Friday, August 22nd, 2014
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This Week in Lines

Barneys7:55 AM Thursday, August 21 — Barney's Warehouse Sale, The Metropolitan Pavilion at 19th and 6th

Length: Seventy-six people
Weather: 66 and partly cloudy
Crowd: Under caffeinated clothing addicts
Mood: Half asleep yet fully dressed
Wait Time: Fifteen-to-twenty minutes
Lingering Question: How has this “warehouse” not been cleaned out yet? READ MORE

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Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 21, 2014

weather review sky 082114★★★★★ White haze surrounded the sun. The forecast of showers—deferred so many days now—seemed plausible for the first time. The story-time room at the library, into which the children had stumbled, unwitting, was chilly with air conditioning but humid nonetheless. Conditions were more comfortable out in the slatted shade of the library garden, bordered by roses and planted with dark purple foliage. Toward midday, two age-thickened men contemplated their motorcycles. A gigantic insect, near hummingbird size, flew among the branches of a pine. Down at the shore, the air was perfect, the sun cut by clouds passing. The water too was ideal. Big swells dipped to reveal a white ship far off, then rose to obstruct the view of the ship, then rose even higher as the first obstruction passed and the trough descended. Gulls gathered just above the waves, clustering and stabbing at the water; pelicans flew by low. The whole surface was rimpled, the sides of the wavelets roughened by their own little disturbances. Off to the north, parallel lines of blurry gray stretched from inland out to sea, but the brightness remained nearby. Fine misty spray shone above the usual splashing. The ocean carried the body and absorbed the mind. One hundred fifty yards, nearly two hundred, slid away. The walk back to the beach chairs was so long it seemed as if some mistake must have been made. A sanderling, bone-white streaked with black, ran on the wetted sands. People had built sand castles and embankments, and the tide advanced on them. The two-year-old edged out onto the last of the dry sand, then agreed to try the foam. Minutes later he was dangling in the full frothing surf, suspended by his armpits, kicking and splashing in wild defiance of or identification with the rushing waters. He yelled at the sea, his shirt wet past the chest. Even the hike up the back of the beach, the usually hot and tedious expanse of sand, was comfortable. The sky grayed over, till sunset was nothing but a darkening. Wrens chattered with a harsh insectoid rattle at a cat in their shrubbery. The surf at dusk boomed like incipient thunderstorms. Deep in the night, the real thunder came, and white lightning.

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The Flight of the Ladybugs

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Every winter, ladybugs coat trees and hillsides in the Sierra Nevada mountains with bright orange scales. Each aggregation can contain millions of the insects, hunkered down in a kind of seasonal dormancy called diapause, and every year, collectors head out with snow shovels, nets, and bags to scoop them up by the millions. The beetles are sold to wholesalers, who offload the haul to farmers and gardeners as a living insecticide. This year, though, Arbico and Natural Pest Controls, two major wholesale suppliers of ladybugs, ran into a problem: there weren’t enough ladybugs to collect.

Both companies blame California’s severe drought and ongoing wildfires. According to one of Arbico’s sustainable agriculture specialists, Arianna Weisbly, wildfires have ravaged the ladybugs’ spring feeding grounds, while hot weather and drought have prevented them from entering diapause. "Global warming and human input (I’d wager most of the wildfires are human caused) have basically halted our collection," she wrote in an email. But there’s another, less studied possibility: that unabated mass collection has thinned the Sierra Nevada population of convergent lady beetles. "No one ever looked to see if collecting hundreds of millions of lady beetles from the Sierras each year was sustainable," Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, a non-profit dedicated to invertebrate conservation, told me. In fact, no one is studying the population at all, so it’s impossible to tell how many ladybugs are gone—or why.

The Lost Ladybug Project, a citizen science program that tracks ladybug populations around the country, has noted for years that populations of many lady beetle species have been shrinking or moving around—the result of an unknown number of variables. For instance, between ten and fifteen percent of wild ladybugs carry deadly parasites, which may spread when animals are relocated for agricultural use or otherwise change locations. Some species also face competition from the Asian lady beetle, which was originally imported to control soybean aphids; it not only outcompetes the locals for food, it carries a deadly fungus.

According to Leslie Allee of the Lost Ladybug Project, losses of ladybug populations have the potential to increase the use of chemical pesticides, since even non-organic farms rely on the spotted bugs to keep pest populations down. "Ladybugs are part of complex food webs," Allee wrote in an email. "A reduction in ladybug numbers could result in a surge of aphids and other soft bodied insects, and this, in turn, could affect other parts of the web and result in reductions in plant health or plant survival in certain areas."

READ MORE

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Shabazz Palaces, "#CAKE"

Here is Shabazz Palaces with its first full video from Lese Majesty. The group, like this song, is all sharp edges and extreme angles—the album's tracks often don't take shape until halfway through, which is exhilarating and disorienting. In "#CAKE," Catherine Harris-White shows up about a minute and half in, starts to give us something we can hold on to, then recedes into the chaotic background again.

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Don't Meat the Eggplant

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Most summer produce has a cult of worship; there are those who wait all year for the few weeks of tomato season, those who will serve fresh corn with every meal, those who will gorge on peaches until the sweet-tart juice carves furrows into their faces like Grand Canyon erosion writ small. But there is one item which rarely if ever inspires devotion. I’m speaking here of the noble eggplant.

Many people do not like eggplant. Common complaints are that it is spongy, or bitter, or mushy. All of these are symptoms of improper cooking. Because, friends, when eggplant is cooked properly it can achieve something few other fruits or vegetables (it is technically a fruit) can: it is DECADENT. It is INDULGENT. It is LUXURIOUS. And, frankly, it is NOT PARTICULARLY HEALTHY. These are all good things, I think!

Eggplant is often used as a meat substitute; a typical description, this one from Prevention, says, “Grilled or sauteed briefly, eggplant has a firm, almost meaty texture.” NEVER DO THIS. READ MORE

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The Fall of the Humanities and the Tyranny of Recommendation Letters: A Novel and a Chat

porcDear Committee Members is the second novel from PEN/Hemingway award finalist and creative writing professor Julie Schumacher. Written entirely in the form of letters of recommendation, the novel relays the academic trials and tribulations of Jason Fitger, a floundering novelist, creative writing professor and self-proclaimed "dinosaur" in the rapidly changing landscape of liberal arts education. At a time when literature departments are in danger of extinction and bureaucrats wield unprecedented power over university funds, Fitger aspires to speak truth to power through his rambling, disjointed, and cranky letters of recommendation. The best use for these letters, he believes, is not to praise his misguided students and colleagues but to show his readers just how broken our system of higher education really is. Dear Committee Members is a novel propelled by Fitger’s relentless frustration.

Reader, we read it. And now we’re here to talk about it.

Merve Emre: Jess, in January, Julie Schumacher wrote a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which she bemoaned the letter of recommendation—heretofore, the LOR. "Most letters of reference, as pieces of writing, are awfully dull," she complained, and proceeded to explain why. They're repetitive. They’re overly enthusiastic—suspiciously so. They’re impossible to distinguish from one another. They leave their readers exhausted, annoyed, and bleary-eyed, or entangle them in ugly calculations of institutional prestige. (What "counts" for more? A letter from an adjunct professor at an Ivy League or the chair of a third-tier English department?) Given Schumacher’s antipathy towards the genre and its conventions, it seems like she's set a very high bar for herself in structuring an entire novel around the very form she decries.

Jessica Gross: Yes, she has. Several themes emerge early in the book and are hit upon repeatedly in the letters that follow. There's the explicit theme of detesting writing LORs—Fitger echoes Schumacher's concerns here, sometimes in the same language she used in the Chronicle piece. Here she is in the piece: "Evidence of the letter-of-rec’s increasing absurdity: While serving on award committees here at Minnesota, I have on more than one occasion opened an e-file and discovered that—in lauding a student or a colleague—I had written a letter to myself." And in the novel, as Fitger: "The LOR has become a rampant absurdity, usurping the place of the quick consultation and the two-minute phone call…On multiple occasions, serving on awards committees, I was actually required to write LORs myself."

The LORs allow Fitger to lament the underfunding and general lack of support for the humanities and the comparative favoritism toward the social and hard sciences (in this book, the favorite-child scapegoat becomes economics). The fictional Payne University’s English department is under construction, and the poor professors have to work there anyway: "we are living in a Brave New Department, in a building half of which has been cordoned off with tape as a hazardous zone." There's the dwindling respect for the importance of the arts, in general. Schumacher hits each of these themes over and over again in her letters, which at once successfully mimics the repetitiveness of LORs—Fitger is, after all, conveying these concerns to different people each time—and becomes quite tiresome. Toward the end of the book, I started writing margin notes like, "We get it!" How'd it work for you?

READ MORE

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A Poem by Laura Eve Engel

Escape Hatch

Was thinking escape hatch is what I’d require.
I think escape hatch to myself in the park
and see it slink on its two good legs away
from view, leaving me with this turned-
over feeling. So long, hatch. Hello.
For a while now I’ve been hiding the news
from myself, but sometimes thoughts
try to locate the exits while I’m sleeping.
I wake to the notion of taking someone’s hands
in my hands putting on its shoes in the dark,
making its way to the door. Come back,
hands in my hands. Sometimes my thoughts
ask for gratitude and I become furious.
As far as I know, thoughts, cancer still exists,
and math, and you, like a shovel, have done
about what you can do with these things
and no better. Mostly what you’ve done is
a little light soil reorganization. My confusion
this time has to do with how routinely
we pick up handfuls of shore and toss them
into the water like we don’t know what
we’re doing. The world is full of containers
waiting to be spilled out or stepped into
like a sandbox, supported for the moment
by so many tiny plastic tractors. I hold
my phone up to the sun and it is in this way
that I live on the backs of other, loftier ideas.
Then there are geese and I point at them
as if I’ve been asked to prove it, their sounds
and that letter in the sky they swallow into.
As around everything the world is gestured at
and goes on, I’ve been made by those
distant buildings, how they face one another
and do not move, to feel like a coward.

READ MORE

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"It's never been cooler to look like a baby."

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Have You Considered Your Leaders' Optics Lately?

It's been a while since we got a good "president playing golf" story:

Unusually emotional, President Obama declared himself “heartbroken” by the brutal murder of an American journalist, James Foley, and vowed to “be relentless” against Islamic radicals threatening to kill another American.

But as soon as the cameras went off, Mr. Obama headed to his favorite golf course on Martha’s Vineyard, where he is on vacation, seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind. He spent the rest of the afternoon on the links even as a firestorm of criticism erupted over what many saw as a callous indifference to the slaughter he had just condemned.

I don't know, was the president's golfing really something that "many saw as a callous indifference?" Are these "many" people actually just political pundits and their audiences of news hobbyists and partisans? Are these pundits and enthusiasts concerned with the president's responsibility to set an example with right and proper grieving? Are they protesting on behalf of a victim's family? Or are they actually the craven ones, for turning a gruesome death into a question of political optics (for no practical cause! not even in the service of defeating or promoting a candidate or campaign! out of pure psychopathy or nihilism!) and changing the subject so quickly, from the matter at hand to the public relations value of the manner in which the matter at hand is being handled? "Should he really be playing golf right now?" is as stupid now as it was a decade or a century ago. It imagines an appropriate presidential schedule as follows: One hour of flesh mortification, one hour of reading history, one hour of negotiating with world leaders, one hour of begging for forgiveness from citizens, repeated five times daily, televised. Before work, kiss the family for the camera. After work, go to church in public. Sleep for four hours, if necessary. Sleep is not leadership! The optics of sleep are terrible: Why does the president sleep while others are tired?

"How it looks to Americans" is a fake political question asked on behalf of impossibly gullible people who do not actually exist. "Optics" is the second worst thing to ever happen to politics, after money.

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Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 20, 2014

weather review sky 082014★★★★ The little patch of ocean view lay in bands of color: clear pale blue sky, deep blue water, green grass, yellow sand. The pockets of the second swim trunks harbored old sand and old cash, washed and dried at least a year before. The low-tide waves were not choppy or obviously threatening, but they came in heavy and variable; out past the sandy churning, amid the calmer swells, a bigger one would suddenly rear up at face-smacking height. The water tasted more bitter than usual. Hours later, despite a rinse off, sand grains were still turning up in the creases of the eyelids. A tan dust on the rental car's windshield scattered the afternoon sun. The biggest tower of the playground climber cast the only useful patch of shade on the wood chips. An osprey passed overhead and into the blinding sunlight with a glimpse of what looked like a fish, silver and floppy, in its grasp. The grill smoked, and the shadows of the miscellaneous plants in the sand around it grew long. The two-year-old, up on the deck at the rear of the house, thrust an arm and a leg through the railing, catching the light, trusting in his support. The band of sky and the band of sea were now dissolving into each other, undifferentiated blue.

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The Shoemakers of Gedikpaşa

IMG_1527smDuring my first days in Istanbul last month, I found myself navigating through expanses of Istanbul’s subway system so new that they did not appear in my 2013 transit map. A few days later, the country's new bullet-train service, connecting Istanbul to Ankara, was launched by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister and presumed favorite in Turkey's upcoming presidential elections, to well-orchestrated fanfare. Election campaign hyperbole aside, the country's thriving economy and growing confidence in its future was evident in the ambitious infrastructure projects—bridges, tunnels, canals, airports—and large-scale construction that seemed to be remaking the entire city. (It was also evident in Erdoğan’s decisive victory at the polls on the other week, making him Turkey’s first directly elected president, a transition he’s deftly orchestrated over the past few years as he approached a party-imposed term limit as prime minister.)

Though the new subway lines and bullet trains—the stuff of fairy tales to a New Yorker—did provoke a certain amount of envy, other developments were all too familiar and elicited different emotions. Rising incomes have brought skyrocketing rents and gentrification across the city. Further, the political and economic stability of the past twelve years have attracted massive foreign investment and greater connection to world markets. What gentrification and globalization have done to New York’s manufacturers, and to its working-class neighborhoods, they will soon do to Istanbul’s.

One such neighborhood, seemingly out of step with the city’s race to modernize, is the old-fashioned shoemaking district along Gedikpaşa, a steep cobblestone street in the heart of Istanbul’s old city, not more than a few minutes’ walk from Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the other major mosques and monuments that define the tourist circuit.

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Though it faces the same fate that befell New York’s apparel industry, the shoe district of Gedikpaşa is of a somewhat different character than the Garment District sweatshops where my grandparents worked (and whose closure few mourned). Operating on a far smaller, and, to my eye, happier scale, Gedikpaşa upholds some of the traditional virtues and pleasures of neighborhood life that in recent years have been in such short supply across much of New York. READ MORE

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What's So Special About 'The Richard Pryor Special'?

showbusinessThere's a famous story about The Richard Pryor Show — as Richard Pryor's star was rising in Hollywood in the 1970s, NBC commissioned the man to make a 10-episode sketch program to be broadcast in prime time. Family-friendly viewing not being Pryor's first priority, he clashed with the censors again and again until finally they let him off with only four episodes. These four episodes are still credited with an enormous influence over the genre of TV sketch comedy — directly cited by future blockbusters such as In Living Color and Chapelle's Show — and launching the careers of several performers, including the late Robin Williams in one of his first-ever roles.

But in all the fuss people make about Pryor's show, no one ever talks about the 45-minute special Pryor produced for NBC as a pilot for his series. Everything unique that the show did was done better and more concisely in The Richard Pryor Special?, broadcast in May 1977. It says all you need to know about Pryor that this special features a heartbreaking monologue written and performed by Maya Angelou and it still gets overshadowed by his other work.

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Travis Scott, "Quintana Pt. 2"

"THIS IS NOT A MIXTAPE FREE ALBUM AND VIDEO FOR THE KIDS," tweeted Travis Scott after posting the sprawling, guest-packed Days Before Rodeo in full. You can stream it here; listen in the track above for an uncredited guest from T.I.

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The Ways in Which White People Talk Over Music

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.16.57 PM

If you want to scream whiteness, almost nothing beats rap-talk-singing—that half-monotone half-melodic vocal technique you may recognize from the likes of Beck’s "Loser" or many recent commercials. These days, rap-talk-singing is typically parody in the vein of Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous "Baby Got Back" intro. (You know: "Becky, look at her butt. It is sooooo big. She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends.") It is not always clear when white people rap-talk-sing self-deprecatingly. Perhaps this is what happened to Taylor Swift, whose most recent single, "Shake It Off," is somewhere between a great Gap ad and a bad pop song.

Although "Shake It Off" is aesthetically bad, even T-Swift knows that in most cases, if you are white, you must address your bad rap through irony, calling yourself out for your failure to achieve authentic blackness. Around 2:30, Taylor does just that by dressing up, first in a snapback with an oversized boombox (her black persona intro), then as a bouncy-haired cheerleader, icon of whiteness. She is going to rap-talk-sing her way to the Billboard Top 40: "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend, she's like oh my god…" You can hear the echoes of Sir Mix-A-Lot. This is different from her attempts at rap, which are also parodic, but have never jumped directly from thug-persona irony to the exaggerated strutting and lilt of a white cheerleader.

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The Great Hope of TV's Female Crime-Stoppers

no one ever suspects a book clubI don’t remember how or why I first started descending into Law & Order afternoons, letting bright days slip by in the darkness of my parents’ den with the curtains drawn. I was seventeen or eighteen – a few years before Netflix made marathoning a known verb and acceptable pastime; all I knew was that the show was hypnotic, and USA never aired fewer than three in a row.

It didn’t occur to me that my particular taste for SVU, the sex crimes spinoff in the franchise, was messed up until I moved east and spent a summer living in New York. There I watched episodes on my friends’ parents’ cable, and then took the subway home, alone, making my way through the neighborhoods I had just watched flash by on screen. I had taken just enough literary theory courses my freshman year of college to explain it to myself: that I was actually soothing my anxiety by watching stories about rape in which things came out right, and justice was mostly served in the end. For many years that explanation was enough.

The problem with sex crimes shows — a genre that stretches far beyond SVU’s fifteen seasons — is not a new one. Stories about rape that center around the search for justice suggest that narratives begin when women’s bodies are violated like objects, and end when men punish the perpetrator. All hail Olivia Benson: she is SVU’s only female cop.

In the last few years, though, television has stumbled onto a way to unsettle that kind of story, giving it pathos and resonance in the simplest possible reversal: by making all of the police women, whose mere physical presence in the narrative stands in stark, blessed contrast to the silent, still bodies of the girls whose lives and deaths they are called on to investigate. READ MORE

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Journalism Funded

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 10.30.05 AMThe Huffington Post asks:

What happens in Ferguson and the St. Louis metro area the day after everybody leaves?

I'm not sure.

We plan to be there as it all unfolds.

Great. I feel better knowing that AOL, a large, profitable media company, supports the Huffington Post's real, on-the-ground reporting.

For The Huffington Post, this'll involve a first-of-its-kind collaboration with readers, the local community and the Beacon Reader to create what we're calling the Ferguson Fellowship.

Oh wow, I love it when the community gets involved.

Local resident Mariah Stewart has been covering the Ferguson protests as a citizen journalist with the support of readers through Beacon's platform. With HuffPost readers' support, we can make sure Stewart can continue her work.

I'm happy to support her! What do I retweet? READ MORE

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Brand Citizens United

That my shampoo, lunch, toilet paper and vitamins may have been discussed in a single company's annual meeting is something I both take for granted and otherwise bury as deeply as possible. It's bizarre and uncomfortable: Conglomerate brand ownership makes for good trivia and bad thoughts.

The consumer conglomerates themselves don't usually hide, exactly. General Mills isn't worried that people will be shocked to discover that Hamburger Helper and Lucky Charms share a parent company. But Clorox doesn't go out of its way to remind shoppers that Liquid-Plumr, Burt's Bees and KC Masterpiece trade under the same ticker symbol. And you don't see AB InBev posters in your local beer section, which stocks dozens of its local-seeming brands. People either have to find this out themselves, by looking it up, or make gradual inferences from grouped supermarket coupon deals. Otherwise these things are left unspoken.

Which is what makes Procter & Gamble's New York ad campaign, "New York Tough," especially strange.

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Premium Gore

The first episode of Steven Soderbergh's The Knick, which is streaming for free, is worth watching just for the street scenes in turn-of-the-century New York. It's a nasty, crowded place, but the shots aren't overstuffed and bustling—the show knows it has time, so it doesn't feel the need to introduce you to every rag peddler and slumlord at once. In this way, it is not like a movie.

Here is how The Knick is like a movie: It's beautiful, and it's totally disgusting. The Knick is possibly the most visually arresting show in TV, not only for its setting but for its portrayal of the human body, inside and out, intact and ripped apart. Among its closest aesthetic competition is NBC's Hannibal, which is equally organ-obsessed: The Knick's camera lingers on primitive surgeries intended to save people; Hannibal's lingers on bizarre surgeries intended to cause suffering.

Most of the acclaimed/new-golden-era/sad-people/big-money TV shows are formally gorgeous. Mad Men's sets and actors are carefully arranged and filmed with vivid detail, and the fantasy world of Game of Thrones is as completely rendered as anyone could want. But these shows keep going and going—there are about forty hours of GoT—which has the odd effect of numbing the audience to their visual mastery. A single frame captured in Westeros might contain a dozen costumes, a CGI beast, ugly people and stunning people, an enormous castle. At first this is stunning, and it stays that way for a while. Eventually the big set pieces start to feel the same. You expect them, and they fade into the background.

The same could be said of the show's other dependable source of novelty, its constant violence. Swords plunge into bodies and big brutes slash away at villagers and after a while you just start to tune out. Then someone's head literally explodes, and the camera doesn't cut away, and everyone is reminded they're watching PREMIUM gore, on HBO. (The Walking Dead has become a sort of weekly splatter film: A queasy and conflicting blowoff valve for people who like to watch human-ish creatures get killed in new ways, in the loose context of a story, before they start their workweeks).

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Off the Beaten Path: Adventures in NYC

fishing boats (1)

Brought to you by Heineken

In France, most of the country shuts down for the month of August as its citizens escape the heat and humidity for their annual beach vacations. In New York, most of us are lucky to have offices with air conditioning and a friend whose parents have a pool to visit on the weekends in Long Island. By the end of summer, we’re over the heat but still desperate to make the most of it before the leaves change. So what’s a jaded New Yorker to do this August other than marry a French person and adopt the best of their cultural norms? Here are some ideas for enjoying the city indoors and out:

Rooftop camping:

Do you love camping but hate the idea of schlepping upstate with all your gear? Is the roof of your building accessible? Is your landlord the absentee type? If the answer to all these questions is yes then pitch a tent on your roof and spend the night under the stars you can’t see because of light pollution. I thought I maybe invented this idea, but a quick Google search let me know that the New York Times was all over this concept last summer.

Nitehawk Cinema:

Movie theaters are obvious summer destinations because of the air conditioning and opportunity to sit in a darkened room for two hours without speaking. But sneaking in a beer isn’t as fun as a server bringing you one with an order of fish tacos, like they will at Nitehawk in Williamsburg. The theater shows new releases; cry it out with Boyhood, and curated series like naughty movies at midnight. If you love it there so much you can drink at the bar before and after films are shown. READ MORE

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Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 19, 2014

weather review sky 081914b★★★★ The morning was gray and dripping, even as the information online declared that there was a zero percent chance of rain. Gradually things brightened; the deck dried out. Still there was little beach-bound foot traffic. The seven-year-old went out to blow bubbles in what was now sunshine, exhorting them to fly over the roof of the building closer to the ocean. The sea at high tide was the color of wine bottles and the color of cobalt, deep beautiful tones, and deliciously warm, and much too rough to try swimming in. Letting the breaking sandy foam rush past, waist high and above, was the least alarming way of savoring it. There was no chilly shock—it felt as if it were warmer than the air, though it couldn't have been. The children dug in the sand and refused to go near the water. Bright white little shells emerged, their edges eroded away. At sundown the sky was crocheted with silver and purple, with the sun a big smear of wet gold paint in the west. Kites hung above the dunes, fluttering and seemingly secure there, till one plunged nose-first out of view. The breeze smelled salty. Glasses of white wine sweated on the edge of a balcony overlooking the boardwalk. The west went through various more or less lurid colors, arriving at last at scarlet.

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