Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
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How to Plagiarize a Fart Joke

6071571505_8d0bec66fe_zThere is yet another plagiarism scandal afoot. I declare it a silly one, and therefore predict that what I am writing here will raise a mini-foofaraw in journalistic circles. It may well get me targeted by the same journalism Internet sleuths who broke this “scandal,” and they might comb my oeuvre trying to prove that I am a plagiarist myself, which might explain why I am daring to question the agreed-upon level of public tsk-ing, using the agreed-upon hair-trigger definition of what constitutes theft in our a shabby new world of frantic Internet journalism that, in its very DNA, happens to encourage and reward theft.

To make A Point About Plagiarism—in particular, the forty-some-odd instances of plagiarism committed by BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson in his viral listicles—the Washington Post's crappy, lazy internet writer Gene Weingarten, willfully and explicitly plagiarizes a sentence written by Malcolm Gladwell, about plagiarism: "The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of small differences: Because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence." Like Weingarten's complete bull-doody pathetic little phony piece, it performs the work of distinguishing degrees of plagiarism in order to diminish a particular instance of it.

Weingarten, up there on top of that high horse whose feet are sunk in the mud, after admitting that he cribbed "the best sentence in this piece" from Gladwell, writes, "Now, had I not disclosed stealing this line, I would have been reprimanded by The Washington Post, probably disciplined with a suspension, and possibly fired. I would not have contested whatever punishment I received, because I would know I deserved it because I had been a thief." I have done the same thing with the first paragraph of this piece, which is why it reads like the beginning of a wretched, groveling post. (Please imagine that there were quotation marks around it, or that it was slightly offset, indicating that it was an extended quote. It is now no longer stolen.)

But what Weingarten does not disclose is that he clearly stole the second best line in the piece—"I contend you cannot steal something of no intrinsic value; say, a fart"—which is good enough to have been curaggregated elsewhere. READ MORE

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New York City, July 28, 2014

weather review sky 072814★★★★ Morning brightened and darkened again. The boys dozed in their bunks in the dimness. North and south above the river were gray, rippling clouds, but overhead the ripples had become blue rifts, and the sun momentarily shone. The gray was darkening again when the seven-year-old got up and out. There was a chilly gust, then warm thick stillness. Down by Columbus Circle, the sun found another opening, raising a mirror-brightness from the windows on Central Park South. The train platforms were hot and noxious; a rush of sweltering air overpowered the air conditioning when the B train car opened its doors at Herald Square. Downtown, the sun was all the way out, shining down the subway steps—and then, in the span of the stroll to the office, the clouds took over. The back and forth continued out the windows till by afternoon it had resolved, emphatically, in the sun's favor. Busy breezes plied the streets. A lone helicopter hovered against white puffs a few blocks above Houston. Up in the 60s again, the breeze bent back the plants on the Broadway median. Each tossing leaf in the middle distance stood out in the sharpened light. The smell of garbage on the fresh air betokened simply a garbage truck, right there at the curb, loading garbage. In the dusk, the two-year-old's tennis-ball-green shirt glimmered as he took the plaza steps at one assisted bound, racing for the waiting ice cream truck. Airplane lights glowed warmly at all heights and distances, a swarm of manmade Venuses, and the clouds were white against the darkened blue. 

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Ask a Jeweler: A Buyer’s Guide to Diamonds

Me on Monday morningsThis is the second installment in a series about diamonds. For part one, click here.

As you can see by Marilyn’s facial expression, buying a diamond is equal parts exciting and confusing. I’ve tried to answer some FAQs to help you get the best diamond for your hard-earned money.

How is the quality of a diamond determined? How do these factors affect price?

The price of a diamond is directly related to its rarity. The more difficult it is to find and manufacture a particular diamond, the more expensive the diamond will be. A stone’s rarity is majorly determined by its carat weight, color, clarity and cut, otherwise known as “the 4Cs.” Let’s go through them:

CARAT WEIGHT

Just like deli meat, diamonds are priced by weight. A carat is a unit of measurement used to express the weight of gemstones. It’s equal to 200 milligrams; it is not to be confused with karats or carrots. It is more rare for miners to uncover big giant diamonds than small, baby diamonds, therefore with all other factors being equal, the higher the carat weight, the pricier the diamond.

How do I use this knowledge to spend less money?

There are these things called “magic numbers.” I’m serious. They fall at 0.5cts, .75cts, 1ct, and then at .5ct intervals moving forward (1.5cts, 2cts, 2.5cts etc.). What makes these numbers magic, is that they represent a significant jump in a diamond’s price per carat. By considering slightly lower carat weights (maybe a .9ct diamond instead of a 1ct diamond) you could find significant savings and a quite indistinguishable visual difference in the size of your diamond.

READ MORE

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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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15

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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4

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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