Friday, September 19th, 2014
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How to Be an Ex-President

expresSeptember, 2014:

At the Smorgasburg food fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mikheil Saakashvili motored in fluorescent green sneakers among bearded men with tattoos and women in revealing overalls. They lined up for Cheese Pops, Dun-Well Doughnuts and other local delicacies. He ordered a coconut. … Mr. Saakashvili is in self-imposed exile on North Seventh Street — plotting a triumphant return, even as his steep fall from grace serves as a cautionary tale to the many American government officials who had hoped he would be a model exporter of democracy to former Soviet republics.

Since leaving office last November, this George W. Bush favorite — whose confrontation with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia led to a disastrous war in 2008 — has commandeered his uncle’s apartment in a tower on the Williamsburg waterfront, where he luxuriates in the neighborhood’s time-honored tradition of mysteriously sourced wealth. When not lingering in cafes, riding his bike across the bridge or spending stag evenings with friends on the Wythe Hotel rooftop, Mr. Saakashvili seizes on the Ukrainian conflict and his experience with Mr. Putin’s wrath as a lifeline back to political relevance.

READ MORE

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"I Stopped Carrying a Wallet When I Became Homeless"

george wallet seinfeldMaybe I should start carrying a wallet again. Maybe a nice, grown-up wallet would act as a talisman, attracting wealth and prosperity. The pink vinyl change purse I got at Target seems to only attract change. It’s not big enough to hold more than several bills and cards. Maybe a nice, leather upwardly mobile billfold would change my luck.

Since I was old enough to carry my own lunch money to school, I have had a wallet. Usually, I carried them until they fell apart, transferring them daily into whatever handbag matched that day’s outfit. Having a wallet felt like being a grown-up.

My father carried a wallet. Having lived through the Great Depression, he didn’t have full faith in banks, so at times his billfold was thick with over $1,000 in cash. My mother didn’t have a wallet. She placed her meager money in a delicate hankie, folded up into a tiny square and pinned inside her bra. Loose change went into one of those plastic oval holders that opened like a mouth when both ends were pinched. Momma didn’t work, but Daddy would always give her a few dollars for incidentals, nothing more. Early on, I learned that he who had the thick wallet had the power.

And when I got old enough to wear a bra, I never felt secure with a hankie and a safety pin.

When I became an adult, with a real job and responsibilities, I got a nice, fancy wallet to match. I remember the pride I felt when I placed by very first credit card in my wallet. As the years passed, I filled all of the slots in my wallet with every credit card known to man, while the amount of paper money dwindled. Even though all of those accounts are closed now, either by choice or by default, I still keep some of those cards, like photos of old friends that I used to know but have lost contact with over the years.

I stopped carrying a wallet in December 2011, when I became homeless. READ MORE

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"The channel's new name is intended to suggest something that pops, or stands out from the rest. 'It’s something that rises above the noise … a one-of-a-kind maverick,' Schwartz told The Times. 'We’re going for a new audience that we are calling ‘the modern grown-up’ … people in their mid-to-late 30s that have pushed off emotional maturity.'" TV Guide, the channel that was always there, will become Pop, a channel that is still there.

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New York City, September 17, 2014

weather review sky 091714★★★★ The sun was a grand, universal spotlight, raising a glow from the fair hair of a child in a stroller, the white hair of a woman nearby, the creamy top of a panama hat crossing the street. Cornices cast grave and solid shadows. A fried egg tilted atop a sandwich or burger on a sidewalk table. The shift-changing taxis scattered an orange-yellow glow over the gas station lot. A rat worked its way along the dry and only slightly littered rail bed of the uptown B/D, ignoring the soggy garbage lake on the downtown side. Had it rained recently? Was it even possible, rain? Topside, at rush hour, the air swelled the ribcage and straightened the spine. It felt clean, even when flooded with waves of a misguided pedestrian's cologne. 

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Adventures in Sexting: An Interview with Kara Stone

kara-stone-photoKara Stone makes the games she wants to play. A Toronto-based artist, her primary mediums are interactive films and video games; her first game, Medication, Meditation was a Kill Screen Playlist Pick. Her latest, Sext Adventure, was recently chosen to be showcased at Indiecade.

Users playing Sext Adventure will find themselves sexting with an automated bot. The results of your sexting adventure are entirely up to you—the bot’s responses vary wildly. There is no way to predict the outcome of the game. Sext Adventure was designed to give the bot its own consciousness, personality, and sexuality as players progress. The bot can even reject its sexuality altogether, if it so chooses.

I first played Sext Adventure at a Dames Making Games event, where I was working on my own project. Together with Nadine Lessio, who coded the txtr engine Sext Adventure was built on, Kara had been working on her project all weekend, and everyone was excited to try the demo. When we finally got to test it for ourselves, the room went silent as we hunched over our phones, sexting a bot, the only sounds a few nervous giggles.

Kara aimed to make a game that explores issues of technology, gender, and digital intimacy. She’s part of a growing number of female developers, such as anna anthropy, Zoe Quinn, and merritt kopas, amongst others, who are making video games on their own terms. Their games explore depression and illness, gender and sexuality, feminist issues like objectification and harassment.

Often, these games are maligned by mainstream game press and players as “not-games.” I have no use for that bullshit. These are all video games, and all the more important because people don’t want to see them as such.

I had the chance to speak with Kara at Bento Miso earlier this month. We talked about gaming, gender, sex, mental health, and exactly what qualifies as a game. READ MORE

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Camden in the Outfield

akjhgThe other Sunday was Wedding Day at Campbell's Field, the ballpark for the Camden Riversharks. Fans could have their vows renewed by the team's general manager, a recently ordained minister, right on the field. About a half hour before the opening pitch, a middle-aged couple stood at home plate while he read their vows into a microphone. "I promise to love, honor and cherish you," boomed the park's speakers. It echoed back from the enormous medieval-looking stones supporting the Ben Franklin Bridge, along with the sandy, metallic gliding of a PATCO train riding along the bridge's shoulder. When the manager instructed the groom, "you may kiss the bride," the crowd went wild. When Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What" replaced the wedding vows, the Riversharks took the field, prompting a light patter of applause, and the game began. They scored three runs, ultimately losing to the Lancaster Barnstormers by two points.

Campbell's Field was built on the Camden waterfront in 1998 to fill the vast tract of empty space left behind by the Campbell's Soup Company and RCA when they vacated the area in the sixties and seventies. By then, Camden had become one of the most vivid poster children for the casualties of post-industrialism; the only development on the waterfront was Riverfront State Prison. The New Jersey state legislature, looking to rehabilitate Camden and its image, hoped to repeat the success of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and released millions of dollars in development funds to build an aquarium, a museum inside the refurbished hulk of a battleship, a large music venue where Phish played their third-to-last pre-breakup show, and a minor league baseball stadium. READ MORE

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The Content at the End of the World

Photographer QT Luong on shooting the Yosemite fires, which are still burning:

I heard of the fire on Twitter and saw a few dramatic photos on Monday morning. Some very extensive forest fires had been burning at the periphery of the park over the past couple years, but this time it happened in scenic the heart of the park, next to Yosemite’s icon, Half-Dome. After picking up my kids from school on Monday, I drove to Yosemite…

Watching the destruction of some of the forests where I had backpacked brought some sadness, although I knew that nature would eventually recover. Although I missed the most spectacular night, I was still fortunate to witness this awesome sight on two nights and the day in between, and I am glad that the fire is under control.

The very last media the world produces, as it burns or sinks or drifts or drifts out of orbit, will be some of its best. A silver lining!

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Flying Lotus, "Coronus, The Terminator"

Another unusually approachable track, after the excellent "Never Catch Me" with Kendrick Lamar, from an artist who has otherwise never really worried about alienating people. The vocals, unattributed for now, are at the forefront; Ellison's distinctive production reveals itself slowly and carefully.

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Every Job I've Had: Four Coffee Shops and Job Training in French Lick

double r dinerAs a 34-year-old woman with a college degree and a solid history of being promoted and beloved by supervisors, it’s a little sobering to look back and realize how little of my job history is fulfilling work designed for grownup people. Temp jobs not included.

Dairy Queen: There was a convenient bus line from this location to downtown Portland, Oregon, so a 15-year-old me could IN THEORY say she was going to work, go downtown to meet boys from other schools, come back, and then call her parents to pick her up. A "no visible hickeys" rule had to be implemented. This was not entirely my fault.

Small Movie Theater That Has Since Been Demolished: Some people do high school; others drop out and get their diplomas from the community college. I was the latter, and the movie theater was my social hub. We dated each other, threw things off the roof, got drunk and ran around at 1 a.m.—you know, the usual. A manager tried to pin me for money missing from a deposit, but it turned out this other guy stole it to pay for his girlfriend's abortion.

Sam Goody: There are certain albums that came out in 1999 with which I cannot even. You think you’re tired of that Santana album with "Smooth”? “Now You Really Know What It’s Like” to go slowly insane.

Coffee Shop One: My roommate, in her infinite wisdom, suggested that I apply to the coffee shop next door to our apartment. In the morning all I had to do is roll out of bed, walk next door, grab a cup from behind the bar, and help myself to a coffee on the way to class. My co-worker was best buds with a minor indie rock star. We listened to cool music and gossiped and my diet consisted largely of day-old muffins. I graduated from college with my valuable Bachelor of Arts in English and moved to Eugene, Oregon, where my boyfriend was in grad school. READ MORE

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The mean income of the top 5 percent of households in Manhattan soared 9 percent in 2013 over 2012, giving Manhattan the biggest dollar income gap of any county in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau The top 5 percent of households earned $864,394, or 88 times as much as the poorest 20 percent, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is being released Thursday and covers the final year of the Bloomberg administration.

The meaning of this statistic, which still maintains a limited ability to shock in our post-Piketty era, will magically unravel itself in due time as many of the remaining the poor find themselves simply pushed off the island—by rising rents, by new condos, by eminent domain—and the upper bounds of wealth begin to resemble the needle-thin skyscrapers being constructed to contain so much that wealth: an asymptote reaching toward infinity.

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"The Islamic State was already well known for its sophisticated filmmaking, and many of the scenes depicted in the video appear to be a 'gamification' of previous Islamic State propaganda footage, including their hour-long “Clanging of the Swords” film released earlier this year. Though the new video appears to constitute a trailer, there’s no indication yet that a real, playable game is in the offing anytime soon."

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New York City, September 16, 2014

★★ A flake of gold reflected briefly from somewhere, in the gray morning. Then rain took over, dutifully, on schedule. The expected end came and the clouds lifted in the west. The showers, successfully outwaited, had left sheets of water on the pavement, and the east was still gray. A rich blue opening appeared in the clouds above the stairs into the subway, and the subway stairs downtown ascended into sunlight. Pebbles in the wet sidewalk concrete glittered. But an hour or two later, dirty clouds had still not surrendered the north, even as the full sun grew warm and edged toward being hot. Another hour, and gloom had overtaken everything again. The simple changeover had become something uneasy; gray on gray brooded over Grand Street. But at last, uptown, the clouds were separating again—recalcitrant no more, but an obliging showcase for the molten colors of the lowering sun. 

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Ólöf Arnalds, "Half Steady"

From the forthcoming Palme, a characteristically weird (and friendly!) track, freshly unpacked, from Iceland.

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Notes From a Future Shitbag Mother

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On the last day of August in 2014, following an especially harrowing phone conversation, I typed, “I want to stop hating my mom” into Google. There were 63.5 million results.

This is a mere fraction of the 209 million results for “I love my mom,” but it is a result that gives me pause. At 29, I have landed solidly in that period of adulthood where choosing a partner might be largely informed by mutual interest in procreating. Friends have told me that the question of whether or not a date wants children has been a dealbreaker in a way that seemed unheard of even two years ago. The Internet seems to be awash in articles from women who are adamant that they will remain child-free and the chorus of commenters who applaud and share their decisions. Such articles seem to have materialized just as the question of children has become more real in my own life, as is their custom. READ MORE

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Facebook Reveals the Future of All Media

Facebook! People use it a lot; therefore, publishers want to be a part of it. Everyone wants to know: How can our publication succeed in this strange new media landscape? How can we get Facebook users to come to our site, instead of all the other sites? Today, in a post called "How to Drive Referrals to your Digital Properties"—wait, no, it's just called "Drive Referrals to your Digital Properties"—Facebook posted some advice:

First, the basics:

1. Post frequently
2. Share links, photos, and a variety of content

Then, go native. Be social!

3. Upload videos to Facebook with a call to action
4. Create content with social context in mind
5. Tag other pages in your Facebook posts
6. Host a Q&A

Finally, for advanced users:

7. Build around your stars — whether TV talent or writers or public figures
8. Use Trending to find popular topics on Facebook and post about them
9. Embed Facebook or Instagram posts in your website

Followed by the obligatory hard sell:

10. Add the Like and Share buttons to your website and mobile apps
11. Add Open Graph and App Links tags
12. Add Facebook Comments to your website

As recommendations, these are fairly broad. Use Facebook more. Think like a Facebook user! Publishers know this stuff already (or at least employ a few people who do). But what does this look like in action? What kind of stories does Facebook link to, as examples, in this instructional guide?

READ MORE

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An Investigation into the Weirdest Ronald Reagan Photo You’ve Probably Never Seen

reaaaganI read and re-read many books in my adolescence. The Wanderers, for the sex; The White Hotel, also for the sex; and To Kill A Mockingbird, for the lyricism. Well-thumbed, too, was an anthology of essays, reported stories, interviews and cartoons from The Realist, a funny, scathing counter-culture magazine founded in 1958, by Paul Krassner. I didn't understand a lot of it; the "impolite" interview with Dick Gregory; the parody of William Manchester's biography on the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which LBJ has his way with Kennedy's corpse; the famously dirty Disney cartoon—but I knew, even in my ignorance, that it was funny.

Among the book's treasures was a rather crude photo, published in Issue No. 76, August 1967, of Ronald Reagan—flanked on his right by George and Lenore Romney, on his left by his wife, Nancy—smiling like a jack o' lantern. Standing in front of Mr. Reagan is a little boy. Due to the angle of shot, the former appears to be receiving a blowjob from the latter.

The caption: "SOFT-CORE PORNOGRAPHY OF THE MONTH: GRAND OLD PARTY HAS JOINT SESSION WITH YOUNG REPUBLICAN."

For reason divorced from politics—I had no idea who Reagan was, other than that my parents had not voted for him—this struck adolescent me as pretty funny. And now, two decades later, it still does. But I'm also intrigued by it; I like trifling historical mysteries, and this obscure, bizarre photo of a famous man—this image utterly devoid of context—fits the bill.

Who shot it? Where? What were the circumstances of the occasion? And who is the boy? READ MORE

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The True Value of One Banana (In a Country Without Running Water)

Produce StoreWhen I accepted a position to teach English in Georgia, my life was ideal on paper. I had friends and a full time job in a city I didn’t mind, with a Chipotle right around the corner from my reasonably priced apartment. Everything was fairly good, but there was no sparkle. I refused to settle. I had a healthy savings account and the teaching position provided room, board, transportation, a monthly stipend, and the opportunity to gain teaching experience to the benefit of my career. I threw caution and reason to the wind and embarked on my adventure, fearless, naïve, and blissfully happy.



A week into the program, I found out that the same healthy father who dropped me off at the airport now needed heart surgery. Suddenly my new adventure meant nothing. My family and my home were on the other side of the globe, I was in a country where outgoing planes only left every other day, and total travel time was over 36 hours. What if I needed to go home immediately? Would I even make it? I felt helpless. Thrown into a new environment while processing emotions I had never experienced, I didn’t know what to say to my new host family, much less how to translate it into a new language. I no longer wanted to be on my grand adventure. I wanted to go home.



At the urging of my conscience and my family, though, I kept my commitment. Rather than dwell on my own emotions, I tried to focus on the realities of my new home. In my ignorance, I was surprised to learn that my host family was accustomed to living under electricity rations or going without water for days, even though the fountains in the tourist centers still flowed freely and the hotels illuminated main streets day and night. The fading term “second world country,” accurately defined my new home, a city on its way to establishing the infrastructure to support the lifestyle it had already built. READ MORE

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A Portrait of the Alt-Bro as a Young Dumbass

It’s 11AM on the 4th day of Spring Break. He’s reading Steppenwolf at a minimal loft cafe that sells tote bags and leather notebooks and beard lube. He's drinking a $4 Americano and debating whether he should step outside to roll a cigarette. Earlier today, when he arrived at the café, which by the way is called “Brooklyn,” he thought to himself, One ought only to smoke on weekends. Yet Spring Break is currently revealing-itself-to-him-as-weekend, so he goes outside to smoke. As he observes, flâneuristically, the soft light play upon the Portuguese Church steeples across him, he feels he’s on the verge of a profound realization, a Joycean epiphany, something that will blow his mind. Google, is he manic-depressive? Sometimes he feels so much, it’s almost unbearable. There’s no way most people feel as much as he does. He’s unique. He might be a genius. He’s certainly heterosexual. He’s probably going to grad school.

He is the Alternative-Bro.

Dumpster diving though his rent is paid for him, arranging gatherings between radicals less privileged than he, calling everything “dialectical,” listening to chillwave, perpetually nodding, feeling “depressed”: this is what the Alt-Bro lives for. This is what intoxicates him “in a particularly Dionysian way.”

The Alt-Bro is now thinking, as he observes an elderly woman enter the Portuguese church, Religion has done a lot of terrible things, obviously, but it has done a lot of good things, also, and this is something most people don’t understand. The Alt-Bro wishes most people thought about things as much as he does. He’s neither elitist nor classist, but he doesn’t trust people who don’t “fundamentally feel ideas.” He says things like, “But then you start to think in iambic pentameter and it’s fucked.” The Alt-Bro takes himself seriously.

The Alt-Bro has a gift for looking like he’s thinking. His desktop background is of Swedish architecture. The Alt-Bro is in “an open relationship” with a girl who doesn’t call it an “open relationship.” He claims to be attracted to "both men and women," though he finds “something special" about women. He doesn't know what it is. It is a mystery.

READ MORE

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"And so our watch is all but over. Who knows what comes tomorrow but at least and at last the final reckoning is upon us. It is choosing time and there’s no escape," writes Alex Massie, a Scottish person, in the Spectator, referring to the upcoming vote on his nation's independence in a genuine and not-at-all strained tone. "There will be a deep sadness in many places if Scotland votes Yes and, in other parts, some raging disbelief if she votes No," he continues, establishing his high vantage point on this complicated and emotional situation. "This may be a wee country but the matter of Scotland is nothing small," he observes, in a way that is absolutely not emblematic of a pervasive tendency of not just English people but quite a few Scottish people to infantilize both Scotland and its residents, which is too predictable to really be felt as offensive anymore. "To hate [our neighbors] is in some sense to deny a part of ourselves," he hedges, in a wise and considered way, regarding a fairly straightforward statement that no living human would passionately disagree with. "In that respect we really are all in it together. Today, tomorrow and Friday too. Come what may. Be not afraid. It is, probably, going to be fine. The little white rose of Scotland, so small and sharp and sweet, will still bloom," he concludes, his eyebrows possibly raised to project a look that signifies thoughtfulness and tenderness, his mouth possibly pressed into a gentle, sympathetic frown.

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