Barbies, NPR, and working in your twenties

Welcome to another installment of Bennett’s Bulletin!  Let’s get right down to it.  Here’s your weekly dose of stuff I like:


  • Music I like: 3 recommendations this week, after no music recommendations last week (except Bieber’s “What Do You Mean”).

    Beck, “Morning” | Leadoff track from 2014’s Album of the Year.  Highly recommend as a chill album.  Beck is a great musician.

    Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers, “Jesus Gave Me Water” | Totally different vibe.  A capella with vocals from one of my favorite singers of the 20th century.

    Shakey Graves, “Dearly Departed (Live)” | Love the chemistry in this performance.  Comes independently recommended from all the roommates at the Varnum Estate.

  • Quote to ponder: “Most people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” -anonymous, misattributed to Benjamin Franklin

    I came across the quote in an article about being “employed by culture.”  The idea that life builds conditioning and momentum toward a life that I don’t want scares me.  Every documentary and book on education reform ever says our education system trains workers not thinkers.  Then, at the end of school, mainstream culture presents two options: more school or work 9-5.  All of this bears a tremendous force of habit on our psyches.  How do we learn to be creative and flexible if we never have the opportunity to practice?

    All of a sudden my 20s seem like a critical time in my life.  I don’t think my dad would mind me paraphrasing something he said to me on Tuesday,

    “I was so worried about what others expected of me in my twenties that I didn’t give enough weight to what I wanted.”

    For my fellow young people, what worries you about habit and cultural norms?  More interesting to me, I’d love to hear from my older readers with their perspectives on this issue.  How much of your life trajectories were shaped in your 20s?

  • Cool thing I watched this week: The new Barbie ad.

    It has been getting a lot of praise for making Barbie a vehicle of female empowerment.  I like the ad itself.

    Many have criticized Mattel, perhaps correctly, that Barbies still give girls unrealistic body images and are far more focused on princesses, fashion, and cheerleaders than professors, veterinarians, or coaches.  A manuscript of a research paper is currently under peer review that asserts even when playing with career-oriented Barbies, what girls take away is not information about the career, but information about becoming a Barbie.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you played with Barbies growing up.

  • Pop culture follow-up: I got some GREAT responses this week to last week’s section(s) on pop culture.  Two responses, from Kathy and Emily (two people who have never met, I don’t think), play especially well off one another.  I had to share these thoughts/links with everyone.  My comments are in brackets.

    Kathy on the legitimacy of pop culture:

    “Speaking of guilty pleasures, two articles that legitimize pop music by pointing out that they’re—for the most part—designed to be earworms. One’s about Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream [BG: I love how this is music theory-based] and the other’s about Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone. (For the record, both songs are *GREAT*, and I give a lot of credit to the talented artists who perform them).”

    Then from Emily:

    “On the pop culture note, the idea of guilty pleasures reminds me of an article that I read a couple of days ago about how people are inclined to hate things that teenage girls like: Justin Bieber, pumpkin spice lattes, etc. here it is:

    [BG: Making fun of teenage girls in major media struck me with how much we disparage liking mainstream things.  It’s cool to hate on teenage girls.  It seems sexist, and there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent for boys.”]

    Then Kathy digs a little deeper into the classism of guilty pleasures:

    “About the pop culture being taboo, I think there was an awesome discussion about this online last summer when NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me interviewed Kim Kardashian and tons of NPR’s loyal listeners were enraged about the fact that they would give airtime to such a “vapid, untalented, unimportant, etc. etc.” guest. Mike Pesca (who guest-hosted that week) wrote an op-ed about the inherent hypocrisy of writing off/dismissing pop culture phenomena, which a lot of “educated” or “cultured” people feel the need to do.” [BG: Hating on guilty pleasures also seems classist.  The unspoken side is that “you wouldn’t like Kim Kardashian if you were better educated/richer.”]

    And Emily comments on the psychology and social pressure of guilty pleasures:

    “My friends half-jokingly make fun of me for being a “basic white girl” … [It] often feels like low-key shaming for liking these “mainstream” things. Thus, I keep a lot of it under wraps. [You’re not alone there.  I definitely keep it under wraps.  The times when I do tell people that I like The Bachelorette, people think I’m joking or there’s always a hint of irony when really I just like it.] I feel the need to advertise the more “intellectual” or “interesting” things about myself because I think it will get me more respect.”

    Thanks y’all for the great responses (and being willing to share them publicly).  I’m still interested in everybody’s guilty pleasures, so if you have more to share with me please do!

  • Obligatory link to the Star Wars trailer

One more thing, thanks to you all for a great first month for my newsletter.  I’ve really enjoyed writing it.  I love getting your emails, and I appreciate your support.  I hope it’s valuable and interesting to you each week.  Please let me know what I can do better.

If something in here made you think of something cool (link, photo, idea, memory) or if you have questions send them to me!

As always, let me know your suggestions!  Do you want more or less of something?  You can just reply directly to this email.

Have a great week!

Justin Bieber, deep frying, and solitude

Welcome to another installment of Bennett’s Bulletin!  Let’s get right down to it.  Here’s your weekly dose of stuff I like:


  1. Awesome thing to watch: The guys at ChefSteps deep fry all the things.  I ate fried ice cream at Eden’s birthday dinner, so when I saw a video of these guys deep frying ice cream, smores, pb&j, ramen, etc I was intrigued.  Their whole youtube channel is legit if you’re into beautiful imagery of food and culinary experiments.

  2. Quote I like: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” -Thoreau, from Walden

    This is a follow-up from my question on transcendentalism from newsletter #1.  I’ve been reading bits of Walden to figure out what transcendentalism is, and it’s hard to define. Basically, transcendentalists believe that the universe is knowable only through personal experience and introspection, not through religion or objective reality. Thoreau found solitude to be most helpful, and he lived in the woods and wrote about his experience and insights on life.  It has me thinking about a debate that has been in my head for a while about renunciation and asceticism.  Maybe it’s a mischaracterization, but I’m not convinced running away from society is a desirable or possible alternative to society.  (Thoreau was only able to do it because of his buddy Emerson who owned the land near Walden pond after all. He made numerous trips to Concord and had guests to his cabin.)  I guess it’s hard to draw a distinction between asceticism and minimalism, too, and I like minimalism.

    In regards to transcendentalist philosophy, introspection is important and I agree that religion, politics, and ideologies shouldn’t be blindly accepted or followed.  I also agree that solitude and the woods can foster introspection (warning: that article is long, but interesting) in a way that’s not possible during the day-to-day.  I’m not so sure that solitude is a solution or cure-all.  Nor do I believe that spiritual, internal interpretations of the world always trump rational, empirical ones.  Perhaps my reluctance about solitude just comes from Thoreau and I need to read other transcendentalists.

    Too long; didn’t read – I like the introspection of transcendentalism, but I’m not so convinced about renunciation and solitude.

  3. Let’s talk about fashion: If you’re a man, you know fashion options are uninteresting.  If you have a job that requires business casual or higher, you’re pretty much limited to pants, a button-up, and shoes.  Adventurous fashionistos can experiment with jackets, pocket squares, ties, and sweaters.  Maybe your pants are cuorduroy instead of slacks.  You could get a pair of wild wingtips or loafers.  For the most part, though, men’s fashion is standardized.  It feels like the choice is between weird or boring.

    From that article:

    “Men can have style – Jarvis Cocker and Charlie Watts have style – but it seems they can’t have fashion. What I mean is that men don’t have the fun of reading about changing trends, as women do, and playing dress-up, being a severe monochrome one day and then a fun 50s flirt the next. Changeability, I think, is seen as girlish, or something, which is ridiculous. And while it means men do save a lot of money by not trying out trends, it also means they miss out on a lot of fun.”

    The distinction between style and fashion is one I had never considered, but it helps explain why I’m bored by men’s clothing.  Men’s fashion has its defenders, too, of course.  And women’s business dress has its own limitations.

    Anyway, I’d love to get y’all’s thoughts.  Men, what are your problems with male fashion? Or am I making this into too big of a thing?  Women, what are your problems with male fashion?  With female fashion?

  4. Let’s talk about pop culture: Someone wrote me this week with an idea for the newsletter:

    First, I love JT, too.

    Second, this is great. I love the observation that pop culture is seen as dumb and petty.  Maybe it is, but don’t pretend you don’t like something just because it’s popular or catchy.

    Third, Justin Beiber’s new song, “What Do You Mean,”  is not awful.  I said it.  It sounds ok in my ears. Thanks for the suggestion, and I’ll talk more often about pop culture.

  5. A question for you: Now that I’m thinking about tv, music, pop culture, I’m curious.  What are your “guilty pleasures?”

    I’m intrigued by the psychology of pleasure, luxury, and things we secretly like.  I’d love to hear what things you indulge.  Trashy tv you watch, celebrities you stalk, pop music you love, gossip blogs you read.

    For me, I love The Bachelorette, and I love George Clooney. What are your “guilty pleasures?”


One other thing, Stephen Hawking weighed in on our robots/AI debate.  Fascinating take from a smart dude.  Let me know what y’all think.

If something in here made you think of something cool (link, photo, idea, memory) or if you have questions send them to me!  

Also, let me know your suggestions!  Do you want more or less of something?  You can just reply directly to this email.

Have a great week!

Cyber criminals, opera, and the future of work

Welcome to another installment of Bennett’s Bulletin!  My favorite part of writing this newsletter, so far, is reading your reactions.  This is fun, and I’m learning.

Here’s your weekly dose of stuff I like:

Story for your ears:

Listen to this week’s Radiolab on cyber criminals. Meet a lady who had all of her files encrypted and held ransom by hackers.  Also, an interview with one of the founders of Darkode, the place where hackers go to buy and sell scripts, programs, and backdoor access to normal computers (not to fearmonger, but maybe even yours?).

I also have to share one of the mindblowingest things I’ve read.  A few months ago, I read a series of in-depth posts on artificial intelligence.  Most scientists agree artificial intelligence will radically change the world, probably in ways you’re not expecting, and it’ll happen sooner rather than later.  If you don’t know about the singularity and what might happen when computers become smarter than us, check out the post above for a great primer.

Quote for your mind:

“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible” – WH Auden

Which leads me to…

Music for your ears:

2 recommendations, very different –

“Nessun Dorma” performed by Pavarotti from Puccini’s opera Turandot.  Not all opera is for everybody, but this song is for everybody.  If you don’t know how great Pavarotti was, you need to see the ease with which he sings this soaring aria.  I get choked up every time.

“How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees.  Okay, listen to it once just to love how awesome and groovy and sexy it is.  Then go back and listen to the bass line – totally counterintuitive.

Amazing human doing amazing things:

Ido Portal. ‘Nuff said.

Thing I’m thinking about:

The eight hour work day is arbitrary and not sensible.  I like my job, but eight hours straight and forty hours a week is too much.  Most days, I do my work in 4-6 hours, and the rest of the time is spent on breaks or clicking around the internet.  It’s frustrating, because I’m obligated to be in the office even when my work is done.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  This week I’ve read a lot of articles about Sweden making the move to 6-hours.  Of course, some people rightly point out that Sweden’s success with 6-hours could be from workers focusing on being productive under a new schedule.  In a few years, Sweden’s workers could end up reverting to earlier productivity levels, but only 30 hours a week.

To all this I say, maybe less human productivity isn’t a bad thing.  I mean I just posted an article above on artificial intelligence.  It’s very likely humans will have less stuff to do in the future as computers take stuff over.  Although some argue technology creates more jobs than it destroys.

These are just nebulous ideas bouncing around my brain.  Please let me know what you think.  Is the 6-hour day (or the 0-hour day) wishful thinking or a definite eventuality?

If something in here made you think of something cool (link, photo, idea, memory) or if you have questions send them to me!

Also, let me know your suggestions!  Do you want more or less of something?  You can just reply directly to this email.

Have a great week!


Comedians, Transcendentalists, and Nobel Prize Winners

This is an experiment for you and for me, so I hope you/I like it.

The idea is pretty simple. I’ll send you ~5 bullet points of things I’m enjoying or thinking about each week.  I’m giving this a trial run of 10 weeks, and if it goes well I’ll keep doing it.

By the way, thanks to everybody who sent in ideas for what you’d like to read about.  Some of your responses were… interesting.

I got people asking about flying cars. Someone wanted me to tell everybody how beautiful he is. And then there’s this gem:
Screenshot 2015-09-29 at 20.png

The first three (four?) points aside, this brings me to my first bullet point –

Question for this weekend:

What the heck is transcendentalism? I have a vague memory of studying it in 11th grade and an even foggier idea of what the word suggests.  Gotta do a little research.

Of course, if you’re well-read in transcendentalist philosophy please point me in the right direction.

Awesomest thing I’ve watched this week:

Talking Funny is an HBO special that Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, and Louis CK did back in 2011.  This week wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it, but I keep coming back to it because it’s (1) hilarious and (2) insightful about how to become good at something.  I love the way they deconstruct their own jokes, reducing something as complicated as comedy to its working parts, and emphasizing the importance of deliberate practice and being bad at something before you can get good at something.

As an aside, if you’re interested in getting good at something, I highly recommend Cal Newport’s thoughts on deliberate practice.

What I’m reading these days:

I’m reading (and loving) Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  This book about comic books, loss, sexuality, and World War II won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.  An added bonus: Michael Chabon is a Pitt grad.

Music Recommendations:

Three recommendations – one for jamming, one for chilling, and one from the 80s.  Jam out to “How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy. Chill to “Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” by Foo Fighters (you read that correctly, chill out to Foo Fighters).  From the 80s, “Easy Lover” by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind, and Fire (the music video is totally rad).

Quote from this week:

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” ― Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.  I’m listening to the audiobook of his “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”  It’s incredible how simultaneously amazing and error-prone our brains are.

I really want this newsletter to be interactive, so if something in here made you think of something cool (link, photo, idea, memory) or if you have questions send them to me!

Also, let me know your questions and suggestions!  Do you want more or less of something? You can just reply below.