Friday, April 18, 2014


We're Totally Going To Set Up Kepler 186f With Earth

It is a bit bigger and somewhat colder, but a planet circling a star 500 light-years away is otherwise the closest match of our home world discovered so far, astronomers announced on Thursday.

The planet, known as Kepler 186f, named after NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, which detected it, has a diameter of 8,700 miles, 10 percent wider than Earth, and its orbit lies within the “Goldilocks zone” of its star, Kepler 186 — not too hot, not too cold, where temperatures could allow for liquid water to flow at the surface, making it potentially hospitable for life.

“Kepler 186f is the first validated, Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star,” Elisa V. Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., said at a news conference on Thursday. “It has the right size and is at the right distance to have properties similar to our home planet.”

EARTH, you stoked? Kepler186f is the right size, the right distance, it is the absolute best match we've found so far, and you certainly don't have much time left to play the field anyway as we humans are about to end you. More about this George Michael/Maeby situation (Kepler 186f is actually perhaps best described as Earth's "cousin") at the New York Times.


Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Short Story "Light Is Like Water"

Gabriel García Márquez died yesterday at age 87 at home in Mexico City; he was a genius and a magician, and we are lucky to have his work so lucent in the canon, the crystallization of a genre whose influence spreads so far beyond literature, compressing and exploding so much of human instinct and power and need. Here's his Paris Review Art of Fiction interview ("The trouble is that many people believe that I’m a writer of fantastic fiction, when actually I’m a very realistic person and write what I believe is the true socialist realism"), and a very short story that I love painfully, called "Light Is Like Water." It's about two little brothers and a boat, and it's tiny and simple and a perfect piece of alchemy.

On Wednesday night, like every Wednesday, their parents went to the cinema. The boys, lords and masters of the house, closed the doors and windows and then broke the bulb glowing in one of the living-room lamps. A jet of golden light as cool as water began to pour out of the broken bulb, and they let it run to a depth of almost three feet.

Do you have a favorite? Let me know.


"The number of male [restaurant] critics is more than double that of female critics."

Speaking critically isn't behavior that's necessarily desirable or encouraged in women. It's a similar question about why there aren't more women in finance. You can't be worried about whether people like you. You have to feel comfortable being fair. And sometimes fair isn't sweet.

That's the Boston Globe's Devra First in Grubstreet's great roundtable of female restaurant critics talking about hiring discrepancies in their field. Elsewhere: read Besha Rodell on the topic at LA Weekly, who found that around the country, "the number of male critics is more than double that of female critics," and also relayed this horrific tale:

I'll never forget my welcome into the food-writing world as a young critic — my first time at the James Beard Awards. At an after-party at Momofuku, I remember being introduced to a group of men in their late 40s, all established names in the food-writing world, all wearing tuxedos and looking dashing. I was thrilled to be in such company, these men whose careers I aspired to emulate.

And then one of them glanced at me, saw my "nominee" badge still affixed to my dress, and scoffed, "I think you can take off your badge now." All four or five of the men standing around guffawed. The message was clear: Go home, little girl, and let the grown men talk.

*Shudders.* Accepting ideal rejoinders to that comment below (ex. "Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to wear it and see how it feels?") Let's go mass-review a restaurant. [Grubstreet, LA Weekly]


Two Ways to Order a Shake

I work in a co-working space. (For all of you who ask me what that is,  I say, "a co-working space is a place where you pay a few hundred dollars a month to share an office space with people, and also, how are you such a genius that you have thus far managed to avoid reading the annoying publications in which you would have learned this annoying term?") In said co-working space, I share a small room with two other writers. We have recently taken to calling our little room The Suicide Suite, because off of it is a beautiful balcony on which we are prohibited from standing as it could easily just snap off the building, like a bad lego. A member of our co-working space's dog once toddled off this balcony,  and as this dog is no longer with us—balcony not at fault here—there is talk of naming it after him. But we'll have to check with the owner first and right now he is in a foreign country, teaching people to do something which I will forget as many times as it is explained to me.

The biggest subject of the day here at our co-working space is lunch. Lunch is always a problem. There are not many good restaurants in the little town we live in. It's strange, because there are a lot of really good cooks here, but no one seems to want to do it for a profession. There is a grocery store up the hill that makes good pre-made sandwiches, but sometimes they are out of them, and anyway, I am beginning to  wonder if they are a) not very nutritious b) making us fat. Then there are two health food stores, one you drive to and one you walk to. The one you walk to has pre-made sandwiches, too, but they're a little soggy and while I can't recall the exact cost, my mind hovers somewhere around the sum of one thousand dollars.

The health food store you drive to is better, and has a pretty exciting hot food bar. That said, sometimes the hot bar is themed. Today, for example, is Italian day, and if anyone in the world who should not be assembling manicotti it is a stoned white person with 18 pounds of dreadlocks stuffed into a sock and sitting, periscope-like, a top his head. Actually, that's probably exactly who should be assembling manicotti, but probably not manicotti for which I would drive three miles.

One of my co-workers is fairly frugal and often brings her lunch. The other, like me, is more than happy to throw large portions of a modest income away on food. We are partial to a little vegetarian restaurant down the road staffed by an assemblage of generally helpful and friendly but occasionally careless 20-somethings. Our favorite is the one who says "perhaps" a lot. Our lunch of choice from this place is a child's burrito (or, the size a regular burrito would be if Americans were truly serious about portion control) and a shake made of almonds, frozen bananas, dates, and, in his case, almond milk, and, in my case, regular milk. I am partial to milk that comes from animals.

Even poorly made, this is a delicious concoction; well made, it is transcendent.  READ MORE


"Wrap Yourself in Wet, Fermented Hay," or: Spa Day!

But even if it doesn’t cure all your ills, does a hay bath feel nice? Here’s how it works: The hay is soaked in hot water, roughly 105 degrees. The spa-goer is wrapped tightly in this hot, wet grass for 15 to 20 minutes. Then there is a meditative comedown period, where you are wrapped in linen sheets, pores still glossy with essential oils.

This is a mellower version of yesteryear’s hay baths, where the hay got up to 140 degrees, the treatment lasted 40 minutes, and an attendant was on hand to brush away flies and mop up your sweat (there was plenty). One upside of the old-school version — they used to give you wine right after your hay bath. That has gone by the wayside: Apparently booze dehydrates you, not ideal after sweating out so many liquids.

Isn't that crazy, that booze dehydrates you??? Oh, and also that part about willingly wrapping yourself in 140-degree hay for health, that is crazy, too. Let's go to Italy. [Modern Farmer]

Ask Polly: How Do I Make My Boyfriend Listen?

Dear Polly,

I want to know how I can make my boyfriend a better listener.

It has happened several times that when I want to talk about something serious (the future, exes, fears, hopes, etc.) my boyfriend often gets distracted. It's not like he means to hurt me—I think it's just his nature, and possibly mild ADD—but it does hurt me.

I'm 24 and he will be 30 next year. We both see each other as potential life partners. But how can I be with someone who gets distracted by a squirrel when I'm telling him about my father's funeral?

That's the other thing: I have some serious things to tell him. My father was murdered when I was 14. It's a story I haven't shared with many people, but if this is the right guy (and by all other accounts, he is) then I want him to know.

My fear is that he will hurt me by not listening correctly. Basically, that he won't listen well, or that he will be scared off, or will avoid the subject or get distracted or whatever. It has happened many times before and even though I've told him this hurts me, not much has changed.  READ MORE


Scandal and Grey's Anatomy: Shonda Rhimes' Twisted Sisters

Deep into its tenth season, Grey's Anatomy remains a well-performing prime time network television show, despite its reputation for being a stale, populist soap opera. Meanwhile Scandal, Shonda Rhimes' other baby, has earned much more critical approval. As a fan of both shows, it feels unfair that they are judged so unevenly. As Scandal wraps up its most grandiose, most clutch-the-pearls season yet, it’s worth considering how little really separates Olivia Pope and her DC underworld from Meredith Grey and her quaint Pac-Northwest hospital. They are both lovable, flawed characters taking a rather circuitous route to independence and stability.

Both shows share an affinity for over-the-top disaster plots and heart-wrenching melodrama, not to mention a host of actors who’ve appeared in both series. This season’s bomb scare episode of Scandal felt recycled from the bomb and shooting spree episodes of Grey's; in Scandal's "A Door Marked Exit," Cyrus pleads to James, "I'm standing here afraid and in my underwear and without my soul asking you what happens now," which echoed Meredith's famous "Pick me. Choose me. Love me," speech to Derek in season two.

The two shows' most intimate connection is the kinship between their main characters. Meredith and Olivia are two sides of the same dark, twisty heroine. Both are wounded women whose drive and careers have much to do with contentious parental relationships. Meredith Grey was raised by her overbearing, hypercritical single mother. A brilliant doctor, Ellis Grey neglected Meredith's childhood to pursue a career saving lives. Olivia Pope was raised by her overbearing, hypercritical single father. To Olivia, Rowan Pope was a curator at the Smithsonian; unbeknownst to her, his standoffishness came from his career saving lives (in his mind), as command of a super-secret government intelligence/thug faction.

In one of Ellis Grey's most epic critiques of her daughter, she spews, "I raised you to be an extraordinary human being, so imagine my disappointment when I wake up after five years and discover that you are no more than ordinary!" In one of Papa Pope's most epic burns of his daughter, he grumbles, “You’ve raised your skirt and opened your knees and gave it away to a man with too much power. You’re not rare, you’re not special; your story is no different than a thousand other stories in this town."

Meredith and Olivia grew up determined to prove their parents wrong. To do so, they have followed in their parent's same career paths. They are both fans of the sauce as a form of self-medicating the pain of their wounds through alcohol—Meredith prefers tequila while Olivia's blood is half red wine at this point. Each has formed new family circles with friends attracted to their strength.  READ MORE


Other Basic Bitches

"The concept of a 'basic bitch' is one that's been spilling a lot of online ink lately."


Basic bitch, a female dog soaked in ammonia.

BASIC bitch, your GOTO girl for code.

Bayseian bitch, one may infer.



BASE bitch, a female dog unafraid of heights.

Bas bitch, carved in relief on an ancient Roman tomb.

Basalt bitch, an extrusive igneous whore-faced cunt.

Basso bitch, a female opera singer with a startlingly low voice.

Basso-baritono bitch, slightly less startling but still pretty low for a chick.

Bastinado bitch, these heels are killing my feet!

Bassoon bitch. [nudge] Flutter-tongue. [wink]

Bastard bitch, a jerk of two genders.

Bastard bitch, a female pup whose daddy done run away.

First-base bitch, also known as the "sacker" or "cornerman."

First-base bitch, only likes to kiss.  READ MORE


This College Graduation Season, Give the Gift of Eggs

Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago. (“Desperation level,” as Brigitte Adams, a marketing director at a Los Angeles software company who froze her eggs at 39, puts it.) And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.

Imagine a world in which life isn’t dictated by a biological clock. If a 25-year-old banks her eggs and, at 35, is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby. She can also hold out for the man or woman of her dreams. Doctors hope that within the next 30 years the procedure will become a routine part of women’s health, and generous would-be grandparents will cover it as they would a first-mortgage down payment. “If you’re going to give your daughter a college graduation gift, what would you rather give her—a Honda or the chance to make a decision about when she’s ready to have a baby?”

Businessweek's cover story this week is on egg freezing, a practice that reporter and Hairpin pal Emma Rosenblum notes early on is so far limited to a certain subset of the female population: women are freeze their eggs tend to be "great at their jobs, they make a ton of money, and they’ve followed all of Sheryl Sandberg’s advice." Also worth noting, according to the chart after the jump, is that most don't have partners:  READ MORE


Ladies' Night

A comprehensive guide to my next Ladies' Night with my friend Caroline.

1. Watch Blackfish again. Discuss: Does SeaWorld know how much we know? That, in seeing Blackfish multiple times, our spirits have birthed themselves into angry, vengeful orcas? Does SeaWorld know what is coming? Is SeaWorld afraid?

2. Arts and crafts. We can construct papier-mâché wings and I will call myself Lucifer (The #TBT version).

3. At-home bar. This is where we pretend that we are at the bar but it's really me pouring your beer for you and forcefully coughing until you give me a dollar tip.

4. Actual bar. This is where we're really at a bar but we pretend that the bartender is an orca that we need to set free.

5. Watch movies on Netflix that aren't Blackfish. There are some other movies. I checked.

6. Take Internet quizzes made by preteens on the popular site Quizilla. It's been so long, I forgot which Harry Potter character represents my Inner Spirit and what my favorite dragonfly species (damselfly, represent!) says about me.

7. Misandrist Uprising. (We will spare the male orcas.)

8. A game of Truth or Dare in which you're not allowed to ask me existential questions or dare me to do anything I don't want to do.

9. We have a makeover session where you turn me into David Bowie and I turn you into Caroline Wearing Blue Eyeshadow.

10. I reenact my favorite scenes from the movie US Marshalls. You reenact my favorite scenes from Jurassic Park while I give you firm but constructive criticism.

11. We both reenact scenes from my Jurassic Park fanfiction, in which two young raptors try to survive and thrive in their Manhattan editorial internships.

12. Start a Tumblr dedicated to pit stains.

13. The floor is lava everything is lava I'm slowly dying save me Caroline my feet have burned off why why why why I knew I shouldn't have stolen from that witch.

14. We play chess even though I've never formally learned how, but I hear the queen is in charge and I like that.

15. We both go on a juice fast but only for three hours and I get to add as much sugar to the juice as I want.  READ MORE


Peep Art

The Washington Post has a 14-slide gallery of Miley Cyrus-inspired Peep Art. Above: "'Goodbye, Hannah Buntana' re-creates the scene at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Katrina Britt, 33, of Arlington, Va." Look at the mini iPhone. Gotta respect that attention to detail. (More non-Miley submissions here.) This is what Easter is for.


The Return of Orange Is the New Black

The girls are back June 6. What will be Natasha Lyonne's personal tagline after this season?


Lykke Li Made a Website For Her New Song

Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li's debuts her new song, "Gunshot," in a format I've never really seen before: with a standalone website. (The Awl is like, whatever, been there.) Stereogum's Tom Breihan calls this track, off of her forthcoming album I Never Learn, "the [other] best Phil Collins song I’ve heard this week," after Twin Shadow's "To the Top." I guess The Post was onto something. [Gunshot.co]

Edit: I've been advised that this format has been used before, by Lykke Li herself. Thanks, Jess.


Ingrid Michaelson, "Girls Chase Boys"

Maybe you're like Bobby and you've been aware of this very catchy lead single off of Ingrid Michaelson's new album, Lights Out (released yesterday) for a couple months now, or maybe you're like me and you had no idea. Either way, close out your humpday con Ingrid (and Robert, if you need the refresher).


You Are Not a Descendant

“You don’t have to know what you’re looking for. You just have to start looking."

I'd been hearing this siren song from an attractive soccer mom from an Ancestry.com commercial throughout months of late-night TV, and anyway, I needed a reason to hole up in the local library: it was an unreasonably hot summer, and we didn’t have air conditioning. I gave in and charged the $299.40 “World Explorer Membership” to my VISA card. I would give up my couch potato habits to “meet my ancestors, learn their stories, and journey into the past.”

Like many recent grads, I was jobless and had a lot of time and energy on my hands at the time. I’d been through the requisite stages of grief about my job-hunt, and I was hovering just outside acceptance when an idea came to me: what if I have Famous Ancestors? I became obsessed with the idea of finding someone to look up to and lean on in times of stress. My plan was simple. First: find these Famous Ancestors. Then: get my mojo back and land my dream job. What could go wrong?

For several weeks, I spent three to six hours a day on Ancestry.com. Once I built my initial family tree, I waited on tenterhooks for the all-knowing green leaf to appear, signifying that there was some lead out there. Most often, it was an old census or something else that I already had, but occasionally I struck gold: a record that gave me a precious nugget of new information, like a parent’s name. Soon I'd developed an all-consuming lust for names. Each one felt like a fix in this new addiction, bringing me closer to my Famous Ancestors, the golden apples of my family tree. I skipped over trivial details like birthdays and marriage dates. All I wanted were the names.

One night I found something: a large boat icon on a tree that shared several family members with mine, meaning that someone in the family was a Mayflower descendant. My heart started racing. I struggled to remain calm, reminding myself that this person could be on a branch unconnected to my own, and I clicked up the tree hesitantly. I took my time. I double-checked names, trying to be ultra-careful; if I found what I’d been dreaming of, I wanted there to be no mistake that it was really mine.

Click by click, I watched the years reverse. I was getting closer and closer to the early 1600s, and finally, I found him: William Brewster, born 1566 in England, died 1644 in Plymouth, MA. Religious Elder of the colonists and passenger on the Mayflower. He was my 11th-great grandfather.

The lineage was clear. I couldn’t believe it: William Brewster, not just a passenger, but a leader. I bellowed for my husband and broke the good news. I showed him the steps I had taken, the lines I’d traced. His eyes lit up and he compared me to a beachcomber with a metal detector who’d turned up a treasure chest. Then I called my dad, who was overjoyed, and proud that this had come through his family.

For me, I was thrilled to have finally set out to do something, and done it. What else might I be able to do, armed with the knowledge of my impressive pedigree? I felt like a new job and a better apartment and everything else I’d ever wanted was imminently in my grasp.

I made my appointment at the Mayflower Society. I climbed the stairs to the second floor office and spoke to its sole inhabitant: a large, shoeless, polo-shirted man who looked annoyed that I’d interrupted his computer solitaire game.

“You brought your family tree?” he asked, reaching for it without looking at me. I handed it to him and stood with my heart in my throat as he perused it.

“This is wrong, right here. Eunice Meech. She’s not a part of the family line.”

“What do you mean?” I mumbled.

“You’ve got it all right down to here. William Meech and Hannah Freeman never had a daughter named Eunice. So you’re not connected to them. You’re not a descendant.”  READ MORE