In case you haven’t read any Sarah Vowell, you should catch up on John Wilkes Booth’s three plots against Lincoln since today is the 150th anniversary of his assassination.
If you’re not watching HBO’s documentary on Robert Durst, The Jinx, you should. If you do, you probably had to manually close your jaw after Andrew Jarecki (the director) interviewed him present day and Durst was caught with a hot mic during a break, repeating to himself (on the subject of his murder trial in Texas), “I did not knowingly, purposefully, intentionally lie. I did make mistakes.” He seems to be rehearsing for how the conversation will pick up after a break. His lawyer advises him that the mic is on and that the cameras are getting all of his self-talk.
Durst’s lawyers then came over to tell him that his mic was still on and that they were able to hear everything, but he did not seem to care at all. He doubles down and confirms he meant what he said: “I did not tell the whole truth. Nobody tells the whole truth.”
“I did not tell the whole truth,” Durst told one of his lawyers. “Nobody tells the whole truth.”
The moment is shocking, and many viewers undoubtedly heard that as, “Of course I lied on the stand” or maybe even “I probably killed this guy, and others, because clearly you see I have no problem lying.” But I do think the point Durst is making — albeit inelegantly — is that human brains just don’t tell the whole truth. The premise that we can is false. Coming from Durst (partnered with his famous twitching and squirming) this fact feels dark and ominous. But philosophers have known this forever.
I was struck when Errol Morris, in his recent interview with Grantland, addressed the nuance of this seemingly-terrifying-but-truly-human notion thusly:
“One of the reasons I hate the idea of lie detectors is that we think of the brain as being a recorder, a memory recorder, so you can go back in there and find out what happened and what didn’t happen, and whether the person is lying or telling the truth. Well, maybe you can figure out whether they’re misrepresenting what they know or think they know, but we all can fabulate, we’ve all lied, we all change things in innumerable ways. It’s just part of being human. And part of our job is to try to struggle through this nimbus of confusion and error and get to something that approximates what’s out there in the world. The fact that someone misremembers something, or that there’s an element of wishful thinking in what they remember, am I surprised by that? Not really. Am I horrified by it? Not really. I’m horrified by a lot of stuff. Not so much by that. Or let’s put it this way: I’m horrified by it when it just leads to truly terrible stuff.”
Morris is talking about his film, The Unknown Known, about Donald Rumsfeld. Completely difference topic, not at all related to Durst or that case or anything on HBO. He’s discussing how Rumsfeld is somehow able to get through life without noticing nuance, without really addressing the dark and ugly shit that (probably) makes him a war criminal. He just grins and tells the story and seems perfectly comfortable in his truth, no matter how absurd it might be. Perception is everything, and in many cases, the truth is almost irrelevant when telling our stories. How can any one human being really tell the whole truth? We take this for granted every time we say things like “Well I heard Sally’s side, I wonder what Tom says.” It’s only scary when someone scary says it.
Even more so when we talking about the truth from an individual’s perspective. What Morris argues above is essentially, “Part of being human is probably not being capable of The Truth, capital T, that’s just how we manage and function.” I believe that’s exactly what Durst meant too, only, that lack of nuance delivers a significant Rumsfeld-like detachment that startles us.
Anyway, there might not be a parallel between Durst and Rumsfeld, but there is a very good argument to be made for Durst’s terse and matter-of-fact “No one tells the whole truth.”
By Emily Flake
Thanks to Futility Closet for pointing me to this wonderful piece about Ghostbusters‘ substance as “a thoughtful introduction to environmental law and policy, suitable for discussion in a law school class.” Christine Alice Corcos’ “Who Ya Gonna C(S)ite”: Ghostbusters and the Environmental Regulation Debate (Copyright © 1997 Florida State University Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law) examines this and more.
The Ghostbuster facility is housed in a former fire station, in which the Ghostbusters also reside. The surrounding area seems to have a mixture of small businesses and warehouses. One may well ask whether the area is zoned for uses that include waste storage facilities. If not, the city might object that the facility is a public nuisance. The neighbors may argue that the Ghostbusters’ facility is a private nuisance due to their strange activities including the comings and goings of various employees and visitors, the sirens on the Ghostbusters vehicle, and the oddity of some of their clientele.
“Instead of defining hours per week in contracts with employees, freelancers or virtual workers, you define a commitment level. You don’t care how many hours they work, when and where, or how they mix their private and professional lives. The only thing you care about is how much you can count on the contributions, effort and collaboration of your workers, in the projects to which they have been assigned.” –Pay People for Commitment, Not for Time or Results
“…the joy from an unusual experience fades quickly, but the sting of not fitting in because we didn’t share an experience with our peers—even a crappy one—lingers.”
–Olga Khazan for The Atlantic
Macau’s postal service is releasing a series of stamps based on magic squares. Full set will include the SATOR, and Dürer’s Melencolia. Below you see a Nasik 2D geo-magic square of order 3 (all the rows and columns are magic, but so are all six diagonals, including the four “broken” diagonals).
Learn more about the stamps at the Macau postal service site.
“A series of studies highlighted in Human Relations journal (pdf) suggest that expressing anger in the workplace can actually lead to more people acknowledging a problem and getting it fixed. One study the authors highlighted found that negative emotional events in the workplace had a positive outcome 70% of the time. This doesn’t mean it’s bad to express positive feelings at work—those led to positive outcomes 94% of the time—it just means that a negative emotion doesn’t always lead to a negative outcome.”
The Lotus blooms when you’re relaxed.
Love this Tumblr decoding popular workplace jargon. Use Sparingly.
“Not all obituaries are created equal. As a genre of occasional writing, some are composed without intimate knowledge of the deceased or deep reflection about their contributions. But the best of the obituaries written about these and other towering thinkers command our attention, for they invite us to reckon once again (and ever anew) with the political work and social location of what the historian Christopher Lasch referred to as the “intellectual as a social type.” Some are just a paragraph long; others go on for pages. But at their finest, obituaries of intellectuals attempt to resituate these thinkers and their ideas in the historical conditions from which they came and to which they spoke. And they invite us to recall how we put them to work in our own intellectual biographies.”
“Over Our Dead Bodies” –Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen
“I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read.”
But say you find TPM on Flipboard, decide it’s great and add it to your viewing routine on Flipboard. Probably you just keep reading us on Flipboard. Clearly you like Flipboard or you wouldn’t be using it. So why would you start visiting TPM? You likely won’t. That may be great for you. It’s definitely great for Flipboard. But is it great for us? Not really. It boosts my ego, I guess. And more people may know about us. But where and how does that turn into our ability to convert that ‘audience’ into a revenue stream that allows us to create our product? I don’t think it does. Or it does in so in such a trivial and unquantifiable way as to be meaningless.
How does he know that users don’t connect the dots back to the site after using Flipboard to discover them? He’s basing a ton of his opinion here on that assumption. I know for my own experience, I love using tools like Flipboard, Feedly, etc. to discover new sites, and when I like them I add them to my reader, and I visit those sites and open those links and share the articles I like here and other places. Maybe the majority of users don’t convert in that same way. That said, I do understand his issue with the fuzzy logic around how things like reach and brand awareness are benefiting them when their goal is to find revenue streams to keep producing their work. I totally get that.
However, if you’re cutting off from your readers in an attempt to own every page view so your banner ads are more valuable (not saying that’s his plan, more so pointing out that the plan in general is a bit more traditional and focused on hard data like CTR and direct streams), you’re holding yourself back from real potential in terms of both revenue and reader growth. I don’t quite get it, despite understanding (and sympathizing with) large-scale digital news sites that are now struggling to manage million dollar solvency issues annually, much like newspapers scrambled to do years ago. It’s about a clear-cut cost-based analysis for Marshall, but I’m not sure he’s correct as he cuts off values that don’t ‘directly’ influence revenue.
“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.”
Learn more over at Brain Pickings.