Mark Bernstein at The Atlantic

Mark is pinch-hitting this week for James Fallows at The Atlantic.

Mark blogs the way he cooks, with a flair for improvisation. ( If his blog were a restaurant, it would have a huge open kitchen.) Right now he's down about search-engine optimization, because it threatens to cut off yet another avenue through which chance and improv might, if we were lucky, allow good things to find their way into our writing and research. And indeed there's something scary about a web search that thinks it knows what you want better than you do.

In the kitchen, Mark discovers, the story is both the same and different. Instead of succumbing to despair about SEO, he makes a soup with what's around. This point is crucial. In southern Italy last summer, we ate at a restaurant that operated on the same principle, which meant the offerings were fresh, local, and very limited. But like a sonnet, the limitations of the pantry in its present condition can prove as inspiring as a farmer's market in high summer, or at least more inspiring than the ersatz perpetual farmer's market that is Whole Foods.

Of course, this is allegory. It touches real life only at certain points, and I am choosing those points in order to make a really obvious point: What matters is how we define an "optimal" search result. (And, who gets to define it.)

Just like an allegory, the contents of Mark's fridge point to his preoccupations. His search is already optimized. There's some leftover chicken stock -- the real thing, homemade, sourced from another meal, and they are all memorable. So the stock seems to have not just a history but an identity. But this, too, is a reification, an inadmissible level of search-engine optimization. Like the search engine that knows too much, the stock threatens to ossify, to go right back to bones. So into the pot it goes -- because, as Mark writes, "I am not saving it for a museum."

This is more wit and wisdom than you usually get for free anywhere, on or off the Web, plus he includes a link to a cocktail, known as a Last Word, which sounds about right, and is probably not bad with a cheese sandwich either. Go read the whole thing.