Zadie Smith, Why the USPS Exists, and the FCC: Today’s Recommended Reading

Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the Internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘Net are doing, too. Today we have criticism from Zadie Smith, a look at the history and importance of the United States Postal Service, the FCC’s fight to deregulate set-top cable boxes, and a look at why Seth Meyers is today’s best late night host — and nobody’s watching him.

First, at The Daily Dot Michelle Jaworski writes on Seth Meyers, who on Late Night has stealthily become one of TV’s best interviewers. Unlike Fallon or Kimmel or Corden, he doesn’t rely on scripted comedy bits to capture viral views, and that could be hurting him. 

In most cases, if you have a show that’s great with only so-so or terrible ratings, it’s probably going to get canceled. While late-night TV is on a lower curve than the primetime lineup in terms of expectations, it still matters. It’s what got Arsenio Hall and Pete Holmes’s respective talk shows canceled in recent years, after all.

Late Night With Seth Meyers isn’t tailor-made to go viral and doesn’t always have a snappy title, like pretty much anything The Tonight Show puts out. Just watch the previews that appear on NBC in the morning: They’ll list the guests and games that Fallon plays, but Meyers’ guests sometimes don’t even get a full mention. And Meyers certainly doesn’t have a two-year anniversary special coming up, whereas NBC just put a two-hour special full of Tonight Show highlights out for Fallon onValentine’s Day.

At Wired, a meaty look at the Federal Communications Commission’s attempts at deregulating cable boxes so that Time Warner and Comcast subscribers can circumvent the shoddy set-top devices provided by the companies, allowing for increased competition and, theoretically, more innovation in the sector. 

“Each consumer has invested thousands of dollars into the box without having any ownership,” says Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, a trade association for “competitive networks” backed by Google, Amazon, Netflix, and others. “That’s a monopoly business model.”

The distribution of set-top boxes, then, is essentially a monopoly within an already monopolistic industry. The FCC, working off of a 20-year-old Congressional mandate that customers should be able to choose their equipment when they sign up for paid television, wants to foment an environment in which consumers pick which set-top box they want, whether it’s from their cable provider, or Google, or some unforeseen hero of basic cable delivery innovation.

Zadie Smith tackles Charlie Kaufman, Schopenhauer, and The Polar Express at The New York Review of Books. Mostly, it’s about the uncanniness of simulacra, but it’s also just a good read. 

Many viewers, as soon as they hear Bella’s voice-over, must at once understand the central conceit of the movie, but I don’t think I was the only one initially misdirected by wonder. I was too busy marveling at the puppets, at the mixture of artifice and realism they represent, with their peach-fuzz skins of silicone, and their hair-like hair, and not-quite fluid and yet entirely recognizable human gestures. Although not physically proportional—they are slightly shorter and squatter than us—they seem to buy their clothes from the same big-box stores, and pop the same pills, and use the same neck rests.

Lastly, Motherboard’s Rachel Pick digs into the history of the United States Postal Service, searching for a reason for the antiquated institution’s continued existence. Her conclusion? Mostly that it’s still here because it’s been here so long. 

The postal service dates back to the earliest days of the United States, and is one of the few government agencies specifically provided for in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 explicitly states “The Congress shall have Power…To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” And government, both at the federal and local levels, uses the good old USPS for important documents like vehicle registration renewal and jury summons. And don’t forget zip codes, which were created for the postal service but have now become a basic part of living in the US, used for things like statistical analysis and credit card verification.

This is probably the simplest explanation for why the postal service still exists:it’s been around for so long that it’s pretty tightly woven into the fabric of the rest of the US government, as well as citizens’ lives. But in 2013, when President Obama proposed cutting Saturday mail delivery to save money, it prompted some surprisingly strong calls to abolish the office altogether.