★ Another step backwards into the freezer. In defiance of the early forecasts, the cold was intractable. Bars of reflected light lay partway over the crosswalk like misplaced pavement markings. Hands were gloved, gloved and balled, jammed into pockets. The noontime streets were sparsely peopled. Blood spread over one side of the tongue from a split lip.
I met Tom in English class during my sophomore year of high school, and we became acquaintances and occasional friends. Mostly, I had a crush on him. After high school, I moved out of the Bay Area and to the East Coast, where I received sporadic updates on high school friends from my good friend Julia. She mentioned something about Tom drawing for the New Yorker, a piece of information I filed away until I saw this cartoon posted on Facebook. I recognized the signature, got his email from Julia, and had a nice email chat with him about cartooning, the pursuit of creativity and our generation’s inflated sense of self-worth. Here is our conversation, edited a tiny bit for length.
Tom! Tell me how you ended up in this job.
"Job"? Cartooning isn't a job — it's a passion, a calling, a raison d'etre! Also, there isn't a salary or benefits — so there's that distinction as well. I was in my mid-twenties, living at home, swamped in student loan debt (hilarious, right?), and so I did what any rational person facing that situation would do. I started drawing cartoons. It didn't come out of nowhere; I'd drawn a weekly strip for my college newspaper, which had a grand total of three or four fans (depending on my number of roommates at the time), and as a kid I'd always been enamored with The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. To this day if you showed me a Gary Larson panel I could probably quote the caption verbatim. But I never considered going into cartooning professionally — who does that? It was always more or less a fun pastime, something vaguely on the periphery of my artistic ambitions.
I greatly feared in the very depths of my soul, that I was an artist. But what kind of artist? In this era when it's possible to read every novel ever published, watch every film ever made, listen to music from across the globe, all at our fingertips, how can a person with creative inclinations decide where to channel their energy? No, I'm serious — how? Tell me! We live in the Age of Influence, but to what end? Also, I was raised with a grossly disproportionate sense of self-worth, which I prefer to see as a generational symptom rather than my own psychosis.
Flash forward a handful of years and there I am with an impressive heap of accolades and diplomas — and its long shadow of student loans — without a clue about what to do with myself other than read Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain religiously. One weekday afternoon I'm lying in my childhood bedroom when I happen to pick up a copy of The New Yorker. Seeing the cartoons inside I remember thinking, "Wait a minute… this looks familiar. This is something I can do. Why not?"
"This is my shit," notes NahRight's Eskay, and after a considered evaluation I find it difficult to disagree.
Joe Mande always seems one step ahead.
Whether it’s his Twitter stunts, multimedia shows, or stories about attending a live taping of The Mike Huckabee Show really high, the LA-based comedian and writer has a knack for getting out in front of trends.
It makes sense then that Mande’s latest project is a comedy mixtape he’s releasing in place of a traditional album, complete with DJ drops and comedy skits. The mixtape, which drops today, is called Bitchface and it's being released on former Das Racist frontman Heem’s record label, Greedhead.
I recently caught up with Mande to talk about the mixtape, writing for Parks and Recreation, and his quest for one million twitter bots. READ MORE
Is this "the creepiest thing you'll see all day"? Uh, I hope so? You probably don't need any more creepiness in your life today. Or this week, really? Can you believe we are still in the same week that started with the Oscars? A week with Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday? The Bitcoin dude was only yesterday. Sweet Mother of God will it ever end? Anyway, enjoy.
It seems worthwhile to revisit the idea of the universal reputation market, in light of Schrödinger's Satoshi Nakamoto. Is this man Satoshi, or isn't he? For now, he equally is and he definitely isn't the progenitor of Bitcoin. No one has yet elaborated a way to decide.
One way, of course, that we might discover if this person is Satoshi Nakamoto is through constant surveillance—both physical and digital. Would that be a good thing?
How do we know who people are? We have some definite if hackable systems, like social security numbers. Names are a problem; sometimes unique, often not. So people are who they say they are—except, more and more, they are who we're told they are.
Just a few years ago, when we looked at the technology that was leading to a reputation market, where every person's value might be calculated, we worried more about constant self-reporting. There were check-in apps, like Foursquare, and there was identity-tracking, like with Facebook and Google—primarily in the service of revenue. (We never worried about LinkedIn; business endorsements are mostly just meaningless back-scratching. Maybe we should?)
But in the last year or so, how we identify people and their characteristics and reputations has turned inside out. Apps like Whisper and Secret, where people can dump one-off messages anonymously, so far lack narrative and database coordination. Secret is mostly just a pile of junk and garbage. This will change. It's not hard to track and organize the proper nouns or tags in submissions to those apps. Their work as data collection, not just broadcast, is their future. It's a hop and a skip to have an anonymously sourced database of reputation.
— Whisper (@WhisperApp) February 18, 2014
What else, after all, is an editorial project built within Whisper to do?
Lulu was in a similar place when it started a year ago. The dating app—"Yelp for men"!—allowed women to review any fellow anywhere. But just a couple weeks ago, Lulu made a radical move to a new system. Now men must opt-in to have their reputations managed by whoever wanted to discuss them. While Lulu was definitely tasty as an attack on male privilege—and many men definitely responded with a kind of horror that they'd clearly never experienced before!—it was still pretty gross, unfair and possibly not actually that useful. (And it took much of the surprise out of dating. Who wants that?)
But Lulu showed some of the limits of tolerance for a reputation market. Or, at least, for a reputation market of just men. They weren't going to stand for that.
Then, three months ago, out came Yik Yak. Now literally unavailable in Chicago, the app is essentially local anonymous chat. So far it's resulted in school shutdowns over bomb and shooting threats. READ MORE
Blue Water Navy
Darling, the world, it will come at you
with the migrating eyes of flounder
traveling through the matter of their own heads
having reimagined axis and ground.
There is a certain parasite that turns a crab
from male to female, or is it female to male?
The average male armadillo’s penis is larger
than that of some gorillas. I can’t help it
if most facts are, in fact, facts about sex.
Don’t bother pretending; don’t try to
fix this for me. We acquire debt.
An animal is able to live in captivity
which is where we take our measurements.
Watching them go at it sometimes we like to
say outgunned, outmanned, but definitely
not outfought. What we like is the idea
of making the invisible visible. True love
takes a lifetime of research. The foot
of the lake meets the mouth of the river.
Lisa Olstein is the author of three books of poems, most recently Little Stranger (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). She teaches in the MFA program at the University of Texas at Austin.
You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today would have been Townes Van Zandt's 70th birthday, so here are some songs. You will of course have your own favorites, unless you are unfamiliar with the work of Townes van Zandt, in which case, oh boy, a whole new world of discovery is about to open itself to you. READ MORE
Any woman who’s ever fought with a guy after the kind of movie where Katherine Heigl finds love may be shocked by the findings of a new study. A report published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that watching a romantic film with your spouse and discussing it afterwards lowers your likelihood of divorce as much as going through couples therapy does. Researchers analyzed 174 newlywed couples who either went through therapy or merely watched and discussed romantic movies, and after three years, both groups had equal divorce rates. Here’s a transcript from one couple, who watched the romantic movie “Her,” about a mustached man named Theodore who falls in love a whimsical operating system named Samantha.
What main problem(s) did this couple face? Are any of these similar to the problems that the two of you have faced?
Her: Does this seem kind of crazy to you? He was a human and she was a voice inside the computer. How can we relate our relationship to that?
Him: Lemme think. Um, maybe it’s how you don’t like it when I watch porn on my computer? READ MORE
Finally. A game where you're not a dumb animal. Finally, a game about breaking things. God it's Friday, I want to break things. Plus every time it says "unlimited balls" I giggle.
Katherine Dunn worked on the book for more than a decade. She also worked as a waitress, a bartender, and a house painter. In 1981, she started writing about boxing for local newspapers. (A collection of her boxing essays, One Ring Circus, was published in 2009.) Dunn also wrote an advice column for a local newspaper and did some radio and local TV commercial voice-over work. (Her voice is a scotch n’ cigarette alto that resonates warmly.) Occasionally she’d tell friends about her work in progress, Geek Love. “They would groan and say, ‘For Christ sake, Dunn, no one’s going to publish that, no one’s going to want to read that kind of crap.’ I figured, well, that’s probably true.”
—Geek Love is 25 years old, and here is a delightful history. It is still going strong. Among other things, it was Sonny Mehta's first acquisition at Knopf, and was a fairly early Chip Kidd cover.
Astra Taylor’s forthcoming book The People’s Platform, about who has power and who gets paid in the age of the Internet, mentions the following quote about the virtues of “open-source” (read: unpaid) labor from Internet guru Yochai Benkler:
“Remember, money isn’t always the best motivator. If you leave a fifty-dollar check after dinner with friends, you don’t increase the probability of being invited back. And if dinner doesn’t make it entirely obvious, think of sex.”
That quote, unsurprisingly, is from a TED Talk. The talk's audience chose to reflexively laugh rather than actually think about sex or about work. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone in the audience that there might be times when you make dinner for friends and expect in return only to hear boring stories and bad jokes, and other times when you serve strangers and expect in return to be paid, and that it is possible to maintain dignity and basic rights in both situations. And it certainly doesn’t occur to anyone that a similar dynamic might hold true for sex.
This has, however, occurred to Melissa Gira Grant, whose new book Playing The Whore considers sex work as work—or, rather, as a catchall term for many different kinds of work (“Escorting, street hustling, hostessing, stripping, performing sex for videos and webcams—the range of labor that falls under the umbrella of ‘the sex industry’ makes speaking of just one sometimes feel inadequate.”)
Sex workers, though, face one obstacle that most of the rest of us don’t: self-appointed rescuers.
Grant’s concise but exhaustively researched book makes a convincing case that police action against sex work—even when intended to “rescue” sex workers and even when ostensibly targeted against the people looking to buy sex rather than sell it—achieves little beyond enabling police violence and harassment. (One appalling fact among many: “In New York, the practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution is so routine that the supporting depositions used by cops upon arrest have a standard field available to record the number of condoms seized from suspected sex workers…. Sex workers refuse condoms from outreach workers, and from each other, as a way to stay safe from arrest.”)
Sex workers are entitled to the rights that all workers have or should have, not least among these the right to hate your job without having it taken away from you. With typical bracing lucidity (the book is a model of excellent nonfiction prose, infinitely better than that of one of Grant’s primary targets, columnist-cum-Mighty-Mouse Nicholas Kristof), Grant decries the fact that “sex workers must prove that they have made an empowered choice, as if empowerment is some intangible state attained through self-perfection and not through a continuous and collective negotiation of power.”
Perhaps removing the stigma from sex work will help us all think more clearly about work and life; this is why Grant draws the connection below between her book and Miya Tokumitsu’s recent dazzling Jacobin essay, “In the Name Of Love,” which pointed out the dirty secret in the culture-wide dictum to “Do What You Love”: “It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.”
Anything less than doing what you love is supposed to be “whoring yourself out.” So we work for free, or for much less than we’re worth, because we’re not supposed to think of ourselves as workers.
Jacobin is putting out three excellent books on how to think about work—the others are Benjamin Kunkel’s Utopia or Bust, a collection of introductory essays to contemporary thinkers, and Micah Uetricht’s Strike For America, about the profession of teaching. I’ll be talking to the authors of each, as to well as to Astra Taylor, whose work is related by theme if not by publisher.
I recently spoke with Melissa Gira Grant over coffee in Chelsea.
You talk a lot—it’s the subtitle—about how sex work is work.
Right. Which should not be a controversial claim, but continues to be, across the political spectrum.
While I was reading your book, I was thinking a lot about what work is exactly. It seems society defines it as almost everything that isn’t sex work.
No matter what we do, sex is the non-commodified part of our lives. And how often, when people do work they think is lousy or beneath them, they say: “Oh I’m not going to whore myself out. I wouldn’t prostitute myself.” Sex work becomes a repository for people’s anxieties about work. It’s a way for people to talk about exploitation, and lack of workplace protection, and violence, and capitalism. But there are so many people who are interested in making a critique of capitalism through sex work but aren’t interested in making that critique of capitalism in general. READ MORE
★★★ Starlings scuttled in the curbside trash, picking at the ruins of discarded pink-frosted cupcakes. The northern sky was patterned, mostly white on a broken field of blue. The east was still mother-of-pearl. The schoolyard was a salt flat. One of the more rambunctious boys was seeing how long he could hop on one foot, with a partner held the other, before falling. He kept trying till both knees of his trousers were streaked with salt. The sun came on stronger. Goodbye, for now, to the hulking parka. There was an intimation of spring in the angle and the quantity of light, but the wind was still cold. A nice February day.