemy

In all cases, how developers prove what they can afford to pay for comes down to the dark art of “viability”. The silver bullet of planning applications, the viability appraisal explains, through impenetrable pages of spreadsheets and fastidious appendixes, exactly how a project stacks up financially. It states, in carefully worded sub-clauses, just why it would be impossible for affordable housing to be provided, why the towers must of course be this height, why no ground-floor corner shop or surgery can be included, why workspace is out of the question; indeed, why it is inconceivable for the scheme to be configured in any other form. Presented as a precise science, viability is nothing of the sort; it is a form of bureaucratic alchemy, figures fiddled with spreadsheet spells that can be made to conjure any outcome desired.

Wainwright, O. (2014, September 17). The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/17/truth-property-developers-builders-exploit-planning-cities


Loosen Your Grip

Daughter went off this afternoon on her bike to hang with besties, a new development compared to previous years. Before it would have been: arrange, drive, deposit, pick up. Now it’s wave-farewell and out the door. The rope in your hands starts to play out faster.
It’ll burn if you don’t loosen your grip.

Lileks, J. (2014, June 11). The Bleat. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0614/061114.html


I Hope He Had a Nice Snack

I once navigated a call [to cancel Comcast service] by letting the guy spiel for one minute and then saying approximately: “I am more stubborn than you. I am more patient than you. And I am lying comfortably on my bed in my pajamas with plenty of food and water, and have no qualms about taking the phone into the bathroom with me. Your options are to continue harassing me for as long as is required by your job guidelines and then cancel my account, or to just cancel my account immediately, and possibly have a snack. How long should I hold the phone near my ear until this call ends?” The call ended two minutes later. I hope he had a nice snack. I guess it’s all about luck of the draw.

Mizu (2014, July 14). Re: After a Decade [Reader Comment]. Retrieved from http://www.metafilter.com/140932/After-a-decade#5638970


The Door Close Button

To-be-fired employees will likely be told that they were picked not just based on job performance, but rather through a combination of factors. There will probably be a paper “appeal” process they can try, but it will go nowhere and do nothing, like the “door close” button on an elevator. Managers responsible for choosing employees to be laid off can blame an inscrutable “process” rather than their own judgment. Everyone passes the buck.

Courtesy and decency: Not in this e-mail

In the end, the e-mail’s key ironic sentence is this one:
     “Everyone can expect to be treated with the respect they deserve for their contributions to this company.”
This ersatz expression of thanks could be cloned from every other layoff e-mail from every other company ever—it manages to be both patronizing and vaguely malevolent at the same time. What, precisely, does an employee “deserve” in this instance? There’s an argument to be made that employees deserve to be spoken to rather than spoken at, but down that path lies the potential for liability.

Like an unreadable, thick EULA, companies almost invariably choose to use the kind of messaging in this e-mail rather than normal-person talk.
Companies should “align their synergies” with the humans they’re firing and do them the courtesy of not pissing on them and telling them it’s raining. There’s a decent way to let people go, and this ain’t it.

Hutchinson, L. (2014, July 17). Op-Ed: Microsoft layoff e-mail typifies inhuman corporate insensitivity. Retrieved from https://arstechnica.com/staff/2014/07/op-ed-microsoft-layoff-e-mail-typifies-inhuman-corporate-insensitivity/


Quality Remodeling

They covered up one store front, and put in windows, and then covered up the windows. I’m reasonably sure the newer stuff isn’t stone, but pressed metal, painted over. Did the guy who finished the job step back and say “now there’s some quality remodeling, right there. Right there indeed.”

Lileks, J. (2014, May 8). The Bleat. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0514/050814.html


Fools Fish

Not for nothing does the movie run on the metaphor of fly fishing—of the crafted adornment that, by imitating life, fools fish into swallowing the hook.

Brody, R. (2014, March 21). Lars Von Trier’s Joyless Sexual Tantrum. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/lars-von-triers-joyless-sexual-tantrum


No Guilt

BARISTA: Can you be a complete douche and sit, typing on your laptop and only ordering one drink, all night at a bar?
CUSTOMER: Conceivably I could, but I’d rather not.
BARISTA: Voilà! Here you can do that without feeling guilty.

Stokes, C. (2014, April 30). Introducing the Starbucks Evenings Menu. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2014/04/introducing-the-starbucks-evenings-menu.html


Not Exactly

This is about where we’d expect him to be at this point. Not exactly down and out, but living the days of a man without urgent purpose.

Roeper, R. (2006, December). Review: Rocky Balboa (2006). Retrieved from http://www.richardroeper.com/reviews/rockybalboa.aspx


Hundreds of Times

And I think we must have had this argument hundreds of times before and I finally had to stop because I couldn’t be in that situation anymore where we were making each other feel bad about ourselves.

Jonze, Spike. Her. Film Script. 2013. 13 July 2017. <https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/t711fe3u47rgkr1/HER%20%282013%29%20Spilke%20Jonze%20-Final-.pdf>


Intellectual Firepower

On Los Angeles: Locals report the combination of plentiful bud, babes, and sun only serves to dull the intellectual firepower that brought you and your screenplay out west in the first place.

Gallagher, B. (2013, March 15). 10 Most Overrated Cities in America. Retrieved from http://www.complex.com/city-guide/2013/03/overrated-cities-in-america/los-angeles



The inability to make important distinctions because the mind reduces everything to broad similarities is a trait of a smug, adolescent intellect that mistakes cynicism for insight.

Lileks, J. (2014, July 1). The Bleat. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0714/070114.html


Greed and Stupidity

I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist: I believe human greed and stupidity are simple explanations for all that’s wrong in the world, and that we don’t need to concoct a shadowy Illuminati organization to take the blame.

Woligroski, D. (2015, January 27). The Real Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 Specifications. Retrieved from http://www.tomshardware.com/news/nvidia-geforce-gtx-970-specifications,28464.html



Raw Gush

At least the tech arguments have some data, some facts, a certain nerdy rigor. Elsewhere – say, a Gawker site about San Francisco development I discussed on the work blog – it was the usual raw gush. Smart and snarky and oh-snap! and lots of “here, let me pour my entire worldview into a story about a vacant lot that now has a structure on it.”

A good polemic is a thing of beauty, but to use the medium of the Comments Section is like mistaking the group of smokers outside the classroom for the lecture going on inside.

Lileks, J. (2014, June 11). The Bleat. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0614/061114.html


You Owe Me

Then I don’t know what to do, and he acts disgusted at my nervous deferrals, as if I owe him this date after being so nice to him for so long. He moves on to my coworker.


But I have trouble, eventually, masking my rage. I notice a ragged look similar to the one I imagine on my face on the faces of young female baristas throughout the city. It’s as if I’ve absorbed all of these men’s problems, and worse, all of their assumptions about me – that I am a pure and kindly soul floating along on my attitude, there to make coffee and listen; worst of all, that I must be unhappy in this job but not be intelligent enough to know that.

Schiller, L. (2013, June 5). Service With A Smile. Retrieved from http://www.therivetermagazine.com/service-with-a-smile/


Endlessly Boring Loop

The “Lego Movie” song “Everything is Awesome” might be the definitive statement on consumerism as a way of life. The hero is a wage slave, living in an endless boring loop that he’s convinced himself is peachy. Hype encourages him to feel that way because if he accepts his manufactured life, nobody involved in creating institutional structures or manufacturing goods or entertainment will have to try harder, much less change anything. Nobody questions. The money just flows.

Seitz, M. Z. (2014, June 13). Review: 22 Jump Street (2014). Retrieved from http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/22-jump-street-2014



The modern style of headline writing isn’t intended to catch your eye but punch you in the nose, because you totally deserve it. The author is better than you because the author is writing for Gawker, and you’re just reading. Basic format: Bald assertion, and preemptive accusation to deflect your objection.

Lileks, J. (2014, July 31). Lileks @ Lunch. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/how-to-lose-8000-photos/269411751/

There are people who cannot make it through a day unless the wind of indignation fills their sails.

Source Unknown


Moral Busybodies

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Lewis, C. S. (1972). God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


Self-Righteous Do-Gooder

What concerned [C.S. Lewis regarding Moral Busybodies] is summed up as “the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions.” You needn’t wait for the cynics to take over; one self-righteous do-gooder with an agenda can create a lot of misery.

Chas C-Q (2014, July 30). Re: The Bleat [Reader Comment]. Retrieved from http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0714/073014.html#comment-1512630550



Looking a little leaner and a lot older, Ventura wore a rumpled gray pinstripe suit, the kind you save for church or court, and walked with that cocksure gait we got used to when he was governor, his jaw perpetually tilted up as if in defiance of something, anything.

Tevlin, J. (2014, July 12). Tevlin: Only in Jesse Ventura’s America. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/tevlin-only-in-jesse-ventura-s-america/266890021/


Decline of Empathy

As Danielle Ofri observes, that is the time that “figures prominently in studies that document the decline of empathy and moral reasoning in medical trainees.” Spending your day among the truly sick and suffering hardens you. Not only is there a self-protective impulse to shut out the pain of others, but you have less emotional bandwidth for minor complaints, particularly your own.


Hypochondriacs, Belling points out, are right about one more thing: Disease and degeneration never fail to win in the end.

Waldman, K. (2014, July 6). Doctors Could Use a Little Hypochondria. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/07/hypochondria_in_medical_students_and_doctors_when_to_worry_about_health.single.html



It would also be good if people stopped applauding “transgression” because it made them feel naughty and modern and iconoclastic, when it’s the most boring default position available today.

Lileks, J. (2014, June 17). Lileks @ Lunch: When the Mayor Swears. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/when-the-mayor-swears/263500181/

Meeting Baseline Expectations

What there is, arguably, is a diseased culture. A culture in which focus and productivity are so fetishized that your average human attention span is no longer sufficient. A culture in which a significant proportion of the working (or academic) population requires psychoactive drugs in order to meet baseline expectations.

dephlogisticated (2014, July 3). Re: Two Speed America [Reader Comment]. Retrieved from http://www.metafilter.com/140470/Two-speed-America#5617027


Metal Tube

It also poses unique design challenges, since a premium-class seat has to create an impression of opulence in what is actually a noisy and potentially nausea-inducing metal tube filled with strangers.

If you checked into a luxury hotel and were taken to a room the size of a first-class airplane cabin, and told that you’d be sharing it with eleven people you didn’t know, all of whom would be sleeping within a few feet of your own skinny bed, you wouldn’t be thrilled, especially if you were paying twenty thousand dollars for the experience.

Owen, D. (2014, April 21). Game of Thrones: How airlines woo the one per cent. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/04/21/140421fa_fact_owen



An air of aggressive innocence and chirpy bemusement has become the official armature of the American hipster, and has lost its power to put across a critique. It isn’t even that cute anymore. The McSweeneyites may be the current emperors of cool, but they’re starting to need some new clothes.

Shulevitz, J. (2001, May 6). Too Cool for Words. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/05/06/bookend/bookend.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=login