Rebecca Schuman on Germans who Swim to Work

Of the aforementioned Benjamin David, Schuman writes:

“Look at this delightful motherfucker! The best thing about this is that David is not some fitness freak (or, to use the German, ein Fitneß-Freak) with a Juicero and a SuperSquat desk in his office. He’s rocking what I affectionately like to call the Classic Bavarian physique, and for much of his commute he doggie paddles or chills in the current on his back. He looks, frankly, like he’s having the time of his ever-loving life, and I want to be him.”

That’s how I would write after a river swim and a few German biers.

One Surefire Way to Improve Mental Health

Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, argues that smart phones are contributing to Millennial’s worsening mental health. The data is concerning.

Here’s her Atlantic essay (hyperbolically) titled “Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation” and here’s an interview with her from yesterday’s PBS NewsHour.

In summary, the less tethered young people are to their phones, the better their mental health.

Friday Assorted Links

1. Starbucks is constantly innovating.

2. Excellent pictures of the Tour de France in case you missed it. Even if you followed it, check out the second image.

3. The New York Times is struggling mightily to reinvent itself.

“As one editor put it, ‘The mood at the paper is poisonous in a way I’ve never seen it in the past 15 years.'”

4. The Good Wife, while starring at Peralta Junior High School in Orange, CA, once scored a basket in the opposing team’s hoop. Here’s hoping this makes her feel better.

5. Are helicopter parents ruining summer camp? Sadly, dear readers, this is a rhetorical question. Best not to read if you already have high blood pressure.

6. Raising a truly bilingual child.

Haim is Contributing to the Greater Good

I lent my iPod to Alison once.

She ended up sharing its contents with my sissy who got a big kick out of my fondness for female artists of a folky/pop/R&B persuasion. I’m secure enough in my maleness to say I dig me some Karen Carpenter, Jill Scott, Abigail Washburn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Tracy Chapman, Sade. I pity the faux-macho who are too insecure to embrace the beauty of female voices.

Which brings us to Haim, who I just learned about as a result of this lengthy review of their second album, Something to Tell You. Learning of my discovery on her visit home last week, Alison has been helping me catch up. Their voices are excellent, but I’m even more enamored by their stage presence.

Carl Wilson, Slate’s music reviewer, follows the music scene much, much more closely than me. As a result, I had to read Wilson’s review a couple of times to make sense of it. From the odd opening reference to Haim as “the smart set’s favorite white pop band”, I alternately really liked and disliked his analysis.

I liked his description of their newest vid.

“This emphasis on musicianship rebukes the stubborn stereotype of the “girl band” as an artificially assembled group of sexy singers. Haim (pronounced “Hi-um”)* doesn’t have to dress up and do choreographed dance routines. The sisters are not ornaments—they’re the music makers. (Of course, it’s the music business, so they’re still conventionally attractive. Though that also reinforces that they’re making a choice.) So, in the video, they move only when they feel the music, sing only when it seems expressive. Got it.”

I disliked his thesis.

“Every pop moment is embedded in history, and history is embedded in every pop moment. Thinking through Something to Tell You, I’m puzzled by how Haim has gotten better but seems worse than in 2013–14. The reason has to be that in the late Obama era, when pop-chart populism still seemed democratizing and progress was on the upswing, Haim’s sisterhood variation on the theme felt liberating. That populism now feels double-edged, so the songs don’t quite stick. At the tail of the “Want You Back” video, the dance routine falls apart, and the trio wanders off laughing as the camera pulls away. The cathartic feeling dwindles back to mere charm, a shrugging amiability. It works as a reclamation of the band’s autonomy from pop imperatives, but it’s also like what happened here didn’t matter. It’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A.”

Mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter, it’s just another perfect day in carefree, privileged L.A. That last phrase strikes me as especially odd. What makes L.A. carefree and privileged, the fact that they closed Van Nuys Boulevard for the shoot? And why is Haim responsible for, or even complicit in, L.A.’s supposed carefree, privilege?

Maybe Wilson is too deep for me, but the way I interpret his “mere charm, a shrugging amiability, what happened here didn’t matter” sentence is that art must be political today. Meaning Haim has to take some sort of a stand on pressing issues of the day. I beg to differ because I interact regularly with a lot of young women who are extremely self conscious, sometimes to the point of being intensely anxious and/or clinically depressed.

When I watch the “Want You Back” vid and this one,

the Haim sisters come across as joyfully unencumbered. Carefree is absolutely right. Given some young women’s mental health challenges today, that is gift enough.

Every one of us struggles, to varying degrees, with being self-conscious. The less self conscious among us inspire us to be more authentic, to make art, to dress, to write, to live, however we feel.

I’ll take more unencumbered joy with my art than policy pronouncements any day.

* I LOVE hate it when I am right and Alison is wrong. DIG the hypen Al, two syllables!** Let your friends down easily.

** Exclamation point = Millennial flourish.

Why I’m Never Signing Up for Amazon Prime

By The Verge’s Vlad Savov.

Savov’s rationale is convincing. Among his arguments:

“Deals suck. Discounted goods are bad for me, as a consumer, because they nudge me into buying things I don’t need just to be frugal and collect the massive “saving” inherent in the discount. That’s how I’ve ended up with a collection of pristine, totally unworn sneakers that seemed too cheap to pass up.”

And:

“Free delivery is never free. Amazon Prime makes it unbelievably easy to shop unthinkingly. You can just order up a ton of things of the same class, try them all out, and return the majority, keeping only one. That phenomenon has been so prominent with clothes that Amazon formalized it with the introduction of Amazon Prime Wardrobe last month. But for each of those back and forth trips, there’s a truck, a boat, a plane out there, pushing stuff around the world for the sake of our sheer indulgence and indecision. I don’t care how anyone rationalizes this, I consider it wasteful and polluting and not something I want to contribute to.”

Also:

“Amazon’s employment practices are shit. . . . It was the subject of an undercover BBC Panorama documentary a few years ago, and reports of exploitative working conditions at Amazon warehouses persist. Everything about Prime that feels unbelievably cheap is only so because of the unbelievably cheap way that Amazon deals with the people discharging its duties.”

The only problem with Savov’s essay is his overly soft landing.

“I don’t expect anyone to follow or join me in resisting Amazon’s primal pull toward Prime. You’ve got your own priorities in life and, in all honesty, nobody’s going to fix global injustice by disregarding Prime Day and taking a nice walk outside instead.”

Vlad, I will happily follow you by continuing to resist the lure of Amazon Prime. And I’ll take a nice walk outside too.

On Travel 2

Today, the Good Wife and I have been married for 29 years, 11 months, and 18 days. Fairly confident we’ll make it to three zero, we’re planning a celebration of marital endurance bliss for a week and a half from now. Given assorted responsibilities we can’t shake, we’re temporarily tabling a trip to a Spanish speaking country in favor of a nearby quick hit.

Meaning Portland, Oregon.

Read and/or watch the New York Times depiction of the Rose City and then dig this person’s comment which I’m assigning an “A+”:

“It’s a very pretty video. Please forgive my peeve. Some of us aren’t cheering.

It’s the weirdest feeling to have lived somewhere your whole life and suddenly feel like a stranger. The aggressively smug city in the video is not Portland as many of us know it (or knew–past tense–and loved it). Portland is unrecognizable to me, anymore. Portland was a decided introvert until fairly recently; a dark, foggy haven for privacy-loving people, many of them genuine eccentrics–not the braying and proud ‘Portland Weird’ of now.

The self-satisfied extrovert it has become is due mainly to hype and an internet-fed culture of rootlessness and restlessness (“I can do better!”), spawning quality-o’-life-seeking newcomers looking to reinvent themselves and put their stamp on what too many have regarded as a tabula rasa, ignoring what existed before they arrived to ‘improve’ it.

The noisy eagerness with which new lookalike (mostly white, mostly moneyed) arrivals and discoverers advertise and idealize the city feels like an extension of FB-fed narcissism and now-epidemic attention seeking. “I found it! I discovered it! Look what I did!” Portland makes a great FB post, a great tweet, a great NY Times feature. It reflects well on mememe. Aren’t we all clever for discovering this place? We are curators!

“Authentic” is not a word I’d use to describe Portland now. And I always thought relentless self congratulation was the antithesis of ‘cool.'”

How does one add to that? It’s not just a very thoughtful take-down of the NYT, it’s a trenchant critique of our penchant for superficial travel.

What We Want

Decent pay and benefits to take the family to a beisbol game on Memorial Day weekend and to be able to go to a doctor or dentist as needed. No small feat anymore.

Compensation and benefits communicate how much an employer values it employees, but employees need less tangible signs of respect and appreciation as well. Specifically, they need reminders that their work matters. That they make a positive difference, that the team wouldn’t be as effective without them. The more specific and genuine the words of encouragement, the more influential.

Along with decent compensation and affirmation, employees want to be listened to. They want a voice in decision-making. They want to be asked, “What do you think? Why?”

It’s not that complicated—compensation, affirmation, participation.