The Sunday Post for March 5, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat.

Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation — and Its Importance Now

Wyatt Mason’s humility lifts this interview with Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits beyond its style-magazine setting. Maybe because Mason asks “some stupid questions,” each of the three musicians responds directly and unpretentiously, offering up their take on songwriting and the relationship between music and the world in times of crisis. E.g., this anecdote from Tom Waits’ days as a firefighter in Jacumba, California:

The captain says: ‘WAITS!!! Take that hose and start putting out some of these chickens.’ So there I am aiming at these flying, screaming, burning chickens, and I had never seen a chicken fly before, but boy can they fly. ... There had to be a hundred or so of them and the blast of water would douse the fire and they would come crashing to the ground — and then another and another. There was no time to think or prepare.”

Here it was, as Waits closed out his story, here it was again, here was where songs come from: “It was an emergency,” he wrote, “and when dealing with emergent behavior there is nothing to do but respond. I was in the moment. And it was not the fire I imagined or dreamed of. It was the fire I got.”

Quest For Solace

After the deaths of her daughter and husband, Katherine Keith re-taught herself to live on a thousand-mile dogsled race through the Alaskan wilderness.

Her parka finally zipped over her four other coats and two Smartwool shirts, she starts putting Velcro-strapped booties on her Alaskan huskies, a tedious task even in ideal conditions. It's like putting Velcro boots on a baby, only instead of two feet there are four and instead of one baby there are 11, and instead of being inside a warm nursery, she is outside in Alaska in February. She's barehanded, with fingers that have been wrecked by the cold for days already.

The danger of this cold is very real and goes beyond frostbitten finger tips. With more than 200 miles left in her first Yukon Quest, Katherine, 38, can't afford mistakes.

Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic In Design Thinking

I’m not sure I agree with Jared Spool’s description of “design thinking” here. The term’s power, at IDEO and elsewhere, is less about changing perceptions of design, more about using design strategies to solve other kinds of problems — in transportation and education, for example. Still, it’s good to see someone call it out for what it is: useful jargon, but no magic bullet.

For the longest time, I didn’t get it. It seemed like we just added a new name to an old thing. Nothing was different. I thought it wouldn’t last.

But it did. Everywhere I’d go, there would be presentations where folks would talk about how they’ve introduced design thinking into their organization. (My wife and I would play this game. If we hear someone say “design thinking” in a presentation, we’d each try to be the first to say “I’M DESIGNING WITH MY THOUGHTS!”)

PPE: the Oxford degree that runs Britain

The British educational experience has a host of familiar touchpoints for readers: coming of age, empire building, and quidditch, to name just a few. Here’s a more current and less innocent lens from Andy Beckett. The PPE — a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics — has birthed generations of British political leaders. How did a single Oxford degree become so influential? And where is it leading England?

Oxford PPE remains opaque to outsiders. It is often mentioned in the media but rarely explained. Even to know what PPE stands for is to be unusually well-informed about British education and power – often, to be part of the same Oxford milieu as the PPEists. When I asked one former party leader what he got from the degree, he said with studied insouciance: “Why would you want to write about PPE?” As the establishment often says when scrutinised: nothing to see here.