Monday, July 21, 2014


A Smart Girl's Guide To Responding To Pop Stars

We've all been there: You're having a great day, just hangin' out with your friends, enjoying your space, when one of those pesky pop stars shows up thinking he can seduce you with his sexist lyrics and gyrating hips. Sometimes it's so vulgar and obscene you're flabbergasted and stand there, wondering what you should say! Well, wonder no more. Here's a handy guide of appropriate responses and clever come-backs that will banish the know-nothing chauvinists who have somehow weaseled their way onto the radio.




Ok, first of all, not a big deal or anything, but just so you don’t get embarrassed in the future: it’s “LIE in it instead” not “LAY in it instead.” Lay is the past-tense of lie. That’s a common mistake. Don’t be too bummed out about it—language is evolving and everything, I’m just saying.

Now that that’s out of the way: You don’t get to decide how much I have to drink when I hang out with you. I don’t really care how much you “like it better.” I mean, you can go ahead and get wasted all you want, but I gotta warn you, you’re kind of a sloppy drunk. Maybe you think that whole throwing-yourself-on-the-bed-where-I-JUST-folded-my-laundry-while-I’m-getting-you-a-glass-of-water move is sexy, but I don’t know WHY. I’m much more interested in spending my time with people who want to have conversations with me in which they are able to complete sentences and remember topics. Pro tip: sober up, dance like no one’s watching, and then see if you can make an honest connection with another human being, OK?

Also, please fix my laundry. You fucked it up, and I have other stuff to do.





You'll Never Have Nothing to Read Again

"Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now," grumps David Carr: well, if we must access Bill Hader's thorough and fairly excellent list of book recommendations via the internet, so be it:

What are your literary guilty pleasures? Do you have a favorite genre?

I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure,” because it implies I should feel ashamed for liking something. A real guilty pleasure would be, I don’t know, taking gratification in some stranger’s ghastly death or something — which I guess I do enjoy, because I read a ton of true crime. So, O.K., O.K., I have a guilty pleasure, and it’s true crime. [...] Good true-crime books: David Simon’s “Homicide”; “In Cold Blood” (obviously); “Columbine,” by Dave Cullen; “Under the Banner of Heaven,” by Jon Krakauer; “The Devil in the White City,” by Erik Larson; “In Broad Daylight,” by Harry N. MacLean; “Shot in the Heart,” by Mikal Gilmore; “A Wilderness of Error,” by Errol Morris.

Elsewhere, of course, the New Yorker's just unpaywalled their archive from 2007 on. Longform's got 25 recommendations culled from these new releases (my favorites from this list, shimmering immediately, are Tad Friend's "Crowded House" and John Colapinto's "The Interpreter"), and I am most excited personally to reread Sarah Payne Stuart's gorgeous, quiet "Pilgrim Mothers" and Atul Gawande's masterpiece of nightmare "The Itch."


Origami Indistinguishable From Magic

cuckoo clockVQR's interview with origami wizard Robert Lang is geeky, unfathomable, and incredibly cool:

Joshua Foer: I want to start by asking you about how you made a name for yourself in the field of origami. As I understand, it all started with a single work you completed in 1987.

Yes, the cuckoo clock. It has leaves around the outside and a deer’s head on top, and a cuckoo, of course, coming out the door, and pinecone weights, and the pendulum, and all of this is folded from a single uncut sheet of paper. Oh, and it told the correct time twice a day. That got a lot of attention in the origami world, which is a very small world but it’s still got a lot of competition. After that, one thing led to another.

Just so we’re all clear about the terms here: That was folded with one uncut sheet of paper—​no glue?

No glue.

How big was the paper?

A one-​by-​ten-​foot rectangle.

Lang, who talks about origami's effect on medicine and industrial design (and has more than 50 patents under his name and was formerly the editor of a quantum electronics journal) gives heartening career advice ("Pursue your passion and not really worry about whether there’s a practical payoff. Many things you wouldn’t have thought would have a practical payoff, like paper-​folding, turn out to have one") that is also probably best followed under condition of first being a genius. [VQR]


This Is The Day Before 40

It's my birthday and I'll weep uncontrollably if I want to“July 18th” read the email that appeared a couple of weeks ago at the top of my inbox, so bold-faced and full of promise.

Ah, the day before my 40th birthday, I thought; Josh must have something fun planned for My Big Middle-Aged Moment. Dinner at State Bird? A weekend in Big Sur? Ooo, a Billy Joel concert?

Back when 40 sounded as far, far away as 50, I had all sorts of plans, too. Oh, by 40 I was supposed to have been a New Yorker staff writer; a Kenyan-level marathoner; an unselfish mother. (I mean, if a mother at all, which was not so much on my "To Accomplish List" as it was on my "To Put Off Until the Last Possible Moment and My Husband Makes Me List.")

I was supposed to be the mature adult I’d always avoided being, but by the time I actually turned 40 presumed I’d just naturally, you know, be.

But now here I am, a day away from the birthday every female dreads—despite Tom Junod’s recent backhanded ode to women even two whole years older—and I’m 0 for 3:

The New Yorker once paid me $1,200 for a short piece, but then it never ran. I haven’t run 26.2 miles since the year 2000. And as for the unselfish mother thing... weeeell, I just took a two-week solo trip to Bhutan, the other happiest place on earth, and left my two little kids at home.

Which brings me to my less, shall we say, lofty goals. You know, the stuff I just expected to have gotten around to by the dawn of my fourth decade. Like, learn to ride a bike. (Yup, pathetic, I know. 0 for 4.) READ MORE


"Impenetrable Abyss" Is the New Black

A British company has produced a "strange, alien" material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the "super black" coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

-Yeah, Vantablack is almost surely going to be used to kill people, but DAMN can you imagine that mascara?!?! [Independent]


"I’ve been booed in over 30 countries": The Ronda Rousey Story

Rowdy RouseyKelefa Sanneh profiles Ronda Rousey, the former Olympian judoka and currently star of the UFC's mixed martial arts circuit, in this week's New Yorker. The UFC's female division essentially exists because Rousey does; the 27-year-old has never lost and is known for a punishing, unique arm bar that she brought over from her judo training. She's both the sport's star and "heel" (her walk-up music in one match is Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation"), and no other woman can compete with her. "In order to keep the attention of a restless audience," Sanneh writes, "Rousey needs to find another Rousey":

When Rousey talks about her reputation, she often uses the language of professional wrestling, as if her heel turn were merely a ploy to drum up interest. “If you’re cheering and the person next to you is booing, you’re going to cheer louder,” she says. “I love that. I love creating conflict within the audience.” But at her most compelling she sounds less like a sly provocateur and more like a sensitive soul, deeply offended by those she feels have wronged her. During her judo days, crowds usually rooted against her, maybe just because she was an American, in a sport typically dominated by Asians and Europeans. “I’ve been booed in over thirty countries,” she says, and some part of her still seems surprised, and perhaps a little hurt, that stardom hasn’t eliminated this phenomenon.

[The New Yorker's shiny new website]


A Woman Tapes Her Street Harassers

Via BuzzFeed: a Minneapolis woman named Lindsay is talking to and taking video of her aggressive catcallers, as well as handing out these Cards Against Harassment (a gesture which many of the men find, naturally, to be quite aggressive). You will recognize so many awful interactions in this guy above, as well as this "I honestly don't know why you'd be offended" business bro, and this "bitch means that you're sexy" fellow, and oh no, all the other ones.

Lindsay's work is the Lord's work, requiring much more patience and blood-pressure regulation than my normal blank face/middle finger combo; in light of the fact that men tend to refrain from this behavior when other men are present, there cannot possibly be enough visibility on shitty harassment that half of the population barely blinks at and half of the population barely sees. [BF]


Laura Doggett, "Phoenix"

When's SOHN going to do a joint EP with some eerie, soulful female vocalist? This incredibly impressive debut from Laura Doggett puts his ambivalent and looping stutter in the background of a jazz-standard melody that runs like a black river: it's like Nina Simone crossed with Banks.


Weekend Roundup

bo peepWell, it's been a nightmare of a week as a bystander, so I'm going to go make some sangria in the chapel of flickering expectations and be horribly glad to be alive. In case you missed anything this week, we've got essays about porch sign syndrome, love and pie baking, city and country and town; we've got some improved yoga poses, period burgers, historical French murderesses, and questions from five-year-olds. We asked a Fancy Person and a Queer Chick and our favorite witch in the game, and we earned ourselves another day on earth in Los Angeles. Get on our level, last names and all, and have a wonderful weekend.

Photo via Brioso/Flickr


In Praise of Broads

STRITCHLike a lot of theater fans, I've been mourning the death of brassy Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. It means there’s one less fabulous, foul-mouthed, talented, gin-swilling broad on this earth. "You can't be funny unless you're tragic,” Strich once said, “and you can't be tragic unless you're funny." It’s a perfect piece of Broad Philosophy: an earthy, basic understanding of life’s ups and downs, and knowing that the only way to cope is to laugh.

I suddenly realized that nobody uses the word “broad” much anymore (save for the broads of Broad City, of course). The origins of this word are hazy, too. Some claim it refers to women’s hips being broader than a man’s, or that it refers to playing cards or meal tickets. (Hence the association with prostitution.) Later, broads were synonymous with floozies, and loud-mouthed, vulgar women. When Frank Sinatra used it in Guys and Dolls, the term was elevated a bit, but it still had the whiff of impropriety.

Whatever its source, few women ever willingly refer to themselves as broads. But I say we change that. It’s time to claim broad status with pride. When I think of a broad, I picture a quick-witted woman who can think on her feet, even if she’s wearing heels. I think of someone with a great sense of humor about themselves, humor that has been earned. A broad is a survivor with style. A broad enjoys male company but isn’t dependent on it. A broad is ballsy and uses salty language when she feels like it. A broad knows how to laugh and knows how to get out of a jam.

Most of all, I believe that a broad delivers zingers, which is why my list of broads may surprise you. Sure, Mae West was a broad—maybe the ultimate broad—but not because of the tight dresses and ability to belt out a song. Beyoncé does that, too, but she’s never delivered a zinger like, “Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.” Broads don’t take themselves or life that seriously. They know that one day you’re traveling first class, the next day you can’t afford coach. But you can look good either way.

Still confused? I’ve made a list of broads, stealth broads, and future broads.  READ MORE


Exhibits A, B, C, D. | July 18, 2014


Shlohmo x Jeremih, "Let It Go"

Halfway through my first listen (or actually, from the topline riff at 1:20 through its shifted rejoinder at 2:10) this song was already one of my very favorites of 2014. It’s impeccable, prayerful and debauched, pitch-black and incandescent: like early Bone Thugs filtered through two decades of tabloid cynicism and political nightmare and then flowering into this era of broad, broken, experimental pop. 10 out of 10 in my book (the Trap Book of Lamentations); the whole Shlohmo x Jeremih EP is up for free download here.


The Last Real Wilderness Is Time

coloradoThere is a long and beautiful monologue in Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York in which the author expounds upon the peculiar way in which the city lives, and the way that its inhabitants own everything in it, including the continuous and unstoppable state of change. The city, the reasoning goes, is always as you saw it when you first set foot there, and you become a New Yorker once you see an old place you once loved subducted and recycled to be something new. Your city lives in memory; the real city defies sentiment, swallows things whole.

I heard the author recite that passage during a film fundraiser. At the time I was still new to New York and in love with it. The phenomenon described seemed so romantic because I, probably like most people assembled in that room, had come from a place i found lethargic and dull. Whitehead confirmed the city as a mythical site of struggle and rebirth for people like us. What we, or I, failed or refused to recognize was that we were less spectators to the workings of the gargantuan creature that we lived in than lampreys held fast to its flank. I was flattering myself. In time I would have only made the city a worse place.

In true white post-grad fashion, I lasted only a year in New York. At the time it felt something like a defeat. Denver was a downgrade, even though it was much cheaper, with better weather, with older friends on hand. New York meant something that Denver didn't. When I came around to my new (old) home state, I lost touch with the singular triumphalism that Whitehead’s prose conveyed. New York had become in my mind a site to where young and lost (and middle-class-plus, and educated) people went to catch a bit of their own metamorphosis from that which was going on all around them at all hours of the day. That is a romantic narrative, of course, but even if the great cities of the world are often associated with the arc of the bildungsroman it is not because they are sufficient or even necessary to sustain it.

As you head west, civilization loosens its girdle. The invigorating thing about the East, and New York specifically, is its density. The legroom in Colorado is, by contrast, ludicrous. People have yards and Labradors milling about them. The supermarkets are yawning warehouses. The churches are also yawning warehouses, wrapped in glass and buffered by sprawling, barren parking lots, as though their essential ugliness had leaked out and caked the ground. The car remains as essential to functional living as the horse was 150 years ago. You can go your entire day and never be in a position to share personal space with anyone else, you can live your entire life as a shrink-wrapped unit kept septic from other people. In the city you are packed like sardines even when you mean nothing to one another.

A profound fear of other people is easier to accommodate in the country. It’s not impossible to sustain in the city, but the work that you put into it is more apparent. READ MORE

Man Vs. Word

pagesrainIn 1969, a psychologist named G. Harry McLaughlin published the results of a number of experiments he’d made on speed readers in the Journal of Reading. His fastest subject was Miss L., "a university graduate with an IQ of 140" who had taken a speed reading course and claimed to have achieved speeds of sixteen thousand words per minute "with complete comprehension." He hooked her up to the electro-oculograph, a device that measures eye movements, and let her rip.

Miss L. read Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust at 10,000 words per minute [...] When she was half way through I asked her for a recall [...] Miss L. recalled a number of details but only six [of twenty-four] main points. She did not mention the most crucial point of all, namely that the heroine was having an affair.

There is not much point in even opening A Handful of Dust if you aren’t going to twig to the fact that Brenda Last has betrayed her husband. Surely, nobody who has failed to catch the central premise of a book can be said to have "read" it. Woody Allen has an old and much-quoted joke along these lines: "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

On the other hand, though, even the slowest, most deliberate reading is no guarantee of comprehension, a point my friend Ron once made at a long-ago lunch. I’d asked him, "So what are you reading these days?"

Descartes, he replied, with an abstracted air; he’d just finished, he said.

"How did you like it?"

"I read each word."

Some weeks ago I was asked to try out a speed-reading phone app called Spritz: it's one of a number of new products from tech startups that are trying to Disrupt Reading in one way or another. The tech writer Jim Pagels of Slate wrote approvingly of the Spritz-like Spreeder app last year, which he'd been using for the better part of a year. He says he's been able to read a great deal more using it, and added, strikingly, "If only I’d known about [this] while in college, I may have actually gotten through all 1,000 pages of Tom Jones." The slogan of Spritz, Inc. is: "Reading, reimagined"; their product makes use of a technology called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation, or RSVP, which more or less boils down to showing you one word, or a few words, at a time. The company claims that their spin on the technique can enable us to read more, read faster and/or retain more of what we read.

RSVP was invented in 1970 by Kenneth I. Forster, a researcher at the University of Arizona. Aside from offering researchers a precisely controlled means of investigating language processing, the system has long suggested certain potential advantages over conventional reading: it requires a high level of attentiveness as the stream of words scrolls by, permitting less wandering of the mind, and it also requires far less eye movement on the reader’s part than does conventional reading.

In the case of Spritz, no eye movement at all is required of the reader; exactly one word is displayed at a time, and each word appears with its "optimum recognition point" in the same spot, and colored in red, in order to aid focus.

I find it quite relaxing to read using Spritz, in a way; because your eyes don’t move, the words just flow by, in a curiously unimpeded manner. You can change the speed from very slow—ordinary reading speed is around two hundred and fifty words per minute—all the way up to a thousand words a minute, which whizzes by at such a rate that I have trouble catching more than the barest gist of each sentence.



"I am the martyr of this TGI Friday's."

:(Caity Weaver's static odyssey in pursuit of infinity mozzarella sticks is a masterpiece uniting form, content, theory and object (respectively: prison diary or "gulag lit"; the haps over the course of 14 hours at a TGI Friday's; the Nietzschean chestnut that "only great pain, the long, slow pain that takes its time, forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths; I doubt that such pain makes us 'better,' but I know that it makes us more profound"; unlimited plates of mozzarella sticks).

5:17 p.m. A rib falls on the floor.

Like the idea of unlimited TGI Friday's apps itself, the piece is simultaneously excruciating and full of reward. [Gawker]