The Braindead Megaphone

Design by Rodrigo Corral


George Saunders’ first collection of essays is out, and before you say “What the HELL is that?”, read something that Saunders wrote on his Amazon.com blog:

“The central premise of the title essay in my new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is this: Our cultural discourse is being dumbed-down by mass-media prose that is written too quickly, and therefore fails to due justice to the complexity of the world.”

And now think about the latest newscast you watched and tell me that this design doesn’t hit all the right notes: ugly graphics, interchangeable talking heads, and most importantly, a real schizoid aesthetic that speaks directly to the way news is created and reported.

Thanks, Austin, for sending this in.

Buy this book from Amazon.com
The Braindead Megaphone

Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

TencommandmentsA few weeks ago, I posted about my epiphany that EVERYONE should have a happiness project. Join in! Start your own!

I need to figure out some systematic way to address this topic, but until I do, I think I’ll just throw out some provocative suggestions to get people thinking.

One of the most difficult – and most helpful and fun – challenges I undertook in my happiness project was coming up with my list of Twelve Commandments. I should do a series of posts explaining the significance of each one, because a few are a bit cryptic, but for me, they are all extraordinarily meaningful:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act as I would feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out.
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

So, for your happiness project, come up with your own set of commandments.

A reader wrote that she was trying to come up with her own set, but it kept turning into a to-do list. I had the same problem. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger self-command you’d like to observe.

For inspiration, here are some examples.

The first is from Howell Raines’ Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.

Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.

Here are two sets emailed to me from readers (who want to be anonymous):

1. Say yes.
2. Don’t keep score.
3. No fear.
4. Give without limits or expectations.
5. Take it in.
6. Expect a miracle.
7. Play the hand I’m dealt.
8. Recognize my ghosts.
9. Be specific about my needs.
10. React to the situation.
11. Keep proportion.

1. Overcome obstacles—you cannot overcome every obstacle but you can overcome more obstacles than you think, if you just persevere
2. Spend more—life is short, you have a tendency to hoard things (money, time), and you cannot take them with you when you go, so spend them while you can
3. Do what matters—resist the temptation to do something easy but forgettable or meaningless and instead do things that matter, even if they are more difficult; make memories
4. Pay attention—deadlines, politics, relationships, names, birthdays, what people are most proud of, their favorite things/activities, and especially their life dreams
5. Stay calm—unless you are seeking thrills and excitement (e.g. skydiving), stress kills and soothing attracts; you and your relationships will live longer if you stay calm
6. Empathize—put yourself in the other person’s shoes; resist the temptations to: argue, criticize, or complain, focus on yourself and not others, forget people’s names, deny your mistakes, boast of your successes and other’s failures, fail to reward those who do good by you
7. Get outside—almost everything feels better with sunlight on your skin
8. Get physical—being physical, whether in athletics or relationships, is a supreme source of joy
9. Do it now—life is short; procrastination will ruin the little life you have; fear it accordingly
10. Take care of yourself—if you value something, take care of it, and other people will notice
11. Believe you are the prize—confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, neediness is unattractive, and pride is not a sin
12. Be classy
13. Experiment—get out of the rut; boredom will kill you and your relationships
14. Feel the danger—many dangers (saturated fat, drunk driving) don’t feel dangerous until it is too late
15. Don’t pick—often one must leave well enough alone: acne, wounds, other people’s flaws and mistakes, topics of conversations that other people don’t want to talk about, these are things that should be left alone—despite the most burning desire you have to reopen them; let people cool down and things might heal themselves

One thing that interests me is how distinct these lists are. The commandments give a powerful sense of each writer’s character and of the kinds of challenges he or she faces.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post some tips on creating your own set of happiness commandments.

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There’s an interesting post on LifeRemix today, 20 Simple Ways to Become a Bookworm. There’s a lot of great information there, resources that I didn’t know about, and I’m a real book addict. As for reading more, the most important things is – remember, it’s supposed to be FUN! I just found a new great book on St. Therese, and I’m amazed at how quickly I’m making my way through it.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.


Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

My wife, my own wife sends me – THIS! MEIN GOTT!

It’s not work safe – it’s not safe-safe! Hide the children – I am serious, store them somewhere! It’s the worst fucking thing ever!

Just look at it. I did, and I lived to post about about it. Although I really don’t feel so very well now.

Anyway, look at it.

Then look at it again, it gets worse.

A third time, and it gets even WORSE.

You know it’s bad when I use ALL CAPS. You know this is true. Because it is.

Not only that – It’s the worst fucking thing ever! 


Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

Utnapishtim's word-processor



[IBM Displaywriter disk, circa 1984, 8" square.]

Talking with my students about the ancient Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh leads to all sorts of thoughts about impermanence. (The great truth of the story, expressed by the mysterious Utnapishtim, is that “There is no permanence.”) I like pointing out to my students that the tablets holding the Gilgamesh story are still readable (or at least largely readable) to anyone who can read cuneiform script. Also readable, a page from a 13th-century Book of Ezekiel that I bring into class (given to me by a friend who was divesting himself of his belongings). But the circa-1984 disks that hold the text of my dissertation (on E.D. Hirsch, Stanley Fish, and J.L. Austin, if you’re wondering) have been useless to me for many years — except for display purposes during discussions of impermanence.

I wrote my dissertation with Faber-Castell Uniball pens and legal pads bearing the imprint of the Boston University Law School (the ultra-wide left margin was great for revision; I’ve never seen such pads since). I made reading copies for my committee with a Panasonic electronic typewriter. And I produced the final text with what was then called a “dedicated word-processor,” an on-campus IBM Displaywriter.

Here’s a partial description of the machine:

IBM’s Office Products Division announced the Displaywriter in June 1980 as an easy-to-use, low-cost desktop text processing system. The Displaywriter System enabled operators to produce high quality documents while keying at rough draft speed. Users could automatically indent text, justify right margins, center and underscore. They could also store a document and recall it for review or revision, and could check the spelling of approximately 50,000 commonly used words. While these features are taken for granted in the post-PC era, they were novel for a time when most documents were created, formatted and revised on manual or electric typewriters.

The Displaywriter’s “intelligence” came in 160K, 192K or 224K bytes of memory. Single diskette drive diskette units with a capacity for approximately 284,000 characters of information were available. As requirements increased, customers could upgrade to a dual drive diskette unit… .

A basic system — consisting of a display with a typewriter-like keyboard and a logic unit, a printer and a device to record and read diskettes capable of storing more than 100 pages of average text — cost $7,895 and leased for $275 a month.
The disks (diskette seems coy, considering the size) went into a toaster-like drive (to the right of the CPU, monitor, and keyboard in this IBM photograph). Yes, that’s a disk drive, at least 12" wide (and that’s the printer to its right).



I knew a guy who was doing word-processing full-time in downtown Boston in 1984. His dream was to buy a Displaywriter of his own and freelance. I hope he was saving slowly enough that he saved himself a lot of money.
IBM Displaywriter (IBM)
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Utnapishtim's word-processor

Mason Pearson Hairbrushes

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A Mason Pearson is like the hairbrush analogue of baby shampoo: it takes good care of the hair, without tears. Our 10 year-old’s hair has never been cut, so it reaches almost to her knees; but with an MP, brushing her hair before school isn’t a big deal. The brushes are very effective at getting snarls out gradually and they don’t hurt the scalp. The ones we use have two kinds of bristles: mostly boar bristles, which are the same hardness as hair, so they don’t scratch or cut the hair; and there are some soft, molded nylon bristles that are much gentler than the extruded/cut plastic bristles in typical brushes. Only the nylon bristles touch the scalp, as they are a little longer. All of the bristles are slender and mounted in a flexible rubber mat, which also adds to the softness of the brush.

We learned about MP hairbrushes from a theater mom 10 years ago, when our first daughter was involved in community theater. We’ve been using one brush for 10 years. It is kind of frayed, but still works. These brushes are quite expensive, but they’re worth the money and more if you have kids with long hair - or if you do. I keep my hair very long, so my own brush gets a lot of use. It is five years old and is in fine shape. Note: at these prices, don’t turn the brush over to a child to keep; it’s too annoying for a kid to lose such an expensive item. In our house, we adults use the larger “Junior” model. For a child-size brush, we use the “Pocket Bristle & Nylon” model.

– Don Davis

Mason Pearson Hairbrushes
$72
(Pocket)
Available from Amazon

$114
(Junior)
Available from Amazon

Other types/sizes are also available via Amazon

Manufactured by Mason Pearson

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

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Robi Comb

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Oster Grooming Rake

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Zip-It Drain Cleaner


Mason Pearson Hairbrushes

I have a 2-page spread in the P.I. today!!!!!!

As this month’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Writer-in-Residence (a big huge honor!) I have a BIG HUGE COMIC in the paper today! Two pages, that’s just crazy. If you’re a Seattle resident, please please pick one up or shuffle through the pages at your favorite coffeeshop - it’s just so weird and amazing to see such a big space given over to a comic, especially in a daily paper. But, if you can’t see it in print, they did manage to stuff it onto their site.
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I have a 2-page spread in the P.I. today!!!!!!