February 28, 2024

Omakase (forty-two)

We celebrated my forty-second birthday last week by getting a babysitter and going out for sushi.

There are many things I love about a sushi omakase: the surprise of not knowing what will be served, the ability to try a few dozen different things that aren’t all on the regular menu, the fun in bantering with the sushi chef and getting to learn more about what you’re eating. What I love most about an omakase, however, is the precision and artistry that the itamae brings to every bite they serve to you.

In an omakase, every course is one bite, and in that bite, an opportunity to not only wow you with the quality of the fish and the flavors of the composition, but also to impress you with the immense mastery of craft needed to create a piece that is delicious, intricate, and visually stunning. A piece of sushi in an omakase is a work of art in every sense of the word, and I appreciate the artistry in each one.

That night, we were the only ones in the restaurant doing the omakase, so we had a chance to watch Peter, our sushi chef, prepare every piece and chat with him as he did. It was clear that he took significant pride in his work; it showed in the precision of his preparation, the artistry of his every finished product.

It’s inspiring to see someone treat their work as art, to invest that much care into the small details of everything they do. That’s the inspiration I’ll be taking into my 43rd year: a reminder that my work (both in the career sense and outside of the office) can and should be done with care, investment, and artistry. I thank my birthday omakase for that inspiration.

A poem

blessing the boats
Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Reading well:

At the beginning you are alone with just the characters. By the end, you are alone with just the author. To hear him well demands no other distractions. When one reads, or at least when I read, it is always very slowly and in a voice. Perhaps you have already imagined a voice you are reading this in. Say hello for me.

Reading is letting someone else model the world for you. This is an act of intimacy. When the author is morose, you become morose. When he is mirthful, eventually you may share in it. And after finishing a very good book one is driven a little mad, forced to return from a world that no one nearby has witnessed.

On the Bulletpointization of Books:

With the rise of year-end reading goals on sites like Goodreads, even those of us who actually like to read can get caught up in the commodification of reading, where productivity must increase year over year. Optimization and efficiency leave very little room for meandering walks with great big books that require deep thought and engagement. And I don’t know about you but that’s what I love about literature the most.

How do you know if you have a good cat:

The idea that someone — let alone hundreds of people — would put their cat into a contest is foreign to me. I cannot fathom caring about ranking cats or undertaking the apparent effort being put in here. Why one cat might be better” than the next is a mystery.

Literacy crisis in college students:

For most of my career, I assigned around 30 pages of reading per class meeting as a baseline expectation–sometimes scaling up for purely expository readings or pulling back for more difficult texts. (No human being can read 30 pages of Hegel in one sitting, for example.) Now students are intimidated by anything over 10 pages and seem to walk away from readings of as little as 20 pages with no real understanding. Even smart and motivated students struggle to do more with written texts than extract decontextualized take-aways. Considerable class time is taken up simply establishing what happened in a story or the basic steps of an argument–skills I used to be able to take for granted.

People Are More Generous Than You May Think:

Humanity hasn’t thrived all these centuries because we’re ruthlessly selfish; we’ve thrived because we’re really good at cooperation.

How to Comment on Social Media:

Nothing exists but social media. No one does anything offline. So the entire measure of someone’s commitment is how much they post about their commitment. Never mind if the noble cause is their day job, the thing they donate to extensively, the volunteer work they do; only the racket made online matters. Let the beginning and the end of thy commitment be the noise you make about that commitment (and others’ lack of commitment), and make it loud.

In the Shadow of Silicon Valley:

Driverless cars are often called autonomous vehicles — but driving isn’t an autonomous activity. It’s a co-operative social activity, in which part of the job of whoever’s behind the wheel is to communicate with others on the road. Whether on foot, on my bike or in a car, I engage in a lot of hand gestures — mostly meaning wait!’ or go ahead!’ — when I’m out and about, and look for others’ signals. San Francisco Airport has signs telling people to make eye contact before they cross the street outside the terminals. There’s no one in a driverless car to make eye contact with, to see you wave or hear you shout or signal back.

Why Americans Suddenly Stopped Hanging Out:

The second explanation is that people are hanging out less because we’re all so damn busy. As The New York Times Jessica Grose notes, people in their 30s and 40s have less leisure time than they did two decades ago. As Anne Helen Petersen has said, Americans have a tendency to spread out, and the built environment of the U.S. housing market forces many people to move away from friends and family, which means they ultimately buy a bit of loneliness with their money.

The surreal life of a professional bridesmaid:

It also tells her something else: that people don’t have the support networks they need, not just on their wedding day but in everyday life. Making friends, maintaining friends is really hard,” she says. I think people are lonelier than ever.”

And that’s what Glantz is really selling: a support system. A friend-meets-therapist-meets-assistant who will always text you back and can weather any crisis, from holding another bridesmaid’s hair back as she pukes to running interference between divorced parents reuniting for the first time, no matter how mentally, physically, or emotionally exhausting.

Cousins are disappearing. Is this reshaping the experience of childhood?:

Canadian data obtained by CBC News from the researchers of the kinship study projects that the average Canadian 15-year-old girl will have just 3.6 living cousins in the year 2095, compared to 15.3 in 1950 — a 76 per cent decrease in living cousins.

We’re not big on screen time with the kiddo here in our household, but for a long time, when she did get to watch something, she wanted to watch Cocomelon. It’s a show that every kid loves, and every parent hates.

The Whitney Houston performance of the US national anthem is still my favorite, but I have a soft spot for the Marvin Gaye rendition too. I love this interactive data analysis of the most diva” performances of the national anthem.

I listed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on my list of no skips” albums, and it’s clear that the album has had a lasting impact on hip-hop, R&B, and music in general.

If you’ve enjoyed Night Country recently, or any of Foster’s previous work, it’s well worth checking out this profile of Jodie Foster.

This NYT article on underage Instagram influencers and the men who prey on them is horrifying. We don’t ever post any photos of our daughter online at all, so I’m baffled by this desire of parents to create brands based off their child’s photos and videos.

We use Slack heavily at work, so these stories about how it was built are fascinating.

A few of my thoughts from reading Recoding America by Jennifer Pahlka:

Reading Jennifer Pahlka’s Recoding America was a perfect reminder of why I do the work I do. Pahlka provides a number of examples of how thinking differently about the way we deliver services leads to better outcomes for people, and how thinking differently requires having digital talent inside government.

I ate chili dogs, one of my favorite things in the world to eat, on my birthday weekend. My favorite hot dog variation is the Detroit coney (haven’t had one of those in much too long) so I enjoyed revisiting this old article on the origins and impact of the coney in Michigan and environs.

My media diet for the months of January and February: a list of all the television shows, movies, and books I’ve jumped into over the past two months.

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