Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
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The Future Is the Sound of Your Own Voice

NPR has been allowed a little bit of an internet-destruction grace period, on account of how slowly people buy new cars. This has given it some time to experiment with its millions of loyal listeners, to see what new things they like and don't like. Today, it's NPR One:

Listen to the latest local, national and international news in a curated stream customized for you. With NPR One you're in control: you can pause, skip or spend more time with the news and entertaining stories that you might have otherwise missed. NPR One remembers your history as you go, so you'll never hear the same story twice. Search for shows and podcasts, review your listening history or look ahead at upcoming stories…

And the more you use NPR One, the better it will work. We want to make sure you can hear the important stories of the day crafted in a listening experience just for you. So start listening and when a story resonates with you, mark it as 'interesting' or share it with your friends. We think you'll be surprised how well NPR One fits into your day.

This is a concession most news organizations and publishers have made more quietly, and maybe that was a mistake. READ MORE

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An Interview with Black Metal's Green Prophet (of Doom)

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Alan Weisman's 2007 The World Without Us is a lushly bleak non-fiction vision of apocalyptic utopia—a scientific extrapolation of what would happen if all the people on earth disappeared, all at once. Our parasites and dependents would die; carnivores would thrive; trees would push their way up through the asphalt; bridges would fall; nuclear power plants would fail, spilling radiation into the countryside, poisoning the land for millennia; plastics would be everywhere, virtually forever; and the earth would go on.

I asked Otrebor, the one-man force behind the black metal, green freak band Botanist, if he'd ever read Weisman's book. He said he hadn't, but that hasn't stopped him from effectively writing its soundtrack. Botanist's latest album, VI: Flora, which arrives on August 19th, is a long, sweeping, chthonic drone, as Otrebor growls about his beloved plants: "Pendant stamens/Bulbous teeth/Daggers pointed down/Perennial plant/Nascent In spring" he chokes and spits and whispers with all the reverent bile that black metal bands usually reserve for paeans to Satan. Botanist imagines a prettier, quieter doom: flowers growing while we're not watching, in a world without us staining it.

The other day I talked to Otrebor about his dark ecological vision, black metal, and his unusual instrumentation of drums and hammered dulcimer and, of course, human extinction.

Your concerns seem somewhat different than the mainstream environmental movement. What exactly is your investment in environmental issues?

The first thing I think of when you mention that the focus is different is that—a lot of what I see with the environmental movement is, "We have to save the planet." We have to save the whales, the polar bears, the owls, the forest. What Botanist is saying is that the planet doesn't really need saving—that though all those things may go extinct, but it's really to our detriment that they go extinct. So eventually what will happen is, when all those things die, then the human race will also die. When the human race dies, all those things in some other form will come back, without the human race.

READ MORE

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A Brief History of Being Unhappy at Work

literally no one in the world who i don't hate rn I was talking to someone who is in that "wanting to quit" phase of work and wanted to remember what it felt like so I did a search in my journal (YEP) from a few years back for the words "work" and "job." What follows is a nice, horrifying portrait of someone on the edge of sanity who really needs to quit her job. May I never be this angry again! Or may I um, emotionally detach from work and just put my head down and do my work? That always sounds like the right idea.

Work was hell again today. Some of it was fun. Some of it was creative. I had some decent ideas. I had hopeful, uplifting, reasonable conversations with people I like and respect. Had bitching, hilarious conversations with people I love. Made jokes with people who drive me crazy. Complained about people who are bothering me. The drama of the workplace absolutely consumes me. It's all I care about. Who is frustrated and why. Who wants to quit. Who is threatened by whom. Who feels territorial. Who is powerless. Who is wielding their power with too much brute force.

Had a few rages. A prolonged back and forth or two. Dustin told me to go get a snack and I did. And I did feel better. One Fudge Stripe, 1/4 of a cupcake and a handful of almonds later. :(

When did rage become such a dominant emotion in my life? I am always frustrated, enraged, cynical, afraid, worried. Everything is negative. Now I am panicked thinking about it.

On the way home I think about how horrible I feel about my life. About everything. That dreaded train ride. I am starting to feel (STARTING?) like staying at my job is the most advantageous thing for me but I can't stand it another minute. Like I really "get" this company and feel loyal to the project of it but it's eating away at me and turning me into a shell of a human being / a monster / a bad person / etc. I am "unbalanced." I scream and scream in my head (solemnly) about how unhappy I am and then do nothing about it. READ MORE

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Spoon, "Inside Out"

Here is a video from Spoon's new album, They Want My Soul, which is the second most important thing you need to know about today if you like listening to Spoon: Here, free for now, are all ten songs streaming for free. [Via]

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The Cost of a World Trade Center Image

According to the Port Authority:

Fishs Eddy, a well-known housewares store at Broadway and 19th Street, is “unfairly reaping a benefit from an association with the Port Authority and the attacks” of Sept. 11. How? By selling two lines of goods — “212 New York Skyline” and “Bridge and Tunnel” — that are adorned with fanciful, cartoonish depictions of the twin towers, the new 1 World Trade Center and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, labeled with their names, all of which the agency claims as its own assets.

The Port Authority, the steward of the very idea of 9/11, and all that surrounds and permeates it, is correct in disrupting the production of obnoxious tourist bait like New York City-themed housewares, but it is clearly thinking too small in its prosecution of the sanctity of the skyline of New York City and the policing of who is allowed to derive profit from it.

Has the Port Authority considered the vast scale of the wealth of imagery of the new World Trade Center and 9/11 memorial that is captured and posted to social networks every day? For free? With the sophisticated image recognition algorithms developed for products like Google Image Search, YouTube's automated copyright enforcement, and Facebook's facial recognition products, it would be trivial for Instagram or Facebook to detect iconic images of the World Trade Center and allow the Port Authority to extract the proper tithings owed to it and the families of 9/11 victims (who would, of course, be exempt from paying). Every photo posted of the World Trade Center to Instagram or Facebook or Twitter is fundamentally for the social profit of the individual posting it, and like all profits, it comes at the expense of others.

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Who Will Disrupt the Public Good?

"Haystack provides a solution to a key market failure in popular parking areas: meter prices are too cheap, which results in excess demand."

A few other market failures, which have resulted in excess demand:

1. Space for your blanket at the park on a cool summer evening.
2. Seats on the bus during rush hour
3. Public housing. So cheap!
4. Walking space on the sidewalk, especially in those busy shopping neighborhoods
5. Snow removal
6. Clean water

This undercharging is ruining my overall User Experience. And frankly, Haystack's lack of a parking space derivatives function makes me think they're not serious about extracting capital from parking spaces. And no private traffic police, to enforce the contracts and prevent outsiders from stealing paid places? There is money to be made. Where are my apps?

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New York City, July 27, 2014

★★★ The day arrived so gray that being rained on seemed inevitable. No sooner had that resignation set in, though, than the sun came, for just long enough to be encouraging. Stepping out into humidity was like walking into a wall, but when the breeze came, it was cool. From the Midtown luxury terrace outside the birthday party, the sky had settled into a noncommittal and featureless gray. The two-year-old never even tried to venture outdoors into it. By the afternoon, sun returned, and the clouds took on individual shapes, though a brothy haze lingered for a while in the spaces between them. It was hot on the avenue in the reconstituted sunlight. Cars draped with keffiyehs and protest photos were separated from one another by a stoplight and surrounded by apolitical traffic. The two-year-old rode on shoulders, bound for the playground, brandishing the blue balloon scimitar he'd acquired from the party clown. The humidity had ebbed; the space between clouds had been clarified. Light rebounded off the white-brick condo tower and sparkled in tears, once the blue blade had been stepped on and popped. 

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A Night Walking with Dinosaurs

brachiEarlier this month, the Barclays Center was filled with children and animatronic dinosaurs. Both of them made a lot of noise. "Walking With Dinosaurs" was an approximately two-hour long show, hosted by a man with an Australian accent in a leather duster who claimed to be a paleontologist. His name was Huxley, and he invited us to join him on a journey through time, "to see how far dusting off a few old bones can take us."

There were no bones, but the kids in the audience didn’t care. "That dinosaur is pretty big," observed the young man next to me. "Are they gonna fight?" he asked his dad. They did. The animatronics shuffled forwards and backwards, towards each other and away again, loud roars playing over the speaker system. The dinosaurs looked very obviously fake, but also very obviously expensive; the risk of damaging them far outweighed the desire to pretend to spill blood to sate the cries of bloodthirsty five-year-olds—a reluctance which, in its way, reflects what anyone who’s watched a nature documentary knows: that predators in the wild will rarely risk injuring themselves. That’s why they prey upon the weak and the old, though whether this nuance was apparent to the rest of the audience was not clear.

The show started with eggs hatching somewhere on the megacontinent known as Pangea. (There was sort of a funny use of the past tense to describe Pangea: "This continent was known as Pangea," as if there was anyone around at the time to call it that.) That was the only place to start, of course, because it was the beginning of the story, and in the beginning, and there is nothing, and indeed there was nothing in this particular corner of Pangea, no plants, no dinosaurs, no other animals, just the eggs, until one of them, shortly after it hatched, was stolen and eaten by a scavenger. It is a harsh world, "Walking With Dinosaurs" tells its audience. The first to hatch is only the first in line to be eaten.

The mother dinosaur arrived, eventually, to fend off another marauder. Her eggs hatched, and the audience ooh’d and aah’d as baby remote-controlled dinosaurs squirmed around the stage, squeaking. This went on for a little bit longer than it needed to—like every segment—before we transitioned to the Jurassic period, which Huxley describes to us as "a wonderful time for dinosaurs." In the Jurassic period, we met the brontosaurus and allosaurus, who also fought ("fought") and whose fight ("fight") took the form of a mother dinosaur successfully defending her child from a predator. It would be too gruesome, maybe, to expect children to applaud while watching predators feast on the flesh of a mother and child, still living; the velociraptors—a pack of two males led by a dominant female—were the only carnivores who got to eat anything during the show, tearing imaginary pieces out of the corpse of an indeterminate dinosaur we didn’t get to see them kill.

In the Cretaceous period, we met the Tyrannosaurus rex. It was big, and loud, and the maternal dynamic was flipped: Her offspring, investigating two large, armored herbivores, found itself trapped in a corner, facing down horns on one side and a clubbed tail on the other. Not a moment too soon, the curtains pull back and the big rex emerged with a roar to chase off the lumbering, leaf-eating bullies. It then cantered around the arena, eyeballing the children in the audience and roaring about its dominance.

Like any reasonable five year old, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, and my favorite dinosaur was Tyrannosaurus rex. There were periods of time, certainly, when I might have pretended to favor other dinosaurs, especially around the time of the discovery of the big, clever Utahraptor. Those were lies, mostly: my first and truest love was always Tyrannosaurus rex. READ MORE

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Talking to Tina Haver-Currin, Steadfast Pro-Choice Protester and Gentle, Brilliant Troll

TINAAAI first caught wind of Saturday Chores, Grayson and Tina Haver-Currin’s ingeniously weird pro-choice protests, on Facebook. Of course I did a double-take at a photo of Grayson, the bearded, metal-loving music editor of my local alt weekly, holding a sign that said, “I Love Turtles” (full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of things for the Indy Week under Grayson’s purview). A week later, I saw Tina foisting a poster that said “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi.” I don’t think it gets more metal than standing on the side of the road surrounded by hateful right-wingers, standing up for both absurdity and common sense.

I emailed Tina, one half of Saturday Chores, to see what prompted this feat of humor, bravery, and Tumblr-worthiness.

Linnie Greene: Hi Tina! Thanks so much for chatting with me about Saturday Chores. Some of this info is on your Tumblr, but for those who aren’t familiar: what is this thing? What prompted you to start these counter-protests?

Tina Haver Currin: Our very first counter-protest happened on a bit of a whim. There’s no big box hardware store very close to where we live, so Grayson and I were driving toward a suburb of Raleigh called Cary, which runs over with strip malls. I had gotten a gift card to Home Depot for my birthday, and we decided to get supplies for a garden box. We passed the clinic on the way.

Grayson and I both grew up not too far away, and we’ve seen the clinic in question hundreds of times. But for some reason, on this morning in particular, the protestors got under our skin a little more than normal. Grayson suggested that we make a sign that said “Weird Hobby” and point at one of the protestors. We tried to buy poster board at Home Depot, but they don’t carry it. As we were leaving, I ripped a vinyl sale sign off of a display and took a Sharpie to it. We posted the results to Instagram and Facebook, and people flipped.

That happened on March 8, 2014, and we vowed to keep it going. Pretty much every weekend we’ve been in town, we’ve stopped in with a new sign.

READ MORE

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"'This is one of those wonderful high-water marks in The Atlantic’s 157 year history,' Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley said in a press release. 'Our founders (Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow …) would welcome Fareed [Zakaria] enthusiastically—and then worry about raising their own game.'"

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The Dangers of Recovering Your Stolen Bike from Somebody Who Is Much Larger Than You Are

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, college student Michael Rosen tells us more about what it’s like to have your bike stolen and then have to confront someone stronger than you later on in order to get it back.

Michael, so what happened here?

Really, this whole ordeal is Richard Linklater’s fault. That sounds like a non sequitur, but I promise it’s not. For the Daily Cal (UC Berkeley’s student newspaper), I was assigned to review Linklater’s most recent movie, Boyhood, and as a kind of perk/thank you for writing the review, the arts editor allowed me to interview Linklater as part of a press junket-y thing. It’s important to understand that Richard Linklater is not just any movie director to me: Me and my buddies watched Dazed and Confused every weekend for at least a year. Waking Life and the Before series are movies near to my heart. And I really loved Boyhood. So I was pretty stoked to meet this guy whose movies I’ve worshipped since puberty.

I was also a bit nervous. I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of people, but without fail I clench up into a throbbing ball of anxiety before each and every one. The prospect of interviewing Richard fucking Linklater upped my built-in pre-interview anxiety a couple standard deviations. So as I rolled up to the restaurant adjacent to the Berkeley Public Library, I evidently forgot to lock my bike to the bike rack. Which I never do! I am religious about locking my bike, especially since I just bought it a few months ago.

You can probably guess what happened next. READ MORE

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Karen O, "Rapt"

Here is a little preview of a full album coming in September, which Karen O describes as a soundtrack to her "ʟᴏᴠᴇ ᴄʀᴜsᴀᴅᴇ."

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2015 Summer Movie Forecast: Desert Explosions With a Chance of Good

What is it, exactly, that's so unsettling about this trailer? I am exhilarated by it, but I can't tell exactly why. Is it that the last film George Miller directed was Happy Feet? Is it that the most beautiful scene in the trailer, with the silent powder explosions over the desert, sort of evokes The Color Run™? READ MORE

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Whisper's advanced technology to reduce the amount "meanness" floating around on its service, otherwise known as "libel," has a high cost:

The company, based in this city’s Venice neighborhood, says it has built filters to reduce celebrity gossip and everyday name-calling. "We have a huge layer of technology that detects proper names and puts those posts in a different queue for evaluation by 130 full-time human moderators," Mr. Heyward said. "At least in the short term, these policies have been growth inhibitors for us."

What a terrible thing this at least passing interest in making people less savage hath wrought: an inhibition of growth, a startup's only sacred doctrine.

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"We know that happiness and social connection can have positive benefits on health. Now research suggests that having a sense of purpose or direction in life may also be beneficial."

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New York City, July 24, 2014

★★★★★ The rain had washed away the haze, though if it had done anything even briefly about the garbage, the smell had already regenerated. Sex parts drifted down from the honeylocust trees. The clouds overhead were a smooth filter on the sun; off in the east, they stood out darker and individual. The temperature was uncannily mild and relaxing, a waking dream state. Outside a bodega, a sturdy man tried a pogo stick, not at all competently, the spring groaning. The late day brightened up in all directions. An gorgeously ordinary tree flared green against an opulently ordinary brick wall. Uptown, pigeons divided a chicken tender among themselves on the Broadway sidewalk. The seven-year-old retrieved a penny from their midst. The clouds piled up gray-blue in the west, where the descending sun could and did spray and pour and splash colors over them, ending with a pink rind along the cloud tops. Sleep arrived with a breeze through the opened bedroom window, under a ruddy night sky. 

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The Gee Whiz Train

The thin, fragile, and (oft unfairly) maligned conduit between Brooklyn and Queens is shutting down for five weeks so that the MTA can repair lingering damage from Hurriance Sandy. This has provided occasion to air out moldering anxieties about the G train and the area it serves, one too ripe for Uber to resist exploiting:

While the MTA does their thing, we’re here to bridge the gap with one free transfer between the Nassau Av and Court Sq G train stops.

The MTA's "thing" is maintaining vital physical infrastructure. Uber is beloved by its investors precisely because it does not perform that kind of costly work, but capitalizes on making what someone has already built more efficient through software—putting bodies in empty seats—then collects the freshly excreted capital from that process. Of course, this is no reason not to enjoy that free ride! It's already been paid for, and we can't leave all those poor UberX drivers, whose rates were recently cut, with empty seats. It would be so terribly inefficient.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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Why I Have To Be So "Rude"

FUCK YA BRO"Rude" is the #1 song in America; “Rude” is a strong contender for the worst song I have ever heard. For the lucky uninitiated, I can only explain “Rude” like this: it’s the aural equivalent of a man listening to reggae for the first time in his racecar bed, slowly fucking the hole in a Kidz Bop CD.

Here, take a dip, the water's absolutely disgusting!

Ostensibly, the success of Magic!’s “Rude” can at least partially be explained by the history of American top 40's irregular dabbles in reggae, which have tended to appear in the form of one-offs rather than any tangible wave: “I Can See Clearly Now” in 1973, “Red Red Wine” in 1984, Shaggy in 2000. But “Rude” is a reggae song the way a gas station taquito is a formal expression of Mexican cuisine, and I think, if we’re going to situate the song in some larger context, “Rude” is most interesting as an artifact in the realm of ideas. “Rude” is like a Dorito bag that got stuck on a spike of the crown of the Statue of Liberty: it’s a pop object with no content and only as much form as is necessary to deliver brief chemical gratification, which, through an unlikely ascension, becomes newly visible as a pure expression of tragedy, degradation and American garbage. “Rude” is utterly embarrassing and radically unselfconscious, a derpfaced college sophomore defensively grunting FML as he waddles to the closet for toilet paper because he ran out mid-wipe.

The first time I heard “Rude” I thought it was a 1-800-411-PAIN ad, because Detroit radio is currently running one that sounds sort of like a more palatable version of “Rude.” The next couple of times I had the sort of physical reaction I associate with suddenly coming in contact with bees; before my mind could process what was happening, I pawed at my radio dial quickly, ahhh, get it away!

Eventually, because I do spend a lot of time in my car listening to top 40, I let my guard down for long enough to consciously hear the end of the chorus: the “marry that girl” refrain, suggesting cartoon lobsters singing under the sea, and then the “marry her anyway” echo that follows, frenzied and palm-sweaty sentimental, like a sonic blend of Crazytown and Tal Bachman. MARRY DAT GURL, marry her anyway; MARRY DAT GURL, marry her anyway.

Thus was I swept under the horrible surface to briefly swim in the song’s tenuous claim to an idea: “Rude” is one of those songs with a “story.” A drunk second cousin to the “You don’t know you’re beautiful (babe, let me help you with that low self-esteem [WITH MY DICK])” mainstream pop banger, this song takes as its central conceit the retrograde plight of a young man requesting a title transfer. Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life, sings the singer to a dad, the melody wandering downwards to illuminate the fact that this is not a real question. Say yes say yes because I need to know. I am from the South and understand that some people enjoy this “tradition” but it’s also 2014 and the only true “need to know” situation I can imagine is if the daughter is under the age of consent, in which case: ask away. Otherwise, time to do a little less.

About a month ago, I was in Los Angeles and very stoned in the middle of the afternoon and taking an Uber across town. Stuck in traffic, the guy driving sent a string of emails from his Blackberry, pausing only to turn up the radio when “Rude” came on, and then, a few seconds later, turn the song up even more. I accepted this divine message: the light in me needed to salute and honor the light in “Rude.” So I listened closely, wanting to understand. READ MORE

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A Poem by John Ashbery

The Undefinable Journey

Where do you think you’re
going to get lines to
punish the stranger with?
Cursing, destiny's piñata;
it’s a surprise! (Partly sunny.)

O neat-o friend of mine,
to add a central target to the
mix is not to chase sea
monsters, real or imagined.

You drop the floor.
Small white chicken friends,
like life itself
over time last night…
And, what have you done with this one?

READ MORE

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Space Invaders

IMG_7499Tourists are freaks. (For context: I work in Times Square.) Tourists are unnatural to the environment into which they insert themselves; they walk funny; they talk wrong. David Foster Wallace wrote (in a footnote) that to be a tourist “is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you.” Something similar might also be said of journalists, who also insert themselves awkwardly on someone else’s turf. But the journalist, if we’re being high-minded about it, serves some civic or artistic purpose; the presence of the tourist is for the sheer sake of personal amusement. That is to say, the mission of a tourist is selfish, and with that comes a degree of indulgence—even a sense of entitlement, which maybe is necessary to function in a situation where, as a tourist, you know you don’t really belong.

I was a tourist in China for two weeks. I bopped from one landmark to another, squeezed into the subway, and did my best to avoid restaurants patronized by anyone who looked like me (i.e., non-Asian). Being an American tourist made me a burden as well as an object of fascination. I found myself, as a novelty, the unexpected beneficiary of attention and perks: somebody in Yunnan province asked where I was from, and then requested a picture; at a hot pot place in Xi’an, where there was an hour wait for a table, my group was told, through my Chinese-speaking college friend, that we could be seated right away because we were foreigners—we were “special.” Before we could protest, the waitress whisked us to our seats—past a row of disgruntled hungry people—and gave us small plastic bags to protect our phones and a cloth with which I could wipe steam from my eyeglasses. This sort of treatment was the opposite of what I would have expected from anyone forced to serve a tourist: not only was it encouraging of our trampling all over someone else’s night out to dinner, it was downright obsequious. Tip was included, so that wasn’t a motivating factor. Awkward as this should have been, it wasn’t—tasty, fun, kid-friendly, recommended!—because that is the essential contradictory nature of the tourist. READ MORE

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