Now We Are Rome

Ancient Roman torture on film, and modern American torture in the news.

New York City, December 16, 2014

weather review sky 121614★★★ Heavy dampness or a thin mist was on the air, fading the colors of distant buildings. The gray morning clouds thinned out to blue patches in the early afternoon, and the sun cast shadows. Mourning doves perched on looping razor wire overlooking the edge of the roof deck. Lower Manhattan had flattened into a whitewashed silhouette. Beer cans floated in a tub of still water, innocent of ice. By commuting time, a shower had come and gone, leaving puddles to reflect the overhead fixtures of the shops. Water clung to the sides of the D train. Up between 66th and 67th, where scaffolding had darkened the sidewalk for long months, the lingering damp on the air caught the light from the decorated street trees and created a luminous corridor.

Dog Versus Baby

penny is coolI have owned a dog for my entire adult life—more properly, a Chihuahua. First, there was Sal. Then, for a brief period, there was Sal and Penny. Since 2007, it’s just been Penny. (RIP Sal.) Both Sal and Penny, despite their temperamental differences, have always been treated like actual family members. We rarely leave Penny at home while we vacation or visit family. And, like family, we have made great allowances, and often, excuses, for her misbehavior.

Anyone who knows Chihuahuas will be unsurprised to hear that Penny is abnormal for a dog but fairly standard for a Chihuahua. She is sweet and cuddly and playful. She doesn’t even mind strangers, once it’s clear they are staying for a while. She easily adapts to hotels and new houses and new people. But, her list of dislikes, or, more properly, things she cannot tolerate, is long: other dogs, birds, squirrels, loud noises, strollers of any sort, doorbells, delivery people of any sort, and of course, babies and small children.

The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic

In the first chapter of his book, After Photography, digital photography theorist Fred Ritchin explains the central selling point of digital over analog:

Digital is based on an architecture of infinitely repeatable abstractions in which the original and its copy are the same; analog ages and rots, diminishing over generations, changing its sound, its look, its smell. In the analog world the photograph of the photograph is always one generation removed, fuzzier, not the same; the digital copy of the digital photograph is indistinguishable so that “original” loses its meaning.

Put differently, the common perception is that digital files can’t decay. The grooves in a record are eventually worn down by the needle, while an MP3 file retains its data structure. If you open a JPEG today and then again 20 years down the line, the photo will not have changed at all; it won’t have yellowed or faded or have developed frayed edges. This guarantee of digital preservation is why I spent hours scanning family photos at high resolutions and transferring home movies from 8mm magnetic tape onto a hard drive for my parents. When you transmute something into digital, the assumption is that you preserve its fidelity forever.

Ritchin first published After Photography in 1999. Digital photography was becoming more popular, but we hadn’t yet started to put all of our photographs online. Since then, as files are put through a myriad of compression algorithms and Instagram filters, a new aesthetic of digital decay has started to emerge.

Let’s call them Shitpics. Because they look like shit.

Bodies Uncounted

There are perhaps other weeks of the year that the New York Times could have chosen to lay off more than twenty reporters and editors, weeks that are not so deep into the holidays. And yet, why not this week? In the end, is it so different from slow, quiet purge, a few people, one publication, one budget at a time at Conde Nast over the last couple of months? Or the five hundred bodies wordlessly thrown from the building as Time Inc. was tossed off from Time Warner? A certain kind of media reporting—which is to say, much of it that is not about BuzzFeeᴅ or Vice—has become more like writing autopsy reports, grim and technical and inevitable. Through that lens, it’s little wonder that the Times‘ media desk suffered the most; it could not be any other way, even at a time when it feels like so much loss is left unreckoned.

That Girl Is Poison: A Brief, Incomplete History of Female Poisoners

poison
The idea that “poison is a woman’s weapon” is an old, made-up sawhorse. The concept has been invoked in works like Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes (not the Cumberbatch version, you didn’t miss anything), and bolstered by popular fiction: the terrifying grandmother from Flowers in the Attic, the adorable little old ladies from Arsenic and Old Lace, very nearly Marie from Breaking Bad, and the evil queen/gnarled old witch from Snow White. It’s a classic conceit: the femme fatale slipping a mickey into a glass of rye, the psychotic nana sprinkling arsenic on her grandchildren’s donuts, the jealous older woman offing her young competitionr, the cherubic nurse who is secretly an angel of death. But as Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, points out: 60.5% of poisoners are dudes, leaving only 39.5% of poisonings to the ladies.

Still, compared to other methods for murder, 39.5% of poisoners being female is fairly high – from 2006 to 2010, women represented 21% of arson cases, and only 7.9% of gun murders. There are still many more female arsonists and shooters because those are more popular crimes—in the sample years there were only 49 poisonings total—but it’s still notable. Basically, if someone was poisoned, it’s not particularly likely that the murder was committed by a woman—but if a woman murders someone, it’s somewhat likely it was by poison.

The myth persists, in part, because it makes so much sense. Poison is uniquely available to and administerable by women. Ladies have long been tasked with cooking, cleaning, and nursing, and poison can be drizzled into coffee, applied to the inside of freshly laundered shirts, or administered as an “accidental” overdose. As a recent Vice article showed, even grandmothers can do it; in Japan, a woman is accused of collecting about $8 million from poisoning six boyfriends and one husband. Poison is a hands-off, elegant means to someone’s end; it’s not showy or vainglorious, like stabbing or shooting. It doesn’t require muscle like, say, beating a human to death. Poison is a weapon for people who just need a job done. It’s very practical that way—practical and cold-blooded. So who were some of the heartless, real life ladies who have helped cement this idea in the popular imagination?

“2014 was simply a trashpile of world events and sewer people. The slop started piling up at the start and never slowed down.”#

I Would Die 4 U Seth Rogen

New York City, December 15, 2014

★★★★ Morning sun entered the apartment from the west, off a high window across the way. A spider, glowing amber, marched up the sunny wall. Passersby on Broadway had blinding auras; light sparkled in the now-bare twigs in the crowns of the oaks looming beside Prince Street. Shadows rounded each pebble in the coarser sidewalk pavement, and traced the swirling grain of the finer concrete. While it all lasted—till the sun went down in a wash of orange and magenta—it was as lovely and painless as December could plausibly hope to be.

Carols, Revisited

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We three kings of Orient are

CUTE. You three kings are so cute.

Bearing gifts we traverse afar

So, is there a Mrs. Three Kings

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Oh, you work out, I like that. That’s fun.

Following yonder star

I’m a member of my local Curves. I’ve been meaning to go more. We could go together.

Maybe You're Sad Because You're Not Telling Yourself To Be Less Sad

sadbabysantaHaving a hard time during the holidays? The line forms to the rear, say hi on your way back there, I’ll be the guy with the frowny-face and the red, watery eyes. But all is not lost! The Wall Street Journal has some tips to help you weather the storm. Some of them are common sense, sure, but this struck me as potentially helpful: “‘Several studies have shown that writing yourself a caring, supportive letter about the issue you are struggling with significantly increases happiness, improves mood and facilitates coping with negative emotions,’ says Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.” That does not sound like a bad idea, right? I could use some sympathetic words, and God knows they’re not going to come from anyone else. Let’s give it a shot. Here’s mine: