Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Full-Bush Brazilian

My bikini-waxer, Jola, recently told me about a pubic-grooming configuration I had not heard of, which patrons of her Williamsburg salon have lately been requesting. The “full-bush Brazilian,” as we agreed to call it, involves removing the hair from the labia and butt crack (in accordance with Brazilian-waxing tradition) while leaving everything on top fully grown. It’s the exact opposite of non-Brazilian bikini waxes, which shape the hair on the pubic mound but leave the undercarriage untouched.

Who gets the full-bush Brazilian? I asked this of Jola Borzdynski as I lay without pants atop a sheet of paper on a tiny bed at her salon, Audrey. “Girls with hippie boyfriends,” she said. “Hippies with porny sex lives, who need to be hairless for licking,” I concluded. As Jola proceeded to tear 90 percent of my pubic hair out by the roots, I winced and contemplated the wisdom of being a hippie in the front of your crotch and a porn star in the back.

“It’s the normcore of pubes,” my friend Megan said over drinks later that night. “Choosing an anti-grooming appearance, while still grooming pretty carefully, deep down. Literally.” After years of striving for a hairless-Barbie-doll-crotch ideal, prominent women are now rejecting the porny obviousness of total bareness. Hairiness is stylish: Even American Apparel mannequins are sporting full bush these days. As Amanda Hess wrote late last year in T, “there’s something refreshingly retro, delightfully expressive and confidently grown-up in getting back to nature.” For the generation of women who came of age when bare erogenous zones were the norm, the full-bush Brazilian caters simultaneously to the defiance of allowing your pubes to reach their full potential, and the sexual expectations of the modern hairless hookup. The full-bush Brazilian is “having it all,” with pubes.

by Maureen O'Connor, The Cut |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Friday, May 30, 2014

Roy Lichtenstein, Blue Grapes 1972

Frames of Life

[ed. Armani's new Spring-Summer line of sunglasses, featuring my nephew Tony. Go Tone!]

Big Money, the Koch Brothers and Me

It was a dreary Pacific Northwest evening in February 2012, and President Barack Obama’s mood matched the weather. Despite being among supporters who had gathered in a stunning modernist mansion in Seattle’s eastern suburbs, he seemed irritated. Pacing in front of towering 25-foot-high windows that offered a sweeping view of a rain-spattered Lake Washington, he rattled through a short pro forma speech about how his administration was working to help struggling Americans through “the toughest three years economically since the Great Depression.”

Tickets for the speech—a fundraiser for Obama’s reelection campaign—cost $17,900 apiece, so it was unlikely anyone in the small crowd gathered in Medina, Washington, was going to end up in a breadline anytime soon. In the living room of the hosts, Costco cofounder Jeff Brotman and his wife, Susan, Microsoft founder Bill Gates—the richest man in the country—leaned against a black grand piano, while others, including fellow Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, were scattered about, some standing with their backs to muted off-white walls decorated with colorful bursts of abstract expressionist art. They listened attentively to Obama’s speech, which lasted all of 16 minutes. But they really perked up when he finished and the traveling press pool was escorted from the room, which allowed them to talk candidly with the president.

In their private question-and-answer session, Obama let his guard down and eventually shared some thoughts that revealed more about his view of American politics than perhaps anything he said publicly during the entire campaign. Election Day was still more than eight months away. But Obama, in a previously unreported riff, signaled surrender on one of the fights that had drawn him to politics in the first place: the effort to limit the flow of big money. It was a remarkable concession, one that would have stunned the campaign volunteers who believed so deeply in his promise to change the way politics works. It wasn’t just that he was admitting that his own election prospects would be disproportionately influenced by super-rich donors like those he was addressing. He had already done that 11 days earlier, when he blessed a so-called super PAC collecting million-dollar checks to boost his reelection. What really distinguished his remarks to Gates and company from his carefully calibrated official position was the admission that the grassroots, people-powered politics he had long glorified might never again trump the swelling political buying power of the very richest donors.

“You now have the potential of 200 people deciding who ends up being elected president every single time,” Obama told the group in response to a question about the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in a case called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which gutted campaign finance restrictions and marked the beginning of a new big-money era in American politics.

Unless things changed dramatically, Obama predicted, “I may be the last presidential candidate who could win the way I won, which was coming out without a lot of special-interest support, without a handful of big corporate supporters, who was able to mobilize and had the time and the space to mobilize a grassroots effort, and then eventually got a lot of big donors, but started off small and was able to build. I think the capacity for somebody to do that is going to be much harder.” He continued, “In this election, I will be able to, hopefully, match whatever check the Koch brothers want to write,” referring to the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. “But I’m an incumbent president who already had this huge network of support all across the country and millions of donors. I’m not sure that the next candidate after me is going to be able to compete in that same way.”

Obama turned to face Gates, who stood awkwardly, his hands stuffed in his suit pants pockets. “And at that point, you genuinely have a situation where 10 people—hey, you know, Bill could write a check.” And, Obama pointed out, it wasn’t just Gates, whose fortune, then estimated at $61 billion, Democrats had been hoping to tap in a big way. “Actually, there are probably five or six people in this room,” Obama said, gesturing to Ballmer and others, as nervous laughter spread through the crowd. Obama plowed ahead insistently, eyebrows raised, his voice rising with agitation as he stepped toward the donors. “I mean, there are five or six people in this room tonight that could simply make a decision—this will be the next president—and probably at least get a nomination, if ultimately the person didn’t win. And that’s not the way things are supposed to work.”

The leader of the free world—the man who had built so much of his identity around the idea that average people could band together to change the world, the politician who once boldly declared that it was time to take government back from “the cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play”—had become one of the biggest cynics of all. Here he was, freely admitting that American politics had fundamentally changed in a way that made it, at the highest levels, a game for the ultra-rich. And he was right.

by Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico |  Read more:
Image: Getty

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kevin Nance, Nostalgia, 2014

The Other Side of the Face

When I consider the neck, the first things that spring to mind are guillotines, beheadings, executions. Which does seem a little strange, since we live in a country where executions do not take place, there are no guillotines, and beheading is thus an entirely marginal phenomenon in the culture. Nevertheless, if I think neck, I think, chop it off.

This may simply be because the neck leads a hidden existence in the shadow of the face, that it never assumes a place of privilege in our thoughts about ourselves, and only enters the stage in these most extreme situations which, though they no longer occur in our part of the world, still proliferate in our midst, given the numerous decapitations in fiction. But I think it runs deeper than that. The neck is a vulnerable and exposed part of the body, perhaps the most vulnerable and exposed, and our experience of this is fundamental, even without a sword hanging over us. In this sense, it is related to the fear of snakes or crocodiles, which may as well appear in people living on the Finnmarksvidda plateau as in Central Africa, or for that matter, the fear of heights, which can lie dormant in people who have never seen anything other than plains and sand dunes, lowlands and swamps, fields and meadows.

Fear is archaic, it is embedded in the body, in its purest form untouchable to thought, and it is there to keep us alive. There are other vulnerable parts of the body, the heart being perhaps the most obvious, but when I think of the heart, I don’t think of it being pierced by a javelin or a spear or a bullet; that would be absurd. No, the heart fills me with thoughts of life and force, and if vulnerability and fear are involved, it is no more than a mild concern that one day it will simply stop beating. This must be because the heart belongs to the front of the body, the front we turn to the world, and always keep in check, since we can see what lies ahead of us, we can see what is coming, and take our precautions. The heart feels safe. That the neck is in fact just as safe, since we live in a world where people no longer carry swords, makes no difference to the feeling of vulnerability, it is archaic and closely linked to the fact that the neck belongs to the reverse side of the body, it is always turned toward what we cannot see and cannot control. The fear of everything we cannot see converges on the neck, and if in earlier times it used to be associated with physical violence, the most pressing association now is its figurative sense, which lives on in the social realm, in expressions like being attacked from the rear, getting it in the neck, watch your back, having eyes in the back of your head, being spoken about behind your back.

But the symbolic language that radiates from or the associations that converge on the neck, are not only about being struck, that is, being a passive victim of a surprise attack, or having something taken away from you, but also the opposite, where vulnerability is something that is offered. When we wish to show someone respect or to be polite, we bow to them, in other words, we expose our neck. It is a way of showing trust, and of giving something of yourself to the other, in an ancient system of differentiation where, in face of the supreme, you not only make a deep and sweeping bow, as to a king or other dignitaries, but kneel and lower your head to the ground, as you would before an altar or on a prayer mat. The gesture is humble, self-surrendering, it means laying your life in the hands of others.  (...)

But the fact that the neck is unexploited visually and commercially of course does not mean that it stands outside of the culture, to the contrary, the neck, too, is loaded with meaning. It means only that it is marginal, somewhat forgotten, most often associated with not seeing, and with not being seen, that is, with negation, in contrast to the heart, for instance, which is also blind and mute, but in touch with a whole other wealth of signification. The heart signifies love, it means warmth, kindness, consideration. She has a big heart, home is where the heart is, our heartfelt sympathy, his heart is broken. The heart is life, light, love, compassion. The only figurative sense assigned to the neck that I can think of is found in the expression stiff-necked, that is, stubborn, obdurate, willful, intractable, impossible. To be stiff-necked is not to give way, not to yield a single inch, to always know best, always keep one’s cards close to one’s chest. The meaning can be extended to uprightness, which is the positive variant of being stiff-necked, that is, not relinquishing one’s pride and self-respect, holding one’s ground. Thus, the neck, in a certain sense, is linked to an existence outside of the community. The opposite, in the symbolic language of the neck, is to be stooped, that is, cowed, at the mercy of others, but in a more passive and less voluntary sense than when one bows deeply or kneels, out of respect for the other or in awe of the sacred.

It may seem as if the neck, in the symbolic language of body parts, has assumed the place between humility and pride, self-surrender and self-righteousness, but in a most discrete, gray eminence–like way, present only indirectly, as opposed to the more imposing organs and joints, like the brain, the symbol of intelligence, associated with a certain coldness and distance, but also with clarity and objectivity, not drowning in a heaving sea of vague emotions and sentimentality as one who thinks with the heart is.

by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Paris Review | Read more:
Image: Thomas Wågström

How to Write a Thank-You Note

Question: I have a crushing inability to write proper thank-you notes. Can you offer me some guidelines? —Helen

Answer: I was wondering when you were going to ask that question, and frankly, I’m a little disappointed it took you so long. Somewhere in between your mom making you sit down with your Peanuts® stationery and you shooting off an email, you completely lost touch with the concept of simple thank-you notes. Now that you’re a grown-up, an email just won’t do, and more is expected of you than scratching out ‘Thanks for the present, you rock!’

Grandma might not say anything to you, but trust me: She and her friends are probably at this very moment sighing over how young people today just don’t have manners.

As extra motivation, I will also grudgingly tell you the hidden secret of thank-you notes: They improve the frequency and quality of the gifts you receive. People like being appreciated, and if they feel you actually notice the nice things they do for you, they’re more likely to give an encore performance. Do not, however, use this as a strategy to avoid writing thank-yous to those who regularly give gifts you do not like. Every gift deserves a thank-you. Even the ‘Keep On Truckin’’ blacklight poster your crazy Uncle Alvarez gave you when you moved into the dorms.

I assure you, writing thank-yous is easier than you remember. Get yourself some stationery, plain note cards or a selection of attractive postcards (yes, postcards are perfectly acceptable!), and proper postage. Avoid the pre-inscribed ‘Thank you!’ cards in loopy script, as there are times you’ll want to write notes where that aesthetic feels all wrong. Better to choose paper you like. Stay away from full-size sheets—note cards are best, as your message will be brief, and would look silly swimming around on a page that large. Store all of these items somewhere easily accessible and preferably in plain sight so you won’t hesitate too long or forget too easily. Say, the top drawer of your desk or on a bookshelf at eye level or below.

If you want to know when you get a genuine pass on writing a note, the litmus test is simple: Do I live under the same roof as the giver? If the answer is ‘yes,’ you need not write a thank-you note (although a thank-you Post-It might be a nice touch).

I’m not going to go all Miss Manners on your ass and get into the social intricacies and delicate situations that surround thank-you note writing, as I was taught that a solid thank-you note will transcend all complicated situations—and I have seen no evidence to the contrary.

There is a six-point formula to the proper thank-you: Learn it, know it, memorize it, and it will never fail you.

by Leslie Harpold, TMN |  Read more:
Image: Tim Eitel, White Skirts, 2012. 

Ani DiFranco

[ed. Wondering this myself lately...]

photo: markk, Seattle Museum of Art

Our Sexual Assault Problem Is Nuanced, Layered, And Not Easily Solved By A Hashtag

Have we ever thought about what it’s like to be a man? We say that we don’t need to because it is the de facto setting for so much of society, which isn’t untrue, but taking it for granted and actually considering the status quo are two very different things. I think I may have nuanced experience with this because I grew up with divorced parents and I spent most of my formative years with my dad and older brother. I have grown up seeing men as multidimensional people that have feelings, ebbs, flows, breakdowns, and breakthroughs.

We talk about Elliot Rodger in a strange way. We say he thought he was “entitled” to women, that he hated women. But, what I see and what I pick up on when I read his manifesto is that he was inadequately prepared for the feelings he had on a daily basis. Now, I’m not excusing him, do not misunderstand me here. Do not paint me as disrespectful or even soft towards this crime. I am not. I am appalled. But, the crime has happened and so it give us an opportunity to have a discussion.

And the discussion we are having right now is misguided. We are pointing out the SYMPTOMS, not the root cause of a larger issue. We are ignoring the true diagnosis of what is at the heart of our violence problem. By sharing our stories, we are finding strength in numbers, which is valuable in its own right. However, when the stories and awareness circle around symptomatic experiences, instead of a useful dialogue about how we can move forward as a species, then all we are doing is agreeing with each other and that becomes insular and not helpful.

Because, the men who truly need to be heard and who truly are at the heart of this issue, are the ones who are responding defensively with, “not all men are like this,” and yes, we belabor them and roll our eyes at them, because, “duh!” but that’s insensitive.

The way we treat men is insensitive. Sometimes I feel like we are a group of popular girls at a high school who, if anyone ever disagrees with us or voices an opinion, our answer is to laugh at them, to snicker, to degrade them. Are we better? Do we have the answers? Are women not part of the problem, too?

Do women not profit off the way that men are reduced to their sexual urges? Do women not see opportunity in men that will happily buy their affection, prostitution or otherwise? Do well-known celebrities not experience intense reward and value for being a real-life version of what a man has been taught is his fantasy? Do women not, every single day, profit from their objectification? Do women not buy beauty products and watch shows and movies and consume and consume and consume all sorts of things that are direct propaganda that lead to the symptoms of aggression that they then bemoan on a hashtag? (...)

This isn’t to place blame. It’s about raising awareness that we are not innocent. Nobody is innocent here. Every single day, whether you are aware of it or not, you and I are perpetuating the same ideas that are leading to aggression. We buy movies where men attack other men who hit on their girlfriends and call it romantic. We immortalize a writer who perpetuates obsessiveness and aggressiveness and call it love. We tell men to pursue us, to come get us, to make us feel wanted, to put us into weaker positions by paying for us and supporting us and making us dependent on them, all the while calling this chivalrous and charming. We want men to be sensitive, but when they are, we make fun of them for being soft and “crying like a girl.” When a man chases us down the street and we’re attracted to him, it’s sweet. When a man chases us down the street and we’re not attracted to him, it’s harassment.

All the while, men know ALL OF THIS that I explained above, plus more confusion about what it means to be a man. We throw everything we can at men and then go, “sort this out on your own and if you have any questions, we’re going to laugh at you.”

by Jamie Varon, Thought Catalog |  Read more:
Image: Guy Bourdin, Vogue Paris, 1975 via:

Major Victory Over Copyright Trolls: A Deeper Look

As we announced this morning, a federal appeals court handed copyright trolls a major defeat today by taking away one of their most powerful tactics: the ability to sue large groups of John Doe defendants together with minimal evidence. Now that the dust is clearing, we’re filling in the details.

This case, AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058, is one of the few mass copyright cases to reach an appellate court, and the first to look into fundamental procedural problems that have tilted the playing field firmly against the Doe Defendants. With this decision on the books, we suspect that even more federal trial courts will say "No" to the sordid business of cookie-cutter lawsuits seeking seeking cash payouts from dozens or even hundreds of Internet subscribers.

This appeal was brought by several internet service providers (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and affiliates) with amicus support from EFF, the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation's Capitol, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

On the other side was notorious copyright troll Prenda Law. Prenda, and other groups like it, wanted to use the courts' subpoena power to identify Internet subscribers, then shake them down for $2,000-$4,000 "settlements." They assuredly didn’t want to invest the time and expense needed to actually figure out who, if anyone, likely infringed a copyright. Trolls use court processes not to enforce their rights or to protect a legitimate business, but to make a profitable business out of groundless threats and intimidation.

In this case, Prenda sued 1058 Does (anonymous defendants identified only by an Internet Protocol address) in federal district court in the District of Columbia. It then issued subpoenas demanding that ISPs give them the names of subscribers. The ISPs objected to this request, arguing that most of the IP addresses were associated with computers located outside of the DC court's jurisdiction. Limits on the courts' jurisdiction are a vital protection for the rights of defendants, because without this safeguard, Internet subscribers in Oregon (for example) can be forced to defend themselves in D.C. That made it even more likely that subscribers would choose to pay the troll a few thousand dollars to make the case go away, even if they had not infringed any copyright.

We also explained to the district court that joining together many subscribers in one lawsuit was fundamentally unfair and improper under the rules governing when defendants can be sued together (known as ‘joinder’). Lumping dozens or hundreds of Internet subscribers together denies them a real opportunity to explain their unique circumstances in court, such as who uses their Internet connection and when.

by Mitch Stoltz, EFF |  Read more:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jules-Elie Delaunay, The Angel of Death; Peste a Roma

The Internet as We Know It is Dying

It was a week of rage, nostalgia and despair on the Internet.

Sure, you could say that about any week on the Internet. But last week delivered some prime material. Check out this gamer exploding in fury at the rumor that Google — “The King Midas of Shit!” — might buy the hugely popular streaming gamer site Twitch TV. Or this sad note from the founder of the venerable “community weblog” MetaFilter explaining why a Google-precipitated decline in advertising revenue had forced him to lay off three much beloved staffers. Or this diatribe from a Facebook manager, savaging the current state of the media.

All is not well on the Web. While the particulars of each outburst of consternation and anger vary significantly, a common theme connects them all: The relentless corporatization and centralization of control over Internet discourse is obviously not serving the public interest. The good stuff gets co-opted, bought out, or is reduced to begging for spare change on the virtual street corner. The best minds of our generation have been destroyed by web metrics, dragging themselves across a vast wasteland in search of the next clickbait headline.

At Twitch TV, the gamers are worried that Google’s “copyright monster” will tame their freewheeling Wild West and obliterate years of work. At MetaFilter, the inscrutability of Google’s page-ranking algorithms determines whether publishing outlets live or die. The Facebook rant underscores how unsatisfying our viral media diet has become.

It’s a big mess. The last two lines of the Facebook rant are “It’s hard to tell who’s to blame. But someone should fix this shit.”

That’s easier said than done.

If you’re not an avid gamer, the kind of person who enjoys watching other gamers narrate their own adventures through the latest first-person shooter, you’ve probably never heard of Twitch TV. But the three-year-old site is an extraordinary success story. At peak viewing times, it boasts a bigger audience than MTV, TNT or AMC. 32 million people watched the finals of last year’s “League of Legends” tournament. So there’s little question why Google might be interested in laying down $1 billion for the site. The young male advertising demographic is notoriously hard to corral. Twitch TV’s got it.

by Andrew Leonard, Salon |  Read more:
Image: Mark Zuckerberg (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Awaiting Renewal

Today I have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver’s licence renewed. My current licence photo is 10 years old, so old that the carefree woman in the picture always takes me by surprise. Her hair looks unnaturally shiny. Her smile says, ‘I have nowhere in particular to be. Let’s go grab a cocktail!’ Today I have to say goodbye to that lighthearted girl, and welcome her older, more harried replacement. Today I have to stand in poorly marked lines with impatient strangers, reading signs about what we can and cannot do, what we should and should not expect.

Last time I got my licence renewed, the first picture was so bad that the DMV guy laughed out loud. I was young and carefree then, so it didn’t bother me. ‘Show me,’ I commanded. He turned the screen around. My eyes were half-closed and my mouth was screwed up in a weird knot. Remember that scene in Election (1999) where they press pause just as Tracy Flick, the wannabe school president played by Reese Witherspoon, looks drunk and deranged? It was like that. The next photo turned out great, though, because I couldn’t stop smiling about the first.

That’s not the mood I’m in today. Today, if the same thing happens, I’ll stew. They’ll take a second crappy photo of me and no one will be laughing. To them, I’ll be just another angry lady to tag and release back into the wild freeways of Los Angeles. When you visit the DMV, you realise that you can bestride the narrow world like a colossus for only so long — namely, until you’re about 39. After that, you’re not special anymore. You’re just another indistinct face in a sea of the nobodies. (...)

My father talked a lot about not wanting to get old. He visited his parents regularly, but it often depressed him. He didn’t want to live the way they did, growing stooped and wrinkled, smoking and bickering as they circled the drain. He seemed to have an unusually strong fear of ageing and death. He was very fit, and he was always juggling three or more girlfriends at once, one of whom was usually under 30. Old age made him anxious.

Twenty-odd years later, I realise that most people feel this way so strongly that they’re hesitant to say it out loud. We can’t quite believe that we’ll grow old, too. At a certain point, we start counting the years we might have left, if we’re lucky. We become more pragmatic. We take what we can get. We don’t need big signs to tell us what we should and should not expect. (...)

A lot can happen in 10 years. You can’t be carefree forever. But when I was just 33, I thought that I would never have the bad taste to grow old, let alone allow it to depress me. I thought I was better than this. What is youth, but the ability to nurse a superiority complex beyond all reason, to suspend disbelief indefinitely, to imagine yourself immune to the plagues and perils faced by mortal humans? But one day, you wake up and you realise that you’re not immune.

When my driver’s licence photo arrives a week later, it feels like an omen of my impending decline. My hair is limp and scraggly, I have dark circles under my eyes. I look like the ‘after’ photo in one of those photo essays on the ravages of crystal meth. I have the blank but guilty look of a sex offender. (...)

I go online looking for inspiration, but all I find is evidence that everyone in the world is more energetic than me. Thanks to blogs and Twitter and Facebook, I can sift through the proof that hundreds of other people aren’t slouching through life. They’re thriving in their big houses in beautiful cities, they’re cooking delicious organic meals for their children, and writing timely thank you notes to their aunts and uncles and mothers for the delightful gift that was sent in the mail and arrived right on time for Florenza’s third birthday.

Forget those weary strangers at the DMV. This country is apparently populated by highly effective, hip professional women, running around from yoga class to writing workshop, their fashionable outfits pulled taut over their abs of steel, chirping happily at each other about the upcoming publication of their second poetry chapbook — which is really going to make the move to the remodelled loft a little hectic, but hey, that’s life when you’re beautifulish and smartish and hopelessly productive! (...)

Dear sweet merciful lord, deliver me from these deliriously happy parents, frolicking in paradise, publishing books, competing in triathlons, crafting jewellery, speaking to at-risk youth, painting bird houses, and raving about the new cardio ballet place that gives you an ass like a basketball. Keep me safe from these serene, positive-thinking hipster moms, with their fucking handmade recycled crafts and their mid-century modern furniture and their glowing skin and their optimism and their happy-go-lucky posts about their family’s next trip to a delightful boutique hotel in Bali.

by Heather Havrilesky, Aeon | Read more:
Images: Nadine Rovner/Gallery Stock and Calif. DMV

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto - Nostalgia

Ayako Okuda (b. 1980, Osaka, Japan). Untitled, 2011

California's Flawed Water System Can't Track Usage

[ed. This is insane.]

Call them the fortunate ones: Nearly 4,000 California companies, farms and others are allowed to use free water with little oversight when the state is so bone dry that deliveries to nearly everyone else have been severely slashed.

Their special status dates back to claims made more than a century ago when water was plentiful. But in the third year of a drought that has ravaged California, these "senior rights holders" dominated by corporations and agricultural concerns are not obliged to conserve water.

Nobody knows how much water they actually use, though it amounts to trillions of gallons each year, according to a review of their own reports by The Associated Press. Together, they hold more than half the rights to rivers and streams in California.

The AP found the state's system is based on self-reported, incomplete records riddled with errors and years out of date; some appear to be using far less water than records would indicate.

"We really don't know how much water they've actually diverted," said Bob Rinker, a manager in the State Water Resources Control Board's water rights division. (...)

More than half of the 3,897 entities with active senior and riparian rights to water are corporations, such as the state's biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. which creates hydroelectric power, and the Hearst Corp., which has water rights for its remote, Bavarian-style forest compound called Wyntoon.

Also among the biggest rights holders are rural water districts and government agencies such as the water departments of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco, whose water rights date to 1902 when its mayor nailed a handwritten notice on a tree, also uses free Sierra Nevada water to generate power for its airport, schools and firehouses.

This year, the state cut water deliveries to farmers and cities by 95 percent, and the federal government also imposed sharp restrictions on its water customers. But companies, farmers and cities with water rights that pre-date 1914 were exempt this year from mandatory cuts, even though they collectively are the biggest water users in the state.

by Jason Dearen and Garance Burke, AP |  Read more:
Image: Jae C. Hong/AP

America Dumbs Down

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult. A national poll, conducted in March for the Associated Press, found that 42 per cent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution. Similarly, 51 per cent of people expressed skepticism that the universe started with a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago, and 36 per cent doubted the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years. (...)

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.

In a country bedevilled by mass shootings—Aurora, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; Virginia Tech—efforts at gun control have given way to ever-laxer standards. Georgia recently passed a law allowing people to pack weapons in state and local buildings, airports, churches and bars. Florida is debating legislation that will waive all firearm restrictions during state emergencies like riots or hurricanes. (One opponent has moved to rename it “an Act Relating to the Zombie Apocalypse.”) And since the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., 12 states have passed laws allowing guns to be carried in schools, and 20 more are considering such measures. (...)

If ignorance is contagious, it’s high time to put the United States in quarantine.

by Jonathon Gatehouse, McLeans |  Read more:
Image: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Monday, May 26, 2014

[ed. Good times.]

Eddie Vedder

[ed. What?! A ukulele but no fishing pole?]

In Other News

Henri Matisse, The Path in the Bois de Boulogne

I can only assume that what photographer Porsupah Ree captured here are binkying bunnies. A binky is a playful and happy expression made by a rabbit in which it jumps in the air and twists its body around in a convulsive fashion.

Porsupah Ree  via:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lady on the Beach, Astor Salcedo

My Mom

[ed. See also: The Love of My Life.]

My mom runs fast for a 65-year-old. She’s small — 5 ft even — and clocks in at just over 100 lbs. Her compact frame slays in the juniors section of American department stores. I see her sprinting toward me as I stand on the corner of Austin’s busiest intersection, on its busiest fortnight — the two weeks it plays host to South by Southwest, the annual multimedia conference. It’s just after 11pm and traffic is an absolute shitshow. My mom’s always been sporty but since she stopped dyeing her hair she looks her age. As she gets closer, I worry that her brittle avian skeleton is going to crumple atop the hood of a swerving SUV. Being picked up by my parents is an experience I thought I’d grown out of entirely. After all, I am 33 years old, live in New York and am here on business. But they live just an hour outside of town, and I pulled the trigger on hotels late enough that I’m staying with them. They’ve been stuck in traffic for two hours coming to get me.

I was on the phone with my dad, both of us barking over the imperious GPS voice — him in a road rage and me in a full-body eye-roll — when my mom bolted from the car to run ahead, figuring I’d be easier to peg on foot. I’m watching her beam and wave big, while running hard and yelling my full name in English, just like that: first name; last name. My parents both do this as though it’s for my benefit. Like, calling a child by their full government name is super-casual. Like, it’s not a dead giveaway as the weirdest, most ESL affectation in the world. I’m waiting with a 24-year-old colleague that I hired straight from college who idolises me and I’m worried that my mom will hurt herself and that people will see. The whole thing infuriates me. I refuse to eat the snacks that she’s tin-foiled from home.

I love my mother a not-normal amount. It’s all twisty because she tried to kill me when I was young. Just kidding. My mom is an excellent mom. She knows I am irascible, prickly and antisocial. She knows that most human interaction makes me tired and that I either scare people away with precise invectives or trot out the fakest, nicest skinjob of myself because it requires zero effort. She nails me on all of it, asking one billion follow-up questions until I get behind my eyeballs and engage. She forces me to call distant relatives, dialling the phone and pressing it into my cheek while my eyes get hot and watery. She pulls rank all the time and once judo-flipped me onto my back in a grocery store to remind me where things stood. She is my favorite and it makes me crazy. You can tell that she was popular in school, but I am a fundamentally more popular person. I care more and I’m great at rules. I’ve known it since the first grade.

When I was small I thought I was just cooler than my mom because of how foreign she is. She’s really foreign. You’d think it would kill her to get store-bought snacks, she’s that foreign. She grew up in a Korea filled with Koreans, married a Korean and then moved to Hong Kong in her mid-30s. I was 11 months and my brother was two years old. This was back when Hong Kong was a British Crown colony, which meant we were living in Asia with heaps of Australians and bronzed Europeans who dated Filipino women. It was all very James Clavell and linen shirts. In any case, I speak four languages and am a ruthless assimilation ninja. I will renounce all kin in the name of camouflage because everything is a contest and I am a disgusting sell-out. It’s the twin moon to my being popular in any context provided I put my mind to it. I’m sure there’s a field of corn withering somewhere in my soul that fuels this despicable talent, but everyone’s got to die of cancer some time, right?

My mother, on the other hand, speaks English poorly with a screwy, poncy Korean British accent, as if she learned it from watching one 1960s Merchant Ivory movie on repeat. She’s also ridiculously formal, deeply private and not a joiner. She transitions poorly. The move to Hong Kong with two wee kids and an absentee partner was rough. My father had elected to set up a shipping company. He was out of the country for eight months of the year, and sometime around my tenth birthday I discovered that he spoke conversational Russian for reasons that remain murky. All this is to say that he wasn’t around a lot.

When I was five, I compound-fractured my arm, pulverising my elbow. I was on a play date at my mom’s friend’s house and so naturally blamed my mother. I actually remember lying on the floor, howling accusations of neglect at her while she frantically summoned an ambulance that arrived with a squad car and a firetruck in tow. I was already having a tough time adjusting at school, and it looked like I would miss weeks of class. I found speaking in English disorienting because we spoke only Korean at home. I even preferred Cantonese to English since we’d attended a local Chinese school for a week while waiting on test scores to admit us into a British private school. Forced to wear a massive cast during my fifth month of British school, I began referring to myself in the third person — my English name — announcing, daily, that ‘Mary would not be going to school.’

School was awful. I had to leave during the middle of the day for physical therapy that involved swimming and returning to class with inexplicably wet hair. Lunch sucked. My mom would pack the dumbest garbage. She once smeared bits of raw garlic left over from makingkimchi onto white sandwich bread, thinking that’s how the garlic bread advertised at Pizza Hut was born. I waited until she got off work that night and yelled at her with rank breath. I’d eaten most of the seemingly innocent square, elated that a sandwich had turned up at all in a lunch box that usually contained punishment food that sometimes had eyes. The stress of navigating school as a teeny-tiny uncomfortable person with an enormous gimp wing was taking a toll.

One lunch, I was dragging myself around the playground when I saw my mom standing by the fence, waving big and calling my name. I wanted so badly to ignore her. She was supposed to be at work and I didn’t have physical therapy that day so I was immediately suspicious. As confusing as her presence was, my curiosity did not outweigh my desire to be left alone. Especially by her. I began to back away so she started shouting loud enough to be heard over the playground din. I shuffled towards her with every intention to roundhouse-bludgeon her with my plastered arm. She held out a paper box. It was a McDonald’s happy meal: a cheeseburger one, which was my favorite. The offering was so out of character that I considered it a bribe. I wondered if my parents were getting a divorce since that was huge at my school at the time. I asked her what was going on. She mentioned something about how she wanted me to have a lunch that I liked.

I then did what any normal kid would do and yelled and yelled about how embarrassing it was to have her at school with me during lunch of all times. She presented me with a sack of cheeseburgers that I could give out to my friends. I refused the damp bag and screeched about how it was so cheap that she didn’t spring for bright red boxes with toys for them as well. I made her take the burgers back with her. If I were an actress and had to think of something sad to make me cry in a scene, I would think about this moment. This and the time I was 13 when I kicked my mom across a room and ran away for two days because she tried to ground me — for breaking curfew after my friend Jacinta stole money from her dying grandmother so we could rent out a nightclub and write the names of those blackballed on the sign outside. For the record: I don’t know why people have kids.

by Mary H K Choi, Aeon |  Read more:
Image: Mary HK Choi

Faking Cultural Literacy

[ed. TL;DR = Too long; didn't read]

I can't help it. Every few weeks, my wife mentions the latest book her book club is reading, and no matter what it is, whether I’ve read it or not, I offer an opinion of the work, based entirely on ... what, exactly? Often, these are books I’ve not even read a review or essay about, yet I freely hold forth on the grandiosity of Cheryl Strayed or the restrained sentimentality of Edwidge Danticat. These data motes are gleaned, apparently, from the ether — or, more realistically, from various social media feeds.

What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ — it would have taken too long — but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange had scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé. How about this season of “Game of Thrones” and that nonconsensual intercourse in the crypt? I don’t watch the show, but I’ve scanned the recaps on, and I am prepared to argue that this was deeply offensive. Is Pope Francis a postmodern pontiff? I’ve never listened to one of his homilies nor watched his recent “60 Minutes” appearance, but I’ve seen plenty of his @Pontifex tweets retweeted, so I’m ready to say his position on inequality and social justice is remarkably progressive.

It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and then regurgitate them. Instead of watching “Mad Men” or the Super Bowl or the Oscars or a presidential debate, you can simply scroll through someone else’s live-tweeting of it, or read the recaps the next day. Our cultural canon is becoming determined by whatever gets the most clicks.

In his 1987 book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” E. D. Hirsch Jr. listed 5,000 essential concepts and names — 1066, Babbitt, Pickwickian — that educated people should be familiar with. (Or at least that’s what I believe he wrote, not having actually read the book.) Mr. Hirsch’s book, along with its contemporary “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom, made the point that cultural literacy — Mr. Bloom’s canon — was the bedrock of our agreed-upon values.

What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it. We come perilously close to performing a pastiche of knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness.

NPR’s April Fools’ Day web story “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?”went viral on Facebook, where pranksters in on the joke linked to the piece and others then argued that they do too read and indignantly shared the link with exhortations to “read the story!” without actually clicking on it themselves to see that the only content was the revelation that the whole thing was a prank: “We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this ‘story.' ”

According to a recent survey by the American Press Institute, nearly six in 10 Americans acknowledge that they do nothing more than read news headlines — and I know this only because I skimmed a Washington Post headline about the survey. After we’ve skimmed, we share. Commenters frequently start their posts with TL;DR — short for Too Long; Didn’t Read — and then proceed to offer an opinion on the subject at hand anyway. As Tony Haile, the chief executive of the web traffic analytics company Chartbeat, recently put it, “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.” (He tweeted that.)

It’s not lying, exactly, when we nod knowingly at a cocktail party or over drinks when a colleague mentions a movie or book that we have not actually seen or read, nor even read a review of. There is a very good chance that our conversational partner may herself be simply repeating the mordant observations of someone in her timeline or feed. The entire in-person exchange is built from a few factoids netted in the course of a day’s scanning of iPhone apps. Who wants to be the Luddite who slows everything down by admitting he has never actually read a Malcolm Gladwell book and maybe doesn’t exactly understand what is meant by the term “Gladwellian” — though he occasionally uses it himself?

Whenever anyone, anywhere, mentions anything, we must pretend to know about it. Data has become our currency. (And in the case of Bitcoin, a classic example of something that we all talk about but nobody actually seems to understand, I mean that literally.)

by Karo Taro Greenfeld, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Jennifer Daniel

Nice Houses I

Summer Houses in Slavik

Nice Houses II

Villa in Nagano

The Only Time I’ve Ever Been To Connecticut

There were many nights when I would worry myself out of a dead sleep and think Christ, I’m not doing it yet, and I’d think, doing what, and I’d think back, the thing I’m supposed to be doing, the special thing, I’m not special yet, and I’m going to die if I don’t do it, and I’d think well what is it but I refused to elaborate.

So I went on a lot of informational interviews. Anything not to be paralyzed, anything to not go to In-N-Out, anything that would help me find the thing that would help me not feel like I was dying if I did it. I wanted to work every minute I was awake, or at least go through the motions of working — getting dressed and making phone calls and returning emails.

This is what we in the business call setting the scene. It feels pretty set now, so I’m going to take us back to Connecticut. I was in New York with a backpack full of honey-peanut Power Bars I’d stolen from my dad’s office (he always keeps a Trader Joe’s bag full of them in his closet) and little else, and I’d asked around in the vaguest of ways for informational interview leads. (“Does anyone know anyone who’s good at their job?”)

Someone knew someone who did, and sent me the name of a man. The man in question was presented to me as a sort of career counselor; I later found out he was more of a CEO headhunter for high finance. I received a hastily-tossed-off email forwarded from the woman I sort-of-knew in common.

Have you ever received an email from an important man over the age of forty? They’re tremendous. It’s the least professional thing in the world. They spell your name wrong, they spell at least four other things wrong, one of the sentences just ends without finishing itself. It’s a mess. But he said, “Oh, you’ll be in New York, come down to Greenwich, it’s very close, [Common Acquaintance] will meet you at the train station.”

Greenwich did not seem very close to New York to me, but then I also didn’t expect it to be pronounced “Grehnitch,” so the day was full of surprises.

The first thing I noticed, when she brought me to the office, was that the walls were covered in oil paintings of yachts. The second thing I noticed is that every man in the building was at least 45 and had an office overlooking the bay (or the sea, or the river, or the inlet, or whatever it is that’s in Connecticut), while every single woman was under 25 and penned into an open-plan set of cubicles. Just like in the past, I thought. Then: But I’m a woman under 25. This does not bode well.

The Important Man was not ready just yet. I was led to an inner room with more oil paintings of boats on the walls, and also a photograph of the Important Man with Ronald Reagan. I was offered a soda, and I demurred, which is the one mistake I will admit to having made. I should have taken the soda. Do you know how often in life you are offered a free soda? Elderly financiers do not regularly proffer free sodas to pleasant-faced bloggers; this offer has never been repeated and I have regretted my choice ever since.

The Important Man entered the room; the Important Man shook my hand; the Important Man sat down. A woman brought him a Diet Coke in a glass, with ice and a red-and-white striped straw, just like in Diet Coke commercials. He never once touched it. Perhaps it was a power play. She seemed only to exist to bring him Diet Cokes. It made me wish I had a Diet Coke of my own, but I dared not ask now.

by Mallory Ortberg, Toast |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trigger Warnings: 'Empathetically Correct' is the New Politically Correct

[ed. Interesting. One source identifies an 'emerging problem' and all of a sudden it's a cultural catastrophe. "Trigger warnings" - the issue du jour. See here, here, here and here.]

When I was attending graduate school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, political correctness reigned supreme. Lassoing the powers of language, literature, and the law, the movement dubbed “PC” initially worked toward the good goal of greater inclusiveness for marginalized communities. Eventually, however, bloated by the riches of the ivory tower of academia and provoked by the excesses and exclusivity of the good-ol’-boy culture of Wall Street, political correctness morphed into a tyranny of speech codes, sensitivity training, andbook banning. Its reach lingers still, most recently exemplified in the decision by a state panel in Nevada not to name a cove after Mark Twain because of the author’s racist 19th-century views toward Native Americans.

But it seems political correctness is being replaced by a new trend—one that might be called “empathetic correctness.”

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

In the foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death, his iconoclastic jeremiad on entertainment culture, Neil Postman invokes George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In noting the contrast between their two dystopian visions of the future, Postman notes,
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell envisioned an external form of control that becomes internalized—essentially, political correctness. Huxley envisioned an internal form of control that becomes externalized—empathetic correctness. And Postman thinks Huxley’s was the more accurate prediction.

The most jaw-dropping display of empathetic correctness came in a recent New York Times article reporting on the number of campuses proposing that so-called “trigger warnings” be placed on syllabi in courses using texts or films containing material that might “trigger” discomfort for students. Themes seen as needing such warnings range from suicide, abuse, and rape to anti-Semitism, “misogynistic violence,” and “controlling relationships.” Astonishingly, some of the literary works advocates claim need warning labels for adult college students are often read by high school students, such as The Great Gatsby and The Merchant of Venice.

The purpose of these trigger warnings, according to one Rutgers student calling for them, is to permit students to either plan ahead for “tackling triggering massages” [sic] or to arrange “an alternate reading schedule with their professor.” The student, a sophomore and, surprisingly, an English major (once upon a time, English majors clamored for provocative books) advocates professors warning students as to which passages contain “triggering material” and which are “safer” so that students can read only portions of the book with which “they are fully comfortable.” He explains:
For many students, trigger traumas are daily, painful experiences … However, by creating trigger warnings for their students, professors can help to create a safe space for their students — one that fosters positive and compassionate intellectual discussion within the collegiate classroom.
He contends that “many of our students enter—and exit—our University with serious traumas, which can cause emotional or psychological distress within our own classrooms.” Thus, a similar proposal under consideration at the University of California, Santa Barbara, would allow students who might be traumatized by challenging material to miss classes containing such material without a grade penalty.How can empathy even be cultivated apart from a willingness to have our preconceptions and our very comfort challenged?

by Karen Swallow Prior, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: Francisco Osorio/Flickr

Freeing the Gluten-Free

Gluten, a sticky protein found in wheat, barley, and other grains, is our most notorious food villain. It gets blamed for intestinal problems, cognitive and mood difficulties, joint pain, and depression. Last year, almost thirty per cent of Americans said, in a nationwide poll, that they wanted to reduce or eliminate the amount of gluten in their diet. Sales of gluten-free products totalled more than ten billion dollars in 2013, and are forecasted to rise another five billion in the next two years. Popular diet and nutrition books, like “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain,” argue that we should just give up eating gluten—and wheat—altogether.

For roughly one per cent of the population—about thirty million Americans—the advice may be sound. For these people, gluten causes the body’s immune system to attack various organs, an ailment known as celiac disease. Twenty years ago, many researchers were skeptical about celiac disease; most now agree that it is real and can be diagnosed through biopsies and blood tests. But scientists remain skeptical of claims made about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS, which is purported to cause physical, emotional, or cognitive problems. A significant portion of gluten-free products (food, but also sunscreens, soaps, and even medicines) are sold to NCGS patients.

There are no tests for the condition, but, over the past five years, researchers, doctors (and a few celebrities) have proposed NCGS as an explanation for myriad health concerns, and it’s become an increasingly common diagnosis. Alessio Fasano, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, estimates that as much as six per cent of the population, and perhaps more, has NCGS. By contrast, Peter Gibson, a gastroenterologist at Monash University, in Australia, thinks the number is less than half of one per cent.

A study Gibson published last summer suggests that, when it comes to gut distress, gluten is getting a bad rap. The study focussed on thirty-seven people who identified themselves as having both NCGS and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an ailment characterized by a range of gut issues, including diarrhea or constipation, bloating, and stomach pain. The subjects all said that they felt better when they avoided gluten. To test whether the protein was really to blame, Gibson put them on one of three diets: gluten-free, low-gluten, and high-gluten. Each diet consisted of the same foods; the only difference was the amount of gluten.

All three regimens contained very little of another dietary problem child, the carbohydrate known as FODMAP (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols). Many humans have a hard time digesting FODMAPs, which are found in many foods—among them wheat, apples, artichokes, onions, milk, mushrooms, and mangoes. In recent years, some nutrition scientists have come to suspect that FODMAPs are a key culprit in IBS and other gut problems. RemovingFODMAPs from Gibson’s study diet ensured that gluten was the only variable. Each subject spent a week eating meals from each category, while undergoing tests and keeping a daily symptom diary. It turned out that gluten seemed to have no measurable harmful effects.

“We are convinced that gluten was not the cause of their gut issues,” Gibson said. He suspects that FODMAPs provoke far more intestinal distress than gluten; around seventy per cent of the IBS patients in his clinic who try a low-FODMAP diet see significant improvement. So why did the study’s participants (and, by extension, millions of other people) think that they had NCGS? It may be that people are right to insist that wheat makes them feel bad but wrong about which molecule is to blame: FODMAPs, not gluten, might trigger their intestinal turmoil.

by David Kohn, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Martin Parr/Magnum

On the Madness and Charm of Crushes

You are introduced to someone at a conference. They look nice and you have a brief chat about the theme of the keynote speaker. But already, partly because of the slope of their neck and a lilt in their accent, you have reached an overwhelming conclusion. Or, you sit down in the carriage – and there, diagonally opposite you – is someone you cannot stop looking at for the rest of a journey across miles of darkening countryside. You know nothing concrete about them. You are going only by what their appearance suggests. You note that they have slipped a finger into a book (The Food of the Middle East), that their nails are bitten raw, that they have a thin leather strap around their left wrist and that they are squinting a touch short-sightedly at the map above the door. And that is enough to convince you. Another day, coming out of the supermarket, amidst a throng of people, you catch sight of a face for no longer than eight seconds and yet here too, you feel the same overwhelming certainty – and, subsequently, a bittersweet sadness at their disappearance in the anonymous crowd.

Crushes: they happen to some people often and to almost everyone sometimes. Airports, trains, streets, conferences – the dynamics of modern life are forever throwing us into fleeting contact with strangers, from amongst whom we pick out a few examples who seem to us not merely interesting, but more powerfully, the solution to our lives. This phenomenon – the crush – goes to the heart of the modern understanding of love. It could seem like a small incident, essentially comic and occasionally farcical. It may look like a minor planet in the constellation of love, but it is in fact the underlying secret central sun around which our notions of the romantic revolve.

A crush represents in pure and perfect form the dynamics of romantic philosophy: the explosive interaction of limited knowledge, outward obstacles to further discovery – and boundless hope.

The crush reveals how willing we are to allow details to suggest a whole. We allow the arch of someone’s eyebrow to suggest a personality. We take the way a person puts more weight on their right leg as they stand listening to a colleague as an indication of a witty independence of mind. Or their way of lowering their head seems proof of a complex shyness and sensitivity. From a few cues only, you anticipate years of happiness, buoyed by profound mutual sympathy. They will fully grasp that you love your mother even though you don’t get on well with her; that you are hard-working, even though you appear to be distracted; that you are hurt rather than angry. The parts of your character that confuse and puzzle others will at last find a soothing, wise, complex soulmate.

by The Philosopher's Mail |  Read more:
Image: Mondadori/Getty

As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish

[ed. See also: Amazon Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions and Giants Behaving Badly.]

Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before.

Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention.

“How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it,” asked Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, echoing remarks being made across social media.

Amazon is, as usual, staying mum. “We talk when we have something to say,” Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive, said at the company’s annual meeting this week.

The battle is being waged largely over physical books. In the United States, Amazon has been discouraging customers from buying titles from Hachette, the fourth-largest publisher by market share. Late Thursday, it escalated the dispute by making it impossible to order Hachette titles being issued this summer and fall. It is using some of the same tactics against the Bonnier Media Group in Germany.

But the real prize is control of e-books, the future of publishing.

by David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Screenshot via Amazon

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Ball, Felix Vallotton

Wayback Machine

[ed. Ever notice, the further you go back in a Tumblr archive the better it gets?]
Image: via:

[ed. I think half my career was spent at one of these.]

Illustration from Mode-Maker Metal Business Furniture catalog. circa 1960

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

John McPhee — one the great American writers of nonfiction, almost peerless as a prose stylist — once wrote an essay for the New Yorker about his process called “Draft #4.” He explains that for him, draft #4 is the draft after the painstaking labor of creation is done, when all that’s left is to punch up the language, to replace shopworn words and phrases with stuff that sings.

The way you do it, he says, is “you draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.” You go looking for le mot juste.

But where?

“Your destination is the dictionary,” he writes:
Suppose you sense an opportunity beyond the word “intention.” You read the dictionary’s thesaurian list of synonyms: “intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, end, object, objective, goal.” But the dictionary doesn’t let it go at that. It goes on to tell you the differences all the way down the line — how each listed word differs from all the others. Some dictionaries keep themselves trim by just listing synonyms and not going on to make distinctions. You want the first kind, in which you are not just getting a list of words; you are being told the differences in their hues, as if you were looking at the stripes in an awning, each of a subtly different green.
I do not have this first kind of dictionary. In fact I would have never thought to use a dictionary the way McPhee uses his, and the simple reason is that I’ve never had a dictionary worth using that way. If you were to look up the word “intention” in my dictionary here’s all you would see: “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” No, I don’t think I’ll be punching up my prose with that.

But somehow for McPhee, the dictionary — the dictionary! — was the fount of fine prose, the first place he’d go to filch a phrase, to steal fire from the gods. So for instance he’d have an idea of something he wanted to say:
I grew up in canoes on northern lakes. Thirty years later, I was trying to choose a word or words that would explain why anyone in a modern nation would choose to go a long distance by canoe. I was damned if I was going to call it a sport, but nothing else occurred.
And he’d go, Well, “sport” is kind of clunky, it’s kind of humdrum. Maybe I can do better. And he’d look up “sport,” and instead of the even more hopelessly banal “an activity involving physical exertion and skill” that I’d get out of my dictionary, he’d discover this lovely chip of prose: “2. A diversion of the field.” Thus he could write:
His professed criteria were to take it easy, see some wildlife, and travel light with his bark canoes — nothing more — and one could not help but lean his way… Travel by canoe is not a necessity, and will nevermore be the most efficient way to get from one region to another, or even from one lake to another — anywhere. A canoe trip has become simply a rite of oneness with certain terrain, a diversion of the field, an act performed not because it is necessary but because there is value in the act itself.
A book where you can enter “sport” and end up with “a diversion of the field” — this is in fact the opposite of what I’d known a dictionary to be. This is a book that transmutes plain words into language that’s finer and more vivid and sometimes more rare. No wonder McPhee wrote with it by his side. No wonder he looked up words he knew, versus words he didn’t, in a ratio of “at least ninety-nine to one.”

Unfortunately, he never comes out and says exactly which dictionary he’s getting all this juice out of. But I was desperate to find it. What was this secret book, this dictionary so rich and alive that one of my favorite writers was using it to make heroic improvements to his writing?

I did a little sleuthing. It wasn’t so hard with the examples McPhee gives, and Google. He says, for instance, that in three years of research for a book about Alaska he’d forgotten to look up the word Arctic. He said that his dictionary gave him this: “Pertaining to, or situated under, the northern constellation called the Bear.”

And that turned out to be enough to find it.

by James Somers, Blog |  Read more:
Image: Telegraph