Sontag found writing easy and sex difficult

As a writer, I tolerate error, poor performance, failure. So what if I fail some of the time, if a story or an essay is no good? Sometimes things do go well, the work is good. And that’s enough.

It’s just this attitude I don’t have about sex. I don’t tolerate error, failure—therefore I’m anxious from the start, and therefore I’m more likely to fail. Because I don’t have the confidence that some of the time (without my forcing anything) it will be good.

If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing! That I’m the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself. [link]


We learn to remove jarring repetitions, seeking instead the kind of repetition that is sprinkled deliberately through a piece, echoed words or images that help form a cohesive narrative. We learn the difference between line edits — sentence-by-sentence adjustments for clarity and flow — and heroic edits — the “not entirely unironic” phrase for major restructuring or rewriting. Above all, we learn to make every change with one goal in mind: the preservation of the writer’s voice. And everything we learn, we actually do. [link]

Don’t give up on the dead tree book yet

E-books obviously have certain advantages (like the fact that you can carry lots of them around with you), but for many book buyers their main appeal is that they’re cheaper. Against that, the Codex Group finds that people of all ages still prefer print for serious reading; e-book sales are dominated by genre fiction—“light reading.” This may be just a prejudice that will vanish as e-books become more common. But we do read things differently when they’re on a page rather than on a screen. A study this year found that people reading on a screen tended to skip around more and read less intensively, and plenty of research confirms that people tend to comprehend less of what they read on a screen. The differences are small, but they may explain the persistent appeal of paper. Indeed, hardcover sales rose last year by a hundred million dollars. [link]


I’m talking about the Field Grade Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan who didn’t know who Mullah Omar was. I’m talking about a senior Staff NCO in the intelligence community who could not produce a legible paragraph. I’m talking about a Battalion Commander who took pride in the fact that he had done zero research on Afghanistan, because it allowed him to approach his deployment with “an open mind.” I’m talking about contractors, some of whom were literally paid ten-fold the salary of my junior Marines, who were incapable of performing basic tasks and functionally illiterate. The problem is not so much that these individuals pop up every now and then, as every organization has its bad eggs, but rather that we see them passed on through the system, promoted and rewarded. If we are truly the elite organization we claim to be, how do we justify the fact that we allow these individuals to retain positions of immense influence, much less promote through the ranks? How do we justify this endemic tolerance for mediocrity or outright incompetence?

If you really want to know what an institution values, don’t look at its mottos or mission statements. Look at how it spends its resources, especially its human capital. Economists call this “Revealed Preference.” When I was in the midst of a time-critical project aimed at mapping insurgent networks in Helmand, I was told to put the project on hiatus so I could organize a visit from General Allen. The implicit message was that a smooth itinerary and content General were more important than catching an insurgent cell before they left for Pakistan. How else was I supposed to interpret this? In my opinion, it’s not so much that the Marine Corps doesn’t value ideas, but that — when the chips are down and careers are at stake — it values appearance and conformity more than winning. The implicit message — what the Marine Corps reveals by its actions — is that it’s okay to fail to provide any added value, so long as the PowerPoint slides are free of typos, no serialized gear is lost, and everyone attends the Sexual Harassment Prevention training

The biggest issue is that few are willing to acknowledge Mission Failure because doing so is considered “unprofessional,” especially for a lieutenant. As an Army Special Forces veteran I worked with was fond of saying, “you get what you incentivize.” As it currently stands, there is an overwhelming incentive for officers at all levels to simply keep their units looking sharp, turn in rosy, optimistic assessments, keep off the XO’s radar and, above all else, keep from rocking the boat. No matter what becomes of your battlespace, eventually the deployment will end and you can go home. Why risk casualties, a tongue lashing or missed PT time when the reward might not come for years down the road? Why point out that the emperor has no clothes when everyone one involved is going to get their Navy Comms and Bronze Stars if we just let him keep on walking down the road. [link]


Peter Van Buren, a veteran Foreign Service officer who blew the whistle on waste and mismanagement of the Iraq reconstruction program, most recently found himself working at a local arts and crafts store and learned a lot about “glitter and the American art of scrapbooking.”

“What happens when you are thrown out of the government and blacklisted is that you lose your security clearance and it’s very difficult to find a grown-up job in Washington,” said Van Buren. “Then, you have to step down a few levels to find a place where they don’t care enough about your background to even look into why you washed up there.” [link]

Zimbabwe’s government blocks mass texting before July 31st election

With the clock ticking to the July 31 poll … web portal said it had noticed this week that its mass text messages were mysteriously getting lost. Its provider, Econet Wireless – Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone firm with 8 million subscribers out of a population of 13 million – declined to comment. However, a senior company source [said] “We have just been told we cannot be facilitating bulk SMSs during the elections, roughly for the next two or so weeks,” the source said. “Our understanding is that they will take our network down or cancel our license if there is any violation.” [link]


Regional differences in texting

IPhone users are more likely to ask out a person via text than Android users. Android users are a little more likely to view the who-texts-first issue as gender-neutral, and they’re also more comfortable with significant others looking through their phones.

The study also unearthed some regional differences in texting behavior: People in the Northeast tap their phones harder than people in the West do. Northeasterners are more likely to use their phones in bars, bathrooms, and subways; they text people they’re dating more frequently; and they’re more likely to answer a call or text that arrives in the middle of a date. Northeasterners are also more likely to scroll through a significant other’s text messages and call history without permission than Westerners are. (Some people deserve to die alone.) [link]

Palestinians still waiting for 3G

Even as $800 smartphones proliferate in Ramallah, Israel has yet to allow Palestinian phone companies access to the spectrum needed to offer mobile data services such as email and Facebook access. As a result, those companies are losing tens of millions of dollars annually to Israeli operators, which serve settlements in the West Bank and thus have coverage – including data – across much of the territory, enticing many Palestinians to sign up for service. [link]